Review of “mother!”

Him and Mother (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence) live in a secluded home in a clearing surrounded by woods. The wife has been renovating the home after a fire severely damaged it. Him is a writer and has some popular books published but is suffering writer’s block. He hopes the seclusion will help the ideas flow. One day a stranger knocks on their door. This stranger is Man (Ed Harris) who says he was sent to the home by locals that thought it was a bed and breakfast. Him insists that since it is so late Man stay the night but Mother thinks inviting a stranger to stay in their home is a bad idea. Showing Man around their home Him brags how Mother has redone everything by herself. In his office, Him shows Man his prized possession: A fragile crystal orb that came from the remains of his burnt home. Man wants to hold it but Him says no and puts it back on its display stand. Not long after Man arrives Mother begins to feel ill. She puts some medicinal powder in a glass of water, drinks it and feels better quickly. Man has some sort of illness that causes coughing fits that keep him and Him up all night; but the next morning both act as if they had a good night’s rest. Later that day the Man’s wife Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and Him invites her to stay as well. Soon Woman gets drunk and begins asking rude and personal questions of Mother. Despite being told to stay out of the office Him writes in, Man and Woman enter and break the crystal orb driving Him into a rage and orders Man and Woman to leave his home. Not long after, Man and Woman’s Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) and Younger Son (Brian Gleeson) arrive to argue over the Man’s will and what will happen to his money. The two sons fight and Oldest Son kills Younger Son. Then things get weird.

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is a challenging movie to watch and it’s challenging to figure out what it means. It’s a film that is so open to interpretation it could be accused of meaning nothing. As I write this I am just about 24 hours away from leaving the theatre and I am still questioning what I saw. Is that the mark of a good film? I don’t know. It certainly is the mark of an Aronofsky film as I have seen three of his other works over the years: “The Fountain,” “Black Swan” and “Noah.” If nothing else, Aronofsky is a film maker that doesn’t spoon-feed his audience. The images are up on the screen and what you do with them is entirely up to you. While it is an interesting experience I can’t say it was particularly entertaining.

In doing some reading online by other critics and movie websites, it appears that “mother!” is a biblical allegory for God’s creation of the Garden of Eden and Man’s fall from Grace. Once it is pointed out to me the correlation is painfully obvious. It may also be a metaphor on how man is given the beautiful gift of the Earth but uses its resources and fouls the air, land and water and must be punished for his arrogance. That fits as well.

“mother!” is a whirlwind of meaning with layers of symbolism stacked one on top of the other. It is almost sensory overload as you watch the film as it often keeps a very tight close up of Lawrence’s Mother as she moves from one room to the next doing chores or looking for Bardem’s Him. Lawrence’s face is frequently a blank slate in the early parts of the film. Only later does her face contort into confusion and pain. Lawrence is probably the best thing about “mother!” Her performance is the anchor and the access point for the audience. It may not be the doorway to understanding but Lawrence’s Mother is the most human and relatable of all the characters. She is a dutiful wife, a caring and hard-working homemaker and a skilled craftsperson bringing a burned-out shell of a home back to life. She has poured so much of herself into the renovation she can even feel that life pulsing through the walls. What do these scenes mean as she touches the walls, closes her eyes and sees and feels the heartbeat of the house? I haven’t a clue but Lawrence’s performance made me want to find out.

There are parts of “mother!” that are beautiful to look at and some of that dare you to keep watching. Late in the film one of the characters is being beaten. The impacts of the fists and feet seem to jump off the screen and pummel you in the audience. There are more scenes of violence and chaos as the world of “mother!” descends into utter madness. Is this more symbolism for a world consumed with greed, lust and envy? The biblical allegory could be stretched further into Genesis with the Great Flood washing away the evil of humanity. You’ll have to see the film yourself if you want to see exactly what I’m talking about.

The real question: Is “mother!” entertaining? For me it wasn’t. I was always interested in what would happen next and enjoyed some of the weirder and more twisted things in the film but by the end I was left with the question of if what I’d just witnessed improved my life and/or mood. Did it elevate my humanity or relieve any stress? I can’t say that it did. The ending is far from satisfying and left me wondering what exactly the point is? Is “mother!” art merely for art’s sake? If so, that’s fine with me but having experienced it I can’t say I have been enlightened or improved in any way.

“mother!” is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, language, strong disturbing content and strong violent content. We see a person alive and burning. Several people are shown shot in the head. There are some stabbings and at least one beating. General riot-like mayhem occupies most of the last 20 minutes of the movie. There are a couple of explosions. There is a brief scene of Javier Bardem getting out of bed nude. There is also a brief scene of Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts exposed but it is in a violent context. The remains of a baby that has been ripped apart are briefly shown. Foul language is scattered.

