REVIEW: OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

out_of_the_furnace_ver2_xlg

bars

OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013)

Out Of The Furnace is a very intense and well-acted drama that only makes one glaring plot mistake in an otherwise solidly written film by Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper. The film takes place in the run-down steel town of  North Braddock, PA. and tells the story of brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) Baze. Russell is a good natured and hard working man who, like his ailing father, works at the steel mill and earns a meager but, honest living. Rodney is a traumatized Iraqi war veteran whose inner rage prevents him from finding peace with a normal job and turns to gambling and illegal fighting under the guidance of small town crook, John Petty (Willem Dafoe). A tragic accident sees a tired and mildly intoxicated Russell hit another car and kill the mother and child within. This sends Russell to prison while Rodney’s inability to take a fall when required, leaves him in growing debt. Once his time is done, Russell is released to find his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) has left him for the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker), his father has died and Rodney in deep with the sleazy local gangster Petty. But, despite his efforts to set his brother straight and get his life in order, Rodney forces Petty to get him involved with an illegal bare-knuckles fight run by vicious backwoods gangster Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) in the Ramapo Mountains in New Jersey. Rodney hopes this big payoff will clear his debt with Petty and clear Petty’s debt with DeGroat. But, Harlan DeGroat is a devious and vile person and despite taking the fall he was told too, Rodney and Petty do not return home. The law’s inability to pierce the veil of silence around these mountain-folk and exact justice sets the mild-mannered Russell on a vengeful collision course that will put him face to face with a very dangerous man. Make no mistake, as directed and co-written (with Brad Ingelsby) by Scott Cooper, this is a strong and sometimes powerful drama about a man who wants to live a simple, peaceful life but, is forced by circumstance to put his good-naturedness aside and take vengeful action. During the 80s this kind of plot might have been a far simpler film starring the likes of Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal but, under Cooper’s guidance, a simple revenge flick becomes a powerful story filled with multi-dimensional characters. And it is the characters that are the focus of this tale and not the minimal gunfire or occasional violence… though that has it’s own intensity as well. Which does bring me to my one gripe. As this film does choose to focus on the characters and the effects the film’s events has on their lives, I found it very hard to believe that Russell would put innocent people in harm’s way and in one instance, get someone killed for his own personal revenge. I understand he is driven by anger and frustration but, especially after seeing how torn-up he was after his car accident cost two innocents their lives, the fact that even now he would again put, lives in danger, other than his own, is hard for me to accept. It’s the only major flaw I find with this otherwise engrossing drama. I don’t believe Russell would put his quest for payback before the lives of others and here he does not once but, twice. To discuss it any deeper would be to present plot points important to the story so, I won’t go any further but, it doesn’t make sense coming from the character we’ve gotten to know. And as we are discussing the characters, it’s only fitting to mention the great cast that brings them to life. Bale is once again near brilliant as the simple, kind-hearted Russell and portrays his slow burn path from simple steelworker taken by the events around him on courses that shatter the quiet life he seeks and has him turn against his very own moral code. Casey Affleck is a rage-filled powder keg and despite his anger and inner pain, we do feel sympathy for a man who fought through a nightmare for his country and now feels lost and abandoned by it. He and Bale have some really intense scenes together and I do mean intense. Defoe is solid, as always, as the sleazy, yet somehow likable small time crook Petty. He seems like the type of small fish criminal who doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t play in the bigger pond until it’s far too late. Harrelson again delivers the goods with his portrayal of  Harlan DeGroat. He is intense, frightening and a little intriguing as the backwoods drug dealer and crimelord with very little morality or sympathy. He’s a monster but, one with multiple dimensions and not a cliche’ or caricature as the role could have been in a lesser film. Saldana shows she is more then a pretty face as Lena but, her character seems to disappear for the most part once the meat of the plot gets in motion. She is good in her scenes but, the character all but disappears in the last act and seems forgotten. Rounding out the cast is Forest Whitaker doing his usual good work as the sheriff with whom Russell has personal issues involving Lena and Sam Shepard, who can sit in a chair and ooze character, is very likable in a small role as the Baze boys’ uncle. So, basically we have a simple story made into a powerful drama by a skilled writer/director and a simply great cast that is able to overcome a glaring plot flaw to retain it’s strength and impact by the time the credits role. Not quite a great movie but, a really damn good one with some top notch acting by a first rate cast.

