REVIEW: I KILL GIANTS (2017)

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I KILL GIANTS (2017)

Graphic novel based film finds young, eccentric loner Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) believing that she can kill giants and claiming to have done so in the past. Her sister (Imogen Poots) is trying to take care of her and her older brother (Art Parkinson), but Barbara’s constant behavior issues and insubordination at middle school is taking it’s toll. Barbara finally finds a friend in new student Sophia (Sydney Wade), who has just moved to the US from England. The two girls bond and while Barbara slowly let’s Sophia into her complex fantasy world, the psychologist at school, Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) tries to find out what Barbara is really trying to escape from in her fantasies. Meanwhile, Barbara prepares, as a new colossal adversary nears, one she might not be able to handle.

Sweet-natured tale is very well directed by Anders Walter from a script by Joe Kelly, based on the graphic novel of the  same name by Kelly and Ken Niimura. This is the kind of movie that could have drowned in over-sentimentality, or sugar-coated the more serious issues, but it is handled with just the right mix by director Walter and Kelly’s script. The film never patronizes Barbara’s living in her own fantasy world, nor does it overplay or exploit the real story of a young girl unable to face a painful reality in her life. We see how involved Barbara’s fantasy world is and also see how it alienates her from her classmates and even makes her the target of the school bully (Rory Jackson). Walters slowly let’s us through the facade, giving us clues as to what is really happening, as Mollé tries to get through to the girl. We are drawn in as this and Barbara’s friendship with Sophia threatens the walls she’s thrown up. As the story plays out, it is ultimately Barbara herself who must tear down those walls and face her painful reality with the same courage she faces her imaginary giants. It’s all splendidly handled by the first-time feature director and very engaging despite being a very familiar story. On a technical level the film features some nice cinematography by Rasmus Heise of the Belgium and Ireland locations which stand in for the East Coast, United States. The FX portraying our fantasy creatures are very well executed and not over-used and Walter gives the film some nice atmosphere, aided by an effective score by Laurent Perez Del Mar.

The director gets good work from a solid cast. Madison Wolfe is very strong in her portrayal of Barbara. A complex young girl, who is eccentric and imaginative and who creates an alternate reality for herself to hide from pain she can’t handle in her real life. She keeps Barbara likable, even when being difficult and handles the transition from denial, to fear and to finally facing those fears very well. Zoe Saldana is also good in what could be seen as a clichéd role. She gives Mrs. Mollé a sense that she really cares about Barbara and conveys the patience and frustration of trying to reach her. Sydney Wade is sweet as her new friend, Sophia and Imogen Poots is also good as Karen Thorson, a young woman being overwhelmed by what’s going on around her and trying to handle the care of her siblings and maintain a grip on her own life. A strong cast who do good work.

This is not the first film to feature a child hiding from intense emotions in a fantasy world. It’s also not the first film to feature characters trying to reach that child. It does feature a strong debut from a first time director, who mixes all the elements well and in the right amounts. He treats his main character with the respect she deserves, gives her fantasy world the sense of wonder needed, never exploits the more serious story elements, or takes the easy way out by letting this degenerate into a routine tear-jerker…which it is not. A very entertaining and heartfelt movie that deserves more attention than it’s quiet release in limited theaters and on VOD gives it. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 girls who kill giants.

 

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BARE BONES: DEMON HOUSE (2018)

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DEMON HOUSE (2018)

Demon House is a documentary from paranormal investigator Zak Bagans (Ghost Adventures) about a house in Gary, Indiana that is described by some as a portal to hell. After numerous paranormal incidents allegedly occurring there, Bagans actually bought the house himself and documented his time as the new owner. What we get are interviews with some involved, including police, relatives…actual haunting participants refused to be interviewed…and Bagans’ own crew. There are some cheesy recreations of supposed events and we get footage of Bagans and crew’s time in the house and the effect it supposedly has on them. Some of it is a bit spooky, but a lot of it feels a bit forced and it’s authenticity questionable. You’d think a house renown for demonic activity would put on more of a show when it’s on camera. Overall, it’s a somewhat entertaining documentary, especially the last night when Bagans has himself boarded up inside, all alone. There is some spooky stuff, but as a complete package, this documentary just doesn’t have us quite convinced that this isn’t more hype than haunt.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES MAR. 23-25

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

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

1. “Pacific Rim: Uprising” $28 Million

2. “Black Panther” $16.65 Million

3. “I Can Only Imagine” $13.8 Million

4. “Sherlock Gnomes” $10.6 Million

5. “Tomb Raider” $10.4 Million

6. “A Wrinkle in Time” $8 Million

7. “Love, Simon” $7.8 million

8. “Paul, Apostle of Christ” $5 Million

9. “Game Night” $4.16 Million

10. “Midnight Sun” $4.11 Million

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PYEWACKET (2017)

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PYEWACKET (2017)

Creepy supernatural thriller finds teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz) drawn into the occult after the death of her father. She and her mom (Laurie Holden) aren’t getting along, especially when her mother decides to sell the family house and move them out and away from Leah’s school and Goth friends. When at their new woods-set home, her mother lashes out at her during an argument and an angry Leah conducts an occult ritual evoking the dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mom. Soon Leah learns the meaning of “be careful what you wish for” as something dark and evil has entered their home with malevolent intent.

