Category: Z-View

Into the Ashes (2019) Written & Directed by Aaron Harvey, Starring Luke Grimes, James Badge Dale, Frank Grillo & Robert Taylor / Z-View

Into the Ashes (2019)

Director:  Aaron Harvey

Screenplay:  Aaron Harvey

Starring: Luke Grimes, Frank Grillo, Marguerite Moreau, James Badge Dale, Rob Mello and Robert Taylor

Tagline: None

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Nick Brenner (Grimes) used to run with a rough crew.  But he got smart and got away.  He moved to another town, found the woman of his dreams and married.  Nick’s holding down a job at a furniture store and making things work with his father-in-law, the local sheriff (Taylor).  The past is behind him… or so he thinks.

When his crime partners show up unexpectedly the unthinkable happens.  Nick is plunged back into his criminal past.  Both Nick and his father-in-law will have to decide how far their willing to go when nothing can fix what’s been done.

Hats off to Aaron Harvey for writing, producing and directing Into the Ashes.  What could be a simple revenge film was instead a layered tale that respected the audience’s intelligence.  The film features a strong cast of relative unknowns outside of the always good Frank Grillo and Robert Taylor.  Rob Mello and Marguerite Moreau deserve special praise for their small but impressive roles.  I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about Into the Ashes and look forward to Aaron Harvey’s next film.

Into the Ashes earns 4 of 5 stars.

“Morbius” (2022) / Z-View

Morbius (2022)

Director:  Daniel Espinosa

Screenplay:  Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless

Starring: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Tyrese Gibson and Michael Keaton

Tagline: The line between hero and villain will be broken.

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Michael Morbius (Leto) is a brilliant doctor who uses vampire bat blood to cure himself from a rare degenerative blood disease.  The process also gives Morbius powers associated with vampires (heightened senses, super speed and strength), but also a need for human blood.  When Morbius hungers, he loses control and all around him are in danger.

When Morbius’ friend Milo (Smith), who suffers from the same rare blood disease realizes that Morbius has found a cure, he goes through the process and becomes a vampire.  While Morbius sees himself as a monster and looks for a cure; Milo embraces being a vampire.  He sees himself as the next step in evolution and enjoys feeding on humans.  The police believe that Morbius is responsible for Milo’s murders.  Morbius struggles to find a cure with the police and Mio out to kill him…

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Morbius.  While the movie is set within the Marvel Universe, it played out pretty much as a standalone film.  Leto is perfect as the slightly strange Dr. Morbius.  When the movie started I felt it carried a vibe similar to the under-rated television show The Passage (which is a good thing).  I’m not a big superhero movie fan, but I enjoyed this one.

Morbius earns 4 of 5 stars.

“I Came By” (2022) / Z-View

I Came By (2022)

Directors:  Babak Anvari

Screenplay:  Babak Anvari, Namsi Khan from a story by Babak Anvari 

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Percelle Ascott, George MacKay, Kelly Macdonald, Franc Ashman and Varada Sethu

Tagline: None

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Toby (MacKay) and Jay (Ascott) are best friends.  For kicks they like to sneak in to rich people’s homes and leave the graffiti message, I Came By painted on one of their walls.  These hijinks have gotten media attention wondering who these bold social activists could be and what the message means.

When Jay learns that his wife is pregnant, he tells Toby his I Came By days are over.  He wants to be there for his child and he won’t risk getting arrested over nonsense.  Jay becomes angry and says they’d already picked out their next target, Hector Blake (Bonneville), a judge that Jay believes is a hypocrite.  When Toby stands firm, Jay says that he’ll go alone.

And he does.  When Jay breaks into Blake’s mansion he hears noises from the basement.  What he discovers sets off a chain reaction that plays out in surprising and bold ways.  I Came By is well written, well acted and well directed.  I was impressed with the screenwriters’ ability to create a story with surprises and a director who trusted the viewer’s intelligence.  I Came By easily rates 4 of 5 stars.

I Came By earns 4 of 5 stars.

