REVIEW: AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

“Whatever it takes” ―The Avengers

Fourth Avengers flick finds the surviving heroes still devastated by the mass genocide caused by Thanos and the Infinity Stones. Five years later, hope is reignited as the reappearance of one of their number thought dead, gives The Avengers one last chance to possibly set things right.

Joe and Anthony Russo, again armed with a script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, give this ten year journey the best ending possible. It’s an emotionally draining roller coaster ride as The Avengers enact a desperate plan that will lead them to a final showdown with the Mad Titan…and we’re along with them, every step of the way. It’s the type of movie best enjoyed going in knowing as little as possible, so this will be brief. There are loads of surprises, epic battles, some wonderful cameos and a plot that cleverly wraps up the story and also manages to pay tribute to what came before. There are some truly great moments here and heartbreaking ones, too. The audience in attendance laughed hysterically, cheered thunderously and some even wept openly. It wraps up the last ten years wonderfully, while opening some doors to the future. Simply a great flick and an enormously entertaining 181 minutes.

The cast is once again, too large to discuss each individually, but all deserve kudos. Our mainstays from the series all perform these now familiar characters with the expected gusto. A great ensemble cast that has endeared us over the last decade and have grown into their roles so well. Josh Brolin again impresses as Thanos, the Mad Titan. The clever script gives us a bit of a different Thanos, one possibly more dangerous than he was in Infinity War. There are too many great character cameos to mention, which is fine, as they will not be spoiled here anyway. A spectacular cast.

There are a few flaws, but for all the spectacle and emotion you get in it’s three hour running time, they are too small to bother discussing. A clever script and story gives us everything we could hope for from epic battles, heartbreaking actions, nail-biting suspense and some truly hilarious moments, all mixed very well. It rarely slows down and only stumbles slightly here and there, but otherwise is an epic finale to a great series of movies. While there is no post credits scene, stay during the entire credits anyway for a wonderful sendoff to our beloved heroes.

…and, on a personal note, I can’t remember the last time I laughed, cheered and even teared up so much in one movie…and I’ve been watching movies for over five decades-MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) infinity gauntlets.

 

bars

Advertisements

REVIEW: THE QUAKE aka SKJELVET (2018)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

THE QUAKE aka SKJELVET (2018)

Norwegian disaster flick is a sequel to Roar (Tomb Raider, Cold Prey) Uthaug’s The Wave and continues the story of Geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner). It’s three years after the devastating wave in Geiranger and while Eikjord is seen by most as a hero, he himself is tormented with guilt that his warning could have been made sooner. He is separated from wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and his children, son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), who now live in Oslo. When a friend’s death in a tunnel signals Kristian that a massive earthquake could be imminent there, the nightmare begins all over again as he tries to warn authorities and get his family to safety.

John Andreas Andersen takes over directing reigns from Uthaug with a script from Wave writers John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg. He does a great job not only in creating some intense drama to get us emotionally invested in the returning characters, but some nail-biting suspense when the inevitable finally happens. Much like the last film, it’s a bit smaller scaled than the typical CGI filled mega-budget Hollywood disaster films and focuses on the human drama, though the devastation is quite impressive. There are some truly gripping scenes as Eikjord tries to rescue his wife and daughter from the top floor of a collapsing hotel, with the help of his dead friend’s daughter Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen). It can be quite intense and nerve-wracking, especially in the last act and the human melodrama is kept at a realistic level and thus far more effective than if it was over-the-top like most films of this ilk. The FX are once again top notch, for a moderately budgeted film and the Norwegian locations are a refreshing relief from the usual world famous big city locales these movies usually choose. If the film has any flaws it’s that it’s over a bit suddenly, when one expected more and characters are suddenly safe when they were still in the danger zone when last seen. Some transitional shots would have helped. These are minor complaints when stacked up against what director Andersen does deliver.

The cast all return as the Eikjord family. Kristoffer Joner once again makes a solid everyman hero. This time Kristian is a man tearing himself apart by guilt that he couldn’t have saved more in the tsunami in Geiranger, but must do it all over again in Oslo. A good actor making the part very human. Ane Dahl Torp is again strong as Idun. She still loves her husband and is trying to be understanding and sympathetic, even though his new warnings appear as paranoia to her. Jonas Hoff Oftebro is good as the now college age Sondre, though he doesn’t have all that much screen time and Edith Haagenrud-Sande is very solid as young Julia, especially as she is involved with a lot of the action. Pretty Kathrine Thorborg Johansen is also a welcome edition as Marit, the strong-willed daughter of Kristian’s lost friend and quite the action heroine herself.

