FAST AND THE FURIOUS ACTOR PAUL WALKER KILLED IN CAR CRASH!

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Sad and tragic news has stated that Fast and The Furious franchise actor Paul Walker has been killed in a car wreck while on the way to a charity event that also claimed the life of the driver of the vehicle as the car reportedly struck a tree in California. Details are still sparse at this time but, his unfortunate death has been confirmed by his own Twitter feed, Facebook page and various news affiliates. Walker was 40 years old.

Source: various

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SAFTEY NOT GUARANTEED and TAKE THIS WALTZ

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Decided to focus this double feature on two charming and very entertaining indie comedy/dramas that might have flown a bit under the radar but, have familiar faces, good performances and are refreshingly un-Hollywood…

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SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)

Safety Not Guaranteed is a really entertaining and offbeat romantic comedy from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly that tells the story of Darius (Aubrey Plaza) an intern at a high profile Seattle based magazine whose first assignment is to assist self-centered reporter Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) in writing a piece on a man who placed a personal ad looking for a time travel companion. While Jeff uses the story as an excuse to look up an ex-girlfriend who lives in the area (Jenica Bergere), Darius befriends the placer of the ad, Kenneth (Mark Duplass) and soon finds a bond with the eccentric and lonely man. Director Trevorrow  crafts a sweet and quirky tale of two loners who find each other over some very strange circumstances. And while the film sometimes plays like a drama, there are some laugh out loud bits and there is always an offbeat humor running underneath. The cast do really well in bringing their eclectic characters to life with Plaza and Duplass doing a great job of showing the progression of two people learning to trust each other and then discovering much deeper feelings as they get to know each other. We get to watch a sweet relationship form between these two lost souls all the while being teased with the notion that maybe Kenneth may not be so crazy after all… or maybe he is. The other subplot between Jeff and Liz also shows a sweeter side of the cocky Jeff and possibly humbles him a bit as well and is nicely realized by actor Johnson. To elaborate anymore would be to spoil a really nice indie flick that has some pleasant surprises. Also stars Kristen Bell as woman with ties to Kenneth and Karan Soni as accompanying intern Arnau, who Jeff decides to motivate out of his shell. A quirky, original and entertaining indie.

3 and 1/2 hearts!

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TAKE THIS WALTZ (2011)

One of my favorite things about this charming indie drama was that I really enjoyed was just how real the relationships in the film came across. Writer/director Sarah Polley creates a freshness and realness to this story of a happy young married couple Margo (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) whose happy life is challenged when Margo meets and falls for neighbor and artist, Daniel (Luke Kirby). Margo thought she had what she wanted but, the free spirited Luke makes her question whether she is really happy with Lou or just thinks she’s happy. As Lou becomes focused on writing a cookbook, Margo begins to explore what she really wants… or is it. And that’s the thing that I felt was so real about this charming little movie. Margo’s answers are never clear as in life they sometimes aren’t. Are we really happy or just convincing ourselves to settle for what we have? Is it human nature to always think there is something better for us out there and thus were never are truly content or satisfied? These are true life questions and questions we ask ourselves as we watch Margo pursue a course which could cost her everything. And, of course there is the age old question, of the grass always appearing greener. I really enjoyed how director Polley gave the film a very refreshing style and really made the characters seem like real people. They all have their little quirks and habits and they make decisions based on emotions and are sometimes selfish and not careful about hurting those around them… and they don’t always know what they really want. The performances are strong across the board with Michelle Williams giving another great characterization of the almost childlike Margo, who’s very likable despite her selfish pursuits. Seth Rogen surprises as Lou, a man who obviously loves Margo but, has his own goals and is a little too focused on such to notice his wife is troubled. Luke Kirby is good as the artist Daniel who, much like Margo, decides to selfishly pursue their attraction despite knowing she is married and he will likely undo that. Rounding out the main characters is a perfectly cast Sarah Silverman as Lou’s sarcastic alcoholic sister Geraldine. All in all, this is a refreshingly un-Hollywood indie that takes a look at real people with real emotions making real and sometimes selfish and stupid decisions. Something we are all guilty of and that’s why we can identify with these people and how love or, what we think is love, can be such a confusing factor in our lives. And, most of all, is there such a thing as true happiness or is it an illusion we create ourselves? A very interesting drama that does have a quirky sense of humor to go along with the more serious moments. Also loved director Polley’s visual style and how she made use of the film’s charming Canadian neighborhood locations.

