BARE BONES: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017)

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TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017)

Mexican film is both heartbreaking drama and supernatural thriller that takes place in 2006 during the drug wars as thousands are being abducted and killed, thus leaving orphans to live on the cruel streets. Estrella (Paola Lara) is one such girl whose mother disappears while she is at school. She is forced to join a group of four orphaned boys (Juan Ramón López as Shine, Rodrigo Cortes as Pop, Nery Arredondo as little Morro and Hanssel Casillas as Tucsi) who are surviving by theft and sticking together. Not only are they pursued by a ruthless drug lord and his thugs, for a phone they stole, but Estrella is being followed by a supernatural entity whose intent is yet unknown.

Film is very well directed by Issa López from her own script. The movie combines supernatural thriller, harsh street drama and a touch of fantasy, as we are dealing with children after all. The supernatural elements can be spooky, but it is the unflinching look at children surviving under the worst conditions that really tugs the heart. López’s camera doesn’t flinch in it’s portrayal of children in a violent world and how these kids become “tigers” to survive it. The fantasy elements blend in well, as children at this age are still capable of believing in magic and fairy tales to help them cope with adversity…and loss. To say López gets good performances out of her young cast is an understatement. The kids are great. The film can be a bit slow moving at times, even at only 83 minutes, and is very dark, violent and grim, but also comes to a satisfying conclusion where all the elements come together nicely. Not perfect, but it’s an original, spooky and very touching and thought provoking movie from Issa López. Also stars Tenoch Huerta as drug lord El Chino and Ianis Guerrero as one of his thugs whose path the kids unfortunately cross.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: CANDY CORN (2019)

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CANDY CORN (2019)

Boring Halloween set horror has a group of small town thugs following their cruel Halloween tradition of pranking local boy Jacob (Nate Chaney), who now works for a carnival. Their bullying takes an unexpected turn when Jacob finally fights back and they accidentally kill him in retaliation. The carnival’s ring master Dr. Death (Pancho Moler from Rob Zombie’s 31) uses his voodoo powers to resurrect Jacob as a mask wearing monster that avenges himself brutally on his attackers, leaving candy corn stuffed in their dead mouths.

Flick is written and directed very by-the-numbers by Josh Hasty, who has obviously seen a lot of horror films, but doesn’t really understand what makes them work. His script is a dull hodgepodge of flicks we have all seen before, from Carpenter’s classic to Pumpkinhead, yet without any of those films’ chills or thrills. He thinks all that he had to do was hire some familiar faces from horror films past and present, yet gives us no likable or interesting characters for us to identify with or root for. The victims of his dull creature are all cruel local thugs, so they are getting what’s coming to them and we have no sympathy or interest in their deaths whatsoever. Jacob looks like some guy wandering around in a generic Halloween mask and exudes no threat or menace. If you can’t conjure memorable or likable characters, at least have a memorable monster. Epic fail on both counts. Add to that, the cast all recite their dialogue with a deadpan monotone and it makes every scene tedious. There is some routine bloodshed, but absolutely no suspense, atmosphere or tension to give it weight. At 85 minutes it’s a bore to sit through and is as forgettable as it’s vengeful walking corpse. Don’t waste your time unless you have to see every Halloween themed movie out there and even on that level the film has very little Halloween spirit. Also stars Candyman‘s Tony Todd, Halloween’s P.J. Soles and Children of the Corn’s Courtney Gains.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: RIOT GIRLS (2019)

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RIOT GIRLS (2019)

Riot Girls takes place in a somewhat post-apocalyptic future where a plague of some sort has wiped out all the adults and placed the teens in charge. We get the poor kids on the East Side vs the rich kids on The West Side run by the high school football team the Titans. Enter East Side lesbian couple Nat (Madison Iseman) and punker Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski) who must go up against the Titans when Scratch’s brother, Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) is taken prisoner by them.

Flick is directed by Jovanka Vuckovic from a script by Katherine Collins and seems to resemble something that could have been made in the 80s. Sadly something also seems missing from this retro-ish flick that keeps it from really being the offbeat treat it should have been. The characters seemed very cliché, despite the contemporary addition of lesbian leads, and the direction seemed a bit by-the-numbers. Adding a punk rock song every five minutes does not creativity make and one feels they could have done a lot more with the premise. The cast are fine, though only Munro Chambers as the Titans lead douchebag Jeremy has a strong presence here. Scratch seems like the usual movie version of a punk rocker and is sadly the most stereotypical of all the characters, with Iseman at least tackling a different role than her usual girl-next-door types she’s frequently cast as. There is some bloody violence, though none of it has any real impact as the film slides back and forth between high school movie and teen Mad Max wanna-be. A concept that simply should have been carried out with a lot more ingenuity.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: CHILD’S PLAY (2019)

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CHILD’S PLAY (2019)

Remake, reboot, or whatever you want to call it, of the classic 1988 Child’s Play upgrades (or downgrades?) Chucky from a doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer to a doll with a sabotaged A.I. As such, it actually isn’t a bad flick, as we find single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) wanting to get her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a new Buddi doll for his birthday. When a defective one is returned to the store she works at, she takes it home for him. The needy doll dubs itself Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) and soon starts to exhibit unusual behavior. This behavior soon escalates into cursing, violence and then murder, in protection of his pal Andy. When Andy tries to get rid of him, Chucky becomes a vengeful little Buddi, a friend till the end…which may come soon for Andy and anyone close to him.

