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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REVIEW: I KILL GIANTS (2017)

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I KILL GIANTS (2017)

Graphic novel based film finds young, eccentric loner Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) believing that she can kill giants and claiming to have done so in the past. Her sister (Imogen Poots) is trying to take care of her and her older brother (Art Parkinson), but Barbara’s constant behavior issues and insubordination at middle school is taking it’s toll. Barbara finally finds a friend in new student Sophia (Sydney Wade), who has just moved to the US from England. The two girls bond and while Barbara slowly let’s Sophia into her complex fantasy world, the psychologist at school, Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) tries to find out what Barbara is really trying to escape from in her fantasies. Meanwhile, Barbara prepares, as a new colossal adversary nears, one she might not be able to handle.

Sweet-natured tale is very well directed by Anders Walter from a script by Joe Kelly, based on the graphic novel of the  same name by Kelly and Ken Niimura. This is the kind of movie that could have drowned in over-sentimentality, or sugar-coated the more serious issues, but it is handled with just the right mix by director Walter and Kelly’s script. The film never patronizes Barbara’s living in her own fantasy world, nor does it overplay or exploit the real story of a young girl unable to face a painful reality in her life. We see how involved Barbara’s fantasy world is and also see how it alienates her from her classmates and even makes her the target of the school bully (Rory Jackson). Walters slowly let’s us through the facade, giving us clues as to what is really happening, as Mollé tries to get through to the girl. We are drawn in as this and Barbara’s friendship with Sophia threatens the walls she’s thrown up. As the story plays out, it is ultimately Barbara herself who must tear down those walls and face her painful reality with the same courage she faces her imaginary giants. It’s all splendidly handled by the first-time feature director and very engaging despite being a very familiar story. On a technical level the film features some nice cinematography by Rasmus Heise of the Belgium and Ireland locations which stand in for the East Coast, United States. The FX portraying our fantasy creatures are very well executed and not over-used and Walter gives the film some nice atmosphere, aided by an effective score by Laurent Perez Del Mar.

The director gets good work from a solid cast. Madison Wolfe is very strong in her portrayal of Barbara. A complex young girl, who is eccentric and imaginative and who creates an alternate reality for herself to hide from pain she can’t handle in her real life. She keeps Barbara likable, even when being difficult and handles the transition from denial, to fear and to finally facing those fears very well. Zoe Saldana is also good in what could be seen as a clichéd role. She gives Mrs. Mollé a sense that she really cares about Barbara and conveys the patience and frustration of trying to reach her. Sydney Wade is sweet as her new friend, Sophia and Imogen Poots is also good as Karen Thorson, a young woman being overwhelmed by what’s going on around her and trying to handle the care of her siblings and maintain a grip on her own life. A strong cast who do good work.

This is not the first film to feature a child hiding from intense emotions in a fantasy world. It’s also not the first film to feature characters trying to reach that child. It does feature a strong debut from a first time director, who mixes all the elements well and in the right amounts. He treats his main character with the respect she deserves, gives her fantasy world the sense of wonder needed, never exploits the more serious story elements, or takes the easy way out by letting this degenerate into a routine tear-jerker…which it is not. A very entertaining and heartfelt movie that deserves more attention than it’s quiet release in limited theaters and on VOD gives it. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 girls who kill giants.

 

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REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018)

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PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018)

Convoluted sequel takes place ten years after Guillermo Del Toro’s fun original with the world healing, yet still making use of the Jaeger technology. Fallen hero Stacker Pentecost’s son Jake (John Boyega) is a failed Jaeger pilot now turned black market Jaeger parts dealer. He crosses paths with teen Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who is building her own Jaeger and the two find themselves arrested and pressed into service by the PPDC. This reunites Jake with former co-pilot Nate (Scott Eastwood) as they are to train a new generation of cadets. At the same time a Chinese corporation, headed by beautiful CEO Liwen Shao (Jing Tian from Kong: Skull Island), is planning to unleash a squadron of Jaeger drones that will not need the services of internal co-pilots. Still with me? Soon Jake and company are embroiled in a battle with not only rogue drone Jaegers, but a new Kaiju invasion triggered by a familiar face.

