BARE BONES: THE DARKNESS and HARDCORE HENRY

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THE DARKNESS (2016)

Not sure what is the worst thing about this cliché and incredibly routine flick, the fact that it blatantly lifts scenes and plot elements from Poltergeist and the Paranormal Activity series, or that this boring and unimaginative waste of time is from Greg McLean who made the intense and disturbing Wolf Creek.

C0-written, with S.P. Krause and Shayne Armstrong and directed by Greg McLean, film has the Taylor family (Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell) taking their daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and autistic son Michael (David Mazouz) to the desert for a camping excursion. Michael strays away, finding a hidden cave and removing some ancient Native American ceremonial stones. An angry spirit comes home with him, as does every overused haunted house cliché McLean and company could think of. Boring, horribly derivative and yet took three writers to come up with. The most disturbing thing about it is the use of an autistic boy as a victimized plot device. Still can’t believe this is the same guy that gave us the nail-biting Wolf Creek and the nerve wracking giant alligator flick Rogue.

-MonsterZero NJ

one star rating

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HARDCORE HENRY (2015)

Absolutely awful waste of time is a headache inducing tale of a man named Henry (played by various cameras) who is killed and resurrected as a cybernetic killing machine. The film is told completely from his POV as he rebels against his creators and tries to rescue his wife (Kristy’s Haley Bennet), who is a scientist that works for his makers. Helping him is rouge scientist (Sharlto Copley) who also bares a grudge against the megalomaniacal Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who is behind all this.

 As written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, this annoying and grating mess is a pathetic attempt to appeal to the gamer generation brought up on violent and gory POV video games. Based on the dismal box office, they failed. Complete garbage and an utter waste of 90 minutes spent doing almost anything else. Haley Bennet was so good in Kristy, and I hope being in this junk isn’t a mistake for an actress that shows a lot of promise. Best for her career this film is forgotten as soon as possible. I’d like to forget it, I know that.

-MonsterZero NJ

one star rating

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BARE BONES: CHAPPIE, BLACK WATER VAMPIRE and THE DAMNED

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CHAPPIE (2015)

Neil Blomkamp’s third feature, co-written by Terri Tatchell is entertaining enough, but the originality that made his District 9 so enjoyable and even his lesser effort Elysium entertaining, is substituted for a Short Circuit meets Robocop mash-up that has heart, but a severely cloned one. Movie tells the story of a very near future Johannesburg, which is plagued by crime and is patrolled by robot police officers. When one of those is damaged, it’s maker (Dev Patel) uses it to experiment with an artificial intelligence and the robot dubbed “Chappie” becomes self-aware. Add to it that, Chappie has been taken by a street gang to be used in criminal activities, gives the child-like robot some very conflicting emotions to sort through as he tries to learn right from wrong. There are some fun moments in the film, but it is far too familiar to embrace completely with some scenes lifted directly from Verhoeven’s Robocop including Chappie’s battle with a large battle drone. It also has some severe tonal shifts as it is on a children’s film level one minute and spattering the screen with bloody violence the next. I wanted to like this more, but Blomkamp recycles too much and resorts to clichés too often. Also stars Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman and Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley as the voice and movements of Chappie. FX are top notch as always in Blomkamp’s films.

3 star rating

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BLACK WATER VAMPIRE (2014)

Flick is a shameless rip-off of The Blair Witch Project substituting the witch for a vampire-like creature. Film has amateur filmmaker Danielle (Danielle Lozeau) wanting to investigate and make a documentary about a series of killings of young women that take place once every ten years in the woods surrounding the rural town of Black Water, WA. In each case the victim is left with large bite wounds and a complete loss of blood. Danielle and her crew (Andrea Monier, Robin Steffen and Anthony Fanelli) enter the woods and obviously, find far more than they bargained for. Written and directed by Evan Tramel, this found footage horror rips-off scenes directly from the previously mentioned Blair Witch, [REC] and even a bit of The Last Exorcism and doesn’t even do it with any style or inventiveness, so you cut the flick some slack. The acting and dialog are sub-par and the few effective scenes it has don’t make-up up for the laziness of everything else. Creature looked cool, I’ll give it that.