Overall, it’s a fun movie and every bit an equal to it’s predecessor. It’s human drama is done on a realistic level and thus emotionally invests the audience in the characters. It’s title event comes in the last act and delivers some really nail-biting suspense scenes as the characters we’ve come to like are thrust into highly dangerous situations. The FX are spectacular for a modestly budgeted film and director John Andreas Andersen fills Roar Uthaug’s shoes quite nicely. A really solid and very entertaining disaster sequel from Norway. Would love to see a threequel if they could find a way to get Eikjord back in action without seeming forced or redundant which The Quake avoids.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) little girls who should have stayed in the car like dad told her to.

 

 

 

 

 

bars

REVIEW: SHAZAM! (2019)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

SHAZAM! (2019)

Latest flick from the DC Comics cinematic universe is based on one of their outside the Justice League characters and is more geared towards kids, though it has a few rough moments. Movie finds orphaned Billy Batson (Asher Angel) running away from foster home after foster home to try and find his real mother. His latest place of residence is a foster home run by Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews). Here he’s befriended by Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is partially disabled and a real superhero fan. His superhero know-how comes in handy when guardian wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) chooses Billy as a champion to take his place as a protector and to hold his power. Now all Billy has to do is say “Shazam!” and he transforms into a muscular adult superhero (Zachary Levi)…but in body only. Learning how to be a hero is tough enough on it’s own for a kid, but Billy/Shazam is challenged by the bitter and angry Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who was rejected by Shazam as a child and now wants revenge…and has seven powerful demons to help him get it.

Flick is directed by David F. Sandberg, who cut his teeth on horror flicks like Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. This probably comes in handy as the script by Henry Gayden, from a story by he and Darren Lemke, features the before mentioned demons and thus a few spooky sequences. Sandberg does a good job at the sentimental and silly stuff, too, though in both cases, the script throws in a bit too much of it. The schtick of a 15 year-old kid being in an adult superhero’s body wears out it’s welcome after a while with numerous scenes of Billy/Shazam acting like a brat and using his newfound fame to get himself attention and money. Probably what a kid would do, true, but here it’s drawn out a bit too long. The whole film could have been a bit tighter and wouldn’t have missed about ten minutes or so removed. There are some fun bits and the flick has heart, but it can be over-sentimental at times, too and really goes for all the clichés about trust and family, though superhero flicks in particular can get away with being cliché. It’s oddly one of the things endearing about them. The climactic confrontation with Sivana never really gets all that exciting and Billy learning that he doesn’t have to fight alone is exactly what we expect to happen. The flick overall is very predictable. Not a bad movie, but one that could have used a little tightening, a little more excitement and less repetition with it’s hi-jinx.

There are no complaints about the cast. Zachary Levi is a hoot as the teen in an adult body imbued with superpowers. He’s charming and funny and even if the bratty hero bits are the focus for a bit too long, Levi is fun in the part. His overstuffed costume is a bit off-putting, but otherwise Levi is a good fit for the role. Asher Angel was very good as Billy. The film’s sentiment may get schmaltzy at times, but Angel is endearing and likable and handles the emotional requirements very well. Grazer is also likable as the partially disabled nerd who has a strong interest in superheroes and now gets to be BFF’s with one. Mark Strong makes a solid though unremarkable villain. He’s a very reliable veteran actor and it was cool to see DC give him a second chance at villainy after the prospects of his being the evil Sinestro in a Green Lantern sequel dried up. The rest of the supporting cast are also good and all perform well in their roles.

Overall, this is a flick that tries hard and doesn’t miss the mark by too much. It has some fun sequences and a likable cast, but maybe plays out it’s schtick a bit too long and might be a bit too silly at times for some tastes. The film feels like it could have been a bit shorter and tighter, without harming it’s story and drags a bit midway through. It’s loaded with clichés which make it a bit predictable, but still has a lot of fun bits and with lead Levi being perfectly cast as the kid in a hero’s body. As a superhero version of 1988’s Big, at least they had the respect to pay that film a nice homage. Stay after the credits for two additional sequences.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) kids in a hero’s body.

