REVIEW: BABY DRIVER (2017)

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BABY DRIVER (2017)

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a music loving getaway driver for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). Doc caught Baby stealing his car, but was so impressed by his technique and driving that he is letting him work off his infraction by employing the orphaned young man to get his robbery teams out quick. Baby has almost worked off his dept and wants out, especially when he meets beautiful and sweet waitress Debora (Lily James), who steals his heart. But Doc isn’t about to let Baby get away that easy and when a big job brings in loose cannon Batz (Jamie Foxx), Baby might be in for the ride of his life…and maybe his last ride, too!

Written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), this is a routine crime thriller energized by having the action synced up with the film’s awesome soundtrack of classic tunes. In this aspect the film is impressive, especially on a technical level and does have some really energetic chase sequences when the law are in hot pursuit. The romance is also very hip and sweet between Baby and the captivating Debora and we believe these two kids are in love. The film is, overall, fun from start to finish, but does falter once the soundtrack syncing starts to wear out it’s novelty and we realize that underneath Wright’s showmanship is just another crime thriller about a good man in with some bad people. It follows the formula very closely, so it’s no spoiler to know that Baby’s plans to go away with Debbie are going to be thwarted by Doc, the last big job will go awry and we know Baby will be forced to go up against his former “friends” when Debbie gets caught in the middle. Even while very predictable, this is still an enjoyable thriller and Wright’s style of telling the familiar tale does freshen things up for a while. Edgar Wright may not always be the most original filmmaker in terms of his stories, but he is one of the more innovative ones when it comes to how he tells them.

The cast is really on target with Ansel Elgort being a handsome and charming young rogue with the beautiful Lily James being quite captivating as the sassy and sweet apple of his eye. They have chemistry and their scenes together are engaging, as they should be. Kevin Spacey is having a blast as the eccentric Doc and even manages to give the crime boss a little bit of heart underneath the bad guy veneer. Jon Hamm and Eiza González also sizzle as a married couple who are a modern day Bonnie and Clyde with González being a suitably sexy bad girl and Hamm being a likable bad-ass who becomes a real beast when things go wrong. Jamie Foxx is fine as Batz, though the character sometimes seemed a little too reckless to have lived this long in this business. Jon Bernthal also appears briefly as another member of Doc’s rotating crime team who doesn’t like that Baby never gets his hands dirty. A good cast who get the tone of the material and has a good time with their characters.

In conclusion this was a fun movie with a great soundtrack and some top notch action and editing. The romance elements were hip and sweet and the film only falters when it’s soundtrack syncing gimmick looses steam and we realize we’ve seen this movie many, many times before…thus making it predictable. It’s still worth watching, though, especially for the hip cast, fast action and awesome tunes, but by the end we do realize that this car is actually an old model, just one with shiny new rims.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

 

 

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REVIEW: IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

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IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

Though marketed as a horror film, especially with a title that implies some sort of supernatural threat, flick is more of a survival thriller focusing on a small group of people during what appears to be some kind of pandemic. As the film opens, we find Paul (Joel Edgerton), living in his father-in-law Bud’s house in the middle of the woods, along with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and his son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). As the story opens, Bud (David Pendleton) is infected, Paul euthanizes him and sets his body on fire. While still suffering from their loss, a man (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house one night. Captured, he says his name is Will and is only looking for supplies for his family. Paul and Sarah invite Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to come live with them, seeing strength in numbers. But, when it is believed that little Andrew might be infected, paranoia and fear take over and threatens to destroy this safe haven in the woods.

Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults this is an intense and sometimes violent little movie about fear, paranoia and what lengths folks will go to survive. Going in without the horror movie expectations, one can enjoy this flick for what it is. There are some horror elements, as the sickness isn’t pretty, there is some brutal violence and Travis has some very unsettling nightmares with some spooky imagery. The characters appear to be normal people in a frightening situation and none are bad guys or unlikable, just some do extreme things to, in their minds, ensure their survival. It’s no secret these folks will turn on each other and Shults keeps the film tense until they do. He keeps the audience on edge with a sense that death is always lurking outside the house, whether it be this ominous disease or other humans with bad intent. He also never let’s you completely trust Will and Kim, as Paul and Sarah never quite do. Yes, we’ve seen it before, but the writer/director makes it work by focusing on the effects of the situation on a small isolated group instead of what might be going on in more populated areas. It works well and can be unsettling at times, even with the subject of pandemics and infections being common ground right now. There are a few questions and unresolved plot points as the credits roll. After Bud’s death it seems hard to believe that Paul and family would so quickly agree to bring strangers into their home, despite the good intentions. There is a violent encounter with two armed men that at first seems like it might have further impact, but it never does. There is also the implication that coming-of-age Travis might have an attraction to the pretty Kim and vice-versa, but it goes nowhere after the initial scene that introduces the notion. Aside from these small matters Trey Edward Shults delivers a taunt thriller which keeps one unnerved even if you know certain things are coming. Aiding him is some nice cinematography by Drew Daniels, which takes advantage of the large shadow filled house and a fitting score from Brian McOmber.

