BARE BONES: THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

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THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

Action flick has people from the future arriving in 2022 to reveal that a war is being waged in 2051 against a very aggressive alien species referred to as “Whitespikes”. Earth is losing that war and they’ve come back in time to recruit people to fight. One of those drafted, is former military man and current biology teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt). Dan is whisked thirty years into the future, where he teams with a squad of reluctant soldiers from his timeline and his own grown-up daughter, Muri (Yvonne Strahovski) to battle the invaders. As the war rages in the future, Dan may find the solution back in the past where his wife (Betty Gilpin) and family awaits.

Flick is energetically directed by Chris McKay from a script by Zach Dean. Story-wise it’s TerminatorAliensStarship Troopers, a dash of John Carpenter’s The Thing and a ton of clichés all thrown in a blender that’s cranked up to 11. It’s derivative as heck, but it’s also a lot of fun and the big action does come quickly and explosively with moments of schmaltzy melodrama in-between, so we can catch our breaths. It’s comparable tone-wise to a Fast and Furious movie for sci-fi geeks and that’s not a bad thing on a simple entertainment level. The cast are fine with Pratt making a solid hero, Strahovski a noble scientist, Gilpin is wasted as the wife left back in the past, though J.K. Simmons is fun as Dan’s warrior dad, James. Supporting cast are efficient, too. Overall, it’s silly, a bit overlong and incredibly derivative, but it’s reported $200 million budget is onscreen with lots of FX and spectacular action and even if you’ve seen it all before, it is a popcorn fun mash-up.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: JUNO (2007)

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JUNO (2007)

Juno is one of those movies that was hyped to death by the media, upon release, and therefor could never have lived up to that hype when one finally caught up with it. That being said, Juno is a charming, funny, poignant story of a teenage girl (billed as Ellen Page at that time) who suddenly finds herself pregnant and the father/boyfriend (Michael Cera) not being much help. Now the teenage girl must figure out what is right for her and her unborn child, while she forms a relationship with a Yuppie couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) potentially interested in adopting her offspring.

An excellent cast, also including J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s parents, is supported by a good script from Diablo Cody and a quirky, but not too quirky, film style from director Jason Reitman. It can be funny, sentimental and sweet, but also, refreshingly, doesn’t stray too far from the more realistic side of it’s portrayed situation. Not to say it’s perfect, it’s not. Juno’s smart-ass wisecracking starts to grow tiresome about halfway through, but luckily, the film changes tone somewhat, as the birth draws near, and we see less of her acerbic wit. The slow pace both hinders and serves the movie, but as it’s not an action film, that’s not a major problem. No, not worthy of all the hype, but a good movie without a doubt. On a side note…does anyone else feel Jason Bateman is one of the most underrated actors around?

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021)

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ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021)

Justice League was a movie fans had been waiting a long time for and was sadly, not the movie we’d hoped we’d get. Originally it was to be brought to the screen by Zack Snyder from a story and script by he and Chris Terrio. When a family tragedy forced Snyder off the project, Avengers director/writer Joss Whedon was called in to finish post-production and write and direct re-shoots. A lot of the film was changed and the result was met with less than stellar reactions from fans and critics. Now, four years later, after relentless campaigning by fans, Zack Snyder has returned to finish his version of the film and HBO Max is presenting the Snyder cut exclusively on their streaming network.

The story now opens with Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death and his final scream echoing across the planet, the effects of his loss rippling across the world. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) begins searching the planet for meta humans, as he feels an attack on earth is imminent, while the world and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) mourns Superman’s death. Earth soon does find itself under attack from an ancient being called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), in the name of an even more powerful being named Darkseid (Ray Porter). He needs to recover three powerful ‘mother boxes’ to come to his full strength and conquer the planet…something Steppenwolf and Darkseid failed to do once before. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to put together a team of meta humans to join in the fight. To  do that they need to convince Arthur Curry, The Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry “The Flash” Allen (Ezra Miller) to unite with them to stop Steppenwolf from conquering Earth and retrieving something here that Darkseid badly wants. But even with these heroes united, their only hope of defeating the villain and his army of pandemons, may lie six feet under in a grave in Smallville.

