BARE BONES: THE FAREWELL (2019)

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THE FAREWELL (2019)

Heartwarming and poignant movie finds family matriarch Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) being diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only months to live. Her family decides to keep the news from her, but then stages a wedding between her grandson (Chen Han) and his girlfriend (Aoi Mizuhara), so that the family can come together to see her one last time. This brings her granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina) to China from NYC and thus begins a bittersweet reunion that creates mixed emotions for Billi, as to whether the family is doing the right thing for Nai Nai.

The Farewell is exceptionally well directed by Lulu Wang from her own script, based on her own true-life experiences. It is a very well balanced film in terms of emotional tone, as we get a perfect mix of lighthearted and heartfelt moments, one never overwhelming the other. The film presents a look into Chinese culture and family life, and there is some subtle commentary on keeping one’s heritage while pursuing one’s dreams abroad. It is a film about family and tradition and is acted by a splendid cast, including an impressive performance by Awkwafina, who recently won a well deserved Golden Globe for the role, and a wonderful Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai. This is a very entertaining movie that will resonate with anyone with a family and knows exactly when to be serious and when to make you smile. Highly recommended. Stay through the credits for one more moment that will definitely put a smile on your face. Also stars Tzi Ma and Diana Lin as Billi’s parents.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: ZOMBIELAND-DOUBLE TAP (2019)

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ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019)

Sequel opens with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) now living in the White House. Columbus asks Wichita to marry him and unfortunately it causes she and Little Rock to leave. Little Rock then strikes out on her own with stoner musician Berkeley (Avan Jogia) and when Wichita returns to ask for help in getting her back, she finds Columbus is now with ditzy blonde, Madison (Zoey Deutch), whom he found hiding in a mall. If that doesn’t add tension enough, there is apparently a new faster and deadlier type of zombie on the prowl.

Ruben Fleischer returns to direct from a script by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham. As such it’s a fun sequel, though completely unnecessary as it’s basically just more of the same. There is a fun bit with Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, two travelers who are amusingly like Tallahassee and Columbus, but nothing much is done with it and it is over too quickly. Rosario Dawson is a welcome addition as Nevada, an Elvis loving love interest for Tallahassee, but even her character disappears for a while till joining the last act action. The climactic battle in a pacifist commune with the evolved zombie horde is entertaining and the four leads interact together very well, as they did last time. Aside from the fun of seeing the characters together again, there isn’t much to this sequel, which follows the template of the first film a little too closely to feel like anything more than a redo. Still, it’s an entertaining movie while it lasts, mostly because of the cast, but nothing that lingers after the credits have rolled. If you are a fan of the first film, you’ll probably have a good time with this one, even if it never accomplishes more than being an amusing, nostalgic reunion.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT (2019)

 

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JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT (2019)

Flick finds nothing much has changed since we last saw Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) in Kevin Smith’s 2006 Clerks II. They are still hanging out by the Quick Stop and smoking weed, though they are now growing and selling it, too. The dense duo are caught and an unscrupulous lawyer (Justin Long) gets them to sign away their names, so, a reboot of the Bluntman and Chronic movie, entitled Bluntman V Chronic, can commence. They hear a major sequence will be filmed at L.A.’s Chronic-Con and so, in true reboot fashion, the two hit the road again to stop production. Along the way Jay finds out that former love Justice (Shannon Elizabeth) bore him a child, who is now a rebellious teenager (Harley Quinn Smith) who comes along for the trip.

