BARE BONES: ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)

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ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)

Action-fueled spy thriller takes place in 1989 in an unstable East Berlin as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is interrogated by her superiors over the events of the past few days. Her mission was to retrieve a list of all agents active in the area, including the traitorous Satchel, who was to be eliminated. As she relates her failure to capture this list, we go back and relive her problematic mission.

Neon drenched flick is directed by David Leitch from a script by Kurt Johnstad, that is based on a graphic novel called The Coldest City by by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Despite a lot of intense and vicious fight scenes in which Theron gets to play a lethal bad-ass, the film is a bit dull and struggles to hold one’s interest. It’s also a flick that is trying way too hard to be hip and even overdoes it with it’s 80s soundtrack, which is almost impossible. Aside from the bone breaking action, the plot is extremely routine spy stuff and fails to really involve you when Theron isn’t snapping arms or breaking faces. A fairly forgettable movie despite a strong characterization by vet Theron and some very effective action sequences, which in themselves are worth watching. Also stars James McAvoy as her eccentric, Berlin MI6 contact and Sofia Boutella as a French agent and Theron’s love interest.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016)

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THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016)

Follow-up to Snow White and the Huntsman, is both prequel and sequel. It starts out telling the origin of The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and takes a page out of Frozen’s playbook by also introducing The Ice Queen, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is sister to evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). We then jump seven years later, now after the events of the last film, where The Huntsman is sent to find the whereabouts of the magic mirror. He not only finds it, but that his wife/lover, Sara (Jessica Chastain) is still alive and that The Ice Queen has not forgotten him. Worse still, she needs the mirror to revive her sister and take over the land.

Mundane attempt to cash in on Snow White and the Huntsman‘s unexpected success, is directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan from a messy script by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin and without star Kristin Stewart. Nicolas-Troyan has a decent enough visual eye, but fails to bring any energy or excitement to the proceedings. Chris Hemsworth does return and gives it his all and is surrounded by a trio of lovely co-stars in Blunt, Theron and Chastain. The added babe power doesn’t hide the fact that this is an incredibly routine fantasy that tries to add interest by luring in the Frozen crowd with Blunt’s icy Ice Queen. It’s not a bad film and is technically well made, it’s just that nothing stands out or makes it in anyway involving or unique. It’s a typical fantasy quest plot with the usual sword and axe play and offers nothing to make it stand out or memorable. At least Theron dialed it down a bit this time. Poor Chris Hemsworth can’t seem to find any success outside of playing Thor and it’s too bad, he is a charming and very likable leading man. Obviously, his three beautiful co-stars have all done better work too and probably did this for the paycheck. A passible evening on the couch, but nothing you’ll remember the next morning. Also stars a returning Nick Frost and narration by the incomparable Liam Neeson.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

I was having mixed feelings about this reboot of the classic Mad Max series, about halfway through, until the last act when George Miller cranks it up to 11 and delivers an opera of chaos and carnage to match…or maybe even outdo…the finish of his classic The Road Warrior.

Fury Road takes place years after the world has collapsed and finds ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a samurai-like loner wandering the wasteland, taken prisoner and brought to desert oasis of The Citadel by the forces of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the Toecutter from the original Mad Max). At the same time, one of Joe’s top imperators, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rebels and takes Joe’s wives/breeders out of The Citadel in a massive war rig. War parties are sent in pursuit with Max reluctantly brought along. Now Max must find a way to escape in the middle of a high speed road war and choose a side if he hopes to survive…but either side might want him dead.

Any reservations I was having from George Miller’s return to this classic character after 30 years was because the co-writer (with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris) and director is a little too eager to get things moving at first and starts his epic chase saga in motion when we could have spent a bit more time in the Citadel, getting to know our villain better and understand more clearly why Furiosa is willing to throw everything away to escape with Joe’s prized possessions. We also need to get reacquainted with Max, as this is a new version of the classic character with a new actor’s interpretation. Instead I was left a bit cold and emotionally detached till we start to get some character and story development while on the road and on the run. Even still, by the time the credits roll, we realize there wasn’t all that much of a story anyway…and the earlier films indeed had a story to tell amongst the carnage. What we do get, thought, is almost two hours of some of the most incredible and energetic stunts and action since Miller first grabbed us by the throat with The Road Warrior…and no matter what we see in the first two thirds, it’s nothing compared to the jaw-dropping demolition derby that he makes his last act finale. The stunts and crashes are absolutely amazing and Miller has not lost his touch filming them. You’d think he would have run out of innovative ideas by now…but he hasn’t lost a beat. The film is also a stunning visual feast and John Seale’s cinematography is sumptuous as is the shot composition by Miller. The film is simply amazing to look at. The score by Junkie XL is both pulse pounding and melodic depending on the mood of the scene and production design on all fronts is spectacular. The film is as epic in scope as the action within it. Best of all, there are some subtle nods to the original series that should delight long-time fans and the film returns to a harder edge after the PG-13 Beyond Thunderdome.

