PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

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The Thing (James Arness) moments away from getting set on fire in a desperate attempt to kill the blood drinking alien in this classic scene from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951).

The Thing (James Arness) about to be set on fire in a desperate attempt to kill the blood-drinking alien in this classic scene from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951).

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

 

In this scene from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) – which happens to be one of my favorite science fiction horror movies from the 1950s- the Thing (James Arness) is moments away from being doused with kerosene and set on fire by the men fighting for their lives at the North Pole base.

This is one of the most suspenseful scenes in the movie.

The Thing, that alien being which slits its victims’ throats and uses their blood to “grow” new baby aliens, as played by James Arness is one of the scariest monsters to emerge from 1950s science fiction horror cinema.  He’s frightening to look at, to be sure, but this is another classic case in a horror movie where less is more.  The Thing is seen only fleetingly in this movie, appearing here, darting out there, and it only adds to the suspense effect.  Truth be told, the Thing wasn’t shown a whole lot because the filmmakers, Howard Hawks to be specific, weren’t pleased with the way he looked on film, and so the close-ups of the Thing were not used in the final print.

The scene pictured here is memorable for a couple of reasons.  It’s famous because it was a very dangerous stunt.  It was one of the first times that a stunt man was actually set on fire, and this was done in a room full of actors.  Supposedly there were so many things that could have gone wrong with this scene, it’s said that the stunt man and the actors involved were lucky to have escaped serious injury.

It’s also an incredibly potent scene, and the build-up where the men use a Geiger counter to track the Thing’s movements as it closes in on them calls to mind similar scenes in both ALIEN (1979) and ALIENS (1986).  When you see this scene in THE THING, it’s easy to recognize the influence it had on the later scenes in the ALIEN movies.

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was directed by Christian Nyby, or at least he received credit.  It’s widely believed and has been pretty much substantiated that the man who really directed it was the man who produced it, Howard Hawks, one of the most talented American film directors of all time.  This is the only horror movie ever done by Hawks, who gave us such gems as HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) starring Cary Grant, THE BIG SLEEP (1946), starring Humphrey Bogart, and RIO BRAVO (1959) starring John Wayne and Dean Martin, to name just a few.

It’s no wonder then that THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is as good as it is.  It ranks as one of the best, if not the best, horror science fiction films from the 1950s, grouped with a handful of other titles, like THEM! (1954), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).

In the mood to be terrified this winter?  Check out THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.   It’ll scare you right out of your snow pants!

Who goes there?  The Thing!

Thanks for reading.

—Michael

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THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS (1957)

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Peter Cushing and Forrest Tucker don't see eye to eye in THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS (1957)

Peter Cushing and Forrest Tucker don’t see eye to eye in THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS (1957)

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS (1957)

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome back to THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we celebrate classic lines of dialogue from Peter Cushing movies.

It’s been such a brutal winter here in 2015 it got me thinking about today’s movie, THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS (1957),  Peter Cushing’s second film for Hammer Films’ studios, made in between THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  I thought of this movie because it takes place in the harsh snowy mountains of the Himalayas, which is what my backyard has looked like all winter!

THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS does not play like the horror movies Hammer Films became famous for, their gothic period pieces featuring Frankenstein and Dracula, capturing all the blood and gore that went with these tales in vivid color.  First of all, THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN was shot in black and white, and it’s also more of a science fiction adventure rather than a horror movie, and as such resembles Hammer’s earlier hits, the Quatemass films from the 1950s.

It also features American actor Forrest Tucker alongside Peter Cushing, which gives it a 1950s American monster movie flavor.  That being said, it really isn’t a monster movie per se, as it’s much more of a psychological adventure that tells the tale of a small isolated group of explorers who have to brave the harsh winter elements as they make their way up the mountains in search of the elusive Yeti.

As always, Peter Cushing has some memorable lines in this movie.  Let’s have a look at some of these lines from THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS, screenplay by Nigel Kneale, based on his television play “The Creature.”

Actually, Peter Cushing had starred in the television version of “The Creature” written by Nigel Kneale on BBC television in 1955, so he was familiar with the role of Dr. John Rollason, the scientist in search of the mysterious Yeti.

It’s a very smart script by Nigel Kneale, as the premise of the story is the Yeti are more than just brute snow beasts.  It’s speculated throughout the film that the Yeti are in fact superior to man and have been hiding from humankind in order to survive from our brute animalistic and murderous tendencies.

Forrest Tucker plays Tom Friend, the “Carl Denham” character if you will, the showman scientist who wants to bring back a live Yeti to show the world that they exist and to ultimately make a lot of money doing it.  And Friend is no friend to the expedition, as he makes decisions that endanger the party, as he’s focused on one thing:  the capture of the Yeti, and he’s driven to accomplish this task at all costs.

Peter Cushing’s Dr. Rollason is on the expedition for scientific reasons, to study these creatures, if they exist, and it’s Rollason who begins to tap into the notion that the Yeti are in fact more than “just creatures,” that they are superior beings to humans, both physically and mentally.

