Review of “Overlord”

It’s the hours before D-Day during World War II and American paratroopers, led by explosives expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell), are sent to destroy a Nazi radio tower behind enemy lines in German-controlled France. Destroying the tower will disrupt Nazi communications and allow air cover for the hundreds of thousands of allied troops coming ashore at Normandy. The plane carrying the paratroops flies into heavy anti-aircraft fire and is coming apart before everyone can jump. A few of the soldiers survive and meet up on the ground: Ford, Pvt. Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Tibbet (John Magaro), Chase (Iain De Caestecker) and Dawson (Jacob Anderson). Dawson steps on a landmine, reducing their number to four. While walking through the forest to get to town, the Americans run into Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a resident in the village. Unsure if she’s a Nazi sympathizer at first, Chloe quickly proves she is not and houses the Americans in her home with her ailing aunt and little brother Paul (Gianny Taufer). The radio tower is on the grounds of a church with dozens of Nazi troops stationed there. Chloe says there’s more going on at the church besides communications. Nazi doctors are conducting horrible experiments on both the living and the dead, trying to create super soldiers to ensure victory and a thousand-year Reich. Chloe’s aunt was a subject of those experiments and she’s now covered in blisters and her breathing is labored and wet. Commanding the Nazi base is Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), a cruel overseer that uses threats of sending Paul to the church to force sexual favors from Chloe. Sent out to retrieve Tibbet and Chase on a recon mission, Boyce accidently gets inside the Nazi base. There he sees the radio room, but also finds the lab where the experiments are carried out and puts a syringe filled with a reddish fluid in his pocket. He also finds Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite), a fellow paratrooper who was captured as soon as he hit the ground. Boyce and Rosenfeld manage to get back to the house and Boyce tells everyone what he’s seen. Ford wants everyone focused on the mission and they are running out of time to bring down the tower. Boyce believes they should destroy the lab as well.

“Overlord” is a bit of revisionist history wrapped up in an exciting action/war/monster movie. It attaches a flight of fancy to an all-too-real moment in one of the darkest periods in modern world history. Quentin Tarantino did something similar with his assassination of Hitler storyline in “Inglorious Basterds.” Produced by JJ Abrams and his production company Bad Robot, “Overlord” was thought to be a third sequel to “Cloverfield,” but this proved to be just a rumor. What isn’t a rumor is that “Overlord” is a fun, gory, action-filled adventure that as a whole is better than some of its parts.

The story in “Overlord” is fanciful but the most believable thing about the movie. If a classified Defense Department document was released that proved American intelligence had discovered such a Nazi program after the war, would anyone seriously question its veracity? No, they wouldn’t, as the Nazis were an amoral group that would cross any line, defy any border of decency, to further their twisted agenda. There are documented medical experiments conducted at the concentration camps by Dr. Mengele and others that have no merit at all and are best described as atrocities and crimes against humanity. Believing these criminals would take the next steps to try to create undead super soldiers isn’t that big a leap.

The film makes the mistake of giving a mysterious reason for the experiments succeeding: There’s something in the ground of this French village that provides the spark to reanimate corpses. It is never named or explained but is referred to on a couple of occasions. Nazi evil ingenuity and lack of decency are the only reasons needed for the experiments. A magical element or chemical actually takes the Nazis off the hook a bit as any military would likely conduct similar research if they had access to a reanimation elixir.

The film also plays with historical accuracy by putting a couple of African-American soldiers amongst the paratroopers and has an African-American in command, Sgt. Eldson (Bokeem Woodbine), of the mixed-race squad. During most of American history, African-American soldiers were in segregated units. They served together under the command of African-American officers, often in support roles such as truck drivers. Their barracks, training, church attendance, canteens and even marching in parades, were segregated from white soldiers. They were subject to racial epithets and abuse from soldier and officer alike. Why anyone would put their lives at risk to fight for a country that treated them so badly is a mystery to me, but they did fight with honor and distinction. Perhaps “Overlord” would have been a better movie if the entire group of soldiers was African-American and, despite the doubts of the white commanders back in relative safety on a base, the group prevailed and wiped out the Nazis. I understand the desire to present the story in a colorblind way; however, from the moment Boyce appears on screen and doesn’t face racially-based verbal abuse, it took me out of the movie for a time. Even the Nazis don’t make a comment about Boyce. Again, I understand this isn’t a Spike Lee movie, but I think it’s something that should have been acknowledged.

Despite its shortcomings, “Overlord” is a very fun and exciting movie. Any film that kills Nazis is okay by me. I also liked the look of the lab where the experiments were carried out. It looks very medical while also looking very medieval. The overall design of the lab is a mixture of hospital and torture chamber. The monster design is a bit all over the road as we primarily see the experiments’ failures, but near the end of the film, a couple of successes show up. One transformation from dead to undead is spectacular as boils begin popping up, the veins in the arms grow and change color, the eyes turn red and the head snaps back to the point where its laying upside down on the body’s back. There are more details about this transformation that I’ll leave out, but it is an amazing bit of practical and digital special effects. There may be a bit too much chitchat between the protagonists as they debate what they are going to do next. Time seems to be slipping away as they must destroy the radio tower before the invasion begins at 6 am and don’t have a plan until they stumble into one by mistake. Once they begin the mission, the accelerator is pushed to the floor and things don’t slow down until just before the credits roll.

