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.

Review of “Upgrade”

In the near future technology has expanded to more facets of our lives: Police drones patrol the skies keeping an electronic eye out for trouble, driverless cars are becoming more the norm and people are beginning to improve themselves with technological upgrades. One person bucking the trend is Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green). He works on classic cars from the 1970’s and 1980’s and restores them to perfect condition. Grey is married to Asha (Melanie Vallejo) who works for a biotech firm making mechanical arms and legs for military veterans that have lost limbs in battle. Grey has restored a Firebird for eccentric billionaire Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) and he takes Asha along to drop off the car at Keen’s house. While there, Keen shows Grey and Asha a new project he’s working on called Stem which Keen describes as a microcomputer that is meant to improve whatever it connects to. As they are riding home in Asha’s self-driving car it malfunctions and crashes in a bad part of town. Another car pulls up and four men get out and pull Asha and Grey from the car. One man shoots Asha while another shoots Grey at the base of his neck. Asha dies and Grey is paralyzed from the neck down. Grey doesn’t want to live and tries to overdose on his meds. While recovering in the hospital Grey is visited by Keen who makes him an offer: Grey can regain the use of his limbs by having Stem implanted at the point of his injury. Keen demands Grey tell no one of his implant and the operation must be done by surgeons at Keen’s home. Grey agrees and in just a matter of days Grey is running on a treadmill with complete use of his extremities. After returning home Grey hears a voice in his head: It’s Stem. The microcomputer can communicate with Grey and him with Stem. Stem sees something in the police drone surveillance footage of the attack on Asha and Grey and identifies one of their attackers. Grey has spoken with Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) and knows she has no leads in the case and Stem reminds him he has agreed to keep the implant a secret so Grey decides to investigate this person and soon discovers Stem can do much more than just give him use of his limbs.

While “Upgrade” will neither be praised for its subtlety nor for its thoughtful approach to graphic violence in movies, director and writer Leigh Whannell has given us an exciting and action-packed B-movie that may have more of a message than most films of this type get credit for. It may just be the smartest dumb movie considering what it means to be human in a flood of technology.

Whannell is best known for writing numerous recent horror films including the first three “Saw” films and all four of the “Insidious” series. This is his second time in the director’s chair after “Insidious: Chapter 3” and this is a superior effort. “Upgrade” manages to tell its story clearly and succinctly while still including a large amount of graphic and bloody violence. It’s a perfect mixture of brains and brawn that doesn’t pander to the audience. Whannell has a long history of giving audiences what they want via his scripts: Morally vague antagonists, laser-focused villains and a fair amount of gore. In his films that are rated PG-13 he can’t go full on blood bath so he has to give his story a bit more attention. In “Upgrade” Whannell lays on the gore with a measured hand while also conjuring up a murder mystery and a look at a future filled with tech invading all aspects of our lives. If Whannell was a juggler he’d have about a dozen balls in the air but he never drops any of them. It’s a masterful job.

Logan Marshall-Green also deserves some praise for his performance as Grey. There is a scene where Grey’s mother is trimming his beard after he comes home from the hospital following the shooting. Marshall-Green’s face goes through all the stages of grief right before our eyes in a matter of seconds and it’s deeply affecting. Marshall –Green also can handle the lighter moments of the story with the biting sense of humor someone in his unenviable position would likely express. Along with the stunt and special effect team, Marshall-Green also performs the action scenes in a way that couldn’t have been easy: Moving his body like someone else was in control and he was merely an observer. There are some laughs in the action scenes when Grey appears horrified at what his body is doing during the fights. It is a great performance.

The story of “Upgrade” appears to be a simple revenge tale with sci-fi decorations but I thought it was a bit deeper than that. Writer and director Leigh Whannell jumps into a plausible future where technology is being integrated into the human body providing upgrades for those that can afford it. This has many benefits but, like with everything else, it can be used for good and for evil. The morality and ethics of merging flesh and electronics isn’t delved into at all in the film; but what is explored is how such augmentation blurs the line between humans and machines. That line becomes hazier when there’s a chance the machines can begin thinking for themselves which leads to the question of who is in charge: The man or the machine? While these philosophical questions are left largely unexplored they did crop up in my mind by the time the film reached its somewhat surprising conclusion. It’s odd that any movie leads to questions that ring in the brain when the credits roll but “Upgrade” did just that for me.