The third interesting character in THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS is the mysterious Lama (Arnold Marle), the Tibetan monk who seems to possess clairvoyant abilities.  He also seems to share some sort of connection with the Yeti, as made evident by his final line in the movie, which we’ll get to later, but first here’s a look at some earlier lines of dialogue, a conversation between the Lama and Peter Cushing’s Dr. Rollason, in one of the first scenes in the movie.

In the snowy mountains of the Himalayas, Rollason, his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) and fellow scientist Peter Fox (Richard Wattis) arrive at the Tibetan monastery, ostensibly to study plants since they are botanists, but the Lama knows otherwise.  From the outset, he questions Rollason about the party on its way to the monastery, the one led by Tom Friend.  This scene sets the mood for the rest of the movie, as it’s cryptic, eerie, and thought-provoking.  Let’s listen:

LAMA:  Dr. Rollason, what do you know about those men who are coming?

ROLLASON:  Know about them? Not very much.  I had a message from them suggesting we meet here.

LAMA:  From their leader?  A man called Friend?

ROLLASON:  That’s right.  Tom  Friend.  You’ve heard of him?

LAMA:  He passed this way before, some months ago.

Moments later:

LAMA:  Now he returns.  What is this man searching for?

ROLLASON:  Before I can say that I must have a talk with him.

LAMA:  You can say now!  Dr. Rollason, why do you want to help these people?

ROLLASON:  I suppose for the pursuit of knowledge.

LAMA:  Whose knowledge?

ROLLASON:  All of human knowledge.

LAMA:  Human knowledge?  (laughs)  Is that reason enough?

 

There is a sense of foreboding in that last question which has “is it worth it?” written all over it.

Later, in a mountain cave, Friend discusses the Yeti with Rollason and the two other members of their party, hunter Ed Shelley (Robert Brown) – (James Bond fans are familiar with Brown’s later performances as M in the Timothy Dalton Bond movies, and also in the last two Roger Moore Bond films), and Andrey McNee (Michael Brill) a young man who had supposedly seen a Yeti and lived to tell about it.

FRIEND:  What you’re suggesting roughly is that this might be some kind of a missing link?

ROLLASON:  It’s strong, intelligent!  It may have powers we haven’t even developed!  It might have inherited the earth.  — And here it is, the last vestige of a species hiding away where nothing else will live.  Waiting in misery and despair for final extinction.

Later, in one of the more exciting sequences of the film, Friend sets a trap to capture a Yeti, but the plan goes awry and Ed Shelley is killed.  Friend and Rollason arrive at the scene to find a shredded net and a dead Shelley.

FRIEND (looking at the net):  It’s ripped to pieces.  Ed!

ROLLASON (examines Ed’s body):  He’s dead.

FRIEND:  Dead?   How did they kill him? ROLLASON:  I can’t find any marks.  It looks like a heart attack.

Moments later, Rollason examines the gun Ed was using and discovers it was loaded with blanks.

ROLLASON:  You loaded the gun.  What with?  Dummy ammunition?

FRIEND:  I didn’t want another dead one.  I knew he’d fire even if the net held.  He was scared!

Rollason discovers an attempt had been made to remove the carcass of the dead Yeti that was inside the cave with Ed.  He deduces the Yeti had come to the cave to reclaim their dead.

ROLLASON:  This was all they wanted.

FRIEND:  You mean they weren’t after Ed?

ROLLASON:  No.

FRIEND: But they killed him! ROLLASON:  No they didn’t, Friend.  You did.

That last line is one of Cushing’s best in the film, and it’s said with such disdain, it cuts through the winter snow like an ice pick.  Cushing’s Rollason has had enough of Friend’s antics, and his frustration comes through in that one line.

Later, Friend and Rollason debate the intelligence of the Yeti:

FRIEND:  Let’s get something straight, doc.  These are animals.  Dangerous killers!  And that’s all they are.

ROLLASON:  McNee died from an accident.  Shelley died from his own fear.  It isn’t what’s out there that’s dangerous.  It’s what in us.

(Rollason examines the dead Yeti.)

ROLLASON:  I’m wondering how old that face is?  It’s seen a long life.  A hundred years?  Perhaps more.  This isn’t a face of a savage being.  It’s generous.

FRIEND:  Generous?

ROLLASON:  They’re waiting for us to die out.

FRIEND:  For mankind to die out?

ROLLASON:  Suppose we’re the savages?

FRIEND:  Are you out of your mind, doc?

ROLLASON:  Perhaps we’re not homo sapiens, thinking man.  — But man the destroyer.

And the last line in the movie, spoken by the Lama, occurs after Rollason returns from the expedition, now denying the Yeti’s existence, even though he had seen them.  Rollason’s stunning statement is affirmed by the similarly affected Lama as he states to close out the film:

LAMA:  There is no Yeti.

THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN is an intelligently written movie, well-acted by Peter Cushing and the rest of the cast, and features nifty direction by Val Guest.  Its shots of snowy mountains and ice cold blizzards take on even more flavor when viewed in the winter.

So that wraps things up for another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING.  Hope you enjoyed today’s look at THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS.  Please join me again next time as we look at more quotes from another Peter Cushing movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Escape From the Snow With SNOWPIERCER (2013)

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Snowpiercer - PosterStreaming Video Review:  SNOWPIERCER (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

In the year 2031, the Earth is frozen and all life is dead, except for a group of survivors living on a fast moving train called the Snowpiercer, which travels around the world keeping its passengers alive, the last hope for saving humankind.

But on this train a class system has emerged.  The privileged few live in the front of the train, while crowds of the poor and underprivileged lived crammed in the train’s rear bowels.  This is the premise of SNOWPIERCER, a nail-biting science fiction action movie by Korean writer/director Joon-ho Bong.

Like all suppressed classes, the folks in the rear of the train long for a better life, for equality with those in the front.  They are led by a man named Curtis (Chris Evans) who has concocted a plan to lead the rebels to freedom.  Advised by the wise elder amongst them, Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis and his rebels bide their time, waiting for the right moment to stage their revolt.

And it’s not just a matter of class.  The folks in the rear of the train are treated cruelly and inhumanely.  They are fed grotesque black protein bars, and when they disobey, their limbs are exposed to the frozen outside and then hacked off.  Their children are taken away from them.

Curtis enlists the aid of Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) a drug-addicted escape artist who agrees to help them break through the multiple doors which stand between them and the front of the train on the condition that he be accompanied by a young woman, Yona (Ah-sung Ko).

The rest of the movie follows this group as they attempt to reach the front of the train, battling all obstacles in their way.

SNOWPIERCER is a highly entertaining very exciting movie that plays as smoothly and as riveting as any major Hollywood blockbuster, if not more so.  It’s a shame that this film didn’t enjoy a wider theatrical release.  It’s a keeper.

And for folks who like their futuristic action films dark, SNOWPIERCER truly satisfies.  It’s a hard hitting dreary and ultimately very violent movie.

Writer/director  Joon-Ho Bong has made a highly stylish futuristic action film, and it’s not mindless action, as it’s supported by a strong and creative story.  Bong also wrote and directed the Korean horror movie THE HOST (2006) a film that received a lot of positive buzz but left me underwhelmed.  I enjoyed SNOWPIERCER much better.

Bong co-wrote the screenplay with Kelly Masterson, based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette.  The story works on multiple levels.  It’s a high octane adventure thriller, as well as being a thought-provoking tale of class warfare.  It also touches upon the apocalyptic theme, something that seems to be increasingly prevalent in stories today, as the story examines how far people stray from their humanity, and how much effort it takes for people to keep it.  Curtis’ background story is a prime example, as the leader of the rebels started as anything but.  He had been reduced to the lowest common denominator of human, choosing to eat his fellow humans, including babies, before experiencing a rebirth as the future leader of his people.

SNOWPIERCER also has quite the cast.  Chris Evans, Captain America himself, is quite good in a role that is a far cry from the all-American superhero he plays in the Marvel superhero movies.  The last thing you’re thinking about watching Chris Evans as Curtis is that he’s the same guy who plays Captain America.  Curtis is a rough brutal character with a dark past and more than enough leadership qualities to go around.  The only question one wonders about is how long will Curtis remain a leader, or will he revert to his former self in the face of overwhelming resistance from the powerful forces embedded in the privileged front of the train.

Kang-ho Song is also very good as Namgoong, the mysterious shady character who offers his valuable assistance but can’t seem to go two minutes without wanting more drugs.  He’s the most interesting character in the movie, mostly because you’re never quite sure what his motivations are.  Ah-sung Ko is just as good as Yona, the young woman who Namgoong won’t let out of his sight, as he’s her personal protector.  She’s also clairvoyant, and her abilities to see what’s about to happen next prove very valuable to the rebellion.

Tilda Swinton is excellent as Mason, the irritating woman who is in charge of the soldiers who deliver food to the masses and punishment to those who break the rules.  Swinton played the icy White Witch in the NARNIA movies, and while she’s less cold here, she’s more annoying.  For most of the film, she’s the face of the privileged class, and she’s wonderfully aggravating.  It’s the type of performance where you’re just dying for her to get her comeuppance.

John Hurt lends his usual solid support as Gilliam, the wise old man who counsels Curtis, and Ed Harris shows up at the end of the film as Wilford, the cocky confident leader of the ruling class.

One drawback to SNOWPIERCER, and I’m not sure if this was just a result of watching this film at home on Netflix as opposed to on the big screen at a movie theater, was that the scenes of the Snowpiercer looked exceedingly cartoonish and CGI-generated.  While it was colorful as can be, it didn’t look all that real.

But other than this, I really enjoyed SNOWPIERCER.  If you like futuristic action films, especially those of a dark nature, then chances are you’ll like SNOWPIERCER.  It also has a stronger story than most.

