CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ANT-MAN (2015)

0

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ANT-MAN (2015)

Movie Review by Michael ArrudaAnt_Man

OFF-CAMERA VOICE: Previously on Cinema Knife Fight—

(THE SCENE: A laboratory. L.L. SOARES wears a lab coat as he finishes his CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of ANT-MAN.)

L.L. SOARES: And so I give ANT-MAN two and a half knives. This is usually the part where I ask Michael what he thinks of the movie, but since he got shrunk down to a sub atomic level due to an Ant-Man suit malfunction— funny how that happened— he’s not here. So I’ll just say so long for now and—.

(There is a blinding flash of light, and suddenly MICHAEL ARRUDA reappears in the Ant-Man suit, now back to full size.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Not so fast!

LS: Whoa! How did you manage to come back from a sub atomic level?

MA: It was simple really. I used the anti-sub atomic level button on my Ant-Man utility belt.

LS: Ant-Man utility belt? Holy Adam West!

MA: Indeed.

Anyway, I’m back and I’m ready to review today’s movie.

LS: Well, you’re a little late, but go ahead.

MA: Thank you. And since you got to deliver your review without any interruption from me, I’d like the same courtesy. So, on that note. (Zaps LS with a shrinking ray reducing LS to the size of an ant.) I knew my Dr. Cyclops ray would come in handy some day. (MA picks up LS and carries him to the lab table.)

LS (in tiny voice): Put me down! I’ll get you back for this!

MA: Sure you will. But after my review. (Drops mini LS into a glass jar, and seals the top with a cover.) That should keep you out of trouble while I review today’s movie. (Looks at camera). Don’t worry. There are air holes in the cover. Okay. One air hole.

VOICE: And now, today’s episode of Cinema Knife Fight.

 

MA: Hey, enough of that already. I’ve got a movie to review.

VOICE: You’re no fun.

MA: One more word out of you and I’ll shrink you down to Alvin and the Chipmunks level. Now go away!

VOICE: I’m going! I’m going!

MA: Moving right along. In case you missed L.L.’s review, here’s a brief recap of the plot of ANT-MAN.

In ANT-MAN, the latest superhero movie from Marvel, a company which has been churning out quality entertaining superhero films since the early 2000s, scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is troubled because his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has taken it upon himself to develop miniature technology which Pym had worked on years before, with plans to sell it to the shady organization Hydra for military use. The technology, a suit, shrinks its wearers down to the size of insects where they can wage war undetected.

To stop Cross, Pym recruits a thief and genuinely nice guy and misunderstood ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to break into Cross’ complex and steal his Yellowjacket suit. To do this, Pym dusts off his old Ant-Man suit, not used since Pym was a young man, and with the help of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) trains Scott in the art of miniature combat. They also teach Scott how to communicate with ants, an ability which will come in handy because he’s going to need the insects’ help to accomplish his mission.

Hope is not exactly happy about this arrangement since she wants to do the mission herself, and she feels her father doesn’t have faith in her. But the truth is he’s simply worried for her safety. And Scott is enticed into the mission because it will mean financial security for his young daughter, as he’s struggling to make alimony payments since he can’t keep get a job because of his criminal record.

So Scott trains with the ants, and when he’s ready, he’s embarks on his mission to steal the Yellowjacket suit, but meanie Darren Cross is no fool— he’s a villain in a superhero movie, after all!— and so he’s more than ready for Ant-Man, which sets up the climactic confrontation between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket.

You know, when you explain the plot, it all sounds rather silly, but it really isn’t.

LS (in a tiny voice): Says you!

MA: Don’t get me wrong. ANT-MAN is a light and fun movie, but it’s also exceedingly well made— it’s well written, well directed, and well-acted— like pretty much all the Marvel movies, but it’s not stupid.

And this is the main reason I like most of these Marvel movies so much: they know how to have fun, but they never insult your intelligence. In short, they’re true to the spirit of the comics, and they play exactly as if you are watching a comic book unfold on the big screen.

ANT-MAN is no exception. Like last year’s hit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), ANT-MAN gravitates towards the humorous, which comes as no surprise since screenwriters Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McCay, and Paul Rudd all have extensive backgrounds in comedy.

Wright wrote and directed the Simon Pegg movies SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), HOT FUZZ (2007), and THE WORLD’S END (2013), as well as the quirky and very entertaining SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010). In fact, as LL explained in his portion of this review, Wright was originally slated to direct ANT-MAN but dropped out of the project. LL lamented that the film would have had more of an edge to it had Wright directed it, and I can’t disagree with that assessment, although as the film stands now, I liked it just fine.

Adam McCay wrote and directed several Will Ferrell comedies, including ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004) and THE OTHER GUYS (2010), and of course Paul Rudd who plays Ant-Man in this film has acted in a bunch of comedies.

But ANT-MAN is not on the same level as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. GUARDIANS pressed all the right buttons and had a story that was epic in nature. ANT-MAN has more flaws than GUARDIANS and its story is nowhere near as epic. Whereas GUARDIAN involved saving the universe, ANT-MAN involves stealing a secret weapon. It’s not quite on the same level.

The cast does a nice job. Paul Rudd is an effective Ant-Man and makes for a likeable enough every-day guy turned superhero. Sometimes I thought his humor was a little misplaced, and I didn’t completely buy his nice guy routine. It was a little too much for my liking, and at times the “I never robbed anyone bad” shtick was difficult to swallow. I wish he had more of a dark side, but overall Rudd was very good.

Rudd of course has a history of comedic roles, including roles alongside Steve Carrell in THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (2005) and DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (2010), but does anyone remember a young Rudd starring in the forgettable HALLOWEEN film HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995)? It’s one of the weaker films in the series, but Rudd’s performance as a grown up Tommy Doyle, the character who was terrorized as a boy in the original HALLOWEEN, is one of the best parts of the movie.

I really liked Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym. I thought he gave the best performance in the movie as the disillusioned scientist who once had a grand idea and now has to fight to prevent that idea from falling into the wrong hands.

Beautiful and sexy Evangeline Lilly stands out once again as Pym’s daughter Hope. She’s been a favorite of mine since her days on the TV show LOST, and she’s probably the most bad-ass character in the entire movie. She trains Scott how to fight as Ant-Man, and I think she could have fought off the villains a heck of a lot better than him.

Corey Stoll makes for an effective baddie as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket. It’s interesting to note that one of the weakest aspects of these Marvel movies is their villains. On a consistent basis, even though Marvel continues to churn out one quality movie after another, they also continue to churn out one subpar villain after another. And what’s even more amazing to me is their movies haven’t suffered for it. Darren Cross is an OK villain, serviceable in the wicked and evil department, but he’s not even close to being memorable.

Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale both turn in good performances as Scott’s ex-wife and her police detective boyfriend, and they rise above the clichéd interpretations of these types of roles. However, their story line of concerned parents/guardians of Scott’s cute daughter was a little too syrupy sweet for my tastes.

Likewise, Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I. play Scott’s goofball buddies who are in this movie strictly for comic relief as they bumble their way throughout the film trying to help Scott/Ant-Man save the day, and they are funny, but they do gravitate towards the silly and ridiculous and are dumbed down a bit too much for my liking.

But I enjoyed all the Marvel references, from the Avengers, to Iron Man, to Stark Enterprises, to Hydra, to the appearance by the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). These references to the Marvel universe all worked for me.

And I can’t disagree with LL’s assessment that as directed by Peyton Reed, ANT-MAN is a safe film, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not a kid’s movie by any means, but neither is it a hardcore action thriller. It’s, as I’ve said before, like reading a superhero comic book, and it’s done at the utmost level of filmmaking.

There’s also a high “cool” factor about ANT-MAN. When he shrinks down in size and communicates with the ants that help him in combat, it’s all very cool. The special effects during these scenes, while nothing mind-blowing, are certainly excellent. I also really liked the look of both the Ant-Man suit and the Yellowjacket suit.

I saw ANT-MAN in 2D rather than in 3D, and it played fine in this standard format. I loved it just the same.

So, where does ANT-MAN fall in the Marvel canon? Well, it’s not quite on the same level as THE AVENGERS (2012), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, or IRON MAN (2008), but it’s better than the THOR movies and is similar in quality to the CAPTAIN AMERICA films. Think CAPTAIN AMERICA but with much more humor.

And you definitely want to stay for the two end credits scenes. There’s one in the middle and one at the very end. The one at the very end is definitely worth catching, as it ties in with a future Marvel movie.

Some have complained that the Marvel films are growing tired. I disagree. The quality of these movies continues to amaze me, and I continue to enjoy them and look forward to more films from Marvel. They’re on a role similar to Hammer Films when they unleashed their nonstop quality horror films from the late 1950s through the early 1970s.

ANT-MAN is high entertainment, one of the better movies to come out this summer.

I give it three knives.

(There is a huge crash. LS bursts out of the glass jar and grows in size smashing through the ceiling until he towers high above the laboratory.)

LS: You forget. Using this technology, not only can you shrink, but you can make things bigger!

MA: I know. And two can play at that game. I just need to press the AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN button on my utility belt—. (Presses button and suddenly both MA and LS are giants.   LS rips a tree out from its roots, and MA picks up a car.)

VOICE: Join us next time for WAR OF THE COLOSSAL CINEMA KNIFE FIGHTERS. Same Cinema Knife Fight time. Same Cinema Knife Fight channel.)

—END—

Advertisements

NECON 35 – Relaxed Writer’s Con Unlike Any Other

0
Michael Arruda, Dan Keohane, and Scott Goudsward sharing a goofy ice cream moment at NECON 35.  Photo courtesy of Nick Cato.

Michael Arruda, Dan Keohane, and Scott Goudsward sharing a goofy ice cream moment at NECON 35. Photo courtesy of Nick Cato.

NECON 35

July 16-19 2015

By Michael Arruda

Every summer a bunch of writers and readers descend upon Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI for Camp Necon, a writers’ convention unlike any other.

For me, I attended my first NECON back in 2001, as I had heard about it through Judi Rohrig, who at the time was editing the HWA Internet Mailer.  Since then I’ve been back every year.

NECON is the most relaxed laid back con you’ll ever attend, a place where you can socialize with authors up close.  It’s been said before, and it’s true:  when you attend this con, it really feels like family.  I can attest to this firsthand, because aside from my extroverted writer persona who can banter with the best of them on the written page, in person, I’m pretty much an introvert, and I’m never all that comfortable in social situations.  This doesn’t matter at Necon.  Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, reader, writer, what have you, you are made to feel welcome.  It’s family.

Here’s a brief recap of this year’s Necon, NECON 35, held July 16-29 2015, at the Roger Williams Convention Center.

Thursday, July 16

 

In addition to the usual panels found at cons, NECON also runs the NECON Olympics, events throughout the weekend where you can kick back and have fun.  You even receive medals.  Yup, there are plenty of opportunities at NECON for you to win “valuable prizes.”

One of these events, the Necon Hawaiian Shirt Contest was tweaked a bit this year, as rather than being a stand-alone event, it occurred over the entire weekend.  Secret judges were on the prowl all weekend looking for folks with the best Hawaiian Shirts.

For Necon newbies there was a 5:00 event called Jitters: A Necon Primer for Newbies to help the newcomers feel comfortable and at home right off the bat.

I spent this time socializing in the lobby, the quad, and the new lounge, a spacious and very comfortable room in which to relax and chat.  At 10:00 it was the Saugie Roast, that time to enjoy grilled Saugies, Rhode Island’s own brand of hot dogs, and chat with friends, old and new, long into the night—.

 

Friday, July 17

 

After an 8:00 breakfast, I attended the 9:00 Kaffeeklatsch: Promotion in Motion, featuring Jill & Jason Salzarulo, Sephera Giron, David Dodd, and my roommate and New England Horror Authors head honcho Scott Goudsward.  This conversation was filled with practical tips and advice on how to better promote your work, especially using social media.

At 10:00 it was time for the Kaffeeklatsch: Best Worst Movies featuring myself, Sheri White, Bill Carl, and Nick Cato.  We discussed our picks for some of the best “bad movies” ever made, and both Bill and Nick provided extensive lists of classic “good” bad movies.

Sheri talked about her love of the bad SyFy movies, and I posed the question, “does it take years for a bad movie to become ‘good’ because most bad movies I see nowadays are simply bad, and the only bad movies I really like are old ones.  I suggested the grade z movies that Bela Lugosi made, and named THE DEVIL BAT (1941) as one of my favorite bad Lugosi flicks.

I also mentioned the HALLOWEEN series.  For me, other than the first movie, HALLOWEEN (1978) the rest of the movies in this series are not what I call good movies.  In fact, some of them are pretty awful, yet I like them all.

Before the panel ended, Craig Shaw Gardner asked us to recommend one film that we’ve seen this year, and I picked IT FOLLOWS (2015), citing it as one of my favorite horror movies of the year.  After the panel, it was nice to catch up with Craig and his lovely wife Barbara Gardner.

