HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MORGAN (2016)

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MORGAN (2016)

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Morgan is a sci-fi/horror about the attempts to artificially engineer a human being and the product of those experiments…Morgan. In a secret lab facility deep in the woods, a team of scientists have created a young women who they named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch), who at five years-old appears to be closer to her teens and is vastly intelligent. Her emotional development is not coming along as well and a temper outburst injures a team member (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and causes the corporation in charge to send specialist Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to the facility to assess the situation. But the more Lee starts to see that the emotionally unbalanced Morgan should probably be terminated, the more she finds out what this genetically manufactured girl will do to survive.

Morgan is written by Seth Owens and directed by Luke Scott, who is the son of the legendary Ridley Scott. While this tale of man trying to play God with disastrous results is nothing new, Scott has learned well from his father and makes this a suspenseful and entertaining thriller despite the familiar plot and themes. The tension is there as Morgan begins to realize she is in danger and maybe these people who she thought of as family and friends really aren’t and it works if not a bit predictable. The last act goes expectedly in full Frankenstein mode with Morgan on the loose, but despite us knowing this is exactly where it was heading, Scott does direct the proceedings well and there is some startling and brutal violence to add weight to what we see. The closing moments may also not be the surprise it’s meant to be, but again Luke Scott makes it effective and overall this is an entertaining and atmospheric flick despite being a tale told quite often since Mary Shelley’s classic first appeared in 1818.

The cast is solid. Anya Taylor-Joy is both sympathetic and creepy as Morgan. She portrays well her conflicting emotions, so we side with her at first and then gives her a sense of threat and lethality when the monster is unleashed. A good job by the young actress. Kate Mara gives her Lee a Spock-like cold efficiency that rarely breaks. This does keep her from being endearing, but the character isn’t written to be sympathetic or a ‘hero’. She’s there to do a job and can’t afford emotional distractions. As such, Mara does good work. We also have Rose Leslie who is sympathetic and likable as the behavior expert who is most emotionally attached to Morgan. We do sympathize with her once Morgan goes into survival mode and she is caught in the middle between her and the pursuing Lee. Rounding out is Michelle Yeoh as the scientist in charge, Dr. Cheng, Toby Jones as one of the lead scientists who is opposed to Lee’s plan to terminate the experiment and Paul Giamatti as a psychologist sent in to evaluate Morgan psychologically. All do good work in their parts.

So, this flick is far from original and definitely heads in a direction that we fully expect. It overcomes some of it’s predictability with being solidly directed by Luke Scott and the cast are all good in their parts, stereotypical of this kind of flick, though they may be. There is some tension and suspense despite the familiarity and the last act has some legitimately startling moments, though leads to a conclusion we can see coming. Worth a look and not bad for an evening’s entertainment on the couch, even if we have seen it all before.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 syringes.

morgan-rating

 

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REVIEW: SAN ANDREAS (2015)

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SAN ANDREAS (2015)

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

Go into San Andreas with the right frame of mind and you may find yourself having the most fun at the movies so far this summer. From it’s opening sequence, it’s obvious that this is pure popcorn entertainment and not to be taken too seriously, though, it is played very straight. It’s all the corny, cheesy disaster movie cliche’s possible, served up in a cinematic smoothie and topped with The Rock… and it’s a load of fun if you let it be.

Our story opens with a young woman’s car being forced off a cliff by a tremor and hanging precariously (and in defiance of physical laws) off the sheer side of a thin canyon. Enter the Los Angeles Fire Department’s ace rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and his ex-military rescue crew. The girl is saved but, that is only the beginning of Ray’s soon-to-be rough day. Ray is in the process of a divorce from his hot wife Emma (Carla Gugino)…who has moved in with her millionaire douche boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd)… at the same time, his equally hot daughter Blake, (Alexandra Daddario) is leaving for college. Nothing brings an estranged family back together, though, like a natural disaster and just as scientist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) discovers a fool-proof way to predict earthquakes…the whole San Andreas fault decides to shift. Now Ray and Emma must reunite to go to a decimated San Francisco to find and rescue Blake, before another impending super-quake finishes the job…and as Ray is already haunted by the loss of one daughter, he vows to not lose another.