For the previous 1100 words I have pontificated on the meaning and qualities of “mother!” but the question remains: Is the movie any good? My honest answer is I don’t know. While it kept me interested for the full two hours I can’t say I enjoyed the movie; but I didn’t hate it either. This is one of those rare films that I simply cannot get my head around. It is an enigma wrapped in a riddle and I am not smart enough to work my way in between the words, the images and the meaning. In short, “mother!” has me stumped.

Simply because I don’t know what else to do, “mother!” gets three stars.

This week three new films open and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Friend Request—

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle—

The LEGO Ninjago Movie—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast at WIMZ.com under the “podcast” tab, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, PodcastOne or anywhere you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan, follow The Fractured Frame @fractured_pod and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

 

Review of “IT”

Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) is dealing with the mysterious loss of his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) with the help of his friends: Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), A.K.A. “Trash Mouth” Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), a sickly boy that can’t go anywhere without his inhaler and Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff), a germaphobe preparing for his bar mitzvah under the glaring eye of his rabbi father. Constantly under threat of a beating by a gang of bullies lead by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) that calls them the Losers Club, Bill and his buddies are just trying to navigate school and deal with the traumas going on in their lives. Soon to join their group is Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the “new kid” that has no friends but has the wrath of the bullies in common with the Losers Club. He has a crush on Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a girl that is rumored to be the school tramp but really is living a different kind of hell with her abusive father. The most outside of the outsiders is Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), an orphan living with his grandfather and working on his sheep farm. Mike is homeschooled and is one of the few African-Americans in Derry. This draws particularly violent attention from Bowers and his bully friends. But the scariest thing in Derry is an ancient evil that lives in the sewers and comes out every 27 years to feed on the flesh and fear of children: His name is Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). Pennywise takes on the appearance of a clown to lure children in close so he can collect them. He ripped Georgie’s arm off before dragging him down into the sewers. Now more children are going missing and no one knows what to do about it or who will be next. Investigating Georgie’s disappearance, Bill has put together that whatever is killing the kids of Derry, it travels through the sewers. He also learns he and his friends have all seen Pennywise and been threatened by him. Bill wants to find it and kill it.

Based on Steven King’s book of the same name, “IT” was brought to life in a 1990 two part TV movie starring Tim Curry as the clown. For the time, it wasn’t half bad. It had a fair number of known TV actors playing the grown-up versions of the kids in a final showdown with Pennywise. While it had limitations of special effects and a TV budget the four hour production did find an audience and a place in my memory. Now director Andy Muschietti has more money, digital effect and more time to devote to a more faithful telling of the story of a killer clown preying on the children of a small town. “IT” is a sizable improvement over its TV ancestor.

The best part of the film is probably the ensemble cast of terrific young actors making up the Losers Club. From top to bottom, the entire group is perfect. The standouts are Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak. Wolfhard’s Richie is the kid that tries too hard to be the leader of the group when everyone knows he’s not it. Richie wears thick glasses and has the mouth of a horny sailor. Dropping inappropriate insults and one-liners like bad habits, Wolfhard is certainly the most entertaining member of the group.

A close second is Grazer’s Eddie. A hypochondriac with an overprotective mother, Eddie is constantly on the lookout for anything that might make him sick. The rundown of everything in the drainage tunnel that likely will give him some sort of infection is hilarious; particularly since much of the medical information he spouts is wrong. He tells a long story of how a friend of his mother’s told her about a friend of his that caught AIDS from the pole of a subway. He becomes more and more frantic as his get deeper into the story and the misinformation just keeps growing. While all the kids are great these two really stand out.

What also is impressive about the young cast is their depth of emotion in dealing not only with the threat of Pennywise but the dangers within their own families. There isn’t a missed beat or out of place reaction as we get brief looks inside the lives of almost all the kids. Most troubling of course is Beverly and her sexually abusive father. While nothing is shown on screen, it is clear there is something inappropriate about the way her father touches and talks to his young daughter. We don’t know where Beverly’s mother is or why she isn’t around but clearly there is something out of whack about this household over and above their poverty. Sophia Lillis shines in these dark scenes as she tries to sneak past her father, hoping he won’t notice she’s there. Starting the movie with long hair, Beverly cuts it short in an act of defiance and an effort to make herself look less attractive to her father. It is at once both a heartbreaking and liberating scene as she takes a pair of shears to her long auburn locks. None of the children in the story have easy or perfect lives and the cast is able to bring a surprising amount of depth and maturity to these complex roles.

Another interesting aspect of the film is how all the adults seem to be just a little off. There’s a creepy pharmacist that’s a little too greasy and blond and takes too much of an interest in Beverly. Eddie’s mom is sedentary, very overweight and requires too much attention from her own son. There’s a library worker lurking in the background behind Ben taking too much of an interest in the boy. The local cop lurks around too much and is clearly abusive to his son that happens to be the leader of the bullies. Bill’s dad is distant and doesn’t want him to continue investigating Georgie’s disappearance. None of it is over-the-top but there’s something not right about nearly every adult character we see.