I skipped the 11:00 Kaffeeklatsch to catch up on some rest, and after a noon lunch, I spent some time at the New England Horror Writers table with Scott Goudsward and friends.

At 2:00 I attended the panel Everything Old Is New Again: Bringing New Life to Classic Tropes featuring Paul Tremblay, Lisa Manetti, Elizabeth Massie, John Dixon, and moderator Mary SanGiovanni, and it discussed among other things writing supernatural tropes in a scientific age.

Monica O’Rourke moderated the 4:00 panel Piece of Mind: Portraying Mental Illness in/as Horror which included Paul Tremblay, Kristin Dearborn, Dallas Mayr, Heather Graham, and Trevor Firetog.  This fascinating panel delved deep into what it takes to write about mental illness in horror effectively.

At 7:00 Toastmaster John McIlveen delivered the Official Necon Toast, followed by the hilarious Necon Update with Mike Myers.  This year Myers brought down the house with an uproarious account of a complicated hospital visit.  The audience was on the floor with laughter.

Myers comical update also featured the Necon Eggstravaganza Game which left contestants with eggs on their faces. Literally.

 

At the Meet the Authors Party I hung out with Daniel Keohane, who I hadn’t seen in several years.  Always fun to see Dan, who has the distinction of being the first person I ever met at Necon back in 2001.  I shared table space with Dan, and also with Scott Goudsward and Nick Cato.  I was selling copies of my science fiction novel, Time Frame.

I also got to chat with author Gary Frank during this event.

 

At 10:00 it was time for the Necon Olympic events Darts and Foosball. Afterwards, it was socializing on the quad, where I had some memorable conversations with friends old and new, as always.

Saturday, July 18

 

With the publication of my first science fiction novel Time Frame earlier this year, I was very much interested in the 10:00 panel The Horror of the Future: Making Science Fiction Scary, moderated by Gordon Linzner, and featuring Robert Boyczuk, Don D’Ammassa, Linda Addison, Lois Gresh, and Chuck Wendig.  This was a fun panel, as it discussed frightening science fiction from yesteryear, and mentioned some classic movies, including two prominent remakes which most folks these days consider superior to the originals, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) and John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

The 11:00 panel was just as good: Fear in Four Colors: Comics, Horror, and Inspiration. On this panel were Christopher Golden, Brian Keene, Errick Nunnally, Daniel Braum, Kimberly Long-Ewing, Duncan Eagleson, and serving as moderator was Charles Rutledge.  This panel hammered the point home that comics are an underappreciated literary form, and that they definitely make worthwhile reading.  It certainly made me sad for having stopped reading comics regularly many years ago.  Then again, I suppose it’s never too late to start up again.

At 1:00 John McIlveen interviewed the Necon Guests of Honor, Chuck Wendig, Seanan McGuire, and Paul Tremblay.  While I enjoyed all the guest of honor interviews, I have to admit I was most interested in listening to Paul Tremblay speak.  I first met Paul back in the late 1990s when we did some group book signings together for the vampire anthology THE DARKEST THIRST in which we both had stories.  It was my first pro sale as a matter of fact.  I’ve enjoyed following Paul’s career over the years, as his successes have been a nice inspiration.  I’m looking forward to reading his much talked about novel A Head Full of Ghosts.

The 2:30 panel was probably the most heavily attended panel of the entire weekend. Faustian Bargains & Plans for the Afterlife: Knowing Your Rights and Protecting Your Work Regarding Writers’ Contracts and Literary Estate Planning was also the most serious panel of the weekend, as well as one of the best.  Moderated by horror author and attorney Bracken McLeod, and featuring Christopher Golden, Brett Savory, Richard Dansky, Heather Graham, and Chet Williamson, this panel served as “everything you wanted to know about the legal aspects of writing but were afraid to ask.” It covered contract language, rights, wills and estate planning, and all sorts of other legal matters.  The 90 minutes allotted for this panel still wasn’t enough, as it went past its finishing time.  It proved so popular that later at the Necon Town Meeting it was agreed that there would be a follow-up panel and perhaps even a workshop at next year’s NECON.

At 4:00 it was time for Almost Human: The Art of the Monster, moderated by Cortney Skinner and including artists Duncan Eagleson, Jill Baumann, Ogmios, Rhea Ewing, and Glenn Chadbourne.  The panel featured a lively discussion about traditional drawing and painting vs. digital drawing and painting, which has come so far and yields such impressive results it’s difficult to ignore, and for most on the panel it’s warmly embraced.

After dinner, I attended the Artists’ Reception at 6:30.  It’s always a highlight of the weekend to walk through the gallery to see the latest prints, paintings, drawings, and sculptings by the featured artists.  This year I bought a colorful rendition of Carl Kolchak by Cortney Skinner.  This digital print of the popular NIGHT STALKER character contains a NECON in-joke, as one of the items in the painting has a NECON history.  During the reception coffee and some mighty delectable desserts were served.

At 7:30 it was Live DVD Extra: Director’s Showcase where some new film shorts were shown, including Lynne Hansen’s CHOMP and Izzy Lee’s POSTPARTUM. Both Hansen and Lee were available for questions and answers afterwards.

At 9:00 it was time for The Infamous Necon Roast. This year’s roastee was Sephera Giron, who was a real sport about the whole thing and seemed genuinely relaxed and appeared to be having a good time, which is how it should be.  As always, the roasters were hilarious, and included Christopher Golden, Mary SanGiovanni, Cortney Skinner, Linda Addison, Monica O’Rourke, Nick Kauffman, Jack Haringa, Jeff Strand, and Brian Keene.  All these folks are entertaining, although my personal favorite is Cortney Skinner whose impeccable timing is unmatched and who has the whole “Bob Newhart” deadpan mastered like a pro.

Afterwards it was more Saugies and socializing on the quad into the wee hours of the morning, since Saturday night is the last night at the con till next year.

Sunday, July 19, 2014

 

Today’s 10:00 panel was It Only Laughs When I Hurt: Comedy and Genre, a panel that looked at humor and horror and featured Craig Shaw Gardner, Hal Bodner, Jeff Strand, John McIlveen, Frank Raymond Michaels, and was moderated by P.D. Cacek.  The panel included many neat moments, amongst them Frank Raymond Michaels citing ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) as one of the all-time best horror comedies, and the discussion of how to effectively mix humor and horror by placing horror characters in a comedic situation, and vice versa by placing comic characters into a horror situation.

