CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014)

0

3-Days-To-Kill-PosterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) which went up this past weekend at cinemaknifefight.com.  Remember, if you like to read about movies, check out cinemaknifefight.com where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  3 DAYS TO KILL (2014)

Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: Outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits at a table at an outdoor café.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everybody to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m flying solo this week as L.L. SOARES is off on another assignment, which is his loss since I get to visit Paris to review today’s movie 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014), a new action thriller starring Kevin Costner and Amber Heard.  The film takes place in Paris because— well, there really isn’t a good reason, which is only one of the issues I had with this film.

Anyway, let’s get on with the review.

3 DAYS TO KILL opens with a botched attempt by the CIA to eliminate one of their enemies, a villain named The Wolf (Richard Sammel) who works with another man named The Albino (Tomas Lemarquis)— I have to stop here for a moment.  I think I actually laughed out loud when these names were mentioned with straight faces by the main players in this film in its opening moments.  The Wolf?  The Albino?  Seriously?

One of the reasons the attempt goes sour is the main agent on the ground, Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is on the phone trying to wish his teenage daughter a happy birthday.  The mission is a disaster, as both The Wolf and The Albino escape, blowing up a hotel in the process, all to the chagrin of the young agent running the operation, Vivi Delay (Amber Heard).

Why Ethan is allowed to keep his job after this bungle I don’t know.  Worse yet, when Vivi decides to continue her manhunt for The Wolf, she again turns to Ethan because he’s the one man who knows what the Wolf looks like, and so he’s the only man who can positively identify him and track him down.  Really?  Ever hear of composite sketches, Vivi?  Get Ethan to give an artist a description and then be done with this bum.  But, alas, there’s no one around who can kill as well as Ethan.  Really?  The guy’s ready for retirement, for crying out loud, and not only this, but he’s dying!  He can barely stand up and he’s the best guy for the job?  Come on!

Yes, Ethan is dying from a rare disease for which there is no cure, and so he visits his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and teen daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) to make amends and spend some time with his daughter in the final months he has to live.  Of course, Zoey wants no part of him, since he abandoned her for most of her childhood.

Meanwhile, Vivi informs Ethan that she has an antidote for his disease, an experimental drug that will prolong his life for years rather than months, but to get it, he has to help her find and kill The Wolf.   Since Ethan seems to be happiest when he’s beating people up, he quickly agrees, and thus we have the set-up for the rest of the movie, as Ethan has to search for The Wolf while trying to manage his daughter who is as rebellious as they come.

(A drop dead gorgeous woman wearing a tight bright red dress approaches MA.)

WOMAN:  I have the antidote.

MA:  Excuse me?

WOMAN:  I have the antidote.  But I’m only giving it to you if you keep your end of the bargain.

MA:  I’m sorry.  You must have me confused with someone else.  I’m here reviewing a movie.

WOMAN:  Don’t you want the antidote?

MA:  Antidote?  For what?  I’m not sick.  (He sneezes.)

WOMAN: Not sick, eh?

MA:  That was just a random sneeze.  (Sneezes again.)

WOMAN:  Your condition betrays you.

MA:  Condition?  I just sneezed!  What kind of a condition is that?

WOMAN: Keep your end of the bargain, or no antidote!

(She walks away.)

MA:  That was strange.

Anyway, the biggest problem I had with 3 DAYS TO KILL— and I had a lot of problems with this film— is that it suffers from a huge case of the “sillies.”  It gets really silly at times, and this goofiness works against its plot, which I thought was supposed to be an action thriller.

The attempts at comedy generally misfire, mostly because they’re not realistic.  The scene where Ethan opens the trunk to his car and tells the guy he has tied up in there to be quiet because he’s trying to talk to his daughter is supposed to be funny, but it misfires because it seems so fake.  Who says things like that?  A comedian, maybe.

Things get even sillier when Ethan keeps going back to this same guy for information about The Wolf, and these scenes are supposed to be humorous, but they’re not.  The worst scene with these two occurs when they’re having a conversation and they approach Ethan’s car, and I expected the guy to enter the passenger seat, but what does he do?  He actually steps into the trunk voluntarily.  Who does that?

In another scene, Ethan is interrogating a man who happens to be Italian, and in the middle of the interrogation, Ethan’s cell phone rings with his daughter’s ring tone.  This is a running gag in the movie, as it tends to ring at the most inopportune moments–another lame attempt at humor.  His daughter is looking for a spaghetti sauce recipe so she can cook dinner for her boyfriend.  Now, that’s realistic, a high-schooler cooking a gourmet meal for her boyfriend.  Yeah, right.

Ethan says to his prisoner, “You’re Italian.  Do you know how to make spaghetti sauce?”  He forces the guy at gunpoint to give his daughter the spaghetti sauce recipe.  Again, this is supposed to be funny, but it’s not.  It comes off as extremely goofy.

On top of this, the film also suffers from a bigger case of the “cutes.”  Ethan buys a bicycle for his daughter Zoey.  Aw, isn’t that cute?  Ethan teaches his daughter how to dance, and his wife Christine walks in and is so touched by the scene.  Aw, isn’t this even cuter?  Ethan literally picks up and carries his daughter out of harm’s way when she’s nearly assaulted in a nightclub.  Isn’t that the cutest?  Gag me!!!

The plot holes in this one are bigger than the pot holes on the roads in my neighborhood, and some of those pot holes are the size of Rhode Island.  Who is The Wolf? Why is the CIA so interested in killing him?  We don’t really know.  It’s mentioned early on that he funds terrorism or something like that, but that’s it.  You know what would have worked better?  Had we actually seen him do some of the things that make him a wanted man, but in this movie, we see The Wolf do next to nothing.  He’s also a very ineffective villain.  He knows Ethan’s identity throughout the film, and yet he can’t stop him.  He can’t stop one guy?

