Reviews of “The Meg” and “BlacKkKlansman”

BlacKkKlansman

In 1972, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) became the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After a short stint in the file room, Stallworth is moved to the intelligence division to spy on a speech by Stokley Carmichael, who took the African name Kwame Ture, hosted by the Black Student Union at the local college. He meets the president of the Black Student Union, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), at the speech and is smitten. His partner in the surveillance is Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). While flipping through the newspaper at his desk, Stallworth sees an ad for the Ku Klux Klan with a phone number to get more information. He calls and is immediately called back by Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) and invited to meet the rest of the guys. Since Stallworth is black he convinces Zimmerman, a Jew, to meet with the Klan. He goes to a bar and is picked up by Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen), who quickly impresses Zimmerman as a full-blown psychopath. Zimmerman, using Stallworth’s name, can’t participate in any Klan events, like cross burning, until he gets his official membership card. The real Stallworth calls Klan headquarters and speaks with the Grand Wizard and national director of the Klan David Duke (Topher Grace) who will be coming to Colorado Springs to give a speech and officially certify the local chapter. Kendrickson is suspicious of the man he knows as Stallworth while also coming up with a plan to make a very public and deadly statement about the presence of the Klan.

“BlacKkKlansman” is a Spike Lee joint. It is sprinkled with humor, anger, intelligence, ignorance and bliss. It is a damning indictment of America and how it deals with race in the past, present and sadly, the future. As a white man I cannot begin to understand what it’s like to be hated for the color of my skin and for just existing. Much of Lee’s obvious anger is difficult for me to comprehend as I have no basis for it in my life. What I do understand is the film will make thinking white people very uncomfortable as it possibly energizes a second Civil Rights movement that will make the people that like the way things are also very uncomfortable.

There are many uncomfortable moments in the film but there are also some tremendous performances. First and foremost is John David Washington as Ron Stallworth. His performance is nuanced and perfect. Stallworth is learning about himself and how he feels about and lives the life of a black man. He’s a cop which automatically makes him suspect in his community, tearing him between two worlds. He is challenged by everyone in both worlds for either what he is or what he does. The pressures must be tremendous on African-American police officers and that pressure is well represented in Washington’s performance. The conflict plays out across his face in certain scenes such as during the speech he’s sent to infiltrate. There’s guilt, recognition and acceptance playing across his face during this scene and the character is never the same after. Washington can also handle the lighter, more comedic moments as well such as during his calls with David Duke and some of the choices the character makes while backing up Zimmerman while he’s undercover. Washington, son of Denzel Washington, has the beginnings of a very good career under his belt with a regular role on the HBO series “Ballers” and he has a significant role in the last film of Robert Redford’s career coming out next month.

Adam Driver is better known for his role on HBO’s “Girls” and as Kylo Ren in the current “Star Wars” trilogy but he his a very versatile and talented actor. His work as Zimmerman shows that. He also is torn in dealing with his identity as a Jew. As the film says, he “passes” as white and he hasn’t given it much thought until the hatred of his religion and heritage is shoved in his face by interacting with the Klan. He also has an awakening that triggers guilt and anger. Driver’s performance is painful to watch but in a good way as he spews hate for minorities and homosexuals. The vitriol takes a personal toll on Zimmerman as his self-deception about his identity is presented front and center to him. Driver blossoms in the role and could be considered for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

It’s difficult to praise an actor’s performance when he’s playing such a despicable character but Jasper Paakkonen is frightening and brilliant as the deranged Felix Kendrickson. His hatred oozes from every oily pore as he gets wide-eyed, relishing every derogatory word. Felix is described as a general looking for an army and, if his passions were aimed in a positive direction, would be an effective leader of a group. Felix has a feeling of superiority over not only minorities but of his fellow Klansmen as well. He wants to lead them to earn the respect he feels he’s due. Paakkonen is possessed by the character and is a perfect villain on whom to focus all the audience’s rage.

Director Spike Lee’s direction is best described in this film as poetic. During the speech given by Carmichael there are individual shots of people enraptured by his words. Each is shot alone with a black background, isolating them from the group. Then Lee groups these faces in twos and threes making each unique face part of a tableau that adds to the power of the scene. Lee also pops back and forth between meetings of Klan members and a lecture being given by a black man that witnessed his friend lynched by a white crowd decades earlier. He also lets the hate run free and gives it lots of time to expose itself during planning sessions and get-togethers by Klansmen. These scenes are difficult to watch as the language of hate flows so thickly it nearly suffocates the viewer. That’s what Lee is trying to do: Bury the audience in the hate and make it so awful that it cannot be ignored. Lee is a master at rubbing our noses in societal hypocrisy. Maybe one day we’ll learn the lesson.

“BlacKkKlansman” is rated R for racial epithets, language throughout, disturbing/violent material and some sexual references. Horrendous racial epithets are common throughout the film. There is also homophobic language. Large photos of a lynched and burned man are shown. While these are grainy and it’s difficult to make out any details there is a graphic description of what was done. There’s a scene of police officers beating up a black man. A bomb explodes destroying a couple of cars. The sexual references are two men suggesting one wants to perform oral sex on the other. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Based on the book “Black Klansman” by the real Ron Stallworth, Spike Lee’s film messes with a few of the facts, adds a couple of characters and punches everyone that sees the film in the gut. Perhaps the hardest part to watch is the final few minutes that uses archive footage from a recent event to drive home to the point we have a long way to go. I feel certain the film will be in the running for the next Academy Awards in several categories and it will deserve to win them all. It is a powerful film that needs to be seen.

“BlacKkKlansman” gets five stars.

