REVIEW: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

“In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.” ―Thanos

Third Avengers film finds the “Mad Titan” Thanos (Josh Brolin) deciding to restore balance to the universe by killing half of it’s population. To do this he must track down six powerful infinity stones to be placed in a gauntlet, that once completed, will give him the means to do so. To stop him, The Avengers must put aside their differences and The Guardians of the Galaxy must learn to play nice with The Avengers. Not as simple as it sounds as Thanos and his four children…The Black Order…will destroy anything in their path to get the stones…two of which are already on Earth.

Spectacularly entertaining film is directed with a wonderful mix of intensity, action and humor by Joe and Anthony Russo, who gave us the best Marvel film…until now…Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely who get a whole lot of story going without the film ever feeling like it’s too busy or a mess. Our heroes are split up on various quests. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to forge a new weapon, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to keep Thanos from getting the Time Stone and Cap (Chris Evans), Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) are trying to keep the Mind Stone in Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head out of Thanos’ mitt as well. The action scenes are far more spectacular than we have yet seen in the MCU and in this film series we’ve seen a lot. What can you say about a film that gives you Thanos vs Hulk in the first five minutes and that’s just for starters. What makes this film work so well, though, is not only some wonderful camaraderie between the many characters, but some very emotionally powerful moments, too. The Russos give this film an emotional depth that this series has rarely experienced and Joss Whedon’s first two Avengers movies rarely touched on. There are some side-split-tingly funny dialogue exchanges, too, between characters…such as Banner’s “There’s a Spider-Man AND an Ant-Man?”…and some heart skipping moments, that won’t be spoiled here. The writers pick some great character team ups, like Strange and Stark and Thor and Rocket with some great cameos that also won’t be spoiled here. None of this would work, however, with a weak villain and thankfully Thanos is one of the best MCU villains so far. He is given depth, a purpose…although, a diabolical one…and a powerful presence. It all combines for a villain who lives up to his threat factor big time and puts our heroes in more danger than they have ever been in…a danger they all face valiantly.

The cast is too large to discuss each individually. Our mainstays from the series all perform well with some stand-outs. Hemsworth is a highlight with Ragnarok’s changes to the God of Thunder carrying over here. While initially critical of Cumberbatch as Strange, he has grown into the role very well and the Russos use him wisely. Holland is turning into a great Spider-Man and the script, under the Russo Brother’s guidance, fix the awkward relationship between Peter and Tony that didn’t gel so well in Spiderman: Homecoming. Almost everyone is given their moments, there is some great dialogue for them and the whole cast are given some really intense scenes, unlike they have been afforded before, to shine in. The real force here is Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan. He does voice and motion capture for Thanos and really gives him a powerful presence and an intensity, few MCU villains have mustered in the film series’ decade history. You believe he is a threat and yet, they give him some emotional moments of his own, which give him a depth which only adds to his effectiveness. He makes this epic work. If there is any issue with characters, it’s that Thanos’ CGI children…Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive, Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian mostly come across as generic monsters, save for the creepy Ebony Maw…but Thanos gets most of the screen time.

There is very little to gripe about here. At 160 minutes, one or two scenes run on a bit long and a few characters, like Black Widow and Falcon get shortchanged in the whole of things. However we do get a comic book movie of epic proportions that brings spectacular action, nerve-wracking intensity, dramatic weight and some outright hilarious dialogue moments, all mixed to perfection by the Russo Brothers. Sure there is more to the story and the end leaves us wanting that more, but next summer the fourth installment arrives and it is going to have to be something else to surpass this, one of the MCU’s absolute best installments so far. Spectacular entertainment!

…and don’t forget to stay during the entire credits for a post credits scene that will knock your socks off.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 infinity gauntlets.

 

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NEW AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR TRAILER IS HERE!

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Marvel has dropped the new/final (?) trailer for Avenger: Infinity War which brings The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy together for a battle against the “Mad Titan” Thanos! Avengers: Infinity War arrives on 4/27/18 and is directed by the Russo Brothers.

Sources: Youtube/Marvel

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR GETS A TRAILER!

