REVIEW: THE PREDATOR (2018)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

bars

THE PREDATOR (2018)

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

Messy story has a Predator (Brian A. Prince) crash landing on Earth right in the middle of a covert operation by military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). His men are killed, The Predator is captured and eventually McKenna is taken into custody by a black ops unit, only after sending his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) some of the Predator tech as security. Biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to examine the creature and discovers the species is using various collected DNA, including human, to improve themselves. What they don’t know is that their captive is a traitor and a massive 11 foot tall tracker has been sent to earth to eliminate it. When The Predator escapes, McKenna, a band of psychotic army inmates and Casey, must team up to evade slimy government operative Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and get to Rory before The Predator…or the monster that hunts it…finds his son and ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) first…still with me?

Flick is directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3) from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad) and it is a bit of a mess…though a fun one at times. One basic problem is that the film jumps around a lot with no transitional scenes to give us the illusion that characters traveled from one place to another or learned something that they suddenly know at a later point. While Rory is a savant with the alien technology, other characters including his dad and Munn’s Casey, suddenly know their way around the Predator technology when necessity serves. Let’s just say Black uses a lot of conveniences to move his story along. He also doesn’t seem to take his own story very seriously, as there is an overabundance of humor and it seems to overshadow the more serious moments, keeping the movie from building some real intensity. On a more positive side, Black doesn’t shy away from the gore and there are some very enjoyable action scenes. There is also some fun character banter and it is entertaining to see Predators stalking the suburbs on Halloween night…though they could have made better use of that aspect, too. Still, the film starts to feel like it’s being made up as it goes along once the mega-Predator arrives. The second half especially feels like they are not following a story, but going from one scene to another. The flick also starts out fairly seriously and then seems to get sillier and sillier as it progresses, till it ends in a goofy climactic confrontation of clichés and SPFX. It just doesn’t seem like Black trusted his own material enough to play it straight and tough like the first classic. Even the AVP films took themselves serious enough to get us to buy into them, even if they ultimately disappointed.

The film has an eclectic cast which works even if the material is weak. Boyd Holbrook makes a fine enough hero, though it seemed like he needed a bit stronger screen presence. Olivia Munn proves, after impressing as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, that she makes a solid action hero and when not left out of that action babysitting Rory, she can kick ass with the boys. Sterling K. Brown is OK as the government bad-guy. It’s a cliché role, but he works hard to make him a good bad guy despite being two dimension-ally written. Tremblay gives another good performance as the bullied and autistic Rory who has a gift for understanding the alien language and technology. As McKenna’s back-up, Trevante Rhodes is good as the soulful Nebraska, Keegan-Michael Key is fun as the joker of the group Coyle, Thomas Jane is solid as a soldier suffering from PTSD and touretts, Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, John Wick) is good as the Irishman Lynch and Augusto Aguilera is amusing as the weird but likable Nettles. Rounding out is Yvonne Strahovski as Rory’s tough and protective mom and Jake Busey in an amusing role as the son of Predator 2‘s Peter Keyes, who was played by his father Gary Busey.

Overall, this was a bit of a disappointment yet, not without it’s entertaining moments. There was some cool action, some solid FX and the cast of eccentric characters worked well together. Unfortunately the script is weak and the director favored goofy humor and allowed the film to jump from place to place, where it should have taken itself a bit more seriously and a smoother narrative would have made things flow a lot better. The second half seems to be made up as it went along and despite a cool new Predator, the film was more silly than scary. Your move.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 updated Predators.

 

 

 

bars

Advertisements

BARE BONES: VOODOO and SHUT IN

MZNJ_bareBones_Marquee

now playing

Humerus-Bone1

voodoo
VOODOO (2017)

This is a terrible found footage flick that has a young woman (Samantha Stewart) traveling to L.A. from her home of New Orleans after an affair with a married man provokes his voodoo practicing wife. She’s filming her trip, hence the found footage format and her footage catches the escalating pursuit by evil spirits till she is literally dragged to Hell…camera still filming, of course!