San Andreas is directed by Brad Peyton…who directed Johnson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island…and the filmmaker mixes a straightforward approach with over-the-top situations, rescues and escapes, letting the latter provide the fun. This keeps the film from becoming a joke, but, at the same time, provides all the ludicrous entertainment we want from an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink disaster film. The script by Carlton Cuse…from a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore…is loaded with all the disaster movie clichés you could want and, from the first scene, throws out logic and physics for preposterous situations and unbelievable coincidences and it’s all on purpose and, somehow, even avoids going too overboard and entering Sharknado territory. The FX are spectacular and we witness some eye popping spectacle such as the ground literally rippling under L.A. and a massive tsunami heading into an already destroyed San Francisco Bay. It’s all orchestrated very well, on a technical level and is surrounded by a fitting score from Andrew Lockington and some nice crisp cinematography by Steve Yedlin. Peyton gives the film a very brisk pace but, wisely let’s us catch our breath, as we get some delightfully corny melodrama that a disaster film like this shouldn’t be without. It’s all intentional and if you just go with it, this movie can be a blast. This isn’t about logic or realism, it’s about The Rock vs. an earthquake and a tsunami and, on that level, it delivers big time. Sure it’s not perfect…why were we introduced to Ray’s team only to have them disappear in the first act?…but, it’s a popcorn flick and it’s goal is to entertain and not portray a situation like this with too much accuracy, that it stops being fun. The corny dialog and melodramatic situations are part of the plan…and it’s OK to have a good time with them. It’s all in your frame of mind when you sit down and put on your 3D glasses…and this is one flick where I think that gimmick works in it’s favor…and I’m normally not a fan.

We have a very fitting cast, too. Dwayne Johnson has grown from his WWE “The Rock” persona into a very charming leading man/action hero. There is a very welcome hint of vulnerability in his screen presence that keeps him from being a bit too superhuman like Arnold and Stallone fell into in the 80s. It makes him more accessible and a bit more down-to-Earth, despite being a physically imposing man. Carla Gugino is very sexy as his estranged wife and she seems to be having a fun time here, despite playing second banana to her leading man and she and Johnson have a nice chemistry together that makes the corny melodrama work. Daddario shows she is also leading lady material and is not only stunning to look at, but, has a charming screen presence and despite her natural beauty, gives off a very girl-next-door vibe that makes her endearing. She also has a good camaraderie with her co-stars and shows some action hero chops herself. Maybe a DC or Marvel film in her future? Hugo Johnson-Burt and Art Parkinson play British bothers Ben and Ollie who join Daddario with older Ben becoming a romantic interest, as a disaster film needs a blossoming love story in it’s midst. Rounding out is the always enjoyable Paul Giamatti as the stereotypical scientist who is crying earthquake to empty ears, Archie Panjabi as a reporter caught in the middle of things and Ioan Gruffudd is appropriately a douche as Emma’s millionaire developer boyfriend Daniel, who turns out to be a selfish coward…like we didn’t see THAT coming.

On one level this movie is silly, preposterous, predictable and ridiculous, but, go in expecting that and you will have a blast like I did. Sure it’s science is out of whack but, it’s heart is in the right place and it is unapologetically delivering exactly what we really want from one of these epic action/melodramas. If you go in expecting a National Geographic documentary on the effects of a massive earthquake in California with Academy Award winning dialogue and performances, you will not be pleased. Go in expecting “The Rock” to wade through an epic cataclysm and rescue his daughter as a city collapses around his muscular shoulders and you’ve got a fun time at the movies.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 “The Rocks”.

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COOL STUFF: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 on BLU-RAY

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) DVD/Blu-Ray

I have mixed feelings about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (click on the title for full review), though will admit I have softened my stance a little after watching it again. Not having done quite as well as previous installments, this summer blockbuster has been rushed onto home media before the summer is even over and comes loaded with extras to lure us in. But is it worth the buy?… Let’s take a look…

TASM2 may  have it’s flaws but, it was a great looking and well designed movie and the digital Blu-Ray image is gorgeous and even crisper on your HD TV then blown up on a movie screen. The colors are rich and the complex action and FX really look great and hold up under the scrutiny of being up close in your living room. The sound is great and the film may, overall, actually play better at home where it’s somewhat convoluted story can be absorbed better with the more intimate setting. The deciding factor when considering picking up a somewhat flawed film are the extras… and this disc has a generous amount of them to sway us. First off we get about a dozen deleted scenes. Not all of them are gems, we can see why some did not make the cut but, we do get to see more of the Green Goblin, a few more scenes with Felicity Jone’s character of Felicia Hardy and a scene between Peter and his father which was interesting though I understand the decision to not go that route. The real draw for me is over 100 minutes of production footage and interviews and as an amateur/wannabe filmmaker myself, I can eat this stuff up and it was cool to see how this complex production came together. There is also the traditional director’s commentary and even a music video from Alicia Keys for “It’s On Again” from the movie.

