TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990)

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TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990)

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Tales From The Darkside started out as a horror anthology series produced by the legendary George A. Romero, that ran four seasons from October 1983 till July of 1988. In 1990 a movie version was released presenting a trio of terrifying tales tied together by a wraparound story. In the opening segment we see a young boy (Matthew Lawrence) being held in a cell by a witch (Deborah Harry). She plans to cook the kid as the main course for a dinner party and he tries to stall her by reading her stories from a book she left for him in his cell…Tales From he Darkside! As Timmy reads to prolong his fate, three tales of terror unfold!

All three stories and the wraparound are directed by John Harrison, a frequent Romero collaborator, though the script is by Romero and Michael McDowell and based on various works.

The first story is the lesser of the three and is based on a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Lot 249 involves betrayal, revenge, murder and an ancient Egyptian mummy. When student Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) is cheated out of a deserved scholarship, he uses the mummy to exact revenge on those responsible, Lee and Susan (Robert Sedgwick and Julianne Moore). The plot for retribution works out fine till Susan’s brother Andy (Christian Slater) tries to turn the tables on Bellingham for some revenge of his own. This segment is kind of ho-hum and comes to a predictable conclusion, but is still somewhat entertaining, has a good cast and is quite gory.

Second story is called The Cat From Hell and is based on a story by Stephen King. The tale finds pharmaceutical billionaire Drogan (William Hickey) hiring a hit man named Halston (David Johansen) to exterminate a black cat that Drogan claims has killed the rest of the members of his household. What ensues is a cat and mouse game…pun intended…throughout the dark mansion with predator hunting predator. It’s a fun episode, especially thanks to a lively and over-the-top performance from Johansen and has some really good gore. While the ending isn’t unexpected, it’s gruesome fun. Probably the best episode overall.

Final tale is a tragic love story called Lover’s Vow. Down on his luck artist Preston (James Remar) witnesses the savage murder of a local bartender by a creature resembling the local building gargoyles. He promises the creature, in return for his life, that he will never speak of it to anyone. On that same night Preston meets the beautiful Carola (Rae Dawn Chong) whom he falls in love with. The two wed and have children, but on one fateful night, Preston reveals his chilling tale to his loving wife…and with horrifying results. Story is the most serious of the bunch which otherwise have a bit of humor mixed in with the chills and as with the others, some nice gore. It too, is also a bit predictable, but works in spite of that.

We then return to the wraparound where Timmy is not going into the oven without a fight. Will he be freed or fried?…you’ll have to watch to find out!

Overall this is a fun anthology, though not a true classic. There is some nice nostalgia here too, as well as, some entertaining moments across the board. Harrison directs well and it is a fun horror flick in the spirit of Romero and King’s Creepshow from years earlier. Nothing overly special, but a solid good time. Did fairly well upon it’s release in 1990, but not enough to inspire a second go around.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 books of spooky stories.

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REVIEW: SEVENTH SON (2014)

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SEVENTH SON (2014)

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

In this book-based fantasy flick, there is an order of knights called “Spooks” who deal with beings of the supernatural. Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is the last of his order who has trouble keeping his apprentices alive. Years earlier, he fell in love with the witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) and instead of vanquishing her, imprisoned her after she became increasingly cruel and powerful. A Blood Moon is occurring and it’s supernatural powers have freed Malkin, who is gathering her forces for revenge. Now Gregory must find the seventh son of a seventh son and train the boy, Tom (Ben Barnes) to help him defeat Malkin. It won’t be easy, Malkin is prepared for Gregory and new apprentice Tom, finds fancy in the daughter (Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander) of one of Malkins servants, Lizzie (Man Of Steel‘s Antje Traue).

Based on the book The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delany and directed by Russian director Sergei Bodrov, Seventh Son is an amusing if not forgettable fantasy adventure. Working from Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight’s screenplay, Bodrov keeps things moving fast and there is plenty of supernaturally tinged action and loads of otherworldly creatures to occupy this fantasy world. Bodrov has a very fitting visual eye for subject matter such as this and the characters are endearing enough to get behind or despise depending on their role as hero or villain. The FX are well done, though the creature CGI is a bit less convincing as the settings and other supernatural elements and the story is familiar and simple enough to make it breezy entertainment, even if it won’t stay with you. There is also lush cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel and a majestic score by Marco Beltrami. The film got a lot of flack upon release and was considered a box office bomb, but for a night on the couch it passes the time surprisingly well and does entertain if you don’t expect too much.

