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

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


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

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

Review of “Black Panther”

The latest Black Panther and newly crowned king of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is faced with a challenge right after taking the throne: The ruthless arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is meeting a buyer in an underground casino in South Korea with a Wakandan artifact made from vibranium. T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) urges him to capture Klaue and bring him back to Wakanda to face trial for his crimes including W’Kabi’s parents’ murder. T’Challa, his former lover and Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and head of the all-female bodyguards for Wakandan kings known as the Dora Milaje, Okoye (Danai Gurira) go to South Korea in an effort to capture Klaue. There they discover the buyer of the artifact is CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). After a violent car chase through the streets of Busan, Klaue is finally captured; however, not long after he is broken out of agent Ross’ custody by Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). During his time serving with US Special Forces he picked up the nickname Killmonger due to the ease and efficiency with which he took enemy lives. There is a connection between T’Challa and Killmonger that could upset the peace and security of Wakanda and the rest of the world.

The pressure on writer and director Ryan Coogler to make a great “Black Panther” movie must have been intense. Not only is this the biggest budget film of his career, it also is the first superhero film to feature a lead character (and most of the cast) that is a person of color. “Black Panther” also has the added burden of being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) where audiences expect the movies to not only be good but fit in with the rest of the continuity established by the 17 previous films. It is a responsibility that must have kept Coogler up at night. All that lost sleep and stress was worth it as “Black Panther” is a great addition to the MCU. It also gives a level of legitimacy to a film genre that is often looked at as being of lesser importance when compared to dramas that usually don’t involve super powered people.

The world of “Black Panther” is one of the best and most fully developed of all the MCU. The film provides a quick history of the mythical African nation of Wakanda before showing us why and how the rest of the world is unaware of the technological marvels the country has produced. The reason for the secrecy is to protect Wakanda’s people from those that would try to invade the country and steal its natural resources, namely the magical metal called vibranium. There’s a scene in the film that supports the idea of foreigners taking from other cultures what doesn’t belong to them. The Wakandan city that is shown is a mixture of modern structures with natural elements incorporated within them. There are also people that live outside the city in a natural setting in homes made from the surrounding elements. The scenic design of Wakanda is a nice mixture of slick modern buildings and modest homes along with a high-tech mining operation that appears to be mostly automated. There is obviously a great deal of care taken to give the fictional country a fantastic but believable appearance.

“Black Panther” also finds the right mix of drama and humor. The interplay between characters never feels forced. While we are told these characters have known each other for years, it actually seems they have. There is an ease to the interactions between T’Challa and his sister, the technical genius Shuri (Leticia Wright). It’s playfulness with a tinge of competitiveness that often comes out in gentle teasing and the occasional obscene gesture. Danai Gurira’s Okoye and T’Challa have a friendly but professional relationship that feels rooted in deep respect. Okoye is a proud warrior and willing to lay down her life to protect the King. There’s a fierceness to Gurira’s performance that makes her electric to watch. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia has a deep emotional connection to T’Challa despite their love affair having ended. She also has a commitment to fight injustice no matter where that may be found and believes Wakanda should do more to fight for freedom of the oppressed.

Fighting oppression is a theme that runs through “Black Panther” and is part of the conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger. What method to take is the main issue. I believe this, along with the groundbreaking nature of the film, is why it is so strongly resonating with audiences across racial and economic lines. The crowd in the showing I watched was incredibly diverse in terms of color and age. I’ve never seen more elderly people at a movie and certainly never at a superhero film. Families of various ethnicities were sitting together and enjoying the film. It was an amazing sight. I hope the success of the film will help diminish the idea that movies featuring primarily people of color don’t make money at the box office. It doesn’t hurt that “Black Panther” is part of the massive MCU; however, the wide age range of the audience shows if the movie is seen as treating its audience with respect and honesty, a broad cross-section of people will come to see it.