2 star rating

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THE DAMNED (2013)

By-the-numbers and dull supernatural horror has a group of people in rural Bogota, Columbia getting into a car accident during a bad storm and finding refuge in an old, closed-down hotel. Once there, they are greeted by a very odd man (Gustavo Angarita) and soon find he has a little girl locked up in the cellar. Against his protests, they free her only to find out she has been locked up for almost 40 years and is possessed by a vengeful witch who has the power to take over people’s bodies. Directed by Victor Garcia and written by Richard D’Ovido, this is a very routine possession/supernatural horror that does nothing new with it’s oft told tale of possession, revenge and murder. The FX are fine and location atmospheric, but the execution is very mundane and the cast, except for Brit cutie Sophia Myles, are equally dull. A few moments here and there, but very formula and very predictable. Also stars Nathalia Ramos and Peter Facinelli.

2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OPEN GRAVE (2013)

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OPEN GRAVE (2013)

Open Grave begins with a man (Sharlto Copley), who has lost his memory, waking up in a massive open grave filled with corpses and a gun. He’s rescued by a mute Asian woman (Josie Ho) and finds his way to a nearby house occupied by a group of people who also have no idea who they are and how they got there. The house is filled with weapons and there are gruesomely displayed corpses strewn about the woods and property… as well as some ominous cages. Now this group must try to trust each other and figure out who they are and why they are here in this secluded house surrounded by death… and something else. More importantly, who has done all this and is that person among them?

Written by Chris and Eddie Borey and directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego (Apollo 18), Open Grave is quite an effective horror/mystery that is best enjoyed by knowing as little as possible going in so, I won’t spoil any important details… though I always try not to. The film starts us out with some gruesome imagery of Copley’s character awakening among a pile of corpses which is enough to set a forbidding tone and then places him among likewise people who have no idea why they are there amidst some very disturbing carnage. Lopez-Gallego builds some very strong tension and paranoia as the group tries to figure out who they are and why they are here and who has committed such atrocities and why. Is that person among them?… or watching them from somewhere else? The answers are fed to us slowly and we learned bits and pieces along with the characters with some solid horror movie moments added in so, we never relax and it fuels our curiosity even further as to what is going on and how this all came about. And when we find out, is when the characters do and it’s all a very effective ride and a refreshing twist on whatever kind of horror movie it turns out to be. The film does have a more moderate pace then most horror films today but, also has a nice visual style by the director and cinematographer Jose’ David Montero and we have a movie that looks as unsettling as it is.

As for the players…the cast are all very good at playing the fear and paranoia of being stuck in a nightmarish situation with little or no knowledge of what is happening. Copley is a strong lead who is trying to figure out who he is and what part he has played in all of this. Josie Ho is very effective acting only with her eyes as the mute woman who seems to be somehow key in this nightmare. We also have Thomas Kretschmann who ads to the tension, as a very paranoid member of the group who does not  trust Copley’s “John” in the slightest and Erin Richards who acts as a stabilizing element and seems to be the levelest head in the group. Rounding out are an equally effective Joseph Morgan and Max Wrottesley as the other group members. A good cast whose performances help make this flick work.

So, overall, Open Grave is a very effective and suspenseful horror/mystery that is not without some strong action and some very gruesome moments. Sure it’s a bit more moderately paced but, it reels you in with it’s opening scene imagery and then slowly feeds you a trail of blood soaked bread crumbs till all is revealed in the final act. Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego crafts a very strong thriller that shows the potential he displayed in the sadly disappointing Apollo 18 was not a fluke when the man has a better script in his hands. Recommended!

