BARE BONES: THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

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THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

Action flick has people from the future arriving in 2022 to reveal that a war is being waged in 2051 against a very aggressive alien species referred to as “Whitespikes”. Earth is losing that war and they’ve come back in time to recruit people to fight. One of those drafted, is former military man and current biology teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt). Dan is whisked thirty years into the future, where he teams with a squad of reluctant soldiers from his timeline and his own grown-up daughter, Muri (Yvonne Strahovski) to battle the invaders. As the war rages in the future, Dan may find the solution back in the past where his wife (Betty Gilpin) and family awaits.

Flick is energetically directed by Chris McKay from a script by Zach Dean. Story-wise it’s TerminatorAliensStarship Troopers, a dash of John Carpenter’s The Thing and a ton of clichés all thrown in a blender that’s cranked up to 11. It’s derivative as heck, but it’s also a lot of fun and the big action does come quickly and explosively with moments of schmaltzy melodrama in-between, so we can catch our breaths. It’s comparable tone-wise to a Fast and Furious movie for sci-fi geeks and that’s not a bad thing on a simple entertainment level. The cast are fine with Pratt making a solid hero, Strahovski a noble scientist, Gilpin is wasted as the wife left back in the past, though J.K. Simmons is fun as Dan’s warrior dad, James. Supporting cast are efficient, too. Overall, it’s silly, a bit overlong and incredibly derivative, but it’s reported $200 million budget is onscreen with lots of FX and spectacular action and even if you’ve seen it all before, it is a popcorn fun mash-up.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: POSSESSOR (2020)

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POSSESSOR (2020)

Intriguing plot has Tasya Vos (Mandy’s Andrea Riseborough) working as an assassin for an organization that uses implants placed in people’s heads to possess them, and thus have them unwittingly carry out assassinations. Tasya is tasked with taking out corporation head John Parse (Sean Bean) and his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton) by possessing the body of Ava’s boyfriend Colin (Christopher Abbott). Things go awry, when Colin’s will becomes stronger than Tasya anticipated and now the two minds fight for control of Colin’s body and Tasya finds herself trapped inside his head.

Flick is written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg and is not only an interesting idea, but shows that the son of the legendary David Cronenberg has certainly paid good attention to his father’s works. The visual style evokes some of the more artsy sci-fi flicks of the 70s and 80s and as with his famous dad’s horror themed films, the flick can get quite gruesome. In the negative, the movie is very slow paced and somber, making it’s 104 minutes seem even longer and for this type of story, the film can get a bit too gruesome for it’s own good. Some of the gore seems like giddy overkill. The cast is good, as are the performances, and the battle of wills between Tasya and Colin is intriguingly portrayed. While the film doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders, it does show Brandon Cronenberg as a filmmaker with his own vision and ideas, and that he has the potential to make his own mark outside from under his legendary father’s shadow. Possessor also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tasya’s boss Girder and Hellions star Rossif Sutherland as Michael, Tasya’s estranged husband.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EX MACHINA and ANNIHILATION

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back again, this time with the two feature films from writer/director Alex Garland. For those who like visually striking and thought-provoking science fiction, read on…

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EX MACHINA (2015)

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

Ex Machina is a great little thought-provoking piece of Sci-Fi from Alex Garland, who wrote the cult favorite Dredd and the equally thought-provoking Sunshine. It’s his first directorial effort and as such, it shows he is as adept behind the camera as he is the keyboard.

The film opens with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee of the internet company Bluebook, being chosen to spend the week at the remote home of the company’s CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb arrives and finds this is not a social event, but he is there to assist in testing a Bateman created artificial intelligence housed inside a very life-like robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Though as Caleb begins his test to see if the A.I. is truly self-aware or just responding to programming, he starts to believe that Nathan may have a dark side and there may be far more to Ava than mere machine.

