MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: THE BLACK CAT (1934)

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MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  THE BLACK CAT (1934)

By

Michael Arruda

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi exchange barbs throughout THE BLACK CAT (1934).

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi exchange barbs throughout THE BLACK CAT (1934).

 

 

Welcome to the latest edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the column where we look at great quotes from even greater horror movies.  Up today is one of my favorite horror movies from the 1930s, Universal’s THE BLACK CAT (1934), starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

THE BLACK CAT, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe tale, was the first time Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi starred together in the same movie.  It united these two horror icons when they were both at the height of their careers, and so this film is full of fine moments from both these actors.

As such, THE BLACK CAT is packed with memorable lines.  Here’s a look at some of these quotes from THE BLACK CAT, screenplay by Peter Ruric:

Early on, Bela Lugosi gets most of the screen time and dominates the first third of this movie, a tale in which he and Karloff play adversaries.  Lugosi plays Dr. Vitus Verdegast, a man who returns to his native country after a fifteen year confinement in a military prison to seek vengeance against his former commander, the brilliant Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff), who according to Verdegast not only abandoned his troops but also took away Verdegast’s wife and daughter.

But why take my word for it?  Let Lugosi explain his story himself, as he says to the young American couple Peter Allison (David Manners) and his wife Joan (Julie Bishop) who are vacationing in Hungary:

VERDEGAST: Have you ever heard of Kurgaal? It is a prison below Omsk. Many men have gone there. Few have returned. I have returned. After fifteen yearsI have returned.

I’ve written about this before, but you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Lugosi deliver lines in a movie.  There is something so poetic about the way Lugosi speaks.  Part of it is his accent, of course, but the other part is that early on Lugosi didn’t know a lot of English and he had to learn all his lines phonetically, which contributed greatly to his signature speaking style.

Even after Karloff enters the film, when Verdegast and Poelzig finally meet, Lugosi continues to dominate, and continues to get most of the lines.  It’s almost as if director Ulmer was taking full advantage of their famous movie roles, Lugosi as Dracula, who mesmerized his victims with his language, and Karloff as the Frankenstein monster, who hardly said a word and was mute in two of the three Frankenstein films in which Karloff played him.

Lugosi speaks, Karloff listens, as in this scene where Lugosi’s Verdegast lambastes Karloff’s Poelzig for his past actions:

VERDEGAST: You sold Marmorus to the Russians. You scurried away in the night and left us to die. Is it to be wondered that you should choose this place to build your house? A masterpiece of construction built upon the ruins of the masterpiece of destruction – a masterpiece of murder.

And of course Poelzig’s house is a masterpiece of construction because he’s a genius architect and has built a futuristic home which includes sliding doors, radio and television monitors, and all sorts of other goodies that were ahead of their time.

There’s also a good deal of humor in THE BLACK CAT, as in this scene where Peter Allison tries to dismiss what’s going on as hogwash, but Verdegast won’t let him:

PETER:  I don’t know.  It all sounds like a lot of supernatural baloney to me!

VERDEGAST:  Superstition, perhaps.  Baloney, perhaps not.

In fact, David Manners, who played Peter Allison, usually stuck in overdramatic romantic lead roles, actually gets to show his acting chops in this one and is able to display some humor of his own, as in this scene where he reacts to Verdegast’s comments about Poelzig.

PETER (talking about Poelzig):  If I wanted to build a nice, cozy, unpretentious insane asylum, he’d be the man for it.

As the film goes on, Karloff’s Poelzig begins to assert his dominance and wrests control of the movie from Lugosi’s Verdegast.  As such, while he had been quiet early on, later Karloff becomes the one with the memorable lines, as in this scene where he challenges Verdegast to a deadly game of chess, with the wager being Joan’s soul.

POELZIG:  Come, Vitus. Are we men or are we children? Of what use are all these melodramatic gestures? You say your soul was killed, that you have been dead all these years. And what of me? Did we not both die here in Marmaros 15 years ago? Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder? Are we not both the living dead?  And now you come to me, playing at being an avenging angel, childishly thirsting for my blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life.We shall play a little game, Vitus. A game of death, if you like.

And as they approach a chess board, the light bulb goes off in Poelzig’s head.

POELZIG: Do you dare play chess with me for her?

VERDEGAST:  Yes. I will even play you chess for her. Provided if I win, they are free to go.

POELZIG:  You won’t win, Vitus.

That last line is expressed with so much confidence that in spite of everything Lugosi has done in this film, there’s no way you can envision him outdueling Karloff at this point.

This scene leads to my favorite line in the entire film.  As Poelzig and Verdegast play chess, Peter’s frustrations grow as he’s trying to get his wife away from the house, and his efforts continue to be thwarted.  The only car is not working, and so Poelzig tells Peter that he’s welcome to use the phone to call for a ride.  Peter does, and to his chagrin, finds that the phone is dead, which with great exasperation is what he tells Poelzig, information that seems to cause the evil architect much delight.

Poelzig turns to Verdegast and nearly sings the following lines with glee:

POELZIG:  The phone is dead.  Do you hear that, Vitus?  Even the phone is dead!

 

That last line, “even the phone is dead,’ nails the truth behind everything that has been occurring in Poelzig’s home:  the house is the embodiment of death.  Everything within, even the inanimate objects, are soaked in death, and no one who goes there leaves alive, which might explain Poelzig’s motives for practicing Satanism.  It’s his way of conquering death.