Of course the most not right character of them all is Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise. Skarsgard is an energetic killer clown often dancing or hopping or twisting himself into and out of difficult shapes. His voice is screeching at times and soothing at others. When we first meet Pennywise he’s talking to Georgie from a storm drain in the street. He’s smiling and seems friendly but you notice drool dripping from his mouth and his glowing red eyes. It isn’t long before Pennywise shows his true colors, and his mouth full of jagged sharp teeth, and rips Georgie’s arm off then drags him into the sewer. Even though you know something bad is going to happen (it must since this is the first few minutes of the movie) it still comes as something of a surprise when Pennywise’ mouth opens overly large and row after row of teeth is exposed, quickly clamping down on Georgie and sealing his fate.

Director Andy Muschietti uses Pennywise sparingly but effectively. It feels like Pennywise is in every scene but he disappears for long stretches of the movie only to pop back in briefly to try and eat one of the Loser’s Club. Muschietti digitally centers the clown’s face in a couple of scenes so no matter how he moves his face is always the focal point of the image. It’s an effective technique that keeps the audience centered on that malevolent mouth and the damage it is waiting to inflict on its next victim. Pennywise manages to be both terrifying and interesting and we may get to learn more about him in the sequel.

“IT” is rated R for language, bloody images and violence/horror. We see the aforementioned biting off of Georgie’s arm. A character has a capital “H” carved in his stomach with a knife. Various people are shown in various states of decay. Several people are shown being hit by rocks. A woman from an impressionist painting comes to life and threatens one of the children. A man described as a leper is shown with oozing face sores. A person is shown getting their throat stabbed by a knife and bleeding profusely. A person is shown being smacked in the head with a toilet tank lid and bleeding a great deal. A bathroom sink begins gushing blood out of the drain. A character is shown being impaled with an iron bar a couple of times. Foul language is common throughout the film.

A second chapter is coming. The enormous opening weekend box office for “IT” means a sequel is already being worked on. This film will likely focus on the adult versions of the kids coming back to Derry to face off with Pennywise in a battle to the death and, if reports are to be believed, we’ll also learn more about the history of the clown. I hope we get a flashback as I’d like to see the kids again because they are such good actors. Everyone watching the film will likely see themselves or someone they know in the characters. While “IT” may not be the scariest movie ever released it works as a film that has memorable characters behaving in a way that is relatable and believable. It is a minor miracle that “IT” works on so many levels.

“IT” gets five stars.

This week I’ll review “American Assassin” for WIMZ.com.

I’ll also review one of the following for this webpage:

All I See is You—

Mother!—

Listen to my podcast The Fractured Frame where each week a couple of friends and me talk about movies. It’s available everywhere you get podcasts and on WIMZ.com. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Birth of the Dragon”

Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) is teaching Kung Fu to students in his San Francisco studio. Lee is making his first film and is looking to star in a TV show. Shaolin master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu) has come to San Francisco to bring balance back to his soul after injuring a Tai Chi master in what was supposed to be a non-contact demonstration back in his homeland of China. Lee’s students Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen) and Vinnie Wei (Simon Yin) see in a Chinese-language newspaper about the coming of Wong Jack Man and tell Lee about it. Lee believes the Shaolin master is coming to challenge him to a fight as the Shaolin monks are unhappy he is teaching Kung Fu to Westerners. Meanwhile, McKee is making a delivery to a Chinese restaurant when he meets Xiulan Quan (Jingjing Qu) a waitress that is also a recent immigrant. Xiulan Quan is being forced to work at the restaurant by a mobster known as Auntie Blossom (Jin Xing) to pay off her debt for being transported to America. While she’s not supposed to speak to anyone outside the restaurant, McKee and Xiulan Quan begin a secret relationship. When Auntie Blossom finds out about the love affair she threatens to move Xiulan Quan from the restaurant to a brothel unless McKee gets Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man to fight so the Chinese mob can make money on the betting. If they fight, Auntie Blossom will release Xiulan Quan.

“Birth of the Dragon” is billed as being based on a true story. If by “based” you mean there were two martial artists named Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man that met for a fight then, yes, it is a true story. What this movie does with the characters and the story around them is as far from truth as one could get.

“Birth of the Dragon” is a cartoonish film. The story of the two martial artists, their alleged rivalry, the Chinese mob, the American student falling in love with the Chinese migrant, all of it is so overblown, so melodramatic it ceases to be a movie that can be taken seriously and becomes more like one of Bruce Lee’s early films. There is even a moment in the movie where Ng as Lee tastes his own blood when he is injured in a fight like the real Lee did in his film “The Big Boss.” Nothing in the film feels grounded or real and if you’re going to slap a “Based on a True Story” label on a piece of entertainment it should be at least plausibly believable.