Under Snyder’s guidance the film is a lot more somber, but also packs a lot more emotional resonance. We are truly made to feel not only the difference Superman made in people’s lives, and the effects of his being gone on the mood of the world, but on his family and friends as well. It is also twice as long, at over four hours, and is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which may not sit well with those used to more panoramic superhero epics. The film is far more intense in it’s violent moments and is not quite as family friendly, as was the theatrical cut, as it now carries an R rating. There is, though, a lot of character development now, Cyborg and Steppenwolf in particular, for everyone involved and this greatly improves on giving the comic book material a lot of depth and substance. Sure it takes a long time to get to the heroics, but the battles with Steppenwolf have far more weight, as now do all the characters involved. There is also a healthy amount of action added too, so the flick is far from talky. There is also the added caveat of an anti-life equation that Darkseid wants and Steppenwolf believes is here on Earth. It adds even more urgency to the proceedings and echoes of future conflict to come. We see a lot of the humor that was added to the theatrical cut removed, but it is not all doom and gloom, as there are still some nice lighter moments between characters. Obviously, there was a healthy amount of Snyder’s material still in the theatrical cut, so there are many familiar scenes, but the amount of new material, added story elements and alternate versions of sequences makes it practically an all new film. On a production level, the new FX sequences merge flawlessly in with the original material and the mood is well set by a very effective and more fitting score by Tom Holkenborg, who goes under the stage name of Junkie XL. Overall, this Justice League can stand up far better next to the Infinity War saga from it’s MCU counterparts.

The cast’s efforts in this cut are even more evident as we get much more of their strong work. Affleck is once again solid as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Batman is a bit more brooding and intense here, which is more in character, and we see where some of his lighter moments were added in the theatrical cut. Affleck shows again he is a solid caped crusader. Gal Gadot once again proves she was born to play Wonder Woman and she has some really good extended and added moments. The chemistry with Affleck’s billionaire hero is still evident, as is now with Alfred as well. Ezra Miller still steals his scenes as the sarcastic, slacker hero The Flash. He gets some of the best lines and his dorky charm fits the character perfectly. He also has solid chemistry with his co-stars. Ray Fisher is effective as the tragic, yet powerful Cyborg. He’s still learning how to use his powers and still conflicted over being Frankenstein-ed by his father (Joe Morton) and we sympathize. Another role nicely expanded by more footage. Jason Mamoa is less the surfer dude as Aquaman. Here he gets a lot more depth and there is some foreshadowing of his adventures to come and we see his inner conflicts clearer. By now it’s no surprise that Henry Cavill returns as Superman and here is he is a more conflicted and troubled hero before deciding to resume his role as protector. No CGI erased mustaches either, but there is a foreboding black suit. J.K. Simmons is still here as Commissioner Gordon, but again only has two or three scenes. Ciarán Hinds still voices a more imposing Steppenwolf, and here he also seems to have a lot more character development and depth, as we learn more about him and his debts to Darkseid. As for other returning cast members, Amy Adams and Diane Lane ease back into their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively and get more scenes in this cut. Irons is still perfect as the cynical Alfred and also benefits from more footage. This version also has Harry Lennix as Calvin Swanwick, who is now revealed to be Martian Manhunter, Peter Guinness as DeSaad, one of Darkseid’s generals, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Ray Porter as Darkseid and Jared Leto returns with an absolutely chilling cameo as The Joker. A great cast, now even more evident with added performance material.

In conclusion, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the flick were wanted the first time. It is a four hour opus filled with the emotional depth, character development and brooding intensity that was missing in the theatrical version. The casual viewer may find the 242 minute runtime a bit daunting, but fans of this stuff will simply eat up all the new material and it’s darker tone, though it’s nothing much darker than say the last two Avenger’s epics. It’s also satisfying to see Snyder’s vision come to light, one that is sweetly dedicated to his daughter, whose loss lead to his leaving the project initially. Now that this series is back on track, let’s see where they go with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) heroes.


 

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REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

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JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

Justice League is a movie fans have been waiting a long time for and while it’s not the movie we’d hoped we’d get, it is still a lot of fun. Story finds Earth under attack from an ancient being called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) who needs three powerful ‘mother boxes’ to come to his full strength and conquer the planet. Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to put together a team of meta humans to join in the fight. They need to convince Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry Allen aka The Flash (a hilarious Ezra Miller) to unite with them to stop Steppenwolf in his tracks. But even with the heroes united, their only hope of defeating the titan and his army of pandemons, may lie six feet under in a grave in Smallville.