I said earlier that this movie was loosely based on Poe’s THE BLACK CAT, and really, the only connection is the title itself, which both stories share.  Other than this, they pretty much have nothing in common.  This film is only called THE BLACK CAT because Verdegast suffers from a fear of cats, which is revealed when he recoils at the sight of a cat inside Poelzig’s home.  Peter is shocked at this reaction, and Poelzig offers this explanation, seeming ecstatic that his adversary is afflicted with this weakness.

POELZIG:  You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.

 

We’ll let Lugosi get the last word.  At the end of the movie, Verdegast and Poelzig confront each other, and after a scuffle, it’s Verdegast who comes out on top.  He binds Poelzig and prepares to torture him:

VERDEGAST:  The murderer of 10,000 men returns to the place of his crime. Those who died were fortunate. I was taken prisoner to Kurgaal. Kurgaal, where the soul is killed, slowly.

Fifteen years I’ve rotted in the darkness… waiting. Not to kill you, but to kill your soul – slowly.

THE BLACK CAT is a phenomenal horror movie, one that no horror fan or horror film scholar should miss.  I hope you enjoyed these memorable quotes from this classic movie, THE BLACK CAT.

See you again next time.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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Brosnan Kicks Butt in THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

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November Man - posterStreaming Video Review:  THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

by

Michael Arruda

I wanted to see THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014) when it opened in theaters last year, but for some reason or other, I missed it.  Now that it’s available on Netlflix Streaming, I finally caught up with it.

THE NOVEMBER MAN is an action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan as a former CIA operative who’s lured back into one last job and finds himself, among other things, squaring off against his former protégé.

Peter Deveraux (Pierce Brosnan) is trying to enjoy his “retirement” from the CIA.  He owns a coffee shop in Switzerland, and life is good.  However, his old boss John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) tracks him down and asks him to do one more job.  Hanley wants Deveraux to bring in a woman Natalia (Mediha Musliovic) from Russia whose life is in danger because she has information which will ruin the political career of the man who’s about to become president of Russia, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski).  The Russians want her dead and have put one of their most dangerous assassins, a woman named Alexa (Amila Terzimehic), on her trail.  Deveraux can hardly say no to this assignment, as Natalia is the mother of his twelve year-old daughter.

So, Deveraux travels to Russia to extract Natalia, and all goes well, at first, but then a squadron of agents descend upon them and kill Natalia.  Deveraux retaliates and recognizes one of the attackers as David Mason (Luke Bracey), his protégé, and he realizes that this was a CIA hit, which contradicts the information given him by his old boss Hanley, that they wanted Natalia alive.

David’s current boss Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) wants to know why Deveraux was there, and fearing that his former agent will seek vengeance for Natalia’s death, he orders David to find Deveraux and kill him.

Deveraux meanwhile tracks down a young woman named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) who has information on a missing woman who holds the key to Federov’s downfall.  It’s this missing woman who Natalia knew about and is why the Russians wanted her dead.  Now they want Alice dead as well.  Deveraux vows to protect her, and together they set out to find the mystery woman, all the while remaining one step ahead of both the Russians and the CIA.  Deveraux also has a personal score to settle, as he wants to know why the CIA wanted Natalia killed, and he wants to get back at those responsible for her death.

While this may sound confusing, it really isn’t.  In spite of its twists and turns and political intrigue, the plot of THE NOVEMBER MAN is relatively easy to follow.

And since I understood this one from start to finish, I found myself really enjoying THE NOVEMBER MAN, as there was enough going on in the story to hold my interest, there were decent action scenes, and the cast more than held their own.

Pierce Brosnan leads the way as Peter Deveraux, the tough-as-nails CIA operative who earned the nickname “the November Man” because when he was through with a job, no one was left standing.  I dunno.  I can think of months with worse weather than November.  Anyway, Brosnan is excellent here.  I’ve always liked Brosnan as an actor, and as much as I liked him as James Bond, I’ve liked him better in other movies.  He almost always delivers the goods, and his performance here in THE NOVEMBER MAN is no exception.  He displays more range and emotion in the first twenty minutes of this movie than he does in any Bond film.  He’s also more bad-ass than Bond in this movie, and as such he’s completely convincing as a deadly CIA assassin.

Luke Bracey is less convincing as Deveraux’s protégé Mason.  He’s a pretty face and a muscular body, but he lacks Brosnan’s weathered toughness, and not once in this movie did I believe that Mason would actually best Deveraux.  I had to scratch my head when Mason’s boss Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) sends Mason in to kill Deveraux.  If Deveraux is as dangerous as they say he is, why send in a “baby” like Mason.  Isn’t there someone more seasoned?  Plus there’s the obvious emotional connection.  Mason can say all he wants about how he’ll get the job done, but the fact remains the two men were best friends.  It’s not the most convincing plot point.

Olga Kurylenko fares better as Alice, the woman who Brosnan spends most of the film trying to protect.  Kurylenko is terribly sexy, and as Alice she gets to do quite a lot in this movie, as she is much more than just a target that Brosnan has to guard.  She’s quite the effective heroine.  Kurylenko also made a big impression starring opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) – she must like the James Bond types— and she was also good in a smaller role in the Tom Cruise science fiction film OBLIVION (2013).  She’s excellent here in THE NOVEMBER MAN.

Bill Smitrovich is also exceptional as Hanley, Deveraux’s former boss.  Smitrovich is a familiar face, and he’s been in lots of movies and TV shows, including IRON MAN (2008) and TED (2012).  I’ve liked Smitrovich in a lot of these roles, but his performance in this movie as Hanley might be my favorite.  He’s adept here at playing a two sided shadowy character, and he’s quite the bastard when he needs to be.

