WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES JAN 29-31

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

1. “KungFu Panda 3” $41 Million

2. “The Revenant” $12.4 Million

3. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens ” $10.7 Million

4. “The Finest Hours” $10.3 Million

5. “Ride Along 2” $8.3 Million

6. “The Boy” $7.9 Million

7. “Dirty Grandpa” $7.6 Million

8. “The 5th Wave” $7 Million

9. “Fifty Shades Of Black” $6.1 Million

10. “13 Hours” $6 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: LITTLE ERIN MERRYWEATHER (2003)

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LITTLE ERIN MERRYWEATHER (2003)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Little Erin Merryweather is a very low budget thriller, but if you can get past some amateurish acting and some awkward dialogue, there is actually a really nice effort here and it does have some chills. Story finds a serial killer stalking a college campus. She wears a red cloak and hood, right out of the classic fairy tale. And like in Little Red Riding Hood, the vicious killer slices open the belly of her victims and fills them with stones as the huntsman did the wolf in the Brothers Grimm tale. A reporter from the school paper, Peter (David Morwick) attempts to track down the killer with the help of a professor (Elizabeth Callahan), while finding a possible romantic interest with shy and odd campus librarian, Erin Merryweather (Vigdis Anholt). Unknown to Peter, these two pursuits may dangerously collide.

Serial killer flick is written and directed by leading man Morwick and he actually shows some potential with this low budget thriller. There are some nice touches utilizing some hand panted images and some Argento-ish edits using a creepy looking doll and Morwick does know how to frame a shot. There are also some chilling moments and some suspense, even though we have little doubt who our killer is going to turn out to be. The reveal is effective though, as are the reasons and triggers to the killer’s actions. The mixing in of fairy tale elements also works very well and adds some atmosphere to the proceedings. The thing that really weakens this flick, is that there is some shaky dialogue and the acting ranges from amateurish to just bad, like Frank Ridley as a local cop who’s character seems too thickheaded to be effective, even on a small town police force. The score by Paul Cristo also overdoes it here and there, but is also still effective in other spots. The film does have some creepy moments and despite only moderate bloodletting, the killings do have an edge.

I liked this little flick. Sure, it has it’s flaws and the acting leaves much to be desired, but Morwick shows potential and he does create some atmosphere and chills. We may be fairly certain early on who our killer may be, but Morwick adds enough cinematic touches to keep us interested till the reveal we all know is coming…and it still works. A nice example of a filmmaker with some interesting potential overcoming budget and talent limitations to make an entertaining and somewhat chilling little movie. Worth a look, but be forgiving.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 red riding hoods.
little Erin Merryweather rating

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY

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THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY (2008)

Teen centric horror stars Haley Bennett, who was recently seen in the really effective thriller Kristy and probably the only reason to watch this. Story has 17 year-old Molly Hartley approaching her 18th birthday and being continually haunted by the nightmare of her own mother (Marin Hinkle) attacking her with a pair of scissors. Mom is in a psychiatric ward now and Molly lives with her dad (Jake Webber) and carries the physical and mental scars of that attack to her new school. Soon though, Molly learns that her mother tried to kill her due to a deal made with a mysterious woman to save Molly’s life when she was born stillborn after a miscarriage in a public restroom… yup, you read that right. The deal was that on her 18th birthday, Molly would become a servant of Satan…and now her birthday draws near.

Totally routine and forgettable PG-13 horror is directed very by-the-numbers by Mickey Liddell from a script by John Travis and Rebecca Sonnenshine. Basically it’s a high school version of Rosemary’s Baby with poor young Molly being stalked by those who want to kill her before she reaches her birthday and by the servants of evil who want to see her meet her date with destiny. It’s all very boring and while Haley Bennett does show some of the intensity that made her a great heroine in Kristythe actress has very little to work with here. Dull and forgettable. Also stars AnnaLynne McCord as a typical mean girl, a part that she seems to play so well.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

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GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

When his mother (Amy Ryan) accepts a vice principal job in Madison, Delaware, high schooler Zach (Dylan Minnette) is forced to move there with her from New York. He finds he has a reclusive and unfriendly neighbor Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) with a pretty teenage daughter named Hannah (Odeya Rush). When sneaking into Shivers’ house one night to check up on Hannah, who he feels is being imprisoned there against her will, he finds out that Shivers is actually famed horror author R.L. Stine. Zach also discovers that opening Stine’s original, locked manuscripts actually releases the creatures within into the real world. With evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (also voiced by Black) accidentally released, the diabolical doll unlocks all the rest of the monsters into the streets of the unsuspecting town. Now Zach, Stine, Hannah and Zach’s new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee), have to somehow find a way to get all the monsters back in the books…books that Slappy is gleefully burning.

