BARE BONES: UMMA (2022)

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UMMA (2022)

Umma tells the story of Amanda (Sandra Oh) a woman of Korean descent that now lives on an American farm with her daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) estranged from her family. When a relative (Tom Yi) brings the remains of her now deceased mother (MeeWhat Alana Lee) to Amanda’s farm, her spirit, angry at Amanda’s forsaking her duty to her and leaving, begins to the single mother and her daughter.

Written by Iris K. Shim, this is at its core a completely generic and routine haunting, elevated by being steeped in Korean tradition and a wonderfully strong performance by its leading lady. There are some spooky moments, but this story has been told many times before and better. What makes it engaging and watchable is a knockout performance by Sandra Oh as a woman haunted by her decisions and in turmoil over having lived her own life, instead of following generations of custom and duty. There is some commentary about tradition, respecting one’s family heritage and yet making your own choices, but we know how this story will ultimately end. It is worth taking the journey, however, to watch Oh give a two-dimensional character strong life, intensity and emotional depth. A perfect example of a weak script made something interesting by a veteran actress giving her all and enhancing the material. Also stars Dermot Mulroney and Odeya Rush.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: LAVENDER

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LAVENDER (2016)

Flick is a mystery thriller with a supernatural element as young wife and mother, Jane (Abbie Cornish) has been struggling all her life to remember the events from her childhood that took the lives of her parents and sister. A car accident gives her temporary amnesia and as her memories return, so she starts to remember things from that night 25 years ago. But something or someone is trying to help coax her memories back and whatever or whoever it is, it draws her to her childhood home for a confrontation with that dark event her mind has chosen to forget.

Film is stylishly directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly from a script by he and Colin Frizzell. It presents us with hints of what happened in it’s opening and then takes us 25 years into the present where Jane tries to remember the occurrence and it takes another traumatic event to start shaking the memories loose. As Jane begins her journey with her family in tow, we go along with her as she slowly puts the puzzle pieces together. There is also a bit of a supernatural twist, as though there is some force leading her in the directions she needs to go. It adds a spooky element to the film that works in it’s favor and keeps the audience a bit unsettled…in a good way. A strong performance by Cornish helps us like and root for Jane, too, even when we suspect she may have been somehow involved in the deaths. The supporting cast, Including Justin Long and Dermot Mulroney as her uncle, help keep the film involving as does the rural farm setting add atmosphere. The plot and resolution may not be entirely original, but it is engrossing and a bit spooky, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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

Series writer and star Leigh Whannell admirably takes over the directing reigns for this third installment. Instead of picking up where the second film left off, this film takes place a few years before the Lambert haunting that was the subject of the first two movies. It starts with a young girl, Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) seeking help from Elise (Lin Shaye) to contact her dead mother (Ele Keats). Elise refuses, as she is not only still grieving over the suicide of her husband, but fearful of an encounter with a very angry spirit who threatens her life. Quinn’s continual attempts to contact her mother gain the attention of another dark spirit (Michael Reid MacKay) and that spirit slowly begins to try to take the girl’s soul. Helpless, Quinn’s dad (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elise to save his daughter from this malevolent force. Elise now must fight her own grief and fear to combat the diabolical entity and gets a little help from two bumbling ghost chasers who join the case, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).

Leigh Whannell actually does a decent job filling in for James Wan who has moved on to other projects. He doesn’t quite have the chops or Wan’s pacing, but does create some atmosphere and some successfully spooky sequences. What holds Chapter 3 back is, Whannell’s script, which lacks a lot of the cleverness of his first two Insidious screenplays. It almost seems as if the writer/director either had too much of a full plate with working behind the camera and in front of it, or simply ran out of ideas. There is certainly fun to be had with this flick and it was amusing to see how Elise met Tucker and Specs, but at it’s core, it’s a routine haunting flick that we’ve seen so many times before. The use of “The Further” is nowhere near as inventive as the first two times around and the villainous “Man Who Can’t Breath” is a rather routine paranormal foe, who pales in comparison to the first film’s demon and the second film’s Parker Crane and mother. He’s nicely rendered and looks creepy, but is otherwise a rather mundane villain…and one whose background is never explored. Again, Whannell does provide some spooky fun and the movie is rarely dull…though some of the exposition scenes are a bit clunky…it’s just surprising the film’s weakest aspect is the part he has most experience with, the script. The Brenner family is also less endearing than the Lamberts, though Quinn is very likable and we do care what happens to her. It also doesn’t feel like an Insidious flick even with the shared characters and similar look and makes one wonder why they chose to go with a prequel which immediately spoils the outcome, as we have already twice seen future events.

