AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

A Cinema Knife Fight Review by LL Soares & Dan Keohane

(THE SCENE: A ravaged alien world. From beneath the rubble of a crashed spacecraft, LL SOARES and DAN KEOHANE emerge. LS is wearing a “Team Thanos” T-shirt and DK is wearing a “Team Iron Man” T-Shirt)

LS (spies something shiny on the ground): That wouldn’t be an Infinity Stone, would it?

DK: No, I don’t think there are any of those left.

LS: Too bad.

DK: So why did you ask me to board the spaceship that just crash landed on this desolate planet anyway?

LS: To review the new Avengers movie, of course. A lot of people have been anticipating this one, where the Avengers finally come face-to-face with the “Mad Titan” himself, Thanos. Why don’t you bring us up to speed, Dan.

DK: So here we are, ten years after Marvel Studios released IRON MAN (2008), its first (of many) epic motion pictures in its self-proclaimed Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the release of what is without a doubt the culmination of years of carefully-crafted (and, at times, complex) storylines around the most powerful objects in the universe, the Infinity Stones, and the sociopathic alien genius Thanos’s (Josh Brolin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007, SICARIO, 2015, and as Cable in the upcoming DEADPOOL 2, 2018) pursuit of them in order to… well, until sitting down to watch the epic AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), all we really knew was that Thanos wanted the stones in order to wield the ultimate power in the universe.

LS: Yeah, that’s all you know if you only know Thanos from the snippets we’ve seen of him so far in Marvel movies, mostly in “Easter egg” scenes in the end credits. These movies have been building up Thanos’s big arrival for a long time now. Remember that he was behind the alien invasion of earth way back in the very first AVENGERS movie in 2012. It’s about time the sneaky purple people eater came out and showed his face.

DK: He eats people?

LS: Huh?

DK: You called him a purple people eater.

LS: Like the old novelty song. I didn’t mean it literally.

DK: Okay, I thought I missed a scene.

LS: Although it would be cool if he ate people, wouldn’t it? On top of being a murdering madman.

DK: Now—and you need to really pay attention to this film, especially Thanos’s story—we finally understand the reason for this lifelong, evil quest: Thanos thinks he’s actually helping everyone in the universe, by killing half of all sentient species, and thus freeing up resources to allow the other half to live wonderful, happy lives. Pretty big task, and admittedly very frightening.

LS: What a sweet guy! He just wants to help!

In the comics, he actually does all this mass killing to impress his sweetheart, none other than the personification of Death. He’s trying to woo her by delivering as many dead souls as he can. But I guess that didn’t really translate well in a big blockbuster movie.

DK: INFINITY WARS opens just a few minutes after THOR: RAGNAROK (2017) ends. Or, I should say, after the first post-credits scene of RAGNAROK ends, as the last survivors of the destruction of Thor’s home planet, Asgard, are approached by a massive, ominous spacecraft. This ship, of course, belongs to Thanos and his powerful cadre of henchpeople. As the scene opens, they’ve just murdered half of the ship’s population (after a few more moments the other half die too, not to worry). Only Thor (Chris Hemsworth, GHOSTBUSTERS, 2016), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2016) and gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba, THE DARK TOWER, 2017) are left, and currently being tortured by number one henchman Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, LOVE/HATE TV series).

LS: Well, actually Gaping…er Ebony Maw is more like a CGI creation with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s voice. And I guess he acted for the motion capture effects, too.

DK: The way technology is progressing, it wouldn’t surprise me in a few years if they make everyone run around with green tights and polka dots on their face, so they can CGI the cast any way they want. But we digress. For this discussion, though, let’s just say he plays Ebony Maw.

LS: Okay.

DK: Mr. Maw is torturing them to learn the location of an Infinity Stone, which everyone watching THOR RAGNAROK knows was lifted by Loki just before the destruction of his homeworld. It does not go well for most of our heroes, and anti-heroes. And this is just the first scene for crying out loud.

This is the first of many extremely dark and violent moments in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Thanos and his minions are quickly established as murderous, powerful creatures with a single focus: acquire all six Infinity Stones, and heaven help you if you get in their way.

And get in the way our heroes do (just about all of them, with a few exceptions). The movie is two hours and forty minutes of one insanely beautiful and clever battle scene after another. It is relentless, all the way until the credits roll.

LS: And beyond, because there’s yet another of those “end credit” secret scenes. But just one this time, at the very end of the credits. People are so used to these things that the entire sold-out audience where I saw the movie stayed in their seats through every last drop of the credits, knowing a big end scene would pop up. Have I mentioned how much I hate the fact that Marvel has made all of us have to sit through all the credits?

DK: I used to love watching the credits. All those people who worked on the movie. Someone had to give them their due.

LS: Yea, but you told me once you love watching grass grow, too.

DK: Surprisingly, I didn’t find all the non-stop action to be too much. Unlike much of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), which was another non-stop action movie/political argument, I personally found it all a bit tiresome near the end. I think I’m in the minority thinking this, however. In this case, though INFINITY WAR started with a bang (literally) and did not let up, I was riveted to every second of it.