3 and 1/2 stars… as I don’t want to give away any details with a more movie-centric rating!

three and one half stars rating

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REVIEW: MALEFICENT (2014)

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MALEFICENT (2014)

I’ll start out by saying that I enjoyed Maleficent very much. It was very entertaining with Angelina Jolie knocking it out of the park in a role she seems born to play. Be warned it’s not the Maleficent we know from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, but one portrayed more as a woman scorned and wronged, who must learn to let the warmth back into her heart after it’s turned cold by betrayal…not the traditional character we know, but very Disney nonetheless…and did I mention Jolie owns in the part?

Live action version tells of powerful but benevolent winged faerie, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) who protects the fantasy realm of The Moors from the human kingdom and it’s ruler King Henry. As a little girl, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy, Ella Purnell as a teen) has met a young peasant boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins) and as they grow up as friends, they fall in love. Stefan though, has his eyes on the castle and his ambitions gain him a favorable position with the king and thus he abandons Maleficent. Henry forces a confrontation with Maleficent and the faerie folk and when she defeats him, he declares any who shall bring him her head, shall be his heir. In an ultimate act of betrayal and to gain the heirless Monarch’s appointment as his successor, Stefan (now Sharlto Copley) drugs the forgiving faerie and after finding he doesn’t have the heart to kill her, cuts off her wings to fool Henry into thinking she is slain. Of course, this leads to the vengeful Maleficent returning to curse the first born daughter of now King Stefan that on her 16th birthday Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) will prick her finger and fall into a death-like sleep to only be awaked by true love’s kiss…something the hard-hearted Maleficent believes does not exist. As the powerful sorceress watches the angelic little girl grow up toward her cruel fate and receives love from a child that sees her as a faerie god mother, something starts to change in Maleficent making her wonder if perhaps this sweet child doesn’t deserve her wrath…but as Maleficent deals with her conflicting emotions, a vengeful Stefan plots to finish what he started all those years ago.

Linda Woolverton’s screenplay obviously not only presents the timeless classic of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s point of view, but adds some twists as well, as we are shown a woman who is forced into her role as a villain by betrayal and is not beyond redemption. It makes Stefan the true villain of the piece as an ambitious and then vengeful man, who forces the powerful faerie’s hand. It makes Maleficent more of a tale of love, betrayal and redemption and depending on how much you are endeared to the evil Maleficent from Disney’s classic animated film, will determine how far you will go in enjoying this. Personally, I would like to have seen Jolie as the evil Maleficent for a bit longer then allotted here, but I overall enjoyed this new take and the new twists the story gives to a classic tale. The film is very well directed by SPFX man Robert Stromberg (who did FX work on Avatar and Oz The Great And Powerful) though I did feel he could have added a little more intensity here and there. For a first film and one with epic scope, he does well enough and delivers an entertaining family film that keeps the adults perhaps a bit more involved than the kids. The film is visually spectacular and the CGI creatures are beautifully designed and rendered, including the classic dragon that we don’t see enough of. There is also a nice score by James Newton Howard who, ironically, also did the score for Snow White And The Huntsman. Despite all the talent involved, the film belongs to star and producer Angelina Jolie who is simply perfect as the classic Disney character come to life, even with the modern changes.

Angelina Jolie is a performer sadly the subject of continual gossip more then recognized for the skilled actress that she is. No more proof then her performance here that perfectly walks the line of over-the-top scenery chewing, yet fills it with powerful emotional depth and never once slides into camp. She guides us from her majestic beginnings as a strong yet compassionate faerie to her slide into heartless villainy at the hands of Stefan’s betrayal and then her redemption back to someone the audience will be cheering for when all is said and done. My only gripe is her moments of true villainy are far too short and the scenes which we get to enjoy Jolie at her Joan Crawford best are sadly too few. I enjoyed every phase of the character’s progression, but when Jolie is bad, she is so damn good and there wasn’t enough of it. The supporting cast are fine. I actually though Copley was a little weak as Stefan, but not enough to do the film harm and he was dislikable which was the character’s job. Fanning is pretty and sweet and portrays the innocence of youth just fine. Sam Riley is lively as Diaval, Maleficent’s crow turned human assistant. He has a good rapport with Jolie though, he is upstaged by his CGI bird incarnation. There is also Brenton Thwaites as Phillip, who represents the possible true love’s kiss and he is perfectly suitable as the handsome boy that catches Aurora’s eye, but his role is small as he enters the film late. There are also numerous CGI fantasy supporting characters that are given some nice realism in the rendering. The young actors listed above that portray Maleficent and Stefan as children all do very well, as do Vivienne Jolie-Pitt and Eleanor Worthington Cox as young Aurora. The scene between Jolie and her daughter is magical and the obvious casting worked like a charm.

