REVIEW: CRAWL (2019)

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CRAWL (2019)

New flick from director Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3D) and producer Sam Raimi is basically 2010’s Burning Bright with alligators instead of a tiger…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Flick has massive category 5 hurricane Wendy hitting Florida so hard even rescue operations are imperiled. College student Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) defies evacuation orders to track down her father Dave (Barry Pepper), who hasn’t answered texts or calls. She finds him at their old family house unconscious in the basement and soon finds out why…the rapidly flooding house is surrounded by a pack of very hungry alligators.

Aja directs from a script by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward) and delivers a fun and sometimes intense thriller. We follow the father and daughter as they try to evade the reptilian predators both inside and outside, while the storm intensifies around them and slowly fills the house with water. There are some very suspenseful moments as Haley tries to get out of the basement and get help for her injured father, who is too hurt to escape on his own. It makes for some very tense moments as the vicious reptiles can come from almost anywhere and often do. In case we’ve forgotten what damage a gator can inflict, some would-be looters and a couple of cops arrive to become gory gator fodder to remind us. The film does slow down for a few moments here and there to give us some character development and some father/daughter bonding. It works both for and against the movie, as it does build a nice relationship between Haley and David, turning them into three dimensional characters, but also stops the momentum dead, at times, as the alligators seem to disappear during these moments. Once the third act kicks in, though, it’s all cat and mouse between Kellers and alligators as the waters rise in the gators’ advantage. Here Aja does what he does best and provides some intense and brutal action. The film looks great with a lot of underwater photography in the flooded house and Haley is put through some very tense and suspenseful set-pieces as she tries to escape and/or save her dad. A fun summer flick with some gory bite that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at a brisk 87 minutes.

It’s basically a two character show with the occasional gator snack showing up. Actress Kaya Scodelario has been through this before in Tiger House, where she played John McLane to a bunch of thieves that lay siege to her boyfriend’s house. Her Haley is courageous and resilient and does just as well against alligators as her Kelly did against home invaders. Scodelario proves she is not only a good actress, who can bring intensity, but she can kick ass as an action heroine. She gives Haley some nice depth in the quieter moments between scenes of her battling her reptilian adversaries with anything and everything available. Barry Pepper is also solid as her father, Dave. His character is both mourning a divorce and injured by gator bite and Pepper gives him some depth, so we feel for him. The two actors have a nice on-screen chemistry and work very well together portraying a father and daughter, who have their issues with each other. Good casting especially since the movie is very much on their shoulders.

Alexandre Aja is a versatile filmmaker even though he does seem to prefer the horror genre. This flick is not as intense or savage as his Hills Have Eyes remake, or outright bonkers like his ridiculously gory and fun Piranha 3D. It’s a mainstream thriller with some intense moments and some gory action, but not enough to scare off the casual movie goer. It does slow down for some character development and while that’s a good thing in making us care for these folks, it does kill the momentum in a few spots. Otherwise this is a tense and entertaining popcorn thriller from a director who knows intensity.

On a side note…This is a case of the trailer giving away too many good moments. If you plan to see this and haven’t watched the trailer yet…DON’T!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) alligators!

 

 

 

For those interested but be WARNED, trailer is SPOILER heavy…

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BOOK REVIEW: THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by MALLORY O’ MEARA

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I know this is the Movie Madhouse, but I will review a book now and then, one that I really loved or one that pertains to the movie world…and what pertains more than a memoir about the woman behind one of the most famous horror icons in movie history, Milicent Patrick.

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by MALLORY O’ MEARA

You would think that a woman who was one of Disney’s first female animators and the designer of one of the most famous monsters in movie history, would be a household name, but Milicent Patrick’s legacy has gone virtually unknown, until a girl named Mallory O’Meara saw a picture of a beautiful woman working on the Creature from the Black Lagoon and swore to change that. Now an adult and a movie producer in her own right, O’Meara went on a quest to find the true story of this unsung pioneer artist and her journey is just as fascinating as the story she painstakingly uncovered.

