Review of “Justice League”

The world continues to mourn the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) along with those that knew and loved him: His mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane) has lost the family farm and has moved to an apartment in Metropolis. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is only working on puff pieces for the Daily Planet newspaper. Batman (Ben Affleck) is troubled by his role in Superman’s death. He is also troubled by the appearance of winged creatures showing up in Gotham City. When he traps one against a wall it explodes leaving behind a pattern of three box shapes burned into the wall. Similar images show up in drawings made by convicted criminal and billionaire businessman Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) seized from him in prison. On Themyscira, the island home of the Amazons, a box that’s been dormant for thousands of years begins humming and shaking. A tube of energy appears above it and through that tube comes Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), an alien destroyer of worlds. After a brief battle led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Steppenwolf seizes the box and along with his army of flying parademons leaves by another tube of energy. When Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), learns of the attack she seeks out Batman to tell him the history of Steppenwolf and how he tried to take over the Earth before but was beaten back by the Amazons, a sea-dwelling civilization called the Atlanteans, humans and the gods themselves. Diana and Bruce decide to look for other people with special abilities and form a team to defeat Steppenwolf and his parademons. They know of Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) who is endowed with incredible speed that has earned him the nickname The Flash. There’s the water-dweller that aides a coastal village with food when their harbor is iced closed named Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) also called Aquaman. Finally, there’s the son of the head scientist at Star Labs that was thought to have been killed in an accident but has been merged with technology giving him the ability to hack into any computer system and more. He’s Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) but some call him Cyborg. Together this league of justice must overcome their differences and fears to work as a team to defeat Steppenwolf; but it may not be enough so a risky plan is put into place to add one final member.

If you haven’t heard about “Justice League” it must be because you’ve made an active effort to not hear any of the news this film generated. It wasn’t always good news: Director Zack Snyder left the film during post-production after the death of his daughter and Joss Whedon came in to do some sizable reshoots and the editing. While industry experts suggest Whedon’s reshoots account for about 20 percent of the film, the difference in style and tone make for a film that is inconsistent and could have used a bit more time spent with the newer characters to give them a better fleshed out reason to exist.

It’s ironic that “Justice League” could have been longer since one of the biggest criticisms of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” was that it was far too long. This time I think Snyder and Whedon could have improved the film by showing us more about Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. While we get small nuggets about each it all feels like we are being pushed through an open house by a realtor that has somewhere else to be. We see bits and pieces but the rest goes by in a blur.

There are clear efforts to lighten the tone of “Justice League” over its DC predecessors. There are jokes approximately every three and a half minutes. While I don’t know that to be absolutely true, I get the feeling there were a great deal of focus groups and test audiences in the production of this film that guided the effort to put more laughs in the script. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is the source of a number of these laughs but even the usually dour Batman provides a bit of levity from time to time. The Caped Crusader even delivers one of the film’s biggest laughs while connecting a scene from “BvS” to “Justice League.” You can see there was an effort but I appreciated it.

With a cast this large and a story that moves almost as fast as the Flash, there isn’t much of an opportunity for any actor to really stick out and despite some brief moments, no one does in “Justice League.” Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa shine brightest in their fleeting time. Momoa has a very entertaining scene where he gives his true feelings about what they are facing when it is shown why he’s being so honest. Miller is quirky as the Flash. Barry Allen is insecure about his place on the team and in the world, unsure of what he adds. Batman gives him so good advice that guides him in the right direction but that uneasiness with being a hero persists. While Miller and Momoa don’t have a great deal of screen time they do the best with what they are given. Ray Fisher is given very little to do other than look sullen. His character is not dealing well with becoming part man and part machine and only begins to grow into something interesting once he takes on the mantle of hero. Fisher’s Cyborg is underutilized and is difficult to fit into these other superheroes since his is the least known of the group. Perhaps there’s a better storyline in the future for Cyborg but his appearance in “Justice League” is poorly thought out.

The leaders of the group are clearly Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. The pair takes turns being the grownup of the league. The fight against their foe together, bicker, nearly come to blows then realize they can never beat Steppenwolf if they don’t work together. There are no real surprises as it concerns the way the story flows or how Affleck’s and Gadot’s characters rise to the challenge of leading a team of strangers into a life and death battle. What is a surprise is how bored Affleck looks. Rumors have swirled for months that he wants out of playing Batman despite his protestations to the contrary. That talk has flared again just at the movie was released with Jake Gyllenhaal being the most mentioned name to replace Affleck. If Affleck’s performance in “Justice League” is any indication of his enthusiasm for the role then Gyllenhaal should show up for a bat suit fitting ASAP.

