PICTURE OF THE DAY: FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)

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"I am your husband," Dr. Brandt (Freddie Jones) tells his wife Ella (Maxine Audley) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).  "But my brain is in someone else's body."

“I am your husband,” Dr. Brandt (Freddie Jones) tells his wife Ella (Maxine Audley) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969). “But my brain is in someone else’s body.”

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED!  (1969)

Here’s a still from one of my favorite Hammer Frankenstein movies, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969), the fifth film in the Hammer Frankenstein series, most famous today because it features Peter Cushing’s most villainous screen performance as Baron Frankenstein.  Heck, in this movie, the Baron is both a murderer and a rapist, so yeah, things get pretty dark this time around.

Anyway, believe it or not, and I know you are going to find this next statement hard to believe coming from me, but the subject of today’s column on FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is not Peter Cushing!

You see, one of the other neat things about FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is the performance by Freddie Jones— in his film debut, no less— as the “monster.”  I have to put “monster” in quotes because Frankenstein’s creation in this movie isn’t really a monster, and that’s because he’s probably Baron Frankenstein’s most successful creation in the series.  That being said, it’s also the most likely reason this well-made Frankenstein movie underperformed at the box office in 1969— in spite of an above average story, some decent scares and scenes of suspense, and the presence of Peter Cushing, this one really didn’t have a monster, and fans go to Frankenstein movies to see a monster.

In FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, the fanatical Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is experimenting with brain transplants.  He can transplant brains from one body to  another, but another scientist, Dr. Brandt (George Pravda) perfected the method of freezing brains so they could be stored for future use.  Before Brandt could tell Frankenstein the secret of freezing brains, he went mad.

Years later, Baron Frankenstein learns that Brandt is housed in an insane asylum.  To get Brandt out, he blackmails a young doctor Karl (Simon Ward, also in his film debut) and his girlfriend Anna (Veronica Carlson) into helping him, but in the process of breaking Brandt out of the institution, Brandt has a heart attack.

Undeterred, Frankenstein transplants Brandt’s brain into the body of another surgeon, Professor Richter (Freddie Jones.).  When Brandt awakes and realizes what Frankenstein has done to him, he flees, returning to his home where he plans an elaborate scheme of revenge against Frankenstein.

In today’s picture of the day, we see Brandt (Freddie Jones)— in Richter’s body— returning to his wife Ella (Maxine Audley) but she of course doesn’t recognize him, since his brain is in the body of another man.  She even tries to kill him, because she believes her husband is dead, since the police had discovered his mutilated body, hidden underneath the floorboards of the house where Frankenstein had performed the brain transplant.

And so we have actor Freddie Jones begin the movie playing Professor Richter and end it as Dr. Brandt inside Richter’s body.  It really is an extraordinary performance!

This scene pictured here, where Brandt tells his wife that she won’t recognize him or his voice because it’s the voice of a different person, is one of the best in the movie.  Rarely has a Frankenstein film been this thought-provoking, or given this deep a look into what it feels like to be Frankenstein’s creation, and Freddie Jones performs these scenes wonderfully.  He’s as good as Peter Cushing in this movie, and dare I say it, perhaps even better!

If you’ve never seen FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, add it to your queue.  It’s one of the more unique Frankenstein movies ever filmed, directed in full “Hammer style” by their best director Terence Fisher, with a thought-provoking script by Bert Batt, based on an original story by Batt and Anthony Nelson Keys, and it features not only Peter Cushing as the most ruthless Baron Frankenstein ever, but Freddie Jones— pictured here with Maxine Audley— as one of the more cognizant of Frankenstein’s creations.  Better yet, he evokes sympathy without being wimpy.  After all, we feel bad for him even as he plans a brutal scheme of revenge against Baron Frankenstein, a plan which involves burning his house to the ground.

“You’d kill me?” He asks his wife in this scene.

“Of course I’d kill you!  You’re a monster!”  She screams.

How right you are, Mrs. Brandt!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

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THE GARNER FILES – A MEMOIR by James Garner and Jon Winokur Is As Easy Going As Its Star

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the garner filesWhat I’m Reading –The Garner Files – A Memoir by James Garner and Jon Winokur

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

James Garner, one of my favorite actors, passed away last month on July 19, 2014 at the age of 86.

I’ve been watching THE ROCKFORD FILES, Garner’s hit TV show from the 1970s, on Netflix Streaming this year and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it.  When THE ROCKFORD FILES premiered in 1974, I was just 10 years old and really wasn’t interested in a TV show about a private detective.  I was much more interested in the shows THE NIGHT STALKER and PLANET OF THE APES which also premiered that year.

But I remember my mom and dad watching ROCKFORD regularly.  THE ROCKFORD FILES of course went on to become a huge hit, and James Garner’s performance as the cautious, charming, often down on his luck yet tough and reliable private detective Jim Rockford is the main reason why.

With Garner’s passing, I decided to pick up and read his memoir The Garner Files – A Memoir written in 2011, to learn more about the actor responsible for creating the iconic Jim Rockford character.

James Garner did not set out to be an actor.  Garner grew up in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, and his upbringing was a rough one.  His mother died when he was four, and his father decided he was unable to properly care for Garner and his two brothers.  As Garner writes, “My father wasn’t bad.  He just wasn’t there.  He couldn’t handle the responsibility of raising three young boys.” 

 So Garner grew up living in various households and learned the value of hard work at an early age, working all sorts of different jobs.  He was drafted into the Korean War where he was wounded and received a Purple Heart, although he said it was just a minor injury. Garner explained,   You automatically get a Purple Heart if you’re wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States.  “Wounded” is broadly defined.  The little shrapnel scratches I got were the same as my more serious knee injuries for the purpose.  For that matter, a piece of shrapnel gets you the same medal for losing an arm.

