Review of “Rampage”

The Energyne Corporation is run by brother and sister Clair and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy). While publicly the company is trying to use genetic manipulation to cure disease they are actually trying to develop a bioweapon by modifying animals. They are conducting experiments onboard their private space station but that is destroyed when a mutant rat, which has grown to the size of a large dog, gets loose. The canisters containing the mutation formula are designed to survive reentry into the atmosphere and land in various locations across the country. One falls in the Everglades and is eaten by an alligator. One lands in the Wyoming wilderness and sprays a wolf with its contents. A third crashes into the gorilla habitat at the San Diego Zoo. An albino gorilla named George approaches the canister and is also sprayed with its contents. Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) has been George’s keeper since he found him after poachers killed his family. He communicates with George via sign language. When George is found out of his habitat and in the grizzly bear habitat after having killed a bear, Okoye notices how much bigger George is. Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) shows up at the Okoye’s office after hearing about events at the zoo on the news. She says she works at Energyne and can help cure George. Meanwhile, the Wyden’s have sent a paramilitary team to Wyoming to retrieve the canister that fell there and the team finds the wolf has grown into an enormous and vicious killer. It wipes out the team and their helicopter with no trouble. George is in isolation because of his behavior and his increase in size. He becomes very aggressive and breaks out of his cage and nearly escapes from the zoo but is tranquilized by men in a government helicopter. They are under the command of Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Russell plans on keeping George tranquilized and transports him via military plane to a facility for study. Okoye thinks that’s a bad idea and he’s right. The Wyden’s have built a failsafe into their genetic coding. They will transmit a low frequency signal from atop their skyscraper headquarters in Chicago. The animals affected by their formula will be attracted to the signal and won’t be prevented from getting to it to try and stop it as it causes them pain. They plan on letting the military kill the mutated animals then collecting samples of their blood so they can continue their research. If a few thousand people have to die in downtown Chicago, that’s just the price of business.

Based on the video game of the same name “Rampage” is about as complicated as the console quarter-eater it spawned from. Three giant monsters destroy whatever they come across and it’s up to Dwayne Johnson to stop them. There are minor problems that crop up on the path to the happy ending we know we’ll get like plane crashes, imprisonment and lies between allies that threaten a recently created partnership. All this is merely what we expect from this kind of mindless effects-heavy action/adventure. I really wanted to like it but it is just okay.

My biggest problem with “Rampage” is it doesn’t have much of a story. A combination of corporate greed and wholesale digital destruction is pretty thin as far as compelling plots go. We are treated to a massive skyscraper’s collapse and three giant monsters (plus The Rock) battling it out for dominance but it all comes off as hollow and the action gets repetitive in the film’s final act.

I realize this is a meaningless popcorn movie that is designed to be visually thrilling and the special effects are spectacular. The motion capture used to bring George to life is seamless and amazing. Much like the recent “Planet of the Apes” reboot you would be hard pressed to say there isn’t a real albino gorilla on the screen. While the other mutated creatures are also visually stunning they are given certain added features that render them more creatures of fantasy. George is just an albino gorilla that is very, very large. The visuals throughout the film are very believable from the crashing of a military transport plane to the destruction of a skyscraper. It all looks very real.

What aren’t real are the characters. Each is a type that is needed to fill a need of the paper-thin story. Johnson is, of course, the mythic hero that is the linchpin holding all the other characters (good and bad) together. He is the moral center fighting for his gorilla friend and to prevent the greedy corporation from profiting from his friend’s suffering. Naomie Harris is part damsel in distress and part hero’s conscience. She reminds him of what is true function in the story is while also giving him something to save when needed. Malin Akerman is the heartless and greedy villain. She has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and even tries to place blame on Harris’ character. Jake Lacy is also a villain but he doubles as the dumb comic relief. He is far too brainless to have concocted the villain’s evil plan on his own and is used to do some of the dirty work so the main bad guy (or in this case bad girl) doesn’t have to get her hands dirty. His purpose is to soften the evil for the audience. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the ruler that breaks the rules. He’s a maverick that starts off as an antagonist but finds he likes the methods of the hero. No character in the film rise much above the bare minimum required of them and none of the actors turns in a particularly stellar performance.

“Rampage” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, crude gestures and brief language. There are some brutal creature on creature battles that include a couple of impaling and a beheading. There are also several nondescript human characters that are thrown great distances by the creatures to what are likely their deaths. Other people are stomped, bitten or consumed by the creatures. There is a great deal of destruction when the action moves to Chicago including several building severely damaged and one large skyscraper destroyed. George likes to “throw a bird” at Okoye and does it several times. Foul language is scattered and mild.

I like Dwayne Johnson a great deal as an actor. While most of his roles just involve him looking buff, muscular and imposing he clearly enjoys his work and seems to be a nice and likable guy. He deserves a better film than this and I think he knows that. He’s the executive producer and would have had some say in what the final script became. Perhaps the EP credit was merely a title to get him a larger paycheck. Maybe he doesn’t know the story is weak. It could be he’s saving his creative abilities for a more important project. Whatever the reason, the film is weak in some very important ways. I’d have preferred a more interesting story and compelling characters I could really invest myself in. As it is the most interesting character in “Rampage” is the digital ape.

