BARE BONES: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

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JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a well-made sequel that returns Keanu Reeves’ “retired” assassin back to action. Here he must honor the marker from Italian crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and go to Italy to assassinate D’Antonio’s own rival crime boss of a sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini). Wick completes the mission, but is betrayed by D’Antonio with a contract put on his head for seven million dollars. Now every assassin in the NYC area wants the bounty, including Gianna’s vengeful bodyguard (Common).

Written and directed again by Derek Kolstad and Chad Stahelski, respectively, the duo deliver an action packed and fun sequel to the surprise hit John Wick. The action is slick and rapid fire with a larger body count as now Wick must battle his own kind. The locations are used well between Rome and New York City and Reeves is again solid as the stone faced assassin, who just wants to retire. It’s an entertaining action flick and a sequel that knows to stick close enough to the formula to not alienate it’s core audience and yet change’s things just a bit to keep it from being stale. Ian McShane returns as Winston as does John Leguizamo as Aurelio with Lawrence Fishburn appearing as the leader of a guild of homeless street people assassins in NYC.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: COLLIDE

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COLLIDE (2016)

Noisy and dull action flick has Casey (Nicholas Hoult) quitting his job working for a drug dealer named Geran (Ben Kingsley) when he meets and falls for the beautiful Julliette (Felicity Jones). But when his new love needs a new kidney, Casey goes back to work and runs afoul of Geran’s rival, powerful drug lord Hagen (Anthony Hopkins). Still with me?

Boring action flick is directed by Eran Creevy from a script by he and F. Scott Frazier. Despite a good cast and a lot of fast paced car chases, the flick can’t generate much interest thanks to a weak script, too hip for it’s own good direction and more clichés than you can drive a Ferrari through. The filmmakers are more concerned with headache inducing camerawork and an obnoxiously loud soundtrack than with reigning in their actors, such as the shamelessly over-the-top Kingsley. The flick was barely interesting enough to keep one’s attention despite all the noise and wastes the new star power of Rogue One’s Felicity Jones by giving her scant little to do.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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REVIEW: THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)

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THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)

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

The Purge flicks aren’t great movies by any length, but give credit where it is due, the concept is interesting and series writer/director James DeMonaco is trying to do something different with it each installment. After a routine invasion flick first time around and an Escape From New York-ish second installment, we get a third chapter that is more hyper-violent political thriller. The third entry picks up 18 years after pretty Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) watched her family brutally murdered during The Purge and now Senator Roan is vying for the presidency and the abolition of the yearly crime spree event. There is growing opposition to The Purge, especially from the poor, whose numbers it’s aimed at thinning and the senator is growing in popularity. The NFFA, who created the blood spattered event, plans to use this very night to end the senator’s campaign against them and now Roan is on the run for her life with only her security chief (a returning Frank Grillo) and a proud local deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) and friends, to protect her during the 12 hour period of murder and mayhem.

Here DeMonaco delivers a more moderately paced political thriller with conspiracy and treachery all around and The Purge itself serving more as a setting than the theme. While not a more straight-up action flick like The Purge: Anarchythere is still plenty of graphic violence and bloodshed and the director does create some unsettling images and sequences along the way. There are some themes he expands on, such as The Purge’s true purpose being to thin the numbers of the lower class to cut down on government welfare expenses and some new concepts, such as “murder tourists” who travel here from foreign countries on the night of The Purge, to get in on the bloody fun and an underground movement run by EMTs and doctors to treat victims. Yes, there are a lot of political, social and racial commentary mixed in here and none of it is any too subtle. It is very heavy handed and obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb, but at least the filmmakers earn a little credit for trying to give all the blood spattering a little substance. There are some problems here, too. As mentioned, the pace is a lot more moderate and it seems longer than it’s 90+ minutes, though never boring. There is also some clunky dialog and poor acting that drag down some scenes, no more evident than in the opening NFFA meeting and scenes involving a tough talking female hood (Brittany Mirabile) who is pretty annoying even with her limited screen time. Add to that, villains that are all a bit bland and we have a third installment that aims high and falls a bit short, though still entertains.