Goosebumps is a clever and fun family horror from director Rob Letterman from a script by Darren Lemke based on Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s story. It amusingly combines not only a number of Stine’s ghoulish creations, but involves the author himself in the mix. It’s never really scary, but it is a lot of fun, especially a scene involving lawn gnomes which evokes some of the best bits in Gremlins. The characters are all likable and while the scenario is played fairly seriously, there is a lot of humor added to the mix as our heroes battle a wide assortment of Stine’s creatures running rampant on this small Delaware town. To a degree it’s nothing new. We have seen creatures come to life from the written page before, but it is an entertaining movie with it’s heart in the right place and fans of Stine’s tales should enjoy the parade of his characters marched out across the screen. If there is any fault with that, it is that only a few of them get any more than a few moments of screen time with Slappy being the main villain with a few secondaries like a werewolf and a giant praying mantis. On a production level, while the CGI can be weak at times, Letterman has a nice visual eye, especially scenes set in an abandoned amusement park, and it is all photographed well by Javier Aguirresarobe. There is also a buoyant and spooky score by legendary composer Danny Elfman, which adds nicely to the atmosphere of spooky fun.

The cast all have a firm grasp of the nature of the material. Black is amusing as the reclusive and egotistic Stine and also gives voice to the villainous Slappy and the mischievous Invisible Boy. The young cast shine as Minnette, Rush and Lee all provide their high school stereotypes well, as the new boy in town, the adventurous girl and the eccentric sidekick respectively. They are all quite charming with Ryan Lee showing a flair for comedy and Minnette and Rush having nice chemistry together. It’s an example of a solid cast making the material work very well.

I had fun with this. It’s not a classic and I’m not all that familiar with Stine’s stories, but it was entertaining in the style of something like the 80s classic Monster Squad. It has some shaky CGI, but the characters it represenst do have some life and personality and the human characters are quite endearing, as is the cast. A fun night on the couch and something kids and Stine fans will probably have a good time with.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Slappys.

Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps," starring Jack Black.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: PIECES (1982)

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PIECES (1982)

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

Pieces is a Spanish made slasher that has a reputation, especially since it was decades before we got to see an uncut version here in the US. I wasn’t all that impressed when I first saw it at Fort Lee’s long-gone Linwood theater back in 1982 and recently revisited it to see if the added nostalgia might change my mind.

The film opens with a young boy being caught by his mother putting together a nude pin-up puzzle. She freaks out and starts to rant and rave, collecting all the boys hidden nude magazines. The boy does what any child would do and chops her up with an axe and saw. The film jumps four decades later as a killer dressed all in black and armed with a chainsaw, starts hacking up pretty girls on a campus and taking parts with him. If we don’t already get the idea, we are constantly treated to shots of the killer putting together that same bloodstained nudie puzzle and fondling mom’s bloody clothes. Police Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) is out to stop the killer and enlists a former tennis pro turned cop (Linda Day)…cause that sounds quite common…to go undercover as the campus tennis coach. Is it the hulking groundskeeper (Paul Smith)?…or is it the creepy anatomy professor (Jack Taylor)?…as the bodies pile up, the police are baffled as to who is chopping up the campus cuties and taking…Pieces!

Despite a lot of gore and bloodshed, Juan Piquer Simón’s flick is kinda dull and a tad silly. The script written by John W. Shadow and Dick Randall isn’t necessarily clever and just seems to take our murder mystery through it’s paces without really trying to make a good story out of it. The killer’s sudden reemergence after 40 years and why he wants to reconstruct his mother after all this time, is never explained, even after the last act reveal. There is little suspense in the investigation and we can see victims coming a mile away. There is some entertainment value here, though. There is the previously mentioned abundant gore and some generous nudity, as well as, some very unintentionally funny scenes, including Linda Day’s encounter with an over-zealous kung fu instructor and trained police officers not noticing a man hiding behind curtains right in from of them. There is some laughably bad dialogue and the performances are pretty wooden across the board. Only Christopher George’s scenery chewing and then wife Linda Day’s over-acting give the film any life.

