TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE RIFT aka ENDLESS DESCENT (1990)

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THE RIFT aka ENDLESS DESCENT (1990)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

1990 low budget sci-fi/horror finds the high-tech deep sea vessel “Siren I” gone missing and the ship’s designer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia with hilariously 80s hair) is dragged out of bed…literally…to join the rescue mission aboard the “Siren II”. The military has been using both Hayes’ designed craft and the rescue mission is commanded by hard-nosed Capt. Phillips (R. Lee Ermey) and Hayes’ former flame Lt. Nina Crowley (Deborah Adair). They find the “Siren I” wreckage in a deep sea rift, as well as, some strange undersea lifeforms. The search for the ship’s black box leads them to an undersea cavern filled with horrible mutant creatures and a mysterious laboratory. How did these creatures come to exist? Who is responsible?…and will the “Siren II” crew escape the rift alive?

Cheesy rubber monster flick is flatly directed by Pieces director Juan Piquer Simón, under the pseudonym of J.P. Simon, from a very derivative script by he, Mark Klein and David Coleman. The film evokes a lot of other better movies such as Aliens, Galaxy of Terror and Leviathan to name a few and might have been a really fun rip-off if director Simón didn’t take it so seriously. With it’s cheese-ball miniature subs, horde of rubber and plastic monsters and gallons of spurting blood, this could have been a real treat if it was directed by somebody who knew the difference between a good steak and a decadent greasy hamburger, with this flick being the latter. It still entertains with it’s awful dialogue, 1960s sci-fi level sets and all the flying viscera both human and otherwise. The acting runs from paycheck level from the vets to hilariously bad from the supporting cast, with only Ray Wise seeming to really get the material, when he is allowed to ham it up a bit in the last act. There is a lot of blood splashed around once the crew arrive in the monster filled cavern and the rubber beasties do provide some chuckles as the rend and tear apart the crew in all it’s pre-CGI glory. The flick is very ambitious for what appears to be a very low budget, but needed a more Roger Corman approach to make it really work. If you know you’re a rip-off, take the ball and run with it like Galaxy of Terror or Piranha. With the ridiculous script and rubber menagerie, the groundwork was already there.

On one side the flick is flatly directed, way too derivative and takes itself far too seriously to really work, especially on such an obvious low budget scale. On the plus side there is entertainment to be had by painfully obvious toy submarines, a delightful assortment of rubber monsters and an ocean’s worth of blood and gore splattered all over the place. The veteran cast play the subpar script far too straight, which is laughable in itself, while the supporting cast performances are hilariously all over the place. Not quite the fun it should be, but does have enough entertainment to make it an amusing watch, with some of your favorite brews. Also stars Ely Pouget as a sexy crew member and John Toles Bey who gets some of the worst of the awful dialogue.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) rubber thingys.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: HAGAZUSSA (2017)

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HAGAZUSSA (2017)

German film takes place in the 15th century and tells the story of lonely Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) who has lived alone in her rural cabin since the death of her mother (Claudia Martini). Her mother was thought to be a witch, for her pagan beliefs and so now is Albrun. She is persecuted by the local villagers and their clergy, especially when she has a child out of wedlock. The continual betrayal and abuse from those around her, drive poor Albrun to desperate and terrible acts.

Moody piece is written and directed by Lukas Feigelfeld and is a very slow burn tale. Feigelfeld doesn’t spoon feed his audience anything, as we never find the identity of the father of Albrun’s child, nor are we ever clear if her mother…or she…is really a witch. Strange things happen, that may or may not be all in Albrun’s mind, a result of the constant loneliness and the horrible treatment by the local villagers, including betrayal and rape. There are some subtle hints that maybe there is something supernatural going on and some not so subtle commentary about religious persecution and the evils done in the name of religion. The performances are good, especially from actress Cwen as the persecuted and finally vengeful Albrun. If you are patient enough for the slow pace and can handle some of the disturbing sequences of abuse and madness, this might be an interesting change of pace. An unnerving chiller with some very disturbing moments. Also stars Celina Peter, who portrays Albrun as a child.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DROWNSMAN (2014)

