REVIEW: PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

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PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

Film finds thirty-something Cassie (Carey Mulligan) working in a coffee shop and still living with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge). Cassie was a med student seven years ago, but the date rape and resulting suicide of her best friend Nina caused her to drop out. Now the emotionally troubled Cassie plots to get back at the man responsible and those who covered for and defended him. She also goes to bars at night, pretends to be drunk and teaches a lesson to anyone who try to take advantage of her. Her nocturnal activities and the path to payback for Nina hit a bit of a snag, though, when she meets a charming and handsome pediatrician (Bo Burnham).

Powerful flick is written and directed by Emerald Fennell and is an extremely impressive feature film debut. It tackles the subjects of date rape, sexual misconduct at schools and the effects on the victims, through the vengeful Cassie, but not without an undercurrent of dark humor. Through Cassie and her confronting those involved, we learn of how Nina was taken advantage of at a party, raped and then having to watch the perpetrator Al Monroe (Chris Lowell) defended and covered for by the school administration and other students, such as classmate Madison (Alison Brie). It turned Nina into an emotional wreck who we safely assume finally took her own life. The film boldly faces down how the perpetrators of such acts become the defendants and the victims the villains, in this society of boys will be boys. It illustrates how more concern is shown for not ruining the accused’s life than for the victim’s trauma and pain. Cassie also confronts like individuals by going to bars, playing drunk and then confronting these guys as they plan to take advantage of her. The film is unflinching, yet the underlying dark humor helps keep these timely subjects from bludgeoning you. Fennell deftly keeps you attentive, receptive and sensitive to the subject matter, as it’s cleverly woven into the story and thus better received and the points better made. As we watch the tale unfold, we get what writer/director is trying to say, slyly, but not too subtly as to miss those points. Emerald Fennell takes the gloves off and through Cassie calls out the frat boy, wolf pack mentality that protects the guilty and leaves victims humiliated and ostracized. She also directs with a lethal sarcasm and a hip and colorful style, as we follow Cassie along her path to retribution that culminates in a riveting and disturbing last act at Al Monroe’s bachelor party. A film with an important message for the #metoo generation, told with a lethal wit by Fennell. A viciously witty indictment of all too common behavior and the lack of consequences for that behavior.

The cast is strong with Carey Mulligan giving a brilliant performance as the young woman who beneath her sarcastic, slacker exterior is seething with anger and rage. A woman who’s pain and frustration, at how her friend was treated, has been focused into an intelligent and borderline sinister plan for payback. Until she reaches her target, she vents her anger out on lecherous bar patrons, she lures in by playing the naive drunk girl. It is also a direct statement on the mentality of far too many men when we witness just how often her trap works. Bo Burnham is charming and funny as Cassie’s unexpected love interest, Ryan. Is his interest in her and her growing feelings for him enough to make her put aside her inner turmoil and rage? This film is worth watching to find out. Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge are good as her disappointed, frustrated and somewhat clueless parents and Chris Lowell is appropriately slimy as eternal frat boy and party rapist Al Monroe. In smaller, but effective parts are Adam Brody and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as men who Cassie vents her anger at…with good reason…along with Alison Brie and Connie Britton as the student and school dean, respectively, who covered for Monroe and dismissed Nina’s accusations.

Overall, this was an intense flick with a powerful message told with a very dark and sarcastic sense of humor. A smashing directorial debut from Emerald Fennell with a powerhouse performance by lead Carey Mulligan. It takes on it’s subject of sexual abuse and how society protects the accused and vilifies the victim with gloves off and head on. It has a lethal wit and a very hip style and comes to a climax that will stay with you for some time. Bravo to Emerald Fennell on a borderline masterpiece film debut and very, very highly recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) sexy nurse hats!

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SYNCHRONIC (2019)

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SYNCHRONIC (2019)

New Orleans EMTs Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) start to find the calls they are going on lately, stranger and stranger. His own personal issues to deal with, Steve starts to look into it. All roads are pointing to a new designer drug called Synchronic. When Dennis’ daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears when doing the drug, Steve begins a journey, with some startling discoveries about Synchronic, that takes him to some equally startling places, as he vows to bring Brianna back.