Kevin Smith writes and directs this latest adventure of his two slacker, stoner characters and for the first third, at least, it’s kinda nostalgic fun. Sadly the second third gets bogged down in the whole Jay finds out he’s a dad storyline and then when his daughter Millennium Faulken joins him on the quest for Chronic-Con, he tries to bond with the angry teen, without telling her who he really is. The melodrama drags the fun down a bit and the attempts at bonding aren’t nearly as funny as they should be. No better example than when he and Silent Bob have to rescue her and her racially diverse friends from a Ku Klux Klan chapter, whose Grand Wizard is played by professional wrestler/singer Chris Jericho, no less. It’s unnecessary and unfunny and only slows things down further. The third act really stalls as Jay, Silent Bob and the girls hit the convention to stop the film’s director…big surprise…Kevin Smith and it becomes a Kevin Smith ego-stroking, love letter to himself with cameos from former Smith film cast members that sadly only goes to show how old everyone has gotten since the 90s, when Smith and their characters was relevant. The stale dialog bits between these characters also prove that everyone involved is getting a bit too old for this schtick and maybe it’s time to move on from this whole, painfully dated Clerks based universe*. Smith and his returning to these characters, is like an over-the-hill singer from an 80s hair band that still sings about teenage girls. It’s sad and a bit creepy at this point.

*With a rumored Mallrats sequel and Clerks III on the way, this is, however, highly unlikely.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)

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LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)

Christmas season set romantic comedy finds pretty Kate (Emilia Clarke) down on her luck and unable to keep a roof over her head, because of constantly pissing-off those she roommates with. She’s had a traumatic life threatening illness, has not been herself since and is alienating her family and friends. Even her stern, Christmas loving boss (Michelle Yeoh) is loosing patience with the wannabe singer turned Christmas store elf. One night things start to change, however, as Kate meets the mysterious and charismatic Tom (Henry Golding), who inspires Kate to overcome her emotional troubles and be herself again.

Holiday flick is directed by Paul Feig (Ghostbusters 2016) from a script and story by co-star Emma Thompson, Greg Wise and Bryony Kimmings. As such it is a mixed bag. Even though we are supposed to be on Kate’s side, she is somewhat annoying at first and it’s hard to sympathize with her when she is being a bit of a selfish a-hole. The romantic aspects are very cliché, though thanks to a charming cast they still work very well. That cast elevates this above the mediocre holiday rom-com it is, with Clarke and Golding having really nice chemistry together. Clarke especially wins us over once Kate starts to change her ways and goes from annoying to adorable in the last act and Golding proves to be a charismatic leading man. A fantastic Michelle Yeoh steals every scene she is in and Dame Emma Thompson is amusing as Kate’s Yugoslavian mother. The London setting is equally charming and the film does have a surprising reveal, about two third through, that you may not see coming. Overall, it’s entertaining enough, wins you over by it’s last act and made far better than it’s routine script by a solid cast and some good old fashioned charm…though, you might be a little tired of that Wham! song by it’s end.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: RAMBO-LAST BLOOD (2019)

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RAMBO: LAST BLOOD (2019)

Completely unnecessary sequel finds Viet Nam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) now living on his late father’s ranch…or underneath it, as he prefers to lurk in a series of tunnels he’s built to one of the actual rooms. He lives with his father’s former live-in caretaker Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her hot granddaughter Gabriela (Yvette Monreal) and is on meds for post-traumatic stress disorder. When Gabriela travels to Mexico to find her father, she is kidnapped by a Mexican cartel for sex trafficking. This has Rambo putting down his meds and picking up his weapons to rescue Gabriela and take on vicious cartel lord Hugo Martinez (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and his army of thugs.

After the last film took the character full circle, there was no need to drag him back into action again, but, here we are. Flick is routinely directed by Adrian Grunberg from a bad script by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick. Not sure what the intent here was, but the film paints a very unflattering portrayal of both Mexican’s and Mexico itself. Stallone’s script vilifies the country and most of it’s people, one assumes in the hopes that we’ll feel no sympathy when the super soldier brutally and bloodily dispatches an army of cartel members in the booby-trapped maze beneath his ranch. You’d think slimy cartel leaders and their thugs are villainous enough, but aside from Maria and Gabriela, no one from south of the border is portrayed as anything but a lowlife or creep. Even without the hateful tone of the flick, it’s simply a routine and dull movie with generic bad guys and horror flick level gore when Rambo goes all Jigsaw in elimination of his prey. Hopefully the film’s subtitle is true to it’s word and Rambo has finally retired his pointy objects. They should have quit while they were ahead.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE SHED (2019)

