BARE BONES: WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021)

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WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021)

When a tough loner (Nicolas Cage) gets his tires suspiciously blown out in the rural town of Hayesville, he’s coerced into paying off the repairs by spending the night cleaning up WIlly’s Wonderland, a shut down family restaurant looking to reopen. Once inside, the animatronic characters become lethally animated and “The Janitor” must fight for his life. He’s joined by a group of tough teens, led by the strong-willed Liv (Emily Tosta), who are looking to destroy the place once and for all. They inform him he has been tricked into being a human sacrifice to this now evil establishment founded by a Satan worshipping serial killer (Grant Cramer). Will any of them get out alive?

Flick is directed by Kevin Lewis from a script by G. O. Parsons and both script and director play this amusing premise straight and let the material provide the fun. It is a good time to see Cage as the silent loner…literally, he has no dialogue…who seems to be quite a match for the demonic animatronics. Our teens arrive to up the body count, though Liv is there to give exposition on how this place came to be a sacrificial killing ground and the town’s dark little secret. Emily Tosta actually makes a solid heroine as Liv and she keeps up with Cage quite nicely. It’s too bad she gets left out of the action in the last act, but it is Cage’s show. As for the veteran actor, he never goes too far over the top and the ambiguousness of his character works in the film’s favor. The flick makes no apologies, or excuses, for what it is…Nicolas Cage and a young hottie battling serial killer possessed animatronic puppets. It moves quickly at only 90 minutes and its fun and delightfully gory. It could have been a little more energetic, but is far better than the disappointing Banana Splits movie which was similar in story and tone. Also stars Beth Grant as the town’s sheriff and Ric Reitz as Willy’s current owner, Tex.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: GHOST RIDER (2007)

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GHOST RIDER (2007)

Comic book based Ghost Rider is a silly and uneven supernatural/action flick, about stunt rider Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) who makes a deal with the Devil (Peter Fonda) to save his sick father (Brett Cullen) and becomes Satan’s bounty hunter. When the Devil’s son (Wes Bentley) rebels and seeks to enslave the earth and overthrow his father, The Ghost Rider blazes into action against the forces of evil…for the forces of evil.

Nic Cage gives his usual performance switching back and forth between somnambulant and insane. Eva Mendes is pretty and hot, but not much else, as his love interest Roxy. Wes Bentley is almost laughable as the Green Day member-looking villain, Black Heart…and the lack of a strong bad guy really weakens this comic book based tale. In supporting roles, Peter Fonda is suitable creepy as Old Scratch and the always good Sam Elliott appears, basically to deliver exposition as a former Ghost Rider, but still delivers the film’s best performance. Ghost Rider’s pacing is as uneven as it’s tone and the film comes across as hokey as it’s overused CGI. The Crow mixed the supernatural and the comic book just perfectly, by taking the material very seriously and playing it straight. Rider misses the mark by choosing a more campy approach and that keeps the supernatural elements from being effective. Director Mark Steven Johnson, from his own script, takes a much lighter approach than his Daredevil flick, which makes no sense considering this story has even darker elements. It’s as if he couldn’t take the spooky material seriously and decided to just have fun with it and that neutralizes any impact. The film should be intense and spooky, but it’s campy and silly. Johnson has a good visual eye, so at least there’s that and the FX are adequate, but most of the CGI looks like CGI…and some of the action set pieces look like theme park stunt exhibits from one of Johnny Blaze’s stunt shows. The movie always looks like a movie and thus never really draws us in to it’s world.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2020)

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COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2020)

Flick is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space and takes place in a secluded house in rural Arkham, Massachusetts. The home is occupied by the Gardner family, father Nathan (Nicolas Cage), mom Theresa (Joely Richardson), Wiccan teen daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), teen son, Benny (Brendan Meyer) and young Jack ( Julian Hilliard). What appears to be a meteorite lands on the eccentric family’s property one night, emitting a purple glow and having a strange effect on all of them. Two days later, and after being struck by lightening, the meteor seems to have vanished, but strange things begin to occur. The object is not gone, however, but has found it’s way into the family well and water and begins to change the animal life around them…and begins to change the Gardeners as well.