After serving, Garner returned to California where he’d been living, and he hooked up with a friend who was a producer. Garner thought it was as good a job as any, and that’s how his career started.  He started on stage and worked his way into films.  After making some movies, Garner caught his break with the television show MAVERICK (1957-1961) which became a huge success and made him a star.  He repeated this magic with his second hit show, THE ROCKFORD FILES (1974-1980) in which he played private investigator Jim Rockford, who in James Garner’s words was pretty much the same character as Brett Maverick.

In addition to these two hit TV shows, Garner also enjoyed a long film career spanning from 1956 to 2007 in which he appeared in forty-six movies, including THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969), VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982),  MURPHY’S ROMANCE (1985), SPACE COWBOYS (2000), and THE NOTEBOOK (2004) to name just a few.

In The Garner Files, Garner writes that people often thought that he was playing himself when he played Brett Maverick and Jim Rockford, but he said that wasn’t true.  He said he played a part of himself.  For example he explains that he had much more of a temper in real life than either Maverick or Rockford, and he was notorious on the golf course for being very competitive and hard on himself.

Garner describes himself as somewhat of a rebel.  The stories of his battles with Jack Warner over MAVERICK are fascinating and serve as a reminder of the bizarre world of Hollywood, where producers and studio owners made their own rules and laws. Garner stood up to this insanity, and judging by his long and successful career, I’d say he made out just fine.

It’s also a nice love story, as he peppers stories throughout the book about his wife Lois.  They fell in love instantly and were married two days after they met, and they remained married throughout Garner’s career.  At one point Garner writes that their marriage survived not because it was perfect or without rocky times, but because they understood each other and supported each other through the difficult times, even surviving a separation because they were patient enough to see it through so that when the time was right they returned to each other.

There’s also plenty of name dropping, as Garner shares his thoughts and feelings about his fellow actors.  He holds little back.  While he had high praise for fellow actor Clint Eastwood who he’d known since their early TV days and for Marlon Brando who he called the greatest movie actor ever, he had mixed feelings about Steve McQueen, saying he thought McQueen always looked like he was acting in his movies.

He had this to say about Charles Bronson:  Charlie Bronson was a pain in the ass, too.  He used and abused people, and I didn’t like it.

 Bronson and Garner had an argument over a poker game, when Garner insisted Bronson pay a young Hollywood extra the money that he owed him.

After that, Charlie went around swearing he’d never work with me again.  Throughout my life, there have been a few guys who didn’t like me because I was outspoken.  Hell, I never thought I was outspoken, I just told the truth.

And while Garner does write about making movies and his experiences making MAVERICK and THE ROCKFORD FILES, he also spends considerable time in the book discussing his other passions, like car racing, golf, and politics.  While these chapters are interesting, I have to admit I wanted to learn more about his movies and television shows.

Still, the book does contain lots of memorable stories.  My favorite because it shows Garner’s tenacity is when Garner found himself in a scuffle with an aggressive driver.  The man got out of his car and physically attacked Garner, and in spite of Garner’s size and strength, the guy went to town on him and kicked the living daylights out of him. Garner said that to survive, he decided to play dead, but as soon as the man let him go, Garner jumped out of his car and went after the man again.

They (the man & his sister) started to leave, but I figured anybody who could hit and kick me so many times without killing me wasn’t that tough.  If he’d had any punch at all, he’d have knocked me out halfway through the first round.  So I got up and went after him.

 Only later did he learn that he was tangling with an ex-Green Beret.

Like the actor and the two famous characters he created, The Garner Files is an easy going read, one that has a lot to say about the entertainment industry and life in general.

I highly recommend this memoir.

—END—

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: JAWS 2 (1978)

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Roy Scheider looks to the ocean and wonders, can it be happening to me again?--- in JAWS 2 (1978).  Other than Scheider, there's not much that's memorable about this JAWS sequel.

Roy Scheider looks to the ocean and wonders, can it be happening to me again?— in JAWS 2 (1978). Other than Scheider, there’s not much that’s memorable about this JAWS sequel.

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  JAWS 2 (1978)

by

Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes from some pretty neat movies.

Up today, since we’re winding down summer and I’m not in a hurry to see it end, we look at quotes from JAWS 2 (1978).

I still remember seeing JAWS 2 at the movies on its opening night back in the summer of 1978.  I was fourteen, and I was incredibly excited to see this sequel, since I had seen JAWS at the movies on its first run in 1975, when I was just eleven, and it scared the stuffing out of me, and then some!  I wasn’t the only one who was excited to see JAWS 2.  The theater was packed and the audience was buzzing with energy, and I still remember when Roy Scheider’s name appeared in the opening credits, the audience cheered, just like they had done when he had finally destroyed the shark in the original JAWS.  The movie had been that intense.

I loved JAWS 2 when I first saw it on that opening night way back in 1978.  Of course, I was just fourteen years old.  Nowadays, I realize it pales in comparison to the first JAWS, but it remains the best of the three JAWS sequels, largely because Roy Scheider returned as Sheriff Martin Brody.

So, as you would imagine, most of the best lines in JAWS 2 belong to Scheider’s Brody.  Let’s take a look at some of these lines of dialogue from JAWS 2, screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler, based on characters created by Peter Benchley.

Actually, my favorite quote from JAWS 2 isn’t a quote at all, but the tagline from the movie:

Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water—

 This line proved so popular it actually became somewhat of a catchphrase for the movie.  This line might be the most memorable part of the entire movie, which really isn’t all that good.  But Roy Scheider is good, and he makes the most of his scenes in his reprisal of the role of Chief Martin Brody, the sheriff of Amity Island, once again faced with the prospect of a hungry great white shark on the prowl at his beaches.  This doesn’t really make much sense, which is the biggest problem JAWS 2 has, that its plot isn’t all that credible.  To make matters worse, there are hints in this film that perhaps the second shark has arrived at the island to seek revenge for the death of the first shark.  This might have been more interesting had this idea been better developed, but it’s not.  It’s hinted at here and there, but nothing really comes of it.

