REVIEW: US (2019)

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US (2019)

 

It seems to be tradition, as of late, that the media picks one horror movie each year and over-hypes it to the point where it could never meet expectations. Last year Hereditary was the “Exorcist of this generation”…uh, not quite. This year it’s Jordan Peele’s intriguingly weird, but slightly underwhelming Us.

Movie starts out in 1986 were young Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents while visiting the Santa Cruz boardwalk and has a traumatic experience in a funhouse. Years later Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to that area with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), athletic daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and younger son Jason (Evan Alex). Adelaide reveals to her husband that in that funhouse she encountered a doppelgänger of herself and it terrified her. Gabe has a hard time believing her until said doppelgänger (also Nyong’o) shows up at their door one night with her own duplicate family (also Duke, Joseph and Alex). The Wilson duplicates are violent and vicious and lay siege to the house. As the Wilsons must go on the run and fight for their lives, it soon becomes apparent that this event is only the start of something far larger and more horrifying.

Peele writes and directs and he not only has some interesting and unusual ideas, he is also a very sound director with an effective visual style. Yes, the concept behind this initial home invasion is original and quite weird and it gets even stranger once the story opens up in the last act, but it’s just that it simply isn’t that scary. At first, the doppelgänger arrival is chilling, as we are introduced to the anti-Wilsons and their intensions, but it flattens out a bit as it starts to follow the routine home invasion flick formula, which was never thrilling to begin with. Thanks to some conveniences, like a boat that malfunctions and then works exactly when you need it too, the Wilsons escape and go on the run to a neighbor’s house, but even then it remains uneven. The televised footage of what appears to be a doppelgänger invasion is creepy, but it’s effectiveness gets neutered by the Wilsons adapting to this bizarre scenario far too quickly. They no longer seem scared, or even fazed by killing, as they sit surrounded by bloody bodies munching on snacks in their friends’ gore-spattered house. Your friends lay there murdered and you raid their pantry? That and Gabe even remarks that he wants to stay there as if to enjoy the spoils of their dead neighbors’ home. Worse still, moments later they are arguing who should drive their neighbors’ car based on who has the largest kill count after battling their neighbor’s vicious doubles. Really? Not sure what Peele was going for here, a message about society’s desensitization to violence, perhaps? Was it simply supposed to be funny? The Wilsons were portrayed as a nice, fun family up till this point, now they are bragging about body count. It’s just off-putting. The finale in mysterious tunnels beneath the boardwalk returns the film to a more unsettling tone and we get some answers that are weird and original. Thought the film, itself, is still left with a lot of questions. We also get a reveal that is not totally unexpected, but at this point it doesn’t add much. As the credits roll there is a sense that Peele is an inventive filmmaker with some interesting things on his mind, though the film itself is never quite as unnerving as Get Out, which was also ridiculously over-hyped.

The director has a good cast. Performances are not an issue here. Lupita Nyong’o is strong as Adelaide and her sinister yet tragic double “Red”. She’s a woman with some issues, but she rises above her fears to fight for her family. Winston Duke is also fun as the big teddy bear dad, Gabriel. He’s not as strong as his wife, but he seems like a good man. Shahadi Wright Joseph is good as the athlete of the family Zora and is very creepy as her doppelgänger Umbrae. Evan Alex also does good work as Jason and is extremely spooky as his burned faced copy, Pluto (a Hills Have Eyes reference maybe?). Rounding out are Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as the before mentioned friends and neighbors, the Tylers. They seemed a little too superficial to be the type of people the WIlsons would hang with, but obviously they don’t last too long.

Overall, the film is far from a masterpiece and doesn’t come close to the hype, but is still worth a look for those curious. Peele is a talented filmmaker and has some inventive and clever ideas, but he hasn’t quite locked down a few things yet to make his flicks more than occasionally unnerving or unsettling. Evoking those emotions are not bad, but this film, especially, needed to be more consistent and never really got truly terrifying, though it had potential. There are some weird and unique ideas here that might stick with you, but it’s never quite scary enough to make it really special. Our likable family doing some questionable things that seem uncharacteristic, even in a scenario like this, also held it back. Peele may have a classic flick in him, but just not yet. Carpenter took a few films to get to his Halloween, hopefully Peele’s is on the horizon, too…it’s just not Us.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

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CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

 

Latest MCU film begins with the tale of Vers (Brie Larson), an elite warrior for the Kree Starforce who are fighting an invasion by shape-shifting beings known as Skrulls. Vers is captured by the Skrulls and upon escaping her imprisonment, finds out they are looking for a woman named Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening), a scientist on planet D-53…Earth. Vers crash lands on Earth, where it’s the year 1995 and soon finds all is not what it seems and her strange dreams may be memories from her life there, as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers. With her team commander Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) out of reach and Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit, can Vers/Carol find out who she really is and how she got her powers?