Creepy flick is directed by South African director Richard Stanley who is most famous for being the first director on the disastrous 1996 The Island of Dr. Moreau remake and for the apocalyptic, music video-esque Hardware. Color has some very bizarre and surreal sequences, some very unsettling prosthetic creatures and make-up, and Nicolas Cage being…well, Nicolas Cage. The SPFX are quite good and the flick does play a bit like John Carpenter’s The Thing, but with alpacas, which isn’t a bad thing. The movie does start out slowly, giving us a chance to get to know this already strange family, but once it gets going, it’s quite spooky and sometimes borders on hallucinogenic. It’s not perfect, Cage’s over-the-top gets obtrusive at times and the family seems a little too weird, even before the alien entity shows up. It makes their personality transformations less startling as they are already an odd bunch. H.P. Lovecraft doesn’t seem to be the easiest author to adapt and being unfamiliar with this tale it’s hard to say just how good a job they did. Taken as it is, it’s a trippy, creepy and effective enough movie and Stanley proves he hasn’t lost his visual flare, either. Worth a look! Flick also features Tommy Chong as…surprise!…a stoner squatting on the Gardener land.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: LOVE, ANTOSHA (2019)

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LOVE, ANTOSHA (2019)

Love, Antosha is a heartwarming and heartbreaking documentary on the life and career of actor Anton Yelchin. A career and life cut way too short by the tragic accident that took his life in 2016. The documentary details his growing up wanting to be an entertainer and career as an actor with interviews from his parents Irina and Viktor, along with his friends and co-stars, like Star Trek’s Chris Pine and Jennifer Lawrence. It shows a passionate young man, who was tireless in both his pursuit of his dreams and in his acting, once that career ignited. Unknown to many, he suffered from cystic fibrosis and he battled it’s effects constantly while he continually worked. Despite his ailment, he starred in 69 film and television roles, from the age of 11 till his untimely death at only 27 years-old. Garret Price’s documentary portrays a man loved by his family and co-stars, a man whose passions went from acting to directing to music and photography. The documentary is filled with interviews from many celebrities who all paint a picture of an energetic and driven young man, but also a loving, quirky and kind one that made friends everywhere he went. Yelchin is most recognized for portraying Ensign Chekov in J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot series, but showed great versatility in a variety of independent films as well. A talent sadly gone far too soon. Documentary also features narration from actor Nicolas Cage reading words written by Yelchin himself.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

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SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)

Fun animated film not only spotlights new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, who took over from Peter Parker in the comics in 2011, but it’s alternate universe plot cleverly gives us five other versions of the classic character, too.

The story finds the villainous Kingpin (voiced by Liev Schreiber) building a particle accelerator with Dr. Olivia Octavius, a female Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn), to go to a parallel universe to retrieve his dead wife and son…deaths he blames Spider-Man for. This not only brings a radioactive spider into this universe to bite Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), but Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), an older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) with her robot “SP//dr” and Spider-Man Noir (a perfectly cast Nicolas Cage), who only appears in black and white. The newly empowered Miles must now, somehow, learn to be a hero, stop the Kingpin before he destroys NYC and return the five spider-variations to their appropriate dimensions.

The plot synopsis above sounds complicated, but flows very easily thanks to a clever script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman. The film is also very well directed by the trio of Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti, who bring an energetic and colorful style to the proceedings. They capture the old fashioned heroics, but with a very contemporary and eye-catching visual presentation. It uses both traditional and innovative animation, mixing styles and techniques while providing an involving story. With Marvel now making Spider-Man movies with Tom Holland as Parker, it would be interesting to see a Sony led series with Miles as Spidey, animated or not. There is also a nice mix of music to go along with the almost non-stop action and the film doesn’t forget to slow down, here and there, to gives us some emotional resonance between characters. The stuff be tween Miles and his dad (Brian Tyree Henry) really works and we can see how Miles gets his sense of right and wrong from his policeman father. It gives the film a nice emotional core, which adds weight to the drama and action. With six films…and a seventh on the way…and two roles in other movies, that’s eight appearances of the Spider-Man character in the new millennium alone. Spider-Verse finds a way to make the character fresh, again…and that’s quite an accomplishment.

