BARE BONES: GHOST RIDER (2007)

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GHOST RIDER (2007)

Comic book based Ghost Rider is a silly and uneven supernatural/action flick, about stunt rider Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) who makes a deal with the Devil (Peter Fonda) to save his sick father (Brett Cullen) and becomes Satan’s bounty hunter. When the Devil’s son (Wes Bentley) rebels and seeks to enslave the earth and overthrow his father, The Ghost Rider blazes into action against the forces of evil…for the forces of evil.

Nic Cage gives his usual performance switching back and forth between somnambulant and insane. Eva Mendes is pretty and hot, but not much else, as his love interest Roxy. Wes Bentley is almost laughable as the Green Day member-looking villain, Black Heart…and the lack of a strong bad guy really weakens this comic book based tale. In supporting roles, Peter Fonda is suitable creepy as Old Scratch and the always good Sam Elliott appears, basically to deliver exposition as a former Ghost Rider, but still delivers the film’s best performance. Ghost Rider’s pacing is as uneven as it’s tone and the film comes across as hokey as it’s overused CGI. The Crow mixed the supernatural and the comic book just perfectly, by taking the material very seriously and playing it straight. Rider misses the mark by choosing a more campy approach and that keeps the supernatural elements from being effective. Director Mark Steven Johnson, from his own script, takes a much lighter approach than his Daredevil flick, which makes no sense considering this story has even darker elements. It’s as if he couldn’t take the spooky material seriously and decided to just have fun with it and that neutralizes any impact. The film should be intense and spooky, but it’s campy and silly. Johnson has a good visual eye, so at least there’s that and the FX are adequate, but most of the CGI looks like CGI…and some of the action set pieces look like theme park stunt exhibits from one of Johnny Blaze’s stunt shows. The movie always looks like a movie and thus never really draws us in to it’s world.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FROGS (1972)

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FROGS (1972)

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

During the 70s, ecological horrors were quite popular. Even Japan’s titanic superhero Godzilla battled a creature derived from pollution, ironically, in a film that became Frogs’ theatrical co-feature on a double bill, when released by American International Pictures. This spooky flick takes place down South and has a photographer (Sam Elliot sans mustache) finding himself on an island owned by the rich Jason Crockett (Ray Milland) and family. The Crockett’s continually pollute the area with refuse, pesticides and poisons to keep the swamp critters at bay. Well, the indigenous creatures have had enough and soon lizards, frogs, spiders, snakes, crabs and even turtles are taking out the Crocketts one by one.

Nature gets revenge flick is directed very effectively by George McCowan from a script by Robert Hutchison and Robert Blees. Despite the silly sounding story, it’s an atmospheric and creepy flick, thanks especially to some really effective wildlife cinematography by Mario Tosi, that makes the critters of the local swamp look sinister and filled with devious intent. This and a spooky score by Les Baxter, really give what could have been a laughable movie some nice chills. As Milland’s wheelchair bound matriarch is quite the insufferable tyrant, one pretty much roots for the local wildlife in taking out his obnoxious and whiny family members. Sure, it’s hard to believe lizards are smart enough to recognize bottles of poison and knock them over to asphyxiate one of their prey, but in the context of the nature gets revenge story, we go along with it. That and McCowan gives these common and mostly harmless critters some lethality in how they and the scenes are shot. If you can make a slowly approaching snapping turtle scary, you’re doing something right. There is some bloodshed and some disturbing demises, but this was the 70s and even a PG rated flick like this had some sting and bite to it. After taking itself seriously for the entire runtime, one wonders why the credits end with a cartoon frog swallowing a human hand. A jokey finish to a flick that was very effective at portraying a ludicrous story with dead seriousness.

The cast all approach things with the right degree of earnestness and that helps things along. Elliott makes a fine hero. He’s there to expose Milland’s mistreatment of the surroundings, but the film doesn’t really play them at odds, with Elliott’s Picket Smith cooperating and respecting Ray Milland’s authority while there. It’s not till things become obvious that they are in danger, that he starts to go against the patriarch and take control. Veteran actor Ray Milland gives his Jason Crockett a commanding presence and you understand why his family cowers before him. He’s tyrannical and selfish and even refuses to let a few deaths ruin his Fourth of July birthday celebration. Despite all the killer critters, he is the true villain here. Curious if Creepshow’s also wheelchair bound and cake wanting Nathan Grantham and his family were based on he and the Crocketts. Joan Van Ark is our heroine Karen, pretty much the only likable Crockett. Of course she and Pickett fall for each other. The rest of the cast are fine as various drunk, whiny Crocketts, or their long-suffering domestic help. A good cast that plays the material right enough to make it work.

The film is very slow paced, but otherwise quite spooky and atmospheric, considering it’s silly story. Director George McCowan makes this about as creepy as one can get within the framework of frogs, lizards, snakes and other swamp life forming a lethal army capable of outsmarting and taking out humans. The deaths are disturbing, the photography of the animals is really effective and the island, swamp and plantation-like house settings are all used very well. The swampy Florida locations are exploited perfectly. The cast get and perform the material with the right amount of seriousness and most of the humans are unlikable enough that you root for the amphibians and reptiles. A film that is far more successful with it’s ridiculous story than it had any right to be.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) frogs.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: GRANDMA and FREAKS OF NATURE

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GRANDMA (2015)

Written and directed by Paul Weitz, Grandma tells the story of cantankerous Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), an aging lesbian poet who has just ended a relationship with a younger woman (Judy Greer). On that same day she gets a visit from her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner)…obviously, Elle was married once…who needs over $600 for an abortion. The penniless Elle now begins a trek across L.A. to see friends, her ex-husband and ultimately, Sage’s mother, trying to raise the cash for her granddaughter’s procedure and unintentionally raising a little hell and learning something about herself, as well.