LS: Come on, CIVIL WAR was one of the best of the Marvel flicks! But you’re right about INFINITY WAR. Despite the long run time and abundance of battles and action scenes, it does keep you involved throughout. The only time I got even a little bored was when a horde of nameless creatures swarmed over Wakanda. But even that lag didn’t last long.

DK: A lot of this had to do with the smart, quick dialogue between the characters, and the exceptional performances by just about everyone in the cast. Unlike much of the performances in the final HOBBIT film, where everyone seemed very tired and ready to go home, the actors in INIFINITY WAR absolutely brought their A-game, including directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who also directed all three CAPTAIN AMERICA films so far).

LS: Now I’m glad I didn’t see the HOBBIT movies. But yeah, there sure are a lot of superheroes in this movie. Someone should call the Guinness Book of World Records.

DK: After some shuffling and relocating of the cast, we basically end up with three distinct groups: Thor, who, after meeting up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, goes with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper, AMERICAN SNIPER, 2014) and a sullen teenaged (and as funny as always) Groot (sparingly voiced by Vin Diesel), heading to an ancient forge planet called Nidavellir, manned by none other than the always-awesome Peter Dinklage (GAME OF THRONES TV series) as the last surviving dwarf Eitri.

LS: That’s some big dwarf!

DK: The irony was not lost on me. But Dinklage’s shattered, brooding Eitri was fantastic, even if he was only in the film for a little bit. Meanwhile, hunting down Thanos himself are the remainder of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, 2018), Gamora (Zoe Saldana, STAR TREK, 2009) Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista).

LS: With Bautista’s Drax still stealing every scene he’s in! That guy always cracks me up. And who knew Thor and Rocket would have such cool chemistry together? They’re my favorite team in the movie. And, for once, Gamora has a major role in this one, since she is Thanos’s daughter and all.

DK: Well, she’s really his adopted/abducted daughter. But it’s nice to see Zoe Saldana’s Gamora get so much screen time in this movie. And I agree, the scenes with Thor and the Guardians were, as always, show stealers and very, very funny.

Also hunting Thanos through space, though only because of events beyond their control, are Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, SHERLOCK TV series), Spider-Man (Tom Holland, HOW I LIVE NOW, 2013) and Iron Man (Robert Downy, Jr, WEIRD SCIENCE, 1985).

LS: With more funny banter, and the clashing egos of Strange and Stark.

One thing that puzzled me. They end up on Titan, Thanos’s homeworld. Everyone keeps saying it’s a planet. But isn’t it really the largest moon of Saturn?

DK: Nobody cares.

LS: What, no astronomers in the audience?

DK: Meanwhile, back on earth, the rest of the Avengers (remember, this is an Avengers movie) gather together after a couple of Thanos’s groupies try to steal the Infinity Stone embedded in the forehead of the android Avenger, Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head. This group includes Captain America (the third Chris); the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olson); the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); a Hulk-less Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo); the Falcon (Anthony Mackie); Wong (Benedict Wong) who is Doctor Strange’s assistant; and Don Cheadle as War Machine.

And we haven’t even gotten to the second act’s introduction of the country of Wakanda, Black Panther and everyone there.

LS: Yeah, this movie jumps all over the place, from different parts of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy.

DK: I have to admit, this may be an Avengers movie, but it really didn’t feel like it. I mean, there’s every major character from every major Marvel film, sans DEADPOOL and ANT-MAN…

LS: Well, Deadpool makes sense because he, and the X-Men universe, are still controlled by 20th Century Fox. But imagine if all those mutants were here as well! As it is, the excuse for why Ant-Man and Hawkeye weren’t in this one didn’t make much sense to me. I mean, how could it hurt to add two more superheroes to the already huge mix?

DK: There are still a whole lot of heroes here, and they all had a major part to play. It felt less like an Avengers movie than a Marvel Team-Up on steroids.

LS: Oh, you remember that comic book series, do you? You know who else I wish was here? The Fantastic Four. I’m still waiting for a Thing/Hulk team-up in the movies! But once again, they’re tied up in legal mumbo jumbo, which I hope comes to an end when Disney finally gets control of the Fox movie rights. That’s still going to happen, right?

DK: I hope so. I would be great to see the FF get themselves entwined in these MCU Malays. Even in the comics, though, they’ve always been sort of a stand-alone group (except The Thing, who liked to wander from one Team-Up to another… yea, I loved that series).

LS: You’re thinking of the other team-up series, Marvel Two-in-One! The difference was, in Marvel Team-Up, the star was usually Spider-Man, teaming up with someone else (although there were a few issues where the star was the Human Torch instead, but they were seldom). Marvel-Two-In-One was a different series starring The Thing, where he teamed up with other superheroes each month.

And then there was Super Villain Team-Up, where every issue was Doctor Doom and Namor, the Sub-Mariner! How is that a “team-up” book, if it’s the same two guys every issue? And Namor is more of an anti-hero than a villain! Toward the end, they actually included some other villains, but then it got canceled. But I digress.

DK: You certainly did. What do Dr. Doom and Namor have to do with this movie?

LS: I wish they were in it!