 

 

 

 

 

bars

REVIEW: HELLBOY (2019)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

HELLBOY (2019)

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is back from comic book page to movie screen and unfortunately, without Ron Perlman and Guillermo del Toro. Not the conclusion of the previous film’s proposed trilogy, it’s a new origin story with a new cast and a far darker and somewhat less humorous tone. This latest incarnation finds Hellboy (Stranger Things’ David Harbour) dealing with both the truth of his destiny to bring about the apocalypse and the resurrection of the Blood Queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich), who’d love to help him. The heroic demon has to wade through an army of creatures and even some close to home betrayals to try and bring her down and save the world.

Reboot is directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall from a script by Mike Mignola and Andrew Cosby. As such, it is darker, edgier and more of a horror film than the PG-13 superhero films that preceded it. There are gallons of blood and gore spattered on the screen as Hellboy and allies, psychic Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), were-beast Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) and his “father” Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) battle dozens of monsters, demons and mythical creatures. There is a lot of bloody action and while it lacks the charm and fun of del Toro’s flicks, it is entertaining enough in it’s own right. Marshall’s visual style is different than del Toro’s, but no less spectacular, as we are treated to all sorts of monsters including a wrestling vampire, the pig-like Gruagach (Stephen Graham), Slavic folk legend Baba Yaga and a trio of hungry giants. The film has it’s stumbling points, such as that it is rather plot heavy with elements of everything from monsters of myth to King Arthur, Merlin and Excalibur. We also get another retelling of Hellboy’s origin that isn’t different enough to make it necessary, though this flick does delve deeper into who he really is. We also once again get glimpses of his apocalyptic destiny that are very familiar to what we have already seen. Sure this is a reboot, but it recovers quite a bit of old ground without enough innovation to keep it fresh. The film feels a little overloaded with all that goes on, though ironically, the final confrontation with Nimue came across as a bit underwhelming. It’s over quicker than one would expect after a two hour build up. No it’s not del Toro’s Hellboy, but it’s not the train-wreck early word makes it out to be, either.

As for Marshall’s cast, Harbour is solid as Hellboy. He doesn’t quite have Perlman’s roguish charm and arrogant swagger, but he actually is pretty good in the role. McShane is a veteran actor and his Professor Bruttenholm is less the doddering old man than John Hurt’s interpretation and is given a bit more of a gruff, grizzled demeanor. Kim is also fine as the macho soldier with a ferocious secret in his B.P.R.D. operative Daimio. He and Hellboy butt heads at first, but we know they will bond at some point. Sasha Lane is cute and feisty as the psychic Alice and Jovovich is a suitable enough villain, though never really given strong enough material to let her unleash her inner Maleficent. She could have been a bit more over-the-top. The dozens of CGI supporting monsters are rendered well enough, though some appear a bit more cartoony than others.

In conclusion, this reboot is not as memorable as del Toro’s adaptations, yet is not an insult to them either. Neil Marshall has a heavier hand than Guillermo and this flick stretches it’s R-rated limits, but he also creates some impressive otherworldly sequences with a cool array of beasts and critters. The film is loaded with action, but also felt a bit bloated at times with a lot of plot elements. It has a decent cast and if we can’t have Perlman, Harbour isn’t a bad replacement. Not the mess early word has made it out to be, though not an equal to the previous cinematic incarnations that came before it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) rebooted Hellboys.

 

 

 

 

bars

REVIEW: PET SEMATARY (2019)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

PET SEMATARY (2019)

“Sometimes dead is better.”- Jud Crandall

Flick is the second film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, with the first being Mary Lambert’s 1989 chiller. This version finds Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) moving his family, wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Elle (Jeté Laurence) and young son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) from Boston to a rural house in Maine, to get away from big city life. Unfortunately their property is bordered on one side by a busy road and a local “Pet Sematary” on the other. When their family cat Church is run over, kindly old neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) takes Louis to bury it, in a stretch of ground beyond the pet graveyard, that Crandall claims has some supernatural properties…and a horrific chain of events begins to unfold as per King’s classic book.