This movie would have been far more interesting if we knew why Ethan had to kill the Wolf.  What nefarious plot was the Wolf hatching?  I have no idea.  I do know that Ethan bought his daughter a bicycle.

(MA’s cell phone rings.)

Excuse me while I take this.  (Speaks into cell phone.)  Hello?

WOMAN’S VOICE:  You must keep your end of the bargain.  The fate of the free world is in your hands.

MA:  I told you, you have the wrong guy!

WOMAN’S VOICE:  If I have the wrong guy, then why did you answer his cell phone?

MA:  I— I don’t know.

WOMAN’S VOICE:  You have to kill him.  He’s on his way.

MA:  Who is?

WOMAN’S VOICE:  The Bunny!

MA:  You want me to kill someone named the Bunny?  I can’t take any more of this.  (shuts off his cell phone.)

That woman is crazy.  Okay, back to the review.

Why is this movie taking place in Paris?  The only reason it seems to me is so we can see some picturesque shots of the City of Love, and I can’t take that away from the movie.  Paris looks great, but other than the fact that Ethan supposedly transferred there to be close to his estranged family, the location has no relevance.  And isn’t it a happy coincidence that this A-List villain The Wolf who must be killed at all costs just happens to live in Paris as well?

This is not to say I hated 3 DAYS TO KILL.  There were some parts that I liked.  For example, I really enjoyed the scenes where Kevin Costner’s Ethan was being a bad ass.  In these scenes, the humor works, because it’s not silly or cutesy.  When Ethan can barely stand up due to his illness, and yet he can still single-handedly wipe out a group of assassins, as in one scene where Ethan’s lying there barely alive, and a guy he just shot off the roof falls on the ground behind him with a huge thud, that was funny.

It’s also hard not to laugh when the sound effects for Ethan’s punches when he beats ups his adversaries are so exaggerated I half expected to see the words POW!  and BAM! appear on screen.

The one subplot I did enjoy was the plight of the squatter family inside Ethan’s Paris apartment.  He returns home to find a family living in his apartment and to his chagrin learns that the law protects these folks during the winter months, and so he just is going to have to live with them.  The relationship between Ethan and this family, especially the young boy who looks up to him, is one of the more refreshing and sincere parts of this otherwise convoluted film.

I also liked Kevin Costner’s performance.  It was good to see him back on the screen as a lead character.  He makes a convincing tough guy, and plays Ethan like an aged and very ill Jason Bourne.  However, he’s stuck in the sickly sweet plot of daddy gets to know daughter, which did nothing for me and didn’t do him any favors.

(There is suddenly loud coughing from behind MA.  A man taps MA on the back.

MAN (coughing):  Give me your cell phone.

MA:  My cell phone?

MAN:  It’s mine.  Here’s yours (hands MA his cell phone.)  I switched them when I bumped into you this morning.

MA:  Well, that explains the woman calling me earlier.  Why did you switch them?

MAN:  So The Bunny couldn’t trace my whereabouts.  Give me my phone now.

MA:  Sure, you can have it.

(The Man suddenly has a huge coughing fit and collapses to the ground.  Dead.)

MA:  Hmm.  That’s not good.  (Cell phone rings.)  Hello?

WOMAN’S VOICE:  The Bunny is on his way!  You have to kill him.

MA:  Look, your guy just showed up, the guy who you think I am, but I’m afraid you have a problem.  See, I think he just died on you.

WOMAN’S VOICE:  Dammit!  Then it’s up to you.  You have to kill The Bunny!

MA:  Let me finish with my review first, and then I’ll get back to you.  (Shuts off his cell phone.)  Kill the Bunny!  Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?

(From afar, comes the operatic voice of Elmer Fudd)

FUDD:  Kill the Rabbit!  Kill the Rabbit!

MA:  That was weird.  I gotta finish this review and get the hell out of here.

Amber Heard as Vivi doesn’t fare as well.  She really isn’t in the film all that much, and to me, that’s all you need to know about what’s wrong with this movie.  You have Amber Heard as a major character, and you choose not to utilize her, instead spending time on Ethan’s family?

As a result, we know little about Vivi’s background, motivations, or goals, and she comes off as a completely one-dimensional character.  She’s as lifeless as a still photo.  She makes a gorgeous still photo, but I’d rather she were a gorgeous three-dimensional character.

Heard’s Vivi is constantly coming on to Costner’s Ethan, and he’s constantly ignoring her— yeah, that’s believable!— telling her that he’s not interested in her.  See, this is supposed to make Ethan admirable, because what he’s saying here without really saying it is that he’s not interested in Vivi because he’s only interested in his estranged wife, but the problem with this is he’s so disinterested in Vivi, that Costner and Heard share no onscreen chemistry at all.  This film completely wastes Amber Heard’s sex appeal.  It also makes Costner’s Ethan seem like a corpse.  Amber Heard is coming on to you, and you have absolutely no reaction?  Are you kidding me?

 

It also doesn’t help that Heard has some of the worst lines in the movie.

Hailee Steinfeld is fine as Ethan’s daughter Zoey, but unfortunately her character is very cliché.  I’m growing tired of these “single father has to handle tough teenage daughter” storylines.  Steinfeld fared much better as Mattie Ross in the remake of TRUE GRIT (2010).

And I liked Connie Nielsen as Ethan’s wife Christine.  There was something very sincere and sensual about her, something that was completely absent from Amber Heard’s character.  I could easily see why Ethan loved her so much.  But what I didn’t like was the way the script handled her.  When we first see her, she seems to hate Ethan, and doesn’t even want to talk to him, let alone see him, but as the movie goes along, she’s ready to fall in love with him all over again.  Really?  I didn’t buy it.