DK: Oh, okay. But, for what it is, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR works; it really, really works. I had to smile early on when Captain America made his appearance. Everyone in the sold-out theater burst into applause. I didn’t clap, and not just because I was taking notes. All I could think, after such an intimidating setup of Thanos’s insanely huge power, was, what can Captain America do? He isn’t even wearing his helmet?

LS: I experienced the same thing. I mean, yeah, it’s cool that Cap’s so popular—my audience applauded his entrance, too—but he seems like small potatoes in the face of a cosmic threat like Thanos. Besides, I’ve always been much more a fan of Thor and Hulk, two guys who could give Thanos more of a challenge.

And you’re right about the helmet. That happens a lot in these movies, because vain actors want to show their faces onscreen, even when it doesn’t make sense. They’re never happy wearing a mask for all the appropriate scenes. The only guy who actually sticks to the mask in all logical ways is DEADPOOL. Who knew Ryan Reynolds would turn out to be the least-egotistical superhero star.

Hell, when Hawkeye is in movies, they never even bother with his cool mask, dammit!

DK: You’re digressing again!

Never mind how Black Widow should have had her neck snapped in the first fight scene because she doesn’t even have super human powers.

LS: Despite the power-levels of each character, they give it their all to protect the Earth! Besides, I just enjoy watching Scarlett Johannson in action, so I’m not complaining.

DK: Hear, Hear!

Aside from every moment the Guardians of the Galaxy were on screen with their newest ally Thor, some of my favorite moments in the film were when Bruce Banner tried like hell to convince Hulk to come out of hiding, and never succeeded. Now and then, Hulk will almost come out, only to say “No” in his endearing Hulk voice, then go away, much to Banner’s frustration. Mark Ruffalo has to be one of the best casting choices in Hollywood history, ever. At first glance he seems so wrong for the part, but he nails it every time!

LS: Now you’ve happened upon one of my few problems with the movie. As a big Hulk fan, I HATED the way Banner was handled this time around. I could understand, where in the plot of RAGNAROK, Hulk could stay the Hulk for long periods of time because of the planet they were on. It didn’t totally make sense, but hey. But there was no reason why Banner couldn’t hulk out in this movie. He’s back on Earth. And Hulk is all about being angry. You’re telling me Banner couldn’t get angry enough in these battle scenes to transform? Hulk and Banner aren’t supposed to have a choice in these things. The way the Hulk refused to come out struck me as majorly stupid. It’s almost like they purposely kept Hulk out of the fight because they wanted to give some of the weaker Avengers a chance to seem more heroic. Or maybe they were implying Hulk was too scared of Thanos to come out. Either way, it pissed me off. And when Banner was put inside the big “Hulkbuster” Iron Man costume, that just added to the embarrassment.

DK: I agree with you there. Him in the Hulkbuster suit was odd, and yeah, it seemed to be more for comic relief (unless they were hoping it would piss off Hulk enough to come out).

LS: When I go to an Avengers movie, I want to see The Hulk! And, except for a brief battle scene early on, Hulk fans get cheated. I’m sorry, I’m just not as big a fan of Banner, and I actually found Ruffalo a bit grating this time around. They tried to make him a comic relief character, and frankly every time he was onscreen it just made me realize how much I missed the real, gets-stronger-as-he-gets-angrier Hulk.

DK: Back to Wakanda. As good as he is, Chadwick Baseman (42, 2013) gets outshone again by the other Wakandans (especially Danai Gurir’s Okoye, Letitia Wright’s Shuri and Winston Duke’s M’Baku), not to mention a couple dozen of his fellow superheroes.

Ok, what else?

LS: You tell me.

DK: A complaint of my own. Yes, I know that early on the theme is that we don’t sacrifice the one for the good of the many, but everyone pretty quickly understands that if Thanos succeeds, half the population of the UNIVERSE is going to die. Knowing this, too often people give up the fight (and whatever Infinity Stone they’re carrying) in order to save one person. I’m sorry, as much as I love my wife, for example, if handing over something to a bad guy would mean a billion, trillion people die, I wouldn’t do it. I’m sure she’d understand.

LS: I found that annoying, too. Some characters make some very dumb choices in this one. I get that there are emotions involved, but it really annoyed me.

DK: In one instance—near the end, so I won’t say who and why—one character, based on the last line they spoke in the film, might have done this deliberately. But again, can’t say any more without spoilers.

LS: Yeah, let’s not go there. Let people have some surprises.

DK: I loved seeing the film in a packed theater. As much of a geek that I am, until now I’d never attended the first showing of an opening night of any MCU film and was amazed how enjoyable seeing the movie in a packed house (which was across the hall from another packed house). Of course, I missed some of the lines spoken, usually because so many people were laughing their butts off.

LS: There were a few funny moments. But not all of the humor worked. Like, the whole Iron Man/Spider-Man patter, started getting on my nerves pretty quickly. I’m getting sick of Spider-Man being treated like an idiot, and I’m getting really tired of Robert Downey, Jr. at this point. His Tony Stark has passed his expiration date. He’s not so cool anymore.

