HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE RENTAL (2020)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2now playing

bars

THE RENTAL (2020)

Flick has two couples, Charlie and his wife Michelle (Dan Stevens and Alison Brie) and his brother Josh and girlfriend Mina (Jeremy Allen White and Sheila Vand) renting a remote oceanside house for the weekend. Things get off to a tense start when Mina accuses handyman/house owner Taylor (Toby Huss) of being a racist and as Mina and Charlie are business partners, there is tension between them of the sexual kind. Add to that, a mysterious individual is watching the couples from without and within the house and it’s a recipe for a weekend of infidelity, betrayal, violence and murder.

Flick is the debut feature from actor/director Dave Franco from his script with Joe Swanberg. It’s an atmospheric but bland mix of genres and sub-genres that never really grabs hold of you. We get a slasher flick, mixed with a stalker/voyeur flick, mixed with a ‘self-centered yuppies try to cover up a death to save their selfish asses’ flick and none of these elements are engrossing, nor is the mash-up itself one that is put together with much cleverness. Taken as a whole, or in it’s genre/sub-genre parts, it’s all very flat and routine. Mix in the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable and there is no one to care about or root for, either. They are all self-absorbed and seem to have little problem cheating on, lying to and backstabbing each other. Once the stalker and slasher element kicks in, we really don’t care if any of them fall victim to his hammer. We don’t care if he uses his acquired footage to turn them against each other, either. Besides, why go through all trouble manipulating them if you’re just going to hunt them down and try to kill them regardless? Even the victim whose death the four are trying to cover up…in a sub-plot that adds nothing and doesn’t further the story any…isn’t particularly likable. The dog Reggie (Chunk) is the only character we do like and even he conveniently disappears for most of the last act. There is some graphic violence and some bland shower sex and overall, this is simply a very routine and forgettable flick beneath the sumptuous cinematography and a bit of atmosphere in the last act.

The cast are solid enough in their parts, but, again, none of the characters are particularly likable. Stevens’ Charlie is a bit full of himself and is apparently a cheater and does so as Michelle sleeps in the next room. Alison Brie’s Michelle is a bit of a prissy whiner, even before she has to deal with infidelity and a dead body. Josh seems like a stereotypical hotheaded punk and while White is fine in the role, he comes across as a jerk, especially when he outs Charlie to Michelle about his cheating ways. Vand is possibly the most likable, as the feisty Mina, but she looses any sympathy when she cheats on Josh with Charlie. Even Toby Huss’ homeowner Taylor is accused of being a creep and a racist, so we don’t endear to him either, even when he gets caught in the middle of couples and killer…which is no spoiler, as it is obvious from the start that Taylor isn’t our stalker. No strong suspicion is ever set up. As for the killer, he doesn’t generate enough menace to make an impression and is given no personality. Even the climactic coda has been done before and is nowhere near as unsettling as it’s meant to be. Again, bland.

Franco shows he can give a flick a little mood and atmosphere and has a good visual eye, but needs to come up with a better script and story to put that to good use. This flick is a ho-hum mash-up of routine elements, some that don’t even really seem to serve the story much. Why pit the couples against one another with infidelity and the murder cover-up, only to have them stalked indeterminately by the killer anyway? It seems like filler and a waste of time. Overall a very flat and routine thriller from Dave Franco and IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) shower heads complete with spy camera.

 

**************************************************

bars

BARE BONES: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES and THE ZERO THEOREM

MZNJ_bareBones_Marquee

now playing

Humerus-Bone1

walk_among_the_tombstones_ver2

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014)

If there is ever an example of Liam Neeson’s ability to elevate a routine thriller and make a cliché character interesting, it’s here. Flick has Neeson as an ex-alcoholic, ex-cop with a past…wasn’t kidding about the clichés…who is now a private detective and is hired by a drug trafficker (The Guest’s Dan Stevens) to find the men who kidnaped and brutally murdered his wife. As a thriller, the film is well directed by Scott Frank from his own script based on Lawrence Block’s book. There is nothing new here, though, as we get an investigation that leaves to something much deeper and darker and we even get the smart-aleck neighborhood kid turned sidekick. Neeson is solid and intense and makes the whole affair seem much more important than it really is, despite that once it’s over you realize that nothing much was actually achieved. A movie that is far more entertaining than it should be, even though we’ve seen Neeson threaten people on the phone countless times by now. Thanks, Liam!

3 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

zero-theorem-the-zero-theorem-poster-art

THE ZERO THEOREM (2014)

Some of Terry Gilliam’s early films are borderline brilliant, such as his cult classic Brazil and the award winning The Fisher King. Ex-Python Gilliam has seemed to have lost his way, though, after the dead-on Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and the collapse of his Don Quixote film…and this colorful but, convoluted Sci-Fi flick proves it. Despite a really good performance from Christoph Waltz as the eccentric Qohen Leth, the film meanders for over 100 minutes but, never really goes anywhere. There is the usual original and sumptuous production design, as is typical of Gilliam’s films, but Pat Rushin’s story of a futuristic corporate run society…a theme already overdone…where the loner Leth is asked to prove a theorem that everything is leading up to nothing, doesn’t really lead to much in itself. No more proof of The Zero Theorem than the actually film, which achieves little after almost two hours of Gilliam’s off-beat comedy and the antics of the story’s eclectic, cartoonish supporting characters. As a fan of Gilliam, I didn’t hate it. There were things to like, such as the visuals, Waltz’s performance and a delightfully sexy role from French actress Mélanie Thierry as a cyber-sex girl who falls for Qohen. As a complete film, however, it achieves little. Gilliam is still one of the most original filmmakers around but, it’s been awhile since he accomplished something noteworthy. Also stars Matt Damon as “Management” and Tilda Swinton as a cyber-shrink.