At 11:00 it was time for the Necon Town Meeting, the chance for folks to give the Necon committee feedback about the weekend.  It was agreed by all that NECON 35 was another grand success.

At lunch, I sat with Nick Cato and his wife Ree, and before leaving for another year, I made the rounds and said goodbye to as many folks as possible, including Craig Shaw Gardener, Barbara Gardener, Matt Bechtel, and Laura Hickman.

I’m never able to see everyone during the weekend, but here are some folks I did get a chance to spend some time with or at the very least exchange a quick word with: Linda Addison, Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Matt Bechtel, Hal Bodner, Mary Booth, Ginjer Buchanan, P.D. Cacek, Sara Calia, Bill Carl, Nick Cato, Ree Cato, Glenn Chadbourne, JoAnn Cox, Dennis Cummins, Don D’Ammassa, Richard Dansky, Barry Lee Dejasu, John Dixon, Dan Foley, Gary Frank, Barbara Gardner, Craig Shaw Gardner, Christopher Golden, Scott Goudsward, Catherine Grant, Jack Haringa, Laura Hickman, Nicholas Kaufmann, Brian Keene, Nate Kenyon, Dan Keohane, Paul McMahon, Bracken Macleod, Elizabeth Massie, John McIlveen, Frank Raymond Michaels, James Moore, Mike Myers, Jose Nieto, Errick Nunnally, Monica O’Rourke, David Price, Matt Schwartz, Cortney Skinner, Jeff Strand, Paul Tremblay, Tony Tremblay, K.H. Vaughn, Bev Vincent, Sheri White, Scott Wooldridge, and Trish Wooldridge.

I apologize if I’ve missed anyone.

Another memorable NECON has come and gone.  Thanks to the Booth family, including Mary Booth and Sarah Calia, and Matt Bechtel, and the entire NECON committee and volunteers, for all the hard work they did to pull off yet another amazing con.

Can’t wait till next year.

Thanks for reading!

Michael

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

0

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

BySatanic Rites of Dracula - Van Helsing

Michael Arruda

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

Today we look at the final Dracula movie starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973).

Hammer made the ill-fated decision— influenced by the enormous success of Dan Curtis’ THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) which featured a superhuman vampire terrorizing modern day Las Vegas— to update their Dracula series to modern times.  And so they came out with DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) which brought Dracula (Christopher Lee) into the 1970s in the midst of the far-out groovy man culture while taking on Lorimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a descendant of the original Van Helsing.

DRACULA A.D. 1972 bombed at the box office, which meant Hammer’s follow-up, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, received a small release and didn’t make its way to the United States until five years later in 1978, under the alternate— and inferior— title COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE.

 

I’ve always preferred the campy DRACULA A.D. 1972 over the more serious THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. DRACULA A.D. 1972 is high camp and as such is a terribly fun movie. THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA tries to make Dracula a manipulative Bond-like villain, but the film just isn’t ambitious enough to work on this level.

Another reason I’ve never been a big fan of SATANIC RITES— and don’t get me wrong, I still like this movie— is that Peter Cushing doesn’t really have many memorable scenes or lines of dialogue in this movie.

The plot in SATANIC RITES largely follows Scotland Yard Inspector Murray (Michael Coles), back from DRACULA A.D. 1972, as we works closely with British intelligence as they try to break up a mysterious satanic cult which happens to be run by Dracula.  The intelligence agency is interested in this cult because some of the most powerful men in the country, including the head of their department, belong to it.  Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing is called in by Murray as a consultant, and he helps with the investigation, which of course, ultimately leads them to Dracula (Christopher Lee).

While there really aren’t a whole bunch of memorable Peter Cushing quotes in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, there are some.  Here’s a look at some of these lines from THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, screenplay by Don Houghton.

In this scene, Inspector Murray seeks Van Helsing’s advice as to what he thinks they’re dealing with, based on the evidence of their investigation so far:

INSPECTOR MURRAY:  So, what do you think, professor?  Is it just a black mass ritual?

VAN HELSING:  No.  No, not exactly.  In the Dark Ages, the worship of natural substances was quite common.  Soil, water, sand of the desert, various plants.  But the strongest cults were those that worshipped the most mystical substance of all, the fountainhead of life itself, the glorification of blood.  And more often than not, human blood.

A few moments later, British intelligence agent Torrence (William Franklyn) asks Van Helsing why these prominent men would join a satanic cult.  Van Helsing’s response is ripe with early 1970s flavor:

TORRENCE:  Are these men involved in this business because they’re under some kind of threat?  Or drugs?

VAN HELSING:  Or hypnosis?  This particular evil is more potent, more addictive than heroin, I assure you.  And the end result is just as fatal.

Freddie Jones gets some of the best lines in the movie as Professor Keeley, Van Helsing’s colleague who is now part of Dracula’s cult.  In this scene, Van Helsing visits his old friend to find out if indeed he’s become part of the satanic cult.  Keeley takes the opportunity to sail into his former colleague, telling him about the value of evil.  It’s one of the best pieces of dialogue in the movie, superbly acted by Jones:

KEELEY:  Evil rules, you know.  It really does.  Evil and violence are the only two measures that hold any power.  Look at the world— chaos.  It is a preordained pattern.  Violence, greed, intolerance, sloth, jealousy.  The deadly sins.  All the deadly virtues.  The Supreme Being is the devil, Lorimer.  Serve him, and he offers you immortality.  He’ll remove death, the common enemy.  Nothing is too vile.  Nothing is too dreadful, too awful.  You need to know the terror, the horror, Lorimer.  You need to feel the threat of disgust, the beauty of obscenity.

VAN HELSING:  Julian!  In God’s name!

At which time Peter Cushing grabs Jones by the shoulders and slaps him across the face, in order to slap some sense into him.

The best scenes in this one are when Van Helsing and Dracula confront each other.  Van Helsing’s investigation has led him to a rich tycoon named D.D. Denham who seems to be financing the cult.  Denham is a recluse, and Van Helsing wisely believes that Denham is really Dracula.

When Van Helsing arrives at Denham’s high rise office, Denham aims a bright desk lamp at him, to prevent Van Helsing from seeing his face.  Denham also speaks with an accent.  These are both attempts by Dracula to conceal his identity from his adversary.  Christopher Lee chose to do this scene with a Bela Lugosi accent in homage to his Dracula predecessor.

DENHAM:  Professor Van Helsing.

VAN HELSING:  Mr. Denham.

DENHAM:  I have been expecting you.

VAN HELSING:  I rather thought you might.