The cast is fine for the most part with Bridges and Moore having the most fun in their roles. Both veterans have a good time with Moore especially enjoying a role needing her to go over-the-top often. Ben Barnes is a little bland as apprentice Tom, who unknown to himself is the son of a witch, but is likable enough. Oddly, Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington has a small role as Gregory’s ill-fated first apprentice and might have been a livelier choice.  Alicia Vikander is pretty and mysterious as the witch’s daughter Alice, though we have a good idea where her allegiances will eventually lie. There is also an amusing supporting cast of familiar faces as Malkin’s minions such as Djimon Hounsou, Jason Scott Lee and Antje “Faora” Traue.

Overall, I had fun with this flick. It’s not a classic and it’s fairly forgettable, but also, perhaps, judged a bit too harshly upon it’s initial release. There are plenty of fantasy elements, lots of action, creatures and magic and the cast, especially our two leads seem to be having a good time. Director Bodrov keeps things moving and has a sumptuous visual eye to create a world to set this book-based adventure in. Nothing overly memorable, but passes the time on the couch quite nicely if you go in with moderate expectations.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 battle axes.

13th warrior rating

 

 

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BARE BONES: NON-STOP and LOCKE

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NON-STOP (2014)

The presence of Liam Neeson can elevate most films to another level, but even he can’t salvage this thriller which starts out ridiculous and switches gears to ludicrous in it’s last act. Neeson plays alcoholic and paranoid US Air Marshall, Bill Marks (how did he get this job?) who is framed for the hi-jacking of the very flight he is on. Jaume Collet-Serra (House Of Wax) does a good job of directing this silly film, from a script by three people no less, but can’t save it from the fact that it just gets more outlandish and unbelievable as it goes on. There is some tension and suspense, and certainly a lot to chuckle about, but all it really succeeds in doing is evoking memories of those silly, over the top Airport movies from the 70s, but without Shelly Winters and George Kennedy. Also stars Julianne Moore whose character’s purpose in the film still eludes me.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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LOCKE (2014)

Probably the best movie you will ever see about a guy driving from one place to another talking on the phone in his car. What could have been a real snooze fest is brought to intense life by a riveting tour de force performance by Tom Hardy and skilled direction from Steven Knight, who also wrote the script. The film takes place over just a few hours as Ivan Locke leaves his construction site job to join a woman who he impregnated during a one night stand. The entire film is he communicating with various individuals as his choice to be with this practical stranger, as she gives birth, causes his idyllic and successful life to come crashing down around him. It takes a lot of skill to make a flick like this work and work it does.

three and one half stars rating

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REVIEW: DON JON (2013)

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DON JON (2013)

Before I get into actually reviewing this film, I have to say that being from Northern New Jersey all my life, I was a little insulted by the fact that writer/director/star Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays pretty much everyone in his Garden State set movie as a Sopranos/Jersey Shore reject. The scenes with his Jon Martello and his dad Jon Sr. (Tony Danza laying it on really thick) in their matching ‘wife beaters’ and gold chains at post church Sunday dinner could have fit into either one of those shows without missing a beat. I’m not saying there aren’t people here that fit the stereotype but, c’mon… we don’t all talk/act like that and the clowns on Jersey Shore weren’t even from Jersey. But, ironically, I do think that in the context of portraying those stereotypes, Levitt and his cast… especially Johansson… gave really strong performances. They did make their characters work and gave them life beyond the stereotypes but, I was irked that this is how the Texas born Levitt sees us all here in N.J which is a pretty diverse state. But whadda ya gonna do…eh? Fuggedaboutit!