“End of the Road” (2022) / Z-View

End of the Road (2022)

Directors:  Millicent Shelton

Screenplay:  Christopher J. Moore, David Loughery

Starring: Queen Latifah, Ludacris, Mychala Lee, Shaun Dixon, Beau Bridges, Frances Lee McCain and Keith Jardine

Tagline: There’s No Turning Back..

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Brenda (Latifah), her two children, Kelly (Lee) and Cam (Dixon) along with Brenda’s brother, Reggie (Ludacris) are on a cross-country road trip.  Late at night in their hotel they hear a commotion and gunshot in the next room.  They go over to find a man dying from a bullet wound.  Brenda gives first aide until help arrives.

The next morning, Brenda provides what little information she has to the police.  Sheriff Hammers (Bridges) wants her to stick around, but Brenda says she’s available by phone. The family leaves.  Before too long Brenda receives a call from someone saying he knows who she is and he wants his money back!  Brenda hangs up, only to learn that Reggie took a satchel of cash from the hotel room while Brenda was giving first aide.  Now a brutal killer is on their trail… he wants his money and will kill everyone to get it!

End of the Road starts off well enough.  A family on the road in peril is a idea.  The problem is there’s never any mystery to who the killer is and while the family is placed in dangerous situations, the way the movie unfolds we know that there’s no real danger.  There is a tense situation at the start of the movie between two rednecks in a truck blocking the path of Brenda’s car.  Reggie is ready to fight, but Brenda is able to calm him and get the thugs to move on.  Later Brenda is trapped by a group of white supremacists and she turns into some sort of fighting machine, beating up some and shooting another!  In the final act of the film (get ready for a big spoiler!), we learn Sheriff Hammers is the killer!  We’re supposed to believe that 81 year old Beau Bridges is a physical threat to a woman who handed a butt-whoopin’ to Mace’s (UFC fighter Keith Jardine) skinheads?

What could have made this film work is to change the look and feel to a 1970s blaxploitation movie.  Since every major white character the family interacts with is racist or bad, it wouldn’t have been too difficult.  Throw in a soundtrack that echos Lalo Schifrin or Isacc Hayes and we’d have something.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen and we’re left with an OK movie that should have been better.

End of the Road earns 2 of 5 stars.

“Goodnight Mommy” (2022) Starring Naomi Watts / Z-View

Goodnight Mommy (2022)

Directors:  Matt Sobel

Screenplay:  Kyle Warren  based on Goodnight Mommy (2014) written and directed by Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Starring: Naomi Watts, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Peter Hermann, Jeremy Bobb and Crystal Lucas-Perry

Tagline:  None

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

When twin brothers, Elias and Lukas arrive at their mother’s remote home for the summer, they’re surprised to find her face covered in bandages.  She explains that she’s had cosmetic surgery. Pretty quickly they see that their mother isn’t acting normal… and they begin to wonder if it is their mother!  When she takes their cell phone they have no way to contact anyone and mom’s behavior is getting worse.

Goodnight Mommy is a fun ride in the tradition of The Twilight Zone or a good M. Night Shyamalan film.  There are at least three “What?!” moments.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Goodnight Mommy.

Goodnight Mommy earns 4 of 5 stars.

“It Came From Outer Space” (1953) / Z-View

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

Directors:  Jack Arnold

Screenplay:  Harry Essex from a story by Ray Bradbury

Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake and Russell Johnson

Tagline: Terror In 3-D… Reaching From The Screen To Seize You In Its Grasp!…

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

When John Putnam (Carlson) and his fiancé, Ellen Fields (Rush) see a meteorite crash nearby, they go to investigate.  What they discover is an alien spaceship.  They escape to inform the town folk, but no one believes them… until people begin to act strange!

When I was a kid, I didn’t like It Came From Outer Space.  There’s more suspense than action.  The aliens look goofy instead of scary.  It’s also a movie where the aliens don’t want to cause harm.  Like ET, they just want to get home.  I recently re-watched It Came From Outer Space, it’s not great but it’s also not a bad way to spend 81 minutes.  ; )

It Came from Outer Space earns 3 of 5 stars.