“Upgrade” is rated R for grisly images, strong violence and language. There are numerous bloody deaths and injuries shown in the film. They include a person nearly having their head cut in half by a knife, a person’s head being blown off by a gunshot, a person being stabbed in the hand with the knife shown protruding through the other side, a person being stabbed in the head, a person being cut several times as a form of torture and much more. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“Upgrade” is from Blumhouse, the same studio responsible for “Get Out,” “The Purge,” “Paranormal Activity” and “Whiplash.” They are famous for churning out low-budget movies quickly, establishing popular horror/suspense franchises and being extremely profitable. Their success has attracted more and more talent to their projects including director M. Night Shyamalan who found new life with his Blumhouse projects “The Visit” and “Split,” and Spike Lee whose “BlacKkKlansman” due out later this year generated a great deal of buzz at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. So far, none of the films produced by Blumhouse have cost more than $10-million and many have generated enormous profits. It is a business model that allows directors creative freedom as long as they keep costs low. Horror and suspense movie fans seem to be happy with the Blumhouse way and they should find “Upgrade” to be more of the same.

“Upgrade” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Oceans 8” for WIMZ.com.

If I have time I’ll see and review one of the following:

Hotel Artemis—

Hereditary—

For all things movie, TV and streaming listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) lives on the shipbuilding planet of Corellia but longs to escape his life of petty theft under the control of a local crime boss that looks like a giant caterpillar. Han hopes to trade a sample of hyper-drive fuel called coaxium for passage off the planet for himself and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Just as they are walking through the gate Qi’ra is captured. In desperation, Han joins the Imperial Navy with a hope to become a pilot so he can return and save Qi’ra. Three years later Han has been kicked out of flight school for failing to follow orders and is an infantry soldier helping to conquer a planet. There he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who is pretending to be an Imperial officer so he and his gang can steal a heavy transport. Han recognizes they aren’t with the Empire and tries to blackmail his way onto their ship but they turn Han in as a deserter. Han is thrown in a pit where it is expected he’ll be consumed by a beast that turns out to be a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han speaks a little of Chewbacca’s native language and they form a plan to escape. Once out of the pit they jump on Beckett’s stolen transport joining his gang for the theft of a large shipment of coaxium. That heist is broken up by a gang of marauders called the Cloud Riders, the coaxium is destroyed and in the process a couple of Beckett’s gang is killed. Beckett tells Han he was ordered to steal the coaxium by crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) to pay off a debt and Vos will likely kill them for failing. While waiting to see Vos on his space yacht Han sees Qi’ra. She works for Vos and in their meeting to explain their failure she helps guide him to a solution to pay off their debt: Stealing raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel. Vos orders Qi’ra to go along and make sure everything goes smoothly. Knowing they will need a very fast ship to get the raw coaxium to a processing facility before it explodes Qi’ra hunts down legendary smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who has the fastest ship in the quadrant: The Millennium Falcon.

During the making of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” the film was in the public consciousness for all the wrong reasons: The original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired deep into production when Lucasfilm executives were unhappy about the quality of daily footage coming from the set. Star Alden Ehrenreich was given an acting coach because his performance wasn’t what the executives wanted. The directors weren’t shooting enough angles of various scenes that give editors plenty to work with. Script writers Jonathon and Lawrence Kasdan were angry over Lord and Miller allowing the cast to improvise. Lord and Miller were unhappy when Lawrence Kasdan was brought on set as they felt he was a shadow director. Clearly something had to change and since Lucasfilm was the boss, Lord and Miller were let go but given executive producer credit on the film. Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, who has a long history with Star Wars creator George Lucas, was brought in to essentially start over. Much of what was filmed was scrapped and reshot adding tens of millions of dollars to the production’s budget. Would this be the first Star Wars film since the prequels to be considered just plain bad? The short answer is a qualified no. It’s qualified because you have to be willing to accept some things that I think most Star Wars fans are unwilling to accept: Alden Ehrenreich isn’t a young Harrison Ford; but I’ll get to that a little later.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” wastes no time in delivering the action as the first scene is a chase through the dingy back alleys of Corellia. Soon we’re transplanted to a battlefield on an alien world then we’re robbing a train on yet another planet. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t let the viewer get bored with any one location as the action is never in one place for very long. I enjoyed the planet hopping as the film tended to bog down whenever the action stopped and the acting kicked in. Fortunately that doesn’t happen that often.