3 and 1/2 hearts!

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REVIEW: BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

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BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

Watched this while I sat on the couch in my Thanksgiving food coma and decided to write a more comprehensive review then I had when it first came out…

After the disastrous Batman and Robin, the Batman series went on hiatus until Chris Nolan rebooted the series with this dark and yet energetic film that returns Batman (Christian Bale) to his origins and portrays The Dark Knight like he should have been portrayed all along, a dark brooding character who dwells in the shadows and not a cabaret act with plastic nipples on his costume. The story starts off with a first half that flashes back and forth between Bruce Wayne’s life as a child (Gus Lewis) and young adult and the subsequent murder of his parents in front of him, and his modern day quest to get deep inside the criminal mind-set by living and acting among them. While in jail in South Asia, Wayne is confronted by Ducard (Liam Neeson) an emissary for Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) a mystic who promises to give him the means to fight the criminal element. Ducard trains Wayne in the art of the ninja but, when Bruce finds that Ra’s methods include murder, he rebels and destroys The League Of Shadows hideout before returning to Gotham to put his training to use as a symbol of good who’ll combat the evil rotting away at Gotham… and The Batman is born. But not only must Batman, along with his trusty butler Alfred (a brilliant Michael Caine), scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and good cop Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), battle crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom WIlkinson) and the psychotic Dr. Jonathan Crane AKA The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) but, a resurrected Ra’s al Ghul who has a catastrophic plan for the city of Gotham. Now that Nolan’s classic Batman trilogy is complete, I can say that this first entry is the lightest and least drama heavy of the three… thought it is far darker and more intense then the previous series. While Batman/Wayne is a brooding character, he has yet to gain the weariness and emotional battle scars he would experience in the following entries. And that works here as we see a Batman who is new at this crime fighting gig and is kinda enjoying it before the weight of the responsibility he has given himself sets in. There is depth to the character and Bale makes a great Bruce Wayne/Batman bringing the pain and rage that drives him to life, without losing the hero in the process. As for his beginnings, the story not only handles the origin strongly but, gives us some strikingly powerful scenes that give us a far better sense of how this man came to be who he is, far better then the Burton film did. Chris Nolan creates a dark and gothic Batman, both visually and conceptually, but, never gets swallowed up by it. The film is still fast paced and exceptionally entertaining despite it’s dark trappings and Nolan also mixes in 3 villains and  large cast of characters and does it without creating an overcrowded mess as with the last film. Every character is developed properly and a fine cast gets equal credit. And what a cast it is. This is possibly one of the best cast films… and series… that you can get. As stated, Bale is great in the part, he creates a Batman who is strong and noble yet very human and he creates a multi-layered Bruce Wayne who is carefree playboy to the outside world and a complex and emotionally scarred man to those few close to him. Watching him evolve the characters over the next two films is a cinematic treat. Caine is simply brilliant as the supportive, caring and honorable Alfred, as is Freeman as the Wayne Enterprises scientist who answers the question “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” and Oldman as the possibly last honest cop in Gotham, who may now have an ally who is above all the corruption and serves the same noble purpose. We can see the hope it gives him, thought is is imbued with caution. Neeson is near perfect… as always… as the villain who shares Batman’s nobility but, with a far different set of principles and methods. Cillian Murphy is slimy and creepy as both Crane and his alter ego Scarecrow and has some amusing cameos in the following entries. Tom Wilkinson practically steals the show as Carmine Falcone, the smug mob boss with a sarcastic sense of humor that makes him even more threatening. Katie Homes may not be quite up to the caliber as some of her co-stars but, she does present a strong and spunky assistant D.A., Rachel Dawes, who is quite believable when she stands up to Falcone’s thugs and Crane’s Scarecrow on her own and also as a caring love interest to Bruce. Rounding out are Rutger Hauer as Wayne Enterprises CEO with his own agenda, Mark Boone Junior as Gordon’s crooked partner and the incomparable Shane Rimmer as a DWP technician. Batman Begins is a great comic book movie and is still one of the best Batman films despite being overshadowed by the masterpiece that is it’s sequel and the epic and operatic third entry. It’s the most “fun” of the three modern classics Nolan has crafted and a great start to a film trilogy that is simply of of the best trilogies in movie history. A Bat Blast!