Objectively, Levitt’s directorial debut isn’t that bad. It’s an odd little romantic comedy/drama about Jon Martello (Levitt) a young man whose lady killer skills are renown in his hood, hence the moniker “Don Jon”. But, despite his ability to have a different girl in his bed every week, Jon is addicted to internet porn and actually prefers it to real intimacy. Real life sex never lives up to what he sees on his lap top. Jon then meets and falls head over heals for the beautiful Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, who hits it out of the park with her stereotype Jersey Girl) and begins a torrid relationship with her. But, despite the heat in the bedroom, Jon still can’t kick his torrid relationship with Pornhub.com… that is, until the manipulative Barbara makes him take a night business course and he meets quirky older woman Ester (Julianne Moore). Now Jon must decide where his heart really lies…control freak Barbara, the sweet but odd Ester… or with his box of tissues. Can Jon finally give up his digital fantasies for real intimacy or will he stick with cyber love? I won’t say Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut is bad. It’s not. He actually does give the film his own style and gets good work out of his cast. It’s a well made and directed little movie. But, it also strongly gives the vibe of being a vanity project where the writer and director creates a character for himself that is a hot looking, jacked-up Romeo that can get the most beautiful girls in the bar into a cab and his bed with little or no effort. And he casts one of Hollywood’s hottest actresses to play his lover with multiple make-out and love scenes. The film is entertaining and has some laughs but, the obvious vanity of the role is intrusive. And let’s face it, even at under 90 minutes, the story of a guy with a porn addiction is not exactly feature film length material and the thinness of the story also shows as, once we reach the film’s conclusion, we realize we really didn’t go all that far. The plot could have been handled in a half hour sit-com episode or an hour TV drama at most. A feature length film is pushing it. There are a lot of scenes of him in front of a computer watching his favorite skin flicks, we got the point about 5 scenes back, and there are the numerous scenes of him at church and then dinner with his family after. I understand he was using this to show his characters progression but, they start to feel like we are re-watching the same scene rather quickly. It gets repetitive. The thing that really works is the performances. Despite my bitching earlier about the use of exaggerated stereotypes as characters, the actors really do good work in portraying those stereotypes. Levitt… who I’ve been a fan of since 3rd Rock and Brick is good and very charming as ‘Guido extraordinaire’, Jon. He’s a simple guy who loves his single guy lifestyle and is not anxious to see it go despite his mom’s (Glenne Headly) pressure for grandkids. Perhaps his addiction to porn and aversion to an intimate relationship is his way of preserving that life. Odds are it is. Johansson is borderline brilliant with her portrayal of a stereotypical Jersey girl complete with the accent and expressive hand gestures, talking while waving her perfectly manicured nails… I’ll admit, these girls do exist and I have encountered them and Johansson nails it with the nails. Danza is a little much with his Jon Sr. I will admit I have never been a fan of Tony Danza, he’s like the 70s Ashton Kutcher. You just keep wondering how he continually gets an extension on his 15 minutes. But, he lays it on thick as the ‘Goombah’ dad and sometimes it’s grating. Moore is spared a Jersey stereotype but, does play another stereotype, the quirky soul who you would find reading poetry in a Village coffee shop and probably has a lot of crystals and incense in her house but, she is an exceptional actress and gives Ester a very human quality and when she reveals her inner pain to Jon, it is a very heartfelt scene. Much like the other leads, she turns a stereotypical character into a three dimensional person which is the film’s saving grace. And that is what elevates Levitt’s filmmaking debut above it’s flaws and made it enjoyable enough to watch, despite some annoyingly stereotypical characters and a thin and sometimes crude story,  the actors made real people out of caricatures and in the end you did root for Jon to find intimacy that didn’t require a laptop. The actor/director also has a great chemistry with both his leading ladies which also makes things work far better then it should. Levitt does show potential here as a filmmaker. Interesting to see what he comes up with next. Also stars Brie Larson as Jon’s sister Monica who spends 95% of her role ignoring everyone around her while texting. The character literally speaks once.

Film earns a few extra points for filming in Hackensack, N.J., which is in my neck of the woods, and for Scarlett being volcanically hot.

3 Jersey Girl Johanssons… the film really deserves 2 and 1/2 but, I don’t have the heart to chop the lovely Scarlett in half…

don jon rating

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