The story races through the fairly standard arc of the good guys being unable to defeat the bad guy on a couple of occasions, nearly coming apart due to some internal struggle then rallying to face the bad guy one more time. It is about as predictable as the return of Superman although how he’s brought back from the dead left me scratching my head. While I won’t give away any of the details, the scene at the end of “BvS” where the dirt on his casket is floating can be ignored. It’s like screenwriter Chris Terrio read the comic books where Superman returned after being killed by Doomsday and said, “You think that’s silly? Hold my beer.” The numerous moving parts of Superman’s revival are so Rube Goldberg-like in their complexity (not to mention dealing with alien technology and the physiology of an alien that’s been dead for quite some time) that even in the anything-goes world of super heroes it stretches credibility.

The weakest aspect of “Justice League” has to be the villain Steppenwolf. The issue isn’t just because he’s a CG character but that he isn’t terribly interesting. His mission is to destroy the world and we’ve seen that a million times and in better movies (*cough – The Avengers – cough*). Steppenwolf is nothing much more than a bully…granted he’s about nine feet tall, carries a glowing axe and commands an army of flying soldiers but still, he’s kind of dull as big bads go. Considering all the villains in the DC library of bad guys Steppenwolf is a dud.

“Justice League” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. There are numerous battles with beings both human and non-human. There is no blood except for some green parademon blood. There is scattered mild foul language.

I really wanted to love “Justice League” as I was a DC Comics reader and subscriber in my youth. I was seriously invested in the lives of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and whoever else made up the rest of the league in the 1970’s. It was an escape from my humdrum life as a kid in school that desperately wanted to be a super powered hero. There’s still a little of that desire running through me despite my grown up knowledge that I’m not from Krypton, I’m not a billionaire, that getting struck by lightning won’t give me super speed, that I’m not the son of the Atlantean king, that cybernetic parts won’t let me hack into any computer system and that I’m not an Amazon princess (that last one really stings). Since I can’t be a superhero I want to be able to enjoy movies about them. “Justice League” isn’t awful but it isn’t the rapturous experience I wanted and that hurts me a little bit.

“Justice League” gets three stars out of five.

This holiday week sees two new movies arriving at theatres. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Coco—

Roman J. Israel, Esq.—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast on all the podcast platforms. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “My Friend Dahmer”

Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is a quiet high school student. He’s considered odd by his classmates because of his interest in collecting road kill and dissolving the flesh with acid he gets from his chemical engineer father Lionel (Dallas Roberts) to collect the bones. His mother Joyce (Anne Heche) frequently argues with Lionel and she has a history of mental illness including a hospitalization. At school a boy nicknamed Derf (Alex Wolff) notices Dahmer makes a classroom full of students laugh by mocking a man with palsy. Derf and his friends decide to start the Dahmer Fan Club and encourage Dahmer to make a spectacle of himself by faking a seizure and making squawking noises in classes and hallways. Despite how humiliating his antics are Dahmer goes along with the requests to “pull a Dahmer” as the boys call it because he feels like this group is his friends. Things at home are only getting worse as Lionel and Joyce are arguing more and his mother’s mental state is deteriorating. Dahmer also is becoming more obsessed with a jogger that runs past his house that turns out to be Dr. Matthews (Vincent Kartheiser), the physician for one of his new friends. Soon Dahmer is showing up to class drunk and dissecting dead animals in the woods behind his house. A couple of his friends notice his odd behavior but keep their fears to themselves. Dahmer begins to spin completely out of control when his parents’ divorce, his father moves in with his girlfriend and his mother leaves with Dahmer’s younger brother to live with her mother. Jeffrey is all alone in the house with only his dark thoughts and desires.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name written by one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school classmates, “My Friend Dahmer” is a heartbreaking and fascinating look at the infamous serial killer before he took his first victim. While no one at the time could have had any idea of the future held, the audience knows just how far Dahmer would go and it makes everything in the film that much more devastating.

