Review of “Alien: Covenant”

A group of colonists are in cryo-sleep on board a massive spaceship called Covenant. Keeping an eye on things while everyone is asleep is a synthetic human called Walter (Michael Fassbender). The artificial intelligence that handles most ship functions called MOTHER informs Walter a storm of charged particles is about to hit the ship. The particle wave causes several systems to fail and endangers the 2000 colonists on board. Walter orders MOTHER to wake the crew that will be in charge of landing the ship on the new planet when they arrive in about 7 years. One of the pods catches fire killing the captain of the mission. Second in command Oram (Billy Crudup) takes over while the original captain’s wife Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is second. While repairing the damage to the ship a garbled message is received. Covenant pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) recognizes part of the sound in the message as the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” so it must have come from a human source. The crew is able to trace the message to a planet that is just a few weeks away and appears far more Earth-like than their original destination. Captain Oram orders the ship to change course for this new planet instead of their original target despite the objections of Daniels. A landing craft sets down on the planet and a search begins for the source of the message. Very soon things begin to go horribly wrong.

“Alien: Covenant” is the second of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” prequel series. According to the Wikipedia article on this movie, the script for the next installment has already been written with filming schedule to begin in 2018. Scott appears to have a great deal of faith in his earlier works as a sequel to “Blade Runner” is coming out later this year (Scott is a producer on that project). Perhaps Scott would be better advised to concentrate on original projects rather than revisiting his past as “Alien: Covenant,” while I enjoyed it, doesn’t seem like it is a fully realized vision.

Yes, I did enjoy “Alien: Covenant” but it didn’t quite hit all the right spots for me. First off, the screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper is a heavily layered and frequently impenetrable, offering scenes that don’t feel finished leaving questions dangling everywhere. I don’t mind that a movie fails to tidily wrap up all its loose ends but I do prefer knowing more about the story at the end than I did at the beginning. I can’t really say that about “Alien: Covenant.” Perhaps when the next two installments (yes, Ridley Scott plans on at least four films before connecting the story to the original “Alien”) are released we’ll finally have a fully fleshed out narrative that allows the audience to leave the theatre with all their questions answered; however, I’m not sure movie goers are willing to wait for another five to seven years to figure out just what is going on in the “Alien” universe.

It also doesn’t help that the most interesting character in the movie is Walter the android (or synthetic as he’s referred to in the film). There are small attempts to at least differentiate between the characters by giving them their minor quirks or trademarks. For instance, Oram complains that he wasn’t originally put in command because he is a person of faith and Tennessee wears a beat up straw hat. Other than that, all the characters are mostly interchangeable with no one standing out. Even this film’s Sigourny Weaver, Katherine Waterston’s Daniels, could have just as easily been played by any other member of the cast.

Michael Fassbender is the only member of the cast that really shines and his performance is so memorable because he has to play the synthetic Walter so buttoned down and within himself. There are flashes of personality but even those feel programmed and mechanical. While it won’t win any Oscars, Fassbender can be proud of the work he does in “Alien: Covenant.”

“Alien: Covenant” is rated R for language, bloody images, sci-fi violence and some sexuality/nudity. The birth of alien creatures in all their forms involves lots of spurting blood and ruptured flesh. The creatures are shot at in a couple of scenes. There is also a fight involving two characters and neither of them is alien. A scene late in the film shows a couple in a shower together kissing and preparing to have sex. There is a brief glimpse of a woman’s bare breast. Foul language is scattered throughout the film.

There probably will never be a film about the Xenomorphs that is as tense or scary as the original “Alien.” That film was, for its time, the pinnacle of suspense and fear in movies. Turning it into an old fashioned monster shoot-em-up in “Aliens” took the series in a new and crowd-pleasing direction but didn’t involve Ridley Scott at all. Scott seems intent on making sure all future films about the meanest creature in movies have his signature stamp of seriousness. That’s fine but he also needs to make sure the films make sense from a story perspective and provide some answers to hold us over until the next installment. While “Alien: Covenant” puts some gore and suspense back into the franchise, the story leaves far too many unanswered questions in its wake to be a truly satisfying experience.

