BARE BONES: VOODOO and SHUT IN

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VOODOO (2017)

This is a terrible found footage flick that has a young woman (Samantha Stewart) traveling to L.A. from her home of New Orleans after an affair with a married man provokes his voodoo practicing wife. She’s filming her trip, hence the found footage format and her footage catches the escalating pursuit by evil spirits till she is literally dragged to Hell…camera still filming, of course!

Flick is awfully written and directed by Tom Costabile and the only reason it gets the extra star is for having the audacity of being the first…at least I think so…found footage movie to take place in Hell. It is laughably bad for the most part, though it’s depiction of Hell does hit Baskin levels of offensiveness with newborn babies being eaten alive and our heroine being raped by Satan himself…or one of his muscular horned demons, I can’t really tell. It’s disturbingly graphic, though wears out it’s welcome quickly, but in terms of legitimate chills and thrills, it’s completely void and Costabile seems to know little or nothing about actual voodoo. At least pretty lead Samantha Stewart and co-star Ruth Reynolds were appealing.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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SHUT IN (2016)

Moderately amusing thriller has widowed child psychologist Mary (Naomi Watts) caring for her catatonic 18 year-old step-son (Charlie Heaton) after an accident that also claimed her husband’s life. At the same time, she is concerned about a young patient of hers (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) that has run away into the Maine woods with a massive snowstorm approaching rapidly. As the snowfall traps Mary in the house, she starts to feel there is something strange going on and soon believes she is possibly being haunted by the now feared dead boy’s spirit.

Flick written by Christina Hudson and directed by Farren Blackbum is a completely generic and routine thriller with Watt’s solid performance being the only thing that keeps us entertained. She is a veteran actress and handles the weak material well, adding some emotional depth to the mundane goings on and making Mary very sympathetic and likable. The big reveal isn’t exactly a surprise and actually adds a creepy and uncomfortable sexual element to the proceedings, though one the filmmakers aren’t daring enough to go too far with as they shift the focus off it rather quickly, returning to the safer stalking about a dark house finale. If nothing else is on, it’s not a complete waste of time and the 48 year-old Watts still looks quite fetching in the buff. Also stars Oliver Platt as a psychologist friend of Mary’s.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: PREY FOR ROCK and ROLL and WHILE WE’RE YOUNG

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PREY FOR ROCK & ROLL (2003)

Obviously, a movie with Gina Gershon and Drea de Matteo as female rockers already has a built in appeal and it’s too bad the film chooses to wallow in the darker aspects of the rock scene, as well as, some tragic melodrama, for us to fully enjoy it. Story is from a play by Cheri Lovedog who co-wrote the script with Robin Whitehouse. It focuses on Jacki (Gina Gershon), a bi-sexual rocker who’s just turned 40 and wonders if her all-girl rock band Clamdandy will ever make it out of the bar scene. That’s about it story-wise. Along the way we are treated to all the rock clichés and some dreary smatterings of beatings, rape and even a tragic death as Jacki tries to decide if it’s time to do something new with her life. As directed by Alex Steyermark the film already tries too hard to be a ‘rock’ movie but, then wallows in the scenes of drug abuse, abusive relationships, rape, death and even the traditional ‘screwed by a record label’ sub-plot. Despite Gershon giving Jacki her all and equally good performances out of de Matteo, Lori Petty and Shelly Cole as her band mates, the material is too familiar and too dreary to make this really enjoyable and lacks the energy in it’s few music scenes to overcome that. Also stars Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Marc Blucas as the ex-con brother of Cole’s Sally. The film is far more depressing than it is entertaining.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (2014)

OK comedy/drama has aging hipsters Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) struggling with getting older and maybe having missed out on some of the important things, such as kids. They meet a pair of younger hipsters Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) and decide maybe they don’t have to act their age as Josh and Jamie collaborate on a film project. Things get weird as Jamie comes up with a potentially successful documentary idea while Josh’s has been languishing in development hell for ten years. Directed and written by Noah Baumbach this flick can be funny and sentimental at times but, can also be cliché and a bit pretentious at others. The story of an aging character/characters falling in with young people and not acting their age has been done to death and the filmmaking angle only adds a slight deviation from this. The outcome of that is fairly predictable as are the conclusions the characters come to. There are some good performances across the board but, the film never really rises above pleasantly mediocre.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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BARE BONES: THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY P.1 and ST. VINCENT

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THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (2010)

