HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT CHAPTER TWO (2019)

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IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

It: Chapter Two is an adaptation of the second half of Stephen King’s classic novel, focusing on the characters as adults, though we still visit them as kids in flashbacks. It’s been 27 years since we last saw the characters and something sinister is stirring in Derry once more. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained and summons the other “Losers” Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) to return home to face Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), hopefully for the last time. Stanley commits suicide, but the remaining members reluctantly return and must face some of their own personal demons before they can confront the demonic clown…who has been patiently waiting for them.

Second half is again well directed by Andy Muschietti from a script by Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote It: Chapter One. Like the first film, this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals and some really cool monsters and ghouls, but is never really all that scary. There are some very effective moments and good jump scares, but, again, the movie never really gets under your skin or really grabs you. It’s quite entertaining, but there are also a few scenes, like Richie’s meeting with Pennywise in a park, that are a bit too over-the-top for their own good and come across as borderline silly. The film can be very gruesome and never feels nearly as long as it’s 169 minutes, though the inclusion of a sub-plot with grown-up bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) seemed like overkill and could have been removed with no harm to the story. The FX are top notch and we even get some background on Pennywise and what he really is and where he came from. To some this might remove some of his mystique, but it also moved this more into monster movie territory, which for others, is just fine. There was a great homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a very amusing cameo from a certain world famous author. As stated, it is more of a monster movie this time than supernatural thriller and that also made it a bit more fun and action oriented, though, again, never really as scary as it should have been.

The cast are again strong. McAvoy is very good as the adult Bill and seems to be the one most strongly onboard to confront Pennywise again. He is still tormented by guilt over Georgie. Chastain is a solid actress, no matter what the role and really gives Bev a strong emotional core. She’s still traumatized by her father and the choice of an abusive husband proves it. Pennywise isn’t the only demon she must face down. Hader is good as RIchie, who is now a stand-up comedian. He uses humor to hide his fear and still conveys much of his feelings in sarcasm. Hader shows some solid dramatic chops here. Isaiah Mustafa is noble as Mike, the only one to remain on watch in Derry. He also believes he knows how to stop the monstrous clown and uses that to convince the others to join him. Ryan is solid as the now skinny and sexy Ben. He still has a soft spot for Bev and is still in some ways insecure. Ransone is also good as the cowardly Eddie and makes his journey to overcome his fears work very well. Andy Bean has a brief few moments as Stanley, but makes them count to give his early death emotional resonance. All the young actors who portrayed the characters as kids also return in flashbacks. As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård has even more to do this half and it is in this second part that he really makes this incarnation of the character his own. The young actors who played the characters as kids, all return in flashbacks.

Overall, this second chapter was an entertaining flick, but still wasn’t all that scary. Andy Muschietti directs well and has a great visual eye, as well as, takes a few risks this time with the carnage. The cast all perform strongly and there are plenty of effective scenes to entertain. The film can also be a little too over-the-top at times for it’s own good, like a Chinese restaurant scene, and a few of these scenes do skirt a little close to being silly. It does keep one involved, despite being almost three hours long, though a few things here and there could have been trimmed with no harm to the proceedings. A solid mainstream horror and will most likely repeat the success of It: Chapter One.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) red balloons.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: DARK PHOENIX (2019)

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DARK PHOENIX (2019)

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

Final film in Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men series, as the rights have gone back to Marvel, finds psychically powerful Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) at the center of it’s story. The film opens in 1975 with an eight-year old Jean causing a tragic accident with her powers and being taken in, as a result, by Prof. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). The flick then moves forward to 1992 where an adult Jean absorbs a massive amount of mysterious energy while on a rescue mission in space. Jean starts to have trouble controlling this new power and when combined with personal issues with her past, and what she sees as a betrayal by Charles, sets her against her friends. While Jean deals with her mixed emotions causing destruction and a devastating accidental death, X-Men, mutant and military alike hunt her down. Unbeknownst to all of them, an alien race plans on using Jean and her new power for their own nefarious purposes.

