BARE BONES: VALERIAN and the CITY of a THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

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VALERIAN and the CITY of a THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

Goofy space adventure finds Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevigne) trying to protect a small creature called a Converter from a bunch of pursuing aliens in a massive space city….and that’s it.

French Sci-fi flick is written and directed by The Fifth Element’s Luc Besson based on the French comic book Valérian and Laureline. It’s an overindulgent spectacle with some sumptuous design and visuals  that could have used a more involving story and a lead with a little more screen presence. Dehaan is a good actor, but is not really a leading man/hero type, though model Cara Delevigne (Suicide Squad) shows a bit of spunk and fire as his partner/love interest Laureline. Another problem is that the flick jumps from set piece to set piece and seems like it’s being made up as it goes along. There is also the lack of a strong villain, though there are numerous sequences which dazzle the eye and provide lots of action even if we don’t feel the movie really accomplishes anything by it’s conclusion. A shallow, but beautifully designed diversion that gets a lot of credit for imagination from it’s art and SPFX departments. Too bad there wasn’t the same imagination in the script, then this could have been something special. Also stars Clive Owen as Commander Filitt and appearances by Ethan Hawke and Rihanna as a brothel owner and performer respectively.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016)

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IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016)

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Western homage is written and directed by Ti West who is known for horror films like The House Of The Devil and the recent The Sacrament. This is a departure for West and shows he can do more than just horror with this tale of revenge. Flick has ex-soldier Paul (Ethan Hawke) wandering into the small town of Denton, New Mexico. He is just passing through, but in true western fashion, has an altercation with the town bully/deputy, Gilly (James Ransone). Paul is commanded to leave town by Gilly’s sheriff father (John Travolta), but is pursued into the desert by Gilly and his thugs. Upon being ambushed, his beloved dog, Abbie is murdered and Paul himself left for dead. Surviving Gilly’s attempt at payback, the lone drifter heads back to Denton with death and revenge on his mind.

In A Valley Of Violence may not be perfect, but it is a fun homage to both spaghetti and American westerns. Ti West creates a classic drifter in Paul, a man who grew tired of killing Native Americans senselessly and left the army behind, too ashamed to return home to his own family. He wants no more to do with death, but is forced by the slimy Gilly and his father into picking up gun and knife once more. We also get the classic love interest in young Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) who happens to be the sister of Gilly’s fiancé, Ellen (Karen Gillan) and takes a shine to the handsome drifter. In telling this classic story, West’s horror background does come through. Paul uses an assortment of weapons to gain revenge, including gun, straight razor and bludgeoning a man with his own boot heel. The flashback to the Native American massacre the broke him down is also very reminiscent of his set up for the sacrifice scene in The House Of The Devil. This western is also a bloody one, thought he does not go overboard with it. If West stumbles a bit, it’s with the film’s odd sense of humor. It is a bit intrusive in a few spots such as during the climactic scenes with Paul stalking Sheriff Martin and his posse throughout the town. There are a couple of moments where some humorous dialogue interrupts the tension that West has built, such as after witnessing a cohort gunned down, one of Martin’s thugs (Tommy Nohilly) declares, in a rant, that he no longer wants to be called “Tubby”. The humor is blended fine most of the time, but here it seems to slow the momentum a bit and break the suspense. It doesn’t damage the film, but the climactic showdown could have been tighter and more tense. On a technical level the film looks good. Cinematographer Eric Robbins makes good use of the New Mexico locations and Jeff Grace gives it a homage filled western score that evokes Morricone at times.

West also gets good work out of an impressive cast. Hawke may be no Clint Eastwood, but he plays the tortured drifter very well. Paul is a man who has come to abhor violence, but is forced back into it, reluctantly, by the bully Gilly. His dog Abbie is the rock that what humanity he has left clings to and when she is taken, the killer is unleashed again. Hawke makes Paul likable, yet a bit distant and we do believe he is lethal when the time comes. Travolta is very good as Sheriff Martin. He plays him as not quite a bad guy, but obviously someone who lets his son and thugs have their way around town. He knows enough to not mess with the ex-soldier Paul, but sadly is not convincing enough to his son. As Gilly, James Ransone is appropriately slimy and full of himself. Gilly is a bit too much of a jerk to really be completely menacing and Ransone plays him as someone a bit too over confident to know when to quit. Taissa Farmiga is sweet and spirited as Mary-Anne, the lonely impressionable young girl who falls for Paul and Karen Gillan is also entertaining as her snooty sister Ellen, who is engaged to the bully Gilly. Indie flick icon Larry Fesenden also appears as one of Gilly’s three thugs along with Toby Huss and Tommy Nohilly.

