REVIEW: THE BLACK PHONE (2022)

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THE BLACK PHONE (2022)

Thriller takes place in 1978 in a working-class suburb of Denver, Colorado. It focuses on Finny Shaw (Mason Thames) who has enough problems with school bullies and an alcoholic father, but there is also a series of child abductions being committed by a mysterious individual the press has dubbed The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). Finny is kidnaped himself by the masked serial killer and finds himself locked in a sound-proof basement. The boy gets help from unusual sources as a disconnected phone in his prison bares the voices of previous victims and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who shares her late mother’s gift for clairvoyance, tries to help police find him. Is it enough to keep Finny from being The Grabber’s next victim?

The Black Phone is directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Doctor Strange) from his script with C. Robert Cargill, based on Joe Hill’s short story. Derrickson smartly gives us a little time to get to know Finny, and his life at the moment, so we are endeared to him when Hawke’s creepy Grabber abducts him. We then intercut between Finney receiving phone messages from beyond, while police search for him with Gwen trying to help through her dream visions. It could have gotten silly quick with both a psychic sister and phone calls from dead kids on the menu, but Derrickson keeps it chilling and tense as Finny tries to find a way to escape. It also helps that Hawke’s Grabber is a disturbing yet grounded psycho who never goes over the top or falls into camp. He remains calm most of the time and that’s scarier. Derrickson only falters by once again letting James Ransone play a borderline goofy character that disrupts the serious tone and overdoing it a bit with his grainy footage schtick, which seems to be the only reason the film is set in the 70s. Gwen’s visions appear like old grainy film stock a la Sinister’s old film footage sequences. It doesn’t fit in as well here. Otherwise, this is a well-crafted thriller with some good lead performances and a worthy confrontation between victim and villain were certain puzzle pieces also fall into place.

The cast are mostly good with a very strong performance by young Mason Thames as Finny. Finny is resilient and smart, but a bit meek at times, despite showing there is some strength inside him. He and Hawke work very well together. Hawke is very good here and once again proves he is a versatile and underrated actor. His Grabber is low key and calm and that makes him all the scarier as he appears confident and in control, despite being obviously very twisted and deranged. Madeline McGraw is also excellent as the apparently psychic Gwen. She’s a tough and sometimes foul-mouthed little girl but determined to find her brother. A very strong performance from the young actress. Not so impressive is James Ranson as Max. This is a goofy and almost unnecessary character, and it interrupts the tension when his goofball antics are on screen. Also weak is Jeremy Davies as the siblings’ alcoholic father Terrance. The character simply should have been stronger and more threatening, thus his change to sympathetic would have been more impressive later on. Otherwise, a good cast!

Overall, this was a solid thriller with some impactful violence and some suspenseful moments. There were some strong performances from the leads, which helps make the more supernatural elements here work. There were a few supporting character missteps, but Hawke and Thames portrayed strong characters that made them good adversaries. An effective and tense thriller from the Doctor Strange director.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 (out of 4) wall phones

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REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION (2022)

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JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION (2022)

Supposed final installment of the Jurassic series takes place in a world where dinosaurs now live among us. While the world decides whether to co-exist or destroy the creatures, a self-serving genetic engineering company called Biosyn is using the beasts for their own gain. When they kidnap clone Maisie (Isabella Sermon) and raptor Blue’s baby Beta, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) find themselves teaming up with series vets Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to infiltrate a dinosaur surrounded BioSyn headquarters to save Maisie, Beta and the world.

Dominion is directed by Colin Trevorrow from a script and story by he, Emily Carmichael and Derek Connolly. As such, it is basically a James Bond movie with dinosaurs. On paper that sounds like a great idea, but sadly Dominion is a tired sequel that shows this series is out of gas. There are top notch SPFX and some entertaining action sequences, but it’s mostly replayed bits from the previous films and makes the cinematic mistake of making dinosaurs dull. There are no risks taken or any innovation with the story or it’s creatures. Between the scenes of 007-ish skullduggery inside the Biosyn headquarters, we once again have a massive super predator, the underdeveloped Giganotosaurus, and once again a certain fan-favorite critter comes to the group’s rescue to take it on. It’s getting tiresome, as are the incredibly two-dimensional villains led by Biosyn’s CEO Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). It’s a tedious and overlong 146 minutes and one is looking for it to finally be over, long before the actual end credits roll. Obviously, the film takes no risks in its climax either, by wrapping everything up in a neat and predictable bow. A tired and extremely mediocre final(?) chapter.

