REVIEW: AQUAMAN (2018)

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AQUAMAN (2018)

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

DC comics flick is a mixed bag finding our aquatic hero (Jason Momoa) coming up against his half-brother King Orm of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson). The power and conquest hungry Orm wants to take control of all the undersea kingdoms and then use their combined might to lay waste to the surface world. Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the undersea kingdom of Xebel defies her father (Dolph Lundgren) to warn Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman and inform him that if he retrieves the Trident of Atlan, he will have the power to stop Orm and take his rightful place as king. Standing in his way is a modern day pirate with Atlantean tech and a personal grudge against Aquaman, The Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Superhero flick is directed by James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Wan, Beall and Geoff Johns. The flick is a bit of a mess, that bites off more than it can chew, though it can be a fun mess at times. The negative points are a thin story that gets poor development as the film steamrolls ahead from one set-piece to another. From the flashback meeting of Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father,Thomas (Temuera Morrison), to Arthur’s first meeting/fight with Orm, to a massive undersea battle, a lot goes on in this flick. Somewhere in between all this, the film stops and goes on a Tomb Raider style quest for the trident…wasn’t that the plot of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick?…and then finally back to Aquaman vs Orm, the rematch. It gives the film a choppy feeling for the first hour, or so, before it settles down a bit in the last act. None of the characters get proper development, especially Black Manta, whose sub-plot could have been eliminated completely with no harm done. At least we already met Arthur in Justice League…and, by the way, where were his League pals as this was a global destruction situation. The good points are that some of the action set pieces are quite fun and Wan has a great visual eye, so the film looks sumptuous and spectacular. The undersea kingdoms are amazing, there is a stunning Star Wars-esque underwater battle at it’s climax and the film has a lot of cool creatures. The cast all get the material and play their roles with the right tone and if the story was more involving, this might have been a bit more memorable, which sadly it’s not. A good time was had overall, though it didn’t resonate once the theater lights came up.

Back to the cast, Wan has assembled a top notch one. Momoa has locked it in as Aquaman and the character has never been cooler. His bad-ass surfer boy take works very well as a modern incarnation of the DC hero and Momoa has the charm and sense of humor to overcome the thin script. Amber Heard is beautiful and resourceful as Mera. She is a strong character and is not played as a damsel and Heard makes a solid heroine out of her. Patrick Wilson is a pleasant surprise as the vengeful King Orm. Wilson is usually cast in the straight-laced good guy role and here he chews up the seaweed and scenery with just enough restraint to keep Orm from flipping over into camp. He’s a better villain than Justice’s Steppenwolf and Wonder Woman’s Ares. Rounding out the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman as a noble Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta and Temuera Morrison as Arthur’s dad. All do good work in their roles and help keep this bloated flick from sinking.

So, Aquaman is a bit of a mess and DC still has a way to go to catch up to Marvel and set it’s cinematic universe right. The story here is thin and underdeveloped due to filmmakers being too overeager to do too many things in one film. There’s globe hopping adventure, epic undersea battles, a quest for a mystical object and a superhero battling to save the world and find his destiny. All we needed was a musical number. It has a solid cast, who get the material and a director who knows theatricality and how to make it look gorgeous. In lesser hands this might of been an awful mess, but Wan makes it an entertaining one. Overall, it’s a step back from Wonder Woman, but two steps ahead over the disappointing Justice League and the bloated Batman v Superman.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 tridents.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE WARD (2010)

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THE WARD (2010)

As a fan of John Carpenter, it was exciting to hear he was making a new flick after an almost 10 year absence from feature films. And while The Ward isn’t the major comeback and return to form fans hoped for, it’s also not really a bad movie either. The story takes place in 1966 and tells of a young woman, Kristen (Amber Heard) who’s thrown into a psychiatric ward after setting a house on fire only to find it haunted by the ghost of a previous patient…and one who has set it’s lethal sights on the ward’s remaining inhabitants. As Kristen tries to unravel the mystery of this spectral patient, Alice (Mika Boorem), her own secrets slowly become revealed as well.

