REVIEW: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

Decided to have a quiet Sunday night on the couch revisiting the climactic chapter of Nolan’s Batman trilogy!

Dark Knight Rises is the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and despite some flaws, it still delivers a spectacular and epic conclusion that should satisfy most fans of this series. The film opens 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight and Batman, having taken the fall for Harvey Dent/Two Face’s crimes, has disappeared and The Dent Act has locked up most of Gotham’s organized crime. Billionaire Bruce Wayne, still heartbroken over the death of Rachel Dawes, has become a Howard Hughes-like recluse, also not seen in as many years. But, with the arrival of mysterious and beautiful cat burglar, Selina Kyle (a sensational Anne Hathaway) and a vicious mercenary/terrorist called Bane (a bad ass Tom Hardy), Bruce Wayne decides maybe it’s time for The Batman and Bruce Wayne to return to Gotham. Most of my issues with the film are in the first act… the set up. Nolan has a lot to bring us up to speed on, multiple interconnecting stories to start us on and a lot of characters to introduce us to. And it’s a bit too much to accomplish in a reasonable amount of time despite the 165 minute length of the film. The first act comes across as choppy and rushed and, to be honest, some of the new characters could have been left out with no harm to the story (Matthew Modine’s jerk of a cop and Selina Kyle’s young friend for ex.). But, once Batman hits the streets, the film settles into it’s groove and we get a strong second act, followed by an absolutely spectacular last act that alone delivers more movie for the buck then most flicks do. While The Avengers was a superhero epic for the kid inside all of us, TDKR is an operatic epic for the adults. Nolan gives the film his trademark intensity which overcomes the film’s first act flaws and some of the minor quibbles one might have during the rest of the film, to really deliver a riveting cinematic experience, as he brings his Dark Knight tale to a close. The set pieces are of an epic scale that has rarely been achieved in modern films and Nolan never loses track of the characters within the action. His cast is almost perfect, even with some of the lesser characters being performed very well. Bale delivers another emotionally charged performance as a man who is not only larger then life but, very human as well. He successfully creates a man who has two distinct identities yet, is very much the same man. Ann Hathaway is simply a great Selina Kyle. She gives a complex portrayal of a woman who is desirable, dangerous, cunning and yet, not without her humanity. She is a survivor and an opportunist and outright lethal, if she needs to be, but, there are also hints of vulnerability and a heart. She and Bale have a great chemistry together as both their outer characters and their alter egos. Tom Hardy is perfectly cast as the terrorist, Bane. A monster of a man but, with an intellect that is only matched by his ferocity and viciousness. Hardy hits a home run with this villain, who may not be quite The Joker but, makes his own impact and is totally believable as a man who could possible outsmart and outfight The Dark Knight. He makes Batman the underdog and that adds to the film’s drama and intensity. Marion Cotillard was the weak link here. Her Miranda Tate is given little to do through most of the film and when she does become important to the proceedings, she just doesn’t have the dramatic strength or intensity to make it work. She’s not bad but, just doesn’t give the role the strength it needs in the short amount of time the character is given to make an impact. In contrast Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again shows he’s an actor to watch as a beat cop who has never lost sight of the true hero that Batman is, despite taking the blame for Dent’s murders, and maybe has some of that hero in himself when everyone else around him gives up hope. To wrap up the casting call, Caine, Oldman and Freeman are brilliant as always. Caine in particular has a few scenes that prove he is, without a doubt, one of the greatest actors of all time, plain and simple. On a technical level, TDKR is beautifully filmed with Nolan’s camera achieving a rarely seen grandeur and the SPFX are flawless. The action scenes are intense, especially the fights between Bane and Bats and any further questions or flaws I have with the film are drowned in the operatic spectacle that Nolan has delivered. Sure the first act could have been smoother in flow and there are some plot holes and I don’t agree with absolutely everything Nolan and company chose to do in finishing their epic trilogy but, when the smoke clears, it is both entertaining and satisfying on a grand scale and if Nolan did get a bit bombastic in his final chapter, the indulgence can be easily forgiven when considering the overall achievement in delivering not only one of the greatest film trilogies but, giving one of the greatest comic book characters ever, the film series he needs… and the one he deserves.