Amila Terzimehic looks impressive as Russian assassin Alexa, but she’s not in this movie a whole lot and as a result never becomes the villainous force she could have been.  Likewise, Will Patton, who I always enjoy, isn’t on screen very much either as the current CIA chief Perry Weinstein.  So, Patton’s impact is also limited.

THE NOVEMBER MAN was directed by Roger Donaldson, a veteran director who’s been making movies for decades.  He directed Pierce Brosnan previously in DANTE’S PEAK (1997) the very average adventure film about an erupting volcano.  THE NOVEMBER MAN is better than average.  It’s a nicely paced slick thriller with convincing action scenes, a couple of exciting chase scenes, and some effective fight sequences that don’t disappoint.

The screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek based on the book There Are No Spies by Bill Granger has enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned spy movie fan satisfied, and it also boasts decent dialogue, especially for star Pierce Brosnan, who gets to chew up the scenery in some scenes.  Finch wrote the screenplay for PREDATORS (2010), the PREDATOR reboot/sequel that I liked a lot, while Gajdusek co-wrote OBLIVION (2013), the Tom Cruise science fiction film which also starred Olga Kurylenko.  I expected the screenplay for this one to be decent, and it was.

Sure, things become a bit far-fetched towards the end, and the plot does get somewhat convoluted, but it never reached the point where I flat out didn’t believe it, mostly because Brosnan remains convincing throughout.  He’s the glue which holds this movie together.

THE NOVEMBER MAN is a well-made actioner, solid throughout, and it’s led by an impressive Pierce Brosnan who turns in a gritty rugged performance.  The former James Bond can still kick some serious butt.

—END—

TIME FRAME – Sneak Preview: Chapter 4

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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.

Previously on this blog I featured Chapters 1-3 of the novel.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 4.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

CHAPTER 4

The bald-headed bartender, with a white towel slung over his shoulder, turned from the cash register by the whiskey bottles and approached the two strangers sitting at his bar.

“Would you like another?”  He asked.

The two strangers each had been nursing their drinks for the past half hour.  The one who did most of the talking was a heavy set stocky fellow with dark curly hair and a chubby face that looked friendly.  He had a soft somewhat high voice and nodded a lot when he spoke.  He sipped a Guinness.

His friend was the one who made Duncan uneasy.  A big man, close to 6’ 6”, an imposing figure who looked incredibly fit and strong for someone who appeared to be past his prime, perhaps in his early 40s, as his hair sported spots of gray and his face weathered lines.  It was his face that disturbed Duncan the most, and more specifically, his eyes.

The eyes were cold, a killer’s eyes.  Duncan knew the type because he’d worked at the prison once, a long time ago, and he’d seen his share of murderers.  Not all of them had this particular look, but the ones that did, he’d always kept clear of.  It was the look of a predator, a wolf, eyes that spoke out loud, that said no one they encountered could best them.  I’m the top of the food chain.  The tall man sitting at his bar had these eyes.

The man made Duncan uncomfortable, and Duncan was not spooked easily.  After all, he was the champion arm wrestler of Kilgarvan, and at six foot one inch, he was an imposing figure himself who not only owned Duncan’s Pub and tended bar but also served as resident bouncer.  Still, it was one thing to throw out a drunken lug from your establishment, and quite another to tangle with a killer.  After all, Duncan used his muscles to prevent bloodshed, not inflict it.

The man sipped his whiskey, straight, no ice.  He licked his lips, all the while keeping his eyes on Duncan.  He didn’t blink.

“No, thank you.  We’ll keep to these,” the man said.  His voice was emotionless, yet penetrating, like a gun with a silencer.

Duncan swallowed.  “Just let me know if I can get you anything.”

“Certainly.  Thank you so much,” the chubby man smiled. “You’re very thoughtful.”

“And you two are the oddest couple I’ve ever seen,” Duncan thought.

He turned away from the two men, and his eyes fell upon the welcome sight of O’Leary, one of his regulars, the regular in his opinion.  Duncan’s Pub had been open for 11 years, and Duncan remembered clearly opening for business that first day and within the first five minutes of unlocking the front door, seeing O’Leary saunter in with a big smile and saying, “Pour me a stout, why don’t ya?”  That’s how it had begun, and now 11 years later, that’s how it continued.

“Pour me a stout, why don’t ya?” O’Leary said.  He looked over at the two strangers sitting at the bar to his right.

Duncan opened the tap and poured a frothy dark one into a tall mug.  He slapped it in front O’Leary.

“Ah, I thank you,” O’Leary said, lifting the mug to his lips and drawing in a long sip of the hearty brew.

“No. Thank you,” Duncan said.

“Me?  What for?  You’re the one who’s working,” O’Leary said.

“You keep me sane.  It’s good to see you every day,” Duncan said.  His eyes roved back towards the two strangers, and O’Leary followed them.

O’Leary nodded.  “I know what you mean.”

Duncan was able to have this conversation with O’Leary, in such close proximity to the two strangers, because as usual on a weekday afternoon after work, Duncan’s Pub was packed, packed and loud.

Funny about noise, Duncan thought.  It starts off low, then grows louder as the next guy raises his voice so his friend can hear, and then the next guy does the same, and so on and so on.  You’d think it would reach the point where it would burst the eardrums, but it doesn’t.  Day after day the same thing happens.  Suddenly, it gets quiet, all by itself, and inevitably someone makes a loud off color joke, breaking the silence, allowing the cycle to begin again.

It was loud now, and though the two strangers sat close to O’Leary, separated only by Tim and Tina, two other regulars who Duncan didn’t know as well as O’Leary since they only came in once a month or so, it was easy to hold a conversation without worry that they’d be heard.