Superhero epic is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck from a script and story by they, Meg LeFauve, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Nicole Perlman. Five people on a screenplay is rarely good news and too many cooks do spoil the soup here. The story is choppy and feels like exactly what it is, a script Frankenstein-ed together by five different writers. Add to that, it is one of the most flatly directed of the Marvel epics and you have a disappointing first adventure for Carol Danvers. The action is bland and routine, there is little suspense or excitement and the 90s nostalgia is overdone, with too many songs shoehorned into the soundtrack and far too many pop culture references for it’s own good. The film seems to stop dead sometimes to almost scream out “Hey, look…it’s the 90s”. It’s obtrusive. Even Captain Marvel’s spectacular powers are presented without any of the awe and wonder they need to give them impact. The only thing that elevates this by-the-numbers epic is the veteran cast.

Here is where Captain Marvel gets it’s only luster. Oscar winner Brie Larson is a great choice to play Danvers and her confident swagger and disarming smile really help the audience warm up to her and she’s very likable despite a mediocre maiden voyage. She also is solid in the action scenes and we wish that action were more worthy of it’s leading lady’s charm and spinning back-kicks. She has a great chemistry with her Kong: Skull Island co-star Samuel L. Jackson, who returns as a younger, and somewhat less hardened Nick Fury. Jackson is jackson and he seems to be having a good time as Larson’s second banana. Ben Mendelsohn is good as Talos and the Skrull has a disarming sarcasm to his delivery and a few secrets of his own. Bening, Jude Law and Agent Coulson himself, Clark Gregg, all do well despite underwritten parts. We even get a few brief moments from Lee Pace returning as Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ronan The Accuser, along with his henchmen Korath, again played by Djimon Hounsou…and let’s not forget “Goose” the cat.

Overall, this is one of Marvel’s lesser efforts and sometimes feels thrown together just to introduce the Captain before she returns to kick Thanos ass in Avengers: Endgame. It’s bland and very routine and it’s only a stellar effort by the film’s cast that elevates it above an outright failure. You know a movie is in trouble when it’s mid-credits and post-credits scenes are better than the movie that precedes them. At least the film opens with a wonderful goodbye to Stan Lee, where images from all his Marvel cameos replace the usual heroes in the Marvel logo sequence. A very touching moment and one wishes the rest of the movie had as much heart.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

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SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

Fun animated film not only spotlights new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, who took over from Peter Parker in the comics in 2011, but it’s alternate universe plot cleverly gives us five other versions of the classic character, too.

The story finds the villainous Kingpin (voiced by Liev Schreiber) building a particle accelerator with Dr. Olivia Octavius, a female Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn), to go to a parallel universe to retrieve his dead wife and son…deaths he blames Spider-Man for. This not only brings a radioactive spider into this universe to bite Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), but Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), an older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) with her robot “SP//dr” and Spider-Man Noir (a perfectly cast Nicholas Cage), who only appears in black and white. The newly empowered Miles must now, somehow, learn to be a hero, stop the Kingpin before he destroys NYC and return the five spider-variations to their appropriate dimensions.

The plot synopsis above sounds complicated, but flows very easily thanks to a clever script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman. The film is also very well directed by the trio of Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti, who bring an energetic and colorful style to the proceedings. They capture the old fashioned heroics, but with a very contemporary and eye-catching visual presentation. It uses both traditional and innovative animation, mixing styles and techniques while providing an involving story. With Marvel now making Spider-Man movies with Tom Holland as Parker, it would be interesting to see a Sony led series with Miles as Spidey, animated or not. There is also a nice mix of music to go along with the almost non-stop action and the film doesn’t forget to slow down, here and there, to gives us some emotional resonance between characters. The stuff be tween Miles and his dad (Brian Tyree Henry) really works and we can see how Miles gets his sense of right and wrong from his policeman father. It gives the film a nice emotional core, which adds weight to the drama and action. With six films…and a seventh on the way…and two roles in other movies, that’s eight appearances of the Spider-Man character in the new millennium alone. Spider-Verse finds a way to make the character fresh, again…and that’s quite an accomplishment.