Anyway, Scheider’s Brody does get the best lines in the movie, like this one when he’s trying to once again convince the mayor and the town council to close the beaches, in a speech that was featured heavily in the film’s original trailers:

BRODY:  But I’m telling you, and I’m telling everybody at this table that that’s a shark!  And I know what a shark looks like, because I’ve seen one up close.  And you’d better do something about this one, because I don’t intend to go through that hell again!

 

Even though Murray Hamilton reprises his role as Mayor Vaughn in JAWS 2, he’s not the main thorn in Brody’s side, as he was in the first film. He seems to have learned his lesson and is much more sympathetic and understanding towards Brody this time around.  The pain in this movie is local businessman Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo) who wants no part of closing the beaches and refuses to listen to Brody.

Brody tries in vain to convince Peterson that the picture he is looking at shows a shark in their waters.

PETERSON:  Brody, this is nothing!  Seaweed, mud, something on the lens—.

BRODY:  Lens my ass!

PETERSON:  You’re damn right it’s your ass!

 

Also returning from the original JAWS is Jeffrey Kramer as Deputy Hendricks, Brody’s deputy, and once again he’s involved in some of the movie’s more comical scenes, such as in this scene where Brody wants to get out of an annoying conversation with one of the islanders:

BRODY:  Oh, Hendricks, good!  Right this way.  Excuse us, please.  I want you to come in here and er, check out this 908.

HENDRICKS:  What the hell’s a 908?  I’ve never heard of a 908!

BRODY:  908 means get me outta there!

 

In this scene, Hendricks is in the police launch with crusty fisherman Red as they drag the ocean looking for evidence.

RED:  We’ve been over this a dozen times.

HENDRICKS:  I know, I know!

RED:  How much longer?

HENDRICKS:  Until we find something!

RED:  But I’m cold, bored.

HENDRICKS:  You’re bored?

 

Later, when Brody and Hendricks are both on the water in search of the group of teens who had gone sailing and are now missing, Brody asks his deputy for directions.

BRODY:  Where the hell are they?

HENDRICKS:  About ten degrees off your starboard bow.  You take—.

BRODY:  Don’t give me that shit.  Point!

 

At one point, a dead killer whale washes up on the beach, with massive bite wounds prominently exposed all over its body.  Brody examines the dead whale with scientist Dr. Elkins.

BRODY:  Better check the bite radius.

ELKINS: The what?

BRODY:   The shape of the mouth.

ELKINS: The whale’s mouth?

BRODY:  Shark’s mouth.

ELKINS: What shark?

BRODY:  The shark that did this.

 

And moments later:

 

BRODY:  It’s obvious that a big fish took a bite out of— this big fish.

ELKINS: This is a mammal. Not a fish.

BRODY:  Don’t quibble with me!  Is it a shark bite or isn’t it?

ELKINS: Possibly. Again, this is a killer whale.  It would have to be a shark of considerable size.

 

And when Brody tries to insinuate that perhaps this shark might be there because another shark was killed in the local waters, Dr. Elkins replies:

ELKINS: Sharks don’t take things personally, Mr. Brody.

 

And we finish with Brody’s line to the Helicopter pilot, as Brody is in a boat all by himself searching for the missing teens, and of course this is an issue for Brody because not only is he fearful of the shark, but he’s afraid of water in general.  He’s speaking on the radio with the helicopter pilot, hoping that the pilot will find the teens before he does.

HELICOPTER PILOT:  That you, Brody?

BRODY:  Listen, did you have a fix on those kids yet?

HELICOPTER PILOT:  Negative.  I’m still down.

BRODY:  Well, you’d better get the hell up because I’m out here all alone!

 

JAWS 2 is an okay sequel, nowhere near as good as the original, yet it remains mildly entertaining in spite of its silly premise, mostly because of Roy Scheider’s performance as Sheriff Brody.  I still enjoy watching Scheider time and time again.

Well, that’s it for now.  Hope you enjoyed today’s column, and I’ll see you next time when we look at memorable quotes from another fun movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

Savor Every Moment of THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014)

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The-Hundred-Foot-JourneyMovie Review:  THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014)

By

Michael Arruda

 

Watching a movie that gets everything right- acting, writing, directing- can be as satisfying as eating a gourmet meal.

Such is the case with THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014) a new comedy-drama about an Indian family opening a restaurant in France across the street— one hundred feet to be exact— from a renowned French restaurant, and what happens when the family crosses paths with the established restaurant’s owner, played with delectable precision by Helen Mirren.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY begins in Mumbai where the Kadam family runs their restaurant, but when election night riots destroy their eatery and take the life of their mother, Papa (Om Puri) moves his family to Europe in the hope of starting again.  They settle in France, and Papa, a rather eccentric fellow, spies an abandoned restaurant and decides on the spot that this is where they shall open their new eatery, even though it’s situated directly across the street from one of the area’s most prominent restaurants.

The family tries to talk him out of it, but Papa is undeterred, and he quickly goes about setting things in motion, buying the property, and promoting his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) as the best Indian chef in the land, all to the chagrin of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) who owns the French restaurant across the street and cringes at the idea of competition.

