BARE BONES: SPONTANEOUS (2020)

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SPONTANEOUS (2020)

Offbeat and darkly comic flick finds students at a small town high school spontaneously exploding for an undetermined reason. In the middle of all the bloody chaos, rebellious movie nerd Mara (Katherine Langford) finds love with fellow student Dylan (Charlie Plummer), despite the looming danger that either could be next.

Spontaneous is written and directed by Brian Duffield (who wrote Underwater and Love And Monsters) from a novel of the same name by Aaron Starmer. It can be very clever at times, heartfelt at others and darkly funny, without loosing sight of the very sweet love story at the core of it’s blood-spattered tale. These kids are dealing with mortality, loss and death for the first time and each of the characters reacts to the situation in their own interesting ways. Mara and Dylan press on with their relationship despite all that is happening around them. Life goes on, even when surrounded by death. It may sound very COVID centric, but the book was written in 2016, as were the initial plans to make a movie out of it. Many of the themes fit, though, as the kids are isolated, quarantined and medicated with the looming threat constantly present. They also have to deal with the sudden loss of some of those they love. The cast is really good with Katherine Langford giving Mara a buoyant personality with a nice sarcastic sense of humor. She carries the movie with a strong performance, as it is predominately Mara’s story. Charlie Plummer is sweet and a bit nerdy as the charmingly eccentric Dylan and Hayley Law does good work as Mara’s best friend Tess. The young cast have nice chemistry together. An interestingly contemporary movie that proves love can blossom in the most dire of situations and…to steal a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan…”how we face death is at least as important as how we face life!A really good little movie with some surprising depth and emotional resonance.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: CYRUS (2010)

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CYRUS (2010)

John (John C. Reilly) has been divorced for seven years and finally meets a beautiful, single woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei). The only thing standing in the way of true romance, though, is Molly’s uncomfortably close relationship with her clingy and extremely jealous son Cyrus (Jonah Hill).

Cyrus is written and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass and is a very enjoyable indie comedy/drama for a number of reasons. It’s original, it’s funny and it also borders on brilliant in portraying those uncomfortable situations that occur when things aren’t quite right and we don’t know how to deal with them. Most of all, it’s the performances that make this so worth watching. Marisa Tomei once again proves she is a remarkable actress who deserves her every award and nomination she’s achieved. It is, though, John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill who really surprise us with strong performances as two very dysfunctional people. Reilly and Hill show they can really act when given strong material and aren’t reduced to comic sidekicks and supporting characters like they usually are. Both handle their roles with layered performances and their scenes together bristle with emotion and energy, as the two characters fight for dominance in what turns into a sort of twisted love triangle. If you like offbeat indie films this is a real treat.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: LETTERS TO JULIET (2010)

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LETTERS TO JULIET (2010)

Amanda Seyfried is Sophie, a young writer who, while on vacation in Italy with her fiance’ Victor (Gael García Bernal), stumbles upon The Secretaries of Juliet, a group of women who answer the letters that hundreds of broken hearted women write to Juliet Capulet at the place of her birth (a real life occurrence!). Sophie’s writer instincts kick in and she answers a years old letter which throws her and the letter’s widowed author Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) into a trek across Italy to find a lost love from her youth and presenting Sophie with the perfect story to use as her big break. Claire’s handsome grandson Charlie (Chris Egan) is along for the ride and we all know what’s going to happen there.

As directed by Gary Winick from a script by José Rivera and Tim Sullivan, Letters to Juliet is a predictable and formula romantic comedy, but it charms you and draws you in anyway, even thought you know how it’s all going to turn out. This cliché but fun romantic comedy set’s itself apart with it’s fairy tale-like angle of lovelorn women writing to the legendary Juliet Capulet for help and the ‘secretaries’ which answer. It presents a cast of very likable characters to get attached to and takes them on an old fashioned quest across the beautifully captured Italian countryside, to find an ages lost love and possibly a new unexpected one. Sure it’s schmaltzy, but it works anyway. We want Claire to find her Lorenzo (the legendary Franco Nero) and we want Sophie to fall for the charming yet cynical Charlie and leave her workaholic, self-absorbed fiancé. We know as soon as the plot is set in motion how it will end up, but we go along for the ride anyway. In this case it’s not the destination, but the old fashioned charm of the journey that makes it worth while. A fun, cute movie despite being so cliché and the Italian locations in Siena and Tuscany are sumptuously filmed.

