REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021)

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SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home opens immediately after the shocking mid-credits scene of the previous film with Peter being outed to the world as Spidey and accused of killing Mysterio. When Peter approaches Dr, Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to create a spell to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man, some last-minute indecision causes the spell to go awry. Instead, it starts bringing villains from other universes into Peter’s world to wreak havoc. Worse still, many of those bad guys died battling Spider-Man and returning them to their universes would sentence them to death. This puts a morally torn Peter in conflict with both friend and foe.

Sequel is again directed by Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. On the negative side, the film teeters on the edge of becoming a mess with so much going on and so many characters. Thankfully, it doesn’t, though the middle section drags, as Peter tries to find a way to cure the villains so they may have a second chance when they return home. It’s a bit convoluted. Finally, the whole murdering Mysterio sub-plot is brushed aside with a simple line from a surprise cameo and that is the end of it. What could have been the most interesting aspect of No Way Home—a fugitive Peter Parker trying to clear his name while battling multiple villains—is quickly discarded ten minutes into the movie. It’s simply lazy writing. On to the good stuff…

There is far more positive than negative, which makes up for a lot of the film’s flaws. The banter between Peter and his friends with Dr. Strange is a lot of fun, as are the conversations between the villains from both of the previous Spider-Man series. It’s entertaining to watch a Raimi era villain trading barbs with a Webb era villain and the dialogue is well written here. The battle scenes are also very good, such as Peter’s first introduction to Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) who is expecting another face under the mask. The last act is a real blast, though discussing most of the reasons why would spoil some great moments. Let’s just say the battle royal at the Statue of Liberty is worth the price of admission alone. The film has a couple of scenes that have some very strong emotional resonance, too, and there is some nice closure given to a few characters’ storylines from previous films. The FX are fantastic, and the cast all perform their parts well.

Tom Holland continues to be a great Peter Parker and he handles a complex story with varying emotional requirements skillfully. He’s charming and sympathetic as a superhero still trying to find himself while in over his head with bad guys and multiverses. Zendaya is still the smart, sarcastically funny and sweet girl next door beauty that is MJ, and she gets to be involved in a little more of the action. Cumberbatch is still solid as Dr. Strange, as is Benedict Wong as the briefly seen but lovable Wong. As for the villains, Willem Dafoe returns as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and it’s as if he never left the role. Same can be said of Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, who has some of the better lines. Jamie Foxx gets a second go as Max Dillon/Electro. There is a brief reappearance by his blue form from TASM2 till the energy in this world alters him to a more traditional character look. He’s a badass in this new incarnation. Sandman and The Lizard are mostly CGI with ever so brief appearances by actors Thomas Hayden Church and Rhys Ifans. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Jon Favreau as Happy, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all recreate their endearing and entertaining supporting characters, and all have their moments.

No Way Home isn’t perfect, but still delivers a lot of what we expected from this venture into the multi-verse. It dispenses with some of the last film’s set-up too quickly, has some convoluted plot points and drags in the middle after an action-packed start. The film makes up for a lot of it with a great last act, some strong character interaction, some spectacular battles and some wonderful returns and cameos, not to mention a young actor really growing into the role now after multiple appearances. Stay through all the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs!
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REVIEW: GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (2021)

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GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (2021)

Ghostbuster: Afterlife opens with down on her luck single mom Cassie (Carrie Coon) receiving word her estranged and eccentric father has died and she has no choice but to move to his broken-down farm in Summerville, Oklahoma with her kids Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). Upon arrival, science nerd Phoebe begins to sense a presence in the house and soon discovers her grandfather was Ghostbuster Egon Spengler and that he was out there trying to stop the next prophesied coming of Gozer the Gozerian (a cameo that won’t be spoiled here). Now Phoebe, Trevor, new friend Podcast (Logan Kim) and teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd) must get those proton packs working and save the world, like their grandfather did thirty-seven years ago.

