Reviews for “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “The Big Sick”

War for the Planet of the Apes

The band of intelligent apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) are being hunted by a persistent group of soldiers led the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). A raid on their compound leads to the deaths of Caesar’s wife and oldest son. Caesar sends the tribe on a journey over the mountains to find a new home far away from the humans; but Caesar intends on tracking down the Colonel and killing him in revenge. Despite telling them to go with the others, Maurice, Luca and Rocket (Karin Konoval, Michael Adamthwaite and Terry Notary) accompany him. Checking out a group of buildings looking for the Colonel’s base, the four apes come across a man that tries to kill them but Caesar kills him instead. Inside one of the buildings they find a young mute girl (Amiah Miller). Maurice refuses to leave her to die so she joins them. The apes find the Colonel’s base and Caesar discovers all of the apes have been captured. Caesar is captured as well by a gorilla that once followed Koba (Toby Kebbell) in his rebellion against Caesar. Several of Koba’s loyal apes are working with the Colonel’s troops. Called “donkeys” the turncoat apes serve as pack mules, carrying heavy weapons and acting as guards and overseers of the captured apes being forced to build a wall for the Colonel. The Colonel is preparing to defend against an attack but is it an attack by apes or other humans?

“War for the Planet of the Apes” continues the impressive visuals of the previous two films in the series. If anything it improves on those visuals and is a sure contender for the special effects Oscar next year; but it also might be nominated for Best Picture as this third entry in the series is possibly the best, serving up a gut-wrenching story of loss, betrayal and longing for a safe place to call home.

While there is debate about whether Andy Serkis performance as Caesar is more human or computer, I’m not sure it matters as Caesar is perhaps one of the most complex and well developed characters in any Hollywood blockbuster and the core of that performance is purely human. Serkis, best known as the king of motion-capture characters, delivers an amazing performance as the product of a genetic experiment that becomes the leader of his kind. It is clear the toll his being the leader has taken on Caesar. Serkis’ portrays the character as if he always has a heavy load on his back. His gait is ponderous and appears difficult. The CGI that makes up Caesar’s face has more grey hair and the creases look deeper. His eyes are dark and troubled. Even when times are good for the group survival in the wilderness is hard and having to constantly be on guard has obviously worn on him. The combination of Serkis’ physical performance and the wizardry of the computer effects artists makes Caesar the epitome of the saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

While the main characters are monkeys and apes the story is so human I at times no longer saw the fur and the simian features but saw only relatable people. Serkis and the other actors portraying apes are aided by a story that could have easily been transplanted into a historical setting with which we are more familiar. Instead of apes it could have been Native Americans forced off their lands by white settlers or Jews in Europe during WWII or escaped slaves on the run in the South during the 1800’s or refugees from the war in Syria. It is a story that sadly has several parallels in world history and modern times and one that needs to be told again and again in an effort to keep it from recurring. I’m not so naïve as to think this movie or any other bit of pop culture will eventually teach us to stop treating those that are different as the enemy but it can’t hurt to try.

Woody Harrelson is great as the obsessed Colonel. He plays the part with a quiet cruelty that’s always just below the surface. While he could probably get better results by practicing a tiny amount of decency with his captive apes it isn’t within him due to his history. I won’t explain why he has such a burning hatred of the apes since that is a major spoiler but it infuses every decision the character makes and turns the Colonel into something more than a guy with a gun that doesn’t like smart monkeys. Harrelson oozes contempt for Caesar and his kind making the Colonel a villain that audiences will love to hate.

Amiah Miller’s mute child is the only human in the movie that is sympathetic and likable. Miller conveys a great deal of emotion and meaning in her silent performance. Her fear is palpable on her first meeting with the apes; but her curiosity, and Maurice’s friendly overtures, overrides any anxiety she has. Miller’s character is the audience’s only connection to humanity that is positive in the film. If her performance was too cute or too grown-up it wouldn’t resonate with the audience the way it should. Miller is a very talented young actress that does a great deal with a part that has no words.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action, some disturbing images and thematic elements. There are several battle scenes with explosions and bodies being thrown in the air. There are also shootings at close range that are more like executions. Arrows are also used as weapons and we see several people/apes hit. There are also scenes of apes tied to crosses as punishment/torture. One ape is shown strangled to death while another dies slowly after being stabbed by a bayonet. There is also discussion of the murder of the adult child of one character that is very intense.

The dark future portrayed in the “Planet of the Apes” series, from the out of control virus that decimates humanity to the loss of humanity amongst the survivors, is particularly scary as it is entirely plausible. The Black Death in the 14th century wiped out 30 to 60 percent of the population of Europe. A flu epidemic in 1918 killed more people than World War I. The highly mobile nature of the modern world makes the barriers of oceans no longer an effective way to stop the spread of highly infectious diseases. Each year there seems to be a new strain of flu, whether avian, swine or some other variety that is suggested might be the next great killer. With the over-prescribing of antibiotics creating resistant infections, it may only be a matter of time before we are faced with a similar predicament as the characters in the “Apes” trilogy. Perhaps if we should create a breed of super-intelligent apes we might treat them significantly better than the humans in the films so that we can work and live together and survive into a meaningful future. Let’s hope so.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” gets five stars.