If you’re looking for a gore-filled orgy of violence you won’t find it in “My Friend Dahmer.” The film is like a musical prelude that introduces the themes of the symphony. We see the withdrawn and awkward Dahmer as the foundation of his psychosis is laid and the first inklings of the horrors he would inflict on his victims begin to peek out of the shadows of his damaged mind. It is the kind of movie that may disappoint some looking for Dahmer to be portrayed as a monster, gnashing his teeth and drooling in anticipation of his first kill. What we see is a character that isn’t that different than any other high school student: He lacks confidence. He seeks positive attention that he isn’t getting at home. His sexual identity is presenting itself but he isn’t sure how to act on it. It is a calm and thorough look at the making of a serial killer without being exploitive or pandering to the lowest common denominator.

“My Friend Dahmer” would be nothing without a great performance in the title role and Ross Lynch is amazing as Jeffrey Dahmer. Ross channels all of his emotional energy into playing a character that has no energy at all. Dahmer doesn’t even bother to swing his arms when he walks. It’s like Lynch is trying to be as small as possible in an effort to disappear from the world. Playing a low-energy character might seem like an easy thing to do; but to maintain that minimal level would be exhausting over long shooting days. Lynch is in nearly every shot of the movie and must have been wrung out by the end of filming.

If you don’t know who Ross Lynch is then you probably don’t have any tween girls at home as he is the star of a Disney Channel show called Austin & Ally. He’s had a few bit parts in other TV shows and a few movies but this is certainly his biggest role to date and judging by his performance he will likely be a very in demand actor in the near future.

Anne Heche is also fantastic as Joyce Dahmer. Where Jeffrey is low energy, Joyce is constantly manic and usually angry. Heche flies around the screen like a whirling dervish, bouncing from topic to topic and ready to spew venom in everyone’s direction. Joyce Dahmer lacks a filter likely due to her mental illness that’s briefly discussed in the film. Heche has had her own emotional struggles as she was hospitalized after exhibiting erratic behavior in August of 2000. This likely informed her portrayal and that experience makes Joyce Dahmer a puzzling and sometimes frightening character that Heche performs with zeal and honesty.

The story takes its time to build only giving us glimpses of the darkness in Dahmer’s mind: His interest in the bones of animals and the growing obsession with the jogging doctor. It is a story that’s hard to watch sometimes as Dahmer humiliates himself for the amusement of his friends. They aren’t as cruel as they sound, including Dahmer in their group and doing things with him; but his inclusion is dependent on performing at their command. There are brief flashes of Dahmer trying to break free from his role as freak. On a school trip to Washington D.C., Dahmer manages to get him and his friends in to meet the assistant to Vice President Walter Mondale then they actually get to meet him. He manages to get a prom date but that doesn’t go as well. The audience knows Dahmer is going to turn into a necrophilic and cannibalistic serial killer but there are brief moments when we hope things turn out differently because we kind of like Dahmer. Despite his weirdness there is something endearing about Dahmer and we wish something had intervened and allowed him to be “normal.” The script by director Marc Meyers and graphic novel writer John Backderf passes no judgements and offers no opinions. It merely presents the facts (most of what’s in the movie actually happened) and lets the audience form their own view. Most films aren’t brave enough to trust the audience to make a decision for themselves but “My Friend Dahmer” is confident those seeing the film will understand.

“My Friend Dahmer” is rated R for disturbing images, brief nudity, teen drug use, drinking, language and sexual content. We see Dahmer pick up road kill, handle bones from animals he’s dissected and cut up a fish in a frenzy after catching in from a pond. A character intentionally cuts himself with a knife then sucks on the wound. A game of Russian roulette is played. Pot is shown being smoked on a couple of occasions. Characters are shown drinking beer and hard liquor. A centerfold is briefly shown. There are typical crude teenage discussions of sex. Foul language is scattered.

Jeffrey Dahmer killed, dismembered, partially ate and had sex with 17 men and boys over a period of 13 years from 1978 to 1991. He was sentenced to multiple life terms and was beaten to death in prison by another inmate in 1994. Dahmer didn’t grow up abused. He wasn’t a creation of the foster care system. As far as we know he didn’t suffer any head trauma that is frequently reported with serial killers. It’s unclear what made Jeffrey Dahmer a predator that stalked his prey then tried to turn them into zombies that would never leave him. Thinking of him only as his crimes makes him something other than human; but looking before his first murder makes the audience question what separates the Dahmers of the world from the Average Joes. The difference between us is frighteningly thin.