The cast are fine but are given very little to work with. Pratt and Howard still have some chemistry and are fine as the action heroes/leads. Isabella Sermon is good as an older Maisie and holds her own in the action with the adults. Jeff Goldblum is Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm and even his dialog lacks that sarcastic fun that Goldblum can deliver like no other actor. Dern and Neill are enjoyable as returning Dr. Grant and Dr Sattler but the chemistry between them was oddly absent. B.D. Wong returns as Dr. Wu, who is portrayed as more of a sympathetic character this time, which doesn’t really work. DeWanda Wise is solid as smuggler and pilot Kayla, though Campbell Scott’s villainous Dr. Dodgson is a dull and two-dimensional villain whose schemes including giant locusts don’t even make sense. A good cast with very weak material.

Jurassic World gave this series a jolt of renewed fun and Fallen Kingdom took the series in a bit of a new direction. Dominion sadly shows any revived energy or innovation with the format was short lived and this series is sinking into the tar pits like some of its prehistoric critters. There are a few entertaining action sequences, and it was fun to see classic series characters back in action one more time, but the material doesn’t support the cast or critters to give this series the fitting climactic chapter the franchise and its fans deserved.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) T-Rexs

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REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022)

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DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022)

Second solo adventure for Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds him being rescued from his former flame Christine’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding, by having to rescue a teenage girl from a rampaging, tentacled monster. The teen is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) a young woman from another dimension who has the power to travel across the multiverse. A demonic entity seeks her power and now Dr. Strange vows to protect her. Things get complicated when this malevolent enemy is revealed to wear a familiar face and now Strange and his young charge must flee across the multiverse to find the Book of Vishanti, an ancient and powerful tome that is the only hope in stopping their powerful foe.

Sequel is directed by Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron, and Raimi puts both his horror film and Spider-Man film experience to good use. Not only are there some spectacular and fun magic-infused superhero battles, but some very spooky sequences. It is certainly the scariest MCU film to date. Raimi provides a funhouse of zombies, demons, monsters, witches, and some very haunted house style settings, that suit a story filled with supernatural elements mixed in with the twisted physics. The villain is also very effective and sometimes downright scary, but you’ll have to see the movie to find out who they are. There are a few segments where the film slows down a tad, to move the complex story, or provide exposition. Otherwise, once this flick gets going, it’s a wild ride through various multiverses where we are treated to some weird worlds, multiple versions of our hero and some absolutely wonderful cameos that won’t be spoiled here. The special FX and battles are spectacular, the action is fast and furious, and the imagery is some of the best Raimi has ever conjured…as are some of the PG-13 scares. It’s a multiverse carnival ride of spooky Marvel entertainment and another solid entry in this long-running series.

As for the cast…Benedict Cumberbatch has really grown into the role of Strange and he provides a noble and strong, yet not impervious hero. Teen actress Xochitl Gomez makes quite an impression in her first feature film as America Chavez. She plays well both vulnerability and strength, as a young woman being chased across the multiverse and who must fight for her life. She also makes a solid heroine when those fights come. Rachel McAdams is likable and a good heroine herself, portraying multiple versions of Christine. Benedict Wong is noble and fun as Sorcerer Supreme Wong and he deserves his own movie or show! Chiwetel Ejiofor is also good as an alternate universe version of Mordo and Elizabeth Olsen is exceptionally strong as a returning and conflicted Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. There are a host of cameos that won’t be spoiled here, but they are all well-played and cast.

Once again Marvel and Disney deliver, as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun and sometimes spooky romp with veteran director Sam Raim at the helm. There is a lot of action, a myriad of creatures, and some bizarre and visually stunning worlds visited. The film only slows down here and there to advance the delightfully bonkers story, and we have a very strong and scary villain to ad contrast to the noble heroes. It’s an almost perfect mix of horror film and superhero movie and a great way to start the 2022 summer movie season!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Eyes of Agamotto!

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REVIEW: X (2022)

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X (2022)

Latest indie horror from A24 takes place in 1979 and finds sleazy Texas producer Wayne (Martin Henderson) setting out to make a porn film with stars Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), Maxine (Mia Goth), and Jackson (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi) along with their two-person film crew RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). They travel to the remote farm of strange, elderly couple Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (also Mia Goth), who turn out not to be the harmless old folks they seem, and the porn film soon turns into a horror movie…for real.

