Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Great Performances

As promised in my January post, this was going to be an ongoing feature, so here we go again, taking a look at actors who really distinguished themselves in a genre film.

1. Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. As much fun as Ruth Gordon is to watch in Polanski's classic, it's Farrow who really pulls it all together as the title character. When we first meet Rosemary, she has an optimistic outlook on life and an idealized view of her marriage to self-absorbed aspiring actor Guy (John Cassavetes), but she's also a "modern" woman in the context of the times, with her own friends and opinions.

Unfortunately, when she becomes pregnant, she is all too willing to give in to Guy, Minnie (Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), the elderly neighbors with whom her husband has become close. She switches from her young obstetrician to their recommended doctor (Ralph Bellamy) and obligingly drinks a strange herbal concoction that Minnie makes for her every day. But when the pain starts and the illness causes her to behave bizarrely, she makes a valiant effort to retain her sense of self. She hosts a party for her old friends, who are shocked at her emaciated appearance, and they give her the determination to struggle back to reality.

Weak and terrified, she is convinced that a sinister conspiracy is afoot. And when her longtime friend, Hutch (Maurice Evans) dies suddenly but bequeaths to her a book about devil worship that mentions Roman, it only serves to confirm her suspicions. She tries to tell Guy that their neighbors and their strange group of friends are devil worshippers who want to sacrifice their child to Satan, but he shrugs it off. As the audience, we too are implicated: we know Rosemary is half-right in her beliefs, but we can't do anything about it, making the suspense even more agonizing as the circle closes in.

Farrow does a wonderful job of taking us through the various stages of her character's development. She does a 360—starting as a confident, relatively independent-minded young woman who eventually gives in to her husband's (and the Castavets') wishes, only to fight back against the sickness and encroaching paranoia to come back strong in a final effort to save her baby's life. Whether the climactic scene indicates her ultimate defeat or a determination to make the best of a horrific situation in order to care for her child (however demonic it may be) is open to interpretation. I'm convinced it's the latter.

2. Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher. The key to making a film like this work is casting an actor with the queasy charisma needed to inhabit an amoral character like John Ryder, the psychotic drifter Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is unlucky enough to pick up on a desert highway on a rainy night.

Some have commented about the film's homoerotic angle—that Ryder had repressed sexual urges for Halsey, but I think that's selling it short. Or that Ryder is the "dark side" of Halsey's personality. While his encounter with the psycho has certainly given the young man a quick lesson in evil, I don't think that's it, either.

I personally think that Ryder has been traveling these same highways for years on his endless killing spree, and he's just plain tired. He no longer gets that electric thrill when he kills, and he wants it to be over. His cat-and-mouse games have necessarily become more complicated, and Halsey is the latest mouse he's drawn into his trap.

The clues are all over the place. Early on, he tells Halsey, "I want you to stop me." He even rescues him on a couple of occasions when he could easily have snuffed him, because he wants the game to continue. Plus, allowing Halsey to be accused by the police of the murders he himself has committed adds to what's left of his excitement.

I think that's how Hauer understood the character, too. His portrayal of Ryder is so world-weary, he practically sighs, "been there, done that." The only times he does get enthusiastic are when he's walking the razor's edge—and forcing Halsey to do it at the same time, as when he's challenging—and killing—cops.

That's what makes the performance so memorable. In lesser hands, this could've just been another psycho, but Hauer imbues the character's every expression and intonation with deeper meaning...and it's fascinating to watch.

3. Eamonn Owens in The Butcher Boy. Not since Tatum O'Neal took the Academy Awards by storm in Bogdanovich's 1973 Paper Moon has a child actor delivered such a terrific, precocious performance. And young Owens had much darker material to work with.

He plays Francie Brady, the only child of dysfunctional parents (Aisling O'Sullivan and Stephen Rea), whose mental and physical maladies would kick any normal child to the curb, but he possesses such a strong sense of self and determination (aided by his own mental illness, I must add) that the disintegration of his family unit is little more than a bump in the road. Even the local scrubbers are wreathed in smiles when Francie comes by, fast-talking and glamorizing them like a lost member of a traveling circus.