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Marvel has finally dropped the first trailer for Avenger: Infinity War which brings our heroes together with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a battle against the “Mad Titan” Thanos! Avengers: Infinity War arrives on 5/4/18 and is directed by the Russo Brothers.

Sources: Youtube/Marvel

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth flick featuring the web-head in the last fifteen years and the second reboot in the last five…and this is not counting his extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Marvel was in a hurry to add the wall crawler to the MCU, once they ironed out the legal details and so we have another Spider-Man flick with our third Spidey in Tom Holland. The character might have needed a break instead of a reboot as, despite all the attempts to ‘freshen’ it up, there is still a stale familiarity to the proceedings.

This movie opens with working man Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew cleaning up after the Chitauri invasion of New York and being escorted off the site by a shady government agency…without compensation. Eight years later, Toomes and his crew have made some high-tech weapons and gadgets out of some un-returned alien artifacts, including a flight suit which they use to steal more artifacts to make more illegal weapons to sell. At this same time, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is excited over being chosen to aid Iron Man/Tony Stark and is chomping at the bit to join the Avengers and be a real hero, something Stark now feels he is definitely not ready for. As the “flying monster” and his henchmen get on Peter’s radar, Spider-Man decides to try and take them down and prove to Stark there is a hero within the awkward fifteen year-old boy.

Film is directed this time by Jon Watts (Clown) from a script by six people and it shows. The film gives the impression of being a bit of a mess bouncing back and forth from superhero flick to awkward teen comedy and it doesn’t always mesh together well. The first half is especially weak as it focuses on Peter, once again back in high school, wanting the best of both worlds in being a normal teenager, who gets the attention of the pretty Liz (Laura Harrier) and a bona fide hero in Spider-Man. Instead he’s a nerdy outcast with only one true friend (Jacob Batalon) and someone Stark doesn’t trust to join the team, yet.  There are some funny bits, but here in the first half Spider-Man isn’t a heroic alter ego, but actually just as awkward at being a hero as he is socially as Peter Parker. His attempts at heroics cause more trouble than good and this approach starts to wear out it’s welcome quickly, as do the segments that enter routine teen comedy territory. It’s nothing new for something that’s supposed to re-invent the character for the MCU and comes off as clumsy as Peter. The second half picks up when he and Keaton’s Vulture start to go head to head and Parker has to go it alone when Stark takes away his toys. There is some decent action here, thankfully scaled down from the last few Marvel flicks, but again, nothing new. Another problem here is the attempts to fit Peter/Spider-Man into the MCU themselves don’t seem to fit and seem too obvious. Not only is there the Chitauri connection with Toomes’ toys, but the extended cameos by Stark and Iron Man. And if that’s not enough, Stark appoints Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to watch over Peter which really doesn’t add anything but yet another MCU link. The Spider-Man/Vulture storyline suffers, so we can spend time with Hogan and Stark. There are also numerous name drops to other Avengers and even a cameo or two from MCU familiar characters. This film feels even more like a deliberate attempt to force a connection with Spidey to the MCU than his cameo in Civil War. It’s obtrusive. Even Toomes’ big scheme involves MCU plot elements from past films. The film is still somewhat fun at times, but never feels like it’s own movie as even other flicks in the MCU series do.

The cast is good here. Holland does make a good Spidey. While the awkward approach was a bit much at times, the actor is charming and conveys both socially inept nerd and the hero within quite nicely. Keaton makes for an interesting villain. He is more a common criminal with some cool toys and that worked better than yet another megalomaniac. He has a couple of scenes where he is quite threatening and he is certainly more effective than Jamie Foxx’s Electro. Robert Downey Jr, at this point can play Stark in his sleep and he is Stark as usual here. Favreau seemed to be phoning it in as Hogan, which doesn’t help as the character has little to do but look annoyed anyway. Marisa Tomei is fun as Aunt May and while she is adorned in glasses, mom jeans and some corny dialogue, she is still Marisa Tomei…if you know what I mean and the film does have a little fun with that. Jacob Batalon is entertaining and has some very funny moments as Peter’s only friend Ned and Bokeem Woodbine has a minor role as Spider-Man villain Shocker who is one of Toomes’ thugs. There are also a couple of fun Marvel cameos, too, for fans to look out for.