The vocal cast are all superb with Moore doing a wonderful job as Miles and Jake Johnson ditto as the older, grumpier Peter Parker. Hailee Steinfeld again proves a star in the making as the spunky Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman, while Cage is perfectly fitting here as the gloomy Spider-Man Noir, a cross between Philip Marlowe and Spidey. We also get an array of Spider-Man villains along with Kingpin and Doc Ock, such as Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone), Tombstone ( Marvin Jones III), The Scorpion (Joaquín Cosio) and The Prowler (a surprise reveal). An eclectic, but very solid voice cast. Interesting how they made such a large cast of characters work when the big budget live-action films just seemed bloated and overcrowded.

Overall, this flick was a lot of fun and didn’t skimp on substance and emotional depth for it’s story. That story flows very well, thanks to skilled direction and a sharp script and the mix of animation styles is exceptionally well done. A solid effort all around that’s a real treat for Spider-Man fans and better than some of the recent live-action flicks. Watch till the end of the credits for a hilarious extra scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

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REVIEW: ALITA-BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

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ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

The summer movie season has started early and it has started with a bang! Alita: Battle Angel is a film adaptation of the Gunnm Manga series created by Yukito Kishiro. It’s produced by James Cameron and directed by Sin City’s Robert Rodriguez. The story has cyborg physician Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finding the remains of a still active cyborg in a junk heap. Made to resemble a teenage girl, the doctor restores his discovery using a cybernetic body meant for his invalid daughter, who is now dead. He names her Alita after his little girl and soon the two bond as Alita (Rosa Salazar) tries to figure out who she is. Along the way Alita falls for street hustler Hugo (Keean Johnson) and becomes interested in the violent game of Motorball. Alita also finds she is no normal machine and there are sinister forces who want her technology for their own nefarious purposes…and they will hurt anyone to get it. A girl becomes a warrior, as Alita must now protect those she loves from harm.

The plot synopsis above is a simplification as Alita has a bit of a complex story, as many Manga do. It’s adapted to script by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and exceptionally well directed by Rodriguez, in what may be his best film so far. Despite being plot heavy, Rodriguez takes his time with the story, first introducing us to Alita and letting us learn about who she is as she does. It allows us to become endeared to her, so when treachery sets in and the action really gets going, we are emotionally invested in the characters. And that’s one of the pleasant surprises about Alita: Battle Angel, it has a strong emotional center thanks especially to a very strong performance by lead Rosa Salazar as Alita. The actress really gets the emotions of the character through in the motion capture and vocal performance, so we really see the CGI character as a three dimensional one. We feel for her all the way and the film has a “human” center despite being filled with CGI characters and epic battles. On the popcorn level the film also delivers. The SPFX are spectacular, as is the design of the world of the 26th century, Alita herself and her cyborg costars. The action is fast and furious and while having a lot of elements, the plot is far from hard to follow. The flick is surprisingly violent for a movie that could be marketed strictly to teens, but it makes it adult enough for the older crowd to enjoy and adds intensity to the proceedings. Sure there is some corny dialogue and some cliché moments, but Rodriguez uses those elements to the film’s advantage, as it is an old-fashioned superhero story at heart…and heart is something this flick has a lot of.

The cast really play the material well. As said, Rosa Salazar is very good at embodying Alita with a strong character through body language and voice performance. She gives the cyborg teen a lot of charm, intensity, as well as, a sense of wonder and a touch of naivety. Salazar is a star in the making. Waltz is very endearing as the kindly Dr. Ido, who has some secrets of his own. He plays the father figure well, but with a quiet strength. Keean Johnson is also endearing as the rogue-ish Hugo, the boy Alita falls for. He also has some secrets, too, but he remains likable despite Hugo’s sometimes shady activities. The film also features Jennifer Connelly as Ido’s ex-wife, who works for the film’s primary villain, Motorball tycoon Vector (Mahershala Ali) and there is a surprise cameo, that won’t be spoiled here, as the man pulling Vector’s strings, Nova. There are also appearances by Ed Skrein, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez and Jackie Earl Haley as various CGI cyborg characters. A very effective cast.