So, Maleficent gives a new spin on a classic character and as long as you’re open minded to the “real” story of Disney’s greatest villainess, you are in for an entertaining movie. Jolie owns the role and commands your attention whenever she is onscreen, which is most of the time, and she need only glare to portray the emotions going on inside her legendary character. Yes Jolie is that good and while there is some spectacular visuals, a lot of exciting action and a relatively fast pace at under 100 minutes to go along with her performance, it’s her show. While she already has an Oscar on her shelf, now she can claim to have out-acted Captain America, Spider-Man, The X-Men and Godzilla all in the same summer. Now THAT is an accomplishment!

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Maleficents.

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REVIEW: EUROPA REPORT (2013)

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EUROPA REPORT (2013)

This found footage sci-fi flick tells the story of a company that privately funds a manned space mission to the Jupiter moon of Europa, where conditions may be right to support life. As the film opens the mission is being described by Europa Ventures’ CEO Dr. Unger (Embeth Davidtz) and we know right away the mission did not go well as she tearfully begins to tell the ill-fated tale by playing the mission footage communicated back to Earth. As the footage progresses we follow the astronauts from launch to the loss of one of the crew during an accident while on spacewalk to the landing on Europa where things really start to spiral out of control. We then follow the mission to it’s obviously tragic conclusion.

Europa Report is a decent and engrossing enough sci-fi thriller, though it never really builds the intensity or suspense we would have liked. The story by Philip Gelatt is interesting and it is competently directed by Sebastián Cordero, though it never really pulls us in like the recent Gravity which has some similar sequences. One of the flaws that hurts here is that we never really get endeared to the crew. The characters are likable enough and the cast of actors are all competent but, we never really interact with them enough or get to know them well enough to really care like we did with Gravity’s two astronauts in peril. The use of the mission control footage from the ship’s interior and exterior cameras makes us distant voyeurs and the use of POV is limited so we never really feel like we are there, which is the entire point of found footage. The use of professional actors like Davidtz and Elysium’s Sharlto Copley also hinders the found footage use, as they obviously are actors, not astronauts and thus this can’t be actual footage. It renders the illusion powerless. But, those flaws aside the story is interesting and I was never bored during it’s 90 minute running time. The production value is very good. There are some nice SPFX and the sets are well-made and give the illusion of the characters being inside a real spacecraft and not a set. Too bad we are never made to feel like we are in there with them. Obviously, it is not until the final frames do we find out what is really been happening on Jupiter’s moon and the film kept me curious though, I suspected the conclusion would reveal as much and play out like it did.

It’s just a shame this was only a moderately entertaining little flick instead of a real nail-biter like the story’s potential held. If you like sci-fi and you like found footage, it certainly is better than Apollo 18 but, should also have been a lot better than it is. I wasn’t expecting another Gravity or even a space set Blair Witch but, it could have been something that at least evoked those films and gave us more chills, suspense and intensity. Overall worth a look and I did enjoy it but, could have been so much more.

3 moons of Jupiter!