DC’s classic comic is brought to the screen by Zack Snyder from a story by he and Chris Terrio and a script by Terrio and Joss Whedon. Avengers director/writer Whedon was called in to finish post-production and handle re-shoots when a family tragedy forced Snyder off the project. The result is a film that is far from perfect, but is still a lot of fun. The film feels a bit incomplete despite a competent director taking over the project and it also feels edited down to the quick to get to the action faster. Ironically Batman v Superman was improved when material was added on blu-ray, but here they chose to go in the opposite direction and the film feels like it’s missing something. The first act seems particularly rushed and we really don’t get to feel the resonance of the search for the meta humans or Steppenwolf’s arrival. It all happens so quickly and it’s a bit choppy. Once the team is assembled and goes on the offensive, the movie is a lot of fun with the banter between our Justice League members being a highlight, especially from the wisecracking Flash. Their first battle brings the team up short and thus begins the quest to raise the dead, or at least one of them. Then it’s off to a fun conclusion that follows this series’ propensity for big CGI filled spectacle, but doesn’t quite seem as messy as the bloated, overlong Batman v Superman climax, in fact, it actually felt a bit short. The whole film does leave one wanting more, to be honest, but the camaraderie between the characters really goes a long way and there are some really fun dialogue and action scenes to make this an entertaining night at the movies, nonetheless. It’s not the classic hoped for, but DC is starting find it’s footing, at least in terms of tone. It kept that DC look and feel, but isn’t as gloomy or takes itself too seriously like some of the previous DCU flicks. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography helps the film appear consistent with previous entries and Danny Elfman provides the atmospheric score with some fun nods to previous hero themes.

The cast really help make up for some of the film’s shortcomings. Affleck is once again solid as Batman/Bruce Wayne. He’s a bit more upbeat here and he has some nice banter with his costars as the reluctant founder of the League. Gal Gadot once again proves she was born to play Wonder Woman and she has some nice moments, including some good chemistry with Affleck’s billionaire hero. Ezra Miller steals the flick as the sarcastic, slacker hero The Flash. He gets some of the best lines and his dorky charm fits the character perfectly. He also has solid chemistry with his co-stars. Ray Fisher is effective as the tragic, yet powerful Cyborg. He’s still learning how to use his powers and still conflicted over being Frankenstein-ed by his father and we sympathize. Jason Mamoa is good as Aquaman, but it seems his surfer-dude hero never really gets his moment in this flick. Maybe WB is holding back as James Wan’s Aquaman is the next DC flick due out. J.K. Simmons is good as Commissioner Gordon, but only has two or three scenes and Ciarán Hinds voices a somewhat imposing Steppenwolf, though he seems like just another CGI monster…but at least one with far more personality than Doomsday in BvS. As for other returning cast members, Amy Adams and Diane Lane ease back into their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively, Irons is again perfect as the cynical Alfred and it’s no surprise that at some point Henry Cavill is going to show up…but the when and hows will be left for viewers to find out. A good cast that help get over some of the bumps in Justice League’s road.

In conclusion, Justice League still shows that DC has work to do, but at least has a fun time with it’s missteps. It does get a lot right, including some entertaining interaction between our heroes and some fun action scenes. It’s not as good a film overall as Wonder Woman, but in ways is more fun and takes itself far less seriously than MoS and BvS. The film could have used a little more time for us to appreciate the hunt for the heroes by Wayne and Diana and needed to give more weight to the appearance of it’s moderately effective villain. In all fairness, who knows what effects losing it’s director had on the final product. With Snyder away, did the studio play? Regardless of it’s issues, it’s still a fun romp that brings together some of the most famous comic book heroes of all time and even serves up, not one but two, additional scenes, one mid-credits and one post-credits…and the post-credits scene will have comic book fans talking. Go in with moderate expectations and you can have a real good time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 heroes.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015)

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TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015)

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31 years after his first appearance in the role that made him a star, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns once again as the T-800 in this new reboot of The Terminator franchise. We do get a new Sarah Conner (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke), a new Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and a new timeline to reset things much like Star Trek did successfully in 2009…but, was it as successful as that redo?