A few minutes later, Denham outlines his plans to Van Helsing:

DENHAM:  There is a group of us who are determined that the decadence of the present day can and will be halted.  A new political regime is planned.

However, Van Helsing is not swayed.

VAN HELSING:  Evil begets evil.  There is an unholy aura in this place.  And it is not a question of a little occultism, or a touch of mysticism, Mr. Denham.  It is vampirism.  And there’s a host of damned souls at Pelham house.  What are you going to do with me?   You can’t let me go, can you?  I know too much.  Do you mind if I smoke?  A bad habit, I know, but it helps me to concentrate.

At this moment, Van Helsing “accidentally” knocks some books off Denham’s desk.  When he bends down to pick them up, he secretly slips in a Bible and places it on Denham’s desk.

DENHAM:  You are an interfering man, Professor.  Do not meddle, or you will have to deal with me!

As Denham pounds his desk, his fist lands on the Bible, and he hisses in pain as his hand sizzles with burning smoke.  Van Helsing leaps from his chair and turns the light on Denham’s face, seeing clearly that D.D. Denham is indeed Count Dracula.

VAN HELSING:  You are Count Dracula!  Of course, Mr. Denham, the powerful recluse.  Here, you’re safe.  No one expects to see him in the daytime.

Van Helsing pulls out a crucifix and prays in Latin.  He then pulls out a gun and aims it at Dracula, and Dracula smiles.  When Dracula next speaks, it is no longer with an accent but in Lee’s deep resonating voice.

DRACULA:  Foolish man.  Bullets cannot harm me.The-Satanic-Rites-of-Dracula-Count-Dracula-

VAN HELSING:  A silver bullet!

Dracula stops smiling, but his fear is short-lived, as members of his cult come to his rescue and overpower Van Helsing.  They tell Dracula to kill Van Helsing, but Dracula explains that he has other plans for his nemesis.

DRACULA:  It cannot be made so simple for him, not for Van Helsing. Nor for his granddaughter.

And it’s Lee’s Dracula who gets some of the best lines during the film’s climax.  Dracula leans into the unconscious Jessica Van Helsing while he speaks to a restrained Van Helsing.

DRACULA:  The girl you love is mine already, and through her you will yet do my bidding.

Sorry, Drac, you never win in these movies.  Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing always gets the upper hand.

But you do get some good lines, like this one, when you chase Van Helsing around the burning house:

DRACULA:  My revenge has spread over centuries and is just begun!

Wrong again.  You’re about to be destroyed by Van Helsing for the final time.

Okay, that’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed today’s QUOTABLE CUSHING column on THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. Join me again next time with more quotes from another Peter Cushing movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Julianne Moore’s Oscar-Winning Performance Leads STILL ALICE (2014) to Poignant Places

0

Blu-Ray Review:  STILL ALICE (2014)still alice poster

by

Michael Arruda

When Julianne Moore, one of my favorite actresses, won the Oscar earlier this year for Best Actress for her performance as a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in STILL ALICE (2014), I made sure I added this movie to my Netflix queue.

In STILL ALICE, Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, a 50 year-old linguistics professor who at this stage of her life has everything going for her.  She enjoys a successful career.  She’s happily married to a great husband, John (Alec Baldwin) and she has three wonderful adult children.  She has little more to worry about other than trying to convince her youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) to put off her stage acting career just long enough to go to college so she’ll have a fall back plan if acting doesn’t work out, an argument that never gets her anywhere since Lydia is adamant about her love of acting and resents her mom’s meddling.

But when Alice struggles to remember some of the words to her linguistics lecture, and later when she actually gets lost while jogging, she realizes something is wrong and she seeks medical help.  To her astonishment, she learns that she suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s, a disease for which there is no cure.  Worse, she is informed that her disease is genetic, which means she has likely passed on the gene to her children.

When she breaks the news to her husband John, he reacts first with denial before finally coming to terms with her diagnosis.  Their children are devastated but supportive.  Her oldest daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) is tested and learns she too has the disease, while her son Tom (Hunter Parrish) learns that he does not have the disease.  Lydia, ever the rebel, refuses to be tested, as she doesn’t want to know.

As the movie goes on, Alice’s condition deteriorates dramatically, and as she fights the losing battle to keep her memories and more importantly her dignity, and as her family struggles with watching her turn into someone they do not know, everyone strains to remember that through it all, she is still Alice, the wife and mom they all love.

STILL ALICE is not a happy movie.  But it is a rewarding one, even if the plight of Alice Howland, like real-life Alzheimer’s sufferers around the world, is one without a happy ending, as there remains no cure for Alzheimer’s.

As expected, Julianne Moore is excellent as Alice.  To watch her, a smart, albeit brilliant linguistic professor wrestle with her mental faculties is horribly depressing.  At one point in the movie, Alice makes a point of saying that being smart was her identity; it was how she saw herself.  For her, language, words, and linguistics were as much a part of her being as the way she looked, and now she was fighting to remember them.  It was, she said, as if the disease was ripping away her identity.

Moore captures completely the feeling of struggling with memory.  A distant lost look comes over her face, and suddenly her memory fails her.  It’s painful to watch.  Unable to put up much of a fight, Alice deteriorates into an entirely different person.  Once this disease takes hold of her, there’s nothing she can do to stop it.

Her best moment, and one of the best moments in the entire film, is when she speaks at an Alzheimer’s conference.  As she reads her speech, she highlights each written line in yellow to prevent her from reading it again because she can’t remember what she just read.  She makes many wonderful points in this speech.  One of them is how difficult it is for Alzheimer sufferers to be taken seriously when they seem so incapable and even ridiculous, but she reminds her audience that this is not who they are.  It’s the most poignant moment in the movie.

Alec Baldwin is effective as Alice’s husband John.  He doesn’t come across as the clichéd loving husband.  He is supportive, yes, and when Alice can’t take care of herself, he’s there to care for her, at first, but he doesn’t like it, and he struggles with having to watch his wife become a helpless person.  Later, he is offered a new position at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, far away from their New York home, and Alice asks him to delay the move, but he doesn’t want to.  It’s clear that he can’t handle taking care of his wife, even though he wants to.

He also talks down to Alice at times, as if she’s a child, telling her to go to bed when she was panicking about losing her phone, for example.  These scenes are frustrating, but they also come off as real.  John seems to love his wife very much.  He’s just not very good at dealing with her illness.

Baldwin and Moore work well together, as they did on TV’s 30 ROCK, where Julianne Moore guest-starred for a time as Baldwin’s love interest.