He pulls off a number of childish pranks with his best friend Joe (Alan Boyle), but when they become more and more violent, Joe backs away, and he incurs the wrath of a harridan neighbor, Mrs. Nugent (Fiona Shaw), who starts bad-mouthing his parents. Francie's hatred of the woman escalates and he finally kills her. As a result, he's committed to a mental institution.

The film is narrated by a much older Francie (in a wryly hilarious voiceover provided by Rea), who is still inside the institution and happily describes the awful incidents that brought him to where he is now. At times, Owens faces the camera to address his own "elder" voice, and it's in these sequences where he really shines.

So energetic is the film (and his performance) that you can't help but laugh at the increasingly horrible crimes he commits, and you even feel a sort of vindication when he breaks into Mrs. Nugent's house and shits on her carpet. And that's only the beginning.

I have to confess this is my favorite Jordan film so far. I love The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire, but this one is packed with passion and enthusiasm. It's truly exuberant filmmaking. And it just wouldn't have happened without Owens' terrific portrayal of Francie.

Owens has done a lot of work since (I've only seen his memorable bit in the devastating The Magdalene Sisters) but it'll be fun to see what he does with adult roles. Hell, he's only 28! He did a bit for Jordan in Breakfast on Pluto playing a thug.

I sincerely welcome any contributions to this ongoing series of great performances. Email me at

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Drive-In Reminiscences

Let me preface this post by saying I'm absolutely sure today's drive-in concession stands offer clean, healthy food that meets the standards of the health departments in their townships.

But back in the late '70s, when I worked the snack bar at the Niles 31 Drive-In, it was another story altogether. I don't think we ever had anything like a health inspector come around, and hygiene training was nonexistent. Kids trained kids on how to prepare the food, and if one of the trainers gave incorrect information, it was passed along and snowballed.

I mentioned in an earlier post the re-grilled, re-bunned burgers and dogs, but that only scratches the surface of the horror. We actually would re-use the meats night after night until they just became too repulsive for even a bun to conceal.

The grill was damn clean, however. Every night, after the burgers were recooked, one of us would be put on grill duty. It was truly a punishment. You'd take a large, soft, smelly block of pumice and slo-o-o-w-ly scrape it across the still-hot surface of the grill until all the food fragments were removed. It had the same effect as scraping your fingernails across a blackboard. Plus, the aroma of the ancient beef would waft up into your nostrils even as your face blistered from the heat. No one ever vomited from it, which still surprises me to this day.

Also every night the manager would inspect the hot dogs and decide which ones to keep and which to pitch. Her criteria was pretty loose: If they were starting to get green, it was time to go. Otherwise, the shriveled, charred and bread-speckled specimens were put into new buns and new wrappers. I still shiver in horror when I look at those dogs sitting on the hot shelf at 7-11.

The frozen pizza actually wasn't too bad. It was frozen, of course, but it cooked up really nicely in that flat oven. The only problem was the price—$3.25! We lowly employees only got free soda and popcorn; everything else we had to pay for, so once or twice a week a couple of us would go in on a pie.

Speaking of popcorn, it was probably the safest thing to eat. At least it was made fresh daily, but you had to discount the fact that the oil we cooked it in was probably originally in the crankcase of the truck that brought the corn to the theater in the first place. Circle of life, eh?

And the frozen novelties didn't have a shelf life, did they? Hell, they were frozen all the time so they stayed fresh, right? But I can't tell you how many times angry patrons would come back in to return a Good Humor bar which, they discovered upon opening, had become a block of discolored ice on a stick.

And, of course, the restrooms fell under the concessionaires' purview, since they were—well, in the concession stand. They presented their own unique set of challenges. Let me paint a picture for you: imagine a high school senior, a bottle of Boone's Farm and a bucket of greasy popcorn. You get the picture. Keep the same picture in your mind when I tell you about cleaning up the parking lot after the last show. At least we got a bonus when we did that—and we got to wear rubber gloves.

