BARE BONES: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017)

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017)

Latest installment of this popular franchise has a bit of a complicated story, but that isn’t a new thing with this series. Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom) son Henry (Brenton Thwaites ) sets out to find Poseidon’s Trident to break the curse and free his father from the Flying Dutchman. He plans to enlist the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) himself, who currently is running from the ghost of the dread Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who wants revenge for Jack causing the demise of he and his crew. Throw in Carina (Kaya Scodelario), a young woman accused of witchcraft, who is the only one who knows how to find the trident, not to mention the resurfacing of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and you have enough story for two movies…or maybe three.

Latest yarn is directed by the Kon-Tiki duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg from a busy script and story by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. It’s certainly better than the lackluster Stranger Tides, though still shows that this series is running out of gas, especially with a very underwritten part for Depp’s Captain Jack. There is a lot going on in it’s series short running time of 129 minutes and not all of it necessary to further the plot. There is some fun action and some spectacular visuals, but at the same time, it just doesn’t have that energetic spark of the first film. The cast, especially the newcomers, seem to be having a good time, though Depp appears to be just going through the motions and Rush’s Barbossa has little to do but be a possible link to one of the new characters. Bad guy Bardem disappears for periods of time, so the sense of urgency in the quest is neutered somewhat. The pursuit of the pirates and accused witch Carina by a British naval officer, also seems like excess and takes the focus away from Salazar at points. Overall, it was still a fun enough adventure, but the series seems to be getting mired in the shallows and needs a reboot or be decommissioned.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: ED WOOD (1994)

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ED WOOD (1994)

Halloween Favorites is back and this Tim Burton classic is certainly a fun Halloween season watch when you need a break from decapitations, masked killers and lurking fiends.

Ed Wood is a twisted and funny film that delightfully tells the story of arguably the worst filmmaker in history, Edward Wood Jr. Johnny Depp plays the ambitious Wood whose passion for making amateurish sci-fi/horror movies by far eclipsed his actually talent. The film follows the wannabe director through the making of some of his most infamous flicks, like Glen Or Glenda, Bride Of The Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space and his relationship with an oddball assortment of characters, including a drug addicted Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), TV hostess Vampira (Lisa Marie), wrestler/actor Tor Johnson (WWE’s George “The Animal” Steele), drag queen Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray) and fortune teller Criswell (Jeffrey Jones). It also takes us into his equally odd personal life, including his relationships with wannabe actress Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker) and his future wife Kathy (Patrica Arquette) along with his love for wearing women’s clothes.

This is one of Burton’s best films, as he directs Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s script with healthy doses of respect and heart. While Burton has a lot of fun with Wood’s story and the making of some of his most notorious films, never at any time does he make fun of Wood, or treat the man with contempt. Wood’s life makes for a movie as strange and off-beat as one of his own productions and the director knows it and films the story in black and white and in the same whimsical style as if we were watching one of Wood’s films, only about Wood. The film is loaded with atmosphere, charm and a lot of entertaining and oddball bits as Wood certainly lived in his own little world and Burton takes us into it. Burton also captures the spirit of Hollywood in the 50s and and the spirit of a man who wants to break into movies and be remembered for his films…and he is…though not the way he wanted. The movie’s atmosphere is enhanced with Danny Elfman’s boisterous score and Stephan Czapsky’s sumptuous black and white cinematography.

The cast is fantastic, with Depp really having a blast as the goofy, cross-dressing amateur filmmaker. He gives him passion, a kind heart and wonderfully naive charm. He is only outshined by Landau who is truly incredible…and sympathetic…as the aging, morphine addicted Bela Lugosi. The two have a wonderful chemistry together and make this odd pairing work. Lisa Marie and George Steele are perfectly cast as Vampira and Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, who appeared in a few of Wood’s flicks. Jones is also perfect as the bizarre psychic Criswell and Murray steals every scene as drag queen and Wood associate, Bunny Breckinridge. As his love interests, Parker gives us a frustrated woman who gradually snaps at being drawn into the bizarre world her boyfriend lives in and Arquette is sweet and has almost an innocent quality, as the woman that would become Wood’s wife till he died in 1978.