There is a good cast here, too. Edgerton is a strong lead as the cautious, though somewhat kind-hearted Paul. He makes some tough decisions to protect his family, but is far from a bad man and hasn’t lost his humanity. Christopher Abbott is good as Will. He gives the character just enough uncertainty, so we never quite trust him to makes us as uneasy as Paul. Kelvin Harrison Jr. shines as Travis. Travis is sometimes the moral center of the story, though his ominous nightmares make us unsettled as to what the future holds and the actor conveys that this is also the same with Travis, himself, a youth growing up isolated in a dangerous world. In support Carmen Ejogo is solid as Paul’s loving and strong willed wife, Sarah. Riley Keough is also good as Will’s wife Kim, as is Griffin Robert Faulkner as their young son Andrew.

Once you get past the notion that this is a horror film, you can still enjoy an intense thriller about people trying to survive in a deadly environment. They’re trying to keep their humanity when their fellow humans are just as dangerous as the disease they are trying to avoid. It’s intense, atmospheric and brutally violent at times. It may not be the most original flick in terms of story and comes with a title that raises horror film expectations, but does used the pandemic fear scenario very well and is an effective little thriller on it’s own.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets!

 

 

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REVIEW: 68 KILL (2017)

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68 KILL (2017)

Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) makes a meager living draining septic tanks. His crazy, abusive girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord) is a hooker who has hatched a plan to get them out of squalor quick. She wants to rob her sugar daddy Ken (David Maldonado) of the $68,000 in cash from his safe. She promises the meek Chip that no one will get hurt. Two dead bodies and a hostage (Alisha Boe) in the trunk later, Chip has had enough and double crosses Liza and takes off with her car, the hostage and the cash. But Chip is not about to escape the current situation unscathed, as his path to freedom is blocked by all sorts of unsavory characters, not to mention a furious Liza in hot pursuit.

This sleazy grind house style flick from writer/director Trent Haaga starts out fun mostly due to a delightfully over-the-top AnnaLynne McCord. Where it falters and loses it’s grip somewhat is having McCord’s Liza disappear for most of the second half of the movie as Chip falls for pretty hostage Violet (Boe) and then encounters a group of trailer trash sleazebags who want his money and his life. The story then loses that grimy fun as Chip becomes a hostage himself and is brutalized by this group and the film starts to wallow in the sleaze and viciousness a bit too much for it’s own good. Also, getting back to Violet…SPOILERS

why introduce a potential romance between Violet and Chip, only to have her leave the story a few scenes later? Why have her character there at all, if the story isn’t going anywhere with their romance and Chip must face the trailer park group alone. It seems like filler and a waste of time, not to mention it happens way too quickly and her reason for being in Ken’s house is a bit convoluted to begin with…

END SPOILERS. The film does pick-up when McCord catches up with Chip and finally reappears, but then it is over too quickly to really enjoy the character’s return. When Liza isn’t present the film becomes just another Quentin Tarantino grind house revival style flick which have been all too common since the Pulp Fiction director made them cool again. There is nothing to set it apart from others of it’s ilk.

Gubler makes a fine enough schlep of a hero. Chip’s meek and let’s Liza walk all over him and predictably he finally “grows a pair”…in Liza’s own words…by the film’s end. The character is not as interesting as his psycho girlfriend and the film loses something when Chip takes center stage and Gubler has little more to do than look like he’s in over his head. As Liza, AnnaLynne McCord is a stick of bad girl dynamite and is having a blast of a good time chewing up the scenery and the men in it. She showed she had some real acting chops in Excision and here she is really lighting up the screen as sexy, trashy, crazy Liza. It’s her show and the film makes a big mistake keeping her off screen for most of the second half…a BIG mistake. Alisha Boe is pretty and sexy as hostage Violet, but the character doesn’t amount to much and there seems to be no point to her even being there once the story changes gears after she and Chip hook up.

Overall, there was some fun to be had here, but mostly when star AnnaLynne McCord was onscreen tearing it up with her sexy, out-of-her-mind, bad girl Liza. When McCord’s character is absent, the fun fades and sadly filmmaker Haaga wallows a bit too much in the violence and trash of his story as it progresses. The flick only crackles when Liza is involved and it is a big mistake to have her absent for so long to pursue a romantic sub-plot that is discarded a few scenes later. Having his start with Troma Films, Haaga knows trash cinema, but he also needs to recognize when it’s a bit too much and when he’s messing up a good thing by letting the best part of the movie sit on the sidelines for far too long. Worth a look, but not the sleazy roller coaster ride it wants to be.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 bullets!

