BARE BONES: PEPPERMINT (2018)

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PEPPERMINT (2018)

Loving wife and mother RIley North (Jennifer Garner) watches in horror when she sees her husband (Jeff Hephner) and daughter (Cailey Fleming) gunned down by members of a drug cartel on her daughter’s birthday. After a failed attempt to bring the thugs to justice, Riley disappears. Five years later, members of the cartel start dying and it seems Riley North has transformed into an avenging angel and revenge is exactly what she is back for!

Film is directed very by-the-numbers by Pierre Morel from an extremely lazy script by Chad St. John. Lazy because the most important aspects of the story, such as Riley’s transformation from mom to vigilante and even the killing of the three men actually responsible for her husband and daughter’s deaths, occur off-screen. We jump five years after the ineffective trial to RIley’s war on the cartel in midstream. All we get is some FBI babble about her spending time in Europe and Asia and being a cage fighter to a gun store theft with Riley taking some very specific weaponry. Riley is now wiping out cartel members like a widowed Rambo and becoming a folk hero on the mean streets in the process. Where did she acquire her arms training? Her knowledge of guns and ammo? She’s outmaneuvering and mowing down men who have spent their entire lives with guns and in gangs. When we last saw Riley she was a banker. What really happened to her in those five years aside from what little we are told? That’s what’s important to give the story some needed substance, but St. John’s script gives us scraps and more clichés than Riley delivers bullets. Even an 80s style training montage would have supplied more information. At least Garner is very effective as Riley and it’s too bad her soulful anti-heroine isn’t in a much better movie that the actress’ work deserves.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: VENOM (2018)

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VENOM (2018)

Comic book based flick finds intrepid reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) investigating the Life Foundation and it’s CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who unbeknownst to Eddie has just retrieved some symbiotic organisms from space. Eddie gets infected by one of those organisms when sneaking into the foundation headquarters and now he and the alien creature become one as the anti-hero Venom! Can they stop Drake, who has acquired his own sinister symbiote and plans to help them invade the Earth?

Film is directed well enough by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), but from a mess of a script by Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel. What story there is, is all over the place and the tone of the film goes back and forth from serious Sci-fi thriller to absurd comedy, sometimes in the same scene. Hardy can be a hoot at times, though, with an eccentric performance and the relationship between he and Venom can be amusing. There are a few decent action sequences, but the human villains are boring and Venom and his adversary Riot are obvious cheesy CGI creations and have no real weight or presence. Overall it’s a silly film, with sub-standard SPFX and is possibly the worst Marvel flick since the equally messy and tonally challenged Iron Man 3. You’d think with the success of the R-rated Deadpool, they’d have gone for something a lot edgier considering the subject matter.
A schizophrenic and forgettable first solo venture for the Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero, though box office returns will probably earn it the sequel the mid-credits scene sets up. Also stars Michelle Williams as Brock’s long suffering girlfriend Anne and a cameo from Woody Harrelson as a familiar face from the Venom comics.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE TALL MAN (2012)

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THE TALL MAN (2012)

Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs was a brutal, shocking, visceral horror that grabbed the horror film community by the balls when released in 2008. Laugier returned to the writer/director’s chair in 2012 with The Tall Man and while it’s nowhere near as brutal or horrifying as his previous flick, Tall Man shows Laugier is a skilled filmmaker that can turn the tables on you and surprise you at will. He makes you think your watching something and that you know exactly what’s going on…then proves just how wrong you are.

The story here begins in the desolate, rural town of Cold Rock, WA., a dying town where the children are disappearing at an alarming rate and a supernatural figure known as The Tall Man is held responsible. A recently widowed doctor (a mesmerizing performance by Jessica Biel) is suddenly thrust in the middle of this urban legend when her son is abducted in the middle of the night. To say anymore would be to ruin a really intense viewing where the rug is pulled out from under you many times and you won’t see it coming. Yes, it’s more of a thriller than a horror film, but Laugier keeps you guessing and keeps you surprised and gives us something quite different, but no less effective, than his 2008 shocker. Laugier is no fluke. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: LEGEND

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LEGEND (2015)

Legend is based on the true-life story of twins Ronald and Reggie Kray (both Tom Hardy) who ruled London’s criminal underworld during the 60s. The film focuses on the relationship between Reggie and his wife Frances (Emily Browning), who narrates the film. It starts with Ron’s release from a psychiatric hospital, the twins’ rise to power and then to their eventual downfall as their behavior spirals out of control and they both commit acts they can’t hide from. The film is based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson.

With a clever script and some stylish direction from Brian Helgeland, we get a film that is very entertaining in that it has a slightly eccentric slant much like it’s subjects. It has the elements of traditional crime dramas like it, but gives it an offbeat and subtle humor and doesn’t shy away from untraditional elements such as Ron’s open homosexuality (in real-life he was a proclaimed bi-sexual) and his tendency for very strange business threatening decisions. The film can be violent at times, obviously, but uses it sparingly and with impact, as opposed to some American Mafia films which revel in it for it’s own sake. What really makes this film work, though, is the tour de force performance by Tom Hardy as both Krays. He gives both brothers their own individual, vivid personalities and creates dynamic portrayals as each of the two. He is fascinating to watch and it really elevates the film, not that it wasn’t already worth watching. Hardy is proving to be one of the best actors around today. A very enjoyable gangster epic with it’s  refreshingly own style and a fantastic performance by it’s leading man in a dual role. Also stars Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World), David Thewliss and Chazz Palminteri as Angelo Bruno, an associate of American gangster Meyer Lansky, who is interested in doing business with the brothers.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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REVIEW: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

I was having mixed feelings about this reboot of the classic Mad Max series, about halfway through, until the last act when George Miller cranks it up to 11 and delivers an opera of chaos and carnage to match…or maybe even outdo…the finish of his classic The Road Warrior.