O’Meara’s crusade was not an easy one. Peppered between the stories of Patrick’s upbringing as Mildred Elisabeth Fulvia Rossi, growing up around the Hearst estate where her father worked as an structural engineer, there are parallel’s to O’Meara’s own life and details of her investigation into Patrick’s. Whether it be going through endless files in Universal’s archives, or hitting the jackpot by tracking down Milicent’s niece “Gwen”, O’Meara’s task is worthy of a book of it’s own. It turns a simple biography into a fun mystery as we uncover the career of a talented woman, whose accomplishments were buried simply for making waves in a male dominated industry during the forties and fifties. We go along for the ride as O’Meara’s detective work uncovers Patrick’s breakaway from her strict family, to her going to art school, to becoming one of DIsney’s first female animators, including work on the masterpiece Fantasia. We’re then taken to the most important part of this untold story with her time working for Bud Westmore at Universal Studios make-up department, where Patrick did the initial designs for the Creature from the Black Lagoon…something Westmore took credit for…as well as other projects. Despite Universal sending her on tour with many of her monster designs, O’Meara paints a tragic story of professional jealousy…and maybe outright misogyny…as Bud Westmore fired Patrick for all the attention she was getting as “The Beauty Who Made The Beast”. The last third of the book is both sad and triumphant as Patrick’s personal and professional lives began a downward spiral that she never quite recovered from and author O’Meara details the big break of finally finding a living relative, who provided much of the info now in this book. Sure, there is a lot of filler, with details of Patrick’s life being so scarce, but some of it can be interesting, such as when we learn about another pioneer woman, architect Julia Morgan and some of Mallory’s own stories of what she’s had to face as a woman in a field still dominated by men.

The book isn’t perfect. O’Meara’s feminist rants can sometimes stop the story’s momentum and she does get repetitive. We understand she is passionate, but she makes her points well and doesn’t need to repeat herself. The whole book is a commentary on a woman whose rightful legacy was denied simply because she was making accomplishments and getting attention for them, in a man’s world. It makes O’Meara’s point without trying. Also, one sometimes wonders how and if she was able to remain objective dealing with a subject so close to her heart. You can feel her anger in her words. Were certain people definitely acting out of misogynistic intent…or was it simply ego?…thought the results are the same.

Overall, this is a very entertaining and thought-provoking book, with some hilarious footnotes from the author. Any horror or monster movie fan should read this, as should any girl wanting to make a career in film or in the arts. You may have to fight twice as hard, but it’s worth the fight when it’s something you love. Milicent Patrick didn’t fight back when her rightful due was taken from her…until Mallory O’Meara picked up the gloves and fought for her…and a rightful legacy is restored because of it. Now let’s make sure history does not repeat itself for all the future Milicent Patrick’s waiting to make their mark! A highly recommended read!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creatures, as designed by Milicent Patrick!

 

 

 

 

 

Milicent Patrick in a publicity still posing with her creature. (Family Collection)

 

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home opens with a lot going on in the life of Peter Parker (Tom Holland). He’s adjusting to life after returning from “The Blip”…the five year period during which those Thanos vanquished were gone. He’s trying to cope with the death of mentor Tony Stark. He’s dealing with an apparent relationship between Happy Hogan (John Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his own feelings for MJ (Zendaya). Even his class trip to Europe gets complicated as he’s approached by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to battle creatures from another dimension with help from Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man said to be from an alternate dimension Earth. Can Peter save the planet, his friends and win the heart of MJ?…and can he trust Mysterio?

Sequel is a lot of fun and a bit bittersweet, as it deals with the effects of Tony Stark’s death on Peter and the world and it’s the first MCU flick without a cameo from the late, great Stan Lee. It’s directed with enthusiasm and a fast pace by a returning Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. It’s a bit refreshing…and slightly off-putting…getting Peter Parker out of NYC for a while, but it keeps things fresh as Peter tries to deal with Stark’s hopes the he would pick up the mantle, if anything should ever happened to Tony…and it obviously has. There are a lot of lighter moments, too, as Peter has to juggle his secret mission for Fury, keep his identity a secret, battle otherworldly creatures and still try to win MJ away from handsome jock Brad (Remy Hii). The script keeps the various story elements mixed nicely, all the while delivering some spectacular action scenes in various European locals, much like a 007 film. The movie establishes a nice bond between Peter and Quentin which makes the betrayal all the more effective, even though we know it’s coming, as Mysterio is one of Spidy’s classic villains. It all comes together in a nice, action-packed climax in London and then a shocking mid-credits sequence back in NYC that has a familiar face turning Peter and Spider-Man’s life upside down. The next Spider-Man flick should be interesting indeed!

