Statham keeps a young friend “Safe” with bone-crunching efficiency

This seems like a serious mismatch. A down-and-out man with nothing
left to live for, and contemplating suicide, teams up with a young
Chinese girl, displaced, whose brilliant mathematical skills are
being exploited by very bad people. These two go up against the
Triads — the Chinese organized crime syndicate — the Russian mob
and corrupt New York Police Department cops.

No chance for these two unlikely allies, right? But wait. The man is
played by Jason Statham. That tilts the odds a little better in their
favor. Thus we have the latest action adventure “Safe.”

Statham plays Luke Wright, who at first is seen as a cage-match
fighter paid to take dives for the benefit of high-stakes gamblers.
When one of his bouts does not go as planned because his foe is a
real stiff, Luke’s life gets turned upside down. A former NYPD cop,
he has no friends in the department because he blew the whistle on
corruption.

Meanwhile, Mei (Catherine Chan) is a young girl whose genius with
numbers and an ability to memorize things quickly leads her to being
plucked from her home in China and sent to New York. There she is
taken in by Han Jiao (James Hong), the head of the Triads, who uses
her gifts to help keep an accounting of the Chinatown businesses.
When she is given a complicated and valuable numerical code to
memorize, she becomes a kidnap target of the Russian mob.

But before the Russians can extract the information from Mei, a
police raid interrupts the proceedings and in the confusion, Mei
slips away and flees to the subway.

There, Luke is about to end it all by diving on the tracks when the
subway train arrives, but when he sees Mei and realizes she is in
trouble, he is renewed with a sense of purpose and comes to the
rescue of the girl.

It takes a while for this story to unfold, and Statham fans no
doubt get antsy, watching him pushed around and humiliated, anxious
to see him get down to some serious bone-crunching business.
When he does, the film’s energy really picks up. Of course we know
there is more to Statham’s Luke than we first see. Turns out he was
part of an elite covert operation of the NYPD that dispensed justice
while suspending due process. In other words, Luke is yet another in
a long line of super-efficient and deadly good guys who gave up that
vicious life only to be drawn back into it.

The script by writer-director Boaz Yakin (“Prince of Persia: The
Sand of Time”) certainly has its plot holes and impractical set-ups,
but one thing he does avoid is resorting to cutesy dialogue between
Luke and Mei. Chan presents Mei as an intelligent but vulnerable girl
without the standard irritating whining and complaining that are a
staple of other rescuees. She is at her best when she deadpans
bulls-eye observations, like saying to Luke: “You’re crazy but you’re
smart.”

The villains in this movie are cookie-cutter bad guys — greedy,
brutal, totally lacking in conscience, led by Robert John Burke as
the sleazy NYPD Capt. Wolf, Anson Mount as the mayor’s
behind-the-scenes muscle Alex Rosen — who was a former colleague of
Luke’s — Reggie Lee as the Triad’s enforcer Quan Chang, and Joseph
Sikora as Vissaly, the sadistic son of the Russian mob leader. At the
top is Chris Sarandon as Mayor Tremello, a blueprint of the
politician with way too much dirt to hide.

Per usual, Statham is at his best when he is pounding foes into
submission or filling them with lead. He may be a nice guy most of
the time, but do not push his buttons.

Coming up
Fathom Events will be presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom
of the Opera” on May 21 and “Love Never Dies” on May 23, at 7:30 p.m.
each night. It will be shown at several theaters throughout Southern
California. Go to www.fathomevents.com for a list of theaters
presenting the shows.

Reaching birthday milestones in May:
40: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
50: Bono, Emilio Estevez, David Fincher, Bobcat Goldthwait
60: Christine Baranski, Mr. T, Robert Zemeckis
70: Lainie Kazan
90: Christopher Lee, Bill Macy

