Archive for vera farmiga


Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)


These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)



A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.


Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.


defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.


orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.


© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh



Posted in 2013, Based on a True Story, Cinema Knife Fights, Demonic Possession, Demons, ESP, Evil Spirits, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2013 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares

246460id1c_Conjuring_INTL_27x40_1Sheet.indd(THE SCENE: A house that has been plagued with paranormal disturbances. The doorbell rings and the family’s FATHER opens the door to see L.L. SOARES standing on the front steps)

L.L. SOARES: You called for a demon specialist?

FATHER: Yes, I did. You sure got here fast.

LS: Yes, I hopped on my broomstick, er, I mean I hurried right over.

FATHER: Don’t you have a partner you do these paranormal investigations with?

LS: Professor Arruda? He’s busy right now on the astral plane. But fear not, I will have the situation under control in no time. What happens to be the problem?

FATHER (pulls out a list): Well, there’s a whole bunch of things. People having their feet grabbed late at night; we’re hearing spooky voices; there are birds slamming themselves into the windows; ugly faces keep popping up in mirrors; mothers are being possessed by demons so that they can kill their children…

LS: Hold up! Not so fast. You sound like you’re reading off a list of haunted house clichés. Are you sure this has all happened to you?

FATHER: I swear it. This is based on a true story.

LS: Very well. Let’s deal with these things one at a time, shall we? But let me move around the house first and see if I feel the presence of any spirits.

(LS stands in the middle of the room and closes his eyes)

LS: I feel it! I feel it!

FATHER: You sense the ghosts?

LS: No, I feel my hay fever coming on (sneezes)

You know, this dilemma of yours sounds an awful lot like a movie I just saw called THE CONJURING. Have you seen it yet, by any chance.

FATHER: Err, no, I’ve never heard of it.

LS: I can tell you’re lying, but no matter. I will pretend as if I believe you and I’ll tell you a little about it.

FATHER (looks around): Okay, I guess.

LS: THE CONJURING is the latest movie about a family that moves into a house that is haunted by ghosts. Except, it’s not ghosts. It’s demons! And if they move somewhere else, the demons will follow them. We saw pretty much the same exact plot in everything from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies (which began in 2007) to INSIDIOUS (2010) to every other recent haunted house movie.

THE CONJURING begins with an interesting scene where two women talk about a doll in their house that was possessed by a demon. The doll is actually pretty friggin weird looking, and they keep showing its face in close-up. The women’s story is pretty good, too. But then we learn this movie isn’t about them. They’re just part of a film that paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are showing a class full of eager students of the supernatural.

Instead of this cool story about a crazy-looking doll, we have to sit through yet another normal American family moving into a house where things start getting weird. One girl wakes up every night when someone grabs her foot and tries to pull her off her bed. Another girl has an imaginary friend who just might be a spooky demonic creature. The family’s mother is on the verge of being possessed by an evil spirit. This would all be interesting, if we hadn’t seen this exact same thing a hundred times before.

Sure, THE CONJURING has a few nice, original moments. I really liked the part about the clapping game, where the kids, five girls of various ages, run around their spooky new house playing a game of hide and seek, where one of them is blindfolded and can demand that the others clap their hands when she gets near. The fact that a spooky supernatural creature decides to play along is actually pretty effective.

I liked that one of the kids finds a strange music box where, if you wind it up, it plays music and a swirling hypno-wheel mirror spins around. If you stare at it long enough, you’re supposed to be able to see a spirit over your shoulder. It’s a fun prop. There’s also a very cool room in the Warrens’ house where they keep supernatural souvenirs from all of their case studies, including that creepy doll I mentioned earlier that sits on a chair in an air-tight glass case. I wanted to know more about this room, and explore its contents more. But we only get to see it a few times briefly. I was much more interested in that room than I was about what was going on in the Perron family’s house.