The Meg

Billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) is funding an underwater research facility. It is doing cutting edge science and is about to possibly make a big discovery. The leaders of the facility are Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing). The facility sends down a deep-water sub with a crew of three on board. They are investigating whether the bottom of the Marianas Trench is actually the bottom. Their theory is its a layer of gas and the trench is deeper. The sub breaks through the layer of gas and discovers the ocean floor is covered with hydrothermal vents called black smokers. There are many unique lifeforms that are unknown to science waiting to be discovered. Then, something rams their sub, disabling it. The subs pilot, Lori (Jessica McNamee) sends out a last desperate message saying, “Jonas was right!” Jonas is her ex-husband Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a former Navy rescue diver specializing in deep-water rescues. Five years earlier while on a rescue of crewmen from a nuclear submarine, something was ramming the sub, causing it to implode. Jonas decided to release his rescue vehicle from the sub, saving 11 men but leaving two of his own behind. In the investigation that followed Jonas was found to have panicked causing the deaths of two of his men. He was thrown out of the Navy and the stress led to his divorce from Lori. Now, Dr. Zhang and an old buddy, James “Mac” Mackreides (Cliff Curtis) who works for Dr. Zhang, approach Jonas to try a rescue of Lori’s sub. Jonas is reluctant, but he attempts the rescue. Once he’s on the bottom Jonas finally learns what damaged Lori’s sub and likely destroyed the nuclear vessel: A massive variety of shark thought to have been extinct for millions of years, a megalodon.

“The Meg” is a big, dumb action movie. It has no more value than to be a pleasant diversion from the doom and gloom of the real world. That isn’t a complaint as “The Meg” is one of the better diversions of the summer so far.

What struck me most about the film is the look. The technology on display is impressive even if it is all fake. The screens, the panels, the design of the subs are all futuristic and practical at the same time. It’s a triumph of production design that might get some attention come awards season.

There’s also the general impression of the script. While you won’t walk out of the theater feeling smarter, you might remember a couple of lines or how all the characters (with the exception of Rainn Wilson’s billionaire) sound intelligently written. Wilson’s Jack Morris is clearly intelligent but with an edge of arrogance and self-importance. The rest of the characters know their jobs and perform them efficiently. It’s only when things start to go sideways that their personalities are differentiated.

Jason Statham delivers his usual tough-guy character but with a touch of humanity. While he starts the film as a bit of a jackass and he’s the hero in almost every situation thereafter, the script gives his character a bit of warmth and charm that’s sometimes missing from his usual roles. He even gets the beginnings of a love story with one character, something you don’t always see in Statham-led films.

The rest of the cast is good but there is one standout: Sophia Shuya Cai as Meiying, the daughter of Suyin. This little firecracker has most of the best lines in the movie. She has surprisingly strong chemistry with Statham and holds her own with the adults in the cast. Anyone that’s in a movie with this young lady in the future had better bring their A game as she is as much a shark as the title monster.

“The Meg” is rated PG-13 for bloody images, action/peril and some language. We see a severed arm after a meg attack. There are also sea creatures that are bitten into (or in half). A diver in a shark cage is nearly swallowed cage and all by the meg. Another diver is chased as he’s being dragged through the water by a moving boat. Swimmers are attacked and eaten by the meg. Foul language is infrequent and mild.

“The Meg” has plenty of action and thrills, it looks great and the megalodon is a fearsome creature that I’m very happy is extinct. I’m not a huge fan of getting in the ocean anyway and if a 90-foot shark with a mouth that could open as much as 10 feet wide was still swimming around you couldn’t get me to stick my toes in the sand, much less the water. I don’t mind going to a theater to see the beast as there’s air conditioning and I won’t get any sand in places that don’t like it. What I’m saying is, it’s a fun movie.

“The Meg” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Mile 22” for WIMZ.com.

If there’s time I’ll review one of the following for this webpage:

Alpha—

Crazy Rich Asians—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, streaming and TV news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Darkest Minds”

A plague has swept through the world’s children, killing 90 percent. The remaining 10 percent survive but are changed: They have gained powers. They are classified by color. Greens have enhanced intelligence. Blues are telekinetic. Yellows can manipulate electricity. Oranges are telepathic and can manipulate others. Reds are the most dangerous as they can manipulate and create fire. One of the children affected by this disease is Ruby (Amandla Stenberg). At the age of 10 her powers manifested leading her to accidently wipe her parents’ minds of her existence. They don’t know who she is and call the authorities. Ruby is held along with other children in a prison camp. An examination determines which kind of power each child possesses. Oranges and reds are to be terminated immediately. Ruby is an orange but touches the doctor’s arm as he is about to administer a lethal injection and causes him to classify her as a green. After six years suspicions are increasing that Ruby is not a green. When bombarded by subsonic sound, Ruby passes out, a sign she is not a green. She awakes in the camp hospital being treated by Dr. Cate Connor (Mandy Moore). Cate breaks Ruby out of the camp and tells her she is part of a resistance group called The Brotherhood. Cate and Ruby meet up with Cate’s partner, Rob Meadows (Mark O’Brien). When Ruby touches Rob she sees a memory where he abuses a child in a camp. Ruby runs away and stumbles onto a different group of children: Zu (Miya Cech), a yellow, Chubs (Skylan Brooks), real name Charles, a green, and Liam (Harris Dickinson), a blue. Ruby convinces the trio to take her along in their van. They are chased by Lady Jane (Gwendoline Christie), a cruel and violent bounty hunter. Liam has heard of a refuge for children run by an escape artist called the Slip. If they can avoid the bounty hunters and the government, maybe they can find a peaceful and safe home amongst their own kind and Liam and Ruby may be able to explore their budding romance.