Clearly I loved the movie but there is one complaint I have regarding Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue: He wasn’t used enough. This is the second MCU film he’s been a part of, the first being “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In “Black Panther” Serkis has been let off the leash. Klaue is a maniac with little to no fear when face to face with T’Challa as Black Panther. He’s a whirling dervish of evil and one-liners. His personality is much more upbeat and he clearly enjoys being a bad guy. Serkis is of course best known for his motion capture work as Caesar in the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” and as Supreme Leader Snoke in the last two “Star Wars” movies. His use in the MCU has been brief and unsatisfying until the out-of-control Klaue was set loose to create havoc. That said, we need more Klaue and it seems unlikely we’re going to get him. Without spoiling anything it appears, short of some kind of special Wakandan magic that Klaue is not coming back for any more appearances. This makes me more than a little sad. I’m sure Serkis who recently released his first directorial effort called “Breathe” and is putting the finishing touches on his take of The Jungle Book called “Mowgli” to be released later this year has plenty on his plate to keep him busy; but I will miss him chewing the scenery as Klaue.

“Black Panther” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture. There is a car chase where several vehicles are destroyed. We see a couple of people get shot. A couple of flying vehicles are blown up. Black Panther and Killmonger engage in hand-to-hand combat on a couple of occasions. T’Challa also fights another person in ritual combat to take the throne. He is stabbed a couple of times and gets thrown off a very high waterfall. Another character is stabbed in the chest. The rude gesture is a middle finger raised. Foul language is scattered and mild.

The stakes are raised in “Black Panther” in a way that feels more honest and satisfying than in other MCU films. While the safety and security of the world are at stake as in most MCU films this time it seems far more important and real. Perhaps the real oppression of ethnic and religious minorities in the US and around the world make this story hit home a bit more realistically. Whatever the reason, “Black Panther” has raised the bar for the superhero genre and for film in general. It’s time to open our eyes to movies from and about people of color the same way we do with films from and about people that look like me.

“Black Panther” gets five stars.

This week there are three new films coming to a multiplex near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:


Every Day—

Game Night—

Listen to The Fractured Frame where ever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Winchester”

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company is run by the founder’s widow Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) and a board of directors. That board approaches Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to examine Mrs. Winchester. The reason for their request involves Mrs. Winchester having construction running continuously on her home in San Jose, California. She is adding room after room to her home along with stairwells that go nowhere, doors that open into empty space and blocking the doors to some rooms with wooden forms nailed into the frame. The company’s board wants to make sure Mrs. Winchester is competent to continue running the company. When Dr. Price arrives he is greeted by Mrs. Winchester’s niece Marion Marriott (Sarah Snook) who is less than friendly. Chatting with Mrs. Winchester, Dr. Price realizes she is a strong and forceful woman shattered by grief at the loss of her husband and only child many years earlier. Mrs. Winchester says the house is full of the spirits of victims of the rifles she and her husbands’ company have made. The constant building of the house was suggested by a spiritualist who told her she was cursed. The rooms of the house are to be designed like the rooms or areas in which the spirits died, allowing them to deal with their anger and unfinished business. Spirits that are more aggressive are locked up in their rooms using the boards. Dr. Price doesn’t believe in spirits despite seeing frightening images in his room. Marion’s son Henry (Finn Sciculuna-O’Prey) is behaving oddly, putting a burlap sack over his head and wondering around the house in the middle of the night. Dr. Price catches him when he walks off a third floor balcony and falls to the ground while seeming to be in a trance. Mrs. Winchester is concerned about one particular spirit that is angrier, more dangerous and the strongest she’s ever experienced. Dr. Price must determine if Mrs. Winchester is crazy or if there is something supernatural going on inside the massive home nicknamed “The House that Spirits Built.”

“Winchester” is a film that says it is based on a true story. The truth of that statement is at best fragile. There was a Sarah Winchester who used her fortune to build and keep building her home with stairwells to nowhere, windows that looked at walls and doorways leading to nothing. Legend states she did this to make amends for the death her company’s guns caused after a spiritualist told her she was cursed. There is no evidence to suggest any such statement was made and the oddities of her home (that you can go and tour should you ever be near San Jose, California) may not be an effort to confuse ghosts but an example of a person with more money than architectural expertise. Despite the reality being less interesting than the fable, “Winchester” proves to be a pretty good haunted house movie with more than a few scares.