Sequel brings the noise, but forgets the fun as directed by Steven S. DeKnight from a mess of a script by he and three other writers. What results is a very by-the-numbers film that has a lot of silly ideas, yet never takes the time to really develop any of them. Del Toro’s film was goofy, but had a big heart and was lots of fun. Some folks didn’t get what it was trying to do, but those of us who grew up watching Japanese monster movies got exactly where he was coming from. DeKnight, however, forgets that the first film was a loving homage and forgoes the love for a formula, generic and cold blockbuster that has too many subplots and doesn’t do anything interesting with them. Jaegers infected with Kaiju technology is enough for one film in itself, but here takes up maybe a half hour of screen-time before we fall back on the familiar monsters versus robots schtick. There is an interesting plot point that gives purpose to what the initial Kaiju attack was attempting to accomplish, which here only seems to serve to get our final throw-down nostalgically in good ole Tokyo. The special FX are top notch, but none of the action sequences have any of the intensity, suspense or emotional investment they need to make them resonate. It’s just, loud set-pieces that lack any weight, even when our massive Kaiju nears it’s objective with our heroes all down for the count. At no time are we ever involved in what is going on, because it’s all so paint by numbers. With Del Toro producing, I’m not sure how he allowed this unnecessary sequel to be handled so poorly.

The cast never seem to be emotionally invested either and just seem to be going through the motions. Boyega has a natural presence, but is fed such lame dialogue that even his awkward smile and roguish charm can’t makes us endear to Jake as we should. Cailee Spaeny really tries hard with a generic teen rebel role. She’s cute and spunky and with a better script, she’ll probably make a good leading lady. Eastwood tries to channel his legendary dad, but comes across more as a lesser Chris Evans clone. Too bad, he also has charm, but is given some of the worst lines. Jing Tian is fine as the Chinese CEO who overcomes her cold exterior to become a more heroic figure, obviously to appease Chinese audiences where the first film did big business. Returning from the first flick is Rinko Kikuchi as Mako, who is now a commanding officer and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as scientists Newt and Gottlieb, respectively. Both scientist become once more embroiled in the plot in some of the more interesting story elements.

In conclusion this was a loud mess of a sequel that lacks the original’s heart, soul and sense of nostalgic homage. It is a cold, by-the-numbers popcorn flick that forgets that cinematic popcorn is supposed to be fun, even if incredibly dumb. DeKnight, a veteran of TV, seems way out of his element here and even his actors look bored and a bit lost. The script by four writers has a lot of ideas and yet doesn’t properly develop any of them, some of which could have been the bases of an entire film. A sad disappointing follow up that probably won’t produce the second sequel it so cheerfully sets up…then again, the first film’s moderate box office didn’t seem to foretell the coming of this colorful but mundane mess.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 Jaegers.

 

 

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REVIEW: TOMB RAIDER (2018)

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TOMB RAIDER (2018)

Reboot finds a young, down and out Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina) refusing to accept her inheritance by declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead in absentia. When finally forced to do so, she gets a key and clue that sets her on a quest to find out what happen to him. It leads her to the uncharted island of Yamatai where the mysterious Order of Trinity has Archeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) searching for the tomb of Japanese sorceress Himiko. The woman was said to be of incredible power and Trinity wants use of it. As Lara seeks to find her father’s fate, she must now also find a way to stop Trinity from accomplishing their goal.

Do-over is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey, The Wave) from a script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and is wisely an origin story that starts fresh after the previous films. It’s also refreshingly down to earth in terms of it’s story telling with Uthaug going back to basics with the action and avoiding the bombastic, over-the-top spectacle that has become the status quo. Some may find the action routine, but it evoked the old fashioned action films before digital software allowed for things to become so much larger than life and in some cases, out of control. The pace is fairly swift with an almost two hour running time and just when it starts to drag a bit, we head into the last act tomb raiding finale. The South African locations look good substituting for a Pacific island and the interiors of Himiko’s tomb are interestingly designed, though with all the previous adventure flicks in this vein, the whole traps and puzzles thing is getting very old hat. Possibly why it’s kept at a minimum. Otherwise we get some solid gun-play and fisticuffs and it makes for an entertaining night at the movies with the hope that this franchise has new legs.

