BARE BONES: SAUSAGE PARTY

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SAUSAGE PARTY (2016)

Animated comedy for adults has a group of foods, led by hot dog Frank (Seth Rogen), slowly discovering that being purchased is not a ticket to paradise, but a trip to a horrible fate.

Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tieman, from a screenplay by no less than four writers, Sausage Party can actually be a funny movie at times. Sure it has the sense of humor of a horny 13 year-old boy, but there is a lot of cleverness and wit, too and that helps make it work. It also has the audacity to “go there” and giddily tries to offend everybody equally. Add to that a really talented vocal cast, including Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill and James Franco, to name a few. Even at 88 minutes it is a tad too long and it starts to wear out it’s welcome about 10 minutes, or so, before it actually ends, but there are some genuine laughs and some very clever bits. Who can hate a movie whose villain is a douche (Nick Kroll)…literally an actual douche.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: OTIS, SUMMER’S MOON and THIRD PERSON

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OTIS (2008)

Otis is another of the contemporary trend of trying to be hip by mixing a disturbing subject with off-color and sometimes inappropriate humor. The effect here is just dull, off-putting and silly. Flick tells of serial killer Otis Broth (Bostin Christopher) who is a disturbed man-child loosely watched over by his older brother Elmo (Kevin Pollack) and living in his dead parents’ house. He delights in kidnapping girls who he all re-names Kim, keeps them prisoner as part of a girlfriend/prom scenario then eventually kills and dismembers them. When he kidnaps pretty Riley (Ashley Johnson) he messes with the wrong family. Directed by Tony Krantz and written by Erik Jendresen and Thomas Schnauz, the film is never disturbing enough to be chilling and not funny enough to be…well, funny. The humor is sophomoric and sometimes just silly and it’s attempts to be shocking fall flat too. Only partial saving grace is a very charming and spunky performance by Johnson (the waitress from The Avengers) as his fifth abductee whose vengeful parents (Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas) ineptly try to take matters into their own hands when police prove incompetent. I know this flick has it’s fans but, aside from liking Johnson’s resilient Riley, I was just bored.

2 star rating

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SUMMER’S MOON (SUMMER’S BLOOD) (2009)

Despite a good turn by Ashley Greene and a disturbing portrayal by the reliable Stephen McHattie, this is just an epic fail. Greene plays Summer, a young woman who runs away from her drunken mother to find the father she’s never met and winds up the prisoner of a disturbed young man (Peter Mooney) and his mom (Barbara Niven). Three guesses who the patriarch of the house (McHattie) turns out to be. Film is just kind of a mess with none of it seeming to have much purpose and far too many preposterous conveniences occurring to carry the plot forward or be shocking. Director Lee Demarbre helms this very by-the-numbers and with little atmosphere and the script by Christine Conradt and Sean Hogan seems to like being shocking for shocking sake without legitimately trying to tell a story. We get incest, kidnaping and murder without any real reason why and by the end we really don’t see a point to it all. Greene does better than she is usually given credit for but, the film wastes it on just being bad…and at only 90 minutes, kinda boring too.

2 star rating

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THIRD PERSON (2013)

Written and directed by Paul Haggis, this is an interesting and engaging drama with three stories told that we know will connect somehow by the time the credits roll. We have a writer (Liam Neeson) separated from his wife  (Kim Basinger) and with his lover Anna (Olivia Wilde) in Paris, while trying to complete a new book. We have Scott (Adrien Brody) on business in Rome who finds himself in the middle of a situation involving a mysterious and beautiful woman (Moran Atias), money and some shady characters. In New York there is troubled ex-actress Julia (Mila Kunis) who is trying to regain visitation with her young son after being accused of trying to harm him. Her artist ex-husband (James Franco) adamantly refuses to let her see him, while her lawyer (Maria Bello) tries desperately to change the judge’s mind despite Julia’s inability to handle the situation responsibly. The three stories are all well directed and acted and while I did figure things out before the reveal, it is still effectively done. Brody’s story is the weak link but, otherwise an entertaining drama with a fine cast.