Despite its resemblance to Marvel’s X-Men, “The Darkest Minds,” based on a book series of the same name, offers the basis for an interesting look at discrimination and bigotry. While I haven’t read the source material, this adaption of the first book in the series doesn’t make me want to find out more about the characters and the situation. The movie has several logical flaws and a ham-fisted romance, making the film a nearly unwatchable mess.

The most glaring problem with the film is an enormous number of common sense mistakes in creating the world. Most of the world’s children are dead and the rest are in prison camps. Are the adults in this world having more children? That’s never discussed. Did the world’s parents give up their surviving children willingly? That’s never discussed. We are told the economy collapsed after the children died but not told why. Ruby, Liam, Chubs and Zu travel around in a very conspicuous van with writing on it that’s been seen by Lady Jane, but they don’t seem in any great hurry to dump the van. They spend the night in a hotel, meaning they had to pay at the office. Since all the adults seem to be afraid of young people why didn’t the clerk call the cops? A closed and abandoned shopping mall still has a fair amount of merchandise inside it. The kids park in front of the mall to gather supplies. A van in an empty mall parking lot sticks out like a sore thumb and would attract attention, yet it doesn’t. There are numerous other questionable choices made by screenwriter Chad Hodge that made me wonder if there shouldn’t be a committee that reads through scripts to point out aspects that don’t make sense. As hard as it is to get a movie made you’d think someone would have asked a question or two.

The romance between Ruby and Liam is a bit embarrassing to watch. He’s a warrior that’s reduced to an awkward puppy dog in her presence and she’s been locked up for six years from age ten to 16 with no concept of romantic love. Together they make a cute but clumsy couple as their life on the run and her abilities get in the way. The writing for the romance sections of the film is all long pauses, furtive glances and aborted kisses. It’s every cliché of young love in every movie ever made.

There are a couple of things about “The Darkest Minds” I did like. First, the action scenes make a certain amount of sense. The abilities of the kids and how they employ them all fit within the storyline. There are times when the powers of one kid seem to blossom just as the story deems it necessary. While that’s a sign of weak writing it isn’t the biggest flaw in the film.

Second, actor Amandla Stenberg is very good. Stenberg’s Ruby is an emotionally damaged young woman whose mistake as a child put her on this path. She wants things to go back to the way they were but knows that can never happen and builds a family with her travelling companions. She deserved a better written script to allow her talents to shine.

“The Darkest Minds” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images and violence. Early in the film we see a young girl die suddenly from the plague. There are numerous beatings by adults of children throughout the film. A couple of people commit suicide when their minds are taken over by a child with telepathic powers. A plane crash is caused by a telepath. One young man is surrounded by doctors with syringes as they try to “cure” him of his abilities. The implication being he is tortured. A sexual assault nearly occurs because a telepath takes over a young woman’s mind. Foul language is mild and infrequent.

There are so many issues with “The Darkest Minds” I’m surprised it got released in the middle of summer. Perhaps 20th Century Fox believed it had potential to find an audience in a summer of superhero flicks and thought the audience wouldn’t care it wasn’t very good. It’s more likely the studio knew it would bomb and released it to get out of their obligation with the production company. Whatever the reason, the story of a superpowered young woman and her superpowered teenaged friends roaming the countryside looking for a new home is out in the world. If you watch it you might find things to enjoy about it but there isn’t enough of good quality to make it an entertaining whole.

“The Darkest Minds” gets two stars out of five.

Next week I’ll see and review one of the following:

BlacKkKlansman—

Dog Days—

The Meg—

Slender Man—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in Berlin and on the trail of three missing plutonium cores that could be used to make three bombs. Ethan, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are double crossed and the nuclear material is stolen by a shadowy group called the Apostles, the remnants of captured anarchist Solomon Lane’s (Sean Harris) group. CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) insists her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) go with Hunt and his IMF team due to Ethan’s choice to save Luther in Berlin but let the plutonium cores go. Ethan and Walker parachute into Paris to infiltrate a meeting between a representative of terrorists code named John Lark and an arms dealer known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby); but an effort to subdue Lark in a men’s room fails when during a fight he is killed by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Ilsa’s sudden appearance and her unwillingness to explain it adds more plates for Ethan to keep spinning. To retrieve the cores Ethan must break Solomon Lane out of an extremely well-guarded convoy as he is the price being asked by the White Widow. Ethan doesn’t know who he can trust as there is treachery from the Apostles and possibly within his own team.

Tom Cruise is still a tool. I’ve had that opinion for quite some time due to his adherence to a pseudo-religion made up to win a bet by a hack science-fiction writer and transformed into a money-making cult by its leadership over the decades. Cruise’s calling former Today Show host Matt Lauer “glib” during an interview that strayed into psychology and drugs to treat depression was the moment I truly turned against him. He can believe whatever he wants but I don’t have to support him and his films. At least that’s what I thought and said back then. As with most things my opinion softened over time. While I think Cruise is misguided in his beliefs I will go see his films. If they stink, I’ll say so. “The Mummy” wasn’t great but wasn’t awful, and I said so. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” doesn’t stink and doesn’t fall in that middle ground. It is quite spectacular.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” manages to take a terrifying reality of the modern world and make it entertaining. It takes the very plausible and frightening scenario of nuclear material for sale on the black market and turns it into a twisty and believable mystery. Granted, parts of “M:I-F” stretch credibility, especially some of the tech and the life-like masks, but the overall bones of the story hold up to scrutiny. Sadly, we live in a world where nuclear material can go missing and those tasked to keep an eye on it have no idea where it might be. This probably happens more than we know (especially from facilities in the former Soviet Union) and I’d prefer to remain ignorant so I sleep at night.