Many folks considered this one of the best films to come out last year.  I can’t disagree.

Frustrated with all the snow falling this winter?  Take a ride on the SNOWPIERCER. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

—END—

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015) Is Polished Entertaining Fluff

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Kingsman PosterMOVIE REVIEW:  KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

By Michael Arruda

 Matthew Vaughn wrote and directed KICK-ASS (2010) and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011), two of my favorite superhero films of recent years, so when I learned that he was writing/directing KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE, my interest in this flick went way up.

I’ll say right now that KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE is not as good as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS, but it comes close.  Its action scenes look like a video game and are about as compelling, and its story is about as believable as a SPY KIDS movie.

The Kingsmen are an ultra-secret British spy organization even more mysterious than MI6.  The film opens in the late 1990s as a mission goes wrong and Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is saved by a young protégé who gives his life to save Harry.  Harry later visits the agent’s wife and young son and tells them he owes them a debt, which years later the now young adult son Gary (Taron Egerton) collects when he finds himself in jail after stealing a car.  After Harry arranges for Gary to be released, he then goes about grooming him to become a future Kingsman.

Of course, you’re not just selected to become a Kingsman, you have to compete for it, and so Gary finds himself competing against other recruits in a series of tasks which are overseen by their trainer, who goes by the code name Merlin (Mark Strong).

Meanwhile the rich philanthropist Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has caught the attention of the Kingsmen because of his connection to the murder of one of their agents who had been trying to rescue a kidnapped scientist Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill).  Harry, whose code name is Galahad, is assigned to the case and begins to infiltrate the empire of Valentine in order to learn what dastardly plot he has in store for the world, and it’s a doozy.

Of course, things don’t go as planned and before you can say Sir Lancelot young Gary finds himself as the world’s best chance for survival, and suddenly it’s up to Gary to save the day, with a little help from Merlin and Gary’s friend and young Kingsman agent, Roxy (Sophie Cookson).  Wait a minute.  Shouldn’t she be a Kingswoman?

Anyway, at times I really liked KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE, and other times not so much.  In spite of this imbalance, it’s got enough good things going for it- strong direction, a clever script, and an excellent cast to tip the scale in favor of my recommending it.

First off, the cast is the best thing about KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE.  Colin Firth is excellent as Harry Hart/Galahad.  He’s British to the core and makes the perfect gentleman spy.  While there are plenty of James Bond references throughout this movie, Firth’s performance calls to mind another fictional English spy from the 1960s, Patrick Macnee’s Mr. Steed from the TV show THE AVENGERS (1961-69).  Firth’s suave and debonair demeanor is reminiscent of Macnee’s Mr. Steed in that classic TV show.

Samuel L. Jackson chews up the scenery as mastermind supervillain Valentine, and he’s just as good as Firth if not better.  Jackson speaks with a lisp and gets to deliver some of the best lines in the movie.  One of the funnier bits in the film is that both Jackson’s Valentine and Firth’s Galahad are movie buffs and they exchange barbs about the old James Bond movies, which are quite funny.

The film is very cognizant of its origins and how it owes a lot to the James Bond films of old.  As such, it has a good time making jokes at its own expense, poking fun at itself, its characters, and its plot.  However, this only goes so far and on its own isn’t enough to make this film an instant classic.

Mark Strong, as always, is very good as Merlin, the agent who is in charge of training the young recruits and who by the film’s end finds himself with his two newest agents in the daunting position of having to save the world.

Interestingly enough, both Strong and Firth appeared in the substandard Nicole Kidman thriller BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) last year, and while both were fine in that movie, they’re better here in KINGSMAN.

Michael Caine adds class as the Kingsman’s patriarch agent, Arthur, and in a surprise bit of casting Mark Hamill shines in a brief role as Professor Arnold.  It’s a very small role, not enough for Hamill to make much of an impact in this movie, but when he’s on screen, he’s really good, and I couldn’t help but wonder, where has he been all these years?  Yeah, I know, he’s been a very successful voice artist for animated cartoons over the years, but it sure would have been nice to see him in more movies.

But what about the young cast members?  The leads?  After all, the film is mostly about young Gary (Taron Egerton).  Egerton isn’t bad, but the problem is he’s surrounded by some excellent actors, and sorry to say, he’s outclassed by them throughout.  I found myself wishing this movie was more about Colin Firth’s character.

Sophie Cookson is also very good as Roxie, Gary’s chief rival but also his closest friend— can anyone say HUNGER GAMES?  But she too is outclassed by the veteran cast in this one.

The most interesting of the young characters is Sofia Boutella as Gazelle, Samuel L. Jackson’s right hand woman and chief assassin.  She sports a very deadly— and razor sharp— pair of metal legs that can slice a man in half, which she does in this film.