Flick is awfully written and directed by Tom Costabile and the only reason it gets the extra star is for having the audacity of being the first…at least I think so…found footage movie to take place in Hell. It is laughably bad for the most part, though it’s depiction of Hell does hit Baskin levels of offensiveness with newborn babies being eaten alive and our heroine being raped by Satan himself…or one of his muscular horned demons, I can’t really tell. It’s disturbingly graphic, though wears out it’s welcome quickly, but in terms of legitimate chills and thrills, it’s completely void and Costabile seems to know little or nothing about actual voodoo. At least pretty lead Samantha Stewart and co-star Ruth Reynolds were appealing.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

shut-in

SHUT IN (2016)

Moderately amusing thriller has widowed child psychologist Mary (Naomi Watts) caring for her catatonic 18 year-old step-son (Charlie Heaton) after an accident that also claimed her husband’s life. At the same time, she is concerned about a young patient of hers (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) that has run away into the Maine woods with a massive snowstorm approaching rapidly. As the snowfall traps Mary in the house, she starts to feel there is something strange going on and soon believes she is possibly being haunted by the now feared dead boy’s spirit.

Flick written by Christina Hudson and directed by Farren Blackbum is a completely generic and routine thriller with Watt’s solid performance being the only thing that keeps us entertained. She is a veteran actress and handles the weak material well, adding some emotional depth to the mundane goings on and making Mary very sympathetic and likable. The big reveal isn’t exactly a surprise and actually adds a creepy and uncomfortable sexual element to the proceedings, though one the filmmakers aren’t daring enough to go too far with as they shift the focus off it rather quickly, returning to the safer stalking about a dark house finale. If nothing else is on, it’s not a complete waste of time and the 48 year-old Watts still looks quite fetching in the buff. Also stars Oliver Platt as a psychologist friend of Mary’s.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BEFORE I WAKE (2016)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

before I wake

bars

BEFORE I WAKE (2016)

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

A couple who tragically lost their own child, Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth), adopt young Cody (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a boy who lost his mother (Courtney Bell) and has been bounced from family to family…even abandoned by the most recent one. The Hobsons soon find that Cody has a special ability, his dreams become real. At first they are enchanted as their home is filled with swarms of butterflies and visions of their dead son, Sean (Antonio Evan Romero). But, their wonder turns to terror as not all of Cody’s dreams are happy ones and a malevolent entity manifests through them into their home. 

While this may be director Mike Flanagan’s most generic film to date, his skill as a filmmaker makes it better than most of the recent PG-13 horrors that it resembles at times. Co-written with Jeff Howard, the script may be filled with familiar elements, but is given some really nice emotional weight by Flanagan and his cast and he also delivers what most of today’s cookie cutter horrors don’t, some legitimate chills and scares. Flanagan and his actors portray a heartbroken family who still haven’t gotten over the accidental death of their son. They have a chance to regain some of their happiness by adopting a little boy, who has had his own traumatic loses. This alone is well done and we feel for the couple and the boy and on it’s own would suffice as a drama of a special boy finally meeting the right family. But this is no drama, it’s a horror and Flanagan gives us a little boy terrified to go to sleep for visits from “The Canker Man” usually end in someone he cares about vanishing. When this malevolent entity arrives, Flanagan brings out the chills, just as he brings out some more Spielberg-ian wonder when Cody dreams of far more pleasant things, like butterflies and Sean. There is also a nice air of mystery as there is more to Cody’s story and whens it’s investigated, we get some surprising revelations about the boy’s past and who or what this entity is and why it haunts Cody. Again, the story elements may be familiar, like in Flanagan’s Hush, but the skilled filmmaker makes it work. Not everything is perfect. The film does get a little too sentimental for it’s own good at times and yes, some of the spooky imagery has become a little too commonplace in these types of horror to be fully effective. The story also gets wrapped up in a bit too neat of a nice little bow, but the film succeeds far more than it doesn’t. We also get some nice and atmospheric cinematography from Michael Fimognari and an equally effective score by Danny Elfman and The Newton Brothers.

As mentioned, the cast does solid work in support of Flanagan’s story. Bosworth and Jane are very good as the Hobsons. The pain of their loss is portrayed well, especially by Bosworth who’s Jessie is still in therapy and still having a hard time moving on. We almost understand when she manipulates Cody to see Sean again. Jacob Tremblay gives another good performance. We really like Cody and obviously feel sympathy for his fear of sleeping and share his fear when his malevolent dream demon appears. The film also stars Annabeth Gish as an adoption agent who knows a bit more than she tells the couple and Absentia’s Courtney Bell appears in a brief flashback role as Cody’s mom and is very sympathetic in the part.

