Review of “Upgrade”

In the near future technology has expanded to more facets of our lives: Police drones patrol the skies keeping an electronic eye out for trouble, driverless cars are becoming more the norm and people are beginning to improve themselves with technological upgrades. One person bucking the trend is Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green). He works on classic cars from the 1970’s and 1980’s and restores them to perfect condition. Grey is married to Asha (Melanie Vallejo) who works for a biotech firm making mechanical arms and legs for military veterans that have lost limbs in battle. Grey has restored a Firebird for eccentric billionaire Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) and he takes Asha along to drop off the car at Keen’s house. While there, Keen shows Grey and Asha a new project he’s working on called Stem which Keen describes as a microcomputer that is meant to improve whatever it connects to. As they are riding home in Asha’s self-driving car it malfunctions and crashes in a bad part of town. Another car pulls up and four men get out and pull Asha and Grey from the car. One man shoots Asha while another shoots Grey at the base of his neck. Asha dies and Grey is paralyzed from the neck down. Grey doesn’t want to live and tries to overdose on his meds. While recovering in the hospital Grey is visited by Keen who makes him an offer: Grey can regain the use of his limbs by having Stem implanted at the point of his injury. Keen demands Grey tell no one of his implant and the operation must be done by surgeons at Keen’s home. Grey agrees and in just a matter of days Grey is running on a treadmill with complete use of his extremities. After returning home Grey hears a voice in his head: It’s Stem. The microcomputer can communicate with Grey and him with Stem. Stem sees something in the police drone surveillance footage of the attack on Asha and Grey and identifies one of their attackers. Grey has spoken with Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) and knows she has no leads in the case and Stem reminds him he has agreed to keep the implant a secret so Grey decides to investigate this person and soon discovers Stem can do much more than just give him use of his limbs.

While “Upgrade” will neither be praised for its subtlety nor for its thoughtful approach to graphic violence in movies, director and writer Leigh Whannell has given us an exciting and action-packed B-movie that may have more of a message than most films of this type get credit for. It may just be the smartest dumb movie considering what it means to be human in a flood of technology.

Whannell is best known for writing numerous recent horror films including the first three “Saw” films and all four of the “Insidious” series. This is his second time in the director’s chair after “Insidious: Chapter 3” and this is a superior effort. “Upgrade” manages to tell its story clearly and succinctly while still including a large amount of graphic and bloody violence. It’s a perfect mixture of brains and brawn that doesn’t pander to the audience. Whannell has a long history of giving audiences what they want via his scripts: Morally vague antagonists, laser-focused villains and a fair amount of gore. In his films that are rated PG-13 he can’t go full on blood bath so he has to give his story a bit more attention. In “Upgrade” Whannell lays on the gore with a measured hand while also conjuring up a murder mystery and a look at a future filled with tech invading all aspects of our lives. If Whannell was a juggler he’d have about a dozen balls in the air but he never drops any of them. It’s a masterful job.

Logan Marshall-Green also deserves some praise for his performance as Grey. There is a scene where Grey’s mother is trimming his beard after he comes home from the hospital following the shooting. Marshall-Green’s face goes through all the stages of grief right before our eyes in a matter of seconds and it’s deeply affecting. Marshall –Green also can handle the lighter moments of the story with the biting sense of humor someone in his unenviable position would likely express. Along with the stunt and special effect team, Marshall-Green also performs the action scenes in a way that couldn’t have been easy: Moving his body like someone else was in control and he was merely an observer. There are some laughs in the action scenes when Grey appears horrified at what his body is doing during the fights. It is a great performance.

The story of “Upgrade” appears to be a simple revenge tale with sci-fi decorations but I thought it was a bit deeper than that. Writer and director Leigh Whannell jumps into a plausible future where technology is being integrated into the human body providing upgrades for those that can afford it. This has many benefits but, like with everything else, it can be used for good and for evil. The morality and ethics of merging flesh and electronics isn’t delved into at all in the film; but what is explored is how such augmentation blurs the line between humans and machines. That line becomes hazier when there’s a chance the machines can begin thinking for themselves which leads to the question of who is in charge: The man or the machine? While these philosophical questions are left largely unexplored they did crop up in my mind by the time the film reached its somewhat surprising conclusion. It’s odd that any movie leads to questions that ring in the brain when the credits roll but “Upgrade” did just that for me.