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THE SHED (2019)

Flick opens with a man named Joe Bane (Frank Whaley) running from what appears to be a vampire (Damian Norfleet). He is saved by the rising sun, but not before being bitten. Now infected, he flees to a local house and hides from the rays of the sun within the shed. The house is occupied by teen Stan (Jay Jay Warren), who lives there with his abusive grandfather Ellis (Timothy Bottoms), after the death of his parents. Stan and his friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) are continual victims of school bully Marble (Chris Petrovski), but that is nothing compared to discovering he has a blood-thirsty monster in his own backyard. Trapping the creature inside the shed, Stan tries to figure out what to do, though the fed-up Dommer has some ideas of his own.

Flick is written and directed by Frank Sabatella and is an entertaining enough tale, though could have been a bit more clever with it’s premise. Having a bullied individual suddenly finding a monster at their disposal is nothing new, but The Shed is at least, smart enough to never have vampire Bane actually under the control of the boys and thus he is always a threat, even when Dommer decides to use a captured vampire to his advantage. The film also keeps Stan extremely reluctant to use the monster as a tool of revenge, so the teen stays a likable and sympathetic hero. The vampire scenes are effective, there is some decent gore and the final showdown is intense, as Bane finally gets out of the shed. The cast are good, even those playing stereotypical characters such as school bully and redneck cop (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), and who knew comedic actor Frank Whaley would make a spooky vampire. Sabatella treats the material seriously and with respect. So, even when it’s at it’s most cliché, the film never gets outright silly and thus entertains for the right reasons. Not a great movie, but an effective enough horror and Sabatella does show some potential with his camera work and ability to induce chills with a cliché story. Also stars Sofia Happonen as Stan’s girlfriend Roxy.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)

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DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)

Flick is a comedy/biography of 70s blaxploitation film legend and “Godfather of Rap” Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy). It shows his beginnings as a frustrated singer/comedian working in a record store. Takes us to his creation of the Dolemite character, which starts out as a foul mouthed stand-up comedy act. After gaining some popularity and momentum, Rudy assembles a motley cast and crew, to bring Dolemite to the big screen. The rest is cult classic cinema history.

Flick is directed by Craig Brewer, from a script by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander and is a very entertaining movie. The filmmakers know to have a fun time with Moore’s underdog story without making fun of it. They mix just the right amount of humor and drama as Ray “borrows” material from some of the local street folk in the neighborhood and turns it, first, into raunchy comedy gold, and later into exploitation film history. The Netflix Original is made all the more enjoyable by a great 70s flavor and a wonderful performance by a legend himself, Eddie Murphy, playing Moore. We get an oddball selection of characters in support of Moore and the cast portraying them also shine, with Craig Robinson and Mike Epps as Rudy’s friends Ben and Jimmy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, Keegan-Michael Key as Dolemite film writer Jerry Jones and a delightful Wesley Snipes as the film’s director/co-star D’Urville Martin. It’s a really fun look at an exploitation legend and his rise to cult stardom, as well as, a triumphant return form by Eddie Murphy.

