Flick opens on Christmas Eve with Santa Claus (David Harbour) disillusioned and getting drunk in a bar. He finally gets back to work and lands on the roof of the rich and mostly obnoxious Lightstone family. At the same time, a group of Christmas named mercenaries led by “Mr. Scrooge” (John Leguizamo) enter the premises to rob the Lightstones of $300 million hidden in a secret safe within the remote mansion. Before you can say “John McClane” Santa is one by one taking down the heavily armed thieves to rescue little Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady), who is the only one on his nice list.
Fun and very violent flick is directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) from a Christmas cliché filled script by Pat Casey and Josh Miller. For years it’s been argued that Die Hard is a Christmas film and finally somebody decided to make it one with Santa replacing Bruce Willis’ beleaguered hero! Just so we understand why Santa is so adept at killing bad guys, he is given the background of a once vicious Viking warrior, Nikamund the Red. Clever! The action is fast, furious and violent, there are some brutal but amusing Christmas-themed kills and some nice shout-outs to other Christmas flicks from Die Hard 1 & 2 to Home Alone. There are also a few lulls in the R-rated action, and some of the Christmas double entendres do get a bit tiresome after a while. Otherwise, this is a naughty in a good way action flick with Harbour perfectly cast as the butt-kicking Santa and the multi-talented John Leguizamo also making a very effective Christmas hating bad guy. Cute Leah Brady is simply adorable as little Trudy and avoids annoying child syndrome while actually getting in on some of the action! Not perfect, but a fun and bloody action flick that takes itself serious enough, yet still has its tongue planted firmly in cheek. Also stars veteran actress Beverly D’Angelo as the Lightstone family matriarch, Gertrude.
Not only was Black Widow a long time coming in terms of Natasha Romanoff getting her own solo feature, but it is another highly anticipated flick postponed for over a year by COVID 19 shutdowns. Now it has arrived and we finally get some of the answers we were looking for, and a bit of closure.
Film opens with a sequence from 1995 detailing Natasha’s (Ever Anderson) fleeing from America with her Russian sleeper cell family and being taken with her sister Yelena (Violet McGraw) to be part of the Black Widow training program. Film then resumes between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run after helping Cap and Bucky escape. Nat is about to go off the grid, when her long lost sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) pulls her into a mission to stop the Black Widow assassins training program, still being conducted in the Red Room, by a man she thought she killed, Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Determined to stop the Red Room and Dreykov once and for all, reunites her not only with Yelena, but with her sleeper cell mother and father, Alexei “Red Guardian” Shostakov (David Harbour), a super soldier and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a Black Widow herself.
Flick is directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Eric Pearson and story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson. It has some nice emotional resonance and gives us a glimpse into how Natalia came to be the hero we know her as from the previous MCU films. The first act is strong and features a lot of action, as Nat reconnects with Yelena and are on the run from a metal-clad master assassin known only as Taskmaster, who perfectly mimics the fighting styles of his enemies. The pace here is quick, though not too fast and the action can surprisingly be a bit brutal, pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. It’s the second act where the film loses some momentum, as Nat and Yelena break Alexei out of a Russian prison and then travel to a pig farm in St. Petersburg to reconnect with Melina, who has vital information as to the Red Room’s whereabouts. It’s here the story grinds to almost a halt, as the “family” catches up, voices their issues and awkwardly tries to bond again. Despite some nicely placed humor in the first third, here a few of the attempts at laughs fall a bit flat amidst the melodrama. The film thankfully picks up again as a betrayal brings the foursome’s enemies to their door and we head into the climactic last act in the flying Red Room complex, where Natasha comes face to face with her past, Dreykov and Taskmaster. There is a lot of action and the FX are spectacular, though there are a few weak CGI fire effects that stand out a bit. As a whole, Black Widow plays more like a Daniel Craig Bond film than a superhero movie, until the more FX heavy climax. It has a nice emotional center giving the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, some closure and us some answers and details, that have been left out of her story thus far.