“The Return of Dr. X” (1939) – Humphrey Bogart’s Only Horror Film / Z-View

The Return of Dr. X (1939)

Directors:  Vincent Sherman

Screenplay:  Lee Katz based on The Doctor’s Secret (1938) story in Detective Fiction Weekly by William J. Makin

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane, Dennis Morgan, John Litel and Huntz Hall

Tagline:  Back from the Grave He Came!

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Walter Garrett is a newspaper reporter following leads on a story involving murders where bodies are drained of their blood.  Garrett consults with his friend, Dr. Michael Rhodes (Morgan) who then joins the investigation.  Garrett and Rhodes discover that Dr. Marshall Quesne (Bogart) bears a strong resemblance to Dr. Maurice Xavier.  Xavier was executed in the electric chair for horrible experiments that killed a child.  As Garrett and Rhodes get closer to the truth, they may be getting closer to their deaths…

When The Return of Dr. X was released, Humphrey Bogart wasn’t yet Bogart the star.  He ended up with third billing, reportedly hated the film and never again worked on a horror movie again.  The Return of Dr. X is a fun Warner Brothers B picture.  Getting Bogart is a bonus!

The Return of Dr. X earns 3 of 5 stars.

“Chato’s Land” (1972) Starring Charles Bronson / Z-View

Chato’s Land (1972)

Directors:  Michael Winner

Screenplay:  Gerald Wilson

Starring: Charles Bronson, Jack Palance, James Whitmore, Simon Oakland, Ralph Waite, Richard Jordan and Victor French

Tagline:  What Chato’s land doesn’t kill, Chato will.

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Chato (Bronson) is forced into a gunfight and kills a man in self-defense.  He then rides out of town.  Quincey Whitmore (Palance), a former Confederate Captain, pulls together a blood-thirsty posse to track and kill Chato.  Realizing that Chato can hide and survive off the land longer than they can, the posse goes to Chato’s home.  They rape his wife and stake her out as bait.  Chato stops running and goes to war.

Chato’s Land has many of the same beats as First Blood.  Bronson, like Rambo, says little and let’s his actions do the talking.  This was the first teaming of director, Michael Winner and Charles Bronson.  The would go on to work on five other movies together.

Chato’s Land earns 3 of 5 stars.

“White Buffalo” (1977) Starring Charles Bronson and Will Sampson / Z-View

White Buffalo (1977)

Directors:  J. Lee Thompson

Screenplay:  Richard Sale based on his novel The White Buffalo

Starring: Charles Bronson, Jack Warden, Will Sampson, Kim Novak, Clint Walker, Stuart Whitman, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Ed Lauter and Martin Kove

Tagline: Two legendary enemies unite to fight the charging white beast!!

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Wild Bill Hickcock (Bronson) tormented by dreams of being killed by a giant white buffalo, heads west to face his fears.  While on the hunt for the beast, Hickcock meets Chief Crazy Horse (Sampson) who also wants to kill the creature.  Although natural enemies, Hickcock and Crazy Horse slowly develop a mutual respect as they attempt to track and kill the monster.

While Hickcock did wear his guns in a sash, sunglasses weren’t invented until decades later and look so out of place in Bronson’s characterization.  The White Buffalo is a giant creature that works best, and is almost hypnotizing in dream sequences.  In the final scenes (where Sampson has jumped on it’s back), the buffalo looks silly.  The most fun in the film is seeing star cameos by Kim Novak, Clint Walker, Stuart Whitman, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Ed Lauter and Martin Kove.

White White Buffalo earns 3 of 5 stars.

“You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man” (1939) Starring W.C. Fields / Z-View

You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man (1939)

Directors:  George Marshall, Edward F. Cline (uncredited)

Screenplay:  Everett Freeman, Richard Mack, George Marion, Jr.  from a story by Charles Bogle (W.C. Fields)

Starring: W.C. Fields, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy & Mortimer Snerd, Constance Moore and Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson

Tagline: AT LAST YOU CAN SEE THESE FAMOUS FEUDSTERS CLASH ON THE SCREEN!

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Larson E. Whipsnade (Fields) owns a struggling circus.  They’re just one step ahead of the law and nearly broke.  Despite being in love with The Great Edgar (Bergin), the ventriloquist in her father’s circus, Vickey (Moore) decides to marry a rich suitor thinking that the money will fix things for her dad.  Will love win out?