And so she sets out to quash the Kadam family, but Papa is just as determined as she is, and the two go back and forth trying to one-up the other.  Meanwhile, Hassan befriends Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) one of Madame Mallory’s up and coming chefs, and the two begin a relationship which is playfully competitive until Hassan approaches Madame Mallory and prepares a dish for her, proving to her that he is indeed a chef for the ages, who with the proper training, can help her achieve her goal of the restaurant earning the coveted second Michelin star, a critic rating that lifts restaurants to elite status.  When Madame Mallory hires Hassan to work in her restaurant, it sets off a firestorm of events, as it changes the relationship between Hassan and Marguerite, and makes Papa accuse Madame Mallory of trying to brainwash his son, but Mallory is quick to point out that this is an opportunity for Hassan which will change his life forever.

THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY is a highly entertaining and very satisfying movie.  It’s got terrific acting, a topnotch directorial effort, and my favorite, an excellent script.

Top-billed Helen Mirren is sufficiently proper as Madame Mallory, the woman who at first wants nothing more but to shut down the Kadam family restaurant.  But Madame Mallory is more than just a cold-hearted businesswoman, and Mirren does a terrific job making her a three-dimensional character.  When her own chef takes things too far by setting fire to the Indian restaurant, Mallory doesn’t applaud or approve but quickly fires the young man.

Om Puri makes Papa a feisty yet easy to like character whose best scenes are those where he plays off Helen Mirren.  When he wants to make an offer to buy the restaurant, Madame Mallory tells him it’s more than he can afford, and she says this because she heard he bartered for a discount at the local inn, to which Papa replies that his asking for a discount doesn’t mean he’s poor but that he’s thrifty.  The two actors, Mirrin and Puri, share a great chemistry in this movie, for the most part as energetic adversaries, and they become even more likeable when they realize that they actually like each other.

But the best performance in the movie belongs to young Manish Dayal as Hassan.  He is completely believable as the young man blessed with amazing cooking talent.  He comes off as genuine and sincere.  When he tells Marguerite that he has been hired to work at Madam Mallory’s restaurant, he expects her to be happy by the news, but when she’s not, he’s surprised, and you can see his innocence and the hurt he feels when she insinuates that he used their relationship to gain access to Madam Mallory, when that wasn’t what he had intended at all.

Charlotte Le Bon is also very good as Marguerite.  She makes Marguerite attractive, talented, and smart, and she and Hassan make for a very likeable young couple.

Director Lasse Hallstrom captures the beautiful scenery of the French countryside, making this movie a picturesque treat from start to finish.  The camera also captures the remarkable elegant dishes prepared in this film— don’t see this on an empty stomach!—- which will make your mouth water.  You can almost taste the food.  Likewise, Hallstrom captures the flavor of the small village, of the two restaurants across the street from each other, and of the people who inhabit both of them.  It’s an intimate portrayal of these folks, and you’ll enjoy getting to know them and spending time with them for the two hours you sit in the theater.

The screenplay by Steven Knight, based upon the book by Richard C. Morais, tells a heartwarming story that is as moving as it is humorous.  I laughed more during this movie than during some of the recent so-called mainstream comedies of late.  The humor in THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is smart and nuanced and stems from true situations.

The characters are all well-developed.  I understood young Hassan’s passion for food and for cooking, and Papa’s need to take care of his family and his drive to make his new restaurant a success in spite of the odds against him, which means doing whatever it takes to get it done; and I understood Madame Mallory’s reasons for stomping out her competition, for wanting her restaurant— the passion of her life— to become the best it can be.

In some ways, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is predictable, but it still works.  It’s a feel-good movie, and so you expect things to work out in the end for these characters, but when it does, it doesn’t feel fake or forced.  These characters make their own destiny, and when you see them working as hard as they do, acting in ways that show they are real people, not cardboard caricatures who mindlessly step on others to get ahead, but simply work hard and respect those around them, you have no difficulty buying into the notion that they succeed in what they set out to do.

The dialogue is all first-rate, and like I said, I laughed more here than during some of the traditional Hollywood comedies which for some reason too often equate “stupid” with “funny.”

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if come Oscar time THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY receives nominations for Best Director, Screenplay, and acting by Manish Dayal, Om Puri, and Helen Mirren.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY.  It’s one of my favorite movies of 2014.

—END—

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

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expendables 3 posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of THE EXPENDABLES 3, up now at cinemaknifefight.com, your place to read about movies, 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:  THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A heavily fortified movie theater, surrounded by armed guards, military vehicles, and tanks.  A helicopter lands out front, and MICHAEL ARRUDA steps from the copter followed by four young people, most likely in their twenties.  They approach the theater just as a man dressed in military fatigues steps from the building to confront them.)

DICTATOR:  Hey, Arruda, it’s about time you showed up.  But you’re a little late.  Your buddy L.L. SOARES is our prisoner.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can have him.  I didn’t come for L.L. I came to see a movie.

DICTATOR: So did he, and look where that got him!  You’ll never get by me, Arruda!

MA:  We’ll see about that.  I’ve brought some help.

DICTATOR (looks at the young people behind MA):  Who are they?  Your kindergarten class?

MA:  Meet the new team.  The next generation of Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Camera pans quickly over the four young faces, just as a missile zooms in and explodes, reducing them to a puff of smoke.)

MA:  Or not.

You know, if the new team in today’s movie had met the same fate, I would have liked it better.

DICTATOR:  Huh?  Listen, Arruda, enough talking!  Take a look around you, at our defenses.  They’re impenetrable.

MA:  Really?  Because I have looked them over, and frankly, I’m not impressed.  In fact, I give your defenses 0 knives.

DICTATOR (huffs):  Really?  Are you kidding me?  Do you know how hard I worked on this?

MA:  It’s obviously all CGI.  Very fake looking.  Nobody you have with you has anything worthwhile to say.  Sorry, but it’s all very boring.

