BARE BONES: WHEN WE FIRST MET (2018)

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WHEN WE FIRST MET (2018)

Dull and sometimes annoying romantic comedy has Noah (an awful Adam Devine) watching the love of his life Avery (Alexandra Daddario) become engaged to another man (Robbie Amell). He somehow uses a photo-booth he and Avery used on the Halloween night they first met and travels back in time three years to that day, determined not to end up being just the best friend this time.

This is a terrible romantic comedy that sadly starts out OK till we once again use both the Groundhog Day and Big plot devices of both someone going back in time and reliving a fateful day over and over to try to get things right. None of it done cleverly like in Happy Death Day. It’s a simply unimaginative script by Miracle Jones, whose writing is anything but, lamely directed by Ari Sandel, who did much better helming The Duff . It’s monotonous and tedious to watch Noah keep going back to that day and trying more and more ludicrous ways to win Avery, all the while screwing things up even worse. Then two thirds of the way in, he switches his attention to Avery’s gal pal Carrie (Shelly Hennig). WHAT? This is a terribly written and generic rom-com that has no point or purpose and uses a now time worn plot device in the most unimaginative way possible. Add to that a truly smug and grating performance by lead Devine and there is little to no reason to waste time on this flick. At least Daddario’s cute and perky thing saved her dignity in this mess.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE RITUAL (2017)

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THE RITUAL (2017)

Based on a book by Adam Nevill, this chiller finds four friends traveling deep into the Swedish wilderness on a hiking excursion while mourning the death of a fifth member of their group. Deep in the woods they find a supernatural entity presides there, one worshiped as a deity by the locals and who feeds on the mental…and physical…pain of it’s sacrifices…and anyone wondering into it’s territory qualifies as a sacrifice.

Film, directed by David Bruckner (the Amateur Night segment of V/H/S) from Joe Barton’s script, which is based on Nevill’s novel, evokes mixed feelings. On one hand it is basically The Blair Witch Project meets The Wicker Man (original version, of course) and thus is very familiar. On the other hand, Bruckner does conjure up some spooky sequences and the film has a very unsettling visual style, especially in the last act when it’s wendigo-like deity makes it’s appearance. There are scenes directly lifted from The Blair Witch Project with symbols found carved on trees, strange formations made from sticks and antlers and characters screaming in the distance as something unseen drags them away. There is a spooky cabin in the woods and even a witch. We do, however, also get some gory stuff with animals and people found gutted and hanging from trees and some very unsettling dream sequences, especially from lead Luke (Rafe Spall) who feels guilty over his friend’s death. It turns full blown into The Wicker Man in it’s last act, when the surviving hikers are taken to a village lost in time, where they are to be sacrificed to whatever lurks among the trees. Once the thing shows up, Bruckner gets some good effect from the spirit creature’s look and ferocity and the fight to escape it by the remaining characters. The movie is atmospheric and the small cast perform their clichéd roles well. There is a spooky score by Ben Lovett and some really effective cinematography from Andrew Shulkind to add to it’s overall effectiveness.

This film was a bit hard to rate as it is very effective in terms of it’s atmosphere, it’s spooky visuals and some effectively creepy moments from director Bruckner, but constantly reminds us of other movies. It does use the familiar elements to do it’s own thing, but also borrow heavily from some widely renown films. It’s definitely worth a look, but go in knowing you’ve seen a lot of it before. Also stars Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier and Sam Troughton as Luke’s three friends. Film is currently streaming on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 deer.