Birthdays in May (age in parenthesis)
Adele, 5/5 (24); Will Arnett, 5/4 (42); Carroll Baker, 5/28 (81);
Stephen Baldwin, 5/12 (46); Christine Baranski, 5/2 (60); Barbara
Barrie, 5/23 (81); Annette Bening, 5/29 (54); Richard Benjamin, 5/22
(74); Tom Berenger, 5/31 (62); Polly Bergen, 5/9 (66); Paul Bettany,
5/27 (41); Jason Biggs, 5/12 (34); Theodore Bikel, 5/2 (88); Cate
Blanchett, 5/14 (43); Helena Bonham Cater, 5/26 (46); Bono, 5/10
(50); Bruce Boxleitner, 5/12 (62); Jim Broadbent, 5/24 (63); Pierce
Brosnan, 5/16 (59); Gary Burghoff, 5/24 (69); Gabriel Byrne, 5/12
(62); Naomi Campbell, 5/22 (42); Drew Carey, 5/23 (54); Cher, 5/20
(66); Tommy Chong, 5/24 (74); Chow Yun-Fat, 5/18 (57); George
Clooney, 5/6 (51); Joe Cocker, 5/20 (68); Stephen Colbert, 5/13 (48);
Joan Collins, 5/23 (79); Judy Collins, 5/1 (73); Rita Coolidge, 5/1
(67); Sofia Coppola, 5/14 (41); John Corbett, 5/9 (51); Lindsay
Crouse, 5/12 (64); Ann B. Davis, 5/5 (86); Rosario Dawson, 5/6 (33);
Donovan, 5/10 (74); Keir Dullea, 5/30 (76); Bob Dylan, 5/24 (71);
Clint Eastwood, 5/31 (82); Chris Elliott, 5/31 (52); Enya, 5/17 (51);
Emilio Estevez, 5/12 (50); Melissa Etheridge, 5/29 (51); Rupert
Everett, 5/29 (53); Colin Farrell, 5/31 (36); Tina Fey, 5/31 (42);
Joseph Fiennes, 5/27 (42); David Fincher, 5/10 (50); Albert Finney,
5/9 (86); John Fogerty, 5/28 (67); James Fox, 5/19 (73); Megan Fox,
5/16 (26); Al Franken, 5/21 (61); Anthony Geary, 5/29 (65); Melissa
Gilbert, 5/8 (48); Sharon Gless, 5/31 (69); Bobcat Goldthwait, 5/26
(50); Tony Goldwyn, 5/20 (52); Louis Gossett Jr., 5/27 (76); Pam
Grier, 5/26 (63); Gregory Harrison, 5/31 (62); David Hartman, 5/19
(77); Anne Heche, 5/25 (43); Lauryn Hill, 5/25 (37); Engelbert
Humperdinck, 5/2 (76); Glenda Jackson, 5/9 (76); Janet Jackson, 5/16
(46); LaToya Jackson, 5/29 (56); Keith Jarrett, 5/8 (57); Jewel, 5/23
(38); Billy Joel, 5/9 (63); Dwayne “The Rock: Johnson, 5/2 (40);
Grace Jones, 5/19 (64); Wynonna Judd, 5/30 (48); Lainie Kazan, 5/15
(70); Harvey Keitel, 5/13 (73); David Keith, 5/8 (58); Jamie Kennedy,
5/25 (42); Gladys Knight, 5/28 (68); Patti LaBelle, 5/24 (68);
Christopher Lee, 5/27 (90); Ted Levine, 5/29 (55); Sondra Locke, 5/28
(65); George Lucas, 5/14 (68); Bill Macy, 5/18 (90); Tim McGraw, 5/1
(45); Ian McKellan, 5/25 (73); Kylie Minogue, 5/28 (44); Alfred
Molina, 5/24 (59); Morrissey, 5/22 (53); Robert Morse, 5/18 (91);
Samantha Morton, 5/13 (35); Michael Murphy, 5/5 (74); Mike Myers,
5/25 (49); Stevie Nicks, 5/26 (64); Timothy Olyphant, 5/20 (44);
Michael Palin, 5/5 (69); Chazz Palminteri, 5/15 (61); Robert
Pattison, 5/13 (26); Bill Paxton, 5/17 (57); Bronson Pinchot, 5/20
(53); Priscilla Presley, 5/24 (67); Martha Quinn, 5/11 (53); John C.
Reilly, 5/24 (47); Judge Reinhold, 5/21 (55); Trent Reznor, 5/17
(47); Ving Rhames, 5/12 (53); Don Rickles, 5/8 (86); Tim Roth, 5/14
(51); Kristin Scott-Thomas, 5/24 (52); Pete Seeger, 5/13 (93); Connie
Selleca, 5/25 (57); Brooke Shields, 5/31 (47); Gabourney Sidibe, 5/6
(29); Tori Spelling, 5/16 (39); David Suchet, 5/2 (66); Mr. T, 5/21
(60); Amber Tamblyn, 5/14 (29); Toni Tennille, 5/8 (69); Lea
Thompson, 5/31 (51); Peter Townshend, 5/19 (67); Randy Travis, 5/4
(53); Frankie Valli, 5/3 (75); Clint Walker, 5/30 (85); Bruce Weitz,
5/27 (69); Debra Winger, 5/16 (57); Mare Winningham, 5/16 (53); Steve
Winwood, 5/12 (64); Stevie Wonder, 5/13 (62); Peter Yarrow, 5/31
(76); Robert Zemeckis, 5/14 (60); Anthony Zerbe, 5/20 (76).

Beautifully choreographed martial arts in “The Raid: Redemption”

The closing credits of “The Raid: Redemption” tell a lot about this
Indonesian import. There are no stunt people listed because the
entire cast consists of stunt performers. Plus, there was a staff of
16 medical personnel on the set. Judging by the level of mayhem in
the movie, one can assume the medical people were kept busy.

