REVIEW: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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Lackluster sequel took five writers…including star Rudd…to write the script and still produces a somewhat disappointing flick. Follow-up finds Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) under house arrest after his stint in Germany with the civil warring Avengers. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who are pissed at him for the blow-back from Germany, sneak him out to help them in an effort to rescue Pym’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm. In their way is a quantum phasing villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants Pym’s equipment for her own purposes. If that’s not enough, slimy black market technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) wants Pym’s equipment for HIS own greedy ventures.

Peyton Reed returns to direct and can’t get a whole lot out of this writer heavy, but content weak screenplay. Biggest problem is that aside from Pym’s noble goal of rescuing his long lost wife, one never gets the feeling that there is all that much at stake here. There’s never a sense of urgency to the proceedings and it just seems like a game of who’s got the miniaturized lab as it goes from one set of hands to another. Ghost is a decent villain, but all she wants is to stop phasing in and out of dimensions and so she’s more of a nuisance than an actually threat. When the only other villain is the comical Burch, we have a film without a real menace to liven up the convoluted proceedings. Films like this need a strong villain to click. Sure after the intensity of Avengers: Infinity War we needed something lighter and more fun, but thin and light are two different things and this film simply could have used more weight and been a bit livelier in the fun department. This seems very by-the-numbers and could have gotten a lot more out of the dynamic between Rudd’s Ant-Man and Lilly’s Wasp. The actors work well together, but the material here is weak. On the bright side there are some fun action sequences, like a romp through the streets of San Francisco and Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (Tip Harris) are back to provide laughs as Scott’s former gang turned legit security advisors. This superhero sandwich may be light on meat, but is still edible and at least never boring.

Except for Goggins, Hannah John Kamen, Pfeiffer and Larry Fishburn, as a former friend of Hank Pym, the cast are all returning from the first Ant-Man flick. Rudd is charming and fun as Lang/Ant-Man though we wish he and the other four writers gave him some far more clever punchlines. Evangeline Lilly fairs a bit better showing some real superhero potential as the smart-ass, kick-ass Hope/Wasp. She and Rudd have a nice chemistry, even if they play out the cliché “they broke up between films and now are rediscovering their attraction” scenario. Douglas is a veteran and again is charming as the grumpy Pym. Pfeiffer doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but makes an impression and is a welcome addition to the gang. Hannah John-Kamen is solid as Ghost and a bit sympathetic, though she isn’t portrayed as a real threat. Fishburn is fine as a former friend and associate of Pym who may…or may not…want to help Hank retrieve Janet. Goggins is OK as the more comical than diabolical Burch. Like his Tomb Raider villain, he could have been more intimidating, but isn’t. As our bumbling trio, Peña, Dastmalchian and Harris are fun, though their presence in this story seems a little forced. Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale and Abby Ryder Fortson also return as Lang’s “family”. A solid cast, but let down a bit by a sub-par script.

In conclusion, there was a lot of potential here with a good cast, but a weak screenplay keeps this more in the realm of mediocre than Marvel-ous. The story doesn’t present a scenario that evokes urgency or suspense and the one-liners are less imaginative and fun this time. The direction seems by-the-numbers and the creative spark of the first flick isn’t quite there. The actors help elevate this a bit with an energetic and fun Wasp from Evangeline Lilly and some amusing moments from Rudd and his trio of side-kicks. There is more than one villain, though none of them are truly villainous, so, at least there are some fun action/fight scenes to keep us somewhat entertained. Never boring, but never especially exciting either. Stay through the credits for two additional scenes that answer questions as to when this entry takes place in the scheme of Avengers: Infinity War.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 2 and 1/2 ants.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE ENDLESS (2018)

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THE ENDLESS (2018)

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Brothers Justin and Aaron (directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) escaped a strange cult ten years ago and their lives have never been the same since. Despite Justin’s negative suspicions about Camp Arcadia, Aaron suggests they go back for a visit to say goodbye and get closure. Soon after arriving, the two start to experience some very strange phenomena and begin to wonder if the mysterious deity the cult worships might actually be real and this outwardly serene place may hold some unearthly secrets.