The cast are all good. Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker and he handles the various emotions very well. He’s a superhero still growing into his suit and now has to handle the pressure of Stark choosing him as his successor. He also has to balance his duty to battling evil and satisfy his own heart with the girl he’s falling for. As MJ, Zendaya is smart, sarcastically funny, sweet at heart and has a girl next door beauty that makes her completely crush worthy and a fitting addition to Peter’s small circle. The actress creates a very quirky, independent, yet endearing character. Jackson and Favreau can play their characters in their sleep at this point and thankfully they don’t. Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition to the MCU as Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio. Initially he delivers a man with very noble and heroic intentions, a man you can believe Peter would bond with. Once his nefarious plan is unveiled, Gyllenhaal goes delightfully over-the-top for some solid villainy. A good choice for one of Spider-Man’s major bad guys. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as the lovable Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all create entertaining supporting characters in their given moments.

After the dramatic intensity of Avengers: Endgame, Far From Home delivers a lighter break, but with enough emotional depth to make sense with what it follows and as the supposed last film in MCU Phase 3. It has Peter Parker adjusting to missing five years, handling the death of his mentor and the possibility of filling his shoes to a degree. As with all the Spider-Man films, he also has to balance being a hero and yet still be a teenage boy. There are some really fun moments, a lot of spectacular action, it balances multiple characters well and delivers a solid villain in Mysterio. There are a few scenes that could have been a bit shorter, but overall is a lot of fun and feels far more like it’s own film than Homecoming. Stay through the credits for a shocking mid credits scene and a fun end credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs!


 

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REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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The third time is the charm, as the latest Annabelle flick is a haunted house roller coaster ride of scares, fun and thrills! The film starts off from the opening scene of The Conjuring with paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick WIlson) Warren, bringing the haunted doll home and placing it in their room of haunted and cursed objects, locked inside a blessed glass cathedral case. They have to go away overnight and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited some of her mother’s psychic abilities, with pretty babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s feisty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over, too, and despite warnings, goes into the forbidden room of haunted and curse objects, in the hopes of contacting her dead father. Annabelle is released from her prison and a sleepover becomes a nightmare, as the demonic doll lets all the malevolent spirits loose with the three girls trapped inside the house.

This is how you make a haunted house movie! Gary Dauberman hits a grand slam his first time at bat as the writer and director of this threequel. He has written for The Conjuring Universe before, but shows he knows how to direct horror, too, with this delightfully old fashioned scare-fest. Dauberman uses some very atmospheric camera work, in-camera practical effects, some very well built tension and suspense, along with some outright goose-bump inducing scares, to deliver simply one of the best haunted house movies since Poltergeist..the 1982 original, that is. His script cleverly gets the adult Warrens out of the house and using some classic horror tropes turns an already spooky home in a nightmare for the three young ladies trapped inside. There are a few jump scares, but only to climax some expertly built tension while his camera turns every shadow into the potential hiding place for something evil. Anything could come from anywhere at anytime and it keeps one constantly on edge. The room of haunted objects is wisely a focus and Dauberman milks all the chilling tchotchke for all it’s worth. Despite conjuring some Carpenter level scares, it’s the emotional depth that really makes it work. The girls are all three dimensional characters. Judy is a very likable kid, who’s “spooky” parents have earned her outcast status at school, with Mary Ellen being her only real friend. Mary Ellen is a sweet and very endearing young lady and one who is very brave when tasked with protecting Judy. Her tenderness and protectiveness towards the Warren’s daughter really makes her someone whose wellbeing you care about. Daniela could have been a stereotype ‘bad girl”, but Dauberman gives her a sympathetic and sweet core under the mischievous veneer. Her inner pain over the death of her father gives her a very sympathetic and endearing quality, even if this mess is kinda her fault. Add to it all that, that the writer/director, having put you through a last act ringer, gives us a nice cool down with a very sweet climax that works far better than it should being this is a intense horror flick. Very Spielbergian.