“M:I-F” turns Ethan Hunt into a troubled hero. Hunt is wracked with guilt over the life he shared with his wife Julia, played by Michelle Monaghan, and the danger he put her in. He dreams of a wedding where the vows are perverted into what his actual life is like by Lane and they all die in a nuclear explosion. Hunt saves Luther despite allowing the plutonium to fall into the wrong hands because he believes saving one life is just as important as saving millions. Hunt seems to be paying for his various sins by trying to save everyone practically by himself. It must be tiring to work with someone like Hunt that constantly takes all the weight on his shoulders and causing his partners to share the burden out of a sense of obligation. It also says a great deal about the friendship between the team as they take on these impossible missions with Hunt despite the long odds.

That friendship is believable thanks to a terrific supporting cast of Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson. While not technically part of the team, Ferguson’s Faust should be considered an associate member as she’s played a big role in the last two movies. There’s the potential for a love affair between her and Hunt but wisely the filmmakers haven’t fallen into that easy trap. Pairing these super spies working for two different countries would never work as they would A) never be in the same place at the same time long enough to have a relationship and B) Hunt would face the same emotional demons as during his marriage to Julia but compounded by them both being in the field, making each a target to get at the other. And on top of all of that they could never chat about work since everything they do is classified.

Rhames and Pegg are kind of the Laurel and Hardy of the “M:I” series. Rhames is the large and powerful member of the duo. He’s soft spoken but can turn up the pain when needed. Pegg is the twitchy and seemingly incompetent one that comes through when the pressure is on. Together they serve as Hunt’s backup and emotional support team. They work as characters since neither stray too far from what appears to be their natural selves. I can see a Luther and Benji spinoff film…or maybe a Blu-Ray bonus feature.

Naturally what attracts the most interest in the “M:I” series is the stunts. While nothing quite rises to the white-knuckle level of climbing on the outside of one of the world’s tallest buildings or being strapped to the outside of a plane as it takes off, “M:I-F” still manages to impress with the HALO jump and the car/motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris. While much of the jump was really done by Cruise there are clearly parts that are handled with either CG or stunt people. Despite this it manages to be an exciting and harrowing stunt. Cranking up the adrenaline scale is two chases through Paris in a motorcycle and a car. Narrowly avoiding pedestrians, other cars, police vehicles and motorcycle cops, Hunt whizzes through the narrow streets and alleyways of Paris. The motorcycle scenes are shot with Cruise not wearing a helmet. Even a mistake made by a professional stuntman would risk serious injury; but stunt performers are a dime a dozen. There’s only one Tom Cruise. Production was shut down for over a month while Cruise recovered from a broken ankle suffered while jumping between two buildings. The $80-million in added costs, from needing to pay the crew and cast to keep them from taking other jobs, was covered by insurance. Tom Cruise is 56 years old. While he’s certainly not ready for an assisted living facility he should perhaps let the professional stunt performers that normally play the nameless henchmen in his films do the truly dangerous stunts.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language. There are numerous shootings and stabbings in the film, but none are bloody. There are also some very violent fistfights that would leave people not in a movie with concussions, broken jaws and noses. There are also a few car crashes. There’s a helicopter chase that leads to helicopter crashes with bodies being thrown and flung out of the craft. Hot oil scalds a character’s face leaving him looking awful. There is a couple of attempted hangings, a man beats up a woman and the death of the bad guy can only be described as unique. Foul language is scattered and there is the one rating-allowed use of “F**k.”

Are there more “Mission: Impossible” films coming down the pike? I don’t know. “…Fallout” seems to put a bow on several dangling story threads from previous entries in the series as well as dealing with Hunt’s guilt over Julia. Could another threat to global world peace and safety be used to lure Hunt and his IMF team back into the field and on the big screen? Sure! Big paychecks can get anyone to do just about anything. Is there really a need? Right now, no. In three years, maybe. Since this sixth film in the franchise had the biggest opening of all the films, both domestically and worldwide, there’s a better than average change we’ll see Ethan Hunt choose to accept another mission. While Tom Cruise is a tool he does make a very entertaining action/adventure movie and if there is another, I’ll see it.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” gets five stars.

This week’s films run the gamut from a political documentary to teenagers with superpowers. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Darkest Minds—

Death of a Nation—

Disney’s Christopher Robin—

The Spy Who Dumped Me—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in streaming, movies and TV available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Skyscraper”

