REVIEW: BLACK WIDOW (2021)

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BLACK WIDOW (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 Black Widows

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

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks

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REVIEW: CRUELLA (2021)

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CRUELLA (2021)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

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A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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REVIEW: GODZILLA vs KONG (2021)

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GODZILLA vs KONG (2021)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Godzillas
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REVIEW: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021)

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ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021)

Justice League was a movie fans had been waiting a long time for and was sadly, not the movie we’d hoped we’d get. Originally it was to be brought to the screen by Zack Snyder from a story and script by he and Chris Terrio. When a family tragedy forced Snyder off the project, Avengers director/writer Joss Whedon was called in to finish post-production and write and direct re-shoots. A lot of the film was changed and the result was met with less than stellar reactions from fans and critics. Now, four years later, after relentless campaigning by fans, Zack Snyder has returned to finish his version of the film and HBO Max is presenting the Snyder cut exclusively on their streaming network.

The story now opens with Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death and his final scream echoing across the planet, the effects of his loss rippling across the world. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) begins searching the planet for meta humans, as he feels an attack on earth is imminent, while the world and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) mourns Superman’s death. Earth soon does find itself under attack from an ancient being called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), in the name of an even more powerful being named Darkseid (Ray Porter). He needs to recover three powerful ‘mother boxes’ to come to his full strength and conquer the planet…something Steppenwolf and Darkseid failed to do once before. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to put together a team of meta humans to join in the fight. To  do that they need to convince Arthur Curry, The Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry “The Flash” Allen (Ezra Miller) to unite with them to stop Steppenwolf from conquering Earth and retrieving something here that Darkseid badly wants. But even with these heroes united, their only hope of defeating the villain and his army of pandemons, may lie six feet under in a grave in Smallville.

Under Snyder’s guidance the film is a lot more somber, but also packs a lot more emotional resonance. We are truly made to feel not only the difference Superman made in people’s lives, and the effects of his being gone on the mood of the world, but on his family and friends as well. It is also twice as long, at over four hours, and is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which may not sit well with those used to more panoramic superhero epics. The film is far more intense in it’s violent moments and is not quite as family friendly, as was the theatrical cut, as it now carries an R rating. There is, though, a lot of character development now, Cyborg and Steppenwolf in particular, for everyone involved and this greatly improves on giving the comic book material a lot of depth and substance. Sure it takes a long time to get to the heroics, but the battles with Steppenwolf have far more weight, as now do all the characters involved. There is also a healthy amount of action added too, so the flick is far from talky. There is also the added caveat of an anti-life equation that Darkseid wants and Steppenwolf believes is here on Earth. It adds even more urgency to the proceedings and echoes of future conflict to come. We see a lot of the humor that was added to the theatrical cut removed, but it is not all doom and gloom, as there are still some nice lighter moments between characters. Obviously, there was a healthy amount of Snyder’s material still in the theatrical cut, so there are many familiar scenes, but the amount of new material, added story elements and alternate versions of sequences makes it practically an all new film. On a production level, the new FX sequences merge flawlessly in with the original material and the mood is well set by a very effective and more fitting score by Tom Holkenborg, who goes under the stage name of Junkie XL. Overall, this Justice League can stand up far better next to the Infinity War saga from it’s MCU counterparts.

The cast’s efforts in this cut are even more evident as we get much more of their strong work. Affleck is once again solid as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Batman is a bit more brooding and intense here, which is more in character, and we see where some of his lighter moments were added in the theatrical cut. Affleck shows again he is a solid caped crusader. Gal Gadot once again proves she was born to play Wonder Woman and she has some really good extended and added moments. The chemistry with Affleck’s billionaire hero is still evident, as is now with Alfred as well. Ezra Miller still steals his scenes 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 (Joe Morton) and we sympathize. Another role nicely expanded by more footage. Jason Mamoa is less the surfer dude as Aquaman. Here he gets a lot more depth and there is some foreshadowing of his adventures to come and we see his inner conflicts clearer. By now it’s no surprise that Henry Cavill returns as Superman and here is he is a more conflicted and troubled hero before deciding to resume his role as protector. No CGI erased mustaches either, but there is a foreboding black suit. J.K. Simmons is still here as Commissioner Gordon, but again only has two or three scenes. Ciarán Hinds still voices a more imposing Steppenwolf, and here he also seems to have a lot more character development and depth, as we learn more about him and his debts to Darkseid. As for other returning cast members, Amy Adams and Diane Lane ease back into their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively and get more scenes in this cut. Irons is still perfect as the cynical Alfred and also benefits from more footage. This version also has Harry Lennix as Calvin Swanwick, who is now revealed to be Martian Manhunter, Peter Guinness as DeSaad, one of Darkseid’s generals, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Ray Porter as Darkseid and Jared Leto returns with an absolutely chilling cameo as The Joker. A great cast, now even more evident with added performance material.