Lars Klevberg directs well from a script by David Katzenberg and despite being unnecessary, as the two recent, old school Chucky movies were really good, it is an effective and entertaining horror. Making Chucky a doll with an Alexa-like A.I. is less spooky on one level, but creepy on another, as Chucky can control any item made by his home company, The Kaslan Corporation, such as lights, smart phones, televisions, cars and other toys. Mark Hamill is a solid successor to Brad Dourif and makes Chucky his own. The actor gives him a personality and is quite scary when Chucky starts to unravel due to a vengeful factory employee turning off his safety features. Gabriel Bateman is good as Andy and is likable. The added caveat of him being hearing impaired, doesn’t really effect the story much and just gives an excuse for him to be a bit of a loner. Plaza is fine as mom, Karen, though seems a bit too young to have a thirteen year-old son. There is a throwaway line about her getting knocked-up at her sweet sixteen party to explain it, but not sure what the point in casting her was other than being the subject of hot mom lines. The flick has a lot of gore, when it gets going and things do move quickly during the 90 minute running time. It’s got some good suspense and has some fun with it’s carnage. While Don Mancini’s killer doll will always remain the classic horror icon, this retread is actually a bloody good time when given a chance and taken on it’s own merits.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

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THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

If one ever said that eclectic indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch would make a zombie film, or Bill Murray would make two, one would initially be thought mad…but here we are. Flick takes place in the small, rural town of Centerville where a group of eccentric characters including Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are dealing with a bizarre situation. The Earth has been thrown off it’s axis and now the dead are returning to life. As the town population dwindles, Robertson and Officer Ronald Peterson (Adam Driver) must battle the increasing army of the flesh eating living dead.

Flick is written and directed by Jarmusch and is filled with atmosphere and the director’s trademark dry humor. There is a lot of strange stuff going on and a host of oddball characters, but the film doesn’t always click and it does have the pace of, well…a funeral. There are some amusing moments and some bloody ones, too. The familiar tropes are present and Jarmusch does play with them a bit. The cast is quite impressive and amusing, such as Tilda Swinton’s sword wielding Scotswoman, but the movie on a whole never really seems to find it’s footing and rambles on like one of it’s zombies. Considering that it’s Jim Jarmusch actually making a zombie film, one would expect something a bit more special. Also stars Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez, Danny Glover, Chloë Sevigny and Tom Waits as “Hermit Bob”.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS (2017)

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ROCK PAPER SCISSORS (2017)

Flick is also known as Rock Paper Dead, but it’s real selling point is that it is the return of legendary horror director Tom Holland (the original Fright Night and Child’s Play) after a two decade absence. Story unfolds as serial killer Peter Harris (Luke Macfarlane) has been apprehended by police. He spends years in therapy and is finally released by Dr. Evelyn Bauer (Tatum O’Neal) as cured. Peter goes back to live in his family house where he is haunted by his past and pursued by both a pretty neighbor (Jennifer Titus) with her own agenda and a vengeful cop (Michael Madsen). Will Peter return to old habits, or will his past catch up with him first?

Holland directs from a mixed bag script by Kerry Fleming and Victor Miller and thus the film is a bit uneven, despite the director still having got it. There are some very disturbing moments in the film and some very creepy stuff. The flick has some gruesome gore and Holland gives the film atmosphere. There are also some borderline silly moments, too and the performances are uneven as the story. Lead Macfarlane plays his part well, as a disturbed man trying to fight off bad thoughts and habits, while Titus is quite uneven, especially when asked to go over-the-top, and Madsen is playing the same part he always plays. He’s phoning it in. Overall, this flick is worth a look and shows Holland still can make an effective and entertaining flick. He probably should have taken a crack at the script, as he wrote, or co-wrote, his two biggest classics. Curious why no noise was made about this flick with a heavy-hitter like Holland returning to the director’s chair? Also features a score by the legendary Harry Manfredini (the original Friday the 13th flicks).

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE LAST CIRCUS (2011)

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THE LAST CIRCUS (2011)

The Last Circus is the bizarre and twisted story of Javier (Carlos Areces). All Javier wants is to become a clown like his father (Santiago Segura), who was killed during the Spanish Civil War. The sad and unfunny Javier only finds work as the Sad Clown in a local circus in Franco’s Spain of 1973. Even there, his life falls apart as one tragedy is followed by another, as he falls for Natalia (Carolina Bang), the acrobat girlfriend of the violent and abusive star clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre).