Duncan didn’t know how old O’Leary was.  He had looked to be in his 60s on that day 11 years ago when he had first come into the pub, and he still looked like he was in his 60s now.  He was thin but had a round frame, and Duncan imagined he must have been a chubby young man.  He had very fine hair and very coarse skin, no doubt from his career as a fisherman.  He was retired now.  His face could be harsh with all its weathered lines, but as soon as he smiled, all the harshness disappeared and he became as warm as everyone’s favorite grandfather.

Duncan didn’t know if 11 years ago O’Leary simply looked older than he was, or if nowadays he simply looked great for his age.  Duncan just hoped the man remained healthy and kept coming in.  Sickness in old age came on fast.  He had seen it with his dad, and now with his mother.  They go on and on in apparent good health claiming they’re going to live to 90, but when sickness comes to a 70 year-old, serious sickness, the body just doesn’t recover.  Duncan didn’t want to see O’Leary sick.

“Just how old are you, O’Leary?”  Duncan asked.

O’Leary sipped his stout and placed the mug on the bar.  “Old enough to drink as many of these as I want.”

“You watching your health?”  Duncan asked.

“Take my medicine every day,” O’Leary said, raising his glass.

Duncan laughed.  He happened to notice the clock on the wall opposite the bar.

“You’re here early today,” Duncan said.  “What’s the occasion?”

“The wife’s out shopping,” O’Leary said.

“You rascal,” Duncan said.

He noticed the two strangers looking around the bar, as if they were looking for someone.  He told himself to leave well enough alone, to attend to the customers at the other end of the bar, but the man with the cold eyes suddenly looked perplexed.  The expression caught Duncan’s curiosity.  Still, he wanted nothing more to do with these two men, at least not until he had finished with the customers at the other end of the bar.  Duncan was about to turn to those customers when he realized the man had caught him staring.

“Oops,” Duncan thought, and he grinned.  How to get out of this one? He decided to simply do his job, and that would take care of it.  He stepped towards the two strangers.

“You look like your wheels are turning,” Duncan said.  “Something on your mind I can help you with?”

“No one’s smoking.  A pub without cigarette smoke.  Why is that?”  The tall stranger asked.

“Welcome to the 21st century,” said Tim, who sat just to the men’s left.

The stranger turned towards Tim and glared at him with wide opened eyes.        “It’s a new law,” Duncan said.  “No more smoking in the workplace, which includes the 10,000 pubs here in Ireland.  If you want to smoke, you’ll have to go outside.”

“Ireland, the world’s healthiest place to live,” O’Leary said, lifting his beer mug.  “Damned health minister!” Tim said.

The tall man turned to his chubby friend.  “Why didn’t you know about this?”

The chubby man shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I didn’t see anything in the literature about it.”

“Don’t come down on your buddy too hard,” Duncan said.  “It’s a brand new law. I’m sure it’s not in any of the travel guides yet.  I hope you weren’t looking forward to that smoke too badly.  You gentlemen on vacation?”

“No.  Business,” said the tall man.

“I see.  What do you do?”  Duncan asked.

The man made direct eye contact with Duncan but didn’t offer an answer, at least not by speaking.  His eyes, they did the talking, and Duncan knew what they were saying, “Stop asking me questions.”

“We’re in the travel business,” said the chubby man.  “That’s why we’re a bit put out that we didn’t know about the ‘no smoking’ law.  It’s our job to know these things.”

“Travel business,” Duncan repeated.  “Are you going to write up a report on my pub?  Should I be on my best behavior?”

The chubby man chuckled.  “No, it’s not like that.  We’re more interested in the people doing the traveling than the places they travel to.  We’re sort of like the People’s Choice awards.  We don’t rate the places we visit ourselves, but we talk to the real life travelers and see what they have to say.  Do you get many travelers here, or do you serve mostly locals?”

“Locals, for sure.  Very few travelers,” Duncan answered.  “On any given month you’d be the only ones, but it must be the week for visitors.”

“You’ve had some tourists in this week?” the chubby man asked.

“One.  A man.  Pretty sure he’s an American. He talks like an American.”

“He sounds like the kind of man we’d like to talk to,” the chubby man said.

“Really?  Too bad, because you’d learn much more if you talked to one of the regulars,” Duncan said.

The chubby man smiled.  “Don’t worry.  We don’t publish negative reviews.  That’s not what we’re about.  We’re interested only in people’s experiences in foreign lands.  We’re not critics.  We’re about human interest stories.  It’s too bad we missed this guy.”

“He’s been in more than once.  Maybe he’ll come in again today,” Duncan said.  He looked at his watch.  “Around this time, too.  Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“Maybe,” the chubby man said.

Duncan noticed the chubby man’s beer mug was nearly empty.

“Are you sure I can’t get you another?  Duncan asked.

“You know, I think I will have another, thank you very much.”

“Another Guinness?”  Duncan asked, just to make sure.

“Yes.”

Duncan looked at the tall man, still nursing his whiskey.  The tall man shook his head.

“No thank you,” the man said.

Duncan moved to the tap.  “You are one creepy looking guy,” he thought.  “The sooner you’re out of here, the better!”

As he poured the beer, he thought about what the chubby man had just said, and he didn’t buy it.  Travel business.  He didn’t think so.  They didn’t look the part.  At least the tall guy didn’t.  He had killer written all over him.  Maybe to other people he didn’t look so obvious, but it was Duncan’s job to know people inside and out, and the vibes he got from this guy weren’t good.  Whether he was some sort of international agent, CIA perhaps, or hired gun or even terrorist, it didn’t matter.  Duncan wanted him out of his bar.