Sequel is directed wonderfully by Jason Reitman from his script with Gil Kenan and obviously based on the 1984 film. It is not just a sequel though, but a heartfelt love letter to not only the iconic pop culture classic, but 80s coming of age adventures as well. As such, Reitman gives us a very likable bunch of characters to populate this film with, especially Phoebe, and links it back to and pays homage to Ghostbusters in many clever and nostalgic ways. He films the flick like one of those coming-of-age movies and delivers some nice goosebumps when Phoebe, led by a certain spirit, begins to find the hidden away ghostbusting equipment, as Trevor finds and repairs the Ecto-1. The trail leads the kids to an old mine and soon some familiar sites and ghoulish faces start to surface, as the clock counts down to Gozer’s return. The tone is a bit more serious than the original, with some drama between mother and kids, especially since Cassie is still bitter towards her father for leaving her. It lightens up as Rudd’s Gooberson becomes a romantic interest for her and a believing friend for Phoebe, and the kids slowly transform into a new generation of Ghostbusters. Technically, film is nicely shot with some really solid visuals, from Egon’s spooky old house, the Midwest farm country setting, and the Gozer temple within the mine that was delightfully nostalgic. The SPFX are top notch and even if it is a little slow to get started, it delivers a fun and tear-jerking climax with Ghostbusters old and new facing the paranormal threat. A film with a big heart that knows when to be subtle and when to let the ectoplasm fly.

Reitman has assembled a great cast. Grace McKenna is simply wonderful as nerdy genius Phoebe and she evokes the great Harold Ramis as Egon nicely, while being totally her own character. Wolfhard is good as the more cynical Trevor, who is struggling to just be a normal teenager. Carrie Coon is also very good as their bitter and angry mom, who’s still hurting over Egon’s abandonment of his family. Rudd is fun as summer school teacher and science nerd Mr. Grooberson. He adds a little levity to the proceedings early on, when the film is at its most dramatic. We also have Celeste O’Connor as Trevor love interest Lucky, Bokeem Woodbine as her sheriff father, and Logan Kim is fun as the eager to help Podcast. As for the appearances from original cast members, everyone who does appear fits back into their roles with nostalgic fun and see if you can recognize a certain actress as Gozer the Gozarian. A great cast.

Overall, this was a delightful and very sincere tribute to and continuation of a true comedy classic. It was great to see returning familiar faces, and the new editions were very welcome ones. It starts out a little slowly, with a more serious tone, but once its momentum starts, it’s a blast of fun as it pays homage to both Ghostbusters and the coming-of-age flicks of the 80s. The climax is simply wonderful and will find any fan of this franchise getting a little choked up. Highly recommended and watch through the entire credits!

On a more personal note…I was there in 1984 on opening night when I saw the original Ghostbusters and it became an important and much beloved film in my movie loving life. There are so many parts of Ghostbusters: Afterlife that made me smile, gave me nostalgic goosebumps and yea, that ending had me crying life a schoolgirl. Thank you, Jason Reitman for bringing back the magic that Ghostbusters fans thought was long past! -MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 swords

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REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

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NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Daniel Craig says goodbye to his tenure as 007 in this final flick that wraps up some of the story arcs that were woven within his now five films. This adventure picks up where Spectre left off with Bond (Craig) retired from active duty and romancing Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). When Spectre attacks and Bond feels betrayed, he parts ways with Madeleine and goes off to live a solitary life in Jamaica. Five years later, he is drawn back into action, when CIA buddy Felix Leiter asks for help, when a traitorous MI6 scientist (David Dencik) hands a dangerous new nanotechnology over to vengeful madman Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). Things get even more difficult when he finds Madeleine is somehow involved.

Twenty-fifth Bond is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga from his script and story with Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Pheobe Waller-Bridge. Fukunaga brings the action, intrigue, glamourous locations and sizzling romance we expect from this series, while adding a stronger than usual emotional undercurrent with Madeleine and Bond’s personal drama at the center of things. There are some dynamic actions scenes, some fun new characters—like Lashana Lynch’s double-o, Nomi and Ana de Armas’ scene stealing CIA agent, Paloma—and an effective and fiendish villain in Rami Malek’s Safin. The nanotechnology tech was an interesting plot MacGuffin and added some nice tension and a couple of chilling scenes. We also got a welcome return to the maniacal villain with an island lair for Bond to infiltrate, which makes for an emotionally charged climax. If the film has any drawbacks, it’s that at 163 minutes, it could have used a bit of a trim, with some of the scenes between Bond and Madeleine stopping the film’s momentum at times. Otherwise, this was a fitting and solid entry for Daniel Craig to say goodbye with.

A very good cast with Craig in top form as Bond. He plays a man weary of world intrigue and hardened by too many betrayals. He is still lethal and dangerous when provoked. Léa Seydoux is good as Madeleine Swann and gets a much meatier part this time to play. Rami Malek is an effective and spooky villain as the scarred and vengeful Lyutsifer Safin. He is a man with a deadly purpose and he is one of the creepier Bond villains in some time. Malek plays him disturbingly calm and it makes him all the scarier. As mentioned, Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas were welcome new additions as new double-0 and ditzy but dangerous CIA agent respectively. Returning cast members Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and Geoffrey Wright as Felix, all perform their parts strongly. We even get a spooky cameo by Christoph Waltz as Blofeld. A top notch cast.