“My Friend Dahmer” gets five stars.

Super powers, a holiday tale and family drama all are coming to a theatre near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Justice League—

The Star—

Wonder—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast where ever you download podcasts, follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Thor: Ragnarok”

Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) finally returns to Asgard after his quest to make sense of his dreams of Ragnarok, or the destruction of everything. When he arrives he sees Odin (Anthony Hopkins) but knows instantly it is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki takes Thor to Earth where he left him but the retirement home has been torn down. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) guides Thor and Loki to Norway where Odin is standing on a cliff looking over the ocean. He tells the two he is weak and can no longer hold back Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. When she returns to Asgard she will become more powerful than even Thor. Hela appears and Thor tries to defeat her with his hammer but she catches and destroys it. Loki calls for the Bifrost Bridge but Hela also hops on and is able to knock both Thor and Loki out of the transport beam. Thor lands on a planet called Sakaar, is captured by Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) and is brought to meet the leader named the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster runs gladiator fights to keep the masses entertained and the only way Thor can leave the planet is to fight and defeat the champion: It’s Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). His quinjet crashed on Sakaar two years earlier and he’s been in the Hulk form the whole time. When they meet in the arena the fight ends in a tie. Thor tries to convince Hulk to join him, find a way off Sakaar and return to Asgard to take on Hela. During his time on the planet, Thor learns that Scrapper 142 is the last surviving Valkyrie; a group of female warriors that fought for Odin in his war against Hela. Back on Asgard, Hela has made Skurge (Karl Urban) her executioner but he’s having second thoughts about working with the new queen. Heimdall (Idris Elba) has stolen the sword that opens the Bifrost Bridge and is trying to hide as many Asgardians as possible to keep them safe. Things are looking dark for the God of Thunder and the citizens of Asgard.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a much more light-hearted and funny film than any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It never takes itself terribly seriously even though the events within the comic book story universe are very life and death. It makes for a film that is both funny and exciting in equal measure. It’s a rare feat for a movie to have laughs and action with one or the other not getting shortchanged in the process.

According to an interview director Taika Waititi did with MTV at Comic Con, about 80 percent of the dialog in the movie was improvised on set. This usually makes for a film that is choppy and disjointed with lots of quick edits so the best lines, along with the ones that move the story in the proper direction, wind up in the final cut. “Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t have that feel. The director and stars must have been very comfortable with the story and confident in their improvisation abilities to come up with a funny movie and coherent narrative.

With a cast this large it’s difficult for a secondary character to stand out; but Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster certainly makes an impression. Charming, quirky and evil, the Grandmaster is a hedonistic dictator looking to be entertained at all times. He enjoys the blood sport that brings crowds to his arena and loves being the larger-than-life holographic ringmaster projected in the center of the ring, towering over his subjects. Goldblum’s non sequiturs often go unresolved and those that do are preceded by a fair bit of yammering. Those familiar with Goldblum and have seen his recent interviews will notice a similarity between his speaking style and that of the Grandmaster. It appears to be the perfect actor in the perfect role.

Cate Blanchett seems to be having the most fun in her role of Hela. Blanchett is at times smoldering, sarcastic, pitiful and vengeful. All of it makes sense and all of it is played with just the right intensity. She never chews the scenery so much for it to become camp despite gnawing on a few sets from time to time. Blanchett is measured in her excess and it makes for a particularly delicious villain.

The most of the rest of the cast turns in energetic and entertaining performances. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is finally given a chance to do more than just be a hissing, snotty bad guy. Idris Elba’s Heimdall is allowed to be a proper hero. Tessa Thompson is an entertaining and worthy addition to the under-staffed stable of Marvel female heroes. If I have to take points off for any performance it is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Ruffalo’s Banner acts like a meth addict that needs a hit. While we only see the human version of the Hulk for a relatively brief amount of time, Banner is twitchy and frankly annoying. He complains about being freaked out and whines to Thor about being on an alien planet. It’s the one performance that feels like it was a decision made on set at the time of shooting and it was the wrong choice.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material, action and intense sci-fi violence. The only thing suggestive I remember is a reference to an orgy on board one of the Grandmaster’s spaceships. There are numerous fights with scenes of soldiers and others stabbed and impaled by swords. There is very little blood. One character loses an eye. A giant wolf attacks and bites Hulk causing green blood to come out. Foul language is scattered and mild.