In conclusion, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the flick were wanted the first time. It is a four hour opus filled with the emotional depth, character development and brooding intensity that was missing in the theatrical version. The casual viewer may find the 242 minute runtime a bit daunting, but fans of this stuff will simply eat up all the new material and it’s darker tone, though it’s nothing much darker than say the last two Avenger’s epics. It’s also satisfying to see Snyder’s vision come to light, one that is sweetly dedicated to his daughter, whose loss lead to his leaving the project initially. Now that this series is back on track, let’s see where they go with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) heroes.


 

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REVIEW: PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

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PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

Film finds thirty-something Cassie (Carey Mulligan) working in a coffee shop and still living with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge). Cassie was a med student seven years ago, but the date rape and resulting suicide of her best friend Nina caused her to drop out. Now the emotionally troubled Cassie plots to get back at the man responsible and those who covered for and defended him. She also goes to bars at night, pretends to be drunk and teaches a lesson to anyone who try to take advantage of her. Her nocturnal activities and the path to payback for Nina hit a bit of a snag, though, when she meets a charming and handsome pediatrician (Bo Burnham).

Powerful flick is written and directed by Emerald Fennell and is an extremely impressive feature film debut. It tackles the subjects of date rape, sexual misconduct at schools and the effects on the victims, through the vengeful Cassie, but not without an undercurrent of dark humor. Through Cassie and her confronting those involved, we learn of how Nina was taken advantage of at a party, raped and then having to watch the perpetrator Al Monroe (Chris Lowell) defended and covered for by the school administration and other students, such as classmate Madison (Alison Brie). It turned Nina into an emotional wreck who we safely assume finally took her own life. The film boldly faces down how the perpetrators of such acts become the defendants and the victims the villains, in this society of boys will be boys. It illustrates how more concern is shown for not ruining the accused’s life than for the victim’s trauma and pain. Cassie also confronts like individuals by going to bars, playing drunk and then confronting these guys as they plan to take advantage of her. The film is unflinching, yet the underlying dark humor helps keep these timely subjects from bludgeoning you. Fennell deftly keeps you attentive, receptive and sensitive to the subject matter, as it’s cleverly woven into the story and thus better received and the points better made. As we watch the tale unfold, we get what writer/director is trying to say, slyly, but not too subtly as to miss those points. Emerald Fennell takes the gloves off and through Cassie calls out the frat boy, wolf pack mentality that protects the guilty and leaves victims humiliated and ostracized. She also directs with a lethal sarcasm and a hip and colorful style, as we follow Cassie along her path to retribution that culminates in a riveting and disturbing last act at Al Monroe’s bachelor party. A film with an important message for the #metoo generation, told with a lethal wit by Fennell. A viciously witty indictment of all too common behavior and the lack of consequences for that behavior.

The cast is strong with Carey Mulligan giving a brilliant performance as the young woman who beneath her sarcastic, slacker exterior is seething with anger and rage. A woman who’s pain and frustration, at how her friend was treated, has been focused into an intelligent and borderline sinister plan for payback. Until she reaches her target, she vents her anger out on lecherous bar patrons, she lures in by playing the naive drunk girl. It is also a direct statement on the mentality of far too many men when we witness just how often her trap works. Bo Burnham is charming and funny as Cassie’s unexpected love interest, Ryan. Is his interest in her and her growing feelings for him enough to make her put aside her inner turmoil and rage? This film is worth watching to find out. Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge are good as her disappointed, frustrated and somewhat clueless parents and Chris Lowell is appropriately slimy as eternal frat boy and party rapist Al Monroe. In smaller, but effective parts are Adam Brody and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as men who Cassie vents her anger at…with good reason…along with Alison Brie and Connie Britton as the student and school dean, respectively, who covered for Monroe and dismissed Nina’s accusations.