DICTATOR:  Dammit!  I need to find me a better writer!

MA:  And L.L. obviously made it inside, too, didn’t he?  Where is he?

DICTATOR:  He’s inside watching another movie. Damn you guys!  (Stomps off in a hissy fit.)

MA:  Okay, now that that’s over with, we can get on with today’s review.  Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m Michael Arruda, and today I’m reviewing THE EXPENDABLES 3, the latest movie in Sylvester Stallone’s all-star action series.  I’m doing this one solo because my buddy L.L. Soares is inside this theater watching another movie which he’ll be reviewing for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT this weekend as well.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the third film in THE EXPENDABLES series, a series which chronicles the adventures of The Expendables, a group of ruthless soldiers and assassins who are called on by the U.S. government to handle its dirtiest jobs.

In this film, the leader of the group Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) discovers that his one-time friend-turned villain Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a man he thought he had killed, is still alive.  Ross wants Stonebanks dead, but he’s informed by his new operator Drummer (Harrison Ford) that they want Stonebanks alive to stand trial.

Seeing Stonebanks as a formidable opponent, Ross decides that his team is too old to handle him, and so he tells his team, which includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Doc (Wesley Snipes), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) that he’s retiring the group.  They balk at this of course, but Ross makes his intentions clear:  they’re done.

Ross then hooks up with an old friend Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) who he employs to help him find a new team, a group of younger fighters, in effect the next generation of The Expendables.  And so they compile a group of newbies which includes Thorn (Glen Powell), Mars (Victor Ortiz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), and Smilee (Kellan Lutz).

Seriously?  I found this plot point very difficult to believe.  Why in the world would Ross want to go to battle with these infants instead of Jason Statham and friends is beyond me?  There’s just no comparison, and calling these guys “old” based upon the way they look in the movie is ridiculous.  They still look as bad-ass as ever.

Anyway, Stonebanks quickly makes mincemeat out of this diaper-clad team, which means it’s up to Jason Statham and his buddies to help Stallone get his newbies out of this mess.  Of course, Stonebanks has an entire army at his disposal, and so even more help is needed, which is why Drummer also brings in Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Yin Yang (Jet Li) to help out.

Plus there’s Galgo (Antonio Banderas) who throughout the film has been desperate to join Ross’ team, and finally gets his chance when Ross needs all the help he can get.  This all leads to the testosterone filled conclusion where Ross and his Expendables battle Stonebanks and his entire army.

This might have been fun if it all wasn’t so stupid.

(MA enters the lobby of the movie theater, surrounded by all sorts of military action:  machine gun fire, grenade explosions, hand-to- hand combat.)

MA (looks at camera):  I guess it all fits in with the theme of today’s movie.  Excuse me while I order some popcorn.  (To cinema worker).  I’ll have a small popcorn with butter, please.

CINEMA WORKER:  Sure.  (As he turns to make popcorn, machine gun fire riddles the area, and he slumps to the ground.)

MA: Hmm.  I’ll just come back for that later.  Back to the review.

By far, THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the worst film in the series.  I liked the first THE EXPENDABLES (2010) well enough, and I really enjoyed the sequel THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) which had a better plot and gave all the veteran action stars quality screen time with good action scenes and some memorable lines, and the climactic battle between Stallone and  Jean-Claude Van Damme was a keeper.  I really felt like I got my money’s worth.

Not so with this installment.

First of all, there’s something very sloppy about the direction.  Director Patrick Hughes gives us a flat opening segment where Stallone and his team rescue Wesley Snipes from his imprisonment on a moving armored train.  The action here is sloppily handled.  The camera fails to get in close and seems to cover things from a distance, and it also cuts away from characters when they’re speaking, and so it was difficult to catch what people were saying.

Then, once the rescue is completed, it cuts to the main title THE EXPENDABLES 3, flashed on the screen for about a millisecond and then it’s back to the movie.  It was just a weird opening, a precursor for all that was going to follow.

Director Hughes also doesn’t give his action stars flashy or memorable first appearances.  Stallone is first seen in the opening segment flying a helicopter in loud surroundings in which you can’t hear what he’s saying.  I don’t think I understood anything Stallone said in this entire segment.  Schwarzenegger’s grand entrance has him casually strolling up behind Stallone in a hospital and speaking softly to him.  How’s that for compelling drama?

The screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rotherberger, and Katrin Benedikt tells a mediocre story that doesn’t always makes sense, and features unimpressive dialogue and very little if any character development.  The story of Ross assembling a new team of youngsters to take on an old enemy makes little sense when his old team is still so menacing.

And while Mel Gibson does make for a decent villain, at least in terms of his performance, the character Gibson plays, Stonebanks, is never shown being villainous.  Why is he such a bad ass?  We hear characters like Ross and Drummer saying what a bad guy he is, but we never see him do anything.  What’s his agenda?  He sells arms to dictators and other undesirables, and we do see him do this in one scene, but do really we need The Expendables to take him out?

Just once, I’d like to see a plot worthy of The Expendables team.  These guys are supposed to be sent in to handle the jobs that the CIA and U.S. military want no part of, yet in all three films, we haven’t really seen them on these kinds of missions.

The dialogue is also subpar.  You’ve got Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Statham, Snipes, and Ford, guys who can really chew up the scenery, and yet there’s hardly a memorable line among them.

(Schwarzenegger enters the lobby and makes quick work of several enemy soldiers, cracking their heads and breaking their limbs with ease.)

SCHWARZENEGGER:  Next time silence your cell phones.  (to MA)  I work part-time as cinema security.  If you make noise in the theater, you answer to me.  (Checks his smart phone.)  Someone is texting in theater three.  I’ll be back.  (Exits)

MA:  That’s the Arnold I wanted to see.