The Big Sick

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling standup comedian in Chicago who also is an Uber driver to make ends meet. At the comedy club one evening he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) and the pair strikes up an instant attraction. Despite Emily’s protests that she is not looking for a relationship, she and Kumail continue to date for some time. Kumail’s family emigrated from Pakistan when he was 14. They believe in the old ways including arranged marriages. Frequently when Kumail is having dinner at his parents’ house, an eligible Pakistani woman about his age drops by with a photograph for his growing collection ofpotential wives. Kumail isn’t interested in finding a wife that way but fears being disowned if he tells his father Azmat (Anupam Kher) and mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) about his feelings and that he is dating a non-Pakistani woman. When Emily is over at Kumail’s apartment one night she finds the cigar box filled with the photos of potential wives. She becomes angry realizes there is probably no future with Kumail and storms out telling him to not call her again. A few days later, Kumail gets a call from one of Emily’s friends that she is in the hospital with flu-like symptoms. He goes there to be with her but she is not happy to see him. Her condition worsens and the doctors believe she needs to be put in a medically induced coma to deal with her infection. Kumail calls Emily’s parents in North Carolina and tells them about the situation. Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) arrive and, having been kept up to date about the relationship from Emily, aren’t overly friendly to Kumail. He continues to stay at the hospital and visit with Emily while also spending more time with her parents. Soon the three bond over their shared love and concern for Emily as Kumail realizes he may have made a mistake by not standing up to his parents and allowing that to end his relationship with her. With her illness continuing to baffle her doctors he may never get the chance to make things right.

“The Big Sick” is based on the true story of the relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. The pair wrote the movie and, with the help of Judd Apatow, acted as producers as well. Not many first timers would be able to wield that kind of power but with friends like Apatow and a budget that was likely $5-million or less, Nanjiani and Gordon were given the reigns on a story that only they could really tell. Amazon Studios spent $12-million on the rights at the Sundance Film Festival in what has been described at a huge deal and critics have been heaping praise on it ever since. Does it deserve all the love?

The short answer is “yes!” “The Big Sick” is something rare and special: It’s a romantic comedy that isn’t built on the stupidity or gullibility of one of the romantic pair in the story. It is a film about flawed but interesting people involved with each other but with outside pressures of family, custom and religion forcing them apart. It is also about fear, doubt, regret and redemption. It is a film about life told in a smart, honest and funny way. Like I said, it is rare and special.

The various story threads of “The Big Sick” could have become a tangled mess in less capable hands but director Michael Showalter, who was responsible for one of my favorite films from 2015, “Hello, My Name is Doris,” is able to juggle the romantic, his family, the illness, her family and the comedy club relationships giving each one just enough time and attention. It’s a masterful job of giving each aspect enough space to live but not overwhelm the rest of the story. Naturally, the important threads involve Kumail and Emily’s relationship and his reaction to her illness. That each other part of the story could be so effortlessly interwoven into the narrative is quite a feat.

Kumail Nanjiani carries “The Big Sick” with a natural charm and ease that makes you think you’re just eavesdropping on someone else’s life, not watching a movie. Nanjiani is effortlessly funny when needed like a scene where he’s having lunch with Emily’s parents in the hospital and makes a 9/11 joke that tore up the audience with which I was watching the film. Nanjiani also handles the more awkward scenes with an honesty and pain that he seems to draw from experience. A scene where he loses his mind with a fast food drive-thru worker is both funny and cringe-inducing as he comes to the realization he’s acting like a crazy person. Watching Nanjiani on “Silicon Valley” doesn’t give you the full idea of what a good actor he is. “The Big Sick” does.

Zoe Kazan is also great in the role of Emily. While she’s gone for a big chunk of the middle she makes quite an impression in the first and last third of the film. Kazan gives Emily a spunkiness and energy that is infectious. A scene where she’s embarrassed to go to the bathroom at Kumail’s apartment because he doesn’t have air freshener or matches has an exuberance that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her. Kazan also is able to go from calm to confused to angry in a few seconds very believably when she discovers the pictures of women in a cigar box. Kazan’s performance is a nice compliment to Nanjiani’s.

Both Holly Hunter and Ray Romano steal the movie out from under Nanjiani on a couple of occasions. Hunter especially is great as the pitbull mother looking to protect her daughter at every turn. Romano and Nanjiani have a couple of nice scenes together as they try to deal with the uncomfortable realities of the situation. None of the supporting performances disappoint in “The Big Sick.”

“The Big Sick” is rated R for language including some sexual references. The sexual references are fleeting and, to be honest, I don’t remember any. Foul language is common throughout.

I have listened to Nanjiani’s and Gordon’s podcast “The Indoor Kids” on the Nerdist network. While they no longer make new episodes, I would look forward to hearing about the new video game they were playing or whatever they chose to talk about. I also listened to Nanjiani’s “The X-Files Files” about his favorite TV show which also plays a small part in the movie. Having listened to the pair talk on their own podcasts and others, I must admit being strangely proud of them for getting the movie of their story made. That’s not to say I’m giving them a pass. If the movie had sucked I would have said so; but I’m glad it doesn’t. “The Big Sick” is a great date movie for a couple that is just starting out or a long term relationship that been through some stuff. For the newbies it shows that life isn’t always going to be roses and rainbows. For the veterans it is a reminder that what you might take for granted could all be taken away in an instant. Along with the lesson you get some laughs as well.

“The Big Sick” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Dunkirk” for the WIMZ website.

On this webpage I’ll be seeing one of the following:

Girls Trip—

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has experienced a great deal in his 15 years: He lost his parents and lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him super strength and the ability to climb up walls, and he briefly joined the Avengers at the request of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) during the battle in Berlin. Stark is letting Peter keep the high-tech Spider-Man suit Stark gave him for that battle. Peter wants to be an Avenger but Stark thinks its best if Peter is just your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man and deal with mundane street crime in New York City. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is not your average street criminal. He was once a salvager working to clean up the mess left after the Battle of New York between the Avengers and Chitauri but he was shut down by a government agency taking over the clean-up, ruining him financially. Toomes kept some of the salvaged alien tech and began making very powerful weapons he sells on the black market. Peter, patrolling as Spider-Man, comes across a gang breaking into an ATM using some of Toomes tech and in the fight a corner store across the street from the bank is destroyed. Peter makes it his mission to find out where these weapons are coming from and follows a van containing some of the weapons when he is attacked by a man wearing jet-powered wings and with hydraulic claws on his feet. Toomes has made a flying suit with the alien tech and attacks Peter, nearly killing him. Peter is persistent and tries to capture Toomes and his gang during a weapons deal on the Staten Island Ferry that nearly leads to mass casualties. Stark, angry Peter is taking on missions that are above his experience, takes back the high tech spider suit leaving Peter feeling like a failure and unworthy of being an Avenger.