Overall, this flick was a blast and a really good time that gives a very early start to the summer movie season. It’s a fun popcorn flick, yet one with a more layered story to get us involved in and adds some dramatic weight and intensity to the FX and action. It has a star making performance from it’s leading lady, Rosa Salazar and has more heart than you’d expect from a cyborg. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Battle Angels.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SEARCHING (2018)

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SEARCHING (2018)

Mystery thriller finds widower David Kim (John Cho) frantically searching for his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) who has gone missing. The entire story takes place on his laptop and phone, as he desperately searches all her social media sites for clues to where she went or who might know where she is. More frightening to David, aside from her disappearance, is that he may not have known his daughter at all.

Flick is not the first movie to take place entirely on a computer, but is one of the better ones thanks to skillful direction from Aneesh Chaganty from his clever script co-written with Sev Ohanian. The film starts out introducing us to the Kims, quickly etching out a portrait of a loving family, that is devastated by the loss of wife and mother Pam (Sara Sohn). We then get a single father trying to do what’s best for his daughter when, out of nowhere, she vanishes. It now evolves into a tense and suspenseful mystery as David tries to track down his daughter through social media, as a police detective (Debra Messing) investigates. For a movie that takes place entirely digital, Chaganty finds some clever ways to let us find out information, while still keeping us as in the dark as David as to where Margot went. Did she run away?…or worse? There are a few red herrings and if the film has an Achilles Heel, it’s that after putting us…and David…through a lot to get to it’s conclusion, it gets a bit convoluted in order to give it a crowd pleasing ending. It gets a bit dark and then has to juggle a somewhat far-fetched late story development in order to end things with a less grim and more safe Hollywood finale. Otherwise, this is a very entertaining and involving thriller with strong work from it’s leading man.

The cast is very small with many characters only appearing in quick video clips or photos such as Margot herself and her mother. John Cho gives a very strong and heartfelt performance as a slightly overprotective dad frantically searching for his daughter. Cho is both sympathetic and tenacious as he tries to track down Margot, refusing to believe the police and public…once the case goes viral…that Margot is dead or run away. A strong performance by Cho. Debra Messing is also good as a women who is both detective and a mother herself and the character fits well into the framework of the story. The only other character that has a steady amount of screen time is Joseph Lee as David’s stoner brother Peter, with whom David frequently confides in.

Overall, this was a very entertaining thriller. It’s social media setting is no longer new, but Aneesh Chaganty uses it cleverly and directs his cast and story very well. It’s suspenseful and intense and if it lets it’s build-up down a bit, it’s in a last act turn away from the dark path it was headed, taking the film away from a more realistic and grim ending in order to play it safe. Otherwise this was a solid mystery thriller with strong work from John Cho.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) laptops.

 

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REVIEW: BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2001)

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BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2001)

The story takes place in 18th century France in the rural provence of Gévaudan. There seems to be some sort of creature on the loose that is killing the locals and spreading fear across the land. Royal naturalist and soldier Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) has been sent along with his Native American companion Mani (Mark Dacascos) to investigate. Soon Fronsac finds himself surrounded by intrigue, conspiracy, murder, betrayal and a pair of beautiful women (Émilie Dequenne and Monica Bellucci) who could be the death of him. All this leading up to the inevitable confrontation with the “Beast of Gévaudan”.

Wildly entertaining French film is directed by Christophe Gans from an imaginative script by he and Stéphane Cabel, that is inspired by real events. It’s an enchanting dark fairy tale that blends almost every type of genre from horror to drama to fantasy to mystery to action. There are stunning visuals, sumptuous costumes and amazing scenery and sets, as Gans weaves a tale of monsters both human and otherwise. There is blood, gore, sex, breathtaking martial arts and intense intrigue, not to mention some old fashioned romance as Fronsac falls for both the feisty nobleman’s daughter Marianne de Morangias (Dequenne) and the mysterious and possibly deadly Sylvia (Bellucci). Gans presents a noble hero to root for in Fronsac, some dastardly villains, such as Marianne’s brother Jean-François (Vincent Cassel) and possibly a monster, too. The action is incredibly fast and furious, the creature sequences as intense as any horror and the romance can be both charming and sizzling depending on the content of the scene. It’s the type of entertainment they don’t make any more, a film with both an involving story and something for everyone…the only thing missing is a musical number. The cinematography, by frequent Guillermo Del Toro cinematographer, Dan Laustsen is absolutely stunning and there is a wonderfully atmospheric score by Joseph LoDuca (the original Evil Dead).