With films of this type the majority of the time everyone on screen is CGI. If you see a character thrown 100 feet through the air and crash into and through a brick wall you can be certain no actors or stunt people were harmed in the making of that scene. Much of “Thor: Ragnarok” has been created in the processors of computers. That makes the achievement of the film that much more impressive. Despite all the special effects, costumes, makeup and other worldly locales, “Thor: Ragnarok” still manages to be a superhero movie with a great deal of heart and humor that is dependent on the performances of very real and talented actors. Director Taika Waititi has pulled off a minor miracle and made a funny and entertaining film involving Thor. I wasn’t sure that could be done.

“Thor: Ragnarok” gets five stars.

This week there are a comedy sequel and a train of death coming to a movie screen near you. I’ll be seeing at least one of the following:

Daddy’s Home 2—

Murder on the Orient Express—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest movie news and more, follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Suburbicon”

Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe) is an average kid living in an average house in the average neighborhood of Suburbicon. His father Gardner (Matt Damon) works in insurance. His mother Rose (Julianne Moore) is in a wheelchair after an automobile accident. His Aunt Margaret (also Julianne Moore) is visiting overnight when two men, Ira and Louis (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) enter the home, tie everyone up and kill Rose with an overdose of chloroform. It seems Gardner owes the men money and hasn’t paid it back yet so the murder of Rose was a warning. Aunt Margaret moves into the Lodge home to help Gardner raise Nicky. Officer Hightower (Jack Conley) tells Gardner to come down to the station and look at a lineup based on his description of the robbers. Margaret brings Nicky to the station because he doesn’t want to stay at the house alone. While Ira and Louis are in the lineup neither Gardner nor Margaret tells police who they are. Nicky is confused and wonders what his father and aunt are up to. Meanwhile, the Mayers family has moved into Suburbicon and caused quite a stir with the neighbors as they are black and this is 1959. The Mayers house backs up to the Lodge house and Nicky and Andy Mayers (Tony Espinosa), a boy about Nicky’s age, have become friends. Crowds gather at the Mayers house, making noise, banging drums and yelling at the family inside to move as they don’t want their kind in Suburbicon.

Whenever Joel and Ethan Coen are involved in the making of a movie I get excited. “Suburbicon” is a script the brothers wrote back in 1986 but it has only now been turned into a film by frequent Coen Brothers collaborator George Clooney. Clooney, along with writer Grant Heslov, added some story elements and Clooney directed. Perhaps George and Grant should have left the script alone because “Suburbicon” feels like a two different stories that have been forcefully fused together against their will.

The trailer for “Suburbicon” makes the movie look like a madcap crime caper and parts of the film have that tone; however, much of what is suggested in the trailer misrepresents what happens in the film with clever editing suggesting one thing is in reaction to another when the events are unrelated. Anyone walking into the movie expecting a somewhat more violent version of “Raising Arizona” is going to be disappointed. “Suburbicon” is far darker than the trailer suggests.

It is also uneven with a subplot about the community trying to force a black family to leave feeling very shoehorned into the film. It is a ham-fisted attempt by Clooney to make us see that what is the focus of public anger usually isn’t the real problem. While everyone in the neighborhood believes the black family is bringing in an unsavory element, the nice white family across the way is being terrorized by thugs because of the actions of the father. It screams hypocrisy and intolerance in a very clumsy way. Clooney has proven he is a very good movie director so it puzzles me why this effort is so uneven. I would like to know more about the creative process to put this film together because large parts of it are really good. That’s not to say the sections involving the black family isn’t good; but it just feels like it’s from a different movie.

It’s a shame the film is a bit of a mess since Matt Damon is so good as the morally corrupted Gardner Lodge. Lodge is a man that thinks he’s far smarter than he actually is; however, he quickly shows he’s quite dumb by not paying off the loan shark. Perhaps that is part of a larger plan; but even so, it spectacularly blows up in his face. Lodge is pushed further and further into bad decisions as the story progresses and is always trying to solve problems caused by other efforts to solve problems. Damon plays Lodge constantly seething with anger and on the verge of exploding. Like a good person of the period, he stuffs his rage down deep in his soul and tries to keep it bottled up. Should it be released well, people might talk and think poorly of him down at the lodge or church. Damon is infuriating as Lodge since most of his issues could be solved with one call to the police; but we know he’ll never make that call as he is a coward looking to avoid as much trouble as possible. Damon gives Lodge a boyish charm that gives him at least one redeeming quality, keeping the audience from hating him totally.

