MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE THING 2011 and THE FLY II

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I thought it would be fun to do a sequel to my double feature of remakes The Thing and The Fly from a few weeks back by offering a double bill look at their perspective sequels…

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THE THING (2011)

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all time favorite movies. It’s a classic and arguably Carpenter’s masterpiece. So, I tried to put the audacity aside that someone would attempt a prequel and went in trying to view this film on it’s own merits as much as possible. Ultimately, since it’s trying to be part of that film’s story, you kinda have to compare and my mind constantly made comparisons all throughout. Overall, I wasn’t that impressed, but also didn’t hate it and over time, it has grown on me as a sort of amusing companion piece. Still, obviously far from a classic like it’s predecessor.

2011’s The Thing takes place in the Norwegian camp that is seen briefly in Carpenter’s film in smoldering ruins. It details their finding of the alien ship and it’s passenger in the ice and it’s subsequent escape and infiltration of the camp and assimilation of various members. The Norwegians are joined by some American’s including Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Paleontologist Kate Lloyd, Eric Christian Olsen as scientist Adam Finch and Joel Edgerton as helicopter pilot Sam. Aside from Ulrich Thompson as lead scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson, the rest are interchangeable and generic characters that serve mostly as body count. Only Winstead really tries to make Kate a more rounded character, but she isn’t given much to do but look concerned, or scared, or both, till the last act.

This is where The Thing fails to assimilate the 1982 perfectly as it’s title creature would. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. fails to generate much suspense or create the kind of paranoia that fueled the 82 classic. He does create a bit of a sense of dread, but for the most part, he directs this “prequel” competently, but very by-the-numbers. There’s very little of the kind of tension Carpenter built during his film, even though the situation is basically the same. Even if he was trying to craft a film that was more it’s own “thing” he still doesn’t have the directing chops to really pull it off. The film has a nice visual style and there are some well done action sequences and they did do a good job of matching sets and events to link up with the film this is a prequel to, but it simply doesn’t come close to Thing ’82.

Heijningen doesn’t get that much help out of his actors either. Other than Winstead and Edgerton, most of them pretty much perform on ‘paycheck’ levels and there are none of the memorable characters like Carpenter’s eclectic bunch. Well, at least there should be some cool monster stuff, right? Not quite. All this talk of practical effects during production was nonsense, as 90% of what we see is CGI, or enhanced with CGI, and it’s only a few levels about your average SYFY channel movie. So even the monster evokes no emotion, because it looks like what it is, phony. And to be honest, the designs lack the impact of Rob Bottin’s now legendary work. Even at their weakest moments, Bottin’s creature transformations generated awe or disgust. You’d think they’d take advantage of almost 30 years of technological advancement in movie effects, yet the creatures have little impact. And, speaking of our alien star, we are never given much more information about the creature than we already know from Thing ’82. They totally blow the opportunity to add to the creature’s mythos.

I’ll admit, there were a few scenes I liked, especially toward the end where the camp is thrown into all out combat with our computer generated invader and there are some clever bits like one involving tooth fillings. I also liked Winstead’s Kate as our lead. I think Winstead is capable of strong roles and it’s too bad she’s wasn’t given stronger stuff till the last act here. She makes a credible heroine. The end credits nod to the Carpenter flick is the best stuff in the movie. At least the lead-in stuff worked very well and the film ends on a spooky note as we know what comes next…a far superior movie.

In conclusion, I didn’t hate this flick, but would only recommend it as an amusing curiosity or a mindless popcorn monster flick as long as you forget about it even trying to stack up to the Kurt Russell classic. The Thing 2011 did have almost impossible shoes to fill and while it falls far short of the mark, it’s also not the complete disaster it’s made out to be. Best “thing” about the movie is that it is a lead-in to Carpenter’s flick, so you can always watch that afterwards.

2 and 1/2 (out of 4) flame thrower wielding cuties!

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THE FLY II (1989) 

With The Fly being a critical and box office hit, a sequel was inevitable. While this Cronenberg-less follow-up is no classic, it’s actually a fun monster movie on it’s own. The story opens with Ronnie (played now by Geena Davis lookalike Saffron Henderson) giving birth at Bartok Industries to Seth Brundle’s child. She dies from shock as what appears to be a monstrosity is born, but it is actually a human baby sealed in a cocoon. Martin Brundel (Harley Cross as a child, Eric Stoltz as an adult) is far from a normal human, though, as he grows at an accelerated rate, has his father’s genius intelligence and is being intensely studied by a team of scientists. At 5 years old he is fully grown and his genius is put to work by Anton Bartok (Lee Richardson) on perfecting his father’s telepods that Bartok’s people can’t get to function properly. Bartok acts as a father figure, but is just using and studying Martin like a lab animal waiting for the inevitable. Despite never having been away from Bartok’s research labs, Martin has enough social skills to meet and woo pretty Beth (Daphne Zuniga), an employee from another division and soon starts to look into what really happened to his father and thus what might happen to him, leading him to seek out Stathis Borans (a returning John Getz) for answers. Like father like son, as the film’s tagline proclaims, Martin soon starts to transform and tries to figure out a cure as he begins to become an insectoid creature like his father. Will Martin share the same fate as his dad or can he free himself and find peace and love with Beth?