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a former Marine and FBI hostage rescue team leader. While leading an extraction along with his friend Ben (Pablo Schreiber) a bomb explodes injuring most of the team. Will loses his left leg below the knee and Ben is scarred on his face and neck. Will’s doctor is Sarah (Neve Campbell), a Navy surgeon with tours in Afghanistan. The two fall in love and marry having two children, Georgia and Henry (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell). After recovering from his injuries, Will starts a security consulting business out of his garage. Ten years after losing his leg he’s approached by Ben to inspect the security of a super-skyscraper in Hong Kong called The Pearl. At 250 stories and over 3000 feet tall, The Pearl is a city in the sky and needs its fire suppression and safety protocols approved before the insurance company, represented by Mr. Pierce (Noah Taylor), will insure the building. Will brings his family with him to Hong Kong since he will be a permanent part of the staff if his inspection meets the standards of The Pearl’s primary financier Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and moves them into an apartment in the tower. The initial inspection is successful and Zhao gives Will a tablet that will give him access to the building’s systems remotely. All that needs to be done now is the inspection of the off-site control center. That visit is put on hold when Will’s bag is stolen as he and Ben are riding the ferry to the control center. Will is slashed with a knife in the struggle. Ben takes him back to his apartment to get patched up when Will announces he put the tablet in his jacket pocket as they were getting on the ferry. Ben then shows his true colors and tries to take the tablet. The pair fight and Ben is mortally wounded. Meanwhile, a team of armed terrorists are spreading a chemical to start a fire on the 96th floor. The terrorists, led by Kores Botha (Roland Moller), start the fire and need the tablet to disable the fire suppression measures. An associate of Botha’s takes the tablet from Will and shuts down the safety systems, allowing the blaze to spread up the tower while also implicating Will as being responsible. Sarah and the kids are in their apartment in the tower and Will risks his life to get back in the building, save his family and keep the terrorists from reaching Zhao in the penthouse and taking something they want very badly.

“Skyscraper” is not going to win any awards for the complexity of its script or the overwhelming quality of its acting. The film also will not get any praise from those that study physics or engineering. “Skyscraper” is a big, dumb and loud action pictured that never lets facts or reality get in its way. It is a combination of “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno” with better special effects and the biggest box office draw in the world in the starring role. It shouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as it is.

Dwayne Johnson is great at playing the everyman if that everyman spent hours every day in the gym lifting weights and sculpting the body of a Greek god. Aside from his obvious physical gifts Johnson is also finding his way as an actor. While he’ll likely never win an Oscar, Johnson turns in a very good performance as a man struggling against impossible odds to rescue his family. Every choice Will makes throughout the film is to do what’s best for his family. From taking the job in Hong Kong to jumping off a crane and into the burning building, Will is focused like a laser on his family’s welfare. Johnson ably handles the more emotional parts of the film while still believably playing a reluctant hero. It would be very easy for Johnson to slip into hero mode and grimly tackle every nameless henchman and dispose of him quickly; however, this character hasn’t touched a gun in a decade and, while keeping in top physical condition, has been working a desk job. Will is out of practice as a warrior and he makes mistakes and gets hurt along the way. In classic Dwayne Johnson style the character’s injuries don’t prevent him from completing his dangerous tasks but he must deal with a re-learning curve.

Neve Campbell might be seen in the trailers as a damsel in distress in need of saving by the big, strong hero. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Campbell’s Sarah is a war veteran and she is more than capable of taking care of herself and her children when things begin to go wrong. While Sarah is faced with some outrageous situations that ignore the laws of gravity and motion she faces them with a reasonable combination of fear and practicality. She also doesn’t mind throwing a punch and mixing it up with a bad guy when necessary. By the end of the movie, Sarah could be considered the real hero of “Skyscraper” and it all makes perfect sense thanks to the performance of Neve Campbell.

“Skyscraper” is a movie best enjoyed if you don’t think about it too much. Just accept the notion of a 250-story building with a forest and waterfall in the middle of it and two giant wind turbines supplying all the power it needs. Then there’s the giant sphere on top: The walls and floor are high-definition screens that can show the cityscape all around making it appear you are suspended in midair over Hong Kong. Screens also rise from the floor making for a hi-def game of hide and seek where the object is to find the real person, not a projection. We are told it will be a popular tourist attraction once the building opens. To me, it would be interesting for about a minute then I’d be looking for the exit. There are also outrageous stunts that defy all the physical laws of the universe. The one that you know about if you’ve seen the trailer is when Johnson jumps from a construction crane into a broken window that nearly 100 stories above the ground. An Internet image search will show some very smart people have figured out the actual paths Johnson would travel if he tried the jump in real life. Even the most generous estimates suggest he would have become a greasy spot on the ground rather than continued his heroic mission. As I said, don’t think too much about the movie. It’s more fun that way.

“Skyscraper” is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. There are numerous gun battles with people shown being shot but none of it is graphic or bloody. Johnson’s character pulls a long shard of metal from his shoulder. A person is shown being consumed by the explosion of a hand grenade. Another person is pushed into the fire from a walkway. There is the threat of a child being thrown off the roof of the building. A person gets stabbed in the leg with scissors. Foul language is scattered and mild with the exception of one use of the F-word.

Critics have been less than kind to “Skyscraper” calling it a copy of “Die Hard” and Johnson freely admits this. In an Instagram post, Johnson said, “In a summer full of cool & bad ass Superheroes & capes, my town of Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this anymore. But I wanted to make a film that paid homage and respect to the classic action movies that inspired me and entire generations – DIE HARD to TOWERING INFERNO to THE FUGITIVE. A wounded warrior’s blood, sweat, love & grit to save his family.” Johnson is aware he’s making a copy of “Die Hard” and the other movies he mentioned. If you like it, that’s great! If you don’t, he doesn’t care. He’s Dwayne Johnson, the biggest movie star in the world today and he wants to make movies he’d like to see. If you have that kind of clout and can get a studio to put up a production budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $125-million then you can make as many homage pictures are you please. If they are as entertaining as “Skyscraper” then it doesn’t matter what movie you’re borrowing from.

“Skyscraper” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “The Equalizer II” for WIMZ.com.

Other movies coming out this week:

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again—

Unfriended: Dark Web—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, movies and streaming. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

(No video this week as I babbled more incoherently than normal.)