Fans of Benson and Moorhead’s first feature Resolution may be happy to know their latest collaboration is set in the same universe and is almost a sequel, as familiar characters do appear and Benson and Moorhead play the same cultists from that film. If you haven’t seen that flick, this one plays just fine, as those elements aren’t necessary to appreciate the subtly unsettling story here. The film is it’s own thing, though if you enjoy this chiller, you might want to check Resolution out. While well written, if there is any part of Justin Benson’s script that was a bit hard to accept, it was that two people would want to go back to a cult they escaped for a visit…though Aaron seems far more eager to revisit than the cynical Justin. There is some creepy stuff here as Aaron starts to question why he left, especially when reunited with the pretty Anna (Callie Hernandez) and Justin starts to believe that this “thing” they worship has those in it’s domain in a kind of continual loop. It gets really weird and it actually works that we aren’t spoon-fed any answers and left to ponder things a bit as the credits roll. The directing duo gives us some interesting…and unsettling…imagery on a small budget, much like they did with their last film Spring and Jimmy Lavalle wraps it in an atmospheric score.

The cast are solid. The directors play the main characters and are effective with Benson playing the cynical and somewhat paranoid Justin and Moorhead as the quieter and more accepting Aaron. One believing Camp Arcadia is a place of unseen danger and the other thinking it’s not so bad as their life isn’t going well after fleeing. Callie Hernandez is charming as the sweet and pretty Anna and Tate Ellington is effective as the cult leader, who never seems quite trustworthy despite his calm exterior and gets escalating-ly creepy as the film progresses. Lew Temple (recently scene in Feral) also has a small part as a mysterious cult member. A good cast.

Benson and Moorhead keep making intriguing films on a low budget and as much as one would like to see them get the attention they deserve, maybe they should stay independent of the studio system. Their Spring was a wonderful horror tinged romance and their follow-up is a spooky and sometimes trippy little flick. It may have been a bit hard to swallow that anyone would return to a cult they once fled, but as there are definitely supernatural elements present, maybe they had no choice. There are some unsettling and strange things going on and the directing duo give it some nice atmosphere. Sure, not everything is explained or spelled out for you, but it is an intriguing and spooky little movie nonetheless and ambiguity sometimes works better than answers.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 moons…sometimes all at once. (You’ll have to watch the movie!)

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

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INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

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Sequel finally arrives after fourteen years and picks up right where the original left off, with the crime fighting Parr family battling…and unfortunately not catching, the “Under-miner”. Despite their failure being another blight on the name of superheroes, millionaire entrepreneur Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), contact the Parr’s and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) to join them on an endeavor to bring superheroes back to a positive light and legality. He believes they should start with Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) due to her causing the least collateral damage in her crime fighting career. While his wife is out fighting crime, this leaves Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to play stay-at-home house-dad to Dash (Huck Milner), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), who is developing some superpowers of his own. When the mysterious villain Screenslaver starts to wreak hypnotic havoc, Elastigirl finds herself in a stretch of trouble. Will this family reunite and save the day once more?

Long awaited follow-up is again written and directed by Brad Bird and while it is a fun time, one expected a little more “POW” and “BAM” in this long enticipated superhero opus. The flick certainly entertains, yet felt like it needed a bit more super energy. It is fun to see Elastigirl out on her own and poor Incredi-dad trying to handle parenthood, but it takes quite a while for the film to really get going and hit it’s stride. Bird certainly gets good use out of Jack-Jacks multiple powers and there are a lot of fun bits, but the story never really feels like something worth waiting this long for. Once revealed, the villain is a bit bland and doesn’t have the same over-the-top diabolical villainy of the first film’s Syndrome. The Parr family are endearing as ever, as are supporting characters like Frozone and Edna and there are a couple of new characters that are likeable as well. The voice acting by the cast, both veteran and new, goes a long way to keeping this bunch lovable and the Pixar animation vibrantly brings them all to life. It’s just a sequel that’s not quite an equal.

So, maybe it’s not as awesome as we’d hoped for after such a long wait, but it is still fun and the characters are as lovable and lively as ever. The story wasn’t quite that super, nor were the villains, but Jack-Jack’s antics and an action-packed last act makes this a satisfying sequel, even if it’s not quite as “incredible” as we wanted. Considering how long it took to get this second adventure and that a few cast members aren’t getting any younger, let’s hope we get an Incredibles 3 sooner than later.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Jack-Jacks.