Adaptation is this time directed by Starry Eyes duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer from a script by Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg. Kölsch and Widmyer do bring a creepy touch to King’s tale and certainly know how to make the New England countryside look very spooky. The film is effective and tries to change things up a bit, as it is a second adaptation of the bestselling book. Even with taking liberties with certain plot elements, though, the familiarity does work against it at times. We all know where this is heading, no matter what changes are made. Still, it is spooky enough to entertain and the last act has some nice chills. The flick is very atmospheric and has some viciously violent moments. Despite the directors’ skill, though, it’s still faithful enough to King’s story to keep it from being really fresh or innovative, like the duos unsettling first feature. Like any classic book, we all know the story.

The cast are solid. Clarke is well cast as an ordinary man of medicine facing something he, up till now, hasn’t believed in. Amy Seimetz is fine as wife Rachel. Rachel is haunted by events from her own past and of course, it comes to bare when things go bump in the night. Lithgow is a veteran and makes Jud a charming and likable old man, though Fred Gwynne really nailed the role first in the 1989 film. Jud provides a lot of the exposition having personal history with whatever lurks in the woods beyond the houses. The Lavoie Brothers are cute as Gage and Jeté Laurence is very effective as Elle, especially when given some difficult scenes for a kid to perform. A good cast.

Overall, this was an entertaining and sometimes creepy adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most famous books. Being the second adaptation, it tries to change things up a bit, but is still a little too familiar to really thrill us. We know what’s coming. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer do create some disturbing moments and give the film some chilling atmosphere, but can’t completely overcome that this is very well known material…though they try hard. Certainly worth a look and would probably be a bit more effective to a new generation, who haven’t seen the 1989 flick, or are not too overly familiar with King’s classic novel.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) cats that were dead at one time.

 

 

 

 

 

bars

REVIEW: US (2019)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

US (2019)

 

It seems to be tradition, as of late, that the media picks one horror movie each year and over-hypes it to the point where it could never meet expectations. Last year Hereditary was the “Exorcist of this generation”…uh, not quite. This year it’s Jordan Peele’s intriguingly weird, but slightly underwhelming Us.

Movie starts out in 1986 were young Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents while visiting the Santa Cruz boardwalk and has a traumatic experience in a funhouse. Years later Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to that area with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), athletic daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and younger son Jason (Evan Alex). Adelaide reveals to her husband that in that funhouse she encountered a doppelgänger of herself and it terrified her. Gabe has a hard time believing her until said doppelgänger (also Nyong’o) shows up at their door one night with her own duplicate family (also Duke, Joseph and Alex). The Wilson duplicates are violent and vicious and lay siege to the house. As the Wilsons must go on the run and fight for their lives, it soon becomes apparent that this event is only the start of something far larger and more horrifying.

Peele writes and directs and he not only has some interesting and unusual ideas, he is also a very sound director with an effective visual style. Yes, the concept behind this initial home invasion is original and quite weird and it gets even stranger once the story opens up in the last act, but it’s just that it simply isn’t that scary. At first, the doppelgänger arrival is chilling, as we are introduced to the anti-Wilsons and their intensions, but it flattens out a bit as it starts to follow the routine home invasion flick formula, which was never thrilling to begin with. Thanks to some conveniences, like a boat that malfunctions and then works exactly when you need it too, the Wilsons escape and go on the run to a neighbor’s house, but even then it remains uneven. The televised footage of what appears to be a doppelgänger invasion is creepy, but it’s effectiveness gets neutered by the Wilsons adapting to this bizarre scenario far too quickly. They no longer seem scared, or even fazed by killing, as they sit surrounded by bloody bodies munching on snacks in their friends’ gore-spattered house. Your friends lay there murdered and you raid their pantry? That and Gabe even remarks that he wants to stay there as if to enjoy the spoils of their dead neighbors’ home. Worse still, moments later they are arguing who should drive their neighbors’ car based on who has the largest kill count after battling their neighbor’s vicious doubles. Really? Not sure what Peele was going for here, a message about society’s desensitization to violence, perhaps? Was it simply supposed to be funny? The Wilsons were portrayed as a nice, fun family up till this point, now they are bragging about body count. It’s just off-putting. The finale in mysterious tunnels beneath the boardwalk returns the film to a more unsettling tone and we get some answers that are weird and original. Thought the film, itself, is still left with a lot of questions. We also get a reveal that is not totally unexpected, but at this point it doesn’t add much. As the credits roll there is a sense that Peele is an inventive filmmaker with some interesting things on his mind, though the film itself is never quite as unnerving as Get Out, which was also ridiculously over-hyped.