The vocal cast are all superb with Moore doing a wonderful job as Miles and Jake Johnson ditto as the older, grumpier Peter Parker. Hailee Steinfeld again proves a star in the making as the spunky Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman, while Cage is perfectly fitting here as the gloomy Spider-Man Noir, a cross between Philip Marlowe and Spidey. We also get an array of Spider-Man villains along with Kingpin and Doc Ock, such as Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone), Tombstone ( Marvin Jones III), The Scorpion (Joaquín Cosio) and The Prowler (a surprise reveal). An eclectic, but very solid voice cast. Interesting how they made such a large cast of characters work when the big budget live-action films just seemed bloated and overcrowded.

Overall, this flick was a lot of fun and didn’t skimp on substance and emotional depth for it’s story. That story flows very well, thanks to skilled direction and a sharp script and the mix of animation styles is exceptionally well done. A solid effort all around that’s a real treat for Spider-Man fans and better than some of the recent live-action flicks. Watch till the end of the credits for a hilarious extra scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs.

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BARE BONES: MANDY (2018)

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MANDY (2018)

Mandy is a surreal and over-the-top revenge story from director Panos Cosmatos and starring Nicolas Cage, who is no stranger to over-the-top. The story is set in 1983 and finds logger Red (Cage) living in peaceful harmony with his artist/lover Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), in a secluded cabin in the woods. One night they are besieged by a group of apocalyptic bikers, who brutalize Red and abduct Mandy by order of Children of the New Dawn cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). When Mandy rejects the deranged Jeremiah, he and his people burn her alive right before Red’s eyes. Red frees himself, forges a weapon of vengeance that would make a Klingon cry tears of joy and tracks down biker and cultist alike for bloody revenge.

Cosmatos directs this wild film, from a script by he and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, with such a surreal touch that it almost feels like it’s set on another world…and maybe it is. It’s like Last House on the Left meets Phanstasm, with a lot of other movies mixed in, as Red uses bow, arrow, chainsaw and his axe of vengeance to slice and dice his way to Jeremiah. It’s not an easy path to revenge and Red earns his scars, but he gives as good as he gets and better. It’s weirdly atmospheric, delightfully unhinged, giddily gory and we get the Nicholas Cage we came for. It’s also has some stunning cinematography by Benjamin Loeb and an amazing 80s-esque score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who passed away earlier this year. If there is one gripe, it’s that at 121 minutes, it is a bit too long for it’s own good and a few scenes…especially Jeremiah’s delirious pontificating…wear out their welcome before they are over. Otherwise this is an original and enjoyably out-there tale of bloody revenge with some vicious and brutal action scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MOM AND DAD (2017)

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MOM AND DAD (2017)

Darkly humorous flick has a mysterious “attack” reversing a parent’s natural instincts to protect their children and turning homicidal on their offspring instead. The film focuses on the dysfunctional Ryan family, mom Kendall (Selma Blair), dad Brent (Nicolas Cage), teen daughter Carly (Anne Winters) and little brother Josh (Zackary Arthur), as an already unstable home becomes a battle for survival when the Ryan parents gleefully try to murder their children.

Written and directed by Brian Taylor (Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), this is an unapologetic-ally over-the-top and sometimes gruesome flick that is not afraid to “go there”. The source of the attack, that seems to emanate from TV and computer screens, isn’t revealed, but Taylor revels in it’s effects. We get some very chilling sequences of parents slaughtering their offspring quite happily, including a very effective Dawn of The Dead style scene of a horde of parents attacking a school to get at their young, and a delivery room sequence that chills to the bone. What makes it work is that the writer/ director has a very twisted and dark sense of humor about the proceedings that gets you giggling at some pretty unnerving acts. Once we get inside the Ryan home, Blair and Cage go full blown over-the-top as Brent and Kendall try to kill their kids…but wait till grandma and grandpa come over for dinner, it becomes a free for all. Do all parents sometimes have the inner urge to want to kill their kids? If the film has any relevant questions, that would be it, but is too busy having bloody fun with it’s concept to get too philosophical. Sure it’s not perfect. Not every scene works and the film might have been even more effective if the Ryan family were a more normal, loving family and not one already on the edge. As is, though, it’s a twisted and over-the-top flick that is refreshingly without boundaries. Also stars the great Lance Henriksen as Grandpa Mel and Marilyn Dodds Frank as Grandma Barbara.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: VALLEY GIRL (1983)