It was so good to see Kristen Stewart not in a TWILIGHT movie.  She’s really good here as Moore’s youngest and most rebellious daughter Lydia.  Other than Moore and Baldwin, she gives the best performance in the movie.  I don’t think I’ve ever said that about Stewart before.  Not that I’ve ever thought she was a poor actress, but that the films she was in rarely gave her the opportunity to do much more than brood.  This is probably the best role I’ve seen Stewart play.

It’s also a rewarding role.  Lydia butts heads with mom constantly, and yet, later when John is not there to care for his wife, it’s Lydia who moves in to take care of her mom.  In spite of their rocky relationship, Lydia and Alice share a special bond.

The rest of the cast is decent.  Kate Bosworth is fine as Alice’s oldest daughter, as is Hunter Parrish as their son Tom.  Parris must like playing Baldwin’s son, as this is the second time he’s played Baldwin’s son in a movie, having done so in the comedy IT’S COMPLICATED (2009), which also starred Meryl Streep and Steve Martin.

STILL ALICE was written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.  Their screenplay was based on the novel by Lisa Genova.  These guys did a terrific job behind the camera.  They captured three fabulous acting performances by Moore, Baldwin, and Stewart, with Moore winning an Academy Award.  Sadly, Glatzer passed away earlier this year from complications from ALS.

STILL ALICE is a well-written, directed, and acted movie that reminds us of the finality of Alzheimer’s disease.  It follows one woman’s struggle to keep her dignity and remain relevant, even as her mind deteriorates to the point where she can’t even recognize her own children.  It’s also a showcase for Julianne Moore’s considerable acting talents.

Perhaps most importantly the film asks us to remember that people with Alzheimer’s aren’t simple-minded forgetful folks but individuals suffering from a disease without a cure, and as such, they deserve dignity and respect.

—END—

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: MOVIES SCORED BY JAMES HORNER

2
Oscar-winning composer James Horner

Oscar-winning composer James Horner

YOUR MOVIE LISTS:  Movies Scored by James Horner

By

Michael Arruda

Oscar-winning composer James Horner has died.   Horner passed away tragically on June 22, 2015, the victim of a small plane crash.  He was 61.

Horner composed music for countless movies over the years, many of them in the horror and science fiction genre.  According to IMDB, Horner composed scores for 156 movies beginning in 1978.  He won two Oscars, both for TITANIC(1997), as he won for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, “My Heart Will Go On.”

We remember Horner today with a look at the movies he scored.  It’s a partial list, with the genre films listed in bold.

THE WATCHER (1978) – James Horner’s first movie score.

THE LADY IN RED (1979) – Gangster film about John Dillinger starring Robert Conrad as Dillinger and Pamela Sue Martin as the Lady in Red.  Horner actually scored this film before THE WATCHER, but THE WATCHER was released first.

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) – classic low-budget 1980s horror movie starring Doug McClure in a tale about mutated sea monsters who kill men and rape women.  This is the first movie scored by Horner that I ever saw.

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980) – STAR WARS wannabe/clone/ripoff starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, and Sybil Danning.

THE HAND (1981) – Horror movie about a severed hand that comes back to life and goes on a murder spree.  Starring Michael Caine.  With a screenplay by Oliver Stone!

WOLFEN (1981) – Stylish horror movie starring Albert Finney about Native American wolf spirits.  Based on the Whitley Strieber novel.

DEADLY BLESSING (1981) – Wes Craven horror film starring Sharon Stone.

STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) – Probably my favorite James Horner score.  It’s certainly the film where I first noticed his music.  The music he wrote for the space battle scenes between Kirk and Khan are particularly effective, in this superior STAR TREK film, the second and arguably the best in the series.star_trek_ii_the_wrath_of_khan poster

48 HRS (1982) –Action/comedy by writer/director Walter Hill was Eddie Murphy’s feature film debut.  Co-starring Nick Nolte.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) – Very stylish horror/fantasy based on the Ray Bradbury novel.  Bradbury also wrote the screenplay.  Starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce.  Not as effective or chilling as it should have been, perhaps because it was a Walt Disney release.

KRULL (1983) – science fiction fantasy by director Peter Yates.

BRAINSTORM (1983) – Science fiction thriller directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood.  Wood’s final movie.

STAR TREK III:  THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984) – The third film in the STAR TREK movie series, directed by Leonard Nimoy, about the search for the reborn Spock after his death at the end of STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN.  Not bad, but not nearly as good as it predecessor.

COMMANDO (1985) – Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner is a guilty pleasure.  Contains some of Arnold’s best movie lines.

ALIENS (1986) – Probably my second favorite James Horner music score in this ambitious, entertaining sequel by writer/director James Cameron.  With Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, a conniving Paul Reiser, a whiny Bill Paxton, and an army of vicious aliens.

THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986) – Well-made period piece thriller with Sean Connery as William of Baskerville, a monk investigating a series of murders.  Featuring a young Christian Slater.

RED HEAT (1988) –Arnold Schwarzenegger teams with James Belushi in this buddy action flick by director Walter Hill.

FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) – If you build it, they will come.  Iconic baseball movie starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, and James Earl Jones.

GLORY (1989) – Civil war drama starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman.

ANOTHER 48 HRS (1990) – Forgettable sequel with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, once more directed by Walter Hill.

THE ROCKETEER (1991) – Amiable adventure yarn set during World War II about a secret jetpack, the young man who uses it, and the Nazis spy who wants it.  Timothy Dalton makes a nice baddie.

PATRIOT GAMES (1992) – Harrison Ford takes over as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in this Tom Clancy tale.

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994) – Ford returns as Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

BRAVEHEART (1995) – Mel Gibson steals the show as Scottish rebel William Wallace.  Gibson also directed.

APOLLO 13 (1995) – Superior movie by director Ron Howard about the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission, based on the book by Jim Lovell.  Phenomenal cast includes Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris.  Another memorable score by James Horner, one of my favorites.

RANSOM (1996) – Action thriller starring Mel Gibson about a father who takes the law into his own hands after his son was kidnapped.  The sort of movie Liam Neeson would have starred in if this had been made ten years later.

THE DEVIL’S OWN (1997) – muddled thriller starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt.  Pitt’s not who he seems, and Ford finds out.

TITANIC (1997) –  The biggie, the iconic James Cameron movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  Horner won two Oscars for this movie, for original score and for best song.

DEEP IMPACT (1998) – science fiction disaster film about a meteor about to wipe out Earth stars Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, and Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States.

THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998) –Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins in this so-so tale of Zorro.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1998) – Disney remake of the classic giant ape movie features topnotch special effects by make-up wizard Rick Baker.  Starring Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton.