The film opens in the war-torn future where we get yet another representation of the Skynet initiated Judgement Day and then the efforts of John Connor’s (Jason Clarke) rebel forces to take back the world from the machines. We see the discovery of the time displacement device and the sending of Kyle Reese back in time to save John’s mother Sarah from an incoming Terminator. At first the events unfold exactly as they did in James Cameron’s 1984 classic but, then we discover that not only is Sarah armed and ready for the Skynet sent cyborg attack but, the arriving Terminator is met by another Terminator (also Arnold) assigned to protect Sarah since she was a little girl. That and the T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) that appeared in 1991 is already here in 1984. Reese soon finds out that this is a new timeline created by all this time traveling back and forth and the only way to stop Judgement Day now is to go back to the future…without Michael J. Fox! Still with me???

One of the things that really hurts this new attempt to breath life into this tired franchise is obviously, the convoluted plot that simply uses the alternate timeline excuse to rewrite the series lore but, instead of taking it to interesting new places, like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trekit just seems to be making things up as it goes along to reset deadlines and give our characters an excuse to leave the 80s and back into a contemporary setting. There are some other curves the film throws us, too, that actually should negate the whole plot, but, at this point you give up trying to figure it all out. One of the characters actually points this out and the question is blown off. The writers obviously didn’t have an answer either. And all this time travel mumbo jumbo would be fine if director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier gave us characters we cared about, a story with some suspense or intensity and one that went some in new directions that were at least fresher than what has come before. New dates and new faces but, it’s the same old song and dance. Taylor directs this very by-the-numbers and with a very moderate pace for a film in which we are supposed to feel like we are under some kind of pressure to avert the end of mankind. We never feel any real urgency and Clarke and Courtney never endear us as Sarah and Reese, so, we really don’t get emotionally invested in their struggle. On the plus side, the action scenes are fun but, the minute they are over, the film slows down and you go back to that emotional void. Schwarzenegger is a lot of fun as the grumpy old terminator and when he is on-screen the film does pick-up. There is also some wonderful recreations and revisions of scenes from the first movie that are a lot of nostalgic fun, but, once we leave the 80s, it becomes just another ho-hum popcorn action movie. It would have been more fun if they had stayed in the 80s and just had a good time playing with our expectations of what we thought we already knew. That was working. Once we are in 2017, it becomes another generic Sci-Fi action flick with humans against a big bad Artificial Intelligence…which we alread got this Summer in Age Of Ultron…and with less confusion.

Cast-wise, Schwarzenegger is obviously having fun and it shows. He plays The Terminator like a grumpy old tin man and it’s fun to watch. He has some fun lines but, nothing as memorable as those he repeats from past films. Emilia Clarke is physically a good match for Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner but, is just very cold in the role. She brings none of the fire and emotion Hamilton gave her Sarah or Clarke’s own Daenerys Targaryen on Game Of Thrones, for that matter. She and Jai Courtney also don’t have nearly the chemistry that Hamilton shared with Michael Biehn. As for Courtney, he is also playing it very by-the-numbers and his Reese seems as confused as we are as to what is going on and doesn’t have the edge of a battle-hardened soldier like Biehn. Jason Clarke has a bit more life as John Connor and his Connor does get to share a lot of screen time due to more time travel nonsense/Skyney hi-jinx. The only other person to liven things up like Arnold, is J.K. Simmons as a cop who witnesses The Terminator in the 80s and then re-enters the picture when our heroes show up in 2017. Too bad the character’s only purpose seems to be some comic relief as he really has no bearing on the plot, other than to give Sarah and Reese a temporary ally when they are arrested. Finally, Lee Byung-hun seems lethal enough as the T-1000 but, doesn’t quite have the relentless intensity of Robert Patrick.

Whether this film is still better than the last two attempts is basically a matter of taste and opinion. In mine it’s better than Salvation but, really not much better than Rise Of The Machines, which I feel is criticized a little too harshly at times. On a positive side it has Arnold having a good time and showing it and some really fun re-creations and re-mixes of classic scenes from the original film. There is some nice action at times but, nothing groundbreaking like in T2. On the downside, the film is directed very by-the-numbers and the script is a borderline mess of time travel hocus pocus used to take things in other but, equally stale directions. The re-cast classic characters have none of the life and intensity that made the originals the beloved characters they are and while the new actors are attractive, they share none of the heat and sexual tension either. Stay after the credits and if you didn’t like this, be prepared to groan in anguish.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 terminators.