DK: This is also a dark and violent movie, bordering on an R rating (for the sheer volume of the violence, though it’s not super graphic), but I thought it was also very, very funny in spots. Watching the scenes with the Guardians, I wondered how much input James Gunn (who wrote and directed their solo movies) had in the dialogue. He has no writing credits, but their interactions were so spot-on I wonder if this is true. It was also refreshing to have characters curse now and then. While not enough to push the rating beyond PG-13, it was enough to add an extra bit of realness to them.

LS: It only went so far, though. Sometimes the “cursing” was just plain silly. If you’re caught up in the middle of a life-or-death battle, are you really going to tell someone they “Effed up!” like Peter Quill does at one point? Or at one point someone says, “Screw you!”  Come on, give us more believable dialogue! I would have liked it a lot more if it had really pushed over into R-rated territory. But that’s just me.

DK: And the plethora of tween-aged kids sitting around us would have been pretty disappointed they had to stay home, as well.

LS: Who cares!

DK: Disney and the box office. Quick nod to the late, great (in most people’s opinion) comic book artist and writer Jack Kirby who, with Stan Lee, created most of the characters we’re seeing now. Personally, I didn’t like Kirby’s style of artwork, every character was too square and the surrounding scenery too full of weird bubbles (look his stuff up to see what I mean).

LS: Sacrilege! Kirby was one of the best artists in the history of comics precisely because his style was completely his own. Nobody drew like him, and his pure creativity was astounding! Lee might have written the words, but Kirby brought a lot of these characters to life by making them visual for us. But go on…

DK: When they created Thanos for this film, they did so right out of a Kirby comic frame.

LS: That’s funny, because Kirby didn’t create or draw Thanos. Jim Starlin did. And he gets a shout out in the credits. Starlin created, or gave us the definitive versions of, a lot of Marvel’s cosmic characters. Then again, I can’t totally make fun of you for that, because Kirby did create the character Darkseid for DC, who shares a lot of similarities with Thanos. He even has his own powerful henchmen. Remember Steppenwolf from JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)? He’s a Darkseid henchman. But that’s a discussion for another time.

DK: (Humbled at his writing partner’s encyclopedic geekness!) Though I assume Brolin was there during the shots and read his lines (only have his voice deepened to make it sound more Thanos-like), Thanos himself looks like a CGI character. Even so, it’s easy to let that go because among so many bad guys in films, this one gets some decent development. You may not like him at all by the end of this film…

LS: I did!

DK:…but you do come away understanding him better.

LS: Yeah, one major problem with a lot of the Marvel movies is the lack of a compelling bad guy. It’s a flaw that’s turned up in several of the movies. But Thanos corrects that in a big way. He’s complex, fleshed out, and even if his plans are totally reprehensible, they’re portrayed in a way that at least makes you understand him. And there are even a few moments where you might feel a tiny twinge of sympathy for him (or maybe not).

I also liked his henchmen in this one, who consisted of Cull Obsidian (also known as Black Dwarf in the comics, and played by Terry Notary), Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon, from the TV shows FARGO and THE LEFTOVERS—I love her!), Corvus Glaive (Michael Shaw) and, of course, the best of the bunch, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Ebony Maw.

DK: Yea, he was creepy.

LS: And Thanos and his creepy henchmen might be CGI characters, but the point here is, the CGI effects in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR look terrific! So, it didn’t matter at all.

Another thing that’s different about this movie is the fact that some of the characters actually die this time around. It’s not just a lot of fighting with no big consequences. We’re not going to say who dies, or how, because we’re not going to step into spoiler country, but let’s just say the stakes are higher than ever in INFINITY WAR.

So, I think we’ve said enough about the movie, and what happens. Let’s let people find out the big stuff for themselves. But, overall, what did you think of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, Dan?

DK: I was completely blown away by this. I could not imagine the filmmakers keeping so many characters interesting and fresh throughout, but they did. It helped a lot to have them all focused on one storyline, but even then, like I said earlier, the actors and crew brought their A-Game to this one. I can honestly say AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR lives up to its hype. As the culmination of the MCU’s ten-year life (so far), I can’t give it any less than 4 Knives.

LS: I have to agree with you. Despite any complaints I had, this one was terrific. Non-stop action, great characters, A-list actors, amazing effects. I give it a big four knives as well.

You know, it’s funny, anyone who has never seen a Marvel movie, and didn’t read comics, and who decided to start with this movie would have absolutely NO IDEA what is going on. There are so many characters and locations and concepts from the comics and previous movies, and INFINITY WAR does not stop for a second to explain any of these things.

It’s amazing that the comic books we grew up with (and which got us labeled nerds) are now so imbedded in popular culture that most people know all of these things now! And it shows the pure storytelling power of Marvel that people have stayed aboard from the beginning through all these movies, enough so that they didn’t need any explanations of what was going on in INFINITY WAR.

In a way, it justifies a big chunk of our childhoods, sitting around reading “funny books.”

DK: Yeah, it kind of does. Hey, are you choking up about this?

LS: No, of course not. Just breathed in some space dust by accident.

DK: Which reminds me. We just crash-landed on an alien planet, that looks uninhabited. How are we going to get home?

