BARE BONES: BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017)

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BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017)

A great cast highlights this retelling of the epic “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973 during the height of the Women’s Liberation movement. It takes us on the journey leading up to the match, with up and coming female tennis player Billie Jean King fighting for equality within the pro tennis circuit and retired champ and gambler Bobby Riggs looking for a return to glory and a big payday.

Film is written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Little Miss Sunshine duo Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton and is perfectly cast, especially in regards to it’s leads. Stone and Carell play King and Riggs spot on with Carell really enjoying Riggs’ attempts to “put the show in chauvinism”. If the film falters a bit it’s that it’s first half leading up to the challenge is a bit drab. It focuses a lot on the married King’s affair with a female hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough) and her attempts to start her own tennis tournament with World Tennis Magazine founder, Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman). It is very heavy on melodrama and is a bit dreary at times. It picks up in the second half when King finally accepts Riggs’ challenge and the lead-up to the match becomes a media circus and a major event. The second half has the energy and spark, that the first half was lacking, though those early story elements are of importance to the overall tale. Even knowing how the actual event ended, it’s still a lot of fun to watch this great cast play it out and makes this film so worth seeing. Also stars Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming and Elisabeth Shue as Riggs’ wife Priscilla.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: IRRATIONAL MAN, LAKE EERIE and LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS

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IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)

Odd flick from Woody Allen has philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to find meaning in his life. When an affair with a married member of the faculty, Rita (Parker Posey) and a relationship with one of his students, Jill (Emma Stone) doesn’t help, he decides to murder a judge who is about to rule on having a woman’s children taken from her. He thinks he has committed the perfect crime and done some good, when it all starts to unravel as both his lovers begin to figure out whodunit.

As per the plot synopsis, this is a weird flick from Allen who has kinda been on autopilot for quite a few years now. The film is intriguing and has some quirky and eccentric characters, but starts to unravel in it’s last act just as the professor’s plan does. The whole notion that mild mannered Abe would just commit a random murder to give his life some meaning is a bit out there, as it is. It also seems a little too far-fetched that it would be both his lovers that start to put the clues together and actually come to believe Abe committed the murder, as it seems equally ludicrous that he would so easily conclude that he had to do it again to keep his lady loves silent. It’s one of those movie’s were it seems to be taking itself very seriously, but would have worked far better as a comedy, which it’s not, though it feels like it should be. Would also love to see Allen, for once, make a film that didn’t involve upper class elitists, that might be refreshing, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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LAKE EERIE (2016)

Written by and starring Meredith Majors and directed by husband and co-star Chris Majors, this is a little horror that may be too ambitious for it’s own good. Film has artist and recent widow Kate (Meredith Majors) moving into an old lakeside house. No one has lived there since the previous owner disappeared in 1969 and soon Kate starts to witness weird phenomena. Her research into the house reveals that the previous owner was an archeologist (Chris Majors) who may have discovered an amulet that could open dimensional portals. His notes indicate he may have entered one of these portals in pursuit of a banished Egyptian princess…you read that right…and Kate teams with her neighbor’s niece (Anne Leigh Cooper) to find the doorway and finally free the missing explorer.

I appreciate trying to do something a little different than the routine haunting, but this flick gets a bit convoluted long before the credits roll. The story mixes a haunting flick with something out of Tomb Raider and it doesn’t quite mesh together. The acting is also questionable from our leads and one thinks the writing/directing/producing couple should maybe have left the performances to more experienced actors than multi-tasking here. The film also doesn’t have the budget to really portray it’s alternate dimension, so it goes the Insidious route with staging it in the house with different lighting. It worked in Wan’s film, but here it just looks cheap. There is some nice atmosphere early on, but once the story starts to go all Indiana Jones meets Amityville Horror, it looses it’s grip. Yes, the attempt to do something more original is certainly admirable, but here a simpler haunting story might have been easier to pull off on a small budget and easier to swallow by the audience. Also stars Betsy Baker, who was Linda in the original Evil Dead and the incomparable Lance Henriksen in a small part as Kate’s concerned dad.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS (2013)

Written by Micael Skvarla and directed by Matt Jackson, this is a fairly unremarkable and only mildly amusing horror comedy. The story has sisters Carla (Marissa Skell) and Marla (Gena Shaw) heading to a family getaway lodge to meet up with Carla’s fiancé Johnny (Jade Cater) who works there. Toxic chemicals dumped in a nearby lake start to turn the forest life and a few of the employees, including Johnny, into zombies. Now the girls and the survivors must band together and fight for their lives…oh, and there is a Sasquatch mixed in there, too.

Sure, the girls are hot and there is a lot of gore, but aside from having the zombified lodge employees dressed in Sasquatch costumes, this is another routine zombie outbreak comedy. Most of the humor falls flat and the acting and dialog are equally sub-par and that would be OK if the flick were witty and had more of a devious sense of fun, like the similar Zombeavers. There are a few amusing bits, but aside from an actual Sasquatch appearing in the last act to take on the zombified animals and people, there is little to set this flick apart from all the other by-the-numbers zombie comedies.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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BARE BONES: TRAINWRECK and ALOHA

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TRAINWRECK (2015)

Trainwreck is a bit of a return to form for director Judd Apatow, who hasn’t made a really funny movie since Knocked Up. Film tells the story of Amy (Amy Schumer, who also wrote) a party girl who uses her wild ways to avoid getting truly close to anyone. That is until a writing assignment (Why do all these movies feature lead’s who work for magazines?) introduces her to dorky sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Now faced with possible true love, will Amy’s self destructive behavior ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to her?