 

 

 

Anyone else think that after 14 years, Elastigirl is still kinda hot? 😍😉😜

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REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)

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The latest installment of the franchise takes place three years after the disastrous opening of Jurassic World. A volcano on Isla Nublar has become dangerously active and the U.S. government declines to save the animals still there. John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) asks Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to join a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs from the doomed island and to convince her ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to join them. Once on the island Claire, Owen and their team are betrayed and they discover that this “rescue mission” has a far more sinister purpose.

Fallen Kingdom is directed by J.A. Bayona, the Spanish filmmaker behind the atmospheric and spooky haunted house flick The Orphanage and the bittersweet fantasy A Monster Calls. His script is by previous installment director Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connor, who co-wrote the last one, as well. The result is a more Gothic feel to the proceedings, especially when the location switches to Lockwood’s old mansion with genetics lab and creature holding cells in the basement a la Dr. Frankenstein. From here It becomes a tale of man’s greed and trying to play god…again. The Indominous Rex taught these greedy corporate types nothing and now we have the genetically created dino-soldier the Indoraptor to serve as our predator of choice for this flick. After the escape from the burning island…which is a very entertaining set-piece in itself, the flick becomes more of a James Bond movie with dinosaurs. The second third finds Claire and Owen sneaking around the castle-like mansion with Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon), trying to find a way to stop the sale of and genetic tampering with the last survivors of Isla Nublar. It’s not quite as fun as the last flick, but at least they are trying to take the series in a new direction and we actually get off the island. The last act has the skilled director Bayona going back to his haunted house roots with a cat and mouse chase through the dark and cavernous mansion between our heroes and the Indoraptor, with a very exciting and very Gothic rooftop finale. Overall it is an entertaining flick, though a bit darker, a bit more violent and somewhat less fun than Jurassic World.

The cast is fine, even if the bad guys are complete two-dimensional stereotypes. Pratt and Howard still have that chemistry as Owen and Claire and having them broken-up gives us a chance to experience their combative banter and then having them fall for each other all over again. Young Isabella Sermon is endearing as Maisie, Lockwood’s young granddaughter with some secrets of her own. Rafe Spall, Ted Levine and Toby Jones are the trio of bad guys as Lockwood’s conniving assistant, a soldier for hire and a black market dinosaur dealer respectively. While the characters are familiar and stale, the actors give it their best. Cromwell is charming as the elder Lockwood, who is having his dream corrupted right out from under him. Rounding out the main characters are Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda playing Claire’s IT tech Franklin and dinosaur veterinarian Zia, respectively and they are fun characters well portrayed. We also get a nice cameo with Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm and B.D. Wong returns as slimy Dr. Wu. A good cast though some characters are better written than others.

Jurassic World gave this series a bit of revived energy and while this installment is a bit less fun, it does take the series to some new places and Bayona gives it a darker and more Gothic tone, as well as, his trademark visual artistry. On the negative side, the whole predator du jour chasing our heroes is getting stale, as is genetically whipping up new creatures like ordering a pizza. The dinosaur auction was interesting, but one wonders where the authorities stand on black market dinosaur flea markets. Guess it’s too soon to approach that side of the story. It was fun to see Clair and Owen and company playing James Bond in this massive Victorian Mansion, as we also enjoyed the film leaving us at a point where we wonder if mankind’s meddling might get us slapped back to the stone age. Stay through the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 T-Rex

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REVIEW: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

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Latest Star Wars flick is an unnecessary origin story for iconic pilot Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). It gives us brief glimpses of his life as a street thief, to his days as an imperial trooper, to meeting Chewbacca and finally his start as a smuggler, including his legendary Kessel Run. And as far as a story, that’s kinda it.

Written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, the film was a troubled production that saw original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller leave the project to be replaced by Ron Howard, who did a lot of re-shoots. While the resulting film is not the mess once might anticipate, it’s also an underwhelming flick that never finds it’s footing or feels like the making of a legend it should. First problem is that actor Alden Ehrenreich never evokes Han Solo. If not for Chewbacca standing by his side and eventually getting in the pilot seat of the Millennium Falcon, he could be any generic space hero. Secondly, with all the iconic moments that are presented, such as getting his name and his gun and meeting his famous furry co-pilot, none of them are presented with much weight. The story also seems to be a bunch of set pieces strung together and thus we have no emotional involvement as the rebooted Han goes from place to place, meeting scoundrels like Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), villains like Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and his sweetheart turned criminal arm-piece Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). It’s almost like they were making it up as they went along. None of it has any emotional resonance and aside from a few fun action scenes, none of it is very memorable. It rarely feels like a Star Wars film though having a bit of a different look and a grittier tone, was, at least, refreshing.