As directed by Fly FX man Chris Walas, Fly II is an entertaining monster movie with some cool action sequences, as well as, some gruesome ones. He doesn’t try to match Cronenberg’s gem for emotional intensity, though there are some effective dramatic scenes involving Martin trying to cope with who and what he is and a scene involving a lab dog he bonds with, that is especially moving and fuels his learning of Bartok’s true nature. The cast perform well with Stoltz making a charming and tragic hero and Zuniga a spunky girl next door heroine. Richardson and Chalk make contemptible villains and while they are fairly routine bad guys, we dislike them enough to look forward to their possible comeuppance. The FX are top notch for this pre-CGI time with animatronics and make-up being used to represent the various lab creatures and Martin’s progressive transformation. There is some really good gore, as it’s no surprise that the last act does turn into a full blown monster on-the-loose flick when Martin becomes an insect-like creature with a human intelligence stalking the halls of Bartok and getting revenge on those who mistreated him, while trying to save himself and Beth. Christopher Young gives the film a really strong score that is not quite Howard Shore’s, but very effective on it’s own and the cinematography by Robin Vidgeon makes good use of the Bartok interiors.

All in all, Fly II is an entertaining horror flick and while it is far from the near masterpiece of it’s predecessor, it wasn’t meant to be another classic. It is a fun popcorn monster flick that honors the film it’s a sequel to and makes for an entertaining viewing, after the intensity of the Cronenberg classic. If you haven’t seen it and like the 1986 flick, give it a go!

3 (out of 4) flys!

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REVIEW: A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

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A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

A Good Day To Die Hard arrives on blu-ray June 4th so, I thought I’d post my review of the latest adventures of John McClane!

A Good Day To Die Hard has a lot of problems. The story is convoluted, the villains are weak and when the action stops there isn’t enough strong drama to keep us interested but, thankfully, the action rarely stops and it is quite amusingly over the top. This entry has John McClane (Bruce Willis) traveling to Moscow to try to see his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney) who has been arrested for murder. But, what McClane doesn’t know is that Jack is a CIA agent and involved in a mission to bust a Russian millionaire (Sebastian Koch), with ties to terrorism, out of jail to get the 411 on his partner… who also has his own plans to bust him out of jail. It’s no secret that McClane gets in the middle of things and once again becomes the fly in the ointment of all this Russian cloak and dagger. The result is the destruction of half of Moscow and what’s left of Chernobyl to boot. The story is as much of a mess as it sounds but, I still had a blast watching the father and son duo wreck the former Soviet Union to stop the bad guys. The action scenes are ridiculously over the top and it’s still fun to watch Willis kick butt, even though his one liners are getting tired and he gives you the impression that so is he of all this nonsense. How many times CAN one man get into so much trouble unintentionally? At least it’s part of James Bond’s job. It’s the stuff between the action that has us looking at our watches as the dialog is weak and I can’t understand how a guy who is such a kick-ass hero can be hated so much by his kids. Shit! If my dad whacked terrorists on a regular basis and constantly blew stuff up, I’d probably think he was pretty cool. The villains never seem threatening enough to make us believe they stand a chance against the McClane family but, I still enjoyed seeing them try and get their asses handed to them by Willis and Courtney, who could have a future as an action star. If there is a Die Hard 6, I hope they give daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a catsuit and a gun to join in the fun. Why not? Go in with moderate expectations and turn off the brain and enjoy the fireworks because, that’s basically what this movie has to offer and on that level it can be a fun matinee if you just don’t look for another classic like the original installment.

A very generous 3 McClanes

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REVIEW: SMASHED (2012)

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Pretty teacher Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a young married couple who are also alcoholics. When Kate gets sick of waking up in strange places and peeing herself, she decides to quit drinking and get help. But Kate faces an uphill battle as she gets resentment, not support, from her husband and to gain sobriety she may loose everything she holds dear.

What I liked most about this indie drama was that co-writer/ director James Ponsoldt avoids the melodramatics that usually come with films of this nature and guides his cast trough a real life situation and has them play real life people complete with quirks and all. And as for his cast, they all give good down to earth performances, but it is Winstead who owns the movie as the troubled young woman who wants to change the downward spiral of her life. She effectively portrays the frustration of her own behavior and then the hurt and anger when she tries to change her life and doesn’t get the support she needs from those she cares about. She also conveys the mixed emotions of someone seeing their life, and those in their life, differently through now sober eyes. Winstead shows chops that she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to show and she gives a very real and effecting performance. True, I would like to have seen more of the relationship between Kate and her AA sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer) and a subplot involving her vice principal, Dave (Nick Offerman), who has a crush on her and introduces her to his AA group, doesn’t quite click, but this are minor points.

Overall Smashed is a solid and heartfelt drama that doesn’t preach yet, doesn’t make light of it subject matter either and gives a talented young actress a role she can really shine in. Recommended for those who are looking for a drama that’s refreshingly UN-Hollywood and want to see an actress take hold of a good part and show us her stuff. ***1/2