Julianne Moore is both Rose and Margaret but since the former is killed early in the film I’ll be talking mostly about her performance as the latter. Moore is stunningly creepy as the surrogate mother and wife. There is a streak of cruelty that runs through the character that turns what could have been a throwaway role into something meaningful and dangerous. Margaret is clearly mentally ill and is teetering on the edge of a breakdown throughout the film. Moore is masterful at portraying damaged characters and this one is clearly broken from almost the first time we see her.

The performances are somewhat hampered by a plot that moves at a leisurely pace. It takes too long to introduce the meat of the story after the misdirection of the black family’s arrival in town and the full story of what’s going on is never fully explained. We know Lodge owes money to the thugs but we don’t know what he got the money for. Are the thugs small time players or are they more heavily connected? Are Gardner and Margaret involved prior to the events in the film or only after? Gardner was driving the night of the car accident that put Rose in the wheelchair but did he do it on purpose to try and collect on her life insurance? There are a great many loose threads dangling by the end of the film with no satisfactory answers for any of them.

“Suburbicon” is rated R for some sexuality, language and violence. There is poisoning, strangling, stabbing and other violence shown with some of it being very bloody. There is a riot that breaks out at the Mayers’ home with windows shattered and fires set. The sexuality is limited to a scene where Nicky walks in on Gardner and Margaret having a mildly kinky scene. Foul language is scattered.

There’s a really good movie embedded in “Suburbicon” that could have been the dark and violent domestic drama that the Coen’s made famous in “Fargo” and “Blood Simple.” Sadly, the addition of a needless subplot about racism and a languid pace put “Suburbicon” on the lower end of “Best Coen Brothers’ Movies” scale. Great performances from Matt Damon and Julianne Moore almost are wasted. It isn’t the best movie but it does have its redeeming qualities. If you have the patience check it out.

“Suburbicon” gets three stars out of five.

This week, there’s a rare Wednesday opening for a sequel and the arrival of the next Marvel flick. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

A Bad Mom’s Christmas—

Thor: Ragnarok—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast where ever you download your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

My Apologies

I had the opportunity to see only one movie this week.  The review for “Only the Brave” is here at WIMZ.

This week I’ll be reviewing at least one of the following:

Jigsaw –

Suburbicon –

Thank You for Your Service –

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast available at WIMZ.com/podcasts/the-fractured-frame.  Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Foreigner”

Quan (Jackie Chan) drives his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) to a dress shop in London to pick up an outfit for an upcoming school dance. Fan runs into the store while Quan waits for a parking space to open when a bomb planted in on a motorcycle explodes. Several people are killed including Fan. His daughter was the last living member of his immediate family and Quan wants to know who is responsible for her death. A group calling itself Authentic IRA claims responsibility. Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) is a former IRA operative and calls together a committee of Irish leaders to demand to know who is responsible. They all claim ignorance. Quan visits Belfast and meets with Hennessy asking for the names of the bombers. Hennessy tells him he doesn’t know but Quan thinks he’s lying. Quan, a trained and experienced ex-special forces soldier in the US Army, then begins targeting Hennessy, planting a small bomb in the bathroom of his office and destroying a barn and some cars at his country estate. Hennessy, concerned for his safety, contacts his nephew Sean (Rory Fleck-Byrne), also a former British special forces soldier, to track down and kill Quan. Meanwhile, the bombers are planning another attack targeting British political leaders.

There may be too much going on in “The Foreigner” for its own good. Aside from Jackie Chan’s subtle and effective portrayal of a grieving father out for revenge, we have Pierce Brosnan’s Irish politician trying to play both his former IRA colleagues and the British government for his benefit, a couple of affairs and centuries of hostility between religions and nationalities. All of that plays into the story of “The Foreigner” and some of it feels unnecessary. Had it trimmed some of the more extraneous and fantastical aspects “The Foreigner” might have been one of the fall’s better movies. It doesn’t disappoint but it doesn’t thrill either.