3 and  1/2 Bats with bats!

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JASON VOORHEES TO RETURN IN NEW FRIDAY THE 13th FLICK!

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The rights to the Friday The 13th series is back in Paramount Studios’ hands and they are wasting no time. The studio has announced a new Friday The 13th film will be released on Friday March 13th 2015 and while fans are celebrating the return of  hockey mask wearing horror icon Jason Voorhees, it is not clear whether this is the rumored found footage style flick that was supposedly being considered or some other kind of reboot/remake which is the current rumor. Either way you can be sure campers will be in peril come March 2015… amusingly, this will be the 13th Friday The 13th flick! Cue music… “ch, ch ,ch… ha, ha ,ha…”

Source: CBM

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

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JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

John Dies At The End is an adaptation of David Wong’s book of the same name written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep). While not familiar with the book, the bizarre and surreal story does seem like a perfect fit for Coscarelli as his films have alway had a touch of both the surreal and a bit of offbeat whimsy. The film starts out with David Wong (Chase Williamson) telling his bizarre tale to a reporter, Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). Wong starts to spin a tale involving himself and his friend, John (Rob Mayes) and their encounters with a powerful drug with a mind of it’s own called “soy sauce”. This bizarre narcotic not only gives the user (if they survive it) heightened psychic awareness but, opens doorways to alternate dimensions. But, once doors are opened they are opened both ways and can John and David stop the beings from the other side from entering our world and making it their own. John Dies is a very strange yet amusing head trip of a movie that won’t appeal to everyone but, under Coscarelli’s guidance, will entertain those who like a movie that isn’t afraid to be weird and unconventional. Coscarelli moves things along briskly and we find out what’s going on along with David and John as the story unfolds in flashback. The story focuses mostly on David as he’s is trying to find out how his friend John’s sudden bizarre behavior one night ties in with meeting a very strange Jamaican (Tai Bennett). As he tries to figure out the surreal occurrences now happening around him, he is drawn into a tale that is the stuff of hallucinogenic nightmares and it becomes a quest for he and John to save the world. Coscarelli wisely uses live effects for most of his surreal sequences and otherworldly creatures and what little digital effects there are, are used sparingly and are decent enough. The live action animatronic creatures and gore are very well done by Make-up FX master Robert Kurtzman and his team and I always prefer to see live prosthetics over CGI. Coscarelli is one of those filmmakers that is very adept at making good use of a small budget and probably would be lost on a Hollywood blockbuster and it is one of the things I like about him as a filmmaker. And here he achieves a lot of visual impact on his small budget. The director has also cast the film well,too. No great performances but, everyone is efficient and effective in their roles and approach the material with appropriate seriousness but, not without a few winks at the audience. Williamson and Mayes are fine and handle the bizarre material well. Clancy Brown in particular seems to be having fun as a TV mystic but, keeps his performance grounded enough to not spill into camp and Giamatti is simply one of the hardest working and best actors out there. And there is a delightful cameo from Phantasm’s Tall Man, Angus Scrimm as well, to please fans of that series. All in all, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, if you like stuff offbeat and a bit out there, and I do, then this is a fun low budget fantasy that is refreshingly and unapologetically weird in a good way.

3 and 1/2 eyes of Korrok.

