BARE BONES: CYRUS (2010)

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CYRUS (2010)

John (John C. Reilly) has been divorced for seven years and finally meets a beautiful, single woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei). The only thing standing in the way of true romance, though, is Molly’s uncomfortably close relationship with her clingy and extremely jealous son Cyrus (Jonah Hill).

Cyrus is written and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass and is a very enjoyable indie comedy/drama for a number of reasons. It’s original, it’s funny and it also borders on brilliant in portraying those uncomfortable situations that occur when things aren’t quite right and we don’t know how to deal with them. Most of all, it’s the performances that make this so worth watching. Marisa Tomei once again proves she is a remarkable actress who deserves her every award and nomination she’s achieved. It is, though, John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill who really surprise us with strong performances as two very dysfunctional people. Reilly and Hill show they can really act when given strong material and aren’t reduced to comic sidekicks and supporting characters like they usually are. Both handle their roles with layered performances and their scenes together bristle with emotion and energy, as the two characters fight for dominance in what turns into a sort of twisted love triangle. If you like offbeat indie films this is a real treat.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND (2020)

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THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND (2020)

Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) is a twenty-something stoner/slacker who sits around smoking pot every day with his friends, doesn’t work and still lives with his widowed mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei). Scott’s life of complacency is about to change, however, as his mom starts dating divorced fireman Ray (Bill Burr), his caring sister, Claire (Maude Apatow) moves out to attend college and his “girlfriend,” Kelsey (Bel Powley) is putting pressure on him to be an actual boyfriend. Is it time for Scott to get a life, or will he find some way to keep his current lifestyle of smoking weed and giving his friends tattoos of questionable quality?

Film is directed by Judd Apatow from his script co-written with star Pete Davidson and David Sirus. It is supposedly based somewhat on Pete Davidson’s life growing up in Staten Island and loosing his fireman father at a young age. It’s one of Apatow’s better films in some time with a nice, even mix of drama and comedy and a really solid cast. Davidson is charming and funny as the Scott, who’s got a good heart, but zero ambitions, aside from his dream to open a tattoo parlor/restaurant. Still hurting over the on-duty death of his his fireman father, there is reasonable turmoil when his mother starts dating another one. Davidson plays that well, too. Scott has to make some strong decisions when thrown out by his fed-up mother and everyone around him is either moving on with their lives, or getting themselves into trouble. Apatow directs very low-key and uses the Staten Island locations to charming effect and the film is never boring at 136 minutes. The cast are all great, with Tomei giving another culturally flavorful performance and SNL alumni Pete Davidson proving he can carry a film. After a few stumbles, this and Trainwreck prove Apatow’s back to form.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home opens with a lot going on in the life of Peter Parker (Tom Holland). He’s adjusting to life after returning from “The Blip”…the five year period during which those Thanos vanquished were gone. He’s trying to cope with the death of mentor Tony Stark. He’s dealing with an apparent relationship between Happy Hogan (John Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his own feelings for MJ (Zendaya). Even his class trip to Europe gets complicated as he’s approached by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to battle creatures from another dimension with help from Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man said to be from an alternate dimension Earth. Can Peter save the planet, his friends and win the heart of MJ?…and can he trust Mysterio?

Sequel is a lot of fun and a bit bittersweet, as it deals with the effects of Tony Stark’s death on Peter and the world and it’s the first MCU flick without a cameo from the late, great Stan Lee. It’s directed with enthusiasm and a fast pace by a returning Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. It’s a bit refreshing…and slightly off-putting…getting Peter Parker out of NYC for a while, but it keeps things fresh as Peter tries to deal with Stark’s hopes the he would pick up the mantle, if anything should ever happened to Tony…and it obviously has. There are a lot of lighter moments, too, as Peter has to juggle his secret mission for Fury, keep his identity a secret, battle otherworldly creatures and still try to win MJ away from handsome jock Brad (Remy Hii). The script keeps the various story elements mixed nicely, all the while delivering some spectacular action scenes in various European locals, much like a 007 film. The movie establishes a nice bond between Peter and Quentin which makes the betrayal all the more effective, even though we know it’s coming, as Mysterio is one of Spidy’s classic villains. It all comes together in a nice, action-packed climax in London and then a shocking mid-credits sequence back in NYC that has a familiar face turning Peter and Spider-Man’s life upside down. The next Spider-Man flick should be interesting indeed!

The cast are all good. Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker and he handles the various emotions very well. He’s a superhero still growing into his suit and now has to handle the pressure of Stark choosing him as his successor. He also has to balance his duty to battling evil and satisfy his own heart with the girl he’s falling for. As MJ, Zendaya is smart, sarcastically funny, sweet at heart and has a girl next door beauty that makes her completely crush worthy and a fitting addition to Peter’s small circle. The actress creates a very quirky, independent, yet endearing character. Jackson and Favreau can play their characters in their sleep at this point and thankfully they don’t. Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition to the MCU as Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio. Initially he delivers a man with very noble and heroic intentions, a man you can believe Peter would bond with. Once his nefarious plan is unveiled, Gyllenhaal goes delightfully over-the-top for some solid villainy. A good choice for one of Spider-Man’s major bad guys. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as the lovable Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all create entertaining supporting characters in their given moments.