The plot set-up is simple. In the slums of Jakarta, a huge rundown
apartment building has become a fortress controlled by the drug lord Tama (Ray
Sahetapy). He has been able to enlist a well-armed, and cheap, army
of defenders by allowing them sanctuary in the building. Since most
of them are criminals, Tama has a lot of takers. Also, he has allies
in the neighboring complexes. Thus the building is protected like Ft. Knox.

Despite this, a SWAT team is dispatched to go in and take out Tama.

“The Raid” opens with scenes to introduce the hero, a young rookie
cop named Rama (Iko Uwais). He gets up pre-dawn, does a Rocky
Balboa-type workout, has some sweet moments with his very pregnant
wife and goes off to work.

But this is going to be a very trying day for Rama. He is part of
the SWAT unit being tasked with taking down Tama and his empire. A
brief but vital scene early in the movie gives a hint that for Rama,
something personal is at stake in this operation.

The SWAT unit stealthily breaches the apartment complex with
precision and teamwork but soon learns bloodily that it is hopelessly
outmanned. Tama, in his 15th floor domain — flanked by his top
lieutenants, Andi (Doni Alamsyah), the brains of the operation, and
the appropriately named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), the muscle — has
surveillance cameras throughout the building, along with youngsters
who serve as spotters.

The bad guys wait until a hasty retreat for the SWAT team is
impossible and the cops are cornered. A vicious gunfight ensues, with
thousands of rounds of ammo being fired, mostly missing targets.
Still, most of the policemen are casualties, and once the artillery
runs out, “The Raid” segues into a martial arts adventure.

The surviving SWAT members learn that any hope for reinforcements
has been dashed. The few that are still functioning soon are
separated, making them even more vulnerable.

Once “The Raid” goes into hand-to-hand — and foot-to-foot –
combat, it becomes a mesmerizing showcase of beautifully
choreographed martial arts battles. It’s a ballet of brutal violence
taken to preposterous extremes, as easily 90 percent of the kicks,
punches and flips are ineffective. Rama, in particular, engages in
some matchups that truly are incredulous — the typical encounter in
which he must go up against several foes who attack one at
a time. No pileups here. Then, Rama emerges victorious but barely
bloodied and spent, ready to take on the next squad of attackers.

There is a subplot involving cop corruption, but it is easily
overwhelmed by the mounting pile of broken bodies. The title, using
the word “redemption” is a giveaway. No bad guys survive a movie with
that word in the title. Rama may be beat up but still on his feet.

For fans of the martial arts genre, “The Raid” more than delivers.
The action scenes are relentless and the viewing audience will walk
out feeling pretty spent.

Pearce wisecracks his way through “Lockout”

As guilty pleasures go, “Lockout” is as good as any escapist film.
The brainchild of Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Point of No
Return” and “The Professional”), who co-wrote the screenplay with
co-directors Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, “Lockout” is another
futuristic thriller that features a sardonic anti-hero who cracks the
wise remarks throughout the movie in between dispatching bad guys and
beating overwhelming survival odds.

Guy Pearce gets a shot at a role that a lot of actors likely relish
– the disheveled loner who has accepted that the world has dealt him
a bad hand but instead of whining just reacts with loads of sarcasm
and nose-thumbing at those with power over him.

It is 2057, and the world has found a way to deal with the
overcrowded prison system. The convicts are sent to a space station,
where they are stashed into cryogenic-type pods and put to sleep.

Maggie Grace (“Taken”) is Emilie Warnock, the daughter of the
President who is on a humanitarian fact-finding mission,
investigating claims that the sleep-induced prison sentences are
having bad mental effects on the inmates. In a case of severely bad
timing, Emilie happens to be on the prison space station when a
massive prisoner breakout ensues. rendering her a hostage.

Meanwhile, Snow (Pearce) is some sort of operative who is set up to
take a dive for the death of a high-ranking operative and is about
to be shipped off to the prison in the sky. Naturally, plans change
when Emilie becomes a hostage and Snow gets a chance to redeem
himself if he can get into the prison and whisk Emilie out.

Pearce gets all the good lines in “Lockout,” an otherwise
predictable action movie that has some not really surprising twists
and the usual initially adversarial relationship between the rescuer
and the hostage. The actor looks like he is having a good time
despite being forced to endure some bumps and bruises along the way.
The only real surprise is that at the end, Emilie does not fall into
Snow’s arms, all misty-eyed. She does, however, have a new appreciation
for Snow, attitude and all.

Monsterpalooza: Celebrating scary things and their creators

Monsterpalooza is an amazing celebration of the art of monsters and the
artists who create them. Horror movies and writings serve as the
foundation for this genre of entertainment that branches out into
monster makeup and costumes, movie memorabilia, action figures,
T-shirts, pins, models, sculptures, comic books and graphic novels.

All of these and more were centralized the weekend of April 13-15 at
the Marriott Burbank Hotel and Convention Center, where
Monsterpalooza celebrated its fourth anniversary at this venue.