2 and 1-2 star rating

Humerus-Bone1
bars

REVIEW: THE GUEST (2014)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

guest

bars

THE GUEST (2014)

While I certainly am no fan of Adam Wingard’s overrated Your’e Next, I did have a really good time with this fun and very 80s thriller. The story finds the Peterson family grieving over the death of their son Caleb, who died while serving overseas in the military. A man named David (Dan Stevens) shows up at the door unexpectedly, claiming to be an ex-soldier and a very close friend of Caleb’s, who he says asked David to check in on them before he died. They invite David to stay with them and he quickly bonds with the husband and wife (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser) and their two remaining kids, teen Luke (Brendan Meyer) and twenty year-old Anna (Maika Monroe). Soon, though, when bodies start to pile up in town, it starts to become clear to Anna that the charming and handsome former solider may not be who he seems and is determined to find out just who they have welcomed into their house and what his real intentions are.

First of all, if nothing else, this film has a great 80s vibe, especially with Steve Moore’s electronic score, that evokes Tangerine Dream, and Robby Baumgartner’s cinematography. Second of all, the film is just a lot of fun. We know right from his first charming smile that this guy is not who he seems and that this devil wears an angel’s face. The fun is watching him charm himself into the Petersons’ life, telling them exactly what they want to hear about Caleb, saving Luke from school bullies and helping make dinner…all the while giving us, the audience, little glimpses that there is something far darker and far more lethal behind that boyish grin. Wingard gleefully and skillfully, let’s us in on what this heartbroken family refuses to see…David is a dangerous and possibly unstable man. Once Anna starts to suspect, we know she is immediately putting herself in danger. It’s even more fun when we find out just how much danger and just who David really is. I must say I didn’t expect the film to go in the direction that Adam Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett take this story and it’s a blast to see it play out. There are some fun and shocking surprises along the way, too. What really makes it all work, though, is that it’s makers know exactly what kind of movie they are making here. They know exactly when to play it cool and exactly when to have some fun and go a little over-the-top. And the 80s vibe is definitely deliberate as certain scenes evoked the glory days of Seagal and Norris, had they played more villainous roles. It’s not perfect. The Peterson’s seem a bit too eager to allow this stranger into their home, especially mom, Laura. Luke’s willingness to go along with David’s deception, even after Anna suspects him of murder seems a bit far-fetched and leads to a betrayal that’s a bit hard to swallow. Despite the two bonding, it seems quite a stretch that Luke would still trust David after all the suspicions and deceptions come to light. When we get the big reveal, we could have had a bit clearer picture as to what is going on with the ex-soldier, too. It’s not vague, but a few more details would have been nice. Flaws aside, though, it’s a good time with some nice suspense and a thrilling and action-packed third act that keeps you from dissecting things too much till it’s over…and by then you’ve had too good a time to be overly critical.

As for the actors, the cast are all very good. Dan Stevens almost fools us with his charming ex-soldier, but let’s just enough of the devil in for us to know something is up. It makes it even more fun to watch him pull the wool over the unsuspecting family’s eyes. When the ‘cat is out of the bag’, so to speak, he is convincingly lethal when the bullets and blood start to fly. Maika Monroe is a nice surprise as the sweet but strong-willed Anna. She has the look of a young Brittany Murphy and may just have the acting chops too. She plays a tough girl willing to go up against a possible killer to protect her family. Meyer is solid as the meek Luke. He’s the one who bond’s tightest with David and obviously, is the last to believe David is dangerous to him and his family. Meyer convey’s the confused emotions well when it starts to be believed that David is not who he seems. Kelley and Orser are also good as parents Laura and Spencer. Two adults that are too wrapped up in their own grief and lives to see something is definitely off with their guest. They convey that obliviousness and yearning to believe something is real to soothe their inner pain, even though it’s increasingly obvious it’s not. A good cast who take their roles seriously and make this flick work very well.

So, I really enjoyed The Guest. Even without some very heavy 80s influence on it’s story and style, this is just a fun movie that knows what it’s about and just goes with it in the right degrees…and at the right times. We have a solid cast and some good direction by Adam Wingard that makes this story work, even when it sometimes asks for a little suspension of disbelief. The key here is Wingard knows that we know something’s up and he respects that we’ve seen a lot of this before and so he just has a good time telling the familiar tale and takes us along for the ride. Oh…and yes, Mr. Wingard, I saw the Halloween III easter egg…well played. A fun retro movie with a great soundtrack of songs, too! (see track listing below)

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.

raid rating

****************************************************

BONUS: SONGS TRACKS from The Guest Soundtrack…

51MWSTbmmwL._SS280

  1. “Haunted When The Minutes Drag” (Love and Rockets) – 8:01
  2. “Hourglass” (Survive) – 4:30
  3. “Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version)” (Annie) – 4:14
  4. “The Magician” (Mike Simonetti) – 3:59
  5. “Masquerade” (Clan Of Xymox) – 3:53
  6. “Omniverse” (Survive) – 4:34
  7. “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” (Stevie B) – 5:03
  8. “Storm Column” (Gatekeeper) – 3:30
  9. “A Day” (Clan Of Xymox) – 6:40
  10. “Emma” (The Sisters of Mercy) – 6:34
  11. “Obsidian” (Gatekeeper) – 4:19
  12. “Cry In The Wind” (Clan Of Xymox) – 5:16

bars