Fury Road takes place years after the world has collapsed and finds ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a samurai-like loner wandering the wasteland, taken prisoner and brought to desert oasis of The Citadel by the forces of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the Toecutter from the original Mad Max). At the same time, one of Joe’s top imperators, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rebels and takes Joe’s wives/breeders out of The Citadel in a massive war rig. War parties are sent in pursuit with Max reluctantly brought along. Now Max must find a way to escape in the middle of a high speed road war and choose a side if he hopes to survive…but either side might want him dead.

Any reservations I was having from George Miller’s return to this classic character after 30 years was because the co-writer (with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris) and director is a little too eager to get things moving at first and starts his epic chase saga in motion when we could have spent a bit more time in the Citadel, getting to know our villain better and understand more clearly why Furiosa is willing to throw everything away to escape with Joe’s prized possessions. We also need to get reacquainted with Max, as this is a new version of the classic character with a new actor’s interpretation. Instead I was left a bit cold and emotionally detached till we start to get some character and story development while on the road and on the run. Even still, by the time the credits roll, we realize there wasn’t all that much of a story anyway…and the earlier films indeed had a story to tell amongst the carnage. What we do get, thought, is almost two hours of some of the most incredible and energetic stunts and action since Miller first grabbed us by the throat with The Road Warrior…and no matter what we see in the first two thirds, it’s nothing compared to the jaw-dropping demolition derby that he makes his last act finale. The stunts and crashes are absolutely amazing and Miller has not lost his touch filming them. You’d think he would have run out of innovative ideas by now…but he hasn’t lost a beat. The film is also a stunning visual feast and John Seale’s cinematography is sumptuous as is the shot composition by Miller. The film is simply amazing to look at. The score by Junkie XL is both pulse pounding and melodic depending on the mood of the scene and production design on all fronts is spectacular. The film is as epic in scope as the action within it. Best of all, there are some subtle nods to the original series that should delight long-time fans and the film returns to a harder edge after the PG-13 Beyond Thunderdome.

Miller has also assembled a fine cast of actors to portray the eccentric and oddball characters that populate his post-apocalyptic world. There is no better choice to pick up the mantle of Max than Tom Hardy. Hardy’s ex-cop is more of a man of few words than Gibson’s portrayal and he conveys the essence of a man who is hardened, dangerous, yet, with a glimmer of humanity left buried deep inside. Max’s past is a bit vague for those who aren’t familiar, but we do see glimpses of flashbacks where loved ones were lost. Charlize Theron is also a strong and determined warrior as the mechanical-armed Furiosa. She is tough and dangerous and like Max, still has a touch of humanity left. Keays-Byrne makes a sleazy and omnipotent tyrannical warlord, though I wish we had a bit more time to really get to know how awful he is to give him more intensity. The actor is delightfully over-the-top, but most of the time is just staring angrily from behind the wheel of an oversized vehicle and doesn’t have any of the memorable lines his Toe Cutter or even Lord Humongous had. Even his thugs aren’t anywhere near as memorable as Vernon Wells’ Wez. Nicholas Hoult rounds out the main cast and is over-the-top fun as one of Joe’s War Boys, Nux, who winds up joining Max and Furiosa on their quest. The girls playing the wives (including  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) are all pretty, but get little to do and there is also a cast of hundreds of extras to add to the film’s epic feel.

So, as a fan of this classic film series…and one of my favorite movie characters in Mad Max…this movie won me over and then nearly blasted me out of my seat with it’s final third. Sure, I wish there had been a bit more of a story and I do wish there was more character development so I was more emotionally invested by the time the action started. But Miller gives us some amazing action and it’s wrapped in a stunning visual feast and no matter how intense the action gets, it is nothing compared to the massive chase that finishes things out. Hardy makes a fine choice for the new Max…though it took about a half hour to warm up to him in the role…and Charlize Theron proves yet again that there is a versatile actress beneath that beautiful exterior. And what Mad Max fan wouldn’t want to see Keays-Byrne in action again, even if his character could have been stronger. Maybe not quite the masterpiece I had hoped for, but it can proudly sit among the previous installments and delivered some of the best chase action since…well, The Road Warrior.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Mad Maxes…Hardy style.

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BARE BONES: NON-STOP and LOCKE

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NON-STOP (2014)

The presence of Liam Neeson can elevate most films to another level, but even he can’t salvage this thriller which starts out ridiculous and switches gears to ludicrous in it’s last act. Neeson plays alcoholic and paranoid US Air Marshall, Bill Marks (how did he get this job?) who is framed for the hi-jacking of the very flight he is on. Jaume Collet-Serra (House Of Wax) does a good job of directing this silly film, from a script by three people no less, but can’t save it from the fact that it just gets more outlandish and unbelievable as it goes on. There is some tension and suspense, and certainly a lot to chuckle about, but all it really succeeds in doing is evoking memories of those silly, over the top Airport movies from the 70s, but without Shelly Winters and George Kennedy. Also stars Julianne Moore whose character’s purpose in the film still eludes me.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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LOCKE (2014)

Probably the best movie you will ever see about a guy driving from one place to another talking on the phone in his car. What could have been a real snooze fest is brought to intense life by a riveting tour de force performance by Tom Hardy and skilled direction from Steven Knight, who also wrote the script. The film takes place over just a few hours as Ivan Locke leaves his construction site job to join a woman who he impregnated during a one night stand. The entire film is he communicating with various individuals as his choice to be with this practical stranger, as she gives birth, causes his idyllic and successful life to come crashing down around him. It takes a lot of skill to make a flick like this work and work it does.

three and one half stars rating

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