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BARE BONES: ALI WONG-BABY COBRA (2016)

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ALI WONG-BABY COBRA (2016)

Actress, writer, comedienne Ali Wong’s Nextflix comedy special is a delightfully politically incorrect hour of raunchy, insightful fun. Wong delivers her views on marriage, men, feminism, sex and everything in between, all the while seven months pregnant and unafraid to poke fun at that too. She also touches on being an Asian woman in today’s world and while her act does become repetitive at times, Wong gives her vulgar bits a lot of wit to back them up, so it is fun and provides plenty of laughs. Smart and biting comedy that is a lot of refreshingly, unapologeticly and delightfully naughty entertainment.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE OPEN HOUSE (2018)

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THE OPEN HOUSE (2018)

Flick has teen Logan (Dylan Minnette) witnessing the death of his father in an accident. This forces he and his out of work mother Naomi (Piercey Dalton) to move into his aunt’s empty house, which is in the process of being sold. Once there, Logan starts to believe that he and his mom might not be alone and that someone…or something…might be stalking the two…from inside the house.

Written and directed by the duo of Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote, this is an effective thriller. The story of an intruder within a home is not new, but is given some spooky treatment here as the unknown invader’s actions go from mischievous to scary. We have the dynamic of Logan believing something is wrong and Naomi believing her son is simply showing effects of the tragedy he witnessed involving his dad. By the time mom starts to believe, too, it’s too late. We also get a creepy neighbor (Patricia Bethune) and a local man interested in Naomi (Sarif Atkins) to act as our suspects and the cast overall do good work. Minnette and Dalton especially have nice chemistry, so they click as a son and his mother. If the film fails somewhat, it is in delivering a satisfying conclusion. Without giving away details, it has some chilling moments, but leaves us a little too in the dark and asking too many questions to really end the flick on an effective note. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining and sometimes spooky thriller worth giving a stream on Netflix, where it is currently showing.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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TV REVIEW: THE PUNISHER (2017)

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THE PUNISHER (2017)

Spin-off series from season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil finds ex-soldier Frank Castle aka “The Punisher” (Jon Bernthal) thinking he’s finished his mission of revenge and hanging up his skull adorned bulletproof vest under the new identity of loner, construction worker Pete Castellini. Upon being contacted by a whistle blower thought dead named Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Castle finds that there is a deeper conspiracy responsible for the murder of his family, one that involves high ranking military personal, dirty CIA agents and unknowingly himself. Castle returns to the road for revenge, but only now he has a tenacious Homeland Security agent on his tail (Amber Rose Revah) who has her own score to settle.

The Punisher solo series’ first season leaves some mixed feelings. Bernthal is still a great Frank Castle/Punisher and there is certainly a lot of the bone-crushing, brutal action like the character was involved in on Daredevil. The problems here are some sub-plots that don’t seem necessary or to add much to the proceedings and the fact that it once again takes nearly the whole season for The Punisher to really re-emerge. It’s more of a conspiracy show, a la the X-Files, which would be fine if it stuck to the conspiracy and it’s attention didn’t wander to sub-plots like a growing relationship with Micro’s “widow” (Jaime Ray Newman) and kids (Kobi Frumer and Ripley Sobo) and an emotionally disturbed young vet turned terrorist named Lewis (Daniel Webber). These sub-plots seem more like plot devices, one to keep his relationship with Micro antagonistic and the other to wrongfully out him to the world as a terrorist. At times they feel a bit like filler to stretch the series out to it’s 13 episodes when maybe a more streamlined 10 would have served it better and kept to the main story. Sometimes the violence seems a bit too over the top and Frank seems to bounce back from severe wounds or beatings far too quickly to be believable. If the show wants to ground itself in reality, which it does, than it’s hard to swallow a man entering physical combat mere days after being beaten practically to death. Still the show is well done and the acting is strong across the board, especially from Bernthal, Moss-Bachrach and Revah. Paul Schulze makes a detestable bad guy as rogue CIA director William Rawlins, one of the season’s main villains. There are also some returning characters From DDse02, such as Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Clancy Brown as Major Schoonover. While there are generous amounts of action throughout, once The Punisher suits up again there are some really intense action set-pieces, which illustrate just how bad-ass this incarnation of the character is. The show does have a kind of Sons of Anarchy vibe, it handled the theme of a combat vet’s life back home very well and a more focused second season could really fire on all cylinders for the character.