 

 

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REVIEW: KILLING GROUND (2017)

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KILLING GROUND (2017)

Killing Ground is an Australian thriller that finds couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) going on a camping trip in a rural part of the country. They find another vehicle and tent at the campground, yet no occupants seem to be around. Soon Ian and Sam encounter two local “hunters” (Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glennane) who, unknown to the couple, know exactly what happened to the abandoned tent’s former occupants.

Written and directed by Damien Power, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. His story is basically in the Wolf Creek ballpark with innocent travelers happening upon deranged locals in a rural setting. What we see is brutal and effective and while certain cruel acts are off-camera, just knowing what is going on induces chills. Power tells his story in a split narrative where we inter-cut scenes of Sam and Ian in the present with scenes from earlier on with the ill-fated family that resided in the now empty tent. It works well enough and once the stories meet it continues to it’s finish within the present timeline.  It makes for a grim yet fairly involving 90 minutes, though there are some questions. What drove these two to get homicidal with this family, as it seems they are too sloppy to have done it before and not gotten caught. Also, they are well known to local police, so they would logically be prime suspects if something went askew in that jurisdiction…though the police portrayed here are done so as stereo-typically daft local cops. Still, the film does work well enough and the cast are effective in their roles.

Harriet Dyer is a fine heroine in Sam. She isn’t a damsel and is a fighter when she has something worth protecting. Ian Meadows’ Ian starts out as a likable character, though as the story progresses and it becomes a battle for survival, he shows some unfortunate true colors. As for our bad guys, Pedersen and Glennane make fine deranged locals and even if the characters are well-worn stereotypes, they play them effectively. Again, the problem with them aside from familiarity, is they seem too sloppy in their activities and if this isn’t the first time they’ve done this…previous jail time is mentioned but not why…it’s hard to believe they haven’t already been caught. If this is their first crime of this magnitude, what was it about this family that triggered the violence and cruelty? We never get to know them enough to gives us a clue.

In conclusion, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. Damien Power directs well enough to make it work better than it should and we are chilled by some of what we see. The film is overall, though, nothing new and there are some questions we are asking once it’s over. Also stars Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland and Liam and Riley Parkes as the ill-fated family whose grim tale unfolds during the film.

3 bullets.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth flick featuring the web-head in the last fifteen years and the second reboot in the last five…and this is not counting his extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Marvel was in a hurry to add the wall crawler to the MCU, once they ironed out the legal details and so we have another Spider-Man flick with our third Spidey in Tom Holland. The character might have needed a break instead of a reboot as, despite all the attempts to ‘freshen’ it up, there is still a stale familiarity to the proceedings.

This movie opens with working man Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew cleaning up after the Chitauri invasion of New York and being escorted off the site by a shady government agency…without compensation. Eight years later, Toomes and his crew have made some high-tech weapons and gadgets out of some un-returned alien artifacts, including a flight suit which they use to steal more artifacts to make more illegal weapons to sell. At this same time, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is excited over being chosen to aid Iron Man/Tony Stark and is chomping at the bit to join the Avengers and be a real hero, something Stark now feels he is definitely not ready for. As the “flying monster” and his henchmen get on Peter’s radar, Spider-Man decides to try and take them down and prove to Stark there is a hero within the awkward fifteen year-old boy.

Film is directed this time by Jon Watts (Clown) from a script by six people and it shows. The film gives the impression of being a bit of a mess bouncing back and forth from superhero flick to awkward teen comedy and it doesn’t always mesh together well. The first half is especially weak as it focuses on Peter, once again back in high school, wanting the best of both worlds in being a normal teenager, who gets the attention of the pretty Liz (Laura Harrier) and a bona fide hero in Spider-Man. Instead he’s a nerdy outcast with only one true friend (Jacob Batalon) and someone Stark doesn’t trust to join the team, yet.  There are some funny bits, but here in the first half Spider-Man isn’t a heroic alter ego, but actually just as awkward at being a hero as he is socially as Peter Parker. His attempts at heroics cause more trouble than good and this approach starts to wear out it’s welcome quickly, as do the segments that enter routine teen comedy territory. It’s nothing new for something that’s supposed to re-invent the character for the MCU and comes off as clumsy as Peter. The second half picks up when he and Keaton’s Vulture start to go head to head and Parker has to go it alone when Stark takes away his toys. There is some decent action here, thankfully scaled down from the last few Marvel flicks, but again, nothing new. Another problem here is the attempts to fit Peter/Spider-Man into the MCU themselves don’t seem to fit and seem too obvious. Not only is there the Chitauri connection with Toomes’ toys, but the extended cameos by Stark and Iron Man. And if that’s not enough, Stark appoints Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to watch over Peter which really doesn’t add anything but yet another MCU link. The Spider-Man/Vulture storyline suffers, so we can spend time with Hogan and Stark. There are also numerous name drops to other Avengers and even a cameo or two from MCU familiar characters. This film feels even more like a deliberate attempt to force a connection with Spidey to the MCU than his cameo in Civil War. It’s obtrusive. Even Toomes’ big scheme involves MCU plot elements from past films. The film is still somewhat fun at times, but never feels like it’s own movie as even other flicks in the MCU series do.