Cast are all fine enough. Obviously, Lin Shaye is endearing as Elise. She’s a great character and killing her off in part 1 was a big mistake. It would have been a lot more amusing to have her as a spectral member of Specs and Tuckers team solving cases with them from the other side, but maybe Whannell couldn’t make that direction work. As for Whannell, he and Sampson are fun again as Specs and Tucker and their humorous bits do liven things up in the second act. Stefanie Scott is a very likable teen heroine as Quinn. She gives the girl a heart and is a worthy centerpiece to the story. I wish she had more to do in the final third than be a damsel in distress. Dermot Mulroney gives a half asleep performance as her dad, Sean and you never connect with the character because he doesn’t seem like he wants to be there. When focus switches from Quinn to him, the film definitely loses something, but thankfully Shaye and the guys are there to keep the film’s footing on track.

Overall, It’s not a bad movie, but it’s far from anything special and is definitely the weakest installment of this series, so far. Leigh Whannell does a pretty good job of picking up after James Wan (who has an amusing cameo) in the director’s chair, but sadly disappoints us in the area he’s best renown for, his script. The story is fairly routine and while it is not without some cleverness, it is far less inventive than the first two films. He manages some nice atmosphere, there are some legitimately spooky bits and the film even has a nice look that fits the other films in the franchise. It’s just that, at heart, it’s just another routine haunting flick and if the Insidious series has anything that can be said about it, it’s that it gave the haunting scenario some refreshing twists to keep if from the routine. I’d say it’s still worth a rental or bargain matinee if you are a fan of this series, but keep expectations moderate at best and you’ll probably have some fun with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 spooks.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SURVIVAL QUEST (1989)

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SURVIVAL QUEST (1989)

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

Survival Quest is an outdoor adventure/thriller from Phantasm series writer/director Don Coscarelli that may be a bit corny at times but, is also quite charming and has a lot of heart. The movie opens with a group of people converging for a month long survival course called Survival Quest, run by passive outdoorsman Hank (Lance Henriksen). Among the participants are ex-con, Gray (Dermot Mulroney), Olivia (Traci Lin), a rich girl trying to prove she can handle herself and Cheryl (Catherine Keener), a divorcee who wants to prove she can survive on her own. Unfortunately, they are in the same vicinity of a para-military survival group run by ex-mercenary Jake (Aliens’ Mark Rolston). Run-ins between the two groups become increasingly heated and when one of the jack-booted thugs proves to be mentally unstable, blood is spilled and it turns from a wilderness survival course into a fight to stay alive.

Both written and directed by Coscarelli, this is a fun little adventure movie that overcomes some stereotypical characters and situations by simply having it’s heart in the right place. It’s a basic wilderness adventure with a slight edge, whose scant few curse words, brief nudity from the vivacious Miss Lin and moderate bloodshed would probably not even earn it’s R-rating in today’s world. It’s a bit of a departure for Coscerelli, being even less violent and more light-hearted than his Beastmaster and is actually very entertaining for the simplicity of it’s story. That story being of some likable characters from different walks of life having to bond and trust each other to survive under dangerous circumstances. That is also what makes it work so well. Despite being stereotypical, the characters are very endearing and we like them a lot. We’ve seen this story before but, it is the characters that drive it and so Coscarelli gives us a bunch we want to see make it against the arrogant and unhinged para-military bad guys…and he doesn’t turn the group into vicious killers as most filmmakers would be tempted to do in a story like this. There is also some welcome humor, especially in the first half, before things get a bit darker and there is a nice nostalgia, at this point, of some familiar faces before they made a name for themselves.

As for those faces, Henriksen was already known to genre fans for Aliens and Terminator and he is really good here as the outdoorsman who can take care of himself and look out for his charges. Mark Rolston is effective as the tough guy instructor/mercenary and his character may surprise you a bit later on. Dermot Mulroney makes for a good “bad boy” hero as his Gray has a lot more integrity than he is given credit for. Traci Lin is charming and hot as Olivia. The character may be a cliché but, Lin’s portrayal is not, as she avoids the ‘rich bitch’ persona and gives us a young woman who wants more than the posh life. Keener is also strong as the meek divorcee who finds the strength she is looking for but, not in the way she figured and, of course, this wouldn’t be a Don Coscarelli movie without Reggie Bannister and he appears here as a pilot. A good cast that elevate their characters above the clichés they first appear as.

I am a fan of Coscarelli and I consider this one of his most underrated films. It’s not a classic but, it is far more enjoyable than it’s familiar story and characters have a right to be. It’s got a lot of heart and it’s charming cast elevates the characters above their stereotypical nature. It’s fast moving, yet, has a very laid back approach that is a bit refreshing when in-your-face intensity is not what you are looking for. The film actually reminded me a bit of the nature adventures they used to crank out in the 70s although with a touch of bloodshed and violence in the mix. A simple, simply told but, very entertaining movie from Don Coscarelli. Also features some nice cinematography from Daryn Okada and music from Phantasm series composers Fred Myrow and Christopher L. Stone.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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