To describe the story anymore would be to ruin a really interesting and entertaining piece of Sci-Fi from British writer/director Garland. The film obviously takes us to places that we originally did not expect from our opening sequences and certainly more than one character, human and/or machine, may be more than they first appear. Garland brilliantly guides us into his set-up and gets us very interested and emotionally invested in what’s going on and then, slowly starts to pull the rug out from under us, gradually, so we at first don’t realize it. Does Bateman have a hidden agenda?…does Caleb?…or does Ava? It’s a subtle but intense journey to find out what is really going on in this remote home/research facility and one that leaves us thinking about where artificial intelligence ends and sentient life begins. It’s a subject also touched upon in last year’s equally intriguing The Machine, but Garland doesn’t bother going onto the broader implications of A.I. as weapons or something as equally cliché or grandiose, but goes deeper than that to a far more intimate and emotional arena. Just how human can these creations get…and what effect will that have on us? Where does programming end and legitimate emotions begin? Where is the line and when does it disappear?…and what if it does? Do we treat these ‘machines’ as such, or as humans? Garland definitely posses a lot of intriguing questions while skillfully entertaining us with a story that can be equal parts endearing and disturbing. On a technical level, this modestly budgeted thriller has a really interesting visual style with a stark contrast of the gorgeous Norway locations used for the exterior sequences and the colder and more sterile interior of Bateman’s home/lab. The interiors sometimes evoke Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey with it’s almost sterile and functional interior design that contrast it’s occupant with Bateman’s, casual, shoeless and unshaven appearance. Garland has a nice eye for shot framing and it is captured well by cinematographer Rob Hardy whose lighting adds a lot of mood and atmosphere. There is also a very moody electronic score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow and the special visual FX are excellently carried out in presenting Ava and some of the more fantastic elements. A very impressive production on a limited budget.

The cast is excellent! Domhnall Gleeson is perfect as the programmer whisked into the lair of his company CEO and shown wonders he never expected. He obviously starts to have feelings for Ava and the actor makes you believe these feelings are real…and you understand his actions based on them. Oscar Isaac creates an eccentric yet brilliant man with his Nathan Bateman. He is also a man that seems troubled and may have a very dark side and Isaac let’s that bubble just below the surface before our story really starts to show Bateman’s true nature and agenda. As Ava, Alicia Vikander is totally enchanting. We understand how Caleb can start to fall for her, despite her being a machine and Vikander makes her innocent, yet intelligent and gives her a charm and vulnerability which is very convincing…and distracting. Rounding out is Soyona Mizuno as Bateman’s personal assistant Kyoko, who doesn’t speak any English and Mizuno gives her a nice air of mystery that suits the story tone.

In conclusion I really loved this movie. It’s thought provoking, skillfully crafted and keeps one intrigued and guessing. It is intelligently written, but avoids pretension and it can be very very entertaining and a bit disturbing when it needs to be. Definitely made my list of best films of the year for 2015.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 4 (out of 4) Avas.

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ANNIHILATION (2018)

Biologist and former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) hasn’t seen or heard from her commando husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for over a year. When he finally shows up at her door sick and disorientated, a black ops team abducts them both to a secret location designated Area X. There Lena finds out there is some sort of disruption called “The Shimmer” surrounding an area of land with a lighthouse being it’s point of origin. This “Shimmer” is slowly growing and everything and everyone sent into it has never returned…except for Kane. Now Lena volunteers to join a four women scientific team, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), geologist Sheppard, (Tuva Novotny) and Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) to enter The Shimmer and find out what is going on inside. What they find is beyond belief and whatever it is, it’s changing the DNA of all lifeforms trapped inside it as it expands.

Another well directed sci-fi flick from writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina), this one from a book by Jeff Vandermeer. Not only is the film visually stunning, but thought-provoking, suspenseful and sometimes downright scary, too. Garland’s script only feeds us information a little at a time so we learn about The Shimmer and it’s effects on life, much as our four explorers do. The further they go into the anomaly, the more mutated the plant and animal life seems to get…and dangerously so. Along the way they visit an abandoned military base and an evacuated town where even more mysteries and abominations are presented to us. Add to this a group of women who are slowly coming apart at the seams and you have a sci-fi chiller that, at times, evokes the fear and paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing. We know it’s all coming down to a visit to that lighthouse at the center and what awaits us is chilling to the bone. On a production level, the film has some top notch visual FX and to add atmosphere to an already atmospheric film, is some wonderful cinematography from Rob Hardy and a fitting score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who did the same for Garland on Ex Machina.