Overall, I liked this odd little western homage and was entertained. The story is common to the genre as are the stereotypical characters, but that is completely on purpose. This is some nice tension and suspense to go with the bloody action and the cast all perform their parts well. If the film falters somewhat, it is in that sometimes it’s quirky humor comes at the wrong moments when things should stay tense. Otherwise this is a fun western from a man who has already impressed with his horror flicks and Blumhouse who continues to support indie filmmakers. Also stars Burn Gorman as a less than typical priest.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 six-shooters.

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BARE BONES: FRANKENSTEIN vs. THE MUMMY, COME BACK TO ME and PREDESTINATION

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FRANKENSTEIN vs. THE MUMMY (2015)

What could have been a fun monster flick is instead, at almost two hours, an overlong and extremely talkie bore with the title creatures battling for less than five minutes at the climax. The story has an Egyptian mummy being studied at a university by pretty Archeologist Naihla (Ashton Leigh) while Dr. Frankenstein (Max Rhyser)…or “Dr. F” as his students call him…teaches there while conducting his usual experiments. Obviously, as Naihla and the good doctor date, their respective projects are destined to clash.

Writer/director Damien Leone doesn’t do a bad job directing, it’s just that his script and tone are trying way too hard to make a serious horror out of a SYFY movie plot. There are endlessly long dialogue scenes and while the gore and make-up are quite well done, the film’s main selling point is treated as practically an afterthought at the film’s climax. I appreciate the taking of the story seriously, but do we need a 10 minute bonding conversation between Victor’s henchman and a homeless man he intends to kill anyway? Nowhere near the fun it should have been.

2 star rating

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COME BACK TO ME (2014)

Film has an interesting premise, but unfortunately, is a bit weak on the execution. Flick has pretty wife Sarah (Katie Walder) suffering from blackouts and unexplained injuries who finds out her creepy neighbor (Nathan Keyes) is stalking her, too. Unknown to Sarah these events are connected as stalker Dale has a unique gift that he is using in a nightmarish capacity.

While I won’t spoil the disturbing reveal, I do like that writer James Leyden and director Paul Layden took the scenario of someone having a ‘special gift’ and put that gift into the hands of a very disturbed person. It’s like a cruel joke as the power could have been miraculous in the hands of someone with a better moral code and saner mind. Unfortunately, the film could have played the scenario out in a bit more of an intense and interesting manner and the acting could have been stronger. Not bad, but a film you wish was just a bit better due to the intriguing and disturbing premise. Climax did have some shock value.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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PREDESTINATION (2014)

I could write a full review for this really interesting and entertaining flick, but the less you know going in the better. I will say that the movie is based on a Robert A. Heinlein short story about a’ temporal agent’ (Ethan Hawke) whose job it is to travel back in time to prevent criminal or terrorist acts. On his current mission to stop a bombing, the agent makes an illegal stop for more personal reasons to guide the fate of a transgendered male writer (an amazing Sarah Snook) and quite possible throws his mission and the lives of thousands into jeopardy…but why?

Written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, this is a very engaging Sci-Fi thriller that makes interesting use of the time travel paradoxes and sometimes really messes with our heads. Added in is a strong performance by Ethan Hawke and a phenomenal performance by Jessabelle’s Sarah Snook and you’ve got some intense thought-provoking science fiction. Highly Recommended!

three and one half stars rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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BARE BONES: DRAG ME TO HELL, DAYBREAKERS and HOME MOVIE

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DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)

Drag Me To Hell is an entertaining return to horror from Sam Raimi about a pretty young bank employee who pisses off the wrong gypsy and gets a nasty demonic entity sent her way. Poor Christine (Alison Lohman) has just three days to find a way out of this curse as her supernatural stalker gets stronger and stronger in it’s pursuit of her soul. More fun then scary, it’s like a carnival funhouse with it’s jump scares, loud noises and CGI phantoms that jump out at you without warning. And much like a funhouse it’s all phoney but, we play along anyway for the sake of entertaining ourselves… and that’s what Sam Raimi is counting on. And just so we don’t forget it’s all for fun, there’s plenty of gross out laughs to relieve us from all the jump scares ringmaster Raimi pulls out of his hat. A fun horror flick that makes you jump and giggle and usually at the same time. Also stars Justin Long as her disbelieving boyfriend and a creepy Lorna Raver as the vengeful gypsy, Mrs. Ganush.