3 and 1/2 Banes!

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES JUNE 28-30

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Complete estimates for this weekend’s box office are in and Monsters University holds on to the top spot!

1. “Monsters University” $46.2 Million

2. “The Heat” $40 million.

3. “World War Z” $29.8 million.

4. “White House Down” $25.7 million.

5. “Man Of Steel” $20.8 million.

6. “This Is The End” $8.7 million.

7. “Now You See Me” $5.5 million.

8. “Fast & Furious 6” $2.4 million.

9. “Star Trek Into Darkness” $2 million.

10 “The Internship” $1.4 million.

source: box office mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GREEN SLIME and MESSAGE FROM SPACE

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THE GREEN SLIME (1968)

Ten years before the campy fun of Message From Space, Kinji Fukasaku (who directed Battle Royale as well) helmed this equally campy and equally fun 60s space opera about a space station overrun by tentacled alien creatures played by Japanese midgets in rubber suits. The film stars Robert Horton as hot shot Commander Rankin who is sent on a perilous mission to blow up a giant asteroid hurtling toward earth by landing on it and planting explosives. The mission is launched from space station Gamma 3 commanded by rival Commander Elliot (Richard Jaeckel) and the two butt heads over command issues and their mutual love interest, the sexy station doctor, Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi). But all that soap opera nonsense will have to wait as the asteroid is destroyed, but a sample of an organic tissue splashed onto one of the space suits makes it’s way back to Gamma 3 and soon grows into an army of one-eyed, green creatures with electrified tentacles. Can Rankin and Elliot put aside their differences and mutual lust for buxom space doll Lisa before these creatures overrun the station and kill everyone on board?

This colorful and fun B-movie as directed by the versatile Fukasaku was a co-production from MGM and Japan’s Toei Studios with a mainly Anglo cast, who take the silly proceedings dead serious and that’s what makes this so much fun. The SPFX are delightfully cheesy as are the sets, the totally 60s sci-fi costumes and the hilariously campy dialogue. It’s like watching a 60s rubber monster version of Aliens!  A fun and entertaining flick that is a really nostalgic good time if you can appreciate monster movies like this. Very 60s and a lot of fun. A nice, no frills DVD is available from MGM’s archive website.

3 and 1/2 rubber suited space monsters!

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MESAGE FROM SPACE (1978)

Message From Space is Japan’s answer to Star Wars, though there are actually few similarities as this colorful and deliriously fun space adventure is actually based on a Japanese legend, The Legend of the Eight Samurai. Message tells the tragic story of the planet Jillucia, which is ravaged and conquered by the Gavanas, led by tyrannical leader Rockseia XXII (Mikio Narita) and his henpecking mother (actor Hideyo Amamoto in drag). The Jillucians send out a distress in the form of eight glowing seeds which legend says will lead eight warriors picked by the gods to come to their defense. And Jillcucian Princess, Emeralida (Etsuko Shihom) leaves to follow them and gather the warriors to return with her. Soon a ragtag group of both would be and reluctant defenders including retired drunk, General Garuda (Vic Morrow), exiled Gavana, Prince Hans (Sonny Chiba) and a bunch of space racing slackers, are off to Jillucia to take on the invaders who have now set their sights on Earth.