“Overlord” is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content. The violence is sometimes graphic and other times mundane. There are shootings with blood spray, beatings that leave faces bloody and, in real life, would lead to broken jaws. Gunshot wounds that leave gaping holes in faces are seen a couple of times. Various bodies show damage ranging from ripped out necks and large holes in torsos. A couple of characters are blow up by explosives. There’s a great deal of gore so if that bothers you, don’t see the movie. There’s a scene where the German officer begins raping Chloe. There’s no nudity but his actions are graphic. There’s a second brief scene of an attempted rape. Foul language is common.

“Overlord” works in the end because everyone hates Nazis (well, almost everyone) and wants to see their plans for world domination fail. It also meshes well with the idea that Germany would, at this time, conduct experiments to create soldiers out of corpses as they had no decency or respect for either the living or the dead. There’s plenty of action, likable characters, a much-hated villain, a cute little kid and the fate of the free world on the line. Despite a few missteps, “Overlord” delivers an enjoyable adventure with copious amounts of core.

“Overlord” gets four stars out of five.

This week’s films run the gamut from the wizarding world to cute orphans to tough widows. I’ll review at least one of the following:

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald—

Instant Family—

Widows—

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

Review of “Hunter Killer”

Commander Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) has just been put in command of the nuclear submarine USS Arkansas. This is his first command and the higher ups are nervous about having someone inexperienced in charge of a submarine armed with nuclear missiles; especially right now. Things have grown more tense with Russia and one of our nuclear subs, the USS Tampa Bay, has gone missing 40 miles off the coast of Russia in the Tamarin Sea. It was trailing a Russian sub when an explosion sends it to the bottom. The Tampa Bay was then hit by a torpedo and sunk as well. Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) is visiting one of his country’s naval bases when Defense Minister Dimitri Durov (Mikhail Gorevoy) takes him hostage in the beginning of a coup. Durov intends to start a war with the United States to reestablish Russia as a world power to be feared and respected. A SEAL team led by Lt. Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens) is sent to observe the base and beams video of the coup back to Washington. Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) and NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) suggest the SEAL team rescue Zakarin and get him to safety on board the Arkansas. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman) thinks the only realistic response is to gather American forces and prepare to face the Russians. Even the slightest mistake could plunge humanity into World War III.

“Hunter Killer” is the designation given to submarines that hunt other submarines. They carry out other duties, but their primary mission is to look for enemy subs and destroy them. We get a bit of the dangerous cat-and-mouse game these subs play as “Hunter Killer” starts. It seems like a frequently tense but also usually dull way to serve your nation. Since this is a movie, the action is ladled on thick and heavy from the beginning. As long as you don’t think too much about it, the movie is a fun nautical and political action/thriller; however, give it one second of scrutiny and the film falls apart from the weight of its own silliness.

The most realistic thing about “Hunter Killer” is the possibility of a Russian president being overthrown in a coup. It nearly happened to Russia’s first popularly elected president Boris Yeltsin in 1993. A struggling economy, widespread corruption and some unconstitutional orders from Yeltsin led to an armed uprising to depose him. Military coups happen all over the world, so the possibility of something similar happening in Russia isn’t farfetched. That’s about the only thing in the film that doesn’t make you wonder.

There are several strange choices made by the filmmakers as they created the world of “Hunter Killer.” First, the likelihood a SEAL team could get close enough to a Russian naval base to be able to see anything of importance is minimal. The fjord that leads to the base is filled with acoustic sensors and mines, but there seems to be very little security in the water right in front of the base. There are also only a few surveillance cameras keeping an eye on the outside of the building, allowing our SEAL team to walk up unnoticed, even giving them time to stop and have a conversation with someone that might be willing to help.

Did you know submarines can turn on a dime? I didn’t either, but in “Hunter Killer” they can! Commander Glass plays chicken with sunken submarines and underwater cliff walls, turning just in time to save his ship and crew. I don’t know anything about the handling capabilities of a submarine, but I don’t think it’s capable of performing tight turns and quick evasive maneuvers as shown in the film.

The unlikely nature of most of the story is offset by a very likable cast and a fast-moving plot. Since most of the characters are never in the same scene at the same time, each group must anchor their parts of the story. If any of the story arcs were populated by someone miscast or just plain annoying, then it would likely have caused the movie to lose its only strength.

Gerard Butler leads a cast of mostly unknown actors playing the submariners in one prong of the story. Butler has the stoic look of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He makes a honest and heartfelt announcement to the crew before they get underway, telling them he isn’t an Annapolis graduate, but a hard-working sailor that worked his way up the ranks to command the Arkansas. Butler plays the role as a father figure, trying to guide his men without being too hands on. Glass done all their jobs and could probably do some of them better, but he also knows his crew is well trained and prepared for whatever comes their way. They are heading into uncharted waters, so to speak, and failure likely means their deaths and the beginning of World War III. Butler purses his lips in times of quiet stress as many people do. He’s an “every man” trying to make the right decisions to complete his mission and avoid starting a war. Butler is like the perfect TV dad in charge of a warship. I enjoyed his performance.