The cast are wonderful here and really bring the scripted characters to life. Farmiga and Wilson are basically just there at the beginning and end, but have really locked these characters down. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens, their cinematic counterparts are quite the likable duo. Mckenna Grace handles the lead like a pro. She really makes us feel Judy’s loneliness due to the reputation caused by her parents line of work and the emotional turmoil caused by inheriting her mother’s abilities. Obviously, the demonic spirit in Annabelle, targets her. Madison Iseman continues to impress as an actress. She takes the stereotypical babysitter and gives her a very endearing personality and imbuing her with a very natural sweetness in her caring for Judy. She’s also brave and resilient when Annabelle’s demonic entity unleashes all the other spirits, including a particularly spooky entity that sets it’s sights on the babysitter. Iseman has a natural girl-next-door presence and she really makes this character three dimensional. Same could be said of Katie Sarife as Daniela. Her character is more the mischievous bad girl, but Sarife really makes her a bit complex as inside she is in pain over the death of her father and it motivates some of the bad decisions she makes. She wants to talk to her father one last time. She is also very sweet at heart, especially when it comes to Judy. Makes for a very un-stereotypical classic character. All three young actresses share great chemistry, which makes their on-screen relationships gel realistically. Lastly, is Michael Cimino as Bob, a nice boy who has a crush on Mary Ellen. Their awkward and sweet conversation scene, when he comes over to the Warren’s to see her, has such a natural feel to it. A perfect example of a good script meeting a good cast.

This movie gave continual goose-bumps to a man who has literally been watching horror movies for half a century. It proves when a talented director pushes all the right buttons, and in the right ways, old tropes can become solid scares. We have a nice build to the story and given time to get to know some well-rounded and likable characters, all the while the tension is simmering with it. We are then thrown into a literal fun house of horrors, as all hell breaks loose in the last act. Along the way Dauberman proves subtle nuances can be just as scary as grotesque phantoms and nothing makes the scares stronger than a solid emotional center to all the supernatural hijinx. An incredibly impressive directorial debut from Gary Dauberman who delivers one of the scariest flicks in quite some time and yet one with some surprisingly sweet and sentimental moments that mix far better than one might expect. Evoking Carpenter and Spielberg at their best in your first flick is quite an accomplishment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.

 

 

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REVIEW: DARK PHOENIX (2019)

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DARK PHOENIX (2019)

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Final film in Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men series, as the rights have gone back to Marvel, finds psychically powerful Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) at the center of it’s story. The film opens in 1975 with an eight-year old Jean causing a tragic accident with her powers and being taken in, as a result, by Prof. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). The flick then moves forward to 1992 where an adult Jean absorbs a massive amount of mysterious energy while on a rescue mission in space. Jean starts to have trouble controlling this new power and when combined with personal issues with her past, and what she sees as a betrayal by Charles, sets her against her friends. While Jean deals with her mixed emotions causing destruction and a devastating accidental death, X-Men, mutant and military alike hunt her down. Unbeknownst to all of them, an alien race plans on using Jean and her new power for their own nefarious purposes.

Last of this current series is written and very well directed by Simon Kinberg. Some may miss the bombastic, global scaled action of the last few films, but this finale is actually a bit of a refreshing return to a more intimate scale and more personal storyline. The film is about an internal struggle within the X-Men and within Jean and while we do get invading aliens and an impressive train set action finale, it still feels more in line with the first few X-Men films, before the series blew up in scale. Sure the The Dark Phoenix Saga was used before as a basis for the heavily criticized Last Stand, but it is handled much better this time around. The story pits X-Man against X-Man against mutant against alien, as various factions want to kill, save, or use Jean depending on their personal agendas. Again, it keeps the drama focused on the X-Men and not on disintegrating cities and floating sports arenas, with the characters buried under the spectacle. It’s not all perfect. Main characters like Xavier, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) have become too familiar at this point to be overly intriguing and don’t get too much new development. Other characters like Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) don’t get much character time at all, only really showing up in the action. At 114 minutes, it is one of the shorter X-Men films and so Jean’s inner conflicts and her tenuous relationship with new “friend”, alien leader Vuk (Jesscia Chastain), get what little character focus time there is…and for Vuk, there isn’t all that much, either. Some story-lines are never resolved, like Quicksilver’s confronting his father Magneto, and some endings aren’t completely satisfying. That and overall, being the tenth X-Men themed flick since 2000…this franchise could use a break and a fresh coat of paint. On a technical scale the film looks great, the SPFX are top notch and Hans Zimmer delivers another strong score.