Last of this current series is written and very well directed by Simon Kinberg. Some may miss the bombastic, global scaled action of the last few films, but this finale is actually a bit of a refreshing return to a more intimate scale and more personal storyline. The film is about an internal struggle within the X-Men and within Jean and while we do get invading aliens and an impressive train set action finale, it still feels more in line with the first few X-Men films, before the series blew up in scale. Sure the The Dark Phoenix Saga was used before as a basis for the heavily criticized Last Stand, but it is handled much better this time around. The story pits X-Man against X-Man against mutant against alien, as various factions want to kill, save, or use Jean depending on their personal agendas. Again, it keeps the drama focused on the X-Men and not on disintegrating cities and floating sports arenas, with the characters buried under the spectacle. It’s not all perfect. Main characters like Xavier, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) have become too familiar at this point to be overly intriguing and don’t get too much new development. Other characters like Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) don’t get much character time at all, only really showing up in the action. At 114 minutes, it is one of the shorter X-Men films and so Jean’s inner conflicts and her tenuous relationship with new “friend”, alien leader Vuk (Jesscia Chastain), get what little character focus time there is…and for Vuk, there isn’t all that much, either. Some story-lines are never resolved, like Quicksilver’s confronting his father Magneto, and some endings aren’t completely satisfying. That and overall, being the tenth X-Men themed flick since 2000…this franchise could use a break and a fresh coat of paint. On a technical scale the film looks great, the SPFX are top notch and Hans Zimmer delivers another strong score.

The main cast are all familiar with their characters at this point and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. Lawrence, Fassbender and McAvoy all seem to be going through the motions. They are still effective, but they really aren’t given anything new or intriguing to do, or are adding anything new to their portrayals…other than Charles’ guilt over decisions he made for Jean. Lawrence especially seems to be here for a paycheck. Sophie Turner impresses as the very troubled Jean. She goes from emotionally wounded to powerful bad girl smoothly and handles her varied emotional states very well. She gives the role strength. Jessica Chastain oozes malice as Vuk and as her part could have been stronger written, the actress takes what she is given and delivers a suitable villain, like the pro she is. Supporting cast are all likable and fine as various X-Men and mutants and as the series is now finished, some, like Peters’ smart-alecky Quicksilver, will be missed.

Everyone will see this entry as they will. Some may find it too scaled down for their liking and some may not agree with where certain character’s stories end…or don’t. Others, however, may find it refreshing that the final flick, in this almost two decade series, ends with a focus back on the X-Men and leaves the massive city destruction to Godzilla and The Avengers. Maybe all the reshoots report-ably done weren’t such a bad thing, after all?

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) fiery phoenixes.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016)

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THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016)

Follow-up to Snow White and the Huntsman, is both prequel and sequel. It starts out telling the origin of The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and takes a page out of Frozen’s playbook by also introducing The Ice Queen, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is sister to evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). We then jump seven years later, now after the events of the last film, where The Huntsman is sent to find the whereabouts of the magic mirror. He not only finds it, but that his wife/lover, Sara (Jessica Chastain) is still alive and that The Ice Queen has not forgotten him. Worse still, she needs the mirror to revive her sister and take over the land.

Mundane attempt to cash in on Snow White and the Huntsman‘s unexpected success, is directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan from a messy script by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin and without star Kristin Stewart. Nicolas-Troyan has a decent enough visual eye, but fails to bring any energy or excitement to the proceedings. Chris Hemsworth does return and gives it his all and is surrounded by a trio of lovely co-stars in Blunt, Theron and Chastain. The added babe power doesn’t hide the fact that this is an incredibly routine fantasy that tries to add interest by luring in the Frozen crowd with Blunt’s icy Ice Queen. It’s not a bad film and is technically well made, it’s just that nothing stands out or makes it in anyway involving or unique. It’s a typical fantasy quest plot with the usual sword and axe play and offers nothing to make it stand out or memorable. At least Theron dialed it down a bit this time. Poor Chris Hemsworth can’t seem to find any success outside of playing Thor and it’s too bad, he is a charming and very likable leading man. Obviously, his three beautiful co-stars have all done better work too and probably did this for the paycheck. A passible evening on the couch, but nothing you’ll remember the next morning. Also stars a returning Nick Frost and narration by the incomparable Liam Neeson.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE MARTIAN

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THE MARTIAN (2015)

The Martian is a fun and suspenseful sci-fi adventure directed by Ridley Scott from Drew (The Cabin In The Woods) Goddard’s screenplay, based on Andy Weir’s book. It tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney who, while on a manned mission to Mars, is left behind after being lost in a storm and thought dead. Now Watney must find some way to let NASA know he’s alive and then survive till help comes…which would be long after his food supply runs out.