 

-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: DORFMAN IN LOVE and THE SEASONING HOUSE

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DORFMAN IN LOVE (2011)

Cute indie romantic comedy tells the story of Debbie Dorfman (Sara Rue). She takes care of her father (Elliott Gould), works for her brother Dan (Jonathan Chase) and has a massive crush on her brother’s friend Jay (Johann Urb). Her life isn’t going anywhere till she gets a chance to cat-sit and apartment-sit for a week for Jay at his new downtown L.A. digs. She decides to use it as a springboard to making big changes in her life and her big move on Jay, when he returns. Things get complicated when her brother dumps her widower father in her lap and she meets a charming artist (Haaz Sleiman) who is Jay’s neighbor.

Written by Wendy Kout and directed by Brad Leong, this is in many ways a typical indie rom-com, but leading lady Rue has charm and spunk and the film avoids the vulgar jokes that similar flicks seem to embrace today. Deb is a likable girl and it’s fun to watch her slowly come out of her shell and start to enjoy life on her terms, not the ones dictated by those around her. The supporting cast work well together and if the film stumbles, it’s when it shifts focus from Deb’s personal adventure to her getting caught in the middle of her brother’s infidelities. This sub-plot is dull and just drags Deb into someone else’s drama when we were fine with her story of personal growth. It sidelines the best part of the movie for almost a half hour and almost makes Deb a supporting character in her own story. The flick does get back on track and Deb makes some surprising discoveries about herself and real love. Cute movie with a charming leading lady.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

 

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THE SEASONING HOUSE (2012)

This is a very brutal and unpleasant film set in the Balkans in 1996. It tells of a young girl named Angel (Rosie Day) who is kidnapped along with other girls by military personal to be forced into prostitution in a house run by a man named Viktor (Kevin Howarth) and military officer Goran (Sean Pertwee). Angel is a deaf mute and has a birthmark on the side of her face that saves her from the same fate as the other women. She instead is forced to care for the girls, which includes doping and prettying them up for ‘customers’. When one of her favorite girls is brutalized by a sadistic soldier, Angel takes violent revenge which sets off a chain of equally brutal events which may bring this house of horrors crashing down.

Directed by Paul Hyett from a script by he and three others, this is a well-made, but very tough movie to sit through. While it never exploits it’s story, it never shies away from the brutal realities either. These young women are kidnapped from their families and horribly mistreated in a land that has become lawless and empathetic to it’s own people. There are numerous and very unpleasant scenes portraying their abusive life and then, once Angel sets out to avenge her friend, the violence is quite brutal and effective. This is a very vicious and bloody film and while it never tries to make it’s harsh story into entertainment, it also is not a pleasant or easy movie to sit through. Well-done, but something you may only want to watch once…if that.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (2015)

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SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (2015)

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

Offbeat romantic comedy tells the story of Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis). Twelve years ago they lost their virginities to each other in college and never saw each other again, until reconnecting twelve years later at a meeting for love addicts. Now, despite that neither of them can stay faithful in a relationship, they form a bond which may lead to the thing they both have been running away from since that fateful night…true love.