The main cast are all familiar with their characters at this point and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. Lawrence, Fassbender and McAvoy all seem to be going through the motions. They are still effective, but they really aren’t given anything new or intriguing to do, or are adding anything new to their portrayals…other than Charles’ guilt over decisions he made for Jean. Lawrence especially seems to be here for a paycheck. Sophie Turner impresses as the very troubled Jean. She goes from emotionally wounded to powerful bad girl smoothly and handles her varied emotional states very well. She gives the role strength. Jessica Chastain oozes malice as Vuk and as her part could have been stronger written, the actress takes what she is given and delivers a suitable villain, like the pro she is. Supporting cast are all likable and fine as various X-Men and mutants and as the series is now finished, some, like Peters’ smart-alecky Quicksilver, will be missed.

Everyone will see this entry as they will. Some may find it too scaled down for their liking and some may not agree with where certain character’s stories end…or don’t. Others, however, may find it refreshing that the final flick, in this almost two decade series, ends with a focus back on the X-Men and leaves the massive city destruction to Godzilla and The Avengers. Maybe all the reshoots report-ably done weren’t such a bad thing, after all?

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) fiery phoenixes.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: BOOKSMART (2019)

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BOOKSMART (2019)

Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have their sights set beyond high school and have stuck to their studies, ignoring any social life beyond their own friendship. On the eve of graduation, Yale-headed Molly finds out her school partier rivals have also gotten into good schools without making the sacrifices she has. Now Molly and Amy are determined to prove they can have fun and decide to attended the best graduation party in town…if they can find it.

Booksmart is a very impressive and stylish directorial debut from actress Olivia Wilde. The script is credited to four writers and while that would normally be a possible sign of trouble, here it is a clever and sometimes heartfelt collaboration. Booksmart doesn’t reinvent the high school coming of age comedy, but it does delightfully revitalize it. Wilde and her writers tackle all the usual high school themes like the social hierarchy and teen romance, but approaches them in a fresh and fun way. There is some wonderfully witty dialogue and the script and director don’t shy away from more contemporary themes with some openly gay characters such as Amy herself. Part of the whole reason the girls are headed to Nick’s (Mason Gooding) party is so Amy can spend time with tattooed skater-girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) and Molly can finally admit she has a crush on Nick. The outcome of their last night of school quest is both realistic, poignant and fun…and that’s what makes this flick work so well. A perfect blend. The characters are treated with respect and even stereotype characters avoid feeling like clichés. They are very human, such as Molly Gordon’s girl with a reputation “Triple A”. She surprises us by not only being a likable and feisty young lady, but her acceptance into Yale, too, is one of the reasons that drives Molly to want this one night of decadence. The film handles multiple characters well and aside from not shying away from serious themes, the film can be a lot of raunchy fun and there are layers of wit and cleverness to go with it, so it avoids being just vulgar. It’s a very offbeat and heartfelt coming of age story that never forgets to be decadent fun and is smart about doing it. No better example of this is a delightful stop motion animation sequence when Amy and Molly are given some drugged strawberries. Inventive, demented and hilariously funny.