Horror flick is held back mostly by a weak script. It has it’s clever moments, too, but, overall it could have been much stronger. The screenplay by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen is filled with plot holes and implausibilities…the girls in the ward seem to have access to rooms like the kitchen and dispensary which I doubt would occur in real life…and while the twist ending might explain that to some, I felt certain principles, such as the hospital’s policies, would remain the same. But, Carpenter is a master and even if it doesn’t seem like his heart is fully onboard here, he is still able to get some effectiveness out of what he has to work with. There are some very creepy scenes and the last act is very spooky and there is also some nice tension and suspense especially as the film moves towards it’s climax. His skill at framing shots hasn’t diminished, as the film looks great and he creates a lot of mood and atmosphere with his camera. Carpenter’s only flaw seems to be not drawing stronger performances from his cast. Star Amber Heard doesn’t have nearly the fire and intensity that she showed in Drive Angry and some of the other ladies like Danielle Panabaker and Lyndsay Fonseca, also seem to be coasting a bit as well. It also doesn’t help that some of the script’s dialog is weak, too. At least Carpenter got to work with some very lovely ladies for this flick after his long absence from the director’s chair. The performances do pick up a bit in the final act, as does the whole film in general, as it’s the part of the story that Carpenter was most able to do what he does best with and deliver the horror goods. There is also a spooky and atmospheric score by Mark Kilian and Yaron Orbach’s cinematography also helps in the atmosphere department. There is also some well executed gore, though it’s used sparingly.

For die hard fans The Ward may be a disappointment, somewhat, but, for the casual horror viewer it is a spooky enough Saturday night watch and a return to a more basic type of horror. It’s far from Carpenter’s best films but, doesn’t rank as his worst effort either and is fairly entertaining when all is said and done. Just don’t expect Halloween and you’ll probably enjoy it. Also stars Jared Harris as Dr. Stringer, Kristen’s therapist.

3 spooks!

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: AMBER HEARD

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On this edition of Halloween Hotties we have the gorgeous and talented Amber Heard. While Miss Heard has become a bonafide star and A-List actress, she has appeared in enough horror to be classified as a scream queen… like I really needed an excuse…

AMBER HEARD

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Amber Heard first landed on the horror radar with the elusive 2006 slasher flick All The Boys Love Mandy Lane in which she plays the title character, a beautiful young woman with a bewitching effect on her fellow high school students as they gather in a remote house for a party weekend. But, who will win Mandy’s heart becomes secondary to who is trying to kill all of them and why, as the group fall victim one by one to a mysterious assailant. A few years later in 2009, Amber appeared as Jesse Eisenberg’s pretty neighbor who seeks solace from him when she is attacked and bitten by a crazed stranger in the comedy horror Zombieland. Also that year she starred in the horror remake The Stepfather in which she played the girlfriend of the film’s hero and was in a bikini as much as she was in peril from the title maniac. In 2010 she appeared in the suspense thriller And Soon The Darkness which involved a serial killer so, we’ll lump that in there and then top-lined legendary director John Carpenter’s brief return to filmmaking in the haunted asylum movie The Ward. Her final appearance in horror at this time was in 2011’s grind house style action/horror Drive Angry, where she played a spitfire named Piper who helps a mysterious man, played by Nicolas Cage, who literally has escaped from Hell to rescue his infant granddaughter from a cult of Devil worshippers. It was that film that first introduced me to Miss Heard and gotta love it for that alone!

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A bloodied Amber as apple of everyone’s eye and target of a deranged killer, Mandy Lane.

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The Stepfather kept her in a bikini and in peril. No arguments Here.

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Amber on set with the legendary John Carpenter filming The Ward.

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…and as Daisy Dukes wearing, ass-kicking Piper from Drive Angry!

And don’t forget to check out our Halloween Hotties focusing on Melanie PapaliaKatharine IsabelleAlexandra Daddario, Katie FeatherstonKatrina BowdenBriana Evigan and Danielle Harris! (just click on their names to go to their pages!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006)

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ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE  (2006)

Interesting flick evokes both the horror films of the 70s and the slashers of the 80s as it tells the story of the beautiful and virginal, high school student Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) and what befalls her and her friends at a weekend getaway at a secluded ranch. Mandy is the beautiful object of every boys’ desire and as she and her group of friends party and all the boys plot to get into her pants, someone else stalks the group with far more homicidal desires.