This is a subtle and spooky as hell flick and certainly one of the best horrors of the year. Written and directed by Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) this is a chilling tale that shows that you don’t need jump scares or over-the-top gore to make an effective horror film. MacDonald bathes his film in atmosphere and uses his camera to evoke a pervading sense of dread, even in broad daylight. He creates an already tense situation as both Leah and her mom, are each handling the death of Leah’s dad in different ways and not very well. There is friction and while Leah turns to dark music and an interest in the occult, her mom wants to have a ‘fresh start’ away from anything connected to him. This leads to some harsh words in their remote new home and Leah to dabble in something she isn’t prepared to deal with. Soon there are dark shadows lurking about the house and a visit from Leah’s tough, Goth girlfriend, Janice (Hellion’s Chloe Rose) has the girl leaving the house a terrified mess. As creepy as it is thus far, MacDonald saves the best for last with a truly unnerving final act as Leah attempts to send back what she’s conjured and let’s just say the malevolent spirit has other plans. MacDonald doesn’t resort to hokey FX or overused tropes, he simply serves up some nerve wracking moments with simple skilled camera work and some wonderful emoting from leading lady Muñoz. MacDonald, as with Backcountry , also knows how to make woods look ominous which adds to the atmosphere. And while ultimately we know where this story is headed, it’s still a shocking and unsettling finale that perfectly punctuates a very creepy film.

The small cast is very effective. As stated, Nicole Muñoz is very good as the emotionally wounded Leah. She creates a likable yet, troubled young woman who tries to sate her grief with death related interests. The only person she should be able to turn to for support is the one she is having the most problems with. Once she performs the ritual and awakens something, she gives us a very scared young girl with nowhere to run. Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) is excellent as her equally troubled mom. She lashes out at Leah one minute, for simply reminding her of her husband and tries to be there for her daughter the next. The two actresses work well together creating a very dysfunctional dynamic between the two that makes this flick work. Rounding out the small cast is Chloe Rose as her friend Janice who has a traumatic sleepover at Leah’s new home and Eric Osbourne as Aaron, a boy interested in Leah.

Adam MacDonald has gone back to basics and made a very spooky, unnerving, yet down to earth horror movie. He wisely makes his scares very grounded and the fact that they are not presented in a theatrical and over-the-top manner makes them more realistic and thus more frightening. His leading ladies work well together in creating a fractured and troubled relationship between the mother and daughter, based on two completely different methods of mourning. Add to that a young girl delving into dark forces she doesn’t completely understand and certainly can’t control and you have a supernatural bone chiller that is refreshingly driven on what really makes a true horror film work…fear. This one will be on my best of the year list for sure.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 balls of red yarn.

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REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018)

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PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018)

Convoluted sequel takes place ten years after Guillermo Del Toro’s fun original with the world healing, yet still making use of the Jaeger technology. Fallen hero Stacker Pentecost’s son Jake (John Boyega) is a failed Jaeger pilot now turned black market Jaeger parts dealer. He crosses paths with teen Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who is building her own Jaeger and the two find themselves arrested and pressed into service by the PPDC. This reunites Jake with former co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood) as they are to train a new generation of cadets. At the same time a Chinese corporation, headed by beautiful CEO Liwen Shao (Jing Tian from Kong: Skull Island), is planning to unleash a squadron of Jaeger drones that will not need the services of internal co-pilots. Still with me? Soon Jake and company are embroiled in a battle with not only rogue drone Jaegers, but a new Kaiju invasion triggered by a familiar face.