“Your kind is the last thing we need,” Duncan thought.  “Ireland has enough of its own problems.  We don’t need violence from the outside.”

Duncan filled the mug with a fresh Guinness.  He turned and gave the chubby man his drink.

The front door opened, and Duncan saw the American visitor.  His gut told him to keep his mouth shut, but the chubby guy had said the American was the type of person they wanted to talk to, as part of their travel business.  Maybe he’d call their bluff and see what happened.

“You gentlemen are in luck,” Duncan said.  “Our American tourist just came in for his afternoon brew.”

The two men looked over their shoulders.

The tall American, about 6’2”, and lanky, had the slim yet fit look of a runner.  He wore dark clothing, blue jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt with a hood which bunched up behind his neck.  His white running shoes helped him bounce when he walked.  His hair was jet black, wavy, and it possessed a gel shine.  He had handsome blue eyes that put people at ease.  He appeared a friendly chap.

He approached his usual table, a small circular job meant for two.  Though the pub was packed, the small table was still available.  Most of the patrons of Duncan’s Pub preferred to either stand or hang out by the bar.

Duncan and the two strangers weren’t the only ones who noticed the American come through the door.

Brenda, Duncan’s best waitress, was already moving his way.  He had just sat down, when she leaned her attractive body against him so that her hips touched his shoulder.   She made it a point to touch all the male customers.  Duncan let her do it because it was good for business.  She had a way of doing it without coming across trashy.  She came off like a kid sister who hadn’t seen her “brothers” in months.  The men loved it, and they loved her.  They rewarded her by giving her the best tips in the house.  Duncan didn’t mind because they also stayed longer and bought more beer.

She and the American struck up a conversation, and Duncan knew Brenda would soon be approaching the bar with the man’s order, a mug of frothy ale.

“Does he always come in alone?” the tall man asked.

“Yeah,” Duncan answered.  “Always picks the same table, right there, gets himself a beer and some dinner, and has a good time.”

“You’ve never seen him with anyone else?”  The tall man asked.

“No,” Duncan said.  “Why do you ask?”

Again, the man answered with his eyes, and they were none too happy.

“We ask different questions of solo travelers compared to couples or groups,” the chubby man said.  “Just doing our homework before we go over there and talk to him.”

“I see,” Duncan said.

The tall man reached into his pocket and tossed some money onto the bar.

“Thank you for the drinks,” he said.  He stood from his seat, and his chubby friend followed.  Together they approached the American.

Duncan took the money, nodded in approval at the size of the tip, and turned to deposit the cash in the cash register.

“Is it a full moon tonight, you think?” O’Leary asked.

“Why do you ask?”  Duncan said, looking over his shoulder.

“Those two.”

“You noticed?”

Duncan closed the cash drawer and approached his friend.

“Noticed?  I felt it!”

“The only thing you feel is a hangover in the morning!” Brenda said, coming up behind O’Leary and planting a friendly kiss on the back of his ear.

O’Leary smiled upon seeing Brenda.  “I can still feel more than that, just ask my wife!  Or perhaps you’d like a demonstration?”

“I have asked your wife, and I don’t have the two hours it’ll take to get you started!”  Brenda shot back, bringing howls from the patrons on both sides of O’Leary.  “Our American friend will have his usual,” she said to Duncan.

“Thank you, Brenda,” Duncan said.  He looked into the crowd to see the two strangers approaching the American’s table.

“Travel business,” Duncan muttered, shaking his head.  His stomach suddenly felt sour.

O’Leary made another off color joke causing more hearty laughter from the crowd around the bar.  Duncan smiled and poured the ale for the American.

“Good old O’Leary,” Duncan thought.  “How can anything bad happen with him around?”

 

And that ends Chapter 4.  Once again, thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2015 edition of the HWA Newsletter, on John Carpenter’s science fiction action thriller ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Enjoy!escape-from-new-york poster

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

John Carpenter’s movies, especially his early ones, are defined by a distinctive directorial style that makes his films more creative than most, and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), his futuristic science fiction thriller, just might be his most imaginative film of all.

The epitome of John Carpenter’s work of course is his masterpiece, HALLOWEEN (1978), but his early films were all very good.  You can’t go wrong with DARK STAR (1974), ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), THE FOG (1980), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), or THE THING (1982).  Carpenter would continue to make decent quality movies, some better than others, but it was these early films which defined Carpenter’s work for me.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) is classic John Carpenter.  Chock full of style, its story of the island of Manhattan serving as a maximum security prison is about as far-fetched at you can get, which comes as no surprise since believable plots have never been a John Carpenter strong point.  But Carpenter’s signature touches are all over this one, and as such, it’s one of my favorite John Carpenter movies.

The story takes place in the “future” in the year 1997— gee, that went by fast!— and Manhattan is a maximum security prison with one simple rule:  once you go in, you never come out.  The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is on his way to an important summit to meet with the leaders of China and the Soviet Union (which of course would cease to exist before 1997, but to be fair to Carpenter, who in 1981 saw that coming?) when his Air Force One jet is hijacked and forced down into the streets of Manhattan.

Police Commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) decides to send in notorious convict Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the president since he can move about unnoticed— unlike the police— although I’ve always wondered what happened to their undercover officers?— and he can get the job done.  Hauk promises Snake a full pardon if he rescues the president.  To cement the deal, Hauk implants poison capsules into Snake’s neck.  If he makes it back in time with the president, he’ll be given an antidote.  If not, it’s sayonara Snake!

