BARE BONES: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

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THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017)

Intense drama tells the story of angry mother, Mildred Hayes (an amazing Frances McDormand), who sees, what she believes, to be a lack of effort on her local sheriff’s (Woody Harrelson) part in catching the man who raped and murdered her daughter, Angela (Kathryn Newton). In response, she puts up three billboards on the outskirts of her small town calling the police force out on their failings. This not only sets the town against her, as they sympathize with a sheriff dying of cancer, but also puts her, and those affiliated, in the cross hairs of his ignorant and hateful second in command, Dixon (Sam Rockwell).

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, this is a powerful film, that not only illustrates what anger and hatred causes folks to do, but the consequences of those actions. The film is not really about Angela’s murder, but the effect it has had on her family and the town they live in, mostly on the rage coming from mother Mildred. The film also delivers some surprising transformations as the effects of all this anger and hatred changes people, some for the better, others for worse. McDonagh gets some fantastic performances out of his cast, especially McDormand and Rockwell and his script gives some intense dialogue and material for the cast to work from. Maybe the film isn’t perfect, one wonders if this town arrests anyone for anything at times, but it is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Also stars Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Samara Weaving and Abbie Cornish.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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REVIEW: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

I really liked X-Men: First Class, it was a great way to reboot a series that had stumbled a bit and put together a really solid cast in both familiar and new roles. I was actually a little disappointed when I heard Matthew Vaughn had passed on the next installment, but remained hopeful upon hearing original franchise director Bryan Singer would return to the director’s chair. But sadly all the fun and energy that Vaughn gave his retro entry and even the spark and intensity Singer gave his first two films is, for the most part, lacking in this overlong and somewhat tedious entry that takes until it’s final act to really get going and by then it’s too little too late.

The complicated Terminator-ish story takes place in a bleak and war-torn future where mutants and any human who may have the potential to give birth to a mutation, have been hunted down and almost completely destroyed by the ruling power and their army of robot Sentinels which detect the mutant gene and eliminate those with it. But there is a slight hope. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have devised a plan to used Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) power to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to his pre-adamantium body in 1973 to contact their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and try to get them to work together and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the Sentinel’s inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and setting in motion events that will lead to the war that has ravaged the Earth and caused so many deaths. But at this point in history Xavier and Magneto are not allies and Mystique has gone rogue and Logan may only have hours to change the course of time before their time in the future is up… did you get all that?

Obviously, the film has a very complicated story that involves time travel which, always sets up it own set of difficulties, but considering that the film avoids being a mess, is more of a plus. The problem here is not the story details or the logistics of time travel and changing the course of history, but the deadpan tone with which the usually competent Singer directs this affair. Gone is the energy and fun of the first two X-Men films he directed and instead is a very by-the-numbers presentation of what should have been a fun and suspenseful tale. There are a few entertaining bits like Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) speedy and clever way of getting our heroes out of a jam, but the film really has no spark until it reaches it’s climactic act and then we get a bit more of the movie we wanted to see, but it takes over 90 minutes of mostly ho-hum sequences to get there…sequences that should have been very tense and exciting but aren’t. The pace is also slow for a superhero film even one with a plot of such dire importance as this. And maybe that’s it. Singer just seems to take this story just a little too seriously and we rarely get those little witty character moments that made the previous film’s so fun. The camaraderie between the characters just isn’t there. Maybe it’s Simon Kinberg’s script based on a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn that simply was too bleak and left out a lot of the fun. Either way X-Men:DOFP just really lacks something till the final scenes and, to be honest, wasn’t very involving till then. I was never bored, but was never fully drawn in. For the most part I was along for the ride, but never really interested in where it was going… and I should have been.

Again Singer works with a very large and familiar cast, but unlike his previous X-Men adventures, the cast here seem to be going through the motions from Stewart to Lawrence to Jackman to McKellen and most of his principles. There is no real passion or energy in their performances despite having all played their roles before save Dinklage. They all seem like they are just performing by the numbers with the only person really giving his role some pop is the young Peters with his smart aleck Quicksilver and sadly his screen-time is limited. Even the usually excellent Fassbender seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. There are plentiful mutant cameos, some familiar and some new, but few of them really resonate other then the amusement of seeing that familiar face or someone intriguing and new. And the new characters, aside from Quicksilver, are really given very little attention, certainly not enough to endear to us to them. Is it possible that these actors have tired of their roles?