Director and writer Alex de la Iglesia (the cult classic Acción Mutante) weaves this darkly humorous and sometimes extremely violent tale with a very unique and sometimes stunning visual style. He knows how to use his camera and visuals to maximum effect. He also gets good performances out of his cast. What he falls short in, is knowing when enough is enough and cutting his audience a break. All the depressing tragic moments and gory interludes start to get tiresome, about an hour in and by the time the credits role, the audience is too weary to really care how the story ends. On that note, let’s just say not to expect a fairy tale ending, after all you’ve sat through. There is a lot to like about Circus and de la Iglesia’s filming style, but it’s the overall heavy-handedness of his story telling that wears one out. A unique and interesting, if not flawed film.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MA (2019)

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MA (2019)

Cliché filled thriller finds pretty high school student Maggie (Diana Silvers) moving back to her mother Erica’s (Juliette Lewis) home town after her parents separate. Maggie soon makes friends and when out in pursuit of some liquor to party, they meet lonely Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer). Sue Ann starts to buy them booze and soon invites them to use her basement to party in. As “Ma” gets more and more involved in their lives, her behavior starts to get stranger and stranger. Maggie soon starts to believe their new ‘friend’ has ulterior motives for her hospitality, but what is she up to and why?

Aside from an unsettling performance from veteran Spencer and a solid heroine in Silvers’ Maggie, there isn’t much to say about this flick. It’s a routine and very familiar thriller from writer Scotty Landes and director Tate Taylor, who don’t bring anything new to the stalker/crazy person sub-genres. Ma’s hidden agenda is no surprise, as it is revealed to us, over the course of the film, through flashbacks to Sue Ann’s days in high school and what pushed her over the edge, so to speak. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, plays out exactly as we expect and not portrayed in any way innovative or creative. Aside from good performances from the leads and from supporting cast members Juliette Lewis and Luke Evans, there would be very little to recommend here. The cast, especially Octavia Spencer, deserved better material and we deserved a better movie.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE (2019)

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THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE (2019)

Comedy/horror takes the goofy late 60s, early 70s Hanna-Barbera kids show and turns it into a horror movie. Young fan Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is being taken, for his birthday, by his mom (Dani Kind), brother Austin (Romeo Carere) and jerk step-dad Mitch (Steve Lund) to see his favorite show live, The Banana Splits. What Harley doesn’t know is that the characters, Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and his favorite, Snorky, are all robots. Robots who get a bit twitchy when the show’s canceled and go on a killing spree, with Harley and family trapped in the studio.

Taking a psychedelic TV kids show and turning it into a horror movie is an amusing idea, that is sadly bungled here. The flick is lazily directed by Danishka Esterhazy from a dull script from Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas. The creative element seemed to think the horror spin was cleverness enough and we get a generic story and very by-the-numbers direction. The pace is also very slow and what should have been an Evil Dead II style roller coaster ride becomes a tedious and dull ninety minutes. It does pick up a bit at the climax and there is some good gore, but it’s a little too late. The cast was mostly unremarkable, save for pretty Dani Kind as Harley’s mom. She shows some resilience and spunk in the last act and made a good hot mom final girl. Otherwise, what should have been a fun and gory blast is a half-assed mishandling of a really amusing idea.

The Banana Splits was one of my favorite shows as a kid growing up in the 70s, so I went a little easy on the rating for nostalgia’s sake. -MZNJ

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: CRITTERS ATTACK! (2019)

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CRITTERS ATTACK! (2019)

Revival of the classic franchise is sadly disappointing as the Krites…or Critters…return to earth after last being seen here in 1991’s Critters 3. They land near a small town, much like in the first two features and start to chow-down on the inhabitants. They cause trouble most specifically for a babysitter (Tashiana Washington), her two charges (Jack Fulton and Ava Preston) and her younger brother (Jaeden Noel), who find a friendly Krite female while hiking. Luckily Dee Wallace shows up (reprising her role from the first flick…maybe?) and goes Critter hunting!

Sequel is directed very by-the-numbers by Bobby Miller from a witless and dull script by Scott Lobdell. It’s so low budget, it looks like someone’s homemade fan film and the acting is strictly amateur, save for the veteran Wallace. Aside from the female Krite our teens adopt as a pet, there is little new or innovative here and not much reason to revisit this franchise. There is some decent gore…when they bother to show it, and the Critters are delightfully still rubber puppets, but there is little fun in their new exploits. At least there is a cool 80s-ish soundtrack from Russ Howard III.

A sadly underwhelming direct-to-digital sequel that begs one to revisit the originals instead…at least the first two anyway. While on the subject, there is also Shudder’s Critters: A New Binge web series, which is supposedly not much better.

-MonsterZero NJ

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