3 and 1/2 bulletts.

raid rating

bars

MUSIC REVIEW: LACUNA COIL-BROKEN CROWN HALO (2014)

MZNJ_MR

now playing

lacuna coil_brokenCrownHalo

bars

LACUNA COIL-BROKEN CROWN HALO (2014)

Since first hearing this Italian goth metal band, I have always been a fan. The one-two punch of Cristina Scabbia’s hauntingly powerful vocals and Andrea Ferro’s deeper more gruff sounding voice gives them a unique sound when combined with the instrumentals of the talented band members supporting the two singers. Each album seems to have it’s own personality and are equally strong in presenting a solid set of tracks that all seem to fit together… and Broken Crown Halo is no different. This new album of 11 strong tracks presents the theatrical and powerful sound this band’s fans love and yet somehow seems intriguing and fresh at the same time. Maybe it’s just that after all these years… they formed in 1994… the band still has a strong passion for their music. And no more proof of this then in the fist pumping opening track “Nothing Stands In Our Way” that hits us with a blast of Ferro’s fierce growl and intense guitars and keyboards with Miss Scabbia joining in for a head banging anthem whose title says it all. The album and it’s songs are filled with the type of gothic lyrics we expect from Lacuna Coil evoking dark images, equally dark emotions and creatures of the night but, not without a glimmer of hope or a chance of overcoming the darkness. No matter how bleak or gloomy things get, the band’s songs always seem to offer the strength to overcome or carry on, such as in the song “Victims” which is about being anything but. My favorite songs are always the ones where Cristina Scabbia really cuts loose such as “Hostages To The Light” and “I Forgive (But I Won’t Forget Your Name)”. While certainly no slight meant to the talented Andrea Ferro… who can hold his own quite well vocally… Scabbia has one of  the best voices in rock and obviously it’s a feast for the ears when she unloads with her full range. She and Ferro compliment each other very well, which is why the songs sound so rich especially when layered with the instrumentals which sometimes go beyond guitar, bass, keyboards and drums to have a more orchestral sound. Again, their stuff is very theatrical but, producer Jay Baumgardner has ensured it’s all mixed perfectly with one element never overpowering another, despite the strength each element has on it’s own. All the pieces come together to compliment the big picture. No better example of this deft production work then the powerful “Cybersleep” and the somber final track “One Cold Day” which contain all these elements in an intoxicating mix. And despite their flair for dramatic sounds, none of the songs ever overstay their welcome with even the 6 minute + “One Cold Day” seeming just right in it’s length. Obviously I am biased. I love this band and am a huge fan. But, it still doesn’t overshadow the fact that this band consistently puts out quality albums with few, if any, weak songs. Obviously, you have to be a fan of this kind of music and as someone who loves both metal and goth/industrial, I get the best of both worlds from Lacuna Coil and they deliver solid album after solid album. I have yet to be disappointed by one of their discs and I don’t expect to be anytime soon. And Broken Crown Halo is about as far from a disappointment as one can get. A powerful, consistently strong album of songs from a band that is passionate about making their music and let’s you hear it for yourself in every track. If you’re a fan, I highly recommend this, their latest album. If you’re not familair with them but, love metal or goth metal, I equally and enthusiastically recommend you give Broken Crown Halo a spin. Lacuna Coil also includes Cristiano Migliore, Christiano Mozzati (who both retired from the band early this year but, are featured on the album) Marco Biazzi and Marco Cot Zelati along with Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia. All songs were written and composed by the members of Lacuna Coil and Jay Baumgardener.

Track Listing

1.”Nothing Stands In Our Way”  4:07

2.”Zombies”  3:47

3.”Hostage To The Light”  3:56

4.”Victims”  4:31

5.”Die & Rise”  3:44

6.”I Forgive (But I Won’t Forget Your Name)”  3:56

7.”Cybersleep”  4:26

8.”Infection”  4:23

9.”I Burn In You”  4:15

10.”In The End I Feel Alive”  4:21

11.”One Cold Day” 6:09

3 and 1/2 guitars

guitar rating

bars

 

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES MARCH 28-30

MZNJ_New_WBO

Complete estimates are in for the weekend and biblical heroes drown Austrian oaks!