The director has a good cast. Performances are not an issue here. Lupita Nyong’o is strong as Adelaide and her sinister yet tragic double “Red”. She’s a woman with some issues, but she rises above her fears to fight for her family. Winston Duke is also fun as the big teddy bear dad, Gabriel. He’s not as strong as his wife, but he seems like a good man. Shahadi Wright Joseph is good as the athlete of the family Zora and is very creepy as her doppelgänger Umbrae. Evan Alex also does good work as Jason and is extremely spooky as his burned faced copy, Pluto (a Hills Have Eyes reference maybe?). Rounding out are Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as the before mentioned friends and neighbors, the Tylers. They seemed a little too superficial to be the type of people the WIlsons would hang with, but obviously they don’t last too long.

Overall, the film is far from a masterpiece and doesn’t come close to the hype, but is still worth a look for those curious. Peele is a talented filmmaker and has some inventive and clever ideas, but he hasn’t quite locked down a few things yet to make his flicks more than occasionally unnerving or unsettling. Evoking those emotions are not bad, but this film, especially, needed to be more consistent and never really got truly terrifying, though it had potential. There are some weird and unique ideas here that might stick with you, but it’s never quite scary enough to make it really special. Our likable family doing some questionable things that seem uncharacteristic, even in a scenario like this, also held it back. Peele may have a classic flick in him, but just not yet. Carpenter took a few films to get to his Halloween, hopefully Peele’s is on the horizon, too…it’s just not Us.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) shears.

 

 

 

 

bars

REVIEW: CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

 

Latest MCU film begins with the tale of Vers (Brie Larson), an elite warrior for the Kree Starforce who are fighting an invasion by shape-shifting beings known as Skrulls. Vers is captured by the Skrulls and upon escaping her imprisonment, finds out they are looking for a woman named Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), a scientist on planet D-53…Earth. Vers crash lands on Earth, where it’s the year 1995 and soon finds all is not what it seems and her strange dreams may be memories from her life there, as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With her team commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) out of reach and Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit, can Vers/Carol find out who she really is and how she got her powers?

Superhero epic is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck from a script and story by they, Meg LeFauve, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Nicole Perlman. Five people on a screenplay is rarely good news and too many cooks do spoil the soup here. The story is choppy and feels like exactly what it is, a script Frankenstein-ed together by five different writers. Add to that, it is one of the most flatly directed of the Marvel epics and you have a disappointing first adventure for Carol Danvers. The action is bland and routine, there is little suspense or excitement and the 90s nostalgia is overdone, with too many songs shoehorned into the soundtrack and far too many pop culture references for it’s own good. The film seems to stop dead sometimes to almost scream out “Hey, look…it’s the 90s”. It’s obtrusive. Even Captain Marvel’s spectacular powers are presented without any of the awe and wonder they need to give them impact. The only thing that elevates this by-the-numbers epic is the veteran cast.

Here is where Captain Marvel gets it’s only luster. Oscar winner Brie Larson is a great choice to play Danvers and her confident swagger and disarming smile really help the audience warm up to her and she’s very likable despite a mediocre maiden voyage. She also is solid in the action scenes and we wish that action were more worthy of it’s leading lady’s charm and spinning back-kicks. She has a great chemistry with her Kong: Skull Island co-star Samuel L. Jackson, who returns as a younger, and somewhat less hardened Nick Fury. Jackson is jackson and he seems to be having a good time as Larson’s second banana. Ben Mendelsohn is good as Talos and the Skrull has a disarming sarcasm to his delivery and a few secrets of his own. Bening, Jude Law and Agent Coulson himself, Clark Gregg, all do well despite underwritten parts. We even get a few brief moments from Lee Pace returning as Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ronan The Accuser, along with his henchmen Korath, again played by Djimon Hounsou…and let’s not forget “Goose” the cat.

Overall, this is one of Marvel’s lesser efforts and sometimes feels thrown together just to introduce the Captain before she returns to kick Thanos ass in Avengers: Endgame. It’s bland and very routine and it’s only a stellar effort by the film’s cast that elevates it above an outright failure. You know a movie is in trouble when it’s mid-credits and post-credits scenes are better than the movie that precedes them. At least the film opens with a wonderful goodbye to Stan Lee, where images from all his Marvel cameos replace the usual heroes in the Marvel logo sequence. A very touching moment and one wishes the rest of the movie had as much heart.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Marvels.