3 star rating

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DAYBREAKERS (2010)

An interesting and original horror film-noir about a world in the future where vampires rule and their blood supply, humans, is running out. Ethan Hawke plays Edward (The non-sparkling kind) a vampire scientist searching for a blood substitute before the lack of food turns the vampires into vicious savages who’ll turn on each other. What he finds, through a series of circumstances, is a cure discovered by an ex-vampire turned human rebel, Lionel (Willem Dafoe). Now Edward, Lionel and pretty rebel Audrey (Claudia Karvan) must battle a vampire hierchy (led by Sam Neil) that has little to gain by a world returned to it’s humanity. An intelligent script by writer/directors The Spierig Brothers adds a refreshingly novel take on the oft visited vampire mythos and they are aided by a good cast to tell their blood soaked story. Yes, while more of a noir/action flick, Daybreakers doesn’t ignore it’s horror roots and there are some deliciously gory moments mixed in with the abundant action. And this is not to say that Daybreakers is all action, as the Spierig’s make sure there is enough time devoted to story and character developement to go along with the bullets, chases and blood. A really entertaining and original vampire flick for horror, action and sci-fi fans alike!

three and one half stars rating

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HOME MOVIE (2008)

While not entirely successful, Christopher Denham’s horror flick is very creepy and disturbing at times. Told thru the home movies of the Poe family, is the gradual discovery that the Poe’s 10 year old twins (Austin Williams and Amber Joy Williams) are harboring increasingly violent thoughts and twisted behavior. There are some very chilling scenes and the young actors playing the twins are really good at playing creepy. But there are problems… the last 20 minutes is when things totally disintegrate but, I wasn’t as disturbed as I should have been. Maybe because you can see it all coming from a mile away. There are some annoying lapses in logic, especially when the parents start to realize what’s going on, and when they first try to deal with it themselves… their psychiatrist mother (Cady McClain) with pills, their pastor father (Adrian Pasdar) with an exorcism… you can almost understand why these kids are so messed up. Pasdar’s over the top performance also hurts because, the rest of the cast does so well in their roles. He tries way too hard. Overall a disturbing movie with some twisted scenes but, not as consistanly so as it should have been or we would have liked. Still worth a watch.

3 star rating

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REVIEW: THE PURGE (2013)

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THE PURGE (2013)

The Purge is one of those movies that comes up with a fairly interesting premise then does something incredibly routine with it. The story takes place in the near future where crime in the United States is almost non-existant thanks to “The Purge”, one night a year where for 12 hours between 7 P.M. and 7 A.M. all crime including murder is legal and anyone who wishes to vent their internal anger and hatred can do so…while those who can afford it, hunker down in their fortified homes and watch it on TV. It’s seen as a release of negative emotion and a way to thin the poor and middle class who can’t afford home lock down systems as sold by James Sandin (Ethan Hawke). James and his family live in a very rich neighborhood in a very large house which is the envy of even their wealthy neighbors. James fully supports The Purge as he feels it makes the country a better place to live and also makes him able to afford his large house through the sales of his home security system designed to keep The Purge out and those that can afford it, safely in…or so he thinks.

This is where writer/director James DeMonaco fails to make good use of his premise. Sandin and wife Mary (Lena Headey), gadget loving son Charlie (Max Burkholder) and hot teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane), complete with school girl outfit, get ready for the event to begin and not long after it does, a man (Edwin Hodge) shows up at their door bloodied and begging for help. Sensitive Charlie let’s him in and soon the house is surrounded by those pursuing him, a masked group of well armed youths who give the Sandins the choice of sending their prey out or they will come in and kill everyone. A good portion of the film is the moral dilemma that splits the family, should they hand over the man who Charlie is helping hide in their home, or do the right thing and try to protect him. It’s no secret that the thugs outside eventually will have reason to come in and start the blood flowing. And that’s kinda it.

The film takes an interesting premise and settles for basically being yet another home invasion/siege film where a family sheltered from violence is forced to use it to save their own lives. And the slight twist in the last act, and the stupid subplot involving Zoey’s boyfriend, really doesn’t do anything to make the film any more interesting. It’s just another routine variation on the latest horror trend which is masked kooks trapping people in their own house that seems to have started with the much better The Strangers and the French thriller Them (Ils), thought you can even trace it back to John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 from 1976. DeMonaco directs the film competently and there is some tension and suspense, but we’ve seen it all before right down to the dumb decisions characters make in order to keep the plot moving.

The cast are fine with Hawke giving his usual sturdy performance though Headey is wasted as Mary, mostly looking upset or crying for the most part. Burkholder can be a bit annoying as Charlie and Adelaide Kane, whose character disappears for long stretches without explanation, reminds me of a young Eliza Dushku before she developed the intensity she showed in Buffy. Not as impressive, but she might have potential. As for our villains, only the leader (Rhys Wakefield) takes his mask off and is a stereotypical arrogant, elitist yuppie with his group being your typical masked giggling and skipping loonies we’ve seen a lot in films recently. Maybe if they weren’t so busy acting like giggling, skipping children, they wouldn’t get gunned down so easily by a family that’s never had to kill before.

Overall The Purge is not a terrible movie, it’s just one with a good idea that limits itself to a very routine and thus very forgettable use of that idea…and so it’s a very routine and thus very forgettable movie. It was however a box office hit, so a sequel is on the way. Maybe they will make better use of their concept this time… maybe…

2 and 1/2 bullets!

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