So, I enjoyed the cast, but the story not so much. The biggest problem was I never really believed any of it.  The Kingsman as a concept is believable enough, but when we see these guys in action, their fight scenes look like video game sequences.  It’s all stylish and polished, but it looks oh-so-fake.  KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE definitely has a plot, but its action sequences pretty much all fall flat.  They look great, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t look real.

As I said earlier, there are plenty of James Bond references, especially about how outlandish the old Bond films were, but even those films had action sequences that looked believable.  They were epic and grand in nature.  There isn’t anything epic about KINGSMAN.  And when Colin Firth goes into action mode and wipes out an entire church full of people, there is nothing believable about it.  It looks fake and phony.  Pass me the controller please so I can have a turn.

Even KICK-ASS was more believable than KINGSMAN.  There was a grittiness and realism in KICK-ASS that in spite of its farfetched superhero plot worked.  That is completely gone here.

Like KICK-ASS, KINGSMAN is rated R, and so there’s plenty of blood in the action sequences, but unlike KICK-ASS, none of it looks real.  Again, with fake looking violence, the action scenes in this one were a disappointment.

It’s also rated R for language, and this is mostly because of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine’s colorful vocabulary.

Director Matthew Vaughn has made a movie in KINGSMAN that looks good, but it’s not quite the complete package as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS.  Those films had pretty much everything.

The other problem I had with KINGSMAN is it never builds its suspense.  From the get-go, we see the Kingsmen in action.  There are stylish fights before we even know who we are supposed to be rooting for.  Plus, the film’s climax, while it’s certainly not a dud, isn’t overly exciting either.

The screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who also co-wrote KICK-ASS and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS with him, is based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and it runs hot and cold.  For the most part, I liked it.  I enjoyed the characters and I enjoyed the film jokes, especially about the Bond films, but where it lacks is it never reaches out and grabs its audience with conviction.

The training sequences of the young agents were reminiscent of THE HUNGER GAMES where the young adults/teeny boppers have to compete against each other to make the grade, and only one of them is chosen, and oh yeah, if you fail you go home in a body bag.  You fail.  You die.  Sort of.  The film kind of cops out on this part later.

But a large chunk of the movie was about this training, and I can’t say that I liked this plot point all that much.  Every time the film dealt with the cadet training, I wished for more scenes with either Colin Firth or Samuel J. Jackson.

I never once feared for the characters’ lives, which is strange since characters do die in this film.  But I didn’t fear for them because I never really believed in what was going on, and for me, at the end of the day, if I don’t believe it, I don’t really enjoy it.  That being said, KINGSMAN has such a talented cast, as well as director and screenwriters, that the talent here actually overcomes the film’s shortcomings.  It’s just that with a credible story, this one could have been that much better.

Still, it’s all rather entertaining and is one of the more enjoyable pieces of fluff I’ve seen in a while.  I just wish it had been less fluff and more grit.

—END—

SNEAK PREVIEW: TIME FRAME By Michael Arruda – Chapter 2

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time frame coverMy science fiction novel TIME FRAME is now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at http://www.neconebooks.com.

Last month, on January 21, as a sneak preview I featured  Chapter 1 of the novel here on this blog.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 2.  If you’d like to read Chapter 1, feel free to check out the January 21 post.

Hope you enjoy it.  Here’s Chapter 2 of TIME FRAME.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

CHAPTER 2

“You should have a glass of wine.  It’ll relax you,” Adam said to his wife.

“Wine?”  Sandy said, her wheels spinning, as if she had never heard of the beverage before.  “Yes, wine sounds good.  I will have a glass of wine.”

Suddenly screams erupted from the second floor, followed by the cacophony of shouting boys.  Running feet came next, down the staircase.

“Mommy!  Daddy!  Stephen hit me!”

Adam raised his hand towards his wife in a calming gesture.

“I’ll take care of it,” He said.

His youngest son, Nate, charged towards him and wrapped his arms around his waist.  “Stephen hit me in the head, and it hurts!”

“I did not hit him!”  Stephen shouted.

His oldest son had also joined them in the dining room.

“Yes, you did!”  Nate hollered.

“Alright, alright,” Adam said.  “Everyone just keep calm.”

“He hit me, and I hate him!  I hate him!”

Nate let go of Adam and burst into the living room.

Adam looked at Sandy. Her hands were on her hips.

“Way to handle things, honey,” she said.

Little Nate trotted back into the doorway between the dining room and the living room.  He pointed into the living room.

“Who’s that?”  He asked.

Sandy placed her hands on her little son’s shoulders, and she looked at her husband.  “Yes, Adam, who’s that?”

Stephen was across the floor in a second and joined his mother and younger brother in the doorway.

“Who is that?” Stephen asked.

Adam’s grandfather had been seated in the rocking chair in front of the television set, but he was standing now.  Adam saw a look of joy and astonishment on his face.

“Your children,” Papa said.  “They’re beautiful.  That little one looks just like you. You look just like your father, little one.”

“My name’s Nate.”

“Hello, Nate,” Papa said.