After seeing David Robert Mitchell’s much acclaimed horror It Follows, I decided to check out his first feature film, a teen-centric comedy/drama. Flick takes place in the Detroit suburbs and tells the story of a group of teens on the night before school starts as they wander back and forth between a number of sleepovers looking for love or simply to punctuate the last day of summer vacation. The film is enjoyable and is more of a low key flick than the usual bombastic Hollywood style teen movies. This works both for and against it, as while it is more realistic and spares us the usual cliché melodrama and slapstick that a lot of teen flicks have, the drawback is that none of the characters are particularly interesting and nothing particularly interesting happens. It has a charm to it and the cast are all very convincing, so it is overall a pleasant watch, but kind of forgettable at the same time. Does exhibit more of Mitchell’s skilled shot composition that made It Follows so effective. Worth a look, especially if It Follows made you a fan of Mitchell’s. An enjoyable little movie, but maybe a little too understated for it’s own good.

3 star rating

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THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY p.1 (2014)

I liked the first flick, but found the second installment to be a darker, more depressing retread. While this installment takes the story in a different direction with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) now sequestered in the rebel stronghold and being pressured into becoming the figurehead of the rebellion, it’s still bleak, depressing and filled with overblown melodrama. There’s a few decent action sequences and Lawrence does her best with the material, but make up your minds…is Katniss a strong force to be reckoned with, or a weepy emotional mess that seems on the verge of a breakdown. She switches back and forth from scene to scene. Production value is strong and Francis Lawrence gives it a bit more of a steady pace than the meandering Catching Fire, but the film still failed to really hold my interest or attention. Never read the books and the films don’t inspire me to do so.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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St. VINCENT (2014)

I really enjoyed writer/director Theodore Melfi’s comedy/drama about cranky, down-on-his-luck, alcoholic spinster Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) whose life changes when he gets a new neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and begins to babysit her young son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) to get some much needed cash. Sure, we’ve seen this story about a kid who changes the life of a bitter, angry, older character before, but it’s done so well here and mixes the schmaltz perfectly with some laugh-out-loud humor. Murray is in top form and McCarthy, who I am not a fan of, proves she can be more than just a female Chris Farley. Best of all is young Jaeden Lieberher who really shines and tugs the heartstrings as the awkward Oliver and a scene-stealing Naomi Watts as Vincent’s pregnant Russian hooker associate, Daka. She is absolutely hilarious. The cast all have a great chemistry together, especially Murray and Lieberher and the film never goes overboard with the sentimental bits or the comedy. In fact the sentimental moments really resonate, such as the scenes with Murray and his Alzheimer afflicted wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell). A really good movie and maybe a bit of an underrated/under-appreciated one!

three and one half stars rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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BARE BONES: BIRDMAN and FURY

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BIRDMAN (2014)

Birdman is a quirky and refreshingly off-beat comedy/drama from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and appropriately stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, an actor trying to reignite his fading star. Riggan was once world famous for starring in the lead of the popular superhero franchise, Birdman. Now he’s entering his 60s and trying to validate himself and add some relevance back to his life by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play. Obviously, what can go wrong, will go wrong and there are an eccentric group of characters…including his imaginary, costumed alter-ego…in the mix to add to Riggan’s troubles. Iñárritu has a very original style that fits the story so well. It’s filled with lengthy tracking shots following our characters from scene to scene and some delightfully surreal moments as well. The cast are all top notch, with Keaton giving one of his best performances and it definitely is his show. He is supported by the likes of Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough who are all excellent in their roles, too. But, in my humble opinion, it is Emma Stone who steals every scene she’s in with her best work to date as Riggan’s fresh out of rehab daughter. She is simply a powerhouse in some scenes and holds her own…and more…with the seasoned veterans. A flick worthy of it’s praise. The only negative I had was that the jazz drum score got on my nerves after awhile. Otherwise, a great little movie.

three and one half stars rating

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FURY (2014)

If you are a fan of WWII flicks and all the familiar trappings, then you’ll probably enjoy this. I found it to be kinda dull and any dramatic weight or intensity of the action is brought down by an overload of clichés. The story, written and directed by David Ayer, finds Staff Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt) leading his tank crew deep into Germany in 1945 to clean up the last of the German military resistance…and not having an easy time of it. Ayer throws every cliché in the book from situations to stereotypical war movie characters and adds some Private Ryan style violence, but the effect is still that we’ve seen it all before, since the very first WWII movie was made. The film is well-directed and action well-staged, but it’s just too familiar to be interesting and takes very few risks to liven things up. If you like this kind of film, go for it. Otherwise it’s nothing you haven’t seen in countless other likewise movies. The solid cast also stars Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal and Logan Lerman as the stereotypical green newbie.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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