So, whether you want to pick this up depends on how much you liked the flick. The film plays a bit better at home, looks and sounds great and has a generous amount of extras to add to it’s appeal. As a movie geek, who loves this kind of stuff, I found myself being a bit more forgiving of it’s flaws the second time around and really enjoyed the in-depth look at how the film’s production came together. Unless the movie completely failed to interest you, or, you consider it to be a far greater disappointment then I did (see review) then I’d say it’s worth having, especially as most retail outlets have it on sale for it’s release, as well.

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REVIEW: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

While I can safely say The Amazing Spider-Man 2 avoids some of the epic badness of Raimi’s bloated Spider-Man 3… which also has some good stuff too, it wasn’t a complete disaster… it certainly is a disappointing and schizophrenic film to say the least. Sequel’s biggest problem is that the story is all over the place and so is it’s tone. It’s Dark Knight serious one minute and Batman Forever campy the next and trying to have it both ways. The scatterbrained story is hard to paraphrase but, it has Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) trying to deal with his feelings for Gwen (Emma Stone) while also trying to deal with the guilt from the death of her father (Denis Leary) and the promise he made to him before he died to stay away from her. When he is not getting all emo over that, he is still pining for the truth about his mother and father (Embeth Davidtz and Campbell Scott) and their disappearance. In the middle of all this moping we have the arrival of a new villain named Electro (Jamie Foxx) who is a nerdish Oscorp power expert and Spider-Man groupie whose fall into the wrong vat (it’s always a vat of something!) turns him into a Spider-Man hating live wire… very similar to Batman Forever’s Riddler storyline, hence my reference. And if that’s not enough, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home from abroad to take over Oscorp when his father passes away. But, Harry has inherited more then the company from dear old dad, as he also has his degenerative disease… and his research indicates only Spider-Man’s blood can save him… still with me? Needless to say, Peter/Spider-Man is up to his webs in bad guys and emotional turmoil as he tries to figure out his relationship issues, parental issues and Electro and Green Goblin issues as Harry’s efforts to save himself have a disturbing effect… at least he didn’t fall in a vat…oh, and did I mention The Rhino (Paul Giamatti)?

Despite some very top notch effects and some impressive, though frantic action, scenes Amazing Spider-Man 2 has far too much story to tell for it’s own good and very little of it comes to a satisfying conclusion. It can be slow moving at times and there are long stretches where not much is really accomplished, though there is a lot to get done considering all the conflicts the script, by Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker and Alex Kurtzman, sets up. Director Marc Webb also seems a little uncertain as to the tone he wants for his complicated film and seems to wing-it scene by scene. Sometimes he wants the film to have a serious dramatic impact but, sometimes he wants to have what he interprets as comic book style fun and the constantly changing tone between campy and dire is disorientating and creates a distance from the proceedings. I never felt really involved in the story which had a lot for me to get involved in, if any of it really had the focus and strength it should have. Sometimes we get some very serious sequences such as the before mentioned emotional torment Peter is suffering and then we get some very campy and goofy scenes such as Jaime Foxx’s dorky Max Dillon before he becomes a human Die Hard battery. And that is a big shame because Electro could have been a real imposing villain if his set-up wasn’t so silly and cliche’. His powers are portrayed with some real effectiveness and he has a tremendous battle with Spidey in Times Square… one of the film’s best scenes… but, then he all but disappears till the script needs him again to join forces with the desperate Harry. At least TASM2 avoids SM3‘s mistake and let’s Spidey have it out with Electro before a certain goon on a glider makes his appearance. And as for Harry, we have no grasp of Peter’s relationship with him, as this is the first time in this new series he is seen or mentioned. So it has no resonance. At least Raimi always had Harry present and it took two films before he became a villain. Here we don’t even get to know Harry well enough for his transformation into the Green Goblin to have the weight it needs. And once the credits roll, we feel like we’ve sat through a middle film in an undesignated trilogy as there seems to be no solid beginning or end to the story. It seems like an episode in a larger story arch that is ongoing, so, we leave the theater feeling like we’ve seen an incomplete film. It sort of just ends with only a few story elements resolved. That’s OK in comics because they are monthly, here we have to wait another two years to see if this is going anywhere.