“Alien: Covenant” gets three stars out of five.

This week, the Memorial Day holiday has two new movies to choose from. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Baywatch—

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales—

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

Review of “Snatched”

Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) has hit a rough patch with being fired from her retail clothing job and being dumped by her musician boyfriend. The only thing she has to look forward to is a trip to Ecuador she was originally planning on taking with her boyfriend. Now, unable to find anyone to go with her, Emily asks her mom Linda (Goldie Hawn). At first reluctant to even consider asking her, Emily finds a scrapbook her mother has kept showing photos of Linda on adventures in Great Britain and ticket stubs from David Bowie and Rolling Stones concerts she attended in her youth. Now mostly homebound taking care of her cats and her adult son, the agoraphobic Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), Linda is afraid of the outside world and Emily wants to rekindle the spirit of adventure that once burned within her mother. With great trepidation, Linda decides to go. Constantly wrapped head to toe to avoid the harsh sun, Linda is constantly prodding the bikini-clad Emily to be careful. Having a drink at the bar, Emily is approached by James (Tom Bateman) who takes her out for a wild night on the town including a pop-up party in the jungle. Drunk and deliriously happy, Emily makes plans with James for the next day and he suggests she bring Linda along. While driving through the remote countryside their car is struck by a van knocking Emily and Linda unconscious. Waking up in a makeshift prison cell, the ladies realize they have been kidnapped. Their captor Morgado (Oscar Jaenada) is a ruthless thug that makes his living abducting tourists then demanding a random from their family. Morgado calls Jeffrey and demands $100-thousand for Emily and Linda’s return. Jeffrey contacts the State Department and is told there isn’t anything they can do unless the ladies find their way to a U.S. Consulate. Linda and Emily manage to escape but kill one of Morgado’s men in the process. With no money, no cell phone and no Spanish language skills, the mother/daughter combo must put aside their differences and figure out a way to get home before Morgado takes his revenge for killing one of his men.

Amy Schumer is a powerhouse standup comic and is turning into a bankable movie star. While she is surely polarizing to many in the public, one cannot argue her fearlessness both on stage and on screen. “Trainwreck” made $140-million worldwide and showed she could turn out her fans for the opening of a movie. Never straying far from her in-your-face style of standup, Schumer has bulldozed her way into theatres once again in “Snatched” and while this may not be the box office juggernaut of her debut there is plenty of evidence to show Schumer is on the big screen to stay.

While the mother/daughter-bonding-while-kidnapped premise of “Snatched” is utterly silly, the winning combination of Schumer and Goldie Hawn and their playful yet biting banter overcomes a paper-thin story with the help of some scene-stealing supporting characters played by Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack. The two main players never stumble into annoying territory as their responses to being kidnapped never explode into full blown histrionics.

Schumer seems to be settling into her role as a movie star. It doesn’t hurt that she is playing the same character as you would see in her standup routines: Fearless, clueless and crude. Staying in familiar territory will work well for perhaps one more movie; but after that, Schumer will either need to get with an acting coach to expand her range or expect ever decreasing returns from her next releases.

Goldie Hawn (on whom I admit I had a crush on when I was a child and she was dancing in a bikini and covered in body paint on Laugh-In) feels a bit wooden in her performance as Linda. While the character is frightened of what might be out there in the big, mean world, Hawn seems petrified at times when it isn’t appropriate and unfazed when it is. According to IMDB.com this is Hawn’s first film role in 15 years and I’m sorry to say it somewhat shows.