The cast all try hard, but no one really shines in what probably was a difficult shoot. As stated, Alden Ehrenreich never evokes the legendary character he plays and is a bit too much of a pretty boy to be the space pirate we all know and love. Harrelson phones in his Tobias Beckett, which is a shame as Woody is usually the one to add life to a movie. Clarke is pretty, but doesn’t generate much heat or make her character very memorable. She’s a generic love interest trying and failing to be a bit of a femme fatale. Her character just comes off as flat. Bettany is also very bland as villain Vos. He could be a generic gangster from any movie. The only person who generates some life is Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and he, sadly, isn’t given all that much to do.

So, it’s not quite the disaster early word was predicting, but is still disappointingly mediocre. Rebooting a character this iconic has to be done just right…like J.J. Abrams Star Trek casting. Here Alden Ehrenreich falls short. The rest of the cast, Glover aside, phone in their performances and the story is too thin to get one emotionally involved. There is some fun action, though the film fails to make it’s iconic moments…well, iconic. A disappointing attempt to prequelize one of cinema’s most beloved scoundrels.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 Millennium Falcons.

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REVIEW: DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

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DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

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Sequel finds our wise-cracking, anti-hero suffering a devastating personal loss and turning suicidal. With his powers of regeneration, that doesn’t work out so well and so Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) tries to help by recruiting him to the X-Men. That doesn’t work out so well either and Wade a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself sent to the Ice Box, a prison designed for mutants, along with a powerful, troubled boy named Russell (Julian Dennison). When a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) comes to kill Russell, Deadpool sees saving the boy as a way to prove he is capable of doing the right thing…but is he?

Deadpool 2 is this time directed by David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) from a script by returning writers Paul Wernick, and Rhett Reese, along with star Ryan Reynolds. It doesn’t quite have the edge or energy of the first film, but is still good, naughty, bloody fun. The film is filled with the now traditional pop culture references and shots taken at other Marvel and DC properties, including The Merc with the Mouth telling Brolin’s Cable to “Pump the hate breaks Thanos at one point. The flick is a bit larger scaled with the action, no better example than an especially fun sequence with Deadpool and his team of misfits, including ‘lucky’ mercenary Domino (Zazie Beets), trying to stop Cable’s assault on an armored convoy. It’s bigger than anything seen in this series so far and gives Reynold’s co-stars a piece of the action, too. The flick has the usual humor-laced graphic violence and there are plenty of raunchy jokes with just enough wit behind them to make them work. A sequence with Wade regenerating his lost legs is especially hilarious. In fact while the flick seems to take itself a bit too seriously at times, in the first half, the second half comes alive with what we came for…including some hysterical post credit scenes. Like the first film, not everything works, but does succeed more often than not. The new characters of Cable and Domino are welcome to the Deadpool universe and we get returning familiar faces like Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Weasel (T.J. Miller) and Wade’s ever-loving girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). It’s a fun time and while the hi-jinx aren’t exactly new, they are still fairly fresh here thanks to the creative team and the actors getting the tone of the material perfectly.

Ryan Reynolds is born to play this part and he does so like a boss. He delivers his lines with the same deadpan confidence as he did last time, while unafraid to equally poke fun at himself. Josh Brolin’s Cable may not quite be up to his Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War, but his second Marvel character this summer is still a solid villain that avoids being two dimensional, all the while having a deadpan sense of humor of his own. Zazie Beetz is a sexy delight as Domino. A mercenary who claims her superpower is luck and she’s an ass-kicker and can be quite funny herself. Julian Dennison is good as Russell. At first we feel sorry for his picked-on and abused mutant, but also start to see the power and rage which will become a problem in Cable’s future. Morena Baccarin is back as sexy, sassy Vanessa and we wish she had a bigger part. Colossus is again fun as voiced by Stefan Kapičić,  still amusingly portraying the metal encased X-Man as a big metal boy scout. T.J. Miller is still fun as Wade’s buddy Weasel. Brianna Hildebrand is back as N.T.W. and with a new look and a mutant girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna). Leslie Uggams is also back as Wade’s roommate Blind Al and Karan Soni returns as faithful cab driver and assassin wannabe Dopinder. There are also some great cameos that won’t be spoiled here.