Trippy and original, sci-fi tinged thriller is from the duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (Spring, The Endless), who are simply two of the most original and innovative indie filmmakers out there. Synchronic is imaginative, tense and sometimes a little scary, as Steve puts aside his battle with terminal cancer to find best friend Dennis’ daughter. This flick is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible going in so, suffice to say, this new designer drug takes it’s young users to places even they don’t expect and Steve races against time to figure out how it does what it does and how it will lead him to Brianna. Where exactly is she? You’ll have to watch this involving and imaginative flick to find out. Benson and Moorhead add some nice depth to the characters. Steve is a ladies man who is envious of the family Dennis has, while Dennis is a man who doesn’t always appreciate what he’s got. This adds a bit of conflict between the best friends, as does Steve’s terminal brain cancer makes him realize how precious and important life really is. Maybe enough to put his own on the line to help others. Again, there is far more to discuss here, but exact details are better learned from watching this clever and original flick and a highly recommended mind bender it is. There is some graphic violence and the film looks really cool thanks to Aaron Moorhead’s cinematography with Jimmy LaValle adding a very atmospheric score.

The small cast is really solid here. Mackie is great as a man faced with his own mortality, despite looking death in the eye every day as an EMT. When faced with a mystery and a disappearance caused by a dangerous drug with unexpected side effects, he chooses to put his own fragile life on the line to solve that mystery and figure out a way to find his friend’s daughter. The actor owns the role in every facet. Jamie Dornan is likable as Dennis. Sure Dennis sometimes doesn’t appreciate the family life he has at home, but he cares about them and Steve and the two actors have a very realistic bond on screen. Makes their friendship work. Ally Ioannides is good as Dennis’ rebellious daughter, whose use of Synchronic triggers a very unexpected search and rescue attempt by Steve. Katie Aselton is also effective as Dennis’ wife, Tara. A good cast.

Overall, there is a lot to be discussed with this flick, but as it is better enjoyed with it’s mysteries intact, details will remain scarce here. This is an innovative and intelligent thriller with a surprising science fiction element to a designer drug, even it’s own creator (Ramiz Monsef) fears and reviles. It’s intense, it’s thrilling, it has a few scary moments and a few nice WTF moments, too. There is some graphic violence, but none of it comes without some nice depth to the characters and story. The New Orleans settings are well used and Benson and Moorhead solidify their status as two of the most must watch filmmakers in the indie genre scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Synchronic pill packages!

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

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WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

Superhero sequel takes place in 1984 and has Diana foiling a robbery at a mall. Her heroics also uncover a black market operation dealing with ancient antiquities. Amongst the items recovered is an ancient stone, that literally grants wishes…with a price. Not only does Diana use the stone to bring back her lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), but it finds itself in the hands of power-hungry entrepreneur, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), and it transforms the meek and shy Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) into a predator…literally. But will the price of returned romance, cost Diana the power to stop her new adversaries?

Sequel is once again directed by Patty Jenkins from her script and story with Geoff Johns and David Callaham. While the first film dealt with serious themes like the horrors of war and the evils that men do, this next adventure takes on a much lighter tone, though the corruptive power of greed is certainly a subject here. The movie has fun with switching the roles, with Trevor, this time, being the fish out of water and Diana being in familiar surroundings. Obviously, setting the film in the 80s also invites having a little fun with the outrageousness of that decade as well. The moments between Diana and Steve are indeed entertaining, but eventually Diana must turn her attention to stopping Lord, whose use of the stone is getting dangerous, and Barbara, who is transforming into classic Wonder Woman villainess Cheetah. It takes a little while to get to the action, but it is an entertaining enough build. The movie does move along at a nice pace. Not too fast, but not too slow. When the action comes, it is big and spectacular, like a scene in Cairo, but avoids the overblown theatrics of the first installment. It’s not perfect. It is definitely a tad too long and could have been tighter in a few spots, especially in the last act where it starts to get a little messy here and there. It doesn’t have the impact of the first movie, but is an entertaining sequel nonetheless. It is more fun.

The cast is top notch and helps make this more fantasy heavy story click and work. Gal Gadot once agains proves she was born to play this part and gives her comic book heroine some nice depth and nobility. Pine is fun as the resurrected Steve Trevor. A soul in another man’s body, Pine has a good time being the man in unfamiliar territory, discovering the modern world of the 80s. He and Gadot still have great chemistry. Pascal is also fun as Maxwell Lord. He evokes Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor here and is both a fun and lively villain, while never loosing that air of being lethal and threatening. Kristen Wiig is perfectly cast as the nerdy Barbara Minerva turned classic villainess Cheetah. She starts out awkward and clumsy and once getting her wish, becomes confident, sexy and then dangerous, literally turning into a predatory cat. There are return appearances by Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen in flashbacks and a “Wonder”-ful cameo during a mid-credits scene. A great cast.