The cynical among us would look at “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as a blatant cash grab in the third version in 15 years of the character on the big screen. The hopeful among us would look at it, as the title suggests, as a homecoming of sorts for the character as Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) was directly involved in the creation of the story and allowed Tony Stark/Iron Man and Captain America to be used in this film made by Sony/Columbia Pictures. Everyone that enjoys superhero films was just hoping it would at least be an improvement over the Andrew Garfield version of the web-slinging teenager or the third Sam Raimi film. I am happy to report all is looking good in the Spider-verse.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” feels like a more hopeful and positive version of Spider-Man. Perhaps not completely rebooting the character back to the death of Uncle Ben (again) allows this version of Peter Parker to be more positive and less mired in the guilt of that character’s death. That’s not to say Peter doesn’t take the role of being a superhero seriously: If anything he takes it too seriously and devotes all his free time to waiting for a call from Stark to go on another Avengers adventure. This Peter Parker is shown living a dual existence between being a high school student with the responsibilities that entails and being a superhero looking for trouble in his neighborhood. Several times he decides he has to don his suit and face the dangers of his job while letting down his friends and classmates. He leaves a party, leaves an academic decathlon and leaves his date at the homecoming dance and most of the time despite the sacrifice of his personal life; he fails at being a hero. Even when he loses his Stark-tech-enhanced suit, he still feels the obligation to wear his amateurish homemade version and fight the bad guys. It’s his willingness to fail and not give up that makes this Spider-Man especially appealing.

Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is obviously enthusiastic about the part, being quoted in interviews saying he’d like to be the web-slinger for the next 30 years. While that’s unlikely he is contracted for a total of six films and it should be fun seeing Holland and the character grow up over time as long as the scripts and stories are good.

Michael Keaton plays perhaps the best villain in any Marvel movie. Adrian Toomes is a menacing figure with a hair-trigger temper but Keaton has the talent and intelligence to play him with a quiet menace and makes his volatility that much more frightening. A scene late in the film could be used as a convincing argument for a best supporting actor Oscar for Keaton. There’s a chance we’ll see him again in future Spider-Man films and I fear Peter Parker is in for a rough time should the Vulture be freed to fly again.

The rest of the cast is strong and provides terrific supporting performances for the leads. Zendaya is especially good as Michelle, a bookish, oddly turned classmate of Peter’s. She is always close by to provide an ego deflating comment or dose of reality for Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Marisa Tomei’s version of Aunt May is the most modern and certainly the youngest in the character’s movie history. This Aunt May is a force to be reckoned with for Peter as she isn’t easily put off or deceived. It’s also a source of humor as more than Tony Stark is shown flirting with her or expressing interest in her. There is a great deal of potential in this version of Peter’s guardian including future scenes where she is able to extract herself from trouble without the assistance of her super powered nephew.

While the film is a good mix of humor, character development and action, there are times when the action looks muddy. The CGI battles frequently occur at night, making the fast movements nearly impossible to see. While the special effects are very good during the daylight scenes the nighttime set pieces tend to get lost in the darkness.

There’s also another little thing that bothered me about “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Peter’s friend Ned discovers his secret identity (not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer) but then he can’t stop talking to Peter about it in school, constantly asking him questions even when they are surrounded by other students. If I had a secret of that size I certainly wouldn’t want my friend chatting about it out loud around other people. There are numerous situations where Ned is asking question but he isn’t being subtle and there are always people standing or sitting nearby. It is a recipe for having your secret spread all over school in no time and inevitably discovered by the super villains you fight. That really stuck out to me.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief suggestive comments and some language. There are numerous fights but no gore. One person is turned into a pile of ash by an alien weapon. Spider-Man is shown being dragged behind a van and thrown into trash cans and mailboxes. There is a plane crash and other mayhem caused by the weapons. I do not remember anything that could be considered suggestive other than some very mild comments about Aunt May. Foul language is mild and scattered.

At the end of the film we are promised Spider-Man will return. We know he’s in “Avengers: Infinity War” as well as its sequel and two more scheduled solo movies. That, along with his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” would total Tom Holland’s six contracted films as the web slinger. While it is difficult for any series of films to maintain the quality of the original, Marvel seems to be more successful at it than most. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have this Spider-Man for a while and not need to reboot the franchise for quite some time. As long as the future films are as good as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” I’m perfectly happy with that.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” gets five stars.

Three new movies open in wide release this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Big Sick—

War for the Planet of the Apes—

Wish Upon—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Baby Driver”

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a quiet young man who listens to music constantly through his iPod to drown out the tinnitus that has plagued him since he was in a car accident as a child. That accident also left him an orphan as both is parents died in the crash. Baby has been the foster son of Joseph (CJ Jones) for many years but Joseph, who is deaf, is confined to a wheelchair and now Baby takes care of him. Baby has a job as a driver but it’s not like being a chauffeur: Baby is the wheel man for a rotating group of bank robbers led by Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby stole a car of Doc’s several years prior that was filled with expensive “merchandise.” Baby dumped the car after his joy ride but Doc, who had watched the whole thing, held him responsible for the value of the merchandise lost in the theft. Baby has been the getaway driver for all the jobs Doc has masterminded since they met. Baby gets an equal share of the take but Doc keeps most of it giving Baby a tiny fraction to live on. Doc never uses the same crew twice on a job and has recently brought in Bats (Jamie Foxx) for what may be their biggest job yet. Bats is unstable and violent, willing to kill at the drop of a hat, and he rubs the rest of the crews the wrong way. Baby has recently met Deborah (Lily James), a waitress at the diner he frequents and he is falling in love. They share a love of music and a desire to leave their lives behind for the open road. Baby thought his days of driving for Doc were over but he gets pulled back in (thanks to threats on the lives of everyone he loves) for one more job. Now Baby is having more and more trouble keeping his professional life from jeopardizing the lives of those he loves.