So there are mixed feelings for a film that had some fun moments and a few solid action scenes, but felt rushed as far as reintroducing Spider-Man yet again. The script is a bit of a mess and with six scribes it’s no wonder. Jon Watt guides things well enough, but he can’t overcome the familiarity it still has and that the film tries way too hard to stuff Spidey into the MCU, which is now in it’s third phase. Holland makes a fine hero and Keaton a solid villain, but in all honesty, Stark and Happy Hogan really didn’t need to be there and their scenes don’t feel like they are part of the rest of the film. At this point the Web Head needs a bit of a break, but apparently will be back as the end credits forewarn us. Stay through the credits for two post credits scenes, one which playfully has fun with us for waiting through the credits for post credits scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 webs!

 

 

 

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REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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

When on a mission to stop a vengeful Brock Rumlo (Frank Grillo) in Lagos, The Avengers suffer a set-back when there is some collateral damage and lives are lost, including citizens of the African nation of Wakanda. The world is now becoming wary of the superheroes and the damage caused by the power they wield in our defense. Spearheaded by Wakandan King T’Chaka (John Kani) and Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt), the Sokovia Accords are implemented as a way to regulate the Avengers and their actions. This splits the team down the middle as a faction lead by Captain America (Chris Evans) are against the restrictions and a faction lead by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are for regulation. The rift widens as T’Chaka is assassinated and evidence points to The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). As Cap sets out to intercept and save his once best friend from government orders to eliminate him, it makes he and his allies outlaws, with Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers in hot pursuit. But is there a third party pulling the strings with an anterior motive?

In comparison, Captain America: The Winter Solider was a bit more streamlined and the lines between good and evil were certainly much clearer. Here the creative team behind one of Marvel’s best films returns to shake things up a bit by having a good portion of our story being about a fractured Avengers pitted against each other. It dares to turn Captain America into an outlaw and Tony Stark into the authority figure (which is an interesting stretch for the rebel Stark) trying to bring him in. The film is exceptionally well directed again by Anthony and Joe Russo, though the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely doesn’t quite feel as tight as the previous flick’s. One understands Stark’s guilt over Ultron and why Cap has a better understanding of the casualties of war, but it still seemed like they both took their opposing stances a bit too easily. After all, Stark has had no love for authority figures and Cap seems to put his personal feelings for Bucky ahead of the fact that Winter Solider is a killer and suspected of murdering a government dignitary in front of a watching world. Granted there is only so much time to tell the story and the film is already at 147 minutes, but it seems a little rushed. The story does give way to some spectacular action sequences that rival anything seen so far in the MCU and yet avoids another big city destruction scene that has been done to death in films recently. The fight scene at an evacuated airport is a lot of fun and gives some nice exposure to new heroes like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a certain web crawler (Tom Holland). The scene is a blast and is a nice lighter toned sequence to give us a break before things get dark again when Tony, Cap and Winter Soldier have an intense confrontation in Siberia, with the real villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl) unveiling his master stroke to get them at each other’s throats…and it is a nasty battle indeed. The FX are top notch, as is all other facets of the production and we even get some James Bond style globe hopping to give the film an epic feel, despite a more personal level story. Flaws aside, it is still one of the better Marvel films and far from the mess that was Batman v. Superman.