Despite my issues with Hawn my biggest problem is with Ike Barinholtz as Jeffrey. Actually, it isn’t with Barinholtz performance but with the inclusion of the character. Jeffrey is the kind of character that is best used in the smallest amount possible. Sadly, he is all over “Snatched” even being used as a catalyst for the film’s conclusion. Jeffrey is about the most annoying thing I’ve seen on film in a long time and could have been left out of the film completely. I’m not sure exactly what the point of including him was. He’s used like comic relief but this is billed as a comedy. His overbearing presence is grating on the nerves and I just wanted him to disappear or perhaps out of nowhere be blown to smithereens by an explosion. No explanation, just BOOM and then he’s gone.

One surprise in the film is the presence of Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack as a pair of retired special ops agents called Ruth and Barb. These characters appear to have been plucked from another movie as they don’t seem to fit in the “Snatched” universe; however they are welcome when they arrive and tend to steal every scene they are in. Cusack’s Barb is mute for reasons explained in the film. Her silence is augmented by a brilliant physical performance that speaks louder than any dialog. She and Sykes are an interesting team that might make for an entertaining spinoff film. With the right script I think it would be terrific to see these two tearing up a gang of thugs while wearing their comfortable shoes.

“Snatched” is rated R for crude sexual content, brief nudity and language throughout. The crude sexual content is photos in a pornographic magazine that is briefly shown on camera. There is one brief scene where one of Amy Schumer’s breasts is exposed. Foul language is common throughout.

“Snatched” is a silly and crude adventure/comedy that manages to overcome its ridiculous premise and find some laughs. While it is inconsistent with its humor, unable to decide if it wants to be an adventure or a comedy, and has an annoying and largely unnecessary character, “Snatched” still manages to be amusing enough to be worth your time.

“Snatched” gets four stars out of five.

If you’d like to check out my review of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” you can find it here:
http://wimz.com/blogs/stan-movie-man/

This week, alien nasties, childhood catastrophes and teen romance angst all try to unseat “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” from the top of the box office charts. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Alien: Covenant—

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul—

Everything, Everything—

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

Review of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Sorry this is late as I am on vacation.   There will also be no video for the time being.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and baby Grout (voiced by Vin Diesel) successfully prevent an inter-dimensional monster from stealing extremely powerful batteries from a race called the Sovereign.  In exchange, the Sovereign turn over Nebula (Karen Gillan) who was captured while trying to steal the batteries.  When it is discovered Rocket took some batteries the Sovereign launch remotely controlled fighters to destroy the Guardians’ ship.  On the verge of destruction, their ship is saved by an egg-shaped craft that appears to have a man riding on top of it destroying all the Sovereign’s fighters.  The Guardian’s ship crashes on a planet and the egg-shaped craft lands nearby.  The occupant calls himself Ego (Kurt Russell) and says he is Peter Quill’s father.  Ego is accompanied by Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is an empath Ego found orphaned on a world in his travels.  Meanwhile the leader of the Sovereign meets with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and hires him to capture Quill and the others and deliver them to her for execution.  Quill, Gamora and Drax travel with Ego and Mantis back to his planet so he and his son can establish a relationship; but Yondu and the Ravagers capture Rocket and Groot.  Yondu’s crew mutinies when their captain appears to be trying to protect Peter while discussing what to do next and a Ravager named Taserface (Chris Sullivan) takes over after Nebula, who managed to convince Groot to let her go to help Rocket, shoots Yondu.  On Ego’s planet, Gamora has a bad feeling about the situation but Quill is entranced with his father’s abilities and his own latent talents that Ego is bringing out in him.  Is there something going on under the surface that Quill doesn’t want to see?  Will Yondu manage to extricate himself from the angry clutches of his former crew?  Will Rocket ever not be mean to his friends?  Will Groot ever get bigger?

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” managed to do something many other recent blockbusters have failed at:  Not giving away their entire story in the trailers.  We get a few tidbits and a look at a few new characters but otherwise seeing the movie isn’t ruined by watching the trailers.  I have to commend James Gunn and Marvel for managing to keep their trailers entertaining without showing all their cards.  Having now seen “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” I can confidently state there are many surprises as well as a few scenes that might cause a tear to roll down your cheek.  This installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more heart, more emotion and some of the most powerful reveals of any film for any hero in the series.