Overall, the first season for Marvel’s gun-toting vigilante wasn’t exactly on target, but has enough going for it to look forward to more. Now that the revenge and conspiracy elements are taken care of, season two can get down to The Punisher doing what he does best. Not a great first season, but one that shows a lot of potential if season 2 can lock it down.

EPISODE LIST

  1. 3 AM – directed by Tom Shankland and written by Steve Lightfoot
  2. Two Dead Men – directed by Tom Shankland and written by Steve Lightfoot
  3. Kandahar – directed by Andy Goddard and written by Steve Lightfoot
  4. Resupply – directed by Karl Skogland and written by Dario Scardapane
  5. Gunner – directed by Dearbhla Walsh written by Michael Jones-Morales
  6. The Judas Goat – directed by Jeremy Webb and written by Christine Boylan
  7. Crosshairs – directed by Andy Goddard and written by Bruce Marshall Romans
  8. Cold Steel – directed by Antonio Campos and written by Felicia D. Henderson
  9. Front Toward Enemy – directed by Marc Jobst and written by Angela LaManna
  10. Virtue of the Vicious – directed by Jim O’hanlon and written by Ken Kristensen
  11. Danger Close – directed by Kevin Hooks and written by Felicia D. Henderson
  12. Home – directed by Jet Wilkinson and written by Dario Scardapane
  13. Memento Mori- directed by Stephen Surjik and written by Steve Lightfoot

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE BABYSITTER (2017)

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THE BABYSITTER (2017)

Netflix original movie finds nerdy twelve year-old Cole (Judah Lewis) spending the weekend with his hot  babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving from Ash vs Evil Dead season 1) when his parents go away. The much picked-on tween thinks his got it made, until he wakes up one night to find Bee and her friends murdering another teen for some satanic ceremony. Now Cole has to somehow survive the night as his once beloved babysitter and her friends find out he knows too much.

Horror/comedy is directed with an over-the-top style by McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator: Salvation) from a script by Brian Duffield and is a lot of fun. It’s got a hip sense of humor and has a good time with some of the clichés of the horror genre, while spilling quite a lot of blood in giddy fashion. Cole and Bee actually have a very sweet friendship, especially considering how Cole is treated by his peers and it makes it much more effective when she turns all “big bad” on the kid. It’s fun to watch Cole uses his cleverness to evade and sometimes unintentionally off Bee’s fellow cultists and even if it’s not the most original story, it has fun with it’s oft told premise. The cast are having a good time here and Weaving makes a solid femme fatale, as much as, Lewis a charming young hero. A fun 90 minutes of blood, pop culture references and playfully poking the horror genre in the ribs. Also stars Leslie Bibb and Ken Marino as Cole’s oblivious parents and Robbie Amell and Bella Thorne as two of Bee’s sinister group.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: STRANGER THINGS season 2 (2017)

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STRANGER THINGS season 2 (2017)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Stranger Things returns with nine new episodes on Netflix that take place a year later, delightfully around Halloween. The story returns us to Hawkins, Indiana, now in 1984 with new trouble brewing. Our four heroes, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), are a year older, though still feeling the effects of their encounter with the Upside Down, especially Will. Unknown to the gang, a new threat is emerging from that paranormal dimension and has it’s sights set on Will. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has escaped and is now being hidden by police chief Hopper (David Harbour) from the Hawkins Laboratory folks who are still messing in otherworldly matters. While the group start to realize Will is once again in danger, Eleven goes on a journey to discover her real name and find her birth mother (Aimee Mullins) and half-sister (Linnea Berthelsen). Obviously all the characters’ stories will collide before the season is over.

