BARE BONES: BODIES BODIES BODIES (2022)

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BODIES BODIES BODIES (2022)

Murder mystery/slasher mash-up finds a group of friends partying in a mansion while a hurricane rages outside. They decide to play a game called Bodies Bodies Bodies where everyone draws a piece of paper, one piece selects someone as the killer while the others are potential victims. Lights are turned out and if the killer happens upon a victim, the poke them in the back “killing” them. Someone is playing for real as one of the group turns up dead. Soon fear and paranoia are flaring, fingers are getting pointed and bodies bodies bodies start piling up. Is there a killer among them…will any of them survive?

Film is well directed with a very European/Giallo flavor by Halina Reijn from a witty script by Sarah DeLappe, based on Kristen Roupenian’s story. We have a perfect set-up with a large mansion, a fierce storm to trap everyone inside and a lot of drinking and partying to dull senses and unleash inhibitions. We also have a lot of drama between characters just bubbling beneath the surface waiting to explode. We then are given the simple rules to the game which apparently gets taken far too seriously by someone…but who? The film is very effective at setting up the paranoia and the fear of the survivors and keeping the guilty party a secret even as the numbers start to dwindle, as desperate people do desperate things. It’s very entertaining and it comes to a nicely unpredictable conclusion that ads a twisted and fun dimension to the proceedings. It’s a fun and sometimes bloody flick with a nice visual style and a cool score by Disasterpeace, who did the great score for It Follows. Bloody fun slasher/whodunnit. Cast includes Maria Bakalova, Amandla Stenberg, Myha’la Herrold, Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders, Pete Davidson and Lee Pace.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE MUNSTERS (2022)

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THE MUNSTERS (2022)

Rob Zombie’s revisit to the classic TV show The Munsters, is basically a prequel that introduces the characters and how they met and became a family. Netflix streaming flick finds lovelorn vampiress Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) looking for love, while her father The Count (Daniel Roebuck wonderfully channeling Al Lewis) is all too eager to help…as long as it benefits him. Meanwhile Dr. Henry Augustus Wolfgang (Richard Brake) is trying to build the perfect human specimen in his lab. When his hunchbacked manservant Floop (Jorge Garcia) accidentally switches the brain of a genius with that of a stand-up comedian, Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is born. Lily takes a shine to Herman and now The Count must find some way to interfere as romance blooms.
 
Messy reboot is written and directed by Zombie and once again illustrates that writing is not his strong suit. It’s not as bad as the cringe-worthy trailer suggests, but nowhere near as good as we’d like. It starts out OK with Zombie providing some really great candy-colored visuals, which is his strong suit as a filmmaker, but its goofball in overdrive sense of humor starts to wear out its welcome about halfway through. The jokes are hit and miss, and Zombie has decided to make it far campier than the show, which gets tiresome. There is barely what can be considered a story. It basically skips from set-piece to set-piece with only a thread of consistency. It’s like a 110-minute music video. Only a subplot about Herman signing over the deed to The Count’s castle to Lily’s debt-laden werewolf brother Lester (Tomas Boykin), evokes the old show. Sheri Moon Zombie portrays Lily way too campy when she was the voice of reason between the bumbling Herman and her father. Phillips’ Herman is far too cocky here, as the original character was humble and sometimes a bit timid. The only one who nails it is Roebuck who is truly channeling the late Al Lewis as The Count aka Grandpa.
 
Overall, The Munsters might be worth a curiosity streaming when it premieres on 9/27/22 on Netflix, though don’t expect much. Reboot is an improvement over Zombie’s previous two flicks and do give him credit for making his first…and possibly only…PG rated movie.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE INVITATION (2022)

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THE INVITATION (2022)

Vampire flick has pretty artist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) finding she has family in England and traveling overseas to meet them. As this is a horror flick, or at least an attempt at one, Evie’s arrival at Carfax Estate does not bode well for the New Yorker.
 
Tepid horror is directed by Jessica M. Thompson from a script by Blair Butler. It has slightly more bite than a Twilight movie but suffers from severe Anne Rice envy. It’s obvious from the start something is wrong here in Carfax and stuffiness is not the only thing Evie’s English relatives have wrong with them. Servants drop like flies, and one wonders why anyone goes to work there as nobody in servitude positions seems to leave with their jugular intact. The family wants to make Evie one of them in the worst way and thanks to some convenient character changes of heart, Evie might just have a chance to avoid the whole coffin and fangs scene. An uninvolving vampire movie overall that at least finds lead Emmanuel trying hard and the cinematography at least doing its job. Dry and dull equestrian vampire flick.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: BEAST (2022)

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BEAST (2022)

Nature run amok flick finds Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) taking his two teenage daughters Mer (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) to Africa to visit the homeland of their recently deceased mother. There he reunites with old friend and wildlife reserve manager Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley) who introduced him to his late wife. They also meet up with a blood-thirsty lion who is on a murderous rampage after poachers have killed its mate and slaughtered its pride.