I'd like to wrap up this post with a few more of those good old drive-in food commercials—they're always such a hoot. And even though time has faded the color on these prints, they surprisingly still provide an accurate representation of the food.

1. Coffee. I guess the '50s were big coffee drinking times. I mean, it's popular now, especially with the buzzed generation, but it seemed to be the perfect way to relax back in those days. That's right—sit in a cramped car for four hours and get amped on a nice, big cup of coffee.

2. Pizza. When I was a kid, going out to an Italian restaurant was an exotic, almost forbidden treat. The restaurants were always dark—the better to emphasize the Chablis bottle candleholders—and Louis Prima was always singing on the sound system. Frozen pizza at the drive-in was a cheap, easy way to add a touch of romance to any screening of Creature from the Haunted Sea.

3. Barbecue. Another good meat that could stand the test of time. You could re-heat and re-serve it night after night after night. And since it was cooked to death, it was always tender, even if it had once been little Billy's catcher's mitt.

Well, that's a wrap for this queasy trip down memory lane. Thank you for joining us this evening. And in consideration of others, please don't turn on your lights until you've reached the exit.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two by Philip Ridley

London-based Philip Ridley is quite the renaissance man. He's an award-winning author, playwright, screenwriter, director, composer and artist, and he is responsible for two of the most darkly poetic films of the 1990s, which makes him a welcome guest at Weird Movie Village.

The Krays (1990) is his full-length screenwriting debut, and it's a quite an achievement. Directed by Peter Medak, who also helmed the George C. Scott haunted house thriller The Changeling, it's the story of the real-life Kray brothers, twin London gangsters who rose to great heights during the city's swinging 60s. Armed robbery, arson, protection rackets, torture and murder were among their specialties, but they also rubbed elbows with top celebrities of the day as owners of trendy West End nightclubs.

Spandau Ballet alumni Martin and Gary Kemp play the brothers Reggie and Ronnie, and they turn in good performances, especially the latter as Ronnie, who is prone to outbursts of sadistic violence. He also unapologetically engages in affairs with men, daring other gangsters to question his toughness. The twins have an almost psychic connection, finishing each other's sentences and sometimes speaking in unison.

Ridley's screenplay focuses on their familial relationships, especially with their devoted mother, Violet (a wonderful Billie Whitelaw). There's a unique role reversal in traditional male-female relationships here, too. Having survived the terrors and hardships of war, Violet and her group of female friends have formed such a strong bond that the men in their lives are secondary—except for the twins, upon whom Violet dotes unashamedly. They, in turn, are fiercely devoted to their mother, even forcing their layabout father to leave when he threatens her. Violet remains blissfully unaware of her sons' criminal activities, either by choice or by ignorance, and even Reggie's bride, Frances (Kate Hardie), is unable to penetrate the extreme closeness between mother and sons.

The violence in the film is abrupt and shocking. Ronnie in particular takes an almost orgiastic glee in hurting others, and it doesn't take much to set him off. It's been reported that the real-life Ronnie suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which may serve as an explanation for his outbursts. And yet, when all the bloodletting is over, the brothers return home to Mum.

The Krays is an atmospheric, absorbing film, spanning several decades of London history and catching the essence of each era. Ridley has a good ear for language. One scene of note has one of Violet's friends delivering an absolutely devastating monologue about men and their worthless wars. It's not yet available on DVD in the U.S., which is a crime in itself.

With The Reflecting Skin (also 199o), Ridley writes and takes the directorial reins himself. The result is a superb slice of gothic surrealism that turns out to be not so surrealistic. A line spoken by a character in the film really sums it up thematically: "Sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally."

Set in the wide open plains of the 1950s, it's the story of young Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper) who lives with an abusive mother (Sheila Moore) and a beaten-down father (Duncan Fraser) who finds escape from painful reality in pulpy fantasy novels. Living nearby is a widow, Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), whom Seth suspects may be a vampire, no doubt influenced by his father's taste in literature.