 

 

 

 

bars

REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

Fun animated film not only spotlights new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, who took over from Peter Parker in the comics in 2011, but it’s alternate universe plot cleverly gives us five other versions of the classic character, too.

The story finds the villainous Kingpin (voiced by Liev Schreiber) building a particle accelerator with Dr. Olivia Octavius, a female Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn), to go to a parallel universe to retrieve his dead wife and son…deaths he blames Spider-Man for. This not only brings a radioactive spider into this universe to bite Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), but Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), an older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) with her robot “SP//dr” and Spider-Man Noir (a perfectly cast Nicholas Cage), who only appears in black and white. The newly empowered Miles must now, somehow, learn to be a hero, stop the Kingpin before he destroys NYC and return the five spider-variations to their appropriate dimensions.

The plot synopsis above sounds complicated, but flows very easily thanks to a clever script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman. The film is also very well directed by the trio of Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti, who bring an energetic and colorful style to the proceedings. They capture the old fashioned heroics, but with a very contemporary and eye-catching visual presentation. It uses both traditional and innovative animation, mixing styles and techniques while providing an involving story. With Marvel now making Spider-Man movies with Tom Holland as Parker, it would be interesting to see a Sony led series with Miles as Spidey, animated or not. There is also a nice mix of music to go along with the almost non-stop action and the film doesn’t forget to slow down, here and there, to gives us some emotional resonance between characters. The stuff be tween Miles and his dad (Brian Tyree Henry) really works and we can see how Miles gets his sense of right and wrong from his policeman father. It gives the film a nice emotional core, which adds weight to the drama and action. With six films…and a seventh on the way…and two roles in other movies, that’s eight appearances of the Spider-Man character in the new millennium alone. Spider-Verse finds a way to make the character fresh, again…and that’s quite an accomplishment.

The vocal cast are all superb with Moore doing a wonderful job as Miles and Jake Johnson ditto as the older, grumpier Peter Parker. Hailee Steinfeld again proves a star in the making as the spunky Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman, while Cage is perfectly fitting here as the gloomy Spider-Man Noir, a cross between Philip Marlowe and Spidey. We also get an array of Spider-Man villains along with Kingpin and Doc Ock, such as Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone), Tombstone ( Marvin Jones III), The Scorpion (Joaquín Cosio) and The Prowler (a surprise reveal). An eclectic, but very solid voice cast. Interesting how they made such a large cast of characters work when the big budget live-action films just seemed bloated and overcrowded.

Overall, this flick was a lot of fun and didn’t skimp on substance and emotional depth for it’s story. That story flows very well, thanks to skilled direction and a sharp script and the mix of animation styles is exceptionally well done. A solid effort all around that’s a real treat for Spider-Man fans and better than some of the recent live-action flicks. Watch till the end of the credits for a hilarious extra scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs.

 

bars

REVIEW: ALITA-BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

The summer movie season has started early and it has started with a bang! Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the Gunnm Manga series created by Yukito Kishiro. It’s produced by James Cameron and directed by Sin City’s Robert Rodriguez. The story has cyborg physician Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding the remains of a still active cyborg in a junk heap. Made to resemble a teenage girl, the doctor restores his discovery using a cybernetic body meant for his invalid daughter, who is now dead. He names her Alita after his little girl and soon the two bond as Alita (Rosa Salazar) tries to figure out who she is. Along the way Alita falls for street hustler Hugo (Keean Johnson) and becomes interested in the violent game of Motorball. Alita also finds she is no normal machine and there are sinister forces who want her technology for their own nefarious purposes…and they will hurt anyone to get it. A girl becomes a warrior, as Alita must now protect those she loves from harm.

The plot synopsis above is a simplification as Alita has a bit of a complex story, as many Manga do. It’s adapted to script by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and exceptionally well directed by Rodriguez, in what may be his best film so far. Despite being plot heavy, Rodriguez takes his time with the story, first introducing us to Alita and letting us learn about who she is as she does. It allows us to become endeared to her, so when treachery sets in and the action really gets going, we are emotionally invested in the characters. And that’s one of the pleasant surprises about Alita: Battle Angel, it has a strong emotional center thanks especially to a very strong performance by lead Rosa Salazar as Alita. The actress really gets the emotions of the character through in the motion capture and vocal performance, so we really see the CGI character as a three dimensional one. We feel for her all the way and the film has a “human” center despite being filled with CGI characters and epic battles. On the popcorn level the film also delivers. The SPFX are spectacular, as is the design of the world of the 26th century, Alita herself and her cyborg costars. The action is fast and furious and while having a lot of elements, the plot is far from hard to follow. The flick is surprisingly violent for a movie that could be marketed strictly to teens, but it makes it adult enough for the older crowd to enjoy and adds intensity to the proceedings. Sure there is some corny dialogue and some cliché moments, but Rodriguez uses those elements to the film’s advantage, as it is an old-fashioned superhero story at heart…and heart is something this flick has a lot of.