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WARNING: trailer is graphic…

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

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THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

I am a big fan of director Ti West and of 70s and 80s horror, so that’s already two in the win column for me in regards to West’s homage to late 70s/early 80s occult themed horror flicks. This story, also written by West and set in the early 80s, has financially struggling college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) renting an apartment and now trying to figure out how she is going to pay for it. When a babysitting job at a remote house on the edge of town comes up, Samantha takes it despite warnings from her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) that something isn’t right. When she arrives, Samantha finds a spooky old couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) and learns she is actually there to keep an eye on their elderly mother and not a child. She decides to decline, but an offer of significantly more money coerces her to stay. As this is a horror film, it’s no secret that this night is not going to proceed quietly for Samantha.

Ti West perfectly recreates one of the horror flicks of this bygone era in every detail from the grainy photography and the camera angles to the hairstyles and fashions. But is it a good horror movie? Yes, it most certainly is. Today’s impatient audiences may not appreciate the slow burn, but West keeps the atmosphere creepy and full of foreboding till the suspenseful and blood-soaked finale act. It’s paced much like a fright flick from that time and it worked perfectly for me. It’s set on the night of a lunar eclipse which sets off our primal fears of something supernatural being afoot and Megan’s warnings make us doubt Sam is making the right decision. All adding to the mood and uneasiness. One of the things I like about West, is that he knows how to create tension with his camera and the composition of his shots, much like vintage John Carpenter. With Samantha being alone in the creepy house by herself, there isn’t a lot of dialogue or exposition, so he keeps things tense by giving the house a constant feeling of dread with his lens. He and cinematographer Eliot Rocket film the big old house with lots of shadows where evil may lurk and there are plenty of rooms with closed doors where who-knows-what may reside. It’s like the house itself is a character and one we know is up to no good.

He also gets good performances from his cast. Donahue, who was seen recently playing Barbara Hershey’s younger self in Insidious: Chapter 2, makes a strong heroine. She’s smart, but her need for cash makes her a bit desperate and thus vulnerable. When the blood hits the fan, she’s a fighter we root for. Veterans Noonan and Woronov play The Ulman’s as a bit eccentric and while they appear harmless, there is something off about them that keep us wary about the two, just as Sam is. Gerwig is a spunky and likable friend and there is a nice cameo by horror icon Dee Wallace as Sam’s landlord.

Like the films it pays homage to, it keeps things unsettling but subtle till West is ready to unleash his horrors and then we are in for a bloody and intense final act where a babysitter’s worst nightmare comes true. Even the climax is right out of a horror flick of that era, subtle and spooky. As a nostalgic trip back to a type of horror they don’t make anymore or for a spooky Halloween treat, I definitely recommend it. A really good old school horror flick.

To check out my review of West’s follow up flick The Innkeepers click here!

3 and 1/2 creepy houses that no one in their right mind would want to babysit in.

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES NOVEMBER 22-24

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Complete estimates are in for this weekend’s box office and the top spot caught fire!

1. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” $161 Million

2. “Thor: The Dark World” $14.1 Million

3. “The Best Man Holiday” $12.5 Million

4. “Delivery Man” $8.2 Million

5. “Free Birds” $5.3 million

6. “Last Vegas” $4.4 Million

7. “Bad Grandpa”  $3.5 Million

8. “Gravity” $3.3 Million

9. “12 Years A Slave” $2.8 Million

10. “Dallas Buyers Club” $2.7 Million

source: box office mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EXCALIBUR and CONAN THE BARBARIAN

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Decades before The Lord Of The Rings films hit, these two 80s classics were among my favorite sword and sorcery flicks and while Peter Jackson’s adaptations of some of my favorite books has stolen some of their thunder away, these two still remain favorites and always will…

 

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EXCALIBUR (1981)

“A dream to some… A NIGHTMARE TO OTHERS!”- Merlin

John Boorman’s Excalibur is a beautifully filmed fantasy movie based on the classic legend of King Arthur (Nigel Terry). The film traces the tale from his father King Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and Arthur’s conception and birth to the wife of one of Uther’s rivals, thanks to the trickery of Merlin (Nicol Williamson). It then picks up with young Arthur drawing the sword Excalibur from the stone, going from squire to king and his subsequent marriage to Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and the founding of the round table. From there it follows his downfall from the betrayal of Guenevere’s affair with Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) and his redemption at the finding of The Holy Grail leading to a final battle with his sorceress half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren) and the warrior son she tricked him into conceiving with her, Mordred (Robert Addie).