In conclusion, it may have been a tad too long and deviates from the action a bit more often than needed, but it is still a solid Bond flick and a proper farewell to Daniel Craig as 007. We get a worthy Bond adversary, some lovely and lethal ladies and some really good actions scenes in globe hopping locations. In the end, what more do you want from a Bond film?!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Aston Martins

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REVIEW: SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

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SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

Centuries ago the power hungry Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) came into possession of the ten rings, mystic objects that granted him power, invincibility and immortality. Not satisfied with all that he conquered, he set out to take over Ta Lo, a mystical village. There he was defeated by and fell in love with the beautiful warrior Ying Li (Fala Chen). They were wed and had a son, Shang-Chi and daughter, Xu Xialing. Upon her death, Xu returned to his villainous old ways and his children fled. In modern day Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) works in San Francisco as a valet named Sean with friend Katy (Awkwafina) and his sister remains hidden. When his father’s forces steal an amulet given him by his mother, the warrior within emerges, as Shang-Chi sets out to find Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and stop his father from whatever evil he’s plotting.

Flick is energetically and colorfully directed by Destin Daniel Cretton from his script and story with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, based on the Marvel Comic. He presents a Marvel superhero epic by way of a Hong Kong martial arts fantasy flick and it can be dazzling entertainment at times. There are some stunning and fast moving action scenes, some wonderfully designed fantasy creatures and a superhero tale steeped in Asian culture. Cretton also gives the film a heart and soul to go with all the top notch SPFX and ferocious fight scenes, and the film has a rich background story to add depth to all the derring-do. There are a large amount of characters, but many are three dimensional and have purpose, thanks to story, script and excellent casting. If the film has any flaw, it’s that the fever pitch momentum grinds to a halt for a while, once Shang-Chi and company arrive at Ta Lo and there is some soul searching and we get exposition on the real threat coming. It then picks up quite spectacularly for it’s climactic confrontation. Other than a considerably slower middle act, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is breathtaking entertainment.

Getting back to the cast, there is quite an impressive one assembled here. Simu Liu is charming, charismatic and sometimes very funny as hero Shang-Chi. He plays a reluctant hero at first, but a noble and brave one, when it’s time to face his father and his Ten Rings army. Awkwafina provides some nice comic moments as his best bud Katy, but the actress has some nice dramatic and heroic moments, too. She’s not just there for laughs. Hong Kong film legend Tony Leung is a strong villain as Xu Wenwu, also known as The Mandarin. A celebrated actor in his Hong Kong films, he brings depth and dimension to what is anything but a stereotypical villain. Meng’er Zhang is good as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing and has some nice fight scenes of her own. Fala Chen is very good in her scenes as Ying Li, a noble warrior and loving wife and mother. Hong Kong film legend Michelle Yeoh is strong and wise as Shang-Chi’s aunt Nan and Ben Kingsley returns as fake Mandarin actor Trevor Slattery. A great cast with some fun surprise cameos, too.

Overall, this was a really fun and entertaining Marvel superhero epic that wonderfully borrows from the classic Hong Kong cinema martial arts fantasy flicks. There is dazzling martial arts action, stunning visuals and some very interesting characters both human and not. The FX are top notch, there are some sumptuous locations and lead Simu Liu makes for a noble hero as Shang-Chi, amongst a great cast. After a somewhat disappointing Black Widow, Marvel rebounds with one of the most fun movies of the year. As with all these flicks, stay through all the credits for two additional scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 swords

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REVIEW: THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

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THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

Sequel/reboot finds Task Force X being sent to the small South American island of Corto Maltese to destroy the ominous Project Starfish. Col. Flag (Joel Kinnamen) leads the charge, with the returning Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and a host of other freakish, reluctant heroes. They take heavy loses and some are captured, as we soon find out they were a distraction for the real squad, Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone). Now this new squad must make a few rescues along the way to accomplishing their mission.

