REVIEW: ROBOT AND FRANK (2012)

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Frank Langella proves once again that he is one of the most underrated actors in the business with a great performance in this touching and whimsical story from Director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford. This story, set in the near future, tells of retired cat burglar Frank whose slipping mental state causes concern from his kids and provokes his son to buy him a robot home assistant to take care of him. At first Frank hates his automaton companion but, then the two bond as Frank realizes he has a new partner to resume old habits. Robot is a cute and endearing indie comedy/drama that is given added weight by a wonderful performance from lead, Langella. He gives Frank multiple layers as a man who both enjoyed his life of crime yet, regrets the effect it had on his life and relationship with his kids. He also portrays the frustration of someone trying to deal with the effects of aging and trying to overcome it the only way he knows how. It helps that he is surrounded by a good cast with James Marsden as his son and Liv Tyler as his daughter. Both trying to care for a man who wasn’t there for them when growing up. Susan Sarandon is a local woman who catches Frank’s eye and Jeremy Sisto as the local sheriff who becomes very suspicious of the retired burglar when a few thefts hit the small town they live in. A charming and very entertaining movie elevated by the opportunity to see a master actor at work. Also features Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of robot. ***1/2

REVIEW: SMASHED (2012)

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Pretty teacher Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a young married couple who are also alcoholics. When Kate gets sick of waking up in strange places and peeing herself, she decides to quit drinking and get help. But Kate faces an uphill battle as she gets resentment, not support, from her husband and to gain sobriety she may loose everything she holds dear.

What I liked most about this indie drama was that co-writer/ director James Ponsoldt avoids the melodramatics that usually come with films of this nature and guides his cast trough a real life situation and has them play real life people complete with quirks and all. And as for his cast, they all give good down to earth performances, but it is Winstead who owns the movie as the troubled young woman who wants to change the downward spiral of her life. She effectively portrays the frustration of her own behavior and then the hurt and anger when she tries to change her life and doesn’t get the support she needs from those she cares about. She also conveys the mixed emotions of someone seeing their life, and those in their life, differently through now sober eyes. Winstead shows chops that she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to show and she gives a very real and effecting performance. True, I would like to have seen more of the relationship between Kate and her AA sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer) and a subplot involving her vice principal, Dave (Nick Offerman), who has a crush on her and introduces her to his AA group, doesn’t quite click, but this are minor points.

Overall Smashed is a solid and heartfelt drama that doesn’t preach yet, doesn’t make light of it subject matter either and gives a talented young actress a role she can really shine in. Recommended for those who are looking for a drama that’s refreshingly UN-Hollywood and want to see an actress take hold of a good part and show us her stuff. ***1/2

 

REVIEW: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)

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The RZA is a man with a lot on his resume’ and with The Man With The Iron Fists, he adds writer, director and star. Fists is a Tarantino-esque mash up of 70s Shaw Brothers kung fu, 80s/90s Hong Kong martial arts epic, 70s blaxploitation and a touch of Spaghetti Western. Too bad RZA is no Quentin Tarantino because, had this film fired on all intended cylinders, it would have been a real blast. RZA’s heart and intentions are in the right place for this story of a runaway slave (RZA) who finds himself shipwrecked in China and now plying trade as a much sought after blacksmith. When he and his prostitute girlfriend, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) get caught in the middle of a clan war over gold, an act of violence transforms him into the vengeful Man WIth The Iron Fists. The real problem here is that the film has far too slow a pace for this kind of flick and has far too much set up, causing it to take way too long to get going. Once it does, it is somewhat entertaining but, RZA doesn’t give his flick the delirious fun that Tarantino gives his genre mash ups and he just doesn’t capture the kind of energy the plentiful action scenes need. The film seems a lot longer then it’s 90+ minutes would suggest. Fists has some colorful characters such as Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), Lady Blossom (Lucy Liu) and Brass Body (Dave Batista) but, none of the characters really stand out or are given enough screen time to make an impression. There is a bit of character overload here and the main characters suffer for it. That and only Crowe and Liu really have any acting chops, the rest go from adequate to bland. Add to it that the final showdown between the good, the bad and the ugly never resonates or has the impact it should. With all the time it took to get to this point, the climactic battle seems to be over far too quick. Still the film looks great and RZA’s Martial Arts film influences are evident with the sets, costumes and camera angles. There is some good gore but, a bit too much reliance on CGI considering the films it was trying to emulate and the simple effects they employed. But, despite it’s flaws, if you are a fan of those types of movies, there is some entertainment to be had and you can appreciate what RZA was trying to do, even if not totally successful. Not a complete failure but, far less entertaining then it should have been considering what the multi-tasking RZA set out to do.