I also like a lot of the people in this movie. Like Lili Taylor. Over the years, she’s been in a lot ofgood movies like SAY ANYTHING (1989) and DOGFIGHT (1991) and Abel Ferrara’s THE ADDICTION (1995). She was Valerie Solanas in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) and was in John Waters’ PECKER (1998). She’s been in tons of good independent movies, and it’s good to see her in this movie, too, in a role that’s more than just another supporting character. Except, despite this one having a little more meat than her usual Hollywood roles, she’s really just…another supporting character. The movie isn’t really about her. It’s about Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are supposedly real-life demonologists. This movie is “Based on a True Story” after all.

FATHER: That always scares me when a movie is “Based on a True Story.” That means it’s real, right?

LS: Actually, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a trick to scare dumb people.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are really good as the Warrens. I’ll give them that. Wilson has been in some good movies like HARD CANDY (2005). LITTLE CHILDREN (2006) and was even Nite Owl in WATCHMEN (2009). As for horror films, he was also in the previously mentioned INSIDIOUS, which a lot of people seemed to like. INSIDIOUS was also another movie about a house haunted by demons that was directed by James Wan, who also directed THE CONJURING. Wilson is also going to be in INSIDIOUS 2 later this year.

Ron Livingston is also here as the family’s father, Roger Perron; I’ve liked Livingston ever since he was in OFFICE SPACE in 1999, even though he’s not given a lot to do in this movie.

As for Farmiga, she first got noticed in dramas like THE DEPARTED (2006) and UP IN THE AIR (2009), but has been doing a lot of horror-related stuff lately as well, like ORPHAN (2009) and she’s been great as Norma Bates, Norman’s mother, in the new TV series BATES MOTEL. Farmiga, as the clairvoyant Lorraine Warren, is the best thing in this movie. Like the kid in THE SIXTH SENSE, Lorraine “sees dead people” and once she gets to the house where the Perron family lives, she starts to see spooky dead kids and witches hanging from trees and lots of other things no one else sees. I really liked her character, and wished the movie was even more about her. Why do we need this family that’s being tormented anyway? Why not have Lorraine Warren go head to head with that spooky doll from the beginning of the movie?

Well, the main reason is because if they don’t introduce the family and the haunted house, then they can’t go through the checklist of haunted house clichés that are recycled yet again in this movie. If you’ve seen any of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, you’ll know them all by heart. The ugly, ghostly creatures that pop up out of nowhere, the tons of fake scares to keep you hopping until the real ones arrive, the speech about how “it’s not ghosts that are haunting the house, it’s demons that are haunting you!” The thing is, despite the fact that there are some interesting characters here, THE CONJURING really offers nothing new to the latest paranormal troubles trend. We’ve seen it all before.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can't save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can’t save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

I would have loved to see the Warrens in a story that was more original, that wasn’t so damn predictable. There was a woman behind me in the theater who screamed at the top of her lungs every time something “scary” happened in THE CONJURING, even though we all knew it was going to happen before it even did. I felt like asking her “Haven’t you ever seen a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie before, lady?” Or, better yet, “Shut the hell up, you big mouth.”

THE CONJURING is directed by James Wan, as I mentioned before. He directed the similarly-plotted INSIDIOUS, but you might also remember him as the guy who directed the first SAW movie back in 2003. Wan also directed DEAD SILENCE about creepy ventriloquist dummies and the vigilante movie DEATH SENTENCE, both in 2007. I like a lot of these movies, and I likeWan. I don’t have a problem with him, really. Except that he seems to be in a rut lately. He keeps trying to cash in with these movies that take the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and remove the “found footage” aspect and just present things in a straightforward movie way. But it seems like he’s making the same movie over and over. His next one, INSIDIOUS 2, which will be about yet another house haunted by a demonic presence, comes out later this year. Enough! Come up with something new already!

It irritated me that they couldn’t come up with a new spin on this material. Even the scene where Lili Taylor is possessed by the demon witch and has to have an exorcism, is business as usual. She spits up blood, she levitates, she throws people across the room. Ho hum. It’s just the same old thing.