Miller has also assembled a fine cast of actors to portray the eccentric and oddball characters that populate his post-apocalyptic world. There is no better choice to pick up the mantle of Max than Tom Hardy. Hardy’s ex-cop is more of a man of few words than Gibson’s portrayal and he conveys the essence of a man who is hardened, dangerous, yet, with a glimmer of humanity left buried deep inside. Max’s past is a bit vague for those who aren’t familiar, but we do see glimpses of flashbacks where loved ones were lost. Charlize Theron is also a strong and determined warrior as the mechanical-armed Furiosa. She is tough and dangerous and like Max, still has a touch of humanity left. Keays-Byrne makes a sleazy and omnipotent tyrannical warlord, though I wish we had a bit more time to really get to know how awful he is to give him more intensity. The actor is delightfully over-the-top, but most of the time is just staring angrily from behind the wheel of an oversized vehicle and doesn’t have any of the memorable lines his Toe Cutter or even Lord Humongous had. Even his thugs aren’t anywhere near as memorable as Vernon Wells’ Wez. Nicholas Hoult rounds out the main cast and is over-the-top fun as one of Joe’s War Boys, Nux, who winds up joining Max and Furiosa on their quest. The girls playing the wives (including  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) are all pretty, but get little to do and there is also a cast of hundreds of extras to add to the film’s epic feel.

So, as a fan of this classic film series…and one of my favorite movie characters in Mad Max…this movie won me over and then nearly blasted me out of my seat with it’s final third. Sure, I wish there had been a bit more of a story and I do wish there was more character development so I was more emotionally invested by the time the action started. But Miller gives us some amazing action and it’s wrapped in a stunning visual feast and no matter how intense the action gets, it is nothing compared to the massive chase that finishes things out. Hardy makes a fine choice for the new Max…though it took about a half hour to warm up to him in the role…and Charlize Theron proves yet again that there is a versatile actress beneath that beautiful exterior. And what Mad Max fan wouldn’t want to see Keays-Byrne in action again, even if his character could have been stronger. Maybe not quite the masterpiece I had hoped for, but it can proudly sit among the previous installments and delivered some of the best chase action since…well, The Road Warrior.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Mad Maxes…Hardy style.

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BARE BONES: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, NEIGHBORS and HERCULES

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A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014)

I’m not a big fan of Seth MacFarlane’s ‘horny 13 year old’ sense of humor and I don’t watch Family Guy. I was actually pleasantly surprised by Ted, though and so, went into this, his new flick, with an open mind. But sadly, despite some nice sentimental moments here and there, this western/comedy is a constant barrage of boring sex jokes and bodily function bits that are vulgar for vulgars sake. MacFarlane ignores actually trying to tell his cliche’ story and fills this overlong movie with an endless and tiresome parade of gross-out humor that wears out it’s welcome in the first half hour or so. How he dragged Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried along with him in this predominately unfunny mess is a mystery.

2 star rating

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NEIGHBORS (2014)

While  I wouldn’t outright say that Neighbors is a bad film, it’s just that it is such a routine and cookie cutter, Hollywood situation comedy that is instantly forgettable once the credits role. Flick has a frat house moving in next to yuppie couple Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and the resulting war between them and the Zac Efron led frat boys. The flick really isn’t that funny and it actually makes the couple appear far more childish and irresponsible than the ‘kids’ they start a feud with. It also was a bit disturbing that these two ‘adults’ leave their infant daughter alone in their house numerous times to party with/make war with the boys next door. A few funny bits and Efron gives his character a little depth but, it’s hard to root for Mac and Kelly when they seem like bigger jerks than the partying frat guys who the film can’t decide are the bad guys or not. Kind of a mystery as to how this was such a big hit.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HERCULES (2014)

Brett Ratner directed flick is based on a graphic novel that portrays the legendary Hercules (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) as a powerful yet, very mortal mercenary whose 12 labors and lineage of the gods is just embellished PR fables to drive fear into the hearts of his enemies. Herc and his crew are summoned to help an embattled king (John Hurt as yet another ‘old king’) free his country from invaders but, is duped into aiding a tyrant. Betrayal and vengeance ensue. This is another flick that passed the time alright but, is so by-the-numbers and forgettable that it barely justifies existing in the first place. The Rock seems like he’d rather be somewhere else with an uninspired performance as one of the world’s oldest heroes and the rest of the cast are all operating on a paycheck grab level as well. Competently made but, when all is said and done, routine, cliche’ and uninspired.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SOLOMON KANE and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