Overall, this was an intense flick with a powerful message told with a very dark and sarcastic sense of humor. A smashing directorial debut from Emerald Fennell with a powerhouse performance by lead Carey Mulligan. It takes on it’s subject of sexual abuse and how society protects the accused and vilifies the victim with gloves off and head on. It has a lethal wit and a very hip style and comes to a climax that will stay with you for some time. Bravo to Emerald Fennell on a borderline masterpiece film debut and very, very highly recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) sexy nurse hats!

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SYNCHRONIC (2019)

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SYNCHRONIC (2019)

New Orleans EMTs Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) start to find the calls they are going on lately, stranger and stranger. His own personal issues to deal with, Steve starts to look into it. All roads are pointing to a new designer drug called Synchronic. When Dennis’ daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) disappears when doing the drug, Steve begins a journey, with some startling discoveries about Synchronic, that takes him to some equally startling places, as he vows to bring Brianna back.

Trippy and original, sci-fi tinged thriller is from the duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (Spring, The Endless), who are simply two of the most original and innovative indie filmmakers out there. Synchronic is imaginative, tense and sometimes a little scary, as Steve puts aside his battle with terminal cancer to find best friend Dennis’ daughter. This flick is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible going in so, suffice to say, this new designer drug takes it’s young users to places even they don’t expect and Steve races against time to figure out how it does what it does and how it will lead him to Brianna. Where exactly is she? You’ll have to watch this involving and imaginative flick to find out. Benson and Moorhead add some nice depth to the characters. Steve is a ladies man who is envious of the family Dennis has, while Dennis is a man who doesn’t always appreciate what he’s got. This adds a bit of conflict between the best friends, as does Steve’s terminal brain cancer makes him realize how precious and important life really is. Maybe enough to put his own on the line to help others. Again, there is far more to discuss here, but exact details are better learned from watching this clever and original flick and a highly recommended mind bender it is. There is some graphic violence and the film looks really cool thanks to Aaron Moorhead’s cinematography with Jimmy LaValle adding a very atmospheric score.

The small cast is really solid here. Mackie is great as a man faced with his own mortality, despite looking death in the eye every day as an EMT. When faced with a mystery and a disappearance caused by a dangerous drug with unexpected side effects, he chooses to put his own fragile life on the line to solve that mystery and figure out a way to find his friend’s daughter. The actor owns the role in every facet. Jamie Dornan is likable as Dennis. Sure Dennis sometimes doesn’t appreciate the family life he has at home, but he cares about them and Steve and the two actors have a very realistic bond on screen. Makes their friendship work. Ally Ioannides is good as Dennis’ rebellious daughter, whose use of Synchronic triggers a very unexpected search and rescue attempt by Steve. Katie Aselton is also effective as Dennis’ wife, Tara. A good cast.

Overall, there is a lot to be discussed with this flick, but as it is better enjoyed with it’s mysteries intact, details will remain scarce here. This is an innovative and intelligent thriller with a surprising science fiction element to a designer drug, even it’s own creator (Ramiz Monsef) fears and reviles. It’s intense, it’s thrilling, it has a few scary moments and a few nice WTF moments, too. There is some graphic violence, but none of it comes without some nice depth to the characters and story. The New Orleans settings are well used and Benson and Moorhead solidify their status as two of the most must watch filmmakers in the indie genre scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Synchronic pill packages!

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

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WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

Superhero sequel takes place in 1984 and has Diana foiling a robbery at a mall. Her heroics also uncover a black market operation dealing with ancient antiquities. Amongst the items recovered is an ancient stone, that literally grants wishes…with a price. Not only does Diana use the stone to bring back her lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), but it finds itself in the hands of power-hungry entrepreneur, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), and it transforms the meek and shy Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) into a predator…literally. But will the price of returned romance, cost Diana the power to stop her new adversaries?

Sequel is once again directed by Patty Jenkins from her script and story with Geoff Johns and David Callaham. While the first film dealt with serious themes like the horrors of war and the evils that men do, this next adventure takes on a much lighter tone, though the corruptive power of greed is certainly a subject here. The movie has fun with switching the roles, with Trevor, this time, being the fish out of water and Diana being in familiar surroundings. Obviously, setting the film in the 80s also invites having a little fun with the outrageousness of that decade as well. The moments between Diana and Steve are indeed entertaining, but eventually Diana must turn her attention to stopping Lord, whose use of the stone is getting dangerous, and Barbara, who is transforming into classic Wonder Woman villainess Cheetah. It takes a little while to get to the action, but it is an entertaining enough build. The movie does move along at a nice pace. Not too fast, but not too slow. When the action comes, it is big and spectacular, like a scene in Cairo, but avoids the overblown theatrics of the first installment. It’s not perfect. It is definitely a tad too long and could have been tighter in a few spots, especially in the last act where it starts to get a little messy here and there. It doesn’t have the impact of the first movie, but is an entertaining sequel nonetheless. It is more fun.