Following his actions in Berlin to support Captain America, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords. A team of FBI agents swarms his house if his electronic ankle monitoring bracelet gets too far away from the base station. His use of shrinking technology has also gotten Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) into trouble and on the most wanted list but they have avoided capture. Scott, Pym and Hope reunite despite that violating Scott’s probation. It isn’t a happy reunion as Pym and Hope are angry he used their tech and got them on the wrong side of the law. Following Scott’s brief time in the quantum realm Pym believes he can rescue his wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) by constructing a quantum tunnel. To do that he needs specialized parts that he purchases from a shady black-market operator named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins). During an exchange of money for a part Burch tells Hope he knows who she really is and wants to sell Pym technology to some criminal buyers he’s already arranged. She refuses and uses her Wasp suit to get the part. The fight for the part is interrupted by a person in a suit that can phase through solid walls. Called Ghost for this ability, the newcomer attempts to steal the part but Hope fights Ghost off with Scott’s help. Ghost then goes to the van where Pym is waiting and steals the miniaturized building that houses his lab. Ghost is a woman named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) whose father used to be an associate of Pym’s at SHIELD. Pym got her father fired and he tried to continue his research on his own. That research was trying to access the quantum realm and an accident killed Ava’s parents and left her comprised of atoms that tear themselves apart causing her constant pain. The trio go to another of Pym’s former partners Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburn) for help in tracking the lab using energy emissions. Foster and Pym had a bad falling out and after decades apart they still don’t like each other. Ava needs the quantum tunnel to mend her molecules, so she doesn’t die in a few weeks but her needs and Pym’s efforts to retrieve his wife are at odds and they are both running out of time.

Ant-Man is one of those Marvel heroes that on the surface doesn’t seem like a character that deserves his own movie. He doesn’t have the flashy tech of Iron Man, the godlike abilities of Thor, the tragic backstory and green-tinted mayhem of the Hulk, the power, history and patriotism of Captain America and the magical powers of Dr. Strange. Ant-Man can get small (and infrequently very big) and communicate with bugs. Both are useful abilities at times but not exactly the stuff of blockbuster movies. With 2015’s “Ant-Man” Marvel showed how a little guy can be a big hero. Now “Ant-Man and the Wasp” proves the first film wasn’t a fluke. It also helps that this film serves as the palate cleanser after “Avengers: Infinity War.”

The most noticeable aspect of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is it is far more comedic than most Marvel films. A criticism of “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” was the humor felt forced and at times ill-placed. Moments that didn’t need to be tagged with a joke got one anyway. I didn’t see this as being a problem, but many did. Perhaps the lighter tone of “Ant-Man” means the sequel can get away with more jokes and running gags and there are plenty of both in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” We get a humorous thread involving closeup magic that weaves through the film. The character of FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park, gets some fun moments every time he’s on screen. And the thief of the film is Michael Pena as Luis, Scott Lang’s former cellmate and now business partner in a security firm run by ex-cons that’s called X-Con. Pena has the gift of a motormouth and that is put to good use in a scene where Burch and his henchmen give Luis a truth serum to find where the lab is located. It is a very funny scene of Luis recounting how he met Scott and his history with Hope. Seeing his words being acted out by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly is one of the film’s high points.

The light and comedic acting of Paul Rudd is also a joy to watch. Rudd is a naturally calming presence in nearly every film he’s in. In scenes where his character is stressed and in danger Rudd manages to play the role in a way that says, “I got this” even if it turns out he doesn’t. Rudd is credited as a writer on both films and his humor and goofy charm can be seen throughout the script.

All this lightness also means “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is largely inconsequential to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where the events of the movie occur in the timeline isn’t clear until the mid-credits scene which places it as happening just prior to “Avengers: Infinity War.” This brief scene is far more important to the MCU than anything that precedes it. It also offers a clue to how Ant-Man could affect the action in “Avengers 4.” Perhaps the movie gives us a future hero that can be folded into Phase 4 and it shows just how useful enlarged ants can be in a construction project and as security guards; otherwise, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is like that little bit of sherbet you get between courses at finer restaurants: It’s a palate cleanser following the events of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

While it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the film it isn’t a severe complaint either. The MCU now totals 20 released films with two more in the immediate future: “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers 4.” Not every movie that’s part of the MCU has necessarily been instrumental in expanding the overarching story that leads to the ultimate clash with Thanos. I would argue “Iron Man 2” and “Thor: The Dark World” were just two of the mostly stand-alone adventures for these characters. Watching these heroes deal with their own issues can be as enjoyable as watching them band together and fight a demon bent on destroying half the life in the universe. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” gives us a brief respite as we prepare for what will likely be yet another emotional roller coaster in “Avengers 4.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. The shrinking and growing technology is used to flip cars and cause motorcycle crashes. Hope Van Dyne’s Wasp costume has blasters that shoot out fire and cause a non-lethal impact. Wasp, Ant-Man and Ghost are proficient fighters in hand-to-hand combat. Ghost can also put her hand inside people and injure or kill them. There is some gunplay, but no one is shown getting shot. Foul language is scattered and mild.

It may not have the same impact as other MCU films but “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a lighthearted romp with a little romance on the side. Make sure you stay in your seat during the credits. The mid-credits scene is the one you want to watch while the post credits is just a joke that you can watch if you’re are a completist. Here’s a little spoiler: You’ve already seen part of it in the trailer. The film is fun and, at its heart, is about families being torn apart and the struggle to put them pack together. Perhaps it’s a little deeper then I gave it credit for.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” gets five stars.

