BARE BONES: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and THE NIGHTMARE

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ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

Offbeat comedy/drama tells the story of teen Greg (Thomas Mann) who has little ambition other than to make movie parodies with his friend…or ‘co-worker’ as he likes to refer to him…Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg’s parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) force him to spend time with classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Soon a special bond forms between them that changes Greg’s life as her condition worsens and his feelings for her deepen.

Written by Jesse Andrews and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), this is a charming and sometimes very poignant story of love and friendship formed under unusual circumstances. As in most indie films like this, there are some very eclectic characters who are nonetheless appealing and Gomez-Rejon gets good performances out of our leads and support…though Offerman seems to be playing the same oddball he plays in everything he appears in. It’s sentimental at times and funny at others and obviously, there is a degree of sadness given it’s title. If the film stumbles somewhat, it’s in that, at times, it is a little too weird or too quirky for it’s own indie good. Random model animation sequences and Greg’s overly weird parents are sometimes distracting more than accomplishing anything to serve the narrative. Otherwise this is a sweet, sad and sometimes very funny movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE NIGHTMARE (2015)

Documentary tackles the subject of sleep paralysis, a state where individuals are stuck in-between being asleep and being awake, can’t move their bodies and suffer from extreme hallucinations such as shadow-like intruders. Director Rodney Ascher talks to eight different subjects gathering there stories of extreme cases of this state which has been often mistaken for paranormal, even extraterrestrial activity…and some believe it is.

While the subject in itself is interesting, the documentary stumbles a bit which keeps it from being really compelling. First off, the re-enactments of the hallucinations/events all look the same and utilize the same imagery and techniques so repetitiveness sets in quick when dealing with eight subjects with multiple stories. Another thing is that the subjects chosen all tell similar stories, so despite how intriguing it is, the stories themselves also start to get repetitive quickly. By the third story, from the same person, tedium starts to set in. The documentary also doesn’t seem to arrive at any real conclusions as those interviewed have varied results as to dealing with this phenomena. Some of the subjects seemed to have solved the problem by themselves, commanding the ‘intruders’ away, or by interpreting it as the presence of a dead loved one. Other subjects seem to have their own issues apart from sleep paralysis, so one must wonder if it is something caused by emotional stresses. Still other subjects truly believe that in this state they can see and be seen, by other dimensions, so there is that. We also never talk to any professionals on the subject, so we never get any other side to the story than those telling their own tales. A counterpoint or professional opinion would have added some nice contrast and given us some kind of scientific analysis to consider along with the testimony of Ascher’s subjects.

As the actual phenomena has not been fully explained, there are different points of view and while it is fine that Ascher let’s us decide for ourselves, it also leaves us feeling a bit unsatisfied and like not much was accomplished. Interesting at times, but wears out it’s welcome about an hour in and the lack of professional opinions/diagnosis leaves a void in the storytelling.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)

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ARMY OF DARKNESS: The Director’s Cut (1992)

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

I know some fans will disagree with me, but Army Of Darkness is my least favorite of the Evil Dead films. I was blown away by the intense and deliriously gory roller coaster ride that was the first flick and was never completely satisfied by the sequels which got lighter as they went along…though I have come to really enjoy them. Evil Dead was a blood and guts horror with a fairly serious and grim tone and by the time we get to AOD, it had become a supernatural Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Sure it’s a lot of fun and Bruce Campbell really has a blast with Ash, but I was always disappointed that Raimi abandoned the ferocity and bloodthirstiness of the original.

Story picks up at the point we left Ash at the end of Evil Dead II. He has been thrust back in time and has arrived in the Dark Ages where the deadites are terrorizing a land of feudal kingdoms. He is at first mistaken for an enemy by ruling Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), but his slaying of a deadite soon has him believed to be a long prophesied hero. Ash only wants to get home and to do that, he needs the Necronomicon. In true Ash style, he screws it up and now the armies of the deadites are descending upon the castle of his new allies. Can he defeat the army of darkness and save the kingdom of Lord Arthur, as well as, rescue the fair maiden, Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) who has caught his eye?