The cast is good here. Holland does make a good Spidey. While the awkward approach was a bit much at times, the actor is charming and conveys both socially inept nerd and the hero within quite nicely. Keaton makes for an interesting villain. He is more a common criminal with some cool toys and that worked better than yet another megalomaniac. He has a couple of scenes where he is quite threatening and he is certainly more effective than Jamie Foxx’s Electro. Robert Downey Jr, at this point can play Stark in his sleep and he is Stark as usual here. Favreau seemed to be phoning it in as Hogan, which doesn’t help as the character has little to do but look annoyed anyway. Marisa Tomei is fun as Aunt May and while she is adorned in glasses, mom jeans and some corny dialogue, she is still Marisa Tomei…if you know what I mean and the film does have a little fun with that. Jacob Batalon is entertaining and has some very funny moments as Peter’s only friend Ned and Bokeem Woodbine has a minor role as Spider-Man villain Shocker who is one of Toomes’ thugs. There are also a couple of fun Marvel cameos, too, for fans to look out for.

So there are mixed feelings for a film that had some fun moments and a few solid action scenes, but felt rushed as far as reintroducing Spider-Man yet again. The script is a bit of a mess and with six scribes it’s no wonder. Jon Watt guides things well enough, but he can’t overcome the familiarity it still has and that the film tries way too hard to stuff Spidey into the MCU, which is now in it’s third phase. Holland makes a fine hero and Keaton a solid villain, but in all honesty, Stark and Happy Hogan really didn’t need to be there and their scenes don’t feel like they are part of the rest of the film. At this point the Web Head needs a bit of a break, but apparently will be back as the end credits forewarn us. Stay through the credits for two post credits scenes, one which playfully has fun with us for waiting through the credits for post credits scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 webs!

 

 

 

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TV REVIEW: GLOW (2017)

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GLOW (2017)

Glow is a fun and nostalgic 2017 Netflix original show based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling tv program that ran from 1986-1990. The original show featured a bevy of female wrestlers performing cartoon-ish stereotype characters and soap opera-esque story-lines along with in-ring matches…which isn’t too much removed from professional wrestling in general. This ten episode Netflix series fictionalizes the creation of the show when struggling exploitation director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) agrees to put an all girl wrestling show together for wannabe producer Sebastian (Chris Lowell) who has a rich mother. Sam’s actual goal is to get “Bash” to fund his next flick. Answering the audition call for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling are down-on-her-luck actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), her former best friend and ex-soap opera actress Debbie (Betty Gilpin), along with ten other women. The show mixes comedy and drama as it chronicles Sam and the ladies’ struggle to train, come up with their characters and get along, without killing the show, or each other, before they even step into the ring.

Glow starts off a bit shaky, but after a few episodes hits it’s stride quite nicely. The shaky start is due to the need to get the story moving quickly as there are only ten, half-hour episodes to tell it. The show needs to establish Ruth and Debbie as friends, turn them into enemies…when Ruth sleeps with Debbie’s husband (Rich Sommer)…and then thrust them back together as they become the show’s intended star rivals. This is hastily done in the first two episodes and doesn’t quite gel as we never get a feel for them as friends before they are at each others throats, literally. Ruth’s motivations for sleeping with her friend’s husband are never really convincing either. Just not enough time to really make it work. Once this occurs, the show kicks into gear as the production seems doomed from the start, yet the group start to come together like a dysfunctional family to try to make it happen. Not everything works, like an abortion sub-plot that literally lasts for one episode and seems to add nothing, and occasionally some of the humor falls flat, though mostly it works. Otherwise, this is a lot of nostalgic fun, especially if you remember the actual show that inspired it, or are a fan of everything 80s. The finishing touch is that it’s all wrapped in some awesome 80s tunes across it’s ten episodes and the whole thing leaves us wanting more.