Phillip Ng plays Bruce Lee as an arrogant and prideful person solely focused on becoming a successful entertainer via his Kung Fu skills. For much of the movie Bruce Lee is the “bad guy” of his own story. Perhaps that was an attempt to show Lee was changed by his encounter with Wong Jack Man and became more well-rounded and humble after. What we see is a spoiled and selfish person that despite his somewhat fatherly relationship with Steve McKee is rather unlikable. After his encounter with the Shaolin master, Lee isn’t changed that much and still seems full of himself. It isn’t a flattering portrayal of Bruce Lee and, based on the comments of those that knew him, he deserves better.

The rest of the cast isn’t exactly given the opportunity to shine with the material they are working with. The one exception might be Xia Yu as Wong Jack Man. The character is a man of discipline and honor. Injuring a Tai Chi master sends him on a spiritual journey of self-reflection. He humbles himself by washing dishes in a restaurant seeking redemption in humility. Xia Yu gives a measured and believable performance that is a center of calm in an otherwise chaotic story.

The fight scenes are for the most part masterfully choreographed. The beauty and flow of the movements by the martial artists is a wonder to behold. While some of the kicks and punches clearly come up short even if the potential recipient hadn’t moved it is still a ballet of action and is often mesmerizing. There are a couple of high falls and flips that are clearly aided by wires and those bring the overall quality of the fights down a notch but it is a minor quibble in what is the only highlight of an otherwise dreadful film.

“Birth of the Dragon” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, martial arts violence and language. As one might expect there are numerous fights. Some occur as part of an exhibition while others are supposed to be real conflicts (within the story). There is a minimum of blood. Thematic elements include slavery, coercion and threats of forced prostitution. Foul language is widely scattered and mild.

There are some people who claim to have seen the fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man. It was pre-cellphone and portable video cameras so there is no visual record of the fight. Some claim Lee quickly won in as little as three minutes while others say the battle lasted more than 20 minutes with Wong Jack Man victorious. Who won or lost really isn’t important as the encounter is supposed to have changed Bruce Lee for the rest of his life. We’ll never know what really happened and “Birth of the Dragon” is so dramatized it proves to be useless in clarifying the matter. It also isn’t much of an entertainment as it comes off as silly and melodramatic. While the fights are mostly entertaining I feel confident in suggesting you can just give this movie a pass.

“Birth of the Dragon” gets one star out of five.

There are no new movies opening this week in wide release so I may have to hit up my local art house and see something weird. I’ll review something but I don’t know what.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to my podcast “The Fractured Frame” available every Monday wherever you download your podcasts as well as the Podcast tab at WIMZ.com. Send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

 

 

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) refers to himself as a Triple A Rated Personal Security Expert. He guards less than savory characters if they are willing to pay his high rates. One client, a Japanese arms dealer, is killed while under Bryce’s protection. He blames his girlfriend Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), an Interpol agent he told about this client. His anger at her over her alleged betrayal leads to the ending of their relationship. The death of his client destroys his reputation and Bryce is reduced to protecting lesser clients for whatever cash he can get. Meanwhile, the former dictator of Belarus Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) is on trial for war crimes at The Hague. All the testimony from the prosecution witnesses is deemed hearsay by the panel of judges and all the other witnesses who can provide corroborated evidence have been killed by Dukhovich’s band of thugs. The only surviving witness is a notorious contract killer named Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) who is being held in prison. Kincaid agrees to testify against Dukhovich in exchange for the release of his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) who is being held in custody. Roussel and a group of Interpol agents are tasked with transporting Kincaid to the court but a mole within the agency has told Dukhovich’s men and they attack the caravan. Kincaid and Roussel are the only survivors and they hide in a nearby safe house. Desperate, Roussel calls Bryce to guard Kincaid and get him to The Hague before a deadline otherwise Dukhovich goes free. Bryce and Kincaid have a great deal of history and don’t like each other. If they get to the court without killing each other or getting killed by Dukhovich’s men will be a miracle.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a perfect summer popcorn movie. It’s filled with jokes and action while also being about nothing particularly controversial and having a villain that is easy to loathe. With a cast made up largely of well-known comedic and action stars and locations scattered around Europe, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” has all the makings of a massive hit…almost.

There is a great deal of laughs in the film. The script, written by Tom O’Connor, was originally created as a drama but underwent a major rewrite to add the humor. I can see how the film could have gone either dramatic or comedic as the trial of a brutal dictator for crimes against humanity isn’t exactly the foundation of a laugh-a-minute action romp. O’Connor has managed to find a way to show the audience Dukhovich’s cruelty and have that banked in their mind while also giving us two characters that have the kinds of personalities that create sparks and the likelihood of humorous situations.