Overall, this may not have the same intensity and impact as Diana’s origin tale, but is a more fun sequel. It has a lighter story, with a magic wish granting stone, but grounds it enough that it is not silly, nor does it rob it’s villains of their threat factor. It avoids getting too over-the-top, so we take the story as seriously as we need to for it to work. It has a good time skewering the 80s, especially through the fish out of water eyes of the returned Steve Trevor. Most of the action comes in the last act, but it is an entertaining ride to get there and when it comes, it delivers the heroics we are waiting for. It may be a bit too long, and wouldn’t lose much with about ten or fifteen minutes trimmed, but is a satisfying enough sequel and a lighter toned DC hero flick. Watch through the credits for that fun cameo.

Rated 3 (out of 4) Wonder Women!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: HUNTER HUNTER (2020)

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HUNTER HUNTER (2020)

Joseph Mersault (Devon Sawa) lives deep in the wilderness as a fur trapper with his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and tween daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell). They are down on their luck at the moment and Anne wants to leave the harsh wilderness life for less rural surroundings. The coming of winter is the least of their problems, though, as they begin to believe a wolf is raiding their traps and might soon set it’s sights on them. Determined not to be driven from his home and way of life, Joe sets out to hunt the canine predator down. While he is away, Anne and Renee encounter a predator of a different kind.

Survival thriller is written and directed by Shawn Linden. It has a smoldering intensity and is a slow burn leading to an explosion of violence. Linden gives the film atmosphere and the wilderness locations a very bleak and desolate look. it suits the overall mood of the film, as this is a dark and unapologetic thriller and will be most talked about for it’s savage and violent finale. The last minutes of the film dips into horror movie territory as characters are driven to brutal acts. It segues from survival thriller to revenge thriller in it’s last moments and it’s unpleasant and will stick with you. Once all is said and done and the credits roll, one might ask what the point of it all was, but skilled direction makes this a fairly effective piece, even if such questions arise as you uncomfortably ponder what you just saw. There is some brutal violence and some very effectively done horror flick level gore to accentuate the gruesome finale.

The small cast perform well. Devon Sawa is good as Joseph. He’s a simple man wanting to protect his family and his way of life. Camille Sullivan is very good as his wife Anne, who dreams of maybe moving on from this hard life and must become a fighter and protector when predators, both four legged and two legged, come knocking at their cabin door. Summer H. Howell is also likable as their twelve year-old daughter, who is learning her dad’s trade and Nick Stahl is also effective as a stranger who they find injured in the woods. Supporting cast includes Gabriel Daniels and Lauren Cochrane as local law enforcement officials. A good cast!

This is a bleak movie with a very grim and vicious finale. Writer/director Shawn Linden crafts an intense slow burn that has a mean punch of a pay-off. It also pulls no punches, and doesn’t sacrifice impact to wrap things up with a happy little bow. It’s not a pleasant movie and there is no Hollywood ending. One may wonder what the point of it all was, but it could just be to tell a story of folks driven to desperate acts and that the worst and most dangerous predators on the planet walk on two legs. Currently streaming from IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) traps!

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REVIEW: DRIVE (2011)

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DRIVE (2011)

Drive has a delightfully 80s vibe to it. It reminds one of Michael Mann’s neon drenched crime thriller Thief, but with the out of nowhere blood-soaked violence of David Lynch. Even Cliff Martinez’s sscore evokes Tangerine Dream, who created Thief’s haunting music, among many other film scores during that era. Like that James Caan headlined flick, Drive is also based on a book and involves a man on the wrong side of the law getting into trouble when trying to do good. Despite what appears to be obvious influences, director Nicolas Winding Refn has created his own work from Hossein Amini’s screenplay based on James Sallis’ book of the same name. Drive may evoke but, it never copies. The story finds a mysterious stunt driver, who moonlights as a getaway car driver, getting into trouble with local mobsters when trying to protect his pretty neighbor from the mistakes of her ex-con husband. It is a moody atmospheric piece with sudden jolts of intense action and bone crunching violence. It also has a top notch cast.