The cast is top notch. Portman’s Lena is a somewhat emotionally complex character. She’s a woman who has had no word from her husband in a long time and even then there were complications in their relationship. Now he reappears and is in bad shape and needs her help. Add to that a woman already interested in biology and cellular activity and it creates a character with both scientific and personal reasons to go on what could be a suicide mission. Portman handles it very well. Leigh is strong as the group leader and another woman with her own personal reasons to enter The Shimmer. She’s tough and strong and can be hard on the others, but she never reaches villainous levels. Tessa Thompson is the emotionally weakest of the group and she is sweet and very likable and the first to bond with Lena. Rodriguez is the tough paramedic, Anya Thorenson. While she is a strong character, she is in over her head in terms of what her mind can accept of what she sees and the actress plays it well. Novotny’s Sheppard is a likable character as the team geologist and another character that bonds with Lena on this out of this world journey. Rounding out is Oscar Isaac who plays a lot of the role of Kane in a disoriented state, except for flashbacks when he is himself and does it well. A dependable actor.

There is very little to complain about here with a film that is a return to more thought-provoking science fiction. It is also a visually stunning ride, a suspenseful journey into a dangerous unknown and sometimes, a simply scary flick. We have a solid cast of strong female characters who each have their own reasons for going where only one has returned. It’s well-written, intensely directed and shows, like Ex Machina, that Alex Garland is a cinematic force to be reckoned with and a filmmaker who walks to the beat of his own drum.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) lighthouses.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

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GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

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

Ghosts of Mars was John Carpenter’s last film before he took an almost decade long break from filmmaking. The movie takes place in the future where Earth is terraforming and colonizing Mars. A squad of police officers, including Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), Sgt. Jericho Butler (Jason Statham) and Cmd. Helena Braddock (Pam Grier), are sent to a small mining outpost to collect career criminal James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube), who is suspected of robbing a payroll delivery and brutally murdering six people. What they find, aside from a jailed Williams, is that an ancient evil has been released by the miners and has taken over the colonists and turned them into savage killers. Now trapped and outnumbered, they have to join forces with Williams, his criminal posse, and the other inmates, to survive.

Film is directed by Carpenter from a script by he and Larry Sulkis. Carpenter’s appreciation for British writer Nigel Kneale is evident here as Ghosts has elements of Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit (also known as Five Million Years to Earth) and Carpenter’s own Assault on Precinct 13. We have the spirit forms of an ancient Martian race of savage warriors released from their tomb and possessing individuals, turning them into savage blood-thirsty killers, who are determined to oust the human invaders. This forces cop and criminal alike to team up to survive, as the Martians lay siege to the outpost prison. The film was not a success back in the day, but looking back it’s not as bad as it’s reputation suggests, though still one of Carpenter’s lesser efforts. There is plenty of action, abundant bloodletting and gore and the SPFX are charmingly old school on GOM’s modest budget. Carpenter had a little fun with telling certain scenes from different POVs and it has some spooky moments when dealing with it’s Martian specters, who can move from one host to another when a previous host is felled. The Martians themselves are creepy with bizarre face paint and gory body piercings. It’s only when their leader (Richard Cetrone) speaks that the scenes loose their potency as he seems to be uttering gibberish and not an actual structured language, like say, Klingon or any of the Star Wars aliens. It’s a bit distracting, but thankfully those scenes are brief and few. Overall, the film is derivative, but Carpenter still crafts a fun, action/horror with a good cast and some entertaining character interaction. One of Carpenter’s strong points has always been memorable characters and it’s no different here.

As for the cast playing those characters, Natasha Henstridge makes a strong lead in what Carpenter’s intro describes as a matriarchal society. Ballard is a fighter with her own issues and she and Ice Cube work well together. As Williams, Ice Cube is solid as the criminal with a bit of a code of honor. Sure, someone with a bit stronger screen presence, like Wesley Snipes, could have taken Williams into Snake Plissken territory, but Cube is more than efficient. Statham is good as the cocky and horny Jericho Butler and it’s interesting seeing him in a supporting role, before he became a top action star. Pam Grier is every bit the legend she is as the tough Cmd. Braddock and Joanna Cassidy is good as a scientist responsible for the Martians’ release. She supplies a lot of the exposition we need, as does a clever sequence of a stoned and possessed Ballard that fills in the backstory. Supporting cast include Clea DuVall (The Faculty), an imposing Richard Cetrone as the Martian war chief and small roles from Carpenter regular Peter Jason and Robert Carradine as train operators.