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VALLEY GIRL (1983)

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

Valley Girl is basically an 80s Romeo and Juliet about sweet valley girl Julie (Deborah Foreman), who meets Hollywood punk rocker Randy (Nicolas Cage) and falls in love. Depite being from two different worlds, the two are inseparable, until Julie’s friends (including Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’s E.G. Daily) start to show their disapproval of Randy and her ex-boyfriend (Forbidden World’s Michael Bowen) makes moves to try to get her back. Will the love between these two last, or will they be separated forever by the agendas of those around them?

Flick is a quirky, fun romantic comedy/drama directed by Martha Coolidge (Real Genius) from a script by actor/writer Wayne Crawford (Barracuda) and Andrew Lane. It’s become a bit of a cult classic and with it being just so 80s, with a great soundtrack of 80s music, one can see why. It’s filled with nostalgic charm and that only adds to the entertainment the film delivers. As a movie itself, it’s not a masterpiece. Coolidge’s style is a bit stiff and the script is not the strongest, but all things considered, it’s still an offbeat and amusing star-crossed romance and a charming and colorful little movie all the same. The characters are not as stereotypical as you might think, even if Cage’s punk is far more Hollywood’s idea of one than an actual representation. There is some depth to Foreman’s Julie and Cage’s rebellious Randy that makes them a bit more realistic and oddly more engaging than the type of teens that normally inhabit this kind of high school romance, especially an 80s one.

As for our leads…This was Cage’s second flick after playing a minor character in Fast Times At Ridgemont High (which would make a nice double feature with this) and you can see the same kind of offbeat performance that he is now famous for. He is not as over-the-top as he has been seen playing and that touch of restraint makes his Randy a likable yet odd sort that does contrast perfectly Foreman’s Julie. Foreman is certainly sweet and charming and far less of a Vally Girl than her friends who later try to end her relationship with Randy. She’s smart, pretty and portrays well a teen who is both fascinated and confused by her current beau being far different than she’s used to dating. Opposites attract and here it is well portrayed by our actors.

Overall, this is not a great flick in the basic sense, but is still very charming and fun. The added nostalgia of all the hair, fashions and music elevate it very high on the nostalgia scale, especially if you were a teen in those days. The cast are all endearing and charming and help give this little film a bit of an offbeat edge, thus making it less stereotypical than it could have been. A cult classic and deservedly so.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 pink pumps, for sure!

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Track Listing from the Soundtrack CD

1. “A Million Miles Away” – The Plimsouls

2. “Johnny, Are You Queer?” – Josie Cotton

3. “Eyes Of A Stranger” – Payolas

4. “Angst In My Pants” – Sparks

5. “Who Can It Be Now?” – Men At Work

6.”Everywhere At Once” – The Plimsouls

7.” I La La La Love You” – Pat Travers’ Black Pearl

8. “He Could Be The One” – Josie Cotton

9. “Love My Way” – Psychedelic Furs

10. “Jukebox (Don’t Put Another Dime)” – The Flirts

11. “The Fanatic” – Felony

12. “She Talks In Stereo” – Gary Myrick & The Figures

13. “Oldest Story In The World” – The Plimsouls

14. “School Is In” – Josie Cotton

15. “I Melt With You” – Modern English

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BARE BONES: PAY THE GHOST and WHISPER

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PAY THE GHOST (2015)

Supernatural thriller takes place in NYC on Halloween with busy dad Mike Lawford (Nicholas Cage) taking his young son Charlie (Jack Fulton) to a local carnival, after getting home too late to take him trick or treating. Charlie mysteriously disappears without a trace while standing right next to Mike and thus begins a year long quest to find out what happened to his son. Mike and his wife Kristen’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) search leads them to believe there is something supernatural involved, that links back to a Celtic legend that started hundreds of years before. As Halloween again approaches, is there any hope of finding Charlie alive?