1. “Noah” $44 Million

2.”Divergent” $26.5 Million

3. “Muppets Most Wanted” $11.4 Million

4. “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” $9.5 Million

5. “God’s Not Dead” $9 Million

6. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” $8.8 Million

7. “Sabotage” $5.3 Million

8. “Need For Speed” $4.33 Million

9. “300: Rise Of An Empire” $4.3 Million

10. “Non-Stop”  $4 Million

source: box office mojo

bars

MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND

MZNJ_SNDF

now playing

double feature_RE_FB

bars

This week’s double feature are two films that go very well together, at least in my opinion. They are both from the 80s, both co-written and directed by Stuart Gordon, both are based loosely on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and both star the incomparable Jeffrey Combs and the lovely Barbara Crampton. Not to mention, they are probably two of the best features to come out of Charles Band’s prolific Empire Pictures… certainly the most infamous.

re-animator

bars

RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, this delightfully fun gore-fest opens in a university in Switzerland with something going frightfully wrong in one of the labs and security and faculty rushing to see what is going on. They burst in to find famed Doctor Hans Gruber (Al Berry) a bloody screaming mess with brilliant student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) at his side with a syringe. Gruber dies and West is accused of his murder causing him to reply that it was he who gave him life. We then cut to Miskatonic University where West has appeared and seeks to continue his education. He rooms with fellow medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) who is dating Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), who is Dean Halsey’s (Robert Sampson) daughter. But West’s true goal is to continue his experiments with defeating death using a serum he’s developed and he begs Cain to assist him. After being given some gruesome proof, involving Cain’s cat, that West’s serum works, he agrees. But one of their experiments goes horribly awry and not only leads to the death…and re-animation…of Dean Halsey, but also gets the unwanted attention of rival Doctor Carl Hill, who wants West’s serum as his own. This sets a series of blood-soaked events in motion that sees corpses rise and headless foes carrying out their own diabolical plot that puts the lives of West, Cain and the lovely Megan in grave danger…emphasis on grave.

Directed by Stuart Gordon, Re-Animator is a really entertaining and deliriously blood-spattered treat that perfectly straddles the line between comedy and horror. And it’s my experience that comedy/horror is one of the hardest types of flicks to make as the blend has to be just right to work…and Gordon nails it here. There are some set pieces here that are both grotesque and hilarious, such as West and Cain’s first experiment gone wrong and the really over the top morgue-set finale that includes Megan as a nude and bound damsel being menaced by a perverted severed head…it’s the scene this flick is most famous for and I will always have much respect for Barbara Crampton being such a good sport in performing it and with such seriousness.

And while we are on the subject of the cast, they all do a perfect job of taking the material seriously yet adding that touch of theatricality that gives it a much welcome energy and buoyancy despite the gruesome subject matter. Few films with so many severed limbs and so much spurting blood have been this giddy. This is the flick that introduced the genre world to Jeffery Combs who is not only a horror icon, but equally iconic in the world of Star Trek as well. He plays West very seriously, but takes him over the top just enough to delightfully evoke the mad scientist vibe he needs to make his part work. Abbott plays the straight man to West’s demented yet determined scientist and is a noble, if not flawed hero. Crampton’s Megan is basically required to be a feisty girlfriend who mistrusts West and then become a damsel to be rescued, but she’s beautiful and hot and a real sport for her work in the last act that has earned her special status among horror fans. This and her equally racy work in From Beyond make her a real trooper in my book. Rounding out the main cast is Robert Sampson as stern father and school dean Alan Hasley and he seems to play both dean and zombie henchman with equal relish and David Gale provides a truly dispicable villain in Dr. Hill whose villainy extends quite beyond decapitation and death. The performances hit the right notes and keep Gordon’s flick balanced on that horror/comedy line.

The gore FX are excellent and quite disgusting, especially during a final act that sees all manner of corpses, limbs and viscera coming to life and reeking havoc. Again if the FX didn’t work, the film wouldn’t have near the impact it does. Add a witty script by Gordon, Dennis Paoli and William J.Norris and an energetic score by Richard Band and you have a cult classic movie that hits all the right marks and doesn’t miss a beat. One of my favorite horrors and one I can proudly say I was able to catch it in a theater…the Hyway Cinema in Fairlawn, N.J. to be exact…back in the day in 1985. A fun, gory good time!