“Rampage” gets three stars out of five.

Check out my review of “Beirut” at WIMZ.com in the “Blogs” section.

Next week I’ll see and review at least one of the follow:

I Feel Pretty–

Super Troopers 2–

Traffik–

Listen to The Fractured Frame where a couple of friends and I discuss the latest in movie, TV and streaming news. Get it wherever you download podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “A Quiet Place”

Life on Earth is under attack from an alien creature that appears to have come here on board a meteor that crashed in Mexico. Covered in an apparently impenetrable exoskeleton, the creatures can’t see but have incredibly sensitive hearing. The slightest noise over and above the background gets their attention. They also can move very fast and have a mouth full of long sharp teeth. The aliens make life difficult for the survivors but the Abbott family is doing the best they can. Lee (John Krasinski), Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) live a life of silence and slow methodical movements. Beau being a child of about five can’t grasp all the dangers of this new world and makes a fatal mistake. While walking back to their home from town to get an ailing Marcus some antibiotics, Beau pulls out a toy he picked up at the drug store operated by batteries and turns it on. The model of the space shuttle makes a siren-like sound and attracts the aliens. Despite Lee’s efforts to save Beau he dies. A year later the family is continuing to scrape by at the farm they live on. Lee works on Regan’s cochlear implant trying to get it working again. He has made numerous efforts to repair it and failed. Regan, who gave Beau the toy after her father had taken it away from him and removed the batteries, feels Lee blames her for Beau’s death. He doesn’t but the stress of their life and Regan becoming a teenager is leading to conflicts. Lee has a workshop and security center set up in the basement of their home. He has monitors showing security camera feeds along with a shortwave radio he uses to try and contact anyone in the outside world. Evelyn is pregnant and due to deliver in a few weeks adding another threat to their silent life. Color-coded lights, sound-dampening sand on their pathways and communicating through American Sign Language might not be enough to keep this family together and alive.

The first trailer for “A Quiet Place” had me intrigued. The next trailer had me excited and dreading seeing the film a bit. Films that build tension and have you constantly guessing where the next threat will come from can be exhausting exercises. Found footage horror movies have worn me out in this regard as they never end happily, just with the promise of more fear and dread coming in the sequel. “A Quiet Place” manages to pile on the dread while giving you a glimmer of hope. It also tells an emotional family story that is punctuated by ravenous unstoppable monsters. It’s the best of both worlds.

John Krasinski not only stars but co-wrote and directed “A Quiet Place.” He is truly a triple threat in this film. His script is of course short on words. Most of the time communication is done via America Sign Language along with body movements. This forces the story to be told in other imaginative ways. We get the backstory from newspaper headlines we see in Lee’s security center. There a white board with scribbled facts about the monster and a desperate looking phrase “What is the WEAKNESS?” We see the weary looks on both Lee and Evelyn’s faces knowing they constantly worry about their day-to-day survival along with the future of their children. They all have dirty fingernails from having to do hard labor just to provide the basic necessities of life and they can’t waste precious resources like water for bathing and electricity to heat the water. The children are at times tired, frustrated and angry at their lives. We know they are both approaching puberty and that is hard enough when you don’t have monsters trying to hunt you down. The beauty of this script is storylines spin off within the mind of the viewer from watching these people exist. It isn’t all about the monsters as they really play a very minor role in the film. It’s about the family and the work they have to do to survive plus the struggles of just getting along. Krasinski along with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck have put a great deal of thought and work into their script and story even if there aren’t many words.

The performances of real life married couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are powerful and amazing. The love and desire this couple feels in their lives is clearly used to make their characters more connected and believable. There’s a scene where she makes him dance with her and they share a pair of earbuds from a portable music player. Their slow swaying and embrace may bring a tear to your eye as they share a rare moment of quiet passion. Lee winds up dancing more with the baby bump than his wife by the end of the scene but it is still a sweet and touching moment.

As good and Krasinski and Blunt are they are overshadowed by the amazing performance of Millicent Simmonds. Ms. Simmonds is deaf in real life. Her performance is all through her face, her motions and the way she communicates with sign language. A scene between her and Krasinski where he is giving her a hearing aid he had been working on is a prime example of just how good an actress Simmonds is. Her movements and body language show her anger, her impatience and her pain. Regan believes her father blames her for Beau’s death. While he doesn’t, he hasn’t made the extra effort to show her he loves her. All this is seen in this brief interaction between a father and daughter and that is due mostly to Millicent Simmonds talent. I hope her hearing doesn’t keep her from getting more roles as she is very talented.

It’s time for “Stan Thinks Too Much” corner. This alien invasion appears to have decimated the population and caused the collapse of infrastructure but the survivors still manage to have electricity. We never see a generator and of course that would cause lots of noise. It might be solar but we never see any panels. It seems unlikely the power grid would still be functioning so I wonder how they keep the lights on and the water flowing? Also during a scene in the film Evelyn manages to escape from one of the creatures by leaving a kitchen timer in the back of the room so the alien would chase that noise. Why didn’t they keep other noisemaking devices on them so they could set them off and throw them in the opposite direction for the monsters to chase? The ending of the film also made me wonder why it hadn’t been thought of before. I don’t want to give anything away but the method to kill these creatures seems perfectly clear from the first time you see them as they listen for the slightest noise out of the ordinary. And that concludes “Stan Thinks Too Much” corner.