While the main actors might be accused of slumming for a paycheck, stars Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke turn in respectable performances as the rich and possibly crazy lady and the psychiatrist sent to check her out, respectively. Mirren and Clarke spar well together in scenes where the doctor is interviewing Mrs. Winchester. More time spent with this pair as they rhetorically probe and prod each other might have been a better choice than the seemingly endless scenes of people walking hesitantly down dark and narrow hallways because they heard a noise or are looking for the bathroom. I know it’s a requirement in all haunted house movies that you must show people stumbling around in wide-eyed fear as they seek out whatever it is that’s going bump in the night. This is of course the first rule of all scary films; however, the makers of “Winchester” seem to have used these scenes to pad the films’ running time since they didn’t have a very big budget to work with. It would appear the majority of the production’s money went to a scene late in the film where a large amount of CGI was used. Still, “Winchester” does manage to tell a pretty good story when it isn’t skulking through the corridors.

The idea of loss and grief being the overwhelming and guiding force in the lives of the characters plays out slowly over the course of the film. Mrs. Winchester and her niece Marion are clearly struggling with the losses of spouses. Dr. Price’s grief is revealed slowly over the course of the film and guides him to an epiphany for both the story and his life. There is a fourth character crushed by loss that turns into the antagonist of the film. His existence isn’t revealed until late in the film even though we see him throughout. This through-line of loss, grief and anger shared by all the main characters is surprisingly poignant for a throw-away horror movie. It gives a deeper look into the characters than most fright films provide and I appreciated the thought put into their stories.

Of course the most important thing about a horror movie is if it’s scary. “Winchester” manages to provide some nice jump scares. A bit with a mirror that swivels by itself to show an empty chair pays off nicely with two ghouls. There are assorted other nasties that pop up to give the audience a reason to shift suddenly in their seats. It isn’t a constant tension like “Don’t Breathe” or films of that type but it does give moments that will quicken your pulse.

“Winchester” is rated PG-13 drug content, disturbing images, some sexual material, thematic elements and violence. We see a characters lounging with women that appear to be prostitutes in various stages of undress. The aftermath of drug use is shown with a character appearing to be high. This character is also shown using laudanum from a bottle with the label showing it is a poison. We see ghosts in various stages of what appears to be decay and/or injury. A slave is shown with a metal collar around his neck. A massacre is shown with numerous people being shot. Unseen figures throw and drag people around the house and one person is shown dead after part of the house collapses on him. There is little to no foul language.

Some in the media and online have argued the movie is a statement against America’s gun culture. I have to disagree as it is only a mindless and inoffensive horror movie. Plus, there’s a scene that is actually a frequently heard counter argument whenever gun control is debated. I doubt the writers of “Winchester” had any ulterior motives in mind when they wrote their script about the odd house designed by a woman with more money than training in building design. Watching the movie should be approached with the same lack of thought.

“Winchester” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “The 15:17 to Paris” for the WIMZ website.

If I have time, I’ll review one of the following for this webpage (Hint: It won’t be the one about bondage).

Fifty Shades Freed—

Peter Rabbit—

Listen to The Fractured Frame each week wherever you download podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Den of Thieves”

Los Angeles is the capital of bank robberies. On this day, it isn’t a bank but an armored car that is the target. A team of robbers led by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) hits the truck with a precise strike meant to get the group in and out in a short period of time. Unfortunately one of the security guards goes for his gun leading to a shootout that kills all the guards, several cops and one of the robbers; however, the crew gets away with the truck that had no money on board. Investigating the crime is LA Sheriff’s department detective Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler) and his team from the major crimes squad. His work leads to Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr) as possibly having a connection to the robbers so Nick knocks him out and brings him to a house filled with his squad and some very attractive and scantily-clad women. Sending the women out, Nick questions Donnie, letting him know if they don’t like the answers he will be killed and dumped in the middle of nowhere. Donnie says Merrimen doesn’t tell him much and only uses him as a getaway driver. Nick tells Donnie to keep in touch and tell him what Merrimen is planning next. The cop and the bank robber begin a cat-and-mouse game with millions of dollars at stake and possibly their lives.