-MonsterZero NJ

4 disembodied heads.

reanimator rating

 
plus

from_beyond

bars

FROM BEYOND (1986)

Stuart Gordon followed up his cult hit Re-Animator with another H.P. Lovecraft inspired story, this one about experiments to expand the senses into other dimensions. The result is a weird, sometimes kinky and moderately entertaining film, but it didn’t live up to the instant classic it followed…which admittedly, were big shoes to fill…though it has developed a cult following of it’s own.

The film opens with scientists Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) and Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) initiating The Resonator, a machine that uses sound waves to stimulate the pineal gland in the human brain which would allow one to see into other dimensions. The experiment works until something from another dimension sees them back. The result is Pretorius left without a head and Tillinghast driven out of his. The young scientist is institutionalized and the authorities want answers. Enter beautiful Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), a psychologist who volunteers to take Crawford back to the Pretorius house to determine if he is truly crazy or if they really did unleash something through their experiments. Accompanied by Det. Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), the three try to restart The Resonator and piece together what happened that fateful night. But the more Dr. McMichaels sees of the accomplishments the two men made, the more she is seduced by needing to push the experiment further. And despite Crawford’s dire warnings, Katherine unleashes a horror upon the three that none of them may escape.

From Beyond is a far more serious and ambitious flick then Re-Animator and could have used a bit more of that film’s theatrical tone. Gordon directs with a far more somber and dark feel then his last flick, despite the borderline goofiness of some of what goes on. While there is a smattering of humor, the comic aspects of his re-animated corpse epic are gone and replaced with a bit of a surreal atmosphere with a touch of S&M, as he once again portrays science gone too far. This time his story focuses on heightening the senses of the living and not raising the dead…and it’s not as much fun and not always successful as the film sometimes seems to bite off more then it can chew for it’s small budget. The FX this time are not limited to gore, but various creatures including the constantly evolving monstrosity that Pretorius has become, now that his twisted mind is taking physical form on the other side. The production tries to accomplish The Thing-like creatures with a fraction of the budget and the FX are mixed, with some being quite effective and others being rubbery or just plain unconvincing. Another thing is that the film is shot entirely on sound stages and it shows. The film never quite looks real. More like a filmed play than a movie.

A big plus though, is that the cast are all good. Combs plays more of a victim here, a man mentally wounded by what he has seen and experienced and he is fine, though, except for a few really bizarre and over the top moments, he seems a bit wasted somewhat as it’s becomes Crampton’s show. And Barbara Crampton does shine as she gets a far meatier part from Gordon and co-scripters Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli. She starts out as a young doctor resented for her accomplishments at her youthful age and then slowly turns mad scientist as the experiment’s allure pulls her in. Once again she is a trooper for Gordon as the pineal gland stimulation also controls sexual urges and Dr. McMichaels gets her dominatrix on in the film’s most notorious scene and gets her pretty flesh again ravaged by prosthetic horrors. Next we have the always delightful Ken Foree as the big teddy bear cop who has some of the best moments and lines. Not sure why Foree never became a bigger star. He can play a tough guy and has charm and charisma to spare and it’s on full display here. Rounding out is Ted Sorel who is dripping with malice and madness as Pretorius, but we see little of him not covered in pounds of latex monster make-up and not getting to know him well limits him to being a fairly generic villain, though well played.

But the biggest flaw with From Beyond is it’s weak script. The dialog is hokey, the science is obviously more science fiction…which is fine…and it really needed to flesh out the characters and situations a bit more, and at least Gordon is lucky his cast helped out on the character front, adding some dimension to their portrayals. We could have used a clearer idea of what lurked in this other dimension to establish a deeper threat and a more gradual portrayal of the effects it has on the house occupants. They transform way to fast and the film’s over too quickly before we really feel the story’s accomplished anything other then the time-honored ‘leave well enough alone’ moral. What really was the point other then to shower the screen with goo and gore and get the shapely Ms. Crampton into a leather corset…not that I mind. The film is almost a series of set-pieces more then a complete movie with a smooth narrative flow. Sure we were entertained somewhat,the film has it’s degree of fun, but we’re never swept off our feet like with Re-Animator and sadly, Gordon has never again hit his stride or equalled his accomplishment with that classic.