While Pay The Ghost is actually well directed by Uli Edel and the performances from the cast are also pretty good, the flick is ultimately very routine as these thrillers go and Dan Kay’s script comes to a very hokey conclusion that wraps everything up in a nice little bow. There are some legitimately spooky bits here and there, but they can’t overcome the same tired old plot elements from most recent missing child and haunting flicks and the same old CGI phantoms. Using Celtic lore could have made this interesting, but it is carried out in a very bland and standard manner that could have used any cultural background without making a difference. An OK thriller if there is nothing else to watch and at least Nicholas Cage dialed it back a bit. Also features Stephen McHattie.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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WHISPER (2007)

Ho-hum supernatural thriller finds couple Max (Josh Holloway) and Roxanne (Sarah Wayne Callies) participating in a kidnapping of eight year-old David (Blake Woodruff) after being turned down for financing on their dream project of opening a diner…makes sense! The boy turns out to be quite the little demon…literally…and soon Max, Roxanne and their partners (Joel Edgerton and Michael Rooker) find the tables turned on them, as the little monster uses his unnatural powers to off them one by one.

Written by Christopher Borrelli and directed by Stewart Hendler, this is a by-the-numbers ‘bad seed’ movie that is fairly predictable and it’s reveals are really no surprise. There is little suspense, though it is directed competently and the cast are…aside from vet Rooker…destined for better things and do perform well here. Young Woodruff is fairly creepy in the role of David, too and the cinematography is by the legendary Dean Cundey, so the movie looks great. Nothing really to recommend, though there is much worse you could watch and fans of certain cast members, like Callies and Edgerton, may want to see one of their earlier roles.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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-MonsterZero NJ
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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: AMBER HEARD

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On this edition of Halloween Hotties we have the gorgeous and talented Amber Heard. While Miss Heard has become a bonafide star and A-List actress, she has appeared in enough horror to be classified as a scream queen… like I really needed an excuse…

AMBER HEARD

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Amber Heard first landed on the horror radar with the elusive 2006 slasher flick All The Boys Love Mandy Lane in which she plays the title character, a beautiful young woman with a bewitching effect on her fellow high school students as they gather in a remote house for a party weekend. But, who will win Mandy’s heart becomes secondary to who is trying to kill all of them and why, as the group fall victim one by one to a mysterious assailant. A few years later in 2009, Amber appeared as Jesse Eisenberg’s pretty neighbor who seeks solace from him when she is attacked and bitten by a crazed stranger in the comedy horror Zombieland. Also that year she starred in the horror remake The Stepfather in which she played the girlfriend of the film’s hero and was in a bikini as much as she was in peril from the title maniac. In 2010 she appeared in the suspense thriller And Soon The Darkness which involved a serial killer so, we’ll lump that in there and then top-lined legendary director John Carpenter’s brief return to filmmaking in the haunted asylum movie The Ward. Her final appearance in horror at this time was in 2011’s grind house style action/horror Drive Angry, where she played a spitfire named Piper who helps a mysterious man, played by Nicolas Cage, who literally has escaped from Hell to rescue his infant granddaughter from a cult of Devil worshippers. It was that film that first introduced me to Miss Heard and gotta love it for that alone!

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A bloodied Amber as apple of everyone’s eye and target of a deranged killer, Mandy Lane.

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The Stepfather kept her in a bikini and in peril. No arguments Here.

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Amber on set with the legendary John Carpenter filming The Ward.

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…and as Daisy Dukes wearing, ass-kicking Piper from Drive Angry!

And don’t forget to check out our Halloween Hotties focusing on Melanie PapaliaKatharine IsabelleAlexandra Daddario, Katie FeatherstonKatrina BowdenBriana Evigan and Danielle Harris! (just click on their names to go to their pages!

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