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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BARE BONES: LOVE, ANTOSHA (2019)

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LOVE, ANTOSHA (2019)

Love, Antosha is a heartwarming and heartbreaking documentary on the life and career of actor Anton Yelchin. A career and life cut way too short by the tragic accident that took his life in 2016. The documentary details his growing up wanting to be an entertainer and career as an actor with interviews from his parents Irina and Viktor, along with his friends and co-stars, like Star Trek’s Chris Pine and Jennifer Lawrence. It shows a passionate young man, who was tireless in both his pursuit of his dreams and in his acting, once that career ignited. Unknown to many, he suffered from cystic fibrosis and he battled it’s effects constantly while he continually worked. Despite his ailment, he starred in 69 film and television roles, from the age of 11 till his untimely death at only 27 years-old. Garret Price’s documentary portrays a man loved by his family and co-stars, a man whose passions went from acting to directing to music and photography. The documentary is filled with interviews from many celebrities who all paint a picture of an energetic and driven young man, but also a loving, quirky and kind one that made friends everywhere he went. Yelchin is most recognized for portraying Ensign Chekov in J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot series, but showed great versatility in a variety of independent films as well. A talent sadly gone far too soon. Documentary also features narration from actor Nicolas Cage reading words written by Yelchin himself.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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WONDER WOMAN 1984 FINALLY GETS A TRAILER!

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Wonder Woman stole the show in Batman v Superman and was a hit in her first solo feature. Now Gal Gadot is back in action as the Amazonian heroine and director Patty Jenkins is back in the director’s chair. With a script from Jenkins, Geoff Johns and David Callaham, that sets her next solo outing in the fabulous 80s, Wonder Woman is going to take on arch enemy Cheetah as played by Kristen Wiig. Chris Pine somehow returns as Steve Trevor and the flick opens on 6/5/2020! Check out the fun trailer below, after the character poster gallery…

 

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-MonsterZero NJ

Source: youtube/internet

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REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

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WONDER WOMAN (2017)

After appearing in last year’s Batman v. Superman and stealing that film away from her male co-stars, the comics’ leading female superhero is getting her own solo movie and it’s an origin film at that.

The movie opens with Diana aka Wonder Woman as a child (Emily Carey) on the Amazon home island of Themyscira. She is daughter to Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and being trained in the fighting arts by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). One day, as she has grown to adulthood (Gal Gadot), a plane carrying American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off the island and he is rescued by Diana. A boatload of German soldiers is following him and soon the warrior women of Themyscira learn of the horrors of mankind’s war, specifically WWI. Diana is horrified and believes only the God Of War, Ares could be responsible. She returns to Europe with Trevor planning to defeat Ares, but along the way learns that people can really suck.

Third film in the DC movie universe is pretty much like the last two in that there is a lot to like and yet, there are some glaring problems, too, that keep it from really clicking. One of the biggest is that this series of films takes itself a little too seriously and there are some gloomy moments and heavy atmosphere here in Wonder Woman. Another is that they are a bit overloaded, where a more streamlined story would do. It’s refreshing that they want to have a different style and tone than the Marvel flicks, but all three films (Man Of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Wonder Woman) have been very bombastic and story heavy, though at least here director Patty Jenkins shows some restraint until the now DC traditional over-indulgent CGI climax. The script by Allan Heinberg, from a story by he, Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder, still tries to cover too much ground with an origin story, a story about the horrors of war, a story about feminism and a story about battling gods. It makes the film feel choppy, especially as the origin seems rushed, as does Diana’s decision to go to war. Once we get to Europe, the film then heads to it’s climax trying to cram all the story elements in the remaining hour. Even at 141 minutes there seems to be a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor and this keeps the film from having a smooth narrative flow which doesn’t help as the flick already has a more moderate pace than the average superhero saga. The film never really finds it’s groove. It also keeps us from getting to know any of the supporting characters, especially the villains (Danny Houston as a sadistic general and Elena Anaya as an equally sadistic scientist), who come across as bland. What keeps one interested is that there are some nice moments between Gadot and Pine and once Gadot finally suits up, about an hour into the film, Wonder Woman’s first scene soars…then we go back to the dreary horrors of war stuff till she has her showdown with Ares. The film does have a hard time maintaining it’s momentum, even with some very strong moments of our heroine in action, which are actually few and far between. It’s more about Diana learning about the real world than Wonder Woman saving the day. The mix could have been more even.

