BARE BONES: GRANDMA and FREAKS OF NATURE

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GRANDMA (2015)

Written and directed by Paul Weitz, Grandma tells the story of cantankerous Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), an aging lesbian poet who has just ended a relationship with a younger woman (Judy Greer). On that same day she gets a visit from her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner)…obviously, Elle was married once…who needs over $600 for an abortion. The penniless Elle now begins a trek across L.A. to see friends, her ex-husband and ultimately, Sage’s mother, trying to raise the cash for her granddaughter’s procedure and unintentionally raising a little hell and learning something about herself, as well.

The performances in this flick are first rate, with Tomlin ruling the roost with her angry, volatile Elle and the film is well directed with some snappy dialog. It’s the story that fails to really involve the audience as it’s a just another ‘angry eccentric learning something about themselves’ flick. The film also tries way too hard to have all it’s liberal and indie film pieces in place with it’s story of an eccentric, lesbian poet helping her granddaughter get a *gasp* abortion story. It thinks it’s daring, but clear away the controversial topic and it’s just another journey of self-discovery movie about someone realizing they have let their inner pain sully their life. Elle is an interesting character, but one we’ve seen before, who comes to the same realizations that these types of grumpy characters usually do. Adding a pro-abortion element doesn’t make it any more new or daring. Also stars Sam Elliott and Marcia Gay Harden as Elle’s ex-husband and daughter respectively.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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FREAKS OF NATURE (2015)

Dumb and dull horror/comedy takes place in the town of Dillford, renown for it’s rib sandwiches. Also, the community is made up of a mix of humans, vampires and zombies living in an uneasy harmony. When an alien spacecraft arrives, it creates a panic, which in-turn reignites old rivalries. As human, vampire and zombie are once again at each other’s throats, three high school kids, human Dag (Nicholas Braun), vampire Petra (Mackenzie Davis) and zombie Ned (Josh Fadem), are forced to work together to save all from the alien invasion.

This is a silly flick with a very convoluted concept and plot, that could have worked in more capable hands. It all boils down to the same “we can live together despite our differences” message we have seen so many times before and a bland use of it’s oddball story set-up. The film is goofy and gory and that would certainly be fine if it were also clever and funny. It’s just a bunch of ideas thrown in a blender with a half hour plot dragged out over 90 minutes. The action stops for long periods of character moping and once it’s over, you realize it went exactly where you expected it to from scene one. The SPFX are surprisingly good, as is the gore and at least the cast gets the tone of the weak material. As directed  by Robbie Pickering and written by Oren Uziel, the film is basically a ho-hum mess, whereas somewhere inside it there might have been a fun midnight movie buried under all the mediocrity. Also stars Denis Leary, Joan Cusack, Patton Oswalt and the yummy Vanessa Hudgens as Dag’s hopeless pursuit turned vampire vixen.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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COOL STUFF: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 on BLU-RAY

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) DVD/Blu-Ray

I have mixed feelings about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (click on the title for full review), though will admit I have softened my stance a little after watching it again. Not having done quite as well as previous installments, this summer blockbuster has been rushed onto home media before the summer is even over and comes loaded with extras to lure us in. But is it worth the buy?… Let’s take a look…

TASM2 may  have it’s flaws but, it was a great looking and well designed movie and the digital Blu-Ray image is gorgeous and even crisper on your HD TV then blown up on a movie screen. The colors are rich and the complex action and FX really look great and hold up under the scrutiny of being up close in your living room. The sound is great and the film may, overall, actually play better at home where it’s somewhat convoluted story can be absorbed better with the more intimate setting. The deciding factor when considering picking up a somewhat flawed film are the extras… and this disc has a generous amount of them to sway us. First off we get about a dozen deleted scenes. Not all of them are gems, we can see why some did not make the cut but, we do get to see more of the Green Goblin, a few more scenes with Felicity Jone’s character of Felicia Hardy and a scene between Peter and his father which was interesting though I understand the decision to not go that route. The real draw for me is over 100 minutes of production footage and interviews and as an amateur/wannabe filmmaker myself, I can eat this stuff up and it was cool to see how this complex production came together. There is also the traditional director’s commentary and even a music video from Alicia Keys for “It’s On Again” from the movie.

So, whether you want to pick this up depends on how much you liked the flick. The film plays a bit better at home, looks and sounds great and has a generous amount of extras to add to it’s appeal. As a movie geek, who loves this kind of stuff, I found myself being a bit more forgiving of it’s flaws the second time around and really enjoyed the in-depth look at how the film’s production came together. Unless the movie completely failed to interest you, or, you consider it to be a far greater disappointment then I did (see review) then I’d say it’s worth having, especially as most retail outlets have it on sale for it’s release, as well.