The performances in this flick are first rate, with Tomlin ruling the roost with her angry, volatile Elle and the film is well directed with some snappy dialog. It’s the story that fails to really involve the audience as it’s a just another ‘angry eccentric learning something about themselves’ flick. The film also tries way too hard to have all it’s liberal and indie film pieces in place with it’s story of an eccentric, lesbian poet helping her granddaughter get a *gasp* abortion story. It thinks it’s daring, but clear away the controversial topic and it’s just another journey of self-discovery movie about someone realizing they have let their inner pain sully their life. Elle is an interesting character, but one we’ve seen before, who comes to the same realizations that these types of grumpy characters usually do. Adding a pro-abortion element doesn’t make it any more new or daring. Also stars Sam Elliott and Marcia Gay Harden as Elle’s ex-husband and daughter respectively.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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FREAKS OF NATURE (2015)

Dumb and dull horror/comedy takes place in the town of Dillford, renown for it’s rib sandwiches. Also, the community is made up of a mix of humans, vampires and zombies living in an uneasy harmony. When an alien spacecraft arrives, it creates a panic, which in-turn reignites old rivalries. As human, vampire and zombie are once again at each other’s throats, three high school kids, human Dag (Nicholas Braun), vampire Petra (Mackenzie Davis) and zombie Ned (Josh Fadem), are forced to work together to save all from the alien invasion.

This is a silly flick with a very convoluted concept and plot, that could have worked in more capable hands. It all boils down to the same “we can live together despite our differences” message we have seen so many times before and a bland use of it’s oddball story set-up. The film is goofy and gory and that would certainly be fine if it were also clever and funny. It’s just a bunch of ideas thrown in a blender with a half hour plot dragged out over 90 minutes. The action stops for long periods of character moping and once it’s over, you realize it went exactly where you expected it to from scene one. The SPFX are surprisingly good, as is the gore and at least the cast gets the tone of the weak material. As directed  by Robbie Pickering and written by Oren Uziel, the film is basically a ho-hum mess, whereas somewhere inside it there might have been a fun midnight movie buried under all the mediocrity. Also stars Denis Leary, Joan Cusack, Patton Oswalt and the yummy Vanessa Hudgens as Dag’s hopeless pursuit turned vampire vixen.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But, a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary Of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but, Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But, the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.

Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller. But, aside from it’s dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliott and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiancé and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.

3 and 1/2 bullets!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SHAKEDOWN and BLACK MOON RISING

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A little 80s action/adventure for this week’s double feature with these two fun 80s thrillers. We’ve already covered Shakedown, but it does make a fun pairing with the John Carpenter penned Black Moon Rising for a nostalgic good time and we haven’t taken a look at Black Moon till now. Both films have two leads who work really well together, a fair share of thrills, action, humor and are very representative of their era. Enjoy!…

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SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film, but a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory. Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But the dealer says it was self-defense as he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.

Aside from it’s dirty backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliott and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actors who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well, too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame. Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy, but Shakedown, as directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment. One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.

MONSTEREZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.

3 and 1/2 bulletts!

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BLACK MOON RISING (1986)

Originally written by John Carpenter, Black Moon Rising is a fun and sadly ovelooked 80s action thriller starring Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton. Jones plays professional thief Sam Quint who’s forced, when a hot pursuit gets a little too hot, to hide a stolen cassette in a protoype for a revolutionary new car “The Black Moon”. When Hamilton’s car thief Nina steals the prototype, Quint needs to get it back before his employers terminate his employment permanently. Now Quint needs the pretty car thief’s help and since Nina is not exactly happy with her own employer Ryland, (Robert Vaughn) she might just help the former CIA agent get what he wants…and it might just get them both killed.

Directed by Harley Cokeliss this is a fast paced and entertaining little movie that is so delightfully 80s at this point. It’s a combination of action and heist thriller and while it has the look of a TV movie from the time, it makes up for it in entertainment. Cokeliss takes Carpenter’s script…adapted by William Gray and Desmond Nakano…seriously, but also knows when to have a little fun and let the audience in on it. Carpenter’s influence can still be felt in the film with characters and some of the dialog bits being distinctly John Carpenter, despite his not being involved in the film’s production.

Rising has a good veteran supporting cast who all play their roles straight, including Keenan Wynn, Bubba Smith, Lee Ving as Quint’s slimy rival, Ringer and Richard Jaeckel as the Black Moon’s creator, who gets drawn into helping steal back his own car. Leads Jones and Hamilton have a nice chemistry together as the two thieves eventually join forces and there is a lot of fun watching them break into villain Robert Vaughn’s highrise fortress to steal the title vehicle back.

An entertaining little movie with a nice blend of action, suspense, romance and laughs that has sadly been forgotten, but definitely deserves to be rediscovered if not for the 80s nostalgia alone. It’s not perfect, there is some clunky dialog and it’s low budget keeps it somewhat restrained compared to some of today’s big budget caper thrillers and it’s final action set-piece could have had more impact, but it’s heart is in the right place and it tries hard. A fun flick that deserves a little more attention then it got.

…was it me…or did Fast And Furious 7 totally rip this flicks finale off in the Abu Dhabi scene!

3 bullets!

ex2 rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SHAKEDOWN (1988)

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SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film, but a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory. Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.

Aside from it’s dirty backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliott and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actors who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well, too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame. Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy, but Shakedown, as directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment. One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.

MONSTEREZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.

3 and 1/2 bullets!

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