Maybe it’s the nostalgia, but all these years later this flick doesn’t seem quite as disappointing as it first did on opening day in 2001. GOM is still not Carpenter’s strongest work, or most original flick, but it’s also not his worst flick either. Carpenter crafts an entertaining action flick, with some spooky sci-fi/horror elements and has a good cast. It’s not perfect, but he does add some inventive touches and moments to a derivative story and it moves quickly at just under an hour and 40 minutes. Gary B. Kibbe provides some nice cinematography for Carpenter’s shots and Carpenter himself provides a rock heavy score with some famous names guesting on it, like Steve Vai, Anthrax and Buckethead*. GOM does show signs of a filmmaker getting tired of the whole process, but also one who can still make good use out of a familiar story and on a modest budget.

*Complete track listing with guest artists listed below trailer!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) angry red planets.

 

 

 

 

 

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GHOSTS OF MARS TRACK LISTING w/guest artists (list originally posted on Wikipedia)

  1. “Ghosts of Mars” (3:42) – Steve Vai, Bucket Baker & John Carpenter
  2. “Love Siege” (4:37) – Buckethead, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax (Scott Ian, Paul Crook, Frank Bello & Charlie Benante)
  3. “Fighty Train” (3:16) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  4. “Visions of Earth” (4:08) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  5. “Slashing Gash” (2:46) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  6. “Kick Ass” (6:06) – Buckethead, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  7. “Power Station” (4:37) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  8. “Can’t Let You Go” (2:18) – Stone (J.J. Garcia, Brian James & Brad Wilson), John Carpenter, Bruce Robb & Joe Robb
  9. “Dismemberment Blues” (2:53) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Stone
  10. “Fighting Mad” (2:41) – Buckethead & John Carpenter
  11. “Pam Grier’s Head” (2:35) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  12. “Ghost Popping” (3:20) – Steve Vai, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965)

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FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965)

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

There has been an atomic war on Mars and the planet is devastated. To save her race, the only surviving woman, the beautiful but sinister Princess Marcuzan (Marilyn Hanold), has come to Earth with her henchman, Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell) to kidnap beautiful young women to mate with the remaining Martian men. During their visit, they shoot down an exploratory rocket carrying cyborg astronaut Col. Frank Saunders (Robert Reilly), who is a mix of body parts and computer chips. “Frank” is damaged and begins a killing spree upon crash landing in Puerto Rico….still with me? Obviously these two plots will collide leading to a showdown with Frank and the Martian’s mutant pet monster, Mull (Bruce Glover).

This cheesy 1965 sci-fi/horror definitely gets points for coming up with a hilariously ludicrous plot and taking it with dead seriousness. It took three writers, John Rodenbeck, R. H. W. Dillard and George Garrett, to come up with this nonsense and it’s directed with giggle-inducing deadpan by Robert Gaffney. We have pointy eared Martians with visible bald caps kidnapping bikini clad babes, while Frank murders the locals looking like he fell asleep at a frat party and they glued transistor radio parts to his face with melted wax. As for his opponent, Mull simply looks like a bunch of Halloween costumes torn apart and then re-sewn together without much of a game plan. These two collide when Frank’s creator Dr. Adam Steele (Return of the Living Dead‘s James Karen) finally tracks down his errant creation and gets him somewhat functional again. This sets up the climatic confrontation as pretty heroine Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall) becomes one of the wannabe Martian mail order brides and Doc, Frank and the military go on the offensive. If Mars thinks they can have our bikini babes, they’ve got another thing coming! There is plenty of rock n roll on the soundtrack, along with sets, costumes and ray guns that would make Ed Wood proud. Add in some military and NASA stock footage and you got yourself a movie! This isn’t the only flick during the 50s and 60s to feature aliens wanting to mate with Earth women and one does wonder what was up with that. It might be the only flick to feature a NASA that has gotten into the grave robbing business to build an elite line of cyborg astronauts. It is morbidly economical and practical! Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is a lot of 60s B-movie fun with most of the entertainment coming unintentionally and hilariously.