Adapted from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and sumptuously filmed by Boorman, who co-wrote the script along with Rospo Pallenberg, Excalibur is a gorgeous and sometimes bloody and brutal film that is both fairy tale and dark fantasy and yet also portrays a time when Christianity was slowly forcing out the pagan ways and beliefs. We get some brutal battles along with the throne room melodrama and while the film is full of fantasy elements, Boorman uses in camera effects to portray most of them such as the very effective green light that bathes the legendary sword whenever it is in use or the works of it’s magicians and sorceresses. Every frame of the film looks stunning from the shining silver and gold castle that is Camelot to the final confrontation with Mordred that looks like it came from an Akira Kurosawa samurai flick. The numerous battles are exciting and quite gruesome with spurting blood and hacked off limbs and are a contrast to some of the more peaceful and visually beautiful moments such as Guenevere and Lancelot’s tryst in the forest or the strangely soothing multicolored cavern that Merlin calls home. The film is moderately paced and that is deliberate as it is truly a fairy tale on film and not just an action movie though, we get plenty of that.

If there is any real weakness here, it is that although leads Terry, Lunghi and Clay try hard, neither of the three really have a strong enough screen presence to really convey their character’s legendary status. But, it is supporting players like Williamson’s delightfully eccentric Merlin and Mirren’s sexy and sinister Morgana that really steal the show along with then unknowns Patrick Stewart as Guenever’s father, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain of the round table and Gabriel Byrne as Uther. The leads aren’t bad and don’t ruin the film, it’s just that the before mentioned supporting players have far more impact in their smaller roles and have stronger screen presence then the lead characters that need it most. The film also gets very dark and slows down a bit in the middle but, that is part of the story and it does recover quite nicely for it epic final act. But, these flaws are only minor as the production design and cinematography by Alex Thompson are enough reason alone to watch this film and Boorman does deliver on all the medieval intrigue, sex, sorcery and heroic deeds not to mention the epic clashes and blood soaked combat that we expect from a tale such as this.

The film is highly regarded as a fantasy film classic by many and will always be among my favorites and holds it’s own against Peter Jackson’s fantasy epics quite well. A film that is both a dream-like fantasy and a brutally realistic portrait of a time when men faced each other with cold steal and sacrificed all for honor and loyalty and the film conveys the romance of the time period quite wonderfully as well. But most of all, it’s one of the best adaptations of the classic legend of Arthur and Merlin that even today has yet to really be equalled. A great movie and one of my all time favorites.

3 and 1/2 Excaliburs!

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CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)

“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”- Conan when asked ‘what is best in life?’

Conan the Barbarian is a bonafide classic, one of my favorite movies and obviously the film that started Arnold Schwarzenegger on his path to becoming one of the greatest action movie icons of all time. And if nothing else, it’s one of the most quotable movies as the above line illustrates. The film is based on the classic character and stories by Robert E. Howard and begins with a young Conan (Jorge Sanz) being taught by his father (Wiliam Smith) about the riddle of steel. But, soon the boy’s peaceful village is attacked by a band of warriors led by the sorcerer Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). His parents and people all slaughtered, the young Conan is sold into slavery and once grown into manhood (now Arnold Schwarzenegger) he is then forced into fighting in pits as a gladiator. His numerous victories win the powerful warrior his freedom and he takes to the road as a mercenary and thief joining up with the sly archer Subotai (surfer Gerry Lopez) and the beautiful thief Valeria (dancer Sandahl Bergeman). All this time Conan searches for the man who slaughtered his people and finds that he is now the leader of a snake worshipping cult with a large following that grows across the land. When good King Osric (Max Von Sydow) hires Conan and company to rescue his daughter (Valerie Quennessen) from the very same cult, Conan takes this as an opportunity to finally get revenge on those who slaughtered his people and parents. And a bloody revenge it will be.