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are perhaps the perfect actors to take these roles. Both are known for their comedic turns in various films that aren’t necessarily comedies. Reynolds is currently shooting the sequel to the very funny “Deadpool” and has made a career out of playing the smart aleck ready with a quip at the drop of a hat. Even his Twitter feed is often funny to follow. Both these actors have terrific comedic chemistry together and the film largely is successful due to their combined talents.

Salma Hayek is also amazing as Kincaid’s wife Sonia. Most of her scenes are in a prison cell talking to guards or officers and to Jackson in a phone call. Her passion and anger as Sonia is nearly overwhelming. Speaking in a combination of English and Spanish, Sonia pulls no punches and never should be underestimated. Even her cellmate spends most of her time cowering in a corner until Sonia tells her it’s alright to move. Hayek’s role needed to be bigger, perhaps breaking out and helping her husband get where he needs to go. Still, Hayek is a burst of unpredictable energy in a very predictable movie.

That’s my biggest problem with the film: It is so predictable. Once the story gets going it is clear how it will play out. The identity of the traitor in Interpol is obvious from the first time the character appears on the screen. Kincaid questions Bryce’s commitment to his security clients and the exact situation occurs later in the story. None of the main story beats and their connected events will come as a surprise to anyone watching with the least bit of interest. I suppose giving us a unique story is asking a lot from a standard Hollywood action/comedy vehicle but would it have killed them to throw a little curveball in to the story just to shake things up a bit? Apparently, yes, it would have killed them.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. There are numerous shootings that are bloody. There is a scene of torture using wet cloth and a car battery. We also see a pen stabbed into a character’s hand. Samuel L. Jackson is in the film so you know there’s going to be enormous numbers of “MF’s” and assorted other foul language from most of the characters.

I enjoyed “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as a mindless summer action/comedy and didn’t give much thought to the silliness of the plot or the blandness of most of the characters. There isn’t a great deal of imagination in the film aside from its basic premise. Still, the film has some big laughs and great action scenes but it just needed a better and more unique story to take it over the top. If you don’t think about it too much, it is worth your time.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” gets four stars out of five.

This week faith plays a part in all three new films: Faith in God, faith in yourself and faith in your talents. I’ll see and review one of the following:

All Saints—

Birth of the Dragon—

Leap—

Listen to my podcast “The Fractured Frame” dropping every Monday on iTunes, Google Play and everywhere you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Annabelle: Creation”

Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a doll maker in small town. He lives with his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and their young daughter Bee (Samara Lee). While coming home from church one Sunday, the family pickup truck gets a flat tire. While changing the tire, Bee runs into the road and is struck and killed by a car. Twelve years later the Mullins open their home to six orphans from a Catholic charity. Overseen by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the six girls range in age from 10 to 17 and are impressed by the size of their new home. One girl, Janice (Talitha Bateman), has a lame leg due to polio some years earlier. Her best friend is Linda (Lulu Wilson). The two girls are extremely close and hope to be adopted into the same home. Mr. Mullins says his wife Esther won’t be seen much as she was injured several years earlier and stays in her room in bed. Mr. Mullins also warns Janice that a room upstairs is locked and is off limits. That doesn’t stop her from investigating when she hears noises coming from the room. When she tries the door it is unlocked and she enters to find what looks like a little girl’s room filled with dolls and an elaborate dollhouse that looks very much like the Mullins’ home. In the dollhouse she finds a key and soon finds the door it opens inside the room. There she finds a doll sitting in a chair and the walls of the room are covered with pages torn from the Bible. Spooked by the appearance of the doll she closes the door but it opens on its own. Hurrying back to her room when she sees Mr. Mullins, Janice is unaware of the evil she has released from its prison where it was safely kept for the last 12 years.

“Annabelle: Creation” gives us the backstory of how the creepy looking doll introduced in “The Conjuring,” and got her own movie “Annabelle,” became cursed with a demon. Good scary movies are hard to find and the initial Rotten Tomatoes score was extremely high. It settled down into the upper 60’s by the films’ release and now, having seen it, I think that number is just about right.

“Annabelle: Creation” has only one really seat-jumping moment in it and that has nothing to do with ghosts or demons. It happens early when the daughter and father are playing a game of hide and seek and the father appears from the side of the screen and tackles the little girl to the floor and tickles her. It is a heartwarming domestic moment that starts with a bit of a scare. All the rest of the alleged scary moments that follow are weak in comparison. “Annabelle: Creation” does a very good job of building tension, establishing dread and creating the right conditions for some heart-stopping moments on screen. What it fails to do is actually deliver those moments.