“A Quiet Place” is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images. There are several times when members of the family are stalked by the creatures. We see a raccoon get smashed by a monster with an accompanying splash of blood. We see a body in the forest that has been attack with a gaping wound in its side. There’s some blood associated with the birth of a baby. The monster’s anatomy is a bit disgusting to look at. There is no foul language as there is very little language of any kind.

John Krasinski has created a rare and wonderful thing: A horror movie that is both smart and scary. It also manages to be warm, emotional and mostly about a family just trying to survive. It works on just about every level. While I do have some questions and “I wonder why’s” about a few things they don’t take away from what is a fantastically tense movie. See it friends or in a full theater for a complete experience.

“A Quiet Place” gets five stars.

Next week I’ll be reviewing “Borg vs. McEnroe” for WIMZ.com.

I’ll also review one of the follow for this webpage:

Rampage—

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero—

Truth or Dare—

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

Review of “Ready Player One”

In 2045 the world is such a sad and depressing place many people spend the majority of their free time in a virtual world called the Oasis where they can be and do anything. Oasis was the creation of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). The two had a falling out and Halliday bought out Morrow. Halliday was a genius but also had difficulty dealing with people. He wanted the Oasis to be a place where people could break out of their shells and explore what they loved. One of those explorers is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). In the Oasis his avatar is called Parzival. When Halliday died he released a recorded announcement saying he’d hidden an Easter egg in the Oasis. Three keys are required to gain access to the Easter egg. Whoever finds it will become the owner of the Oasis. This sets off a frenzy of activity to find the keys. Those that hunt for the Easter egg are called gunters (egg hunters) and Wade is one of these along with his friend Aech, a combination troll and android-looking creature that is great at building and rebuilding vehicles. If your avatar is killed in the games of the Oasis you lose all your upgrades and your money and have to start from scratch. Using all their resources to find the keys is Innovative Online Industries, or IOI. They build much of the real world hardware that is used to access the Oasis. Leading IOI is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who worked with Halliday and Morrow when the Oasis was created. He plans to turn much of the Oasis into advertising space once IOI finds the Easter egg. During his search Wade as Parzival meets the avatar Art3mis. She is a famous gamer and Wade quickly falls in love with her. Of course they have never met in real life so Art3mis could be completely unlike her avatar and Wade would never know. Still, the two become close as they search for clues they believe are hidden in the archive of Halliday’s life. When Wade finds the first key he comes to the attention of Sorrento who puts his security chief F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) on the case to find and eliminate him in the real world. He also uses the avatar I-ROk (voiced by T.J. Miller) to try and kill his avatar in the Oasis.

“Ready Player One” is the kind of movie that can drive some people insane. Those people are completists. They must finish whatever they start and they must find all the little nooks and crannies where some information might be hidden. A completist will need to find every pop culture reference made in Steven Spielberg’s film that is stuffed to the brim with them. If you just have to know them all there are guides on the Internet and a Google search will find them. I find that kind of thing exhausting and am happy with the sudden flash of recognition when seeing a familiar video game or movie character. There was a great deal that made me happy in “Ready Player One” besides the familiar pop culture and music choices. It is a fun film.

While some of the real critics have complained “Ready Player One” is too concerned about cramming in as many pop culture references as possible and giving less attention to the story, I respectfully disagree. Script writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, Cline wrote the book the movie is based on, have put forth a very simple story: Unrelenting greed never leads to a happy future. It may not be the deepest or most complicated story for a movie but it does work especially considering the current political and economic climate. Nolan Sorrento is the embodiment of corporate greed. He sees the Oasis only as a cash cow to be exploited and not for the opportunities of expression and freedom it allows. Those that are aware of his cynical view of the Oasis are determined to stop him despite Sorrento having a huge corporation and dozens of people working to find the keys. It is a classic David and Goliath story and with Steven Spielberg at the controls it is a well-told story.

The CGI of “Ready Player One” is pretty spectacular. What I liked best about it was the hundreds of artists used to create the Oasis got the physics right. When a car crashes or an object breaks it looks real. There are many moments in the film that could have been visual deal breakers. Where the trajectory of a falling object or the apparent weight of a stone block from the wall of a castle could have looked wrong or conveniently too light but everything in the virtual world looked legit. It’s also a small miracle the artists were able to accurately render the dozens of toy, movie and video game characters and references. If you see a character from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Arkham video game or the motorcycle from “Akira” it will be done with a great deal of loving detail. The visuals of “Ready Player One” are the true stars of the movie.