2 and 1/2 stars

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: TUCKER & DALE v.s. EVIL (2011)

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TUCKER & DALE v.s. EVIL (2011)

Amusing horror/comedy tells the story of two harmless country boys, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) and their encounter with some college kids who have seen far too many horror movies. A series of mishaps, starting with the boys’ rescue of an injured female member of the group being misinterpreted as a kidnapping, gives the coeds the belief that Tucker and Dale are trying to kill them…and soon the boys think they are being stalked by a group of crazy college kids. What follows is a bloody and funny comedy of errors and misunderstandings that starts to rack up quite an unintentional body count. In the middle of all the gory chaos, the innocent and sweet Dale starts to bond with the pretty Allison (Katrina Bowden) as he tends to her.

Director Eli Craig could have given it a bit more energy, but it is funny and clever at times, especially if you’ve seen your share of backwoods horror flicks, and the leads Tudyk, Labine and Bowden really help with creating very likable characters. The rest of the cast are good too as the over-imaginative college students who think they are in the middle of a real life backwoods horror. They play it straight and let the situations provide the humor and while it could have been a bit funnier, it is an entertaining enough 90 minutes especially if you’re a horror fan who likes to see a popular sub-genre turned on it’s head. T&D has a lot of fun with some tried and true backwoods horror conventions and is delightfully gory with it’s skewered heart in the right place.

A solid 3 chainsaws

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE LOVED ONES (2009)

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THE LOVED ONES (2009)

The Loved Ones is a 2009 Australian horror film that wasn’t released in the US till 2012, when it got a limited theatrical release in June and then on to VOD and DVD in September. It is one of my favorite horror movies of 2012…

Brent (Xavier Samuel) is a teen suffering emotional scars from the death of his father from 6 months earlier. School is almost over and the ‘End Of School Dance’ approaches. But Brent’s life is about to go from one horror to another as he is targeted by the deranged Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) and her equally deranged father (John Brumpton) for a prom night of torment and torture. But is torturing a tortured soul a good idea?

What separates this from the recent torture porn sub-genre is that writer/director Sean Byrne crafts his horror with emotional depth and with some nicely and subtly intertwined story elements that I won’t spoil here. His script is both straight to the point and brutal, but at the same time, not without some dark humor weaved in between the horror elements and the gruesome moments. The characters that populate his tale are three-dimensional and come across as real people even if they are very twisted. He also fills the film with some very effectively designed shots to accent the intense and vicious goings on. There isn’t a bad shot in the movie and the film looks great. Even the soundtrack is like another character in the film as the songs and music are very deliberately selected and placed for added emotional resonance.

His cast members are all on target from Xavier Samuel as Brent, the wounded and guilt ridden teen who cuts on himself, but suddenly discovers a will to survive when someone else is doing the cutting. Robin McLeavy gives a tour de force performance as the deranged Lola making her menacing, but not without letting a cuteness and sexiness through, which makes her even more disturbing as she torments her ‘date’. She gives her character a fiendish quality and never goes over the top enough for the character to become campy. She remains menacing even when going full tilt psycho for the chilling final act. John Brumpton is her equally disturbed father who will do anything to make his princess happy and his character is given just enough restraint to never upstage the fruit of his deranged loins, Lola. The supporting cast all perform their roles with some nice emotional depth too, making everyone seem important to the story even before Byrne subtly lets us know why.

A terrific, clever and fiendishly entertaining Aussie horror film and a very impressive debut from Sean Byrne.