Only Mel Gibson as the villain Stonebanks gets lines worthy of his pedigree, yet he has nothing much to do other than taunt Stallone and his buddies.  In fact, there are several scenes of Stonebanks buying art, walking up a staircase, entering a building, where that’s all he does.  I mean, these scenes don’t lead to anything else.  Stonebanks is a villain with too much time on his hands, and THE EXPENDABLES 3 is an action movie in need of a crisper script and tighter direction.

Now, if you’re like me, you see an EXPENDABLES movie because you want to see Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger and their friends on screen kicking butt and churning out one-liners.  You don’t see it because you want to watch a bunch of newbies take over.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy a ticket to THE EXPENDABLES:  THE NEXT GENERATON, and so I had little interest in scenes of Stallone compiling his new team, while his old team, Statham and company, sit home with nothing to do, and yes we actually see scenes of these guys at home twiddling their thumbs bored.  We don’t even get to see them try their hands at new jobs— I want to see Dolph Lundgren try to work in a department store, for example.  Realistically speaking, you’d think these guys would sign on with someone else.  I mean, Stallone’s Ross can’t be the only game in town.

And the newbies don’t have a chance. They’re each introduced in quick brief scenes, and then as the film goes on we hardly get to know them, which was fine with me since I didn’t care about them, but you know what?  I might have changed my mind had I actually gotten to know them and had the writing been better.

Sadly, THE EXPENDABLES 3 plays like the third film in a series, old and tired.

Speaking of which, one of the themes running through this movie is that Stallone and his buddies are getting too old for this sort of thing, and the sad part is in this movie some of them did look old.  For the first time in this series, I found it difficult to believe that Stallone and Schwarzenegger could do the things they were doing.  They looked a little long in the tooth.  Harrison Ford looked like he could barely walk.  In the film’s climax Ford is flying a helicopter performing all these stunts.  Yeah, right.  The only stunt he seemed capable of performing was crashing.

I like Sylvester Stallone, and when he’s on screen, I liked him here.  The trouble is the dialogue is so bad, that his character Ross just isn’t that enjoyable this time around.

Of the original team, Jason Statham fares the best, because he still looks the part, like he could single-handedly take out a mob of assassins, but his screen time is diminished here.

Like Stallone, Schwarzenegger begins to show his age in this movie, and his one-liners are pretty much nonexistent.  Looking even older than both Stallone and Schwarzenegger is Harrison Ford, who was filling in for Bruce Willis who left this movie over a contract dispute.  Ford plays a different character, but like Willis, he’s the guy who hires The Expendables.  I missed Willis’ shady persona.  Ford seemed like an aged Jack Ryan.

(Harrison Ford enters.)

FORD:  Did you just call me old?

MA:  I said you looked old in the movie.

FORD:  I ought to kick your ass.

MA:  I’d settle for an autograph.

FORD:  Autograph?  After you just insulted me in my own theater?

MA:  Your theater?  Are you working cinema security too?

FORD:  No, I run this place.  I’m the manager!

MA:  That’s a role I could see you playing.

FORD:  You call me old again I’m sending Schwarzenegger after you!

(Ford exits.)

MA:  I guess he’s getting sensitive in his old a— eh hem.  Moving right along.

Wesley Snipes isn’t bad, and he’s in a bunch of scenes, but like the rest of the cast he definitely would have benefitted from a better script.  Dolph Lundgren doesn’t need a good script as he just can stand there and look menacing, which he does again here to great effect.  Randy Couture also fares pretty well, but Terry Crews’ screen time is greatly reduced.  Kelsey Grammer lumbers through a throwaway role as Bonaparte, the man who assembles Stallone’s new team.

Mel Gibson gets the best lines in the movie, and he chews up the scenery as the main baddie, although sadly, he’s not given much to do other than get in Stallone’s face and tell him all the awful things he’s going to do to him.  But the thing is, when Gibson says all these menacing lines, he’s damned believable.  If only his character Stonebanks had been worthy of his performance.

Antonio Banderas as Galgo is supposed to be the comic relief in the movie.  The running gag is that no one wants Galgo on their team because he never stops talking, but this is hardly funny.  Banderas seems to be having a great time throughout, but it’s such a strange role, I just never got it.  It would have made more sense had the character been one of the newbies. Why would Ross be interested in an older agent who obviously couldn’t make it on a team when he was shunning his own proven team of veterans?  Banderas’ goofy personality just doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie.

The newbies were so underdeveloped they’re hardly worth mentioning.  Kellan Lutz [from the TWILIGHT movies and THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014)] probably made the biggest impression as Smilee, the man who sees himself as Ross’ possible successor.  Glen Powell as Thorn and Victor Ortiz as Mars are pretty much interchangeable and they do very little.  Ronda Rousey stands out as Luna, since she’s the only woman on the team, and she’s certainly an eye full, but when even she doesn’t make much of an impression, that tells you how weak this movie is.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 also features a completely ludicrous third act.  When the cavalry arrives to rescue Stallone’s captured newbies, they find themselves taking on an entire army, which Mel Gibson’s Stonebanks has at his disposal.  And so we’re supposed to believe that this small group can outgun and outlast an army?  I don’t think so.

And unlike in THE EXPENDABLES 2 which featured a climactic bout between Stallone and Van Damme that was worth the price of admission on its own, the climactic showdown here between Stallone and Gibson is somewhat of a dud.  I expected much, much more.

This is also the first movie in the series to be rated PG-13, as the first two were rated R, which means people in this movie get to be shot, blown up, and beaten without shedding a single drop of blood.  Some may argue that this is a step up from fake looking CGI blood.