The cast all shine here. Scarlett Johansson gives one of her best performances as Nat and imbues her with some emotional depth that she wasn’t always afforded as a second banana in the other flicks. It’s too bad her story arc is at an end, as it would be nice to see her in solo action again. That being said, if this is a passing of the torch, Florence Pugh does a great job as her “sister” Yelena Belova, who takes up the mantel in the comics. Pugh is funny, tough and handles the action quite well. She has star quality and hopefully Yelena returns in future projects. Harbour is good as Red Guardian, though the character’s dialogue tends to ramble a bit and it stands out, especially in the slow middle. Weisz is good as the matronly Melina and gets to have a few action moments herself. Winstone is efficiently villainous as Dreykov, a far more grounded villain than we are used to in these films, but the veteran actor makes him lethal. William Hurt is briefly seen as Ross, O-T Fagbenie is a Natasha ally named Mason and Olga Kurylenko appears in a role that won’t be spoiled here. A good cast and it was nice to see Johansson get to say goodbye (?) to Romanoff with a really good performance and her own flick.
Overall this was a solid entry in the MCU. It’s a more down to earth action/adventure than the previous films, at least unit the last act, and gives us some of the details we’ve been waiting for. It has a good cast, with hints at the future, as well as, finally filling us in on Nat’s past. If anything holds this flick back, it’s that the middle act slows down momentum considerably and a few of the character interactions, during these sequences, come across as more awkward than effective. It recovers for it’s last third, with an action packed finale and some nice closure for the Romanoff character. Maybe not quite living up to the large expectations set by the long wait, but far from a disappointment. Stay through the credits for an especially shocking post credits scene.
On 7/9/21 we are finally getting a solo adventure for Natasha Romanoff and the latest trailer has anticipations high. Black Widow is directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer, David Hayter and Ned Benson. The flick stars Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff, David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian and William Hurt returning as Thaddeus Ross. What took you so long, Marvel!?
In less than 2 months we are finally getting a solo adventure for Natasha Romanoff and the latest trailer has anticipations high. Black Widow is set to release on 5/1/20 and was directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer, David Hayter and Ned Benson. The flick stars Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff, David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian and William Hurt returning as Thaddeus Ross. What took you so long, Marvel!?
Seth Rogen tried to go the superhero route with this 2011 updating of the classic Green Hornet character. The playboy/hero first appeared on radio and then in a short-lived TV show, that starred Bruce Lee as his karate kicking sidekick, Kato. Update finds rich playboy brat Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) inheriting his father’s newspaper and his mechanic/assistant, Kato (Jay Chou). Through a series of events, Britt decides he and Kato should become superheroes, but who go under the ruse of being criminals. Their first target is Russian gangster Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz), the bringing down of whom isn’t as easy as the rookie superheroes first think.
Flick is written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg and directed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry. As such, it is a very mixed bag. The good points are, the action scenes really move, are very exciting and fun and Seth Rogen and Jay Chou have good chemistry, with some of their camaraderie being amusing to watch. The bad points are, the scenes between the action often drag, too much time is spent with Rogen and Chou bickering, when it is far more fun to watch them working as a team, and a very uneven script which can’t decide between comedy and being a serious hero flick. Our heroes occasionally kill bad guys, which doesn’t fit the more wholesome character the movie’s based on and also adds to the uneven tone. Green Hornet showed potential for a franchise and Rogen is surprisingly fine as a hero, but mediocre box office put a stop to that. Maybe a less artsy director would have better suited the material, someone who can pace things better and who can give the dialog scenes more snap. Gondry makes the action move and things are photographed nice and colorfully, but that’s about it. A tighter script with a more consistent tone would have helped, too. A decent enough rental for a lazy Sunday, but could have been so much more. Also stars Cameron Diaz as love interest Lenore Case and Stranger Things’ David Harbour as a dirty D.A.
Sure, a Black Widow movie should have happened a long time ago, but we are finally getting a solo adventure for Natasha Romanoff and from the new teaser, it looks like it might be fun. Black Widow is set to release on 5/1/20 and was directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer, David Hayter and Ned Benson. The flick stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour.