W.C. Fields and Edgar Bergen had popular radio shows and a “running feud”.  It was a natural to get them on film.  The great thing about You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man is the jokes/gags keep coming.  Eddie “Rochester” Anderson doesn’t get a lot to do, but it’s always a joy to see him on film.

You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man earns 4 of 5 stars.

“An Honest Liar” (2014) / Z-View

An Honest Liar (2014)

Directors:  Justin Weinstein, Tyler Measom

Written by:  Justin Weinstein, Tyler Measom, Greg O’Toole

Starring: James Randi, José Alvarez, Penn Jillette, Teller, Adam Savage, Alice Cooper, Bill Nye, Uri Geller  and Peter Popoff

Tagline:  None.

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

James Randi began his career as a carnival magician and escape artist.  His goal was to learn every trick performed by Harry Houdini and improve on them where he could.  In the early 1970s, as “The Amazing Randi” was winding down his escape artist act, his career took an interesting path that led to even greater fame.  Randi turned his sights on con artists such as faith healers, psychics, and folks claiming supernatural powers.  Randi would recreate their “miracles” and then explain how he did them!

Two of his most famous run-ons occurred with Uri Geller and Peter Popoff.  Geller was making the rounds on tv shows, moving objects and bending spoons with just his mind.  Geller was scheduled be a guest on The Johnny Carson Show.  Carson’s staff reached out to Randi who gave specific instructions on how to insure that Geller couldn’t cheat.  When Geller appeared on the Carson show he was unable to perform any of his “supernatural” tricks.  This developed into a long-running feud between Randi and Geller.

Peter Popoff was a faith healer who claimed God spoke to him and used Popoff as a conductor of miracles.  Randi had video tape of Popoff performing his miracles.  It turned out Popoff was wearing an earpiece and his wife was reading information collected from prayer cards of those in attendance. Randi had the audio to prove it! Does it get any lower?

James Randi led an amazing life and these are just two highlights from his long career.  An Honest Liar takes us from his early to his last days.  Along the way Randi met the love of his life and there’s even a twist to that.

I was a fan of The Amazing Randi since I first learned of him in the 1970s.  I loved seeing his appearances and his outlook on life.  Randi wouldn’t rule anything out, but remained skeptical.  That seems like a pretty good way to approach things.

An Honest Liar earns 5 of 5 stars.

“The Poison Rose” (2019) Starring John Travolta, Morgan Freeman and Brendan Fraser / Z-View

The Poison Rose (2019)

Directors:  Francesco Cinquemani, George Gallo

Screenplay by:  Richard Salvatore, Francesco Cinquemani, Luca Giliberto

Starring: John Travolta, Morgan Freeman, Brendan Fraser, Famke Janssen, Ella Bleu Travolta and Robert Patrick

Tagline:  A Private Eye. A Public Murder. A Perfect Crime.

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Carson Phillips (Travolta) is a Private Eye who drinks and gambles too much.  Both vices have always caused him problems.  Carson used to be a hotshot college quarterback until he was caught shaving points.  Carson left town in disgrace and never went back.  Now he’s been hired to return on a missing person’s case.

All Carson has to do is go to a sanitorium to verify that Ms. Poole is alive and well.  Carson is given the run around by Dr. Miles Mitchell (Fraser), the sanitorium’s director.  As Carson digs deeper he begins to suspect Ms. Poole is dead and evidence points to a conspiracy involving an influential rich behind-the-scenes player named Doc (Freeman).  The same man behind Carson’s fall from grace.

Travolta is good as Carson Phillips.  Brendan Fraser steals every scene he’s in and I wish he was in more.  It’s good to see Robert Patrick, even if his role is a small one.

There’s one scene that should have never made the final cut – Carson is being shot at by a man with a rifle from the top of a stadium.  The sniper keeps missing Carson despite having a rifle with a scope.  Carson’s handgun runs out of bullets so he picks up a football and throws a perfect spiral hitting the would be assassin in the face.  In a later scene the assassin returns with a broken nose.  C’mon, man.