The film presents a great cast of eccentric yet familiar characters and the actors all do great work under Wilde’s guidance. Beanie Feldstein is simply wonderful as nerdy, ambitious Molly. A girl who hit the books running and on the eve of her moving on to college, finds out, hilariously, that she could have had a little fun along the way. The actress has great comic timing and plays the dramatic moments strongly. A star in the making. Same can be said of Kaitlyn Dever whose openly gay Amy is a sweet, sensitive and spirited young woman who joins her friend on this one last hurrah before leaving high school to do volunteer work in Africa. There are a host of delightfully portrayed off-beat characters to support them. Billie Catherine Lourd is a lot of fun as the weird rich girl Gigi. Skyler Gisondo as the shameless self promoter Jared, who may not be as shallow as he appears. Mason Gooding is solid as the school hunk Nick. Victoria Ruesga is also good as Amy’s crush Ryan and Molly Gordon makes her “school slut” character, Triple A, very likable and human. There are also some veterans in the cast such as Jason Sudeikis as Principal Jordan, Lisa Kudrow as Amy’s oddball mom Charmaine and Will Forte as her equally quirky dad Doug. Simply a great cast.

Overall, this was a dynamite debut for director Olivia Wilde. It refreshes both the high school coming of age flick and the characters set within such stories. It has a great cast including wonderful performances by it’s leads and is not afraid or shies away from more serious and contemporary themes. It also approaches it’s characters all with sensitivity and respect and portrays it’s gay characters as simply part of the story without turning them into showcase set pieces. Bravo to Olivia Wilde and writers Katie Silberman, Sarah Haskins, Emily Halpern and Susanna Fogel. A great indie movie!

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Sequel takes place five years after the events of Godzilla 2014 with Godzilla keeping a low profile and being monitored diligently by the Monarch organization. Other creatures, or “Titans” have been discovered across the globe and the military wants them all destroyed, while Monarch believes they represent a balance in nature. Eco-terrorist Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) feels the Titans should all be freed to restore that balance and plans to steal the Orca…a device capable of communicating with, and possibly controlling the monsters…to accomplish this. He kidnaps Orca creator Dr. Emma Russell (Verga Farmiga), her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her invention and thus sends Monarch and Emma’s estranged husband Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) in hot pursuit. But Jonah gets more than he bargained for, when he uses it to release the three-headed space monster Ghidorah from his icy prison and the beast challenges Godzilla for the title of King of the Monsters. Add in the Queen of the Monsters Mothra and the fire demon Rodan and earth soon becomes a monster sized war zone.

Trick r Treat director Michael Dougherty takes over from Gareth Edwards and seems to have a far better grasp of the material. He also does script duties along with Zach Shields, from a story by they and Max Borenstein. What we get is far closer to a Toho Godzilla film than the 2014 flick and one that is a lot more fun. Sure the plot is a bit goofy, but no goofier than an alien race building a robot Godzilla or a creature created completely from pollution. It’s filled not only with tons of fun references to Godzilla flicks of the past, but we get all the traditional story elements like devious villains, stalwart scientists, brave military types and a smarter than the adults kid. Not only are all the tropes proudly paraded out for those familiar with the series, but it has some of the most spectacular monster battles ever presented, as Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra all converge to duke it out and destroy everything in their paths. The final showdown in the city of Boston is absolutely amazing and Yankee fans might even get a giggle over Godzilla and Ghidorah throwing down in the middle of Fenway Park. It’s also a true popcorn blockbuster, so even those not too familiar with the Big G and his 65 year history, can still enjoy the flick on a purely entertainment spectacle level and monstrously entertaining it is. Not to mention, the film’s final image is something every Godzilla fan has wanted to see from day one. On a technical level, the SPFX are amazing, the monsters are truly titanic and majestic and their destruction is on a totally massive scale. The score by Bear McCreary is far more fitting than Alexandre Desplat’s ho-hum score for Zilla 2014 and delightfully mixes in some of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla themes to add a nice touch of nostalgia to the film.