“And this is Stephen, our oldest son,” Adam said, pointing to his light-haired boy, who shared a complexion and facial features with his mother.  Nate had dark hair and resembled Adam more.

“Who are you?”  Nate asked boldly.

“Who am I?  I’m—,” Papa paused and seemed to look to Adam for guidance.

“This is—,” Adam said, but then he paused.  Looking at Sandy, he realized that if he had to choose his words any more carefully, he’d have to hire a publicist.  “Remember I told you about my grandfather, Papa, the one who used to live in this house?”

Sandy cleared her throat, and Adam read her like a book.  Don’t you dare, she was saying.

“This is his brother,” Adam said.

“I thought Uncle Leo was his brother?”  Stephen asked.

“Yes, Uncle Leo is my grandfather’s brother.  This is another brother.  He’s not from around here.”

“I’m from the old country,” Papa said.  “My name is— Bela.  You can call me uncle Bela.”

“Yes, Uncle Bela,” Adam said. He appreciated the help.  He certainly needed it.  “Say hello to your uncle Bela, boys.”

“Hello uncle Bela,” the two boys droned.

“Hello, boys,” said ‘uncle Bela.’  “What fine looking boys you two are!  One that looks like the mother, and the other that looks just like his father!”

“Alright, boys, say bye to uncle Bela,” Sandy said.  “Mom and Dad need to talk to uncle Bela alone, please.  Go back and play.”

“But Stephen hit me!”  little Nate whined.

“I did not hit you!”  Stephen whined back.

Sandy rolled her eyes.  “Go play some video games or something!”

“But you said we couldn’t play until we cleaned our room,” Stephen said.

Well, I changed my mind!”  Sandy said.  “Go play!”

The boys cheered and immediately raced up the staircase, with all talk of who hit who erased from their vocabulary.

“You have beautiful children,” Papa said.

Adam approached him.  “Bela?”

“After Bela Lugosi. You know he was my favorite actor.”

“Yes, I remember,” Adam said.

“I am— Dracula,” the man said, doing his best Lugosi accent and showing his fangs.

“If I shove some garlic in your face, will you go away?”  Sandy said.

The doorbell rang.

“That must be mom,” Adam said.  “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Papa said, his eyes watering, “to see my oldest daughter.”

“Stay here,” Adam said to his grandfather as he walked from the living room to the front door.

Adam opened the door and let his mother inside.

“Hello, mom.”

“So, what’s this about?  You said on the phone there was someone here I needed to see?”  Adam’s mom asked.  “Who?”             “Kathryn!  Good to see you!”

Sandy approached her mother-in-law holding a huge glass of red wine.  “Can I get you a glass of wine?  It’s really good.  This is my second.”

Kathryn smiled at her daughter-in-law.   “No, thank you, dear, it’s too early for me.”

“That’s too bad,” Sandy said.  “You’re going to need it.”

Kathryn leaned into her son’s ear.  “Wine in the morning?  What’s she talking about?”

“Aren’t you going to show your mom who’s in the living room?”  Sandy asked.

“Who is in the living room?”  Kathryn asked.

“I’ll show you,” Adam said.

Sandy raised her free hand.  “No!  You tell her before you bring her in there.  Don’t you dare spring this on her without telling her first!”

“Without telling me what?”  Kathryn asked.

“I’m not sure what to say,” Adam said.  “Just prepare yourself for a shock, but a good shock.  I mean, it’s nothing bad.”

“Tell her,” Sandy urged.

“Papa’s here,” Adam said.

“What?”  Kathryn asked.

Adam ushered his mother into the living room.

A man stood in the center of the room.

“Hello, Kathryn,” he said.  “So, how’s my oldest daughter?”

“Oh my God,” Kathryn gasped.

She slumped into her son’s arms.

—END Chapter 2—

Sneak preview of Chapter 3 coming soon!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CARRIE (2013)

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Carrie poster 2013Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the recent remake of CARRIE (2013) starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.  It’s up now in the February 2015 Edition of THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT it’s the 2013 remake of CARRIE starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.

CARRIE, based on Stephen King’s first novel and first filmed in 1976 by Brian De Palma with Sissy Spacek in the lead role, tells the story of awkward teenager Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) who’s constantly picked on at school because she is awkward and shy.  Carrie acts this way because she has been brought up— and until recently, home-schooled— by her religious fanatic mother Margaret (Julianne Moore).  Fanatic might be too lenient a term.  In short, Margaret is a lunatic!  For example, Margaret’s idea of effective parenting includes locking Carrie in a closet so she can pray for forgiveness.  We’re never told why Margaret acts the way she does, but we can assume she experienced one or more traumatic events earlier in her life.

After Carrie’s classmates make a vicious video of her in the girl’s locker room shower, gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) punishes the girls responsible by restricting their prom privileges unless they do extra drills during gym class.  Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) sees the error of her ways and in good faith asks her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom instead.  Carrie is wary of the invitation, but eventually is convinced that Tommy is not trying to trick her, and so she says yes.