3 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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REVIEW: HOMEFRONT (2013)

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HOMEFRONT (2013)

Much like Out Of The Furnace, Homefront is another example of a film with a routine and cliche’ B-movie action plot elevated into something more by a good cast and a solid director behind the camera. Here we have a plot that in the 80s would have perfectly suited Van Damme, Norris or Seagal with undercover DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham), who has had enough of the violence and bloodshed associated with his job, moving to a small rural town in Louisiana to start a new life. But, an altercation between widower Phil’s daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) and a bully at school raises the ire of the boy’s redneck parents Cassie and Jimmy (Kate Bosworth and Marcus Hester) and when it escalates, Cassie calls upon her meth dealer brother Gator (James Franco) to get them payback. But, in a cruel twist of fate, Gator knows the man Phil last put behind bars, a biker gang leader named Danny Turrie (Chuck Zito) and sees this as an opportunity to earn a favor from the powerful gang leader. Now a schoolyard incident turns into a bloody fight for survival as Turrie sends a squad of killers, led by the lethal Cyrus (Frank Grillo), into this quiet town to get revenge on the man who put him in jail and caused the death of his son.

Sure we have seen this all before but, with a surprisingly tight script by none other then Sylvester Stallone, based on Chuck Logan’s book, and a real solid directing job by Gary Fleder, this film goes from direct to home media action flick to a very taunt and entertaining thriller. Felder creates some nice tension and suspense from a routine action movie plot and when that action comes, it’s fast, furious and bloody. The film has an intensity that runs through every scene and the action is well choreographed and we get just enough of it to punctuate the story without going overboard or getting over stylized. Most of the scenes are hard-hitting fight scenes and shootouts, saving the car chases and explosions to up the ante in the last act. Felder has a nice but, unobtrusive visual style which takes good advantage of the small town Louisiana locations, especially the scenes shot at night in the swamps and around Broker’s old house. There’s none of that post production editing FX or filters, just some crisp cinematography by Theo van de Sande that makes every shot have some nice, rich but, natural color. His night shots in the swamps are bathed in cool blues and I liked this no nonsense approach to the look of the film.

Felder also has a good cast to work with. Statham is an underrated leading man and does far too many generic action flicks but, he is as good an actor as he is effective in the action and here he proves it again with his portrayal of a loving father who will go to any length to protect his daughter. And he has never looked better in the film’s vicious fight scenes. Franco once again proves himself a chameleon in his portrayal of a sleazy redneck drug dealer who, is sly and clever but, ultimately, not clever enough to know when enough is enough and he is in over his head. He wants to be a big league gangster but, would be better off sticking to his small time meth business and staying out of his sister’s petty squabbles. Winona Ryder is a surprising choice to play Sheryl, Gator’s ex and a woman with connections in the seedy underworld and is the one who helps bring in the reinforcements from Turrie when Gator’s thugs get their asses handed to them by the ex-DEA agent, Broker. Frank Grillo makes an imposing villain as hired killer Cyrus and one of my few complaints about the film is he is not utilized enough and his showdown with Broker should have been a bit more epic. Rounding out, Bosworth and Hester are adequate as a stereotypical redneck couple who start a huge bloody mess just because their bully son is basically bested by a girl. Fan favorite Clancy Brown is also solid as the local sheriff, who will only look the other way so much. And Rachelle Lefevre is pretty and likable as Maddy’s teacher Susan, a potential love interest for Phil but, a story sub-plot that gets dropped and goes nowhere when the plot gets rolling.

To wrap things up, this is, on the inside, a routine B-movie action flick given some surprising depth by a good script from Sly… who avoids, for the most part, a lot of the cheesy dialog that usually inhabits his Expendables scripts… a very solid directing job by Gary Fleder and good performances all around by it’s cast. We have seen it all before, it’s not original in any way but, it’s a cliche’ action flick elevated to more quality entertainment due to the respect given the material by the creative team behind it. And it just proves that talent can overcome mediocrity. No classic, but a really solid action flick that puts some class back into the overdone ‘trying to escape violence but, having it follow you’ action flick. One of Statham’s better flicks in quite some time, too. Won’t win any awards but, should certainly provide satisfying entertainment on movie night.

3 very solid bullets. Would have given it more had it’s story not been so familiar.

ex2 rating

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REVIEW: LOVELACE (2013)

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LOVELACE (2013)

