Review of “Escape Room”

Six diverse people are invited to try out a new escape room.  Anyone that successfully solves the puzzles and gets out of the rooms will win $10,000.  Those invited are Zoey (Taylor Russell), a brilliant but introverted college student, Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), a former soldier, Mike (Tyler Labine), a truck driver, Ben (Logan Miller) a grocery store clerk, Danny (Nik Dodani), a gamer and escape room groupie, and Jason (Jay Ellis), a high-powered investment broker.  These six people are faced with rooms that are trying to kill them and they must work together despite their differences.  As they struggle, they discover they are connected by tragedy.

“Escape Room” follows the formula of many low-budget horror films:  Collect a mostly no-name cast, tell a decent story, establish a hero (or heroes) and set up a sequel.  It has worked for the Blumhouse factory for their horror franchises “Insidious” and “The Purge.”  “Escape Room” does a pretty good job of introducing us to a largely unknown cast, plopping them in the middle of a deadly set of puzzle rooms they must escape from before the boobytraps are sprung that will kill them, establishing a hero from the diverse group and creating a mystery as to why they were chosen.  It is a simple but entertaining film.

It’s simple because the whole concept of “Escape Room” is to whittle the six characters down to one or two.  How that is done is the complicated part and the part that stretches credibility to the absolute max.  The puzzles are nearly impossible to figure out.  An average person in one of the rooms wouldn’t have a chance of escape.  Finding a key that’s part of a prop or a mini safe hidden in an upside-down room or figuring out the code word for a padlock based on one individual’s past feels like it is asking a lot for an audience to believe.  Some of the puzzles requires one particular person to survive from one room to the next.  What if that person doesn’t make it out of the previous room?  Is the next room changed to give the others a chance or is everyone else screwed?  That question is left up in the air, but it troubled me as the film went on.

There is also the question of who is behind all the traps and puzzles in the escape room.  As it turns out, the film falls back on the all-knowing, all-seeing, nameless, faceless corporation.  I won’t give any more away, but it’s the kind of thing we’ve seen in films like “Hostel.”  A powerful group that uses average people for their amusement.  I suppose given the political climate this might resonate with audiences, but it’s been done many times before and it struck me as a little old.

“Escape Room” works because of the ensemble cast.  No one is a standout, but no one is a weak link either.  Taylor Russell is the introverted but brilliant Zoey.  This caterpillar must be reborn as a butterfly in order for the film to succeed.  Zoey actually is transformed into a lion as she goes full action hero.  I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, but Zoey is a large reason why the film has a marginally happy ending.  Russell makes the turn from delicate flower to raging bull believable because of the logic she applies.  Again, I don’t want to spoil it, but Zoey is the true hero of “Escape Room.”

The rest of the cast plays their parts well with Logan Miller as the brooding Ben and Jay Ellis as the rich and quietly dangerous Jason as the more interesting characters.  We are given plenty of reason to dislike both of them, yet we root for them all the same.  Jason is pragmatic while Ben is emotional.  They are like fire and water, but still they compliment each other and bring their own unique strengths to the solving of the puzzles.  If this pair manages to escape, they would make a formidable pairing to go after those responsible for trying to kill them.  I’m not saying they do, but I am saying it might make for a cool sequel.

“Escape Room” is rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language.  Each room is designed to kill the players.  There is fire, freezing cold, falling, poison gas, being crushed and your fellow player.  One room has a substance that causes hallucinations, leading the players to fight each other.  I don’t recall what the suggestive material was, so it couldn’t have been too suggestive.  Foul language is scattered.

“Escape Room” wants to be a franchise or at least a trilogy.  I’m not sure how they can squeeze three movies or more out of this concept.  The end of the film sets up a sequel that makes sense; however, anything after that will be stretching this idea very, very thin.  That would likely lead to diminishing box office and, eventually, a reboot.  That’s the way these things seem to go; but that’s looking way down the road.  For right now, “Escape Room” is a pretty good thriller that makes for a nice distraction in what is a dreary winter.

“Escape Room” gets four stars out of five.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “The Upside” for WIMZ.com.

Also opening this week:

A Dog’s Way Home—

Replicas—

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

Review of “Holmes and Watson”

Detective Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) and his loyal assistant Dr. Watson (John C. Reilly) has just proven in court the man the police believe is the evil Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) is actually an imposter, setting him free and infuriating London police Inspector Lestrade (Rob Brydon). At a birthday party planned by Watson for Holmes and hosted by Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) at Buckingham Place, a body is discovered in a giant birthday cake. With the body is a note threatening the life of the Queen and to rewrite history. Performing the autopsy on the body is American doctor Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) and her companion Millie (Lauren Lapkus). Watson immediately falls in love with Hart while Holmes becomes infatuated with Millie. Clues from the body take Holmes and Watson on a twisted journey that leads Holmes to believe someone very close to him may be the leader of the plot and a killer, but who?