Flick is written and directed by James Gunn and is basically a very simple plot dragged out over 132 minutes. It’s over two hours of juvenile humor, excessive gore—simply for the sake of being gory—and random action sequences, till we get to our last act confrontation with a giant alien starfish. It gets tedious quick as the colorful cast of characters meanders around for two hours before finally reaching their objective. There is a lot of blood and bullets along the way and that would be fine if it didn’t feel so made up as it goes along and rambles more than tells a story. A lot of the humor falls flat, the overblown CGI gore gets tiresome and the only thing that holds our interest somewhat is that Gunn has at least given some fairly ridiculous characters a little weight and depth. Even the climactic battle with the giant, alien starfish Starro feels like it could have used a bit more of the WOW factor. Iffy CGI blood aside, this foul-mouthed super hero flick—which wouldn’t be a bad thing if there was more wit to the vulgarity—has some top notch SPFX, some decent action scenes and a cast that is far better than the disappointing material. And speaking of that cast…

Once again Margot Robbie is the perfectly cast Harley Quinn in a sadly underwhelming movie. Harley is sidelined for a portion of the film in a silly and thankfully brief romance with a South American dictator sub-plot and once she does rejoin the squad, she is more of a second banana and seems to be written more dim-witted than her usual sarcastic cleverness. When will this actress get the flick she and her portrayal deserve? Elba is good as Bloodsport, who is basically a re-written Deadshot, as Will Smith wisely had had enough. Jai Courtney is fun as Boomerang, in a far too small part. John Cena is fun as the patriotic to the point of insane Peacemaker and one wishes he had some better dialogue and moments. KInnamen is fine as Flag and Davis is solid as a returning Amanda Waller. Real standouts amongst the new cast members are Stallone hilariously voicing the simpleton brute that is King Shark, David Dastmalchian is fun as the dour and sympathetic Polka-Dot Man and Daniela Melchior gives some nice heart to Ratcatcher 2. There are also a host of familiar faces in small supporting roles, such as Michael Rooker as Savant, Nathan Fillion as TDK and Alice Braga as rebel leader Sol Soria. A really good cast in a sadly underwhelming movie.

Overall, James Gunn writes and directs this flick like a giddy 13 year-old and, for the most part, not in a good way. He chooses vulgarity over wit, crudeness instead of cleverness and wastes a really good cast with a meandering mess of a superhero flick. As the Deadpool movies prove, R-rated superhero flicks can be a blast, but this one takes a real simple, basic story and stretches it out over two and a quarter hours. It’s tedious and rambles most of the time, with only a few standout sequences, such as Harley Quinn’s acrobatic and violent escape from captivity and Polka-Dot Man’s brief but triumphant moment in the last act. It’s a slight improvement over David Ayer’s awful original, but not by much and Gunn has shown he certainly can do better with his witty and fun Guardians of the Galaxy flicks and his gory, nostalgic Slither. Very disappointing.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 (out of 4) underused Harley Quinns

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REVIEW: BLACK WIDOW (2021)

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BLACK WIDOW (2021)

Not only was Black Widow a long time coming in terms of Natasha Romanoff getting her own solo feature, but it is another highly anticipated flick postponed for over a year by COVID 19 shutdowns. Now it has arrived and we finally get some of the answers we were looking for, and a bit of closure.

Film opens with a sequence from 1995 detailing Natasha’s (Ever Anderson) fleeing from America with her Russian sleeper cell family and being taken with her sister Yelena (Violet McGraw) to be part of the Black Widow training program. Film then resumes between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run after helping Cap and Bucky escape. Nat is about to go off the grid, when her long lost sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) pulls her into a mission to stop the Black Widow assassins training program, still being conducted in the Red Room, by a man she thought she killed, Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Determined to stop the Red Room and Dreykov once and for all, reunites her not only with Yelena, but with her sleeper cell mother and father, Alexei “Red Guardian” Shostakov (David Harbour), a super soldier and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a Black Widow herself.

Flick is directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Eric Pearson and story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson. It has some nice emotional resonance and gives us a glimpse into how Natalia came to be the hero we know her as from the previous MCU films. The first act is strong and features a lot of action, as Nat reconnects with Yelena and are on the run from a metal-clad master assassin known only as Taskmaster, who perfectly mimics the fighting styles of his enemies. The pace here is quick, though not too fast and the action can surprisingly be a bit brutal, pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. It’s the second act where the film loses some momentum, as Nat and Yelena break Alexei out of a Russian prison and then travel to a pig farm in St. Petersburg to reconnect with Melina, who has vital information as to the Red Room’s whereabouts. It’s here the story grinds to almost a halt, as the “family” catches up, voices their issues and awkwardly tries to bond again. Despite some nicely placed humor in the first third, here a few of the attempts at laughs fall a bit flat amidst the melodrama. The film thankfully picks up again as a betrayal brings the foursome’s enemies to their door and we head into the climactic last act in the flying Red Room complex, where Natasha comes face to face with her past, Dreykov and Taskmaster. There is a lot of action and the FX are spectacular, though there are a few weak CGI fire effects that stand out a bit. As a whole, Black Widow plays more like a Daniel Craig Bond film than a superhero movie, until the more FX heavy climax. It has a nice emotional center giving the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, some closure and us some answers and details, that have been left out of her story thus far.