Writer/director Leslye Headland delivers a rarity, a romantic comedy that is not only cleverly funny and delightfully raunchy, but has some very heartfelt emotions that are never intrusive or overbearing. The film tries to avoid many of the clichés we are used to seeing in the more mainstream rom-com flicks and when it can’t, it uses them in a fresh and offbeat manner. Best of all, it is raunchy as can be, but unlike most flicks these days, there is some definite wit behind the raunch and thus it rarely, if ever, slips into the just plain vulgar, like so many other flicks fall right into. It gives us two very eccentric, troubled but very likable characters in Lainey and Jake and we are rooting for them to finally get together as we watch them avoid the inevitable, by continuously entering in relationships that aren’t right for them. The banter between Sudeikis and Brie is really crisp, funny and very well written and the delivery by both actors is impeccable. There is also a genuine heart to this flick that makes it work so well without ever getty sappy or overly sentimental. Sure it stumbles a bit in the last act, but regains it’s footing and gives us a satisfying conclusion fitting the eclectic characters.

This brings to the forefront the skilled cast that Headland has assembled. Community‘s Alison Brie is endearing as sweet but, very love-challenged Lainey who avoids risking her heart by pursuing a man (Adam Scott) with his own commitments. Sudeikis is really good as the kind-hearted ladies man, Jake, who avoids putting his heart at risk by sleeping around and breaking off anything that starts to resemble a relationship. He has some really clever dialogue and delivers it masterfully and has a nice self deprecating humor that keeps the character humbled despite his numerous conquests. He and Brie have a great chemistry together and their conversations are engaging and often hilariously dirty. There is also a definite spark between the two stars and you can see their feelings bubbling beneath all the evasiveness and denial. There is also top notch support from Amanda Peet, Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne and Marc Blucas as the various people around our leads. All slightly eclectic characters that refreshingly avoid the stereotypes that usually populate these movies.

I really enjoyed this flick. Not only was a it an engaging romance, but was delightfully offbeat, cleverly written and very raunchy and funny. It had a sweet love story at it’s core surrounded by some eccentric but endearing characters. Filmmaker Leslye Headland gives some needed wit to the dirtier material and gets great chemistry and performances out of her cast. She also films New York with a loving lens and it makes you fall in love with the city, as well as, the characters she’s let loose inside it. A really entertaining indie romantic comedy.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 green tea bottles…just watch the movie.

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BARE BONES: TRAINWRECK and ALOHA

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TRAINWRECK (2015)

Trainwreck is a bit of a return to form for director Judd Apatow, who hasn’t made a really funny movie since Knocked Up. Film tells the story of Amy (Amy Schumer, who also wrote) a party girl who uses her wild ways to avoid getting truly close to anyone. That is until a writing assignment (Why do all these movies feature lead’s who work for magazines?) introduces her to dorky sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Now faced with possible true love, will Amy’s self destructive behavior ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to her?

Obviously, a big factor in why this routinely plotted romantic comedy works is it’s feisty, funny leading lady and the cast she is surrounded with. Schumer’s script is also legitimately funny and not only has some laugh out loud moments, but has some actual wit behind the more vulgar humor…a condom story Amy tells at a baby shower is particularly hysterical. She and Bill Hader have an off-beat chemistry and helps keep us engaged even as the move is about 15 minutes too long and gets a bit too sentimental for it’s own good. Also stars Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton and some surprisingly funny appearances by WWE Superstar John Cena, as a muscle-head Amy’s dating and a scene stealing LeBron James as himself.

3 star rating

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ALOHA (2015)

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who has given us more than one classic, this flick has quite an engaging cast and might have been a good movie, if it ever decided what it was about. Is it about military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) helping billionaire entrepreneur Carson Welch (Bill Murray) get his communications satellite in orbit?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to uncover what’s in the satellite’s secret payload?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to win back former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who’s in a troubled marriage?…Is it about Gilcrest falling in love with the military aide (Emma Stone) acting as his Hawaiian liaison?…or is it about Gilcrest discovering the daughter (Danielle Rose Russell) he never knew he had?…we don’t know and neither does the movie! Add in some rambling dialogue sequences that go on and go nowhere and you have a waste of 105 minutes and a very solid cast…not to mention beautiful Hawaiian locations. Also stars, Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride as military officers. An oddly schizophrenic screenplay and very haphazard direction from a filmmaker who can direct stuff like this in his sleep…and maybe this time he did!

2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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