With all the goofy dialogue and the simply lunacy of the plot itself, can one really fault the actors for this flick’s high unintentional laugh factor? James Karen is sold as the hero here, despite the fact that he is dabbling in creating astronauts out of spare body and and radio parts. Nancy Marshall is a pretty and perky heroine, but as in most of this era’s flicks, Karen is pretty much just a damsel in distress. Robert Reilly as Frank isn’t asked to do much but wander around looking dazed with what looks like painful make-up on his face. He does that fine. Lou Cutell (most famous for playing Amazing Larry in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) is disturbing, in a creepy uncle kind of way, as Dr. Nadir and pretty Marilyn Hanold just gets to act all bargain basement Maleficent in her silly Martian headdress. Performance of the film goes to the uncredited military guy receiving Dr. Steele’s frantic phone call about an alien invasion. The director’s brother-in-law maybe?

Overall, this is a cheesy fun B-movie that is a good of example of the type of low budget drive-in features that were made back in the 50s and 60s. It’s cheap, silly and fills it’s soundtrack with rock n roll music, as much as, it’s filled with girls in bikinis. Not hard to figure out who their target audience was. They don’t make them like this anymore.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Dr. Nadirs looking quite pleased with himself.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: ANNIHILATION (2018)

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ANNIHILATION (2018)

Biologist and former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) hasn’t seen or heard from her commando husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for over a year. When he finally shows up at her door sick and disorientated, a black ops team abducts them both to a secret location designated Area X. There Lena finds out there is some sort of disruption called “The Shimmer” surrounding an area of land with a lighthouse being it’s point of origin. This “Shimmer” is slowly growing and everything and everyone sent into it has never returned…except for Kane. Now Lena volunteers to join a four women scientific team, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), geologist Sheppard, (Tuva Novotny) and Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) to enter The Shimmer and find out what is going on inside. What they find is beyond belief and whatever it is, it’s changing the DNA of all lifeforms trapped inside it as it expands.

Another well directed sci-fi flick from writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina), this one from a book by Jeff Vandermeer. Not only is the film visually stunning, but thought-provoking, suspenseful and sometimes downright scary, too. Garland’s script only feeds us information a little at a time so we learn about The Shimmer and it’s effects on life, much as our four explorers do. The further they go into the anomaly, the more mutated the plant and animal life seems to get…and dangerously so. Along the way they visit an abandoned military base and an evacuated town where even more mysteries and abominations are presented to us. Add to this a group of women who are slowly coming apart at the seams and you have a sci-fi chiller that, at times, evokes the fear and paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing. We know it’s all coming down to a visit to that lighthouse at the center and what awaits us is chilling to the bone. On a production level, the film has some top notch visual FX and to add atmosphere to an already atmospheric film, is some wonderful cinematography from Rob Hardy and a fitting score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who did the same for Garland on Ex Machina.

The cast is top notch. Portman’s Lena is a somewhat emotionally complex character. She’s a woman who has had no word from her husband in a long time and even then there were complications in their relationship. Now he reappears and is in bad shape and needs her help. Add to that a woman already interested in biology and cellular activity and it creates a character with both scientific and personal reasons to go on what could be a suicide mission. Portman handles it very well. Leigh is strong as the group leader and another woman with her own personal reasons to enter The Shimmer. She’s tough and strong and can be hard on the others, but she never reaches villainous levels. Tessa Thompson is the emotionally weakest of the group and she is sweet and very likable and the first to bond with Lena. Rodriguez is the tough paramedic, Anya Thorenson. While she is a strong character, she is in over her head in terms of what her mind can accept of what she sees and the actress plays it well. Novotny’s Sheppard is a likable character as the team geologist and another character that bonds with Lena on this out of this world journey. Rounding out is Oscar Isaac who plays a lot of the role of Kane in a disoriented state, except for flashbacks when he is himself and does it well. A dependable actor.

There is very little to complain about here with a film that is a return to more thought-provoking science fiction. It is also a visually stunning ride, a suspenseful journey into a dangerous unknown and sometimes, a simply scary flick. We have a solid cast of strong female characters who each have their own reasons for going where only one has returned. It’s well-written, intensely directed and shows, like Ex Machina, that Alex Garland is a cinematic force to be reckoned with and a filmmaker who walks to the beat of his own drum.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 lighthouse.