Overall, I do like From Beyond. It’s got a midnight movie feel, some unintentionally goofy goings on and definitely benefits from the 80s nostalgia now, too. But it is a bit of a disappointment after Re-Animator and once it’s over you just get the feeling there was potential there to achieve a lot more even with what they had to work with. An amusing diversion that is fun enough when viewed from a guilty pleasure perspective, but could have been something more, or at least had a little more fun with what it was.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 saucy psychologists.

from beyond rating

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

jason goes to hell

bars

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993)

NOTE: As stated at the end of my Part 8 review, Horror You Might Have Missed will cover the rest of my Friday The 13th retrospective as the series would pick up in the 90s and 2000s under New Line CInema who bought the rights after Takes Manhattan. I consider anything after 1990 as more current and doesn’t fall under my nostalgia classification. -MZNJ

New Line Cinema bought the rights to the Friday The 13th series after Paramount gave up after the awful Friday The 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan and I’m not sure what their intentions were, as this is subtitled The Final Friday yet, it’s goofy climax implies we may not have seen the last of Mr. Voorhees quite yet… though they all sort of imply that anyway. Whatever their game plan, New Line’s attempt at continuing or giving closure to the warn-out series, delivered an awful mess that clearly stands as the worst of this series and not only succeeds in being even more awful than Takes Manhattan but, completely rips off the 80s cult classic The Hidden as well. The ‘story’, if I can call it that, opens with a beautiful young woman (Julie Michaels) arriving alone at a remote cabin at Crystal Lake. Soon she is besieged by hockey mask wearing serial killer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) and the chase is on. Jason follows her into the woods where he is ambushed and literally blown apart by a SWAT team… how many years did it take to come up with this plan? At the morgue, Jason’s shredded remains are being examined by a coroner (Richard Grant) who becomes mesmerized as Jason’s heart begins to beat by itself and, under some kind of trance, he proceeds to eat the heart and embark on a murder spree, including a fellow coroner and two security guards (one amusingly also played by Kane Hodder). We find out through bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams)… a character that exists solely to provide exposition… that Jason wants to be reborn and he can only do that… or be destroyed for that matter… through another Voorhees. Where Duke gets his information while the rest of the world scratches it’s head over Jason’s invulnerability is anyone’s guess. Luckily this flick not only invents a half-sister, Diana (Erin Gray) for Jason but, a granddaughter, Jessica (Kari Keegan) and a baby great-granddaughter. Now Jason goes from body to body in the form of a slimy serpent-like creature trying to track his kin down and slaying everyone who gets in the way, in gruesome fashion… still with me?… So, now it’s up to Jessica’s super annoying baby daddy Steven (John D. LeMay) to try to save his ex and their offspring and destroy Jason’s heart so he may never rise again… unless the monster succeeds in being reborn first. I really appreciate co-writer (with Dean Lorey and Jay Haguely) and director Adam Marcus trying to take this series in a different direction but, this barely coherent mess is hardly a good start. The story seems to be making things up as it goes along especially when it comes to Duke’s insightful and extensive information about Jason which, might have saved dozens of lives had he spoken up about 10 years earlier. Obviously the story adds facts and characters when it needs them to serve the plot such as Jason’s heart only being able to be destroyed by another Voorhees… and a special dagger… though it never explains why there is so much supernatural hocus-pocus surrounding the suddenly plentiful Voorhees family or where this special blade came from. As mentioned the whole body to body ability of Jason in slimy serpent form is directly lifted out of New Line’s own classic The Hidden which had an alien outlaw doing that in L.A. The tone of the film is all over the place with some sequences being dead serious or viciously gory one minute and then silly and downright goofy the next (such as the duo who own the diner). And with it’s wandering tone it’s hard to connect with the flick as it can’t make up it’s mind what it wants to be. The film then comes to a really silly climax that looks like it came right out of an episode of Charmed complete with cheesy TV level animation FX. When the surprise last scene comes, it’s the coolest thing in the flick but, at that point we are too dazed by the previous 90 minutes of nonsense that we can’t even enjoy the implications. Except for TV vet Erin Gray, whose character has far too little screen time, the cast make very little impression with LeMay being super annoying as Steven… this dude needed a punch in the face… and Williams trying to act badass for a character that basically doesn’t do much else then talk and tell other people they have to handle things. Again, his bounty hunter exists totally for exposition purposes and despite his ‘too cool’ act, he is as useful as a steak is to a vegan. At least the gore FX people did a good job and escape this garbage with their reputations intact. Despite the return of Harry Manfredini, the films has zero Friday The 13th feel which isn’t helped by the fact that Jason appears for about 5 minutes in the beginning and then about just as long in the end. It’s an awful mess of a movie that’s last few seconds lends the only clue as to why New Line even bothered to purchase the rights in the first place… and they couldn’t even use the authentic laugh in the cameo. Awful crap and one of the lowest grossing of the series!