Alicia Vikander makes for a solid heroine as young Lara. Purists may feel her petite frame does not suit the statuesque video game character she’s portraying, but she is quite the spitfire and gives Lara both a strength and a vulnerability that make her more than just megapixels. She does action scenes as good as the boys and was convincing as a young woman coming into her inner adventurer. Walter Goggins is a serviceable enough villain. He could have had a bit more gusto, but they were going for a more grounded approach, so he is not the usual pontificating, cackling villain that most movies of this type feature. Dominic West is fine as Richard Croft in flashbacks, which provide backstory and exposition and Daniel Wu is solid as drunken sailor and Lara’s back-up, Lu Ren. We also get appearances by veterans Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi, as well as, fan favorite Nick Frost.

Overall, this was a solid action adventure that stripped away the over-the-top overindulgence of today’s action films and settled for a more back to basics approach. Alicia Vikander made for a strong Lara Croft and overcame her petite stature with a tenacity and vulnerability that really worked here. The whole tomb of traps and puzzles thing is kind of worn out at this point, but there was plenty of chases, gunfire and brawling to keep us entertained. A fun flick from Roar Uthaug.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.

 

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REVIEW: ANNIHILATION (2018)

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ANNIHILATION (2018)

Biologist and former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) hasn’t seen or heard from her commando husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for over a year. When he finally shows up at her door sick and disorientated, a black ops team abducts them both to a secret location designated Area X. There Lena finds out there is some sort of disruption called “The Shimmer” surrounding an area of land with a lighthouse being it’s point of origin. This “Shimmer” is slowly growing and everything and everyone sent into it has never returned…except for Kane. Now Lena volunteers to join a four women scientific team, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), geologist Sheppard, (Tuva Novotny) and Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) to enter The Shimmer and find out what is going on inside. What they find is beyond belief and whatever it is, it’s changing the DNA of all lifeforms trapped inside it as it expands.

Another well directed sci-fi flick from writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina), this one from a book by Jeff Vandermeer. Not only is the film visually stunning, but thought-provoking, suspenseful and sometimes downright scary, too. Garland’s script only feeds us information a little at a time so we learn about The Shimmer and it’s effects on life, much as our four explorers do. The further they go into the anomaly, the more mutated the plant and animal life seems to get…and dangerously so. Along the way they visit an abandoned military base and an evacuated town where even more mysteries and abominations are presented to us. Add to this a group of women who are slowly coming apart at the seams and you have a sci-fi chiller that, at times, evokes the fear and paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing. We know it’s all coming down to a visit to that lighthouse at the center and what awaits us is chilling to the bone. On a production level, the film has some top notch visual FX and to add atmosphere to an already atmospheric film, is some wonderful cinematography from Rob Hardy and a fitting score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who did the same for Garland on Ex Machina.

The cast is top notch. Portman’s Lena is a somewhat emotionally complex character. She’s a woman who has had no word from her husband in a long time and even then there were complications in their relationship. Now he reappears and is in bad shape and needs her help. Add to that a woman already interested in biology and cellular activity and it creates a character with both scientific and personal reasons to go on what could be a suicide mission. Portman handles it very well. Leigh is strong as the group leader and another woman with her own personal reasons to enter The Shimmer. She’s tough and strong and can be hard on the others, but she never reaches villainous levels. Tessa Thompson is the emotionally weakest of the group and she is sweet and very likable and the first to bond with Lena. Rodriguez is the tough paramedic, Anya Thorenson. While she is a strong character, she is in over her head in terms of what her mind can accept of what she sees and the actress plays it well. Novotny’s Sheppard is a likeable character as the team geologist and another character that bonds with Lena on this out of this world journey. Rounding out is Oscar Isaac who plays a lot of the role of Kane in a disoriented state, except for flashbacks when he is himself and does it well. A dependable actor.

There is very little to complain about here with a film that is a return to more thought-provoking science fiction. It is also a visually stunning ride, a suspenseful journey into a dangerous unknown and sometimes, a simply scary flick. We have a solid cast of strong female characters who each have their own reasons for going where only one has returned. It’s well-written, intensely directed and shows, like Ex Machina, that Alex Garland is a cinematic force to be reckoned with and a filmmaker who walks to the beat of his own drum.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 lighthouse.