In conclusion, it may not quite have the edge that the first film had, but it is still raunchy, bloody, sarcastic fun. There are some welcome new characters to add to the returning familiar faces and some bigger action set-pieces to throw those characters into. Reynolds is perfect again as the “Merc with the Mouth” and there are some fun post credits scenes to stick around for. Not exactly an equal, but an entertaining sequel that, in a way, is it’s own thing! As usual there is a soundtrack of cool songs included in the mayhem.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 unicorns…like last time.

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REVIEW: REVENGE (2017)

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REVENGE (2017)

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French thriller finds rich, handsome and married Richard (Kevin Janssens) spending a couple of days at his desert retreat with his pretty young lover, the vivacious Jennifer (Matilda Lutz) before a hunting trip. When his friends Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède) show up a day early, they discover Richard’s little secret and Stan especially develops an attraction to the young woman. A night of partying finds Jennifer being flirtatious and friendly and Stan taking it way too seriously. With Richard away the following morning, Stan accosts and rapes Jenn while Dimitri ignores her cries for help. When Richard returns and the traumatized Jennifer threatens to tell Richard’s wife about everything, it only gets Jen pushed off a cliff and impaled on a branch. Badly injured and bleeding, Jennifer survives and when the three men come to ‘clean up their mess’, the hunters become the hunted.

Stylish and brutal thriller is directed by Coralie Fargeat from her own script. Let’s get out of the way that it is fairly preposterous that anyone could survive a fall that’s anywhere from thirty to forty feet and being impaled on a branch at it’s bottom. The trauma alone would be catastrophic, not to mention the loss of blood. If you can grant director Fargeat a little suspension of disbelief that Jennifer could survive and that her peyote-induced self surgery would heal her well enough to take on her well-armed and healthy pursuers, then you are in for an intense and blood-soaked revenge flick. It’s also one with some feminist commentary on how women are viewed. In the eyes of Richard and his buddies, Jennifer is fine as long as she’s being a sex kitten. When Stan violates her and she is distraught, suddenly it becomes an inconvenience to them that must be gotten rid of. We find that Jennifer is just a simple piece of meat to them…and it’s this arrogance and underestimation that allows a wounded Jennifer to get the upper hand and get armed herself. Coralie Fargeat is never exploitative with the material, but doesn’t ignore the exploitation elements as we do get plenty of blood spilled and Jennifer’s natural charms are not ignored either, even when transformed into a scantily clad Rambo. The rape scene is handled deftly and shows just enough to horrify and the tense and blood-drenched showdown between Jenn and Richard back at the maze of a house is riveting. On a technical level Fargeat makes great use of the desert locations and there is some stunning cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert with a great electronic score by Rob.

The cast are all good here. Matilda Lutz is very strong as Jenn. She is a fiery and sexy young woman who transforms into a survivor and a killer when brutalized. The actress is beautiful and the film does focus on her natural charms, but she has a smoldering intensity that makes you believe Richard and friends might have tried to kill the wrong woman. Kevin Janssens is good as Richard. He seems like a charming man, though we can’t outright like him as he is cheating on his wife. Once his perfect life is threatened, we see the true colors of a cruel and vicious person. Janssens portrays this very well and we come to dislike him extremely. Same goes for Stan who is given the perfect amount of sleaze and creepiness by actor Vincent Colombe. Stan makes us uncomfortable from the start and his horrible act on Jennifer is no surprise. When she goes on the offensive, the coward within Stan is revealed. Last but not least, Guillaume Bouchède is also good as the lazy slob that is Dimitri. At first he just seems too apathetic to do the right thing, but during the hunt he reveals a man with a cruel streak who enjoys killing. All three men are detestable and we want to see their comeuppance. Good work from the small cast.