Eriq Ebouaney is excellent in a small role as Jules, the father of the squatter family inside Ethan’s home.  He may have given the best performance in the entire movie.  The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, especially the villains.

3 DAYS TO KILL can’t make up its mind whether it’s a comedy or a thriller.  It should have stuck with being a thriller, because the comedy doesn’t work. It reminded me a lot of a similar muddled film, the Robert De Niro drama/comedy THE FAMILY (2013), which comes as no surprise because screenwriter Luc Besson wrote both movies.  After seeing both of these films, I think Besson needs to work on his comedic skills.  Besson is an experienced writer with lots of credits, however, so maybe he’s just in a mini-slump or something.  After all, he wrote the Liam Neeson hit TAKEN (2008).  Then again, he wrote its disastrous sequel TAKEN 2 (2012) as well.

3 DAYS TO KILL was directed by McG.  I’m sorry, but he sounds like a McDonald’s burger. McG also directed TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009) a film I liked much better than this one.  In 3 DAYS TO KILL, McG does capture some picturesque shots of Paris, and he does handle the Kevin Costner action scenes very well, but the trouble is there aren’t enough of them as the movie spends far too much time on the “getting to know his daughter” plot.  3 DAYS TO KILL would have been much better had it jettisoned its teenage daughter subplot, built up the Amber Heard character, and given the villains something to do.

Kevin Costner acquits himself well as the aging assassin/CIA agent, and Amber Heard in spite of playing a poorly written character is still Amber Heard.

I give it two knives.

(Screaming erupts from all around MA.)

VOICE:  It’s the Bunny!

(MA turns to see people fleeing from a person in a fluffy white Bunny costume.)

MA:  You have got to be kidding me.

(BUNNY pulls out a sharp carrot and starts waving it at people.)

MA:  Hey!  Hey, you, Bunny!  What’s your problem?

(BUNNY stops and points to himself.)

MA:  Yeah, you.  Do you see any other Bunnies around?  What the hell are you doing?  Knock it off!

(BUNNY stares down MA.)

MA:  I’m about to be attacked by a Bunny.  I’ll never live this down.

(Cell phone rings.)  Hello?  Yeah, he’s standing right here.  Any ideas?  Okay, that’ll work.  She wants to talk to you.  (Hands cell phone to the Bunny.)

(The BUNNY puts the phone to its ear.  There is a huge explosion, and the Bunny is blown to bits.)

MA:  Well, we were due for an explosive ending.  See you all next week when L.L. Soares returns, and he and I review another new movie.

(MA exits café as BUNNY body parts fall from the sky.)

—END—

IN THE SHADOWS: DWIGHT FRYE

0
Dwight Frye as Renfield in DRACULA (1931).

Dwight Frye as Renfield in DRACULA (1931).

In The Shadows: DWIGHT FRYE

By Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of In The Shadows, that column where we honor character actors from the movies, especially horror movies.

Character actors add so much to the movies they’re in, it’s hard to imagine these movies without them. Never receiving the praise heaped upon the major actors and stars of the genre, these folks nonetheless are often every bit as effective as the big name leads.

Last time out we paid homage to one of my favorite character actors from Hammer Films, Michael Ripper. Today we look at one of my favorite character actors from the Universal Monster movies, the great Dwight Frye.

After a successful theatrical career in the 1920s, Frye hit it big immediately on the big screen with his groundbreaking performance as Renfield, the fly-eating madman in the Bela Lugosi version of DRACULA (1931). Other than Lugosi as Dracula, Frye steals the show, making Renfield the most memorable character in the entire movie.

Nearly every scene Frye has as Renfield is impressive. Who can forget his speech to Van Helsing about Dracula and the rats:

RENFIELD: A red mist spread over the lawn, coming on like a flame of fire. And then he parted it. And I could see that there were thousands of rats with eyes blazing red, like his, only smaller. And then he held up his hand, and then they all stopped, and I thought he seemed to be saying: Rats. Rats. Rats! Thousands! Millions of them! All red blood! All these will I give to you if you will obey me!

Frye immediately followed up his phenomenal performance as Renfield with another memorable performance, this time as Fritz, Henry Frankenstein’s hunchbacked assistant in the Boris Karloff version of FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

While Fritz is a smaller part than Renfield, Frye nonetheless makes the most of his scenes. Fritz plays an integral role in one of the major plot points in the film, when he mistakenly steals an abnormal brain from a college lecture hall for Henry Frankenstein to put inside the skull of the Monster.

As Fritz, Frye does a lot of little things in FRANKENSTEIN that really add depth to his character. When Henry Frankenstein sends him down the long winding stone staircase to see who is banging at their laboratory door, Fritz chatters all the way down, going on about how he doesn’t have time for this sort of thing, that he has too much to do, and at one point he stops on a step to pull up his socks.

In one of the movie’s more dramatic scenes, Fritz takes both a whip and a torch to the Monster (Boris Karloff) as he torments Frankenstein’s creation. Of course, this doesn’t end too well for Fritz, as he gets a little too close to the Monster, and in one of the film’s more chilling images, we see the shadow of Fritz’s dead body hanging from the ceiling, murdered by the Monster.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Frye’s genius and talent wasn’t really recognized back in 1931, and what should have been a very successful film career never materialized. Sadly, after these two superb performances, Dwight Frye was forever typecast in small thankless roles as weirdoes and lunatics.

He also had the misfortune of having his roles in future Universal horror films cut. For example, his role as Karl in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) was cut significantly before the film’s release. Originally, Karl was to have been a much more important character to the plot, as he was supposed to have murdered his parents and then blamed the murder on the Monster, which is why at the end of the film, the Monster goes out of his way to kill Karl. In the final print, this subplot is gone, and Karl is little more than a grave robber who works for Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), although we do get to see a flash of Karl’s menacing personality when he murders a young woman in order to supply Pretorius and Henry Frankenstein with a fresh heart.