As for the cast, they are fairly serviceable with Grillo once again being a stand-out. He has a strong presence and kicks some ass in the action sequences and is a likable action hero. Elizabeth Mitchell is solid as Roan and while she comes across as sincere and not without strength, her character is reduced to a damsel in distress in the second half. Mykelti Williamson is good as deli owner Joe Dixon. He has a quiet strength and is convincing as a man of a humble lifestyle and a sense of integrity. There is also solid work from Julian Soria as Joe’s employee Marcos and Betty Gabriel as a tough as nails EMT who helps Roan and company evade capture. Our villains, unfortunately are a bit bland, which is partially due to a lack of good development. Kyle Secor is weak as a psychotic minister who is the NFFA’s presidential candidate in opposition to Roan and Terry Serpico is a stereotypical evil mercenary type as a tattooed white supremacist, militant send to collect the pretty blonde senator for her demise.

Overall, the third in this franchise doesn’t really improve greatly on the second entry, but does have some interesting ideas and attempts a little social commentary, though does it bombastically. There is some chilling imagery and some brutal action, but it is delivered at a much more moderate pace. The villains are somewhat weak, though we have a strong and likable batch of underdog heroes in contrast. Doesn’t accomplish all it’s goals, but credit given for trying to add some substance to the gruesome proceedings and allowing it’s theme event to take a backseat to the story and characters.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE DARKNESS and HARDCORE HENRY

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THE DARKNESS (2016)

Not sure what is the worst thing about this cliché and incredibly routine flick, the fact that it blatantly lifts scenes and plot elements from Poltergeist and the Paranormal Activity series, or that this boring and unimaginative waste of time is from Greg McLean who made the intense and disturbing Wolf Creek.

C0-written, with S.P. Krause and Shayne Armstrong and directed by Greg McLean, film has the Taylor family (Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell) taking their daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and autistic son Michael (David Mazouz) to the desert for a camping excursion. Michael strays away, finding a hidden cave and removing some ancient Native American ceremonial stones. An angry spirit comes home with him, as does every overused haunted house cliché McLean and company could think of. Boring, horribly derivative and yet took three writers to come up with. The most disturbing thing about it is the use of an autistic boy as a victimized plot device. Still can’t believe this is the same guy that gave us the nail-biting Wolf Creek and the nerve wracking giant alligator flick Rogue.

-MonsterZero NJ

one star rating

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HARDCORE HENRY (2015)

Absolutely awful waste of time is a headache inducing tale of a man named Henry (played by various cameras) who is killed and resurrected as a cybernetic killing machine. The film is told completely from his POV as he rebels against his creators and tries to rescue his wife (Kristy’s Haley Bennet), who is a scientist that works for his makers. Helping him is rouge scientist (Sharlto Copley) who also bares a grudge against the megalomaniacal Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who is behind all this.

 As written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, this annoying and grating mess is a pathetic attempt to appeal to the gamer generation brought up on violent and gory POV video games. Based on the dismal box office, they failed. Complete garbage and an utter waste of 90 minutes spent doing almost anything else. Haley Bennet was so good in Kristy, and I hope being in this junk isn’t a mistake for an actress that shows a lot of promise. Best for her career this film is forgotten as soon as possible. I’d like to forget it, I know that.

-MonsterZero NJ

one star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE NIGHT CREW (2015)

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THE NIGHT CREW (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

While this flick is 95% action movie…and a bloody one at that…there is a bit of a horror film element that seems to exist to set up an even more interesting sequel/further adventure…and it kinda works.

The Night Crew has four hardened bounty hunters, Wade (Luke Blade 2 Goss), Ronnie (Paul Sloan), Crenshaw (Bokeem Woodbine) and Rose (Luciana Faulhaber) going deep inside Mexico to recover fugitive Mae (Chasty Girlhouse Ballesteros) and bring her back to the states for a big payoff. Unknown to them, Mae is also wanted by a powerful drug cartel and the four and their quarry find themselves surrounded by an army of vicious killers who want the girl back and them all dead. Adding to the already desperate situation, is that Mae is more than she appears…as is the drug lord (Danny Trejo) who hunts her.