The cast all shine here. Scarlett Johansson gives one of her best performances as Nat and imbues her with some emotional depth that she wasn’t always afforded as a second banana in the other flicks. It’s too bad her story arc is at an end, as it would be nice to see her in solo action again. That being said, if this is a passing of the torch, Florence Pugh does a great job as her “sister” Yelena Belova, who takes up the mantel in the comics. Pugh is funny, tough and handles the action quite well. She has star quality and hopefully Yelena returns in future projects. Harbour is good as Red Guardian, though the character’s dialogue tends to ramble a bit and it stands out, especially in the slow middle. Weisz is good as the matronly Melina and gets to have a few action moments herself. Winstone is efficiently villainous as Dreykov, a far more grounded villain than we are used to in these films, but the veteran actor makes him lethal. William Hurt is briefly seen as Ross, O-T Fagbenie is a Natasha ally named Mason and Olga Kurylenko appears in a role that won’t be spoiled here. A good cast and it was nice to see Johansson get to say goodbye (?) to Romanoff with a really good performance and her own flick.

Overall this was a solid entry in the MCU. It’s a more down to earth action/adventure than the previous films, at least unit the last act, and gives us some of the details we’ve been waiting for. It has a good cast, with hints at the future, as well as, finally filling us in on Nat’s past. If anything holds this flick back, it’s that the middle act slows down momentum considerably and a few of the character interactions, during these sequences, come across as more awkward than effective. It recovers for it’s last third, with an action packed finale and some nice closure for the Romanoff character. Maybe not quite living up to the large expectations set by the long wait, but far from a disappointment. Stay through the credits for an especially shocking post credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 Black Widows

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REVIEW: THE CONJURING-THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

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THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

Third Conjuring flick takes place in 1981 and finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of a little boy named David (Julian Hillard). It almost costs Ed his life, leaving him unconscious, and unknown to Lorraine, the demon transferred to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man present during the ceremony. As Ed recovers in a hospital, warning that Arne is possessed, the young man under demonic influence, stabs his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. Now the Warrens must somehow prove that demonic possession was involved and Arne is innocent of murder.

Threequel is directed this time by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) from a script and story by producer James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick based on a supposed real-life case of the Warrens. It opens with a supernatural bang with yet another exorcism, but it is an effective one and sets the tone for the film. It establishes to the audience that Arne is the host and we know something bad is soon to happen…and it does. Third in this series takes a bit of a different direction once blood is shed, as not only does it have the now traditional supernatural hi-jinx, but is a paranormal detective drama as well. Ed and Lorraine go on the road to investigate the origins of David’s possession, unraveling a trail of evil and death leading to a demonic cultist. It takes this franchise in a bit of a different direction and is well done, but the exorcism/possession storyline elements are just too familiar and overdone in recent films to be that scary. At least the cultist angle adds a human adversary which is a welcome change. Chaves is a competent director, but he can only do so much with such frequently treaded material and he doesn’t quite have Wan’s skill at theatrical scares. The investigative portion of the story is intriguing and keeps one’s attention and is the strongest element of this second sequel. If anything, it takes The Warrens out of their usual haunted house setting and that at least keeps them and this sequel from getting too stale. The FX are well done, there is some bloodshed and in contrast, the flick also has some nice heart to give resonance to the Warrens’ cause. Chaves may not have Wan’s visual eye, but he does produce some atmosphere and appropriately spooky imagery, especially in Lorraine’s visions, and orchestrates the jump scares well, though is less reliant on them. The climax is an entertaining The Exorcist meets Silence of the Lambs mash-up that works very well and ends the story with the theatrics fans come to expect.