His role in the third Karloff Frankenstein film, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) was cut entirely, and he doesn’t appear in the movie.

Tragically, Frye died of a heart attack on November 7, 1943 at the age of 44. While in life his career never materialized the way it should have, today, we can look back, appreciate, and enjoy his remarkable talent. Through the magic of the movies, Dwight Frye lives on.

Here’s a partial list of Dwight Frye’s 62 film appearances, concentrating solely on his appearance in horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s:

DRACULA (1931) – Renfield

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – Fritz

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) – Herman Gleib

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) – Reporter (uncredited)

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – Karl

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – Villager (uncredited)

DEAD MEN WALK (1943) – Zolarr

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – Rudi

These are the films in which I became familiar with Dwight Frye. Of course, he made many more movies than just these, appearing in 62 of them.

Dwight Frye made his mark early, in two powerhouse performances as Renfield in DRACULA, and as Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN. You can make the argument that other than the two leads in these movies, Lugosi as Dracula, and Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster, it’s Frye who steals the show, although in FRANKENSTEIN he does get some competition from Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, and Edward Van Sloan is also in both movies doing his professor shtick, but it’s Frye who creates two of the livelier characters in both films.

I also really enjoyed Dwight Frye as Herman in THE VAMPIRE BAT, in which he plays a simple-minded fellow who loves bats, and who unfortunately is blamed by the villagers for the vampire-like murders plaguing the community, and he’s hunted down and murdered. Of course, his death is all for not, as the true culprit in this one is the evil Dr. Otto von Niemann, played by Lionel Atwill.

It’s a shame Dwight Frye didn’t get to do more. He could have added so much to so many more movies. Don’t believe me? Check out his work in DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN and you’ll be convinced.

Dwight Frye: February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943

Thanks for reading everybody!

—Michael

George Clooney At His Quirky Best in 2011’s THE DESCENDANTS

0

The DescendantsBlu-Ray Review:  THE DESCENDANTS (2011)

By

Michael Arruda

Watching George Clooney in THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) earlier this month reminded me that I still hadn’t seen THE DESCENDANTS (2011), the film in which Clooney was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.  So, I remedied this by catching THE DESCENDANTS (2011) on Blu-ray the other day.

THE DESCENDANTS takes place in Hawaii, and right off the bat I could tell I was going to enjoy this Oscar winning screenplay by director Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, as in an opening voice-over, Clooney says that just because he lives in Hawaii people think his life is a paradise, free from family problems, sickness, and daily angst, but obviously that’s not true, as he suffers from the same day to day issues as the rest of us.

Lawyer Matt King’s (George Clooney) current woe is that his wife Elizabeth is in a coma, a victim of a boating accident. Matt works attorney’s hours, and he’s never been close to his kids, but now he must care for his young daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and teen daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) on his own, and since they are both volatile personalities with foul mouths and attitudes to boot, Matt has his hands full.

Matt and his extended family also own a huge amount of land on the island of Kaua’i, land that they plan to sell for development.  Since Matt is the sole trustee of the family trust, it’s his name that’s in the news, and his decision to sell is not a popular one among the islanders.

When the doctors tell Matt that his wife will not survive, and that she will be taken off life support, he tells his daughters and his family and friends so they can say their good-byes, prompting an upset Alexandra to tell her father that her mother was having an affair, which drives Matt to search for the man she was having an affair with.

THE DESCENDANTS follows Matt’s attempts to work things out with his daughters while handling the news that his soon to be dead wife was having an affair.  While this may sound gloomy and depressing, it really isn’t.  The film has a quirky likeable style, and these dark plot points merely serve as a backdrop to our getting to know Matt and his daughters.

As I said earlier, Clooney was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor, and deservedly so.  He’s great here, and it just might be my favorite George Clooney performance.  The last film where I enjoyed him as much as this was in the Coen Brothers’ O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000) where he delivered a hilarious over-the-top performance as goofy escaped convict Everett McGill.  Since Matt King is a much more three-dimensional character than Everett McGill, Clooney’s performance here is all the more satisfying.

I often find that Clooney’s roles tend to struggle generating emotions.  They’re intellectually interesting, but they don’t tug at your heart.  That’s not the case here.

He gives Matt a vulnerability that is instantly likeable.  When he struggles with his daughters, he is so sincere in the way he deals with them, being as honest and forthright as possible about his own weaknesses and shortcomings.  It makes him a very sympathetic character.

Clooney also gives Matt a decent dose of idiosyncrasies.  When he’s on the prowl searching for the man who had an affair with his wife, he’s almost comical.  His reaction, for example, when he sees the guy for the first time as he jogs past him is very funny.  Clooney seems to excel at playing quirky characters, and I wish he’d do it more often.

He’s helped along by a solid supporting cast.  Both Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller are excellent as his two daughters, Alexandra and Scottie.  Even better is Nick Krause as Alexandra’s boyfriend Sid.  Sid is another quirky character who livens up this film and keeps it from being dragged down by its depressing subject matter.

Sid enjoys some of the better moments in the movie.  The scene where Matt’s father-in-law Scott (Robert Forster) punches Sid in the face is a laugh-out-loud moment, and later, when Scott calls Matt an unfit husband who wasn’t there for his daughter, it’s Sid who steps up to Matt’s defense.

Speaking of Robert Forster, he’s excellent as Matt’s father-in-law Scott.  He appears in several of the more emotional scenes in the movie.  Beau Bridges is also on hand as one of the King clan, Cousin Hugh, one of the many cousins in Matt’s family.  Bridges makes the most of his few scenes, coming off like a cross between Ozzy Osborne and Jeb Bush.