I am a big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. I have read several of the stories and highly recommend a British television adaption starring Jeremy Brett in the title role. While the films starring Robert Downey, Jr. were entertaining action films, I didn’t consider them a true adaption of Doyle’s stories. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman portray the pair in a recent BBC series. There are other adaptions dating back to the beginning of film and stage plays prior to that. Now, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly take on the mantle of the great detective duo and, between the script and their portrayal, show they are not up to the task.

“Holmes and Watson” is a bad movie in so many ways, but I’ll only cover the most glaring examples. First, the movie isn’t funny. There are plenty of very talented people on screen with decades of comedy experience both in America and in the UK. Ferrell, Reilly, Rob Brydon, Lauren Lapkus, Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan and many more in the movie have been in some classic and groundbreaking comedy during their careers. In “Holmes and Watson,” the cast is hamstrung by an unfunny script. There are a few laughs scattered about but not nearly enough to fill the 90-minute running time. Much of the dialog feels riffed. The sloppy editing sometimes shows the actor saying another line but there is no audio of the line. There is then a quick edit to another camera angle. This implies there were various bits of dialog and storylines that were left on the cutting room floor. Considering what shows up on screen, it’s difficult to believe this was the best of the footage shot.

The movie also can’t decide whether Holmes is a genius or a lucky moron, so he is shown as both. There are moments where Holmes is doing the mental math in his head to calculate whether his next move with be successful. Apparently, the character is smart enough to figure out angles and speeds necessary, so his plans will succeed. When things don’t go as planned, Holmes shifts from genius to moron and freezes in place. Ferrell drifts dangerously close to what I thought of him early in his film career: A little of him goes a long way. Playing one of the title characters means Ferrell is in nearly every shot and his portrayal of Holmes wears thin very quickly.

Then there are the little things. For instance, I thought I saw some familiar characters in the backgrounds of various scenes. Nothing is ever done with these characters, so I put them out of my mind. Only when I printed off the list of actors did I learn these background characters where who I thought they were: Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Sigmund Freud. They are never referenced, and nothing is ever done with them. I guess there were scenes including them in brief cameos, but they got cut from the final edit, yet there they are, loitering in the background. It’s clear the film makers probably shot enough alternate takes to cut together three or four movies. Since these were considered the best of the bunch, I hope we never get an alternate cut using all the stuff these didn’t use.

The physical comedy is so also unfunny. People get hit in the face, back of the head, beaten with a chair, a croquet mallet and more. Horse poop (hopefully fake) gets smeared all over Watson as a “disguise.” One character acts like a cat. A swarm of bees attacks, driving a character to jump out a window. As seen in the trailer, Queen Victoria gets hit in the face with an old-style camera. None of it generates more than a giggle, if that. It’s been a long time since the Three Stooges and physical comedy has progressed, except in “Holmes and Watson.”

“Holmes and Watson” is rated PG-13 for drug references, crude sexual material, language and some violence. Aside from the various bits of violence I described earlier, there is a knife thrown that hits a character in the side. There is also the implication that the body inside the cake is stabbed as Holmes and Watson use a sword to cut it. The sexual material is exclusively about masturbation. Holmes and Watson use cocaine. While we don’t see its use, we do see the effects. Foul language is scattered and mild, but there is one use of the “F-bomb.”

With all the very funny people, and Will Ferrell, involved in making this movie, it should have been funnier, and it should have made more sense. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. There is plenty to parody about Sherlock Holmes, from his drug use to his encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything. Why writer and director Etan Cohen chose to not focus on anything in particular is a mystery worthy of the master detective.

“Holmes and Watson” gets 1 star.

There’s only one new film opening this week. I’ll see and review the following:

Escape Room—

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

Review of “Aquaman”