Another group with their own story is the SEAL team. Toby Stephens plays the tough-as-nails leader of the team. With two veteran SEALs and a rookie that is the focus of much of Lt. Beaman’s ire for his training shortfalls, the team will be disavowed should they be captured. The leave any identifying personal belongings on the plane before they jump into a thunderstorm, something we learned in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” was a bad idea. Despite the constant ribbing of the rookie, Beaman likes and respects his men and knows they are the best trained and most competent team of commandos in the world. Stephens embodies Beaman, wearing the uniform like a second skin. They may not have been real SEALs but these four guys certainly looked and moved like what I would believe is a SEAL team. I would have liked for the film to show us more of them.

Finally, there’s the bureaucrats in Washington making decisions for the rest of the world. Common is Rear Admiral Fisk, playing the role with a quiet confidence we see him exhibit in most of his acting roles. Linda Cardellini is the NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist, sharing information and intelligence with Admiral Fisk and working to both find out what’s happening with the Russians and how to deal with the consequences. Norquist is a confident woman, sure of herself and her abilities. Cardellini isn’t given much to do except deliver information to guys in uniform, but she makes the most of her limited screen time. Gary Oldman is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Charles Donnegan, a man that likes to be in charge and is certain of his decisions. Oldman is probably the least served by the script that paints Donnegan as a man afraid of new ideas that quickly falls back on what he’s comfortable with when dealing with a challenge. A scene where Donnegan yells at Fisk when something tragic appears to have happened is a textbook example of scenery chewing from Oldman. The level of histrionics in his performance is almost laughable. I felt a bit bad for Oldman for having to put on such a display.

“Hunter Killer” is rated R for violence and some language. There are some beatings, stabbings and shootings in the film. There are some headshots with accompanying blood splatter. There is also a scene where a sailor is trapped in rising water under a torpedo. Foul language is scattered but includes some instances of the “F-bomb.”

With everything that’s wrong with “Hunter Killer,” I couldn’t help but like the film. The story moves at a quick pace and doesn’t feel like its running time of two hours. There is enough action and peril to keep your mind off the unlikelier aspects of the story. The characters are for the most part likable and, aside from the Russian bad guys, seem to be fairly grounded. All this combined to keep me interested in what would happen next, which characters were going to die and if our heroes could pull off an impossible rescue. In other words, the movie was entertaining, and I can’t ask for much more than that.

“Hunter Killer” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Bohemian Rhapsody” for WIMZ.com.

Other films coming out this week that, if I have time, I may see and review are:

Nobody’s Fool (NSFW)—

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms—

Suspiria—

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 “Halloween 2018”

It’s been 40 years since the murderous rampage that wiped out the family and some friends of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). The person responsible for the carnage, Michael Myers (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) has been locked up in a mental hospital ever since. His physician Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) has agreed to a allow a couple of podcasters, Dana Haines and Aaron Korey (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall), to talk with Michael. Michael is about to be transferred to a more secure, and less therapeutic, prison and the podcasters want to see if he will speak to them. Dr. Sartain, who took over after the death of Michael’s original psychiatrist Dr. Loomis, tells them Michael can speak but he chooses not to. The podcasters hold up Michael’s mask and get a mild reaction from him, but the other patients begin screaming and howling. Since the attack, Laurie has been preparing herself for the day she feels is inevitable: When Michael escapes and comes for her. Her obsession with security has driven away two husbands and alienated her daughter Karen (Judy Greer). The two women rarely speak. Karen’s daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is in high school and would like to have a closer relationship with her grandmother. The tension between Laurie and Karen makes that difficult. While Michael is being transferred on a bus with several other mental patients, the bus crashes in a ditch and Michael escapes. Sheriff’s deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) responds to the scene and finds several dead bodies. He soon learns that Michael Myers was on the bus and is unaccounted for. Michael tracks down the Dana and Aaron, kills them and gets his mask back. It’s Halloween night and Michael Myers is on the hunt for more victims and to finish up some 40 year old business.

This sequel to the original 1978 “Halloween” ignores all the sequels from “Halloween II” through “Halloween: Resurrection” and both the Rob Zombie-directed “Halloween” films. The film is a love letter to John Carpenter’s original slasher classic. Carpenter was involved in this movie’s creation and he provided the soundtrack built around his original score. It isn’t the most imaginative horror movie ever made but it is a loving tribute to the original film and to its knife-wielding antagonist as well as the damsel that is no longer in distress.

Written by Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley and David Gordon Green, and directed by Green, this film tells much the same story in much the same way as the original. Michael is an unstoppable killing machine that just can’t quite seal the deal with Laurie. Last time, she would escape by the skin of her teeth. This time, she still just barely escapes but causes more damage than their last meeting. The subject matter is treated as deadly serious in the script but there are moments of levity and a few characters that are strictly for comic relief. It makes this slasher film a bit more entertaining in between gruesome and gory deaths.

Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode is a far more complicated character than her teen scream queen of 40 years ago. Laurie tells Michael’s doctor that she has prayed every day for him to escape so she could kill him. She has turned her home into a fort with an arsenal of weapons, metal security doors that drop from the ceiling and a hidden access to her basement that works on hydraulics. She uses mannequins in her backyard for target practice, has floodlights on her roof that turn day to night and half a dozen locks on her doors to keep her safe. Curtis is a ball of anger and rage and she dominates the screen in ever scene she’s in. Her long grey hair is a symbol of her decades of worry and fear. She is the embodiment of PTSD. Laurie has run off (or worn out) two husbands and lost custody of her daughter at age 12 due to her obsession with preparedness. While she didn’t die at the point of Michael’s blade she has paid a high price for surviving and is hoping for some payback.

The rest of the cast performs their underwritten and underutilized parts as well as could be expected. Andi Matichak is given the most to do as the granddaughter of Laurie Strode. I believe Matichak’s Allyson is being set up as the next obsession of Michael Myers in future sequels. She is given a largely time-wasting subplot involving a boyfriend and a school Halloween dance. This is mostly just an excuse for her to lose her phone, making it impossible for her mother and grandmother to get in touch with her when the Michael hits the fan. Matichak isn’t a great actress but she gives an acceptable performance when she’s asked to look fearful and to scream.

The story of “Halloween” is a bit meandering with several side trips that eventually are made relevant by having a character show up that ties things together. We all know the point of this exercise is for Michael to kill people in gory ways. There are some nasty kills that I’m sure required the special effects shop to work overtime to pull off convincingly. There are also some kills that I found troubling: Namely the death of a preteen boy. Michael strangles then breaks the boy’s neck. This death felt especially gratuitous in a film filled with gratuitous violence. Perhaps the boy’s accidently shooting another character when he was startled is supposed to make it okay for him to be killed by Michael. Another scene in the film shows Michael walking past a crib containing a crying baby. Michael looks at the child and walks past, leaving the infant alone. Is there a line that even Michael won’t cross or was this a choice by the writers fearing the audience would turn against the movie if he killed a baby? Another child, older than the baby but younger than the murdered boy, manages to escape from Michael. We get to know this kid a little bit as he’s being babysat by one of Allyson’s friends. Why does this kid get to live but the first one has to die? The film seems a bit inconsistent with its victim selection. If you’re an adult, you’re fair game. If you’re a teenager, you’re fair game. If you’re 13 and carry a rifle, you’re fair game. Younger than that and you might be safe. It seems a bit arbitrary, especially since Michael is such an indiscriminate killer.

The movie also falls back on the tried and true teenage victim attributes: Sexual exploration, alcohol consumption and weed use virtually guarantee you will die at the hands of Michael Myers. Only one character shown drinking and kissing a sexily-costumed young woman that isn’t his girlfriend survives the night. I suppose if he’d been smoking weed and completed the Devil’s Triangle his fate would have been sealed as well. Many of the victims in slasher films of the 1970’s and 1980’s was participating in these activities as their killers approached. Perhaps Carpenter and others were trying to sneak a morality lesson into their works; but I believe the writers of this film were probably just trying to pay homage to the original “Halloween.”

“Halloween” is rated R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity. There are several gory murders including a head being stomped flat, a jaw that appears to have been partially ripped off, a decapitated head with a flashlight stuck in it, various strangling’s, shootings and neck breakings. We see one kid smoking a joint and there is also underage drinking. We see one young woman topless as she’s murdered. Foul language is scattered.

There are many scenes in this film that will remind fans of the 1978 classic. There are tributes dropped in here and there that those with sharp eyes and good memories will find nostalgic. The whole movie is a tribute to that first film as it essentially tells the same story with a few tweaks and twists thrown in to freshen it up a bit. It isn’t scary as we’ve seen all this before. It isn’t original for the same reason. However, it is a well-done homage that is proud of how much it loves that which it is honoring.

“Halloween 2018” gets four stars out of five.

This week there are three new films and I guarantee I’ll see at least one of them and review it.

Hunter Killer—

Indivisible—

Johnny English Strikes Again—

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

Review of “Venom”