The most impressive part of “The Foreigner” is the performance of Jackie Chan. Quan is a quiet man looking to live a quiet life of hard work and love of his family. That is taken from him by a bomb. He still remains quiet, closed off, stooped over as he shuffles along like a broken old man. But we learn this old dog has some old tricks he thought he had left behind long ago and must now dust them off to exact his revenge. Chan radiates pain as Quan. His face, scarred by his tough and at times dangerous life, never betrays the anger and rage that must lie beneath the surface and yet we still can see and feel it. Chan gives a masterful performance that doesn’t rely on histrionics. A simple single tear rolling down his cheek conveys more anger and pain than a 15-minute monolog about his loss ever could. If you’ve only seen Chan in the “Rush Hour” films or his other lighter work you owe it to yourself to see “The Foreigner” just so you can see what a fine actor he really is.

Chan can also still throw and take a punch. It’s impressive with his many years acting as his own stunt man for most of his career that he can still walk much less do an action scene at age 62. Chan is jumping off roofs, being kicked in the chest, falling down flights of stairs and more in “The Foreigner” and looking good doing it. Chan can still be an action star long after most actors are ready to slow down and play grandpas.

Pierce Brosnan is also good as Liam Hennessy. The Irish politician has to perform a delicate and dangerous balancing act keeping the more radical elements back home under control while also placating the British. Brosnan can lay on the charm when the character needs it (like when romancing his mistress) but doesn’t have any trouble laying down the law when he’s questioned or tested (like when his wife wonders where he’s been all night). Brosnan can play cold-hearted with the best of them and he is ruthless at times in “The Foreigner.” It is an entertaining if not always convincing performance. The few scenes he has with Chan, especially late in the movie, puts his character in the tough position of being out of control and Hennessy clearly isn’t used to that. The choices Brosnan and director Martin Campbell made for the character felt out of character based on what we’ve seen before. Perhaps the bully is really a coward when his buddies aren’t around but the character’s reactions felt almost cartoonish in their extreme.

The biggest weakness in “The Foreigner” is the story. It spends far too long setting up the issues of Northern Ireland and “The Troubles” before moving into the revenge aspect of the story. While the fear of more violence between the IRA and the British is certainly a good point of conflict for a movie, the script by David Marconi invests too much time in scenes of greying or elderly men arguing over the best course of action to deal with more radical elements and the response of the government. Clearly we are barely interested in the politics of Northern Ireland and just want to see Jackie Chan kick some ass. The movie takes far too long to get us to what we want to see.

“The Foreigner” is rated R for violence, language and some sexual material. There are numerous fights, some more bloody than others. We see a person’s foot impaled on some nails. A man is shot in both legs then the head. A woman is shot in a gun battle, tortured for information then killed. Another woman is shot in the head. We see the aftermath of a bombing with injured victims shown. The sexual material is very mild. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

I enjoyed “The Foreigner” more than I thought I would. Seeing Jackie Chan back in action was a bit of a thrill but his performance is truly the most amazing thing about the movie. It is a subtle and measured performance that is effective and at times heartbreaking. I know it isn’t likely but it would be great if he got a best actor nomination for this part.

“The Foreigner” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll review “Only the Brave” for WIMZ.com.

I’ll also be reviewing one of the following here on my page:

Geostorm—

Same Kind of Different as Me—

The Snowman—

Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween—

Listen to The Fractured Frame each week, available on your podcast platform of choice. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Blade Runner 2049”

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, “retiring” replicants that stop following orders from humans. After dispatching a replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) at the protein farm where he worked and lived, Officer K finds a chest buried at the base of a long dead tree. What is discovered inside begins an investigation that could lead to war unless a secret that’s been buried over 30 years can be kept. Officer K’s investigation leads to him finding retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) holed up in an abandoned hotel in deserted Las Vegas. The owner of the company that makes replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), wants to find out where the contents of the chest leads and sends his personal assistant and assassin Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to keep an eye on Officer K and kill anyone that gets in her way.