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the product of two worlds: Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), princess of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, on the run from a loveless arranged marriage, and Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), the keeper of a lighthouse on the Atlantic coast. Tom finds Atlanna injured on the rocky shore during a storm, brings her in and tends her wounds. The two fall in love and produce a son, Arthur. The King of Atlantis sends troops to bring Atlanna back, but she defeats them in battle. To keep Tom and Arthur safe, Atlanna decides to return to Atlantis. Arthur shows the ability to communicate with fish. He can also fly through water. Atlanna’s advisor Vulko (Willem Dafoe) meets with Arthur and trains him in the ways of Atlanteans including battle tactics and how to use his unique abilities. Now an adult, Arthur, known in the media as Aquaman, intervenes in an attempt to take over a Russian nuclear sub by a group of high-tech pirates led by David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen, II) and his father Jesse (Michael Beach). During the fight, Arthur injures Jesse who is then trapped by a torpedo that has fallen from its rack. David begs Arthur to help free his father, but he refuses and Jesse dies. David vows revenge on Arthur. Meanwhile, Atlantean King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is Arthur’s half-brother, is plotting with King Nereus (Dolph Londgren) of the Xebel tribe, to wage war on the surface world by uniting the remaining seven kingdoms of the sea, taking the title Ocean Master, and attacking with their combined forces. Nereus’ daughter Mera (Amber Heard) finds Arthur and encourages him to come to Atlantis and challenge Orm for the throne and prevent the war. Arthur isn’t interested in being a king, but changes his mind when Orm, using Atlantean technology, causes huge tsunami all around the world, wreaking massive damage and nearly killing Tom. Vulko tells Arthur and Mera about the legendary Trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis. The magical weapon will give Arthur the power to defeat Orm and unite the kingdoms of the seas. Orm has given David Kane Atlantean weapons that Kane modifies into a suit and takes the name Black Manta. Orm sends troops and Black Manta to kill Mera and Arthur to stop them from finding Atlan’s Trident.

One of the biggest complaints about the recent superhero films from DC is they are dour, overly serious and dark. None of those criticisms can possibly be levied at “Aquaman” from director James Wan. The sixth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is bright, colorful, funny and filled with enough action sequences to keep fans happy. It is everything “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” weren’t.

The story of “Aquaman” is overly stuffed with secondary but connected plot lines. There is his missing mother, the creation of Black Manta, Orm’s plot with Nereus, Orm gathering support from the other kingdoms, the search for Atlan’s trident and a couple of more that would be spoilers. This bloats the running time to nearly two and a half hours. While there is more than enough to occupy your attention, it causes the film to feel scattershot and disjointed. With so many bits of story to service and characters to get on screen, “Aquaman” is constantly moving, never taking the time to let a moment breathe. While this makes the long run time feel somewhat shorter (still, plan your fluids), it also makes for a film that jumps from event to event and action scene to action scene, lessening the importance of each.

That said, “Aquaman” is quite the thrill ride. There are some amazing action scenes where Jason Momoa and Amber Heard (and/or their stunt/CGI doubles) get thrown around like rag dolls. There’s a foot chase scene with Mera across the rooftops of Sicily while Black Manta and Arthur battle it out in various locations. The choreography of these scenes, as well as the editing of the two together, is a masterclass for future filmmakers in how it should be done. The opening action scene on board a submarine is equally impressive for its use of the confined space. Arthur bangs bad guys off the walls and throws them down the halls. This scene also gives us an idea of Arthur’s powers as he is shot with a gun with no apparent effect and hit with an RPG that merely stuns him. He rips metal doors off and uses them as shields and weapons. All this after raising the sub up from the depths all by himself. Aquaman is a powerful hero with abilities in the water similar to Superman’s in the air.

He also can talk to fish. This often is mentioned as a joke since Aquaman is considered by some to be a secondary character in the DC universe. While it is an important part of his abilities, it isn’t the most important aspect of the character. Clearly, he’s gone through several changes in the various reboots of the comics character and aside from some cartoons like Super Friends, there wasn’t much done with Aquaman outside the pages of comic books. Now, with DC looking to emulate the movie success of Marvel, Aquaman has got to be toughened up to be considered on the same level as Superman and Batman. Casting Jason Momoa in the role was the first step in turning Aquaman into an A-list superhero.

Aquaman is as much Momoa as he is from the pages of the comic books. Both the actor and the character in the film like to have a good time with friends and family. Both enjoy a drink or 10. Both are gregarious (perhaps Aquaman less so) and enjoy laughing. Momoa is probably the best choice to play the king of the sea and he’s clearly enjoying his time in the role. He and Amber Heard have a chemistry that jumps off the screen. Even when they are just getting to know one another, and their relationship is more adversarial, there is an undeniable connection between the two. They are a team along the lines of Lois and Clark, and Bruce and Alfred. Separately, they are formidable, but together, they are unstoppable. It is a team-up I hope to see again on the big screen.

To say the design of “Aquaman” is eye-catching is an understatement. The cities at the bottom of the sea glow with a light like that of the deep-water fish you see in documentaries. The look of the advanced technology, the vehicles and the infrastructure of Atlantis and the other kingdoms is extraordinary. The sleek hydro-dynamic designs of the various subs mimic that of sea life like manta rays and dolphins. It is a world unlike any we’ve seen before, but it all makes sense.