This is a very well crafted and really entertaining survival story of one man’s determination to overcome the impossible…living on a lifeless planet. There are some fun and clever ways Watney uses his knowledge as a botanist and astronaut to grow food, elongate the use of crucial equipment and communicate with Earth. Damon is great as the ever chipper Watney, who refuses to give up even when his food supply is damaged. Meanwhile on Earth it’s a race against time to try to figure out a rescue before Watney’s time runs out. If the film has any flaw is that as a crowd pleaser, we do feel manipulated when things go right…and wrong…at exactly a crucial time to elicit an emotional response or suspense…though it works more often than not. That and even at 141 minutes, it seems like certain things are rushed to keep the film at a reasonable length. The film does jump ahead a lot.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable flick with a totally engaging hero played by Matt Damon. It’s fast moving and cleverly written with just the right amount of sentiment. Damon is supported by great cast including Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Ant-Man’s Michael Peña and The Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan. Recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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REVIEW: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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

Crimson Peak is the latest film from Guillermo del Toro whose diverse resume ranges from the comic bookish Pacific Rim to the dark fantasy masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s Masterpiece Theater meets Hammer Studios in a deliciously gothic tale of romance, mystery, murder and things that go bump in the night.

The story takes place in the 19th century with Mia Wasikowska playing aspiring American writer Edith Cushing (a homage to the legendary Peter Cushing, no doubt.) who meets and falls in love with the dashing but mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, who owns a massive but ancient castle in Cumbria, England. The castle is built over red clay deposits…that Sharpe hopes to mine…which seep up through the ground and stain the winter snow blood red…thus earning the land the ominous nickname Crimson Peak. Edith’s widowed father Carter (Jim Beaver) and handsome suitor Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) are against this romance and Carter’s investigation into Sharpe’s past gets him murdered and sends Edith into wedlock with Sir Thomas. Now having moved into the castle with her new husband and his odd sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith begins to see ghostly apparitions that warn her all is not right. What is really going on at Crimson Peak?…what are Thomas and Lucille Sharpe hiding?…and why are ghastly spirits warning Edith to fear for her life?

Co-written with Matthew Robbins, Del Toro delivers a visually sumptuous feast saturated with gothic atmosphere. It’s a lush tale of romance, mystery and sinister goings on in a delightfully spooky castle. There are some surprisingly violent moments, especially in the blood soaked last act and a little steamy sex here and there, too. There are also spirits in this ancient structure and if Del Toro’s film has any slight disappointment it’s that, despite the ghostly presence, the film is never really scary. Sure there are some spooky moments and the specters are visually unnerving, but aside from some well executed jump scares, the film never gets as chilling as say, the hallway scene in The Devil’s Backbone. Del Toro does get some intensity going in the last act, but the film is a deliberately slow burn, though the mystery and intrigue do keep one interested till dark secrets are unearthed and the purpose of spectral apparitions revealed. It is an enjoyable film, the type they don’t make anymore and the visual design is worth the price of a ticket alone…as is the sound design. It’s just not the horror film it’s being sold as and while it does qualify as a haunted house movie, that is only a part of the overall story. Those looking for funhouse style frights may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for something with class, style, intrigue and some nasty violence to punctuate it, than this film should entertain. It’s very atmospheric and Del Toro is helped in that department by Dan Laustsen’s (Brotherhood Of The Wolf) cinematography and Fernando Velázquez’ (The Orphanage) hauntingly beautiful score. It’s a very old fashioned flick, despite the sex and violence, and one wonders if today’s audience will appreciate the Dark Shadows-esque (The show, not the goofy Tim Burton flick) tale he creates.