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is back from comic book page to movie screen and unfortunately, without Ron Perlman and Guillermo del Toro. Not the conclusion of the previous film’s proposed trilogy, it’s a new origin story with a new cast and a far darker and somewhat less humorous tone. This latest incarnation finds Hellboy (Stranger Things’ David Harbour) dealing with both the truth of his destiny to bring about the apocalypse and the resurrection of the Blood Queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich), who’d love to help him. The heroic demon has to wade through an army of creatures and even some close to home betrayals to try and bring her down and save the world.
Reboot is directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall from a script by Mike Mignola and Andrew Cosby. As such, it is darker, edgier and more of a horror film than the PG-13 superhero films that preceded it. There are gallons of blood and gore spattered on the screen as Hellboy and allies, psychic Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), were-beast Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) and his “father” Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) battle dozens of monsters, demons and mythical creatures. There is a lot of bloody action and while it lacks the charm and fun of del Toro’s flicks, it is entertaining enough in it’s own right. Marshall’s visual style is different than del Toro’s, but no less spectacular, as we are treated to all sorts of monsters including a wrestling vampire, the pig-like Gruagach (Stephen Graham), Slavic folk legend Baba Yaga and a trio of hungry giants. The film has it’s stumbling points, such as that it is rather plot heavy with elements of everything from monsters of myth to King Arthur, Merlin and Excalibur. We also get another retelling of Hellboy’s origin that isn’t different enough to make it necessary, though this flick does delve deeper into who he really is. We also once again get glimpses of his apocalyptic destiny that are very familiar to what we have already seen. Sure this is a reboot, but it recovers quite a bit of old ground without enough innovation to keep it fresh. The film feels a little overloaded with all that goes on, though ironically, the final confrontation with Nimue came across as a bit underwhelming. It’s over quicker than one would expect after a two hour build up. No it’s not del Toro’s Hellboy, but it’s not the train-wreck early word makes it out to be, either.
As for Marshall’s cast, Harbour is solid as Hellboy. He doesn’t quite have Perlman’s roguish charm and arrogant swagger, but he actually is pretty good in the role. McShane is a veteran actor and his Professor Bruttenholm is less the doddering old man than John Hurt’s interpretation and is given a bit more of a gruff, grizzled demeanor. Kim is also fine as the macho soldier with a ferocious secret in his B.P.R.D. operative Daimio. He and Hellboy butt heads at first, but we know they will bond at some point. Sasha Lane is cute and feisty as the psychic Alice and Jovovich is a suitable enough villain, though never really given strong enough material to let her unleash her inner Maleficent. She could have been a bit more over-the-top. The dozens of CGI supporting monsters are rendered well enough, though some appear a bit more cartoony than others.
In conclusion, this reboot is not as memorable as del Toro’s adaptations, yet is not an insult to them either. Neil Marshall has a heavier hand than Guillermo and this flick stretches it’s R-rated limits, but he also creates some impressive otherworldly sequences with a cool array of beasts and critters. The film is loaded with action, but also felt a bit bloated at times with a lot of plot elements. It has a decent cast and if we can’t have Perlman, Harbour isn’t a bad replacement. Not the mess early word has made it out to be, though not an equal to the previous cinematic incarnations that came before it.
Indie horror finds pretty McKenzie (Hattie Smith) and her brother Mark (Zac Titus) traveling with friends to the expansive Cinder Park to find their lost sister Marylyn (Maria Granberg). They are told by local bar owner, Leon (William Kircher) that Marylyn has gone through a portal in the woods that leads to an alternate dimension called “The Axiom”. Desperate to find her sister, McKenzie follows his directions, despite her disbelief and soon she and her friends find out The Axiom exists and it is a dangerous place indeed.