THE PERFECT STORM (2000) – Nonfiction sea tale starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Russell Crowe steals the show as brilliant mathematician John Nash, directed by Ron Howard.  Co-starring Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris

THE FORGOTTEN (2004) –Decent horror movie starring Julianne Moore about false memories and sinister enemies.

FLIGHTPLAN (2005) – thriller with Jodie Foster dealing with bad guys on a plane.

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005) – Antonio Banderas returns as Zorro.

AVATAR (2009) – James Cameron classic that put 3D movies back on the map.  Superior film with yet another memorable James Horner score.  With Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) – Inferior Spider-Man reboot, made way too soon after the Tobey Maguire series which only ended five years earlier.   Andrew Garfield as Spidey— meh.

James Horner wrote the music for so many of the movies I’ve watched over my lifetime.  Often writing scores for multiple films per year, Horner provided music for more movies than are listed here, as again, this is just a partial list.

Sadly, his life was cut short while he was still very active in his career.  His musical talents will be greatly missed.

James Horner.  August 14, 1953 – June 22, 2015.  Age – 61.

Thanks for reading.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

0

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the July 2015 edition of THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.  It’s a special column this month, in memory of Christopher Lee, who passed away on June 7, 2015, and it’s on the James Bond movie THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), in which Christopher Lee played the villain, Scaramanga.

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

Christopher Lee passed away on June 7, 2015 at the age of 93.

It should come as no surprise then that today’s IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column will be on a Christopher Lee movie.

But which one?

Most of the films I would have chosen to write about— HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), THE WICKER MAN (1973), THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), and DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) to name just a few— I had already penned columns for.

So, I decided to choose a movie that I knew I hadn’t written about, which is why today In The Spooklight it’s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), the James Bond movie where Christopher Lee played the villain, the million dollar hit man, Scaramanga.  This decision is not without precedent since I have written about non-horror movies within these pages before.

There’s something apropos about choosing a non-genre film featuring Christopher Lee, since for a large part of his career he tried to become more established in mainstream movies.  Lee is quite good in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.  In fact, many Lee fans cite his performance as Scaramanga as one of their favorite Christopher Lee roles.  I know it’s one of mine.

And you can’t get much closer to James Bond Meets Dracula than with THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.  At times, that’s exactly how this film plays out, which makes it all the more fun.

Although this isn’t the only time Bond tangled with “Dracula.”  In OCTOPUSSY (1983) the villain was played by Louis Jordan, who, as mentioned in my previous SPOOKLIGHT column, played Count Dracula in the outstanding BBC production of COUNT DRACULA (1977).  So, Roger Moore, who played Bond in both these films, got to clash with “Dracula” twice as 007.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN opens with a cool pre-credit sequence where a hit man seemingly has been hired to kill Scaramanga (Christopher Lee).  But it’s all a trap, an exercise for Scaramanga to test his skills, as the hit man finds himself in an elaborate maze, where he is eventually shot dead by Scaramanga.

Later, James Bond (Roger Moore) learns that he’s the next target for the elusive Scaramanga, the man with the golden gun, infamous for commanding a million dollars a hit.  Bond decides to seek out Scaramanga first and take the battle to him.  Bond’s investigation leads him to the discovery that Scaramanga is part of an elaborate scheme to harness solar energy for the purposes of a new super weapon.  It’s all very silly, but Christopher Lee as Scaramanga is not.

As photographed by director Guy Hamilton, Lee comes off as powerfully dark and handsome, and like his portrayals of Dracula, he exudes a sensuality which is even stronger in this movie since he’s not wielding fangs and red bloodshot eyes.   There’s one scene with Scaramanga and his lover Andrea (Maud Adams) that is so reminiscent of similar scenes where Dracula enters his victims’ bedrooms that you can’t help but think that what you’re watching is indeed “James Bond meets Dracula.”

Christopher Lee as Scaramanga

Christopher Lee as Scaramanga

And speaking of the Dracula connection, Maud Adams who played Andrea in this scene and enjoyed considerable screen time with Christopher Lee in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, also just happened to play Octopussy in OCTOPUSSY, where she co-starred with the other Dracula, Louis Jordan.

There is yet another Dracula connection to this movie. The filmmaker’s original choice to play Scaramanga was Jack Palance, but Palance had to turn the role down because he was committed to another project.  The project?  Dan Curtis’ TV production of DRACULA (1974) where Palance was playing Dracula.  So, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman turned to the more famous Dracula to play their villain, Christopher Lee.

One of my favorite scenes in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is when Bond and Scaramanga finally meet at a sporting event, and their verbal exchange is one of the more memorable scenes in the film.  It’s one of Lee’s better moments in the movie, especially when he tells the tale of how he first shot a man, after the man had shot a circus elephant in the eye.

Lee is also involved in the famous scene where the car he’s driving flips upside down as it jumps across a river, impressive because in those days they actually performed the stunts rather than rely on CGI effects.

The actual golden gun Scaramanga uses in the film is also pretty cool.  It’s put together from ordinary items, a pen, a cigarette lighter, etc., so Scaramanga can enter a room without a weapon and assemble it without anyone noticing.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is also graced by the beautiful Britt Ekland as Goodnight, one of my all-time favorite Bond girls.   Speaking of Ekland, she also co-starred with Lee in one of his best movies, THE WICKER MAN (1973).

One part of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN that I’ve never been a fan of is its ending.  I’ve always thought the climactic gun battle between Bond and Scaramanga was a letdown.  You wait the entire movie for their confrontation, as it’s been building for the whole film, and it never really materializes.  Their “battle” is not much more than Bond sneaking through Scaramanga’s maze.  I mean, this scene works fine, but it’s after this scene that’s a letdown.  You expect them to meet and have either a major shootout or a physical fight, but they don’t.

Scaramanga and James Bond are armed and ready for their confrontation.

Scaramanga and James Bond are armed and ready for their final confrontation.

Still, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is one of my favorite James Bond movies, and a major reason for this is Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Scaramanga.  In fact, I knew a guy once who did not like James Bond movies at all, except for one.  He loved THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.  I asked him why, and he told me it was because he liked its cool villain, Scaramanga.

That being said, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was one of the least profitable James Bond movies.  In fact, it performed so poorly at the box office that it nearly killed the series.  Of course, back in 1974, hardcore Bond fans were still pining for the return of Sean Connery.  It really wasn’t until the next film in the series, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), before audiences finally welcomed Roger Moore as Bond.