“Den of Thieves” is a gritty crime thriller that takes itself very seriously. It is packed with a cast of Alpha Males that strut, grunt and menace their way through a 140 minute movie, jumping from gunfights, robberies and domestic drama with little to no thought about how it will affect the flow of the story. It also has a complicated heist that acts as an anchor to keep everyone involved in roughly the same place even though the cops know the robbers are up to something and robbers know the cops know they’re up to something and it all becomes an intricate ballet that runs on booze and cigarettes. It is also maddeningly stupid.

I love a good crime drama. They work best when they are kept down to earth and focus on the broken characters on both sides of the law with the crime itself being something of an afterthought. “Den of Thieves” tries real hard to break the characters in a way that justifies their actions but only adds to the silliness of the whole film. The most interesting part of the film is the planning and carrying out of the robbery of the Los Angeles Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. It is a massively guarded facility with seemingly impenetrable security and with safeguards in place to keep you from spending any money you might actually get away with. It is a plan that, naturally, requires careful preparation and split-second timing. It is also incredibly dumb and unmanageable in about 100 different ways. Still, it is the best part of the film.

The worst part is Gerard Butler. I felt sorry for him and his portrayal of Nick Flanagan as a hard-drinking, hard-living detective that is so buried in his work he rarely sees his wife and two kids. His acting in this is best described as frantic. He’s constantly angry, agitated and aggravated and all apparently at the same time. He has a couple of scenes where he acts like a human being with emotions and stuff but those are few and far between. Most of the time he’s either sucking on a cigarette and chugging down a beer or beating up a suspect to get him to talk. It’s the kind of performance that is supposed to make the audience feel the character is running on a razor’s edge and could crack at any moment. It actually makes us laugh at the idea anyone would put this lunatic in charge of a law enforcement team. Butler’s performance is so exaggerated and over the top you’ll be rooting for the bank robbers.

Pablo Schreiber is actually very good as Merrimen, the leader of the bank robbers. Perhaps his more controlled performance looks great when compared to Butler’s whirling dervish but I found Schreiber to be a fascinating bad guy and a character that had some real potential. I also enjoyed the performance of O’Shea Jackson as Donnie. He’s caught between two worlds and knows either side will kill him if he slips up. He’s over his head and looks like he’s hoping to just survive long enough to escape his situation. Jackson plays the underdog role for all its worth and you can’t help but hope his character somehow survives and makes a better life for himself.

The story takes a huge twist at the very end with an explanation about how everyone involved has been played for a fool. I appreciated the effort to turn a film that is something of a mess into a surprising mindbender. Sadly, even the twist is something that isn’t handled that well and still requires such a suspension of disbelief that everything has to play out even more perfectly than you initially thought. While it does offer something of a better ending it still doesn’t make up for all the shenanigans that have gone on before.

“Den of Thieves” is rated R for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. There are some bloody shootings and beatings. There is a scene in a stripper bar and we briefly see some topless women along with bare backsides. Foul language is common throughout.

While it isn’t quite bad enough to be a guilty pleasure, there are a few things in “Den of Thieves” that are enjoyable. While implausible, the heist is pretty fun especially as it is being pulled off. The performances of Pablo Schreiber and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. are highlights. And if you want to see a clinic on what not to do during a leading acting role then watch Gerard Butler. Otherwise this film is utterly forgettable.

“Den of Thieves” gets two stars out of five.

This week the only new movie in wide release is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

I will be on a trip this week so there will be no review.

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

Review of “I, Tonya”

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) has been figure skating since she was three years old. Her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) is a cold-hearted woman that is emotionally and, at times, physically abusive over Tonya’s childhood. Following her parent’s divorce, LaVona pulls Tonya out of school so she can train full time with her coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson). When Tonya is 15 she meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). What starts out as a sweet romance turns into a rocky and sometimes violent marriage. Jeff’s friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) is a self-proclaimed bodyguard and counter terrorism specialist. As the 1994 Winter Olympics approach, Jeff concocts a plan to frighten Tonya’s main competition Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) by sending threatening letters with the hopes that it improves Tonya’s chances of winning the national championship and being named to the Olympic team. Shawn contacts a couple of guys, one of them being Shane Stant (Ricky Russert), to travel to Massachusetts and mail the letters; but something goes wrong and Shawn begins improvising leading to one of the biggest scandals of the 1990’s: The clubbing of Nancy Kerrigan’s knee.