Directed by the versatile Kinji (Battle Royale) Fukasaku, Message From Space is a fast moving and delightfully silly and fun space opera. With an abundance of entertainingly cheezy SPFX and numerous battles and action sequences, this unlikely group of heroes go up against an almost invincible empire. You can have a real blast if you go into it with the right mindset and the right beverages. Vic Morrow’s drunken space general and his faithful robot sidekick are worth watching it for alone. There is also some really imaginative art direction and spaceship designs including a ship that resembles an old sea galleon. Message looks more like a live action Manga then a Star Wars clone with it’s art deco sets and space samurai costumes. A really fun Saturday night film fest flick that would also make a great double feature with Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars if you can’t get your hands on The Green Slime.  Also starring Philip Casnoff, Hiroyuki Sanada, Peggy Lee Brennan and Masazumi Okabe as Aaron, Shiro, Meia and Jack respectively, the young space slackers who become heroes. Message has just become available for the first time on a beautifully remastered DVD and Blu-Ray from the awesome people at Shout Factory!

A campy , fun 3 and 1/2 star galleons

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MANIAC (1980)

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MANIAC (1980)

Having recently watched and really enjoyed the 2013 remake of this 1980 cult classic, I thought I’d revisit the original and see how it holds up. I’ll be honest, I never really liked this slasher flick much and upon watching it again, my opinion hasn’t changed. Maniac is an ultra-gory slasher about the mentally disturbed Frank Zito (Joe Spinell who wrote the story and co-wrote the script.), a man who likes to slaughter and scalp young women and then dress up mannequins to resemble his victims, scalp and all. He was abused by his now dead prostitute mother and he has quite bi-polar feelings about women as a result. The deranged Frank is carving his way through NYC’s nightlife when he encounters beautiful fashion photographer, Anna (Caroline Munro). Frank falls for Anna, but, can he keep his scalpel in his pants or will Anna join the mannequin of the month club?

As directed by William Lustig, Maniac is a sleazy horror that would fit perfectly in the Time Square grind houses it was made for. It seems more like an excuse to gorily dispatch young woman and their dates, if they aren’t alone, then an actual attempt  to make a good thriller. Spinell’s scenes of talking to his mannequins and crying about what he’s just done to the latest victim come across as more silly then scary or disturbing. Spinell, a New York native who  passed away suddenly in 1989, made a career of playing sleazy street thugs and gangsters but, doesn’t have the range to really make these scenes work and they just induce giggles. Though, it does add a bit of a camp factor, I must admit. The film itself is slow moving and there is no tension or suspense as the victims are basically just that, fodder for Frank’s arsenal of weapons. They are dispatched soon or immediately after we meet them and there is no emotional investment in them and their fates are obvious from the minute they appear. The film is really most famous for, some of make-up FX master Tom Savini’s best gore effects used in the victims’ deaths. The scalpings, stabbings and shootings all are quite realistic and disgusting and any effectiveness the film carries is from his work. He even got to shoot himself as he plays a young victim’s date who has his head shotgunned to pieces by Zito. The catch is that Savini was also a stuntman and doubled for Spinell by jumping up on the car hood and shooting his own character in the face. Savini’s work here was considered quite shocking and got Maniac released unrated. His FX still hold up today though the rest of the film really doesn’t.

My final gripe is that I don’t believe for one minute that Munro’s beautiful photographer would actually date a guy like Spinell’s Zito. Aside from the fact that he is just sleazy looking with his long greasy hair and pot marked face, more importantly, he just acts weird and the fact that he tracked her down to find her should set her internal creep alarms off immediately. He basically stalks her and she agrees to go out with him after a strange conversation that should have any woman on her guard. Especially since they don’t finally meet till the last act and their ‘relationship’ is never given time to develop. If it was given more time, maybe we could see Frank overcome the creep factor and win her over. Based on what little we do see, it doesn’t work. If they didn’t date, though, the movie wouldn’t go anywhere and technically, it doesn’t. Predictably, cuckoo Frank can’t help but, emerge when taking Anna to visit his mother’s grave (which should have been another sign, Frankie is a tad off) which sends the movie to it’s gory and somewhat abrupt conclusion.

All in all, I recognize Maniac’s place as a cult classic 80s slasher but, Tom Savini’s masterful FX aside, I think it’s reputation far exceeds it’s actual merit.