Directed by John Milius and co-written by Milius and Oliver Stone, Conan is a violent and brutal yet, almost comic book style sword and sorcery epic filled with fierce and gory battles, daring heroics  and narrow escapes. Conan goes through a lot to gain his vengeance and there is a strangely philosophical side to this flick as one might expect from a film that opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche. The production design by Ron Cobb is simple yet gives Conan a bit of a unique look and style and is well photographed by Duke Callaghan who makes good use of the sets and Spanish locations. It has a bit of a sense of humor but, most of all, is a hard core fantasy with plenty of sex and bloodshed to delight fans of the pulp material. It’s then all wrapped in a wonderfully fitting score by Basil Poledouris which may be one of the legendary composer’s best.

But, as much as I love this movie, I will admit it has it’s problems too. Most come from the cast. Aside from brief cameos by William Smith and Max Von Sydow, there are only two professional actors in the movie, James Earl Jones and Mako. Mako is a bit over the top and eccentric in a film that plays it’s story straight for the most part and Jones, who is among our greatest actors, just doesn’t seem to quite fit in the long black wig and fancy robes of the Jim Jones like Tulsa Doom. He plays a man hypnotized by his own twisted philosophy and drunk on his own power but, when it comes down to it, he’s not as threatening an opponent for the sculpted and strong barbarian and once stripped of his henchmen, he’s poses little opposition for Conan. I’ve come to be endeared to these two characters over time but, will be honest that they didn’t quite work for me when I first saw this flick in 1982. The rest of the cast are dancers and pro athletes, such as Danish bodybuilder Sven-Ole Thorsen as henchman Thorgrim and former football player Ben Davidson as fellow henchman Rexor. These cast members are physically fine but, performances across the board are pretty wooden. Arnold is obviously physically perfect for the part of Conan but, it would be two or three films later before he developed his now legendary screen persona though, one of his best sequences in Conan as an actor was oddly removed from the final cut. Thankfully, the director’s cut restores Conan’s reminisce of the more peaceful days of his childhood with Subotai and we get to see some of Arnold’s best work in the movie as an actor.

As for the rest, the FX are decent and the action is bloody and furious but, it does take awhile before the film really starts moving and there are long stretches between the action scenes. To a degree Conan is considered a classic and I fully agree but, it is a slightly flawed one. The recent director’s cut on DVD is actually a bit better then what was originally released and includes some really nice scenes that flesh things out a bit more such as the Princess accompanying Conan on his final assault on Thulsa Doom in his fortress and a nice scene of Conan contemplating what to do now once his vengeance is complete. Some nice subtle moments that were, for some reason, cut out of the theatrical print are restored and do make Conan a better film. And It goes without saying that the director’s cut also includes a bit more violence that was cut to achieve an R-rating. Sadly this cut has yet to be released on blu-ray. But, all in all, I can forgive Conan it’s flaws as it is a favorite and also brings back memories of the great movie era that was the early 80s… and is the film that set Arnold on his course to legendary status.

The film was followed by an amusing but, inferior and lighter toned sequel and then recently, a somewhat entertaining if not forgettable remake with Jason Momoa as the barbaric hero. Word now comes that Arnold will return to the role as an aging Conan in a new film and it would be nice if this really happens and Arnold brings closure to the role he still owns. Can’t wait.

3 and 1/2 war axes!

