REVIEW: LOGAN (2017)

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LOGAN (2017)

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This dark comic book thriller takes place in the future where the mutants are all but gone and “The Wolverine” Logan (Hugh Jackman) keeps a low profile as a limo driver and takes care of an Alzheimer’s afflicted Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is in hiding in Mexico. Logan, who is now aging and losing his ability to heal due to his own ailments, is contacted by a woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) begging him to take a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a safe haven in South Dakota…a safe haven for mutants. Soon Logan finds Laura is very much like him and now he, the girl and The Professor are in a race across country for their lives as the sinister forces that created Laura want her back.

Flick is intensely directed by James Mangold from a script by he, Michael Green and Scott Frank and finally gives fans the R-rated Wolverine adventure they have been craving. The violence reaches horror film levels as does the intensity, though Mangold gives the proceedings some nice emotional depth amidst the carnage. The film is smaller and more intimate in scale, giving this tale room for some strong character development, especially as our beloved heroes are both aging and ailing and no longer who they used to be. This also allows for some nice moments between Logan and Xavier, as well as, time for Wolverine to reluctantly bond with Laura, as the two have a lot in common. There is still plenty of bone breaking and skull splitting action as Logan gets into numerous battles with the villainous Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his army of well armed henchmen, including genetically created mutant X-24 (also Hugh Jackman). The battles are quite vicious and gory, especially when Laura enters the fray and she may be more a true Wolverine than Logan at this point. The fact than the film has a strong emotional core makes these scenes even more effective and gives weight to all the violence and keeps us engaged during the character driven moments in-between. A very intense and well done final chapter in Wolverine’s legacy and finally the solo film we have been hoping for.

The film is said to be Jackman’s farewell to a character he has played on screen for almost two decades and he really gives it his all. Jackman was always good at giving Logan that cynical but noble edge and here he adds in a weariness from age and pain as Logan’s abilities are fading due to the long-term effects of the adamantium in his body. He gives The Wolverine a strong emotional center as we see the character succumbing to age and illness, yet still not completely accepting he’s not the hero he used to be. If this is truly his last appearance with his claws, he gives the character a strong send-off with one of his best performances. Same could be said of Stewart as the ailing Charles Xavier. Stewart presents him as sadly feeble, yet still strong of heart and quick of wit. Professor X is endearing as always and it effects us as we watch him dealing with an illness that ravages the part of himself he cherishes most. It is also a fitting farewell to a character he has played as long as Jackman has played Logan, if this is his last time in the role. Dafne Keen makes quite an impression as Wolverine “mini-me” Laura (also referred to by the Transigen bad guys as X-23). She is genetically linked to our hero and is quite the chip off the old block. Keen gives quite the performance as a little girl with amazing abilities and who is quite as much a powder keg as her genetic father. As for our villains, first up is Boyd Holbrook as lead bad guy Donald Pierce. He is threatening and condescending and Holbrook makes the metal-armed thug very unlikable as he should be. There is also Richard E. Grant as Dr. Zander Rice, the man who not only created the new mutants, but had a hand in eliminating the others. He’s more of a generic evil scientist, but works within the context of the story. Rounding out is Stephen Merchant as Caliban, one of the remaining mutants who cares for Charles Xavier and has the ability to track other mutants. Merchant makes a likable character caught in the middle, unfortunately, of Transigens plans for Laura. A good cast helping the director deliver a strong story.

Finally a Wolverine solo film we can sink our claws into. Logan was intense, vicious and yet had emotional depth and solid performances from the cast. It is a fitting farewell to Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine and Stewart’s Charles Xavier, as well as, an entertaining and very adult superhero flick that pushes the boundary of it’s R-rating. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 adamantium bullets.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: BRIMSTONE (2017)

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BRIMSTONE (2017)

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Grim western tells the story of Liz (Dakota Fanning), a midwife married to a widower and with a child of her own. One day a mysterious, scarred preacher (Guy Pearce) comes to town, a man of the cloth that Liz knows from her past and greatly fears. This preacher knows her as well and proclaims that he has come to make the young woman suffer and bring her to retribution. Who is this man and what has Liz done to incur his wrath?

Over the next two and one half hours of writer/director Martin Koolhoven’s harrowing film, we go into Liz’s past to find out the answers to those very questions…and a harsh journey it is. The film is told in four parts with the middle two parts going back further and further into the story to tell us  how this quest for revenge began and how and if “Liz” earned it. It is not a pleasant journey and we bare witness to some cruel and hard events, as well as, some shockingly graphic violence along the way. To go in depth too much would be to spoil the mystery and even if he crafts an unpleasant film, Koolhoven does make an intriguing one, whose mysteries we want answers to. It’s suspenseful and many of the images and events we witness have impact and weight that stays with us. The film takes us through a series of sometimes unpleasant events that bring us to where our story opens…and then comes to an equally harsh and unsettling finish. It’s not perfect. At 148 minutes, it is a bit long, especially as it is not a happy tale and there are a few glaring mysteries left unanswered, such as how one character escaped what seems like a certain death. Add to that, the overall unpleasantness of the story and some of it’s subject matter and you have a well crafted film that is not always easy to watch. On a technical level it is a solid production with Koolhoven showing he knows how to frame a shot. There is nice cinematography by Rogier Stoffers and an effective soundtrack by Junkie XL along with some effective sets and settings for within which the story takes place.

The cast are all quite good, which helps keep us with this grim tale. Dakota Fanning proves quite the strong actress in her portrayal of Liz. We have a woman with a past who will fight to save the family she now has, but as strong as she is, this “Preacher” fills her with dread and fear and she conveys that to the audience, so we share her feelings. It is a solid performance with many facets for the young actress to portray…and she portrays them well. Guy Pearce is imposing as the mysterious and vicious “Preacher”. Whether his quest for retribution is just or not, he is a vicious and cruel man. He commits horrible acts and even as we go back into the past to see how this story began to unfold, we are treated to a hard and sometimes brutal man, who seems to be using his religion to excuse his actions. Pearce really gives this man a black heart that makes the character truly frightening. Emilia Jones is also very good as the younger “Liz” who goes by another name. Jones has to act out some very harsh and uncomfortable scenarios and the young actress does very strong work and it makes for a seamless portrayal of the younger version of Fanning’s frontier midwife in peril. The cast also features good work from supporting actors such as Carice van Houten as “Liz’s” mother and Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington as an outlaw who crosses paths with our main characters at one point.

This was a very well made film, but not one you could say you enjoyed. It deals with some harsh subject matter and is sometimes cruel and unpleasant. One can definitely appreciate the talent of the director/writer and the craft of his cast, but it still is a tough watch at times. It is a bit long, even though it has a lot of story to tell and even at it’s length, there are some questions that remain. Recommended, but only with the understanding that this is not a pleasant film by any stretch.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 guns.

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REVIEW: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

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KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2014)

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This new version of the King Kong legend takes place in 1973 at the end of the Viet Nam War when an uncharted island is discovered by satellite in the center of a perpetual storm system in the South Pacific. The monster hunting Monarch organization from Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla wants to send an expedition in, with the hopes of getting there before the Russians find out about it. Agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) heads the expedition team, including former SAS tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), combat photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a military escort lead by Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Immediately upon reaching the island, they find a hostile environment populated by hostile creatures and manage to piss off the ruling predator, a 100 foot tall ape the local natives and stranded WWII airman Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) call Kong. After a confrontation with Kong that leaves the military escort decimated and the expedition stranded, the group begin to plan their escape from the island…all but the vengeful Packard, who wants to finish what he and the enormous simian started. Little do they realize, that there is a greater threat living beneath the grounds of Skull Island and Kong may be their only hope of surviving it.

The entire reason this reboot exists is to set up the eventual collision between the giant ape and Godzilla, now that Warner Bros has the rights to both and is starting their proposed Marvel-esque “Monster-verse”. In a way it shows, as this flick is directed somewhat by-the-numbers by Jordan Vogt-Roberts from a script by three writers, no less, including Godzilla scribe Max Borenstein. This new interpretation is a fun monster movie that is loaded with action and filled with an assortment of critters, but by removing the tragic elements and the Beauty and The Beast angle from the original story, the makers remove the parts of the tale that resonated the most and gave it emotional depth. Now it’s just a routine monster movie and while it does entertain, it is also a bit forgettable once the credits finish rolling. Vogt-Roberts moves things fast enough, but never succeeds in giving the film a sense of wonder or an emotional center. Even Kong seems more of a generic monster here, though a bit of a noble one and we don’t endear to him like previous incarnations. The film is still a fun time, but not much is going to stick with you after it’s over. The FX are top notch and the monster scuffles are fast and furious, but the film lacks the heart and soul that the original classic…and even, to a lesser extent, Peter Jackson’s remake…had that made them memorable and endearing. Aside from re-introducing Kong in order to set up another movie with The Big G, there really isn’t a point to this version and despite the monster menagerie and some likable characters, it’s a bit shallow, when all is said and done.

The cast are all good, though and overcome some stale dialog to make their characters enjoyable to watch, aside from the big CGI ape. Hiddleston is solid as former military man Conrad and proves again he is leading man material. Here he plays a tough guy with a heart and does so very well. Brie Larson is also very charming and likable as seasoned photographer Mason Weaver. She can scrap and battle monsters with the boys and hold her own with both Kong and Samuel L. Jackson and not loose her girl-next-door appeal. She conveys a strength and grace that should bode well for her upcoming MCU turn playing Marvel super-heroine Captain Marvel. Goodman avoids the clichés that come with government operative characters and gives his Bill Randa a boyish sense of wonder at what he has found on Skull Island. While the character did keep secrets, he is never portrayed as a villain. Samuel L. Jackson is dead-on as the battle-hardened warrior who is not going to let a giant ape get away with wiping out his squad, especially after a disappointing exit from the Viet Nam conflict. Jackson’s bravado and intensity does make him a suitable adversary for the gigantic ape. Rounding out the leads is John C. Riley, who gives the film a little comic relief and some heart as a man who has been stranded on the primordial island since WWII and has bonded with the natives and learned how to survive it’s beastly population. His Hank Marlow provides us with some important exposition about Kong and his homeland, too. The supporting cast are all fine, as well and the strong cast helps make this as fun as it is.

Overall, this is a fun Saturday or Sunday matinee monster movie with plenty of creatures and numerous monster brawls to pass the time. The solid cast elevates a routine script and some stale dialog and the film is fast paced enough to keep us from thinking too much about things. The tragic soul of the original story is lacking and while there is a brief bonding moment between Kong and Larson’s Mason Weaver, the epic Beauty and the Beast element is missing as well. This Kong never gets to see New York or fall in love, but if he is still a growing boy as Hank Marlow seems to suggest, he should be big enough to lock horns with Godzilla as Warner Brothers plans them to do in 2020…which is the entire reason we got this movie. A fun, but forgettable monster mash.

Be sure to stay through the credits for a Marvel-esque post credit sequence that reveals Godzilla’s “co-stars” in the upcoming Michael Dougherty directed sequel Godzilla: King Of The Monsters due in 2019.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 big apes.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE LOVE WITCH (2016)

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THE LOVE WITCH (2016)

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The Love Witch is a delightful and colorful throwback to the erotic pulp witchcraft and romance flicks of the 60s, perfectly imitating the technicolor look and style. It tells the story of lovelorn witch Elaine Parks (Samantha Robinson) who turned to witchcraft after her devastating divorce. She now uses love spells to lure her men, though these spells usually result in a tragic death for the current object of her affections. A rookie police detective (Gian Keys) is hot on her trail, but will the handsome policeman be the next to fall victim to Elaine’s supernatural charms?

Filmmaker Anna Biller proves quite the workaholic by producing, writing and directing this charming and sexy homage, while designing the nostalgic 60s costumes and sets as well. The result is not only an incredible recreation of a long gone era of filmmaking, but deftly mixes in some feminist messages about the power of a woman’s sexuality and the depth of a man’s fear of it. The film is loaded with colorful characters, some very spicy sex and of course, plenty of spells and witchcraft, as our Elaine goes from one man to another, leaving a trail of bodies, until she meets Det. Griff Meadows…could he finally be the one? It’s a spooky and sexy ride to find out and while there are those who may not appreciate the moderate pacing, it matches the type of films it pays tribute to perfectly. Anna Biller displays both a creative talent and a deep love for her influences that are reason enough to watch this flick alone. It also has generous helpings of sex, nudity…and even a pinch of bondage…with a bit of blood spattering just as in the trashy, fun flicks this film embraces the style of. At the same time, it also succeeds in telling the story of a women in search of love and finding her own sexuality, but all with a vengeance.  It’s wrapped in a package of sumptuous cinematography by M. David Mullen and told with the performance style and dialog of a bygone era that is all but lost. It’s not perfect. It’s a tad too long at two hours, a Renaissance Fair sequence in particular seems to drag on, but otherwise this a really enjoyable tale of female empowerment and a creatively crafted love letter to the pulp/witchcraft films of the 60s.

The cast all get the material perfectly. Lead Samantha Robinson is both stunningly beautiful and a captivating actress in a performance that oozes sexuality and mystery. She delivers the deliberately stylized performance as if time was turned back fifty years and does so with a charm and charisma of a star in the making. Her Elaine is enchantress, seductress and 60s housewife with a vengeance, all in one. Gian Keys also captures the tone of the heroic leads of that era with his rookie detective who falls for his #1 suspect. He is both charming and a bit arrogant. There is also Laura Waddell as Elaine’s new friend Trish. Trish is a perky girl next door type who seems a bit naive to Elaine’s witchy ways, till her own man is stolen by the enchantress. We also have good work by Jeffrey Vincent Parise as a teacher and Robert Seeley as Trish’s husband, both victims of Elaine’s quest for love.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie a lot for not only it’s tribute to an almost lost style of filmmaking, but for the story of a woman coming into her own sexual power, though with a deadly side effects towards her pursuits. Anna Biller shows she is a creative force to be reckoned with, much like her Elaine in some ways, by being a one woman studio on this spooky, sexy and fun flick. Both a filmmaker and lead actress to keep an eye on!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 cards of love.

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REVIEW: THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016)

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THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016)

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Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfeld) has always walked to the beat of her own drum…and it hasn’t made life any easier when it comes to school and making friends. Her dad was one of the only people she felt understood her and he passed away four years earlier. She is jealous over her super popular older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), especially when her one and only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating him. Feeling betrayed, Nadine sets out to find her place in the world with a little help from her cynical teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and Erwin, a nerdy classmate (Hayden Szeto) who might be what she’s been looking for all along, but is too absorbed in her own drama to notice.

Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, this is a poignant, feisty and sometimes very funny coming of age story with a firecracker performance from it’s leading lady. One of the things that makes this comedy/drama so enjoyable is that Craig uses the familiar tropes that we expect from these movies, yet keeps them fresh, so they don’t quite come across as the well-worn clichés they are. Her script paints a portrait of a spirited and slightly eccentric young girl who is just trying to find her place. She doesn’t quite feel comfortable with most of her peers and is sort of left to wander once she feels she’s lost her best and only friend. Nadine embarks on a funny and heartfelt journey of discovery both in herself and in those around her. Sometimes what you are looking for is right in front of you and Nadine needs to find that out for herself. There are some very funny scenes and some well written and sometimes cleverly raunchy dialogue, especially for Steinfeld’s Nadine. If the film, stumbles a little it is that a scene where Nadine goes on a ‘date’ with a boy she’s crushing on, goes perhaps a tad too far in making it’s point that this guy isn’t what she needs. It’s a bit rough and uncomfortable and sticks out somewhat when the rest of the film had a nice balance to it between comedy and drama. Nadine also seemed a bit too smart to make such a dumb mistake and it seemed a little out of character for the socially inept girl even if she was confused and frustrated at this point. Despite some minor flaws this is a well written and directed tale of a young girl trying to become a young woman who remains herself, yet doesn’t feel so isolated in the world around her.

As for the actors, Craig gets good work from a good cast. Hailee Steinfeld gives a spunky and spirited performance as Nadine. The character of the sarcastic loner has been seen before, but Steinfeld injects her with her own personality and really plays well the emotional confusion of being at that age between teen and adulthood. She delivers the lines with a cynicism of an older person, yet portrays a girl not quite old enough to handle some of the things she’s feeling. At that age you overreact to some things and under-react to others and the script and actress nail that very well. Hailee Steinfeld is a star in the making. While it is a one woman show, to a degree, there is some great supporting work. Harrelson once again proves he has become one of the most consistent and durable actors around with his cynical, yet caring performance as Mr. Bruner, Nadine’s favorite teacher and the one she comes to when she needs guidance or someone to rant to. Harrelson deftly captures the balance of a man who knows that sometimes teens need to figure these things out for themselves and yet, sometimes they need a little help. Solid work from an actor who has become a reliable performer in a variety of roles. Kyra Sedgwick is good as Nadine’s self absorbed widow of a mom. She gives us a women who wants to have a better relationship with her daughter, but is frustrated as to how to achieve that. Hayden Szeto is charming and likable as Erwin, a boy Nadine befriends who is a quirky film nerd and may be what Nadine needs, if only she stopped looking past him to realize it. Haley Lu Richardson is likable as the Nadine’s best friend Krista, who is difficultly caught in the middle of Nadine and her brother when she starts dating her popular sibling. Rounding out is former Glee actor Blake Jenner, who adds some nice depth to what could have been the stereotypical popular jock as Nadine’s brother Darian. A very good cast that make a good script come to life.

Overall, I really enjoyed this coming of age flick for taking the clichés and adding a feisty coat of paint to them. It had some nice emotional depth, some heartfelt humor and some delightfully, witty dialogue, even when being a bit raunchy. It stumbles a bit with a scene that was maybe a bit too uncomfortable for it’s own good, but that sequence had a purpose and did serve it, thought bluntly. Otherwise filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig delivered a spirited and empathetic movie in a film sub-genre that can be crass and crude while forgetting the emotional turmoil of this sensitive age…one thing The Edge Of Seventeen does not overlook.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Nadines.

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REVIEW: A MONSTER CALLS (2016)

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A MONSTER CALLS (2016)

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Film by Orphanage director J. A. Bayona is the sad tale of Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is dealing with not only the terminal illness that is slowly taking his divorced mother (Felicity Jones) from him, but having to live with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) with whom he has a tenuous relationship, as well. His father is now living in the U.S. with his new family and he has no one to turn to…until a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears and says he will tell Connor three stories, but only if the boy agrees to tell the fourth, which is to relate a reoccurring nightmare Connor is having. The boy reluctantly agrees, but soon finds these tales have more in common with his current situation than he could have imagined.

Flick is written by Patrick Ness based on his book that was inspired by writer Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the idea during her own illness, one she sadly did not live to write herself. It is excellently directed by Bayona, though is a very somber and sad story when all is said and done. The film certainly has a strong emotional core, as we watch a young boy trying to deal with the fact that his mother is dying and there is nothing he can do about it. Is the monster there as an imaginary way of sorting through his emotions, or an actual being only Connor can see, that is there to help the boy sort things out? Bayona and Ness aren’t eager top let us find out and the film does have a sort of magic because of it, despite the dour tone. Much like Orphanage J. A. Bayona gives this the feel of a sort of dark fairy tale and it boldly deals with the theme of a child facing the death of a loved one, without sugar coating it or giving it an unrealistic wrap up. That’s one of the things that also holds it back a bit, is that it is overall, a very sad film and contains some very serious subject matter despite having a young child as it’s central focus. On a production level, the FX are excellent, especially in the rendition of the tree-like monster, and the hand drawn illustrations that relate the creature’s tales are full of charm. The film has a wonderful visual style, that does not betray the serious tone, from the eye of it’s director. It also adds loads of atmosphere from Orphanage cinematographer Óscar Faura and an equally appropriate score from Orphanage composer Fernando Velázquez. A heartbreaking yet very well made film.

The cast also contributes much with exceptional performances all around. Young Lewis MacDougall is simply amazing with all the emotions he needs to convey as Connor. He presents a sweet natured young boy who must deal with a turmoil of feelings, including anger, with his mother slowly dying before his eyes and having to deal with both his stern grandmother and a bully at school, as well. The young actor is simply wonderful in a very emotionally heavy role. Felicity Jones will break your heart as the young mother trying to stay strong for her son. The actress gives a truly noble and endearing performance as a woman who will leave when she’s good and ready. Weaver is also very good as his grandmother. She’s is a tough women, but not a villain. Weaver let’s us see the pain she is in, watching her own child fading away and somehow having to deal with that and now raise her grandson. It’s a difficult place her character is in and while she may not handle every situation the right way, we do appreciate her position. Neeson, of course does top-notch work giving the monster both a nobility and a ferocity. He is a creature not without a bit of a heart, fierce as he can be. Neeson also appears in a photo as Connor’s grandfather who we assume is gone as well. Actor Tony Kebbell also has a minor role as Connor’s estranged dad.

In conclusion, this is a very well done and emotionally engaging movie. It is also, however, a very sad film and despite having a young boy as it’s focus, tackles that child facing some very adult decisions and emotions. The cast is exceptional and the film looks sumptuous and the movie works very well, despite it’s somber tone, thanks to a director who knows how to tell this kind of tale…with heart, albeit a broken one.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 books on which this film is based.

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REVIEW: UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (2012)

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UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (2012)

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As a fan of the Underworld series I was both eager and apprehensive about this 4th installment, but as the credits rolled I had a smile on my face and had a good time. For starters, Kate Beckinsale is back in black latex returning as Death Dealer Selene. The story opens as man has discovered both Lycan and vampire and Selene has been separated from Michael, captured and cryogenically frozen as the war to cleanse the world of these supernatural species is underway. When released 12 years later, Selene finds a police state where Lycan and vampire are all but extinct and she has a 12 year old daughter (India Eisley) who’s unique nature makes her central to a sinister experiment. To save her daughter and her people, Selene finds herself with unexpected enemies and allies and that’s just fine with her.

Flick is directed this time by the duo of Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein from a script written by four people, including original series director Len Wiseman. At barely 90 minutes Underworld: Awakening is all about the action and there is plenty of it. It slows down to give us some story here and there and is surprisingly good at utilizing the time to move it along without stoping the momentum and the film does move quite fast. Selene is thrust into doing what she does best quite regularly and it is fairly well staged and gruesome at times. The only real weakness here is the CGI which was never very strong in this series. Otherwise it’s a brisk, fast paced fun time which won’t convert any new fans, but should please those there are.

Beckinsale is once again sexy and lethal returning as Selene. We do wish we got to know some of the new character’s a bit better such as Charles Dance’s vampire elder, filling the void of Bill Nighy’s Victor and Steven Rea’s bad guy scientist with a secret, is a fairly generic villain. Theo James is handsome and noble as David and Michael Ealy is fine as a human cop who may possible be being set-up as a human love interest for Selene. Too early to tell. Rounding out is India Eisley who is impressive as the young hybrid daughter that is a chip off the old block.

There are enough gun fights, explosions, spurting blood and shots of Kate Beckinsale’s perfectly shaped black latex wrapped bottom to keep everyone well entertained till the final scene, which hints that the sexy and lethal vampiress may not be hanging up her guns, or fetish gear, quite yet. And that’s fine with me.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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REVIEW: UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS (2017)

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UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS (2017)

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At this point the makers of the Underworld series aren’t even trying to lure in new viewers, just keeping the loyal fan base of this franchise interested and happy. But even the most loyal viewer would have to admit that with this entry, entertaining as it may be, the saga is starting to run out of gas. Blood Wars finds vampire hottie, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) having abandoned her daughter, to keep her safe and now being pursued by Lycan and Vampire alike. The wolves want her hybrid daughter’s blood to become more formidable, to tip the scales in their war with the vampires. Vampire councilwoman Semira (Lara Pulver) wants the latex covered Selene’s powerful blood so she can overthrow her coven leaders and take over. Selene’s only allies are Vampire Elder, Thomas (Charles Dance) and his hunky son, David (Theo James), who gained heightened abilities when given some of sexy but dour Selene’s blood in Underworld: Awakening. Still with me? Of course new Lycan leader Marius (Tobias Menzies) is out eradicate the vampires once and for all and has some bloody secrets of his own to help him accomplish this and poor, curvy, quick-triggered Selene is caught in the middle of it all. What a bloody mess!

Fifth go-around is competently directed by newcomer Anna Foerster from a script and story by Cory Goodman and Kyle Ward and is entertaining enough to pass the time. You have to be a fan of this series to appreciate the theatrical melodrama mixed with bone crunching action, but even then, it’s getting far too familiar to really set this new chapter apart from the last one…or any of the others. The filmmakers have realized this stuff has more of a cult audience and this flick has half the budget of the previous flick and thus is smaller scaled and delivers far more of that melodrama than some of the previous entries. There is still a decent amount of action, though it is fairly by-the-numbers and is nothing beyond what we expect from this series by now. It’s in the Twilight-esque moments that the film is weakest, thought, thankfully, those moments are usually bookended with some blood-spattering as the rapid fire editing keeps things from stagnating and us from thinking too much about how silly it all is. That is also one of the film’s weaknesses as there is little time to let dramatic plot points resonate and sometimes the movie jumps forward a little too quick for it’s own good. Selene’s final confrontation with Marius is a good example, it’s just over too quickly to have impact, despite a shocking reveal in it’s midst. The editing can be choppy in spots, as if there was an effort to get to the action more quickly and the opening chase is hard to follow as a result of being a bit too rapidly cut…much like the opening chase in the James Bond epic A Quantum Of Solace. Foerster seems to have a good visual eye and the snow set scenes are especially eye-catching, but if the series is to continue…and there are indications it is going to…they need to really shake things up a bit and give the series some new blood…pun intended.

The cast all take this stuff very seriously and it helps us do the same. Beckinsale can basically play Selene in her sleep at this point and the story has her a bit more sullen than usual. Pouting over her lost daughter and love Michael (played in flashbacks by both original actor Scott Speedman and stand-in Trent Garrett, who looks nothing like him) Selene is quite the sourpuss here, although she still looks stunning in latex and seems to cheer up when blasting Lycans or ripping out their spines. Theo James is a fine hero as David. The actor does the vampire heartthrob thing adequately, although the character does seem to only have been added to lure in the Twilight crowd who have nothing new to watch. Charles Dance is regal and noble as Thomas. A class actor giving the role strength beyond the simple script. Tobias Menzies is menacing enough as Marius, though he could have used a bit more charisma and Lara Pulver gives leading lady Beckinsale a run for her sexy money as vampish vamp Semira.

Overall, the movie did entertain, but only for fans who have enjoyed the previous flicks and are forgiving to the familiar material. Even so, the series needs some freshness injected into it or it may start to lose even it’s most loyal followers. Perhaps have Beckinsale’s Selene pass the torch to her wayward daughter and let mom’s latex covered buns only cameo, because, to be honest, we’d miss those latex covered buns if they were gone completely…after all, bullets, blood and buns is why we watch these movies.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs for fans only.

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REVIEW: UNCLE NICK (2015)

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UNCLE NICK (2015)

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Nick (Brian Posehn) is a down-on-his-luck slob who has been in a slump since loosing the love of his life, Emily (Annie Savage in flashbacks) to an aneurism. He reluctantly runs the family landscaping business while his younger brother Cody (Beau Ballinger) seems to get all the breaks. Case in point, Cody has recently married wealthy older woman Sophie (Paget Brewster) and lives in her luxurious home while doing little work for a living. They have invited Nick and sister Michelle (Missi Pyle) over for Christmas dinner and the only reason Nick is going, is to try to score with Cody’s hot and flirty twenty year-old step-daughter Valerie (Melia Renee). But with his jealousy and bitterness over his brother’s fortune bubbling to the surface, this could be a Christmas none of them will ever forget.

Ohio set Christmas comedy is rude, crude and has it’s share of dark humor, but is actually funny at times, too as directed by Chris Kasick from Mike Demski’s script. The story of the slobs vs the snobs, the train wreck character having his day and the Christmas dinner turned disaster, have all been done before, but the formula works fairly well here thanks to some legitimate laughs and a few moments of surprising sentimentality as when Nick relays during dinner the discovery of Emily’s body upon waking up. There are some very cliché moments, too, such as Nick finally getting his moment with the vixenish Valerie, but doing the noble thing, only to find out Cody is having an affair with her, under his new wife’s nose. Again, we’ve seen it all before, but writer Demski does come up with some funny bits and Cody is such a douche that we side with the oafish Nick even when he is wallowing in self-pity. The film also uses an interesting framework of being told in nine sections each in comparison to an inning in the June 4th, 1974 “Ten Cent Beer Night” Indians/Rangers baseball game that ended in a riot. This bit of cleverness does add an interesting slant as Nick relates the tale of that infamous ballgame, inning by inning, which echoes how his Christmas dinner outing is playing out. Maybe the only original thing the movie does, but it did add an interesting touch and was amusing in itself if nothing else.

The cast works well in portraying their misfit characters. There are some good performances here and Posehn’s deadpan delivery make a lot of the lines work better than they should. His Nick may be feeling sorry for himself, but Posehn does make him likable even with his boorish behavior and slightly creepy pursuit of his younger step-niece. As for that, there is a basic bond between the two that does work. Melia Renee is perfectly cast as the sexy, tease Valerie and the actress gives her a little depth beyond the kittenish behavior. There does seem to be an actual affection for Nick, who shares her dislike for her new family situation and she has moments where we understand her rebellious behavior. Sleeping with Cody is just a way to hurt her mother for divorcing her dad. The actress has sex appeal and a bit of a presence and it would be nice to see her in something else, such as final girl duty in a good slasher. Paget Brewster also gives what could have been a stereotypical rich shrew role…though to degree it still is…a bit more three dimensionality, especially after the film’s big family showdown. She’s a woman who may realize she was selfish in her decisions. Beau Ballinger is fine as douche Cody, his role is shortchanged of any sort of depth in the writing, but the character works as it’s supposed to. The rest of the cast are fine from Pyle’s, oddball sister to Scott Adsit as her clueless companion and Jacob Houston as Sophie’s teen son Marcus.

The film doesn’t have much in terms of originality, but does have some laughs and there are some moments of depth character-wise through all the smoking, drinking and cursing the main protagonists do. The actors are fine and lead Posehn has a solid deadpan delivery to get some extra milage out of the lines. It may be a forgettable comedy when all is said and done, but an amusing enough holiday diversion to add to your list of Christmas-in-ruins flicks, if that’s your thing.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 christmas trees.

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REVIEW: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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Simply put, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The film does have a few flaws, but the last act is some of the best Star Wars you’ll see and some of the most exciting action in the saga’s illustrious 40 year history. It feels far more like a Star Wars film than J.J. Abrams’ weak and disappointing Force Awakens. Film is a prequel that tells the story of The Rebellion’s discovery that The Empire is building a super weapon that we fans will come to know and love as The Death Star. The film traces the efforts to get to a key scientist, Gaylen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is reluctantly working on the project and has warned them of it’s creation. They do this by tracking down and freeing his rebellious daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) from an imperial prison and sending her on a mission with a rag tag group of rebels to find him and discover a weakness in this weapon of mass destruction. Circumstances then lead Jyn and company to go against rebel command orders and infiltrate an imperial outpost and steal the plans for this planet killer, all the while with the Death Star’s project director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit.

Flick is well directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) who brings far more of a Star Wars feel to this than the mediocre Force Awakens, even with it’s darker and edgier tone and new characters. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy creates a story about incidents mentioned briefly in a few of the previous flicks, yet integral to A New Hope’s classic climax ever occurring. The story also gives us the opportunity to revisit some familiar faces, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), an incredible CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton) and Darth Vader himself (James Earl Jones returns to voice while Spencer Wilding wears the suit), aside from creating a group of new and very endearing characters such as Jyn, rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), smart aleck robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Hong Kong cinema legend Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, who is like a Shaolin Monk who follows The Force. And it’s these endearing new faces that give Rogue One some nice emotional depth that the series hasn’t had in quite some time. The film also takes us to new places that actually look like alien worlds unlike Force Awakens’ dull settings and the action is fast and furious, especially in the amazing last act. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the first half sometimes appears a bit choppy and rushed as it races to the spectacular second half, but the climax is so exciting that you can forgive a slightly uneven start. And that’s what makes this work so well and where director Edwards really shines, is that he makes the last act so incredibly suspenseful, even though we know it’s outcome, as this is a set-up for the climax of Episode IV after all. But we like this motley band of rebels so much and the action presented so well, that we are on the edge of our seats rooting for them as they go up against incredible odds by entering a hornets nest to retrieve those now legendary Death Star plans. The film has one of the most effecting endings of any Star Wars film and leaves us at a point that will have fans in Force induced elation, while leaving not a dry eye in the theater. The SPFX representing this story are impeccable, in recreating ships and places both familiar and new and Michael Giacchino gives us an original score which still evokes a Star Wars film, even without the magnificent work of maestro John Williams.

Character-wise, the film is filled with endearing new additions to the series canon, with Felicity Jones carrying the film well on her petite shoulders as Jyn. She is a true heroine in the Star Wars mold, strong, rebellious and intelligent and Jones really makes her memorable and proves herself quite an action hero and a certified star. Diego Luna is likable as Captain Cassian Andor, rebel intelligence officer and the man sent to command this desperate mission. He isn’t quite as strong as his leading lady and does get overshadowed by she and some of the supporting cast, such as Donnie Yen, who is a delight as the scene stealing Chirrut Îmwe and his compatriot Baze Malbus, a mercenary played with charisma by Jiang Wang. Mendelsohn also makes a great bad guy and his leering menace makes him a good fit along with Vader and Tarkin, who he holds his own with. A strong villain always makes a flick like this work better and Krennic is a good villain. If any character is underdeveloped and weak it’s Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, a warrior and friend of Gaylen Erso, who has an air of nobility and mystery, but we never really get to know him very well before the character is left behind in the action. It’s a shame, as he was intriguing and Whitaker was good in a different role for the versatile actor. As for Mikkelsen, his Gaylen Erso has brief screen time, but the actor makes an impression as he always does…and let’s not forget the voice work of the talented Alan Tudyk as smart-ass droid K-2SO.

A few flaws early on in the pacing and flow of the film aside, this is simply one of the best of the Star Wars films. True it’s not technically part of the main series, but it’s a spin-off that carries the best of what this series is so beloved for. It has noble heroes, spectacular action, vile villains and a wonderful sense of nostalgia that The Force Awaken’s just didn’t have. It has a strong Star Wars feel, despite a darken and edgier tone and a last act that is simply some of the best action and suspense this series has yet to offer. It gives us some great new characters, while presenting the return of some classic characters, both expected and not. We are treated to a story that sets a major part of Episode IV in motion and leaves us at a truly euphoric moment in Star Wars history, even after giving us a sequence that will leave nary a dry eye in the house. One of the best films of 2016 and one of the best films of the entire Star Wars series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Death Stars.

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