There is a great deal going on in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”  There are several surprises, cameos, mentions and possible future films suggested along the way.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I will speak in only the vaguest of terms but to fully enjoy all the Easter eggs make sure you stay to the end of the credits.  True Marvel Comics fans will be dissecting every frame of the film for all the clues they can.

While I do really enjoy the movie and think it may be one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in some time, there are some issues I had with the pacing and story.  First, the movie, while it rarely slows down, does feel a bit too long.  With a running time of 136 minutes, the movie is overstuffed with battle scenes that drag at times.  Watching Peter and Rocket argue over who’s the better pilot while they are being chased by what seems to be thousands of fighters and performing wild maneuvers is cute for about 10 seconds.  After that the movie begins to enter the territory of beating a dead horse.  The climactic fight scene also feels repetitive with mini-conclusions.

While the movie is a bit too long, the story feels hurried.  Gunn and his team appear to be more concerned with giving all the big effects sequences plenty of room to breathe while rushing the story to get out of the way.  A few emotional beats are short changed and hence feel unearned.  The section involving Peter and his dad’s growing relationship is severely under developed.  Of course, no one goes to see a movie like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” looking for a deep and emotional story; however one is there that could have really packed a punch.

Despite the movie’s shortcomings it is a very good time at the theatre.  Both Drax and Groot steal the movie out from under everyone with whom they share the screen.  Both characters get the biggest laughs and both manage to provide some emotional moments as well.

Visually, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a technicolor wonder to behold.  A vivid color palate with an apparent prohibition against muted shades and greys rocks the eyeballs along with some wondrous digital creatures.  The big monster that kicks things off may cause a few nightmares while the amazing aliens created by makeup and digital manipulation rival anything seen before.  It is mind boggling how such a production, using hundreds if not thousands of technicians in various locations and in numerous fields, could come together in such a visually cohesive way.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.  Energy weapons are fired frequently and a great deal of stuff blows up violently.  Yondu’s whistle-controlled flying arrow is used to kill several people.  We see it passing all the way through victim’s bodies.  One character is shown severely burned.  Many characters are shown being thrown around violently and slamming into trees and the ground without any apparent injury while may encourage children to try to mimic the action.  Yondu is shown after an encounter with what appears to be a robot prostitute.  Foul language is scattered and mild.

There are several references to TV shows and actors that were very popular in the 1980’s.  “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has a very 80’s vibe to it.  From its vibrant colors to the “will they or won’t they” nature of Peter and Gamora’s relationship, many things in the movie have a nostalgic feel.  I think that works for “Guardians” since Peter is kind of stuck in his adolescence from when Yondu abducted him.  That 1980’s feel is what sets these films apart from the rest of the MCU…that and the setting in outer space.  The dayglo colors and the “anything can happen” attitude allow this part of the franchise to take more chances and that’s something comic book movies in general can learn from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” just as long as everyone understands the story must be given as much consideration as the special effects.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword” for WIMZ.com and “Snatched” for stanthemovieman.com.

King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword–

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SX9y5JPuRHY

Snatched–

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sY6NpLrbtbM

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

Review of “Colossal”