Films like “Annabelle: Creation” frequently use sound, or the lack of sound, to heighten tension. Knowing something is going to jump out from the shadows or appear behind the person being stalked is made all the more frightening when all the ambient sound you’d expect to hear is suddenly silenced. We take for granted the whirring of heating and air units, the hum of refrigerators and the buzz of electric lights. It all fades into the background of “white noise” as we live our lives; however, on those rare occasions when the power goes out and everything stops working, you realize just how much noise constantly surrounds us. During “Annabelle: Creation” we are treated to perfect silence sometimes punctuated by ragged, fast breathing just before the monster appears. Sadly, these frights never live up to the buildup that precedes them.

Some of the performances are also underwhelming: Namely Anthony LaPaglia. His Samuel Mullins is a bit of a creeper once the girls move into the house. He’ll walk by open doorways and stand and stare at the girls as they are talking. It is later explained that he fears for the girls’ safety but it never comes off as concern. It is more like someone that doesn’t know how to interact with people; perhaps like he has a condition that makes talking to people difficult. He rarely smiles or nods as a simple acknowledgement of other people’s existence, he just walks away awkwardly. It is a sometimes painful performance to watch and I have to wonder what made director David F. Sandberg and LaPaglia think this was the right way to go.

A couple of performances I did enjoy where from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson as the best friends Janice and Linda. Bateman does a very convincing scared young girl. She’s able to make the tears roll easily, giving the audience even more reason to feel bad for her as she faces a demonic onslaught. Wilson, whose performance I enjoyed in “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” has a lock on the cherubic innocent market in Hollywood horror films. Wilson does a great job at making us feel her friendship with Janice and sharing her desire to be adopted into a real family. There are some odd choices for her character as the story plays out and the weirdness goes into overdrive but Wilson does a good job at making us root for her and Janice to make it through this scary adventure.

“Annabelle: Creation” is rated R for horror violence and terror. A demon pukes black bile into the mouth of one of the children. A scarecrow comes to life and menaces a couple of girls. One of the girls is dragged into the darkness and a bite shows up on the back of her leg. A girl is dropped from a considerable height onto the floor. A character’s fingers are shown being broken and bent back one at a time by an invisible force. A character is shown with a large injury on her face that removed her eye. A character has his throat slashed and blood is shown spurting. A character is shown transforming into a demon with what sounds like bones breaking. Foul language is scattered.

This is my first foray into “The Conjuring” universe as I haven’t seen any of the other films in the series. I do enjoy scary movies and these films seem to have their fans. “Annabelle: Creation” is ok as a horror movie it just doesn’t have much in the way of scares. It doesn’t help that Anthony LaPaglia turns in an odd performance and comes off as a bit of a creeper. The movie is vastly improved when it focuses on the demon and the orphan on whom it focuses. Considering the movie is projected to make $71 million worldwide in its opening weekend against a budget of $15 million probably means we will be getting more movies about the creepy doll and the bad things that happen to those that own it. Ramp up the scares and I’m in.

“Annabelle: Creation” gets three stars out of five.

This week there are two new films and both will be reviewed by me. First I’ll see “Logan Lucky” and review it for WIMZ.com.

Then I’ll watch “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and review that for stanthemovieman.com.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Listen to my podcast “The Fractured Frame” that comes out every Monday. Just click on the “podcast” tab on WIMZ.com, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes, on the Google Play Store and anywhere you get podcasts.

Review of “The Dark Tower”

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a teenager growing up in New York City. His dad was a fireman killed on the job and his mom has remarried. Jake has been having vivid dreams about a world at war, about a Man in Black, a Gunslinger, weird looking creatures, children strapped into a machine and being used as a power source for a directed energy weapon and a Dark Tower. Jake draws what he sees in his dreams and is obsessed with the images. It’s causing trouble at home and at school. Jake’s psychiatrist tries to convince him they are only dreams caused by the stress of his dad’s death but he is certain they are something more…something real. His parents plan on sending Jake to a weekend evaluation at a mental hospital but Jake doesn’t trust the two people sent to pick him up and he runs away. While on the run, Jake finds a house that looks like one he’s seen in his dreams. It’s abandoned and he breaks in. Walking down the hall, Jake hears a voice asking where he wants to go. It’s coming from a console built into the wall. Jake has seen the numbers “19-19” in his dreams and enters that on a keypad. A portal opens up in the wall that looks like it goes to another world. Jake enters and finds himself on an arid plain and sees two moons in the sky overhead. Jake walks until he finds a smoldering campfire where he comes face to face with the Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba). Not trusting him at first, the Gunslinger tells Jake to go away but Jake persists mentioning the Man in Black. The Gunslinger threatens Jake, accusing him of being an illusion. Jake shows his drawings to him and the Gunslinger suggests they go to a nearby village to allow a seer to interpret his dreams. Meanwhile, Walter, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is searching for a special child; one that can power a weapon to bring down the Dark Tower that separates all the parallel Earths from one another and also blocks out monsters that live at the fringes of the Universe. If the Dark Tower falls the monsters will overrun all the Earths and the Man in Black will rule over a kingdom of destruction. Jake’s travel from his home to this other world has not gone unnoticed and the Man in Black discovers Jake is the perfect child to power his weapon. Now Jake and the Gunslinger must find a way to prevent the Man in Black from succeeding in his plan to destroy all the Earths in the Universe.