1  hockey mask.

friday 13 p8 rating

bars

FIRST TRAILER HITS FOR ‘PHANTASM V: RAVAGER!’

MZNJ_NEW_news

PhantasmVteaser_big

Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm is one of my all time favorite horror films and while I never felt the sequels ever measured up to the original, they were creative and fun. Now out of nowhere we have word and footage that a fifth installment is not only headed our way but, already in the can. This flick entitled Phantasm V: Ravager was written and directed by Coscarelli collaborator David Hartman and features all the classic cast members including Angus Scrimm and even Kathy Lester who was the mysterious ‘Lady In Lavender’ in the very first film. I can’t wait!…

source Shock Til You Drop/Youtube

bars

TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE EVIL (1978)

MZNJ_New_TON

now playing

The_evil_1978

bars

THE EVIL (1978)

This 1978 haunted house flick, released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, spooked me quite a bit as a kid. And upon a recent revisit, I still found it to be a fun, nostalgic good time, but obviously for different reasons. It may be tame and kind of silly by today’s standards, but as 70s B-movie horror entertainment, it’s delightfully effective. The film opens with drunk caretaker Sam (Ed Bakey) grumbling about having to clean up the large old house he now enters. He hears children laughing once inside and follows the sounds into the basement to the cold, dead furnace…which promptly blazes to life and sets him on fire. Creepy old house now has our attention! We soon find the large old house is being renovated by psychologist, C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) as a clinic, along with his doctor wife Caroline (Joanna Pettet). They are getting help from volunteers and friends who are going to work and live there over the summer till it is ready to open. Despite some spooky occurrences during the walk-through and local tales that the house and grounds are haunted, they move in anyway and begin work. And as soon as they do, the weirdness begins such as apparitions, strange noises, moving objects and a seemingly friendly pet dog who turns vicious. As a man of science, C.J. refuses to believe there is anything supernatural going on, even when his wife finds a diary that warns of an ancient doorway to evil within the house, that has been sealed and must never be opened. So, of course, when C.J. finds a stone door in the cellar floor sealed by a cross…he removes the cross and opens it. To say all hell breaks loose is far more appropriate than you think, as now the house is sealed by some horrible force and the trapped guests are being tormented and murdered one by one in gruesome ways. Will they find a way to escape with their lives?…and their souls?

Written and directed by Gus Trikonis (Moonshine County Express), The Evil has everything you could want from a 70s B-Movie haunted house flick. There’s cheesy apparitions with dire warnings, levitations, diabolical echoing laughter, an endless thunderstorm, possessions, horrible deaths and even a showdown with Old Scratch (Victor Buono) himself. What more could you want to go along with a six pack of your favorite poison on a Saturday night?  Trikonis’ style is pretty straightforward and he takes his material seriously, but he is definitely having fun with his supernatural story, as it’s elements are presented with just the right touch of theatricality and flair. The cheesy dialog and simple FX work all the better because, it is presented sincerely and not made a joke of. It’s not the intense, visceral horror of today’s standards…though there are some violent moments that are still effective…but the film has it’s devious heart in the right place and I appreciate the daring of having our atheist hero actually come face to face with the Prince Of Darkness himself for a James Bond-ish hero vs. villain Tête-à-Tête at the film’s climax. It works better then you think, especially due to some witty dialog and Buono’s malice drenched performance that goes just over-the-top enough without becoming camp.