After the dramatic intensity of Avengers: Endgame, Far From Home delivers a lighter break, but with enough emotional depth to make sense with what it follows and as the supposed last film in MCU Phase 3. It has Peter Parker adjusting to missing five years, handling the death of his mentor and the possibility of filling his shoes to a degree. As with all the Spider-Man films, he also has to balance being a hero and yet still be a teenage boy. There are some really fun moments, a lot of spectacular action, it balances multiple characters well and delivers a solid villain in Mysterio. There are a few scenes that could have been a bit shorter, but overall is a lot of fun and feels far more like it’s own film than Homecoming. Stay through the credits for a shocking mid credits scene and a fun end credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs!


 

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth flick featuring the web-head in the last fifteen years and the second reboot in the last five…and this is not counting his extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Marvel was in a hurry to add the wall crawler to the MCU, once they ironed out the legal details and so we have another Spider-Man flick with our third Spidey in Tom Holland. The character might have needed a break instead of a reboot as, despite all the attempts to ‘freshen’ it up, there is still a stale familiarity to the proceedings.

This movie opens with working man Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew cleaning up after the Chitauri invasion of New York and being escorted off the site by a shady government agency…without compensation. Eight years later, Toomes and his crew have made some high-tech weapons and gadgets out of some un-returned alien artifacts, including a flight suit which they use to steal more artifacts to make more illegal weapons to sell. At this same time, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is excited over being chosen to aid Iron Man/Tony Stark and is chomping at the bit to join the Avengers and be a real hero, something Stark now feels he is definitely not ready for. As the “flying monster” and his henchmen get on Peter’s radar, Spider-Man decides to try and take them down and prove to Stark there is a hero within the awkward fifteen year-old boy.

Film is directed this time by Jon Watts (Clown) from a script by six people and it shows. The film gives the impression of being a bit of a mess bouncing back and forth from superhero flick to awkward teen comedy and it doesn’t always mesh together well. The first half is especially weak as it focuses on Peter, once again back in high school, wanting the best of both worlds in being a normal teenager, who gets the attention of the pretty Liz (Laura Harrier) and a bona fide hero in Spider-Man. Instead he’s a nerdy outcast with only one true friend (Jacob Batalon) and someone Stark doesn’t trust to join the team, yet.  There are some funny bits, but here in the first half Spider-Man isn’t a heroic alter ego, but actually just as awkward at being a hero as he is socially as Peter Parker. His attempts at heroics cause more trouble than good and this approach starts to wear out it’s welcome quickly, as do the segments that enter routine teen comedy territory. It’s nothing new for something that’s supposed to re-invent the character for the MCU and comes off as clumsy as Peter. The second half picks up when he and Keaton’s Vulture start to go head to head and Parker has to go it alone when Stark takes away his toys. There is some decent action here, thankfully scaled down from the last few Marvel flicks, but again, nothing new. Another problem here is the attempts to fit Peter/Spider-Man into the MCU themselves don’t seem to fit and seem too obvious. Not only is there the Chitauri connection with Toomes’ toys, but the extended cameos by Stark and Iron Man. And if that’s not enough, Stark appoints Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to watch over Peter which really doesn’t add anything but yet another MCU link. The Spider-Man/Vulture storyline suffers, so we can spend time with Hogan and Stark. There are also numerous name drops to other Avengers and even a cameo or two from MCU familiar characters. This film feels even more like a deliberate attempt to force a connection with Spidey to the MCU than his cameo in Civil War. It’s obtrusive. Even Toomes’ big scheme involves MCU plot elements from past films. The film is still somewhat fun at times, but never feels like it’s own movie as even other flicks in the MCU series do.

The cast is good here. Holland does make a good Spidey. While the awkward approach was a bit much at times, the actor is charming and conveys both socially inept nerd and the hero within quite nicely. Keaton makes for an interesting villain. He is more a common criminal with some cool toys and that worked better than yet another megalomaniac. He has a couple of scenes where he is quite threatening and he is certainly more effective than Jamie Foxx’s Electro. Robert Downey Jr, at this point can play Stark in his sleep and he is Stark as usual here. Favreau seemed to be phoning it in as Hogan, which doesn’t help as the character has little to do but look annoyed anyway. Marisa Tomei is fun as Aunt May and while she is adorned in glasses, mom jeans and some corny dialogue, she is still Marisa Tomei…if you know what I mean and the film does have a little fun with that. Jacob Batalon is entertaining and has some very funny moments as Peter’s only friend Ned and Bokeem Woodbine has a minor role as Spider-Man villain Shocker who is one of Toomes’ thugs. There are also a couple of fun Marvel cameos, too, for fans to look out for.