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REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

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THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

I have to start out by saying that I have never read the Hunger Games books and therefor am taking the movies for what they are. That being said, I enjoyed the first film, it was no classic but, it was entertaining and Jennifer Lawrence gave a strong performance as usual. But, sadly the second film based on this trilogy of popular books is a moody and bleak disappointment. Catching Fire picks up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) about to embark on their victory tour to be paraded like show ponies through the districts. But, Katniss’ act of defiance that provoked the unprecedented two winners in the 74th Hunger Games has sown the seeds of dissent throughout the 12 districts and is seen by The Capitol as a symbol of rebellion. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) himself visits Katniss to warn her to play nice on the tour or her family and friends will suffer the consequences. Meanwhile Katniss is suffering from the horrible guilt of having to kill and watch others she bonded with die and no matter where she goes, she finds herself being looked up to as a symbol of hope against the totalitarian government and her own contempt for The Capitol grows each day. Snow’s new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) proposes a solution to their woes… to make the 75th Hunger Game a battle between selected former winners of the games from each district and to make sure Miss Everdeen is not amongst the winners this time. Now, as the wind of rebellion is starting across the districts, Katniss and Peeta must fight once more and this time against proven killers. Will the shell shocked Katniss survive once again or will the country’s hope for freedom be crushed with the death of their symbol of defiance. Catching Fire is this time directed by Francis Lawrence who gave us the moody and bleak fantasy flicks Constantine and I Am Legend and brings that same dark and grim atmosphere to this middle chapter of the book based trilogy and to be honest little else. Fire is a rather dull and by the numbers sequel with a very sedate and bleak look to go along with it’s oppressive atmosphere. I realize this is a story of a land governed by a cruel and iron fisted government who are planning to basically execute the peoples’ first glimmer of hope so, I didn’t expect rainbows and unicorns but, when a movie like this’ best scene involves a dress, then you know there’s not much going for it. Even with Katniss being inserted into another combat, the 75th Hunger Game provides very little action and literally no suspense as it focuses on Katniss and group of allies commiserating in the jungle arena with very little threat save some poison gas and some foul tempered primates. Their actual foes rarely put in an appearance, save when their pictures are displayed above in the sky to signal their demise… most of which prompted this reviewer  to ask “who the hell was that?” And that’s also a problem, we only get to know the participants that are crucial to the plot and the rest are just fodder to try to give the game some urgency and body count… and it doesn’t really work because, we never really care about these people and some we have never even met. To be honest save for a few moments, such as the before mentioned dress scene, I was pretty bored with what was going on. Katniss never seems to be in control like in the first film and spends most of the film pouting or having combat flashbacks and we never get endeared to or behind her like in the first flick. She seems to have lost the strength she gained at the end of the last film. Here she seems to stew in her unhappiness and let others around her do all the work till literally the last few moments of the film. And it’s not until the very last scene do we finally see the fire back in the eyes of the girl on fire… then we are left with an open ending leading into the third flick. Sorry, but for someone who hasn’t read the books, this was completely unsatisfying. The cast all perform their roles just fine with Harrelson once again standing out and giving a strong turn as Abernathy… he has become one of the best actors out there… Sutherland is appropriately slimy and singer Lenny Kravitz also impresses as Cinna. As for leading lady Lawrence, she is good and gives the part a lot of emotional depth but, since most of those emotions require her to pout, cry or have a screaming out-burst, it’s just hard to warm up to Katniss this time. And as for her co-star, like in the first flick , Hutcherson recites his lines with does eyes making his every scene appear like he’s posing for a velvet painting. And does Katniss really love him or the hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth, Thor’s brother) because, I am confused at this point and not sure I care. So, in conclusion, this second Hunger Games failed to get my interest or emotional involvement in the story because, it was just too dark and bleak and gave us a lead character who, instead of being a symbol of hope, looked like she was ready to climb under a blanket on the couch and pout with a gallon of ice cream and a bottle of scotch. And after watching this moody second installment you might want to too! At least the sets and FX were top notch and Harrelson and a few others elevated their performances above the dark cloud that hovers over this flick. Very disappointing.

2 and  1/2 J-Laws!

jennifer 2 and 1-2 rating

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