Yet, in spite of all these problems, it’s difficult for me to hate a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Wesley Snipes, and so no I didn’t hate this one.  These guys can still entertain, even in a bad movie, and THE EXPENDABLES 3, sorry to say, is a bad movie.   It’s lifted by its star power, which is the only reason I’m giving this one more than one knife.

I give it a lackluster two knives.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to see another movie.

(A grenade lands at his feet.)

Or not.

(There is a huge explosion, and when the dust clears, MA is still standing there.)

MA: This is one time I’m happy about a fake looking CGI effect.

(MA exits into the movie theater.)

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) Recalls Dark Times

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Dallas Buyers Club posterBlu-ray Review:  DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

When Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) earlier this year, I decided to go back and watch some of McConaughey’s roles from the past few years which led up to his Oscar winning performance, thus starting my own personal Matthew McConaughey tour.

Alas, the Matthew McConaughey tour comes to a close today with my review of DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

Based on true events, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB takes place in 1985, just when the AIDS epidemic was first making front page news.  Ron Woodroof  (Matthew McConaughey) is an electrician who works at a rodeo.  He lives a fast and wild life:  sex, alcohol, smoking, and drug use, and that’s just in one day.   Nope, Ron is not going to win any awards for Man With The Healthiest Lifestyle.  In fact, he is shocked to learn that he is HIV positive, since he believed the AIDS disease was only contracted by homosexuals.

Initially in denial, he cusses out his doctors Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Eve (Jennifer Garner) accusing them of mixing up his blood results with someone else’s, and he scoffs at their prediction that he only has thirty days to live.  Eventually, though, Ron realizes that he is indeed very ill, and he reads up on HIV and the AIDS virus.

He learns that the one drug treating AIDS is called AZT, but since it hasn’t been approved yet, he is not allowed access to it.  Ron decides to take matters into his own hands to get AZT by any means possible, which eventually leads him to Mexico where he meets a disbarred American doctor Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) who steers Ron away from AZT, calling it poison, and instead prescribes Ron with a series of vitamins and alternative medicines which do in fact succeed in prolonging his life.

Ron returns to Dallas and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a transsexual he met at the hospital Rayon (Jared Leto).  Together, they start the Dallas Buyers Club, a club in which members pay a flat fee for access to the alternative medicines which Ron continues to bring into the country in an effort to treat as many fellow AIDS sufferers as they can.  They fight an uphill battle against both doctors who see the Club as dangerous for their patients, and the FDA who see their actions as illegal and want to shut them down.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB tells a moving and relevant story, and for those of us who remember these times during the 1980s- the fear, the misinformation, and the stigma that went along with AIDS and HIV- it’s a chilling reminder of a troublesome  time in our history.  It’s a decent screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, but it’s not the strength of the movie.

The strength of the movie is the acting.  Across the board, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB features phenomenal acting performances.

Leading the way is Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, the homophobic womanizer who at first is anything but a sympathetic main character, but as the movie goes on and Ron grows more frustrated with the system and becomes more and more proactive in seeking out alternative treatments, he develops into a leader for the HIV infected community.  Through his actions, he becomes an admirable person.

And when we grow to like Ron, it’s not in a superficial phony way.  He doesn’t suddenly go from homophobic hick to open-minded hero.  He may become more tolerant towards the gay community and those suffering from AIDS, but he’s still the same roughneck personality.  He’s just channeling his tough guy tendencies towards a worthy cause.

McConaughey looks absolutely sickly and weak in this movie, which is a testament to both the make-up department and his performance.  In fact, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling.

Believe it or not, even better than McConaughey in this movie is Jared Leto as transsexual Rayon.  Leto also won an Oscar, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.  Rayon was my favorite character in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB because Leto makes him such a three dimensional sympathetic person.  We learn firsthand about his hopes and fears, we see him struggle through his weaknesses, and we witness some very painful moments in his life, like when he visits his father, who is completely ashamed and disgusted by his son.  Rayon is also the character who without really trying to do so reaches Ron, and breaks through his tough exterior.  Without Rayon, Ron wouldn’t have been able to operate the Dallas Buyers Club.

Jennifer Garner is also excellent as Eve, the doctor who at first warns her patients to stay away from Ron, but as the two become closer, and she listens to what Ron has to say and reads his research, she begins to change her mind about AIDS treatment.  Denis O’Hare is just as good as Dr. Sevard, the doctor who is steadfast in his opinion that Ron is flat out wrong.

Michael O’Neill is sufficiently annoying as FDA agent Richard Barkley, and Dallas Roberts is effective as Ron’s lawyer David Wayne, while Griffin Dunne makes his mark as the doctor in Mexico who first steers Ron on the path towards alternative medicines.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee has made a film that captures the fear, sadness, and suffering of this time period, when AIDS was a new and relatively unknown disease, and rumors ran rampant, and treatments were inadequate.  It goes without saying, that DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is not a fun movie.

Of the Matthew McConaughey movies I watched this past year, the one I probably enjoyed the most was MUD (2012).  Taken as a whole, MUD was the most entertaining of these movies.  McConaughey was excellent in all of them, but he was best as Ron Woodroof in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.

—END—

BOSTON COMIC CON – FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

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Boston Comic ConBOSTON COMIC CON – FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

A Hellish Day Stuck Outside the Con

By

Michael Arruda

 

This is not the write-up I had planned.

I had planned to attend Boston Comic Con on Saturday August 9, 2014 and join my fellow New England Horror Authors at the New England Horror Author table selling and signing our books.  The majority of the group had signed on for the entire weekend, and as such had pre-paid for the entire event.  I could only be there one day, Saturday, and while I could have pre-bought tickets, I did check and was advised that tickets would be sold at the door.