So there are mixed feelings for a film that had some fun moments and a few solid action scenes, but felt rushed as far as reintroducing Spider-Man yet again. The script is a bit of a mess and with six scribes it’s no wonder. Jon Watt guides things well enough, but he can’t overcome the familiarity it still has and that the film tries way too hard to stuff Spidey into the MCU, which is now in it’s third phase. Holland makes a fine hero and Keaton a solid villain, but in all honesty, Stark and Happy Hogan really didn’t need to be there and their scenes don’t feel like they are part of the rest of the film. At this point the Web Head needs a bit of a break, but apparently will be back as the end credits forewarn us. Stay through the credits for two post credits scenes, one which playfully has fun with us for waiting through the credits for post credits scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 webs!

 

 

 

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REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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

When on a mission to stop a vengeful Brock Rumlo (Frank Grillo) in Lagos, The Avengers suffer a set-back when there is some collateral damage and lives are lost, including citizens of the African nation of Wakanda. The world is now becoming wary of the superheroes and the damage caused by the power they wield in our defense. Spearheaded by Wakandan King T’Chaka (John Kani) and Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt), the Sokovia Accords are implemented as a way to regulate the Avengers and their actions. This splits the team down the middle as a faction lead by Captain America (Chris Evans) are against the restrictions and a faction lead by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are for regulation. The rift widens as T’Chaka is assassinated and evidence points to The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). As Cap sets out to intercept and save his once best friend from government orders to eliminate him, it makes he and his allies outlaws, with Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers in hot pursuit. But is there a third party pulling the strings with an anterior motive?

In comparison, Captain America: The Winter Solider was a bit more streamlined and the lines between good and evil were certainly much clearer. Here the creative team behind one of Marvel’s best films returns to shake things up a bit by having a good portion of our story being about a fractured Avengers pitted against each other. It dares to turn Captain America into an outlaw and Tony Stark into the authority figure (which is an interesting stretch for the rebel Stark) trying to bring him in. The film is exceptionally well directed again by Anthony and Joe Russo, though the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely doesn’t quite feel as tight as the previous flick’s. One understands Stark’s guilt over Ultron and why Cap has a better understanding of the casualties of war, but it still seemed like they both took their opposing stances a bit too easily. After all, Stark has had no love for authority figures and Cap seems to put his personal feelings for Bucky ahead of the fact that Winter Solider is a killer and suspected of murdering a government dignitary in front of a watching world. Granted there is only so much time to tell the story and the film is already at 147 minutes, but it seems a little rushed. The story does give way to some spectacular action sequences that rival anything seen so far in the MCU and yet avoids another big city destruction scene that has been done to death in films recently. The fight scene at an evacuated airport is a lot of fun and gives some nice exposure to new heroes like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a certain web crawler (Tom Holland). The scene is a blast and is a nice lighter toned sequence to give us a break before things get dark again when Tony, Cap and Winter Soldier have an intense confrontation in Siberia, with the real villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl) unveiling his master stroke to get them at each other’s throats…and it is a nasty battle indeed. The FX are top notch, as is all other facets of the production and we even get some James Bond style globe hopping to give the film an epic feel, despite a more personal level story. Flaws aside, it is still one of the better Marvel films and far from the mess that was Batman v. Superman.

There is far too big a cast to give everyone their props individually, though some new additions are worth mentioning. The veterans do some of their best work in their roles, even if we feel these super friends got at each other a bit too quickly. It’s hard to envision an MCU without Evans or RDJ and the Russos give Johansson’s Black Widow her best material. Sebastian Stan gets a far meatier role as the conflicted Winter Solider/Bucky and he is solid. It was nice to see William Hurt return as the hard-nosed Ross. Elizabeth Olsen gets to play a troubled Scarlet Witch having doubts about controlling her powers and guilt over the results when she can’t. She is a fine actress and does well. Chadwick Bosemen impressed as T’Challa/Black Panther and should be exciting to watch when his solo film arrives. Emily Van Camp got a little ass to kick as Agent 13 and had a bigger role than in Winter Solider. An appealing character and actress. Daniel Brühl’s Zemo could have been a stronger villain, but that is currently an achilles heel in the Marvel films. Paul Bettany seemed to get a little short changed as Vision. We only get to see a few scenes of him interacting with the others before the action comes and his bond with Wanda didn’t get properly developed. Finally we get a really different and enjoyable Peter Parker from Tom Holland and a sexy Aunt May from Marisa Tomei. Looking forward to seeing both of them in their own flick, too.

Not as tight and streamlined as Winter Soldier and some of the character motivations seemed a bit abrupt and needed a bit more development. The film has no real clear bad guy till the villain pulling the strings comes to the forefront, but even then, he continues Marvel’s problem with weak antagonists. Zemo is far more Malekith than Loki. The big pluses are some truly spectacular and well choreographed action scenes that avoid overindulgence and a really dark and intense last act when our favorite heroes try to tear each other apart. The new characters such as Black Panther and Spider-Man arrived with shinning colors and some other characters got to show new sides. Definitely another notch in the plus column for Marvel and as usual, stay for two scenes during the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 shields.

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