Director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) gives Lane a visual style that evokes 70s flicks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but his story is very 80s slasher complete with promiscuous teens meeting gruesome deaths. Despite the similarities with past horrors, Levine adds his own slant to the proceedings and Mandy Lane is not your typical slasher, as Jacob Forman’s script has it’s share of twists and surprises. There are some arty touches and a deliberately slow burning pace to go along with some vicious kills, and you never feel things are quite right, even when nothing wrong is going on. The cast are all fine with leading lady Heard fitting the bill as the beautiful nymph every boy wants and you can’t quite tell if she’s oblivious to her effect on the young men around her, or if she’s just playing them all like the love sick puppies they are. Once the bodies start to pile up, though, her Mandy shows she’s more than just a pretty face.

It’s an odd little horror that will probably evoke very mixed feelings from movie and horror fans alike. Not a great flick…It has it’s faults such as revealing the killer’s identity a bit too early…but one that has it’s own identity among-st the many other horrors of it’s kind. When all is said and done, it is an effective slasher.

Originally set to be released by Dimension Films, they sold it off to Senator Entertainment who then went out of business leaving Mandy Lane unreleased here in the US, adding to it’s reputation. After 7 years it finally saw a release October 11, 2013 on Blu-Ray, VOD and DVD by new distributor RADiUS-TWC, who are part of The Weinstein Company, which, ironically, also includes Dimension Films. Mandy Lane has finally come home. Also stars Hell On Wheels’ Anson Mount.

3 (out of 4) Mandy Lane’s

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: RACE WITH THE DEVIL and DRIVE ANGRY

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RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)

One of my favorite 70s B-movies. Race is now loaded with nostalgic charm, as well as, being an entertaining and sometimes spooky movie in it’s own right. Story of two couples on an RV road trip vacation crossing paths with a sinister cult and witnessing a human sacrifice is campy to be sure, but there are some creepy scenes and the are a number of good chase/action scenes as well. As the couple try to get out of town while being pursued by what appears to be everybody, director/actor Jack Starrett does a good job of creating tension as everyone seems suspicious and no one appears trustworthy. True, the cult’s actual subject of worship is unclear as our antagonists’ research drags up everything from witchcraft to Mayan sacrificial ceremonies and the cult creates far more attention and far more evidence of their existence by pursuing the RV cross country leaving a wake of death and destruction behind. But if they had just cleaned up their tracks and left no evidence to support the couples’ claims, we wouldn’t have anything to entertain us for the next 90 minutes. The acting is surprisingly good and the cast, including Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and Loretta Switt, and crew wisely take the proceedings seriously and let the audience have all the fun with it. A 70s gem that is still fun today.

3 and 1/2 fighting Fondas

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DRIVE ANGRY (2011)

Drive Angry is another homage to the “Grindhouse” style movies of the 60s and 70s and for fans of this type of flick, it is an action packed, bloody good time. Nicholas Cage stars as a man who literally escapes from hell to avenge his daughter’s murder and granddaughter’s kidnapping by a Satanic cult and it’s Jim Jones like leader. Along for the ride, in a powerhouse turn, is Amber Heard as a tough as nails and hot as hell waitress who gets drawn into Cage’s quest. Heard is a true star in the making. She simply smolders on screen and you have no problem believing she can kick your ass. The bad guys are pretty generic except for a great performance by William Fichtner as the mysterious “Accountant” and it was awesome to see genre favorite Tom Atkins on screen again as a redneck sheriff. My only quibble is that the pacing was a bit off, but the films it honors were made before the Michael Bays took over, so they weren’t as breakneck paced as today’s action flicks. But Angry more then makes up for it with bullets, boobs and blood and on that note, delivers the goods. And if you’re a car freak, there are plenty of vintage muscle cars to salivate over if Ms. Heard is not distracting enough. A fun, trashy action/horror.

 3 and 1/2 smokin’ hot Heards (movie gets and extra 1/2 star for Amber’s sexy and tough Piper!)
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