Biggest plus in this film’s favor is Gal Gadot who is wonderful as both Diana and Wonder Woman. She really nails the fish out of water aspect and the almost naive nature of a goddess among men for the first time. She also maintains a sense of dignity and strength which really cranks up to 11 when she suits up. She has grown as an actress and really fits the role like a glove in just her second outing. She’s perfectly cast. Chris Pine is fun here too, though seems to be playing a slightly toned down version of his Kirk. He and Gadot do have a great chemistry together and it is some of their little character exchanges that really entertain. Sadly their romance is also rushed and we never really get to feel the emotional resonance of it to give certain scenes impact. As stated Danny Houston plays stereotypical sadistic German general, Ludendorff. Houston is kind of bland here, though not really his fault, as is Elena Anaya as his equally underwritten right hand, Doctor Isabel “Dr. Poison” Maru. David Thewliss also appears as a British Intelligence officer who supports Trevor’s plans to go after Ludendorff on the eve of an impending armistice.

In conclusion, this film sadly suffers some of the same overloaded and over-indulgent aspects of the last two DCU films, though director Patty Jenkins does reign it in a bit and makes good use out of her leading lady’s dead-on performance and the chemistry between her two leads. Gadot’s first scene as Wonder Woman is worth the price of admission alone and it makes us wish Jenkins didn’t go all Zack Snyder (who also produced) for the over-blown CGI slug-fest with Ares. There was enough story for two or three films and the flick rushes to fit it all it, though there are some nice humorous bits in between the heavy-handed melodrama. Jenkins does balance the messages about the evils that men do and women’s rights in nicely without allowing them to become obtrusive and the film’s flaws aside Gadot is an awesome Wonder Woman.

The DCU is slowly headed in the right direction, though will audiences be patient enough for them to really lock in the right mix of elements, hopefully in one of the upcoming planned flicks.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Wonder Women cause Gadot was great!

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

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STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)

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

Flick picks up almost three years into the Enterprise’s five year exploration mission, which puts them cleverly “beyond” the first three years/seasons of the original show and thus into new story territory. This third installment of J.J. Abrams’ reboot series is now directed by Justin Lin and tells of a devastating attack on the Enterprise while on a rescue mission in uncharted space. An alien warlord named Krall (Idris Elba) wants not only an ancient device stored on the ship, but the crew itself to drain their life-forces. With their precious ship destroyed and now stranded and hunted on an alien world, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) must figure out a way to rescue the crew, stop Krall’s diabolical plan and get home to friendlier space.

Justin Lin doesn’t quite bring the dramatic intensity Abrams did to his Trek films and his action scenes may not resonate as strongly, but with Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s script in hand, he does give the series a lighter and more fun touch than the more dour Star Trek Into Darkness. The film also feels the most like a Star Trek episode which works for and against it, but mostly for. Giving the flick a less epic feel than the previous two, does reduce the spectacle aspect of the proceedings and the action is more close quarters fisticuffs than battling starships until the last act confrontation at a gigantic space station. Massive sets are replaced by alien landscapes and caves, but much like the 60s series and even the Next Generation series, these are settings our characters often found themselves in. This does give way to some really nice character interaction, as the FX take a back seat, with new character, alien refugee Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) fitting in nicely when paired with members of the prime crew. In true Star Trek tradition, the first two thirds of the film follow along as the crew does what they do best, use their wits to figure out how to survive and save the day. Then we get some of the spectacle we’ve come to expect from this reboot series, in the finale. In comparison, not quite the action packed popcorn flick the first Abrams Trek was, yet also doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as Into Darkness, which is refreshing. There are some really nice Trek moments, too, including a nice tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime and a shot quietly celebrating the original Trek crew for this year’s 50th anniversary, that will surely moisten the eye of even the hardest-hearted Trekkie. The film also earns extra points for dedicating the film to both Nimoy and Anton “Chekov” Yelchin, who was tragically killed just a few weeks ago. A real touch of class…which is what Star Trek was always all about. On a production level the film looks great, Lin has a good visual eye and the FX are spectacular, especially during the cranked-up and fun finale.

The cast once again bring these classic characters to life, but not without their own individual touches and the script from Simon “Scotty” Pegg and Doug Jung does it’s best to give each character healthy interaction and scenes for them to shine. It was nice to see Anton Yelchin get a generous amount of screen time with what is sadly his last performance as Pavel Chekov and Pine, Quinto, Urban, Saldana, Cho and Pegg all have their classic character interpretations locked in. As for the newcomers, Sofia Boutella is feisty and energetic as Jaylah, a survivor of Krall’s villainy whose “home” plays an integral part in our heroes’ plans to defeat the despotic bad guy. As Krall, we have a strong villain in Idris Elba, though we could have used some more time getting to know him a little better as his motivation aren’t really clear till the last act reveal…a reveal sadly seen coming almost from the beginning. If the script has a big flaw, it’s in failing to keep it’s big surprise from being obvious early in the second act.