Like most James Bond movies, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN has many memorable lines of dialogue.  In fact, the screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz contains one of my favorite Bond lines of all time.  Bond aims a rifle at the man he’s interrogating, and he says, “I am now aiming precisely at your groin.  So speak or forever hold your piece.”

There’s also this neat exchange between Bond and Scaramanga, where Scaramanga speaks of their epic gun duel, of his golden gun vs. Bond’s Walter PPK, to which Bond asks, “One bullet against my six?”  And Scaramanga answers, “I only need one, Mr. Bond.”

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN features one of Christopher Lee’s best film performances, and he does it on the grand stage, in one of the cinema’s biggest franchises, the James Bond series.  For an actor who played villains, it doesn’t get much better than playing a villain in a Bond flick, and Scaramanga as played by Christopher Lee is one of the more memorable baddies in the entire series.

Want to remember Christopher Lee this summer?  Then check out THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. 

 

For the horror fan, it truly is James Bond vs. Dracula.

 

—“You see, Mr. Bond, I always thought I loved animals.  Then I discovered that I enjoyed killing people even more.”  —Christopher Lee as Scaramanga.

—END—

Melissa McCarthy Is Hilarious In SPY (2015)

0

MOVIE REVIEW:  SPY (2015)spy poster

By Michael Arruda

 If I laugh a lot during a comedy, that’s usually a good sign, and SPY (2015), the latest comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, made me laugh quite a bit.

In SPY, Melissa McCarthy plays a desk bound CIA agent named Susan Cooper who spends her days speaking into the headset of suave CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), providing him with intel when he’s in the field, and generally saving his butt on a regular basis.  Of course, since he’s drop dead handsome and she’s overweight and not model-pretty, she’s secretly in love with him, and he pays her no attention.

When Fine is killed in the field by the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who reveals to the CIA that she knows the identities of all their agents, it prompts CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) to make the unusual decision of sending in an agent Rayna and her people have no chance of recognizing.  Crocker, of course, selects Susan, who aggressively volunteers for the assignment because she wants to seek revenge for Bradley’s death.

This decision infuriates fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who wants the assignment for himself, and when he doesn’t get it, he quits and goes rogue, shadowing Susan in the field, constantly reminding her that she’s not good enough to get the job done, and that he’s going to get it done on his own.

Of course, the “job” involves locating a nuclear weapon, which Rayna has somewhere in her possession, and she plans to sell it to the highest terrorist bidder.

So, Susan sets out to save the world, and with the help of her best friend and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) who at first is on a headset back at headquarters, supplying Susan with valuable information but eventually joins Susan in the field, she spends the rest of the movie trying to infiltrate Rayna’s organization so she can find the bomb before Rayna sells it to terrorists.

The plot of SPY is completely inane, but you don’t see this movie because of its plot.  You see it because of Melissa McCarthy, who happens to be one of the funniest people working in movies today.

McCarthy enjoys a lot of side-splitting moments here in SPY.  She’s funny early on as the shy, super intelligent desk agent who goes unnoticed and without respect.  There’s a hilarious scene where she’s berated by her boss Elaine because she has pink eye.  Later when she’s in the field she shows off her physical comedy skills, and towards the end of the movie, she goes into full-fledged over-the-top Melissa McCarthy mode as Susan becomes a take-charge save-the-world agent who has to rely on every aspect of her being to get the job done.  McCarthy has some of her funniest moments in these latter scenes.

And while McCarthy gets to play off co-stars Jude Law and Jason Statham with amiable results, she doesn’t share quite as much chemistry with them as she did with Sandra Bullock in the hit film from two summers ago THE HEAT (2013).  In THE HEAT, Bullock played a complete character who held her own with McCarthy.  Here in SPY, both Law and Statham play caricatures rather than characters, and so their scenes with McCarthy don’t resonate as well.

That being said, Jason Statham is really funny throughout this movie, and he has some of the funniest bits in the film.  He plays super tough agent Rick Ford, a guy who believes he’s invulnerable.  Trouble is, he can’t seem to stop telling people just how invulnerable he is.  The scene where he spouts off all the ways he has cheated death is one of the more hilarious moments in the film and had me laughing out loud.

Jude Law is less interesting as Agent Bradley Fine, a character that is a one joke caricature of the dashing handsome spy.  Miranda Hart fares better as Susan’s friend and co-worker Nancy.  The scene early on where the two of them go out for a drink at a bar and encounter a beautiful operative who they’re insanely jealous of is priceless.  And later, when Nancy joins Susan in the field, they’re pretty funny together, more so than when McCarthy pairs with Statham or Law.

Allison Janney makes for a convincing hard-ass CIA director.  Rose Byrne as the Cruella-De Vil-ish Rayna Boyanov is okay, although it’s a one-note performance.  Boyanov is the spoiled rich girl gone wrong.  Yawn.  Boyanov is also the phoniest character in the entire movie, and she becomes harder to take as the movie goes along.  I enjoyed Byrne much more when she played Renai Lambert, the mother in the first two INSIDIOUS movies.

Writer/director Paul Feig, who directed earlier McCarthy hits BRIDESMAIDS (2011) and THE HEAT (2013) infuses this one with lots of oomph, energy, and style.  The opening credits sequence is right out of a James Bond movie, specifically the recent Daniel Craig Bond films.  The action sequences here are decent.  While the chase scenes are average and played strictly for laughs, the fight scenes actually look pretty good.  They even sport some realistic blood.

More importantly, the humor remains sharp for most of the movie.  McCarthy stays funny throughout, and Jason Statham surprisingly steals nearly every scene he’s in.

It’s not until the third act of the film that SPY staggers, running out of steam for the simple reason that it goes on too long.  A running time of 120 minutes for this kind of comedy is a bit much.  At this length, it’s difficult to sustain the laughs, and SPY definitely struggles with this.  Shave off about 20 minutes and the comedy would have worked better.

As it is, it reaches the point where you realize that what you’re watching has stopped being funny and has delved head-first into mindless silliness.  There are way too many plot twists near the end, and rather than appear clever, they come off as “we’re not sure how to end this movie so we’ll keep on going till we get it right.”  The film definitely could have used a tighter ending.

SPY still works though.  I laughed throughout most of the movie, and even though it deteriorates somewhat towards the end, it wasn’t enough to stop me from liking it.

Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and she receives fine support from Jason Statham, who’s surprisingly funny for most of the movie, and from Miranda Hart as her friend and co-worker Nancy.  McCarthy is one of the funniest actors working in film today, and she’s the main reason to see SPY.   I can’t wait to see what she does next.

—END—