So I didn’t really love this one. I felt like the script was by the numbers, even if it did have some characters that were more interesting than usual. The movie pretty much squanders any chance it has to do something new with this subgenre. Even if there is a mention of another “haunted” house in Long Island toward the end (can you say Amityville?).

THE CONJURING could have been great, but instead it’s just so-so. I give it two and a half knives.

FATHER: Well, that’s all nice. But I thought you were here to get rid my demon!

LS: Yeah, yeah. I’m done with my review, so you can stop badgering me. Just show me where the evil sucker is.

(FATHER takes them through a living room full of kids, all sitting around a TV set watching old reruns of THE BRADY BUNCH and leads LS to a door that leads down to the cellar)

LS: Yet another story where a demon is down in the basement. I bet something really bad happened down there once.

FATHER: Yup. A murder.


(They go down the stairs, where a demonic presence awaits them, rocking back and forth on a rocking chair, with its back toward them)

FATHER: Can’t you help us?

LS: Certainly I can.

Turn and face me, oh demon. Turn and meet your master!

(MICHAEL ARRUDA turns around in the chair, wearing a shawl)

MA: There you are! I’ve been waiting forever for you to show up. And it’s really damp down here!

LS: I thought you said you were going to practice astral projection. Who knew you were the demon haunting this house.

MA: Demon, schmemon. I’m just scaring this family because I was bored.

LS: Fair enough. And they are pretty stupid.

MA: Let’s get out of here and get a pitcher of beer. I’m buying.

LS: Sounds good to me.

FATHER: Hey, where are you going?

LS: I’m done here. Oh, and by the way, I’ll send you my bill in the mail. I guarantee, when you see my fee, it will scare the living hell out of you.

MA: Then maybe you should pay for the pitcher.

LS: Be quiet and get up those stairs!


© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE CONJURING  ~two and a half knives.



Posted in 2011, Action Movies, John Harvey Reviews, Quantam Physics, Science Fiction, Time Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2011 by knifefighter

SOURCE CODE: A Cunning, Intelligent, Science Fiction Thriller
By John Harvey

Director Duncan Jones seems to have found his niche in science fiction films that eschew massive spaceships, menacing aliens and  huge special effects budgets, in favor of character and story development. His only previous feature film credit is the thoroughly enjoyable MOON (2009 starring Sam Rockwell), which provided a more cerebral breed of science fiction.

The difference between SOURCE CODE and MOON, is that SOURCE CODE provides a warmer, more personable tone that is more inviting to the average viewer. Though a wonderful film, MOON’s mood and environment is much more emotionally distant and cold (an intentional effect).

In SOURCE CODE, Air Force Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train approaching Chicago. Across from him sits Christina Warren (Michele Monaghan), a fellow commuter in mid-conversation who obviously knows him well. But Stevens has more pressing problems than nodding off mid-chat with a pretty woman; he doesn’t know who she is or how he got there. His last memory is flying combat missions in Afghanistan. In a panic, he dashes to the bathroom compartment and the mirror reveals a face that is not his own. Stevens’ efforts to discover what has happened to him are cut short when a massive bomb explodes, killing him and everyone on the train.

But not really.

He regains consciousness again in something resembling a cross between a cockpit and a sensory deprivation chamber. Via a small monitor, Air Force officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and an emotionally-distant scientist (Jeffrey Wright) ask questions about the train and the people on it. From here, the film slowly reveals that he is part of an ambitious government science project called “Source Code.” Combining quantum physics and time travel, this technology puts his consciousness into the body of a man who died on that commuter train, but only during the last eight minutes of his life. His mission is to relive those eight minutes over and over until he figures out the bomber’s identity, which will allow authorities to stop a much more devastating attack later that day.