Second season is just as good as the first and in some ways even more effective as now we are emotionally invested in the familiar characters. Ross and Matt Duffer (Hidden) again pay homage and give plentiful references to the sci-fi and horror flicks of the 80s, while still giving Stranger Things is very own heart and soul. They mange to expand the story, while keeping it familiar, also introducing us to some new characters like new gang member Maxine “Max” Hargrove (Sadie Sink) and her enormous jerk of a brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery from Better Watch Out). The Duffer Brothers still manage to blend in so many 80s references and yet without them being intrusive or overwhelming, or becoming the main focus. There is another great soundtrack of 80s tunes and the original score, again by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, really adds atmosphere as it did for season one. The FX are top notch, like last time and this season helps give the proceedings a bit bigger scale to go with it’s massive monster. There’s plenty of action, suspense, drama and otherworldly critters to keep it’s core audience happy while rooting for our favorite characters to battle evil once more.

The cast are just as good as last time with new facets being added to the characters. Winona Ryder is again solid as Will’s mother, who is now a bit overprotective, but more of a fighter when her boy is again in danger. Millie Bobby Brown really shines as Eleven, who is now frustrated at being kept from her friends and needing to find out who she really is and where her lost relatives are. As the gang, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, Schnapp and McLaughlin all are really strong and get to play the characters a year older, but still the lovable nerds we last saw, but now with an added strength of being heroes. Schnapp especially gets to show his stuff with Will being a far more present character this season with a strong connection to our story. Harbour is again, a good hero as police chief Hopper, who is going to great lengths to protect Eleven and has made a deal with the Devil, per say, to keep the bad guys out of Hawkins. The rest of the supporting cast get more to do and do it well and the new faces such as Sink, Montgomery and veteran Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, a shady scientist, all add to the character mix quite nicely. The Duffers juggle a lot of characters, but everyone gets their moment.

This was another solid and very entertaining season. The 80s nostalgia was again very enjoyable as was the recreation of the look and feel of the 80s decade. It took the story in new directions, introduced new characters, yet never lost that Stranger Things feel. The cast are all good, both new and returning and the FX were top notch. There were plenty of chills, suspense, thrills and surprises and some cool critters, too. Can’t wait for season 3 and now there is little doubt the Duffer Brothers can deliver the goods.

EPISODE LIST

  1. MADMAX – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  2. Trick or Treat, Freak – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  3. The Pollywog – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jessica Mecklenburg
  4. Will the Wise – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Paul Dichter
  5. Dig Dug – directed by Andrew Stanton written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
  6. The Spy – directed by Andrew Stanton and written by Kate Trefry
  7. The Lost Sister – directed by Rebbeca Thomas and written by Justin Doble
  8. The Mind Flayer – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  9. The Gate – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 mysterious and powerful little girls.
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GERALD’S GAME (2017)

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GERALD’S GAME (2017)

Gerald’s Game is a Netflix original film adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name that many felt was almost impossible to adapt. Along comes Hush and Oculus director Mike Flanagan to prove those naysayers wrong. Story finds Jessie (Carla Gugino) and husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) going up to a secluded lake house to put some spark back in their marriage. Gerald’s idea of turning up the heat is to handcuff Jessie to the bed. When his sex game gets a little too rough for Jessie, she protests and struggles and the ensuing argument…plus the effects of the Viagra Gerald took…gives the man a fatal heart attack. Now trapped by the bonds of the intended sex game, Jessie is unable to get free, left alone with only the manifestations of a panicking mind, haunting memories from her past and a hungry stray dog to keep her company.