The cast are good and all of them get the material. They play it seriously…but not too seriously. Leads Farminga, Chandler, Brown and Dance all do well in essaying their roles. Vera Farming as the scientist with a personal reason to get involved, is solid and helps us understand her decisions, even when they are the wrong ones. Chandler is fun as the father and husband trying to get his estranged family back. He’s a good lead and his old fashioned character fits this kind of movie well. Charles Dance is impeccable as ever as the villainous Alan Jonah, who like Thanos, thinks he is doing the right thing by trying to unleash these creatures. Millie Bobby Brown is especially endearing as Madison and in many ways is the emotional center of the flick. The supporting cast are all good, too, especially Ken Watanabe returning as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa and Zhang Ziyi playing Dr. Ilene Chen, a character who pays tribute to a familiar Mothra trope in a very fun and clever way. A good cast that even give some very corny dialogue a little dramatic weight.

Overall, this was a really fun and action packed sequel to a film widely criticized for skimping on the monster action. It has monster battles to spare, but still gives us some people time along with a very Toho-esque storyline. Michael Dougherty keeps the 132 minute flick moving very fast and pays loving tribute to the classic Godzilla flicks in some fun and very clever ways. Stay through the credits for not only an end credits scene, but for some amusing interwoven news items that echo what is to come. A gargantuan blast of a good time!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) King of the Monsters.

 

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REVIEW: BRIGHTBURN (2019)

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BRIGHTBURN (2019)

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Flick takes place in the small Midwestern town of Brightburn, Kansas where couple Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are trying unsuccessfully to have a child. One night, something crash lands on their rural property. The object is a ship containing a baby boy, whom the couple take in as their own and name Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn). As Brandon reaches his twelfth birthday, the ship hidden in the barn starts to send him disturbing messages, and he starts to show signs that he has powers that make him almost super human. But unlike the world famous superhero whose story this seems so similar to, Brandon has no interest in using his powers for good. In fact, Tori and Kyle soon learn their adopted son may be more Michael Myers than Clark Kent.

Superhero horror flick is very well directed by David Yarovesky from a clever script by Mark and Brian Gunn. The writers have taken what is basically the story of Superman and added the caveat of what Superman would have been like if he had malevolent intent, instead of being the giant Boy Scout he was. Brandon Breyer is no Clark Kent, as he develops a liking for hurting others and director Yarovesky really uses this twisted twist on a classic superhero scenario to his advantage. This is Smallville meets Elm Street as Brandon torments and kills those he doesn’t like, or anyone who crosses him. Once the town of Brightburn is on alert that a killer may be on the loose, Brandon uses his superhuman powers to intimidate or eliminate anyone who can give him away. No one is safe…not even Kyle and Tori. The result is one of the best horror films so far this year, as Yarovesky and his script writers delightfully mix superhero flick and old fashion slasher movie. It’s quite chilling as Brandon dons his red cape and creepy red mask and starts stalking his human prey, dispatching them in gruesome ways. This is a hard R and there are many chilling and suspenseful moments as Brandon becomes more and more evil and more and more vicious. It all leads to a nail-biting last act at the Breyer residence that really turns the super screws. A super bloody good time, it is.

The cast is really solid here and play the material very seriously. Elizabeth Banks is very strong as Brandon’s “mother” Tori, who at first refuses to believe her adopted son is capable of the things he’s accused/suspected of and when she finally sees him for what he is, becomes a mother very frightened of her own child. Jackson A. Dunn is really creepy as Brandon. He starts out a bit sympathetic, as a boy realizing he’s different and having trouble fitting in, but then transforms into a disturbing and frightening villain, in the Jason Voorhees mold, as he begins to realize that he is the most powerful creature on the planet. David Denman is good as his “father” Kyle who comes to terms a bit quicker with the fact that they may have a monster in their midst. In support there is good work by Meredith Hagner and Matt Jones as Brandon’s Aunt Merilee and Uncle Noah, who unfortunately get on the lad’s bad side.

This was one scary horror flick at times and really used the idea of a superhero gone bad to unsettling effect. What if Superman had the mind of a serial killer? It’s a frightening concept to have a sadistic mind in a body so powerful and it’s even more disturbing that Brandon is only a child. His parents brought him up right, but wherever he’s from, it’s not Krypton. Highly recommended for horror fans, and superhero fans who were always curious what would happen if Clark Kent was a psychopath.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creepy serial killer/superhero masks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

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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.

 

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REVIEW: THE QUAKE aka SKJELVET (2018)

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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