Because I was only able to attend one of the three days, I chose to
go April 15, drawn mostly by the scheduled Creature Features
presentation centering on 1981′s “An American Werewolf in London.”
Sitting on the panel were director John Landis, actor David Naughton,
and makeup and special effects genius Rick Baker and three of his
crew on that movie: Steve Johnson, Bill Sturgeon and Craig Reardon.

Landis wrote the screenplay to “Werewolf” in Yugoslavia while
serving as a production assistant on”Kelly’s Heroes” in 1969. A few
years after that he met and worked with the then up-and-coming Baker
on “Schlock,” a little movie about a monkey-like monster that falls
in love with a blind girl.

After Landis directed the hit comedies “Animal House” and “The Blue
Brothers,” he finally was given the green light to make “Werewolf.”
He and Baker had been wanting to work on the project for years.

Baker, who grew up in Covina, signed up then young adults Johnson,
Sturgeon, Reardon and others in what would be groundbreaking makeup
and effects, one of the first movies ever to show a man transform into a
werewolf without the use of trick photography. The scene in which the
young American David, played by Naughton, turns into a werewolf, is
explicit and depicts the excruciating changes David’s body undergoes,
and was a landmark in special effects. Although Baker admitted that by
today’s standards the scene seems pedestrian, it was astonishing 30
years ago and netted Baker his first Academy Award.

Baker noted that Landis placed a lot of faith in him, providing him
with the financial necessities to do his magic. It certainly was a
matter of creating as you go. Landis would provide the story boards
and Baker and his crew sculpted models from which to help create the
life-size elements that would be on film. In addition, as Landis
noted, the transforming scene takes place in a lighted room of a flat
where David is staying, and lighting is “unforgiving” when a scene
heavy in special effects is filmed.

Naughton, when asked about his most difficult times on the shooting,
recalled the setup of the transformation scene in which he flips on
his back and a full-body shot is presented, showing his body
expanding. Naughton actually was placed under the floor, with only
his head above the floor, with the rest of his “body” being an
animitronic creation of Baker and his crew. Naughton was in that
position for several hours, but the misery came when mischievous crew
members snuck up on him from below the floor to tickle him. Naughton
also recalled the scene at the zoo when after his first night of
hunting as a werewolf he awakes inside the cage with wolves. Not only
was it cold, being March in London, but Naughton also was without
clothing. He said the wranglers handling the wolves were teenage
girls who tried to assure him “the wolves have been fed.” That seemed
little consolation to the actor.

Landis praised Baker for his ability to adapt to the rapidly
changing technology in special effects, saying Baker quickly became
an expert of designing his creations on computer.

When this presentation was over, I dismissed to the area where
horror movie stars were on hand to sign autographs or pose for photos.
Among the actors were cast members of the original “Fright Night”:
Chris Sarandon, Williams Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse and Jonathan Stark.
Also on hand was veteran actor James Hong from “Big Trouble in Little
China” and “Blade Runner”; and for comedy fans, he can be remembered
as one of the passengers literally bored to death when Ted Stryker
(Robert Hays) goes on long reminisces about his relationship with
Elaine (Julie Hagerty). Also appearing: Jessica Harper, star of
Dario Argento’s “Suspira.”

Surprisingly, a table that featured Eddie Munster himself, Butch
Patrick, was not drawing a lot of visitors. In a side room, the films
of producer, writer and director Joe Hollow, whose productions appeal
more to the hard-core fans of explicitly violent films, was
represented by stars of his movies, Michael Berryman — mainstream
filmgoers may remember him as the mute, bedridden patient in the
mental ward in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — and Brinke
Stevens, who along with Linnea Quigley is an icon in the low-budget
horror and gore realm.

As a fan of the old Universal monster pictures, I gravitated over to
the corner that featured the three undisputed superstars of that era:
Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff. Those wonderful actors
have long since left us, but on hand to help us pay tribute were Ron
Chaney, grandson of Lon Jr., and his family; Bela Lugosi Jr. and
Karloff’s daughter Sara. I had a few minutes to chat with Ron, who
recalled that for all the fame his grandfather received, being the
first wolfman, he simply was the nice “Grampy” around the family. As
I heard this, I recalled an anecdote from when Lon Jr., who played
the Frankenstein monster in “The Ghost of Frankenstein” in 1942,
would treat the children on the set to ice cream between takes of
that movie.

There were more than 200 tables of vendors throughout the convention
site, offering just about everything a fan of scary movies would
enjoy — and even opportunities to sit and have makeup artists
convert you into something ghoulish.

For those who did not get their fill of monsters and more, Son of
Monsterpalooza will be held at the Marriott in Burbank on Oct. 26-28
– just in time for Halloween.

“Cabin” winks at the audience
Raise your hand if you have heard of this plot before. Five young
people decide to take a brief vacation to a remote cabin in the
woods. The five cover the gamut of characters one would expect in
this story — the promiscuous woman, the athlete, the party animal
mostly under the influence of mind-altering drugs, the sensitive guy
and the good girl.