It’s not all bad. It is tedious though I never actually got to the point of being bored. The film really did pick up in the last half hour for a pretty decent finale in Washington D.C. that interweaves with the battle raging in the future, though it certainly can’t hold a candle to the Washington D.C. set finale of the Captain America sequel The Winter Soldier and could have had a little more suspense and intensity. The FX are top notch and the scale of the film seems fairly large especially when the action finally starts. Newton Thomas Sigel is back doing the cinematography though, since the film is set in the 70s, I did miss the retro look of John Mathieson’s cinematography on First Class. And maybe that is what one of the problems is, that the film is set in the 70s, but never really felt like it… like, say American Hustle did. John Ottman returns to score from X2 and also did the film editing…busy man…and his score is adequate but a bit uninspired.

So, overall, X-Men: Days Of Future Past may not be an outright disappointment, but it is a letdown and certainly could have been much livelier considering the importance of what was transpiring. Maybe the whole back in time to fix the future thing has run it’s course, or maybe Singer’s time away from Xavier and company has dulled his passion for the material…or maybe it’s still too familiar to elicit a stronger passion. Either way, it’s not the worst X-Men movie, but far from the best. Also stars Nicholas Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy.

2 and 1/2 X-Men.

x-men DOFP rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2013)

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KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2013)

Fun comedy/horror tells the tale of slacker mechanic Joe (Ryan Kwanten), whose beautiful girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva) dumps him after tiring of his unambitious ways. To cheer him up, his friends Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage) take him, reluctantly, to a live action fantasy role play game for the weekend that they attend regularly. There Eric performs a ‘spell’ to activate Joe’s status as a player, but uses an old spell book he bought on E-Bay instead of the regulation spells that are part of the game. Unknown to any of them, the book is real and it’s spells can summon actual demons and thus Eric unwittingly summons a succubus in the guise of Beth (also Margarita Levieva), who begins to literally eat any fantasy role player who crosses her sexy/hungry path. Once this grave error is discovered, it’s up to the three friends and the sexy Gwen (Summer Glau) to find and destroy this very real monster and halt the bloody body count that is steadily spiraling out of control.

As directed by Joe Lynch (the fun and gruesome Wrong Turn 2) Knights Of Badassdom is a fun and, at times, delightfully blood-soaked flick that has a lot of fun with not only the horror conventions, but the fantasy role-play world as well. The clever script by Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall never makes fun of the subjects it covers, but playfully pokes them in the ribs while also being it’s own horror with generous doses of laughs. And there is a lot of fun to be had here and it’s only in it’s finale where it sadly loses it’d grip a bit. After all we’ve been through with the lovable cast of eccentric characters, we kind of expected something with a bit more impact or at least a lot funnier. It’s amusing, but there are far better bits throughout and the ending obviously should have been the best bit of all and it’s not. The FX are a little mixed. The visuals are satisfactory digital FX, but not great. The gore FX, however, are top notch and not only are well executed, but very plentiful.

The cast all have a good time playing their oddball characters such as Zahn’s would-be sorcerer and Dinklage’s stoner who backup Kwanten’s more down to earth Joe. The ladies are enchanting as well with Glau being a strong and beautiful ‘pretend’ warrior woman and Levieva giving vampy life to both bitchy girlfriend and seductive monster. Nice to see Adventureland’s “Lisa P” in a role she can sink her teeth into…literally! The whole cast seems to have a really good chemistry and work very well together and it helps make the relationships in the film more believable and thus more entertaining. The script would not have worked so well if the cast didn’t make the characters so much fun to watch and they do.

Overall I had a good time with Knights of Badassdom, I laughed quite a lot, but just wish they had come up with a climatic confrontation that was worthy of all the fun that preceded it. Again, it’s not a bad ending, it just seemed weak after some of the consistent cleverness that came before it. Overall, I would still very much recommend this fun little flick. I had a really good time and the ending certainly doesn’t ruin a delightfully breezy and gory comedy/horror. Just be a little forgiving for the few times it stumbles as, more often then not, Badassdom takes it’s story and gleefully runs with it. Also stars Community’s Dani Pudi as one of the LARP players named Lando. Fun flick that would make a nice paring with Tucker & Dale vs. Evil for an entertaining horror/comedy film fest.

3 sexy succubus… or is it succubi?

kingitsOfBadassdom rating

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