The cast is large yet all bring something to their roles from nobles to clergy to savage gypsies and brothel beauties. Le Bihan is close to perfect as the noble and heroic Fronsac. He’s a handsome and charming rogue who is also very intelligent and when needs must, a complete badass. Would love to have seen him return in another tale. Émilie Dequenne is beautiful and enchanting as the spirited Marianne. Not hard to see why Fronsac falls easily for her. Mark Dacascos creates a strong character an the Iroquois warrior/mystic Mani. He’s a bit of a mystery, soft spoken, but highly skilled in martial arts and has some great fight scenes, as well as, stealing a few scenes. The great Vincent Cassel is a very strong villain as the deranged and dangerous Jean-François. He’s a man who’s allowed inner turmoil to make him twisted and cruel. Monica Bellucci oozes sex appeal and danger as the mysterious and sexy Sylvia. Who is she really? You’ll have to watch the film to find out! There are many supporting players and characters and they all perform well.

This flick is a personal favorite and almost twenty years after first seeing it, it still entertains. The blend of action, mystery, horror and romance is spectacular, as is the sumptuous design of the sets and costumes. The cast are all close to perfect and the characters they play are endearing, charming and detestable depending on whether they be villain or hero. It’s a dazzling popcorn movie directed with loads of heart and given enough depth and intrigue in the screenplay to give it some nice substance as well. An enchanting and dark fairy tale for adults.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Muskets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: RUST CREEK (2019)

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RUST CREEK (2019)

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Thriller finds pretty college student Sawyer (Hermione Corfield) ditching her folks at Thanksgiving break to go for a job interview. When her GPS leads her astray, she finds herself on a remote road in the Kentucky backwoods. She crosses paths with troublesome brothers Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill) who fear she might have seen the no good they were up to. After a violent confrontation, Sawyer injures both men and escapes, though injured herself. Wandering bleeding through the wilderness she happens upon a meth cooker named Lowell (Jay Paulson). Lowell is the cousin and cooker for Hollister and Buck, but decides to hide her from them. As Sawyer tries to remain hidden from her pursuers, she and Lowell form an unusual bond.

Slow paced thriller is directed by Jen McGowan from a script by Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard. It starts out involving with Sawyer meeting up with delinquent rednecks Hollister and Buck and then fighting for her life as their intentions for her are not good. The flick slows down considerably when she is taken in by Lowell and starts to loose it’s grip a bit as Sawyer goes from reluctant hideaway to cooking meth with Lowell side by side. It doesn’t quite click that a girl running for her life and basically behind enemy lines, as the local sheriff (Sean O’Bryan) isn’t exactly one of the good guys either, would become buddy, buddy with a drug dealer to the point of making cozy meth together. The fact that the first act of this movie is basically taken right out of Wrong Turn doesn’t help either. The performances are good and there are some tense scenes at the beginning and end, but it’s the mid section of the film that bogs down and stagnates till the bad guys finally find our heroine. It’s understood that the film is trying to be more of a Winter’s Bone type of thriller and not an action movie, but the whole bonding between Lowell and Sawyer just doesn’t really get that involving and seems a little odd being that the ones who want her harmed are so closely associated with him. She seems to relax far too much for someone with three dangerous men out to kill her. Either way, Rust Creek is not the horror flick or Deliverence-like thriller it’s advertised as. It’s not a bad movie, but not what some might be expecting.

The cast here is very good. Hermione Corfield gives us a strong and able heroine in Sawyer. She’s tough, resilient and can take care of herself for the most part. A very likable lead. Jay Paulson is good as Lowell. He’s not vicious like his cousins. He’s not a good guy, but he’s not cold blooded either. He has his own reasons for helping Sawyer. Micah Hauptman is very effective as the vicious and blood thirsty Hollister. He’s a bit of a stereotype, but works well as the redneck bad guy. Daniel R. Hill is fine as Buck who follows Hollister’s lead and doesn’t have all that much to say on his own. Rounding out is Sean O’Bryan, who is appropriately sleazy as the dirty Sheriff O’Doyle and Jeremy Glazer as the unfortunately naive Deputy Katz who is too inquisitive for his own good.