Ryan Gosling superbly plays the man known only as Driver with equal parts mystery, menace and heart. This is a bad dude when provoked, but you have no trouble believing he truly cares for Irene and her son.The supporting cast is also excellent with Carey Mulligan as the sweet young woman who seems to fall for the bad guy every time. Albert Brooks is intense and sleazy as a Jewish mobster, who can be quite vicious when he wants to be. Rounding out the cast is the awesome Ron Perlman as Brook’s crude and temperamental partner and Bryan Cranston as Driver’s mentor, a sad man who just can’t seem to avoid getting involved with the wrong people.

Drive is definitely a film that might befuddle the average movie goer, who were weened on Michael Bay and music videos. It uses it’s sumptuously filmed visual style to create a mood and it’s characters to convey emotions. There is no unnecessary exposition to explain how character’s feel, they show it and Refn let’s us, the viewer, experience it for ourselves without explaining it to us like children. When he needs to, he hits us with action and it serves a purpose to move the story along. When he jolts us with the gruesome violence, it’s an extension of a character’s emotional state. Bad and desperate people do bad and desperate things. Our anit-hero Driver seems to have an inner rage that’s never explained and his character is all the more richer for that added mysterious dark side. Drive is something today’s average movie going audience is rarely exposed to…something called cinema! Highly recommended for those who want more then just a movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hammers!

 

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REVIEW: FREAKY (2020)

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FREAKY (2020)

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Blumhouse’s latest is a slasher twist on the classic body switch scenario. While the town of Blissfield is being stalked by a serial killer, misfit high school teen Millie (Kathryn Newton) has her own problems to deal with. She is still mourning the death of her father, her mother (Katie Finneran) has turned to drinking, her crush Booker (Uriah Shelton) doesn’t even notice her and she is not exactly the most popular girl in school. The paths of she and The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) are fated to cross and when they do, the use of an ancient Aztec dagger, procured from a previous victim, causes Millie and her attacker to switch bodies. Now, on Friday the 13th, of all days, Millie, in the Butcher’s body, has till midnight to fix things before the switch becomes permanent. She has to convince her best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) that it’s really her, avoid her cop sister (Dana Drori) and stop The Butcher, who is using Millie’s body to stalk new prey in her high school’s very halls. It’s going to be a freaky Friday the 13th indeed!

Flick is directed by Christopher Landon from his script with Michael Kennedy. Landon is responsible for writing a number of Paranormal Activity sequels and directing that series’ The Marked Ones installment, as well as, directing and writing the fun Happy Death Day movies. It’s an entertaining mash-up of slasher meets Freaky Friday, though not quite the energetic fun that was his previous slasher meets Groundhog Day flicks. It is a lot more gruesome than Happy Death Day, though, and earns it’s “R” rating, while still being filled with some fun dialogue and generous movie references. The script is fairly clever with getting the Aztec dagger “La Dola” into The Butcher’s hands quickly, to get the story rolling, and using web savvy teens to give us the exposition we and Millie need, as to how the dagger works and what needs to be done. This sets in motion the race to regain possession of La Dola, before midnight passes and Millie is trapped forever in the body of a middle aged murderer…which The Butcher realizes may not be a bad thing. The film only falters a little when a few sentimental dialogue scenes go on for a bit too long and the filmmaker’s desire to be politically correct becomes a little too obvious in spots. The last act could have been a bit punchier, too, with it’s teen filled party in a warehouse setting. Otherwise, it’s a fun slasher/high school flick homage with some witty banter, some bloody carnage and a hip sense of humor.

The flick wouldn’t have worked nearly as well, if it wasn’t for our two leads having a blast playing each other’s parts. Kathryn Newton is very good, first as the awkward, likable and sympathetic Millie, and then as the sadistic serial killer. Newton is very successful as oozing evil and malice from within a high school girl’s veneer and has a threatening presence despite being a very pretty young girl. It’s Vince Vaughn, however, that really has a chance to take the ball and run with it as Millie in The Butcher’s body. Vaughn is hilarious as the awkward high school girl in the body of a middle aged serial killer and his mannerisms and body language are just as funny as his line delivery. He is even very threatening when he is The Blissfield Butcher back in his own body, in case you forgot he was a sadistic killer. Supporting cast is solid, too. Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich as Nyla and the flamboyantly gay Josh are a fun duo. They play off Vaughn very well and have some amusing dialogue and comic bits as they race to help get Millie back in her own body. Katie Finneran is good as Millie’s lonely, mourning mother, as is Dana Drori as Millie’s tough, sarcastic cop sister. Uriah Shelton is likable as Millie’s crush, Booker, who is dragged into this mess and Ferris Bueller star Alan Ruck appears as a harsh wood shop teacher.