2 and 1/2 mannequin heads

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WARNING: TRAILER IS GRAPHIC!

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RANDOM NONSENSE: SENSURROUND!

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Despite believing a movie should be judged based on it’s own merit and not by any gimmicks attached to it, I have always been amused and fascinated by all the gimmicks that have been used to sell movie tickets over the years. One of these gimmicks that I was able to experience personally and more than once, was called Sensurround. Sensurround was a cheesy gimmick used briefly in the mid to late 70s by Universal Pictures to accompany certain releases to add to the theater experience and give a sense of realism to those event movies. It was basically two huge amps set up in the back of theaters which would amplify the bass in certain scenes making the theater literally rumble and shake during the appropriate moments to match what was happening on the screen and make you feel more like you were there. And as a dumb kid in the 70s, I fell for it and saw all of them!… in my defense, the process did get an Academy Award so, I wasn’t the only one…

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EARTHQUAKE (1974)

The first film to use this gimmick and the film for which it was created for was Earthquake in 1974. Earthquake followed the 70s disaster movie format perfectly by having an all-star cast, lead by Charlton Heston along with the likes of Ava Gardner, George Kennedy and Lorne Greene, with soap opera level melodramatic storylines going on between the large cast of characters, till the massive disaster struck forcing them to into a fight for survival. In this case a massive earthquake hitting L.A. and when it did, the whole theater shook. The SPFX are pretty good for the time and the flick is good cheesy 70s fun, but not quite as good as the best of those flicks like Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. When Earthquake premiered on TV, certain radio stations broadcasted the audio to be played while watching the movie to simulate the Sensurround effect. The first and best use of the short lived gimmick.

sensurround-logo rating of 3 and 1/2!

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MIDWAY (1976)

The second movie to be released in Sensurround was the all-star casted 1976 war drama Midway. Again, a who’s who of stars, including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn and Toshiro Mifune, were brought together in a re-telling of the Battle of Midway where a hopelessly out-numbered American Navy (what was left after Pearl Harbor) handed the Japanese fleet their first major defeat of WWII. Most of the battle footage was stock footage from earlier films or actual colorized war footage spliced in between the new footage of the cast. The film was a bit long winded and filled with the usual melodrama for films of this era, but wasn’t bad overall and made decent use of the Sensurround sound system during the battle sequences.

sensurround-logo rating of 3

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ROLLERCOASTER (1977)

The third film to use the Sensurround process was an odd choice. 1977’s Rollercoaster, despite being marketed like a disaster film, wasn’t an action flick, but a suspense thriller about a mad bomber (Timothy Bottoms) who is targeting roller coasters and is being hunted by an amusement park ride inspector (George Segal) who is doing a far better job at it than the F.B.I. It’s actually a fairly entertaining and suspenseful thriller, but one has to question the need to use this gimmick here other then Universal not having enough faith in the film to release it on it’s own. Good flick, but weak use of the gimmick as it only functions to enhance a few scenes featuring roller coasters and the bombers handiwork.

sensurround-logo rating of 2 and 1/2

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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1979)

The fourth and final film to use the Sensurround gimmick is the 1979 Battlestar Galactica. A bit more appropriate choice of application then Rollercoaster, but still not as good as in Earthquake. Basically all Universal did was re-edit the three hour pilot that was aired on US TV and release it in theaters and attach the Sensurround gimmick to it. This theatrical version was released in ’78 as a movie in Canada and Europe, where they were not getting the TV show, but then Universal released it in Sensurround in the states in May 1979, to try to recoup it’s expensive cost as the show tanked and was canceled. The only differences are, it moves quicker then the bloated 3 hour TV episode and the villainous traitor Baltar is executed by the Cylons instead of given his own ship like in the show. As a use of Sensurround it was on par with Midway to enhance the battle sequences and the ship hurtling through space.

sensurround-logo rating of 3

EXTRA MONSTERZERO NJ sensurround-logo TRIVIA!:

While it was never made, when Paramount and Universal were both preparing their own remakes of King Kong at the same time in the mid 70s, the plan was for Universal’s The Legend Of King Kong to be released in Sensurround as well. Paramount won the battle, apparently with some cash going Universal’s way, but the audience lost the war as their remake is notoriously terrible and they had the audacity to make an even worse sequel, King Kong Lives, 10 years later. But hearing King Kong roar and beat his chest in Sensurround might have been cheesy fun! We’ll never know as Sensurround disappeared and Dolby Sound had arrived with Star Wars and seemed to accomplish the same thing.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: STOKER (2013)

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STOKER (2013)

Stoker is a stylish and sometimes disturbing thriller directed by Oldboy director Park Chan-wook from a script by Wentworth Miller. It weaves a tale about the eccentric Stoker family on the day of the funeral for husband, Richard (Dermot Mulroney) who was killed in an apparent car accident. 18 year old daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska) and mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) have a strained relationship as it is, and Richard’s death doesn’t make it easier between the two. Handsome, long lost uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up at the funeral and decides to stay awhile. Both these lonely ladies are quite taken with the mysterious and charming Charlie, as he is with them. The longer he stays, the more the truth about Richard’s unmentioned brother comes out and the reactions to those truth’s have an especially intriguing effect on young Mia.

Park’s direction and visual style are the perfect compliment to this gothic melodrama laced with mystery and sexual tension. His camera work is as eccentric as the characters themselves and it really draws one into what is occurring. Even though the film takes a little while to really get interesting, Park keeps us involved by not feeding us everything we want to know too quickly. The script is very clever and delivers some very legitimate shocks and surprises by the time the credits roll and some devilishly gruesome moments, too. To discuss it in any more detail would be to ruin a very interesting and refreshingly offbeat movie.

The cast give some very good performances that imbue the eccentric characteristics of their characters yet, still surprise us when we see just how deep their eccentricities go. Wasikowska is especially good as the come-of-age Mia and she and Kidman play the simmering inner jealousy over the attention Charlie pays them both very well. You can feel the increasing dislike for each other as the mysterious young man woos daughter and mother at the same time and sometimes in front of each other. As for Goode, he plays Charlie with just enough of a hint that there is something not right, yet still makes him convincing as the charming wolf in the hen house. And when there is a wolf in the hen house, there is usually blood!

Part gothic drama, part mystery thriller and a really enjoyable, devious and slightly decadent piece of entertainment from Park and Co.

3 and 1/2 saddle shoes

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: [REC] 3: GENESIS (2012)

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[REC] 3: GENESIS (2012)

Since I posted about the first 2 films in this series in a recent Saturday Night Double Feature… check it out here… I thought I’d give the third flick a shout out…

I am a huge fan of the [REC] films, they are among my favorite horrors of recent years so, I was very much looking forward to this latest installment… and while it is the weakest of the series so far, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a bloody good time. First off, [REC] 3: Genesis has the best excuse for found footage yet… a zombie outbreak at a wedding where the wedding videographer captures the horrific events but, the film also abandons the format when logic dictates the videographer no longer films and then becomes more of a routine zombie flick. And that is the film’s weakness, that it is more of a generic zombie movie then the first 2 especially when it changes to a more straightforward format. The film is also much lighter in tone then the first two installments as it tells the story of a wedding occurring at the same time as the tenement outbreak, where guests and relatives start turning into demon possessed zombies. But, a lighter tone and a change of format doesn’t mean a fan of this series or of zombie flicks won’t enjoy the fun and carnage [REC] 3 throws our way. Director Paco Plaza seems to have wanted to have a little more fun with this chapter and as long as his loyal audience accepts that, they can join in the gore soaked amusements too. The cast seem to be in on the fun and while they take their parts serious enough, there is also a quick wink to let us know that we’re lightening things up a bit this time round. Pretty lead Leticia Dolera as the blood spattered, chainsaw wielding bride, Clara especially seems to have a good time going from frightened future Mrs. to zombie killing Bridezilla. Top notch gore once again punctuate the film as with the previous two installments. Again, lesser of the three but, still blood soaked fun!

