BARE BONES: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, NEIGHBORS and HERCULES

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A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014)

I’m not a big fan of Seth MacFarlane’s ‘horny 13 year old’ sense of humor and I don’t watch Family Guy. I was actually pleasantly surprised by Ted, though and so, went into this, his new flick, with an open mind. But sadly, despite some nice sentimental moments here and there, this western/comedy is a constant barrage of boring sex jokes and bodily function bits that are vulgar for vulgars sake. MacFarlane ignores actually trying to tell his cliche’ story and fills this overlong movie with an endless and tiresome parade of gross-out humor that wears out it’s welcome in the first half hour or so. How he dragged Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried along with him in this predominately unfunny mess is a mystery.

2 star rating

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NEIGHBORS (2014)

While  I wouldn’t outright say that Neighbors is a bad film, it’s just that it is such a routine and cookie cutter, Hollywood situation comedy that is instantly forgettable once the credits role. Flick has a frat house moving in next to yuppie couple Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and the resulting war between them and the Zac Efron led frat boys. The flick really isn’t that funny and it actually makes the couple appear far more childish and irresponsible than the ‘kids’ they start a feud with. It also was a bit disturbing that these two ‘adults’ leave their infant daughter alone in their house numerous times to party with/make war with the boys next door. A few funny bits and Efron gives his character a little depth but, it’s hard to root for Mac and Kelly when they seem like bigger jerks than the partying frat guys who the film can’t decide are the bad guys or not. Kind of a mystery as to how this was such a big hit.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HERCULES (2014)

Brett Ratner directed flick is based on a graphic novel that portrays the legendary Hercules (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) as a powerful yet, very mortal mercenary whose 12 labors and lineage of the gods is just embellished PR fables to drive fear into the hearts of his enemies. Herc and his crew are summoned to help an embattled king (John Hurt as yet another ‘old king’) free his country from invaders but, is duped into aiding a tyrant. Betrayal and vengeance ensue. This is another flick that passed the time alright but, is so by-the-numbers and forgettable that it barely justifies existing in the first place. The Rock seems like he’d rather be somewhere else with an uninspired performance as one of the world’s oldest heroes and the rest of the cast are all operating on a paycheck grab level as well. Competently made but, when all is said and done, routine, cliche’ and uninspired.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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RANDOM NONSENSE: WHY NOT WAN FOR STAR TREK 3?

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First off this is totally based on my opinion and at this time there is absolutely NO word or even distant rumors that this is even being considered. Wan is currently scheduled to direct Fast And Furious 7. It’s just MonsterZero NJ throwing his two cents out there. That being said…

It’s basically a fact that J.J. Abrams will not be returning to the director’s chair for Star Trek 3, which word suggests, Paramount Studios is hoping to get in theaters by 2016 for Star Treks’s 50th anniversary. The Into Darkness writing team appears to be returning and we’ve heard rumors of everyone from Attack The Block‘s Joe Cornish to Jon M. Chu to Rupert Wyatt to sit in the director’s chair. So, MonsterZero NJ asks… ‘why not Wan?’

James Wan is a good director with a great grasp of making familiar elements seem fresh. His haunted house movies like Insidious and The Conjuring took all the time honored elements of the haunted house thriller and gave them a new coat of paint and thus got an effectiveness out of things we’ve seen many times before. Perfect formula for keeping a 50 year old franchise from feeling like a… well… 50 year old franchise. Abrams’ 2009 Trek gave us fresh faces as endearing characters and added a time line shift to put a new spin on established events. It livened up a wilting franchise and as a long time Trek fan, I really think it gave this legendary series the shot in the arm it needed. I enjoyed Into Darkness, it has it’s critics and it does have flaws but, I don’t think it was damaging to the series as some hard core Trek fans believe. But, either way, keeping things fresh and moving forward is what needs to happen. I think Wan can do this.

One of the things I love about Wan’s films is he has a sumptuous visual style that would serve the Star Trek universe beautifully. His films look gorgeous whether it’s the haunting visuals of his Dead Silence or the gritty look of  the original Saw, Wan creates some stunning visuals in his camera lens and could make a visual feast out of the next Trek. And while we’re mentioning Wan’s supernatural thrillers, why not a horror tinged Star Trek? Wan wants a break from horror but, why not give the next Trek a refreshing alternative to another vengeful villain with a big ship like we had in the last two movies and give us something more intense and maybe with a supernatural element too. The original Star Trek series had quite a few horror/supernatural themed episodes, Specter Of The Gun with it’s ghostly recreation of The Gunfight At The OK Corral, the Jaws-like Devil In The Dark with the crew facing a subterranean creature and the very Halloween-ish Catspaw complete with witches and a giant black cat, to name a few. None of the movies have gone anywhere near this type of story and it would be a new direction for the theatrical films and a great fit for Wan who could do a big budget sci-fi and inject it with some intense horror or supernatural elements. Who better to give us a Star Trek that’ll make us spill our popcorn and yet keep it familiarly Star Trek. In Insidious 2 Wan also delivered a nice mystery element and Trek has gone there before in the Wolf In The Fold episode where Scotty was accused of a series of Jack The Ripper-like murders. The idea of a scary Star Trek flick or one tinged in mystery intrigues the movie geek in me no end.

The characters are already established and the actors playing them know them by now and know how to play them. And once Trek 3 is ready to roll, Wan will have already worked with established characters from the Fast And Furious series so, he’ll have a little more experience with an ensemble cast of well know characters. Though his recent supernatural films have had a bit of an ensemble going on so he’s not a novice in that department. And let’s face it, when Wan gets a good actor, he gets a good performance. Look no further then Lili Taylor’s powerhouse turn in The Conjuring, Rose Byrne in Insidious or Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence. Wan gets good work out of a good cast and I think we can agree that the new Star Trek has a great cast. I don’t see a problem with Wan giving us the characters we love yet, taking them to new places that we haven’t seen them go yet.