The Poison Rose earns 3 of 5 stars.

“Moonfall (2022)” Starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson and John Bradley / Z-View

Moonfall (2022)

Director:  Roland Emmerich

Screenplay by:  Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, Spenser Cohen

Starring: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Charlie Plummer, Michael Peña, Carolina Bartczak and Donald Sutherland

Tagline: Earth… We have a problem.

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

When the moon mysteriously goes out of orbit and takes a path to destroy Earth, it is up to Jocinda Fowler (Berry), Acting NASA director, Brian Harper (Wilson), a disgraced former astronaut, and KC Houseman (Bradley) a nerd-genius who was first to discover the problem, to save the day.

Moonfall is a throwback to disaster movies of the 70s.  Movies like The Towering Inferno, and Earthquake, but with a Roland Emmerich sensibility.  So instead of a building full of people or the population of a large city, Emmerich puts the entire planet at risk.  Moonfall gets a lot of mileage from the likeability of Bradley’s character and the special effects.

The movie begins with characters that are hard to like (except for KC Houseman).  Jocinda Fowler doesn’t provide strong support for Harper in a NASA investigation.  Harper comes off as a uninvolved parent who creates more problems for his troubled son.  Michael Peña plays Harper’s son’s stepdad and even he comes off in a bad light.  Of course everyone will have a character arc that shows their growth and that they really are good people.

For me, Moonfall‘s biggest problem is the backstory on why the moon went out of orbit.  It’s like someone said we need a reason to get these three unlikely heroes into space and someone yelled, “I’ve got it.  Moonfall will be Armageddon meets Terminator meets The Matrix Reloaded.”  If you’re a fan of disaster movies, special effects and aren’t overly concerned about logic or real life physics, then Moonfall might be what you’re looking for.

Moonfall earns 2 of 5 stars.

“Cold in July” (2014) Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard & Don Johnson / Z-View

Cold in July (2014)

Director:  Jim Mickle

Screenplay by:  Nick Damici, Jim Mickle based on the novel, Cold in July by Joe R. Lansdale

Starring: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw, Lanny Flaherty  and Wyatt Russell

Tagline: How many men can one bullet kill?

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

When Richard Dane (Hall) accidentally shoots and kills Freddy Russell, an intruder in his home, the Chief of Police assures Dane that he did nothing wrong.  The intruder is a known thief who comes from a family of criminals.  In fact, the intruder’s father, Ben Russell (Shepard) will be released from prison later in the week.

Ben Russell ins a real hard case.  He confronts Richard about killing his son and makes a veiled threat to get retribution.  When Richard goes to the police, the Chief says that until Ben does something to break the law, nothing can be done.  Richard starts to storm out of the police station when he sees a wanted poster for Freddy Russell… and the photo on it is NOT the man that Richard killed!

Richard discovers that the Police Chief is lying to him and Ben Russell… but why?  If he can convince Ben that they’re both being played, perhaps they can solve the mystery… if they’re not killed first.

A Cold Day in July is a great adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s novel.  Hall and Shepard are excellent.  Wyatt Russell has a small, but important role and nails it.  Don Johnson was born to play Jim Bob Luke.  I could see a movie or series based on his character.  A Cold Day in July starts as one thing, morphs into a mystery of why the cops are lying and ends as a rescue mission by three men who would have never been friends.

Cold in July earns 4 of 5 stars.

“Frogs” (1972) Starring Ray Milland, Sam Elliott and Joan Van Ark / Z-View

Frogs (1972)

Director:  George McCowan

Screenplay by:  Robert Hutchison, Robert Blees from a story by Robert Hutchison

Starring: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace  and Mae Mercer

Tagline:   It’s the day that NATURE strikes back!

The Overview:  Beware of spoilers…

Pickett Smith, a wildlife photographer, ends up on the Crockett estate where, grumpy, old Jason Crockett (Milland) has invited family to celebrate his birthday.  Unfortunately that same weekend all of the animals – frogs, lizards, birds, snakes have decided to start killing humans.  Yep.  Killer frogs and other animals with no means of hurting a human are killing them.  Yeesh.

Frogs earns 1 of 5 stars.