Matthew Lillard is very good as the spineless Brian Speer, the man who Matt’s wife had the affair with, and Judy Greer, who played Carrie’s teacher, Ms. Desjardin  in the remake of CARRIE (2013), is also memorable as Speer’s wife Julie.  The scene where she comes to the hospital to “forgive” the comatose Elizabeth provides Clooney with yet another priceless quirky moment when he has to interrupt her ramblings.

As good as the cast is, the Oscar-winning script by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash is even better.  It’s filled with sincere witty dialogue, humorous and painful moments alike, characters that I cared about, and a pacing that kept me interested throughout.

THE DESCENDANTS was directed by Alexander Payne, and he did a bang-up job.  The film reminded me somewhat of one of Payne’s earlier efforts, SIDEWAYS (2004). Payne is nominated again this year for the Best Director Oscar for the movie NEBRASKA (2013) starring Bruce Dern, who’s also up for an Oscar for Best Actor.

THE DESCENDANTS is a rewarding film experience that highlights one man’s realization that he hasn’t been there for his family, as he is forced into caring for his two daughters while his comatose wife lies dying in a hospital bed.  It contains a great performance by George Clooney and a refreshing thoroughly satisfying script.

I highly recommend it.

—END—

SECOND LOOK: DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

0

Dead Man Down PosterSECOND LOOK:  DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

By Michael Arruda

I was eager to see DEAD MAN DOWN (2013) again.

It was one of my favorite movies from 2013.  Yet, I heard a lot of negative things about it afterwards, and I was surprised it didn’t do better at the box office.  Hmm. Could I have been the victim of popcorn euphoria?  That condition where the movie popcorn is so buttery and delicious the movie on the screen goes from mediocre to amazing?

Nah!

Still, I wanted to see DEAD MAN DOWN (2013) again, and so I watched it the other night on streaming video.

The verdict?

I still liked it.  End of column.

But seriously, I had heard a decent amount of criticism about this movie, and so I wanted to see if maybe I missed something the first time around.

For example, the biggest complaint I heard was that it was all rather contrived.

The plot again, in a nutshell, involves a man named Victor (Colin Farrell) concocting an elaborate revenge plot against a local crime lord Alphonse (Terence Howard) because he was responsible for the death of his wife and young daughter.   To do this, Victor goes undercover to infiltrate Alphonse’s organization, pretending to be a loyal lieutenant, waiting for the right moment to kill his enemy.

His plans become more complicated when his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) sees him murder one of Alphonse’s men and then uses this information to coerce Victor into murdering the man responsible for scarring her face in a drunk-driving accident.  Along the way, Victor and Beatrice become romantically involved, while Victor’s buddy Darcy (Dominic Cooper), a rising star in Alphonse’ organization, leads the charge to find the man who’s trying to kill Alphonse, meaning he’s unknowingly on the trail of his own best friend.

Some folks had difficulty believing that Victor would allow himself to be coerced by Beatrice.  Why not just kill her and be done with it?  But as I wrote in my original review, Victor hates killing:

“You may ask why Victor allows himself to be blackmailed by Beatrice in the first place, and why he doesn’t just kill her to shut her up.  The fact is that Victor hates killing, which makes his quest for revenge against Alphonse all the more effective, as it shows how deeply Victor has been scarred.  Beatrice has scars on her face, but Victor has scars on his soul.  There’s a powerful human element in this movie that in spite of its preoccupation with retribution, shows a value for life and love that I found refreshing.  Victor and Beatrice may hate the people who hurt them, but they don’t hate the human race, and they’re saved from falling into an emotionless abyss when they fall in love with each other.”

Others have complained that it was unrealistic that Beatrice would approach Victor in the first place.  What kind of a person sees a man commit murder and then thinks she can blackmail him into murdering someone else? Well, Beatrice is a wounded soul, and she suffers from more than just the scars on her face.  Like Victor, the events from her life have hardened her resolve, made her a very cold person.  For me, this made her a very interesting character.  It also made her love story with Victor all the more enjoyable, because you can see how they’re clinging to humanity, and how they view their relationship with each other as hope that they can remain in the human race.

I really enjoyed the cast in DEAD MAN DOWN, and to me they’re the main reason this movie works so well.  Colin Farrell is excellent at Victor, as is Noomi Rapace as Beatrice, and Dominic Cooper is just as good as Darcy.  These three fine actors don’t disappoint.

Director Niels Arden Oplev crafts some compelling scenes, including some violent shoot-outs and an exciting chase scene, and I still find the scene with the rats chilling and effective.

So, even after a second viewing in the comfort of my living room, I still very much enjoyed DEAD MAN DOWN and still consider it one of the best films from 2013.

If you like hard hitting dark thrillers, check out DEAD MAN DOWN, now available on Streaming Video.

—END—

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

0
The Monster doesn't say a word in FRANKENSTEIN, but Karloff's performance still speaks volumes.

The Monster doesn’t say a word in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), but Karloff’s performance still speaks volumes.

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes from the movies, especially horror movies.  Today we look at the ultimate monster movie, the original FRANKENSTEIN (1931) starring Boris Karloff as the Monster and Colin Clive as Doctor Henry Frankenstein.

While the screenplay by Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh includes lots of memorable lines, none of them are spoken by the most famous character from the movie, the Frankenstein Monster, since the creature was mute in this film.

Speaking of the screenplay, FRANKENSTEIN had quite the cast of writers involved in the writing of its script.  Ready?  While Fort and Faragoh were credited for writing the screenplay, it was based upon the “composition” by John L. Balderston, which was adapted from the play by Peggy Webling, and included uncredited contributions from Robert Florey and John Russell, as well as work from scenario editor Richard Schayer.  And of course, all of it was based on the novel by Mary Shelley.