A privately-owned spaceship from the Life Foundation is bringing back samples from space when something goes wrong and it crashes in Malaysia. Life Foundation is owned by Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a wunderkind and genius in the field of bioengineering and his ambition is to cure disease and prolong life no matter the consequences. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist focusing on exposing the powerful taking advantage of the poor. He works for a cable network out of San Francisco and is known for his hard-hitting and uncompromising reporting. His boss gives him an assignment to do a puff piece on Dr. Drake and, despite his reservations, he agrees. Eddie is engaged to Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), an attorney working for a law firm representing Drake and Life Foundation in a wrongful death lawsuit. One night, Eddie is up late to get a drink and notices Anne’s laptop is blinking from an incoming email about the lawsuit and he reads it. The next day during the interview, Eddie asks Drake about the lawsuit and Drake abruptly ends the interview. Because of Drake’s power and influence, Eddie and Anne are both fired from their jobs and Anne breaks off her engagement with Eddie. Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) does research at Life Foundation. The spaceship that crashed was carrying intelligent alien lifeforms found on a comet. One of them escaped and caused the crash, but three others were still found in their containment chambers. Life Foundation has been bringing in homeless people and experimenting on merging the aliens, called symbiotes, with humans. Troubled by the lack of ethics Drake is showing, Skirth contacts Eddie. At first, he isn’t interested as Drake had already ruined his life, but he changes his mind when a street woman he knows disappears from her usual place. Skirth sneaks Eddie into the lab where he finds his friend and tries to get her out of a containment room. She gets out and attacks Eddie and the symbiote merged with her moves over to Eddie. Suddenly, Eddie has increased strength and agility and, the longer he is merged with the alien, the more control the symbiote that calls himself Venom exerts over Eddie. Drake sends his head of security, Roland Treece (Scott Haze), and his men after Eddie, but Venom doesn’t want to be captured as he has begun to like Eddie. Meanwhile, the symbiote that escaped the spaceship and caused the crash, is making his way to San Francisco by hijacking various people to get on planes and travel. That symbiote, called Riot, has plans for the next Life Foundation spaceship and for life on Earth.

“Venom” has been roasted by the real critics with 32% on Rotten Tomatoes and 35 on Metacritic. Consistent numbers like this usually mean a movie is awful and nearly unwatchable. I almost dreaded seeing Tom Hardy and the rest of the cast embarrass themselves in what was likely a poorly constructed and amateurish production. “Venom” has its problems, but it isn’t the two-hour catastrophe it has been made out to be.

“Venom” is actually pretty good. The strength of the film is in the performance of Tom Hardy. After Venom makes himself known, Hardy has to react to a voice that isn’t there (probably read off camera) and establish a relationship that hews close to the Odd Couple. Eddie is dealing with being blackballed by the journalism community and the loss of his relationship. He’d rather work a menial job and stay under the radar. Venom is an aggressive personality and comes into the partnership with a plan and Eddie has no choice but to come along. It is an uncomfortable arrangement at first that morphs into a friendship based on compromise (for now) and mutual respect. Each provides the other with something they need. It is both parasitic and cooperative and none of it would work without Tom Hardy’s ability to make us believe this impossible arrangement.

Riz Ahmed turns Carlton Drake into more than just your standard villain. Drake is looking to improve the quality of life for everyone on Earth. His methods of getting to that improvement are what make him a villain. Ahmed easily slips between the slick and likable philanthropist and the manipulative and power-hungry megalomaniac, sometimes within the same scene. Drake, while not the most deeply written character, clearly wants to make a difference in the world but doesn’t want to waste time on things like ethics or safe testing. He’s more of a “let’s see what happens” kind of guy and Riz Ahmed plays him in a way that is both likable and detestable.

If anyone is let down by the script it is Michelle Williams. Her Anne becomes willing to accept and believe just about anything she is told once the movie dives deep into the story. Her character sees Venom in action and understands the basics of what’s going on, but she also jumps in with both feet to an extent that seems unbelievable. I liked that she was willing to help, but Anne does things that don’t make sense given her lack of experience with alien symbiotes. While this willingness helps move the plot along it also weakens what could have been a much stronger character.

“Venom” can’t quite decide what it is. Is it a buddy comedy? Is it a superhero (or anti-hero) origin story? Is it a drama about ethics and the desire to put profits over people? The film tries to do all these things and only succeeds with one of them. When it focuses on the relationship between Eddie and Venom, the movie sails along smoothly. It is entertaining as we not only learn more about the symbiote, but about Eddie as well. It makes a strong case for the two being the focus of several movies in a shared Spider-Man universe which will eventually put the parasite and the web-slinger against each other in a film. I am hopeful the next movie will have a more focused story and not waste so much time on secondary story elements that might work in a comic book but not in a film.

“Venom” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action and language. Venom bites the heads off a couple of people. We don’t see the aftermath but there’s no doubting what happens. Venom throws characters around in a large battle scene. While Eddie doesn’t want to hurt anyone there are clearly some serious injuries and likely deaths. A character is impaled by a large spike emitted by one of the symbiotes. Another shoots several small spikes simultaneously, killing several people. There is other assorted violence including car crashes, rocket explosions, falls from great heights and more. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Director Ruben Fleischer is responsible for one of my favorite films: “Zombieland.” He will also be directing its sequel, “Zombieland Too,” due out next year. Most of his movies have been of a smaller scale until “Venom.” With a worldwide opening weekend of $205-million, and a debut in China in the future, it seems likely a sequel and an eventual meet up with Peter Parker are in the cards. I hope the story issues get worked out as Venom is an interesting character and Tom Hardy handles the double duty very well.

“Venom” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be review “First Man” for WIMZ.com.