Overall, this flick was fun and was a nice mash-up of two types of film’s one wouldn’t immediately think of mixing up. The cast are really good, especially our body swopping leads, who have a blast playing each other. It can be gruesome, but is very witty and clever as well. It does drag in a few parts, due to some lengthy attempts at adding some sentimentality to the proceedings, but otherwise is an entertaining homage, though not quite the infectious fun of Landon’s Happy Death Day flicks…which Landon recently conceded take place in the same universe. Freaky Death Day someday maybe?

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) chainsaws which pretty Kathryn Newton wields quite well.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE HONEYMOON PHASE (2019)

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THE HONEYMOON PHASE (2019)

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Young couple Eve (Chloe Carroll) and Tom (Jim Schubin) pose as newlyweds to enter The Millennium Project which pays $50,000 to participating couples. All they have to do is basically remain isolated together in a futuristic home while their behavior and relationship is observed round the clock for 30 days. At first it seems like easy money, but soon their relationship begins to unravel. As things get worse and worse, Eve begins to wonder who Tom really is and Tom thinks she’s losing her mind. Are the couple unraveling on their own, though, or is there something more sinister at work here?

Intriguing flick is written and very well directed by Phillip G. Carroll Jr. as a psychological thriller mixed with a dash of science fiction. It is also a very tense and disturbing journey as we watch a young couple in love disintegrate and turn on each other, as their isolation wears on and they start to learn who they really are…or do they? There is some outside influence here from their holographic “handler” (Tara Westwood), who may be giving the couple reasons to distrust each other, or is simply telling them the reality about each other. Is Eve really emotionally unstable, or is Tom not the man she thought she knew and are they finally finding out the truth, now that they are forced to cohabitate. Something very relevant in today’s times. It’s a well written and intense thriller as we watch a couple go from tender lovemaking to inflicting violence on one another. There is some social commentary mixed in about abusive relationships, today’s state of matrimony and about a woman’s right to choose in matters of her own body, too. It’s all interwoven very well in this unsettling tale and best of all it has some surprises in store when it changes direction in the last act. It becomes something quite unexpected, while giving us some surprising reveals as to what is really going on here. It’s an engaging and sometimes unnerving flick, but one not without some emotional depth…and one not without some unsettling violence, once things start to come apart and the lovers are pitted against each other. A smart and effective movie from Phillip G. Carroll Jr.

Carroll casted this flick well, which is a big part of why it works so effectively. For the most part, this is a two person show and Jim Schubin and Chloe Carroll really shine as Tom and Eve. In the early moments they are very convincing as a loving couple who want to make a little easy cash to start their lives together. They are engaging and likable. As the film progresses and they start to distrust and turn on each other, they are equally effective with Eve feeling betrayed and alone and Tom becoming abusive and controlling. They also handle the last act revelations and reveals well, too and the climax is chilling enough to stay with you as the credits role. A good cast that helps make this interesting flick as effective as it is.

The Honeymoon Phase was a surprising thriller that takes a simple premise and turns the screws, as we watch a cute and charming couple turn against each other and transform into people we don’t expect. It’s very well written and directed by Phillip G. Carroll Jr. who keeps it interesting with a bit of a science fiction turn in the last act. It’s fast paced and gets it’s story told in an economical 90 minutes, without skimping on character or story development. There is some startling violence, but also some relevant social commentary woven within it’s story of a relationship imploding…possibly with a little help. Some may see this as a Twilight Zone-esque tale, but if so, one Serling might well have approved of. Also stars Tara Westwood as The Handler and François Chau as the project’s director.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) curling irons used painfully.

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BOOK REVIEW: DARK HARVEST by NORMAN PARTRIDGE

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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 tale of Halloween night that is as ripe for filming as the perfect pumpkin is for picking!