This is a great movie about one of the worst directors of all-time. A man now idolized for his awful…yet, oddly very entertaining…flicks. The film chooses to focus on the more off-beat aspects of Wood’s life, while avoiding the subject of his depression and alcoholism, though it does not shy away from Lugosi’s. Burton chooses to make a more whimsical take on Wood’s life and that works very well considering how bizarre and surreal his films were. It’s a spoof, that never makes fun of it’s subject and never looks down upon this amusingly terrible filmmaker. A fun movie that indirectly captures the Halloween spirit far better than some films with more direct intent. Sadly, the film was a box office disappointment, but has developed a much deserved cult following and Lugosi did get an Oscar for his amazing turn as Lugosi.

-MonsterZero NJ

4 Woods!

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BARE BONES: THE BATTERY and TUSK

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THE BATTERY (2012)

I don’t mind that Jeremy Gardner’s zombie flick is character driven but, the fact that it and it’s characters are excruciatingly boring is the problem here. Story finds two ex-baseball players, Ben and Mickey (Jeremy Gardner and Adam Cronheim) ambling across country in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in search of a group of survivors who apparently want nothing to do with the duo. The film wanders aimlessly much like it’s two characters and ultimately doesn’t really go anywhere or accomplish anything. And that might have been fine if these two weren’t so dull to watch and listen too. What little zombie action there is, is well done but, otherwise this is a snoozer! An over-praised waste of time.

1 and 1-2 star rating

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TUSK (2014)

I liked Kevin’s Smith’s second attempt at horror for the simple reason that he takes an outright ludicrous story and makes a fairly disturbing flick out of it. Bizarre tale finds renown podcaster Wallace (Justin Long) traveling to Canada in pursuit of a story which doesn’t pan out. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, he stumbles upon an ad from an old man (Michael Parks) looking to share his adventures with someone so, he answers. What follows is a nightmare, as the old man holds him hostage and begins to surgically transform him into a walrus. Obviously this sounds silly but, it is actually really disturbing thanks to good direction and phenomenal performances by Parks and Long. The film only stumbles when Smith brings in an uncredited Johnny Depp as an eccentric former cop from Quebec, who is hunting Parks’ mysterious serial killer. Depp’s character belongs in one of Smith’s comedies or a Pink Panther sequel and not here. Aside from that and the last act getting a little silly, the film is successfully chilling and Smith even creeps you out with it ridiculous climax. Now if only he’d put together a serious horror script, Smith might actually become a horror director to reckon with! Also stars Haley Joel Osment as his podcast partner, Ted and Genesis Rodriguez as his long suffering girlfriend, Ally.

3 star rating

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

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SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

This Tim Burton directed classic is another of my Halloween Favorites and I like to watch it every year at this time, when I want a bit of a rest from the more intense horrors, but still want something with plenty of Halloween spirit and all the trappings…and this film has both.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s script, from a story by he and Kevin Yagher, takes a lot of liberties with the classic Washington Irving tale, but is still a lot of ghoulish fun. This version takes place in 1799 and transforms Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) from a meek local school teacher to a meek NYC detective with an interest in forensic science that annoys his superiors, who have a much simpler view of crime and punishment. His belligerent attempts at waking his peers up to the new age of police work earns him a trip up the Hudson River Valley to the small, remote village of Sleepy Hollow. A rash of decapitations has the entire town wrapped in a blanket of fear, as they are rumored to be committed by a headless fiend riding an enormous black steed. Upon his arrival, the skeptical Crane not only comes face to face with a very real headless horseman, but witches, black magic and a conspiracy of death and murder. Can Crane get to the bottom of who holds the horseman’s reigns and somehow keep his own head on his shoulders where it belongs?