LS (looks up at the darkening sky): Well, Dan, I think we’re going to be late for dinner.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares & Daniel G. Keohane

 

LL Soares gives AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ~~ 4 knives

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Dan Keohane also gives AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ~~ 4 knives

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ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977)

Review by LL Soares

Having absolutely nothing to do with the notorious Son of Sam murders in New York in the 70s, Dave Adams’ ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977) is a bizarre little flick that might be worth seeing at least once (you won’t be tempted to watch it again). Adams was a stunt man on TRUCKER’S WOMAN (1975) and WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) before deciding to write and direct (and act as stunt coordinator) a movie of his own. ANOTHER SON OF SAM, filmed around Charlotte, North Carolina on a shoestring budget,  is the only film he ever made, and his career in films pretty much ended after that. Strangely, I’m not surprised.

The movie begins with a man and a woman riding around on a speedboat. The man is police lieutenant Claude Seltzer (Ross Dubuc) and his girlfriend is Dr. Daisy Ellis (Cynthia Stewart). We then switch to a nightclub and a performance by a lounge singer named Johnny Charro (singing a tearjerker called “I Never Said Goodbye”). We then (finally) get to the action, the story of Harvey, a patient at a mental hospital. We never actually see Harvey’s face (just his eyes and brow at certain times, and his lower body as he walks around in cheap pants that he probably got at K-Mart). When two orderlies take him to his room after shock treatment, Harvey goes nuts and kills them. He also brutally beats his doctor, who turns out to be Dr. Ellis from the speedboat. Harvey escapes, just as Lieutenant Seltzer arrives at the hospital to visit his lady. When he sees her being wheeled out on a gurney, this all becomes personal.

There’s a scene in a park, where the police (including Seltzer) think they’ve cornered the suspect, but he gets away. Harvey then ends up in a college dormitory, sneaked around in his beige chinos and terrorizing sorority girls who have stuck around during spring break. These include blonde Heather (Bonnie Schrier) and her brunette roommate, Tina (Pam Mullins). Just around the time we’re introduced to them, we hear about a theft of $500, and then Darlene Page (Kim Saunders) is sitting in the Dean’s office, saying she thinks Tina stole the money. But before anyone can speak to Tina, she’s murdered by Harvey and Heather finds her. There’s no explanation why Harvey has come to this particular building, or what he has against the girls there, but he skulks around, evading capture, as the police show up. The building is evacuated, but Harvey is holding Heather and Darlene as hostages.

The police are led by tough-talking, bespectacled Captain Thompson (Robert McCourt) and Sgt. Flowers (John Harper), and of course Lt. Seltzer’s there as well. The bunch of them are incredibly inept (one rookie goes looking around on his own and gets killed by Harvey), and decide they can’t handle it and call in the SWAT team, led by Lt. Nelson (Garland Atkins). We then get a lot of shots of a helicopter flying over head (the same shot over and over) and guys in SWAT gear show up. At one point, someone even sees Harvey looking out of a second-story window. But the SWAT team is as useless as the police (what a lame SWAT team!) and they end up tracking down Harvey’s mother (Ann Pierce) to get him to give up.

In some flashbacks we see after they show Harvey’s eyes, we’re given a little bit of his backstory, with Harvey’s mother talking to him as a kid, the implication of the scenes being that incest was involved. This is confirmed later when one of the cops saying that his mom seduced him and that’s how he ended up in the mental hospital. Mom arrives and goes about trying to trick Harvey into surrendering, which of course makes Harvey let his guard down enough for the cops to finish him off. His mother holds his hand as he dies.

ANOTHER SON OF SAM doesn’t have a lot going for it. The acting overall is pretty bad, the settings are drab, the script kind of goes nowhere. Nobody seems competent in their jobs. It’s basically a bad police procedural, and could have been an episode of ADAM-12 or the old SWAT TV show from the 70s, except neither show would have ever bought a script this bad.

To spice things up, cinematographer Harry M. Joyner and editor Adams do some odd camera tricks, like flashing to Harvey’s eyes to create a sense of menace, and whenever anything really bad supposedly happens, the screen freezes. I guess this was supposed to be for emphasis, but really it just makes the filmmaking look ever more amateurish. I found this gimmick to be really annoying as the movie went along.

And there is absolutely no connection to the real-life Son of Sam murders committed by serial killer David Berkowitz. Clearly, the title was just there to exploit the real life crimes and try to trick people in paying for a movie ticket.

There’s nothing really to recommend this one unless you’re a fan of Johnny Charro (called Johny Charro in the credits). Despite all this, I’m glad I saw it just because it’s an obscure little film, and I have a morbid fascination for movies that were directed by people who never made another movie, like Harold P. Warren’s MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966) and Carlton J. Albright’s LUTHER THE GEEK (1989). There’s just something intriguing about people who think they can make a movie, fail at it, and then go back to their lives without looking back. And, for some reason, a lot of these seem to be horror movies.

A lot of the cast never appeared anywhere else, either. Although it’s interesting that Pam Mullins, who played Tina, went on to become a successful makeup artist, even working on DOCTOR WHO during the Matt Smith years. I don’t know what became of Johnny Charro.