There is far too big a cast to give everyone their props individually, though some new additions are worth mentioning. The veterans do some of their best work in their roles, even if we feel these super friends got at each other a bit too quickly. It’s hard to envision an MCU without Evans or RDJ and the Russos give Johansson’s Black Widow her best material. Sebastian Stan gets a far meatier role as the conflicted Winter Solider/Bucky and he is solid. It was nice to see William Hurt return as the hard-nosed Ross. Elizabeth Olsen gets to play a troubled Scarlet Witch having doubts about controlling her powers and guilt over the results when she can’t. She is a fine actress and does well. Chadwick Bosemen impressed as T’Challa/Black Panther and should be exciting to watch when his solo film arrives. Emily Van Camp got a little ass to kick as Agent 13 and had a bigger role than in Winter Solider. An appealing character and actress. Daniel Brühl’s Zemo could have been a stronger villain, but that is currently an achilles heel in the Marvel films. Paul Bettany seemed to get a little short changed as Vision. We only get to see a few scenes of him interacting with the others before the action comes and his bond with Wanda didn’t get properly developed. Finally we get a really different and enjoyable Peter Parker from Tom Holland and a sexy Aunt May from Marisa Tomei. Looking forward to seeing both of them in their own flick, too.

Not as tight and streamlined as Winter Soldier and some of the character motivations seemed a bit abrupt and needed a bit more development. The film has no real clear bad guy till the villain pulling the strings comes to the forefront, but even then, he continues Marvel’s problem with weak antagonists. Zemo is far more Malekith than Loki. The big pluses are some truly spectacular and well choreographed action scenes that avoid overindulgence and a really dark and intense last act when our favorite heroes try to tear each other apart. The new characters such as Black Panther and Spider-Man arrived with shinning colors and some other characters got to show new sides. Definitely another notch in the plus column for Marvel and as usual, stay for two scenes during the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 shields.

captain america civil war rating

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DIGGING UP THE MARROW (2014)

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DIGGING UP THE MARROW (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Adam (Hatchet) Green wrote, directed and stars as himself in this faux documentary about a man named William Dekker (a terrific Ray Wise), an ex-cop who contacts the filmmaker about documenting his discovery…that monsters are real. Dekker claims that not only are monsters real, but he has found where they live, in a subterranean ‘metropolis’ he calls The Marrow. Green and his cameraman Will (Will Barratt) interview Dekker and follow him to the graveyard entrance to this underground world to try to catch footage of one of these alleged creatures. While they have every reason to doubt Dekker and his sanity, they may also have good reason to believe him, too.

Green’s flick is entertaining enough, but never really grabs hold of you even in the last act when things finally start to ‘surface’. The interview footage is fun, due to a really great performance by Ray Wise as Dekker and Green himself has a good time as the filmmaker gets drawn into Dekker’s story while everyone around him has doubts. And while I do consider this somewhat of a vanity piece, obviously for Adam Green playing Adam Green, at least he has the humility to amusingly poke fun at himself by being the absolute last of a long list of famous horror directors that Dekker has attempted to contact. The film, which evokes Nightbreed in spots, does get a little spooky as we follow the three into the cemetery and start monster hunting. We do get to see some well-designed critters by Alex Pardee, once things finally get rolling, though, far too few than expected from the build-up. There are also some fun cameos such as Kane Hodder and Tom Holland, but I just felt that the film really doesn’t make optimum use of it’s premise and could have been far spookier than it goes for. The ending in particular is intriguing, but could have been far more effective and it also leaves some plot points open…such as the implications that Dekker has a personal interest in what may live inside The Marrow. Oh…and if Dekker does have a personal attachment to something that lurks there, why threaten to expose it by having a renown filmmaker document it’s existence at all? Such questions leave one a bit unsatisfied once the credits roll.

Overall, I’d say the film is certainly worth a look and definitely is fun. It just never really gets going enough to completely draw us in and the spooky stuff is few and far between. We do get a few interesting monsters, but not enough considering what the build up implied we might discover. Not a great flick, but an amusing 90 minutes, though, in my opinion, another example of how Green’s love for movies far surpasses how effectively that love translates to screen in his own projects. He has yet to really grab me with one of his films.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 potentially crazy, old spinsters.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: CLASS OF 1984 and CLASS OF 1999

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I haven’t done a double feature in a while and what better double feature than these two Mark Lester action/exploitation flicks!