“Baby Driver” is a rare original idea in a summer of reboots, sequels and massive franchise films and it’s from a director that nearly helmed “Ant-Man.” Edgar Wright, the creative mind behind the “Cornetto Trilogy” of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” along with the underappreciated “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” has given audiences a refreshing treat in a summer of warmed-over ideas and CGI-heavy extravaganzas. If only more studios and filmmakers would be willing to take a chance on small stories of fairly regular people trapped in extraordinary circumstances there might be more tickets sold and more money in their pockets. Of course, not all filmmakers have a mind as creative at Edgar Wright but we are lucky he found a studio willing to take a chance on his vision.

Ansel Elgort is a vision to behold playing Baby. The character is so laid back he’s practically lying down: but Baby is far more in tune with what’s going on around him than many believe and he truly comes alive behind the wheel. Elgort finds the perfect balance of calm and energy for Baby. He never raises much above a low boil even when he has a gun shoved in his face. Baby can calculate what needs to be done to avoid a police roadblock and an oncoming car without breaking a sweat or losing an earbud. It’s a performance many actors could not have believably pulled off but Elgort does it with ease. He’s brilliant in the role.

While also brilliant, Jamie Foxx is scary as the unstable Bats. His intense stare and hair-trigger temper make Bats a dangerous man to be around and Foxx is able to bring a level of menace and unpredictability to the role that few could. Watching the film I was never quite sure which way Bats would go in any situation and that made the scenes he’s in incredibly powerful to watch. It would not surprise me to see Foxx nominated for a supporting actor award next year.

While the trailers have emphasized the car stunts in the movie, aside from the opening chase there aren’t really that many in the film; but that chase has a level of beauty and precision other films will feel the need to match. It has the kind of stunts that the “Fast and the Furious” films wish they could do but now must have cars flying over mountains and blasting through buildings. There are a couple more car chases in “Baby Driver” but they are more of the ram and slam variety where the opening stunt series is like watching a surgeon remove a tumor from a very delicate part of the brain. It is an amazing opening sequence.

“Baby Driver” is a movie where the soundtrack is a character unto itself. Comprised of 30 songs ranging in style from jazz to hip-hop, the music is what Baby is listening to as he drives. It is a window into his mind and personality. It conveys the emotion of the scene and the people in it. It takes over for exposition where none is needed. The movie is edited to, and the characters move in time with, the music that is constantly playing through Baby’s earbuds or the speakers in his car. I’m not sure they give awards for that kind of thing but if they do, “Baby Driver” is a shoe-in to take home the trophy.

“Baby Driver” is rated R for violence and language throughout. There are numerous shootings, some bloodier than others. We see a character hit by a car and thrown into the air then run over again. A character is shown impaled on metal rods after a car crash. There are other acts of violence in the film as well. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Edgar Wright has been working to get “Baby Driver” made for over 20 years. His dismissal from the director’s chair for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” may have been a blessing in disguise as it gave Wright the incentive to make a movie the way he wanted to make it and the result is a music and thrill-filled film that should be viewed twice just to catch all the little touches the director has thrown in to add an extra dash of flavor to an already tasty bit of filmmaking.

“Baby Driver” gets five stars.

This week the much anticipated “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the only film in wide release and that’s what I’ll see and review:

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Transformers: The Last Knight”

Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) is floating frozen in space looking for his and all the Transformers creator. He crashes on the remains of Cybertron to find a dead and broken apart planet heading toward Earth. Prime is brought before Quintessa (voiced by Gemma Chan) who claims to be maker of his race. She tells Prime about a staff that wields great power and will drain the Earth of its life force and revive Cybertron. She puts him under a spell to do her bidding and renames him Nemesis Prime, sending him on a mission to recover the staff. Meanwhile, all Transformers are considered enemies of the Earth and are hunted by a paramilitary unit called the Transformers Reaction Force (TRF) with orders to capture and if necessary kill any and all alien robots. Transformers keep arriving on Earth and helping them as best he can is Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). He lets them hide out at his junkyard in the middle of the desert. There he has Bumblebee, Hound (voiced by John Goodman), Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) and several more. He has had to separate himself from his daughter now in college since the TRF is looking to arrest him. While rummaging in a restricted zone where alien craft have recently crashed (and collecting a metal disk from a dying Transformer), Cade sees a group of young teenagers being chased by a TRF drone. He and Bumblebee save the kids and get them out of the restricted zone. One of them is 14-year old Izabella (Isabela Moner), an orphan whose parents were killed in a Decepticon attack. Izabella is a mechanical genius and has cobbled together from salvaged Transformer parts a mechanical companion she calls Sqweeks. Izabella sneaks her way into Cade’s truck and rides back to his junkyard hideout. There she shows Cade just how handy she is and earns his respect. Cade is contacted by a Transformer named Cogman (Jim Carter) who is the assistant to Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins). Burton wants to see Cade immediately on a matter of urgency to the entire planet. While he’s there he’ll meet Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), a beautiful and headstrong professor of English literature at Oxford University. She and Cade must work together to find the staff in its hiding place on Earth before Nemesis Prime or the Decepticons led by Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker), otherwise the Earth is doomed.