The characters float in their underwater world in a believable way. Their images are slightly warped by the currents in the water and their hair moves in a way that is both realistic and extremely convenient as it never gets in their faces. While some of the digital de-ageing of some characters in flashback scenes is obvious, overall the digital effects throughout the film are excellent.

“Aquaman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. We see the aftermath of the pirates massacring the crew of the sub. We see a couple of characters stabbed or impaled. Despite the killings there is very little blood. We also see characters hit be energy weapons and blown hundreds of feet. There is also violence against and between underwater monsters created for the movie. Foul language is scattered and mild.

DC doesn’t have the best track record for their movies since the beginning of the DCEU with “Man of Steel.” Their only critical and financial success has been “Wonder Woman,” while “Suicide Squad” made money despite being roasted by film critics. “Aquaman” is likely to be a success on both fronts as it has been a huge moneymaker in China where it was released two weeks before opening in North America. With good reviews and the probability of a successful box office run, “Aquaman” may join the rarified air of a critically liked and financially successful movie for Warner Bros. and DC. Perhaps those in charge will be willing to take chances on their superpowered characters, give directors the freedom to experiment and take chances in presenting them in a new medium. I hope “Aquaman” signals a change in the fortunes of DC’s slate of superhero movies. It would be nice if they could give Marvel a run for their money. After all, a high tide raises all boats.

“Aquaman” gets five stars.

This holiday week has two new releases. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Holmes and Watson—

Vice—

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

Review of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a high school kid starting in a new honors boarding school in his Brooklyn neighborhood. His father is Jefferson Davis (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry), a cop, and his mother is Rio Morales (voiced by Lauren Luna Velez), a nurse. They want the best for their son, but Miles would rather go back to his public high school. His uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali) is on the outs with Jefferson, but Miles looks up to him. Aaron supports Miles’ artistic talents and takes him to an abandoned subway tunnel where he can paint a graffiti mural on a blank wall. While down there, a genetically modified spider from a nearby lab bites Miles, beginning his transformation into Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk (voiced by Liev Schreiber), is in that lab attempting to fire up a particle collider and Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine) is trying to stop him. While looking for his Uncle Aaron, Miles stumbles into the fight between Spider-Man, Green Goblin (voiced by Jorma Toccone), Scorpion (voiced by Joaquin Cosio) and other of Fisk’s henchmen. Spider-Man senses Miles has powers as well and saves Miles when he nearly falls to his death. Spider-Man has a flash drive he needs to insert into a panel at the top of the collider to shut it down but never gets the chance before the device is turned on. The collider creates rifts in the fabric of reality, pulling several Spider-people from other realities. The collider explodes, injuring Spider-Man. He gives Miles the flash drive and tells him stopping Fisk from restarting the collider is the only thing that will save all of reality. Miles runs away, and Fisk kills Spider-Man. Miles visits Peter Parker’s grave, wondering what he’s going to do as he doesn’t know how to be Spider-Man. That’s when alternate universe Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) approaches Miles. This Parker is a little chubby and older than the Spider-Man Miles knows. He figures out the only way he can get back to his reality is to take the flash drive and turn the collider back on, but Miles needs to destroy the collider to fulfill his promise to his Spider-Man. Parker is reluctant but sees potential in Miles and agrees to train him. When a raid on Fisk’s laboratory goes wrong, Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) shows up to help. Then Peter, Miles and Gwen meet Spider-Man from the 1930’s (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) from a future Tokyo where she operates a robot powered by a radioactive spider, and Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), a talking pig named Peter Porker. Together they team up to face off against Fisk and his henchmen. If they don’t get back to their respective realities, they will painfully die.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is probably the ultimate Spider-Man movie. Since it’s animation, anything can happen, and it does in this film. It takes versions of Spider-Man that have only been seen in comics and video games and brings them all together for an adventure that’s as much about growing up and finding your way in the world as it is about learning to use and control your newly acquired powers and stopping the bad guy’s evil plan.

The animation style of the film is a mixture of computer graphics, comic book wording popping up in the frame, color splashes and random geometric shapes, and simpler animation reminiscent of Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny cartoons of the 1940’s and 1950’s. All these styles combine to create a unique and visually stunning movie that always has something interesting to look at.

For a moment, I thought I had walked into a 3D showing of the film as characters appeared to have halos around them or they were split. It is the filmmaker’s way of making sure you focus on the right character. The person speaking, or the one we should be paying attention to, is in focus, while any secondary characters are slightly blurry. It doesn’t happen in every scene as there are often multiple characters we should be focused on, but it does happen often enough that I noticed it.