Putting aside the disappointment that might arise from this flick straying even further from the tone and gore of the first Evil Dead, this is a fun fantasy adventure with a twisted sense of humor. It does evoke the fantasy adventures of yesteryear, especially with some charming stop motion animation sequences that pay tribute to the works of Ray Harryhausen and some of his classics. The flick can get very goofy at times and sometimes it is a little too silly for it’s own good, as director and co-writer…with Ivan Raimi…Sam Raimi is a bit overindulgent in places, as he can be. There is little bloodshed and the film’s effects were modest at the time and some appear cheesy now by today’s standards…though there is a nostalgic charm attached to it as a result. There is a lot of action and one of the best sequences is a deliriously lunatic bit set in an old windmill with Ash battling a horde of miniature versions of himself. It is here were Raimi’s absurd camera work and overindulgence works and works well, not to mention the physical comedy of his star, Campbell. It’s one of the best sequences and the film never really reaches that fever pitch again. To add atmosphere, Danny Elfman and Joe LoDuca share scoring chores, while cinematographer Bill Pope gives the film an old fashioned fantasy adventure look. Obviously, as this is the director’s cut, this version features the far more bleak, yet more suiting to Ash, ending. It does work better, though the S Mart ending does have merit, too.

As for the cast, aside from Bruce Campbell, it is fairly unremarkable though Davidz is a lovely damsel, but doesn’t get much to do until she is possessed. Then the actress has some over-the-top fun. Campbell on the other hand, is in top form with both his sarcastic and overblown swagger, to his physical comedy and even outright heroics. Once again he creates a character who is both jackass and James Bond at the same time. Campbell doesn’t get enough credit for being able to walk a fine line between hero and buffoon and without a misstep. He really is very good at it.

Overall I like this movie, but have a hard time accepting it as one of the Evil Dead series, despite the involvement of Ash and having been led to this point at the end of Evil Dead II. It is a fun and sometimes very charming fantasy adventure with a twisted sense of humor at it’s center. It does get a little too overindulgent with the silliness at times, though it’s leading man successfully plays a character who is jerk, fool, hero and Romeo all at the same time…and not many can make that claim. It is well directed by Sam Raimi and there is cleverness in the script with brother Ivan, it’s just that it is as far removed from the original Evil Dead as one could get…and while that is somewhat refreshing, it also alienates it from the film it was spawned from. Thankfully, the recent Ash vs Evil Dead TV series returned us back to the over-the-top gore from the first flick without losing the sense of humor from the following two.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 chainsaw arms.

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES JAN 15-17

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

1. “Ride Along 2” $34 Million

2. “The Revenant” $29.5 Million

3. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens ” $25 Million

4. “13 Hours” $16 Million

5. “Daddy’s Home” $9.3 million

6. “Norm Of The North” $6.8 Million

7. “The Forest” $5.8 Million

8. “The Big Short” $5.2 Million

9. “Sisters” $4.4 Million

10. “The Hateful Eight” $3.4 Million

 

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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HAPPY 68th BIRTHDAY TO THE LEGENDARY JOHN CARPENTER!

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Today legendary genre director John Carpenter turns 68 and as he has directed so many classics and is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, who’s created some of my all-time favorite films, MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse wishes him a very happy, healthy birthday!

(Just click on the movies posters to go to our look at these Carpenter classics!)

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-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

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FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

Finally caught up to this much maligned reboot and have to say that I don’t quite understand all the hate it gets. Maybe it’s because I didn’t follow the comic and am not familiar with the lore, or that I just went in with such low expectations that I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t altogether awful.

The story follows the creation of a teleportation device by nerds Sue Storm, Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom (Kate Mara, Miles Teller and Toby Kebbell) along with Reed’s friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and Sue’s hotshot brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan). The device opens a portal to another world and when an unsanctioned trip to that world goes awry, all five are graced with drastic changes that give them unique powers. While the four returning try to cope with their new ‘gifts’ and the government tries to decide what to do with them, Victor is stranded on the alien world gaining frightening power and a heinous agenda.

Josh Trank’s interpretation is, by far, not a misunderstood classic, but it is a unique take on the superhero genre, much like his Chronicle, focusing more on how one might react to gaining unwanted abilities and how they would be viewed by paranoid and power-hungry government agencies. The fact that two of the four become outright government agents to use their powers for ‘good’ is amusing and we know that eventually some kind of threat, here Victor Von Doom, will unite them as heroes. It’s actually an interesting and non-traditional viewpoint of the superhero epic and there is little or no action till the end…which is where it really stumbles. The conflict with Doom is basically in the last 20 minutes and his reasons for wanting to literally destroy the Earth are quite convoluted. We also never get a real grasp as to what it is about the forces on this planet that imbue superpowers upon it’s visitors. The battle between the newly formed superhero group and “Dr. Doom” ends rather quickly and with little effort, leaving the film with a very anti-climactic feel by the time the credits roll. It all seems more like a 100 minute origin story than a complete movie, though had it not bombed, it might have been interesting to see these four on a complete adventure. Oh, well. Cast were all fine though some of the CGI FX range from excellent to mediocre. Underwhelming…yes…completely awful…not really.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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CLOVERFIELD RELATED FLICK GETS A TRAILER AND POSTER!