Other movies this week:

Bad Times at the El Royale—

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween—

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

Review of “Hell Fest”

Natalie (Amy Forsyth) is home from college to see old friends. Her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards) lives with a punk chick named Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus) who has never been friendly with Natalie. The three young women are meeting up with three guys: Quinn (Christian James), Brooke’s boyfriend, Asher (Matt Mercurio), Taylor’s boyfriend and Gavin (Roby Attal), a friend of the girls that would like to date Natalie. They are headed to Hell Fest, a haunted amusement park filled with rides, games and several haunted houses. Characters are dressed in costume and roaming the park, scaring the patrons. A killer is also roaming the park in costume. He has killed before at another haunted house a couple of years earlier. He spots Natalie and her crew wandering around and begins following them. Natalie notices she is being followed and tells her friends, but they tell her she is being paranoid and he’s just a park worker. Soon, the killer begins knocking off her friends one by one with his sights set on Natalie.

“Hell Fest” has an interesting setting for a movie about a slasher: Meandering a haunted theme park and knocking victims off with nobody noticing. It should have been a fun, gory romp with a wicked sense of humor. Instead, it is a slow, plodding slog with a couple of memorable kills but a great deal of dead time (pun intended) between anything mildly interesting happening. It is filled with unlikable characters and all the wrong people die.

The killer, referred to as The Other, is never seen without his mask and isn’t identified in the credits. It doesn’t really matter as The Other is a bland antagonist. He’s a pale imitation of Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers. He’s all stalk and no actual menace. The mask is pretty good. It’s designed by Alterian, the same company that made the masks in “Scream” and “Happy Death Day.” It’s the best thing about the killer as he is otherwise the same kind of unstoppable force we’ve seen a hundred times and in better movies.

The non-killer characters are generic types: The good girl, the party girl, the bad influence and the boys they have sex with. Each actor could have been swapped around to a different role and it wouldn’t have made any difference. No one in the film is very likable. Even Natalie is kind of a stick in the mud, constantly being hounded into doing fun things with the group while she and Gavin have a clumsy and boring beginning of a relationship. If there were some interesting people on the screen it might be more watchable, but the blandness of everyone on screen turns a dull story into a real snooze.

I would have liked for the filmmakers to mix things up a bit. They make a good start with the first main character to die. The death is creative (if spoiled by a bit of business prior to the murder) and is properly gory. Had that creativity been carried over to the rest of the deaths I might have been more forgiving of the disinterest I had in the story. What might have made things more interesting is if the filmmakers had taken a chance and knocked off their main character Natalie. Of the three female leads she is by far the least interesting. Both Brooke and Taylor possess far more personality, even if it is muzzled to allow Natalie to be the focus. Like Alfred Hitchcock in “Psycho” killing off his big star Janet Leigh half way through the picture, knocking off Natalie early on would have awakened the audience from its slumber and focused their attention back on the film instead of their phones wondering what other movie they could see that would be better. None of these actors are household names so killing the character we are led to believe is the one that will survive (spoiler alert: She does) wouldn’t be a big risk. Instead, the filmmakers stay on the tried and true path much to the movie’s detriment.

“Hell Fest” is rated R for language, horror violence and some sexual references. There are several stabbings, an attempted decapitation, a head crushed by a giant mallet, a hypodermic needle through an eye and other stuff. The main characters crudely discuss the possibility of Natalie and Gavin engaging in sex later in the evening. Foul language is fairly common.

Horror movie icon Tony Todd is sold in the advertising as a big part of the cast. He isn’t. His role is billed as The Barker and he’s on screen for perhaps 60 seconds. His voice is also heard throughout the film as the PA announcer. Todd deserves better than to be an unwitting part of deceptive advertising for a third-rate slasher film. Make him The Other, write him some silly puns as he kills boring 20-somethings and present the audience something more interesting than what this film offers.

“Hell Fest” gets one star out of five.

Two highly anticipated movies (for very different reasons) open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

A Star is Born—

Venom—

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 “The House with a Clock in its Walls”

Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is 10-years old and is being sent to live with an uncle in Michigan after the death of his parents in a car crash. That uncle, his mother’s brother, is Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black), an unusual man living in an unusual house. The old Victorian-looking home is filled with dusty books, stuffed animals and clocks. Clocks of every type and style are on the walls, on tables and standing on the floor. Jonathan introduces Lewis to Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett). While Jonathon and Mrs. Zimmerman are friends they insult each other almost constantly. Lewis misses his parents a great deal but especially his mother (Lorenza Izzo). She appears to him in his bedroom and comforts him. Lewis struggles to make friends in his new school with only Tarby Corrigan (Sunny Suljic) paying him any mind. Tarby is running for class president. Lewis notices things around his new home are odd: Things move on their own, a stained-glass window changes scene from one moment to the next and there are sounds late at night. Investigating these sounds, Lewis finds his uncle searching for something through the house. Lewis finds it all very strange and confronts his uncle. Jonathan admits to Lewis he’s a warlock and Mrs. Zimmerman is a witch. The home is filled with magical things. It used to be the home of a powerful warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) and his wife Selena (Renee Elise Goldsberry). Isaac died the year before and Jonathan says he hid a ticking clock somewhere inside the walls of the house to drive Jonathan crazy. Jonathan wanders the halls at night looking for the clock to remove it, even taking an ax to the walls to find it. Jonathan isn’t telling Lewis everything about the house or Izard but, after Lewis pesters him, he is teaching the boy the ways of magic and that he must find his own style before any spell he casts will be successful. Lewis had better be a quick study as an evil force is coming and looking to exact its revenge on the world.