The cast are solid. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are good as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Whether you believe the real couple are legit or shysters is up to you, but their cinematic counterparts make for endearing characters. They tread a little new ground for this series and do well and the actors make a good team that gives the movie it’s heart. Ruairi O’Connor is sympathetic as the tormented Arne and pretty Sarah Catherine Hook is likable as his girlfriend and little David’s sister, Debbie. John Noble also appears, in an exposition role, as a retired priest with knowledge of the cult in question, while Eugenie Bondurant is creepy as the cultist whose curse drives this flick’s story.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a well made film with some spooky moments and wisely takes it’s paranormal couple into a somewhat different scenario to freshen things up a bit. It’s well directed by Chaves, though still focuses heavily on demonic possession/exorcism elements that have become almost as frequently seen in recent horror, as zombies. If you are a fan of this series you will probably like this one and if not, the investigative/detective drama aspect may keep you intrigued enough to be entertained, during it’s almost two hour runtime. Series hasn’t run of of gas quite yet, but shows signs that it might be time to really dig into the Warrens’ case files for a fourth installment. Watch through the credits for some spooky footage, photos and reel to reel recordings from the real life Warrens and this case.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks

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REVIEW: CRUELLA (2021)

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CRUELLA (2021)

Disappointing origin story for one of Disney’s most famous villains, Cruella de Vil. The story finds little Estella Miller (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) wanting to be a fashion designer, but being nicknamed “Cruella” by her single mother (Emily Beecham), because of her mean streak. When her mother is accidentally killed, Estella becomes an orphan who befriends two street urchins Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald) to survive. As adults, Estella (Emma Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) make a living as thieves and pick-pockets. Estella gets a chance to live her design dream when she gets a job at the Liberty department store and catches the eye of fashion mogul The Baroness (Emma Thompson). Trouble arises, though, as Estella finds there is a link between her mother’s death and the woman she now works for. She adopts the alter-ego of fashion rebel Cruella and sets out to embarrass and ruin The Baroness for revenge. The fur soon flies as the two fashionistas go to war.

Uninspired prequel is directed by-the-numbers by Craig Gillespie from a script and story by five people…and it shows. The film resembles a soup where too many cooks are throwing in ingredients and yet the meal never really comes together despite everything in it. In terms of tone, it’s less a family movie than a possible result if Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) had directed a Disney movie in his heyday in the 80s. Only we think he would have done better. Billed as a comedy, it’s rarely funny and it’s quite slow moving, making it’s 134 minute runtime seem even longer. There are a few lively sequences, such as Cruella continuing to show up at The Baroness’ events and one upping the haughty designer, but otherwise it’s actually dull in many spots and the wit is a little too dry for it’s own good. Laughs are few and far between and it’s hard to picture any of the younger Disney crowd having the patience to sit through it. The production is lavish and the look and feel of the 60s and 70s London setting is well done, but the story is basically a slightly more outlandish twist on The Devil Wears Prada and, well, that tale has already been told. Overall, it’s a big disappointment considering the concept and some of the splendid acting talent involved.

The cast are good, despite being given mediocre material to work with. Emma Stone gives it her over-the-top all as Estella/Cruella, making her more of an anti-heroine than an outright villain. She’s fun to watch as she chews up the scenery in some outlandish outfits and one wishes she was in a far better film to really cut loose. Same can be said of veteran actress Emma Thompson who also does wonders with a thinly written and stereotypical part as The Baroness. It’s entertaining to see the Emmas act off of each other and again, one wishes a better script was there in support of these two performers. Fry and Hauser are fine as Cruella’s sidekicks and Mark Strong is solid, as always, as The Baroness’ right hand man, John. Also making an impression is John McCrea as Cruella’s flamboyant friend and accomplice, Artie. A very good cast let down by flaccid direction and a weak script.

Overall this is a sad and mostly dull misfire that was born from a very intriguing premise. Casting Emma Stone as a young Cruella de Vil was a great idea, that is sadly under-baked in it’s execution. It’s a familiar story about the underbelly of the design world that has been done before and surely there was a better way to launch one of Disney animation’s greatest bad girls. It’s not very funny, nor does it have the energy, pacing or cleverness it needed to make it really soar. Both Emmas give it their all, but can only do so much with flat direction and an even flatter script. What they do accomplish is a testament to their talent. Most of the below rating is for the actresses, supporting cast and production design crew who really try hard in this tepid let-down.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4)  Dalmatians!