“Upgrade” is rated R for grisly images, strong violence and language. There are numerous bloody deaths and injuries shown in the film. They include a person nearly having their head cut in half by a knife, a person’s head being blown off by a gunshot, a person being stabbed in the hand with the knife shown protruding through the other side, a person being stabbed in the head, a person being cut several times as a form of torture and much more. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“Upgrade” is from Blumhouse, the same studio responsible for “Get Out,” “The Purge,” “Paranormal Activity” and “Whiplash.” They are famous for churning out low-budget movies quickly, establishing popular horror/suspense franchises and being extremely profitable. Their success has attracted more and more talent to their projects including director M. Night Shyamalan who found new life with his Blumhouse projects “The Visit” and “Split,” and Spike Lee whose “BlacKkKlansman” due out later this year generated a great deal of buzz at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. So far, none of the films produced by Blumhouse have cost more than $10-million and many have generated enormous profits. It is a business model that allows directors creative freedom as long as they keep costs low. Horror and suspense movie fans seem to be happy with the Blumhouse way and they should find “Upgrade” to be more of the same.

“Upgrade” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Oceans 8” for

If I have time I’ll see and review one of the following:

Hotel Artemis—


For all things movie, TV and streaming listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get your podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) lives on the shipbuilding planet of Corellia but longs to escape his life of petty theft under the control of a local crime boss that looks like a giant caterpillar. Han hopes to trade a sample of hyper-drive fuel called coaxium for passage off the planet for himself and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Just as they are walking through the gate Qi’ra is captured. In desperation, Han joins the Imperial Navy with a hope to become a pilot so he can return and save Qi’ra. Three years later Han has been kicked out of flight school for failing to follow orders and is an infantry soldier helping to conquer a planet. There he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who is pretending to be an Imperial officer so he and his gang can steal a heavy transport. Han recognizes they aren’t with the Empire and tries to blackmail his way onto their ship but they turn Han in as a deserter. Han is thrown in a pit where it is expected he’ll be consumed by a beast that turns out to be a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han speaks a little of Chewbacca’s native language and they form a plan to escape. Once out of the pit they jump on Beckett’s stolen transport joining his gang for the theft of a large shipment of coaxium. That heist is broken up by a gang of marauders called the Cloud Riders, the coaxium is destroyed and in the process a couple of Beckett’s gang is killed. Beckett tells Han he was ordered to steal the coaxium by crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) to pay off a debt and Vos will likely kill them for failing. While waiting to see Vos on his space yacht Han sees Qi’ra. She works for Vos and in their meeting to explain their failure she helps guide him to a solution to pay off their debt: Stealing raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel. Vos orders Qi’ra to go along and make sure everything goes smoothly. Knowing they will need a very fast ship to get the raw coaxium to a processing facility before it explodes Qi’ra hunts down legendary smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who has the fastest ship in the quadrant: The Millennium Falcon.

During the making of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” the film was in the public consciousness for all the wrong reasons: The original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired deep into production when Lucasfilm executives were unhappy about the quality of daily footage coming from the set. Star Alden Ehrenreich was given an acting coach because his performance wasn’t what the executives wanted. The directors weren’t shooting enough angles of various scenes that give editors plenty to work with. Script writers Jonathon and Lawrence Kasdan were angry over Lord and Miller allowing the cast to improvise. Lord and Miller were unhappy when Lawrence Kasdan was brought on set as they felt he was a shadow director. Clearly something had to change and since Lucasfilm was the boss, Lord and Miller were let go but given executive producer credit on the film. Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, who has a long history with Star Wars creator George Lucas, was brought in to essentially start over. Much of what was filmed was scrapped and reshot adding tens of millions of dollars to the production’s budget. Would this be the first Star Wars film since the prequels to be considered just plain bad? The short answer is a qualified no. It’s qualified because you have to be willing to accept some things that I think most Star Wars fans are unwilling to accept: Alden Ehrenreich isn’t a young Harrison Ford; but I’ll get to that a little later.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” wastes no time in delivering the action as the first scene is a chase through the dingy back alleys of Corellia. Soon we’re transplanted to a battlefield on an alien world then we’re robbing a train on yet another planet. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t let the viewer get bored with any one location as the action is never in one place for very long. I enjoyed the planet hopping as the film tended to bog down whenever the action stopped and the acting kicked in. Fortunately that doesn’t happen that often.