Overall, this was a fun movie. Though in some ways the weakest of the three, due to Lin simply not being as strong a director as Abrams, especially on the last two films. He moves things fast enough but sometimes a bit more dramatic intensity was called for. Still, it is lighter and more fun than the last installment, though it being the most Star Trek of the three, might also alien-ate (had too) some of the non-Trek crowd that supported the last two flicks. For Trek fans it’s more like an episode than a movie and the most nostalgic because of that, especially when you add some really nice touches harkening back to it’s TV forefathers. Not a great flick, but a fun installment that earns extra points for it’s loving tributes to a legendary actor and his character, not to mention, a young talent taken from us far too soon…and if Star Trek is about anything, it’s about heart…and this film has plenty of that.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 starships.

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BARE BONES: JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT and MR. JONES

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JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)

Reboot of this series based on Tom Clancy’s character features Chris Pine as a young Ryan recruited into the CIA as an analyst by agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) after an impressive tour in Afghanistan that left Ryan with an injured back. Once healed, Ryan is sent undercover  for 10 years on Wall Street to uncover funds being channeled to terrorist organizations but, instead finds a plot between Russian businessman Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh who also directs) and high ranking Russian officials to completely bring down the U.S. economy. Harper thrusts Ryan into the field that takes the rookie agent from Moscow and back to New York City to stop the plot which involves a exploding a bomb under Wall Street. Branagh delivers an entertaining thriller based on Adam Cozad and David Koepp’s screenplay and gets good performances from himself and his cast. The film only falters when Ryan’s girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) gets involved in the intrigue as it is cliche’ and highly improbable the CIA would risk the mission by involving a civilian directly in so delicate an operation. But, otherwise it is a solid enough thriller and while not memorable, it does pass the time nicely and moves quickly with enough action to offset the espionage.

3 star rating

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MR. JONES (2013)

For the first 2/3 of the film, this found footage horror had me. The premise involves a young couple Scott (Jon Foster) and Penny (Sarah Jones) who move into a house in the middle of nowhere so Scott can film a nature documentary. But, the discovery of a mysterious neighbor and his bizarre sculptures leads the couple to think they have found the elusive “Mr. Jones” a reclusive artist who, in the 70s, sent random people around the country his strange pieces without explanation. In the art world he is something of a legend and myth. Now the subject of their film becomes Jones but, they start to find there is something more to his sculptures then art and that something may be a force they are not ready to deal with. Writer/director Karl Mueller comes up with a very interesting story and angle in which to work in the found footage format and it does grab the viewer at first but, then he blows it in his last act by trying to get too artsy and allowing the film to become simply incoherent and confusing. He goes overboard with his editing and visuals and totally looses control of the story which gets lost in an endless montage of imagery meant to be hallucinogenic but, only induces a headache and leaves us wondering what is really going on. It’s too vague and some of the images flashed before us seem simply random and without purpose. His small cast are fine and he does have a nice visual style but, in the end, gets too over-indulgent for his own good instead of finishing out what started as an intriguing story. Still, with a little restraint, Mueller could yet turn into a filmmaker to watch. Also stars Iron Man and Star Trek’s Faran Tahir which throws off the found footage illusion as he has been in two very high profile films and is instantly recognizable.

  2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: STAR TREK (2009)

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With Star Trek Into Darkness coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray, I thought I’d take a look back at the first installment of this new reboot series.

STAR TREK (2009)

With the Star Trek series running out of steam on TV and in the cinemas, Paramount decided to reboot by restarting and recasting the original series for a new movie adventure with a more up to date popcorn movie style. And the gamble pays off beautifully. The new flick starts off with a Romulan ship from the future emerging from a black hole and engaging Federation starship the U.S.S. Kelvin. Upon the capture and murder of it’s captain (Faran Tahir), first officer George Kirk (Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth) takes command and orders the crew, including his wife (Jennifer Morrison) who is currently in labor, off the ship and sacrifices himself to fend off the invaders while his crew escapes. Before he dies, his wife gives birth to their son who they name James T. Kirk. The film then picks up with rebelious adult James Kirk (Chris Pine) being talked into joining Starfleet by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and there he meets future crew members Spock (Zachary Quinto), a half Vulcan whose path to Starfleet we also see, McCoy (Karl Urban) and Uhura (Zoe Saladana). Despite getting in trouble, Kirk makes his way onto the top of the line U.S.S. Enterprise where the cadets, including helmsman Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), are being sent on an emergency mission to the planet Vulcan from whom they’ve recieved a distress call. Soon they find the planet is under attack from the Narada, the same ship that killed Kirk’s father and destroyed the Kelvin 25 years earlier and it’s captain Nero (Eric Bana) is hell bent on exacting a horrific revenge that spans centuries of hate and will kill billions. Add to all this a cranky exiled engineer named Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) and an older version of Spock from the 24th century (Leonard Nimoy) and Kirk and the cadets face their first and quite possibly last mission as Pike becomes a prisoner and cadet Kirk now takes command of the Enterprise.