That synopsis doesn’t make much sense. It didn’t help that I left out about 75% of the story but I wanted to keep it as small as possible; however, even if I told you everything that happened in the first hour of “Transformers: The Last Knight,” it still wouldn’t make much sense as this film is the most incoherent, muddled and over-stuffed of all the movies in the franchise. It makes the rambling make-believe of a five-year old seems focused and logical by comparison.

Also similar to a youngster’s make-believe is the way the film jumps from scene to scene and location to location. It gives the viewer cognitive whiplash as the story jumps around like kangaroos in mating season. You might be in a military situation room one moment then cut to an unrelated scene in Cuba the next with no transition. One moment you’re on Earth, the next on Cybertron. Modern times to the Dark Ages and in the desert then under the sea. The movie goes anywhere and everywhere at the drop of a hat never allowing a scene to breathe and actually develop. There are six credited editors on the film’s Wikipedia and IMDB pages. Each must have been exhausted by the constant cutting of the nearly two and a half hour film.

The script is actually worse than the editing. Ranging from incoherent to sexist, the script manages to make every actor in the movie look petty, dumb and childish. Much of it sounds like it was made up on set or in the recording studio. Mark Wahlberg comes off worst of all as his lines sound like they were written for a Saturday Night Live sketch. Always sounding frustrated and exasperated, Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager comes off like a spoiled child unable to get his way. Things get much worse when Laura Haddock’s Vivian Wembley arrives. Sexist dialog abounds coming not only from Cade but also her mother and other female relatives as they implore her to find a husband and settle down.

Let’s also talk about how Vivian is shown on screen in the movie: Tight, form-fitting dresses and button-up shirts that look to be about a half size too small exposing her cleavage in a not terribly subtle way. Attractive women in the “Transformers” franchise have been, let’s face it, nothing but eye candy for the largely male audience these films attract. Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicola Peltz and Laura Haddock are all objectified to some extent in these films. While it might have been a little less in the case of Nicola Peltz since she played Cade’s daughter it still was expressed by other male actors in scenes where they weren’t being shot at by military or robots. While each was given some talent or trait that had nothing to do with them being very attractive women, none of them escaped the camera’s leering eye or skimpy wardrobe that amplified their sexiness. There is even a story where Megan Fox was filmed washing Michael Bay’s Ferrari as part of the “audition” for the first film. Both have confirmed it happened and Bay has been quoted saying he isn’t sure where the tape is of the car washing. Fox has also said Bay asked her if she had a nice stomach. All of this has a level of “ick” that no male actor in a major role has ever likely faced except for possibly the “Magic Mike” movies. While I know this isn’t a new problem for actresses in films it is no more blatant than in the “Transformers” franchise.

None of the actors turns in great performances but the winner for having the most fun with his goofy role is Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal of the slightly mad Sir Edmund Burton is the most entertaining thing in the film. He brings a manic yet controlled energy to this performance that seems to say “F—k it! I know this is garbage but I’m going to enjoy myself while I’m drowning in this sea of refuse!” Hopkins is certainly a far better special effect than any of the CGI robots in the film. He isn’t in it nearly enough to save this burning trash heap but when he is on screen your eye and attention will be drawn to him to see what he does next.

While I have not been a big fan of how the Transformers have looked in battle, this film and its Industrial Light and Magic special effects team seems to have cracked whatever problem made the robots indistinguishable from one another when they were in combat. Perhaps it is the use of color that prevents the two robots from seeming to meld into one another when they were fighting. I’m not sure but whatever it is works to make the robot-on-robot action more clear.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is rated PG-13 for language, intense sci-fi action, some innuendo and violence. There are numerous battle scenes between humans and Transformers with lots of slow motion explosions that throw bodies up into the air. We see some man-to-man fighting as well. There is no gore but you do see people stabbed by swords and rolled over by burning catapult-thrown ammo. Robots are killed by humans and their own kind. There is a scene from the trailer where several Transformers are beheaded by Optimus Prime. There is some awkward effort at sexual innuendo but it is more for comedic effect. Foul language is fairly frequent but doesn’t get much worse than “s—t” or “bulls—t.”

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is likely not the last we’ll see from the robots in disguise. Bumblebee is scheduled to get his own solo movie in 2018 and Michael Bay has said up to 14 more stories have been written and could be produced into films. I’d just like to reiterate, FOURTEEN more “Transformers” movies! And I’m not sure that includes the proposed crossovers with G.I Joe and other Hasbro Toy properties. I wish I could look forward to “Transformers” films the way I do “Star Wars” movies but I just can’t. If history has taught us anything it’s that Michael Bay makes spectacle movies that are crap and it appears, at least domestically, this franchise is beginning to run out of steam. “Transformers: The Last Knight” has the lowest domestic opening weekend of all the franchise with a five day total of $69-million. That’s $50-million below the last film. While it is doing well overseas it appears America’s appetite for fighting alien robots and the humans that love and hate them is beginning to wane. Perhaps audiences are just tired of seeing basically the same movie done over and over again and each one being worse than the last. Whatever the reason, “Transformers: The Last Knight” is certainly the worst of the lot and that’s saying something considering how bad the second film, “Revenge of the Fallen,” is. But let’s face it: None of these films have been great. There is a certain amount of nostalgia that compels some audience members to see one or two of them but that wears off over film after film. If Michael Bay, Hasbro and Paramount Pictures want to keep filling theatres for the next 50 years with another 20 “Transformers” movies, they MUST get better.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” gets one star out of five.