 

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REVIEW: MIDNIGHTERS (2018)

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MIDNIGHTERS (2018)

Thriller opens with pretty Lindsay Pittman (Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and The Neighbor) tied to a chair and gagged with duct tape. Then we go back a few hours to find out how and why she’s there. Driving home from a New Years Eve party, down-on-their-luck couple Lindsay and Jeff (Dylan McTee) hit a man on a remote road in the woods. The man appears to die before they can get help and the couple take the body home, concerned with the consequences of the man being dead and that they both were drinking. That’s when things start to go wrong. The man is not dead, has a gun and after surprising Lindsay’s sister Hannah (Perla Haney-Jardine), is really killed when she gets hold of his weapon. Even worse, when going through his things, Jeff, Lindsay and Hannah find their home was the gunman’s objective all along. And thus begins a tale of hidden money, betrayal, double-crossing and murder.

Flick is well directed by Julius Ramsay from a script by Alston Ramsay and is a solid thriller. Film sets up a tense enough situation with a couple already facing hard times, thinking they killed a man and not wanting to deal with the consequences. Things get worse as they find the man had a gun and their address in his wallet. Who was he and why was he heading to their home? The story slowly unfolds, as thrillers like this traditionally do, as Police come knocking at their door, a mysterious detective (Ward Horton) shows up soon after and a cache of cash has everyone turning guns, duct tape and other household torture devices on each other. It’s well done and while not quite as gripping as hoped, it is still solid entertainment that offers up some nice betrayals, twists and some horror movie level violence, murder and bloodshed. By it’s satisfying conclusion all secrets are revealed, questions answered and a fitting trail of bodies left. To say anymore would be to spoil some deviously entertaining moments.

The Ramsays have a fairly good cast to support their script and direction. Alex Essoe once again proves she’s an actress to watch with a solid performances as Lindsay. Mrs. Pittman seems to be caught in the middle of all this and Essoe gives her some life, depth and resourcefulness as we watch a woman toughen up and try to turn things in her favor in an increasingly disturbing situation. She’s a good actress and can play both sympathetic and strong very well. Dylan McTee was efficient as Jeff, but could have used a bit more intensity. Maybe it’s just that his character is not at his best when our story begins and is, when all is said and done, not as strong as his wife. He’s not a wuss, but his character could have used a bit stronger presence. Perla Haney-Jardine is solid as Hannah. She’s not new to trouble and it’s no surprise that some of the Pittman’s current woes might have Hannah’s fingerprints on them. Finally we have a malice laced performances by Morristown, N.J. native Ward Horton as the mysterious Detective “Smith”. Let’s just say he’s not a nice guy and his being a detective may be questionable, too. Horton makes for a slimy and charismatic villain which always benefits movies like this.

Overall, this was a solid and entertaining thriller that rolled out the story nicely and deviously. It could have used a bit more intensity, but was still a well done movie with some nice backstabbing and other kinds of stabbing to keep us in our seats. There were some good performances, especially from lead actress Alex Essoe, which enhanced the characters and thus the effectiveness of this blood-soaked thriller. Recommend for a night of noir-ish thrills and entertainment on the couch.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 rolls of duct tape.

 

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REVIEW: BLACK PANTHER (2018)

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BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Black Panther is the latest edition to the MCU and once again Marvel comes up with a way to keep this series fresh after ten years and eighteen films. The movie opens with a brief introduction to the history of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. It tells of the fateful meteorite landing which introduced the miracle metal vibranium to the land, which transformed Wakanda into a technically advanced civilization. They’ve long kept hidden their technology from the world, though, to prevent ill use of their weaponry. Enter the newly crowned King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is also The Black Panther, Wakanda’s protector as well as ruler. While still mourning the death of his father, T’Challa finds out a hard truth about the death of his uncle and of a cousin he didn’t know he had…a cousin known as the mercenary Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to take the throne and use Wakanda’s arms technology to start a global revolution.

This sometimes stunning film is directed by Ryan Coogler from a script by he and Joe Robert Cole. Coogler has a wonderfully sumptuous visual eye and making full use of African cultural influence turns this into a film worth seeing for the sights alone. His script with Cole takes things deeper than that with a story rich in depth, not only in it’s cultural surroundings but in the political, racial and social issues effecting it’s African characters and the continent’s descendants around the world. It weaves this context into it’s action/adventure story-line very well, so it’s never preaching, but the issues are boldly there. It represents those who have a more aggressive way of dealing with these issues in it’s antagonist N’Jadaka / Killmonger and those who see a more peaceful solution in it’s hero T’Challa. It also doesn’t shy away from the fact that these differences can pit brother against brother, too. Black Panther is still also very much a superhero movie and we gets some spectacular action, some amazing gadgets and even a James Bond-ish trip to South Korea, where T’Challa meets old friend Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and old foe Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who is aligned with Killmonger. Panther is given some wonderful support in his sister Suri (Letitia Wright) who is technology savvy and is the “Q” to T’Challa’s Bond. There is king’s bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) who is Wakanda’s greatest warrior, elder Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and his proud and strong mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett). The SPFX are amazing, there is a wonderfully African infused soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson and some beautifully realized dream sequences that add even more depth to a film that has spirit and heart as well as action.