 

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REVIEW: BEYOND SKYLINE (2017)

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BEYOND SKYLINE (2017)

2010’s Skyline was an awful alien invasion flick that centered around a bunch of boring characters in a condo dealing with an extraterrestrial incursion. Despite bad reviews, it still made a lot of money on a meager budget. Considering this, it’s actually surprising the flick took seven years to get a sequel. Follow-up takes place during the same event, but focuses on recently widowed cop, Mark Corley (Frank Grillo) and his troubled son, Trent (Jonny Weston). Along with other captives on an alien ship, Corley and son fight to escape. The plot then takes us on a goofy journey of stolen brains, rebellious robots, Asian outlaws, genetically altered babies and human resistance fighters…still with me?

Sequel is written and directed by Liam O’Donnell, who co-wrote the original, and it is a bit of an improvement. Original filmmakers Colin and Greg Strause, return to produce and let O’Donnell turn this into more of a straight-up action flick, with a solid and gory R rating, as opposed to the original’s PG-13. Unfortunately, the first time director also gets a bit over-indulgent with a very busy and silly script which finds the aliens harvesting human brains to control their machines and altering the DNA of human babies to accelerate their growth. We know this by running into pregnant Elaine (now Samantha Jean) and her boyfriend Jarrod (Tony Black) from the first movie, Jarrod, who’s brain is now in an alien drone. It is Jarrod that rebels and helps Corley by crashing the ship, turning the second half of the movie into a thriller about fighting back, when the survivors hit the ground running in what looks like Indonesia. This is where the Asian outlaws and human resistance fighters come in. It’s all very kooky and cliché, though at least O’Donnell takes the silly material seriously and doesn’t make a joke out of it. The action is fun and the FX are very good.

Adding Frank Grillo to this flick helps. Grillo is a solid leading man/action hero and takes the goofball script seriously and this helps us enjoy some of the more scatterbrained stuff. We also get The Hallow’s Bojana Novakovic as an LA subway driver, literally along for the ride, and she’s fine. There is also Antonio Fargas as a homeless, ex-soldier and Iko Uwais and Pamelyn Chee as outlaw siblings Sua and Kanya. Grillo is the strength here, but the rest of the cast do well enough.

Certainly more fun than the dull original, but also a lot goofier and with a far more convoluted and cliché plot. We get a lot of action, which includes spurting blood, some martial arts and even a Godzilla-esque giant monster battle. O’Donnell seems to be a bit better director than the Strauses, but is very overindulgent with his script. Grillo helps by doing a good job as it’s hero and the production value/ SPFX are quite solid. Ridiculous, but at least, not boring and there are also some fun bloopers during the end credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 angry aliens.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER and POD

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SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER (2015)

Moderately amusing and heavily cliché’d flick has selfish businessman, Dax (WWE superstar Mike “The Miz” Mizanin) out of a job and being tested for a new one by mysterious woman, Billie (AnnaLynne McCord). It turns out Billie is one of Santa’s elves and old St. Nick (Eric Keenleyside) needs a new right hand man and based on his kind-hearted youth, feels Dax is the one to be his new “Ho Ho”…not making that up. Standing in Dax’s way is ambitious and arrogant elf, Eleanor (WWE superstar Paige) who is outraged that a normal human is being courted for the job and not her…and vows to stop him.

Silly flick has it’s amusing moments, but is so cliché that it needed a lot more entertainment value to overlook it’s extremely familiar story from James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin’s script. As directed by Gil Junger it is very-by-the numbers and only McCord’s adorable perkiness adds some life. Both Mizanin and Paige seem to just be playing versions of their WWE ring persona’s and the film doesn’t try hard enough to give itself some real Christmas spirit. Completely bland and forgettable, but not without some small amount of charm…probably more due to watching it during the Christmas season than the film itself. At least the girls were cute.

Kids may find it more amusing, especially if they are fans of Miz and Paige, but after her work in Excision, McCord deserves better.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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POD (2015)

Sci-fi/horror has psychiatrist Ed (Dean Cates) picking up his alcoholic sister Lyla (Jug Face’s Lauren Ashley Carter) and heading to a remote cabin to check on brother Martin (Brian Morvant). Martin is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of violence and emotional problems who recently sent Ed an ominous and upsetting message. They arrive to find the house and Martin, in complete disarray with the ex-soldier claiming to have been part of government experiments and that one of those experiments, has followed him there. Does Martin really have a creature locked up in the basement or has he finally lost his mind?