Three new movies look to fill your eyes and minds with their amazing brilliance! I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Baby Driver—

Despicable Me 3—

The House—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Also you can hear me on the Steve and Kyle Podcast, available on iTunes, Stitcher, Libsyn and the podcatcher of your choice, or listen to it here: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/5483600

 

Review of “Cars 3”

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is having a great year on the Piston Cup circuit until the arrival of younger and more high-tech race cars led by Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer). Storm and other next gen race cars begin dominating all the races forcing several veteran cars to retire. At the last race of the season McQueen pushes himself too hard and has a bad crash. Going to Radiator Springs to recuperate surrounded by his friends Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) and girlfriend Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt). With their encouragement and fond memories of his mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by Paul Newman), McQueen decides to keep racing. To help get him in a position to challenge Storm, new Rust-eze owner Sterling (voiced by Nathan Fillion) has built a state-of-the-art training and research facility. There McQueen is introduced to his trainer Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo) who believes in a multi-tiered approach including visualization, meditation, stretching and time in a race simulator. McQueen bristles at the new approach and wants to get out on the sand and dirt tracks of his mentor Doc. After a disastrous visit to a dirt track that was running a demolition derby, McQueen heads for the Doc’s old stomping grounds and finds his former pit chief Smokey (voiced by Chris Cooper). Smokey and some of Doc’s old friends from the racing circuit help teach McQueen the lessons he may have forgotten over his years as a winning race car. Lessons that may help him defeat Storm and learn something about himself.

“Cars 3” is the best of the series. While I’ve liked the two previous films there’s something about this one that made me pay a bit more attention. I’m sure the thing that made this a better film for me probably went well over the heads of the film’s very young target audience; but the messages of learning from your mistakes, growing to appreciate your past and understanding your weaknesses are ones that children need to learn as early as possible and exposing them to these lessons early can’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt that the messages are delivered in a bright and colorful package with amazing animation and some terrific voice acting from a massive and talented cast including veteran actors and some NASCAR drivers and retired veterans to add a bit of authenticity to the racing chatter.

The “Cars” franchise may be considered the lower tier of the Pixar movies but you can see the effort by the studio to turn out a film that looks amazing and has a solid story base. It may not have quite the heart of the “Toy Story” movies or the humor of “Monsters, Inc.” but the series does have a strong appeal to very small children which gives Pixar and Disney an opportunity to develop a base of new fans every few years. Simpler stories told well with bright colors and sweet characters with big eyes could be considered a kind of gateway into the more complex and grownup films the company also releases. It’s a brilliant technique to constantly be bringing in new audiences and give them more mature fare as they age.

“Cars 3” boasts a massive voice cast and several of them do standout work. Owen Wilson is great as Lightning McQueen. Wilson has the perfect kind of drawl to make the character relatable to younger viewers. He can complain and whine without sounding too childish and can sell his understanding and acceptance of realizations that he’s wrong or when he learns something. It’s a homespun performance that doesn’t make fun of the quality.

Cristela Alonzo is a perfect choice for Cruz Ramirez. She can be an annoying cheerleader and quickly turn her character into a righteous and powerful advocate for herself. It is a somewhat secondary storyline how her character, and another female character, have faced discrimination due to their gender. It becomes a more prominent feature late in the film. Alonzo plays the scene like I’m afraid many women do in the real world: They surrender. While I would have preferred if her character had been written to be more of a self-advocate, it actually makes the resolution all the more thrilling.

Praise must also go to Armie Hammer as Jackson Storm. The character actually has very little screen time but Hammer’s performance makes the most of it. Storm is a bully with a very high opinion of himself and Hammer is able to make him utterly despicable, handing out false compliments and insincere praise always dripping with contempt. As Pixar villains go, Storm is right up there with Randall from “Monsters, Inc.” as the best of the worst.

There are lots of brief character bits that add to the enjoyment of “Cars 3” but it would be a mistake to not mention the late Paul Newman’s work as Doc Hudson. The lines heard in the movie were bits of dialog not used in the original “Cars.” The gravitas and history heard in Newman’s voice can’t be ignored. Weaving this old dialog into the story and making it all work within the narrative of a film written a decade after the first and several years after Newman died shows a level of commitment to storytelling and to an actor that apparently made a strong impression on the Pixar creative team. They probably could have found an actor with a gravelly voice to take over the role; but including Newman in this film honors his memory and shows just what a class act the leadership of Pixar is.

As you would expect, “Cars 3” looks amazing. The animation of the characters and the backgrounds is stunning. I found myself especially impressed with the look of one very unimpressive shot. The camera focus on a wall of an old race track shifts from the closer sections of the wall being in focus to the further away sections. It’s the kind of thing that is small and you see in live action movies all the time but using it here makes the realism of an otherwise unreal story about living cars amplified. The visual style of the film is impressive and gorgeous to look at even if you don’t find the story all that interesting.

“Cars 3” is rated G. Naturally there are no language issues but younger viewers might find the crash scene early in the film, as well as a flashback about a wreck Doc Hudson had, a little disturbing.

It may not be at the top of any “best of” lists at years end but “Cars 3” is certainly the best of the series. It looks at hard questions and, in its aimed-at-young-children way, comes up with answers that work within its world. The film also gives Disney/Pixar a chance to add to its already impressive over $10-billion worldwide merchandising haul. Race cars with eyes really rake in the dough! This film will probably do pretty good as well.

“Cars 3” gets five revved up stars out of five.

This week there’s only one new movie in theatres: Transformers: The Last Knight. I wonder if this one makes any more sense than any of the others in the series.