Snake pilots a glider into New York and lands on top of the World Trade Center.  As he searches for the president, he learns from Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) that the man holding the president is The Duke (Isaac Hayes), the most powerful man in the Manhattan prison.  In order to save his own life, Snake will have to rescue the president from the Duke, and together, they’ll have to escape from New York.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is one of John Carpenter’s most stylish films.  I absolutely love the look of this movie, as Carpenter nails the futuristic vision of New York City.  There’s something exceedingly animated about the look of this film, the vibrant colors, the brooding camerawork, and the artistic photography.  It reminds me a lot of what Tim Burton would do with Gotham City in BATMAN (1989).  There’s a lot of Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in that film.

Carpenter embraces a lot of horror elements in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, including the “Crazies,” people who live underground and come out at night to wreak havoc.  One of the more memorable scenes in the film is when Snake meets a woman (Season Hubley) in a Chock Full of Nuts store, and the Crazies break in from underneath the floor and drag the screaming woman down with them.

The fight between Snake and the muscular giant (Ox Baker) is also notable, and the race across the mined bridge at the end of the film is one of the more suspenseful sequences.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also enjoys one of the deeper casts in a John Carpenter movie.  Snake Plisskin became the role which would define the second half of Kurt Russell’s career, as he made the jump from teen star in Walt Disney movies in the 1960s and 70s to full-fledged mainstream actor.  This role combined with Russell’s work in Carpenter’s next movie THE THING also cemented Russell’s place in the horror/science fiction genre.

Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken.

Kurt Russell as Snake Plisskin.

Kurt Russell almost didn’t get the part, because the producers were concerned he wasn’t right for the role because of his Disney background.  Russell based his interpretation of Snake Plisskin on Clint Eastwood, and Eastwood was one of the actors John Carpenter originally wanted for the role, but he turned it down.  Tommy Lee Jones, Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, and even Charles Bronson were all considered for the role before it went to Russell.

Had Eastwood taken the role, it would have been an interesting bit of casting as it would have reunited Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef, his co-star in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966).  In ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, Van Cleef is excellent as Hauk and makes a perfect foil for Russell’s Snake Plisskin.  Van Cleef was 56 when he made ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and he still looked like he could kick the stuffing out of everyone in the movie.

Lee Van Cleef gives Kurt Russell all he can handle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Lee Van Cleef gives Kurt Russell all he can handle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Donald Pleasence with his British accent is strangely cast as the President of the United States.  As much as I like Pleasence, he’s not very convincing in this role.  Harry Dean Stanton stands out as Brain, the brilliant right hand man to The Duke, who always seems to know that one bit of information that makes his life valuable.  The cast also includes Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, and Isaac Hayes as The Duke.

The screenplay by John Carpenter and Nick Castle isn’t going to win any awards for the most realistic tale ever told, but the film as a whole works well.  It also features some memorable dialogue.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also has one of John Carpenter’s best music scores.  Better even than his HALLOWEEN score?  I don’t know about that, but other than his music for HALLOWEEN, his score for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is my favorite.

John Carpenter is famous for his horror movies, specifically HALLOWEEN and THE THING, but his futuristic action tale ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is one of his finest films.  With his inspired direction, a strong cast led by Kurt Russell in a career-changing role, and a superior music score, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is dark escapism at its best.

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IT FOLLOWS (2015) Provides Relentless Stylish Horror

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it_followsMOVIE REVIEW:  IT FOLLOWS (2015)

By Michael Arruda

 

It follows that since IT FOLLOWS received all kinds of positive buzz and hype that I might have had too high expectations for this one.

Nope.

I liked this simple thriller just fine.

IT FOLLOWS opens with a teenage girl fleeing from some unseen terror.  The next morning she turns up brutally murdered.

The action switches to 19 year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), a guy she is really interested in.  Gotta do a better job picking your dates, Jay.  After the two have sex, Hugh drugs Jay, and when she awakes, she is tied to a wheelchair.  Hugh explains that he’s not going to hurt her, but that he restrained her so he could tell her the truth:  he is being followed by some unknown entity, and now by having sex with Jay, he has passed on the curse to her, and if she wants to get rid of the curse, she’ll have to have sex with someone else.

Can someone say padded cell?

That’s certainly what Jay is thinking, until a naked woman shows up and starts slowly walking towards her and Hugh.  This entity only has to touch you, and you die, so as long as you outrun it, you’re safe, but it never stops pursuing you.  Ever.

Hugh quickly whisks Jay away from the woman and brings her back home, but he tells her to remember all that he told her.  Jay thinks he’s nuts and a creep, until once again, this time an elderly woman- who no one else seems to see- shows up at her school and follows her, causing Jay to up and run from the building.

Jay confides in her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and with the help of their friends, Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto), they vow to get to the bottom of this mystery and protect Jay’s life in the process.

While this may sound like just another bad teenager horror movie, or a recycled plot from an old SCOOBY DOO cartoon, IT FOLLOWS is anything but bad and recycled.  It’s exceedingly fresh and effective.

Let’s start with the entity, the “monster” that is inflicting harm on the teenagers.  This entity is unlike what we’ve seen in horror movies of late – it’s not a demon or a ghost or an alien, but then again, maybe it is.  The film never quite defines just what “it” is, and this is part of what makes this movie work so well.  It doesn’t need to define its villain.

What this force does is effective enough on its own.  It simply walks—never runs— towards its intended victim, and when it touches them, it kills them.  So, if you’re the hunted, like Jay, you have to constantly outrun this thing because it never stops, which reminded me a little bit of the premise from the first TERMINATOR movie way back when.  The fear here is its relentlessness.  Sure, it moves like a turtle, but it never stops, which means, eventually people like Jay are going to grow weary, tired, fall asleep, what have you, and that thing will catch up to them and kill them.