The story of Miles, his interactions with the various Spider-powered people (and pig) that show up, his lack of confidence in himself and his abilities and the stress of being a kid with superpowers is all part of this hero’s journey. It is a well-told origin story that manages to juggle nearly a dozen characters in a way a live-action film couldn’t handle. Perhaps it’s the actor’s voices are what’s on display instead of their faces that makes the difference. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” was criticized for having too many villains. While “…Spider-Verse” actually has more bad guys taking an active role in the story, most of them are only henchmen we see for a couple of action scenes with the story focusing on three villainous characters. If you tried to have as many bad guys in a live-action film, you’d have egos flaring up over a lack of screen time. Here, some of the villains are only used to physically challenge our heroes and have very few lines. It’s a smart way to provide fan service, showing some of the better-known Spider-Man baddies while being able to focus on three primary villains. The same can be said for the Spider-Heroes as Miles, Peter and Gwen are the leads and Noir, Peni and Ham are used mostly for comic relief or as a diversion. It is a smart division of labor that allows for more characters and more for the fans to see and enjoy.

The voice performances are all great, but I must confess my favorite was John Mulaney. While Spider-Ham doesn’t get much screen time, Mulaney always delivers a strong line reading and a punchline delivered with the polish one would expect from a popular touring standup comic. I wouldn’t have minded getting more Spider-Ham in the film, but this wasn’t his story; however, spin-off films are being discussed at Sony Animation and my vote is for Peter Porker to get a movie, even direct to Blu-Ray or VOD, about his reality where animals talk and some have superpowers.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. While the death of Peter Parker isn’t shown, it is obvious what happens to him. There are several fight scenes with bizarre villains and the Spider-People. We also see Miles try out his spider powers and fail spectacularly with his falling from a great height. Miles is threatened with death from a bad guy, but the bad guy refuses to kill him and the bad guy is then shot by Wilson Fisk. In all the deaths we don’t see any blood. Foul language is limited to the use of the world “Hell.”

Stan Lee has a cameo in the film as the clerk at a costume shop where Miles buys a Spider-Man costume. His lines speak to loss, making it all the more touching since his death in November. There is also a tribute card in the credits to both Lee and Steve Ditko. Without these two visionaries, both of whom died this year, we wouldn’t have this amazing and thrilling cinematic world filled with flawed heroes given extraordinary gifts and the wonderous deeds they perform. This version of the web head (or heads) is a refreshing take on a character that has had too many reboots over the last several years. Perhaps the best way for Sony to continue to make money with Spider-Man is to keep him in the animated realm. As long as they keep making films as good as this one, I will keep giving them my money.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” gets five stars.

For my review of “The Mule” starring Clint Eastwood, click below:

The Mule

It’s a busy week at your local multiplex as the holiday releases are all hoping to capture your pocket jingle. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Opening Wednesday:
Mary Poppins Returns—

Opening Friday:
Aquaman—

Bumblebee—

Second Act—

Welcome to Marwen—

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

Review of “Border”

Tina (Eva Melander) is a border guard at a harbor where a ferry docks, making sure no one is bringing contraband into Sweden. Tina has an amazing sense of smell. She can smell emotions coming from people. Whether it’s guilt, fear, panic or shame, Tina can smell it. Tina is a unique looking person with a heavy brow ridge, broad nose and ruddy skin. She has a similar appearance to an artist impression of Neanderthals. Tina lives in a small house in the woods with a man named Roland (Jorgen Thorsson). He raises and trains dogs and those dogs don’t like Tina, barking at her constantly. While at work, Tina senses a man has contraband and her fellow guard finds a memory card containing child pornography. The suspect won’t give any details about where the child porn was made police don’t know where to look. They approach Tina to use her sense of smell to find and shut down the operation. Back at the harbor, a man walks through customs that looks similar to Tina. His name is Vore (Eero Milonoff) and he tells Tina he is visiting the city for a few days and staying at a hostel. Tina’s father (Sten Ljunggren) is in a nursing home and is showing signs of dementia. He has told Tina she suffers with a chromosomal defect, explaining her appearance and sense of smell. Tina looks for Vore at the hostel and brings him home to live in a small guest house behind her home. Vore makes Roland and Tina’s neighbors feel uneasy. Vore suggests Tina does not have any genetic defect at all and hints he knows more about her than she does, but he is slow to give her information. Tina has always felt like an outsider, but Vore makes her feel like she’s part of something bigger; but is she also part of something darker.

“Border” is a Swedish film with subtitles. I know having to read while watching your movies is a deal breaker for many of you, but I would ask that you give “Border” a chance. It is truly unlike anything you’ve seen in the movies this year and possibly ever.