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SOLOMON KANE  (2009)

Solomon Kane is a 16th century set fantasy adventure based on the works of Conan creator, Robert E. Howard. It is the story of bloodthirsty mercenary Captain Solomon Kane (a perfectly cast James Purefoy) who learns during an encounter with a demon that his soul is damned and the devil himself wishes to claim it. Seeking redemption and God’s forgiveness, Kane vows to never again shed the blood of another. But when the forces of the evil sorcerer, Malachi (Jason Flemyng) murder a kind family that took Kane in and kidnap their daughter, Kane picks up his sword and pistols and vows to bathe his path to hell with the blood of Malachi and his followers. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett knows to take his subject matter seriously, so we do and to keep the tone dark yet, injecting just enough melodrama so that it’s entertaining. He paces the film well but, doesn’t go too fast and he has a really good visual style and knows how to frame a shot. Bassett gets really good performances out of his cast including leading man Purefoy, who is great as the tortured soul/hero and small roles from veterans Alice Krige, Pete Postlethwaite and the great Max Von Sydow. Flemyng drips with malice but, Malachi doesn’t get all that much screen time and we’d wish he did to make him truly effective as the villain. The production value is high and the film looks sumptuous, the score by Klaus Bedelt is strong and atmospheric, there is some decent but, not great CGI but, the rest of the visual FX are fine. The climactic battle with Malachi and a Balrog-ish demon could have been a bit longer but, otherwise Solomon Kane is a very entertaining and atmospheric dark fantasy adventure that should keep fans of fantasy and sword and sorcery in their seats and happily occupied. Not perfect, it does show signs of being edited down to move things along a bit quicker but, it is a fun dark fantasy with a healthy dose of horror. Kane was released here in the US last year on VOD and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray!

A solid 3 swords

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SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

I have to say this flick was a pleasant surprise as Snow White And The Huntsman proves to be a really entertaining and visual stunning version of the classic fairy tale. As the story is a retelling of Snow White, there is no reason to go over the details except to say it is a dark re-telling and there are scenes played almost like a horror film and that was fine with me. First time feature director Rupert Sanders has a sumptuous visual style that aids the movie in every way. The dark scenes are bathed in spooky imagery and the lighter scenes, especially those in “Sanctuary” are absolutely beautiful. Ridely Scott would be proud as I would be surprised if he’s not an influence. Sanders’ pace is a more moderate one, as compared to the fast paced blockbusters of today, he takes his time setting up and telling the story from Evan Daugherty’s script and there is a lot of story told in the 2 hrs plus. I was never bored and there is plenty of well-staged action mixed throughout this tale to entertain and I actually feel the film benefits from not rushing, as we come to like the characters, even those like the dwarves, who only enter a about half way through but are quite charming. The SPFX are flawless with the before mentioned visuals and a large number of CGI created characters which carry weight and have a nice realism. Some of the Sanctuary characters are breathtaking to behold. What helps make all this blend together and work so well, is the cast. Charlize Theron is dripping with sensual malice as evil queen, Ravenna. For the most part, she knows exactly when to show restraint and exactly when to go over the top a bit and she can be downright scary one minute and sexy the next. She even gives us glimpses of vulnerability and inner sadness to the villainous queen so, I will forgive a few over the top moments where she should have shown a bit of restraint. Chris Hemsworth is charming and noble as The Huntsman, a former soldier who’s lost someone he loves and finds a new purpose in life when he crosses paths with the fugitive princess, Snow White. Hemsworth brings heart and depth to the character as he did in Thor and proves he’s a star in the making. And as for Snow White, Kristen Stewart was the biggest surprise of all. I’m not a fan of her disassociated acting style and was surprised at how lively her performance was, especially when she needs to rally her subjects to fight. Yes, there are still some of the Stewart mannerisms but, the big difference was how much emotion she carried in her usually vacant eyes. She conveyed a lot of feeling when she had no dialog and gave the character some heart and soul. Best thing I’ve ever seen her do so far and I’ve seen all the current Twilight films, The Runaways and Adventureland. And rounding out the cast were some very familiar faces amongst the dwarves and since I’m not sure how well their presence is known, I won’t mention names except to say they do a great job making these guys lovable with a limited screen time. All in all, a really good fantasy adventure and a nice surprise for a movie I had only moderate expectations for.

3 and 1/2 huntsman axes! (A little extra credit for the sumptuous visuals and production design.)

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