Lovelace is a well made if not somewhat flawed biography of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), the first bonafide porn superstar who appeared in the equally legendary adult film Deep Throat. While I’m not quite sure that the narrative structure completely works, the film is elevated by some really good performances all around from it’s good cast. The film’s story is basically told twice. First we have a fun look at girl-next-door Linda Boreman who comes from a home with an overbearing mother (an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and upon meeting her future husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), embarks on a journey into making the adult film classic Deep Throat…a film that basically ignited the porn industry’s growth into the billion dollar industry it is today…and becoming an overnight sensation herself. The first half of the film portrays it from the outside appearance of this wide eyed girl becoming a star practically overnight by making one of the most infamous porn films ever made. She even gets to meet Hugh Hefner (James Franco) who tells her she has what it takes to be a true star away from porn. But then we jump six years later to Linda getting ready to publish her memoir “Ordeal” and then we jump back to the beginning to see the true story of what happened including the horribly manipulative and physically abusive treatment by husband Traynor, who forced her into prostitution and then the production of the legendary porn flick all to fund his own life of excess. We then see how she was physically abused and forced into sex acts with other men for money in some very effective and horrifying sequences. We get to see the effect on her and how it ruined the relationship between her and her parents for many years until she finally got the courage to leave Traynor and the adult industry and start on a path to a new life that included releasing her memoir and becoming a feminist as well as a wife and mother.

And this is where I feel Lovelace had it’s biggest problem, I just don’t think telling the same story twice from two different perspectives really worked to the benefit of the story. At a little over 90 minutes that basically gives us 45 minutes to cover the same events twice instead of telling the full story from start to finish and covering more ground. I appreciate the concept of telling the story from first the public’s point of view of what happened, to then showing us how it really was, but to me the mood shift is very jarring from the more entertaining perspective of her rise to infamy and then this harrowing and heartbreaking story of her abuse at the hands of her slimy husband. Both halves taken individually are done well and are effective, but don’t quite work as well as a whole. A more traditional narrative might have better suited the material.

But what makes this film really worth seeing are the good performances from the actors. Seyfried gives her best performance yet and is exceptional at presenting both the public and private sides of Linda Lovelace’s life during her fame and then her escape to living a somewhat normal life and crusading against porn and domestic abuse. Sarsgaard is equally good portraying the charming man on the outside and the insecure and abusive monster that lurked behind closed doors. A man who had no problem selling his wife to a room full of scumbags for a gang bang. As her parents, Stone is almost unrecognizable and also gives one of her best performances as Linda’s overbearing mother Dorothy and Robert Patrick gives an emotionally filled performances as her father John, who cares deeply about his daughter, but appears afraid to assert himself in front of his wife. The supporting cast are equally solid with Juno Temple as Linda’s friend Patsy, James Franco as Hugh Hefner, Hank Azaria as Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano and Chris Noth as Deep Throat investor Anthony Romano, who starts to see Chuck for who he really is.

Overall I liked Lovelace, especially for the performaces. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman do a good job recreating the era and giving the scenes the emotional depth they need, it’s just that the narrative structure robs us from appreciating the emotional contrast of seeing both sides of the story as it occurs instead of revealing it all in one big flashback. The script by Andy Bellin seems solid, but again, we have the narrative issues it’s structure causes. A good film, not a great one, but one that does still have an impact and is really made worth watching for an exceptionally good cast. Also stars Wes Bentley, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale and Debi Mazur as Dolly Sharp.

3 porn stars!

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REVIEW: SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

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SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

Spring Breakers is a hard movie to review since it’s also hard to really nail down what the whole point of it is. We get 4 girls, the virginal Christian good girl, Faith (Selena Gomez) and her three friends the restless and volatile Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (Ashley Benson) and tag-along Cotty (Rachel Korine). The 4 are all bored with school and desperate to go to Florida for Spring Break but, don’t have the money. Brittany and Candy hatch a plan to rob a local restaurant to get the cash to go and while good girl Faith is horrified, she goes to Florida on the stolen money with them anyway. What follows is a quick decent into decadence and drugs which lands all 4 in jail. But, the girls are bailed out by a charismatic  gangster rapper and drug dealer named, Alien (James Franco) who continues their downward spiral into moral disintegration. I have no problem watching a story about characters getting pulled into a life of crime and moral decay but, there has to be some point by the time our story ends. Spring Breakers through all it’s candy-colored, neon cinematography and music video style editing doesn’t seem to make one. Was the film a warning against such a moral decline or the lure of such a decadent life of indulgence?… or was it glorifying and reveling in it? The film was never clear. Writer/ Director Harmony Korine (wrote Kids, directed Gummo) gives us an interesting start with 4 seemingly normal college girls bored with their existence and lured by the gold and glory of the ‘Gangsta’ lifestyle but, the tale doesn’t go anywhere. The film’s moral center, Faith, leaves and goes home when she gets frightened by Alien and his gang of thugs and thus leaves her friends without a voice of reason and therefor they keep willingly getting deeper into a life of crime robbing their fellow Spring Breakers with Alien and challenging a rival drug lord. Again this would be interesting if it made a point by the time the credits roll but, it doesn’t. There is no lesson learned or statement made. Our lovely ladies pay little or no price for their actions and seem little affected by those around them who do. It’s like drugs, robbery and murder are all just part of the Spring Break fun and that’s that. So if there was a point or moral to this music video style crime thriller, it is too well buried under all the shots of the neon bathed Miami streets and the endless scenes of our nubile stars drugging, rolling around in money and with each other, to see it. On a positive note the cast are all very good with Franco giving a really strong performance as the Scarface wannabe Alien and Hudgens and Benson conveying the frustration of bored youth and then the euphoria of their adrenaline charged release through their newfound ‘Gansta’ lifestyle. Gomez nails the good girl going along for the ride very well and does especially well at presenting her terror as things get too deep for her to tolerate. The week link is Korine’s Cotty who seems to take a back seat to a lot of the action till a close call sends her home too. Her character was almost not needed as she seems to disappear from time to time to let Hudgens, Benson and Franco take center stage. Being director Harmony Korine’s wife, her role seems to be exactly that, of giving the wife a role in the film that doesn’t require her to actually get involved in the debauchery. All in all, I found Spring Breakers interesting and the photography of it’s beautiful leading ladies quite alluring but, it would have been a much better movie had there been an actual point to all that transpires. Having seen and enjoyed Gummo I do find Harmony Korine’s work interesting and he is not a conventional filmmaker but, even a maverick has to have a purpose.

