BARE BONES: WARCRAFT and WHIP IT

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WARCRAFT (2016)

Video game based flick tells the tale of the world of Azeroth, which has been invaded by Orcs from the dying world of Draenor. As the Orcs prepare to open up a portal using the life-force of Azeroth’s citizens and bring in their massive army, an unlikely group of heroes, including a noble Orc chieftain, band together to stop them and save the land.

Co-written, with Charles Leavitt and directed by Moon director Duncan Jones, this is an insufferably boring fantasy adventure. It’s not quite a mess, but seems like a bunch of random action vignettes strung together over the course of it’s 2 hours without much of it actually effecting the already thin plot. The cast is also rather bland with live actors, like Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper and Paula Patton teaming up with CGI creations voiced by other actors. And as for poor Paula Patton, she looked embarrassed and uncomfortable the entire time in her green make-up and lower jaw fangs as a half-breed Orc. The production is lavish and the flick is very FX heavy, yet lacks intensity, substance and most of all, heart. It’s a very cold and dull fantasy that never at any moment is the least bit involving, despite the abundant action and frequent scenes of magic and monsters. And worst of all, you sit through two hours of this mundane sword and sorcery epic for an open ending that resolves little. A waste of two hours unless you are a fan of the game and absolutely must see it.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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WHIP IT (2009)

Drew Barrymore scores in her directorial debut with a funny, sweet and fiesty little movie about Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a young woman finding herself and what makes her happy, when she joins a roller derby team. Now all she has to do is keep her straight-laced, beauty pageant obsessed mom (Marcia Gay Harden) from finding out before the ‘Hurl Scouts’ reach the finals!

Sure it’s a bit slow paced and the rollerderby scenes could have had more energy, but for a first flick, Barrymore entertains without being preachy and gets good performances from all her cast, so we’ll let her slide. She also succeeds in presenting the clichéd aspects of the story in a fresh way and earns points there too. An entertaining and fun little indie flick with it’s heart definitely in the right sassy place. Whip It is based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, who also wrote the screenplay and c0-stars Barrymore, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon and Green Room’s Alia Shawkat.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: CAPTAIN AMERICA I & II

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I know I have covered both these films before but, it is 4th of July weekend and what is more appropriate then Captain America!

(Remember you can click on the highlighted links to see articles and film reviews posted here previously on the Movie Madhouse!)

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2012)

Captain America is a good flick and there definitely is some fun to be had and I enjoyed it but, It’s not quite the great popcorn flick it could have been. The film is well directed by veteran Joe Johnston with some nice, nostalgic old fashioned war movie touches but, it’s in how the film is structured that is where the weaknesses lie. The biggest chink in Cap’s shield is the pacing. The film takes a lot of time with his origin and while what we watch is entertaining, it takes far too long to send him on his first mission to rescue POWs from a Hydra instillation. Once he does officially take on the mantle of superhero and supersoldier, there is a quick montage of him in action and then the film slows down for more dialog until the final confrontation and that itself is underwhelming and over too quick. Why is Hydra thought of as such a threat if they can be defeated so easily? And I shouldn’t have to read the comics to find out what this glowing cube is that Hydra uses to power it’s forces. It’s origins are vague and we don’t really learn about it until The Avengers.

Another big problem is that they take so much time to develop the character of Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), that everyone else is short changed. Main villain Red Skull, played by the always good Hugo Weaving, hasn’t enough screen time to develop a threatening enough screen presence. He’s a pretty generic villain for a classic comic character and Cap’s arch villain. The showdown between Cap and Skull is also far too short and leaves not enough impact though, the scene that follows does have some nice emotional resonance to it. Of course a lot of this has to do with how Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script is written as Johnston does the best he can with it. It’s not a bad script but, a bit of an underwritten one on a character level.

The cast is good with what little they have to do. Evans makes a very humble and noble hero. Hayley Atwell looks serious and pretty as Agent Peggy Carter who is Rodgers’ love interest and is a tough cookie when she needs to be. Tommy Lee Jones barks alot of orders as Col. Phillips who doesn’t quite believe in Rodgers’ abilities at first but, not given much else to do and the charm of the actor helps expand the role and make him endearing. Cap’s sidekick and old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) might have 10 minutes screen time, if that so, Stan is given little time to make an impression. The Howling Mad Commandos also have very little screen time and you need to watch the credits to find out all their names. Dum Dum Dugan (a perfectly cast Neal McDonough) is another classic character wasted with little to do.