“The House with a Clock in its Walls” is based on a 1973 book of the same name by author John Bellairs. Fans of the book will find a fair amount of the story has been changed to provide a more cinematic plot and a definitive ending. It has all the elements of a new magical franchise for children and adults as the action is never too graphic and the scares are relatively mild, but the characters are interesting, and the story has moments of real tension and excitement. Sadly, the film also has some real problems that drag it down to very average.

My first issue is the pacing. Director Eli Roth, better known for his gore-filled horror films like “Cabin Fever” and the “Hostel” movies, doesn’t seem to know how a story that isn’t filled with graphic deaths should be told. While we get bits and pieces of backstory and plot scattered about in the parts of the film that aren’t the magic action scenes, much of this time is wasted with filler and fluff that doesn’t amount to anything. Tidbits of story are dropped like crumbs yet never go anywhere. Valuable clues as to the history of some characters is practically hidden and never expanded upon.

Second, the script from Eric Kripke doesn’t mind taking the long way around to get to a point. A couple of scenes with Lewis in his new school feel unnecessary as they don’t move the story forward. A friend that becomes a bully and a bad influence felt like a red herring as it is easy to interpret it as a magical deception that winds up being nothing more than the cruelty of adolescence. We are also treated to essentially the same events multiple times. This again feels like filler. The running time of 105 minutes feels far longer.

The world building in “The House with a Clock in its Walls” could use a bit of refinement as well. There’s no history of the magical world other than the immediate events that set the story in motion. We don’t know how Jonathon came to learn magic. Did he have a teacher? Did he join a coven? Is he self-taught? The same questions apply to Mrs. Zimmerman. We only have a few suggestions of her past and know she has dealt with the pain of loss like Lewis. Again, we don’t get much in the way of details. We know each character has suffered similar emotional pain, but that never gets explored in any way. Perhaps the source material was thin on this background or it was cut for time; however, I think it would have connected us more with the characters if we had known a bit more about them. We could have better understood why these three very different people would make their own kind of family.

All that said, “The House with a Clock in its Walls” has some moments of wonder and joy. Most of those come from Cate Blanchett’s Mrs. Zimmerman. Blanchett plays Zimmerman with a twinkle in her eye. She knows this is all bizarre and wonderous and loves every moment of it. Even when things get dangerous she manages to bring a bit of fun to it all. Blanchett has the best scenes with young Owen Vaccaro as Lewis. She emits a motherly presence around the boy and wants to protect him from both the dangers of magic and his uncle. I would have liked for Blanchett to get more screen time and more to do than just support Jonathon.

Owen Vaccaro is terrific as Lewis. Able to handle the scenes were Lewis is more awkward as well as the emotional scenes where he shows just how much the character hurts from the loss of his parents. We also see Lewis begin to grow and gain confidence as he studies and learns more about magic. Being that this is a kid-friendly movie, Lewis is on a path to be the hero of the story and Vaccaro is up to the challenge of showing the growth of his character. From timid and awkward to a brave hero, the journey of Lewis is believable thanks to Owen Vaccaro’s talent.

Jack Black is a bit of a wild card in the movie. Many times, I’ve considered Black to be best viewed in small doses: Better as a supporting character than a leading man. He always seems to be trying too hard. However, in “The House with a Clock in its Walls,” Black seems to be hardly trying at all. We get a few flashes of his usual antics, like the wicked grin and the sudden yelling of a line to dismiss a character, but this time he seems to be much more reined in. I’m not sure if he just didn’t feel like turning his character up to 11 or if director Eli Roth was putting the brakes on his performance. Either way, Black is almost subdued as Jonathon and that doesn’t help the film with its pacing issue.

“The House with a Clock in its Walls” is rated PG for rude humor, language, thematic elements, scary images, some action and sorcery. The rude humor is mostly derived from a topiary griffin that farts and poops leaves as a running joke. There are mummified hands, stuffed animals and haunted house characters scattered throughout the house. One character looks like a zombie with grey skin, bits of flesh falling off and bloodshot eyes. There are a few jump scares, but all are mild. Foul language is scattered and mild.

“The House with a Clock in its Walls” has numerous problems from pacing to an overstuffed script to a lackluster Jack Black. It also has the wonderful Cate Blanchett, a new star in Owen Vaccaro and a magical universe that has more than a few similarities to the world of Harry Potter. Despite its weaknesses there’s a great deal to like about the movie. I enjoyed the wonderous and magical aspects and hope any future installments streamline the storytelling. Also, somebody give Jack Black a minimum of three cups of coffee before each shooting day to power up his performance.

“The House with a Clock in its Walls” gets three stars out of five.