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THE DROWNSMAN (2014)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The Drownsman is an earlier film from Chad Archibald (The Heretics, I’ll Take Your Dead) and tells the spooky tale of pretty Madison (Michelle Mylett) and the malevolent spirit she encounters. Madison nearly drowns at a party and claims to have seen some kind of malevolent presence during the ordeal. This gives her an extreme fear of water and a year later friends Hannah (Caroline Korycki), Lauren (Sydney Kondruss), Kobie (Gemma Bird Matheson) and medium Cathryn (Clare Bastable), attempt an intervention that makes matters even worse. Troubled Madison’s research leads her to serial killer Sebastian Donner (Ry Barrett) also known as “The Drownsman”, a sadistic killer who kidnaped women to be drowned in his basement. Donner was finally drowned himself by his last attempted victim, Isabelle (JoAnn Nordstrom) and now his spirit uses water as a conduit back to the corporeal world, to continue his foul deeds. Worse still, he now has his waterlogged sights set on Madison and her friends, who one by one are meeting a horrid, watery fate.

Canadian filmmaker Archibald has proven himself an interesting filmmaker who uses his influences well. He directs from a script he co-wrote with Cody Calahan and makes it work far better than it should. Premise could have been silly in less capable hands, but Archibald delivers some very creepy sequences and gives the film an unsettling look, especially when we are in Donner’s lair. As our bad guy, The Drownsman is an effective supernatural creeper even if this kind of story has been presented quite a lot lately. The water element does give it a bit of a different angle and there are some interesting twists in the second act, where the intensity gets cranked up. Archibald accomplishes a lot on a modest budget and the film never tries to be more than it is. It’s effective even if basically just a familiar supernatural haunting tale mixed with a classic slasher flick. There are some questions, like where is newly married Hannah’s husband during all this and why didn’t authorities level, or at least lock up, Donner’s home after Isabelle’s escape? It’s just sitting there waiting for final girls to wander into. On a production level, Archibald has a solid visual eye and the film looks good, the make-up FX on Donner are very effective and the drowning deaths have impact, even without any gore or overly graphic violence.

Actress Michelle Mylett is a good final girl as the traumatized Madison. She presents well a woman living in fear, fears she must overcome if she and any of her friends are to survive. Caroline Korycki is solid as best friend Hannah, who at first doubt’s there is anything paranormal going on, but soon begins to believe her friend might not be imagining things. Matheson and Kondruss are also good as friends Kobie and Lauren, with Clare Bastable delivering a likable enough friend/medium in Cathryn. Last, but certainly not least, Ry Barrett brings presence and menace to the silent but lethal specter, Sebastian Donner/The Drownsman.

Not a classic, but an earlier work by a filmmaker that continues to up his game with each film. Archibald handles well a story that could have gotten very silly and delivers a spooky, at times, chiller. We have likable characters stalked by an effective boogeyman and the bloodless drowning deaths are given weight and impact. A good example of a filmmaker able to use familiar story elements and still make them effective and showing the potential he is currently living up to.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bathtubs.

 

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES JUNE 7-9

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to the reviews here at The Movie Madhouse!)

1. “The Secret Life of Pets 2” $47.1 Million

2. “Dark Phoenix” $33 Million

3. “Aladdin” $24.5 Million

4. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” $15.5 Million

5. “Rocketman” $14 Million

6. “Ma” $7.8 Million

7. “John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” $7.4 Million

8. “Avengers: Endgame” $4.8 Million

9. “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” $3 Million

10. “Booksmart” $1.6 Million

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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REVIEW: DARK PHOENIX (2019)

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DARK PHOENIX (2019)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Final film in Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men series, as the rights have gone back to Marvel, finds psychically powerful Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) at the center of it’s story. The film opens in 1975 with an eight-year old Jean causing a tragic accident with her powers and being taken in, as a result, by Prof. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). The flick then moves forward to 1992 where an adult Jean absorbs a massive amount of mysterious energy while on a rescue mission in space. Jean starts to have trouble controlling this new power and when combined with personal issues with her past, and what she sees as a betrayal by Charles, sets her against her friends. While Jean deals with her mixed emotions causing destruction and a devastating accidental death, X-Men, mutant and military alike hunt her down. Unbeknownst to all of them, an alien race plans on using Jean and her new power for their own nefarious purposes.

