BARE BONES: THE FINAL and THE CALLER

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THE FINAL (2010)

Horror flick written by Jason Kabolati and directed by Joey Stewart, tells a chilling tale about a group of high school outcasts who enact gruesome revenge on the popular crowd that tormented them. While the idea isn’t totally original and it does borrow from films like Saw and Audition, the flick is well made and the characters are human enough where the audience may find themselves conflicted when victims and victimizers trade places. Sure the popular kids are mean and cruel, but do they deserve their torment, or is this their just comeuppance? The surprising restraint in some of the nastier sequences also helps them to be more effective. Not a pleasant film, but it is well made enough to set it apart from the recent trend of torture horror and was overall much better than expected.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE CALLER (2011)

The Caller is a spooky Twilight Zone-ish chiller about a young woman named Mary (Rachelle Lefevre), recently divorced from an abusive husband (Ed Quinn), who moves into an old apartment and starts to get strange phone calls seemingly from the past…and from a woman who is supposedly dead. The Caller establishes some spooky atmosphere despite the story having been done to different degrees before. Director Matthew Parkhill keeps the tension going by always having one of the dual threats to Mary lurking about. We are never sure what’s worse, the stalking ex or the haunting caller named Rose. Mary tries to take charge in both situations, but they slowly escalate as the calls get more threatening and so does the ex-husband…and then things really get strange. Despite the prevading creepiness, Caller’s final act doesn’t quite deliver the punch that we are hoping for. It would spoil things to discuss the climax in detail, but suffice it to say, that it will depend on your willingness to go along with where the story leads, as to how effective the last act is. For me, it precariously tipped toward the silly and while I don’t feel that it got silly, that borderline threat of becoming so, robbed some of the impact for me when the film should have been strongest. The cast perfoms their parts adequately, helping us to go along with things, for the most part. Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight) is fine as Mary, although the performance could have benefited from a wider emotional range and True Blood’s Stephen Moyer is fine, too as a potential romantic interest drawn into Mary’s drama. A decent thriller with some nice, if not derivative, chills, but falls short of being a real nail-biter. The Caller is written by Sergio Casci and is a small film with a dark look that adds to the prevailing dread.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: HOMEFRONT (2013)

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HOMEFRONT (2013)

Much like Out Of The Furnace, Homefront is another example of a film with a routine and cliche’ B-movie action plot elevated into something more by a good cast and a solid director behind the camera. Here we have a plot that in the 80s would have perfectly suited Van Damme, Norris or Seagal with undercover DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham), who has had enough of the violence and bloodshed associated with his job, moving to a small rural town in Louisiana to start a new life. But, an altercation between widower Phil’s daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) and a bully at school raises the ire of the boy’s redneck parents Cassie and Jimmy (Kate Bosworth and Marcus Hester) and when it escalates, Cassie calls upon her meth dealer brother Gator (James Franco) to get them payback. But, in a cruel twist of fate, Gator knows the man Phil last put behind bars, a biker gang leader named Danny Turrie (Chuck Zito) and sees this as an opportunity to earn a favor from the powerful gang leader. Now a schoolyard incident turns into a bloody fight for survival as Turrie sends a squad of killers, led by the lethal Cyrus (Frank Grillo), into this quiet town to get revenge on the man who put him in jail and caused the death of his son.

Sure we have seen this all before but, with a surprisingly tight script by none other then Sylvester Stallone, based on Chuck Logan’s book, and a real solid directing job by Gary Fleder, this film goes from direct to home media action flick to a very taunt and entertaining thriller. Felder creates some nice tension and suspense from a routine action movie plot and when that action comes, it’s fast, furious and bloody. The film has an intensity that runs through every scene and the action is well choreographed and we get just enough of it to punctuate the story without going overboard or getting over stylized. Most of the scenes are hard-hitting fight scenes and shootouts, saving the car chases and explosions to up the ante in the last act. Felder has a nice but, unobtrusive visual style which takes good advantage of the small town Louisiana locations, especially the scenes shot at night in the swamps and around Broker’s old house. There’s none of that post production editing FX or filters, just some crisp cinematography by Theo van de Sande that makes every shot have some nice, rich but, natural color. His night shots in the swamps are bathed in cool blues and I liked this no nonsense approach to the look of the film.

Felder also has a good cast to work with. Statham is an underrated leading man and does far too many generic action flicks but, he is as good an actor as he is effective in the action and here he proves it again with his portrayal of a loving father who will go to any length to protect his daughter. And he has never looked better in the film’s vicious fight scenes. Franco once again proves himself a chameleon in his portrayal of a sleazy redneck drug dealer who, is sly and clever but, ultimately, not clever enough to know when enough is enough and he is in over his head. He wants to be a big league gangster but, would be better off sticking to his small time meth business and staying out of his sister’s petty squabbles. Winona Ryder is a surprising choice to play Sheryl, Gator’s ex and a woman with connections in the seedy underworld and is the one who helps bring in the reinforcements from Turrie when Gator’s thugs get their asses handed to them by the ex-DEA agent, Broker. Frank Grillo makes an imposing villain as hired killer Cyrus and one of my few complaints about the film is he is not utilized enough and his showdown with Broker should have been a bit more epic. Rounding out, Bosworth and Hester are adequate as a stereotypical redneck couple who start a huge bloody mess just because their bully son is basically bested by a girl. Fan favorite Clancy Brown is also solid as the local sheriff, who will only look the other way so much. And Rachelle Lefevre is pretty and likable as Maddy’s teacher Susan, a potential love interest for Phil but, a story sub-plot that gets dropped and goes nowhere when the plot gets rolling.

To wrap things up, this is, on the inside, a routine B-movie action flick given some surprising depth by a good script from Sly… who avoids, for the most part, a lot of the cheesy dialog that usually inhabits his Expendables scripts… a very solid directing job by Gary Fleder and good performances all around by it’s cast. We have seen it all before, it’s not original in any way but, it’s a cliche’ action flick elevated to more quality entertainment due to the respect given the material by the creative team behind it. And it just proves that talent can overcome mediocrity. No classic, but a really solid action flick that puts some class back into the overdone ‘trying to escape violence but, having it follow you’ action flick. One of Statham’s better flicks in quite some time, too. Won’t win any awards but, should certainly provide satisfying entertainment on movie night.

3 very solid bullets. Would have given it more had it’s story not been so familiar.

ex2 rating

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