All in all, it is entertaining but, at the same time, also somewhat disappointing. Also stars Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark and Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, who creates the super soldier serum that turns Rodgers into Captain America. As with all Marvel flicks stay though the credits.

3 shields!

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a rare breed much like it’s noble hero, Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans). It’s an intelligent, mature, action/thriller that is also a kick-ass popcorn movie and one that lives up to it’s hype and more. Cap’s latest solo adventure finds him still trying to adjust to modern life and more importantly to being a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. whose methods are getting less and less to his liking. Steve Rodgers is a man of old-fashion values and he is seeing echos of an enemy he has fought before in the intelligence organization’s practices. Especially it’s plan to launch three heavily armed heli-carriers into the air for constant surveillance and “threat removal”. And be wary he should, as more then one specter from his past are about to rear their heads, one deeply rooted in the organization he works for and the other close to his heart. And when Cap, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) begin to suspect a serpent in the nest, a mysterious metal-armed assassin known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) marks them for death. But, this may be one adversary Captain America may not be able to fight.

All I can say is that Marvel has delivered one hell of a solid movie. Certainly one of the best of the Marvel film series so far. The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is smart, complex yet, incredibly easy to follow and is loaded with some really nice character touches, not only with our cast of familiar faces, including Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) but, with new characters such as Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a new hero, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) a high level S.H.I.E.L.D. head and the mysterious Winter Soldier, a deadly assassin not without his own secrets and complexities. The film is expertly directed by Anthony and Joe Russo who boldly give this film a more moderate pace to give the story time to develop and our heroes time to unravel the twisted web they find surrounding them. I loved that the film simply told a good story and didn’t sacrifice that story or character development for action… not that there isn’t plenty of that, cause there is. And the action is fast paced and spectacular when it does come, with good old-fashioned chase scenes, shoot-outs, hand to hand fights and a literal war above Washington D.C. that rivals the ending of The AvengersAnd the Russos never loose track of the multiple characters or scenarios during that action especially at the climax where our heroes are spread quite thin in their attempts to thwart a plan that runs deep with treachery and betrayal. The film also has some really nice surprises and cameos that help round out the story and take it to the next level and is not without a sly but, unobtrusive sense of humor. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that had so much to offer yet, remained so entertaining. In terms of the Marvel series, this film is a grand slam among home runs. Maybe not as consistently fun as The Avengers but, it has a lot more substance and still provides the thrills and series references we come to expect. The slow moments have just as much to offer as the explosive ones, the way it should be.

And the cast are all guided well by the Russos and give their best portrayals yet in their perspective roles. Evans truly shines giving us a noble and headstrong hero who is learning to deal with the modern world and how things are done in his line of work but, without sacrificing who he is and what he stands for. Cap is Cap and he’s going to do things his way even if it means going it alone. Scarlett Johansson gives her best turn yet as Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff. Not sure who is to credit, be it the actress finally locking in on her character or the filmmakers for giving her the guidance and script material to do it. Her Widow is strong, tough, a bit aloof but, she has a dry sense of humor and her exposure to Rodger’s old school sense of honor brings a little of the woman out from underneath the cold spy. I like that the character finally had some development and Johansson portrayed it well. Jackson’s performance is what we’d expect from the veteran actor and his Fury finally also gets more to do then in the previous films and we get to see a little more of what makes him tick and I hope it continues. Mackie is a wonderful edition to the cast as a war veteran with special skills who will valiantly join this new fight and he works very well with Evans and Johansson and they make a solid trio of heroes to root for against all odds. Sebastian Stan does a really good job with not only creating a formidable and dangerous adversary in his phantom-like Winter Soldier but, gives the character some nice depth and a touch of conflict that I won’t spoil for those not familiar with the comic character. Redford is an acting legend and is perfectly cast as Pierce, a man of character and secrets and it’s great to see him in a film like this. Rounding out is Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow, a strong secondary villain who is a thorn in Rodgers’ side, Cobie Smolders once again is fun as the tough Maria Hill and Emily VanCamp shows some moxie as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who takes a shine to Steve Rodgers and believes in him when doubt is cast by scheming villains. There are also a couple of nice touch cameos too, that I won’t spoil here… and, as usual, stay through the credits for not one but, two post credits scenes.

An absolute blast of a movie that delivers the action, as well as, a smart story loaded with intrigue, suspense, surprises and some really strong character moments mixed in. Bravo Marvel, Bravo! I loved it!

4 shields.

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