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REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

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quiet place part II

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A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

Sequel opens with a flashback pre-credits sequence to the day the creatures landed and the first encounter between the Abbott family and the vicious predatory visitors who hunt by sound. We then pick up directly after the end of A Quiet Place with mom Evelyn taking daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and her newborn, away from their destroyed home and in search of survivors. They find themselves at what appears to be an abandoned factory where Marcus is severely injured in a bear trap. The factory is now home to Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a friend of the Abbott’s who has lost all those he loves. At first, Emmett wants them gone, as he feels guilty over what he believes is his failure to save his own family, and he doesn’t want to be responsible for them. Soon though, he gets drawn into pursuing Regan, who sneaks off to find what she believes is a group of survivors on a nearby island. This leaves Evelyn alone at the factory to protect her baby and the badly wounded Marcus.

Sequel is once again exceptionally well directed by John Krasinski, from his own script. He has two suspenseful stories going on at once, as Emmett finds and agrees to help Regan in her quest to get to a small island off the coast and Evelyn is trying to protect a limp son and infant child. Obviously, circumstances will bring the predatory beasts about for both parties, as well as, an encounter with some not so civilized survivors for Emmett and Regan. There is some really nice suspense, some very clever touches and once again Krasinski uses some of the story’s more predictable elements to his advantage. We know what’s coming and he uses that to reel us in. Having two storylines running concurrently also works well and Krasinski gives it a nice balance, so no one story gets more attention than the other. We also get dual suspense sequences going on at the same time, more than once, and the director shifts focus deftly, so they are equally potent. The FX are once again very well done. Krasinski keeps the tension taunt and there is enough violence to keep our creatures threatening, yet it remains a strong PG-13 to appeal to a wider audience. We do learn a few new things about the critters. Though they still remain largely mysterious, as they appear to be animals, yet also seem to be acting with a genocidal single purpose. As it has been revealed that this is the second part in a planned trilogy, Part II doesn’t conclude the story outright, or give us too many answers, but does end with a satisfying finale…yet one that smartly leaves us wanting more.

The small cast are once again strong here, with the addition of Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou to the surviving regulars. Emily Blunt is solid as a mother, who has lost a son and a husband and is now desperate and fortified to not lose anyone else. Cillian Murphy is very good as a man devastated over the loss of his family and bitter and angry at himself for what he perceives as a failure to protect them. Through Regan he gets a chance at redemption. As Regan, deaf actress Millicent Simmonds is the real surprise here, as she is wonderful with a more central and important role in this sequel. Once again, she gives depth to the character without benefit of lengthy dialogue to express herself. Regan is the key to the possible eventuality of turning the tide against the invaders and her heroism, resolve and selflessness, in making this journey to save her family, is excellently played by the young actress. Noah Jupe is good as Marcus, a fragile, wounded and frightened boy, who is trying to be strong, especially when he finds himself alone with the infant. Krasinski puts in an extended cameo as likable father Lee in the opening flashback and Djimon Hounsou gives a strong characterization in a small role as a survivor. Ill-fated little Beau also appears in the flashback, but this time played by Dean Woodward, original Beau actor Cade Woodward’s younger brother. Once again, a good cast who perform their parts very well. No horror or suspense thriller completely works unless we are emotional invested in the characters. Script and director assure we are in this case.

Once again, John Krasinski proves that the notion that PG-13 horror is weak, is untrue. This is a taunt, intense and suspenseful movie with some nail-biting sequences and some very effective violent moments. What clichés are used, are used well…such as the stereotypical reverting to savagery by some folks in such an apocalyptic setting…and the flick presents some nice character growth and a sense of hope. A sequel that is very close to being an equal and one that has us eagerly anticipating A Quiet Place III.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) …SHHHHHH!…They’ll still hear you!

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REVIEW: GODZILLA vs KONG (2021)

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GODZILLA vs KONG (2021)

Godzilla vs Kong opens a few years after Godzilla’s battle to the death with King Ghidorah in Boston. Godzilla has left mankind in peace, till suddenly launching an attack on an Apex Cybernetics facility in Florida. Meanwhile, Skull Island is becoming unstable and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) seeks to find Kong a new home. As fate would have it, scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) needs a titan to lead the way to the Hollow Earth, which may be the original home of Kong’s race. As Andrews and Lind, with the help of Apex, begin to move Kong from his ill-fated island home, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) teams with Titan Truth Podcast host Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to find out what Apex is really up to and why it’s provoking Godzilla to attack. As there can be only one alpha titan, the paths of Godzilla and Kong are fated to collide and as they are destined to meet in combat, Apex is about to unleash a threat that may be the end of all titans on Earth.