Such is the set-up of “The Cabin in the Woods.” But wait a minute.
The brain trust behind this movie include Joss Whedon, who brought
Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the screen and also wrote a few episodes
of “Roseanne,” and Drew Goddard, a sometime collaborator with Whedon
on Buffy and one of the writers of “Lost.” With this duo you know
you’re going to get more than a “Friday the 13th” rip-off.

For one thing, the movie spends a big portion of its opening minutes
on a couple of older guys, Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins and
Bradley Whitford), who look like they just walked off the NASA
control center set from “Apollo 13.” Engaging in banter about family,
incompetent coworkers and such, they make their way down to an
underground command center that looks straight out of NORAD.

Meanwhile, the five young people rumble into the wilderness in an RV
and stop at a backwoods, rundown gas station that is so ratty it is
an over-the-top parody of such establishments. There they encounter
the typical anti-social, tobacco-spitting gas station owner, Mordecai
(Tom De Zarn), who not only seems to resent these intruders despite
their revenue-producing potential but of course offers the enigmatic
warnings about the dangers of using remote cabins as party central.

How these five people tie in with the two older guys is one of the
aspects of the movie best not revealed, as it would spoil the fun.

The young cast consists of Anna Hutchison as Jules, the “loose”
lady, Chris Hemsworth (pre-Thor) as Curt the jock, Fran Kranz as the
always loaded Marty — who of course gets all the good lines — Jesse
Williams as Holden, the sensitive guy, and Kristen Connolly as Dana,
the good girl.

After the usual initial hours of unabated fun, things begin to slip
for these five people.

But Whedon and Goddard are not going to deliver the usual goods in
this movie. It is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek venture, a la
“Scream” that pokes at the conventions of the modern horror flick.
For good measure there are zombies, a real big draw these days, and
some elements of “The Hunger Games.”

Be warned, however. The gore factor is high. There are some brutal
and explicit death scenes in this movie. Whedon and Goddard will make
you laugh, but also make you cringe. It makes for a grand time for
fans of this genre.

Of the young cast, Connolly and Franz stand out, both becoming
resourceful when it gets really nasty. Jenkins, as usual, delivers as
the everyman, adding a macabre, sinister touch here and playing well
off his colleague Whitford as two guys who probably spend way too
much time together at the office.

Catalina film fest on the island in May

The second annual Catalina Film Festival will be held May 4-6 on –where else — Catalina Island. Comic hero creator Stan Lee will be honored at the festival. Lee will receive the Great Communicator Award — an honor presented by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation — during the opening night ceremonies on Friday, May 4.

The next day, May 5, Lee will serve as host for the premiere of the documentary based on his life, “With Great Power – The Stan Lee Story,” at 12:30 p.m. He then will participate in the panel “The Anatomy of POW!,” along with Gill Champion, co-founder and CEO of POW! Entertainment. Lee will also introduce a special screening of the anticipated summer blockbuster “The Avengers.”

The Catalina Film Festival is a competitive event and awards will be given in such categories as feature, documentary, animation, student, short and screenplay. More than 70 films will be screened at various venues including the historic Avalon Theatre, which was the world’s first sound theater.

For more information, visit www.CatalinaFF.org; follow it on twitter: www.twitter.com/CatalinaFilm or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/CatalinaFilm.

Screening
For horror film fans, actor Tom Sizemore will be on hand Thursday, May 3, as Seraphim Films and UCLA’s Campus Events Commission (CEC) present a screening of the new movie “Slumber Party Slaughter,” 8 p.m. at the Ackerman Grand Ballroom on the UCLA campus. Director and co-star Rebekah Chaney and others will offer a pre-screening Q&A session.

As the title suggests, “Slumber Party Slaughter” is expected to have the standard ingredients for the mystery/horror/slasher genre. Sizemore plays Tom Kingsford, who along with some strippers he hires, have terrifying encounters with a sadistic, voyeuristic men’s club owner and real estate mogul, played by Ryan O’Neal, and Dave (Robert Carradine), a psychotic, obsessive club patron.

To view the trailer, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bPyqebkQhs
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Twitter: http://twitter.com/slaughteron

DVD preview:
“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” with Tom Cruise as IMF operative extraordinaire Ethan Hunt, will be released April 17. He teams up with Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg, going up against bad guy Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). The high-rise scaling scene alone is worth the purchase of the DVD.

Also to be released on April 17: “Shame,” the NC-17-rated film with Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan; and Mark Wahlberg as a bad-turned-good forced to a thieving life one more time in “Contraband.”

On May 8: “Underworld: Awakening” features Kate Beckinsale doing her high-velocity vampire warrior thing. Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton face off in the light and breezy “Joyful Noise.” The romantic coupling of Rachel McAdams and Tatum Channing in “The Vow” also hits the DVD shelves.