Last of this current series is written and very well directed by Simon Kinberg. Some may miss the bombastic, global scaled action of the last few films, but this finale is actually a bit of a refreshing return to a more intimate scale and more personal storyline. The film is about an internal struggle within the X-Men and within Jean and while we do get invading aliens and an impressive train set action finale, it still feels more in line with the first few X-Men films, before the series blew up in scale. Sure the The Dark Phoenix Saga was used before as a basis for the heavily criticized Last Stand, but it is handled much better this time around. The story pits X-Man against X-Man against mutant against alien, as various factions want to kill, save, or use Jean depending on their personal agendas. Again, it keeps the drama focused on the X-Men and not on disintegrating cities and floating sports arenas, with the characters buried under the spectacle. It’s not all perfect. Main characters like Xavier, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) have become too familiar at this point to be overly intriguing and don’t get too much new development. Other characters like Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) don’t get much character time at all, only really showing up in the action. At 114 minutes, it is one of the shorter X-Men films and so Jean’s inner conflicts and her tenuous relationship with new “friend”, alien leader Vuk (Jesscia Chastain), get what little character focus time there is…and for Vuk, there isn’t all that much, either. Some story-lines are never resolved, like Quicksilver’s confronting his father Magneto, and some endings aren’t completely satisfying. That and overall, being the tenth X-Men themed flick since 2000…this franchise could use a break and a fresh coat of paint. On a technical scale the film looks great, the SPFX are top notch and Hans Zimmer delivers another strong score.

The main cast are all familiar with their characters at this point and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. Lawrence, Fassbender and McAvoy all seem to be going through the motions. They are still effective, but they really aren’t given anything new or intriguing to do, or are adding anything new to their portrayals…other than Charles’ guilt over decisions he made for Jean. Lawrence especially seems to be here for a paycheck. Sophie Turner impresses as the very troubled Jean. She goes from emotionally wounded to powerful bad girl smoothly and handles her varied emotional states very well. She gives the role strength. Jessica Chastain oozes malice as Vuk and as her part could have been stronger written, the actress takes what she is given and delivers a suitable villain, like the pro she is. Supporting cast are all likable and fine as various X-Men and mutants and as the series is now finished, some, like Peters’ smart-alecky Quicksilver, will be missed.

Everyone will see this entry as they will. Some may find it too scaled down for their liking and some may not agree with where certain character’s stories end…or don’t. Others, however, may find it refreshing that the final flick, in this almost two decade series, ends with a focus back on the X-Men and leaves the massive city destruction to Godzilla and The Avengers. Maybe all the reshoots report-ably done weren’t such a bad thing, after all?

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) fiery phoenixes.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: BOOKSMART (2019)

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BOOKSMART (2019)

Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have their sights set beyond high school and have stuck to their studies, ignoring any social life beyond their own friendship. On the eve of graduation, Yale-headed Molly finds out her school partier rivals have also gotten into good schools without making the sacrifices she has. Now Molly and Amy are determined to prove they can have fun and decide to attended the best graduation party in town…if they can find it.

Booksmart is a very impressive and stylish directorial debut from actress Olivia Wilde. The script is credited to four writers and while that would normally be a possible sign of trouble, here it is a clever and sometimes heartfelt collaboration. Booksmart doesn’t reinvent the high school coming of age comedy, but it does delightfully revitalize it. Wilde and her writers tackle all the usual high school themes like the social hierarchy and teen romance, but approaches them in a fresh and fun way. There is some wonderfully witty dialogue and the script and director don’t shy away from more contemporary themes with some openly gay characters such as Amy herself. Part of the whole reason the girls are headed to Nick’s (Mason Gooding) party is so Amy can spend time with tattooed skater-girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) and Molly can finally admit she has a crush on Nick. The outcome of their last night of school quest is both realistic, poignant and fun…and that’s what makes this flick work so well. A perfect blend. The characters are treated with respect and even stereotype characters avoid feeling like clichés. They are very human, such as Molly Gordon’s girl with a reputation “Triple A”. She surprises us by not only being a likable and feisty young lady, but her acceptance into Yale, too, is one of the reasons that drives Molly to want this one night of decadence. The film handles multiple characters well and aside from not shying away from serious themes, the film can be a lot of raunchy fun and there are layers of wit and cleverness to go with it, so it avoids being just vulgar. It’s a very offbeat and heartfelt coming of age story that never forgets to be decadent fun and is smart about doing it. No better example of this is a delightful stop motion animation sequence when Amy and Molly are given some drugged strawberries. Inventive, demented and hilariously funny.