As someone who loves 80s movies, I still say the film is worth a look. It has a reputation, though I’m not sure I agree with it, and it is not without some entertainment value along with the 80s nostalgia. It may not…in my opinion…be the classic some have proclaimed it, but it is part of a classic era and shouldn’t be ignored either. Not a favorite, despite the personal nostalgia, but a film that has gained a place in 80s horror infamy and I respect that, if not fully agree with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 chainsaws.

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WARNING: TRAILER IS QUITE GRAPHIC! NSFW!

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BARE BONES: IRRATIONAL MAN, LAKE EERIE and LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS

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IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)

Odd flick from Woody Allen has philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to find meaning in his life. When an affair with a married member of the faculty, Rita (Parker Posey) and a relationship with one of his students, Jill (Emma Stone) doesn’t help, he decides to murder a judge who is about to rule on having a woman’s children taken from her. He thinks he has committed the perfect crime and done some good, when it all starts to unravel as both his lovers begin to figure out whodunit.

As per the plot synopsis, this is a weird flick from Allen who has kinda been on autopilot for quite a few years now. The film is intriguing and has some quirky and eccentric characters, but starts to unravel in it’s last act just as the professor’s plan does. The whole notion that mild mannered Abe would just commit a random murder to give his life some meaning is a bit out there, as it is. It also seems a little too far-fetched that it would be both his lovers that start to put the clues together and actually come to believe Abe committed the murder, as it seems equally ludicrous that he would so easily conclude that he had to do it again to keep his lady loves silent. It’s one of those movie’s were it seems to be taking itself very seriously, but would have worked far better as a comedy, which it’s not, though it feels like it should be. Would also love to see Allen, for once, make a film that didn’t involve upper class elitists, that might be refreshing, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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LAKE EERIE (2016)

Written by and starring Meredith Majors and directed by husband and co-star Chris Majors, this is a little horror that may be too ambitious for it’s own good. Film has artist and recent widow Kate (Meredith Majors) moving into an old lakeside house. No one has lived there since the previous owner disappeared in 1969 and soon Kate starts to witness weird phenomena. Her research into the house reveals that the previous owner was an archeologist (Chris Majors) who may have discovered an amulet that could open dimensional portals. His notes indicate he may have entered one of these portals in pursuit of a banished Egyptian princess…you read that right…and Kate teams with her neighbor’s niece (Anne Leigh Cooper) to find the doorway and finally free the missing explorer.

I appreciate trying to do something a little different than the routine haunting, but this flick gets a bit convoluted long before the credits roll. The story mixes a haunting flick with something out of Tomb Raider and it doesn’t quite mesh together. The acting is also questionable from our leads and one thinks the writing/directing/producing couple should maybe have left the performances to more experienced actors than multi-tasking here. The film also doesn’t have the budget to really portray it’s alternate dimension, so it goes the Insidious route with staging it in the house with different lighting. It worked in Wan’s film, but here it just looks cheap. There is some nice atmosphere early on, but once the story starts to go all Indiana Jones meets Amityville Horror, it looses it’s grip. Yes, the attempt to do something more original is certainly admirable, but here a simpler haunting story might have been easier to pull off on a small budget and easier to swallow by the audience. Also stars Betsy Baker, who was Linda in the original Evil Dead and the incomparable Lance Henriksen in a small part as Kate’s concerned dad.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS (2013)

Written by Micael Skvarla and directed by Matt Jackson, this is a fairly unremarkable and only mildly amusing horror comedy. The story has sisters Carla (Marissa Skell) and Marla (Gena Shaw) heading to a family getaway lodge to meet up with Carla’s fiancé Johnny (Jade Cater) who works there. Toxic chemicals dumped in a nearby lake start to turn the forest life and a few of the employees, including Johnny, into zombies. Now the girls and the survivors must band together and fight for their lives…oh, and there is a Sasquatch mixed in there, too.