Also coming up on DVD: “Chronicle: The Lost Footage Edition” (May 15); “The Grey” with Liam Neeson (May 21); World War II epic “Red Tails” (May 21); “Man on a Ledge” with Sam Worthington in a rare appearance as an ordinary guy not having to battle gods, titans or conquering hordes (May 21); “Act of Valor” (June 5); and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law at it again as Holmes and Watson in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (June 5).

“Halloween” was a small film that made it big

It was strange scheduling but the BIO Channel over Easter weekend was
broadcasting as part of its “Inside Story” series the making of the
original “Halloween.”

Much like many creative projects that go on to become classics or
cultural icons, “Halloween” flourished from humble beginnings and had
its difficult times before reaching its status today as a major
player in the horror genre, generally credited as the movie that
ushered in the era of the slasher movie, which still has its share of fans. Some film
historians acknowledge two eras in horror films – BH and AH for
Before “Halloween” and After “Halloween.”

Using snippets of interviews from most of the driving force behind
“Halloween,” from executive producers Moustapha Akkad and Irwin
Yablans, to director and co-writer John Carpenter and producer
co-writer Debra Hill, to members of the production crew and from most
of the cast members, led by Jamie Lee Curtis, “Inside Story” offers a
lot of information on how this project, under a modest budget of
$325,000, became one of the biggest moneymakers of all time and
achieved its lofty standing in the realm of horror movies.

Carpenter, although inspired to go into movies after seeing the
sci-fi film “It Came From Outer Space” in 3D – yes, there was 3D in
the early 50s but not as prevalent as it is today – was drawn more to
the Western. His hero was Howard Hawks, a director with a massive
resume of crime dramas, romantic comedies but also known for his
Westerns collaborations with John Wayne. Carpenter, who was trained at
the USC film school, directed an updated version of Hawks’ “Rio
Bravo,” titled “Assault on Precinct 13,” another small film that has
a dedicated following and has been remade.

“Assault” caught the attention of the Akkad-Yablans team, and it was
Yablans who approached Carpenter with the idea of making a movie
about babysitters stalked by a killer. It was to be called “The
Babysitter Murders.” Carpenter was cool on the idea, but as a
then-unknown entity in the film business realized he could not be
choosy. Nevertheless, Carpenter made what were outrageous demands of
a person with so little in previous work. He insisted on complete
creative control and he wanted his name to appear above the title of
the movie, a la Howard Hawks. Carpenter promised that if those
conditions were met he could bring in the movie for its limited
budget. He was given the green light.

Carpenter needed to keep his costs in control and thus looked to
friends and colleagues to help him make the movie, including former
girlfriend Hill, whose only previous experience had been working on
set designs, and friends Tommy Lee Wallace, who would serve as
production designer and editor – two responsibilities he said cost him months of
sleep – and Dean Cundey as cinematographer.

Casting, of course, also had to be limited to inexperienced, low-cost
actors. The company did score a coup by getting Donald Pleasance to
agree to play the pivotal role of Dr. Loomis. Pleasance was agreeable
to meet with Carpenter because his daughter Angela was a fan of
“Assault on 13 Precinct.” Pleasance needed to work only five days
and was paid $25,000 for his effort.

Curtis, whose career was just starting out, was known more then as
the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and Leigh’s role as the
shower-stabbing victim in the classic of all slasher movies,
“Psycho,” made for a nice tie in. Unlike Leigh’s Marion Crane, who
engages in less than honorable behavior before her murder, Curtis’
Laurie Strode would become the classic “good” girl who manages to
survive.

Wallace was able to enlist the services of his ex-wife, Nancy Loomis,
to play one of Laurie’s doomed friends, Annie. PJ Soles was the only
other recognizable face in the movie, having a high-profile role as
one of Carrie White’s tormentors in Brian DePalma’s adaptation of
Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Soles, as Laurie’s partying friend Lynda, is
still recognized today for her character’s excessive use of the word
“totally” in the dialogue and for teasingly saying “see anything you
like?” as she exposes her upper body to what she thinks is her
boyfriend but actually is the killer.

It was Yablans who then came up with the idea that the movie take
place in Halloween night and be titled simply “Halloween.” With that,
Carpenter and Hill wrote the screenplay, with Hill writing all the
female dialogue.

The shooting schedule encompassed only 21 days in spring 1978 and was
shot in Southern California, notably the Myers house was located in
Pasadena. Since the story is taking place in Haddonfield, Illinois,
on Halloween, adjustments had to be made to make California look like
autumn in Illinois. This meant having fallen, dead leaves scattered
on the ground. According to Nancy (Loomis) Kyes, because of limited
staffing, the actors often had to do set preparation work, which she
said was a relief because “acting was boring.”