Low budget action flick is actually a very satisfying bullet and blood-fest with an interesting supernatural twist thrown in by writer and star Paul Sloan and co-writer/director Christian Sesma. This ‘element’ not only adds something a little different to the story, but sets up an even more interesting direction if there is a sequel…and hopefully there is. The movie is competently directed by Sesma and while some of the elements are very traditional to testosterone fueled flicks like this, they are stylishly presented and Sesma does serve up a lot of intense and bloody action on his moderate budget. Add in some very pretty ladies in Faulhaber and Ballesteros and you have a fun and entertaining B-movie action flick with a touch of horror movie thrown in. The movie is not perfect. There are some plot holes and lapses in logic, but you watch a flick like this for the action and on a low budget level it delivers. The horror movie elements not only add something interesting to the characters involved, but Sesma and Sloan work it so it sets up a potentially more interesting and entertaining direction as well, if we see more of some of these characters. It’s just enough of a twist to give the more traditional action elements an off-beat angle and an air of mystery and that helps give this enough of a boost to lift it out of the routine. Sometimes entertainment is all you are craving and this flick does serve some up without trying to be more than it is.

The cast all work well in the context of the material. The underrated Goss is solid, as usual, as is his hard-nosed team of Sloan, Woodbine and sexy Luciana Faulhaber. The beautiful and exotic looking Ballesteros gives Mae the mystery and sensuality the character needs and she can be a badass, too, when she needs to be. The villains are appropriately slimy and vicious and Danny Trejo is…well, Danny Trejo…as the cartel king with an even darker aspect to his personality. There is also an amusing cameo by Jason Mews as a security guard who gets caught in the middle of a bullet-riddled bloodbath.

Is The Night Crew a classic…no. Is it an entertaining B-Movie with an intriguing horror element thrown in?…for sure! I liked this flick. It gives us a lot of intense action and spattering blood on a small budget. We get some tough guy anti-heroes and vicious villains and a couple of gorgeous ladies who can kick-ass, too. It won’t win any awards, but it will entertain you on a B-movie level and director Christian Sesma knows his material and delivers it in a no-nonsense way, yet not without a bit of style. A solid B-movie action flick made for a night on the couch and a few of your favorite brews. Also stars Don Swayze and there might be an uncredited cameo by cult favorite director Robert Rodriguez, but the camera never focused on the familiar looking bartender to tell for sure!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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BARE BONES: JOHN WICK and SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE

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JOHN WICK (2014)

John Wick is just simply a good, solid, popcorn action flick with no other intentions than to blow away bad guys and entertain…and it does that just fine. Keanu Reeves is really good as former assassin and man-of-few-words, John Wick. He retired as one of the most lethal killers in the business and after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), has resigned himself to a life of solitude. When a Russian mobster’s arrogant idiot of a son (Alfie Allen) makes the mistake of invading Wick’s home, stealing his Mustang muscle car and killing the puppy that was a final gift from his wife, Wick is back in business and the body count piles up quickly and bloodily. The action is solid and there is some stylish direction by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script. There are some really well-choreographed shoot-outs and fights and the film does what it sets out to do, nothing more. Sure, there are flaws. The whole John Wick problem would have been solved if one of these gangsters actually took a shot at Wick, instead of rushing in close enough for him to get a hold of their guns, but who cares? Reeves kicks ass and it’s fun to watch him do it. An entertaining and stylish action flick. Also stars, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe as a fellow assassin/friend of Wick’s and sexy Adrianne Palicki as a female contract killer looking to collect the $2 Million bounty Russian mobster, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyquist) puts on Wick’s head. Fun and action-packed!