The cast are all good, though no one really gets the screen time their character deserves except for Garfield. And he is a good Peter/Spidey though, those who felt Tobey Maguire’s Spidey was a bit too weepy, be warned, Garfield catches up a bit here. Jaime Foxx is very effective as Electro in what he is given to do though, I thought his Max Dillon was a bit too goofy and campy considering how serious we are supposed to take him when he turns spider-hating electrode. DeHaan is a bit flat as Harry in the earlier scenes but, seemed to respond better to the villainous turn and he makes a pretty effective Green Goblin, though again, isn’t utilized enough to make a real impact. Emma Stone is once again charming, perky and feisty as Gwen Stacy but, her character also disappears for stretches and sometimes her place in the story seems more to frustrate Peter then anything else. She and Garfield again have a nice chemistry but Gwen is another character that needed more important things to do then just emotionally confuse our hero. The character and actress deserve better. Sally Field is once again a solid Aunt May and she and Garfield also have a nice chemistry in the few scenes they have together. Supporting players Colm Feore, Felicity Jones and Paul Giamatti are fine enough in small roles that hint at having more importance in a future installment. Again, the film focuses on things to come and neglects what’s going on now.

So, in conclusion, the second Spidey flick in this new series is somewhat of a disappointment and attempted far too much for it’s own good and then can’t make up it’s mind on exactly what tone to present that convoluted story in. There are long stretches where not much really happens, though it never got boring or tedious but, could have used it’s 142 minute running time more wisely. There were some spectacular FX and action scenes and there are elements set-up and some left unresolved that could make a solidly thrilling third flick if, they tighten the script and Webb settles on a tone and sticks with it. It’s not a train wreck, just a bit of an overloaded one that can’t decide what track it’s on sometimes.

2 and 1/2 webs.

amazing spider-man rating 2

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

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JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

John Dies At The End is an adaptation of David Wong’s book of the same name written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep). While not familiar with the book, the bizarre and surreal story does seem like a perfect fit for Coscarelli as his films have alway had a touch of both the surreal and a bit of offbeat whimsy. The film starts out with David Wong (Chase Williamson) telling his bizarre tale to a reporter, Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). Wong starts to spin a tale involving himself and his friend, John (Rob Mayes) and their encounters with a powerful drug with a mind of it’s own called “soy sauce”. This bizarre narcotic not only gives the user (if they survive it) heightened psychic awareness but, opens doorways to alternate dimensions. But, once doors are opened they are opened both ways and can John and David stop the beings from the other side from entering our world and making it their own. John Dies is a very strange yet amusing head trip of a movie that won’t appeal to everyone but, under Coscarelli’s guidance, will entertain those who like a movie that isn’t afraid to be weird and unconventional. Coscarelli moves things along briskly and we find out what’s going on along with David and John as the story unfolds in flashback. The story focuses mostly on David as he’s is trying to find out how his friend John’s sudden bizarre behavior one night ties in with meeting a very strange Jamaican (Tai Bennett). As he tries to figure out the surreal occurrences now happening around him, he is drawn into a tale that is the stuff of hallucinogenic nightmares and it becomes a quest for he and John to save the world. Coscarelli wisely uses live effects for most of his surreal sequences and otherworldly creatures and what little digital effects there are, are used sparingly and are decent enough. The live action animatronic creatures and gore are very well done by Make-up FX master Robert Kurtzman and his team and I always prefer to see live prosthetics over CGI. Coscarelli is one of those filmmakers that is very adept at making good use of a small budget and probably would be lost on a Hollywood blockbuster and it is one of the things I like about him as a filmmaker. And here he achieves a lot of visual impact on his small budget. The director has also cast the film well,too. No great performances but, everyone is efficient and effective in their roles and approach the material with appropriate seriousness but, not without a few winks at the audience. Williamson and Mayes are fine and handle the bizarre material well. Clancy Brown in particular seems to be having fun as a TV mystic but, keeps his performance grounded enough to not spill into camp and Giamatti is simply one of the hardest working and best actors out there. And there is a delightful cameo from Phantasm’s Tall Man, Angus Scrimm as well, to please fans of that series. All in all, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, if you like stuff offbeat and a bit out there, and I do, then this is a fun low budget fantasy that is refreshingly and unapologetically weird in a good way.

3 and 1/2 eyes of Korrok.

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WARNING: trailer is graphic…

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