 

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CLASS OF 1984  (1982)

Class Of 1984 is a good old fashioned exploitation flick and it knows it! Story finds idealistic music teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) entering the crime and gang ridden Abraham Lincoln High School with the intent or doing some good. He immediately runs afoul of the most vicious gang in the school run by the charming but demented Peter Stegman (Vince Van Patten). The more Norris challenges the gang, the more they push back. Family, friends and biology lab animals are all caught in the crossfire as this feud escalates into a war and a peaceful teacher is pushed to the brink of savagery in response to Stegman and company’s increasingly cruel…and personal…attacks. Will anyone survive?

Sure, one could argue that Norris is a fool for putting, students, friends and his pregnant wife (Merrie Lynn Ross) in harm’s way by taking this gang of creeps on, but this is a sleazy exploitation film and co-writer/director Mark Lester knows it and delivers the goods. We let it slide that Norris continues to antagonize these vicious punks even though they let him know early on that they know where he lives and they are not going to relent. His crusade to rid the school of these deviants gets a lot of people…and cuddly lab animals…hurt, including a vicious attack on his pregnant wife, but Norris continues till they drive him over the edge and then, the real fun begins. Even back in 1982 this flick, that Lester co-wrote with Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) and John Saxton, created controversy with it’s portrayal of violence, prostitution and drug dealing all perpetrated by high schoolers…and then the violent and bloody revenge exacted on them by one of their own teachers. It’s over-the-top portrayal of a school run by delinquents may actually seem more appropriate now with what is happening in today’s school and far less likely such a film would have gotten made today, even on an exploitation level. It’s violent and while over-the-top, it takes itself seriously and is an effective and brutal action flick that isn’t afraid to go places that are considered taboo, maybe even more-so today. Great movie…no. Damn effective exploitation flick…hell, yes!

I wouldn’t say the acting is great, but the cast all take their roles seriously. King is convincing as the idealistic and somewhat naive teacher who thinks he is going to just walk into a troubled school and clean house. He also is convincing…and a little scary…once that good man is turned into a vengeful savage whose vengeance may almost be crueler than the actions of those he’s seeking revenge upon. Van Patten is very effective as Stegman. Charming and crazy and totally living in a moral vacuum due to a rich mother who has blinders on to his heinous actions. Not her baby, absolutely not. He is vicious and cruel and will stoop to the lowest levels to maintain his iron grip on “his” school. Van Patten nails it. We have veteran Roddy McDowell, who is a teacher who prefers to look the other way, but snaps when drawn into Norris’ crusade. McDowell always gave his all, even in a sleazy film like this. We also have a pre-“Alex P. Keaton” Michael J. Fox as one of the few good students left and another person Norris’ obsession gets hurt.  Rounding out the main characters, Ross is fine as the sweet, loving loyal wife who we know from the start is there to be victimized and those scenes are brutal and added to the film’s controversy.

This is an exploitation flick through and through. It steamrolls right into controversial topics and does so with a bloodthirsty gusto at times. It never pretends to be anything else but what it is. It’s effective and relentless and even has some legitimate suspense and chills in it’s portrayal of a good man drawn into a personal confrontation with complete trash. An effective B-Movie that still resonates in today’s world of violence in schools. Title song “I am The Future” is performed by Alice Cooper.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 saw blades…ouch!

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SPOLIER WARNING: This trailer does show some scenes which reveal key moments!

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CLASS OF 1999 (1990)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Eight years after his controversial but profitable exploitation flick, Class Of 1984, Mark Lester co-wrote and directed this follow-up which shares similar themes, but goes further over-the-top by adding elements of Terminator and Escape From New York. The film takes place in the future…or what was the future when it was made…where youth gangs have gotten so out of control that the police establish “Free Fire Zones” around schools where they will not enter and it’s up to the Department Of Educational Defense to use their own private security force to establish order. They also have collaborated with a robotics company called Megatech to create cybernetic teachers to educate and discipline these unruly students. Unknown to Principal Langford (Malcolm McDowell) the devious Dr. Forrest (a spooky Stacy Keach) has used combat robots as prototypes for these new teachers. Now it is the teachers whose methods of discipline are out of control and it’s up to former gang member Cody (Bradley Gregg) and the principle’s spirited daughter (hottie Traci Lind) to stop these automatons before more of their classmates are slaughtered.