The cast work really well and as a character driven show that is important. Alison Brie has shown a flair for comedy in the TV sitcom Community and some of her recent film roles and she shines here as Ruth. Ruth sees herself as an actress and it takes a while for her to get used to this brand of acting, but once she does she dives in with both feet. Brie works very well in the part of a woman desperate to find her place and is adept as the physical comedy, too. Gilpin is solid as Debbie. A respected TV actress who left her soap opera role to be a wife and mother and now finds that home broken by Ruth and that she has a need to be more than a babysitter. Gilpin portrays well a woman with an axe to grind who wants to be star of the show and does so without making her unlikable. Marc Maron is perfectly cast as the somewhat sleazy filmmaker, who does have a heart underneath all that cynicism and sarcasm. He really does good work here at making the guy very likable, even when he’s being a bit of an ass. The supporting cast all are strong, including Sydelle Noel as “Cherry” who becomes the groups trainer, as well as, one of the wrestlers know as “Junkchain” and Britney Young as a gentle giant of a women who only wants to prove she can be a wrestler like her famous father and brothers. A well rounded and well cast group of eccentric and eclectic characters.

So, the show does have a few flaws…and most shows take at least one season to hit their stride…but it overcomes them to become quite engaging. It’s a fun, nostalgic and clever look back not only an era, but one example of that era’s outrageousness. It’s well cast, has some fun moments and mixes the drama and comedy very well nicely. Another fun, entertaining and original show from Netflix!

The cast of Glow

EPISODE LIST

  1. Pilot – directed by Jesse Peretz and written by Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch
  2. Slouch. Submit – directed by Wendey Stanzier and written by Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch
  3. The Wrath of Kuntar – directed by Claire Scanlon and written by Nick Jones
  4. The Dusty Spur – directed by Melanie Mayron and written Sascha Rothchild
  5. Debbie Does Something – directed by Phil Abraham and written by Rachel Shukert
  6. This Is One Of Those Moments – directed by Kate Dennis and written by Jenji Kohan
  7. Live Studio Audience – directed by Jesse Peretz and written by Rachel Shukert
  8. Maybe It’s All The Disco – directed by Sian Heder and written by Nick Jones
  9. The Liberal Chokehold – directed by Lynn Shelton and written by Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch
  10. Money’s In The Chase – directed by Tristram Shapeero and written by Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch

-MonsterZero NJ

3 wrestling rings!
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REVIEW: THE YOUNG KIESLOWSKI (2014)

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THE YOUNG KIESLOWSKI (2014)

Indie comedy/drama finds nerdy college virgin Brian Kieslowski (Ryan Malgarini) going to a party one night and meeting adorable and opinionated also virgin Leslie Mallard (Haley Lu Richardson). After some awkward drunken moments, Brian and the young woman hook up. Weeks later Leslie finds out she is pregnant and with twins and wants to keep them, as she is Christian. When confronted with this news Brian, who is currently dealing with his mother’s (Melora Walters) terminal cancer, tries to appear supportive, but is actually quite terrified and the turmoil begins as they travel to tell both sets of parents.

Film is well directed by Kerem Sanga from his own script and is probably more realistic about how things would go in this scenario, especially with today’s self-absorbed generation of youth. It’s aggravating to watch Brian constantly lie about his support of Leslie’s decision to keep her babies and even more infuriating to watch him let his selfishness and fear govern how he treats her and the situation. You sit there waiting for him to man-up and take responsibility for his part in her pregnancy, but all he does is lie to her face and run from his responsibilities. In the meantime we feel terrible for poor Leslie whose own rich, self-absorbed author father (James LeGros) wants her to have an abortion, or he will cut off her college funding and money to live. Brian outwardly pretends to side with Leslie, but secretly hopes her father convinces her otherwise. It’s actually heartbreaking to watch so many other people trying to decide what’s right for the young woman without taking her feelings or opinion into consideration. The only ally she really has is Brian’s terminally ill mother. It’s a lot of drama for a film that sometimes quite awkwardly, tries to interject humor into it’s scenario, which doesn’t always work and occasionally makes one uncomfortable as this would be a serious situation in real-life. If the film has any major flaw, it’s the humor doesn’t always mix well with the subject and one would like to think writer/director Sanga isn’t trying to make light of a young woman in such a predicament and wanting to make her own choice. Perhaps there is a thinly veiled statement here as the male characters favor abortion, while the women favor keeping the babies. Echos of our own country where male politicians seem to feel they can speak for women’s right’s…without the woman’s point of view being considered. Hard to believe that this was unintentional as we watch Brian secretly hope Leslie doesn’t go through with having what are his children, too…another point he seems to miss. One other gripe is that at no point do any of the characters mention the option of adoption. It’s either abortion or nothing on the side of those opposed to her keeping her babies and it was infuriating that at no point does anyone suggest a possible compromise of giving the children up for adoption. You’d think at least Brian’s mom would have suggested it, being one of the only people who cared about how Leslie felt. Was this not touched upon for dramatic purposes? Only writer Sanga knows for sure.