I also enjoyed the performances in the real world scenes. Tye Sheridan does put upon teen very well. His Wade Watts is wide-eyed but also world-weary in a life that appears to be wearing him down. Escaping to his hideaway inside a discarded van buried deep in a junk yard, Wade has created an oasis of his own allowing him to escape into the virtual world. Orphaned young and living with an aunt that cares more about her abusive boyfriend than she does about him, Wade is essentially alone in a world that has gone mostly mad. He’s doing the best he can and the Oasis is a place he can freely express himself. While it might not win him an Oscar this performance will certainly get Tye Sheridan more work.

Olivia Cooke is the real world version of Art3mis. Cooke plays Samantha, a leader of the rebellion against IOI. While her avatar in the Oasis is brash and confident Samantha is anything but. She has a pale port wine stain birthmark over and on her right eye. She is very self-conscious of this blemish and it has clearly been a point of pain and suffering to her psyche. Samantha’s escape to the Oasis is clearly her attempt to soothe her pain and be the hero she can feel inside. It takes a desperate act to break her out of her self-imposed emotional exile and allow the bravery she has inside to escape. She takes chances and makes decisions that go against her own self-interest in an attempt to serve the greater good. It is a character young women can look to as a role-model.

The rest of the supporting cast is great but special kudos goes to Mark Rylance as Halliday. There is a childlike innocence to Halliday that tugs at the heartstrings. He’s clearly on the autism spectrum and struggling to make his vision clear to his partner Morrow played by Simon Pegg. Halliday wants everyone to see the Oasis the way he does: As a limitless playground to be enjoyed by all. There are moments when Halliday is speaking that I just wanted to hug him and tell him everything is going to be okay. Rylance is an amazing actor with incredible range and emotional depth. His Halliday is a child that can’t understand the complexities of business and why the world has to be so mean. He also thinks the Oasis should be used for fun and not for life. It’s a lesson that is saved for near the end of the film that even his love for his creation has its limits. It is a wonderfully subtle and emotional performance.

“Ready Player One” is rated PG-13 for language, bloody images, partial nudity, sci-fi action violence and some suggestive material. There are battles between video game characters and fights of various other types. The partial nudity is from a scene that takes place within the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” and involves a woman getting out of a bathtub. There is no actual nudity. The suggestive material also involves “The Shining” scene along with a mildly seductive dance between the two main characters. “The Shining” is also the source of the bloody images with tidal wave coming from the elevators. There are also a few real world injuries that show some minor bleeding. Foul language is scattered and mild.

My advice for seeing “Ready Player One” is to just let the pop culture references flow over you and don’t try to identify every character that’s been pulled from nearly every movie and video game from the last 50-plus years. Simply sit back and enjoy the magic and childlike wonder on display from the master of fantasy and adventure movie making. It is good to see Spielberg back to making a good old-fashioned crowd-pleasing bit of popcorn cinema. You’ll leave the theater far happier than you entered it.

“Ready Player One” gets five stars.

This week four new movies hope they have something to offer you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Blockers—

Chappaquiddick—

The Miracle Season—

A Quiet Place—

Subscribe, like, rate, and listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Pacific Rim: Uprising”

It’s been 10 years since the Breach was closed and the Kaiju were stopped from taking over the world by the brave actions of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). His son Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) hasn’t exactly followed in his father’s footsteps. After being kicked out of the Pan Pacific Defense Corp for attempting to operate a Jaeger by himself then crashing it when he passed out from the strain, Jake has been making an illegal living by scavenging Jaeger parts and selling them on the black market. On one of his raids of a PPDC scrap yard Jake discovers the part he was trying to steal was stolen by a young girl named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). She is building her own single-operator Jaeger she calls Scrapper. She and Jake are both captured by security forces. While in detention Jake is visited (via hologram) by his sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who is the PPDC general secretary. She gives Jake a choice: Prison or return as an instructor to the Jaeger pilot’s academy. Considering it the lesser of two evils (just barely) he returns to the academy with Amara in tow. She is going to be a cadet; but there may not be a need for new pilots much longer as Shao Corporation, led by Liwen Shao (Jing Tian), has been working on Jaeger drones that can be remotely operated. Leading her research team is Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) who, along with Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), studied the Kaiju for the PPDC. Shao is presenting a report to the PPDC Council in Sidney, Australia when a rogue Jaeger attacks. Gypsy Avenger piloted by Jake and Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) engage in battle with the Jaeger, nicknamed Obsidian Fury, and during the fight a helicopter with Mako Mori on board is knocked out of the sky and destroyed, killing her. There’s something going on that may involve Shao Corporation and their drone plans or perhaps there’s something even more insidious behind the scenes.