Sequel is more of a straight-up B-Movie action flick than an exploitation flick, like 1984 was. But like that flick, the film knows it and dives straight into it’s over the top story and just runs with it…like a good B-movie should. First off, Lester earns B-Movie high marks by casting exploitation icon Pam Grier, 80s movie bad guy Patrick Kilpatrick and B-Movie veteran John P. Ryan as the three cybernetic teachers who turn killing machines. They add a lot of personality to their villains. The action in the film is decent but unremarkable, but Lester saves the best for last for the finale when the surviving gang members take on the three combat robots in the halls of Kennedy High. It’s this last act where the movie really comes alive and is at it’s most fun, as the teacher’s reveal their true T-800 nature and the high school hallways become a bloody war zone. This film, obviously, has a bit more of a sense of humor than Class Of 1984 and doesn’t get anywhere near as cruel or vicious, though it has a few violent moments. Lester moves things along quickly and while it lacks it’s predecessor’s intensity, it has fun with it’s premise by flipping things around and having us rooting for the delinquent students this time. It’s not a great movie and under-performed at the box office, but overall, it’s a fun little B-Movie though, not quite up to Lester’s work on Commando.

The cast are fine, it’s obviously veterans like Grier, Ryan, Kilpatrick, Keach and McDowell who stand out with their over-the-top performances as robots, mad scientist and the principal caught in the middle, respectively. Bradley Gregg does make a sufficient anti-hero with an Edward Furlong-ish quality. He could have had a bit more of a presence as a supposed former gang leader, but he does well with portraying a young man who wants out, but is pulled back in. Lind is an adorable and very feisty leading lady. She sadly is demoted to damsel in distress for the finale, but she gives her Christy a lot of spunk and fire for the rest of the flick. I had a huge crush on her back in the day and while I like her here, I still like her Alex in Fright Night Part II better. Alex had a bit more fight.

I like this flick. Not as strong as Class Of 1984, but it is still a fun B-Movie action flick that just goes with it’s silly story. I did see it in a theater…I think it was the Hyway Theater in Fair Lawn, N.J., another cool place to see B flicks like this…and had fun with it. I still enjoy it now, even though 1999 has long past and we don’t have cybernetic teachers…that we know of. It’s an entertaining little movie from a director who made a career of fun flicks like this and was never afraid to take his stories and run with them. A fun time and a worthy second feature to the first flick. As said, it performed poorly at the box office, but must have done well enough on home media as there was a second sequel, without Lester, that went direct to VHS in 1994. Also stars Near Dark’s Joshua John Miller as Cody’s brother.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 cybernetic disciplinarians.

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REVIEW: HOW I LIVE NOW (2013)

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HOW I LIVE NOW (2013)