Sure, the girls are hot and there is a lot of gore, but aside from having the zombified lodge employees dressed in Sasquatch costumes, this is another routine zombie outbreak comedy. Most of the humor falls flat and the acting and dialog are equally sub-par and that would be OK if the flick were witty and had more of a devious sense of fun, like the similar Zombeavers. There are a few amusing bits, but aside from an actual Sasquatch appearing in the last act to take on the zombified animals and people, there is little to set this flick apart from all the other by-the-numbers zombie comedies.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES JAN 22-24

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

1. “The Revenant” $16 Million

2. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens ” $14.2 Million

3. “Ride Along 2” $13 Million

4. “Dirty Grandpa” $11.5 Million

5. “The Boy” $11.2 Million

6. “The 5th Wave” $10.7 Million

7. “13 Hours” $9.7 Million

8. “Daddy’s Home” $5.2 million

9. “Norm Of The North” $4.1 Million

10. “The Big Short” $3.5 Million

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! (1978)

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SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! (1978)

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

As John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, I am almost embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I finally caught up with the one film of his I haven’t seen, the 1978 TV movie Someone’s Watching Me! The film tells the story of pretty Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), who has moved to the West Coast from NYC for a new job, new apartment and new life. Soon after moving into her luxury high rise digs, Leigh starts receiving strange phone calls and gifts from someone disguising themselves as a travel company. As she resists the increasingly odd advances, the tone of the calls and letters become’s increasingly hostile. Soon, Leigh realizes she is being stalked by a highly deranged individual and the police can do little until the creep acts…but, Leigh isn’t going to wait to become a victim and the stalker becomes the stalked!

TV movie was written and directed by Carpenter just before he became a horror household name with Halloween. It is a very slow burn, but an effective one and really takes us through the process where odd calls and letters evolve into threats and mild concern turns to panic, fear and finally fighting back. We see some of the same qualities Carpenter wrote into Laurie Strode here, as Leigh, at first, is terrified, but then decides to do some detective work and stalking of her own when the police prove ineffective. Obviously, this is 1978 and in today’s world these type of situations are acted on far quicker, but it is entertaining to watch our heroine and her new boyfriend (David Birney) do the investigating that the investigators won’t do. Carpenter also turns up the tension a bit by letting the audience know that this individual’s admiration will turn fatal attraction at some point, so we know what might await Leigh. Drawbacks are that it is slow moving, but it is intended to be a slow boil and being filmed in a TV format and mostly on sets, it doesn’t quite have the look or feel of a Carpenter film. As it is scored by prolific 60s-70s TV composer Harry Sukman, we also miss Carpenter’s trademark electronic beats. Still, the final confrontation between Leigh and her stalker is intense and again shows that Carpenter was writing strong female characters long before it became commonplace in the 80s with the classic final girl types. It’s not his best work, but shows indications of things soon to come from the master director.

As for the cast, it is definitely Hutton’s show though she gets good support from Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Adrienne Barbeau…the film where he and first wife Barbeau met…and familiar TV face, David Birney. Hutton is strong in a refreshingly eccentric part. Leigh is not your average girl. She has a bit of a mischievous sense of humor and prone to amusing  conversations with herself that make her very real and very likable. When she is first seeing signs of a problem, she stands her ground and it’s only till the problem escalates that she starts to panic. Hutton takes us through a variety of emotions and we root for her when she is pushed too far and takes the fight to her mysterious admirer, forcing the final confrontation. She outwits a man who has been very good at not only hiding his steps and crimes, but even setting up a patsy as well. It is an example of Carpenter’s strong skill at creating memorable characters and Hutton being a bit underrated as an actress.

An interesting part of Carpenter’s filmography, the movie was filmed in just ten days, according to Carpenter in the DVD extras. While it is a very slow burn and more of a character study of a woman being preyed upon by an unknown individual than a slasher, it shows hints of what we first saw in Assault On Precinct 13 and then in Halloween, with Carpenter’s penchant for strong and memorable female characters. His Leigh is a bit of an oddball, but she is smart, strong and can only be pushed so far. The TV format does restrain some of Carpenter’s cinematic signatures, but his craft for suspense and intensity is apparent. Not his best work, but interesting as it shows the elements that he would use masterfully in Halloween and future projects, coming to bare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 old-style touchtone phones.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VEIL (2016)

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THE VEIL (2016)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick opens in 1985 where the members of the Heaven’s Veil cult, under the leadership of the charismatic Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane), all partake in what appears to be a mass suicide…all but one five year-old girl, Sarah (Ivy George from Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Krampus). Twenty-five years later Sarah (now Lily Rabe) is all grown up and still haunted by that fateful day. She is contacted by filmmaker Maggie Price (Jesscia Alba) who wants to make a documentary about the cult and wants to return to the place where it all happened, with Sarah as her guide. Maggie has a personal investment in investigating the event, as her dad was one of the FBI agents who arrived at the site and what happened there drove him to suicide as well. Once at the compound, Maggie and crew are led to a secret house beyond the grounds that the authorities missed…a house were all Jim Jacobs’ secrets are hidden…and a house where something still roams it’s halls.