So, let’s get one thing straight here. The “science” in SOURCE CODE is a big steamy pile of horse poo. It’s a blatant MacGuffin that exists solely to allow the filmmakers to explore ideas, move the plot forward and focus on the characters. If you’re prone towards hand wringing when filmmakers don’t display an adequate knowledge of string theory, then this movie will drive you out of your skull. On the other hand, if you can ignore bad or even silly science in a film, then you’ll be fine here.

More accurately, SOURCE CODE resembles what would happen if Philip K. Dick sat down with Rod Serling and said, “Smoke this and then let’s talk story.” It’s mind-bending and taut, while having a distinct sense-of-wonder inherent to old time sci-fi.

But at its core, SOURCE CODE is a thriller with a dash of mystery whodunnit. Every time Stevens repeats those last eight minutes, he competes against the clock to shake clues out of his environment and the other passengers in order to avert disaster. Each trip also forces him form stronger attachments to his fellow passengers (Christina in particular) and ask questions about the nature of his own existence and how he got there. Though the scientists insist that what he experiences is not time travel, but rather shadows from alternate universes, Stevens develops stronger doubts each time he repeats the cycle. Add to that the growing tension as he begins to suspect that his Source Code handlers aren’t telling him everything about his own situation. It’s a deft balance between the mission’s twists and turns and Steven’s own internal struggle.

While concept and plot in this movie work very nicely, it is perhaps at the detriment to character depth (though the acting all around is fine). This is a trade-off to the fact that there’s a lot going on in this film and at a very frenetic pace. Even with these minor flaws, SOURCE CODE provides an original and intelligent story that provides both action and psychological thrills.

And, in the end, SOURCE CODE delivers the goods and wraps up nicely. Though perhaps the ending veers even more sharply away from science into pure fantasy, which may put off some viewers. I got over it and would recommend this film.

– END –

© Copyright 2011 by John D. Harvey

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you want to hear an interview with SOURCE CODE screenwriter Ben Ripley, then check out the Slice of SciFi’s podcast #309: .

Directed By:
Duncan Jones
Written By:
Ben Ripley
Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright
Run Time:
1hr 34min

(Editor’s Note: If you’re a fan of John’s columns, do yourself a favor and check out his amazing novel, THE CLEANSING, published by Arkham House Press. I can’t praise this one highly enough).


Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Evil Kids! with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2010 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


(THE SCENE: A classroom, with the desks full of kids. In the front of the room L.L. SOARES is speaking to them.)

LS: Okay, class, today we’re going to have Show and Tell! And our first student will be little Mikey Arruda. Come to the front of the class, Mikey!

(MIKEY ARRUDA squeezes out from the child’s chair and goes to the front of the room.)

LS: What do you have for us today?

MA (in little boy voice):  I drew a picture.

LS:  Can you show it to the class?

(MA unfolds picture and hands it to LS.)

LS (Eyes bulging as he sees drawing of nude woman):  Whoa, baby!  Let’s not show that to the class just yet. Good old Mr. Soares is going to put this away into his private collect— er, into the trash can. Naughty, naughty, little Mikey. What on earth were you thinking?

MA:  I was thinking about the movie we’re reviewing.

LS:  Huh?

MA:  ORPHAN. There are some drawings like this in the film, and I wanted to explain the connection between this gag—.

LS (rolling eyes):  For crying out loud!  Do you have to explain everything?  (Looks at camera)  Does he have to explain everything? (to Mikey) Can’t you just stay in character and let the gag play out?

MA:  It’s hard playing a little kid.

LS:  Quit your whining!  I played a baby in the last column!

MA (sighs):  Yup, playing kids is no easy task. It takes a damned village. Or is it a village of the damned? (grins devilishly).

LS:  Oh stop that grinning devilishly stuff!   I’m moving on with the review.