Overall, this was an entertaining film from a filmmaker who has yet to disappoint. Even with some familiar material and with a lesser aggressive tone than his Hush or Oculus the film gives us some good chills and scares. It’s a film that is meant to be more mainstream friendly than his other work, but he still gives it an intensity and emotional depth most of it’s peers don’t have. Before I Wake may be PG-13, but it’s not aimed at teens like pretty much everything else these days. It’s also not perfect. It sometimes is a bit too familiar and a bit too sentimental, especially in it’s wrap-up. Even so, Flanagan gives us some solid entertainment that far outweighs the common elements that today’s generic horror movies parade out on home media and in theaters to the point of repetitive banality.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 butterflies.

before Iwake rating

 

bars

REVIEW: ROOM (2015)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

room

bars

ROOM (2015)

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

Room is the heartbreaking story of a young woman, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson), who was kidnaped at age seventeen and held in a storage shed for seven years by a man she knows only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). The only thing that means anything to her, is her five year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who was conceived from Nick’s nightly visits. All Jack has known is captivity inside the four walls of what they call ‘room’ and after a daring escape, he and his mother are finally free. Now Jack has to get used to a whole new world he has never known and his mother must re-acclimate to a world she never thought she’d see again.

Lenny Abrahamson tells a powerful story from Emma Donoghue’s script adapted from her book. The first half of the film paints a harrowing portrait of captivity and the crushing acceptance by the subject of her situation. At the same time we get the perspective of a child born in that captivity, who knows nothing else. If not for the love of her child, Joy might never think at this point of escape, but does so that Jack may be free. Once they do escape ‘room’ it becomes a powerful tale of a young woman trying to readjust to a world that has drastically changed while she was away, such as her parents’ divorce and that she last saw her home as a teenager. On top of that it’s a story of a young child discovering a whole new world he’s never seen before and it’s a little overwhelming for both of them. Add in the pressure from the media to make them a news sensation and Joy’s father’s (William H. Macy) rejection of Jack because of how he came to be and there is a lot of emotional turmoil. Abrahamson tells the story skillfully and without overdone melodramatics. The subject of Nick’s repeated rape of the now compliant Joy is done so deftly, that it is far more powerful than if the moments were portrayed far more graphically. A lot of the film is very subtle and while it does have some strong dramatic moments, the director resists taking advantage of the emotional weight of what unfolds and never makes it manipulative. Our emotional reactions are genuine, not provoked as in  the cookie cutter, feel-good flicks Hollywood likes to churn out. It’s far more gratifying to feel strongly because of what you are watching unfold, than to have things unfold specifically to elicit a strong emotion rather than narrative necessity.

The cast, especially our leads, is fantastic. Brie Larson deserves the accolades she has gotten for her role as Joy. She gives the part such a subtle strength as we watch her try to be the best mom she can while held captive in that room. Once free, she conveys the complex emotions of readjusting to the world with simple facial expressions and body language. Again, all this is accomplished without overblown melodramatic moments, Larson is most effective in Joy’s quieter moments with simple glances and looks. Young Jacob Tremblay is simply amazing as young Jack. He is simply perfect as a little boy raised in a very confined space, yet still eager and imaginative, creating his own little world. Once outside, he portrays a little boy both awestruck and afraid at the breadth of his new surroundings and terrified that what was familiar to him is now gone. He is simply brilliant, all the more so for being just eight years old when this began filming. Joan Allen gives a strong performance as Joy’s mother, a woman who is trying to be patient and supportive of her returned daughter and her new grandson as they adjust to life back at home…or in a new home in Jack’s case. Macy is only onscreen in a limited role, but his selfish refusal to accept little Jack does elicit strong reaction thanks to the actors intense portrayal of this rejection. Sean Bridges is also only onscreen briefly, but we get a sleazy and domineering individual in Old Nick whom may not be the focus here, but the strong characterization makes the oppressive atmosphere of ‘room’ believable.

A great movie without a doubt. An oft told story from a unique perspective that draws emotions out of you with sheer story telling and not plotted manipulation. Add in two brilliant performances from Brie Larson and her young costar Jacob Tremblay and you have a powerful and satisfying drama about how love does indeed conquer all.

-MonsterZero NJ

4 stars.

four stars rating

 

 

 

 

bars