2 and 1/2 naughty neon nymphs!

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REVIEW: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

I liked Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful but, I didn’t love it like I’d hoped. There seems to be an element of fun that the film is missing and that keeps it from being a real treat like it should be. Oz is based on L. Frank Baum’s books and is a prequel to the classic 1939 The Wizard Of Oz. It tells the story of selfish womanizer and shyster carnival magician, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) who, while escaping a jealous husband in a hot air balloon, is grabbed by a twister and whisked to the mystical land of Oz. Greeted there by pretty witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who instantly falls to his charms, she tells Oscar that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy that a great wizard would fall from the sky and save Oz from the Wicked Witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams). When brought to the emerald city, Diggs is promised by Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) the throne of Oz and a mountain of gold but, first he has to destroy Glinda by stealing her wand and breaking it. Oscar accepts this quest with riches in his eyes but, soon discovers that he has been duped and it is Evanora who is the Wicked Witch and Glinda is the exiled Good Witch. Now having fallen for Glinda, he must find the selfless hero within to help the Good Witch defeat Evanora and free Oz of the Wicked Witch’s tyranny but, there is one catch… using the jilted Theodora’s feelings for Oscar against her, Evanora transforms her sister into a angry and vengeful witch who may be far more wicked then she herself. Oz is an entertaining enough movie but, there just seems to be something missing. Director Raimi and his leads seem to be taking things far too seriously and it’s not till well into the second half that the movie really provides some solid fun and the cast start to enjoy their larger then life characters. James Franco and Mila Kunis especially don’t seem to quite fit into their roles with Kunis outright appearing to be overall miscast. While Franco seems to settle in and start to enjoy himself as the future Wizard Of Oz in the second half, Kunis just never seems to have a good time with the over the top nature of the character, unlike Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams who seem to get the point from the beginning. The supporting cast are also fairly lively including the vocal talent for the CGI characters and there are plenty of colorful supporting characters and creatures. Despite taking the material a bit too seriously, director Sam Raimi does deliver a visual feast of color and design populated with some wonderful settings and characters. He and his FX technicians deliver a sumptuous and epic looking Oz that not only recreates elements from the first film but, beautifully expands upon it. MGM still owns the rights to the original Wizard Of Oz so, Raimi and Disney couldn’t recreate everything but, they do a good job at a visual match in what ways they could. The second act and the battle for Oz does give us a bit more of the fun we came looking for but, it still doesn’t help that we had to wait over an hour for Franco and the film to liven up. And it’s a shame a talented actress like Mila Kunis just couldn’t deliver an iconic Wicked Witch that the film needed. She was so bubbly and fun in Friends With Benefits, where was THAT actress when we needed her? Sometimes a role just isn’t right and it’s too bad because, this could have been a real blast if she had hit the right notes or at least followed Weisz’ lead and had fun with it. Overall I would still recommend the film as it has plenty to offer but, just not as much as it should have and it is a good film rather then the great movie it had the potential to be. And a movie telling the story of how The Wizard Of Oz came to be, needs to be a great movie!

3 fried Francos

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