DARK HARVEST by NORMAN PARTRIDGE

Entertaining Halloween tale takes place in 1963 and finds a small town with a strange All Hallow’s Eve tradition. Each year on October 31st a pumpkin headed figure, grown in a cornfield, made of vines, stalks and filled with candy, descends on this rural Midwestern town. The teen males of this small municipality have till midnight to hunt the “October Boy” down and destroy it, before it can make it to the church in the middle of town. Wealth and fame are awarded to the winner, along with the freedom to leave town. Pete McCormick vows to win “The Run” this year and use his victory to get out of this small dead-end place…until he learns the truth about The Run and The October Boy.

Story by Norman Partridge is a very atmospheric Halloween tale filled with imagery of the season, such as corn stalks, jack o’ lanterns and, of course, a pumpkin headed being with a carved face and glowing light emanating from within. We have a strong hero in Pete, who wants to get away from this small town and his alcoholic father. A tough, likable heroine with Pete’s ally, Kelly Haines, a girl defiantly entering a boys only event, and a solid villain in the vicious Officer Ricks, who has more to do with The Run than at first appears. As for The October Boy, he is a more well-rounded character than one might expect from a monster…or is he? You’ll have to read this fast paced tale to find out the truth as Pete does. At only 169 pages it moves like a rocket and has plenty of action and bloody violence, as this year’s Run doesn’t go quite as planned. The reveals have impact and the only disappointment was not knowing more about the origin’s of The Run and of the mysterious Harvester’s Guild at it’s center. Otherwise, this is a fun and atmospheric tale for a breezy October night and one desperately in need of being adapted to the big screen!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) jack o’ lanterns!

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: MULAN (2020)

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MULAN (2020)

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Story takes place in ancient China. The kingdom is under attack and each household must send one male to fight. As Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) has only two daughters, it is he who must go and join the imperial forces. To save her aging father from going into battle, headstrong daughter Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei) disguises herself as a boy and goes off to war in his place. Once hidden among the royal forces, Mulan comes face to face with a revenge hungry warlord (Jason Scott Lee) and an evil witch (Gong Li), both intent on killing the Emperor (Jet Li).

Remake of the animated classic has lavish costumes, sumptuous visuals and a cast of Chinese cinema legends, such as Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Gong Li. Unfortunately, it is brought down by some very by-the-numbers direction by Niki Caro and a bland leading lady in Liu Yifei as Hua Mulan. This feminist tale of a young girl who becomes a hero in a male dominated society is written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin and not one of the four scribes could keep this from being very pedestrian and cliché. It’s simply uninvolving and dull, despite it’s important messages about equality and female empowerment, and having a lot of colorful action. It’s a shame and a major disappointment. The Chinese cinema has been doing these kind of period epics for decades and even the most routine of those is still energetic and fun. Mulan could have used some of both, without diluting or losing what it had to say, but director Caro just doesn’t bring it like her Hong Kong cinema counterparts, and directs this heroic tale with a leaden hand. It takes itself a bit too seriously with very little humor and simply no heart. Where was the sense of adventure? Where were Cri-Kee and Mushu to give it some much needed comic relief between the dramatic moments. The 1998 classic delivered the same messages, but had a good time with it’s story and had much livelier characters. Everyone is so stone-faced here.

There are some great names and faces from the Chinese cinema in the large cast. Legendary Donnie Yen, who was also in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, is present as Commander Tung, a noble and proud Imperial Officer. Yen projects those qualities in abundance, even if he isn’t often included in the action. Equally legendary Jet Li isn’t given all that much to do either as The Emperor, but his presence alone gives the role weight. Gong Li, yet another legendary actress, brings a sexuality and lethality to her witch Xian Lang. She oozes menace and looks good doing it. Jason Scott Lee is a strong villain as warlord Bori Khan, a man on a mission of vengeance. There is also Tzi Ma as Mulan’s proud father Hua Zhou, another actor brining nobility to their role, and veteran actress Rosalind Chao as Mulan’s mother. Of  course, be on the lookout for original Mulan voice actress Ming-Na Wen in a cameo. This leaves us with our leading lady and this is were the film sadly falters. Liu Yifei gives it her all, but is a disappointingly bland and dour Mulan. Where was the girl with a heart full of life and adventure? Where was a touch of humor to give her some spirit and humility? She pretty much wears the same poker-faced expression for the entire movie. She does do well in the action scenes and does project strength, but little warmth. The actress was much closer to the mark as the spirited Golden Sparrow in the fun Forbidden Kingdom, where she also starred opposite the legendary Jet Li.