It also looks different to everyone who sees it, and to those it’s not hunting, it’s invisible.   This might not sound like much in the scare department, but you’ll be surprised at how creepy the image of an old woman walking listlessly towards the camera can be.

Which brings me to another thing I loved about IT FOLLOWS:  its simplicity.  Things here work on such an unpretentious level, and the movie generates scares so effortlessly just by having people walking towards their victims, it’s refreshing and for those of us who love horror it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell succeeds in making an extremely stylish and terrifying horror movie.  He also captures the feel of run down Detroit neighborhoods which adds to the mood of this one.

Mitchell’s style here is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s work on HALLOWEEN (1978).  The shots of the homes, and the teens walking outside, brought to mind similar shots which Carpenter used in his masterpiece HALLOWEEN.  There’s one scene in particular where Jay is sitting in a classroom and she looks out the window to see the old woman approaching which reminded me an awful lot of a similar scene in HALLOWEEN where Jamie Lee Curtis is sitting in a classroom and when she looks out the window she sees the car driven by Michael Myers parked out front.

Mitchell’s work here clearly calls to mind horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s, and the look of this movie is helped a lot by its masterful music score by Rich Vreeland, listed in the credits by his nickname “Disasterpeace.”  The music has a major impact on this movie and really calls to mind scores from the 1970s/1980s horror movies, especially the music of John Carpenter.

The cast here is also excellent.  Maika Monroe is terribly sexy as Jay, and she succeeds in making her both strong and vulnerable at the same time.  Lili Sepe is just as good as Jay’s sister Kelly.

Keir Gilchrist nails his role as Paul, the slightly nerdy friend who has a thing for Jay and vows to protect her.  For obvious reasons, he wants to have sex with her, but in this case by offering to have sex with her he’ll also be helping her because it will remove the curse from her.  Jay resists his offer because she values his friendship and doesn’t want him to be harmed.  A nice bit of symbolism here for those friends who struggle with moving on to the next level of their relationship, fearing that dating could ruin a friendship.

Likewise, Olivia Luccardi is excellent as Yara, as is Daniel Zovatto as their street smart friend Greg.

In addition to being a creepy horror movie, David Robert Mitchell’s script also works on a symbolic level.  The characters by having sex pass on the “curse” to the person they have sex with, like an STD or the AIDS virus, and like AIDS, while the entity can be controlled, it can never be eradicated.  It keeps following you forever.

There’s also a weird time element going on in the film which might be a distraction for some folks but wasn’t for me.  The film looks like it takes place in the 1970s/80s, and some of the action in this film backs this up:  the characters watch television on old TV sets which use antennas, and as far as I know, television nowadays is all digital- there are no broadcast stations anymore, and the characters watch old black and white movies.  No one uses cell phones or other electronic devices, the teens play board games rather than video games, and the cars aren’t the newest models.  However, in several scenes, Yara is definitely reading from kindle device.  Hmm.

This didn’t really bother me because nothing in the movie clearly defines the action as taking place in the 1970s or 80s.  There’s no news footage on TV of Ronald Reagan addressing the nation, for example, and the year this film takes place is never mentioned.  This could just be one quirky family who watches black and white movies on old TVs – we never see anyone use the antenna on top of the TV – it could just be there for show.  And the cars could all be older models because the folks in this neighborhood might not be able to afford newer ones.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has said he did these things because he wanted this film to be timeless, and I don’t have a problem with this.  It’s been done before.  One of the most famous horror series of all time, the Universal FRANKENSTEIN series, for example, never defined its timeline, and those films have always worked.  For me, this time question only added to the style of this movie.

IT FOLLOWS is one of the more satisfying horror films I’ve seen in a long while.  Yet, I can see how some viewers might be disappointed.  It’s not full of gore, it doesn’t have the traditional shock scenes, and there’s no major villain or monster, other than the “force” which appears in the form of regular people.

In a way, the simplicity of IT FOLLOWS also reminded me a bit of the minimalism of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999).  When BLAIR WITCH first came out, most of us bought into it (I did) and found it incredibly creepy even though nothing horrifying is ever really shown in the film, but there were naysayers who because nothing horrifying was shown on screen thought the film overrated and silly.

I could see the same thing happening with IT FOLLOWS.

But IT FOLLOWS deserves to be seen because it works so well.  To generate horror isn’t easy.  Those of us who write horror know this firsthand.  It’s certainly easier doing it with shock scenes and blood and gore, and so when someone comes along like David Robert Mitchell in this case and makes a film that is as unsettling as this one is with so few visual effects and traditional scares, that’s kinda special.

IT FOLLOWS is definitely worth a trip to the theater.  But be forewarned.  When you leave the theater and you find yourself looking over your shoulder, should you see some lethargic looking stranger ambling in your direction, take my advice:  run!

 

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GET HARD (2015) Should Get Real

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MOVIE REVIEW:  GET HARD (2015)

By Michael ArrudaGet Hard - poster

 

I can think of a few better titles for GET HARD (2015), the new comedy starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.  To borrow from the classic 1960s TV show, GET SMART comes to mind.  GET REAL would fit.  GET FUNNY would work best of all.  Had this movie been any one of these three things, it would have been a helluva lot better, that’s for sure.

GET HARD is the story of two men whose paths cross in what is supposed to be a humorous predicament, and it is, for a brief time, but on its own, it’s certainly not enough to carry an entire movie.  It needs more.

Millionaire James King (Will Ferrell) has it all:  a luxurious mansion, beautiful fiancée Alissa (Alison Brie), a job in which he makes as much money in a day as most people do in a lifetime, and he works for his future father-in-law Martin (Craig T. Nelson) who pretty much has just handed him over the keys to the company.