Simply put this movie also has a great cast. Boseman is a perfect fit for a character that has to be ruler, hero and diplomat, as well as, simply a man. He is charming, handsome and gives the heavily burdened T’Challa a sense of humor and warmth as well. Michael B. Jordan is solid as his vengeful cousin known as Killmonger. Jordan is usually in the role of hero or nice guy and here he shows he can be a bad-ass too. N’Jadaka is a street smart killer raised in America and he brings that urban edge to his warrior with a mission. His purpose may have a bit of a noble center, but it’s his methods and ruthless execution of them are what make him a villain. Serkis is fun as Klaue, following-up his amusing part in Age of Ultron and it’s too bad his part here is almost as small. He’s a fun and eccentric bad guy. Letitia Wright is cute and energetic as T’Challa’s genius sister Suri and Danai Gurira is a blast as warrior woman, Okoye. She’s a powerhouse and deserves her own movie. Rounding out are strong characterizations from Freeman as Ross, Angela Bassett as Ramonda and Forest Whitaker as the noble Zuri. There is also a cool post credits cameo I won’t spoil.

Once again Marvel has delivered a splendid entertainment that is at once a story with it’s own heart, soul and purpose and yet fits well into the MCU game plan. There are political and racial issues weaved into T’Challa’s first solo flick and it is as energetic and exciting as it is thought provoking. Ryan Coogler is a director who has not only a brilliant visual style but can make popcorn entertainment that is also food for thought. A delightfully entertaining movie with some well appreciated heart and depth. As always, stay through the entire credits for two extra scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

rated 3 and 1/2 black panthers.

 

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REVIEW: BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

Sequel picks up thirty years after the disappearance of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) with replicants now being perfected to the point of obedience. One such new model “K” (Ryan Gosling) hunts down older models as a Blade Runner. When he “retires” replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), he finds a box of bones on his property that belong to Deckard’s replicant lover Rachel. They also indicate Rachel had died giving birth, a starting revelation that finds K sent on a reluctant mission to find and eliminate the child before the world finds out about it. This puts him in great danger as he must track down Rick Deckard and is pursued by the Wallace Corporation, who want to find out how a replicant gave birth and use that knowledge for their own purposes.

Worthy sequel is directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) from a script by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original) and Michael Green. It’s a science fiction mystery with an amazing visual style that both brings us back to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic and yet goes beyond it to create it’s own futuristic world, of neon overindulgence and rotting decay. It is a moderately paced and moody thriller that manages never to be boring at a lengthy 163 minutes and populates it’s world with some very eccentric…and dangerous…characters. The script links the film very cleverly to the 1982 original and takes the story to new places and gives us a lot to think about as we follow K on his journey and we discover the clues and startling revelations as he does. Like Scott’s film, there is some violent action, but this is a film noir, mystery/thriller not an action movie, much like the first film and it works very well if you have the patience to let it tell it’s story at it’s own pace. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is quite sumptuous and the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch sets the mood perfectly and mixes in some elements of the original Vangelis score, so the film feels like a Blade Runner movie.

Villeneuve has a great cast. Gosling is a perfect fit for the brooding Blade Runner “K”. He gives the outcast replicant some nice emotional depth as he ponders his part in this ongoing mystery. Ford steps back into Deckard’s shoes with ease giving him a weariness and a hardened edge of living a lonely life in exile. Robin Wright makes for a tough, hard-nosed cop as K’s superior officer, Lt. Joshi. Ana de Armas is charming, sweet and sexy as K’s hologram girlfriend Joi. Rounding out is a creepy Jared Leto as Niander Wallace, who has taken over the replicant business from The Tyrell Corp and Sylvia Hoeks as his very lethal hench-woman, Luv. They serve as our villains, as they want to find Rachel’s child for their own nefarious purposes. The supporting players, including Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista, are all top notch, too. A very solid cast.