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REVIEW: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

While I can safely say The Amazing Spider-Man 2 avoids some of the epic badness of Raimi’s bloated Spider-Man 3… which also has some good stuff too, it wasn’t a complete disaster… it certainly is a disappointing and schizophrenic film to say the least. Sequel’s biggest problem is that the story is all over the place and so is it’s tone. It’s Dark Knight serious one minute and Batman Forever campy the next and trying to have it both ways. The scatterbrained story is hard to paraphrase but, it has Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) trying to deal with his feelings for Gwen (Emma Stone) while also trying to deal with the guilt from the death of her father (Denis Leary) and the promise he made to him before he died to stay away from her. When he is not getting all emo over that, he is still pining for the truth about his mother and father (Embeth Davidtz and Campbell Scott) and their disappearance. In the middle of all this moping we have the arrival of a new villain named Electro (Jamie Foxx) who is a nerdish Oscorp power expert and Spider-Man groupie whose fall into the wrong vat (it’s always a vat of something!) turns him into a Spider-Man hating live wire… very similar to Batman Forever’s Riddler storyline, hence my reference. And if that’s not enough, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home from abroad to take over Oscorp when his father passes away. But, Harry has inherited more then the company from dear old dad, as he also has his degenerative disease… and his research indicates only Spider-Man’s blood can save him… still with me? Needless to say, Peter/Spider-Man is up to his webs in bad guys and emotional turmoil as he tries to figure out his relationship issues, parental issues and Electro and Green Goblin issues as Harry’s efforts to save himself have a disturbing effect… at least he didn’t fall in a vat…oh, and did I mention The Rhino (Paul Giamatti)?

Despite some very top notch effects and some impressive, though frantic action, scenes Amazing Spider-Man 2 has far too much story to tell for it’s own good and very little of it comes to a satisfying conclusion. It can be slow moving at times and there are long stretches where not much is really accomplished, though there is a lot to get done considering all the conflicts the script, by Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker and Alex Kurtzman, sets up. Director Marc Webb also seems a little uncertain as to the tone he wants for his complicated film and seems to wing-it scene by scene. Sometimes he wants the film to have a serious dramatic impact but, sometimes he wants to have what he interprets as comic book style fun and the constantly changing tone between campy and dire is disorientating and creates a distance from the proceedings. I never felt really involved in the story which had a lot for me to get involved in, if any of it really had the focus and strength it should have. Sometimes we get some very serious sequences such as the before mentioned emotional torment Peter is suffering and then we get some very campy and goofy scenes such as Jaime Foxx’s dorky Max Dillon before he becomes a human Die Hard battery. And that is a big shame because Electro could have been a real imposing villain if his set-up wasn’t so silly and cliche’. His powers are portrayed with some real effectiveness and he has a tremendous battle with Spidey in Times Square… one of the film’s best scenes… but, then he all but disappears till the script needs him again to join forces with the desperate Harry. At least TASM2 avoids SM3‘s mistake and let’s Spidey have it out with Electro before a certain goon on a glider makes his appearance. And as for Harry, we have no grasp of Peter’s relationship with him, as this is the first time in this new series he is seen or mentioned. So it has no resonance. At least Raimi always had Harry present and it took two films before he became a villain. Here we don’t even get to know Harry well enough for his transformation into the Green Goblin to have the weight it needs. And once the credits roll, we feel like we’ve sat through a middle film in an undesignated trilogy as there seems to be no solid beginning or end to the story. It seems like an episode in a larger story arch that is ongoing, so, we leave the theater feeling like we’ve seen an incomplete film. It sort of just ends with only a few story elements resolved. That’s OK in comics because they are monthly, here we have to wait another two years to see if this is going anywhere.

The cast are all good, though no one really gets the screen time their character deserves except for Garfield. And he is a good Peter/Spidey though, those who felt Tobey Maguire’s Spidey was a bit too weepy, be warned, Garfield catches up a bit here. Jaime Foxx is very effective as Electro in what he is given to do though, I thought his Max Dillon was a bit too goofy and campy considering how serious we are supposed to take him when he turns spider-hating electrode. DeHaan is a bit flat as Harry in the earlier scenes but, seemed to respond better to the villainous turn and he makes a pretty effective Green Goblin, though again, isn’t utilized enough to make a real impact. Emma Stone is once again charming, perky and feisty as Gwen Stacy but, her character also disappears for stretches and sometimes her place in the story seems more to frustrate Peter then anything else. She and Garfield again have a nice chemistry but Gwen is another character that needed more important things to do then just emotionally confuse our hero. The character and actress deserve better. Sally Field is once again a solid Aunt May and she and Garfield also have a nice chemistry in the few scenes they have together. Supporting players Colm Feore, Felicity Jones and Paul Giamatti are fine enough in small roles that hint at having more importance in a future installment. Again, the film focuses on things to come and neglects what’s going on now.