All of those on the set mentioned Carpenter’s attention to detail,
but others also were singled out for their creative work. Cundey
devised the dimming light process that produced the chilling scene of
the masked Michael Myers sneaking out of the darkened room to an
unaware Laurie in the hallway. Wallace was credited with the idea of
adding a cold touch on exterior house shots by using blue lighting.

The most difficult of the shooting took place on the final day. Now
that the scenes in and around the dilapidated Myers house were
wrapped up, the house could be used for the opening scene that shows
the initial murder committed by a then-child Michael on Halloween
1963. It was to be a single-tracking shot, meaning no cuts – an
effective style that was seen in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” in
1958 and later used in the classic opening of Martin Scorses’
“Goodfellas.” The scene was to offer the view of the killer as he
walks towards the house, circles to a back door, enters through the
kitchen, moves through the dining room and upstairs to his teen
sister Judith’s bedroom, where he stabs her to death after she has
had sex with her boyfriend.

Because of limited resources, only portions of the house could be
revamped to look like a well-tended home in 1963. Thus the tracking
shot had to be carefully choreographed so that only the cleaned up
areas of the house are seen on film. The crew was using the Panaglide
camera, another version of the Steadicam, but back in 1978 although
it was more portable than the bulky film cameras used, it still was
about 40 pounds and operator Raymond Stella was pretty worn out after
several takes going up the stairs.

When the editing process was done, Carpenter took the film to an
unnamed producer in Hollywood, who did not give the film a positive
endorsement. This was before the now classic score had been added. In
fact it had not been written yet. So Carpenter, the son of a
musician, sat down and wrote the haunting music, using 5/4 time, that
is now ranked up there with John Williams’ scores for “Jaws,” “Star
Wars” and others as an iconic movie theme. Carpenter is amazed to
this day that he hears those haunting bars of music as ring tones on
cell phones. Film critic Carrie Rickey called the score a “music box
from hell.”

On second viewing of “Halloween,” now with the effective music, the
producer was more optimistic. However, “Halloween” had a rocky
beginning once it was released. Back in the late 1970s, when the
blockbuster film phenomenon had yet to be recognized, movies often
were distributed regionally rather than nationally. Early reviewers
panned the movie and it was a box-office flop. But when it hit the
east coast, it had two boosters – Tom Allen from Village Voice and
stellar film critic Roger Ebert. Soon word-of-mouth spread and
“Halloween” went from bust to success, grossing more than $50
million, which in today’s dollars easily exceeds the coveted $100
million mark.

Among the highlights of the “Inside Story” presentation are the
insights offered by cast members. Although sobering to see Soles and
Loomis, now in their 60s, showing the ravages of time, they both were
exuberant in their recollections of the movie. Curtis, in her
mid-50s, still looks youthful although her gray hair is telling.
Kyle Richards and Brian Andrews, who played the endangered children
Lindsey and Tommy whom Laurie must protect, are now grown up.
Richards recalled that although the shoot lasted only 21 days, she
felt it had taken forever. Andrews recalled that the scene, in which
he is taunted by bullies at school, tripped and falls on the
jack-o-lantern he is carrying, required several takes because the
pumpkin did not break. Eventually, the pumpkin had to be cut in
strategic places so it would break upon impact with the ground.

Nick Castle, who did most of the Michael Myers scenes, was remembered
by cast members as a sweet, funny guy, hardly a crazed killer.
For the unmasking scene, it was a given that Castle’s
face would not do. So Carpenter, seeking an “angelic” face, cast Tony
Moran for the scene, which encompasses just a few seconds. Castle
commented that his most difficult aspect was trying to get a
motivational foundation to his walking around. He recalled that
Carpenter would direct him be saying “just walk. It will be alright.”

Carpenter recalled setting up the final scene in which Dr. Loomis,
upon shooting Michael several times, with Michael falling off a
second-story balcony to the ground, peers down from the balcony to
see that Michael has disappeared. The scene was shot with two
reactions from Loomis – one was a hysterical reaction that Michael is
still alive. The other was the scene used, a far more effective shot
of Loomis appearing not to be surprised Michael is still alive – his
resigned concession that Michael Myers is indestructible.

Most of those interviewed for “Inside Story” believed that the
subsequent sequels diminished the impact of the creepy ending to
“Halloween.” When more movies came out that explored Michael’s
motivation, the eeriness of his enigmatic killing spree faded. Rob
Zombie’s remake of “Halloween” was a totally different film, focusing
primarily on Michael and the hellacious household he was raised in.

While Curtis agreed to be in “Halloween 2,” she left the franchise
but was instrumental in “Halloween H20″ in which she reprises her
role as Laurie 20 years after the initial “Halloween,” a single
mother with a drinking problem. Curtis wanted to end the franchise by
having Laurie decapitate Michael, killing him once and for all.

In the years that followed, Carpenter went on to direct many movies,
including the critically acclaimed “Starman” and “Escape from New
York.” Interestingly, he has not directed a movie since “Ghost of
Mars” in 2001. Lately he has served as a writer for Halloween-themed
film shorts.