It’s too early to tell if this flick will become a cult classic like it’s predecessor. It is a solid sequel and yet very much it’s own movie. It has a great cast, some incredible visuals and an intriguing mystery that keeps our attention even at almost three hours long. It may be a bit too brooding and lengthy for some, but if you are a patient person, and a fan of the original, it is a highly recommended sequel to a cult classic.

-MonsterZero NJ

rated 3 and 1/2 holographic girlfriends.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

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THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

Latest from Guillermo del Toro is a dark fairly tale that takes place at a research facility in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962. There we meet lonely, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who works as part of the janitorial crew. A strange creature is brought in one day, an amphibious humanoid (Doug Jones) with healing powers, captured in South America. Feeling a kindred spirit with “the Asset”, Elisa begins to communicate and bond with him. A cruel security chief (Michael Shannon) has plans to dissect the creature, which Elisa is falling in love with. Now Elisa must figure out a way to break The Asset out with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and a sympathetic scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg ) with a secret.

Unconventional romance is directed by del Toro from his own story and a script he co-wrote with Vanessa Taylor. Unfortunately there is something missing from this aquatic Beauty and the Beast, that keeps it from really resonating. The film has some great performances, and as with all del Toro’s works, it is sumptuously designed, but never really creates a sense of wonder with Elisa and Asset’s romance. Maybe it’s because the film can be a bit crude sometimes and shares a bit too much. We know Elisa’s lonely, did we need to know her masturbation routine? We know Shannon’s Strickland is a creep, but did we need to see his caveman-like sexual activities with his wife? And maybe it was better left ambiguous about Elisa and Asset’s romance becoming sexual instead of seeing it and getting sign language descriptions of Asset’s sex organ. It kind of takes away from the wonder that we become privy to such graphic detail. That and The Asset still comes across very much an animal and Elisa’s sexual relationship with it is unsettling even if Asset can communicate and enjoys music. It’s a bit uncomfortable and not as charming as intended. Del Toro also tries to tackle some social issues like racism and anti-gay sentiment, but it seems a little forced at times, such as one scene where both issues come to bare within minutes of each other as Elisa’s gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) encounters a racist, anti-gay waiter at a pie shop. It’s a bit heavy handed, despite being relevant themes. Still, there are some very effective scenes, some nice moments of whimsy and even a fantasy musical number, but too much information and a lack of subtlety on certain elements keep this from reaching the heights of his Pan’s Labyrinth, which masterfully combined dark fantasy, with more serious subjects. It’s not being R-rated that hinders the tone, just some things begged for a more subtle touch...something del Toro usually knows when to be.

The director does get some great performances here. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as the mute and slightly odd woman. She creates a sad yet endearing character. Doug Jones is also very good under a lot of prosthetic make-up as the silent and sometimes fearsome “Asset”. While he certainly gives him some human qualities and a lot of personality, the gill-man is still very much an animal which makes it hard to accept that his relationship with Elisa becomes sexual. It’s not enchanting, it’s uncomfortable. Richard Jenkins is very likable and has some of the more humorous lines as Elisa’s gay, artist neighbor Giles. The actor creates a very eccentric and likable character. Octavia Spencer is really good as Elisa’s only friend at the facility, Zelda. The actress makes her a lively and feisty woman, with some nice strength and compassion. We also get nice work from Michael Stuhlbarg as sympathetic Dr. Hoffstetler, who has some secrets of his own and Shannon is again top notch as the cruel and twisted Strickland. While the character is cliché, Shannon’s characterization is not. This is a very strange and disturbing individual. A great cast.

Overall, Guillermo del Toro’s newest tale is sadly a mixed bag. It has some great performances, giving life to some interesting characters. The visuals are beautiful and there are some very effective moments despite the whole “Beauty and the Beast” story being quite oft told. What keeps this flick from giving it’s dark fairy tale a sense of needed awe and wonder is being a bit too crude at times and sharing a bit too much, when subtlety would have been more effective. Sometimes less is more.  Most of all, despite being imbued with human elements, Doug Jones’ fish-man is still too much an animal to make his sexual relationship with Elisa from being anything more than unsettling. As Serge in Beverly Hills Cop would say… “It’s not sexy. It’s animal.” A bold and audacious take on a time honored tale, but one that isn’t always effective in the way it wants to be.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 eggs, a fish-man’s favorite treat.

 

 

 

 

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