There's also a mysterious gang of hoodlums who drive around in a black Cadillac and are most certainly responsible for the murders of children around the already severely underpopulated town. Even when Seth sees them pull his friend into their car and drive away, he still blames the subsequent death on Dolphin.

When his older brother, Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) returns home from military service, Seth is dismayed when he takes up with the widow. And when Cameron's physical and mental condition begins to deteriorate, he's even more convinced that she is indeed draining him of life. Cameron wants the needy Seth to leave him alone, exhorting him to go out and play with his friends, to which Seth tellingly responds, "They're all dead."

There's much more to this film, but it's definitely worth seeking out and experiencing it for yourself. Much of it is set outdoors, with shots of endless, deceptively sunny fields, bringing to mind Malick's Days of Heaven (1978) but with a considerably darker tone. Some compare it to a work by David Lynch, but aside from its bizarre imagery, it actually makes sense, resulting in a harrowing "Oh my God! I understand this!" conclusion.

The title refers to the flesh of Japanese children who've been exposed to the A-bomb in Hiroshima (pictures of which Cameron shows to Seth), and is probably also the reason for Cameron's wasting illness. First and foremost, the film is a nightmare fairy tale, seen through a child's eyes, in which bluntly horrible reality is reinterpreted into fantasy as a coping mechanism. It's another one that doesn't have a U.S. DVD release yet, although VHS copies can be found on Amazon.

Ridley's next film, The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995), with Brendan Fraser and Ashley Judd, also blurred the line between fantasy and reality, but I found it to have too heavy a touch. However, I'm looking forward to his most recent film, Heartless, which Ridley says is more out-and-out horror that his previous works. I haven't been able to find a U.S. release date yet.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Smashing Birds

Now that's I've gotten your attention, the topics of this post is not Avian abuse—rather the English actresses whose presence brightened (or darkened, if applicable) cult and horror films from the '60s and '70s. I've already discussed the great Barbara Steele and the tragic Lynne Frederick in previous posts, but here are a few of my other favorites.

1. Judy Geeson. Pert, blond—and made for the sex kitten roles she played in the 60s'—she got her big break playing Sidney Poitier's infatuated student in 1967's To Sir, With Love, and has worked in almost every genre since. She made English "naughties" like Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967) and Prudence and the Pill (1968) but her first appearance in our genre was playing Joan Crawford's psycho daughter in the hilarious circus horror film Berserk!, previously discussed here.

Other genre appearances include 1972's environmental horror Doomwatch for erstwhile Hammer competitor Tigon Pictures; the 1973 psycho thriller It Happened at Nightmare Inn for (directed by Eugenio Martin, who also helmed the wonderful 1972 Horror Express); and the sluggish Dominique (1978) with Cliff Robertson and Jean Simmons.

But in 1980 she answered the call of cult director Norman J. Warren and took the leading role in Inseminoid, an Alien ripoff that features Geeson, impregnated by a space creature, running insanely around a ship and killing the other crew members. It's cheap and it's tacky, and Geeson screams and wiggles her tongue around a lot. It also co-starred Stephanie Beacham, and both actress have distanced themselves from the film.

Here's the trailer, to give you an idea of the level of filmmaking I'm talking about. Warning: there is some sleaziness.

In 1984 Geeson moved to Los Angeles and began doing guest spots on just about every popular television show, from "The A-Team" to "MacGyver" to "Mad About You" and "Charmed." She most recently appeared in three episodes of "Gilmore Girls," and has her own antique shop in Beverly Hills.

2. Pamela Franklin. Attractive and intelligent, Franklin specialized in precocious children and teenagers but managed to bridge the gap to adult roles as she matured. She made her startling debut in Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961), playing one of the possessed children. In 1965, she appeared as the teenage neighbor of a boy who thinks Bette Davis is trying to kill him in The Nanny.

In Our Mother's House (1967), also for Jack Clayton, she played part of a family of children who, fearing being taken to the orphanage when their religious fanatic mother dies, bury her body in the back garden and carry on business as usual. This one's awfully hard to see in the States; it sounds really intriguing to me. It also features Dirk Bogarde and Oliver!'s Mark Lester. She was also in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), the film she's probably best-remembered for.