Things have not been going well for Gloria (Anne Hathaway) for about a year. She lost her job as a writer for a web magazine, her drinking is getting more and more out of control and her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) just threw her out of his apartment. With nowhere to go and no money, Gloria heads back to her childhood hometown. Her parent’s house is unoccupied and empty so she crashes there. While walking home after purchasing an air mattress, Gloria sees her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) driving past in his truck. Recognizing her, he stops and they chat briefly about their lives. Oscar inherited his father’s bar and invites Gloria to ride with him on his way in to open. There she meets Oscar’s friends and drinking buddies Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson). The four stay at the bar until morning and Gloria walks home with her air mattress slung over her shoulder. Waking up late in the afternoon, Gloria checks her phone and sees reports of a giant monster in Seoul, South Korea that has caused massive damage and some deaths. The monster first appeared in Seoul 25 years earlier but hadn’t been seen since. Now it is back, causing panic not only in South Korea but around the world. Watching the videos shot by eyewitnesses, Gloria notices something about the way the monster moves. It looks very similar to how she was walking while carrying her air mattress. Frightened and curious, Gloria retraces her steps and discovers she was walking through a nearby neighborhood playground when the monster appeared. Gloria returns to the park at the same time the next day and goes through a series of arm movements. Back at her house she watches the videos of the monster posted that day and sees it is making the exact same movements. Somehow, Gloria is connected to the monster or it to her. Is she responsible for the death and destruction in Seoul? Gloria decides to share this information with Oscar, Joel and Garth and provides a demonstration as they watch live streaming coverage on their phones. An accident leads to an even more shocking discovery as well as the uncovering of a decades long secret.

“Colossal” was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo who has contributed segments to “The ABC’s of Death” and “V/H/S: Viral” as well as writing and directing some feature length genre movies in his homeland of Spain. This is his second English-language feature after 2014’s “Open Windows.” Looking at his body of work, Vigalondo enjoys making films that mash genres together. One of his films is described as a science fiction romantic comedy. Another is a cyber tech thriller. “Colossal” could best be described as a domestic drama kaiju film. It is also quite good.

The movie doesn’t get all that deep in the monster stuff until late, giving star Anne Hathaway time to shine. Gloria is a mess of a person and she is trying to avoid taking any responsibility for her problems. Despite being a potentially tragic and depressing character, Hathaway’s performance (and Vigalondo’s writing) makes Gloria’s messiness endearing. She’s like a small child in a grown-up’s body trying to live in an adult world. Watching her grow, learn and change is the highlight of the film.

Jason Sudeikis is also amazing in “Colossal.” His character starts out as a small-town boy living a small-town life; but as the movie progresses we see a much darker side of Oscar and that transformation is believable and frightening. By a point late in the film you can’t be sure what exactly Oscar is capable of and when he shows his true colors it is both maddening and scary. Sudeikis is a subtle actor that is deceptively good at playing angry and dark under a friendly veneer. You don’t expect his turn and that makes it all the more effective when it happens.

While the story takes a little while to develop it is well worth the wait. Vigalondo’s script takes its time in doling out the information and waits until nearly the very end to lay all its cards on the table. It’s a slow and satisfying burn that left me wanting to know and see more. I think I’ll have to see what’s available on streaming of his work and immerse myself and all things Vigalondo. There isn’t that much so it shouldn’t take too long.

If you’ve watched my YouTube review of “Colossal,” then this won’t be news so you might want to skip this paragraph. Legion M was involved in the distribution of the movie. They are a fairly new company that used crowdfunding to get started. I purchased a few shares when I saw their posts on Facebook. I realize this causes a conflict of interest for me as I stand to eventually gain financially if the movie does well at the box office and Legion M continues to grow, is successful and is bought out by a larger entertainment company one day. All this is likely far off in the future and I could just as easily lose my investment. I wanted to make sure this was understood and to also say I’m not the only person that thinks the film is unique and entertaining as it has good scores on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. As always, each individual is the judge of what they see and if they like it.

“Colossal” is rated R for language. Foul language is scattered throughout the film. There is also some violence that could be especially upsetting for those who are domestic abuse survivors.

Once the story fully plays out “Colossal” is a pretty down to Earth tale of finding oneself after what you thought was your life falls apart that also happens to involve giant monsters destroying downtown Seoul. It may seem like an incoherent mess but “Colossal” is an easy movie to watch, understand and enjoy.

“Colossal” gets five stars and a giant kaiju roar.

All other releases this week are getting out of the way of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” so that’s what I’ll see and review next.