Hill, now credited as a pioneer in women film producers, died of
cancer in 2005 at the age of 54. Akkad, co-executive producer of
“Halloween,” was killed in a terrorist attack in Amman, Jordan in
2005.

Of the cast, only Pleasance was eager to reprise his role as Loomis
in the “Halloween” franchise even though Loomis supposedly blew
himself up in “Halloween 2.” In fact, his final turn as Loomis in
“Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers,” was in the can when he
passed away in 1995 at the age of 75.

Soles would have one more movie hit in her career, playing Bill
Murray’s MP girlfriend in “Stripes.” She still acts but often in
small roles in small movies.

Curtis, who was tagged the title Scream Queen for her work in other
slasher movies, notably “Terror Train” and the original “Prom Night,”
did go on to a varied career in dramas and comedies, and has written
several children’s books and has starred in commerciasl as a
spokesperson for Activia yogurt.

One advantage for Curtis to being linked forever to Laurie Strode: “I
don’t have to dress up for Halloween. I can go as me.”

Perseus accepts hero fate in “Wrath of the Titans”

A demigod’s work is never done.

That is the bitter lesson Perseus (Sam Worthington) learns in “Wrath
of the Titans.” To make it even worse, all the trouble is stirred up
by members of his family.

Unlike Luke Skywalker, a star-fated warrior of another place and
time, Perseus is not locked into this life of adventure and all the
excitement, adulation, bumps and bruises it brings. This fellow has
been imprinted as the guy who killed the Kraken, giving him a
reputation he would just as soon discard.

A decade or so after his triumph over the Kraken, Perseus is a
widow, living under the radar in a fishing village, raising his young
son, Helius (John Bell). Unfortunately, things are being shaken up
in his powerful but dysfunctional family tree. His Uncle Hades (Ralph
Fiennes), who has been relegated to the underworld by his brother -
and Perseus’s father – Zeus, has not been idling his time away. He
has begun an alliance with Ares (Edgar Ramirez), yet another
offspring of Zeus who is estranged from his father. Hades and Ares
plot to lure Zeus into a trap and transfer his power to the embedded
Kronos, father of Zeus and Hades, who would like to become mobile
again.

Before he is entrapped, Zeus pays a visit to Perseus, seeking his
help. The gods are weakening, he warns. Titans already are returning,
ready to wreak havoc. Sorry, Perseus says. I’m happy here, catching
fish and spending quality time with my son.

Somebody makes the tactical error of unleashing beasts upon the
world, one of which attacks the village where Perseus resides and
endangering Helius. This of course riles up Perseus, who goes to the
temple to have a chat with his father. But by that time, Zeus has
been captured and a bloody Poseidon (Danny Huston), pretty well
beaten up, shows up instead at the temple and delivers the bad news. Poseidon
also gives Perseus his instructions.

This leads to an alliance with Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), who is not
afraid to face deadly enemies and get a little dirty in the process,
and the underachieving Agenor (Toby Kebbell), also known as The
Navigator.

They pay a visit to Hephaestus, the fallen one (Bill Nighy), the
maker of godly weapons but now living a hermit life. Old Hephy is
well past his prime, but he does hold one valuable card – he designed
Tartarus, the gloomy underworld dungeon where Zeus is imprisoned and
where Hades, Ares and the dormant Kronos also are stationed. Tartarus
is impregnable except for a labyrinth Hephaestus had installed.
Unfortunately, Hephaestus does not make it inside Tartarus and the
map he gives to Agenor proves useless. Tartarus would be a great
amusement park attraction with all its constantly evolving corridors,
barriers and impromptu slides. But it requires a hearty breed to
negotiate, and the three heroes find themselves tumbling great
distances and getting pretty banged up.

But of course they get to the heart of Tartarus so that “Wrath” can
get on with the inevitable final confrontations.

“Wrath of the Titans” is offered in 3D but per usual, 2D is just
fine. The visual highlights include Perseus, Andromeda and Agenor
doing battle with three gargantuan Cyclops creatures, and then the
hair-raising efforts to wind their way through the potentially deadly
Tartarus maze.

Kronos does make an appearance but looks like a piece of burned
popcorn.

Worthington is not an actor of deep range, but he has a physical
presence and does well in conveying a reluctant hero persona. Pike
looks wonderful when she’s wielding weapons in an efficiently deadly
manner, but she just does not get to do it that much in “Wrath.”
Kebbell almost shows up these more well known actors with his Agenor,
a misfit who comes in handy when it is really needed.

Neeson, Nighy and Fiennes add a regal touch as splendid veteran
actors getting to grow beards and ham it up.

After all the dust and chaos settle, the teasers are delivered. Will
Perseus act on his attraction to Andromeda? Now that he has accepted
his fate, will Perseus groom Helius in the art of maintaining peace?

Only a third movie in this series will tell.