Sequel brings the noise, but forgets the fun as directed by Steven S. DeKnight from a mess of a script by he and three other writers. What results is a very by-the-numbers film that has a lot of silly ideas, yet never takes the time to really develop any of them. Del Toro’s film was goofy, but had a big heart and was lots of fun. Some folks didn’t get what it was trying to do, but those of us who grew up watching Japanese monster movies got exactly where he was coming from. DeKnight, however, forgets that the first film was a loving homage and forgoes the love for a formula, generic and cold blockbuster that has too many subplots and doesn’t do anything interesting with them. Jaegers infected with Kaiju technology is enough for one film in itself, but here takes up maybe a half hour of screen-time before we fall back on the familiar monsters versus robots schtick. There is an interesting plot point that gives purpose to what the initial Kaiju attack was attempting to accomplish, which here only seems to serve to get our final throw-down nostalgically in good ole Tokyo. The special FX are top notch, but none of the action sequences have any of the intensity, suspense or emotional investment they need to make them resonate. It’s just, loud set-pieces that lack any weight, even when our massive Kaiju nears it’s objective with our heroes all down for the count. At no time are we ever involved in what is going on, because it’s all so paint by numbers. With Del Toro producing, I’m not sure how he allowed this unnecessary sequel to be handled so poorly.

The cast never seem to be emotionally invested either and just seem to be going through the motions. Boyega has a natural presence, but is fed such lame dialogue that even his awkward smile and roguish charm can’t makes us endear to Jake as we should. Cailee Spaeny really tries hard with a generic teen rebel role. She’s cute and spunky and with a better script, she’ll probably make a good leading lady. Eastwood tries to channel his legendary dad, but comes across more as a lesser Chris Evans clone. Too bad, he also has charm, but is given some of the worst lines. Jing Tian is fine as the Chinese CEO who overcomes her cold exterior to become a more heroic figure, obviously to appease Chinese audiences where the first film did big business. Returning from the first flick is Rinko Kikuchi as Mako, who is now a commanding officer and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as scientists Newt and Gottlieb, respectively. Both scientist become once more embroiled in the plot in some of the more interesting story elements.

In conclusion this was a loud mess of a sequel that lacks the original’s heart, soul and sense of nostalgic homage. It is a cold, by-the-numbers popcorn flick that forgets that cinematic popcorn is supposed to be fun, even if incredibly dumb. DeKnight, a veteran of TV, seems way out of his element here and even his actors look bored and a bit lost. The script by four writers has a lot of ideas and yet doesn’t properly develop any of them, some of which could have been the bases of an entire film. A sad disappointing follow up that probably won’t produce the second sequel it so cheerfully sets up…then again, the first film’s moderate box office didn’t seem to foretell the coming of this colorful but mundane mess.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 Jaegers.

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

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INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

Fourth installment in this franchise is again a prequel, this one taking place just before the events of the first film. First, it opens in 1953 and shows us a young Elise (Ava Kolker) in her childhood home showing her psychic abilities much to the anger of her abusive father (Josh Stewart). We relive a horrifying event and then are taken forward to 2010 where an adult Elise (Lin Shaye) is called by the current occupant of her old childhood house to investigate some paranormal activity. Now Elise must overcome her inner fear and go back to that house and not only relive those awful memories, but find out some horrifying truths as well.

Flick is again written by Leigh Whannell, who also appears as “Specs”, but this time directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan). Robitel brings atmosphere and provides some spooky moments, though the series is starting to show signs of loosing steam. It is interesting to go into Elise’s past and see where this all began, but even so, the backstory isn’t enough to freshen things up completely. The story is well presented and we get the tension between Elise and the estranged brother (Bruce Davison) she left behind when she walked away from her father and that house, but despite the dramatic weight of this being a very personal investigation for Elise, we still feel it could have been stronger. The final showdown in The Further with the house’s reigning specter should have had more intensity. The evil entity lacks weight with being given little to no backstory and is kept on the sidelines till the last act. Still, it is well directed and shows, with a stronger script, Robitel could deliver a spooky and atmospheric film. This flick does have some good moments, including a fairly shocking reveal and there was a purveying sense of dread whenever the action took place inside the house. The film is entertaining, it’s just that it may be time to let this franchise rest in peace, or bring in new blood both creatively and on camera. We are introduced to Elise’s psychic niece Imogen (Caitlin Gerard from Smiley), so maybe such plans are already in place. It’s hard to do much with Elise when they killed her off in the first film, which in hindsight was a big mistake.

Lin Shaye is once again in top form as Elise. She is a great character and the actress gives the role lots of heart. She’s very likable and despite her experiences, she’s still vulnerable and can be scared. She makes the character very endearing which would explain her continual return in prequels. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell are fine as Tucker and Specs, but it’s Elise’s show and they are wisely kept to side-kick duties. Bruce Davison is a class act and is sympathetic as her emotionally wounded brother, Christian. Josh Stewart is detestable as Elise’s dad and both Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard are likable as Melissa and Imogen, Elise’s nieces. A solid cast.

This was a good effort in many ways, just unfortunately in a franchise running out of gas. They gave us some nice backstory on Elise and made the story more personal, but the adventures in The Further and even it’s Key Face (Javier Botet) demon are routine and showing series wear and tear. Adam Robitel added atmosphere and handles the spookiness well, but Leigh Whannell’s script fails to freshen things up despite a more Elise-centric story. Overall, it was entertaining enough, but not going to win new fans and will have current ones questioning how much longer they are going to stick around for “Further” adventures.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks.