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REVIEW: ELYSIUM (2013)

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ELYSIUM (2013)

As a huge fan of writer/ director Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, I couldn’t wait to see what he came up with next. Now after a 4 year wait, his sophomore flick Elysium has arrived. I liked Elysium. I was certainly entertained but, it does have some problems that keep it from reaching the standard set by District 9 such as, a bit of an overloaded story and some surprising overacting by a few principles. Elysium tells the story of the future Earth of 2154. The planet is overpopulated and ravaged and the rich and powerful have moved off planet to the enormous space station of Elysium where they have every convenience and luxury, while the rest are left to labor and wallow in the mess. Enter ex-con Max, (Matt Damon) a man trying to work hard and stay out of trouble and prison, while dreaming of reconnecting with childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga). An accident at work leaves Max fatally poisoned with radiation and with 5 days left to live, Max needs to get to the only place where he can be cured, Elysium… which is off limits to the poor inhabitants of Earth. Max turns to crime-lord and hacker, Spider (Wagner Moura). Spider will get Max on Elysium if he helps steal the information about all it’s access codes stored in the brain of one, John Carlyle (William Fichtner) who, unknown to Max and Spider, is working with Elysium Secretary Of Defense, Delacourt (a surprisingly miscast Jodie Foster) to overthrow Elysium’s president (Faran Tahir). Still with me? Needless to say Max now has information that Delacourt will kill to get and is being hunted by her henchman, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) all the while trying to find his way to Elysium to heal himself. Throw in strength enhancing exo-skeletons, Frey’s sick daughter and we have a Sci-Fi action soup with a lot of ingredients. Elysium does have a bit of an overcomplicated story and while it is not hard to follow, it just has a lot of elements to it as, once again, Blomkamp tackles the theme of  ‘the haves and the have-nots, as he did in District 9. We get the contrast of the over populated slum Earth has become to the spotless and perfect living conditions the wealthy enjoy in Elysium which, floats above in Earth’s orbit as a constant reminder of how little we all are to them and how they are so above us. The message is not subtle but, Blomkamp skillfully keeps it from overwhelming things with so much else going on. There is a lot of fast paced action and with a complex story as we have, the director keeps things moving very quickly. The excess of plot doesn’t slow things down though one feels it might have served the film if things were streamlined a little bit and there weren’t quite so many players in the game. And as for the players, Damon and Braga are strong though Braga’s Frey really doesn’t get that much screen time till the last act so we don’t identify with her as much even though we do get treated to flashbacks of she and Max as kids in an orphanage. Damon proves once again he can be an action star yet with some nice depth, giving Max some layers that enhances his character much like his surgically attached exo-skeleton enhances his strength and agility. Sadly it’s veteran actress Foster who seems to be miscast here. She never quite strays into camp but, plays Delacourt like one half stereotypical bureaucratic douche and the other half Roger Moore era Bond villain complete with unidentifiable accent. It sticks out awkwardly in what is a serious Sci-Fi flick as does District 9 star Sharlto Copley, who is completely over the top as Kruger. Which is disappointing consider how good he was in D9. A calmer demeanor would have made him more threatening. Neither characterization seems to fit in with the more grounded performances of the leads and more serious tone of the film. Joining them is Wagner Moura who is just weak and tries to compensate by over doing it as Spider. An actor with a bit stronger presence who doesn’t need to try as hard would have worked better. But, there is still plenty to like about this film. It’s story may be complicated but, there is a lot of action to move it along and some delightfully gruesome moments splattered here and there as this future’s weapons do make a mess. The last act especially is quite thrilling and has a nice emotional impact to go with all the explosions, gunfire and mechanically enhanced hand to hand combat. The SPFX are flawless, the design is breathtaking and the film could easily take place in District 9’s world. The score by Ryan Amon suits the film well, though reminded me of Dark Knight Rises a bit, but, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So, all in all I liked Elysium and recommend it especially if you enjoyed District 9. It’s a bit meatier then most summer fair so, those who are tired of moody superheroes might like being given a bit more to chew on. Just be prepared that there is a complex story to digest along with the action and that a few of the veteran cast members just don’t seem right for their roles. Entertaining despite it’s flaws and another strong role from the versatile Damon.

A solid 3 mechanically enhanced Matt Damons

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