Fans of the Star Wars original trilogy saga will find the most to enjoy in this film. We hear familiar names like Tatooine and Hutt and finally understand what “Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” means. We see the first meetings between Han and Chewie and Han and Lando. We see Han win the Millennium Falcon in the famous card game we heard about 35 years ago. The Falcon is all white and clean inside and there are more bits of Star Wars history that jump off the screen and into our childhoods that complete pictures we only could dream of. I’m not saying you have to have been a Star Wars fan since the original trilogy came out in theaters to appreciate “Solo: A Star Wars Story” but it helps.

The movie may actually lean a bit too heavily on nostalgia for its own good. While I enjoyed the way Han and Chewie became friends that friendship seems to develop too quickly and too deeply. The newer characters, with a couple of exceptions, are mostly cannon fodder that are quickly killed off despite being entertaining additions.

Then there is the problem of Alden. While he gives a perfectly fine performance he isn’t a young Harrison Ford and even when he’s being a selfish jerk there’s still a little bit of “aw shucks” in his demeanor. I never was able to forget Ehrenreich was playing a role where Harrison Ford was the role. I know it is unfair and impossible for Lucasfilm to have cast a young Harrison Ford impersonator as Han Solo but seeing someone else play the part was a constant irritant that kept me from fully investing in the film.

Yet I still enjoyed the movie. I suppose I’m easily entertained but watching the younger versions of Han, Lando and Chewie (all being played by different actors from the originals) was a huge amount of fun for me. Seeing the basis for many of the references I heard in theaters back in the 1970’s and 1980’s finally being brought to life was something of a thrill. While we know Han, Lando and Chewie will survive no matter how dire their situation might be and that cuts into the tension some, I want to see in future movies the contraband that Han had to dump that got him in trouble with Jabba the Hutt. I want to know if Han and Darth Vader ever crossed paths prior to A New Hope. There are more stories to tell about the life of Han Solo before he met a kid and a crazy old man in a cantina at Mos Eisley and I want to see them even if I have to overlook who is playing the young smuggler.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Chewbacca rips the arms off a guard. We only see him holding the arms not the actual ripping. We also see Chewie slam a guard head first into the ground. There are numerous battles involving blasters and people being shot by them. There are explosions that toss people around. Any foul language is said in an alien tongue.

Probably the most memorable scene in the film is one near the very end where a character makes a cameo appearance via hologram. I had to sit up in my seat and take a very close look at this character to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. For me, that scene alone was worth the two or so hours that preceded it and made me hope that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” makes enough money so we get another film telling us more stories about Han Solo. He might not make me forget about Harrison Ford but Alden Ehrenreich is the actor Lucasfilm and Disney chose to fill his seat at the controls of the Millennium Falcon and as long as they surround him with great visuals and exciting stories I’m willing to accept him for as long as he plays the part.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” gets four stars out of five.

This week three new films hope you’ve seen all the superheroes and space operas and spend your money on something else at the cinema. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Action Point—

Adrift—

Upgrade—

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

Review of “Deadpool 2”

Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has expanded his hunt for the worst of the worst bad guys worldwide. He takes out sex traffickers and gangsters no matter where they work from. One drug trafficker works in his own hometown and while Deadpool is able to kill many of his henchmen the main bad guy manages to hide in his safe room. Deadpool heads home to see Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) because it’s their anniversary. Vanessa tells him she wants to start a family and they have sex. After, they are chatting when Deadpool senses trouble coming, leading to an event that sends Deadpool on a downward spiral. In a dystopian future, cybernetic soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) comes home to find his wife and daughter burned alive by a vicious mutant calling himself Firefist. Equipped with a time-travel device, Cable travels back to a time when Firefist is also known as Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) and is a troubled teen at a mutant reeducation center run by a sadistic headmaster (Eddie Marsan) that tortures the children in his care. Russell has blown some things up at the school and Deadpool, along with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and others try to rein him in. Deadpool talks to Russell and the boy points out a member of the staff that has abused him. Deadpool then kills the staff member before he is subdued by Colossus. Both Deadpool and Russell are sent to a mutant prison called the Icebox where all prisoners are forced to wear collars that inhibit their mutant abilities. Cable shows up and tries to kill Russell but Deadpool stops him when the collar gets knocked off. With Cable’s technology and cybernetic implants Deadpool knows he needs help protecting Russell from another attack. That’s when he decides to form…The X-Force.