See my review for “Rough Night” at http://www.wimz.com/blogs/stan-movie-man. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “The Mummy”

Nick Morton and Chris Vail (Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson) are Army recon soldiers that are supposed to be scouting for insurgents but have decided to go on a search for antiquities they can steal and sell on the black market. While scouting a small town in Iraq they are attacked by insurgents and Chris calls in a drone strike. The missiles drive away the enemy fighters and open a hole in the ground showing a massive chamber with what appear to be Egyptian carvings and artifacts. Archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) is called in to investigate. Nick, Chris and Jenny all repel into the cavern and find it stuffed with Egyptian statues and hieroglyphics which is unusual since they are 1000 miles away from Egypt. Reading the hieroglyphs and examining the statuary, Jenny realizes this isn’t a tomb but a prison for whoever is buried there. At the bottom of a pool of mercury is the sarcophagus of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Princess Ahmanet was next in line to be ruler of Egypt centuries earlier but her father’s second wife had a male baby making him the next in line for the throne. Making a deal with the god of death Set, Ahmanet killed her father, his wife and their baby and prepared to sacrifice her lover so Set could use him as a receptacle and walk the Earth once again where he and Ahmanet would rule for eternity. Her father’s servants stopped the sacrifice and captured Ahmanet, mummifying her alive and burying her in that pit far from Egypt. The markings on the chain around the pool show anyone that exhumes the princess is cursed. Never one to believe in such things, Nick breaks the chain and the sarcophagus rises from the mercury. While flying the sarcophagus to London a flock of crows crash into the plane and cause it to crash. Nick puts a parachute on Jenny and forces her off the plane. It crashes and kills everyone else on board…except for Nick who wakes up in a body bag in a morgue. Surprised to see him alive, Jenny introduces Nick to her boss Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) who explains Jenny works for his organization that seeks out and attempts to contain or destroy the monsters that roam the Earth, Princess Ahmanet is one of those monsters and Nick’s actions in the chamber has cursed him to be the new vessel for Set.

I left out a great deal in this plot synopsis such as Vail being bitten by a large insect in the chamber and becoming an undead slave of Ahmanet’s, how Ahmanet actually sucks the life out of victims to rebuild her decayed body and the various artifacts in Dr. Jekyll’s lab that suggest the other monsters coming to Universal’s Dark Universe. There’s a great deal going on in “The Mummy” and much of it is noisy filler to get from one heavily CGI action set piece to another. Is it a good movie? No but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it.

“The Mummy” is the modern version of a popcorn movie. The kind of film that doesn’t have much of a reason to exist except to let you forget what’s going on in the outside world and just turn off your brain for a couple of hours. The characters are largely forgettable, the story is frequently incoherent and the resolution is about as surprising as starting your car (although I have owned cars where it frequently surprised me both by starting and not starting).

It could have been much more interesting. For instance, it won’t surprise anyone that Tom Cruise’s Nick is the hero of the film. While his character is introduced as someone that is morally questionable, once the weirdness starts he takes on the very familiar role as a good guy with a few minor and unconvincing attempts to suggest otherwise. Since “The Mummy” is the first of a series of monster movies, why not make Nick the King of the Monsters. Not Godzilla but the leader of the Universal classic monsters this film is meant to anchor: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Gill Man (or Creature from the Black Lagoon if you prefer) and the Invisible Man. Nick, who doesn’t leave the film the same as when it started, could be the leader of the group and try to establish a worldwide syndicate of evil with all these creatures. Instead, Nick is a monster with a heart of gold, keeping Cruise as a lovable hero that sacrifices his humanity for the greater good. It might have worked with a character that was more predictably selfish throughout the movie but Cruise is constantly putting himself in harm’s way to save the girl or stop the monster or whatever. His actions late in the film don’t really come across as a surprise as we already know Nick is deep down a really good person that maybe had to bend and break the rules on occasion to make enough money to take care of his sick mother (we don’t know why Nick is stealing and selling antiquities as that isn’t explained in the film). Complicating Nick more would have gone a long way to making his choices more surprising and making the story more interesting.

The story is merely a scaffold to get us from one action scene to the next. Whether the cast is running from a destructive sandstorm in downtown London or fighting to escape Ahmanet’s skeletal soldiers, the script is light on dialog and heavy on CGI monsters and various crashes. Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll gets the unenviable task of being Mr. Exposition. His character, either in voiceover or on screen, explains pretty much everything going on in the movie. From the life and death of Ahmanet to the existence of his monster squad, Crowe is responsible for filling in the audience. For an actor that has won an Oscar and performed in countless dramatic films, this is really a big step down in quality. You can’t help but feel like Crowe took the part for the paycheck and for the possibility of fairly steady work for the next decade if all these monster movies get made (I wouldn’t bet on that happening). He only gets turned loose when Mr. Hyde comes out to play and that isn’t often enough or long enough.

Despite all the problems, if you can just let the movie wash over you like a warm ocean wave it has a fair amount of entertainment leaking out of it. Even with the abundant CGI, the action scenes are for the most part pretty good. While Tom Cruise running in his movies has become something of a joke (you could probably edit together all his running scenes into a feature length movie), Cruise still looks amazing at 55 and did most of his own stunts on this film as he does on his others. The interaction of the characters also delivers some surprising laughs. Jake Johnson is underutilized but pretty terrific as Chris Vail. The early scene where he and Cruise are running from the insurgents is punctuated with a soundtrack of Johnson’s yelling at Cruise about getting him into this mess. Cruise and Wallis have some nice scenes as Nick and Jenny verbally spar with one another over a night they spent together. There are small moments of humanity and humor that are sprinkled into the film and they occasionally manage to break through and provide some entertaining oases in what is otherwise a desert of burning sand.

“The Mummy” is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, some suggestive content and partial nudity. There are various scenes where characters are shown being shot. Blood is minimal. Various fights break out where characters are thrown around a room. There is a plane crash scene that could prove very intense to someone afraid of flying. Ahmanet is shown sucking the life out of several characters and they fall to the ground as withered husks but come back to life as her zombie slaves on her command. Other dead bodies also come to life at her command, many of these skeletal. A couple is shown looking like they are about to make love. Ahmanet is shown nude but in shadow with very little identifiable except for her butt cleavage. Foul language is minimal.