Okay, let’s move on to the quotes.

The most famous line from the movie comes from Henry Frankenstein in the creation scene.  It’s one of the most recognizable scenes in horror film history.  With the monster’s hand slowly rising from the lab table, exhibiting its first signs of life, Henry Frankenstein goes ballistic.

HENRY FRANKENSTEIN:  Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!

Before the movie starts, actor Edward Van Sloan who plays Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN, comes out from behind a stage curtain and gives a word of warning to the audience.

EDWARD VAN SLOAN:  How do you do? Mr. Carl Laemmle feels it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning. We’re about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation: life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to, uh… Well, we’ve warned you.

Supposedly, this pre-credit sequence was supposed to match a similar scene from the end of DRACULA (1931) with Bela Lugosi.  At the end of DRACULA, there was a clip of Edward Van Sloan, who played Dr. Van Helsing in DRACULA, coming out from behind a curtain to argue the existence of vampires.  Since FRANKENSTEIN was to be playing as a second feature following DRACULA, the two Edward Van Sloan sequences were supposed to link the two films together.

As far as I know, the Van Sloan sequence from the end of DRACULA no longer exists.  I’ve never seen it, nor have I seen a still from it.

Just before he brings his Monster to life, Henry Frankenstein pauses to reflect on what he’s about to do. He looks at his unborn creation and turns to his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye.)

HENRY FRANKENSTEIN:  The brain you stole, Fritz. Think of it. The brain of a dead man waiting to live again in a body I made with my own hands!  With my own hands.

Right after the “It’s Alive!” line, Henry nearly collapses from all the emotion, and Dr. Waldman and Henry’s friend Victor Moritz (John Boles) rush to his aid.  This scene includes a line of dialogue by Henry Frankenstein that was cut from the original print because it was deemed too controversial.  It was only recently restored.  The scene itself was restored in video prints from the 1980s, but curiously, the line was not, as it was drowned out by a thunder clap.  It was fully restored in DVD prints in the 2000s, and so finally we can hear Henry’s line which was considered blasphemous, I guess.  Here it is:

VICTOR MORITZ:  Henry, in the name of God!

HENRY FRANKENSTEIN:  Oh, in the name of God!  Now I know what it feels like to be God!

Colin Clive’s best scene comes shortly after he has created the Monster, in a scene of dialogue between Clive’s Henry Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman.  As they converse in the lab, Waldman tries to warn his former student about the dangers posed by the Monster.

Let’s listen:

HENRY:  Oh, come and sit down, doctor.  You must be patient.  Do you expect perfection at once?

DR. WALDMAN:  This creature of yours should be kept under guard!  Mark my words:  he will prove dangerous.

HENRY:  Dangerous?  Poor old Waldman.  Have you never wanted to do anything that was dangerous? Where should we be if nobody tried to find out what lies beyond? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.

WALDMAN:  You’re young, my friend.  Your success has intoxicated you.  Wake up!  And look facts in the face!  Here we have a fiend whose brain—.

HENRY:  Whose brain must be given time to develop.  It’s a perfectly good brain, doctor.  Well, you ought to know.  It came from your own laboratory.

WALDMAN: The brain that was stolen from my laboratory was a criminal brain.

HENRY (caught off guard, and looking surprised.):  Oh well.  After all, it’s only a piece of dead tissue.

WALDMAN:  Only evil can come of it.  Your health will be ruined if you persist in this madness.

HENRY:  I’m astonishingly sane, doctor.

WALDMAN:  You have created a monster, and it will destroy you!

HENRY:  Patience, patience.  I believe in this monster, as you call it. And if you don’t, well you must leave me alone.

WALDMAN:  But think of Elizabeth, and your father.

HENRY:  Elizabeth believes in me.  My father?  He never believes in anyone.  I’ve got to experiment further.  He’s only a few days old, remember.  So far he’s been kept in complete darkness.  Wait till I bring him into the light.

I’ve always really enjoyed this scene.  There’s something about Clive’s performance here which is somehow more personal and more alive than in his other scenes, especially in that sequence where he speaks about being called crazy if you care to dream, and how he wouldn’t mind being called crazy if he could accomplish just one of these things.  I suspect Clive brought something personal with him when he played this scene.  It’s his best in the film.

As I said, the Monster doesn’t speak in this movie, but this doesn’t take away from Karloff’s brilliant performance.  In fact, in the film’s scariest scene, the death of little Maria, the Monster doesn’t have to utter one word.

Little Maria is outside playing, when the Monster emerges from the woods and approaches her.

MARIA:  Who are you?  I’m Maria.

MONSTER (Silence)

MARIA:  Will you play with me?

(Takes monster’s hand and leads him to the water.)

MARIA:  Would you like one of my flowers?

(Gives the MONSTER a flower. He sniffs it and smiles, making a happy grunt.  They sit by the water’s edge. Maria picks more flowers.

MARIA:  You have those, and I’ll have these.  (Gives the MONSTER more flowers.)  I can make a boat.  (She throws a flower into the water, and it floats.)  See how mine floats?

(The MONSTER throws a flower into the water and it floats too.  He smiles.  He throws the rest of his flowers into the water and makes happy grunting sounds.  He looks at his empty hands, smiles, nods his head, and reaches for Maria.  He picks her up.

MARIA:  No!  You’re hurting me!  No!!

(The MONSTER throws her into the water.  She screams, and the MONSTER reaches into the water, and she drowns.  The MONSTER then flees, terrified and afraid.)