Del Toro’s cast is simply wonderful. Mia Wasikowska creates an idealistic woman who dreams of being a writer and has seen spectral apparitions since her mother died years earlier. She is young, though and falls in love with the charismatic Sharpe even if things don’t quite add up from the beginning. Once she is convinced something is amiss, despite her feelings, she digs deep in dangerous places to find answers. She’s a strong, smart heroine and an endearing character. Tom Hiddleston is once again engaging as the charming and mysterious baron with some very dark secrets. He conveys Sharpe’s emotional torment between his sinister agenda and the real feelings he has for Edith. A flawed and conflicted character and Hiddleston has the presence to make him intriguing and keep him from becoming a stereotypical bad guy. Jessica Chastain’s Lucille is the true villain of the piece and she is a dragon lady to be feared and reckoned with. Her secrets are dark, deep and covered in blood and the actress really gives us a villainess worthy of a classic Disney film…though one definitely not for kids. Charlie Hunnam is a suitable hero, though much of the focus is on Edith and her efforts to uncover the truth and Jim Beaver gives Edith’s father a strength and wisdom while allowing the warmth and love for his daughter to come through. A likable character for his time on screen. Del Toro regular Doug Jones also appears as various apparitions.

I really enjoyed Crimson Peak, even if it wasn’t quite the horror movie I went in expecting. It is a sumptuously filmed mystery dripping with gothic atmosphere and not afraid to splash some blood or throw a little sex into it’s old fashioned mix. There are some spooky moments and the ghosts are unnerving, it’s just not as scary a ghost story as we’d like and the ghosts are not the central focus as the marketing would have us believe. It does deliver on the mystery, murder and even romance in a style that is rarely used in today’s world of popcorn blockbusters, vulgar comedies and generic romances. It also proves once again that Guillermo del Toro is one of the most versatile storytellers around. Highly recommended, but just don’t expect the horror flick it’s being sold as.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 Sharpe family crests

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MAMA (2013)

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MAMA (2013)

MAMA recently was released on blu-ray and DVD so, I thought I’d post my review of this supernatural chiller!

The Guillermo del Toro produced Mama isn’t a bad horror film but, it just isn’t a very scary one. The story is good. Two little girls are taken by their off-the-edge dad (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who’s just shot their mother and some co-workers. They crash off the road during dad’s escape attempt and wind up in a decrepit old cabin in the woods…one that possibly has an otherworldly occupant. A few years later, they are found alive, somehow having survived and these now feral children are given over to their dad’s twin brother Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rocker wife, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). The girls don’t seem to have come alone and whatever has followed them isn’t happy about sharing them.

The problems with Mama aren’t from it’s story, it’s that despite giving the film a nicely spooky visual style, director Andres Muschietti doesn’t build much tension, suspense or scares. There are a few creepy sequences and some well executed jump scares but, the biggest problem is that “Mama” is revealed far too early and it is an obvious CGI specter that is simply not scary. When is Hollywood going to learn CGI ghosts are just not effective. Even when an accident leaves Annabel alone for a while with the girls and their adoptive spook, there is little suspense as Annabel tries to figure out why strange things are happening. It is very well done as Annabel transforms from selfish bitch to someone who really cares about the girls and wants to solve the mystery of who “Mama” is, but it’s never scary or carries much tension or suspense. We are with her as she investigates, but there isn’t the dramatic intensity it needs to make us truly riveted to our seats. Then, the final act switches gears and we go from a horror film to a gothic fairy tale ending. I don’t think the change in tone quite worked, although, ironically, I liked the last act very much, but not attached to the rest of the movie.

The cast are all good here with Chastain standing out as the bass player wife and reluctant overnight mom. She comes across as a bitch early on, but believably grows into a woman who comes to care about her nieces and is willing to put herself at risk to fight for them. The girls are wonderful too. Megan Charpentier plays the older Victoria, who starts to see “Mama” for the dangerous entity she is and Isabelle Nelisse is the younger Lilly, who still is very attached to “Mama” and sees her as a friend and maternal figure.

The script is good, it just seems director Muschietti didn’t quite know how to give it the edge it needs and the switch in tone for the last act is a bit jarring. Once again, he is also betrayed by the obviously phony CGI embodiment of his title character. Overall, Mama is not a bad supernatural thriller and there is a lot to like about it, but it just doesn’t quite effectively give the material the strength and intensity it needed to keep us riveted or peeking through our fingers, which is what a film like this is supposed to do.

3 spooks only because I loved the visuals, especially in the last act, and Chastain and the rest of the cast made their roles work.

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