Set in a not far off future, this British thriller tells the story of Elizabeth (Saoirse Ronan) … or ‘Daisy’ as she prefers to be called… a troubled and rebellious American teen sent by her father to live with her 3 cousins and aunt in the remote English countryside. At the same time there is a growing, and unspecified, conflict occurring within Western Europe as we see heightened security at the airports and TV stories of bombings in Paris. Daisy is at first very cold and resistant to the efforts of her distant family members to make her feel welcome, until she starts to have feelings for her oldest cousin, the handsome Edmund (George MacKay). But, as her defenses come down and she starts to let herself enjoy the charming farmhouse and the company of her cousins… especially Edmund… a nuclear device is detonated in London and the country falls under martial law as it appears an armed incursion is underway. With her aunt away, the four kids must fend for themselves and as the countryside is now being evacuated, Daisy rejects an offer from the US consulate to send her home, so she can remain with Edmund and his younger siblings. But, her choice only sees the military enter their farm and, amid promises to find their way back to each other, separate the group sending she and little cousin Piper (Harley Bird) to a military compound to live with a British officer and his wife, while Edmund and Issac (Tom Holland) are sent to a training facility. Now separated from the first thing in her life that truly makes her happy, Daisy plans to escape with Piper and find her way back through the chaos and violence to the idyllic farmhouse in the hopes of reuniting with the boy and new life she’s come to love. But, many miles and a country consumed in bloody conflict is between she and her happiness. How I Live Now is a grim and intense story directed by The Last King Of Scotland’s Kevin Macdonald based on a novel by Meg Rosoff. We never find out who is attacking or what the conflict is about, as it isn’t  important. It’s about Daisy’s struggle to reunite with her loved ones, not a struggle between countries or governments. And what really makes it work is that Macdonald never lets his characters or the audience give up hope, despite what is happening around them and we are as driven to see Daisy reach ‘home’ as she is.  Macdonald deftly sets us up by introducing us to the somewhat cold and ungrateful brat that Daisy first appears as, then slowly lets her walls crumble as she starts to realize how much she likes life with her English family and of course, Edmund, who steals her heart. He then takes it all away from her as the very world around them is violently coming apart and dammit if we are not just as passionate about our heroine beating the odds and finding her way back with Piper in tow, as Daisy is. The film is both love story and survival drama and it works and very powerfully so at times. The film is unflinching about the cruelties of war and it’s effects on man and beast and Daisy’s journey is a grim one. But, despite how dark this tale gets… and it does… it’s still about hope and like Daisy, we refuse to give up ours as we follow her on her relentless quest. None of Kevin Macdonald’s efforts would have made a difference if it he didn’t have the right actress in the lead role and teen Saoirse Ronan not only carries this film but, gives a powerhouse performance as an emotionally troubled teen who’s mother died giving her life and has a strained at best relationship with her dad. And now that she’s finally found something and someone she can hold dear, she will tenaciously do anything to keep them. Ronan takes us through Daisy’s change from bitter and distant teen to a young woman willing to fight and literally wade through enemy territory to reunite with loved ones and regain the happiness she’s wanted all her young life. It is a heavy emotional load and she pulls if off very well and combined with Macdonald’s skilled direction, turns this into a gripping film where the wrong touch or performance could have made it a laughable mess. It’s the type of story that if handled wrong could have fallen apart but, as is, the film punches all the right buttons and at all the right times… from it’s quite beginning right up till it’s quietly powerful last scene. Highly Recommended. A very emotionally involving film that reminds us that no matter how bad things get, there is always hope.

3 and 1/2 hawks!… watch the film to find out why.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

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FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

Fright Night is a fun 80s horror flick written and directed by Child’s Play‘s Tom Holland. The story is simple…teen and avid horror movie fan Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) gets a new neighbor next door, the charming and handsome Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) who Charley quickly comes to believe is a vampire, but obviously, no one believes him. As he tries desperately to convince his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and weird friend “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) of his neighbor’s deadly nocturnal activities, he also turns to horror movie actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) who is the closest thing he knows to a vampire killer. But even if he can convince them, can this motley bunch stop a real vampire before he turns his fangs on them? Obviously it’s no spoiler to say that Sarandon’s Dandridge is quite the bloodsucking fiend and Charley and Co. are in for the fight of their lives…and a fun and suspenseful fight it is.

As with the 1988 Child’s PlayHolland takes his story seriously, but gives us plenty of humor to go along with the chills and thrills, of which Fright Night has plenty, as we watch Charley first trying to out the fiend then incurring his wrath. This movie is so delightfully 80’s now, too, with it’s clothing, hairstyles and synthesizer filled music, but it is still a lot of spooky fun under Holland’s guidance and his cast is one of the reasons. Ragsdale plays the lead role perfectly, he’s a nerdy teen with the same urges and active imagination as most boys his age, but he finds the hero within when faced with a horror from out of one of his favorite films. The legendary Roddy McDowall couldn’t be better as cowardly horror star, Peter Vincent, who is forced to overcome his fears and become the vampire killer he’s played for years to battle a frighteningly real monster and save himself and his new friends. Chris Sarandon makes a delightfully sinister, yet charming villain as the vampire next door, playing the role with equal parts sexy and scary. He is very convincing as a powerful and lethal predator, but you also have no problem believing he can charm Charley’s single mom or his girlfriend Amy right out of Charley’s protective arms. And while on the subject, Bearse is fine as Amy being virginal and sweet at first and then getting to vamp it up under Dandridge’s influence. And Geoffrey’s is amusing as “Evil”  though he does go a bit over the top at times in a flick that’s played mostly straight, but he also provides some comic relief and the character is endearing despite his overeager performance and by no means disrupts the film.The SPFX in this decently budgeted flick are top notch as far as the abundant make-up and visual effects go and while the end is a bit overblown, it is in a Halloween spook-house kinda way and is an entertaining if not slightly bombastic finish.