Mulan is a disappointment when all is said and done. It has some important things to say and a lot of action, but has none of the heart and warmth of the original classic. It takes itself way too seriously and presents a leading lady who needed a bit more of a sense of humor and spirit to make her more endearing. Now it’s easy to see why Disney wasn’t too hesitant to release one of it’s major titles direct to streaming and sadly, one not worth the $30 price tag for rental… IMO, anyway.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: PENINSULA (2020)

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PENINSULA (2020)

Korean horror/thriller is a fun, if not extremely derivative, sequel to the 2016 zombie outbreak flick Train To Busan. This installment takes place four years later with the Korean Peninsula abandoned and quarantined by the rest of the world. A barren, zombie infested wasteland. Ex-soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) now lives in Hong Kong, with his brother in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) and the two relocated Koreans are treated like outcasts and live in squalor. A local mobster offers the duo a chance to make enough money to get themselves out of the gutter. They and some other expatriated Koreans are tasked with going back into the quarantine zone and retrieving a truck filled with $20 million in American dollars. The heist goes awry and Jung-seok finds to his horror that there are two groups of survivors still living there, a family he’s encountered before and an ex-military unit who may be more dangerous than the hordes of flesh eating undead. Can Jung-seok, Chul-min and their new allies get out alive against both hungry zombies and crazed soldiers?

Yeon Sang-ho again directs with a script from he and Park Joo-suk. This sequel isn’t quite as much of a roller coaster ride as Train, but is still entertaining. While Train put a fresh coat of paint on the well-worn zombie sub-genre, Peninsula seems content to spin a yarn that is parts of Romero’s Day and Land of the Dead, a large portion of the Governor story arc from The Walking Dead and part Road Warrior with a last act truck chase. The film is more concerned with the drama between the human factions and while there are plenty of zombie’s, they do take a back seat to Jung-seok and pretty survivor Min-jun (Lee Jung-hyun) trying to get the truck and Chul-min back from the Unit 631 compound, which is run by the vicious Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and demented Captain Seo. It’s entertaining, yes, but seems far less fresh and far less energetic than the previous flick. Train was nothing new, but Peninsula seems to make less of an effort to revitalize it’s familiar tale. Another thing that holds it back is a heavy use of only moderately effective CGI. A lot of the zombie action and the truck chase at the end are obvious CGI effects and it takes away it’s effectiveness. The truck chase looks like a video game at times and it keeps us from being too drawn in like Road Warrior‘s intense chase finale. In between we get innocents forced to battle zombies for entertainment and a preconscious child who always outsmarts and saves the adults. There is a lot of bloody violence, but nothing too gory and Yeon Sang-ho does paint an impressive apocalyptic picture of the abandoned and zombie infested South Korea. The movie adds the appropriate melodrama with Jung-seok haunted by his past, and his link to Min-jun and her daughters. This gives the film a little emotional content and at the end we are entertained, but it is far less memorable than it’s predecessor.

The cast are all solid. Gang Dong-won makes a good hero as the guilt-ridden, ex- soldier Jung-seok. He plays his inner turmoil well and he is a good action hero. Lee Jung-hyun is a solid heroine as mother and survivor Min-jun. She’s tough and quite the fighter, but still has her humanity. Lee Ye-Won is cute and thankfully avoids being annoying, in the precocious child role of younger daughter Yoo-Jin and Lee Re is likable as her tough teen sister Jooni. Kim Do-yoon is also fine as the embattled Chul-min, who is captured by Unit 631. Rounding out are Kim Min-jae as the cruel and vicious Sergeant Hwang, who is Sang-ho’s equivalent of Day of the Dead’s Captain Rhodes, and Koo Kyo-hwan as the desperate and deceptive Captain Seo. A good cast.

So, in conclusion, while it’s not an equal, Peninsula is still an action packed and entertaining sequel to Train To Busan. While it’s predecessor also reused a lot of ideas from past zombie epics, it seemed far fresher than the recycled ideas do here in this second installment. At almost two hours long this is still a fast paced and sometimes bloody adventure, though not quite as energetic and intense as Train To Busan. Familiar, not quite as energized, but still fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bullets, which a lot of fly in this movie.

 

 

 

 

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