While Sue and Tommy have the best intentions, the wild and rebellious Chris (Portia Doubleday) does not, and she and her boyfriend plan an elaborate scheme of revenge to get back at Carrie at the prom.

The other thing about Carrie is that she has telekinetic powers, which come in handy for dealing with the likes of her mother, and in the film’s bloody finale, Sue and the others who try to humiliate her.

The original CARRIE was directed by Brian De Palma, and starred Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her mother Margaret, both of whom were nominated for Academy Awards, so as good as this sequel is, and as good as both Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are, they would be hard-pressed to match the efforts of the original.  Sissy Spacek, for example, remains the definitive Carrie.

However, there’s a lot to like about the 2013 version.

I enjoyed how director Kimberly Peirce and screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa updated the story.  For example, in this version, the girls take the video of Carrie on a cell phone which they then upload to the internet.  This version also does a better job than the original of showing Sue’s motives as to why she wants to help Carrie.

Chloe Grace Moretz does a nice job as Carrie.  Before seeing the movie, I was concerned that Moretz would have been too normal and good looking for the part, but she does a good job making Carrie awkward and uncomfortable.

Like Piper Laurie in the original, the scariest part of this movie is Julianne Moore as Carrie’s mother Margaret.  Is Moore as good as Laurie?  Probably not, but she’s still damn scary, which is a good thing, because there’s not much else that’s frightening about CARRIE.  It’s disturbing, to be sure, as Carrie’s life is a tough one, as she’s bullied at school, and at home she’s dominated by her insane mother.  And it’s exceedingly sad to see Carrie humiliated at the prom, and even her revenge doesn’t feel rewarding.  You just want to see her be happy, not single-handedly wiping out half her high school class!

The acting here is above average.  In addition to Moretz and Moore, Gabrielle Wilde is very good as sympathetic Sue Snell, as is Judy Greer as Ms. Desjardin.  Portia Doubleday does a nice job making Chris a spoiled bratty nemesis for Carrie, and while I liked Ansel Elgort as wholesome boyfriend Tommy the first time I saw this one at the movies, the second time I watched this on Netflix I found him rather syrupy sweet, and I had a hard time taking him seriously.

The best part of CARRIE is it tells a genuine tale of the effects of bullying, something that too many high school students have to deal with, and the sad part is they’ve been dealing with it for years—long before King wrote the novel in the early 70s— and they continue to deal with it today.  This combined with the other part of the story, Carrie’s relationship with her abusive mother, make this one sadder than most horror tales.

I liked this version of CARRIE well enough, and by far my favorite part of this movie was the performances by Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her demented mother Margaret.

CARRIE is a gloomy drama about a young girl who is eventually pushed to the edge of her sanity, to the point where she can’t take it any longer and strikes back with the full force of her deadly telekinetic abilities.  Yet, this action does little to lift Carrie out of her predicament.  In fact, it doesn’t rescue her from her plight at all.  It simply ends it.

In CARRIE, the only release from pain is death.

For those who like dark stories, you can’t get much darker than that.

—END—

BIRDMAN (2014) Soars

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birdman posterMovie Review:  BIRDMAN (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014)

By

Michael Arruda

 

The majority of movies I see are pretty straightforward.  They don’t require much thinking to figure out what’s going on.  So, when I see a movie that does require some thought, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

BIRDMAN is a thought-provoking movie that, like a masterful painting, doesn’t always give you its full meaning right away.  You have to look at it for a while, think about it, digest it.

BIRDMAN tells the story of a has-been actor Riggan (Michael Keaton) who’s trying to resurrect his career by financing and starring in a play on Broadway.  He’s also doing this to reinvent himself.  He achieved superstardom decades earlier for playing the superhero Birdman in a series of Hollywood blockbusters, and this history makes the casting of Michael Keaton in this central role all the more intriguing, as it’s a case of art imitating life, as Keaton starred in the highly successful BATMAN movies directed by Tim Burton, and over the past two decades, he’s been largely invisible from the big screen.

Riggan is haunted by visions of Birdman, as the character constantly speaks to him, telling him to forget the play and return to playing Birdman in the movies again.  It would resurrect his career, Birdman says.  But Riggan refuses to listen, and as he says more than once in the movie, he wants to be remembered for doing something important in his life, for appearing in a work of art that actually means something, not just some mindless Hollywood blockbuster.

The best part of BIRDMAN is the first two thirds of the movie, where we follow Riggan’s efforts to get his play off the ground.  He’s helped by his agent/producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) who does his best to keep Riggan focused on the play.  When they lose the other male actor due to an injury, they replace him with the well-respected method actor Mike (Edward Norton) who drives Riggan and the rest of the cast nuts with his quirky and antisocial behavior.  However, Riggan can’t get rid of him because he’s a name who sells tickets, and there’s no denying that he’s a helluva an actor.

Riggan is also involved in a relationship with his lead actress, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), while Mike is involved with the other actress in the cast, Lesley (Naomi Watts).  As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, Riggan also has to deal with his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who possesses a volatile personality and is trying to recover from substance abuse.