X is written and directed by Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) and is basically The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Debbie Does Dallas. It is a good, old-fashioned, grindhouse style flick with lots of sex, gore and flesh crawling moments. X starts out like most of West’s flicks with a slow burn, but one where we start to feel from the very start that something is not right. This prevailing sense of dread builds as things get weirder and weirder and West makes us constantly feel that a threat is soon to emerge, no better symbolized then by the gators lurking about the couple’s property. When the blood finally starts to flow, it’s prosthetic gore and there are some nasty kills to characters we’ve gotten to know and like. Even sleazy Wayne has a good-ole-boy charm that’s hard not to endear to. This makes it all the more impactful when the film crew starts to fall to various sharp objects, shotguns and the before mentioned gators. It’s scary, nasty and in between the violent moments, there are some that will certainly make your skin crawl. The sexual, undercurrent the film has also gets very disturbing…and that’s by design. This is simply West’s best horror since The House of The Devil, and one of the best horrors so far this year. It’s sexy. sleazy, scary and gory…what more do you want from a horror flick!?

Director West has a good cast in support. Henderson gives Wayne a charming appeal that despite his sleazy nature and willingness to exploit his girlfriend, Maxine, makes him a likable rogue. As Maxine, Mia Goth deftly balances a young woman with both a strong sexuality and a gentle sweetness that really makes her character work. Snow is delightfully sassy as Southern belle and porn star Bobby-Lynne, who is no dumb blonde. She’s using her natural talents to make a better life for herself. Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi is also solid as ex-Marine and war veteran turned porn star Jackson. He’s fun and has a nice heroic side. Jenna Ortega is once again impressive as “church mouse” Lorraine who seems sweet and virginal but may not be as innocent as she appears. Owen is likable as filmmaker wannabe RJ, and Stephen Ure and Mia Goth are very creepy—especially Mia Goth—as the elderly Howard and Pearl. A good cast.

Overall, this is one of West’s best films and a refreshingly, old-fashioned horror that leaves all the overdone meta/retconning crap behind. It’s scary, gory and has some moments and kills that will legitimately make your flesh crawl. It has a sexual undercurrent that goes from sexy to disturbing and pays homage to the classic grindhouse era horrors of the 70s, while yet being its own thing. Definitely one of the best horror flicks to come out so far in 2022 and one of West’s most effective horror flicks yet. Stay through the credits!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) knives!

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REVIEW: THE BATMAN (2022)

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THE BATMAN (2022)

The Batman finds a Gotham City overflowing with trash, crime and corruption. Mob bosses and corrupt city officials rule the city, and a lone vigilante dressed like a bat (Robert Pattinson) tries almost in vain to fight the tide of lawlessness. Enter into the scenario a deranged serial killer called The Riddler (Paul Dano) who is exposing and sadistically killing these corrupt officials and a beautiful cat burglar (Zoe Kravitz) with a vendetta of her own, and The Batman/Bruce Wayne finds himself in a maelstrom of conspiracy, murder and sins of the past!

Newest incarnation of the classic character is well directed by Matt Reeves from a script by he and Peter Craig. It is the darkest and most brooding version yet, with scenes bordering on a horror movie, even opening on Halloween night, as the Jigsaw-esque Riddler claims his first victim and we are introduced to Pattinson’s Dark Knight battling a face-painted street gang. The film has plenty of spectacular action, including a thrilling car chase with Batman pursuing Colin Farrell’s Penguin on a busy highway, and some brutal fight scenes. The film also delves heavily into Batman’s detective work, as Riddler leaves clues for him to solve, and Batman/Bruce Wayne finds he himself is involved in conspiracies from the past. There is a touch of romance with Zoe Kravitz’s beautiful and mysterious Selina Kyle, but otherwise this is three hours of violent action and moody intrigue. That is also the drawback in this otherwise delightfully dark tale. At a 2:56 runtime, the film is overlong, and some parts do drag. It is also a humorless and sullen film which doesn’t help one endure the extensive runtime. Some might find it’s predominately bleak tone exhausting. As for those planning to take the kids, it may be too dark and violent, pushing the limits of its PG-13 rating. Kids will definitely be restless at three hours in length. Overall, it is an intense and bleak film, though the end does manage a glimmer of hope for embattled Gotham and its bat-winged guardian. On a production level it is an epic film with its own look, feel and atmosphere with great production design by James Chinlund. There is also a perfectly moody score by Michael Giacchino and sumptuous dark, gritty and shadow-filled cinematography by Greig Fraser.