“The Mummy” is supposed to be the kickoff of a franchise of monster movies; but so was the 2004 film “Van Helsing.” That movie was supposed to anchor a shared universe of films with spinoffs including video games, novels and theme parks. The tepid critical reception and less than impressive box office put a stake in the heart of those plans. Now, Universal Studios is trying again to make its stable of monsters a money machine. Early domestic projections put the opening weekend receipts for “The Mummy” at a disappointing $30-million. While the film has opened big in foreign markets it will have to do really impressive numbers overseas for the Dark Universe to have any life, otherwise it will be as dead as a decapitated vampire. While it may not be the greatest monster movie of all time, “The Mummy” isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Not a ringing endorsement and maybe they will figure out a way to salvage the franchise by the next film. Who knows?

“The Mummy” gets three stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Rough Night” for WIMZ.com.

For this webpage I’ll be reviewing one of the following:

47 Meters Down—

All Eyez on Me—

Cars 3—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Wonder Woman”

On the island of Themyscira, hidden by an invisibility shield, the Amazons, a race of female warriors, live in peace. Led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the Amazons are immortal, created by the King of the Greek gods Zeus to battle his son Ares the god of war who was jealous of his father’s creation, humankind. Ares was narrowly defeated and went into hiding but Zeus was mortally wounded. His last act was to create a weapon that could kill a god in the event Ares returned. Hippolyta’s daughter Diana (Gal Gadot) has wanted to be trained as an Amazon warrior since childhood but her mother refused. Secretly the Queen’s sister Antiope (Robin Wright), the greatest warrior of the Amazons, has been training Diana and she is showing a level of ability that actually frightens her sister Amazons. One day the peace of Themyscira is shattered when a German plane crashes just off shore. The pilot is an American working as a spy for the British named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Diana witnesses the crash and saves Steve but soon a group of German soldiers come through the invisibility shield and attacks the island in an effort to capture the spy. The Germans have guns but the Amazons have centuries of battle experience and soon defeat the soldiers but Antiope is killed in the battle. Steve wants to return to the war in Europe known as the war to end all wars as he has evidence that General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) a leader of the German military has been working with Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) a chemist that makes chemical weapons and they have a new weapon that could kill millions but Hippolyta refuses to release him for fear of exposing the island. Diana believes Ares is responsible for the war and wants to go with Steve back into the world and slay Ares with a sword she calls the God Killer believing that will end the war. Diana gathers various weapons, including a lasso that compels those caught in it to tell the truth, a shield and the God Killer, and intends to leave with Steve in secret on a small sailboat but Hippolyta catches them. She knows she can’t stop her daughter from leaving with Steve and tells her she may not be able to return to Themyscira. Diana understands and she and Steve leave. Hippolyta is concerned for Diana’s safety, fearing Ares will find her but also worried that Diana will find out a secret the Queen has been keeping from her.

A movie version of “Wonder Woman” has been in the works for 20 years. Several directors and writers including Ivan Reitman and Joss Whedon have been involved at one point or another. Every A-List actress from Sandra Bullock to Angelina Jolie has been rumored to be up for the lead. Making this movie has had more twists and turns than an overwritten comic book. Now, after all the time and effort, we finally get to see the Amazon princess on the big screen. It was worth the wait.

“Wonder Woman” is successful primarily due to the performance of Gal Gadot. While the audience wants to see the super heroic daring do, the script by Allan Heinberg gives us a Diana that is certainly unprepared for everything other than fighting. The role of women in the 1910’s is certainly foreign to the Amazon as well as the fashion of the time. The hierarchy of government and the military also doesn’t make much sense to her as well as the cold reality of letting soldiers die to avoid upsetting the armistice negotiations. We watch Diana not only discover her place as a hero, we see her learn about a world that isn’t as black and white as life and Themyscira. Some of these are harder lessons than she is expecting and Gadot manages to avoid playing the role like a child. Diana asks legitimate questions that still have no satisfactory answers to this day.

Chris Pine is also very good as Steve Trevor. The spy with skills but and “aw shucks” attitude transforms from a pretty good guy to a very good person over the course of the film. It’s nice that some of what makes Diana a hero rubs off on the soldier. It is a subtle but convincing performance that never strains your willingness to believe.

What might shake your confidence is some of the CGI during the battle scenes. Of course the actions shown on screen would be impossible in real life but the CG characters don’t look real at times especially when Diana is throwing people around with the lasso. While the movements are impressive, the visuals are lacking. I would have preferred something that was maybe a bit less showy and looked more realistic.

The story also drags a bit early on when Diana and Steve are in London. While I enjoyed the humor of the scenes of Diana trying on clothes and questioning how she could be expected to fight in them they did go on too long. Also, when our main characters are reporting what Ludendorff and Maru are plotting to the government that also feels a padded out. Maybe the idea was to hammer home the inequality women faced no matter how qualified or experienced they might be but it seemed like unnecessarily beating a dead horse.

“Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content, sequences of violence and action. Since the film is set in World War I there are scenes of battle and shooting with people shown dead or with significant injuries including missing limbs. We also see people shot and killed with arrows. Wonder Woman also doesn’t mind ending the life of a bad guy and does so in various ways including with her sword but no gore is shown. A male character is shown nude covering his genitals with his hand. There is little to no foul language.

Unlike “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Wonder Woman” is actually lighthearted at times. The uncomfortable but sweet chemistry early on between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine is adorable and parts of Diana adjusting to the human world are funny. I hope this signifies a change in tone for future DC films as a superhero movie shouldn’t make you want to end your life. We’ll have to wait and see if the lighter trend continues when “Justice League” comes out in November. Until then we have a DC film that is actually enjoyable with only a few minor issues that don’t include a humorless tone and confusing editing. What a nice change of pace.

“Wonder Woman” gets four stars out of five.

This week things that go bump in the night, four-legged loyalty and the possible beginning of a new monster movie franchise are arriving on screens near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

It Comes at Night—

Megan Leavey—

The Mummy—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.