Fans of the Star Wars original trilogy saga will find the most to enjoy in this film. We hear familiar names like Tatooine and Hutt and finally understand what “Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” means. We see the first meetings between Han and Chewie and Han and Lando. We see Han win the Millennium Falcon in the famous card game we heard about 35 years ago. The Falcon is all white and clean inside and there are more bits of Star Wars history that jump off the screen and into our childhoods that complete pictures we only could dream of. I’m not saying you have to have been a Star Wars fan since the original trilogy came out in theaters to appreciate “Solo: A Star Wars Story” but it helps.

The movie may actually lean a bit too heavily on nostalgia for its own good. While I enjoyed the way Han and Chewie became friends that friendship seems to develop too quickly and too deeply. The newer characters, with a couple of exceptions, are mostly cannon fodder that are quickly killed off despite being entertaining additions.

Then there is the problem of Alden. While he gives a perfectly fine performance he isn’t a young Harrison Ford and even when he’s being a selfish jerk there’s still a little bit of “aw shucks” in his demeanor. I never was able to forget Ehrenreich was playing a role where Harrison Ford was the role. I know it is unfair and impossible for Lucasfilm to have cast a young Harrison Ford impersonator as Han Solo but seeing someone else play the part was a constant irritant that kept me from fully investing in the film.

Yet I still enjoyed the movie. I suppose I’m easily entertained but watching the younger versions of Han, Lando and Chewie (all being played by different actors from the originals) was a huge amount of fun for me. Seeing the basis for many of the references I heard in theaters back in the 1970’s and 1980’s finally being brought to life was something of a thrill. While we know Han, Lando and Chewie will survive no matter how dire their situation might be and that cuts into the tension some, I want to see in future movies the contraband that Han had to dump that got him in trouble with Jabba the Hutt. I want to know if Han and Darth Vader ever crossed paths prior to A New Hope. There are more stories to tell about the life of Han Solo before he met a kid and a crazy old man in a cantina at Mos Eisley and I want to see them even if I have to overlook who is playing the young smuggler.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Chewbacca rips the arms off a guard. We only see him holding the arms not the actual ripping. We also see Chewie slam a guard head first into the ground. There are numerous battles involving blasters and people being shot by them. There are explosions that toss people around. Any foul language is said in an alien tongue.

Probably the most memorable scene in the film is one near the very end where a character makes a cameo appearance via hologram. I had to sit up in my seat and take a very close look at this character to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. For me, that scene alone was worth the two or so hours that preceded it and made me hope that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” makes enough money so we get another film telling us more stories about Han Solo. He might not make me forget about Harrison Ford but Alden Ehrenreich is the actor Lucasfilm and Disney chose to fill his seat at the controls of the Millennium Falcon and as long as they surround him with great visuals and exciting stories I’m willing to accept him for as long as he plays the part.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” gets four stars out of five.

This week three new films hope you’ve seen all the superheroes and space operas and spend your money on something else at the cinema. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Action Point—



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

Review of “Deadpool 2”

Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has expanded his hunt for the worst of the worst bad guys worldwide. He takes out sex traffickers and gangsters no matter where they work from. One drug trafficker works in his own hometown and while Deadpool is able to kill many of his henchmen the main bad guy manages to hide in his safe room. Deadpool heads home to see Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) because it’s their anniversary. Vanessa tells him she wants to start a family and they have sex. After, they are chatting when Deadpool senses trouble coming, leading to an event that sends Deadpool on a downward spiral. In a dystopian future, cybernetic soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) comes home to find his wife and daughter burned alive by a vicious mutant calling himself Firefist. Equipped with a time-travel device, Cable travels back to a time when Firefist is also known as Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) and is a troubled teen at a mutant reeducation center run by a sadistic headmaster (Eddie Marsan) that tortures the children in his care. Russell has blown some things up at the school and Deadpool, along with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and others try to rein him in. Deadpool talks to Russell and the boy points out a member of the staff that has abused him. Deadpool then kills the staff member before he is subdued by Colossus. Both Deadpool and Russell are sent to a mutant prison called the Icebox where all prisoners are forced to wear collars that inhibit their mutant abilities. Cable shows up and tries to kill Russell but Deadpool stops him when the collar gets knocked off. With Cable’s technology and cybernetic implants Deadpool knows he needs help protecting Russell from another attack. That’s when he decides to form…The X-Force.

“Deadpool 2” is hardly a surprising take on the superhero movie genre considering it is very much like the original “Deadpool.” Star Ryan Reynolds as the title character is quick with a joke, insult and fourth-wall-breaking comment that skewers the idea of sequels and team-up films in a movie filled with second and third-string characters that could never topline a movie of their own. It could be looked at as derivative and a mere copy of its earlier self. The fact that “Deadpool 2” is subversive in its own way by being a story about family, loss, grief, mercy, self-awareness and forgiveness is how this sequel sets itself apart from the original.

Without spoiling too much Deadpool goes on a literal self-destructive journey as the film starts: He blows himself to bits in an effort to commit suicide. The shock of this is somewhat softened by the decapitated head of our hero explaining there’s more to the story that we learn in the flashback. Deadpool is dealing with a loss so profound he can only end the pain with his demise. Having the mutant power of healing makes that a tad difficult. The story sends him on other journeys of self-pity, family building and forgiveness. Most other superhero films don’t put their main character through such an arduous emotional journey as we get in “Deadpool 2.”

The film doesn’t seem that deep but if you give it a bit of thought you discover many of the same themes as in your highbrow, Oscar-bait dramas. Granted these themes are handled with broad humor, bloody violence and sexual suggestions that would make a sailor blush but it is still noteworthy.

“Deadpool 2” doesn’t work at all without the pitch perfect and enthusiastic performance of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, who was a driving force along with the original director Tim Miller in getting the first film made, is also a producer and credited writer on the sequel. His energy and charisma as a character that could easily be very annoying and unsympathetic makes Wade Wilson one of the most enjoyable members of Marvel Comics moviedom.

The direct opposite of Deadpool in tone and style is Josh Brolin’s Cable. Brolin has the aged and weathered face of experience that is perfect for the role of the cybernetic soldier from the future. He is able to maintain that serious and world-weary look throughout the film and gives the Merc with the Mouth someone to play off of and with. Brolin has spoken highly of Reynolds in publicity interviews about “Deadpool 2” as you would expect; but in an interview with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast, which was about far more than just promoting the film, Brolin seems to express a genuine affection and appreciation for Reynolds that’s more than just interview fluff. Brolin provides a level of gravitas to the film that it needs to counterbalance Reynolds manic humor.

Zazie Beetz is also a nice addition to the cast as the super lucky Domino. Her calm feminine energy is a nice respite from the hyper-masculine Deadpool. Beetz also delivers a fine performance as a hero that is constantly under estimated since she lacks a flashy ability. Being supernaturally lucky may not have the same cache as invulnerability or flight but as the old saying goes, I’d rather be lucky than good and Domino is always lucky.

“Deadpool 2” is rated R for language throughout, brief drug material, sexual references and strong violence. The drug material is when Deadpool retrieves a packet of cocaine from a hiding place in Blind Al’s apartment and sticks it under his mask, appearing to consume it all at one time. Sexual references are usually brief and consist of physically impossible acts suggested by or to Deadpool. Violence is frequently bloody and often involves heads being removed or crushed, bodies being ripped in half, limbs being amputated by swords and heads being impaled by various instruments and shot at close range by guns. Foul language is common throughout the film.

If you tire of laughing at the jokes or cringing at the violent ways various people die you can entertain yourself by looking for the hidden celebrity cameos throughout the film. The list of people includes several cast members from “X-Men: First Class,” Alan Tudyk, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and a ceramic Stan Lee. Don’t worry if you don’t see them all as some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-him quick while others are buried under makeup, wigs and beards. This is a small part of why “Deadpool 2” is so much fun. It is not only an action-packed and exciting superhero story but it also is something of a scavenger hunt which is on top of the story about family. It is the One a Day multivitamin of movies and it is well worth your time and money. Also, don’t miss the mid-credits scene. It is split into two sections so don’t leave until you see the second half.

“Deadpool 2” gets five stars out of five.

This week the only new film in wide release is “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

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

Review of “Tully”

Marlo (Charlize Theron) has just had her third child, a healthy girl she and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) name Mia, and she’s overwhelmed. Her oldest child Sarah (Lia Frankland) is eight and doing well in school. Her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is five and has developmental and emotional issues making him difficult to handle when his routine is disrupted. The addition of a newborn pushes Marlo to the edge. Her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) tells Marlo he has arranged for a night nanny as a baby present to come over and give her a break. Initially reluctant to have a stranger in her house and interacting with her child, Marlo changes her mind after a particularly frustrating day. That night there’s a knock on the door and Marlo opens it to find Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Tully is in her 20’s and she is something of a free spirit juggling multiple relationships and viewing life as an open and positive adventure. She is excellent with Mia and Marlo is finally able to catch up on her sleep. Tully even cleans the house and bakes cupcakes for the kids to take to school. She is perfect in every way and is able to give Marlo a break to catch her breath.

Motherhood throughout history has never been easy unless you had the money to hire a nanny to do most of the day to day work of raising a child. “Tully” takes a slightly skewed look at modern child-rearing with a family that is familiar and a mom that is heartbreakingly relatable.

Charlize Theron is amazing in “Tully.” Her fatigue and frustration as the film starts is palpable. I grew tired just watching as Marlo repeats the routine of breast feeding, changing, rocking, pumping and all the other mundane but required aspects of taking care of a newborn. You can hear the voice in her head as she thinks to herself, “If I could just get one good night’s sleep everything would be fine.” That sleep never comes and even if it did we know the routine would just begin again the next day. Theron embodies Marlo fully. It is a little scary how Theron disappears into a role so completely. Much like with her Oscar-winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron packed on weight to play the three-time mother. The fullness of her face and body adds to the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion. There’s also pain in her performance. It isn’t physical pain but emotional. Marlo feels trapped in her life and wants to break free. While she would never abandon her family it is clear Marlo believes there is something more she should be accomplishing with her life. It is a performance that should get Theron talk of another Oscar nomination if it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of late season films.

Also giving an Oscar-worthy performance in a supporting role is Mackenzie Davis as Tully. It is a masterful high-wire act that Davis successfully pulls off. Tully could have quickly become an annoying lightweight character; but the brilliant writing of Diablo Cody and the skillful performance of Davis makes Tully like a warm blanket that we want to snuggle into. Tully initially comes off as a space cadet filled with idealism that we know will either be beaten out of her by life or she will run off with a guy named Space Child or Unicorn and live on a commune where they only bathe once a week and everyone sleeps in a stinky pile. Quickly, Davis reins in the crunchier aspects of Tully and she becomes a voice of calm and wisdom that Marlo and the audience start to believe in. We all see Tully as a beacon of hope for Marlo: Her lost idealism and youth. Tully embodies the energy and joy Marlo once had and longs for again. Mackenzie Davis is a breath of fresh air and the perfect person for this role.

The story by Diablo Cody is both painfully familiar and fresh. Rarely does the camera’s lens peer inside an average family’s home and Cody’s script pulls no punches in making this family mundane and unappealing. The constant demands of the new baby isn’t the most exciting story to put on film but Cody also manages to find small pockets of humor in the unending demands of life. Throwing in the added pressure of a special-needs child cranks up the heat on an already simmering pressure cooker. There isn’t much else that could be added to the mix that won’t cause the whole house to explode. The arrival of Tully and her calming influence on an initially skeptical Marlo is the release valve that keeps this situation from blowing up.

It all seems like a perfect bit of upper middle-class white privilege; but Cody is too good a writer to leave well enough alone. The film takes an unexpected turn late that practically knocked me out of my seat. Looking back there are signs and clues for what is to come but Cody buries and camouflages them in commonplace and everyday events. When the turn happens it makes for a truly shocking bit of storytelling. While I’m handing out Oscar nominations, let’s give one to Diablo Cody for best original screenplay.

“Tully” is rated R for some sexuality/nudity and language. Most of the sexuality comes from Marlo watching episodes of Showtime’s “Gigolos” where we see a couple having sex on the screen. We also get a couple of looks at a woman’s bare nipple as she prepares to breast feed. Foul language is common.

“Tully” is a nice break from superheroes and special effect-heavy blockbusters. It is a slice of life film that takes its time in telling a story of average people dealing with the common challenges of parenthood. It has great performances and a compelling story that takes a zig when most would expect a zag. It is a movie mothers will understand on a cellular level and will, I believe, enjoy.

“Tully” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Life of the Party” for

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

Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—



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

Review of “I Feel Pretty”

Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) is the website manager for Lily LeClaire Cosmetics in New York City. She doesn’t work in the gleaming skyscraper headquarters but in a small office under a Chinese takeout with her coworker Mason (Adrian Martinez). Renee is insecure about herself. She doesn’t feel pretty enough, skinny enough and smart enough for the rest of the world that surrounds her. She hears of a receptionist position opening up at the company headquarters where the CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) runs the cosmetics giant. Renee considers applying but her lack of confidence makes her unsure. One day at spin class she falls off the bike and strikes her head. When she wakes up and looks in the mirror, Renee sees herself as a gorgeous and confident woman that can do anything she chooses. She applies for and gets the receptionist job despite the position normally being filled by young models. Renee impresses Avery with her confidence and soon the receptionist is offering ideas for a line of cosmetics that will be sold in general retail and drug stores. Renee also begins a relationship with Ethan (Rory Scovel), a man she meets at the dry cleaners and practically bullies into giving her his number. Renee’s friends Vivian and Jane (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) notice the change in Renee and while they are happy for her success in her new job and her new relationship they aren’t crazy about how she is treating them like charity cases in need of sympathy for the way they date. Being the person with all the confidence in the world also comes with needing to know when you need to back off and let others find their own way. To put it another way: With great power comes great responsibility.

“I Feel Pretty” sells itself as a story of female empowerment but comes across more as power corrupts. Amy Schumer’s Renee is a sweet but insecure woman as the film starts but turns into something of a monster after an accident unlocks her confidence. Being the uber-alpha female in both the high-intensity environment of a New York City cosmetics firm and the much lower intensity friendship with long-time acquaintances requires an ability to be able to dial it back depending on the situation. Renee doesn’t possess that ability and comes across as mean and disrespectful of her friends. It is an unattractive attribute that goes against the ideal the film is trying to get across. It turns what could have been a decent comedy into something that is hard to watch at times and downright cruel at others. I don’t know what Schumer and the rest of the filmmakers intended to do with this story but what they have created works against an equal playing field.

When Renee wakes up from her minor head injury at the spin class she sees herself in the mirror as a beautiful and powerful woman. Every person that makes casual eye contact with her is, in her mind, checking her out. She announces that while it is understandable if people believe she will leave her receptionist job at the cosmetics firm for a modeling career that she has no plans to walk the runway as she sees her long term goal as staying at Lily LeClaire. She enters a swimsuit competition on the spur of the moment and understands when she doesn’t win because the “fix was in.” She practically bulldozes Ethan into exchanging phone numbers at the dry cleaners when he was only making idle conversation. Most of what Renee exhibits isn’t confidence, it’s delusion. While everyone else in the film seems to accept Renee’s new mindset as attractive and even inspiring, from the audience point of view Renee is mentally ill. It’s the kind of behavior that in the real world would get many people locked up for a psych evaluation. I’m not sure what point writers and directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein were trying to get to when coming up with this story buy my interpretation of what they have created is mostly the polar opposite of what the trailer for the film is selling.

While I believe the story is the weakest part of “I Feel Pretty” the performance of Michelle Williams as Avery LeClaire is probably the strongest. Williams is nearly unrecognizable as Avery with a wig of long, straight blond hair and a voice that is breathy and high-pitched. Avery is funny in her cluelessness. She doesn’t understand the struggles of middle class women and feels no need to learn which works against her as the company is preparing to introduce a budget-priced line of cosmetics that will be sold in nationwide chain department stores. Her grandmother, Lauren Hutton as Lily LeClaire, sees this shortcoming in her granddaughter and is not shy about letting Avery know. The struggle of making her grandmother happy while running a giant company that has a history of exclusivity is part of what opens the door for Renee to assist in the new line. Avery’s lack of confidence in herself and the way she speaks and moves through life is mined for humor as she confides in Renee. Williams performance is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise predictable romantic comedy.

“I Feel Pretty” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some partial nudity. There is a brief sex scene that has no nudity and is largely played for mild laughs. There is also a suggestive dance done during a bikini contest. We see a naked Schumer in silhouette a couple of times. Foul language is mild and widely scattered.

“I Feel Pretty” has a vein of cruelty running through it. Sometimes it is directed at Schumer’s character by those who see her as not belonging at Lily LeClaire. Sometimes it comes from Schumer’s character aimed at her friends. Sometimes it’s a general feeling of some characters not belonging despite their desire to be there. It’s a difficult thing to pinpoint at times but it’s there. While writers and directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein may have intended to tell a story of empowerment despite how someone looks it still manages to come off as physical beauty wins out. It also isn’t as funny as it should have been.

“I Feel Pretty” gets three stars out of five.

This week the 800-pound gorilla in the room is “Avengers: Infinity War” and it also is the only new film in wide release.

Listen to The Fractured Frame available on most podcast platforms. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to


Review of “Rampage”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rampage” gets three stars out of five.

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

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

I Feel Pretty–

Super Troopers 2–


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