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

Reviews of “Free Fire” and “Phoenix Forgotten”

Free Fire

Justine, Chris and Frank (Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) are outside an abandoned factory in Boston waiting for the arrival of their hired help Stevo and Bernie (Sam Riley and Enzo Cilenti). They are also waiting on Ord (Armie Hammer). The group is there to purchase rifles from South African arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Chris and Frank are with the IRA and plan on sending the rifles back to Ireland. Once Ord, who arranged the deal, arrives, he walks the group into the factory. There, Vernon shows up, the weapons are brought in by Harry and Gordon (Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor) and the money is counted. Stevo has some unpleasant recent history with Harry and tries to hide; but Harry sees him. After some shoving and exchanged words, Harry grabs a gun and shoots Stevo. Soon everyone has a gun drawn and the fight for money, the weapons and survival is on.

I had heard about this film and saw a trailer several months ago. It looked interesting and had a great cast but didn’t seem to have much of a promotional push as it was being distributed by art house company A24. Unlike “Fate of the Furious” which opened on over 4000 screen across the country, “Free Fire” opened on a little over 1000. It won’t make nearly the money of the fast cars franchise but it is well worth your time as “Free Fire” is a crime caper with attitude for days.

First, “Free Fire” looks extra gritty due to its 1970’s setting. Ugly clothes, “porn” mustaches and John Denver music on 8-track tapes firmly cement the time. With nearly everyone on screen smoking cigarettes, joints and heroin, you just know they all have a smell that would stick to your clothes, hair and skin. The abandoned factory setting also adds to the notion that everyone in the film is dirty. The floors are covered in dirt and debris. Giant sections of formed concrete are setting about as if they were put there to use later then forgotten. It is a desolate location being used by desperate people to commit a crime.

That may sound depressing but “Free Fire” is anything but. The movie is filled with interesting characters that, by the end of the film, you’d like to know more about most of them. Chris and Frank are in America to buy automatic rifles for the Irish Republican Army. How did they get here? What drove them to fight against the British? What is their relationship and how did it start? Justine is a woman in involved in arms dealing. How did that happen? Ord is a straight up enigma. Obviously educated, well-groomed and handsome, how did he get into the arms dealing business? The four peripheral characters of Stevo, Bernie, Harry and Gordon, while minor players, are equally interesting. Their appearance and speech would indicate lesser education and that makes them more tragic. It would seem they haven’t had much opportunity in life and crime is the quickest way for them to make money. I want to know more about everyone with the possible exception of Vernon. He’s a blowhard that believes he’s some kind of criminal genius. Sharlto Copley has played similar characters in other movies. While Vernon is entertaining to a degree he also is the one that grates on the nerves the fastest.

While I enjoyed the movie a great deal the story loses steam in the middle. We can only watch wounded people drag themselves across the floor so much before it becomes a bit tiresome. It also feels like a romance that pops up between Justine and Chris is misplaced. While it becomes part of a larger plot point later on, Chris makes some decisions that felt out of character and like an attempt to humanize him in a way that was unnecessary.

“Free Fire” is rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and strong violence. There are numerous shootings with various amounts of blood. There are also a few beatings. There are also some graphic and violent sexual references. One character is shown smoking pot a couple of times while another is shown smoking heroin. Foul language is common throughout.

“Free Fire” has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. The movie is a character study wrapped in a comedic shootout. It is a surprisingly entertaining film that understands what it is and isn’t afraid to revel in its ridiculousness. The cast filled with talented actors playing interesting characters is a joy to behold. Despite dragging a bit in the middle with characters behaving in a way that seems out of place, “Free Fire” is a little low-tech gem that delivers enormous fun.

“Free Fire” gets four stars out of five.

Phoenix Forgotten

In 1997, Phoenix, Arizona was dazzled by lights floating above the city. Videotaped by Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts), a teenage boy hoping to become a filmmaker, he becomes intrigued by both the lights and the Air Force fighter jets that appear to be chasing them. While interviewing people for a documentary about the sighting, Josh meets Ashley (Chelsea Lopez), a like-minded young woman about his age, and the two set out to learn more about the Phoenix Lights. A second sighting shown on the news convinces them to go into the desert and look for evidence of UFO’s. They ask Mark (Justin Matthews), Josh’s best friend, to come along and head out to the place Josh believes the lights might be seen next. While in the desert, the three disappear and no trace is ever found. Twenty years later, Josh’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) is making a documentary about her brother’s disappearance and makes a discovery that changes everything.