There is a wonderful and eclectic cast. Pattinson is the darkest Dark Knight yet, with a young, brooding emo Bruce Wayne and an even darker and violent hero than we’ve seen on screen. He is very good as both, though the film does focus more on Batman than the reclusive Master Wayne. This Batman has some anger issues and the Riddler is pushing him to his limits. Zoe Kravitz is purr-fectly cast as Catwoman/Selina Kyle. She has her own reasons to brood, and she is sexy and mysterious, and she and Pattinson make a good team in both gothic romance and action sequences. Paul Dano is very creepy as The Riddler. He is quite different than any version, being more Saw inspired than Frank Gorshin. A couple of times he goes a bit too over the top but is mostly low-key spooky and has a chilling sadistic streak. In support we have Jeffrey Wright making a great James Gordon, Colin Farrell as a sleazy and effective Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot, John Turturro as gangster Carmine Falcone and Andy Serkis is endearing as a feisty Alfred. A great cast in a very dark and intense spin on a classic character.

In conclusion, this was a delightfully adult version of Bob Kane’s classic character making him more dark, brooding and violent than we have seen him before. The portrayal of Gotham is bleak with even Batman bordering on hopelessness at cleaning it up. It skates close to horror with its serial killer-like villain and has only the briefest moments of romance to break up all the darkness. Only thing that holds it back is a mammoth three-hour runtime that drags in a few spots, and as it is humorless and bleak most of the time, it can be a very gloomy sit for some. Once again DC Films is refreshingly pushing the boundaries of its characters.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) bat signals!

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REVIEW: IN SEARCH OF TOMORROW (2022)

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IN SEARCH OF TOMORROW (2022)

In Search of Darkness and its sequel were four-hour documentaries about 80s horror films from producer/creator Robin Block and writer/director David A. Weiner. Now the duo are back with a nearly five-hour documentary about 80s science fiction films called In Search of Tomorrow! The 80s was a great time for science fiction flicks and filmmaker David A. Weiner presents a host of movie footage and interviewees for in-depth coverage of some of the all-time classics, while also focusing on some of the decade’s more obscure films.

New documentary follows the format of the others, covering each year of the decade and some of the films made during that that year. It’s Weiner’s best yet as this flick really holds one’s interest firmly, delivering a fun and informative look back, that keeps the audience engaged for almost five hours! It’s a true love letter to 80s science fiction cinema!

Weiner rolls out a multitude of guests discussing classics, cult classics and some well-intended bombs, from a decade that cranked out sci-fi at a fever pitch! We get scenes from a great number of films, including classics like The Thing, The Terminator, Robocop and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and cult films like Buckaroo Banzai, Galaxy of Terror and Earth Girls Are Easy. We also get interview subjects such as Peter Weller, Nicholas Meyer, Clancy Brown and John Carpenter, to name just a scant few, and we also get some new perspectives like those of journalist Angélique Roché and podcaster Dr. Andrea Letamendi. Actors, directors, FX legends, production designers, along with contemporary journalists and 80s experts, all provide their own point of view and share dozens of personal on-set anecdotes. It makes for a nice variety of perspectives. It’s a wonderful retrospective that really does not feel as long as it is and is delightfully uncensored in both scenes shown and commentary made by its multitude of entertaining guests.

As with the In Search of Darkness documentaries, this one has an extensive running time at four hours and fifty minutes.  It sounds like a long-haul but goes by very quickly and if you are a fan of 80s sci-fi flicks, or even better, old enough to have been there at the time, then watching this is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon, or a Saturday evening on the couch. In Search of Tomorrow is available for pre-order starting today and running till 3/27 at www.80sscifidoc.com. There were a lot of films not covered, so bring on In Search of Tomorrow part II!

MZNJ PERSONAL NOTE: As I said with the last documentaries…Being old enough to have been in a theater for a lot of these flicks, not only did this documentary take me back to my favorite era of movies, but actually brought to my attention a couple of flicks I missed. Bravo again, Robin Block and David A. Weiner!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) terminators.