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We’re not sure if it’s a prequel, sequel, spin-off or bastard cousin, but whatever this flick is in relation to the cult hit Cloverfield, it now has a poster and a trailer! Mystery film is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman and opens on 3/11/16!

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE and SINISTER 2

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SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (2015)

Completely generic and predictable horror/comedy finds three nerdy boy scouts (Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan) teaming up with a stripper (Sarah Dumont) as they search for one’s sister (Halston Sage) during a zombie outbreak (does one town merit an apocalypse?).

There is literally nothing new or even remotely clever in this routine zombie comedy directed by Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones‘ Christopher B. Landon, who, for some reason, needed three co-writers to crank out a by-the-numbers flick with little or no inventiveness or originality. We get exactly what we’d expect…a lot of gore, even more vulgar toilet humor and the typical ‘nerd wins hot chick by battling evil’ scenario that has been done to death since the 80s. It’s not that the flick is ever really boring or badly made, it’s just that it is completely void of anything that might set it apart or deviate from the same formula, be it zombie comedy or ‘nerd becomes hero’ flick, that has become commonplace by now. Landon did a good job with Marked Ones and gave us a few scares and a second wind with a well worn franchise and formula. So, why he couldn’t do the same here is disappointing. The cast all have fun with the material, at least and feisty Sarah Dumont is notable as eye-candy and ass kicker. Also stars Krampus‘ David Koechner as a Dolly Parton obsessed scout leader.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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SINISTER 2 (2015)

Sequel finds Deputy So and So (James Ransone) now having left the force and tracking various murder cases, linked to Bughuul, across the country. His search leads him to a secluded church and farmhouse where a mother, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her twin sons (Dartanian and Robert Daniel Sloan) are hiding out from an abusive spouse. Of course, this is a former crime site and Bughuul and his child minions have their sights set on one of the boys.

This awful sequel makes the big mistake of having the worst character from the first film be the lead here. Of course he’s called Deputy So and So, because Deputy Dewey was already taken. This weak flick is surprisingly written by original flick scribes, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, though this time directed by Irish director Ciaran Foy. The original had it’s moments, but was a bit overrated, but this sequel is just boring, sluggishly paced and gives us nothing new or interesting about the thinly written, generic boogieman Bughuul. Most of the screen time is taken up by his creepy spirit children trying to coax one or the other of the boys to join them in murder and Deputy So and So being just as annoying as last time. It’s a snooze-fest with zero tension, suspense or legitimate scares. A complete waste of time and surely a disappointment for fans of the first flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: KRISTY (2014)

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KRISTY (2014)

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

Kristy is a taunt and intense little thriller that finds pretty college student Justine (Haley Bennett) staying behind on campus during the Thanksgiving break. Her weekend of solace, solitude and study is turned into a living nightmare when she has an unsettling encounter with a very strange women (Ashley Greene) at a convenience store. The woman and her masked associates follow Justine back to campus and begin to hunt her like an animal, killing anyone that gets in their way and referring to her as “Kristy”. Whatever their motives or reasons, Justine has no plans to be an easy target and this time, the hunters may have chosen the wrong prey!

Intense thriller is directed by Oliver Blackburn and is a simple story made all the more effective because of it’s simplicity. There is no excess baggage here. Blackburn, from Anthony Jaswinski’s script, establishes from the first frames that these are deranged and dangerous individuals and then quickly establishes Justine as a very likable and hardworking young woman. We like her right away and thus when she is targeted by Greene’s disturbing woman and her associates, we care about her and are rooting for her. Also established is just how alone Justine is, as the campus is all but empty and any possible help are dispatched quickly and brutally. This creates an atmosphere of helplessness and tension as Justine is outnumbered and forced to play a cat and mouse game with these vicious killers. The film never gives us an outright explanation of exactly who they are and why they are doing this…though the opening montage voiceover states that Kristy means ‘flower of Christ’ and to “kill ‘Kristy’ is to kill God”, so this may indicate a Satanic cult. Whatever their origins, we do get just enough to establish that they are serial murderers with an agenda and a purpose and there are vague clues left for us to put together on our own as for the details. Blackburn skillfully combines all this into a tight little movie about a young woman fighting for her life and we like Justine enough and hate these thugs enough that when she does fight back, it evokes strong reaction. If you find yourself cheering out loud for our heroine, you are not alone. It can be brutal at times, but never overdoes it, so the violence has impact.