The director does have a very good cast even if we want to punch his lead character sometimes. Ryan Malgarini does convey well the terror and selfishness of an already somewhat immature young man who now has to grow up and do the right thing. It makes one angry to see how little consideration Brian gives to Leslie’s feelings and how selfishly he runs from being there to support her and being a man and taking responsibility. It’s a good stretch of the film where Brian becomes unlikable for his lack of maturity and how he hurts Leslie and in that, the actor plays the part very well. We are actually proud of Brian when he finally grows up and steps up and Malgarini makes that work even though we wanted to throttle Brian for the last hour. As Leslie, Hayley Lu Richardson (The Last Survivors, Split, Edge of Seventeen) once again proves she is a star in the making. Her Leslie is a fiery, opinionated young woman and seems to have a good heart and a pretty good head on her shoulders, even if she can be impulsive. Despite her strength and resolve, she still generates a lot of sympathy when the person she should most trust in, Brian, doesn’t support her and outwardly betrays her. That and having her own father try to force her to make a decision she feels isn’t right, is heartbreaking and Richardson has us by the heartstrings without taking her character into over-the-top melodrama. She has a strong screen presence and once again shows her versatility in yet another type of film. The girl has talent. James LeGros is an underrated actor and once again gives a strong performance as the self-absorbed Walter Mallard. He wants his daughter to do what HE thinks is right, ignoring her opinion and the fact that he was a young dad and his life and daughter turned out alright. He doesn’t even consider letting her make her own decision and being supportive and respectful of that. Legros, as with Malgarini, is a good enough actor to make us smile when Walter changes his mind. There is also good work from Joshua Malina as Brian’s father Robert, who is not ready to become a grandfather yet, and a wonderful supporting performance by Melora Walters as Brian’s terminally ill mother who becomes Leslie’s only true supporter and whose only concern is to see her grandchildren before she leaves this world.

I liked this movie. It stirred up some emotions and dealt with the difficult situation of pregnancy at a young age and the resulting turmoil, probably more honestly than one wants to admit. It boldly allowed it’s lead character to behave in a irresponsible and sometimes borderline cold manner and really makes us wait for him to do the right thing. Director/writer Kerem Sanga gets some really strong work from his cast and quite possibly was making a statement about men arrogantly making decisions about a woman’s right to choose. If the film has any flaws, it’s that sometimes the attempts at humor don’t fit the situation and we would like to think Sanga wasn’t making light of a serious subject, just choosing awkward moments to lighten the tone. If you like indie flicks, this is worth checking out.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 pregnancy tests!

 

 

 

 

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MUSIC REVIEW: THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE-UNDER YOUR SPELL (2017)

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THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE-UNDER YOUR SPELL (2017)

The Birthday Massacre is one of my favorite bands and they have released their latest album, Under Your Spell, three years after 2014’s awesome Superstition and it is another solid album from a band that have yet to disappoint. The Canadian Goth rockers lead by front woman…and now, author…Sara “Chibi” Taylor deliver 11 solid tunes in the Birthday Massacre style that should delight their fans just as the previous album did. This album is named after the second track on the disc, a beautiful and melodic song about a painful love and the regret that comes with it. It is one of the best tunes on a consistently engaging album. The album starts out with the moody One before giving us our title song and then moves on to the slightly more guitar heavy All Of Nothing before launching into the remaining tunes. While each song is worthy of being a favorite, other stand-out tunes are Counterpane, Games, Hex, No Tomorrow and the final track Endless, another personal favorite on this album and a great way to close it out. The songs are once again produced by band members Rainbow and Michael Falcore, who co-wrote them along with Chibi and Aaron J. Cunningham with Matthew O’Halloran contributing as well. The songs are filled with darkly poetic lyrics, such as “A bed of nails beneath these sheets” and “You were like a dream because you never came true”, that not only tell a somber tale but evoke haunting imagery when listened to with the lights dimmed and the mind free of distraction. Chibi’s vocal range is used to full effect again taking us from soulful, to haunting, to a chilling growl…like on No Tomorrow…depending on what she needs to convey. Her musicians’ contributions are all strongly present with current line-up: Rainbow on rhythm guitar and vocals, M. Falcore on lead guitars, Rhim on Drums, Owen on keyboards and Nate Manor on bass. All first-rate musicians who collaborate to form this gothic/rock band’s unique and multi-layered sound that once again permeates Under Your Spell. Another quality disc from a band who have, so far, delivered on each album they’ve released…and are great live, if you are interested in checking them out!