While I’m glad I saw ANOTHER SON OF SAM once, I can guarantee you I won’t be watching it again. It’s boring and pointless for the most part. You might find yourself fast forwarding through some of the slower scenes. Whether you decide to check it out yourself – well, that’s up to you.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

 

 

 

First Story Acceptance of 2019

I haven’t written many short stories lately, but my story “The Sweetness and the Psychic” is my first story sale of 2019, getting accepted for the upcoming WICKED WEIRD anthology from the New England Horror Writers. I think the book is coming out this summer, but more news when it’s available. The lead character of this story, Eb Rinder, is also in the new novel I’m working on.

PET SEMATARY (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Am I the only one who thought the 1989 movie version of Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY, directed by Mary Lambert, wasn’t a bad film? I mean, when there’s a decent version of the story already adapted, why be in a rush to remake it? Remakes should be reserved for the numerous Stephen King books that were made into BAD movies, don’t cha think? Or maybe to put some R-rated scares in stories that previously adapted for sanitized TV miniseries on ABC?  In other words, PET SEMATARY wasn’t high on my list of King movies that had to be redone.

The thing is, the new PET SEMATARY isn’t a bad movie. It’s done well, with a good cast. It’s just that it doesn’t have much new to add (except maybe for an unexpected death that may catch King fans by surprise). So when I sat down to watch this version, I have to admit, it didn’t do much for me. I’d seen the story before, just as well done, and so this felt like a waste of an hour and 41 minutes. But that’s just me.

If you’re a horror movie fan, then you already know the story. A family moves from urban Boston to rural Maine to “get away from it all.” The dad’s a doctor who’s sick of working the all-night shifts at the hospital and wants to take it easier. So Louis (Jason Clarke, the underrated actor from “ZERO DARK THIRTY,” 2012, “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” 2014, and “MUDBOUND,” 2017) and his wife, Rachel (Amy Siemetz, from the shows “THE KILLING” and ‘THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE,” and the movie “ALIEN: COVENANT,” 2017) move with their kids, pre-teenager Ellie (Jete Laurence, “THE SNOWMAN,” 2017) and toddler Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) to a cabin in the woods. Turns out that there’s a cemetery behind their house in the woods. Kids in the neighborhood bury their dead pets there. Which is kind of creepy, since they turn it into an almost pagan ritual, wearing animal masks in an orderly procession and all.

Even scarier, their house is on the route that huge gas trucks take to get where they’re going. And they go by fast!

There’s also a scruffy neighbor named Jud (John Lithgow, of “RAISING CAIN,” 1992, “RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” 2011, and amazing in Season 4 of the series “DEXTER” in 2009), who lost his wife and who could be feeling sorry for himself, but he’s actually a nice guy and befriends first Ellie, then the family. When the family cat, Church, gets run over by a car, Jud tells Louis about a secret graveyard BEHIND the pet cemetery. A spooky, swampy piece of land where Native American tribes used to bury their kin, until they moved away, determining the area was cursed. You see, this second cemetery has supernatural properties. If you bury something there, it comes back to life. Although, not exactly how you remember them.

Jud doesn’t want his daughter to find out her beloved cat is dead, so he follows Jake to the spooky graveyard, buries the cat there, and soon afterwards, it comes back.

Except it’s mangy as hell and really needs a bath. And sometimes it has a really nasty temper now.  

So, after seeing what the graveyard can do, when someone in Louis’s family dies, he sure as hell isn’t going to let them stay dead!

And when a human being is buried in that awful place, that’s when things get really spooky.

As I said, the directors, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, who previously gave us the very good horror film, STARRY EYES (2014), do a good job adapting the material. The script is by Jeff Buhler (and Matt Greenberg). There’s not a lot here that’s particularly problematic. It’s a good, solid adaptation. Except that it was already adapted in 1989, as a decent movie, and the new movie just seemed like more of an attempt by the studio to cash in on the resurgence of popularity for Stephen King—thanks to the blockbuster version of IT (2017)—than a movie that really needed to be made. Or, rather, remade.

Everyone involved does a fine job. Nobody embarrasses themselves here. But in the end, it seemed a little pointless. I was going to give it 2 ½ knives because of that – but frankly, I don’t think that’s fair. Just know that if you haven’t seen this story before, you’ll enjoy it. It’s a good movie. But if you’ve already seen it, there aren’t a lot of reasons to see this new one.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

SHAZAM! (2019)

Review by LL Soares

This might be a confusing time for fans of Captain Marvel.

Back in the 1970s (1974 -1977, to be exact) there was a little Saturday morning show called SHAZAM!  where young Billy Batson (Michael Gray) said the secret word and transformed with a clap of thunder into Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick). But the most recent movie to be called CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) stars Brie Larson as a superheroine with cosmic powers, who is soon going to be helping the Avengers kick Thanos’s ass in AVENGERS: ENDGAME later this month.

And now we’ve got a new SHAZAM! movie as well, where Billy Batson (Asher Angel, from the Disney TV show “ANDI MACK,” 2017-2019) turns into…er…Shazam? (Zachary Levi, “HEROES REBORN” 2015-2016)…when he says his own name. Holy lightning bolts, Batman! What’s going on here?