Obviously, a big factor in why this routinely plotted romantic comedy works is it’s feisty, funny leading lady and the cast she is surrounded with. Schumer’s script is also legitimately funny and not only has some laugh out loud moments, but has some actual wit behind the more vulgar humor…a condom story Amy tells at a baby shower is particularly hysterical. She and Bill Hader have an off-beat chemistry and helps keep us engaged even as the move is about 15 minutes too long and gets a bit too sentimental for it’s own good. Also stars Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton and some surprisingly funny appearances by WWE Superstar John Cena, as a muscle-head Amy’s dating and a scene stealing LeBron James as himself.

3 star rating

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ALOHA (2015)

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who has given us more than one classic, this flick has quite an engaging cast and might have been a good movie, if it ever decided what it was about. Is it about military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) helping billionaire entrepreneur Carson Welch (Bill Murray) get his communications satellite in orbit?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to uncover what’s in the satellite’s secret payload?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to win back former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who’s in a troubled marriage?…Is it about Gilcrest falling in love with the military aide (Emma Stone) acting as his Hawaiian liaison?…or is it about Gilcrest discovering the daughter (Danielle Rose Russell) he never knew he had?…we don’t know and neither does the movie! Add in some rambling dialogue sequences that go on and go nowhere and you have a waste of 105 minutes and a very solid cast…not to mention beautiful Hawaiian locations. Also stars, Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride as military officers. An oddly schizophrenic screenplay and very haphazard direction from a filmmaker who can direct stuff like this in his sleep…and maybe this time he did!

2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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BARE BONES: BIRDMAN and FURY

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BIRDMAN (2014)

Birdman is a quirky and refreshingly off-beat comedy/drama from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and appropriately stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, an actor trying to reignite his fading star. Riggan was once world famous for starring in the lead of the popular superhero franchise, Birdman. Now he’s entering his 60s and trying to validate himself and add some relevance back to his life by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play. Obviously, what can go wrong, will go wrong and there are an eccentric group of characters…including his imaginary, costumed alter-ego…in the mix to add to Riggan’s troubles. Iñárritu has a very original style that fits the story so well. It’s filled with lengthy tracking shots following our characters from scene to scene and some delightfully surreal moments as well. The cast are all top notch, with Keaton giving one of his best performances and it definitely is his show. He is supported by the likes of Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough who are all excellent in their roles, too. But, in my humble opinion, it is Emma Stone who steals every scene she’s in with her best work to date as Riggan’s fresh out of rehab daughter. She is simply a powerhouse in some scenes and holds her own…and more…with the seasoned veterans. A flick worthy of it’s praise. The only negative I had was that the jazz drum score got on my nerves after awhile. Otherwise, a great little movie.

three and one half stars rating

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FURY (2014)

If you are a fan of WWII flicks and all the familiar trappings, then you’ll probably enjoy this. I found it to be kinda dull and any dramatic weight or intensity of the action is brought down by an overload of clichés. The story, written and directed by David Ayer, finds Staff Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt) leading his tank crew deep into Germany in 1945 to clean up the last of the German military resistance…and not having an easy time of it. Ayer throws every cliché in the book from situations to stereotypical war movie characters and adds some Private Ryan style violence, but the effect is still that we’ve seen it all before, since the very first WWII movie was made. The film is well-directed and action well-staged, but it’s just too familiar to be interesting and takes very few risks to liven things up. If you like this kind of film, go for it. Otherwise it’s nothing you haven’t seen in countless other likewise movies. The solid cast also stars Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal and Logan Lerman as the stereotypical green newbie.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT

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MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2013)

Woody Allen is a great filmmaker and has produced more than enough classics to cement his legacy. So, if he has been coasting on auto-pilot for the last 20 years or so, I can’t fault him. He has quite the legacy of work. Sadly the man is more renown these days for his personal life choices than his filmmaking and by-the-numbers flicks like this won’t help. Newest Allen flick is set in 1928 and tells of Stanley (Colin Firth), a British master illusionist who is also a stuffy elitist and eternal skeptic. Stanley is called upon by his friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to join him in the French Riviera to help him debunk a psychic medium named Sophie (Emma Stone) that has become involved with some rich friends. Stanley is eager to prove the pretty Sophie for the gold-digging fraud that he believes she is, but finds himself falling in love with her instead.

Simply this is a boring movie. It’s dull and hopelessly cliché and lacks the charm of Allen’s better romantic comedies for which he is famous for. The performances in general are stuffy and lack any real passion. I was never a big fan of Colin Firth to begin with, but here his acting is like watching paint dry. As for Stone, I am a huge fan and it was painful to watch her flat and uninspired performance. She’s very-by-the-numbers here and there is literally no chemistry between her and her leading man. The scene where they finally kiss actually made me uncomfortable, because neither looked like they really wanted to do it. I can look past Allen’s creepy indulgences for dating his former girlfriend’s adopted teenage daughter, but making Emma Stone boring to watch…that’s a hard thing to forgive.

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. And 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. And 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. And 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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