“I, Tonya” takes a look back at a 20-plus year old controversy with a mildly jaundiced eye but manages to freshen up the subject with snappy writing, great performances and a dash of social commentary. It also makes Tonya Harding sympathetic while not letting her off the hook. It’s a masterful balancing act that is funny while being honest about what a bunch of idiots everyone is.

While all the performances are great in “I, Tonya” there are two that really stand out: Allison Janney and Paul Walter Hauser. Despite playing an evil and heartless woman, it is impossible to not be entertained by Janney’s performance. Janney makes LaVona mesmerizing the way a good villain should be. LaVona doesn’t care what you think about her or what you think in general. She’s the boss no matter what situation she happens to be in. Try to correct her and you will face the wrath of a very cranky god. How much of LaVona’s actions (or any characters’ actions) in the movie are factual is open to debate. What can’t be debated is Tonya Harding had an unconventional and abusive childhood that led to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan and that all starts with LaVona. Janney maintains the cold detachment of someone operating on autopilot. She has a set series of tasks and she goes through them clinically and without emotion. While she does flare up into anger on occasion, LaVona is usually in absolutely control. Janney makes that control terrifying and soul-sucking. She deserves all the awards that are headed her way with this performance.

Paul Walter Hauser is amazing as Shawn Eckhardt. Dimwitted would be an understatement when it comes to Eckhardt. He has read enough to know how to throw around a few words and phrases about security and counterterrorism but has no real experience and frequently lies about his travels to other countries and jobs in the field. Hauser plays Eckhardt like he’s just woken up from a nap. He seems to be in a daze and only perks up when the conversation involves something he’s interested in. Eckhardt is an annoying character that everyone involved would be better off without. Looking back I’m sure the real Tonya and Jeff Gillooly wish they had never met him. Hauser has terrific comic timing and turns a repulsive character into one that lights up the screen with just how dim he is.

The story of “I, Tonya” isn’t just about the life of Tonya Harding and the attack on Nancy Kerrigan: It also looks at the social disparity in figure skating. While it isn’t so much the case now, Olympic-level figure skaters are looked at like ballerinas. They are the artistic swans compared to the rest of the sports world’s ugly ducklings. There is a certain expectation about how competitors should look and behave and Tonya Harding didn’t fit into their preconceived notions. In a scene that I’m sure never happened in reality, Tonya approaches a judge after a competition and asks why she is scored lower than other skaters. He tells her it has more to do with her lifestyle than her performance on the ice. The judge is telling her if she doesn’t have a happy family and access to a six-figure income she should just move on and let the rich kids have the ice. It is a sad scene on a couple of levels as Tonya has her suspicions confirmed while also feeling like she has to try and create the façade of a happy and traditional family. She reunites with Gillooly and approaches her mother in an effort to repair a relationship that was broken from birth. Naturally it ends in failure. That is the true heartbreak for Tonya and all the characters in the film: They simply aren’t good enough. It is a revelation that is obvious from the start with some characters but only becomes apparent later on for others.

“I, Tonya” is rated R for violence, some sexual content/nudity and pervasive language. We witness the domestic violence that occurs between Tonya and Jeff as well as Tonya’s mother beating her as a child. There are a couple of scenes at a strip club with one dancer visible in the background. Tonya and Jeff are briefly shown having sex once. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

The fourth wall is broken in “I, Tonya” as the characters speak directly to the audience throughout the film. These occur as both recreated interviews and also when the characters talk to the audience during scenes. It’s a refreshing way to involve the audience in the story in a more direct way but it doesn’t always work. In “I, Tonya” it does. The movie also provides some updates on what the characters are doing now. In Tonya’s update it says she is married, has a young child and notes that she insists the update include that she’s a good mother. She certainly learned what not to do so I hope she is. The life of Tonya Harding shouldn’t be interesting fodder for a movie and without the attack on Nancy Kerrigan it probably wouldn’t be. With an amazing script from Steven Rogers and spot-on performances from the cast, “I, Tonya” is a fascinating look back at a tabloid story from before the age of Facebook and Twitter that still managed to mesmerize the public for months. It will also keep you entertained for another two hours in a theatre.