Wan also can direct some intense action and handle drama, two things that fuel Star Trek. He can create some taunt suspense and the series could use a real white knuckle outing. There was some nice suspense in the last two but, nothing that would really get you gripping your chair armrests over and it would be nice to come out of the next Star Trek feeling like you’d just been on a roller coaster or in a really great haunted house ride. I remember how I felt when I left the theater after seeing Poltergeist. Imagine leaving Star Trek 3 feeling all numb and giddy like that?! I think Wan can do this. Obviously it depends on the script and where the writers take the story but, I think James Wan could give the series yet another fresh turn and not overshadow what we already like about it. The film would look visually beautiful and depending on the story, we could get some solid suspense and maybe a few scares too. Imagine a Star Trek movie where you’re actually covering your eyes in fear at points? As a horror movie fan and a Trekkie since I was a kid… I’m getting goosebumps at the thought of it. Paramount, give Wan a chance.

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013)

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013)

Insidious: Chapter 2 starts up almost right after the original Insidious ended with Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert reunited with their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) after his spirit was held prisoner by a demon in an afterlife dimension called ‘The Further’. But as we saw in the final frames, something else was now inhabiting Josh’s body and it had strangled paranormal investigator Elise (Lin Shaye) to death. We pick up as the unsuspecting family, including older son Foster (Andrew Astor) and their infant daughter Kali, have moved in with Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) while police investigate Elise’s mysterious death in their house. They are barely moved in when supernatural occurrences start to begin again with objects moving, spectral voices, apparitions appearing and dear old dad acting very strange. While Renai tries to deal with the fact that supernatural forces are still with them, Josh tries to convince her all is well and Lorraine decides to team up with Elise’s former assistants paranormal investigators Specs (Leigh Whannell who also wrote the screenplay) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) along with one of the original investigators from Josh’s childhood haunting, Carl (Steve Coulter) to get down to the bottom of these haunted hi-jinx once and for all.

And that is all I will say about the story as, despite some familiar trappings, James Wan (The Conjuring) takes this installment in some clever directions and once again uses the familiar elements very well. We get to know the story behind the evil woman in black seen in the last film and even revisit The Further, though this time it is inventively linked to events in the first film. The pace is a bit slower and more methodical this time around, but since this film is a bit of a mystery as well as haunting, it takes it’s time to let the story unfold and secrets be revealed. We still get some spooky scenes, but it is refreshingly mixed in with Lorraine and company’s equally goose-bump inducing investigation. And what they find is deviously fun. The film is not quite as lively as Insidious part one, but I liked the mystery element and the film earned points with me for making it’s return to ‘The Further’ a bit more clever and less silly then last time. That is the point where the first film lost it’s grip on me and here I liked how it was done and was with this supernatural chiller up to the spooky end.

Wan is a good director and he takes what could have been a ho-hum retread and makes it a fun follow-up. He gets good performances out of all his cast and while I found Patrick Wilson to be bland in both Insidious and The Conjuring, he gets a far more lively performance out of him here. He gets to ham it up a bit and it suits him. The film has some beautiful and creepy visuals, as is Wan’s trademark, and Joseph Bishara’s score adds some nice atmosphere, too.

So in conclusion, while the story elements are more familiar; we’ve seen some of it before and the pace a bit slower, Wan does give us a spooky mystery to add to the paranormal activity and makes much more clever use of his otherworldly ‘Further’. He also gives us some clever answers to the questions left by his first Insidious and that all adds up to a spooky fun time at the movies. Also stars House Of The Devil‘s Joceline Donahue as young Lorraine in some equally clever flashback sequences that tie into the rest of the film in a fun way.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spooks!

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS (2011)

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INSIDIOUS (2011)

Having just seen The Conjuring, I thought I’d take a look back at James Wan’s Insidious and find the reviews are very similar…

Insidious is a fun, spooky and sometimes intensely scary flick, but does it live up to the internet hype that preceded it’s release? Not quite. The first hour of Insidious does deliver the goods. It’s basically non-stop scares and chills as early word promised, but it’s in it’s final act when it loses it’s grip somewhat.

Insidious tells the familiar story of a husband and wife (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) moving into a house with their children and strange things start to occur. Soon their one son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is in a coma and moving away does nothing to stop the appearance of specters and strange sights and sounds. When they bring in paranormal investigator, Elise (Lin Shaye) she tells them, to their horror, that their son has the ability to leave his body in his sleep and has lost his way back. Now a vicious demonic entity has their son and wants his soulless body to use as a vessel to enter the world of the living. Can they fend off this dark spirit and save their child?

Once Director James Wan brings in the paranormal investigators and they start to explain things, the film takes a bit of a change in direction and things get a bit hokey. What follows is still spooky and there still are some good scares, but nothing close to the first hour. The design of what we see is creepy and Wan’s directing skills don’t falter, but the problem is we see things that are better left to the imagination as our minds can imagine far worse then anything Wan can present us. Some of the before mentioned explanations sound silly and hinder the atmosphere Wan has worked hard to set up and seeing his spooks, specters and demon out in the open and in plain sight, does not help it either. Things were far more effective when left in shadow, in glimpses and with a little mystery. The cast are fine though Wilson is a bit bland and Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson are a little too goofy as Elise’s fellow paranormal investigators.

All in all, Insidious is far better than some of the endless sequels and remakes that pass as horror flicks today, but it’s not a classic by any stretch. Much like an amusement park ride, it’s fun while your on it, but after it’s over the effect fades quickly.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spooks!

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