For brevity’s sake, here’s a crash course in the history of Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was originally created by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck in 1939 and was a very popular comic book hero whose peak was in the 1940s. There was even a live-action serial (short films with a continuing plot, for those who aren’t familiar with them) about the character called Adventures of Captain Marvel, starring Tom Tyler as the titular superhero. But in 1953, Fawcett stopped publishing the comics, due in part to waning sales (the superhero genre wasn’t selling as well) and partly due to a lawsuit from DC Comics, claiming Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics got the trademark for the name Captain Marvel, which they used for a new line of characters. In 1972, DC Comics got the rights to the actual characters of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family (Cappy has a whole family of superheroes, another similarity with Superman at the time), but couldn’t use the name Captain Marvel. So the series was called SHAZAM. This latter property is the basis of the new SHAZAM! movie.

Up to speed?

Anyway, the basic idea is Billy Batson, a normal everyday kid, is given the gift of turning into an adult superhero (who’s a lot of Superman) when he says the word SHAZAM which stands for the great heroes of the past: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. This power is bestowed upon him by a wizard named Mentor (referred to as just “Wizard” in the credits of the new movie, and played now by Djimon Hounsou of “GUARDIAN’S OF THE GALAXY,” 2014, and, ironically, currently in Marvel’s “CAPTAIN MARVEL,” 2019) The gimmick of the new movie is that even though young Billy turns into an adult superhero, he still has the mind of his 15-year-old self. So sometimes thing get goofy.

It’s a more light-hearted plotline than most DC Comics movies these days, although there’s some gritty stuff here, too. When we first meet Billy, he’s at a carnival with his mom. At one point, he gets lost, and can’t find his mother. The police find him, and he ends up in a series of foster families. This, right off the bat, had me scratching my head. A kid gets lost, knows his name and his family must be nearby, and the police can’t track down his mother? This seemed incredibly stupid to me. But hey, we have to keep going…

Billy runs away from every foster family he’s placed in. He runs away because he’s trying to track down his mother. He has a list of names from the phone book of women named Batson, who might be his mother. But he keeps coming up empty. Now he gets placed in a new home, which is run by the couple Victor Vasquez (who you might recognize as “THE WALKING DEAD” character JERRY!) and his wife Rosa (Marta Milans, “NO TOMORROW” 2016 – 2017). The other kids in the group home include teenage Mary (Grace Fulton, “THE GHOST WHISPERER,” 2005-2007, “REVENGE,” 2012-2013, and “ANNABELLE: CREATION,” 2017) who’s trying to get into college; video game enthusiast Eugene (Ian Chen, from the TV shows “FRESH OFF THE BOAT” and “GREY’S ANATOMY”); introverted Pedro (Jovan Armand, from the show “THE MIDDLE”); cute little Darla (Faithe Herman, “THIS IS US”); and disabled Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, also in “IT,” 2017 and the upcoming “IT: CHAPTER TWO”). Billy gets closest to Freddy, since they share a room. But obviously Billy doesn’t have plans to stick around very long.

Meanwhile, that wizard I mentioned (Hounsou) is trying to find someone who is “pure of heart,” so he can transfer his magical powers to them before he dies of old age, and random people find themselves suddenly transported to the wizard’s cave, so he can test them to see if they’re good enough. Of course, no one’s ever good enough. But one of the kids he rejected carries a grudge, and grows up to be the evil Dr. Silvana (Mark Strong, also in “KICK-ASS,” 2010, “JOHN CARTER,” 2012, and “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE,” 2014, as well as 103 other credits on IMDB.com). He’s intent on finding that cave again and teaming up with the wizard’s enemies – the Seven Deadly Sins – which are imprisoned inside stone statues in the wizard’s cave. They promise to give him powers of evil, so he can defeat the wizard’s hero (if he ever finds one).

A lot of this comes from the comics, but man, is it a slog. I found the first half hour of this movie really tough to sit through. I didn’t care about Billy Batson or his mom, or Sivana and his grudge, or the dopey wizard and his tests. All of it bored me to tears, and I kind of wondered why I spent the money for a movie ticket, and then something happened.

Billy Batson, of course, passes the wizard’s test and is transformed by magic into the mighty hero SHAZAM! whenever he says the word SHAZAM! which is also his name (I believe it’s also supposed to be the wizard’s name here as well, so that’s a tad confusing). At this point, Asher Angel’s Billy turns into Zachary Levi, the actor who plays SHAZAM!, and suddenly, the movie’s worth watching.

JUST LIKE MAGIC!

Like I said, I didn’t find Asher Angel’s Billy all that riveting, but once he’s transformed into Zachary Levi’s SHAZAM, things get interesting. Here’s where it becomes a combination of BIG and SUPERMAN. The best interaction in the movie is between Levi’s Shazam and his buddy Freddy, especially when they do a series of “stunts” to determine what Shazam’s powers are. (Super speed, CHECK!). While he tries to figure out all the cool things he can do (including buying beer), Dr. Sivana has absorbed the Seven Deadly Sins—they look like crazy CGI monsters!—who turn into smoke and go inside his glowing eye to give him evil super powers (doesn’t that sound amazing!). Unfortunately, those CGI monsters don’t have much personality and are kind of generic, and they’re as exciting as flat soda.