The cast is top notch and helps make this more fantasy heavy story click and work. Gal Gadot once agains proves she was born to play this part and gives her comic book heroine some nice depth and nobility. Pine is fun as the resurrected Steve Trevor. A soul in another man’s body, Pine has a good time being the man in unfamiliar territory, discovering the modern world of the 80s. He and Gadot still have great chemistry. Pascal is also fun as Maxwell Lord. He evokes Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor here and is both a fun and lively villain, while never loosing that air of being lethal and threatening. Kristen Wiig is perfectly cast as the nerdy Barbara Minerva turned classic villainess Cheetah. She starts out awkward and clumsy and once getting her wish, becomes confident, sexy and then dangerous, literally turning into a predatory cat. There are return appearances by Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen in flashbacks and a “Wonder”-ful cameo during a mid-credits scene. A great cast.

Overall, this may not have the same intensity and impact as Diana’s origin tale, but is a more fun sequel. It has a lighter story, with a magic wish granting stone, but grounds it enough that it is not silly, nor does it rob it’s villains of their threat factor. It avoids getting too over-the-top, so we take the story as seriously as we need to for it to work. It has a good time skewering the 80s, especially through the fish out of water eyes of the returned Steve Trevor. Most of the action comes in the last act, but it is an entertaining ride to get there and when it comes, it delivers the heroics we are waiting for. It may be a bit too long, and wouldn’t lose much with about ten or fifteen minutes trimmed, but is a satisfying enough sequel and a lighter toned DC hero flick. Watch through the credits for that fun cameo.

Rated 3 (out of 4) Wonder Women!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: HUNTER HUNTER (2020)

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HUNTER HUNTER (2020)

Joseph Mersault (Devon Sawa) lives deep in the wilderness as a fur trapper with his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and tween daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell). They are down on their luck at the moment and Anne wants to leave the harsh wilderness life for less rural surroundings. The coming of winter is the least of their problems, though, as they begin to believe a wolf is raiding their traps and might soon set it’s sights on them. Determined not to be driven from his home and way of life, Joe sets out to hunt the canine predator down. While he is away, Anne and Renee encounter a predator of a different kind.

Survival thriller is written and directed by Shawn Linden. It has a smoldering intensity and is a slow burn leading to an explosion of violence. Linden gives the film atmosphere and the wilderness locations a very bleak and desolate look. it suits the overall mood of the film, as this is a dark and unapologetic thriller and will be most talked about for it’s savage and violent finale. The last minutes of the film dips into horror movie territory as characters are driven to brutal acts. It segues from survival thriller to revenge thriller in it’s last moments and it’s unpleasant and will stick with you. Once all is said and done and the credits roll, one might ask what the point of it all was, but skilled direction makes this a fairly effective piece, even if such questions arise as you uncomfortably ponder what you just saw. There is some brutal violence and some very effectively done horror flick level gore to accentuate the gruesome finale.

The small cast perform well. Devon Sawa is good as Joseph. He’s a simple man wanting to protect his family and his way of life. Camille Sullivan is very good as his wife Anne, who dreams of maybe moving on from this hard life and must become a fighter and protector when predators, both four legged and two legged, come knocking at their cabin door. Summer H. Howell is also likable as their twelve year-old daughter, who is learning her dad’s trade and Nick Stahl is also effective as a stranger who they find injured in the woods. Supporting cast includes Gabriel Daniels and Lauren Cochrane as local law enforcement officials. A good cast!

This is a bleak movie with a very grim and vicious finale. Writer/director Shawn Linden crafts an intense slow burn that has a mean punch of a pay-off. It also pulls no punches, and doesn’t sacrifice impact to wrap things up with a happy little bow. It’s not a pleasant movie and there is no Hollywood ending. One may wonder what the point of it all was, but it could just be to tell a story of folks driven to desperate acts and that the worst and most dangerous predators on the planet walk on two legs. Currently streaming from IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) traps!

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