“I, Tonya” gets five stars.

There are several new movies this week. I’ll be review “12 Strong” for WIMZ.

I’ll review one of the following for this webpage:

Den of Thieves—

Forever My Girl—


Phantom Thread—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you listen to podcasts. Send emails to

Review of “Insidious: The Last Key”

Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is having nightmares about her childhood. Her father Gerald Rainier (Josh Stewart) punished her severely whenever she talked about seeing ghosts. Her mother Audrey (Tessa Ferrer) was killed when a spirit wrapped an electric wire around her neck and hung her. Elise gets a call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo) who lives in a haunted house and wants her to come investigate. When she hears the address she recognizes it as her childhood home. Initially reluctant to take the job, Elise decides she needs to face her demons. Elise and her two tech assistants Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell) hit the road for Five Keys, New Mexico for an investigation that will take her into The Further once again. It is also a reunion of sorts for Elise and her brother Christian (Bruce Davison) whom she hasn’t seen since she ran away from her father’s abuse when she was 16. Elise also meets for the first time her nieces Imogen and Melissa (Caitlin Gerard and Spencer Locke).

Actress Lin Shaye became a big star in the horror genre with her performance in “Insidious.” (Spoiler alert) I think the filmmakers realized killing off her character in the first film was a huge mistake as she’s been the focus, in one way or another, for all four movies. With “Insidious: The Last Key” Shaye delivers another great performance as the medium with a soft spot for spirits in need; but maybe it’s time to let The Further stay far away and bring this series to an end.

Shaye is the main reason to see “Insidious: The Last Key.” Her performance is warm and sweet with just the right amount of anger when needed. She is motherly but not in a creepy or overbearing way. Elise does her best to keep Tucker and Specs in line and on mission as they are easily distracted by technological gadgets or a pretty face. Perhaps it’s her age that makes Shaye so appealing as the feisty paranormal investigator. Seeing a grandmotherly type willingly walk into the afterlife to battle spirits and demons instantly makes the audience want to root for her to succeed. Shaye is also a very good actress that has nearly 200 credits on IMDB with about 10 of them listed in pre-production, filming and in post-production. She’s now an in-demand actress thanks largely to her performance in the “Insidious” series.

The main problem with “Insidious: The Last Key” is we’ve seen all this before. While the main demon looks different than the others from the past three movies, the story points are all very similar to the other films. There also isn’t much in the way of dramatic tension as we know Elise will still be around at the end of the film as this all takes place prior to the original “Insidious.” While a few curveballs are thrown our way with the introduction of some evil characters that are very much alive and the two nieces unwittingly drawn into the weirdness, these are quickly dispatched or cleanly managed by the end of the movie.

“Insidious: The Last Key” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language. There are scenes of beatings, some abusive, some deadly. One character is shown hung by the neck from an electrical cord. One character is thrown violently into a wall then a demon inserts skeleton keys into the character’s flesh. We are shown skulls that are supposed to be of murder victims. We see a demon impaled in the face on a sharp stick. There are numerous scares especially early in the film. Foul language is scattered and mostly mild with the exception of on F-bomb.

“Insidious: The Last Key” is the fourth chapter in the franchise and takes us chronologically back to the beginning of not only Elise’s story but of the movie series. While the first film offered fresh and truly terrifying visuals and characters, the shock value has worn off and now we are just seeing more of the same. While there are a few jump scares that are certainly effective, the focus now seems to be on the story and it simply isn’t that interesting to justify more films. Perhaps it’s best if The Further was just left behind.

“Insidious: The Last Key” gets three stars out of five.

Four new films hit your local multiplex this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Commuter—

Paddington 2—

The Post—

Proud Mary—

Listen to, subscribe, rate and review The Fractured Frame available wherever you download podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to