This isn’t the first film where a woman got revenge on those who defiled her. Films like I Spit on Your Grave and Ms. 45 had women violently serving justice on wrong-doers decades ago. It’s Coralie Fargeat’s approach that is both stylish and yet unflinchingly brutal, that keeps the story effective. There is a feminist angle in the portrayal of how little regard these men have for the young woman, as if she is just a sex toy and one to be disposed of when they are done. A type of brutish thinking we see reflected in today’s headlines all too often. Jennifer proves them wrong. Matilda Lutz is a powder keg as Jennifer and the men who abused her certainly have it coming…and we are rooting for the young woman to give them their due. An intense and blood-soaked thriller from a director to keep an eye on.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.

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REVIEW: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

“In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.” ―Thanos

Third Avengers film finds the “Mad Titan” Thanos (Josh Brolin) deciding to restore balance to the universe by killing half of it’s population. To do this he must track down six powerful infinity stones to be placed in a gauntlet, that once completed, will give him the means to do so. To stop him, The Avengers must put aside their differences and The Guardians of the Galaxy must learn to play nice with The Avengers. Not as simple as it sounds as Thanos and his four children…The Black Order…will destroy anything in their path to get the stones…two of which are already on Earth.

Spectacularly entertaining film is directed with a wonderful mix of intensity, action and humor by Joe and Anthony Russo, who gave us the best Marvel film…until now…Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely who get a whole lot of story going without the film ever feeling like it’s too busy or a mess. Our heroes are split up on various quests. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to forge a new weapon, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to keep Thanos from getting the Time Stone and Cap (Chris Evans), Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) are trying to keep the Mind Stone in Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head out of Thanos’ mitt as well. The action scenes are far more spectacular than we have yet seen in the MCU and in this film series we’ve seen a lot. What can you say about a film that gives you Thanos vs Hulk in the first five minutes and that’s just for starters. What makes this film work so well, though, is not only some wonderful camaraderie between the many characters, but some very emotionally powerful moments, too. The Russos give this film an emotional depth that this series has rarely experienced and Joss Whedon’s first two Avengers movies rarely touched on. There are some side-split-tingly funny dialogue exchanges, too, between characters…such as Banner’s “There’s a Spider-Man AND an Ant-Man?”…and some heart skipping moments, that won’t be spoiled here. The writers pick some great character team ups, like Strange and Stark and Thor and Rocket with some great cameos that also won’t be spoiled here. None of this would work, however, with a weak villain and thankfully Thanos is one of the best MCU villains so far. He is given depth, a purpose…although, a diabolical one…and a powerful presence. It all combines for a villain who lives up to his threat factor big time and puts our heroes in more danger than they have ever been in…a danger they all face valiantly.

The cast is too large to discuss each individually. Our mainstays from the series all perform well with some stand-outs. Hemsworth is a highlight with Ragnarok’s changes to the God of Thunder carrying over here. While initially critical of Cumberbatch as Strange, he has grown into the role very well and the Russos use him wisely. Holland is turning into a great Spider-Man and the script, under the Russo Brother’s guidance, fix the awkward relationship between Peter and Tony that didn’t gel so well in Spiderman: Homecoming. Almost everyone is given their moments, there is some great dialogue for them and the whole cast are given some really intense scenes, unlike they have been afforded before, to shine in. The real force here is Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan. He does voice and motion capture for Thanos and really gives him a powerful presence and an intensity, few MCU villains have mustered in the film series’ decade history. You believe he is a threat and yet, they give him some emotional moments of his own, which give him a depth which only adds to his effectiveness. He makes this epic work. If there is any issue with characters, it’s that Thanos’ CGI children…Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive, Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian mostly come across as generic monsters, save for the creepy Ebony Maw…but Thanos gets most of the screen time.

There is very little to gripe about here. At 160 minutes, one or two scenes run on a bit long and a few characters, like Black Widow and Falcon get shortchanged in the whole of things. However we do get a comic book movie of epic proportions that brings spectacular action, nerve-wracking intensity, dramatic weight and some outright hilarious dialogue moments, all mixed to perfection by the Russo Brothers. Sure there is more to the story and the end leaves us wanting that more, but next summer the fourth installment arrives and it is going to have to be something else to surpass this, one of the MCU’s absolute best installments so far. Spectacular entertainment!

…and don’t forget to stay during the entire credits for a post credits scene that will knock your socks off.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 infinity gauntlets.