1973 brought my favorite Franklin film: The Legend of Hell House. She and Roddy McDowall play a pair of mediums who are brought to what is referred to as the Mount Everest of haunted houses by a scientist hired to examine the place. Supernatural phenomena abounds, and her character gets treated really badly. She gets attacked by a cat, raped by a ghost and ends up crushed under a giant crucifix. It's fun and creepy, and it really pushes its PG rating. I love the scene in which Gayle Hunnicut, all sweaty and supernaturally horned up, hits on McDowall. Read the following aloud and use the elipses for two-second pauses: " girl...naked....drunk...biting!" There's a bit of it in the trailer:

After Hell House, Franklin moved to Hollywood and began doing lots of television. She enrolled in Satan's School for Girls (1973) and did so many guest spots that her CV reads like a history of American TV in the 70s. She did two films for Mr. B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon, the misguided Necromancy (1972) and Food of the Gods (1976), her last theatrical feature.

I haven't heard of her doing any guesting or convention appearances since she stopped working officially, so I guess she's just happy in retirement.

3. Susan George. With her blond hair, full lips and full figure, George perfectly captured the look of the ideal "bird" of the '60s and '70s. I guess you could call her "earthy." She played Lolita to Charles Bronson's Humbert Humbert in Twinky (aka Lola) in 1969 and a babysitter in peril in 1971's Fright.

That same year she made Die Screaming, Marianne! for notorious sexploitation/horror director Pete Walker as well as the controversial Straw Dogs for Sam Peckinpah. In Dogs, she plays the sexpot wife of milquetoast Dustin Hoffman, who exacts a violent revenge when she is gang raped by a gang of local toughs. The harrowing rape sequence is all the more squirm-inducing when she appears to begin enjoying it.

In America, her exploitation career began in earnest with Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, also starring Peter Fonda, and A Small Town in Texas. Her crowning achievement, at least as far as Weird Movie Village goes, is 1975's Mandingo, directed by Richard Fleischer. Based on the popular trash novel by Kyle Onstott (which I read at the tender age of 13!), it's big studio (Paramount) slavery sexploitation at its most appalling. George plays Blanche, a supposedly virginal Southern belle who marries Hammond Maxwell (Perry King), son of a powerful plantation owner.

On their wedding night, Hammond discovers Blanche isn't a virgin after all and rejects her. He turns to his slave, Ellen (Brenda Sykes), whom he'd already been in love with. In retaliation, Blanche begins bringing Hammond's prize Mandingo "buck," Mede (Ken Norton) upstairs for some heavy-duty sexing and becomes pregnant with his child. Hammond is forced to kill them all to preserve his reputation.

My God, it's a sleazy film. It features graphic whippings and other tortures, "wenches" preparing themselves for devirginization by their "massas," and young children, referred to as "saplings," being used as footstools by the cast, including James Mason as Hammond's father!

Here's a scene where Blanche discovers Ellen's true relationship with Hammond and metes out her punishment. This'll give you a good idea of the sleaze factor.

It was hard to top such a career peak, and George made a few more genre films, including Tintorera, for Rene Cardona, Jr., Venom with Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski, and the bizarre Japanese-American co-production, The House Where Evil Dwells with Doug McClure. Reportedly she also recorded an album with then-fling Jack Jones!

Today George raises horses along with her husband, Simon MacCorkindale, at their stud farm, Georgian Arabians.

Yes, there are certainly more smashing birds to be mentioned, but these are the first three that come to mind. I'll continue this theme later. The Woman of Hammer Films definitely deserve a post of their own.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Ghosts of Polanski

Given his current situation, it may be un-PC of me to sing the praises of Roman Polanski, but I don't care. I saw his The Ghost Writer today—before it got chased out of the theaters—and I have to rank it as one of his best works. It's also the kind of film that Alfred Hitchcock would've made today.