Based on “The Dark Tower” series of books from author Stephen King, this movie isn’t exactly taken from any specific book; but is a collection of ideas composed into a film. Fans of the books may balk at the idea this movie is more of an impression of the much loved series. Those of us that haven’t read the books may actually find the film flawed but fairly entertaining.

When dealing with a story that takes place through eight books, 4,250 pages and 1,334,631 words, it seems an impossible task to distill all those ideas and characters down into one 95-minute movie. Fortunately, the makers of “The Dark Tower” didn’t even try to do that. This film, I believe, is designed to give the audience a taste of the grand mythology King created and to instill a desire to learn more about all the various Earths and the heroes and villains that populate them. If that is the idea then “The Dark Tower” is a success. I enjoyed learning of Keystone Earth and Mid-World, the war the Man in Black won against the gunslingers including Roland and his father and the idea that magic is a powerful force in some of these worlds. It is a colorful universe that obviously has a great deal more to offer and I hope to get a chance to see what it might serve up in future editions.

“The Dark Tower” is far from perfect. The story feels like it’s in a huge hurry to get from point to point at the expense of a clear narrative. Writers Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and director Nikolaj Arcel seem to be taking for granted that we’ll catch up on details in future projects and they don’t need to worry with a lot of details in this outing. I would have liked to be a bit more informed about what’s happening as it’s happening but the script just wants to steamroll on through and let you catch up on your own time. That makes a huge assumption that we’ll be waiting with anticipation for the proposed companion TV show slated for release in 2018 or that we’ll pick up the books and plow through King’s often dense and complicated prose. That assumption could sink this multi-platform franchise right off the bat.

The movie also makes some quick emotional turns that aren’t supported by the story. Jake at one point seems to rebel against the Gunslinger and his mission after making a discovery back on his Earth. That emotional U-turn is just as quickly reversed after a little target practice and the reciting of the Gunslinger’s Oath. It all rings hollow as both Jake’s change and the Gunslinger’s remedy feel out of left field. Both of these should have been emotional high points. Instead they are treated as afterthoughts or like common, everyday events. The lightning pace of the story doesn’t leave much room for us to get to know these characters other than the very basics and these two scenes deserved more set up and examination.

While neither of their characters is written up to their talents, both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey turn in fine performances. Elba’s Gunslinger is a reluctant hero on a mission to avenge the death of his father. This is his singular goal and saving the Tower is merely the consequence of killing the Man in Black. It’s a measured performance that isn’t flashy but still remains powerful.

McConaughey seems to be enjoying his role as the Man in Black. He’s all flair and is known by all those that worship him as a deadly force. He’s full of himself and has every right to be as he is a powerful sorcerer able to control the minds of anyone he chooses, except Roland. This vexes him but he’s happy to kill everyone the Gunslinger loves instead. McConaughey makes a formidable villain and would be wise to play more of them.

“The Dark Tower” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. Numerous people are shot but there is very little blood. A giant bug-like creature attacks Roland and Jake impaling Roland against a tree. People are shown being slashed by swords but again there is very little blood. A character is shown getting a nose bleed as they are subjected to psychic torture by the Man in Black. A couple of people are shown dying by the Man in Black telling them to stop breathing. Children are strapped into a machine to power a weapon. The powering of the weapon causes the children to scream in pain.

“The Dark Tower” franchise is designed to include TV shows as well as movies. A prequel series to fill in the backstory of the film is scheduled to air sometime in 2018 and sequel films are on the drawing board. Some or all of these plans may be at risk if this film doesn’t deliver a big enough return at the box office. A domestic projected opening weekend take of $19-million doesn’t bode well for a return trip to Mid-Earth but we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the world reacts to this latest Stephen King adaption. If you don’t like this one, the “It” movie comes out in a month.

“The Dark Tower” gets four stars out of five.