The cast really play the material well. As said, Rosa Salazar is very good at embodying Alita with a strong character through body language and voice performance. She gives the cyborg teen a lot of charm, intensity, as well as, a sense of wonder and a touch of naivety. Salazar is a star in the making. Waltz is very endearing as the kindly Dr. Ido, who has some secrets of his own. He plays the father figure well, but with a quiet strength. Keean Johnson is also endearing as the rogue-ish Hugo, the boy Alita falls for. He also has some secrets, too, but he remains likable despite Hugo’s sometimes shady activities. The film also features Jennifer Connelly as Ido’s ex-wife, who works for the film’s primary villain, Motorball tycoon Vector (Mahershala Ali) and there is a surprise cameo, that won’t be spoiled here, as the man pulling Vector’s strings, Nova. There are also appearances by Ed Skrein, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez and Jackie Earl Haley as various CGI cyborg characters. A very effective cast.

Overall, this flick was a blast and a really good time that gives a very early start to the summer movie season. It’s a fun popcorn flick, yet one with a more layered story to get us involved in and adds some dramatic weight and intensity to the FX and action. It has a star making performance from it’s leading lady, Rosa Salazar and has more heart than you’d expect from a cyborg. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Battle Angels.

 

 

 

 

 

bars

REVIEW: SEARCHING (2018)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

SEARCHING (2018)

Mystery thriller finds widower David Kim (John Cho) frantically searching for his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) who has gone missing. The entire story takes place on his laptop and phone, as he desperately searches all her social media sites for clues to where she went or who might know where she is. More frightening to David, aside from her disappearance, is that he may not have known his daughter at all.

Flick is not the first movie to take place entirely on a computer, but is one of the better ones thanks to skillful direction from Aneesh Chaganty from his clever script co-written with Sev Ohanian. The film starts out introducing us to the Kims, quickly etching out a portrait of a loving family, that is devastated by the loss of wife and mother Pam (Sara Sohn). We then get a single father trying to do what’s best for his daughter when, out of nowhere, she vanishes. It now evolves into a tense and suspenseful mystery as David tries to track down his daughter through social media, as a police detective (Debra Messing) investigates. For a movie that takes place entirely digital, Chaganty finds some clever ways to let us find out information, while still keeping us as in the dark as David as to where Margot went. Did she run away?…or worse? There are a few red herrings and if the film has an Achilles Heel, it’s that after putting us…and David…through a lot to get to it’s conclusion, it gets a bit convoluted in order to give it a crowd pleasing ending. It gets a bit dark and then has to juggle a somewhat far-fetched late story development in order to end things with a less grim and more safe Hollywood finale. Otherwise, this is a very entertaining and involving thriller with strong work from it’s leading man.

The cast is very small with many characters only appearing in quick video clips or photos such as Margot herself and her mother. John Cho gives a very strong and heartfelt performance as a slightly overprotective dad frantically searching for his daughter. Cho is both sympathetic and tenacious as he tries to track down Margot, refusing to believe the police and public…once the case goes viral…that Margot is dead or run away. A strong performance by Cho. Debra Messing is also good as a women who is both detective and a mother herself and the character fits well into the framework of the story. The only other character that has a steady amount of screen time is Joseph Lee as David’s stoner brother Peter, with whom David frequently confides in.

Overall, this was a very entertaining thriller. It’s social media setting is no longer new, but Aneesh Chaganty uses it cleverly and directs his cast and story very well. It’s suspenseful and intense and if it lets it’s build-up down a bit, it’s in a last act turn away from the dark path it was headed, taking the film away from a more realistic and grim ending in order to play it safe. Otherwise this was a solid mystery thriller with strong work from John Cho.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) laptops.

 

bars