The plot synopsis of “Blade Runner 2049” is intentionally vague since there is spoiler material practically from the first scene. If staying uninformed about the 35-years-in-the-making sequel to “Blade Runner” is important to you then you should avoid pretty much everything on the internet with the possible exception of a trio of short films that fill in some of the backstory referenced in the film. My personal favorite is “2022,” an anime that is about the blackout that was a major event in this universe. It’s weird when a movie has a bunch of prequel material that’s nearly required viewing so the audience is up to speed. To be a truly entertaining film “Blade Runner 2049” could have used a feature-length prequel film so what happens actually causes some emotion and caring. As it is, this film is pretty to look at and has interesting things happen but I can’t say I care.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a master class in production design. Much like the original film, the look of the near future is as much a character as any actor. The flying cars, the massive holographic advertisements, the crowded apartment buildings and urban sprawl that suggests privacy is something that will die a quick death all make the world of “Blade Runner 2049” feel as real as any created landscape can. The world is probably even more grim than in the original thanks to a nearly constant rain and dark skies in most outdoor settings. We also see an abandoned Las Vegas that has a constantly hazy yellow/orange sky. We don’t know why the city is abandoned but clearly something very bad happened. Holographic representations of Elvis, Sinatra and showgirls are put to good use to make the empty showroom seem even more depressing. So much has gone into the look of the future that it seems the human element has been largely ignored.

There is an emotional pall over the film. Human and replicant life doesn’t count for much in the Los Angeles of 2049. Prostitutes work their trade in store fronts with smoked glass so you can see the girls with clients if they are right up against it. Food vendors are all over and there are kiosks with people selling trinkets of all types. Pets are still artificial and only available to the very wealthy. It is a world where people try to keep their heads down and avoid trouble. Since Ryan Gosling’s Officer K’s job is to charge into trouble he’s hated by pretty much everyone he contacts including his fellow officers. Gosling plays K almost as an automaton with very little emotional range. There’s a good reason for that but I won’t spoil it for you. Since he’s the lead character and practically in every frame of the film his cold and sullen demeanor rubs off on the audience. He’s so emotionally detached it has the effect of making everything in the film feel unimportant. Despite what we’re told about how this case could lead to or stop a war, there’s very little in what happens that creates much in the way of excitement or emotion.

Part of what adds to that lack of caring is a lack of knowledge. I saw all three prequel short films so I probably entered the movie with more information about the world of “Blade Runner 2049” than most; however, it wasn’t enough. For all the proclamations about how the events we watch are world-changing, none of it struck me as being that important. That, I believe, comes from a lack of understanding just what the use of replicants means to the world in the near future. There’s some brief talk about how using them provides the workforce necessary to take care of the basic needs of humanity and grow enough food for an ever expanding population but the film doesn’t help me grasp just how these events could bring about the end of civilization or humanity or whatever. The original “Blade Runner” suffered from a similar lack of importance in my understanding of what made events so reality-altering.

This lack of an emotional hook isn’t helped by a running time of over 150 minutes. There are numerous scenes that are stretched out for what feels like an interminable amount of time. Gosling’s Officer K walks so slowly it’s a surprise when he actually gets somewhere. There are long and loving shots of cityscapes and cars flying between massive skyscrapers and none of them do anything to move the story along. I could have done with fewer and shorter shots of the Los Angeles of the future and more explanation of why I should care.

“Blade Runner 2049” is rated R for nudity, language, some sexuality and violence. There are some fights and some shootings. Some of these are bloody but the violence is scattered throughout the film. We see a few naked women at various times. There are also statues that show a woman’s breasts. We see the beginning of an unconventional three way sexual encounter but there is no nudity of sexual activity shown. The outside of a brothel is shown and we can see the sex workers engaged in activity inside through smoked windows. We see what appear to be monochrome models of replicants that show their sex organs but this is brief. Foul language is scattered.

I’ve said this with other movies but perhaps I’m just not smart enough to fully understand and appreciate the story of “Blade Runner 2049.” I wanted to love the film as it has mostly glowing reviews; but I must admit, I don’t love the original film. It has many of what I perceive as the same problems of being about something in which I’m not emotionally invested. I don’t know how the events of either film are something that can be important to the characters, much less to me. I don’t hate the film. It is visually stunning and is interesting to watch but I just can’t invest myself in the story. Maybe it’s just me but “Blade Runner 2049” is lost on me.

“Blade Runner 2049” gets three stars out of five.

This week there’s an action film, horror movie and a couple of “based on a true story” pictures to choose from. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Foreigner—

Happy Death Day—

Marshall—

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast available at WIMZ.com, Apple Podcasts, Google Play and everywhere you get podcasts. Send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.