“Phoenix Forgotten” is a faux-documentary/found-footage sci-fi/horror mashup that is surprisingly good during the documentary part and understandably bad during the found-footage section. Working best when examining not only her brother’s mysterious disappearance but the dysfunction within her family and that of Ashley’s, “Phoenix Forgotten” would have been better if it had forgotten about finding the missing teens.

Trying hard to mimic both “Paranormal Activity” and “The Blair Witch Project,” “Phoenix Forgotten” succeeds early on in creating an understandable sense of dread and mystery as Sophie interviews those that searched for the teens as well as the parents and siblings. All the actors playing law enforcement and the searchers perform perfectly by looking like they aren’t performing at all. They stumble over their words at times and appear to be couching their language as to not offend or upset Sophie (she conducts most of the interviews). This part of the film manages to avoid the pitfalls of this reality-style of filmmaking by not trying too hard to look real. The same can’t be said for other parts of the film.

One last tape is discovered by Sophie and it contains the three teens’ final moments. Here is where the film goes badly off the rails. Falling into the found-footage death traps of overacting and implausible actions, “Phoenix Forgotten” undoes all the goodwill the earlier sections of the film created. From batteries that never die to keeping the camera’s light on at times when it is dangerous to do so, the movie seems to be trying to annoy any audience member with half a brain. While we are provided with answers as to what happened to Josh, Ashley and Mark, you might be so exasperated by the film that you are relieved once their fate is revealed so you can leave the theatre.

“Phoenix Forgotten” is rated PG-13 for terror, peril, and some language. There isn’t much of any of any of the three. Foul language is mild and scattered.

I’m still a fan of the found-footage horror film. The first “Paranormal Activity” is one of my favorites. Sadly, very few films made this way have lived up to that standard and “Phoenix Forgotten,” while starting out strong, collapses so badly and completely in the last third that it drags the whole film down. While I like the premise and enjoyed the documentary part, I can’t recommend the movie except to those that don’t mind utter nonsense in their found-footage.

“Phoenix Forgotten” gets two stars out of five.

This week, films about technological overreach, an aging Lothario and magical magicians are hoping to catch your eye and entertainment dollar. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Circle—

How to be a Latin Lover—

Sleight—

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

Review of “The Fate of the Furious”

This week’s review of “The Fate of the Furious” is here:

http://wimz.com/blogs/stan-movie-man/1723/review-of-the-fate-of-the-furious/

Coming out this week are a wide array of films.  I’ll review at least one of the following:

Born in China–

Free Fire–

Phoenix Forgotten–

The Promise–

Unforgettable–

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

Review of “Raw”

Justine (Garance Marillier) is the latest in her family to attend veterinary school. Both her parents attended and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has been there a year. Justine is hardly settled in when the upper classmen begin their annual hazing ritual. Just as she is rousted from her bed she meets her roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella). Shocked to discover he is male, Adrien assures her it’s alright as he’s gay. The hazing of freshmen consists of making them sing songs, keep their eyes on the ground when passing an upperclassman and being doused in animal blood. Added to this, they must all consume a small piece of raw rabbit liver. Justine and her parents are lifelong vegetarians but in order to avoid being shunned, she eats the raw meat. That night she develops an itching and blistering rash all over her body. She gets some cream from the school infirmary and it quickly clears up; but she also develops a taste for meat. She is soon consuming meat in all its forms and in large quantities. As she begins to adjust to college life, the first time being away from home and surrounded by people her own age, Justine spreads her wings and tries new things like staying up all night drinking and dancing. She also discovers her taste for meat includes uncooked servings including raw chicken breasts right out of the refrigerator. When Alexia has an accident with a pair of scissors and cuts off half of her middle finger, Justine is first concerned for her sister but soon turns her attention to the severed digit and eats all the flesh off the bone. What is happening to this former studious and straight-laced young woman and is the entire student body in danger of being consumed by the cannibal in their midst?