Written and directed by Mickey Keating, this isn’t a bad movie just an extremely familiar one that offers nothing new to this conspiracy type tale told many times before and better…including 2014’s Extraterrestrial. The directing is competent and there are a few suspenseful scenes, but it’s predictable and we’ve seen it so many times before. The acting is decent, though Morvant’s raving gets really tiresome especially since it goes on for over 30 minutes. Worth a look, if you like X-Files flavored stuff, but don’t expect much or anything fresh or new. Also stars indie horror icon Larry Fessenden in a cliché role that I won’t spoil.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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-MonsterZero NJ
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REVIEW: EX MACHINA (2015)

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EX MACHINA (2015)

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Ex Machina is a great little thought-provoking piece of Sci-Fi from Alex Garland, who wrote the cult favorite Dredd and the equally thought-provoking Sunshine. It’s his first directorial effort and as such, it shows he is as adept behind the camera as he is the keyboard.

The film opens with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee of the internet company Bluebook, being chosen to spend the week at the remote home of the company’s CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb arrives and finds this is not a social event, but he is there to assist in testing a Bateman created artificial intelligence housed inside a very life-like robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Though as Caleb begins his test to see if the A.I. is truly self-aware or just responding to programming, he starts to believe that Nathan may have a dark side and there may be far more to Ava than mere machine.

To describe the story anymore would be to ruin a really interesting and entertaining piece of Sci-Fi from British writer/director Garland. The film obviously takes us to places that we originally did not expect from our opening sequences and certainly more than one character, human and/or machine, may be more than they first appear. Garland brilliantly guides us into his set-up and gets us very interested and emotionally invested in what’s going on and then, slowly starts to pull the rug out from under us, gradually, so we at first don’t realize it. Does Bateman have a hidden agenda?…does Caleb?…or does Ava? It’s a subtle but intense journey to find out what is really going on in this remote home/research facility and one that leaves us thinking about where artificial intelligence ends and sentient life begins. It’s a subject also touched upon in last year’s equally intriguing The Machine, but Garland doesn’t bother going onto the broader implications of A.I. as weapons or something as equally cliché or grandiose, but goes deeper than that to a far more intimate and emotional arena. Just how human can these creations get…and what effect will that have on us? Where does programming end and legitimate emotions begin? Where is the line and when does it disappear?…and what if it does? Do we treat these ‘machines’ as such, or as humans? Garland definitely posses a lot of intriguing questions while skillfully entertaining us with a story that can be equal parts endearing and disturbing. On a technical level, this modestly budgeted thriller has a really interesting visual style with a stark contrast of the gorgeous Norway locations used for the exterior sequences and the colder and more sterile interior of Bateman’s home/lab. The interiors sometimes evoke Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey with it’s almost sterile and functional interior design that contrast it’s occupant with Bateman’s, casual, shoeless and unshaven appearance. Garland has a nice eye for shot framing and it is captured well by cinematographer Rob Hardy whose lighting adds a lot of mood and atmosphere. There is also a very moody electronic score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow and the special visual FX are excellently carried out in presenting Ava and some of the more fantastic elements. A very impressive production on a limited budget.

The cast is excellent! Domhnall Gleeson is perfect as the programmer whisked into the lair of his company CEO and shown wonders he never expected. He obviously starts to have feelings for Ava and the actor makes you believe these feelings are real…and you understand his actions based on them. Oscar Isaac creates an eccentric yet brilliant man with his Nathan Bateman. He is also a man that seems troubled and may have a very dark side and Isaac let’s that bubble just below the surface before our story really starts to show Bateman’s true nature and agenda. As Ava, Alicia Vikander is totally enchanting. We understand how Caleb can start to fall for her, despite her being a machine and Vikander makes her innocent, yet intelligent and gives her a charm and vulnerability which is very convincing…and distracting. Rounding out is Soyona Mizuno as Bateman’s personal assistant Kyoko, who doesn’t speak any English and Mizuno gives her a nice air of mystery that suits the story tone.

In conclusion I really loved this movie. It’s thought provoking, skillfully crafted and keeps one intrigued and guessing. It is intelligently written, but avoids pretension and it can be very very entertaining and a bit disturbing when it needs to be. Definitely will go on my list of best films of the year.