This week, four films want you to bring your eyes to your local multiplex and watch them closely. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Hell Fest—

Little Women—

Night School—

Smallfoot—

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 “The Nun”

When a nun commits suicide at St. Carta Monastery in Romania in 1952, the Vatican sends Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate the death. Burke is an exorcist and has a long history dealing with supernatural phenomenon. Along with Burke is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate who has experienced visions for most of her life and hasn’t taken her final vows. When they arrive in Romania they are shown to the monastery by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a French-Canadian living in Romania that delivers supplies to the nuns but has never sees any of them. Frenchie discovered the dead nun hanging by a rope in front of the abbey. Frenchie bring Burke and Irene to the monastery but quickly leaves. The nuns are standoffish and reluctant to assist in their investigation; but, slowly they begin to uncover the dark secrets of St. Carta, including the presence of a shadowy figure dressed as a nun that wanders the halls. She isn’t a nun. She is the demon Valak (Bonnie Aarons).

Looking at it from the outside there’s a great deal to like in “The Nun.” It has “The Conjuring” series of films to kind of vouch for it, it has a creepy location in a medieval castle and it has a tall, willowy nun with glowing eyes and a stark, white face as the main antagonist. All that’s necessary is a decent story and some quality scares and “The Nun” would be a great new addition to the franchise. Maybe next time.

“The Nun” takes the easy way out, sending characters down dark hallways and into spooky cross-filled forests with only a lantern or candle to light the way. Invariably, something jumps out at them, on them or they fall into a pit. It happens so frequently you begin to wonder if the characters aren’t paying any attention. You ask yourself, “Didn’t they learn to ignore the whispered voice or not chase the shadowy figure the last time this happened?” They don’t, and the ultimate evil demon scares them but doesn’t kill or possess them. It becomes laughable after a time.

It is a technically a well-made movie, but it is emotionally vacant. While I started out interested in the fates of the three main characters and the nuns in the convent, I quickly grew bored as there’s no one that grabs your attention and makes you care about their journey. The most interesting character is probably Frenchie so of course he disappears for most of the middle section of the film. It doesn’t help that everyone in the movie is so dumb as to follow every weird thing they see or hear.

Our antagonist is also wasted when she shows up. The Nun, or Valak, is a demon from Hell bent on escaping the castle and spreading her evil across the world in service to Satan (I guess as we’re never told what her mission or goal is). She is shown floating down a hallway, as a shadow on a wall, a reflection in a mirror, etc., yet all these incarnations appear unable to defeat a priest and a nun. As these films require, she comes close as the story enters its finale, but (spoilers) she is defeated. As she’s part of “The Conjuring” films she must survive to infest the homes and dreams of people in the future so there’s really no surprise that she is beaten but shows up in a tag at the end of the movie.

The story follows all the usual beats of a modern horror flick and doesn’t attempt to break out of the formulaic box it is chained up inside of. Perhaps this is the reason the film isn’t scary. There were a few times I was mildly startled but never was I frightened by anything I saw. The potentially scariest scene in the film is in the trailer when Sister Irene is walking down a dark corridor, turns to look down a hallway (the camera turning with her) and turns back with a black-clad nun standing behind her. She is then attacked by Valak. While this scene has the potential to be a classic jump scare, it is wasted for having been in the trailer. I’ve probably seen the trailer for “The Nun” several more times than most as it’s part of my job doing reviews and a movie podcast. But one viewing of what could have been the biggest scare in a horror movie is enough to inoculate the audience, allowing them to build up a tolerance to the scene.

“The Nun” is rated R for terror, disturbing/bloody images and violence. I found the terror to be very mild, but my experience isn’t everyone’s. If you are easily frightened, then you should be prepared. We see the corpse of the nun that commits suicide after it has been hanging for a significant time. There are crows pecking at the body and the lower half of the face appears to have been eaten away. It is dripping blood. A reanimated corpse attacks and is killed (re-killed?) with a shotgun. Another reanimated corpse is set on fire and shot. Nuns gets thrown around a chapel with some dying of their injuries. An upside-down pentagram is carved by an unseen hand in the back of a character. A couple of characters are almost strangled and nearly drowned. A character is buried alive in a coffin then attacked inside the coffin by the demon. A character spits blood in the face of another. Foul language is very mild and limited to one or two uses.

“The Nun” joins “The Conjuring,” “The Conjuring 2,” “Annabelle” and “Annabelle: Creation” as the fifth film in the franchise. There are more films on the way as this series has made an enormous amount of money. The first four films with budgets totaling $81.5-million have made worldwide $1.2-billion. There are expenses over and above making the movie and studios get approximately 55% of the total box office. That means the profit from the four films so far is over $500-million. With audiences so willing to pay for the latest in the “Conjuring” universe, there may be movies coming at us for the next decade or so. “The Nun” is projected to have the biggest opening of any film in the series so far. I have to wonder if fans of the franchise will be disappointed in the lack of scares and flat story or if they will support the film so that more get made. I have to say, if the rest are like “The Nun,” I don’t want none.

“The Nun” gets one star out of five.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “A Simple Favor” for WIMZ.com.

Here’s what else is opening this week:

The Predator—

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50_Ala5BKBo (NSFW)

Unbroken: Path to Redemption—

White Boy Rick—

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