I really liked 2013’s “Pacific Rim.” It hit all the right notes for me with giant monsters fighting giant robots with each robot being controlled by two tiny humans in its head. As a child I made up similar scenarios using my various G.I. Joe and other dolls, pretending they were giant robots fighting whatever monster I could construct in my brain. While the “Godzilla” movies tried something similar with Mechagodzilla it didn’t really work for me personally. I couldn’t get past that the monster and the robot were just two guys in rubber suits stomping around a cardboard model of a city. When “Pacific Rim: Uprising” was announced I was genuinely excited to see the next chapter in the battle for supremacy of the Earth. I was a bit bummed that director Guillermo del Toro wouldn’t be back in the chair. He is a producer so he does have some creative input on the sequel. Unfortunately the return of the Jaeger vs. Kaiju is bogged down by a scattershot story, silly plot twists and a ridiculous conclusion that stretches my ability to suspend belief to the breaking point.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” gets off to a promising start with Jake living his life of scavenging and barter. I liked how he was a friendly rogue that was just looking to have a good time and make enough to survive. I also liked his early interactions with Amara and their friction that bordered on brother/sister sniping. Once they move into the heart of the story however, the charm of Jake Pentecost turns into smarm. His efforts to be cute and funny wear thin. The well of cutesy one-liners and witty asides is visited far too often. I like John Boyega a great deal. I was impressed when I heard he was a producer on the film while listening to the ID10T podcast (formerly Nerdist) and he talked about his being involved in planning the effects and working on other aspects of the production. I wish he had been involved in the script writing then he might have been able to cut down on the amount of snark Jake expresses.

I also had a problem with an aspect of the story I can’t talk about too much as to not spoil a major part of the film. What I can say is Burn Gorman and Charlie Day should sue the writers for turning their funny and interesting characters into bad comic relief. Drs. Gottlieb and Geiszler veer wildly away from their original film selves in a plot twist that could best be described as ill-advised. It seems like the producers wanted to cut down on the number of cast so they decided to recycle a couple of existing characters into parts that should have been new to the story. I wish I could fill you in on all the details as this section would make more sense but I don’t feel like I can. I will say choices made for these characters reduce their effectiveness and entertainment enormously.

Finally the most damaging issue with “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is the increasing silliness of the action. While giant robots and monsters fighting each other is ridiculous on its face the original film managed to find a way to keep the battles somewhat grounded in what looked believable. “Pacific Rim: Uprising” decides to throw any idea of reality out the window and give us some action scenes that are “Fast and Furious” levels of silly. I enjoy over-the-top action as much as the next person; however when a Jaeger has a rocket welded to its hand by another Jaeger as part of an on-the-fly, last ditch plan, I must say enough is enough.

On a side note, there is also the way the Kaiju and Jaegers fight that doesn’t make much sense. Ripping off a leg or an arm would certainly seem to be a more effective way for each to disable the other and yet it doesn’t happen very often. Both combatants seem content with bashing each other over and over again or throwing their opponent into the ground or a building. It is like in thrillers when a giant criminal throws a regular sized cop around a bar instead of beating him to death. This gives the cop a chance to grab a weapon of some sort to even the fight. I know this is done to build up the tension and excitement to make the good guy coming back for the win that much more satisfying but after seeing it for the umpteenth time it starts to get old.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language. There are a couple of robot-on-robot battles. There is an attack on the PPCD base that kills several people. There is a brief fight between a couple of female cadets. There are some scattered injuries and blood. Foul language is scattered and mild.

I really wanted to like, nay, love “Pacific Rim: Uprising” because I want this universe to become a franchise with lots of films and lots of Jaegers and Kaiju. I want to relive the thrill of giant robots and monsters fighting as a way of reliving my childhood when robot G.I. Joe blond would take on robot G.I. Joe brunette with the Kung Fu grip! That excitement is what I was hoping for when I walked into the theater. What I got was some nice CG images of robots and monsters wailing away on each other but the pixels couldn’t generate any passion within me. Perhaps I’m asking too much but the heart wants what it wants.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” gets two guitars out of five.

Three new films offer a wide variety of entertainment choice this week. I’ll review at least one of the following:

God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness—

Ready Player One—

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony—

Listen to, subscribe, like, rate and review The Fractured Frame wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Tomb Raider”

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is trying to make her own way in the world. She delivers food via bicycle for a service and studies mixed martial arts at a neighborhood gym; however she is falling behind on her bills and an effort to win a bicycle race against the other delivery people at her job lands her in trouble with the police. Lara is the heir to a massive fortune since her father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared seven years earlier but she refuses to sign the papers that would declare him legally dead. While in police custody Lara’s former guardian Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) comes to bail her out and encourages her to sign the papers as she also works at Lara’s father’s company. Showing up at her father’s offices the next day Lara is about to sign the papers when she is given a Japanese puzzle box. Distracted, Lara plays with the box and solves it causing a secret compartment to pop open. Inside is a photo of a young Lara with her father and a note wrapped around a key. Lara realizes the note is a clue to what the key fits and leaves the offices without signing the papers. She goes to the Croft estate and enters the family tomb where Lara unlocks a secret door that leads to an office. Inside she finds lots of artifacts and boxes of her father’s notes along with a camcorder. The tape in the camera is a message for Lara telling her to destroy all his notes involving Himiko and warning her of an organization called Trinity. Going against her father’s wishes Lara studies the maps and figures out the location of an island that was her father’s final destination: An island off the coast of Japan that doesn’t appear on any map. Lara approaches Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) a ship captain whose father took Lord Croft on his final voyage and also disappeared. When they get close to the island a storm destroys their ship and both are captured by a group of men led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). Vogel is looking for something on the island and can’t leave until he finds it. Lara has the information to take Vogel to the very thing Lord Croft didn’t want discovered.