“Deadpool 2” is hardly a surprising take on the superhero movie genre considering it is very much like the original “Deadpool.” Star Ryan Reynolds as the title character is quick with a joke, insult and fourth-wall-breaking comment that skewers the idea of sequels and team-up films in a movie filled with second and third-string characters that could never topline a movie of their own. It could be looked at as derivative and a mere copy of its earlier self. The fact that “Deadpool 2” is subversive in its own way by being a story about family, loss, grief, mercy, self-awareness and forgiveness is how this sequel sets itself apart from the original.

Without spoiling too much Deadpool goes on a literal self-destructive journey as the film starts: He blows himself to bits in an effort to commit suicide. The shock of this is somewhat softened by the decapitated head of our hero explaining there’s more to the story that we learn in the flashback. Deadpool is dealing with a loss so profound he can only end the pain with his demise. Having the mutant power of healing makes that a tad difficult. The story sends him on other journeys of self-pity, family building and forgiveness. Most other superhero films don’t put their main character through such an arduous emotional journey as we get in “Deadpool 2.”

The film doesn’t seem that deep but if you give it a bit of thought you discover many of the same themes as in your highbrow, Oscar-bait dramas. Granted these themes are handled with broad humor, bloody violence and sexual suggestions that would make a sailor blush but it is still noteworthy.

“Deadpool 2” doesn’t work at all without the pitch perfect and enthusiastic performance of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, who was a driving force along with the original director Tim Miller in getting the first film made, is also a producer and credited writer on the sequel. His energy and charisma as a character that could easily be very annoying and unsympathetic makes Wade Wilson one of the most enjoyable members of Marvel Comics moviedom.

The direct opposite of Deadpool in tone and style is Josh Brolin’s Cable. Brolin has the aged and weathered face of experience that is perfect for the role of the cybernetic soldier from the future. He is able to maintain that serious and world-weary look throughout the film and gives the Merc with the Mouth someone to play off of and with. Brolin has spoken highly of Reynolds in publicity interviews about “Deadpool 2” as you would expect; but in an interview with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast, which was about far more than just promoting the film, Brolin seems to express a genuine affection and appreciation for Reynolds that’s more than just interview fluff. Brolin provides a level of gravitas to the film that it needs to counterbalance Reynolds manic humor.

Zazie Beetz is also a nice addition to the cast as the super lucky Domino. Her calm feminine energy is a nice respite from the hyper-masculine Deadpool. Beetz also delivers a fine performance as a hero that is constantly under estimated since she lacks a flashy ability. Being supernaturally lucky may not have the same cache as invulnerability or flight but as the old saying goes, I’d rather be lucky than good and Domino is always lucky.

“Deadpool 2” is rated R for language throughout, brief drug material, sexual references and strong violence. The drug material is when Deadpool retrieves a packet of cocaine from a hiding place in Blind Al’s apartment and sticks it under his mask, appearing to consume it all at one time. Sexual references are usually brief and consist of physically impossible acts suggested by or to Deadpool. Violence is frequently bloody and often involves heads being removed or crushed, bodies being ripped in half, limbs being amputated by swords and heads being impaled by various instruments and shot at close range by guns. Foul language is common throughout the film.

If you tire of laughing at the jokes or cringing at the violent ways various people die you can entertain yourself by looking for the hidden celebrity cameos throughout the film. The list of people includes several cast members from “X-Men: First Class,” Alan Tudyk, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and a ceramic Stan Lee. Don’t worry if you don’t see them all as some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-him quick while others are buried under makeup, wigs and beards. This is a small part of why “Deadpool 2” is so much fun. It is not only an action-packed and exciting superhero story but it also is something of a scavenger hunt which is on top of the story about family. It is the One a Day multivitamin of movies and it is well worth your time and money. Also, don’t miss the mid-credits scene. It is split into two sections so don’t leave until you see the second half.

“Deadpool 2” gets five stars out of five.

This week the only new film in wide release is “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

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