This is such a bold scene, so bold in fact I seriously doubt it would be filmed today.  I’m amazed they got away with this in 1931.  Of course, it was cut from the TV print, supposedly at the request of Karloff, who thought it portrayed the Monster as too dark.  I disagree.  You clearly see in this scene that the Monster’s intentions are innocent.  He just has no understanding of life and death.  Again, it’s a brilliant performance by Karloff.  He really plays the Monster as a being newly born, with little understanding of life, a baby in a hulk’s body.  This scene was restored in the 1980s as well.

There you have it.  Some fun quotes from FRANKENSTEIN.

Thanks for joining me today, and I look forward to seeing you next time on another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

THE MONUMENTS MEN Entertains in Spite of Muddled Message

1

The-Monuments-Men- posterMovie Review:  THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014)

By

Michael Arruda

 

 

Was it worth risking the lives of men just for the sake of saving art?

 

That’s the question asked throughout THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) the new World War II adventure written and directed by George Clooney, based on a true story, about a group of mostly middle-aged men enlisted by the army to reclaim the works of art stolen by Hitler and the Nazis, works of art that Hitler originally intended to place in a museum, until the waning days of the war when he ordered his men to destroy it all.  It’s up to the Monuments Men to save these works of art, but first, they have to find them.

 

Frank Stokes (George Clooney) seeks and receives permission from President Roosevelt to assemble a group of art experts to go into France and then Germany to recover the huge amounts of art stolen by the Nazis.  Since all the young art experts are already enlisted in the armed forces, Stokes is forced to assemble his team of art specialists, architects, and museum curators, from a pool of men beyond their fighting years.

 

The movie gets these introductions out of the way early, as we quickly meet James Granger (Matt Damon) who wasn’t able to enlist because of poor vision, Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), as well as their young translator, Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas).

 

Once in Europe, Stokes pairs the men and gives each duo a specific task, the goal being to locate the various places in which the Nazis hid the stolen art.  Campbell pairs with Savitz, an interesting twosome since they hate each other, and Garfield pairs with Jean Claude, while Granger is assigned the difficult task of getting to know a French woman Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) who worked for the resistance and who they believe has valuable information as to where the Nazis hid all the stolen art.  The trouble is, Claire trusts no one, and she suspects the Americans only want the art for themselves, and she tells Granger as much.

 

When the Nazis realize there is little hope of winning the war, Hitler orders his troops to destroy all the artwork as they pull out in retreat, which adds more pressure on the Monuments Men to locate the art as soon as possible.  It also places them in harm’s way as they need to be close to the action in order to get to the art before the Nazis soldiers destroy it.

 

Further complicating matters is that the Russians are also confiscating the art as they move in, only they’re taking it back to Russia, not returning it to its original owners.  It’s up to the Monuments Men to find these stolen treasures first so that they’re not lost to the western world.

 

THE MONUMENTS MEN is a very enjoyable movie filled with colorful characters and plenty of entertaining and humorous moments intertwined with some poignant ones, and even some suspense, but the trouble is its message that recovering the stolen art was worth risking the lives of these men doesn’t always ring true.

 

Clearly, writer/director George Clooney believes the sacrifice was worth it, but the movie doesn’t succeed in making this point.  For one thing, it tries too hard.  It asks the question “is it worth it?” so much it hammers you over the head with it. 

 

We see the Monuments Men engaged in various little adventures, which for the most part are all very entertaining, but compared to other soldiers— the soldiers at Normandy, for example— their sacrifice doesn’t feel the same.  The script by Clooney and Grant Heslov probably needed more time in the shop to get the message right. 

 

Don’t get me wrong.  The amount of art the Nazis stole was incredible, and had this been lost or destroyed, it would have been heartbreaking.  What the Monuments Men did was remarkable, but hitting the audience over the head with the notion that their mission was an amazing sacrifice somehow sounds hollow compared to what the rest of the soldiers were fighting for.

 

Another problem is Clooney’s Frank Stokes is a rather cold fish.  He’s not the best point man for selling an argument to an audience.  I almost wish the story had been told from the perspective of Cate Blanchett’s Claire Simone character, who was a much more interesting and intriguing character than Clooney’s Frank Stokes.  Seen through her eyes, the Monuments Men would have been perceived as what they were, men doing the world a service, recovering people’s history and culture, but hearing Blanchett’s Simone say this, a woman whose brother was murdered by the Nazis, and who didn’t trust the Americans, it would have held more relevance than hearing it from Clooney’s stoic Stokes.

 

By far, the best part of THE MONUMENTS MEN is its talented cast, who really bring these guys to life.

 

George Clooney is just okay as Frank Stokes, but this is fine since he’s the level-headed one leading the team.  Matt Damon fares about the same as James Granger and is rather low-key throughout.  It’s the rest of the team that really shines.

 

It was great to see Bill Murray in this role as Richard Campbell, and he and Bob Balaban enjoy some fine moments together, some of the best in the film.  The scene where they’re surprised by a young Nazi soldier in the woods, and they end up sharing a cigarette is one of the best in the movie.  As is the scene when Murray hears a record sent to him by his family.  It’s a nice reminder that Bill Murray is much more than just a comic actor.

 

I also really enjoyed John Goodman and Jean Dujardin.  The scene where they’re fending off a sniper is a keeper.

 

But even better than all the Monuments Men is Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone.  She delivers the best performance in the film.  She also has one of the more emotional scenes in the film, when she’s told by her Nazi employer that her brother has been shot dead.  It’s a disturbing moment in a film that is strangely devoid of disturbing moments, a curious thing in a movie about Nazis.

 

The film would have benefitted from a visible Nazi villain.  Other than Simone’s boss who’s really not in the film all that much, there’s no one who makes your blood boil.  The villains are random soldiers with rifles.

 

In terms of entertainment, THE MONUMENTS MEN scores high.  I really enjoyed watching these guys and their efforts to recover the multitude of stolen art items.  Where it struggles is in its message that these men were putting their lives on the line for a cause equally as noble as the soldiers fighting to defeat genocide and world domination. 