The rest of the cast take their parts seriously, too, with Crenna giving us a man of science who is resisting the notion that the supernatural things he’s disbelieved all his life may be far too real. And to survive, he may have to turn to the God, whose existence he has always denied. Pettet gives us a solid heroine in his wife and as she’s a doctor, too, she is strong-willed and a fighter, though far more receptive to what she is experiencing than her husband. The supporting cast, including 70s mainstays Andrew Prine and Cassie Yates, all do well in creating likable people out of characters who all face possible doom in the grasp of an ancient evil right out of a bedtime story. It’s treating the material with respect and playing it straight by cast and crew that makes this film so much fun. If it were played for laughs, then we as the audience would appreciate it much less. Our entertainment comes from the fact that it’s all being presented to us in a serious manner, whether it be the house’s former tenant possessing Caroline right before C.J.’s eyes, or his arguing there must be a scientific explanation for a house filled with diabolical laughter locking you and your friends inside. Sure doc…it’s the humidity.

It all comes down to a really entertaining 70s B-Movie horror that, while it may not be perfect and may not scare like it did back in it’s day, still thoroughly entertains for much different reasons and that, is still entertainment after all. A flick made unintentionally campy by the passage of time, but still not without some very effective moments. A prime example of fun, nostalgic 70s B-Movie horror!

3 delightfully devilish Buonos.

the evil rating

bars

IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON (2013)

MZNJ_ICFA

now playing

detective dee 2

bars

YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON (2013)

Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame was a fun martial arts mystery and it’s success has inspired Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark to have another go around and this time he goes back to the character’s beginnings and create a prequel which portrays Dee’s first case as a member of the Da Lisi, the law enforcement agency of the city of Luoyang. He also has chosen to add a lot more fantasy elements this time as Dee’s first case involves a sea monster, a merman, a vile plot to poison Luoyang’s public officials, including the emperor, and a beautiful courtesan (Angelababy… which is the real stage name for actress/singer/model Angela Yeung). The movie opens as Dee (now Mark Chao) enters the city of Luoyang to begin work as an officer of the law but, right away he is thrust into a case involving the attempted kidnapping of courtesan Yin Ruijii (Angelababy) which becomes complicated when a mysterious ‘merman’ becomes involved. The case is also somehow linked to a massive sea monster that destroyed Luoyang’s war fleet and is being investigated by Dee’s rival Yuchi Zhenjin (Feng Shaofeng) who thinks Dee is not to be trusted and would rather see him behind bars. The plot thickens as the city’s officials have been poisoned and somehow Dee mush earn his rival’s trust and find out how all these elements tie together before it’s too late. Dee prequel is not without it’s entertainment there is definitely some fun here but, it is also a lot more far-fetched then it’s predecessor and a lot longer as it is very plot-heavy despite the lighter nature of that plot. Hark seems to really go overboard with the sillier elements of the movie and equally so with the CGI effects and the film tends to be a bit overblown at times like his 2001 The Legend Of Zu which was in CGI effects overload. The previous Dee had fantasy elements but, they were grounded and restrained, here Hark really cuts loose and we get a film that is a lot lighter and a lot more cartoonish then the last movie. Aside from creatures and gravity defying foes, Dee also seems to have an ability that resembles ‘Spider Sense” as he can deduce complicated and detailed conclusions just by looking at objects and this ‘skill’ is vividly illustrated with CGI fueled sequences which make him appear borderline clairvoyant. It’s silly. The FX this time are mixed with some CGI being weak and some, like the film’s really cool sea monster, are excellently rendered. The film was obviously made in 3D and we get a lot of stuff flying at us and it is really distracting in 2D and the martial arts sequences are really over the top this time and don’t even try to seem somewhat grounded in reality. It just seems Hark went really overboard and at 133 minutes, he also stretches things out far too long and despite all the action and fantasy, the film seems very long-winded at times. The cast all perform well and while Mark Chao gives it his all as young Dee, he just doesn’t quite have the screen presence of veteran Andy Lau though, his Dee is likable if not a touch smug. The first Detective Dee was an entertaining movie and as a fan of this stuff, I did find much to entertain me here but, it is still an overindulgent, far-fetched and sillier step down from the first movie which, in itself wasn’t perfect and and would have been better served by a little restraint. Worth a look for Hong Kong film fans but, it’s a bit of a disappointment and just barely avoids being an overblown mess. Also stars Carina Lau reprising her role as Empress Wu from the the original Detective Dee, the only original cast member to return.