African set thriller is well directed by Baltasar Kormákur from a script by Ryan Engle. It is tense and suspenseful and while paced very well, does give enough time to let us get to know Nate, Martin and the girls, so we care about them. It also makes our rampaging beastie a bit sympathetic as we witness the slaughter of its mate and thus understand it’s rage. This gives Beast a bit of emotional resonance, but also works against the film in that you never really see the animal as a monster or a true villain. In terms of the poachers…a real-life issue addressed here…you are actually on its side. Once the film gets going it is very entertaining and the attacks have impact though, again, like Frankenstein’s monster, the lion is not a creature you come to hate as its rampage has reason. You kind of feel bad for it despite liking Nate and his daughters. The cast are all good here and the added background drama involving the death of Nate’s wife, gives their characters and the proceedings dramatic weight, but it might have been far more effective if you weren’t so understanding of the massive feline’s fury. Hard to hate the cat when he lost his wife too! A good movie still worth a watch but could have been more effective done as an old-fashioned monster movie a la Jaws or Grizzly.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: ELVIS (2022)

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ELVIS (2022)

Colorful biopic is the latest version of the life of legendary singer Elvis Aaron Presley (Austin Butler). It traces his upbringing in the black neighborhoods of Mississippi, where he first got his musical influences, to his discovery by promoter Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), to his rise as one of the biggest stars in history, and eventually to his shocking and unexpected death in 1977.

Biography is directed by Baz Lurhmann from his script and story with Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner and Sam Bromell. It’s visually stunning and filled with music as Lurhmann tells the story of one of the greatest performers of all-time in the director’s usual over-indulgent style. Underneath Lurhmann’s smoke and mirrors, though, is a heartfelt and sometimes powerful story of the life of one Elvis Aaron Presley. The film is interestingly told from the narration of Presley’s manager Col. Tom Parker, who is not painted as a good guy despite telling the tale. There are wonderful performances here that help make this work, especially from Austin Butler as Elvis and Hanks almost unrecognizable as the shady Col. Parker. The film is filled with not only Presley’s music but that of the black rhythm and blues and gospel artists that inspired Elvis’ music and style. These artists are given full credit for helping create one of the greatest entertainers in history. The film traces Presley’s youth among these artists, his discovery by the unscrupulous Parker to his rise, temporary fall and comeback as the music icon we know today. It also doesn’t sugarcoat or avoid the sad events leading up to his untimely death. It’s a visually stunning, music drenched biopic that is given a strong beating heart and soul by a director who seems passionate about the story and two leads giving it their best. An emotional and musical ride through the sadly too short life of one of the greatest musical icons of all-time. Also stars Olivia DeJonge as Elvis’ wife Priscilla, Richard Roxburgh as his father Vernon and Helen Thomson as his mother Gladys.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)

Flick is based on the book by Delia Owen and tells the story of “The Marsh Girl” Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman abandoned by her family as a little girl, who grows to womanhood living alone in the family house in the swamps. When a young local man she became involved with named Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is found dead, Kya is blamed, and retired lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) comes to her defense in court.

Film takes place in 1969 in the fictional town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina and is well directed by Olivia Newman from a script by Lucy Alibar. It takes its time letting us get to know Kya from her growing up uneducated with an abusive alcoholic father and the family that flees him leaving little Kya behind. She’s a talented artist, but a socially awkward one, reviled and outcast by the locals having grown up alone in her marsh home, once her father abandons her, too. The subject of exaggerated folk tales, the townsfolk find it easy to point fingers at her when one of their own is found dead. The film cuts back and forth between the trial and the events leading up to it, as Tom tries to prove the meek and shy woman is innocent. It’s an involving and refreshingly subtle story with fine performances from all the cast, especially lead Daisy Edgar-Jones. Newman also has a very nice visual eye and takes full advantage of the settings both in town and outdoors amongst nature. The film has some strong scenes but thankfully avoids the theatrical melodrama that other, similar films usually flaunt. An entertaining and involving adaptation with an endearing lead character. Also stars Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr as Mabel and Jumpin’ Madison, store owners who are Kya’s only real friends and Taylor John Smith as Tate, a young man she really loves.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE ADVENTURES OF PAULA PERIL (2014)

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THE ADVENTURES OF PAULA PERIL (2014)

The Adventures of Paula Peril is an entertaining attempt to recreate and pay homage to the old-style movie serials of yesteryear with a contemporary style. Flick is a combination of three episodes of the Paula Peril video series based on the comic book of the same name. It features the adventures of intrepid reporter Paula Perillo (Valerie Perez), or “Paula Peril” as she is known, due to all the predicaments she gets herself into. Paula is trying to solve the murder of her mother, which she believes has something to do with crime boss Carleoni (Brian Stretch) and his criminal empire. Along the way the pretty reporter finds herself in heaps of danger and trouble that she must find a way out of.