Despite wandering greatly from the original The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton’s ode to Hammer horror films…with more than a few nods to the Universal classics…is, if nothing else, a stunningly spooky visual feast that oozes Halloween from almost every sumptuous shot of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. Burton also brings dollops of atmosphere and a lot of spine tingling action, with a touch of fairy tale whimsy, as Crane overcomes his own fears to solve the mysteries around him and take on the supernatural head-hunting juggernaut. He also spatters the screen with a generous amount of the red stuff as we get quite a few beheadings, stabbings and slicings, as the undead Hessian mercenary tracks down it’s assigned prey in Terminator-like fashion. The gore FX are very well executed and there are only a few spots of CGI here and there to enhance the live effects occurring on screen. There is a great Danny Elfman score to add to the atmosphere and it’s all a great deal of fog-drenched, blood-spattered fun!

Burton also has a great cast to help him tell his tale. Depp is channeling his inner Peter Cushing as Ichabod Crane and he is a delight to watch as he takes his arrogant yet cowardly police inspector wading into supernatural territory far removed from the comfort of his science. Christina Ricci is charming and pretty as both love interest and suspect, Katrina Van Tassel. She and Depp have a nice chemistry, though I do feel Ricci could have been a bit livelier at times considering how over the top the rest of the cast is. Miranda Richardson is perfectly cast as Katrina’s step-mother Mary and Michael Gambon is properly bombastic as her father and chief suspect Baltus Van Tassel. We also get Casper Van Dien as Katrina’s jealous suitor Brom, Michael Gough, Jeffery Jones, Ian McDiarmid, Marc Pickering and Christopher Walken as the Hessian mercenary whose loss of head creates a demonic legend. Add in cameos from Martin Landau and the great Christopher Lee and you have an almost perfect cast that gets the tone of the material ghoulishly well.

What can I say, I love this flick. It drips Halloween from every frame and while it may deviate from the classic tale considerably, it is a lot of bloody fun and it has a good cast that embrace the tone of the script perfectly. It’s a great flick to watch during the Halloween season, when you need a break from the more intense horror films, but still want a movie that has everything you want in a flick for this time of year. A really fun and deviously gruesome treat.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) horsemen!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Much like a dream…or a nightmare…A Nightmare on Elm St. is many things at once. It’s one of the quintessential 80s horror flicks…defining a decade where horror was quite prolific…it gave birth to the legendary icon that is Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund)…who now sits proudly among Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula in the halls of horror… and it certainly is one of Wes Craven’s best films, in a solid career of genre filmmaking. Most of all, it’s a damn good horror flick!

Wes Craven gives us a cast of likable teens haunted by the malevolent specter of a child molester that their parents murdered after he was freed on a technicality. Now vengeance comes when they are at their most vulnerable…while they sleep. And that’s what makes this work so well. We all know how vulnerable we are when we are sleeping and Craven uses that fear to not only draw the audience in, but present us with some unsettling and spooky dream sequences where Freddy torments and then finishes off his victims. Craven also crafts a spooky boogie man who is a very frightening figure in his first outing, before becoming an anti-hero of sorts in the later sequels that got more humorous and outlandish as they went on.

The lead cast is fairly solid including spunky Heather Langenkamp as our heroine Nancy, Amanda Wyss as the ill-fated Tina, Nick Corri as Tina’s delinquent boyfriend Rod, the always good John Saxon (and I am a BIG John Saxon fan!) as Nancy’s sheriff father and a young unknown named Johnny Depp as Nancy’s boyfriend Glen…not to forget Robert Englund chilling our bones as Freddy in a role that would make him a horror film legend.

The film isn’t perfect, there is some very weak dialog peppered throughout and a few weak performances in the supporting cast especially Ronee Blakely who seems to be acting in another movie, or a soap opera, as Nancy’s alcoholic mother. Langenkamp has a few weak moments early on, too, but as Nancy gets stronger so does her performance. Flaws aside, the make-up and gore effects supporting our story are quite good and the dream sequences are visually effective and quite spooky, despite the limitations of a low budget. The film is loaded with chills and suspense and is still effective all these years and sequels later.

Another trend setting horror and a true classic that continues to find fans with each new generation. This series was a favorite of mine as the 80s horror franchises went, as the Halloween and Friday the 13th sequels just became redundant weapon of the month club features while the Elm Street films, even in their weakest installments, were continually inventive with their nightmare sequences. Also stars the Insidious series’ Lin Shaye as one of Nancy’s teachers. A classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Freddys!

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