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BARE BONES: JOSIE (2017)

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JOSIE (2017)

Flick finds the world of reclusive former prison guard Hank (Dylan McDermott) turned a bit askew with the arrival of sexy tattooed teen Josie (Sophie Turner) at the school where he is a security guard. Josie uses her charms to get Hank’s attention, as well as, the attention of local teen delinquent, Marcus (Jack Kilmer). The two men already don’t like each other and sexy Josie may have more than just flirtation in mind.

OK thriller is directed by Eric England (Madison County, Contracted)  from a fairly predictable script by Anthony Ragnone II. The cast all perform well, especially Game of Thrones’ Turner, who is quite effective as a femme fatale. It’s just that we can see where this is headed almost from the start. When Hank, early on, confides in Josie about his past, we know it’s got to be connected to her appearance and we’re not wrong. It comes to the violent…though still unsettling…conclusion that we also know is coming and the big reveal looses all it’s impact because we have already figured it out long before Hank. Watchable to see Turner strut her stuff as a bad girl, but if you think you’ve figured it out early on…you have.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: TOMB RAIDER (2018)

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TOMB RAIDER (2018)

Reboot finds a young, down and out Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina) refusing to accept her inheritance by declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead in absentia. When finally forced to do so, she gets a key and clue that sets her on a quest to find out what happen to him. It leads her to the uncharted island of Yamatai where the mysterious Order of Trinity has Archeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) searching for the tomb of Japanese sorceress Himiko. The woman was said to be of incredible power and Trinity wants use of it. As Lara seeks to find her father’s fate, she must now also find a way to stop Trinity from accomplishing their goal.

Do-over is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey, The Wave) from a script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and is wisely an origin story that starts fresh after the previous films. It’s also refreshingly down to earth in terms of it’s story telling with Uthaug going back to basics with the action and avoiding the bombastic, over-the-top spectacle that has become the status quo. Some may find the action routine, but it evoked the old fashioned action films before digital software allowed for things to become so much larger than life and in some cases, out of control. The pace is fairly swift with an almost two hour running time and just when it starts to drag a bit, we head into the last act tomb raiding finale. The South African locations look good substituting for a Pacific island and the interiors of Himiko’s tomb are interestingly designed, though with all the previous adventure flicks in this vein, the whole traps and puzzles thing is getting very old hat. Possibly why it’s kept at a minimum. Otherwise we get some solid gun-play and fisticuffs and it makes for an entertaining night at the movies with the hope that this franchise has new legs.

Alicia Vikander makes for a solid heroine as young Lara. Purists may feel her petite frame does not suit the statuesque video game character she’s portraying, but she is quite the spitfire and gives Lara both a strength and a vulnerability that make her more than just megapixels. She does action scenes as good as the boys and was convincing as a young woman coming into her inner adventurer. Walter Goggins is a serviceable enough villain. He could have had a bit more gusto, but they were going for a more grounded approach, so he is not the usual pontificating, cackling villain that most movies of this type feature. Dominic West is fine as Richard Croft in flashbacks, which provide backstory and exposition and Daniel Wu is solid as drunken sailor and Lara’s back-up, Lu Ren. We also get appearances by veterans Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi, as well as, fan favorite Nick Frost.

Overall, this was a solid action adventure that stripped away the over-the-top overindulgence of today’s action films and settled for a more back to basics approach. Alicia Vikander made for a strong Lara Croft and overcame her petite stature with a tenacity and vulnerability that really worked here. The whole tomb of traps and puzzles thing is kind of worn out at this point, but there was plenty of chases, gunfire and brawling to keep us entertained. A fun flick from Roar Uthaug.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.

 

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES MAR. 16-18

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

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

1. “Black Panther” $27 Million

2. “Tomb Raider” $23.5 Million

3. “I Can Only Imagine” $17 Million

4. “A Wrinkle in Time” $16.5 Million

5. “Love, Simon” $11.5 million

6. “Game Night” $5.6 Million

7. “Peter Rabbit” $5.2 Million

8. “Strangers: Prey at Night” $4.8 Million

9. “Red Sparrow” $4.45 Million

10. “Death Wish” $3.4 Million

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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NEW AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR TRAILER IS HERE!

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Marvel has dropped the new/final (?) trailer for Avenger: Infinity War which brings The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy together for a battle against the “Mad Titan” Thanos! Avengers: Infinity War arrives on 4/27/18 and is directed by the Russo Brothers.

Sources: Youtube/Marvel

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