Darnell (Kevin Hart) isn’t so fortunate.  Although he too has a beautiful wife Rita (Edwina Findley Dickerson) and a lovely daughter Makayla (Ariana Neal), his job washing cars for James’ company barely pays their bills.

Their paths cross when James is arrested for fraud, a crime he says he did not commit.  He is sentenced to prison, and fearing for his life, he turns to Darnell for help, since he foolishly believes Darnell spent time in prison.  Darnell is ready to punch James out for thinking he’s an ex-con until James says he will pay him handsomely for his help, at which time Darnell agrees to teach James how to be tough and survive in prison.

And that’s the set-up for this one joke movie, which if you’ve seen the previews, you know already.  There aren’t any surprises left.  GET HARD would have been a very funny Saturday Night Live skit, but as a feature length movie, it doesn’t cut it.

Admittedly, most of the jokes are in fact funny.  Will Ferrell hams it up and is perfectly cast as the innocent hedge fund manager who’s been falsely set up for his crime.  When he tries to act tough and cool, he’s funny.  When he goes off on a tirade of verbal insults and profanities to prove how hardened he is, he’s funny.  When he flat out cries because he’s a wimpy coward, he’s also funny.  But all of this humor comes from situations that work only on the level of a comedy sketch.  They don’t work in a feature length movie because as soon as the jokes stop, there’s nothing left to sustain interest because the story is dull and inane.

For example, at one point in the film, Darnell introduces Frank to his cousin Russell (T.I.) who is a hardened criminal and the leader of a ruthless gang, the Crenshaw Kings.  Frank briefly considers joining this gang but doesn’t.  Had Frank actually joined this gang, and had he taken part in some real crimes, then this would have placed the story in unchartered territory— what would have happened to Frank had he actually broken the law would have been interesting and as a result, funny.  A situation like this would have lifted the movie to a different more credible level, because at that point, the story would have become unpredictable and fresh.  Instead, Frank returns to Darnell and they continue their silly harmless training, the results of which you can see coming a mile away.

On that note, the movie is extremely predictable, which does not help this comedy one bit.  For example, you know from the get-go who it is who set Frank up, and the film does nothing to steer you in any other direction but the obvious.

Thankfully, some of the jokes are really funny.  I liked the bit where Frank as part of his training has to pick a fight with some tough looking guys, although I did see most of this scene in the film’s trailer.  The wacky pandemonium where Darnell simulates a prison riot is also good for a few laughs.

But other jokes fall flat.  The film is obsessed with Frank’s fears of being raped in prison, and there are far too many jokes on this subject.  The scene where Frank tries to perform oral sex on another man also misfires because the only thing funny about this scene is supposed to be the situation itself which in reality isn’t funny at all.  Had something gone terribly wrong or something unexpected happened, then that would have lifted the comedy in this bit, but this movie is not that clever.

There’s also a recurring gag about Frank hiding items up his rectum.  It was funny the first time but grew old quick.

I like Will Ferrell, but I’ve been enjoying his films less and less.  Not sure why, other than I’m simply not laughing all that much.  I think Ferrell needs to go for roles that either have more substance so they can sustain the duration of a feature length film or that are so insanely over the top that you can’t stop laughing and so you’re not even thinking about the plot.

I’m still waiting for Kevin Hart to land his break-out role.  This isn’t it, although Hart certainly enjoys as many good moments in this film as Ferrell does.  They’re equally as funny in this mostly unimaginative comedy.  Hart is a comical guy, but he hasn’t reached that next level yet, that moment where he takes over a movie and makes you forget everything else about the film but him.  I think he’s on the path to making this leap with the right movie and the right role.

Alison Brie (from TV’s MAD MEN) has the ability to take your breath away just by looking at her and listening to her speak, but her role as Frank’s fiancée is clichéd and trite from start to finish.  Likewise, Craig T. Nelson’s father-in-law Martin is also a walking cliché and adds nothing to this movie.

Edwina Findley Dickerson fares better as Darnell’s wife Rita and she at least gets to enjoy some funny moments. She also comes off as a three dimensional genuine person.  The same can be said for young Ariana Neal as their daughter Makayla.

I also liked T.I. as Darnell’s convict cousin Russell.  He’s convincing as a genuine bad-ass, and had he been in this film more, had he somehow gotten involved more with Frank and Darnell, this film would have been much funnier because it would have had an edge to it.

GET HARD was directed by Etan Cohen, and it’s his first feature film directing credit.  Before this he had worked as a screenwriter penning such films as TROPIC THUNDER (2008) and MEN IN BLACK 3 (2012).  I didn’t really have any problem with his direction here, as the film plays out exactly as you would expect:  a polished Hollywood comedy.  That being said, it does nothing to make itself stand above other comedies.

The screenplay was written by Cohen, Jay Martel, and Ian Roberts and works on the level of a one-joke comedy.  The idea for this movie is a humorous one, and the jokes which support this idea— having Will Ferrell train to become tough and hardened for prison— work for the most part, but as a feature length film, it falters because there’s nothing in the story other than the gags to sustain one’s interest for its 100 minute running time.

I knew from the outset what was going to happen to Frank and Darnell.  Seriously, in a movie like this, is there really any doubt about what’s going to happen to these guys?  Did I really think Frank was going to prison?  Or that Darnell wouldn’t earn enough money to lift his family out of their financial predicament?  No.  And so in terms of story, the witticisms have no relevance.

While there were plenty of funny jokes in GET HARD, there weren’t enough, and when I wasn’t laughing I was bored, because other than Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart hamming it up, this movie has nothing to offer.

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