An entertaining horror flick that’s become a bit of a classic and now has some added 80s nostalgia to bring to the spooky mix and is a Halloween season favorite of mine as well. Spawned a Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III) directed sequel in 1988 featuring Charley and Peter Vincent battling Dandridge’s vengeful sister played by Julie Carmen and is pretty entertaining on it’s own though, for some reason, was shown little attention by the studio and audiences when it was given a limited release before going to VHS and later DVD.

3 and 1/2 fangs!

blacula_1_rating

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

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CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

Child’s Play is a fun 80s horror thriller that proves that a talented director can turn even a silly premise like this into an entertaining movie. The film opens with psychotic killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) being hunted and shot by police. The mortally wounded maniac finds temporary solace in a toy store long enough to use his skills in Voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good Guys doll before his body expires. Enter widowed mom Karen (Catherine Hicks) and her 6 year old son Andy (Alex Vincent) who is a huge Good Guys fan and wants nothing more then an expensive talking Good Guys doll for his birthday. But when gal pal Maggie (Dinah Manoff) finds a street peddler selling one, she alerts Catherine who buys one for Andy. The doll announces itself as Chucky and no sooner is the doll in the apartment when bad things start to happen like babysitting Maggie taking a dive out of the apartment window. When Andy is found at the scene of another death, that of a former associate of Charles Lee Ray, the police begin to expect something is wrong with Andy, but the boy insists it was Chucky’s doing and his mom starts to investigate the doll’s origins, refusing to believe her son is a killer. But the more she investigates the more she starts to believe the impossible, that the soul of a killer inhabits the doll and she, her son and anyone that crossed Ray are in mortal danger… but who will believe her? Worse still is that Ray must transfer his soul into Andy’s body as his doll body becomes more human and thus vulnerable as time goes by.

Directed and co-written by Tom Holland, who also gave us the 80s classic vampire flick Fright Night, Child’s Play is a fun thriller despite it’s silly premise and the fact that the killer is a 3 foot tall doll with the voice of Brad Dourif. Holland and his cast, including Fright Night‘s Chris Sarandon as Det. Mike Norris, take the proceedings seriously and not making a joke out of it helps us to go along with it to enough of a degree that it entertains us. As a child with a pretty demanding role, Alex Vincent is quite good as Andy, which also goes a long way in making this flick work. Holland crafts some suspense which is an achievement since our villain is a plastic doll in overalls. He imbues Chucky with a lethality that, along with Dourif’s vocals, which give him quite the personality and some excellent FX to bring him to life, also help make this work far better then it should. The film moves very quickly which gives us little time to question plot holes or the sheer audacity of what we are watching. Once the film is over, you’ve had a good enough time to not really care that you just spent 90 minutes watching a homicidal maniac possessed doll killing people.

The film’s not perfect, the story moves a little too quick for it’s own good and it basically get’s it’s principles believing there is a killer doll on the loose far too early and easily when it was far more intriguing to have Chucky let Andy take the blame and having his mother deal with the possibility her son is a killer. The Terminator-like finale is borderline ridiculous, but somehow works and works well. But by the time the credits roll, you’ve let Holland and Co. convince you to take this nonsense seriously enough to enjoy yourself, so you can forgive the film some of it’s flaws and enjoy the fact that you’ve spent the last 90 minutes in fear of a kid’s toy.

Fun flick that created a horror icon and inspired a franchise that got more twisted and outrageous as the series when on… and mostly in a good way.

A solid 3 killer dolls!

childs play rating

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