Flanagan once again delivers one of the best horror films of the year, as well as, one of the best Stephen King adaptations. His script with Jeff Howard brilliantly comes up with a way to portray Jessie’s inner monologue by using a trick he used briefly in Hush, by having Gugino and Greenwood basically play different trains of thought going on in her head. It works tremendously in letting us know what is going on in Jessie’s frightened mind as her imprisonment drags on for days and she engages in conversation with herself and her dead husband, revealing her fears and the painful memories her current situation drags up. If the inner terror isn’t enough…and some of these dialogue bits are intense and disturbing…there is the hungry mutt who is snacking on Gerald and a ghoulish phantom figure Jessie keeps seeing at night, at least one of which being a very real threat. The result is a very terrifying and nail-biting story of a woman basically left by happenstance to die and what goes on in her head during the ordeal. If the film falters a little…and it’s only a little…is that the last ten minutes deviates a bit into the subject of Jessie’s possible creeper and it feels like it’s part of a different movie, despite being basically from the book. It still brings us to a satisfying conclusion, but just felt a little out of place when compared to the preceding 90 minutes, which was dark and gripping on an intimate scale, taking place up to that point in the Burlingame bedroom.

Flanagan may have indeed masterfully directed this tale of terror, but his success would not be without two Oscar caliber performances from leads Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood. Both actors play themselves and manifestations of Jessie’s fears and mental breakdown and as such these actors are superb. Gugino has always been a good actress and here she delivers one of the best performances of her career. As Jessie, she vividly portrays a woman harboring some dark memories and secrets which come bubbling to the surface as she left alone and helpless to a horrible fate. The actress is simply amazing as both Jessie and the manifestation of Jessie’s subconscious. The same could be said of Greenwood, who plays not only her husband, who has a bit of a dark side himself, but also the manifestations of Jessie’s fears and weaknesses. The two actors’ performances are unbelievably in-sync especially when playing off each other as conflicting patterns of thought in the terrified woman’s head. Fantastic work. There are some supporting actors as well, such as Henry Thomas and Hush‘s Kate Siegel  as Jessie mom and dad in flashbacks and Carel Struycken as the phantom figure Jessie interprets as death coming to take her.

Mike Flanagan has yet to disappoint and here he delivers one of his strongest films yet. He and co-writer Jeff Howard have a script that borders on brilliant at times in it’s adapting of a story that many felt was impossible to adapt. The film is terrifying and disturbing and doesn’t pull punches or turn away from some of the more intense subject matter…and there is a bit of effective gore, too. The last few scenes may feel a bit out of place from the previous nail-biting sequences, but they remain faithful to King’s story and certainly don’t tarnish one of the best horror films of the year. The teaming of Flanagan and Netflix has produced two really top notch horror flicks and it makes one eagerly anticipate The Haunting of Hill House series Flanagan has upcoming on the network.

-MonsterZero NJ

A solid 3 and 1/2 handcuffs.

 

 

 

 

 

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NETFLIX’S “THE PUNISHER” GETS A TRAILER!

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Netflix may be keeping the release date for it’s new series The Punisher a secret for now, but they have finally released a trailer for the upcoming Marvel adaptation. Jon Bernthal stars as vigilante Frank Castle aka “The Punisher” who is avenging the death of his family.

Source: Youtube

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BARE BONES: LITTLE EVIL (2017)

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LITTLE EVIL (2017)

Little Evil is a Netflix horror/comedy that has likable schlep Gary (Adam Scott) marrying pretty mom Samantha (Evangeline Lilly) and soon suspecting her six year-old son Lucas (Owen Atlas) might be the spawn of Satan…literally. And that’s kinda it.

There is little to recommend about Little Evil as it is a dreadfully unfunny attempt to spoof the bad seed/demon child scenario. Most of the jokes fall flat and the film takes itself a little too seriously anyway, which would be fine if the derivative horror elements worked at all. We’ve seen it all before and that would be fine if the flick was funny enough to laugh at the familiar tropes. It’s not. Scott is once again a dull lead and at least Lilly is perky as the oblivious mom and young Owen Atlas is suitably creepy as devil child Lucas. Other than that, the direction from Eli Craig is as pedestrian as his script is uninspired and both lack the cleverness, style or laughs to make a spoof/homage like this work. A bore from start to it’s cliché finish. Also stars Clancy Brown as a priest.

-MonsterZero NJ

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