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REVIEW: WHIPLASH (2014)

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WHIPLASH (2014)

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Intense drama finds aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) in his first year at the Shaffer Conservatory where he strives to be one of the all-time greats like his idol, Buddy Rich. While practicing one night, he catches the ear of renown instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who is tyrannical and sometimes outright cruel to his students. Invited to join Fletcher’s band, Andrew sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime. Nothing can prepare the young musician, though, for the brutal and humiliating treatment he is about to receive under Fletcher’s tutelage and as Neiman pushes himself to meet the harsh instructor’s demands of perfection, he dangerously straddles the line between hitting the mark and going over the edge.

The whole reason to watch this flick is two dynamic performances from it’s lead actors. Teller, who I’ve never been a big fan of, is excellent as Neiman and J.K. Simmons, who I have always liked, is an absolute powerhouse as Fletcher. These two actors really ignite the screen and have a great chemistry together, especially when they are at odds. Veteran Simmons gives us an explosive tour de force as a man who is a complete dictator one minute and then someone who may truly have his students’ best interests in mind, the next. We see glimpses of a soul and then the monster returns with the blink of an eye. He is remarkable. Teller is a young man with talent and a dream and he gives us a strong performance as an ambitious man with eyes on being the best, who is unprepared for the difficult road ahead in the form of Fletcher. Even Glee’s Melissa Benoist is also very good in a supporting role as Andrew’s love interest. She gives this smaller role some nice heart in her few scenes.

As directed by Damien Chazelle, who also wrote the screenplay based on personal experiences, the film is a high energy, high intensity powder keg waiting to explode…and explode it does. The scenes of Fletcher torturously pushing Neiman crackle with a brutal intensity and you find yourself sweating as much as the characters are. It makes us question the difference between pushing someone to achieve beyond their limits, or just being cruel and abusive. Fletcher claims that he is trying to inspire, yet is he just using that as an excuse to be cruel? This is something we constantly find ourselves questioning and the film gives us reason to believe their may be a heart in Fletcher’s chest, but then also reason to question his sincerity. It keeps us very on edge. While I may not have been totally sold on the events leading up to the powerful finale, it brings this war of wills to an appropriately breathtaking conclusion and one you may not expect.

All is not perfect in Chazelle’s drama as my line above implies… be warned, there are a few SPOILERS here…

First off, it’s hard to believe, in today’s lawsuit happy environment that a teacher as abusive as Fletcher would have gotten this far, especially with the inappropriate language, racist comments and mean-spirited personal things he says to his students…though Chazelle does claim this is based on a real person, I doubt they were this cruel and brutal. While this does come into play here, again, it’s hard to believe he would have gotten this far with no one holding him accountable. Two thirds of the way in, the story takes a turn with such actions and it removes both characters from the school and finds them butting heads again at Jazz festival. It only sets Andrew up to be humiliated by Fletcher, once more, though payback is a bitch and it is a delight to see how it plays out. I also will admit, it’s a little hard to swallow that after all Fletcher put him through, Andrew would be so easily convinced by Fletcher himself, to join his band…again. The events that lead to Andrew leaving Shaffer is also a bit of a contrived act of fate, as is his involvement in Fletcher’s dismissal. Finally, when Andrew is promoted by Fletcher to core drummer, during his time at Shaffer, his change to arrogant douche is way too fast and doesn’t sit right as he appears to be a likable guy with a heart, otherwise. The transformation is a bit too quick.

…END SPOILERS. 

Overall, even with some questionable story elements, this is an intense drama with a fiery battle between two characters that are superbly acted. Teller and Simmons are amazing to watch and their chemistry in their scenes together is magical. I really enjoyed this flick a lot, even with what I perceived as some story flaws that Fletcher himself may not have tolerated had he been sitting behind Damien Chazelle, while in production. Chazelle though is a good director and while we have yet to see if he can direct as well with a story not so personally close to him, I am eager to find out. A very enjoyable and sometimes brutally intense drama about aspiring to one’s dreams and maybe being pushed too far to achieve them. By the time the credits roll, you may be also be surprised by Chazelle’s answer to some of the questions the story has us asking ourselves.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 drum kits.

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