The interactions between all these characters bring this movie to life.  By far, my favorite part of BIRDMAN was watching these actors interact with one another.  The film is full of so much energy during these stage scenes, and it does a tremendous job capturing the back stage life of an actor, the fears, the toil, all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes of a Broadway play.

For me, this was the most satisfying part of BIRDMAN.  I enjoyed all the performances and loved watching Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, and Naomi Watts.

But the main character here is Riggan, and the main performer in BIRDMAN is Michael Keaton, and it’s here where the film takes its strange twists and turns, as it enters into the mind of the disturbed Riggan. See, Riggan is going through a crisis.  He wants his life to mean something.  He wants to be remembered for doing something important, but he also realizes that his life isn’t what he wants it to be.  He’s reminded of this every time he sees his daughter, because he feels like a failure as a father.  He has similar feelings about his acting career.  Has it all been for nothing?  He doesn’t want the answer to this question to be “no.”

Under incredible amounts of stress, he looks like he could have a nervous breakdown or heart attack at any moment.  As such, he’s on the verge of losing his mind throughout the story, which might explain why he has conversations with Birdman, the fictional character he played in the movies.  And, oh yeah, he also believes he possesses telekinetic powers and can move objects just by using his mind.  Oka—aay.

So, at some point when watching these things happen on screen, you have to ask yourself, are these things really happening or are they just playing themselves out in Riggan’s mind?  Reality dictates that these things aren’t true, that they can’t possibly be happening.  For example, when Riggan finds himself flying, you realize, this can’t possibly be happening, but this line of thought opens up the question, if not reality, then just what exactly is happening?

Is he dreaming?  If so, how much of the story is a dream?  Riggan is also obsessed with death and tries to commit suicide several times in the story.  Does he succeed?  Could these conversations and images be the final thoughts of a dying man?

This is what I meant when I said there’s a lot to think about in BIRDMAN.  It’s as quirky and as satisfying a movie as I’ve seen in a long while.  While I didn’t always find myself enjoying it— -it gets so bizarre near the end it was difficult to gage what was truly going on— I never stopped appreciating it.

In addition to the excellent acting by Michael Keaton and the entire cast, there’s wonderful direction by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.  The film works on two levels.  The first is as a portrait of stage life for actors in a Broadway play, and Inarritu’s camerawork captures this part of the film masterfully.  The way his camera follows his characters around, the way it leads the audience through dark hallways through first person perspective, and the way he holds the camera on Emma Stone’s face in several key scenes all work towards lifting the material to even higher heights.  There is a gritty realism here that possesses the feel of a reality TV show.

What makes Inarritu’s work here even more impressive is he juxtaposes these scenes with scenes that take us into Riggan’s subconscious, and these scenes play like anything but reality.

For this second level, the story of Riggan’s struggles with his own mind and soul, Inarritu chooses to take us into the realm of fantasy, as we have scenes of Riggan flying and moving objects without touching them.  What are we actually seeing?  Riggan’s thoughts?  Dreams?  Death images?  Or could reality really be this strange?

 

While Michael Keaton and his fellow cast members might drive this one along, and while Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s direction puts it all together, it’s the script by Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, and Armando Bo which provides the framework for BIRDMAN.  It’s a brilliantly realized story that intersperses its main character Riggan’s idiosyncrasies, hopes, fears, and dreams with an often hilarious and brutally honest tale of actors working on a Broadway play.  It’s Woody Allen meets Guillermo del Toro.

There’s also some insight on the power and value or lack thereof of criticism, as one of the liveliest and best scenes in the movie is a conversation between Riggan and theater critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) who tells Riggan she’s going to destroy his theater career by writing a negative review of his play, even though she hasn’t seen it yet.  She refuses to call him an actor, speaking down to him, calling him a Hollywood celebrity who has no business being on stage. To his credit, Riggan fights back, telling Tabitha that this is his livelihood, that he has put his entire life savings into this play, and that she’s a bitter talentless person for writing a negative review before she’s even seen the play.

There’s also a scathing scene where Sam sails into her father about how he wants to be relevant but how he never will be, how he’s a “dinosaur” in an age of rapid fire modern technology that he refuses to accept.  It’s a painfully poignant father/daughter moment that probably has been shared by many parents and their children in this day and age of rapidly evolving technology that has changed the world entirely for people over the age of 40 and has made it a vastly different place from the one they remember.

On top of all this, the film also boasts a superb music score by Antonio Sanchez.  This amazing drum score will get inside your head.  It grows incredibly loud and cacophonous whenever Riggan is stressing out, and becomes an embodiment of his pain and angst.

BIRDMAN is not your typical Hollywood drama.  It’s a quirky frenetic tale of one actor’s fight to remain relevant, all the while happening during a time that for all we know he lays dying, with the events of the story simply playing out in his head.

Regardless of how you interpret it, it remains a highly satisfying film, because like the main character in its story, BIRDMAN is a movie that soars.

—END—