ORPHAN is the tale of little Esther Coleman, a delightful little girl who is nothing but peaches and cream. But her name isn’t Coleman right off the bat. First she has to get adopted by the nice Coleman family. There’s Momma Kate (Vera  Farmiga) who is so pretty, but sometimes she drinks too much when she thinks about  her third child, little Jessica, who was born dead (in a nightmarish scene that begins the film). There’s Daddy John (Peter Sarsgaard) who wants his family to be whole again. Then there’s cute little Maxine (Aryana Engineer), known as Max,  who is almost completely deaf and uses sign language, and sulky pre-teen Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) who seems to play Guitar Hero 24 hours a day. As Kate says early on, it’s like she had all this love to give baby Jessica, and she wants to give it to someone else instead, so they look into adopting a child from an orphanage.

And that is where we meet inquisitive little Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who paints so very well for a child and who is quite mature for her age. It’s clear she’s an outsider, since she doesn’t run around and play with the other children. But it’s her very outsiderness that draws Kate and John to her. They seem to connect right away, and suddenly nervous Kate is very happy they considered adoption.

But, as is the way with these stories, little Esther is not the sweetheart she appears to be. That cute little Russian accent may have fooled us at first, but not for long. You see, bad things start happening, and some people even start turning up dead, and all of the clues seem to point to poor misunderstood Esther, which is most unfortunate.

Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of the evil kid genre, from the first time I was a tyke myself watching THE BAD SEED (1956) on TV—.

MA (interrupting):  Your biography.

(LS whacks MA across the forehead with a ruler.)

MA:  Ouch!

LS:  –ah, yes, I remember having a crush back then on little Patty McCormack, she looked so cute with her little Penmanship medal—up through classics like VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960), THE EXORCIST (1973), and THE OMEN (1976) – evil kids were big in the 70s – to more recent fair like THE GOOD SON (1993), the only Macaulay Culkin film I ever liked. And then there’s my favorite of this genre, the classic Spanish film WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976), about a whole island full of murderous kids! Yes, I’ve enjoyed the cinematic exploits of murderous children. So I was looking forward to ORPHAN.

MA:  I could take or leave this little subgenre, though I’m also a big fan of THE BAD SEED, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, and of course, THE EXORCIST. So, I had no major expectations coming into ORPHAN.

LS:  I have to admit, I thought it was pretty good. First off, the acting is above-average. I’ve always been a fan of Farmiga (you might remember her in Martin Scorcese’s THE DEPARTED and lots of other films), and Sarsgaard is an indie movie mainstay, who’s been in such great flicks as KINSEY. So right off the bat you have a married couple who’s slightly more interesting than is normal for these kinds of movies, just because of the people who are playing them. But the movie itself stands or falls on the shoulders of Isabelle Fuhrman as evil Esther, and she’s more than up for the job. Her performance is pretty terrific, and by the end she enters some very creepy territory.

The other kids are fine too, especially little Max, who Esther uses to her advantage (Max can read lips), and character actors like CCH Pounder as the nun who runs the orphanage, Sister Abigail, and Margo Martindale as Kate’s psychiatrist. All quite good.

As is usual for these films, Kate sees what is going on before anyone else, but because of her history of emotional troubles (between the grief over her dead child, her drinking, and marital woes), everyone is quick to dismiss her fears.

And what did you think, Little Mikey?

(MA sits at a table wearing a bib and eating cereal):  Mikey likes it!

LS:  MIKEY LIKES IT! HEY MIKEY! Er..the movie or the cereal?

MA:  The movie. The cereal tastes like cardboard.

LS:  That’s because it is cardboard, you dolt! You’re eating a prop.

MA:  Really?  Oh well. Gotta get your fiber somehow.

Anyway, I really liked ORPHAN. You know, you and I sat on a movie panel recently at NECON (a New England horror writers’ convention), and we were asked to name our favorite horror movies of the year, and I struggled to find a favorite. Had I seen ORPHAN before the panel, it would have been my pick. So, there you have it, I liked it so much, that it’s my favorite horror film of the year so far.

LS: Well, it’s no MARTYRS, but I enjoyed it quite a bit myself.