PERSONAL NOTE: I had the pleasure of meeting Rudy Ray Moore at the Chiller Theater convention here in New Jersey in the 90s. Despite his foul-mouthed, tough guy persona, he was a vey sweet, kind and humble man and I feel fortunate for having met this cult icon. -MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: STAG NIGHT (2008)

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STAG NIGHT (2008)

Stag Night finds a group of bachelor partiers and a couple of strippers in NYC running afoul of a tribe of vicious, cannibalistic homeless people in the subways after hours. Flick is written and directed by Peter A. Dowling and has a group of young antagonists who aren’t particularly likable and therefor we really don’t care what happens to them. Their pursuers are generic snarling savages and don’t have enough of a persona to really generate fear or dread. So, we have a basic by-the-numbers gory horror that fails to generate any thrills, because there is nothing given us to get thrilled about. Many of today’s filmmakers miss the point, horror needs to evoke emotions in it’s audience, just as much as any other type of film. Fear is an emotion and if we care about characters, we are afraid when they are. Flicks like this also need a strong villain to evoke that fear. Gore and mood lighting do not a horror film make. Production value is decent and the locations and gore FX are effective, but that’s about it. Very routine despite an amusing premise. Stars Kip Pardue, Vinessa Shaw, Sarah Barrand, Breckin Meyer, Karl Geary and martial artist/actor Scott Adkins.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: KNIVES AND SKIN (2019)

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KNIVES AND SKIN (2019)

Knives and Skin is a stylish thriller with a very simple premise. When high school student Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) goes missing, it has a strange effect on the citizenry of a small town, especially it’s woman.

Flick is written and atmospherically directed by Jennifer Reeder, who has a very impressive visual style. This offbeat suburban tale is a bizarre story of the domino effect the disappearance of a single person has on a whole town. There are sexual awakenings, bearings of souls, questions about life, finding one’s self and even a musical number, which convey the effects Carolyn’s disappearance has on the eccentric folks that are the film’s characters, especially on her female high school peers. We the audience know where she was and who she was with, though it’s not till near the end that we find out the truth of what actually happened to her. Despite the element of mystery, it’s the journey not the result that is important here and Reeder takes us on an interesting trip indeed into the dark side of suburbia, human nature, coming of age and how we all have things hidden underneath our daily veneers. The film draws one in slowly and it’s almost hallucinogenic style is both unsettling and soothing all at once. The cast, including a very impressive Grace Smith and Kayla Carter, are all very good and Reeder makes great use of the film’s suburban Chicago locations. Christopher Rejano’s cinematography is stunning and there is a very atmospheric score by Nick Zinner. Knives and Skin has a very 80s vibe and will draw comparisons to Twin Peaks, but despite this, is still an original and effective work from a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Not for everyone, but fans of offbeat indies should definitely take a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: NEKROTRONIC (2019)

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NEKROTRONIC (2019)

Nekrotronic is another mash-up from the makers of the gory, fun 2014 Road Warrior/Dawn of the Dead hybrid Wyrmwood. This flick is basically Ghostbusters, meets The Exorcist with a dash of The Avengers and Buffy The Vampire Slayer thrown in. It tells the story of Howard (Ben O’Toole), who if he isn’t having a bad enough time draining septic tanks, finds out he is from a long line of necromancers who have been battling demons for ages. He also finds out his own mother Finnegan (Monica Bellucci) has found a way to put demons into the internet and use a new ghost hunting video game to unleash them, thus possessing the players and swallowing their souls. Howard reluctantly teams up with two pretty demon fighters, Molly and Torquel (Caroline Ford and Tess Haubrich) and his recently deceased bud, Rangi (Epine Bob Savea) to take mom down.

Australian horror/comedy is not quite as deliriously fun as Wyrmwood, but is still an amusing homage to some very classic movies. Flick is energetically directed by Kiah Roache-Turner from his script with brother Tristan Roache-Turner and is filled with some cool FX, tons of gore and a host of demon possessed citizens and minions. It takes it’s ludicrous plot seriously enough for us to follow along and the cast perform it with the right tone and gusto. It could have been a little tighter, currently running at 99 minutes, but overall is a good time and the Turners, once again, achieve a lot with a little. If, as a filmmaker, you are going to have fun with your film influences, this is an amusing way to go…in your face and with a blood-spattered wink at your audience. A bloody fun time, when all is said and done.

Flick can currently be found on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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