Star Trek is not perfect, but this flick not only successfully re-invents the franchise, but somehow keeps it familiar enough for those of us who grew up with it. The cast does a wonderful job of keeping the essence of the original characters yet presenting them in a fresh way and adding their own touches. Karl Urban stands out in particular with a brilliant performance as Dr. McCoy and Simon Pegg is hilarious as the cantankerous ‘Scotty’. The script nails the character relationships very well. As for the differences between this version and original Trek lore, the plot explains this with Nero’s actions changing the timeline, which in itself is a classic Star Trek plot element. J.J. Abrams directs with a lot of energy and fast paced excitement for the new generation of movie goer, yet doesn’t abandon the spirit of Star Trek that older fans hold dear. Having Nimoy’s Spock there also gives the movie a really nice passing of the torch quality as this new generation version of the beloved characters takes over. The SPFX are incredible and the scope of the film is one rarely seen in a Star Trek film.

A really fun movie that is a really good example of how something can be rebooted and made fresh without alienating the it’s original fan base. A great popcorn movie and the triumphant return of Star Trek for us fans and a fun new introduction for those not initiated.

3 and 1/2 starships

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REVIEW: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

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STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

It’s been a 4 year mission to wait for a sequel to J.J. Abrams’ awesome Star Trek reboot but, finally Star Trek Into Darkness has arrived. And while it’s not quite up to the 2009 blockbuster, it is still a really entertaining 2 hours at the movies. The film opens with Kirk (Chris Pine) disobeying Starfleet’s Prime Directive to save a primitive alien race and his Vulcan first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto). When the Enterprise reaches Earth, instead of being handed the much coveted 5 year mission, Kirk is handed a demotion and Pike resumes command of the good ole NCC 1701. But this speed-bump in Kirk’s career doesn’t last as a mysterious rogue Starfleet agent by the name of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) launches deadly terroristic attacks against Starfleet and it’s personnel. His actions put Kirk once again in the captain’s chair with orders to hunt this dangerous fugitive down, on the Klingon home world of Kronos to where he’s fled and eliminate him. But Kirk is not comfortable being an assassin and he and his and crew find that once they enter Klingon space and retrieve their quarry, that “John Harrison” is not who they think he is and they may be pawns in a greater conspiracy involving a Starfleet Admiral (Peter Weller) with a monstrous warship and his own agenda.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun and fast paced action adventure that’s only real problem is that it moves a little too fast and we’d like a little more time to allow the emotions of the events witnessed to resonate. Kirk’s demotion is a good example as he is back in command in about 10 minutes of screen time and we really don’t get a chance to appreciate this blow to the character’s career and ego. Once the plot starts to unfold, the film is all too eager to get to the explosions and fisticuffs than to give us a few minutes to properly absorb the dramatic effects of what occurs. But I would be lying if I said that what action Abrams delivers is not exciting and fun, because it is. This is especially true during an exhilarating last act which made up for some of the lack of real emotional depth earlier on. The script from Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof has it weaknesses, but ultimately I did like their twist on a familiar Trek character and how the new timeline effected his involvement in Trek history.

The cast is once again top notch and it is the interaction between characters that really helps keep this movie on target during some of the weaker bits. The combination of Abrams’ direction, the script’s character interaction and the cast, really give this film it’s strength despite all the awesome action and eye popping SPFX. All the crew return from Trek 09 and are all really good, once again, at making these classic characters their own yet, still familiar. Trek’s bad guy is played with relish by Benedict Cumberbatch, giving a strong performance as the main villain, though I just wish his character had a bit more screen time to be developed a little more, to give the character more weight and impact. It’s great to see Peter Weller back on the big screen as Admiral Marcus, the Starfleet officer whose visions of war with the Klingon Empire have caused him to act against the very things he seeks to defend. Rounding out the main cast is pretty Alice Eve, who is fine as Carol Marcus, the admiral’s daughter and future Kirk love interest. The character has little to do for the most part, but Eve does well when Miss Marcus does become important to the plot.

So in conclusion, I had a fun time watching this Trek sequel and while I wish it had a little more emotional depth in the first two acts and a little more development of some of the new characters, their is plenty of warp speed action to entertain and the film really delivers in the final act where it counts. Beam me up for Trek 3!

3 and 1/2 starships

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