MA:  You hit the nail on the head when you talked about the cast. That’s a huge reason why I liked this movie. The acting was excellent. I do remember Vera Farmiga in THE DEPARTED, and she’s terrific again in this movie. And Sarsgaard is a fine actor who doesn’t disappoint here. One of his credits you probably want to forget is his work in another movie we reviewed  a few years back, THE SKELETON KEY, which I didn’t think was a bad movie, but I seem to recall you hated it. That’s going back a few years now.

LS: I think I have warmed a bit to SKELETON KEY over time. I still find Kate Hudson’s performance in that film incredibly boring – she’s just awful – and that hurts the film a lot, since she’s the lead. But I’ve always been a big fan of voodoo. And yes, Sarsgaard is good in that movie, too.

(CHILD in the back row raises her hand)

LS: Yes, little Mary!

CHILD (speaks in manly, Satanic voice): May I be excused. I really gotta go to the bathroom.

LS: But of course!

(CHILD walks past them, she looks up at Mikey)

CHILD: Your auntie eats slugs in hell.

(MA sticks his tongue out at her)

LS: Now, now, children. How about behaving?

(Hits MA across the forehead with a ruler again)

MA: Ouch! What did you do that for?

LS: Because I can. (laughs maniacally).

MA: Bully.

(LS laughs even louder)

MA:  Anyway, back to the review. I really liked CCH Pounder as Sister Abigail, and Margo Martindale as Kate’s psychiatrist was sufficiently frustrating when she was supposed to be.

And as you said, the kids are terrific too. Little Aryana Engineer as Maxine nearly steals every scene she’s in, and Jimmy Bennett as Daniel is also very good. Bennett was also in the new STAR TREK movie, in a brief stint as little boy Captain Kirk.

LS: I thought Daniel was kind of annoying, but that’s the point. He seemed like a real kid. And he sure was fun for Esther to torment.

MA: Of course, the main player here is Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, and she’s phenomenal. She makes Damien seem like a Brady Bunch kid. Not that I’d want to attend a birthday party with Damien…

LS: I would. In fact, I have a present right here in case he invites me (pulls out a wrapped package).

MA: .. but in the OMEN movies he kinda stood back and let all the devil’s “helpers” do the dirty work. Esther does her own dirty work.

(Behind them, a birthday party scene, with lots of kids and party hats and cake and ice cream. DAMIEN and his friends throw ice cream at MA & LS).

LS:  Knock it off!  I’m not afraid of you!

MA:  Hey, LL, you might want to lighten up. It’s Damien, little Mr. 666 himself!

LS:  Big deal. We’re in good with his cousin, don’t forget.

MA:  Cousin?

(HELLBOY pops up with a can of beer and a donkey piñata):  Who’s up for a game of “Beat the Crap Out of the Donkey”?  (Children cheer)

MA:  It’s tempting to say that the kids, who are so good in this film, steal the movie, but it’s not true, because the adults in this flick are just as good.

While the acting is excellent, it’s not my favorite part of the movie. That would be the screenplay by David Johnson. He has written a script which could have very easily gone the way of cliché. Instead, he’s written an intelligent tale in which the people act the way they’re supposed to act. True, the script loses some of this intelligence towards the end, when the action takes over, and believability is strained somewhat, but by this point the film has earned its place as a smart thriller.

LS: Yes, it did lose its way a bit at the very end, and strained credibility. All I will say is that I found it odd how the characters all seemed immune to hypothermia.

MA: Good point!  I really liked the relationship between the husband and wife, John and Kate. I thought it was realistic. I liked the way they handled their family, especially how they dealt with the “F-bombs.”  This is important, because it makes their later arguments all the more painful to watch, and better yet, these disagreements unfold in a believable way.

LS: God, I hate wimpified terms like “f-bomb.” But you’re right. Their arguments didn’t feel forced. They seemed genuine.