This week there are a couple of new films that could both be considered cartoons…or cartoonish. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation—

Skyscraper—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

The once dormant volcano on the island of Isla Nublar has come to life and will soon destroy all the dinosaurs at the abandoned Jurassic World theme park. Former park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has started the Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG) to lobby Congress to help rescue some of the prehistoric animals. Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) testifies before a congressional committee the dinosaurs should be allowed to die and correct the mistake John Hammond made in cloning them and they agree with his opinion voting to not become involved in what is a private business matter. Claire receives a call from Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) with a proposal: He will bankroll a rescue mission on behalf of his employer, an eccentric billionaire with a connection to Hammond, and save 11 species and possibly more. Claire’s handprint is needed to access the tracking system used to locate all the dinos on the island. Mills is especially interested in saving on specific raptor known as Blue. Claire knows capturing Blue will be nearly impossible without the help of one man: Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) raised Blue from birth and the two have a special bond. Claire and Owen’s relationship ended and she’s not looking forward to asking him for this favor. Apparently resistant to the idea Owen shows up to fly to Isla Nublar and try to rescue the dinos and especially his Blue. Once on the island Claire, Owen, paleoveterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and tech specialist Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) along with a team of well-armed mercenaries and big game hunters begin the search for the creatures. With the volcano spewing lava and blowing giant boulders at them like bombs the hunters and soldiers leave Claire and the others to fend for themselves and the group quickly figures out this isn’t a rescue mission at all.

The fifth film in the Jurassic franchise had big expectations as its release date approached. “Jurassic World” made $1.6-billion worldwide and desire for a sequel was instantaneous. The pressure was on director J.A. Bayona to deliver the thrills and dino action fans of the series require as well as a story that makes sense to continue the franchise to the next installment. He got it almost right.

One thing you can’t complain about in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the number of action scenes and the number of dinosaur species on display. Right in the opening sequence we get a look at the aquatic Mosasaurus and the granddaddy of them all Tyrannosaurus rex. Of all the species my favorite is the Stygimoloch. It has a bony dome on the top of its head it uses as a battering ram. That gets put to good use in helping Owen and Claire escape as well as disrupting the plans of the bad guys. The creature is used mostly as a convenient way to keep the plot moving while also being a bit of comic relief. Despite it being a plot device, I enjoyed how it was used in the movie.

While this film isn’t bloody there are probably more deaths by dinosaur than in any other chapter. Some of these deaths are extremely satisfying as there are some odious characters in the film. A couple of standouts include Ted Levine as the leader of the mercenaries Ken Wheatley. He takes pleasure in the suffering of the dinosaurs even ripping a tooth from each one to turn into a souvenir necklace. Toby Jones is also vile and slimy as Gunnar Eversol, a seller of rare and illegal things. He doesn’t care that the animals he’s selling will be used as weapons against innocent people by totalitarian regimes as long as he gets his commission. There are a couple of other really terrible people in the movie that wind up in the belly of a dinosaur and no one we see die on screen could be considered an innocent victim as they are all involved in the plans of the villain.

The cast of good guys puts in some entertaining performances led by Chris Pratt. Pratt’s Owen Grady retains his disdain for ceremony and formality from the first film. His only interest is protecting the animals from the plans of the bad guys while finding the time to toss off a quick joke or light jab at those he feels deserve it. Bryce Dallas Howard shows she can be as much of a bad ass hero as Pratt in a couple of scenes in the film. Howard feels like a more rounded out character this time. Her resolve is more focused and she’s looking out more than in. Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith make for great comic relief on opposite ends of the spectrum: Pineda’s Rodriquez is a tough, no-nonsense character that tells it like it is while Smith’s Webb is constantly in fear for his life and wondering out loud why he’s involved in what’s going on. While you know these polar opposites will probably be a couple by the end of the film it’s fun to see them interact with each other and the rest of the cast.

While the action and the special effects are great the story is somewhat less so. Writers Derek Connoly and Colin Trevorrow have put together a bare bones script that gets some of the dinosaurs and all our main characters off the island and into an implausible situation. Implausible situations are common for movies, especially those set in impossible scenarios like dinosaurs living in modern times; however, there isn’t much else going on. The relationship between Claire and Owen seems to be stalled in neutral and the situation with the dinosaurs is very reminiscent of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” While the idea of an auction of dinosaurs to the super rich and the infamous is interesting it doesn’t exactly cause excitement or make for much more than a location primed for disaster. Why I’m looking for something deep and meaningful in the movie is a bit of a mystery. I suppose I like my movies to say something beyond what’s on the screen, but I can also enjoy a film that’s one action scene right after another and filled with dinosaurs like “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. The dinosaurs eat people…frequently. Some of them also headbutt and step on various nameless characters. There is a little gunplay but all of it is aimed at dinosaurs. Foul language is limited to one usage of the word “damn” and the implication of “s**t.”

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is doing very well at the box office in both North America and the rest of the world. The final film in the “Jurassic World” trilogy has been penciled in for release on June 11, 2021 with both Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard to return. Seeing these incredible animals brought back to life with the wizardry of both animatronics and computer animation is always going to be a thrill even if the story leaves something to be desired. I am hopeful we’ll get a complete movie with both a compelling story and mind-blowing visuals the next time around.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” gets five stars.