Our two female leads are very strong. Haley Bennett gives us a very smart, determined and resilient heroine in the very likable Justine. She is obviously terrified, but not going down without a fight and when cornered, she strikes out with a vengeance. Ashley Greene again shows with the right material and project she can impress as she did with her touching performance in Skateland. Here she is a psychotic killer and a very effective one. As the only one of the killers to show her face and speak, it is up to her to establish the menace and lethality of the deranged individuals who hunt Justine and she does so, very well. As for the rest of the supporting players they all do solid work from ill-fated campus security (Mathew St. Patrick) to Justine’s loving boyfriend (Lucas Till) to Greene’s silent companions in murder (Chris Coy, Mike Seal and Lucius Falick).

I liked this movie a lot. Simple and direct, with no unnecessary baggage. Establishes heroine and villains quickly and gets down to the suspense and violence. It gives our bad guys…and girl…menace and yet an air of mystery and creates a strong and very likable heroine to root for. When the violence comes, it’s just enough to give it impact, but not bludgeon us or numb us to it. There is some nail-biting suspense, good atmosphere and Blackburn uses the empty halls and rooms of Kristy‘s college campus setting to maximum effect. Add in an effective 80s-ish electronic score by François-Eudes Chanfrault (High Tension, Inside) and you have got an entertaining and intense night on the couch!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 baseball bats.
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VISIT (2015)

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THE VISIT (2015)

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

Found footage flick has fifteen year old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her thirteen year old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) traveling to stay a week with the grandparents they never met. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had a fight with her parents before they were born and has not spoken to them since. Becca is a wannabe filmmaker and decides to document this first meeting. They arrive at the grandparents’ rural farmhouse and everything seems fine…at first. Soon Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem to be exhibiting odd behavior, especially grandma at night. It is at first explained away by Pop having a slight case of dementia and Nana having a condition called Sundown Syndrome. But as the longer the kids stay, the weirder and more disturbing behavior they encounter. Something is very wrong with their grandparents and it is something far worse than simple ailments of the elderly.

As written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this darkly humored horror is a mixed bag. On the plus side, there are some very creepy moments, as the kids sneak peeks outside their room door at night and see grandma doing some bat-crap crazy stuff. Their is also some very odd behavior in the day, such as grandpa’s habit of stockpiling his dirty Depends in a shed. There are also some sequences that bring about nervous giggles, as there are some very successful darkly comic moments, too. The downside is that after awhile we start to get tired of this routine. The behavior never leads to anything truly shocking or scary as, to be honest…we are kind of expecting what comes when we finally get it. Not only is Shyamalan a bit too renown for having a ‘twist’ in his flicks, but the big reveal is pretty much along the lines of what we were expecting. It’s no surprise. We know what Becca will discover, long before she does. There is some nice tension as we watch the kids spend their final night with Nana and Pop Pop, now that the cat is out of the old bag, but even that never really becomes nail-biting despite a violent conclusion to this ‘family’ reunion. Again, it ends the way we expect it to. Also, the film never really feels like found footage. The shots are too good and everything, including the creepy antics, always feels staged and not captured. Even with that, there is the now traditional ‘why are you still filming’ moments, especially in the last act. Finally, the character of Tyler is one of the most annoying teens captured on film in some time. He’s a germ phobic kid who fancies himself a gangsta rapper and also has decided to use female pop stars’ names in the place of curses…what? His dialog bits are an endurance test, especially when he starts rapping and Shyamalan, for some reason, has the grating youngster rap about his experience with his ‘grandparents’ over the end credits. It’s an endurance test to sit through and kills any mood the climax had previously created. This character almost singlehandedly sinks the movie. He’s that annoying.

The cast of unknowns are for the most part solid. Young Olivia DeJonge is likable and a good heroine and she is believable as a teen with artistic aspirations. Not sure what to say about Ed Oexenbould. His character is like visual fingernails on a chalkboard, so it’s hard to say if he is that bad, or based on how the character was intended by Shyamalan, was he that good? He has the worst dialog, which isn’t the actor’s fault. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are perfect as the, at first, kindly grandparents then really disturbing and creepy when Nana and Pop Pop start to get their crazy on. The two are fun and deliver goosebumps and chills appropriately and make this work as well as it does. Kathryn Hahn has limited screen time, yet somehow does convey the sense of a woman who believably had such a traumatic disagreement with her parents.

Overall, I have mixed feeling about this. There are some truly creepy moments and some uncomfortably funny ones too. The cast, for the most part, do a good job with the characters. The film stumbles by heading exactly where we are expecting it to go and over-utilizing one of the most annoying kid characters in recent memory. The film also never really feels like actual footage and the grandparents behavior gimmick starts to get tiresome at a point when it should kick into overdrive. There should have been more tension in the last act, but instead it was predictable. Worth a look, but with moderate expectations.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 depends.
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