 

That’s a difficult point to make.  Perhaps the movie didn’t need to try.

 

—END—

 

THE LES DANIELS BLOG TOUR: From One Film Buff to Another: Les Daniels and Movies

1

Les Daniels about to kick butt on the NECON Game show.  From left to right: Tom Monteleone, Doug Winter, Craig Shaw Gardener, and Les Daniels.

Les Daniels about to kick butt on the NECON Game show. From left to right: Tom Monteleone, Doug Winter, Craig Shaw Gardner, and Les Daniels.

Here it is!  The current installment of THE LES DANIELS BLOG TOUR, penned by NECON EBooks publisher Matt Bechtel.

Once again, I want to thank Matt for choosing this blog as one of the stops for the THE LES DANIELS BLOG TOUR.

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

 

THE LES DANIELS BLOG TOUR: From One Film Buff to Another: Les Daniels and Movies

 

Guest Blog by Matt Bechtel of Necon E-Books

Les Daniels LOVED the movies, from the highest works of cinematic art to the absolute worst moving pictures ever captured on film. Loved them. Studied them. Taught them. Reviewed them. Had a frightening encyclopedic knowledge of them. Some might even say obsessed over them. Sound like any other current horror writers you might know (whose web site you’re currently reading)?

While Les’ passion for movies was unquestioned, it was one aspect of his personality that never really crossed over into his own work. As I mentioned earlier, he did write film reviews for the Providence Eagle and he also taught the occasional film class at Rhode Island College, but Les’ own pen was usually fixed to writing novels and comic book histories rather than screenplays. Of course, that doesn’t mean an artist like Les, who was as diverse as a Swiss Army knife, never dabbled in writing for the silver screen, and the stories of his dalliances in the film world are as bizarre and zany as the campy movies he so enjoyed.

I teased this story a few articles back, so now it’s time to make good on my promise to share it — the tale of Les Daniels writing a screenplay for Dino DeLaurentis. Fresh off the heels of his enormously successful King Kong and inspired by the (unfortunately) popular music of the time, acclaimed producer Dino DeLaurentis hired Les Daniels to write him a script for … wait for it … a disco horror movie. (Side note: isn’t it amazing how even the most brilliant geniuses in their respective fields have some ideas that just make you shake your head? A disco horror film? Really?) Moreover, DeLaurentis was so enthusiastic about the project that Les wasn’t the only writer he hired; in fact, he paid three horror authors, flew them to and put them up in London, and challenged them all with the same task, his plan being to shoot the best script that came out of this “competition.” Of course, the disco craze faded, wiser heads prevailed, and DeLaurentis’ disco horror project never progressed past the pages written in London. If it ever had, I all but assure you there’d be a review of it on Cinema Knife Fight.

Les wrote another screenplay with a fellow Providence staple — musician, comedian, and humor columnist Rudy Cheeks. Together, they co-wrote The Comediac Movie. This project came much closer to fruition, as several scenes were even shot with Cheeks playing the title role, but the film was never finished or released. It’s premise? There is a serial killer who dispatches his victims in manners inspired by (or, more accurately, lifted directly from) old Three Stooges bits. While it feels a bit strange to analyze a piece of work which was never completed, I can’t help but feel that The Comediac Movie is a sterling example of the strange, brilliant, and magical conglomeration that was Les Daniels’ mind. As all who knew him will attest, Les was hysterically funny, but his was always a dry, smart wit. The Comediac would have brought together aspects of Les’ personality that rarely, if ever, co-mingled in his work — his sense of humor, his unabashed love of campy, over-the-top movies, and his spine-tingling ability to write horror. And to close with an important aside on this topic that I feel speaks for itself, Rudy Cheeks attended the memorial service that was held for Les at Necon 32.

Which segues me into another topic that simply cannot be ignored when writing about Les Daniels’ love for movies (particularly bad ones) — Necon’s infamous “That Damn Game Show.” Look, I’m not going to hijack this article into a diatribe about the polarizing pros and cons of Necon’s traditional trivia contest; instead, I’ll simply say, some Neconers adore it, and some Neconers abhor it. No matter how people feel about it, however, no one disputes that Les Daniels was its unquestioned king and grand champion. There was seemingly no question obscure or esoteric enough to have escaped his knowledge, particularly when it came to movies. In fact, when I had the honor of inducting Les as part of the inaugural class of the Necon Hall of Fame, I introduced him in the manner of a quiz show question — what do you get when you cross a brilliant horror writer with an obsessive movie fan with a “Rain Man-like” capacity for useless trivia? Les received a much more moving tribute a few years later, as Doug Winter and Craig Shaw Gardner (hosts of “That Damn Game Show” and, thereby, Les’ longtime tormentors and antagonists) dedicated the Show in his honor the first year that Les’ failing health kept him from attending Necon and competing.

In a way, this was a bit of an odd article to write; after writing five blogs about Les’ seminal and influential works, doing a piece about movies which were never shot and his trivia dominance might seem, well, trivial. However, it would just be wrong to spend a month celebrating the life of Les Daniels without dedicating some time to his unabashed love of movies, particularly seeing how SO many horror writers share his passion for both the best and the worst of the cinema. Simply put, some important parts of a writer’s legacy don’t appear on his bibliography. For me, and for many others, Les Daniels will always be linked with some of the most head-scratching, ridiculous, and useless wastes of time the movie world has ever thrown upon us. But then again, seeing as his love for film influenced and informed this true giant of the genre, maybe Les’ guilty cinematic pleasures weren’t so useless after all.

Just a friendly reminder — The Complete Don Sebastian Chronicles are now available as e-books at http://neconebooks.com, so please order your copies today!