3 star rating

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SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2014)

I’m a big fan of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of yesteryear and so was looking forward to this homage from producer/director/co-writer and star, Shahin Sean Solimon. Despite being a one man production company and having numerous stop-motion animated critters, Solimon’s 90 minute fantasy is a mess of poor SPFX, bad writing, lame directing and awful editing. The barely cohesive story has Sinbad’s beloved Princess Parisa (Danielle Duvale) kidnaped for some sinister purpose by the evil sorcerer, The Deev (Said Faraj). Sinbad and crew set out to find her and after some pointless adventures that barely follow a structured storyline and equally pointless flashbacks, a plot convenience leads Sindad to his love for a final showdown with the sinister magician. There is very little purpose to anything that goes on here. The story creeps along at a dreadfully slow pace and the stop-motion critters are there just because past films have included them and none really support the story by appearing. The FX are awful, with the meager creature animation being barely adequate and the sets and acting are as bad as the over-used CGI. Despite good intentions, this is a tedious mess with only a few brief moments that actually amuse. I liked that Solimon resorted to old-fashioned stop-motion to keep tradition, but next time build an actual film around it. How Patrick Stewart got involved to narrate is anybody’s guess.

1 and 1-2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SURVIVAL QUEST (1989)

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SURVIVAL QUEST (1989)

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

Survival Quest is an outdoor adventure/thriller from Phantasm series writer/director Don Coscarelli that may be a bit corny at times but, is also quite charming and has a lot of heart. The movie opens with a group of people converging for a month long survival course called Survival Quest, run by passive outdoorsman Hank (Lance Henriksen). Among the participants are ex-con, Gray (Dermot Mulroney), Olivia (Traci Lin), a rich girl trying to prove she can handle herself and Cheryl (Catherine Keener), a divorcee who wants to prove she can survive on her own. Unfortunately, they are in the same vicinity of a para-military survival group run by ex-mercenary Jake (Aliens’ Mark Rolston). Run-ins between the two groups become increasingly heated and when one of the jack-booted thugs proves to be mentally unstable, blood is spilled and it turns from a wilderness survival course into a fight to stay alive.

Both written and directed by Coscarelli, this is a fun little adventure movie that overcomes some stereotypical characters and situations by simply having it’s heart in the right place. It’s a basic wilderness adventure with a slight edge, whose scant few curse words, brief nudity from the vivacious Miss Lin and moderate bloodshed would probably not even earn it’s R-rating in today’s world. It’s a bit of a departure for Coscerelli, being even less violent and more light-hearted than his Beastmaster and is actually very entertaining for the simplicity of it’s story. That story being of some likable characters from different walks of life having to bond and trust each other to survive under dangerous circumstances. That is also what makes it work so well. Despite being stereotypical, the characters are very endearing and we like them a lot. We’ve seen this story before but, it is the characters that drive it and so Coscarelli gives us a bunch we want to see make it against the arrogant and unhinged para-military bad guys…and he doesn’t turn the group into vicious killers as most filmmakers would be tempted to do in a story like this. There is also some welcome humor, especially in the first half, before things get a bit darker and there is a nice nostalgia, at this point, of some familiar faces before they made a name for themselves.

As for those faces, Henriksen was already known to genre fans for Aliens and Terminator and he is really good here as the outdoorsman who can take care of himself and look out for his charges. Mark Rolston is effective as the tough guy instructor/mercenary and his character may surprise you a bit later on. Dermot Mulroney makes for a good “bad boy” hero as his Gray has a lot more integrity than he is given credit for. Traci Lin is charming and hot as Olivia. The character may be a cliché but, Lin’s portrayal is not, as she avoids the ‘rich bitch’ persona and gives us a young woman who wants more than the posh life. Keener is also strong as the meek divorcee who finds the strength she is looking for but, not in the way she figured and, of course, this wouldn’t be a Don Coscarelli movie without Reggie Bannister and he appears here as a pilot. A good cast that elevate their characters above the clichés they first appear as.

I am a fan of Coscarelli and I consider this one of his most underrated films. It’s not a classic but, it is far more enjoyable than it’s familiar story and characters have a right to be. It’s got a lot of heart and it’s charming cast elevates the characters above their stereotypical nature. It’s fast moving, yet, has a very laid back approach that is a bit refreshing when in-your-face intensity is not what you are looking for. The film actually reminded me a bit of the nature adventures they used to crank out in the 70s although with a touch of bloodshed and violence in the mix. A simple, simply told but, very entertaining movie from Don Coscarelli. Also features some nice cinematography from Daryn Okada and music from Phantasm series composers Fred Myrow and Christopher L. Stone.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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