With the support of an excellent cast led by Ewan McGregor, Polanski creates, along with original novelist Robert Harris, a claustrophobic political thriller that draws you in quickly and then slowly tightens the screws until you're gasping for air. McGregor plays a ghost writer hired to clean up the memoirs of one Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) a Tony Blair-ish former prime minister now living in exile on Martha's Vineyard. He wants nothing more than to clean up his tarnished reputation and assure his noble place in history.

Lang's original scribe—and former chief of staff—has been found drowned on the beach, the result of an apparent drunken accident. He'd completed a draft that was unacceptable to Lang's publisher, who had already ponied up $10 million for the rights, and wants to insure the book's success. Enter The Ghost, a hack who has no affinity for political biographies, but knows how to craft a bestseller. He manages to talk himself into the job.

The Ghost travels to the Vineyard to read the first draft and interview Lang. Rooting around for interesting factoids that will humanize the bland biography, he discovers an envelope his predecessor had taped to the underside of a dresser drawer, and the items inside draw him deeper and deeper into a conspiracy he's initially too naive to fully understand. And when Lang becomes the focus of war crimes investigations in Europe, he becomes a virtual prisoner on the island—and in Lang's world.

Brosnan is terrific as the disgraced leader whose impassioned secret phone calls and angry outbursts lead the Ghost to suspect that there's something fishy going on. Tom Wilkinson provides fine support as a professor who at first claims not to know Lang at all but eventually reveals that he knows a whole helluva lot. Olivia Williams (whom I loved in the wonderful 2003 Peter Pan) plays Lang's disillusioned wife who carries some heavy secrets of her own. And Kim Cattrall is a real surprise as Lang's devoted assistant, who keeps a tight rein on everything and everybody—especially her boss. It was also nice to see the legendary Eli Wallach as a longtime Vineyard resident who provides additional information to the Ghost about his predecessor's mysterious death.

McGregor is such an intensely watchable actor, and here he continues to refine his craft. In the first minutes of the film, the Ghost establishes himself as a mercenary who's only in it for the money. But we are drawn into his personal drama as he realizes that nothing—and nobody—can be taken at face value.

The intelligence McGregor projects as the plot unfolds keeps us invested in every twist—even the shaky ones. For example, did you know that you can Google absolutely every secret sinister worldwide activity and government cover-up that ever happened? But it doesn't dispel the tension.

Another minor complaint I have is not with the film itself but with the American releasing company's cleanup of the dialogue in order to be awarded a PG-13 rating. Evidently you can say "fuck" twice, but no more. I saw at least four scenes (two with Brosnan) where the expletive was unconvincingly replaced with a less offensive word. Come on...did the distributors think the lower rating would help to bring in the "Transformers" generation?

Most all of the action takes place in close quarters: Lang's monastic beach house, dark hotel rooms and anonymous offices. Even when it moves outside, the characters still interact while riding in cars. And since Polanski was unable to come to the United States for location shoots, the exteriors of Martha's Vineyard as seen through the windows of Lang's home are green-screen work, which coincidentally (or not) brings to mind Hitchcock's love of artificial locations. Hitch hated to go on location. And speaking of Hitchcock, Alexandre Desplat's mischievous score is wonderfully evocative of Hitch's favorite composer, Bernard Hermann.

Critics have commented that Polanski's life is mirrored in the the character Lang's situation in much the same way the director's bloody and brutal 1971 Macbeth served as a kind of catharsis after the horrifying murder of his wife Sharon Tate and their unborn child at the hands of the Manson family in 1969. Considering Polanski was forced to edit the film while in seclusion in Gstaad, the themes of claustrophobia and paranoia may have been exacerbated by his own feelings at the time.

Polanski certainly has experienced a lot of authentic tragedy in his life, and he's managed to express it through his films. He escaped the Krakow ghetto as a child after the death of his mother, and his father almost died in the camps, which helped to drive his passion for The Pianist (2002).