-MonsterZero NJ

Track Listing

1.”One”  3:35

2.”Under Your Spell”  4:31

3.”All Of Nothing”  3:31

4.”Without You”  4:42

5.”Counterpane”  3:32

6.”Unkind”  3:56

7.”Games”  3:40

8.”Hex”  3:37

9.”No Tomorrow”  3:20

10.”The Lowest Low”  3:54

11. “Endless” 3:14

3 and 1/2 guitars

guitar rating

The Birthday Massacre

Check out my review for Sara “Chibi” Taylor’s tale of death metal and revenge Boring Girls by clicking on the highlighted title or the photo below!

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REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

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WONDER WOMAN (2017)

After appearing in last year’s Batman v. Superman and stealing that film away from her male co-stars, the comics’ leading female superhero is getting her own solo movie and it’s an origin film at that.

The movie opens with Diana aka Wonder Woman as a child (Emily Carey) on the Amazon home island of Themyscira. She is daughter to Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and being trained in the fighting arts by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). One day, as she has grown to adulthood (Gal Gadot), a plane carrying American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off the island and he is rescued by Diana. A boatload of German soldiers is following him and soon the warrior women of Themyscira learn of the horrors of mankind’s war, specifically WWI. Diana is horrified and believes only the God Of War, Ares could be responsible. She returns to Europe with Trevor planning to defeat Ares, but along the way learns that people can really suck.

Third film in the DC movie universe is pretty much like the last two in that there is a lot to like and yet, there are some glaring problems, too, that keep it from really clicking. One of the biggest is that this series of films takes itself a little too seriously and there are some gloomy moments and heavy atmosphere here in Wonder Woman. Another is that they are a bit overloaded, where a more streamlined story would do. It’s refreshing that they want to have a different style and tone than the Marvel flicks, but all three films (Man Of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Wonder Woman) have been very bombastic and story heavy, though at least here director Patty Jenkins shows some restraint until the now DC traditional over-indulgent CGI climax. The script by Allan Heinberg, from a story by he, Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder, still tries to cover too much ground with an origin story, a story about the horrors of war, a story about feminism and a story about battling gods. It makes the film feel choppy, especially as the origin seems rushed, as does Diana’s decision to go to war. Once we get to Europe, the film then heads to it’s climax trying to cram all the story elements in the remaining hour. Even at 141 minutes there seems to be a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor and this keeps the film from having a smooth narrative flow which doesn’t help as the flick already has a more moderate pace than the average superhero saga. The film never really finds it’s groove. It also keeps us from getting to know any of the supporting characters, especially the villains (Danny Houston as a sadistic general and Elena Anaya as an equally sadistic scientist), who come across as bland. What keeps one interested is that there are some nice moments between Gadot and Pine and once Gadot finally suits up, about an hour into the film, Wonder Woman’s first scene soars…then we go back to the dreary horrors of war stuff till she has her showdown with Ares. The film does have a hard time maintaining it’s momentum, even with some very strong moments of our heroine in action, which are actually few and far between. It’s more about Diana learning about the real world than Wonder Woman saving the day. The mix could have been more even.

Biggest plus in this film’s favor is Gal Gadot who is wonderful as both Diana and Wonder Woman. She really nails the fish out of water aspect and the almost naive nature of a goddess among men for the first time. She also maintains a sense of dignity and strength which really cranks up to 11 when she suits up. She has grown as an actress and really fits the role like a glove in just her second outing. She’s perfectly cast. Chris Pine is fun here too, though seems to be playing a slightly toned down version of his Kirk. He and Gadot do have a great chemistry together and it is some of their little character exchanges that really entertain. Sadly their romance is also rushed and we never really get to feel the emotional resonance of it to give certain scenes impact. As stated Danny Houston plays stereotypical sadistic German general, Ludendorff. Houston is kind of bland here, though not really his fault, as is Elena Anaya as his equally underwritten right hand, Doctor Isabel “Dr. Poison” Maru. David Thewliss also appears as a British Intelligence officer who supports Trevor’s plans to go after Ludendorff on the eve of an impending armistice.

In conclusion, this film sadly suffers some of the same overloaded and over-indulgent aspects of the last two DCU films, though director Patty Jenkins does reign it in a bit and makes good use out of her leading lady’s dead-on performance and the chemistry between her two leads. Gadot’s first scene as Wonder Woman is worth the price of admission alone and it makes us wish Jenkins didn’t go all Zack Snyder (who also produced) for the over-blown CGI slug-fest with Ares. There was enough story for two or three films and the flick rushes to fit it all it, though there are some nice humorous bits in between the heavy-handed melodrama. Jenkins does balance the messages about the evils that men do and women’s rights in nicely without allowing them to become obtrusive and the film’s flaws aside Gadot is an awesome Wonder Woman.