Overall, this is a well made film, but one that gets bogged down by a midsection that focuses on budding relationship that didn’t quite click…at least not for this viewer. The beginning and end have some tense sequences and the performances are good. The overall story is a bit derivative and reminds one of other flicks, but at least they tried to do something a bit different by having this backwoods thriller turn into a relationship drama, even if it didn’t quite gel.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 meth crystals (out of 4).

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: AQUAMAN (2018)

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AQUAMAN (2018)

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DC comics flick is a mixed bag finding our aquatic hero (Jason Momoa) coming up against his half-brother King Orm of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson). The power and conquest hungry Orm wants to take control of all the undersea kingdoms and then use their combined might to lay waste to the surface world. Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the undersea kingdom of Xebel defies her father (Dolph Lundgren) to warn Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman and inform him that if he retrieves the Trident of Atlan, he will have the power to stop Orm and take his rightful place as king. Standing in his way is a modern day pirate with Atlantean tech and a personal grudge against Aquaman, The Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Superhero flick is directed by James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Wan, Beall and Geoff Johns. The flick is a bit of a mess, that bites off more than it can chew, though it can be a fun mess at times. The negative points are a thin story that gets poor development as the film steamrolls ahead from one set-piece to another. From the flashback meeting of Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father,Thomas (Temuera Morrison), to Arthur’s first meeting/fight with Orm, to a massive undersea battle, a lot goes on in this flick. Somewhere in between all this, the film stops and goes on a Tomb Raider style quest for the trident…wasn’t that the plot of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick?…and then finally back to Aquaman vs Orm, the rematch. It gives the film a choppy feeling for the first hour, or so, before it settles down a bit in the last act. None of the characters get proper development, especially Black Manta, whose sub-plot could have been eliminated completely with no harm done. At least we already met Arthur in Justice League…and, by the way, where were his League pals as this was a global destruction situation. The good points are that some of the action set pieces are quite fun and Wan has a great visual eye, so the film looks sumptuous and spectacular. The undersea kingdoms are amazing, there is a stunning Star Wars-esque underwater battle at it’s climax and the film has a lot of cool creatures. The cast all get the material and play their roles with the right tone and if the story was more involving, this might have been a bit more memorable, which sadly it’s not. A good time was had overall, though it didn’t resonate once the theater lights came up.

Back to the cast, Wan has assembled a top notch one. Momoa has locked it in as Aquaman and the character has never been cooler. His bad-ass surfer boy take works very well as a modern incarnation of the DC hero and Momoa has the charm and sense of humor to overcome the thin script. Amber Heard is beautiful and resourceful as Mera. She is a strong character and is not played as a damsel and Heard makes a solid heroine out of her. Patrick Wilson is a pleasant surprise as the vengeful King Orm. Wilson is usually cast in the straight-laced good guy role and here he chews up the seaweed and scenery with just enough restraint to keep Orm from flipping over into camp. He’s a better villain than Justice’s Steppenwolf and Wonder Woman’s Ares. Rounding out the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman as a noble Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta and Temuera Morrison as Arthur’s dad. All do good work in their roles and help keep this bloated flick from sinking.

So, Aquaman is a bit of a mess and DC still has a way to go to catch up to Marvel and set it’s cinematic universe right. The story here is thin and underdeveloped due to filmmakers being too overeager to do too many things in one film. There’s globe hopping adventure, epic undersea battles, a quest for a mystical object and a superhero battling to save the world and find his destiny. All we needed was a musical number. It has a solid cast, who get the material and a director who knows theatricality and how to make it look gorgeous. In lesser hands this might of been an awful mess, but Wan makes it an entertaining one. Overall, it’s a step back from Wonder Woman, but two steps ahead over the disappointing Justice League and the bloated Batman v Superman.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 tridents.

 

 

 

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW: TRUE INDIE-LIFE and DEATH in FILMMAKING by DON COSCARELLI

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I know this is the Movie Madhouse, but I will review a book now and then, one that I really loved or one that pertains to the movie world…and what pertains more than a memoir by the man behind the horror classic Phantasm…Don Coscarelli.

TRUE INDIE-LIFE and DEATH in FILMMAKING by DON COSCARELLI

Don Coscarelli is one of my favorite filmmakers and his Phantasm one of my all-time favorite horror films. So of course I was very excited to read his memoir, detailing an almost forty year career as an indie filmmaker…and it didn’t disappoint. Coscarelli gives a brief account of his upbringing and then on to his first attempt to make a feature film, a drama called Jim, The World’s Greatest. He then weaves a fun and informative account of his film career spanning from the making of Kenny & Co. in 1976, to his classic Phantasm, to the harrowing production of the Beastmaster, all the way up to his recent Phantasm: Ravager. The stories of what Don and family and friends went through to get some of his flicks made, and then released, will really give you an idea of how difficult it is make a movie, especially if you don’t have big studio backing…which comes with it’s own headaches. It’s a real treat to hear the production stories of how his movies were made…or not made in some cases…and how even now getting a film going is still not easy even for a man considered a horror legend.

True Indie is a fun true life story woven by a man with a talent for overcoming adversity and for telling an entertaining, sincere and heartfelt story…the account of the final moments he shared with his star and friend Angus Scrimm will have you in tears. A tale of arrogant investors, eccentric actors, the MPAA and those darn silver spheres! A great book if you are a fan of Don Coscarelli, horror films or just independent filmmaking in general, this is a must read!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 silver spheres!

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE PREDATOR (2018)

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THE PREDATOR (2018)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Messy story has a Predator (Brian A. Prince) crash landing on Earth right in the middle of a covert operation by military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). His men are killed, The Predator is captured and eventually McKenna is taken into custody by a black ops unit, only after sending his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) some of the Predator tech as security. Biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to examine the creature and discovers the species is using various collected DNA, including human, to improve themselves. What they don’t know is that their captive is a traitor and a massive 11 foot tall tracker has been sent to earth to eliminate it. When The Predator escapes, McKenna, a band of psychotic army inmates and Casey, must team up to evade slimy government operative Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and get to Rory before The Predator…or the monster that hunts it…finds his son and ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) first…still with me?

Flick is directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3) from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad) and it is a bit of a mess…though a fun one at times. One basic problem is that the film jumps around a lot with no transitional scenes to give us the illusion that characters traveled from one place to another or learned something that they suddenly know at a later point. While Rory is a savant with the alien technology, other characters including his dad and Munn’s Casey, suddenly know their way around the Predator technology when necessity serves. Let’s just say Black uses a lot of conveniences to move his story along. He also doesn’t seem to take his own story very seriously, as there is an overabundance of humor and it seems to overshadow the more serious moments, keeping the movie from building some real intensity. On a more positive side, Black doesn’t shy away from the gore and there are some very enjoyable action scenes. There is also some fun character banter and it is entertaining to see Predators stalking the suburbs on Halloween night…though they could have made better use of that aspect, too. Still, the film starts to feel like it’s being made up as it goes along once the mega-Predator arrives. The second half especially feels like they are not following a story, but going from one scene to another. The flick also starts out fairly seriously and then seems to get sillier and sillier as it progresses, till it ends in a goofy climactic confrontation of clichés and SPFX. It just doesn’t seem like Black trusted his own material enough to play it straight and tough like the first classic. Even the AVP films took themselves serious enough to get us to buy into them, even if they ultimately disappointed.

The film has an eclectic cast which works even if the material is weak. Boyd Holbrook makes a fine enough hero, though it seemed like he needed a bit stronger screen presence. Olivia Munn proves, after impressing as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, that she makes a solid action hero and when not left out of that action babysitting Rory, she can kick ass with the boys. Sterling K. Brown is OK as the government bad-guy. It’s a cliché role, but he works hard to make him a good bad guy despite being two dimension-ally written. Tremblay gives another good performance as the bullied and autistic Rory who has a gift for understanding the alien language and technology. As McKenna’s back-up, Trevante Rhodes is good as the soulful Nebraska, Keegan-Michael Key is fun as the joker of the group Coyle, Thomas Jane is solid as a soldier suffering from PTSD and touretts, Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, John Wick) is good as the Irishman Lynch and Augusto Aguilera is amusing as the weird but likable Nettles. Rounding out is Yvonne Strahovski as Rory’s tough and protective mom and Jake Busey in an amusing role as the son of Predator 2‘s Peter Keyes, who was played by his father Gary Busey.

Overall, this was a bit of a disappointment yet, not without it’s entertaining moments. There was some cool action, some solid FX and the cast of eccentric characters worked well together. Unfortunately the script is weak and the director favored goofy humor and allowed the film to jump from place to place, where it should have taken itself a bit more seriously and a smoother narrative would have made things flow a lot better. The second half seems to be made up as it went along and despite a cool new Predator, the film was more silly than scary. Your move.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 updated Predators.

 

 

 

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