“Raw” is a French and Belgian co-production that has a list of governmental funding agencies at the beginning of the credits that is almost as long as the film itself. European countries are heavily involved with their film industries and are often listed as providing the money necessary to get movies made. It’s an interesting system that would likely not work in the U. S. as the arts are considered a less than necessary function that is best left to the private sector. Also, whichever party was in power would likely use the threat of no funding to make sure movies agreed with and supported whatever political message was being pushed at that time. That said, I’m glad public funding of films in Europe is common so we get a movie like “Raw” that is so unique, weird and challenging.

From the opening shot of “Raw” you will know this is something different. It isn’t because it’s a foreign film but because it is an exceedingly well made film. Writer/director Julia Ducournau has an eye for wide open vistas with tiny characters doing very little that still manage to lock in your interest. Trees, grass and an empty road with a lone figure walking along the edge is all we see when the camera switches to look in the opposite direction to an oncoming car. What happens next is unexpected and sets up what will be commonplace throughout the rest of the film. I sat in the theatre and watched the first few minutes in awe. “Raw” grabs you from the first frame and demands you pay attention for the entirety of its 99 minute run time.

Marillier, Rumpf and Oufella make a dynamic and extremely watchable trio. The three are far more nuanced and skilled than their young ages would suggest (the oldest is 25). “Raw” must have been a difficult shoot for the cast as Marillier and Oufella are covered in animal blood (fake, I assume) for a sizable chunk of the movie while all the characters are pushed to physical and emotional limits. It is an intense story that rarely lets up and the cast is amazing.

Fans of gory horror films will be pleased by what they are served in “Raw.” There are some amazing effects that don’t look the least bit fake. There are even some scenes that might test the strongest stomachs. One scene involving the necropsy of a dog I found particularly troubling. Not that anything especially gruesome occurs but the dog being examined looks very real. It would appear some scenes were shot at a real veterinary hospital so I guess there’s a chance what I saw in that scene was a real deceased dog being cut open but I hope not.

There isn’t much to complain about in “Raw” but there was one emotional turn about midway through the film that felt a bit out of place. There is also a reveal at the end that is telegraphed so far in advance you practically know what’s going to happen before you enter the theatre and this lessens the impact of the film’s emotional punch. I don’t want to give away anything that might spoil the movie as I consider it to be a gift that is best unwrapped with no expectations or hints. Perhaps you won’t find these bits as troubling as I did but both of them stuck out as poor choices in an otherwise nearly flawless film.

“Raw” is rated R for strong sexuality, drug use/partying, bloody and grisly images, aberrant behavior, language and nudity. Breasts and behinds are commonly seen throughout the film. A fairly graphic sex scene is shown. While there is no graphic nudity in this scene it is clear what is happening. We also see a couple of gay sex acts, one performed by the characters on screen and one shown on the screen of a laptop. We see a couple of joints being smoked as well as party drugs being consumed. There are several scenes where human flesh is consumed and graphic, bloody injuries are shown. Foul language is common in parts of the film. “Raw” is subtitled as the characters speak in French.

“Raw” is a coming-of-age tale with a twist. It features characters that aren’t always likable but always interesting. It has incredible visual flair and doesn’t mind taking a chance with what it shows the audience. Perhaps this is a French or European thing that is common amongst their films. American filmmakers could take a few notes from this movie and possibly improve their own product. “Raw” is in limited release so if you get a chance to enjoy it on a big screen, treat yourself to a tasty and rare morsel of gourmet filmmaking.

“Raw” gets four stars out of five.

This week everyone gets out of the way to learn “The Fate of the Furious” and I’ll review it for WIMZ.com.

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