The film presents a great cast of eccentric yet familiar characters and the actors all do great work under Wilde’s guidance. Beanie Feldstein is simply wonderful as nerdy, ambitious Molly. A girl who hit the books running and on the eve of her moving on to college, finds out, hilariously, that she could have had a little fun along the way. The actress has great comic timing and plays the dramatic moments strongly. A star in the making. Same can be said of Kaitlyn Dever whose openly gay Amy is a sweet, sensitive and spirited young woman who joins her friend on this one last hurrah before leaving high school to do volunteer work in Africa. There are a host of delightfully portrayed off-beat characters to support them. Billie Catherine Lourd is a lot of fun as the weird rich girl Gigi. Skyler Gisondo as the shameless self promoter Jared, who may not be as shallow as he appears. Mason Gooding is solid as the school hunk Nick. Victoria Ruesga is also good as Amy’s crush Ryan and Molly Gordon makes her “school slut” character, Triple A, very likable and human. There are also some veterans in the cast such as Jason Sudeikis as Principal Jordan, Lisa Kudrow as Amy’s oddball mom Charmaine and Will Forte as her equally quirky dad Doug. Simply a great cast.

Overall, this was a dynamite debut for director Olivia Wilde. It refreshes both the high school coming of age flick and the characters set within such stories. It has a great cast including wonderful performances by it’s leads and is not afraid or shies away from more serious and contemporary themes. It also approaches it’s characters all with sensitivity and respect and portrays it’s gay characters as simply part of the story without turning them into showcase set pieces. Bravo to Olivia Wilde and writers Katie Silberman, Sarah Haskins, Emily Halpern and Susanna Fogel. A great indie movie!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) graduation caps.

 

 

 

 

 

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SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK GETS A NEW TRAILER and POSTER!

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Producer Guillermo del Toro and Autopsy of Jane Doe director André Øvredal are bringing Alvin Schwartz’s scary children’s stories to life on August 9, 2019 and scary stories they look indeed! Check out the latest trailer!

-MonsterZero NJ

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source: Youtube

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES MAY 31-JUNE 2

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to the reviews here at The Movie Madhouse!)

1. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” $49 Million

2. “Aladdin” $42.3 Million

3. “Rocketman” $25 Million

4. “Ma” $18.2 Million

5. “John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” $11.1 Million

6. “Avengers: Endgame” $7.8 Million

7. “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” $6.6 Million

8. “Booksmart” $3.3 Million

9. “Brightburn” $2.3 Million

10. “The Hustle” $3.8 Million

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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REVIEW: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Sequel takes place five years after the events of Godzilla 2014 with Godzilla keeping a low profile and being monitored diligently by the Monarch organization. Other creatures, or “Titans” have been discovered across the globe and the military wants them all destroyed, while Monarch believes they represent a balance in nature. Eco-terrorist Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) feels the Titans should all be freed to restore that balance and plans to steal the Orca…a device capable of communicating with, and possibly controlling the monsters…to accomplish this. He kidnaps Orca creator Dr. Emma Russell (Verga Farmiga), her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her invention and thus sends Monarch and Emma’s estranged husband Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) in hot pursuit. But Jonah gets more than he bargained for, when he uses it to release the three-headed space monster Ghidorah from his icy prison and the beast challenges Godzilla for the title of King of the Monsters. Add in the Queen of the Monsters Mothra and the fire demon Rodan and earth soon becomes a monster sized war zone.