A horror sequel, a family drama and an animated sequel are opening at a theatre near you this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Annabelle: Creation—

The Glass Castle—

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature—

Listen to my new podcast, The Fractured Frame, you can hear it here: http://wimz.com/podcasts/the-fractured-frame/

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Atomic Blonde”

M-I 6 Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being debriefed in 1989 following a failed mission in Berlin by her superior Mr. Gray (Toby Jones) and a representative of the CIA (John Goodman). The mission was to retrieve microfilm stolen from a murdered agent that contains the names of all the Western agents embedded in the Soviet Union. It also has the name of a KGB double agent known only as Satchel. Broughton meets another M-I 6 agent named David Percival (James McAvoy) who has been in contact with the East German Secret Police agent that stole the microfilm who is known only as Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). After the microfilm is stolen Spyglass tells Percival that he has committed all the names to memory and he wants to defect to the West along with his family in exchange for not giving the information to his bosses. Upon her arrival in Berlin, Broughton is attacked by several KGB agents who knew her name and what time she would be arriving. Unable to trust anyone, Broughton is certain she is being compromised at every turn. She notices a young woman following her around and later discovers she is a French spy named Delphine (Sofia Boutella). Delphine is new to the espionage game and is in over her head. She and Broughton begin a physical relationship and Broughton believes she may be of some use in the case. Everywhere she turns Broughton is ambushed and pushed to her physical limits. Who is setting her up and trying to cause the mission to be a failure?

“Atomic Blonde” is based on a graphic novel released in 2012 called “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The movie is a violent, dark and gritty look at the coming collapse of the Soviet Union and how the last vestiges of Cold War gamesmanship played out over the course of a few days in the divided city of Berlin. There are brutal fights and sneaky double crosses amongst secret agents that are all aware of each other and their professed allegiances yet no one can be believed at their word. It’s a world that would be impossible to navigate which is one of the reasons “Atomic Blonde” is so good: You never know who is on what side and if they’ll stay there.

The trailers for “Atomic Blonde” do a good job at selling the action and there is plenty more in the film. Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is a very bad woman when she’s forced to defend herself. Anything can be a weapon: A high heel shoe, a set of car keys, a corkscrew, and a garden hose, anything she can reach can be used against her attacker. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and believably executed. Many are shown as a single unedited shot while others have sneaky edits inserted by whipping the camera around or sending the combatants into a dark corridor. Director David Leitch has figured out how to shoot the action in a way that is both close enough to where you almost can feel the impact of the punch but not so close you have trouble seeing what’s going on. It’s one of my biggest complaints about many action films including all the “Bourne” movies. The camera in those films is almost between the combatants and is constantly moving. In “Atomic Blonde,” the action is shot at the perfect distance and is always centered in the frame.

The action is also handled in a realistic way to the character. By that, I mean that Broughton isn’t always going to beat up every man she faces. Poorly trained East German police don’t give her much trouble but experienced KGB and Stasi agents get in almost as many punches as she does. Broughton takes a great deal of punishment over the course of the film and her body, which we get a few chances to see, shows the signs. Broughton isn’t shown as the kind of hero that doesn’t face a real test until the very end like in most films of this type. In “Atomic Blonde” the hero faces challenges at nearly every turn making her all the more believable and human.

Charlize Theron plays Broughton with a cold, detached and world-weary stare. She’s seen it all and done it all so nothing will faze her. When she is told she has a different look in her eyes when she’s telling the truth she responds that she won’t do it again as it could get her killed. Broughton is the quintessential yet stereotypical working woman in that she feels like she must be better at her job than any man and she can’t take time for a personal relationship as she would be seen as weak and not serious about her profession. In a way “Atomic Blonde” is a statement about how working women are held to a different standard than men but that is only if you think about it too much.

“Atomic Blonde” is all about the action and the intrigue. No one can be trusted and everyone is a potential traitor. This keeps the tension going throughout the film. Who is Satchel and will Spyglass and his information make it out of East Berlin? I won’t spoil it by telling you the answer but I will tell you finding out is a great deal of fun.

“Atomic Blonde” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. There are numerous bloody fights and shootings. Theron and Boutella have a sex scene where breasts and bottoms are shown. We also see Theron getting out of an ice cube bath and see her mostly naked. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

As usual with a female-led action movie much is being made of having a woman performing stunts and engaging in brutal violence in a film. Any time a woman stars in a film genre that is usually the domain of men it generates articles and blogs about how this is a great step forward for women or cautionary stories wondering if it will make enough money to justify more action movies with female leads. The discussion is silly since the sex of the top-billed star is irrelevant: Is the movie any good? Does it deliver a good mix of action and story? Does it make sense? In the case of “Atomic Blonde” the answer to all three is “yes.” All the bloggers should look for more important stories to worry about.

“Atomic Blonde” gets five stars.

This week there’s a Stephen King adaptation and another female-led action thriller arriving at your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Dark Tower—

Kidnap—

Listen to my new podcast The Fractured Frame available at wimz.com/podcasts, on iTunes and the Google Play Store.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.