-MonsterZero NJ

  4 Avas.

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REVIEW: THE MACHINE (2013)

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THE MACHINE (2013)

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

Stories of artificial intelligence becoming self-aware have been told over and over from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Colosus: The Forbin Project to The Terminator and this year’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron. There’s something chilling about an advanced machine thinking on it’s own and deciding we are obsolete…and it works more often than not. Caradog W. James’ British Sci-Fi chiller, The Machine is no different.

Story is set in the near future where war with China is looming. Enter Dr. Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) who is not only developing a fully robotic being with it’s own artificial intelligence, but implants that restore lost brain function to injured veterans and cybernetic replacements for lost limbs. While the Dept. Of Defense’s goal is to have an army of robotic fighting machines ready for when full war breaks out, McCarthy’s personal goal is to use his A.I. tech to save his daughter from a rare brain disorder. He uses the brain waves of his pretty new assistant Ava (Caity Lotz) to build the A.I. for his first fully robotic entity and when the inquisative Ava is suspiciously murdered, McCarthy makes the robot in her image. Government bureaucrat, Thompson (Denis Lawson) has more lethal plans for “Machine” (also Lotz) and as she is secretly turned into a fighting soldier, Machine’s more benign programing conflicts with her training and the self-aware automaton decides maybe it’s time robot and cybernetic veteran alike, took control from the corrupt humans.

Despite it’s familiar story, writer/director Caradog W. James makes it work by giving it…and his ‘Machine’…a heart at the center of all the cyber-tech and Star Trek level dialogue. Machine is a very endearing character and her almost child-like reaction to varied emotions makes her very ‘human’ despite her hardware and superhuman capabilities. This makes us emotionally invested in her story and we feel her confusion as she is caught between well-intentioned Dr. McCarthy…who she loves…and the more sinister intent of Thompson who wants an obedient instrument of war. It’s not hard to guess what side she chooses or how this is going to end up, but the robot’s emotional journey is at the core here and that is portrayed very well. Even the good natured McCarthy has his own secret agenda…benign as it is…and thus Machine is forced to do what’s best for her and her kind. Director James portrays the situation with a solid emotional base that makes it all work. We do really feel bad for Machine being caught in the middle of two opposing ideologies and don’t blame her for choosing her own ‘destiny’. On a technical level the FX are quite good and there is some very well-staged action in the final act, including some surprisingly bloody moments. The music is a very 80s electronic score by Tom Raybould, that really fits and there is some nice cinematography by Nicolai Brüel. For a very low budget film, it has strong production value to go with a solid, if not familiar story.

Big factor in making the story work is a strong performance by Caity Lotz (The Pact) as Ava and Machine. Her Ava is an intelligent and idealistic young woman whose naivety to the evils men do gets her killed. It’s easy to see with the use of her brain patterns to create Machine as to where the robot gets her heart and moral center from. As Machine, Lotz creates a being that has both a child-like innocence and dangerous superhuman capabilities. Her reactions to her new emotions are endearing, as is her youthful enthusiasm when enacting simple things we take for granted, such as touch, feel and dancing. Lotz also makes her a bit scary when she is given her lethal training behind McCarthy’s back and uses it to stage the last act rebellion against the sinister bureaucratic establishment at the hidden base she was created in. It is a very three dimensional performance by the actress and really helps make James’ flick come to life much like Machine. Stephens makes for a noble if not flawed Dr. McCarthy. He has good intentions, but Stephens gives him a bit of an edge, as while his ulterior motives are understandable, he is allowing his work to be used for a darker purpose and he knows it. He also portrays well McCarthy’s change of heart when it comes to Machine’s use as a weapon upon learning she is far more ‘human’ than expected. Denis Lawson makes for a perfectly slimy villain. His Thompson is a man with an agenda and who will lie, cheat and kill to get it done. It’s a very stereotypical character, but Lawson makes him work by oozing douche bag from every pore.

I liked this movie a lot. It does have a very familiar story, but also has a heart that makes it work beyond familiarity. Caradog James creates a very interesting near future which is bleak, but somehow given hope by a machine that has a clearer and less selfish view of the big picture of life. He has a good cast, especially leading lady Lotz who really gives her robotic character some nice dimensions. It’s an oft told tale, but told from an interesting angle that makes it’s automoton a lot more ‘human’ than most of those around her. An entertaining little Sci-Fi thriller that packs a bit of a punch when it needs to.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) “Machines”.

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