As it is a combination of three episodes, there are three directors attached. Jason WinnBenjamin Barak and Savvy Lorestani all get directing credit helming from scripts by Winn, Eric Pai and Chris Schulte. The filmmakers bring all the clichés and wholesome charm of those old-time serials, but with a contemporary touch. During the course of 80 minutes, the curvy Ms. Perillo finds herself in all sorts of old-fashioned damsel in distress predicaments, including the classic tied to the railroad tracks. Star Valerie Perez not only has the figure of her comic book counterpart but also plays the role with the right amount of seriousness and tongue in cheek to make Paula an endearing and fun character. She’s also quite a spitfire in the action sequences as the sexy reporter has some very effective kicks and punches…no wonder the bad guys are always tying her up. The rest of the cast are fine with the acting varying somewhat, but they all try hard and get the tone of the material. The crew accomplishes a lot on a small budget. There are some fun comic book frame transitions, some decent action and the flick has an old-fashioned charm in its corny-on-purpose, Lois Lane meets The Perils of Pauline format. There is also some supernatural content that makes it fine for the Halloween season, too. A fun indie throwback with a big heart and a very spunky and resilient contemporary heroine. Flick is streaming free on both Tubi and Amazon Prime Freevee.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MOLOCH (2022)

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MOLOCH (2022)

Netherlands horror finds widowed Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) returning home with her young daughter Hannah (Noor van der Velden) to her family farmhouse after the death of her husband. Upon returning she is greeted by some odd deaths, a stranger attacking her family and the discovery of a group of buried bodies of woman with their throats slit. What is going on and why does Betriek feel something ancient, and evil has targeted her family.
 
Dutch horror is directed by Nico van den Brink from a script by he and Daan Bakker. Despite some intriguing story elements involving a malevolent biblical entity and a woman suspected of witchcraft, the film is very routine and kind of dull. There are some spooky visuals, and a few effective moments, along with some nice folklore elements but the film is very talky and takes far too long to get to the spooky stuff. The cast and setting give it some atmosphere and a refreshing look and feel, but there is little tension or scares, and it ends exactly as you expect it to. A disappointing example of some good ideas executed in a mundane and pedestrian manner. Flick is available to stream on Shudder.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022)

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TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022)

Legacy sequel finds Pete “Maverick” Mitchell a test pilot with the navy and still a captain after all these years. Another act of insubordination gets him in trouble again, but old friend Iceman (Val Kilmer), now an admiral, gets him transferred back to Top Gun instead of being court-martialed. What awaits him there is teaching a new batch of ace pilots, including the grown son (Miles Teller) of his friend Goose, how to accomplish a dangerous mission and an old flame (Jennifer Connelly) whose heart he once broke.

Flick, originally slated to be released in 2019, but postponed due to COVID19, is well-directed by Joseph Kosinski from a script by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie based on a story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks. As such, it is literally a perfect way to do one of these legacy sequels, as it pays homage to and continues the story of the original classic yet is also a solidly good movie in its own right. In some ways it is a better flick than the 1986 original with some nice dramatic weight and some killer action scenes in the last act. Sure, it has the cheesy melodrama we expect and is predictable in its soap opera level sub-plots, but it is still a lot of fun and Kosinski knows how to deliver some dynamic action scenes in the climactic third. The aerial dogfights are energetic and exciting and the cast all work well together. Cruise brings a nice maturity to Maverick, Connelley is a spunky love interest as Peggy, Teller is a welcome addition to the mythos as Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, and it was nice to see them include Val Kilmer, whose recent health issues have taken priority over his career. In conclusion, everything you would want in a Top Gun movie! Also stars Ed Harris and Jon Hamm.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022)

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ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022)

Prequel is an origin story of sorts for Isabelle Fuhrman’s homicidal Esther character from the film Orphan.
The character is introduced as the psychotic Leena, a full-grown woman in her thirties who suffers from a condition that stopped her growth when she was around ten years old. Leena escapes from the institute she’s imprisoned in and takes the identity of Esther Albright, a little girl who disappeared four years ago. Desperate to have her back, the Albrights don’t see past the deception. The homicidal woman settles in with her new family and continues her murderous ways, especially when a nosey detective (Hiro Kanagawa) threatens her scheme.
 
Flick is directed by William Brent Bell from a script by David Coggeshall, which is based on a story by
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace. It’s a ho-hum sequel with routine blood, gore and violence, along with some predictable situations and sub-plots. It is hard to believe from the get-go that the family would be completely fooled by a total stranger who is not their own daughter, even after four years and a striking (convenient) resemblance. There is a twist about half-way through which explains this for some characters, but it comes across as more ludicrous than shocking, and takes the film into silly territory as Esther gets the tables turned on her somewhat. It all leads to a predictable and bloody conclusion, which has no suspense as, since this is a prequel, we know exactly where this ends up. First Kill is a mediocre follow-up trying desperately to turn a one-shot flick into a franchise and if you are a fan of the first movie, which was entertaining, you might get some mileage out of this one. 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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