 

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REVIEW: RAMPAGE (2018)

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RAMPAGE (2018)

Latest flick to be based on a video game arrives just weeks after the Tomb Raider reboot. This monster mash finds the Engyne Corporation conducting illegal genetic experiments on a space station. When it’s test subject gets free, the cataclysm sends samples of this genetic-altering material crash-landing to Earth. It’s encountered by simian wildlife sanctuary resident, George, a wolf in the Wyoming wilderness and something beneath the waters in the Everglades. The animals begin to grow at an alarming rate and acquire new strengths and abilities, causing havoc wherever they go. Engyne’s sinister siblings Claire (Malin Åkerman) and Brett (Jake Lacey) send out a signal that will lure their Frankenstein creations to Chicago, while the military and government frantically try to stop the monsters. Meanwhile George’s handler, primate specialist and ex-solider, Davis Okoye ( Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) tries to save his friend with the help of a pretty geneticist (Naomie Harris) and with a government agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) hot on his tail.

Film is directed very-by-the-numbers by Brad Peyton who directed Johnson in the much livelier San Andreas. Maybe it’s the messy script by four writers, no less, or maybe Peyton is tired of assaulting his frequent leading man with monsters (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) or crashing buildings around him. There are some fun bits and the monster throw-down at the end is a bit punchier than Pacific Rim: Uprising’s Kaiju/Jaeger clash, but it’s not as much dumb fun as it should be…though it is dumb. The flick seems to follow the template of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, with a little monster action here and there, but most of it saved for the last act with a lot of exposition and pontificating from hero and villain alike, in-between. There are all the clichés present you could want, from evil corporate villains, to hard-nosed military types, to the slimy government agent who eventually sees things our hero’s way. Aside from some top-notch creature FX and city smashing CGI, there just isn’t really the sense of fun Peyton gave his earlier movies with “The Rock”. One is never bored, but you’re still not having the great time you did watching Johnson navigate falling skyscrapers in San Andreas. There are more plot holes than you can shake a giant albino ape at…such as, if they could track the two fallen canisters that produced George and Ralph (The Wolf), why couldn’t they track the third canister that produced the gargantuan, mutant alligator? And while not genetically altered, why is Davis able to shrug off being shot in the gut by Claire? One minute he is in intense pain and the next he’s skipping over fallen buildings with the greatest of ease. Biggest question of all…why am I looking for sense and logic in a movie like this?

There is an impressive cast for what is basically a B-movie monster flick, name-wise anyway. Johnson has proven he has the charm and chops to be a solid action hero and he can be very funny, as his WWE days already illustrated. He is charismatic and fun here, though given some very weak dialogue that even his muscles can’t beat. Naomie Harris is a fine heroine as the geneticist whose work is used for ill by Claire and Brett, although she is mostly a second banana to Johnson…sorry about the dual penis euphemisms, sometimes they just pop up…As for our villains, they are as two-dimensional and cliché as they come with Åkerman and Lacey hamming it up as pontificating corporate banshee and her cowardly brother respectively. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also goes over-the-top as cowboy government agent Russell, who is first a pain in Davis’ side, than an ally. Another walking cliché. Rounding out is Joe Manganiello in a brief part as a mercenary sent to take down Ralph and Demetrius Grosse as a military operative too hard-nosed for his own good…and let’s not forget Jason Liles who did the motion capture performance for the big albino ape George, giving him the personality the other critters lacked.

Simply, despite the set-up of Dwayne Johnson and oversized monsters battling it out in Chicago, this flick is too pedestrian to generate the fun needed to overcome the script’s shortcomings. The characters are tired clichés, some of the actors are simply over-compensating for the lack of character development, George aside, the monsters are strictly generic and the final throw-down is a little too by-the-numbers to get us really entertained. It’s not as dull as the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising, thanks in part to the charisma of it’s leading man, but is not nearly as fun as last year’s Kong: Skull Island. Those familiar with the video game on which it’s based might be more emotionally invested, but otherwise this is a moderately amusing flick that is best saved for checking out on Netflix at some point.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 Johnsons.