So, in conclusion, the second Spidey flick in this new series is somewhat of a disappointment and attempted far too much for it’s own good and then can’t make up it’s mind on exactly what tone to present that convoluted story in. There are long stretches where not much really happens, though it never got boring or tedious but, could have used it’s 142 minute running time more wisely. There were some spectacular FX and action scenes and there are elements set-up and some left unresolved that could make a solidly thrilling third flick if, they tighten the script and Webb settles on a tone and sticks with it. It’s not a train wreck, just a bit of an overloaded one that can’t decide what track it’s on sometimes.

2 and 1/2 webs.

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REVIEW: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

With a sequel looming hours away, I thought I’d take a look back at  the initial installment of this reboot series…

I liked Raimi’s Spider-man movies, especially the first two. So, I was a bit apprehensive about The Amazing Spider-Man, but went in to this reboot with an open mind. While there are problems here and the film has flaws, it also has great potential and Andrew Garfield does a terrific job delivering a fresh take on Peter Parker/Spidey. Since my biggest problem was with the retelling of the origin, that bodes well for the next movie, if done right. The problem I had with the origin is not that it is done a bit differently, but to be honest, I don’t think it really clicked. It seemed clunky and awkward and it just didn’t grab me. They were trying to bring together elements concerning Parker’s father and Peter himself into the main story and it seemed a bit forced, it didn’t drag me in. Another part of the origin that didn’t work for me was his relationship with his Uncle Ben. As Uncle Ben is also an important part of Peter’s transformation, their relationship needed to be stronger and I never got a real sense of how important they were to each other. One of the reasons is, I felt that the usually terrific Martin Sheen was miscast here. He just doesn’t give Ben the charm and quiet strength that Cliff Robertson brought in the Raimi trilogy that made his importance to Peter believable. Their relationship isn’t given much screen time and It never strongly establishes their bond. Sally Field’s Aunt May fairs better although, once the plot is in full swing, she doesn’t get to do more then look concerned as Peter comes home at odd hours with some battle scars from his superhero activities.

The film really doesn’t come together and really start to work till Parker begins to establish himself as Spider-Man and his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) starts to form. Here director Marc Webb (A guy named Webb directs a Spider-Man movie, how’s that for a happy accident.) really brings it together and delivers. Garfield and Stone are great together and have a great chemistry. Stone is far more interesting then Dunst as Mary Jane and makes a far better match for Peter and a far spunkier heroine, who doesn’t stand on the sidelines waiting to be captured by the villain of the week. Gwen gives Peter a much needed emotional positivity in his troubled life and it’s easy to believe that she gives him the strength to be a true hero and much more then just the wisecracking vigilante he starts out as. Not that that stage isn’t fun, too. Rhys Ifans is fine as the noble Dr. Curt Connors whose quest to better the lives of the handicapped, including himself, leads to his emergence as the Lizard. Connors could have been a bit more threatening to a degree, but it worked for me that his core intensions were still good, despite being twisted by the Lizard’s rage and the maddening effects of the serum. He wants to turn us all into lizards with the best of intentions…add sarcasm. His CGI alter ego was impressive and came across as a dangerous foe for our freshman superhero. The numerous confrontations between the two were well done and escalated nicely till the big finale which really soars and Webb surprises us with how well he presented the action, as his last film was a small indie romance. Let us not forget a really good turn by Denis Leary as Gwen’s dad, Captain Stacy. He has minimal screen time, but gives us a well rounded characterization that adds importance and weight to the scenes he’s in. This is what Sheen failed to do for me, make an impression and add depth to the story in the few scenes he was in. And I have always liked Sheen.

So, in conclusion, after a weak and somewhat clunky first act, the movie comes together and gives us what we came for. Andrew Garfield shines as the troubled yet brilliant Peter Parker and successfully takes an awkward teen and transforms him into a noble hero and gives us a fresh new take on a familiar character, that we can’t wait to see more of. There was spectacular action and drama and at the core a strong relation ship between Peter and Gwen that we also want to see more of. So, while Amazing Spider-Man is a flawed film, it’s potential for the future of this new direction has us anticipating what comes next, now that the characters and their possible directions are established. Bring it on!…and stay during the credits folks!

3 webs.

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