But the themes of paranoia and conspiracy were well established long before his legal trouble began. 1965's Repulsion is still a shattering portrait of a disturbed young woman's descent into madness. I saw it at New York's Film Forum in 2007 and it hadn't lost a bit of its intensity. His masterpieces Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974) both deal with conspiracies that initially seem to be figments of the leading characters' imaginations but become all too terribly real.

To summarize, I'm not going to get on a soapbox and defend the man here, but I will defend the artist and the contributions he's provided to the language of film. I'd hate to think that we would seek to erase important achievements in cinema in order to clean up some human behaviors we're not necessarily happy with.

That's called censorship.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Freddy's Dead

Or maybe not. Despite critical hatred from nearly all corners and a feeble 15% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the new Nightmare on Elm Street made about $32 million this weekend. Expect it to drop big time, however. Reviewers generally agreed with what I was skeptical about in my previous post. Selected quotes:

"...although much screen time is devoted to helping us 'understand' Freddy’s motivations, the child molesting angle is just too creepy for comfort and deflates the movie’s 'fun' factor considerably."

—Pete Hammond, Boxoffice

"Bayer surprisingly traffics in factory-level horror atmospherics and loud, saw-it-coming shocks. In the end, your last fever dream about failing to study for an exam was probably scarier."

—Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times

"Bottom Line: Good luck staying awake." —Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter

What really ticks me off about opportunistic movies like this and other recent remakes is that they're meant to be disposable, intending to grab as much cash as they can in one weekend and then become a "director's cut" DVD. The cynicism shows in the films themselves: tired, uninspired and enervating.

It looks like Wes Craven was right to steer clear of this turkey.

The Losers Are Winners

Again, we have a film that averaged 43% fresh (meaning rotten) on Rotten Tomatoes, and I'm really having trouble understanding the critics now. They set their snooty bar so high, and yet they fall all over themselves for cliched dreck like How To Train Your Black Blotch That Acts Like a Cat.

All I have to say to them is: "Take it easy, pal! You got in for free. Do you see the audience around you having a good time? What did you think this was, a Godard film?" Again, good ol' Roger Ebert was the voice of reason. He took the film for what it was and enjoyed it.

I have to admit that I'm a sucker for comic book (or graphic novel) adaptations. X-Men? Love it. Spiderman? Terrific. Watchmen? Dark and complicated but I enjoyed combing through its many layers to figure out what was going on. The Dark Knight was brilliant for two-thirds of its running time but really didn't need 17 endings.

I also confess that I haven't read the source material of any of these films, but that's my point. Readers of the books endlessly flame the film adaptations, but you can't expect to please hardcore devotees and the uninitiated simultaneously. Filmmakers who take on these projects necessarily have to take into consideration those viewers who aren't readers of the books if they want to make more than $10,000 opening weekend.

The Losers sets up its story nicely, has an appealing, game cast and is just a heck of a lot of fun. Of course, it has the usual Matrix-style freeze frame action (mostly to avoid violence that would push it past PG-13), but it's brisk and stylish and has a lot of humor.

An elite special forces unit headed by Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is sent into the jungles of Bolivia on a search-and-destroy mission, only to discover they've been double-crossed by a mysterious man known only as Max, who orders their helicopter to be blown out of the sky. The only problem is they're not in it. Allowing everyone back in the States to believe they're dead, they plot their revenge. Their opportunity arrives when Aisha ( Zoe Saldana), a beautiful operative with an agenda of her own, offers to fund their mission.

Morgan, Saldana and Chris Evans all seem to be having a lot of fun, but it's the normally intense Jason Patric who's the real surprise here. Given the opportunity to play comedy, he takes full advantage of it. His Max is sadistic, cruel, and drunk with power, but he also possesses a wry sense of the ridiculous.

Morgan and Saldana have a hilariously violent brawl in a burning hotel room, lots of things blow up really good, Evans provides his "I'm goofy but not as goofy as Owen Wilson" character, and it has nice graphic novel-style transitions. What more do you need? And compared to what I'm sure the new Elm Street is like, at least there's some creative enthusiasm involved here.

The Losers (2010) Official Trailer - These bloopers are hilarious


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