 

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REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE (2018)

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A QUIET PLACE (2018)

Our tale opens in the year 2020, just 89 days into some kind of apocalyptic event involving aggressive predators who hunt by sound and are virtually un-killable. We are introduced to the Abbott family, who have been surviving by living a life of silence at their remote farmhouse and raiding local stores for supplies. It is on one such supply run that little Beau (Cade Woodward) makes an innocent mistake, with a toy spaceship he got from a store and the Abbott’s suffer a devastating loss. The film then picks up about a year later when mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is pregnant again and father Lee (John Krasinski) is trying to make life comfortable and safe for his family, including Marcus (Noah Jupe) and his deaf older sister Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who blames herself for Beau’s death. One night, as Evelyn is about to give birth, a series of events separates the family members and the creatures are brought to their doorstep. Will the Abbotts be able to survive as their worst fear comes true?

While this is as mainstream as horror gets, it is exceptionally well directed by star Krasinski, who also co-wrote with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. We’ve seen critters that hunt by sound before (The Descent), but never have we seen such a detailed world, crafted out of necessity, around their existence. The Abbotts walk barefoot and use trails of dirt to get from place to place. Their house has painted squares on the floor to mark the floor boards that don’t squeak. They eat on lettuce leaves instead of plates. As Regan is deaf, they all speak sign language and that helps them communicate quietly. They are an everyday family in a horrible situation and we like them and thus as they convey a constant sense of alertness and tension, we are tense, too. Krasinski keeps that intensity tight as little Beau’s demise illustrates what happens with the slightest sound…and that no one is safe…so we are startled whenever a sound is made. The director knows this and sets us up by the foreshadowing of sounds and accidents to come. Yes, this is a very manipulative flick, but in a very good way. We know that the nail pulled up will cause trouble and we damn well know Evelyn is not giving birth at a convenient time…and babies make lots of noise, too. And just so we never forget these beasts are dangerous, we get a few bloody reminders of what a mess they can make. Sure, the film can be predictable, but the director uses that against us and very well. There are some plot holes. The Abbott house is filed with items that look like they could fall at any moment…way too many tchotchkes for a family trying to be quiet…and just where are they getting electricity if the world is decimated…a generator?…and don’t generators make a lot of noise? Still the film is constructed expertly to get reactions out of the audience and it does. The sense of isolation also works very well, too, in keeping us on edge. The creatures are kept in shadows till the last act and are very effectively designed when we finally see them. They remain scary even when out of the dark. Their exact origin is kept ambiguous, but newspaper clippings in the Abbott house give us some information to make our own conclusions. The quiet nature of the film also gives opportunities for some fun jump scares, but not the cheap kind. There are legitimate scares here, even if we do feel Krasinski has been pulling our strings like a bunch of popcorn munching marionettes.

The small cast are great at conveying a loving family in a constant state of fear. Despite a lot on his plate, Krasinski the actor delivers a strong and caring father in his Lee Abbott. He will do anything for his family and his technical know-how helps create a safe place for them…as safe as it can be. A very likable man. Emily Blunt is solid as Evelyn. True, she becomes more of a damsel in distress in the second half, but portrays a strong woman nonetheless and one still wounded over the loss of one child, despite the impending birth of another. Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds is great as Regan. She is a strong-willed young girl, though one who feels directly responsible for the death of her little brother. She gives a very pained and emotional performance using only her body language and eyes. Noah Jupe is good as younger brother Marcus. Marcus is a frightened boy, especially after witnessing the death of his sibling, but will learn to be strong in a dangerous world. Finally cute little Cade Woodward made an impression as Beau. He doesn’t have a lot of screen-time, but made enough of an impact that his loss is very traumatic for the audience. A great cast that realistically portrays a loving family. Krasinski and Blunt are married in real life, so it probably wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Whoever says PG-13 horror is weak is proven wrong here by John Krasinski. In the right hands it can be a scary and suspenseful time and A Quiet Place sure is. True, this is a horror film for folks who don’t normally watch horror, but that’s just fine. This longtime horror fan had a fun time and really appreciated director John Krasinski’s manipulative and skilled direction. He gets the most out of his scenario and used some of it’s predictability to get us unsettled. Sometimes it’s just as nerve-wracking to know what’s coming as it is when not. The flick’s just bloody enough to get it’s point across and has some fearsome critters to add validity to our featured family’s fears. Well done and highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 …SHHHHHH!…They’ll hear you!

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