MA: I also thought the Sister Abigail character was portrayed realistically. She was a character who could have very easily been written as a cliché. Instead, her reactions here are very real. Early on at the orphanage, she sees the parents interacting well with Esther, and she says as much. She doesn’t utter cliché dire warnings (“Nooo, not that child!) or act in a silly overly frightened manner. And later, her suspicions about Esther come off as real and authentic.

LS: We’re using words like “genuine” and “authentic” a lot, but I think what it amounts to is “good acting.”

MA:  But it’s more than that, though. It’s the writing too, as these characters, admittedly brought to life on screen by some fine acting, appear in situations that seem real, as opposed to some of the forced situations we so often see in horror movies. I don’t want to give anything away, but in a disturbing scene near the end involving Esther and John, I loved John’s reaction to her. It’s great acting, yes, but it’s also very good writing, having the character of John react in a way that’s believable. I kept waiting for him to give in to her and then be attacked because his giving in would have made him a creep, which would have been out of character for him. But this doesn’t happen.

And this movie earns its R-rating. While it’s not filled with one violent scene after another, the few it includes are powerful and heavy hitting. I thought the murder scenes were intense.

LS: Well, it earned its R-rating, but only slightly. There’s no nudity (Farmiga even leaves her bra on during a sex scene), and the blood is minimal. I thought little Esther’s acts of violence were a bit subdued for my tastes.

MA:  Well, yeah, for your tastes, ye who watches TOKYO GORE POLICE for fun. I didn’t find this movie subdued at all. I found it intense. I actually saw a couple of people sitting on the edge of their seats towards the end of the movie. Director Jaume Collet-Serra does a nice job building up the tension. I had a good time watching this movie. For those of you who like to be scared, this is a movie for you.

There are some truly great fright scenes. The road attack sequence when Esther attacks one of the characters with a hammer packs a real wallop (heh, heh). And I loved the scene when she pulls a razor blade on her brother while he’s in his bed. The line she utters to him— great stuff!  You gotta see this movie!

Sure, it has its flaws. I thought it was way too easy the way they adopted Esther. It was like, “we’ll take her.”  OK. All done. Granted, I think some time passes before they are allowed to bring Esther home, but it still seemed too easy. It takes more paperwork to adopt a dog from the pound these days than it did for these parents to adopt Esther!

LS: Yeah, that was a bit rushed. But we can forgive that because it was meant to move the movie along.

MA: And there were too many false scares for my liking, although most of these came early on in the movie. By the time the film really gets going, the scares are genuine.

LS: I found that irritating as well. But you’re right. That happens mostly in the early part of the film. I especially hate the way music is used to set us up for a scare that doesn’t happen. It’s a bit ham-fisted.

MA: I also liked the scene where we see Esther’s artwork on the walls of her room illuminated by the fish tank lighting. I thought this was a creepy scene.

LS: Yes, what was that? Ultraviolet paint?

MA: I’m not sure. But it reminded me of the paint used in some of the fun houses I went through as a kid.

I had little or no expectations regarding ORPHAN, and so I was more than pleasantly surprised. Right now, it’s my pick for best horror movie of the year. Go see ORPHAN!

LS:  Looks like one of the rare times that we agree about a movie. What can I say, except this one’s worth checking out.

Okay, little Mikey, Show and Tell is over. It’s off to detention for you!

MA:  Detention?

LS:  You draw dirty pictures in my classroom, you get a detention! (MA grumbles). Don’t worry. I’ll say so long to the folks for you. (MA Exits). Can’t have pictures like this in a classroom, that’s for sure. (Opens a door to reveal a room with purple fluorescent lighting and all sorts of sordid pictures on the wall). But a secret room hidden in the wall – that’s a different story!

Until next time—.

(CUT to MA sitting in detention next to Damien, Linda Blair, the Bad Seed and some of the  evil children from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED).

MA:  Anyone have any gum?


(First published on Fear Zone on 7/27/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares