REVIEW: BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

rated 3 and 1/2 holographic girlfriends.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

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THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

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

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

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

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

 

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: BEYOND SKYLINE (2017)

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BEYOND SKYLINE (2017)

2010’s Skyline was an awful alien invasion flick that centered around a bunch of boring characters in a condo dealing with an extraterrestrial incursion. Despite bad reviews, it still made a lot of money on a meager budget. Considering this, it’s actually surprising the flick took seven years to get a sequel. Follow-up takes place during the same event, but focuses on recently widowed cop, Mark Corley (Frank Grillo) and his troubled son, Trent (Jonny Weston). Along with other captives on an alien ship, Corley and son fight to escape. The plot then takes us on a goofy journey of stolen brains, rebellious robots, Asian outlaws, genetically altered babies and human resistance fighters…still with me?

Sequel is written and directed by Liam O’Donnell, who co-wrote the original, and it is a bit of an improvement. Original filmmakers Colin and Greg Strause, return to produce and let O’Donnell turn this into more of a straight-up action flick, with a solid and gory R rating, as opposed to the original’s PG-13. Unfortunately, the first time director also gets a bit over-indulgent with a very busy and silly script which finds the aliens harvesting human brains to control their machines and altering the DNA of human babies to accelerate their growth. We know this by running into pregnant Elaine (now Samantha Jean) and her boyfriend Jarrod (Tony Black) from the first movie, Jarrod, who’s brain is now in an alien drone. It is Jarrod that rebels and helps Corley by crashing the ship, turning the second half of the movie into a thriller about fighting back, when the survivors hit the ground running in what looks like Indonesia. This is where the Asian outlaws and human resistance fighters come in. It’s all very kooky and cliché, though at least O’Donnell takes the silly material seriously and doesn’t make a joke out of it. The action is fun and the FX are very good.

Adding Frank Grillo to this flick helps. Grillo is a solid leading man/action hero and takes the goofball script seriously and this helps us enjoy some of the more scatterbrained stuff. We also get The Hallow’s Bojana Novakovic as an LA subway driver, literally along for the ride, and she’s fine. There is also Antonio Fargas as a homeless, ex-soldier and Iko Uwais and Pamelyn Chee as outlaw siblings Sua and Kanya. Grillo is the strength here, but the rest of the cast do well enough.

Certainly more fun than the dull original, but also a lot goofier and with a far more convoluted and cliché plot. We get a lot of action, which includes spurting blood, some martial arts and even a Godzilla-esque giant monster battle. O’Donnell seems to be a bit better director than the Strauses, but is very overindulgent with his script. Grillo helps by doing a good job as it’s hero and the production value/ SPFX are quite solid. Ridiculous, but at least, not boring and there are also some fun bloopers during the end credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 angry aliens.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

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

The Last Jedi is a true middle chapter of a trilogy as it has barely what could be called a story, opening not long after the end of The Force Awakens and obviously not wrapping much up by it’s end. The film has Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) rousting The Resistance from it’s hideout and following General Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) remaining ships in hot pursuit, picking them off one by one as they run out of fuel. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) learns more about her power while trying to convince reclusive hermit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) to get off his arse and come save the galaxy…and that’s it.

This chapter is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) and is an improvement over the lackluster retread that was The Force Awakens…though not by much for the first two thirds. There are some nice moments and some solid action, though the film seems to drag it’s flimsy story out too long and some sequences, like a silly trip to a casino planet, seem like filler. The last act is when it really kicks into gear and we get the thrills we came for. It was also nice to see Daisy Ridley expand her character of Rey a bit more and that the film sets up an interesting connection between she and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who also is given some more depth. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar isaac) aren’t as lucky, given not all that much to do, however, and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) never seems to rise above sidekick status and has some of the film’s weakest lines. The real treat is seeing Hamil, as the conflicted and tormented Luke Skywalker and the late Carrie Fisher in an expanded role as Leia. Reminds us why they were so magical in the original (middle) trilogy. The action scenes we get are spectacular, though seem more relegated to the first and last acts, and Johnson has a visual style that gives this a look and feel unlike the previous chapters, but never alienating itself from the series. There are some cool surprises and even if it drags at times, The Last Jedi, overall is a satisfying installment, though lacks the aura of legend that New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi had. Last year’s Rouge One was refreshingly adult and very intense, this one seems to return to the more family friendly tone of cute critters, comical robots and corny moments, with the intensity being only occasional. Too bad, Rouge One is one of the best of the entire series, IMO and felt more strongly like a Star Wars movie than this new trilogy, so far.

As for our cast…Johnson can certainly director actors. As stated Ridley gets to show some real strength as Rey learns to manipulate The Force and become more a hero. She’s a good actress and gives the role depth even when script weaknesses leave it all up to her. Driver is given some nice conflict to play with within Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and does a good job with it. He’s becoming a solid villain. Serkis is fine as Snoke who is basically an Emperor Palpatine retread. Hamil is great as Luke and gives one of his finest portrayals of the character as does the late Carrie Fisher as his sister Leia. She will be missed moving forward and it was a welcome return for Hamil. Boyega and Isaac, sadly are given little to do and their characters don’t really grow that much from when we last saw them. Kelly Marie Tran is a bit bland as resistance mechanic Rose. Her character came across as a bit two dimensional and cliché. She didn’t leave an impression. Rounding out is Laura Dern doing nicely as a tough resistance Admiral and Benicio del Toro giving some life to his mysterious scoundrel.

So, overall, chapter eight is an improvement over the weak chapter seven, but still pales when placed up against chapters four through six. It had some good action, some striking visuals and did do some new things with some traditional Star Wars tropes. It’s weaknesses are it’s paper thin story and that it seems a bit dragged out considering it’s 150 minutes long and not a lot is accomplished till the last act. With Chapter IX awaiting us in 2019, there is obviously a lot left open, though it’s not quite an outright cliffhanger like Empire. Hopefully this series can really wrap this trilogy up with a bang for that final chapter, so far it’s not quite hit the mark, lofty though that mark may be.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 Millenium Falcons.

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REVIEW: THE TOWN THAT WAS (2007)

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THE TOWN THAT WAS (2007)

The Town That Was is a moving documentary about the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania which has become a virtual ghost town after an underground coal fire has slowly forced most of it’s inhabitants out. The documentary by Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland, focuses on some of the few citizens left, specifically a man named John Lokitis Jr, who still sees the shell of a town as home.

The documentary first details how in 1962 a fire that was set to burn a garbage dump, reached the coal mines beneath the town and ignited it. Bureaucracy then prevented the situation from being remedied quick enough and now the fire has been burning out of control underground ever since. As the fire spreads people either left, or sold their homes under eminent domain when the government stepped in to buy them out. By the time this documentary was made, their were only eleven people left in a town that once held 3,000.

Once we learn the history of how this once thriving little coal town has practically disappeared, we get the story of some of the few that refuse to leave, even though the government now owns all the property. One such man is John Lokitis Jr, who has lived there all his life. John works hard to keep alive what little of the town is left, including repainting benches, mowing the lawns of dozens of properties and hanging Christmas decorations from the telephone poles as was tradition. It’s both empowering to watch someone fight for what he believes in and sad to see someone in denial about what is happening around him. John maintains there is no danger, but it’s hard to agree with him while smoke billows out of the ground behind him. We also get some experts’ opinions and most agree there is a constant danger of CO2 poisoning or the ground collapsing as it has in the past…almost fatally for one boy. Regardless, this is a disturbing story of a town all but erased from the map by a bizarre situation.

Whether you believe the last hold-outs are being foolish or standing up for the home they love, is left up to the viewer. We’re given the history on the town and the fire that’s been it’s undoing and hear from experts, citizens who left and those few who remain. At times the documentary did feel like it focused on Lokitis a bit too much and could have delved a bit more into the current state of the fire itself and the havoc it reeks on the area, but the human element was definitely the goal here. Either way, this is a fascinating and disturbing piece of Americana and the freak accident that has been swallowing a small town for over 50 years.

NOTE: Some personal research on my part has revealed that Lokitis was finally evicted from his home in 2009 and his house demolished a year later, though ironically, in 2013 the remaining citizens were granted permission to stay by state and local government.

There’s also a segment of Real Fear: The Truth Behind The Movies focusing on Centralia, hosted by paranormal expert Katrina Weidman, who actually has family from there.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 stars.

 

 

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TV REVIEW: THE PUNISHER (2017)

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THE PUNISHER (2017)

Spin-off series from season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil finds ex-soldier Frank Castle aka “The Punisher” (Jon Bernthal) thinking he’s finished his mission of revenge and hanging up his skull adorned bulletproof vest under the new identity of loner, construction worker Pete Castellini. Upon being contacted by a whistle blower thought dead named Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Castle finds that there is a deeper conspiracy responsible for the murder of his family, one that involves high ranking military personal, dirty CIA agents and unknowingly himself. Castle returns to the road for revenge, but only now he has a tenacious Homeland Security agent on his tail (Amber Rose Revah) who has her own score to settle.

The Punisher solo series’ first season leaves some mixed feelings. Bernthal is still a great Frank Castle/Punisher and there is certainly a lot of the bone-crushing, brutal action like the character was involved in on Daredevil. The problems here are some sub-plots that don’t seem necessary or to add much to the proceedings and the fact that it once again takes nearly the whole season for The Punisher to really re-emerge. It’s more of a conspiracy show, a la the X-Files, which would be fine if it stuck to the conspiracy and it’s attention didn’t wander to sub-plots like a growing relationship with Micro’s “widow” (Jaime Ray Newman) and kids (Kobi Frumer and Ripley Sobo) and an emotionally disturbed young vet turned terrorist named Lewis (Daniel Webber). These sub-plots seem more like plot devices, one to keep his relationship with Micro antagonistic and the other to wrongfully out him to the world as a terrorist. At times they feel a bit like filler to stretch the series out to it’s 13 episodes when maybe a more streamlined 10 would have served it better and kept to the main story. Sometimes the violence seems a bit too over the top and Frank seems to bounce back from severe wounds or beatings far too quickly to be believable. If the show wants to ground itself in reality, which it does, than it’s hard to swallow a man entering physical combat mere days after being beaten practically to death. Still the show is well done and the acting is strong across the board, especially from Bernthal, Moss-Bachrach and Revah. Paul Schulze makes a detestable bad guy as rogue CIA director William Rawlins, one of the season’s main villains. There are also some returning characters From DDse02, such as Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Clancy Brown as Major Schoonover. While there are generous amounts of action throughout, once The Punisher suits up again there are some really intense action set-pieces, which illustrate just how bad-ass this incarnation of the character is. The show does have a kind of Sons of Anarchy vibe, it handled the theme of a combat vet’s life back home very well and a more focused second season could really fire on all cylinders for the character.

Overall, the first season for Marvel’s gun-toting vigilante wasn’t exactly on target, but has enough going for it to look forward to more. Now that the revenge and conspiracy elements are taken care of, season two can get down to The Punisher doing what he does best. Not a great first season, but one that shows a lot of potential if season 2 can lock it down.

EPISODE LIST

  1. 3 AM – directed by Tom Shankland and written by Steve Lightfoot
  2. Two Dead Men – directed by Tom Shankland and written by Steve Lightfoot
  3. Kandahar – directed by Andy Goddard and written by Steve Lightfoot
  4. Resupply – directed by Karl Skogland and written by Dario Scardapane
  5. Gunner – directed by Dearbhla Walsh written by Michael Jones-Morales
  6. The Judas Goat – directed by Jeremy Webb and written by Christine Boylan
  7. Crosshairs – directed by Andy Goddard and written by Bruce Marshall Romans
  8. Cold Steel – directed by Antonio Campos and written by Felicia D. Henderson
  9. Front Toward Enemy – directed by Marc Jobst and written by Angela LaManna
  10. Virtue of the Vicious – directed by Jim O’hanlon and written by Ken Kristensen
  11. Danger Close – directed by Kevin Hooks and written by Felicia D. Henderson
  12. Home – directed by Jet Wilkinson and written by Dario Scardapane
  13. Memento Mori- directed by Stephen Surjik and written by Steve Lightfoot

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

 

 

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REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

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JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

Justice League is a movie fans have been waiting a long time for and while it’s not the movie we’d hoped we’d get, it is still a lot of fun. Story finds Earth under attack from an ancient being called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) who needs three powerful ‘mother boxes’ to come to his full strength and conquer the planet. Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to put together a team of meta humans to join in the fight. They need to convince Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry Allen aka The Flash (a hilarious Ezra Miller) to unite with them to stop Steppenwolf in his tracks. But even with the heroes united, their only hope of defeating the titan and his army of pandemons, may lie six feet under in a grave in Smallville.

DC’s classic comic is brought to the screen by Zack Snyder from a story by he and Chris Terrio and a script by Terrio and Joss Whedon. Avengers director/writer Whedon was called in to finish post-production and handle re-shoots when a family tragedy forced Snyder off the project. The result is a film that is far from perfect, but is still a lot of fun. The film feels a bit incomplete despite a competent director taking over the project and it also feels edited down to the quick to get to the action faster. Ironically Batman v Superman was improved when material was added on blu-ray, but here they chose to go in the opposite direction and the film feels like it’s missing something. The first act seems particularly rushed and we really don’t get to feel the resonance of the search for the meta humans or Steppenwolf’s arrival. It all happens so quickly and it’s a bit choppy. Once the team is assembled and goes on the offensive, the movie is a lot of fun with the banter between our Justice League members being a highlight, especially from the wisecracking Flash. Their first battle brings the team up short and thus begins the quest to raise the dead, or at least one of them. Then it’s off to a fun conclusion that follows this series’ propensity for big CGI filled spectacle, but doesn’t quite seem as messy as the bloated, overlong Batman v Superman climax, in fact, it actually felt a bit short. The whole film does leave one wanting more, to be honest, but the camaraderie between the characters really goes a long way and there are some really fun dialogue and action scenes to make this an entertaining night at the movies, nonetheless. It’s not the classic hoped for, but DC is starting find it’s footing, at least in terms of tone. It kept that DC look and feel, but isn’t as gloomy or takes itself too seriously like some of the previous DCU flicks. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography helps the film appear consistent with previous entries and Danny Elfman provides the atmospheric score with some fun nods to previous hero themes.

The cast really help make up for some of the film’s shortcomings. Affleck is once again solid as Batman/Bruce Wayne. He’s a bit more upbeat here and he has some nice banter with his costars as the reluctant founder of the League. Gal Gadot once again proves she was born to play Wonder Woman and she has some nice moments, including some good chemistry with Affleck’s billionaire hero. Ezra Miller steals the flick as the sarcastic, slacker hero The Flash. He gets some of the best lines and his dorky charm fits the character perfectly. He also has solid chemistry with his co-stars. Ray Fisher is effective as the tragic, yet powerful Cyborg. He’s still learning how to use his powers and still conflicted over being Frankenstein-ed by his father and we sympathize. Jason Mamoa is good as Aquaman, but it seems his surfer-dude hero never really gets his moment in this flick. Maybe WB is holding back as James Wan’s Aquaman is the next DC flick due out. J.K. Simmons is good as Commissioner Gordon, but only has two or three scenes and Ciarán Hinds voices a somewhat imposing Steppenwolf, though he seems like just another CGI monster…but at least one with far more personality than Doomsday in BvS. As for other returning cast members, Amy Adams and Diane Lane ease back into their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively, Irons is again perfect as the cynical Alfred and it’s no surprise that at some point Henry Cavill is going to show up…but the when and hows will be left for viewers to find out. A good cast that help get over some of the bumps in Justice League’s road.

In conclusion, Justice League still shows that DC has work to do, but at least has a fun time with it’s missteps. It does get a lot right, including some entertaining interaction between our heroes and some fun action scenes. It’s not as good a film overall as Wonder Woman, but in ways is more fun and takes itself far less seriously than MoS and BvS. The film could have used a little more time for us to appreciate the hunt for the heroes by Wayne and Diana and needed to give more weight to the appearance of it’s moderately effective villain. In all fairness, who knows what effects losing it’s director had on the final product. With Snyder away, did the studio play? Regardless of it’s issues, it’s still a fun romp that brings together some of the most famous comic book heroes of all time and even serves up, not one but two, additional scenes, one mid-credits and one post-credits…and the post-credits scene will have comic book fans talking. Go in with moderate expectations and you can have a real good time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 heroes.

 

 

 

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE VILLAINESS (2017)

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THE VILLAINESS (2017)

Korean action flick follows the bloody path of vengeance cut by Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) a woman raised to be an assassin since she was a child. As a little girl she watched her father (Park Chul-min), brutally murdered before her eyes. A mysterious man, Lee Joong-sang (Shin Ha-kyun) trains her and eventually marries her, but upon his death, her road to revenge catches the attention of an intelligence agency that wants use of her skills. They want her services for ten years and then Sook-hee will be free. Soon she has a new face, new identity and even a child (Kim Yeon-woo) and new husband (Sung Joon). But when a familiar face resurfaces and she finds herself betrayed by those she trusted, Sook-hee finds herself questioning everything she knew and held dear…and back on a collision course with bloody retribution.

Flick is directed with gusto by Jung Byung-gil from a script by he and brother Jung Byeong-sik and while it is a little plot heavy, it is also loaded with some very intense and gruesome action. The film opens with a bonkers and extremely violent POV scene of Sook-hee shooting and slicing her way through the entire contingency of a large meth lab and this sets the tone for some of the John Woo on crack action scenes that the film is peppered with. There is also a lot of melodrama in between, such as Sook-hee bearing the child of her first husband while at the intelligence agency and dealing with the advances of the handsome Jung Hyun-soo (Sung Joon), who the audience knows from the start is an agency operative sent to keep an eye on her. Don’t worry, the soap opera level dramatics are handled well and just when it teeters on the edge of losing our interest, there is betrayal, murder and the shocking arrival of someone from Sook-hee’s past and soon the blood and bullets are flying again. The climactic fight with an axe wielding Sook-hee on a moving bus is worth watching this for alone. The action scenes are frantic and some of the dizzying camerawork can start to get a bit trying, but there is some real intensity and energy to them and it’s interesting to see where the legendary John Woo’s influence is taken by today’s filmmakers.

The cast are all really good, especially leading lady Kim Ok-bin. She has a screen presence, not only as a beautiful woman, but she is strong in the dramatic scenes and is quite riveting in the action. She has us feeling the pain of her loss and betrayals and we are rooting for her as she cuts and blasts her way through endless amounts of thugs. Shin Ha-kyun is also charismatic as Lee Joong-sang, the man who takes young Sook-hee (Min Ye-ji) and trains her, then marries her once she has grown into a beautiful and deadly woman. Their are some twists involving his character that the actor portrays very well. Sung Joon is also very likable as Jung Hyun-soo. Despite the audience knowing from the beginning that he is an operative, the actor makes us believe he truly cares for Sook-hee and her little girl. Rounding out is Kim Seo-hyung as Sook-hee’s agency boss Chief Kwon, a ruthless woman well rendered by the actress.

Overall, this is an entertaining flick with some dazzling and fast paced action. Sure, some of the frantic camerawork can come close to giving you a headache, but there is plenty of flying bullets, blades and blood to satisfy action fans. There is also a lot of plot and melodrama, but director Jung Byung-gil handles it well and our leading lady keeps our attention when she is not running through her enemies like a lawn mower. One of the best action flicks to come out of Asian cinema in a while and a sign that the Korean cinema is still very much a strong player on the film making scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets

 

 

 

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REVIEW: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

Third installment of this series, that acts as both prequel and reboot, joins the war between humans and apes two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that started it. The war is starting to turn against Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the apes due to the aggressive methods of a psychotic colonel (Woody Harrelson). Caesar suffers personal loss and while on a mission of revenge, the apes are captured and enslaved by the colonel and his troops. Can Caesar free the apes and get them to a safe haven across the dessert before the colonel sees them all dead?

Second sequel is again directed by Matt Reeves, who co-wrote the script with Mark Bomback. As with Dawn this is an intense film both in terms of action and emotional depth and it’s all expertly directed by Reeves. Like his last go around, Reeves really gives his characters a three dimensional-ity and that certainly includes his motion capture CGI simians. This might be the most dramatically intense of the three films and when the action does come it’s a fast and furious spectacle that evokes some of the best war films. There are also some very subtle but clever nods to the original series, such as a mute little girl with a very familiar name.  The score is again by a returning Michael Giacchino and it adds atmosphere to a very solid entry in this clever re-imagining.

The cast are all strong, even though most of the principles are motion capture. Andy Serkis is once again very good as the ape leader Ceasar. He gives the character a lot of emotional depth through his body language and dialogue and it might be his best performance as the simian hero. Harrelson delivers another solid performance as the cruel, ape hating colonel. While he is most certainly the villain here, the script allows Harrelson to give him a human side, one built on fear and loss, so that he is not a two dimensional monster, but a human driven to hatred and cruelty due to his own inner pain and fear. Despite his heinous actions and cruel behavior, there is a person under the layers of anger and brutality. The supporting characters all do good work, too, from Karin Konoval as ape Maurice. Steve Zahn as the eccentric “Bad Ape” and little Amiah Miller as the mute Nova.

So, another top notch entry in this reboot series from Matt Reeves. It was as emotionally strong as it was filled with intense action. There was a good script and solid direction to go along with some very strong acting both from those playing humans to the motion capture performers behind our simian characters. A really good movie in a very solid series. If it is the last one, it is a fitting climax.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Caesars.

dawn apes rating

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REVIEW: THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

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THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Third solo flick for the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has his sister, Hela The God of Death (Cate Blanchett) returning from exile and claiming the throne of Asgard. She destroys Thor’s hammer and casts he and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into space, where they land on the anarchic planet of Sakaar. While Hela lays waste to Asgard’s armies, Thor is taken prisoner and forced into a gladiatorial arena where he finds his old ally Hulk is the reigning champion. Ever determined to save his world, Thor plots to escape with Hulk, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a Asgardian Valkyrie warrior (Tessa Thompson) in hiding, who has faced Hela before.

Marvel took a chance with an out of left-field choice by hiring New Zealand comedy director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) for this third entry. Armed with a script and story by Christopher Yost, Eric Pearson and Chris Kyle, Waititi delivers an audacious action/adventure that evokes The Fifth Element with it’s mix of over-the top, sci-fi action and a delightfully eccentric sense of humor. It’s tone also echos the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks, but while their humor was sarcastic and biting, here it’s very offbeat and sometimes downright weird. It makes for one of the more daring and fun entries in Marvel’s long running film series and it works far more than it doesn’t…and not all the humor hits the mark. The design of the film and it’s action sequences is stunning and it doesn’t quite look like anything we’ve seen from these movies so far, though not too different to alienate itself from the other films of the MCU. The SPFX are as good as it gets and there is a wonderfully 80s-esque electronic score from Mark Mothersbaugh. At 130 minutes it might be a tad too long, but it is never boring and when it’s not thrilling us with some spectacular action, it’s providing some solid laughs and gives us one of the stronger Marvel villain’s to boo with Blanchett’s Hela.

The cast all do wonderfully here. Chris Hemsworth shows he has a gift for comedy with a more jovial Thor. He’s still haughty and noble and a bit self-centered, but the actor also handles the comic scenes very well without weakening the God of Thunder’s heroic veneer. Hiddleston is also fun as Loki, who seems more reluctantly along for the ride this time than his usual in control, scheming self. Tessa Thompson is fiery and sexy as the Valkyrie warrior who once faced Hela and it frightened her so much she went into self-imposed exile on Sakaar’s nowhere land. There is still a noble quality hidden under the booze and bravado and it will draw her to Thor’s side despite her reluctance. Mark Ruffalo is again a delight as Banner/Hulk. The good doctor seems to have taken a backseat to his green alter ego and it’s fun to watch him deal with the fact that he’s been Hulk-ed out for over two years. Cate Blanchett is smoothly sinister as the God of Death, Hela. She is a great actress and makes her fierce and powerful, but not without a very dry and twisted sense of humor. She’s fun to watch as she chews the scenery, but she never let’s the character get too over-the-top, avoiding camp. In support we have Karl Urban as Skurge, a traitorous Asgardian who becomes Hela’s henchman, Idris Elba returning as Heimdall and Jeff Goldblum as the eccentric and flamboyant Grandmaster, who runs Sakaar’s gladiator matches. A great cast who deftly handle the offbeat tone and material.

This flick may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy movies like The Fifth Element, or even the recent Guardians movies, this is definitely up your alley. It’s got some spectacular action, some visually sumptuous settings and FX and a healthy, but very offbeat and eccentric sense of humor. Director Waititi delivers one of the more audacious entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he and lead Hemsworth keep Thor’s effective qualities sharp, while making him far funnier than we’ve ever seen him…and it works. There is a top notch cast of eclectic characters to back the God of Thunder up, including Waititi’s own hilarious vocalization of alien gladiator Korg and an appearance by another Marvel superhero, that won’t be spoiled here. A really fun and in many ways daring, entry in Marvel’s on-going movie series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 hammers.

 

 

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