2 and 1/2 swords.

Dee 2 rating

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ODD THOMAS (2013)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

odd_thomas

bars

ODD THOMAS (2013)

Even someone like me who has been watching movies for almost five decades and can be very cynical about them at times can be pleasantly surprised occasionally by a movie I wasn’t expecting much from. Odd Thomas is one of those pleasant surprises. Based on a book of the same name and the following series of novels by Dean Koontz, Stephen Sommers’ adaptation tells the story of Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) an eccentric young fellow who lives in Pico Mundo, a small town in California, and has a very unique talent. He is a clairvoyant who not only sees dead people, but other unearthly spirits as well. Odd Thomas…his real name…uses his special gifts to not only bring justice to those whose deaths are caused by foul play, but to thwart evil in general whenever it rears it’s ugly head. He has a beautiful, loving girlfriend, Stormy (Addison Timlin) who understands his powers and is very supportive and acts as a sidekick. He also has a good friend in the local police chief (Willem Dafoe) who is grateful to Thomas’ ability to find the guilty and prevent heinous acts before they are committed. But there is an evil brewing in Pico Mundo signaled by the appearance of a strange man (Shuler Hensley) surrounded by demons and a rash of nightmares suffered by Odd, and some close to him, that foretell of a coming doom…a doom that even Odd Thomas may not be able to stop. But Odd is going to try, even if it costs him his life.

Despite being a far smaller film than Mummy and G.I. Joe director Stephen Sommers is used to, he brings his creative energy and fine-tunes his over-the-top style to give Odd Thomas a fast paced and eccentric tone that perfectly fits the material. He also creates some very creepy moments with his visual eye and crafts some very tense and suspenseful sequences, especially in the nail-biting last act. But what really made Odd Thomas a special treat for me was the combination of Sommers’ witty script banter and the wonderful work from his cast, especially lead Anton Yelchin. Yelchin creates a very likable hero who is saddled with a great burden and yet, not only uses it to do good and defeat evil, but is actually happy to do so. The banter between he and adorable leading lady Addison Timlin really creates a delightful character dynamic between the two and totally makes the relationship between this strange, yet noble, young man and his spunky and fiery girlfriend, work. It’s very effective and makes you really care about both of them. The same goes when either character is onscreen with Dafoe. The dynamic between the three characters is a delight to watch and really is what makes an already good supernatural suspense thriller even more enjoyable. Timlin and the veteran Dafoe shine in their parts and are great support for what is Yelchin’s show, one he carries to perfection. Shuler Hensley is also creepy and unsettling as “Fungus Bob”…Odd’s name for the man who triggers the events of the film…but he is just the tip of the iceberg and I will say no more as the less you know going in, the better it draws you into Odd’s attempt to uncover the diabolical plot in the making.

Odd Thomas is an odd and off-beat but very effective film from a writer/director usually more at home with bigger, more comic book-style stories. But here he shows he can also take things down a few notches and gives us some chills and entertainment on a smaller and more intimate scale. He can also gives us some very endearing and three dimensional characters to go with his story. And this book-based story of evil, both supernatural and human created, and the young man who stands in it’s way, is very entertaining if anything. A really fun and very plesant surprise. Shame this flick is getting dumped unceremoniously onto home media when so much junk gets a theatrical release.

Check out my review of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas book series HERE.

3 and 1/2 baseball bats.

odd thomas rating

bars

SET SHOTS FROM ‘AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON’ REVEAL SCARLET WITCH, QUICKSILVER AND ULTRON HIMSELF!…SORT OF

MZNJ_NEW_news

avengers-age-of-ultron-logo

OK, I’m a bit late with this and most have probably already seen them already but, been battling a sinus cold far worse then any foe The Avengers might face. So here are some shots from the Italian shooting location of Avengers: Age Of Ultron which reveal the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Ultron’s pre-CGI stand-in…

EXCLUSIVE: Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner on set of 'The Avengers: Age of Ultron'

Celebrity Sightings

Celebrity Sightings

(click to enlarge)

source CBM/various

bars