Eva Melander plays the role of Tina, the lonely and unconventional-looking woman border guard with the unusual sense of smell. Melander put on a great deal of weight and endured four hour daily prosthetic makeup applications to play the part. Buried under the latex brow, nose and cheeks plus the artificial teeth, Melander must have found a freedom to portray Tina as an otherworldly person. There a raw, animal-like personae Tina radiates throughout the film that leads the audience to believe she has been resurrected from prehistoric DNA found in Neanderthal bones recovered from a cave. Her sense of smell suggests something even more bizarre. Her animal nature really pops when she catches a scent of someone that’s done something wrong. Her upper lip twitches and her eyes become fixed on her target. She’s on the hunt and nothing will shake her off.

Melander’s performance is subtle while also mesmerizing. There’s a sadness and sense of acceptance of her lonely life that Melander emits through her performance. We don’t need to be told Tina is lonely because we see it in her posture and her dead eyes. The only time Tina shows much life is when she is at work and picks up a scent. It’s a shockingly great performance that doesn’t bowl you over with over-the-top emotional displays and lots of shouting. That isn’t to say there aren’t emotions and loud voices conveyed by Tina. As she becomes aware of her true existence, she lets her father know just how angry she is. She tells her roommate to get out in terms that make it clear she’s serious. By the time these events occur, you are completely on board with how she feels and the choices she makes. Melander is amazing in the role and should win every award for which she is nominated.

Eero Milonoff is Vore. He is even more animalistic in the role than Melander. Vore knows who he is and is proud of his heritage. He has a chip on his shoulder and his every action is in service to get his revenge on those he blames for hurting him. Milonoff as Vore has a smile that reeks of evil and probably also of maggots as he is shown picking them off a tree and eating them. Vore is a predator, but he also loves Tina. He wants to show Tina the world she’s been missing because she’s trying to fit in with normal society. Vore wants her to accept she isn’t like everyone else and never will be. He will go to unusual lengths to try and open her eyes to a world she’s never known and get her to join him in it.

Milonoff also had to go through long makeup sessions each day to become Vore. Being covered and almost consumed by a mask probably forced Milonoff to tap into some hidden part of himself, allowing him to find malevolence and a lack of compassion. Vore is involved in some awful things and will go to any length to protect himself, but he will also show compassion and tenderness to Tina. Milonoff plays a horrendous character but manages to be somewhat sympathetic. It is a difficult balancing act that only tips to one side when the full scope of his depravity is exposed. And even then, we want there to be some sort of resolution that allows Vore and Tina to be together. This is more to relieve her loneliness than to benefit him. Milonoff gives a masterful performance as a terrible creature.

“Border” is rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, a bloody violent image, and language. The film contains one of the most bizarre sex scenes ever. I can’t say much more about it since it’s a spoiler but, be prepared as you’ll never forget it. We see Tina fully nude on a couple of occasions. There’s a murder victim shown with a significant gash on his head and a great deal of blood around him. Foul language is scattered and mild.

“Border” is a slow burn that requires the viewers patience. It takes its time building its world in the first half then spends the second half destroying it while also blowing the minds of everyone watching. It also isn’t your typical Hollywood blockbuster, or mega-star drama, or action movie or anything else you’ve seen before. It’s worth the time and effort to see it at an arthouse theater or to wait for it on one of the streaming rental platforms. It is a unique experience in amazing storytelling and the art of a couple of surprises. Take a chance and see it. I loved it.

“Border” gets five stars.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “Mule” for WIMZ.com.

Also coming out this week:

Mortal Engines—

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—

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

Review of “The Possession of Hannah Grace”

Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is a former cop who froze when an armed suspect killed her partner. To deal with her grief and guilt, Megan abuses drugs and alcohol, losing her job as a cop and leading to the end of her relationship with fellow cop Andrew Kurtz (Grey Damon). After going to AA, Megan is clean and restarting her life. Her AA sponsor Lisa Roberts (Stana Katic) is a nurse at a hospital. A job opens in the hospital’s morgue for an overnight attendant and Lisa suggests Megan apply for it. Megan gets the job and will be working alone, checking in corpses from both the hospital and those delivered to the morgue by ambulance services. She photographs the body, takes their fingerprints running them through a system to verify their identities, and stores them in cabinets to wait for pickup by a funeral home or be incinerated. A body brought in appears to have been partially burned and has deep cuts to the neck and torso. The corpse’ eyes are open with one brown eye and one very bright blue eye. The camera and fingerprint reader both malfunction when Megan tries to check the body in. The cabinet door where the body is stored keeps popping open. Megan is also having hallucinations she initially believes is related to her stress and recovery; however, that may not be the case. Megan learns the body is Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson), a young woman that died during an exorcism three months earlier. The body shows no signs of decay and, according to the EMT that brought her in, the wounds on her neck and torso and the burns are all new. A strange man sneaks into the morgue and tries to incinerate the body but is stopped by Megan and a couple of hospital security guards. This corpse is seeing almost as much action after death as it did in life; but there’s still some kick left in the old meat bag and by the end of the night there will be more bodies on ice in the hospital’s basement.

“The Possession of Hannah Grace” is just ok. The trailer for the film is far more intriguing and terrifying than the full movie. With a running time of only 86 minutes, you’ll leave the theater thinking it was much longer. Aside from a couple of scares and a creepy demon-controlled corpse, “The Possession of Hannah Grace” is only slightly better than what gets parodied on “MST3K.”

The first troubling bit about the movie is nitpicky on my part. I’m more than willing to admit that in advance. This hospital in Boston, a major American city, has only one person working overnight intake in its morgue. That makes absolutely no sense. If you have access to the Discovery Life channel, you may have seen a reality show filming the doctors and nurses in a Boston emergency room. The ER was constantly getting new patients with varying complaints (I understand a day or multiple days was compressed into an hour of television) at all hours of the day and night and not everyone survived. That was just one part of the hospital. I am certain more than one person would need to be on duty in the morgue 24 hours a day. Also, this morgue was taking bodies delivered by ambulance services that didn’t come from the hospital. That doesn’t seem right. If a crime victim is found dead the corpse is transported to the city or county morgue, not a local hospital. Again, I know this is me thinking too much about the minor details, but I found it distracting through the whole film.

There is also the clunky nature of how the relationships between the main character and a couple of others is handled. Megan and Andrew’s relationship ended before the movie starts. While we don’t know how long they’ve been broken up, it can’t have been too long as we find out Megan has been sober for about 68 days and her behavior while using led to their split. There is enough passive-aggressiveness on both sides that shows they were never a good couple, despite her substance abuse. Neither comes off as a quality person until the plot demands some selflessness from both of them. Their past relationship and the fallout from it seem like a bit of filler material thrown in to pad a short running time.

The same can be said for Megan and Lisa’s interactions. Lisa is Megan’s AA sponsor and is properly supportive in helping Megan get a job and starting to return to sober society. It’s when things start to get weird that the relationship takes an odd turn. Finding a bottle of pills next to Megan’s purse, Lisa becomes the grand inquisitor, questioning and mildly berating Megan. Megan isn’t using the pills and explains it’s a comfort device, like a former smoker keeping a last cigarette. Her tone immediately shifts from interrogator to disappointed mom and claims to trust her in a way that says, “I don’t trust you.” None of the person-to-person dialog in the film feels natural or would ever happen in real life.

The best part of “The Possession of Hannah Grace” is the creepy corpse that won’t stay still and never blinks; but even that has some confounding weirdness to it. The demon possessing Hannah Grace is supposed to be so powerful it cannot be exorcised, but it apparently can only do one trick: Making people levitate. Everyone we see it kill during the film dies in roughly the same way. The demon raises the victim off the ground then they are moved back and forth, up and down, until they are either impaled on something or they are taken off screen to die. There are a few exceptions, but the M.O. is pretty much the same. As demons go, this one is pretty dull. There are plenty of sharp implements in the morgue that could have flown up from their trays and drawers and been used to stab victims to death. One assumes a demon has some power over fire and can spontaneously generate it, or pull it from a source like the incinerator, and burn some people alive. While we do see a victim’s neck broken telekinetically, this demon is apparently on the lower end of the power ratings in Hell.

“The Possession of Hannah Grace” is rated R for gruesome images and terror throughout. Terror might be a strong term to use for what happens in the film. If you’ve been in an underground bunker for the last 50 years then yes, it might be terrifying. A priest is shown impaled through the head. Hannah’s corpse is shown partially burned with deep lacerations on the neck and the torso. Despite the rating, I don’t recall any foul language.

There was an interesting story thread that, like most of the script, was left hanging with no resolution or suggestion of a continuation. The demon seems to spare Megan. She could have been one of the earliest victims, but she survives. There’s one scene where it even seems to caress Megan. That dangling plot point could have been explored in a much better movie. We’ll probably never know if there’s some reason why Megan was spared as the film is doing only so-so box office and a sequel is very unlikely. That fine, as “The Possession of Hannah Grace” isn’t a story I need to see continue.

“The Possession of Hannah Grace” gets two stars out of five.

There are no new movies coming out in wide release this week. I may see some current art house releases like Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” or the Swedish sci-fi/thriller “Border.” Perhaps I’ll check out some of the wide releases I haven’t seen like “Creed II” or “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” The world is my oyster and I’m going to slurp it up…then immediately regret the decision.

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

Review of “Ralph Breaks the Internet”

After Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) creates a new race track in her video game Sugar Rush, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) is trying it out for the first time. The human playing the game thinks it’s malfunctioning and accidentally breaks off the steering wheel. When arcade owner Mr. Litwak (voiced by Ed O’Neill) tries to reattach the wheel it breaks. Kids in the arcade check the internet on their phones and find a new replacement part on eBay that costs $200.00. Mr. Litwak thinks this is too much to pay and decides to unplug the game, leaving Vanellope and all the characters in the game homeless. Mr. Litwak has recently installed a wireless router in the arcade, providing wifi access to the internet. Ralph and Vanellope decide to go on the internet and get the part needed to repair Sugar Rush. Entering the World Wide Web, Ralph and Vanellope discover social media, an MMORPG called Slaughter Race and its lead character Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot), a search engine called KnowsMore (voiced by Alan Tudyk), video sharing site BuzzzVideo and its algorithm Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), pop-up ads and even the dark internet. The trip outside the arcade opens Vanellope’s eyes to the potential of something more than Sugar Rush while it strains her friendship with Ralph.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” does much of what “Wreck-It Ralph” did in being a nostalgic look at old school cabinet video games while also opening the world to the internet. There is plenty the audience will recognize of the internet in the film. Familiar names like Google, eBay, Snapchat and Twitter get ample screen time while other well-known websites, I assume they didn’t allow their names to be used, are referenced with similar sounding names and similar looking logos. The personification of pop-up ads, search engines, video-viewing likes and even viruses turns something we know about and use everyday into something we can visualize. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” brings to life the good and bad of the web while also telling a story of friendship that works for children told in a way that also entertains adults.

The voice cast of the film is terrific with much of the original film’s voices returning. John C. Reilly gives the oversized and under-brained Ralph a personality that is both grating and charming. Ralph always means well but doesn’t give as much thought to his plans as he should. His love for Vanellope leads him to make selfish mistakes that endanger her and their friendship. Reilly sells Ralph’s desperation and his insecurity in his voice acting and makes clear he still has a great deal to learn about being a good friend.

Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope is a sweet and enthusiastic character that runs counter to what we see of the real Silverman and in her standup. Vanellope loves Ralph and is thrilled to go on adventures in the other arcade video games with him, but as the movie progresses and the two venture onto the web, her eyes are opened to the bigger digital world and the possibilities it holds. Vanellope still cares for Ralph but she also wants more for herself. It’s like that old song about keeping the kids on the farm after they’ve seen Paris. Silverman’s high-pitched squeaky voice suits the look of her character perfectly. The actress’ smart aleck personality shines through and it adds to her vocal performance.

Another standout is Gal Gadot as the video game character Shank. Shank is tough and ruthless but has a streak of kindness in her. Shank appears to be designed to resemble Gadot and perhaps that combination is what makes the character so appealing. Shank takes on a mentoring role for Vanellope, giving her a sounding board to work out her confusion over her future. Godot’s warm voice, with a hint of her Israeli accent, makes these scenes with Vanellope that much more effective. If there’s a third “Ralph” film I hope Shank plays a big part in the story.

A big part of the marketing for “Ralph Breaks the Internet” was the appearance of all the Disney princesses. While it isn’t a huge part of the story it does provide a pivot point, sending Vanellope down a road of self-discovery. The gathering of princesses, old and new with the original voice actresses when available, is about as meta a moment as has ever been on film. That it happens in a Disney film is nothing short of a miracle. The scene calls out commonly used tropes in Disney films regarding female characters: They are frequently kidnapped, the focus of some sort of pursuit or persecution and most of them are orphans or lost a parent at a young age. The scene is played for laughs, and it works, but perhaps this signals a shift in how women are portrayed in Disney and Pixar films. Moana and Merida haven’t fallen into the common stereotype. While I’m probably giving the scene too much thought, it was enjoyable seeing all the princesses on screen together and not having to complete some epic quest.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is rated PG for some action and rude humor. The action usually involves a character falling from a tall building. One character is nearly crushed and there is a car chase in Slaughter Race that puts a couple of characters in peril. There are other moments when a character faces being wiped out of existence. Rude humor consists mostly of references to “butts” and one use of the word “fart.”

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” manages to tell a story that is interesting to both children and the adults that brought them to the theater. There are laughs that also transcend generations. While seeing this film will be more likely to have an audience member marvel loudly at the presence of Anna from “Frozen,” it’s a small price to pay for a movie that is so colorful, so funny, so entertaining, so emotional and so good.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” gets five stars.

There’s only one new movie opening this week. Why a horror movie is opening the week after Thanksgiving is anyone’s guess, but I will probably see and review it. It does look creepy.

The Possession of Hannah Grace—

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