The history of video game-based movies is littered with horrendous efforts to cash in on a popular title. The granddaddy of these stinkers is “Super Mario Bros.” from 1993. No one involved in the production has very good memories of it. According to co-director Rocky Morton the script they agreed to direct was vastly changed when shooting began, turning it into a production nightmare. Clearly nothing like that happened in the creation and production of “Tomb Raider” as it is a very workman-like creation with the requisite number of action scenes, emotional moments and stunning realizations. It’s perfectly fine but not terribly special.

Alicia Vikander makes a very good Lara Croft. She is able to carry off the attitude and the swagger we expect from our favorite tomb raider. While there were some fanboys whining on the internet about Vikander lacking certain physical attributes (specifically large enough breasts) to make her a believable Croft those complaints are mainly from those that judge women on an impossible scale of physical beauty. I hope since she doesn’t live up to their standards that they stay home and don’t subject themselves to having to look at her. I for one think she is perfectly fine to look at. Vikander’s performance has to be somewhat tempered since she isn’t the Lara Croft that we were introduced to when Angelina Jolie took on the role in 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” That Lara had been going on adventures for some time prior to the start of the movie so she was in full explorer mode from the get go. Vikander’s Lara is just learning about all the adventures and danger so she makes mistakes and takes a while to figure out the puzzles that stand between her and for what she’s searching. From the standpoint of introducing the character of Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider” does a pretty good job.

The villain and the quest are what let the movie down. Early on we hear about an ancient Japanese queen that made blood run in the streets and her tomb is what is being looked for. While Lara’s father sounds the alarm about finding the tomb the whole notion of this as the goal of an international conspiracy seems a bit silly. Of course all quests in video games are silly on their face and become more so when transferred to a movie screen; however it is the job of a screenwriter to come up with a story idea that makes sense in the modern world. The supernatural mumbo jumbo espoused in the first half of “Tomb Raider” is delivered with neither intensity nor conviction. It undermines everything that happens once the action moves to the island.

When I say the villain lets down the movie I don’t mean Walton Goggins. Goggins is a great actor with a long resume of great performances as a bad guy and he does the best he can with an underwritten and rudderless part. Goggins’ Vogel is never truly let off the leash to show what a murderous maniac he is. Efforts are made to make Vogel a sympathetic villain with a couple of references to his wanting to get off the island and see his kids. It doesn’t work as it makes Vogel seem more whiny than determined to succeed and go home to his family. The script has Vogel commit the required heartless murders of a tyrant as he forces his slave labor to work with little rest or food but Goggins seems to be just hitting the beats and doing the minimum. While his performance starts with some quiet menace as he talks with Lara right after her capture it quickly runs out of steam. While I have no pity for Vogel I do feel sorry for Goggins as he is clearly trapped in a poorly thought out character.

What follows is what I like to call me thinking too much about minor stuff in a movie. A couple of characters sustain fairly serious injuries during the course of the film as one might expect with lots of jumping and falling and shooting and such. Lara gets a branch impaled in her side and Lu Ren is shot in the shoulder. While Lara’s injury gets some attention it is largely ignored after that. Lu Ren’s shoulder is never mentioned after we are shown him holding the injury just after being shot. I know it is a well-worn trope that main characters receive injuries that would put anyone else in the hospital for a couple of days but they manage to live with and even thrive despite the damage. Having two characters suffer such injuries makes this tired bit of story mechanics stick out all the more. End of rant.

“Tomb Raider” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and some language. There are numerous shootings and fist fights throughout the film. Lara is mugged and chased by her muggers after she gets her bag back then threatened with a knife. There are other chases as well. There are a couple of scenes where characters are affected by a disease that appears to cause them great pain. Foul language is scattered and mild.

“Tomb Raider” will remind gamers of the 2013 game of the same name. It too finds a nascent Lara Croft on a journey to an island with a bunch of bad guys she has to defeat and an ancient evil that must be stopped. While the movie and the game share characters with the same names the story is vastly different. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. While the game takes a more fantastical angle borrowing some of those elements might have made the movie more entertaining. As it is, its fine but it could have been more.

“Tomb Raider” gets three stars out of five.

This week sees five new films heading to your local multiplex. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Midnight Sun—

Pacific Rim: Uprising—

Paul, Apostle of Christ—

Sherlock Gnomes—

Unsane—

Listen to The Fractured Frame on the podcast app of your choice. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Red Sparrow”

Lead dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is injured when the lead male dancer does a leap and lands on her left leg, causing a serious fractured that ends her career. Her Uncle Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) works in a high position with Russian intelligence. He offers to make sure she keeps her apartment and provide doctors for her ailing mother Nina (Joely Richardson) if she agrees to help him. He wants her to meet a man at a hotel and swap out his cell phone for a duplicate so the government can eavesdrop on his calls. When she gets the man alone in the room an assassin kills him and takes her to meet with her uncle. Uncle Ivan makes her an offer: Go to a special training school where she will learn the arts of seduction and espionage and her mother will be taken care of. If she refuses she will be killed. Dominika accepts the offer to become what’s referred to as a “Sparrow.” CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) has been working an asset deep inside the Russian government for some time. A handoff of intelligence in a public park is interrupted by security and Nash is chased to the American embassy. There he learns he wasn’t about to have his and his mole’s cover blown but was merely going to be questioned about an unconnected matter. His bosses at CIA headquarters are unhappy and send him back to the U.S.; however, his contact within the Russian government won’t talk to any other agent so he is sent to Budapest, Hungary where his presence will likely ring alarm bells in Moscow and get the attention of his mole. Russian intelligence suspects there’s a traitor among them so they send Dominika, who has shown great potential in her time in Sparrow school, to try to seduce Nash and find out who the mole is.