Trick r Treat director Michael Dougherty takes over from Gareth Edwards and seems to have a far better grasp of the material. He also does script duties along with Zach Shields, from a story by they and Max Borenstein. What we get is far closer to a Toho Godzilla film than the 2014 flick and one that is a lot more fun. Sure the plot is a bit goofy, but no goofier than an alien race building a robot Godzilla or a creature created completely from pollution. It’s filled not only with tons of fun references to Godzilla flicks of the past, but we get all the traditional story elements like devious villains, stalwart scientists, brave military types and a smarter than the adults kid. Not only are all the tropes proudly paraded out for those familiar with the series, but it has some of the most spectacular monster battles ever presented, as Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra all converge to duke it out and destroy everything in their paths. The final showdown in the city of Boston is absolutely amazing and Yankee fans might even get a giggle over Godzilla and Ghidorah throwing down in the middle of Fenway Park. It’s also a true popcorn blockbuster, so even those not too familiar with the Big G and his 65 year history, can still enjoy the flick on a purely entertainment spectacle level and monstrously entertaining it is. Not to mention, the film’s final image is something every Godzilla fan has wanted to see from day one. On a technical level, the SPFX are amazing, the monsters are truly titanic and majestic and their destruction is on a totally massive scale. The score by Bear McCreary is far more fitting than Alexandre Desplat’s ho-hum score for Zilla 2014 and delightfully mixes in some of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla themes to add a nice touch of nostalgia to the film.

The cast are good and all of them get the material. They play it seriously…but not too seriously. Leads Farminga, Chandler, Brown and Dance all do well in essaying their roles. Vera Farming as the scientist with a personal reason to get involved, is solid and helps us understand her decisions, even when they are the wrong ones. Chandler is fun as the father and husband trying to get his estranged family back. He’s a good lead and his old fashioned character fits this kind of movie well. Charles Dance is impeccable as ever as the villainous Alan Jonah, who like Thanos, thinks he is doing the right thing by trying to unleash these creatures. Millie Bobby Brown is especially endearing as Madison and in many ways is the emotional center of the flick. The supporting cast are all good, too, especially Ken Watanabe returning as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa and Zhang Ziyi playing Dr. Ilene Chen, a character who pays tribute to a familiar Mothra trope in a very fun and clever way. A good cast that even give some very corny dialogue a little dramatic weight.

Overall, this was a really fun and action packed sequel to a film widely criticized for skimping on the monster action. It has monster battles to spare, but still gives us some people time along with a very Toho-esque storyline. Michael Dougherty keeps the 132 minute flick moving very fast and pays loving tribute to the classic Godzilla flicks in some fun and very clever ways. Stay through the credits for not only an end credits scene, but for some amusing interwoven news items that echo what is to come. A gargantuan blast of a good time!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) King of the Monsters.

 

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BARE BONES: THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

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THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

Supernatural horror takes place in 1973 with widowed social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) looking into the death of two children, from one of her cases. Their mother (Patricia Velásquez) claims it was La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, who murdered her children and they are dead because of Anna’s interference. Anna discovers that La Llorona is from Mexican folklore, a woman in the 1600s who got revenge on a cheating husband by murdering her own children and then killing herself. Distraught with guilt, her spirit is now said to seek out other children to kill to take the place of her own. Whether the folktale is true or not, a dark force is now stalking Anna and her own kids (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Is the spirit of La Llorona real and out to get Anna’s offspring?

Generic horror flick is directed by Michael Chaves from a routine script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. Mexican folklore base could have been interesting had there been a more involving movie built around it, or a better use of that folklore. Flick centers on the usual, vengeful, sinister specter surrounded by dark cinematography, flickering lights and an abundance of jump scares. The lead character, Anna, is the cliché skeptic who is forced to go to someone of faith and supernatural belief (Raymond Cruz) for help. There is even an exorcism of sorts in the last act. Chaves tries to build atmosphere and Cardellini gives it her all, as the frightened Anna, but this is just too familiar to really evoke solid scares. It follows the recent template for mainstream supernatural horror to the letter and does nothing innovative or intriguing with it. While it also lacks the over-the-top fun of last years The Nun, this was still another box office hit for producer James Wan and his Conjuring universe, which this film is thinly linked to by the appearance of Annabelle‘s Father Perez (Tony Amendola).

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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