Check out “Why Do Good Scares Like Bad Girls?” for a closer look at Robin McLeavy’s character, Lola here. (Careful though, there are some spoilers.)

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bottles of drain cleaner…don’t ask.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: A Trio Of Roger Corman Favorites

I’ve decided to make my first post a look back at a trilogy of 80s Roger Corman sci-fi classics that are among my favorite guilty pleasures from that era, Battle Beyond The Stars, Galaxy Of Terror and Forbidden World…

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980)

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Battle Beyond The Stars was legendary producer Roger Corman’s answer to Star Wars but, it’s actually a remake of Seven Samurai set in space, even naming the home planet “Akir” after director Akira Kurosawa. This cult classic is silly, cheesy and the pacing is a bit off but, it has something Lucas’ later prequels didn’t have…heart. Battle is a little movie that tries hard and at the same time is having fun doing it and viewed with the right frame of mind… and right type of beverage… Battle can be a lot of fun as it tells the story of a heroic young man (Richard Thomas) who desperately tries to gather a group of mercenary fighters to defend his peaceful planet from attack by the evil conquerer, Sador (John Saxon). Corman assembled an interesting cast for his biggest production, Walton’s star Thomas, veteran actors George Peppard and Robert Vaughn and genre favorite  Saxon, as well as, the buxom Sybil Danning. Art direction and production design on Battle was by a then unknown James Cameron. And the music score was by now mega composer, James Horner. Corman has introduced countless talents behind and in front of the camera through his low budget classics and Battle Beyond The Stars is no different. Fun as only Roger Corman could present and the type of film that they don’t make any more. Another film I was fortunate enough to see at the legendary Oritani theater in Hackensack.
EXTRA TRIVIA… can you spot future Star Trek:TNG star Brent Spiner in a small role?

GALAXY OF TERROR (1981)

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This sci-fi horror from Roger Corman has it’s problems but, for the most part, is a well made and effective film that actually stands on it’s own despite being inspired by the success of Alien. There is some clunky dialog and choppy editing but, there is also spooky and tense atmosphere throughout and some good creature effects and gore. The film has garnered a reputation over the years based on the ‘giant worm rape scene’ but, it really is a good little sci-fi/horror that has plenty to offer aside from that quintessential Corman moment. The flick follows a rescue mission to the dark and mysterious planet Morganthus, a planet of horrors that holds a dark secret. The eclectic crew of the Quest must try and survive the mission and each other, as unknown forces seem intent on their demise. The cast is effective and includes Edward Albert, future Freddy Kruger Robert England, Happy Days’ Erin Moran and genre favorite Sid Haig. James Cameron of Avatar fame was the production designer on the film, as well as, the second unit director and the set decorator was future actor, Bill Paxton. As usual, another Corman production featuring talent who would go on to fame and recognition. His films were the start of countless careers. A personal B-movie favorite. You can just see the similarities in production design with Cameron’s classic Aliens.

FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982)

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You have to be a fan of low budget B movies to appreciate this sci-fi/ horror from Roger Corman’s New World pictures. If you are, sit back and enjoy all the cheezy SPFX, nudity, sex and gore this fun and strangely stylish Alien rip off has to offer. Let’s not forget the slimy, nasty space monster that’s the cause of all the bloodletting. And if that’s not enough, the nubile Playboy bunny scientists that are responsible for all the nudity. Forbidden World is filmed by director Allan Holzman with an almost psychedelic music video style as it tells the story of a soldier, Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) sent to an isolated research station on the remote planet Xarbia to deal with a genetic experiment that has gotten out of control. Colby not only has to battle a growing and hungry genetic mutant but, handle not one, but, two hot and very horny female scientists (Dawn Dunlap and June Chadwick). The type of B movie they just don’t make anymore. One of the last of it’s kind. Crack a few beers and enjoy!
EXTRA TRIVIA: Yes, you’re not imagining things, those are fast food containers lining the walls of the space station. Corman thriftiness strikes again…
…and this may be the only film is movie history where a cancerous tumor is used as a weapon. Only in a Roger Corman production, folks!