“Red Sparrow” is a languidly paced espionage thriller that feels like it is perhaps three decades out of time. While the setting is completely modern the story is firmly set in the Cold War tensions of the previous century. Spies, moles, femme fatales, double agents, secret meetings, listening devices, dank prison cells where torture is carried out, it all feels dated despite the presence of smart phones, laptops and pinhole cameras providing HD images of clandestine gatherings. Even with a dated concept “Red Sparrow” is rather entertaining thanks to a riveting performance by Jennifer Lawrence that forces the audience to pay attention to every move she makes whenever she is on screen.

The plot of “Red Sparrow” is labyrinthine to say the least. Nothing is as you believe it to be past a certain point in the story. It is a web of deception so tightly constructed that one thread out of place would cause the entirety of it to fly apart. That’s one issue that most espionage thrillers have: They are too smart for their own good making the whole story feel more like a fantasy than a real-world drama. The grungy and drab nature of most of the film’s settings blunts the wilder and more unbelievable aspects of the story.

There is one scene in the film that really undercuts the believability of the story. I don’t want to give too much away as it is pivotal to what follows but a character is given a second chance when a bullet to the brain seems the most likely result of their suspected actions. The fact this character is allowed to live felt far too convenient.

By far the best part of “Red Sparrow” is the performance of Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence plays the part of the ballerina-turned-spy with a cold detachment that might seem boring; however, the character is able to read her target and become what that person needs so she has very little emotion until she needs it to convince her target of her intensions. She is also able to manipulate and intimidate using the same tools. Lawrence gives a performance that is mesmerizing in that she’s able to be cold-blooded in one moment and vulnerable in the next. Whether that is the character trying to throw the other people she is dealing with off guard or these are her true feelings is part of what makes Dominika so interesting.

Sadly I can’t say the same about Joel Edgerton’s Nate Nash. Dominika is clearly the character that has had the most thought put into her background and motivations. Nash is merely an obstacle for her to deal with. Nash is a shell of a character. We know nothing about him other than he works for the CIA. There was apparently no thought given to what makes Nash who he is and why he’s a good spy. The only reason we know he’s a good spy is he jumps to some very big conclusions when it comes to Dominika and whether or not she can be turned into an asset. Of course the audience thinks she can be turned because we know she hates being a Sparrow but he has no way of knowing that. Nash is that magical being dropped into films to drive the plot in certain directions whether it makes any sense or not. None of this is Edgerton’s fault as he is doing the best he can with what he’s given but what he’s given isn’t much.

“Red Sparrow” is rated R for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity, strong violence and torture. There are several scenes showing full or partial nudity of men and women. There is one scene of a rape in progress that is interrupted along with another attempted. There are some completely unsexy sex scenes that are used as training exercises at the Sparrow school. There is a sex scene between two characters that has almost no nudity and is one of those movie sex scenes that would never happen in real life. The violence is graphic. We see Dominika’s leg broken with nothing held back. There’s a scene showing the aftermath of a long torture session ending with the death of the tortured. There’s another torture session that ends in a knife fight with lots of blood. There are a couple of bloody head shots shown. We see a woman hit by a truck in the street. There are a couple of people shown being beaten with a cane and other instances of violence. Foul language is scattered.

“Red Sparrow” doesn’t always follow its own rules. While listening devices and cameras are apparently everywhere, the apartment of a known CIA operative in Budapest is devoid of all electronic eavesdropping equipment. There are other examples of “Red Sparrow” ignoring the conventions of the spy genre for the sake of moving the story along and for plot twists. These conveniently missed opportunities by the various clandestine agencies to maintain a watch on foreign operatives are part of what makes “Red Sparrow” a tad bit silly and melodramatic; however the performance of Jennifer Lawrence and a twisty plot that provides opportunities for more stories later on saves the film.

“Red Sparrow” gets four guitars out of five.

This week I’ll be review “Hurricane Heist” for WIMZ.com.