Alternate dimension spin on the traditional cabin in the woods horror…and there is a cabin…is written and directed by the aptly named Nicholas Woods. It’s a low budget indie, but one that tries to freshen up the traditional deep woods horror with some inventive twists. It has some effective moments, as our group of five meet some strange beings in this otherworldly place and experience delusion and madness amongst themselves. There is a vague explanation as to how this portal got there and director Woods knows not to let his ambitions exceed his budget. There is some effective violence and bloodshed and the sparse seen occupants of The Axiom are well rendered, mostly with practical effects. The cast try hard, with Hattie Smith making a very suitable final girl. Add in murder, betrayal and a last act that goes in an interestingly different direction and it’s an offbeat and imaginative effort that’s definitely worth a look. Also stars Taylor Flowers, Nicole Dambro and Michael Peter Harrison as Edgar, Darcy and Gerrik, respectively, the rest of the group of friends.
You can fInd The Axiom on Amazon Prime.
A new and bloody red band trailer has arrived for the upcoming Hellboy reboot. Looks like it could be fun and I am a fan of director Neil Marshall, but still am of the old school thinking that if you are going to spend money on a new Hellboy flick, let Del Toro finish his trilogy with Perlman. New flick opens 4/12/19 stars David Harbour as Big Red and Milla Jovovich as the villain.
(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
Stranger Things returns with nine new episodes on Netflix that take place a year later, delightfully around Halloween. The story returns us to Hawkins, Indiana, now in 1984 with new trouble brewing. Our four heroes, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), are a year older, though still feeling the effects of their encounter with the Upside Down, especially Will. Unknown to the gang, a new threat is emerging from that paranormal dimension and has it’s sights set on Will. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has escaped and is now being hidden by police chief Hopper (David Harbour) from the Hawkins Laboratory folks who are still messing in otherworldly matters. While the group start to realize Will is once again in danger, Eleven goes on a journey to discover her real name and find her birth mother (Aimee Mullins) and half-sister (Linnea Berthelsen). Obviously all the characters’ stories will collide before the season is over.
Second season is just as good as the first and in some ways even more effective as now we are emotionally invested in the familiar characters. Ross and Matt Duffer (Hidden) again pay homage and give plentiful references to the sci-fi and horror flicks of the 80s, while still giving Stranger Things is very own heart and soul. They mange to expand the story, while keeping it familiar, also introducing us to some new characters like new gang member Maxine “Max” Hargrove (Sadie Sink) and her enormous jerk of a brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery from Better Watch Out). The Duffer Brothers still manage to blend in so many 80s references and yet without them being intrusive or overwhelming, or becoming the main focus. There is another great soundtrack of 80s tunes and the original score, again by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, really adds atmosphere as it did for season one. The FX are top notch, like last time and this season helps give the proceedings a bit bigger scale to go with it’s massive monster. There’s plenty of action, suspense, drama and otherworldly critters to keep it’s core audience happy while rooting for our favorite characters to battle evil once more.
The cast are just as good as last time with new facets being added to the characters. Winona Ryder is again solid as Will’s mother, who is now a bit overprotective, but more of a fighter when her boy is again in danger. Millie Bobby Brown really shines as Eleven, who is now frustrated at being kept from her friends and needing to find out who she really is and where her lost relatives are. As the gang, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, Schnapp and McLaughlin all are really strong and get to play the characters a year older, but still the lovable nerds we last saw, but now with an added strength of being heroes. Schnapp especially gets to show his stuff with Will being a far more present character this season with a strong connection to our story. Harbour is again, a good hero as police chief Hopper, who is going to great lengths to protect Eleven and has made a deal with the Devil, per say, to keep the bad guys out of Hawkins. The rest of the supporting cast get more to do and do it well and the new faces such as Sink, Montgomery and veteran Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, a shady scientist, all add to the character mix quite nicely. The Duffers juggle a lot of characters, but everyone gets their moment.
This was another solid and very entertaining season. The 80s nostalgia was again very enjoyable as was the recreation of the look and feel of the 80s decade. It took the story in new directions, introduced new characters, yet never lost that Stranger Things feel. The cast are all good, both new and returning and the FX were top notch. There were plenty of chills, suspense, thrills and surprises and some cool critters, too. Can’t wait for season 3 and now there is little doubt the Duffer Brothers can deliver the goods.