This week Marvel’s littlest heroes and how a day of death and mayhem began will grace the screens of your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The First Purge (Opening July 4)—

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6)—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in movies, TV and streaming available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

 

Review of “Incredibles 2”

After taking on the Underminer as he robbed a bank, Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), and their kids Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) are all detained by the police. Supers are still banned from using their powers and the damage caused by the family in their effort to stop the Underminer leads to the ending of the Super Relocation program meaning in two weeks the family will be homeless unless something happens. That something is a meeting with Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener). Devour owns a massive tech firm and his sister is their head of research and development for the company. Winston is a fan of Supers and thinks they should be allowed to operate in public again. His father was a fan of Supers as well but was murdered in a home invasion robbery after all the Supers was banned. He believes Elastigirl is the best choice to be the public face of Supers as her style causes less collateral damage then Mr. Incredible. That means Mr. Incredible (or Bob Parr) will need to be a stay at home dad for Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack. There’s a new villain that is the target of Elastigirl’s first mission: Screenslaver. Screenslaver can send hypnotic messages through any video screen making those affected do whatever they are told. Meanwhile, Jack-Jack is starting to show he has powers…lots of powers. This makes an already difficult job for Bob that much harder.

“Incredibles 2” was released 14 years after the original. That’s several lifetimes in movie years. For a while we got a new “Paranormal Activity” and “Saw” film every year. While there have been long breaks between trilogies “Star Wars” movies are coming out every two years (plus the “Star Wars Story” flicks). With a film as successful as “The Incredibles” was in 2004 you’d expect Disney and Pixar to have jumped on the sequel train before now. After all we’ve had three “Toy Story,” three “Cars” and two “Monsters Inc.” movies. What was the hold up on getting “Incredibles 2” into theaters?

Writer and director Brad Bird has been mulling what to do for “Incredibles 2” since the first film came out. Bird is a director that is much in demand so his other projects for Disney/Pixar and other studios kept him too busy to focus on the next chapter in the lives of the Parr family. Plus, animated films take as long if not longer to produce than live-action movies. Once Bird had the time to focus on the script the story of gender role reversals, angsty teenagers and a superpowered baby came into focus. The skill and artistry of thousands of animators, programmers and actors combined with Bird’s script and direction has given us a sequel that was a long time coming but was certainly worth the wait.

It should come as no surprise that “Incredibles 2” looks, well, incredible. The retro modern design of the characters, vehicles, buildings and fashion along with the bright color palate make the visuals pop with vibrancy and a sense of motion even when things are standing still. The way the Supers’ powers are shown is also gorgeous with a character able to open portals from one location to another through glowing holes, electrical emissions shooting from another’s hands and a rather disgusting power of spewing boiling hot glowing gastric juices out of a character’s mouth. That character is rightly named Reflux. You expect a Disney/Pixar film to nail all the little details that have made the animation giant a reliable source for entertaining, fun and sometimes heartbreaking films. “Incredibles 2” has the visual flair you expect and demand from the studio in spades.

It also has a story that is surprisingly contemporary even though it has been told over and over for nearly as long as movies have been a thing. The swapping of roles between a mother and father, from breadwinner to homemaker and vice versa, was the subject of 1983’s “Mr. Mom” starring Michael Keaton and Teri Garr. Thirty-five years later “Incredibles 2” tells the story again. As in “Mr. Mom” the initial results are borderline disastrous, but both our male heroes figure it out eventually.

I’m not sure if it’s good or bad news that we apparently still need to use this trope as the basis for a film but “Incredibles 2” uses it to good effect. It shows the audience that even those people that seem to have it all figured out don’t always know what they are doing. As Bob tries to help Dash with his homework (“Math is math!”) and indirectly ruins the dating life of his daughter Violet he has the sudden addition of Jack-Jack’s emerging powers heaped on top of everything else. He struggles with handling it all but never succumbs to the urge to call his wife Helen. She is trying to make it possible for all Supers, including Bob and the kids, to choose whether they want to be public with their abilities. If you wanted to read far more into it, it could be analogous to people living alternative lifestyles being able to be open and honest with their family and friends. Again, that’s reading far more into this story than is blatantly there but it’s a possibility.

The voice work is stellar as you would expect. Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and all the rest deliver quality performances that only add to the breathtaking visuals. Nelson’s exasperated Bob Parr while trying to help Dash with his homework is alone worth the price of admission. Hunter gives an A+ performance as Helen, giving both the hero and the mother similar yet still unique emotional signatures. Elastigirl takes both roles seriously. While you always expect him to drop a “M*****F****R!” at any moment, Jackson gives Frozone the level of cool you’d expect. While she doesn’t get much screen time, Edna Mode steals the few scenes she’s in. Voiced by writer/director Brad Bird, Mode delivers her trademark biting sarcasm with the fashionable style we love. If they ever decide to make an Edna-centric spin-off, I’ll happily preorder tickets.

“Incredibles 2” is rated PG for some brief mild language and action sequences. While there are threats of injury in the action scenes there is no real damage done to any characters even when large objects land on them. Mr. Incredible is put in peril throughout the film but the most harrowing is when he is trapped underwater for an extended period. There are other action scenes involving explosions and crashes. Elastigirl is locked in a freezer making it dangerous for her to try to use her powers. Foul language is limited to the words “fart” and “Hell.”

While there are times when the characters seem to be in some real peril “Incredibles 2” manages to be a brightly colored antidote to anyone dealing with the emotional aftermath of “Avengers: Infinity War.” We always knew the Marvel heroes would face their mortality at some point due to aging actors and the many times characters are killed (and are eventually reborn) in the comics. It can make for a grim and mildly depressing experience once these inevitable deaths occur. “Incredibles 2” manages to put its characters in danger and still deliver a fun, exciting and ultimately joyous movie. And since these characters are animated they’ll never grow old and never die. If only all our heroes could be immortal.

“Incredibles 2” gets five stars.

There will be no review next weekend as I have some prior commitments, but I’ll be back the weekend of 6/30 to review one or more of the following:

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—

Sicario: Day of the Soldado—

Uncle Drew—

Listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.