The DCU is slowly headed in the right direction, though will audiences be patient enough for them to really lock in the right mix of elements, hopefully in one of the upcoming planned flicks.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Wonder Women cause Gadot was great!

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

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ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

WARNING: There might be some details here that could be considered as spoilers to those who want to go in knowing as little as possible. Some plot elements had to be divulged somewhat in order to give an accurate opinion. -MZNJ

Prometheus was a pretentious mess that tried to expand on the Alien franchise by delving into our creation and thus that of the Xenomorphs. It didn’t make good on it’s initial ideas and had a crew of supposed genius scientists doing incredibly stupid things. Ridley Scott tries to repair a bit of the damage with Alien: Covenant, which brings us closer to the world he introduced us to in 1979. The flick takes place ten years later with the spaceship Covenant heading to populate a new world with a small crew and over two thousand colonists in hyper-sleep. A massive neutrino burst blasts the ship causing damage and forcing the ship synthetic, Walter (Michael Fassbender) to awaken the crew. While engaging in repairs, they receive a signal from what appears to be a human source on a nearby planet. Upon investigation, the crew finds out not only the fate of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace) and the synthetic David (also Michael Fassbender), but discover an awaiting nightmare that they may not escape from.

New chapter in the Alien saga is definitely better than Prometheus, but that’s not saying much, nor is it by the amount needed to restore complete faith in this prequel series. This one is written by John Logan and Dante Harper, from a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green and the first hour is actually quite dull till we reach the unknown planet and find the synthetic human David living in what appears to once have been a city of otherworldly beings. There the film picks up a bit as it takes on a sort of Frankenstein twist as David has been quite busy playing God on his new world. It then takes till the last act where we start to get some of the action we came for and some familiar faces make their appearance…and that’s also the other problem. At this point the Xenomorph’s are far too familiar to be really frightening and it is the messianic David that really chills one as there are definitely a few screws loose in his reattached, megalomaniacal head. In these scenes the film livens up and delivers some chills as our unsuspecting, stranded crew have no idea what little ole David has been doing to relieve the boredom…but they’re going to find out. There is some surprisingly abundant gore and the film is sumptuous looking, as are all of Scott’s films, but it all comes to a terribly predictable end that we can all see coming almost an hour away. There are a few scenes along the way with some impact…alien interrupted shower sex anyone?…but otherwise it’s the same ole, same ole right up to how the remaining crew decide to deal with the critter…really, after almost 40 years you’re still sticking with that???

The cast are good, though the characters here are very thinly written and it’s hard to connect on an emotional level with anybody but the chill-inducing David. Katherine Waterston is our heroine Daniels Branson and while she is fine in the last act when she goes all Ripley, she really doesn’t make much of an impact until then. One wonders where all the piss and vinegar comes from as she is played very low-key up till that point. Comic actor Danny McBride stands out a bit as pilot Tennessee. McBride is very restrained here and plays the role very seriously…as the film is basically humorless, anyway. He makes a solid hero even if, like Waterston, he doesn’t get to cowboy-up till the last act. Really standing out doing exceptional work is Michael Fassbender as both David and Walter. As Covenant synthetic Walter we get the boyish innocence and Spock-like logic we expect from these android characters. It is when he gets to chew the scenery as the messiah/Dr. Frankenstein mash-up that is David, he really chills with his performance and out-does the creepy critters in the goosebumps department. His relationship with the newer model Walter is quite interesting as he tries to convince the synthetic to see things his way. The scenes revealing what David has been up to the last ten years are among the best in the movie. Once we go back to the alien loose on the ship format, it gets very ‘been there, done that’. As for the rest of the cast that populate this prequel sequel, they are basically two dimensional alien fodder and we never really care about them or remember their names for that matter.

In conclusion, yes it was better than it’s predecessor, but not by much and it takes over an hour to really get going. The characters are bland, the aliens at this point are too familiar to be truly frightening and their antics are getting stale. What makes this movie worth watching is Michael Fassbender’s truly chilling portrayal of David and the messianic Dr. Frankenstein he’s become. His relationship with the xenomorph’s is a highlight, though it does unintentionally clue us in as to how this is all going to end…and it ends exactly how you think it’s going to. Not the pretentious mess that was Prometheus, but still a long way from the original classic or James Cameron’s awesome sequel.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 alien eggs.

 

 

 

 

Be Warned: this is the Red Band trailer…

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