            Sequel to Godzilla, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island is directed by Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) from a script by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, based on a story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields. As such, it is a fun monster battle blast. Sure the plot is a bit convoluted and character development/motivation is kept to a bare minimum, but we don’t watch a Godzilla or Kong movie expecting Shakespeare. Adam Wingard delivers what might be one of the most visually sumptuous kaiju flicks ever made, as well, as some of the most vicious and intense monster fights once Kong and Godzilla collide. His previous films showed a man who loves movies and it’s his inner film geek that best serves this fun, popcorn monster mash. The film gives us a giant monster flick that delightfully flaunts it’s influences, as G vs K evokes Ishirō Honda with it’s spectacular battles, Edgar Rice Burroughs, as Kong and his handlers explore the lost world of the Hallow Earth, and a touch of James Bond as Madison, her bud Josh (Julian Dennison) and Bernie sneak into Apex’s secret underground lab in Hong Kong. Wingard also gives us a Godzilla whose appearances evoke Jaws in the very best way. The human characters may be shortchanged, and Kong is far more the focus than Godzilla, but the action is fast and furious and comes quick enough for what exposition there is, to not get in the way of the entertainment. The battles between Godzilla and Kong are both visually spectacular and extremely brutal and Wingard does deliver what he promises…a definite winner. The script also cleverly finds a way to get the loser of the battle back in action and a chance to redeem themselves, when Apex unleashes a common enemy that presents a danger to both combatants. The digital SPFX are absolutely top notch, especially when pitting Godzilla and Kong against each other in neon drenched Hong Kong, and in the exploration of the Hallow Earth world. The cinematography by Ben Seresin is absolutely gorgeous and compliments Wingard’s expert shot composition and visual design very well. The score by Tom Holkenborg/Junkie XL is simply one of the best non Akira Ifukube scores attached to a Godzilla flick. All in all, story and character weaknesses aside, this is a roller coaster, fun ride of monster movie mayhem.

            Wingard has assembled a good cast that help make two dimensional characters a bit livelier. Rebecca Hall is noble and strong-willed as the Jane Goodall-like Dr. Ilene Andrews. She’s likable and has Kong’s best interests in mind. Alexander Skarsgård is also endearing as the slightly timid but driven Dr. Nathan Lind. He lost a brother to a Hollow Earth expedition and is dedicated to successfully exploring it. Millie Bobby Brown is once again spunky and strong-willed as Madison. She is sworn to clearing Godzilla’s name and prove he is no enemy to man. Brian Tyree Henry is fun as eccentric podcaster Bernie, seeking to uncover Apex’s secret, as is Julian Dennison as the reluctant tag-along Josh. Rounding out our good guys is the charming Kyle Chandler in a smaller role as Dr. Mark Russell and adorable Kaylee Hottle as Jia, a little deaf girl and last survivor of Skull Island’s indigenous people. Her handicap gives her the ability to sign, which she teaches Kong, in a clever story device to have the massive simian emote and communicate more. Kong is presented as a noble hero here, while Godzilla is clearly the aggressor and bad guy, till a last act reveal unveils his motivation for the attacks. As for our underdeveloped bad guys, Demián Bichir is appropriately sinister as Apex CEO Walter Simmons, who wants to destroy all monsters, sexy Eiza González gets some of the worst lines as the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree, his daughter Maya and Shun Oguri has sadly little screen time as Ren Serizawa, the son of Dr. Ishirō Serizawa, who wants payback from Godzilla over his father’s death. A plot-line that definitely needed more attention. Thinly written characters, yes…a good cast, definitely!

Overall, those expecting a monster flick with the story depth of some of the recent high-end superhero epics might come away disappointed. Those going in expecting a monster Wrestlemania of epic portions, will probably be very entertained and on that level, Wingard and company deliver big time. The action is fast and furious, human interference is kept to a minimum and it is one of the most visually dynamic giant monster movies ever. The battles are brutal and intense and, for the most part, Wingard lets his titans go at it with the human interactions kept on the down low. Sure, the character development could have been stronger, but it’s somewhat convoluted story allows film geek Adam Wingard to delightfully reference a number of flicks both within and without the monster movie world. It also has some clever touches like Kong’s equalizer, an ancient axe made from a Godzilla ancestor dorsal spine. It makes for a wonderfully fun, popcorn flick that has wonders for the eye, plenty of adventure and some of the best monster fights yet captured on film. The Legendary Monster-verse seems to be finally finding it’s stride. Let’s hope they keep it going if this flick is a monster success.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Godzillas
godzilla 3 and 1-2 rating

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