MADMAX – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
Trick or Treat, Freak – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
The Pollywog – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jessica Mecklenburg
Will the Wise – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Paul Dichter
Dig Dug – directed by Andrew Stanton written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
The Spy – directed by Andrew Stanton and written by Kate Trefry
The Lost Sister – directed by Rebbeca Thomas and written by Justin Doble
The Mind Flayer – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
The Gate – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
Stranger Things is an eight episode series from Netflix that takes place in Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. This fun retro series tells of four friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), who are into Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars like most nerdy kids of this era. A bizarre series of events occur with Will disappearing and a mysterious young girl (Millie Bobby Brown) with strange powers showing up in town, at the same time. She calls herself ‘Eleven’ and seems to be on the run. The three friends bond with Eleven and the four set out to find Will, as does local police chief Hopper (David Harbour) with all clues pointing to the mysterious Hawkins Laboratory and it’s presiding head scientist (Matthew Modine). Where is Will? Who really is Eleven? And what do the experiments at Hawkins have to do with all this?
This is a fun and nostalgic series from Ross and Matt Duffer (Hidden) that not only pays homage and gives affectionate nods to the sci-fi/horror flicks of the 80s and their filmmakers, but succeeds in being it’s own thing as well. Sure we see references to many 80s classics, but Stranger Things has it’s own vibe and it’s own story to go along with it’s tributes and provides it’s own chills, as no more evident than it’s opening scenes. We get little girls with deadly powers, evil men in black, alternate dimensions, creatures, conspiracy and a small town caught in the middle of it all. The Duffers deliver it with the look and feel of a movie of that era, as well as, a really cool electronic 80s score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, but not without a touch of their own style. While the mysteries slowly unravel over the course of the eight chapters, we are kept in the dark as long as possible, fed only small bits till it all comes together in the thrilling last few episodes. It’s a delightfully retro series that delivers the goods on all levels including having a little bit of an unobtrusive and offbeat sense of humor. It’s engaging and entertaining and very cleverly written by it’s creators who know exactly in what degree to deliver both it’s homages and it’s scares. The FX are well done, with much of the creature work appearing to be live effects and it never goes too overboard with them as to not betray the era it is recreating. To say anymore would be to spoil a really enjoyable and spooky show.
The cast are all really good from the name actors to the new faces. Winona Ryder is solid as Will’s emotionally troubled mother, who is pushed close to the edge by her son’s disappearance and the strange events that follow. Matthew Modine is appropriately arrogant and sleazy as head Hawkins scientist, Dr. Brenner, who pretends to care for Eleven, but is only using her for his experiments. Young Miss Brown is very endearing as Eleven, a child with some amazing and dangerous gifts who just wants to have a normal life and be cared for. We do feel sorry for her use as a test subject and how hurt she is that people fear her once they know what she is capable of. As our main group, Wolfhard, Matarazzo and McLaughlin all are engaging and make a likable trio of friends. They are brave in their search for Will and noble, especially Mike, in their befriending of Eleven. Harbour is also a good hero as the police chief who will go up against some very dangerous people to find a little boy. Schnapp doesn’t get much screen time as the missing Will, but he is likable enough in his brief appearances that we are sympathetic to what has happened to him. A good cast.
This was a solid and very entertaining series from start to finish. The 80s nostalgia was very enjoyable as was the recreation of the look and feel of films of that era, especially those of Carpenter and Spielberg. It payed homage to and referenced many 80s classics, yet was very much it’s own story that let it’s paying tribute be part of it’s tale, but not dictate it. The cast are all good, the FX were well-rendered, but did not look out of place in an 80s style film and there were plenty of chills, suspense and thrills throughout. Highly recommended and hopefully, there is only a second season, if it can match the quality of the first. Otherwise it stands perfectly on it’s own.
The Vanishing of Will Byers – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
The Weirdo on Maple Street – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
Holly Jolly – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jessica Mecklenburg
The Body – directed by The Duffer Brothers and written by Justin Doble
The Flea and the Acrobat – directed by The Duffer Brothers written by Alison Tatlock
The Monster – directed by The Duffer Brothers and written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
The Bathtub – directed by The Duffer Brothers and written by Justin Doble
The Upside Down – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers from a story by Paul Dichter