There is an [REC] 4: Apocalypse  directed by Jaume Balagueró due sometimes this year.

3 chainsaw brides!

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RICHARD MATHESON DOUBLE FEATURE: THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER

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SPECIAL EDITION IN HONOR OF RICHARD MATHESON!

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I thought I would profile two lesser known titles from Matheson’s illustrious and expansive body or work…

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THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

For a while, this 1972 TV movie was the most watched program in television history. A well made story of a fallen from grace reporter (Darren McGavin) who comes to believe a series of murders in Las Vegas are being committed by an actual vampire (a creepy Barry Atwater). As the authorities (led by movie and TV vet Claude Akins) are in denial, reporter Carl Kolchak decides to confront and destroy the undead fiend himself, if the bloodthirsty Janos Skorzeny doesn’t kill him first. A solid horror thriller for a TV movie and a strong characterization from Christmas Story dad, McGavin as Kolchak. There is very little blood as it was made for TV but, director John Llewellyn Moxey (Horror Hotel) directs from legendary writer Richard Matheson’s script based on the book, ‘The Kolchak Papers’ by Jeff Rice and makes up for it by providing a healthy dose of thrills and chills and takes the proceedings very serious and that makes it all work. The Night Stalker is considered a classic by many and it spawned a decent sequel, Night Strangler, before becoming a TV series that sadly took a campy approach to the supernatural stories and the Kolchak character. Said to have been the inspiration for The X-Files (which returned the favor by having McGavin guest star in 2 episodes as an agent.). Also starring Simon Oakland as Kolchak’s long suffering boss, Tony Vencenzo who would also join McGavin in the sequel and the short lived series. I am proud to say I watched this the night it first aired and it scared the heck out of my 7 year old ass!

MonsterZero NJ Extra Trivia: There was a brief run new version of the show in 2005 with Stuart Townsend as Kolchak and now talk of a movie version with Johnny Depp as Kolchak and directed by Shaun Of The Dead’s Edgar Wright.

3 and 1/2 supernaturally savvy reporters

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Sorry folks, no trailer available…

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THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973)

After being chased out of Las Vegas as part of covering up their vampire problem, sequel to the classic Night Stalker has Carl Kolchak now in Seattle and coming up against a serial killer who is part Jekyll/ Hyde and part Dorian Gray. Kolchak’s investigation leads him to a doctor (The Six Million Dollar Man’s boss, Richard Anderson) who resurfaces every 21 years to murder victims for a serum that keeps him alive and young. As with the previous entry, Kolchak is the only one who believes there is something supernatural going on and the only one who figures out how to stop it. For a sequel, it’s not bad and pretty entertaining in it’s own right. Directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Trilogy Of Terror) and again written by legendary genre writer Richard Matheson (Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker and Spielberg’s Duel), the film has it’s share of spooky moments and suspenseful chases as Kolchak once again finds himself alone and trying to stop the fiend before his serum is complete and he goes back into hiding. The formula didn’t start to wear thin till the often silly weekly series that struggled to keep coming up with supernatural opponents for the intrepid reporter. They probably should have stuck with an annual TV movie instead. Strangler also features Simon Oakland returning as Vencenzo and an adorable and fiesty Jo Ann Pflug as a belly dancer with a soft spot for McGavin’s hard nosed reporter. Also stars legendary actors, John Carradine, Margaret Hamilton and “Grandpa” Al Lewis.

3 supernaturally savvy reporters

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A third film written by Matheson was planned but, ABC went with a weekly series instead. The film was called The Night Killers and would have involved Kochak and Vinchenzo working together in Hawaii and investigating a story involving aliens, a UFO and a plot to colonize earth.

Sorry folks, no trailer available…

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