So, my sons and I trekked to Boston for our first Comic Con, even meeting my brother and his wife there.  What we found was immediately disheartening.

A gargantuan line, one that seemed to stretch from Boston to New York awaited us.  Okay that’s an exaggeration.  It only stretched to Rhode Island.  But seriously, it went on for several blocks, a line full of eager, energetic and very excited fans, many of them dressed to the hilt in their favorite comic book costumes.

I checked in at the front door and identified myself as one of the New England Horror Authors there to sell and sign books.

“Did I have a pre-paid wristband?”  I was asked.

“No,” I said.

“Then you’ll have to wait in line.”

I looked at the ominous line with designs to reach Mars.

“That one?”

“Yeah.  That one.”

“But I’m an author here to sell books.  I’m paying for a table inside.”

“You need a paid wrist band to get in.”

And so we trekked to the back of the line.  Welcome to the life of a small press author.  Hey, is that Rodney Dangerfield I see?

At the back of the line, we were all in very good moods, and why shouldn’t we have been?  It was an absolutely gorgeous day, a perfect day to be outside in Boston, and we were among a group of very enthusiastic fans.  There were also plenty of neat costumes to see.  Batman seemed to be the most prevalent costume around, with Spider Man a close second.

We were all psyched and pumped, but then someone said, “You do realize we could stand in this line all day and not get in.  The show could sell out.”

Why did you have to say that?

 The words proved prophetic.

And it happened just as things were looking up.  The line started to move at a brisk pace, and we all thought, this isn’t so bad.  In fact, we got to within several yards of the front entrance before it all came crashing down.

Suddenly, the line was diverted to the side of the building, the Seaport Trade Center, and as we walked, I saw that this line was heading towards the back of the building, an immense structure.

I stopped to ask one of the staff members standing outside.  “Why were we sent into this line when we were just getting to the door?”

“Do you have tickets?”  I was asked.

“No.”

“You’re in the right line.  That’s the line to buy tickets.”

I didn’t like it, but at least my fears had been eased, at least we were in the right line.  This particular line was moving quickly.  People were all walking at a rapid pace, and there was lots of chatter, as everyone was wondering the same thing I had been wondering:  where was this line going?  Would it wrap around the entire building?

And then it suddenly stopped.  Suddenly we were all at a standstill, and we were still on the same side of the building.  As we waited in this second line, and people started talking to each other, it became clear that this line was a mixture of people with tickets and without tickets.  This did not bode well.  People began to grow restless.

Meanwhile another line of Comic Con folks heading in the opposite direction from our line and moving rapidly, continued to file past us with alarming speed.  We started asking these folks where they were going and if they had tickets or not.  The answers were consistent:  we’re in line for Comic Con.  We have tickets.  We don’t have tickets.

 Well, that’s this line.

What the hell line are we in, anyway?

People began to grow very restless, and the chatter going around was not good.

Suddenly a group of very frustrated Comic Con Staff appeared and started shouting out instructions.  We were told that the line we were in was for people with tickets only.  If you had tickets you were in the right line. If you didn’t have tickets, you had to turn around and get into another line, which set off a storm of incredibly angry people.  I thought I was going to be part of a torch wielding angry mob a la the old Universal Frankenstein movies.

The folks with tickets who were told to stay in line wanted to know where the hell the line went.

It goes all around the building, they were told.

“So, even if we pre-bought tickets, we might not get in?” People asked.

“Oh, you’ll get in.  You just have to wait in line.”

“How long will that be?”

“We don’t know.  Probably several hours.”

“So I pre-bought tickets and I still have to wait in line for several hours?  I’ve been here since 10:00!  What’s the point of pre-buying tickets?”

Good question!

And then there were those folks, like us, who were in a worst predicament- we hadn’t even purchased tickets yet.  We were told that we were going back to the original line outside the building, the one we had already waited over an hour in.

What is going on?  People wanted to know.

We were then told that we had been given wrong information by people who didn’t know what they were talking about, which is how we ended up in the wrong line which led around the building.  Well, that made me feel good.

As our line slowly returned to the front of the building, it suddenly stopped.  And it remained stopped.  We waited, waited, waited.  We decided to investigate the front of the line.  We discovered that the front of the line was roped off from the entrance, and the folks at the head of our line waited behind the rope for the line of pre-paid customers—- the one that wrapped around the building— to enter.

We surmised that nobody in our line was going to be sold a ticket until the other monstrosity of a line had filed in and all the pre-paid customers had entered.  That was our fear, although we were still hopeful.

We stood in this still line for yet another hour before Comic Con staff finally arrived with the dreaded news we’d been fearing:  we are now selling tickets for Sunday.  We are not selling tickets for today.

We were told, “We oversold the show.  We sold 12,000 tickets today.  This building has only a 10,000 capacity.

“So there’s no way we can get in today?”  People asked.

“Not really.  There’s a slim chance that once we let all the prepaid customers inside, we would sell tickets.”

“How long will that be?” “We don’t know. Maybe four hours, but if you buy a ticket for tomorrow now, we can guarantee your entrance tomorrow morning.”

For some reason, that guarantee didn’t instill me with much confidence.

The line went ballistic.  Many fans were vocally outraged and told the staff so.  “This is the worst organized con I’ve ever been to!”  “If you can’t run a con this large, don’t do it!”  “I’ve wasted my entire day in line!”

As for me, while I enjoyed the time with my sons and my brother and his wife, it’s not how I would have chosen to spend my day, waiting in a line for hours only to be told eventually by Comic Con staff to go home.  The entire fiasco could have been avoided by four simple words said to me when I first arrived at the front entrance:  We are sold out.

It was such a beautiful day in Boston, too beautiful to spend standing in a line to nowhere.

“Holy ticket line calamity, Batman!”

—Michael