If I have time I’ll also review at least one of the follow:

Gringo—

Strangers: Prey at Night—

A Wrinkle in Time—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, streaming and TV news. Like, subscribe, rate and review on the podcast app of your choice. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Annihilation”

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biologist and college professor dealing with the loss of her soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) a year earlier on a covert mission. While painting the bedroom Lena is startled to see Kane standing in the doorway. She is surprised and ecstatic to see him but he appears to be in shock and showing no emotion. She questions him about his mission, where he’s been and how he got home but Kane says he doesn’t know the answers to her questions. Soon Kane begins bleeding from the mouth and having a seizure. While being transported to the hospital via ambulance a military convey cuts them off and takes Lena and Kane. Lena is drugged and wakes up in a holding cell where she is met by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ventress asks Lena some of the same questions she asked Kane. She soon explains Kane is dying of organ failure and it may have to do with the mission on which he disappeared. Lena and Kane have been sent to a forward base that is just outside and area where Kane and his men were sent 12 months earlier. The area is surrounded by a translucent wall those studying it call the Shimmer. Every military team sent inside the ever-expanding Shimmer has been lost with the exception of Kane. As soon as they cross the boundary all communication is lost. In an effort to figure out what is going on inside the Shimmer, Ventress is leading a team of scientists plus a paramedic inside the anomaly. It is growing and may become a threat to more populated areas and possibly the entire planet. Wanting to know what happened to Kane, Lena asks to join the mission. Once inside the Shimmer, Lena, Ventress and the rest of the team will face plants and animals with enormous genetic mutations and the fear that they may be changing as well.

“Annihilation” is a film that challenges convention. It takes a staple of science fiction and turns it inside out (sometimes literally). It also doesn’t offer easy answers to the questions it poses letting the audience make up its own mind about what has just been seen. Many will not like having to do mental work when Hollywood so often spoon feeds audiences with simplistic stories and neat endings. That is likely why “Annihilation” didn’t exactly tear up the box office in its opening weekend; however, if this kind of film is something you’ve been searching for then you need to see it soon before it disappears from theatres.

Visually “Annihilation” is a masterpiece. From the prismatic effect of the boundary of the Shimmer to the mutations found inside to the look of the crazy ending, director Alex Garland has allowed his creative team to run wild and produce a spectacle for the eye. Part of what makes the film interesting is waiting for the next strange animal or plant to show up. Creatures that look somewhat like deer with flowers apparently sprouting from the antlers and a bear that absorbs the DNA of its prey and makes noises similar to their death cries are a couple that are featured with many more suggested. We also get a couple of ideas what can happen to humans in the Shimmer with some being more pleasant than others. The change to humans causes a somewhat predictable conflict within the team leading to one of the tensest and goriest scenes in the film.

Despite being telegraphed early on the conflict between the team members is understandable given the stressful situation. We are shown how everyone on the team is damaged in some way and that along with the effects of the Shimmer cause a level of paranoia. This adds to the tension felt practically from the beginning of the film.

That tension is heightened even more by the subtle and restrained performances by most of the actresses. Jennifer Jason Leigh is especially buttoned up as Dr. Ventress. Ventress appears to be paying a penance for her decisions in selecting the soldiers that initially entered the Shimmer. She is punishing herself by going into the anomaly and facing what the others have faced. Her cold demeanor rubs some of the other women the wrong way but she cannot be deterred from completing what she sees as a mission and a punishment of her sins.

Natalie Portman also is mostly reserved but she also expresses great pain as Lena. Her need to find out what happened to her husband and if there’s anything that can be done to save him hides guilt at some of her decisions in the past. We are shown flashbacks of those decisions and have a better understanding of what’s driving Lena deeper into the Shimmer.

Someone that is definitely not holding back is Gina Rodriguez as the Chicago EMT Anya. She expresses herself freely and to anyone within earshot. Rodriguez plays more of a type than a character but I don’t blame her for that. She is the representative for the audience, most of who would likely be screaming at the top of their lungs to get out of this crazy place. She is the common sense person every movie about crazy situations needs to keep it a little grounded.

While I enjoyed “Annihilation” a great deal I did have one problem with it: The movie fails to answer any questions the audience might have about what’s going on. I don’t mind a film’s story leaving a few threads dangling for possible sequels or to make the viewer leave the theatre with some questions; but “Annihilation” doesn’t answer any thing. Are we witnessing the beginnings of an invasion? What does the video Lena watch in the lighthouse mean for her future? Do the effects of the Shimmer last once it’s been left? There are more that would spoil the film but you get the idea. The audience has gone on a journey that is just under two hours and by the end we have no idea what any of it means.

“Annihilation” is rated R for some sexuality, language, bloody images and violence. We see a couple having sex but it is not graphic. There are a couple of bloody scenes including a soldier having a flap cut in his abdomen, a corpse with its throat ripped out and a person having their jaw torn off by an animal. Guns are fired on several occasions and there is a physical fight between two characters that becomes bloody. Foul language is scattered but strong.

Based on the first book of a trilogy, “Annihilation” covers only the events of that book. Perhaps, in the slim chance the others are adapted for later films, we’ll get answers to the questions this first film poses but I doubt it. With an opening weekend of $11-million at the box office and a troubled development with foreign distribution being sold to Netflix, it seems unlikely that any more of Jeff VanderMeer’s books from this trilogy will find their way to theatres. Perhaps I’m just one of those viewers expecting to be spoon fed tidied up story threads and happy endings. I like to think I’m more sophisticated than that but maybe I’m not. I still liked “Annihilation” but I just wanted more, and I hate this word, closure.

“Annihilation” gets four stars out of five.

Action and espionage are on the menu for movies coming out this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Death Wish—

Red Sparrow—

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