Directed by Phil Joanou (Three O’Clock High, State Of Grace) and written by Robert Ben Garant this supernatural horror is a bit of a mixed bag, but an entertaining enough one, thanks to heavy atmosphere from Joanou. A lot of suspension of disbelief is also required to enjoy this. But, if you can get passed the far-fetched notion that generators, lights and even electrical devices like VCRs and projectors, would actually function…and the film stored there would still be watchable…after being left for over two decades in an overgrown and musty old house, than this can be a spooky little flick. Director Phil Loanou gives this horror some really spooky atmosphere and some legitimately creepy bits, along with some nicely executed jump scares and it’s only in the last act were it looses it’s grip a bit. There is a nice reveal in that last act that adds some weight, but the film also goes a bit overboard with it’s supernatural story and while Joanou maintains the atmosphere, things get a bit convoluted when it’s haunting story crosses into murder, resurrection and revenge. It was working on simpler level and it tries to accomplish too much in it’s final third and it does get a bit silly and messy. Still, there are enough moments earlier on to make this worth checking out and even in those climactic moments, the unsettling atmosphere does remain and it helps alleviate how preposterous it all gets. Obviously, characters also do some dumb things to put themselves in harm’s way, but it is the rare horror flick where that doesn’t happen, so we’ll cut it a break on that point.

The cast are fine. Jane seems to behaving a good time and is quite disturbing as Jacobs. He keeps him mostly grounded in the flashbacks…his conviction in his beliefs and charisma giving credence to his following…until the last act requires him to go over-the-top and he does so appropriately. Alba is good as Maggie. A driven young woman who has a personal stake in unlocking secrets to this horrible event. She also keeps it grounded, which worked better for the character. Lily Rabe is convincing as the emotionally troubled survivor, though her odd behavior does prematurely signal she may have a hidden agenda, aside from simply aiding this film crew. The supporting players all range from decent to adequate and none of them undo Joanou’s atmosphere, which helps when things get loopy.

Overall, I am going to cut this flick some slack as the atmosphere and creepiness prevalent in the first two thirds worked very well. I liked the initial story and while it did loose me a bit in it’s final act and went a little overboard with certain elements, director Phil Joanou kept the atmosphere going. There was a nice reveal in the final third that helped even the balance as things got a bit silly and the cast showed restraint when needed and went over-the-top when called for. Not completely successful with what it tried to accomplish, or anything new, but a veteran director demonstrates that a skilled hand can make a film far better than it should have been with it’s uneven script and overambitious ideas. Worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 cool aids.
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BARE BONES: THE LAST WITCH HUNTER

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THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015)

Flick opens in the Middle Ages where witch hunter Kaulder (Vin Diesel) has hunted down the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) who has unleashed a plague and slaughtered Kaulder’s family. Before she is slain, she curses him with immortality so he may forever feel the loss of his loved ones. We then move forward to modern day where Kaulder works for the Axe and Cross, a church run organization which polices the witch population. All is well till an old enemy turns out not to be dead and seeks to exact a horrible revenge on Kaulder and the rest of the world.

Tedious and silly flick is directed very by-the-numbers by Breck Eisner from a barely coherent script by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless and Cory Goodman. While the FX are decent and there is plenty of action, the plot is a completely nonsensical mess and even star Diesel does not seem like he wants to be there. There is no energy or urgency to any of the proceedings and it’s all rather dull and lifeless despite the heavy fantasy and action elements. It almost seems like no one involved really wanted to make this movie…or write it for that matter…as it has no heart or soul and all the performers are at paycheck level. Also stars Game Of Throne’s Rose Leslie, Lord Of The Rings’ Elijah Wood and the incomparable Michael Caine somehow got dragged into this forgettable mess as Kaulder’s handler, Dolan.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1-2 star rating

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