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MUSIC REVIEW: THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE-FASCINATION (2022)

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THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE-FASCINATION (2022)

The Birthday Massacre are a cult favorite band and they have released their latest album, Fascination, two years after 2020’s awesome Diamonds and it is their eight studio album, not counting their live album Show and Tell. The Canadian Goth rockers lead by front-woman Sara “Chibi” Taylor deliver nine solid tunes in the Birthday Massacre tradition that should delight their loyal fans. This newest album is named after the first track on the disc, a moody and melodic song about love and life lessons learned. As with all their tunes, the guitars and keyboards are well-mixed to create their signature sound. Once again this is a consistent album and while each song is worthy of being a favorite, some stand-out tunes are “Cold Lights”, “One More Time”, and personal favorite “Like Fear, Like Love”. The songs are produced by band members Michael Rainbow, Michael Falcore, and Brett Carruthers, who co-wrote them along with lead singer Chibi. The songs are filled with darkly poetic lyrics, that not only tell somber tales of lost love, inner turmoil and other subjects but also evoke haunting imagery when listened to. Chibi’s vocal range is used to full effect, as always, taking us from soulful, to haunting, to melodic depending on what the songs are trying to say. Her musicians’ contributions are all strongly present with the current line-up: Rainbow on rhythm guitar and vocals, Falcore on lead guitars, Phil Elliot on Drums, Owen Mackinder on keyboards and Brett “Bat’ Carruthers on bass. All great musicians who collaborate to form this gothic/rock band’s unique and multi-layered sound that has satisfied fans for literally twenty years! Another solid disc from a band who have delivered original eight albums with not one bad song amongst them. They are also great live, if you are interested in checking them out, and it’s recommended you do!

-MonsterZero NJ

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Photo: The Birthday Massacre

Track Listing

1.”Fascination” 5:05

2.”Dreams of You” 3:24

3.”Cold Lights” 4:19

4.”Stars and Satellites” 4:16

5. “One More Time” 4:36

6.”Like fear, Like Love” 4:26

7.”Once Again” 3:59

8.”Precious Hearts” 4:27

9.”The End of All Stories” 4:23

3 and 1/2 guitars

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

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-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: SCREAM (2022)

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SCREAM (2022)

Latest sequel finds Woodsboro once again the target of someone wearing the Ghostface mask. This time it’s Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), who is allowed to live only to lure estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) back to Woodsboro. Why is Ghostface so interested in Sam? Could a dark secret trailing back to the original Woodsboro murders have something to do with it? Sam and her friends have an edge though, as Dewey (David Arquette), Gail (Courteney Cox) and Sydney (Neve Campbell) have vowed to stop Ghostface once and for all!

Self-labeled “requel” is directed by the team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) from a script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. It’s more “meh” than meta as this fifth installment is showing that the Scream formula is running out of gas and this one in particular adds little new to revitalize the franchise. Even Sydney herself claims this Ghostface is the most derivative yet and she’s ironically not wrong. Our three veteran characters all seem visibly tired of this schtick, though the new cast members do try hard, especially Barrera and Ortega. The attempts to give fan service to the original film works only about half the time, though there are some impactful deaths of series characters. There are also some solid kills, a few suspenseful sequences, and some clever dialogue, but even Ghostface lacks a strong threat and the whole film simply felt like it was going through the motions. Even the film’s reveal lacked a strong impact and the reasons for this happening a fifth time seemed very convoluted. Worst of all, It’s actually a bit dull in spots. Something a slasher should never be.

The veterans are fine, but you get the feeling they are also going through the motions and are not really invested in having to do this yet again. Campbell, Cox and Arquette just don’t breathe the life into the characters that they did in the past installments and are actually overshadowed by some of the newcomers. Speaking of which, Melissa Barrera makes for a very strong lead as Sam, the focus of the newest Ghostface’s attention. She’s strong-willed and makes a solid final girl. Also solid is Jenna Ortega (The Babysitter: Killer Queen), who has been a familiar face in horror lately, and she does good work as Sam’s younger sister Tara. Ortega is sympathetic, but also shows some toughness in her encounters with Ghostface. Dylan Minnette (GooseBumps) is likable as the son of now Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) and Jack Quaid does a fine job as Sam’s boyfriend Richie. Rounding out the attractive young cast are Mikey Madison as Amber, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding (Booksmart) as siblings Mindy and Chad and Sonia Ammar as Chad’s girlfriend Liv. A likable cast who deserved a stronger script and better movie.

Overall, this new Scream neither refreshes the franchise for a new generation nor gives it a strong finish— though if it ended here—which it probably won’t—it would be a fitting enough, though weak, send-off. It has some good kills, a few clever touches, and a solid young cast, but otherwise only seems to illustrate that this franchise is running out of gas. The veteran actors seem tired of it all and the script could have done more than put this installment through familiar paces. Entertaining to a degree, but also too slow and routine in spots to let it slide on some of it faults.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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

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SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 swords

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