I like actor Mark Strong a lot, he’s a terrific actor, but man, the dude gets no respect. He should be a big star at this point, but instead he’s playing second-rate bad guys like Dr. Sivana! When is this guy going to get his big break and become a leading man already!  

Eventually Sivana and Shazam meet, and we get some superpowered fisticuffs, culminating in a big showdown between Sivana and the CGI Sin Monsters vs. Shazam and some unexpected allies (they’re actually pretty cool).

SHAZAM! is directed by David F. Sandberg, who also gave us “LIGHTS OUT “(2016) and “ANNABELLE: CREATION” (2017), and he does an okay job here. The screenplay is by Henry Grayden (“EARTH TO ECHO,” 2014), and frankly, if they hadn’t cast people as talented as Levi and Strong, this would have been a complete waste of time.

Overall, my feeling is that when Levi is onscreen, especially with Grazer, the movie is a lot of fun. When Levi isn’t around, it drags. So I’m really on the fence about this one. Is Levi enough to justify the whole movie? Not really. But I give SHAZAM! a score of 2 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives SHAZAM! ~~ 2 1/2 knives!

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TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001)

Movie review by LL Soares

I’m a big fan of French horror films. From the 1960 classic Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) to the 1970s French vampire films of the great Jean Rollin, to the movies Jesus Franco made in France, to the more recent films considered part of the New French Extremity movement, such as HAUTE TENSION (2003), INSIDE (2007) and MARTYRS (2008). So when I finally had a chance to see Claire Denis’s 2001 film TROUBLE EVERY DAY, one of the earlier films of the New French Extremity, I was happy to check it out.

Claire Denis is sort of a one-woman genre of her own, having made so many different kinds of movies, from the colonial drama CHOCOLAT (1988) to the French Foreign Legion drama BEAU TRAVAIL (1999), to her most recent films, the comedy LET THE SUNSHINE IN (2017) and the sci-fi flick HIGH LIFE (2018). Of course, she made a horror movie, and it’s a doozy.

TROUBLE EVERY DAY is kind of a vampire film. It starts out with a woman named Core (Beatrice Dalle, also the titular character in the movie BETTY BLUE, 1986, as well as in Michael Haneke’s TIME OF THE WOLF, 2003, and the great French horror film INSIDE, 2007) wandering around and seducing a trucker, who she then proceeds to mutilate and drink his blood. Not really the fangs in the neck variety, let’s just say that Core is a very messy eater. She bites off facial features and body parts as much as she drinks blood, and when her husband Leo (Alex Descas, also in several other Claire Denis films, and in Olivier Assayas’s IRMA VEP, 1996) tracks her down, she’s a bloody mess. The fact that he stays with her, and that he covers up her murders by burying the victims and cleaning her up, says a lot about their relationship. First of all, he obviously loves her. And second, he clearly feels guilty about what she has become.

It’s also the story of newlyweds Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey, also in BEAN, 1997, and GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI, 1999) Brown, who have just arrived in Paris for their honeymoon. They are also in love, and June at first seems very happy. But there’s something wrong, an overriding tensions that slowly devours their wedded bliss. This gets worse when Shane takes the last of some pills he has brought along. He immediately goes searching for a doctor from his past, namely Leo, who we met earlier.

Shane works for a pharmaceutical company and in enigmatic flashbacks, it’s clear that he worked with Leo on some past project in the jungles of Bolivia. We are led to believe that whatever has happened to Core has something to do with this secret research. And it also had some effect on Shane that we’re not sure about.

Shane can’t find Leo. The lab where he worked fired him, and the scientists there claim to have no idea where Leo is. In the meantime, Leo has taken on the role of a local physician for rural patient, and keeping a low profile, while still doing research of his own in the basement of the house he shares with Core.

Meanwhile, two criminals have been casing Leo’s house, and are curious why he goes to such lengths to keep it secure (there are bars on all the windows, etc.). Obviously, he’s done this to keep Core from going out (even though she escapes occasionally anyway), but the thieves think he’s hiding something of value in the house. After at least one unsuccessful attempt to break in, they finally are able to break a basement window and gain access after Leo has gone off to work.

Needless to say, they find something they’re not expecting.

Shane has been getting more and more desperate. He needs to track Leo down, but isn’t getting very far. In the meantime, he is avoiding any passion with June (for fear that he might not be able to control himself?). In one scene, he stops making love to her to run to the bathroom and finish himself off violently, which disturbs his wife (and us). Then a woman who works at Leo’s former lab finally contacts him and tells Shane how to reach his old friend. Shane arrives at Leo’s house soon after those thieves have broken in…

TROUBLE EVERY DAY is dark, enigmatic, and atmospheric, and the violent scenes are very gory.  A big reason why I wanted to see it was because Denis is such an interesting director, and I’m a fan of star Vincent Gallo, who had previously starred in and directed the great BUFFALO ’66 (1998) and had roles in films like Abel Ferrara’s THE FUNERAL (1996) and a previous Denis film, NENETTE AND BONI (1996). He would go on to write and direct (and star in) the controversial THE BROWN BUNNY in 2003.

I really enjoyed this one and think it deserves a wider audience.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares