My Apologies

I had the opportunity to see only one movie this week.  The review for “Only the Brave” is here at WIMZ.

This week I’ll be reviewing at least one of the following:

Jigsaw –

Suburbicon –

Thank You for Your Service –

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast available at WIMZ.com/podcasts/the-fractured-frame.  Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Foreigner”

Quan (Jackie Chan) drives his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) to a dress shop in London to pick up an outfit for an upcoming school dance. Fan runs into the store while Quan waits for a parking space to open when a bomb planted in on a motorcycle explodes. Several people are killed including Fan. His daughter was the last living member of his immediate family and Quan wants to know who is responsible for her death. A group calling itself Authentic IRA claims responsibility. Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) is a former IRA operative and calls together a committee of Irish leaders to demand to know who is responsible. They all claim ignorance. Quan visits Belfast and meets with Hennessy asking for the names of the bombers. Hennessy tells him he doesn’t know but Quan thinks he’s lying. Quan, a trained and experienced ex-special forces soldier in the US Army, then begins targeting Hennessy, planting a small bomb in the bathroom of his office and destroying a barn and some cars at his country estate. Hennessy, concerned for his safety, contacts his nephew Sean (Rory Fleck-Byrne), also a former British special forces soldier, to track down and kill Quan. Meanwhile, the bombers are planning another attack targeting British political leaders.

There may be too much going on in “The Foreigner” for its own good. Aside from Jackie Chan’s subtle and effective portrayal of a grieving father out for revenge, we have Pierce Brosnan’s Irish politician trying to play both his former IRA colleagues and the British government for his benefit, a couple of affairs and centuries of hostility between religions and nationalities. All of that plays into the story of “The Foreigner” and some of it feels unnecessary. Had it trimmed some of the more extraneous and fantastical aspects “The Foreigner” might have been one of the fall’s better movies. It doesn’t disappoint but it doesn’t thrill either.

The most impressive part of “The Foreigner” is the performance of Jackie Chan. Quan is a quiet man looking to live a quiet life of hard work and love of his family. That is taken from him by a bomb. He still remains quiet, closed off, stooped over as he shuffles along like a broken old man. But we learn this old dog has some old tricks he thought he had left behind long ago and must now dust them off to exact his revenge. Chan radiates pain as Quan. His face, scarred by his tough and at times dangerous life, never betrays the anger and rage that must lie beneath the surface and yet we still can see and feel it. Chan gives a masterful performance that doesn’t rely on histrionics. A simple single tear rolling down his cheek conveys more anger and pain than a 15-minute monolog about his loss ever could. If you’ve only seen Chan in the “Rush Hour” films or his other lighter work you owe it to yourself to see “The Foreigner” just so you can see what a fine actor he really is.

Chan can also still throw and take a punch. It’s impressive with his many years acting as his own stunt man for most of his career that he can still walk much less do an action scene at age 62. Chan is jumping off roofs, being kicked in the chest, falling down flights of stairs and more in “The Foreigner” and looking good doing it. Chan can still be an action star long after most actors are ready to slow down and play grandpas.

Pierce Brosnan is also good as Liam Hennessy. The Irish politician has to perform a delicate and dangerous balancing act keeping the more radical elements back home under control while also placating the British. Brosnan can lay on the charm when the character needs it (like when romancing his mistress) but doesn’t have any trouble laying down the law when he’s questioned or tested (like when his wife wonders where he’s been all night). Brosnan can play cold-hearted with the best of them and he is ruthless at times in “The Foreigner.” It is an entertaining if not always convincing performance. The few scenes he has with Chan, especially late in the movie, puts his character in the tough position of being out of control and Hennessy clearly isn’t used to that. The choices Brosnan and director Martin Campbell made for the character felt out of character based on what we’ve seen before. Perhaps the bully is really a coward when his buddies aren’t around but the character’s reactions felt almost cartoonish in their extreme.

The biggest weakness in “The Foreigner” is the story. It spends far too long setting up the issues of Northern Ireland and “The Troubles” before moving into the revenge aspect of the story. While the fear of more violence between the IRA and the British is certainly a good point of conflict for a movie, the script by David Marconi invests too much time in scenes of greying or elderly men arguing over the best course of action to deal with more radical elements and the response of the government. Clearly we are barely interested in the politics of Northern Ireland and just want to see Jackie Chan kick some ass. The movie takes far too long to get us to what we want to see.

“The Foreigner” is rated R for violence, language and some sexual material. There are numerous fights, some more bloody than others. We see a person’s foot impaled on some nails. A man is shot in both legs then the head. A woman is shot in a gun battle, tortured for information then killed. Another woman is shot in the head. We see the aftermath of a bombing with injured victims shown. The sexual material is very mild. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

I enjoyed “The Foreigner” more than I thought I would. Seeing Jackie Chan back in action was a bit of a thrill but his performance is truly the most amazing thing about the movie. It is a subtle and measured performance that is effective and at times heartbreaking. I know it isn’t likely but it would be great if he got a best actor nomination for this part.

“The Foreigner” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll review “Only the Brave” for WIMZ.com.

I’ll also be reviewing one of the following here on my page:

Geostorm—

Same Kind of Different as Me—

The Snowman—

Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween—

Listen to The Fractured Frame each week, available on your podcast platform of choice. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Blade Runner 2049”

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, “retiring” replicants that stop following orders from humans. After dispatching a replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) at the protein farm where he worked and lived, Officer K finds a chest buried at the base of a long dead tree. What is discovered inside begins an investigation that could lead to war unless a secret that’s been buried over 30 years can be kept. Officer K’s investigation leads to him finding retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) holed up in an abandoned hotel in deserted Las Vegas. The owner of the company that makes replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), wants to find out where the contents of the chest leads and sends his personal assistant and assassin Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to keep an eye on Officer K and kill anyone that gets in her way.

The plot synopsis of “Blade Runner 2049” is intentionally vague since there is spoiler material practically from the first scene. If staying uninformed about the 35-years-in-the-making sequel to “Blade Runner” is important to you then you should avoid pretty much everything on the internet with the possible exception of a trio of short films that fill in some of the backstory referenced in the film. My personal favorite is “2022,” an anime that is about the blackout that was a major event in this universe. It’s weird when a movie has a bunch of prequel material that’s nearly required viewing so the audience is up to speed. To be a truly entertaining film “Blade Runner 2049” could have used a feature-length prequel film so what happens actually causes some emotion and caring. As it is, this film is pretty to look at and has interesting things happen but I can’t say I care.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a master class in production design. Much like the original film, the look of the near future is as much a character as any actor. The flying cars, the massive holographic advertisements, the crowded apartment buildings and urban sprawl that suggests privacy is something that will die a quick death all make the world of “Blade Runner 2049” feel as real as any created landscape can. The world is probably even more grim than in the original thanks to a nearly constant rain and dark skies in most outdoor settings. We also see an abandoned Las Vegas that has a constantly hazy yellow/orange sky. We don’t know why the city is abandoned but clearly something very bad happened. Holographic representations of Elvis, Sinatra and showgirls are put to good use to make the empty showroom seem even more depressing. So much has gone into the look of the future that it seems the human element has been largely ignored.

There is an emotional pall over the film. Human and replicant life doesn’t count for much in the Los Angeles of 2049. Prostitutes work their trade in store fronts with smoked glass so you can see the girls with clients if they are right up against it. Food vendors are all over and there are kiosks with people selling trinkets of all types. Pets are still artificial and only available to the very wealthy. It is a world where people try to keep their heads down and avoid trouble. Since Ryan Gosling’s Officer K’s job is to charge into trouble he’s hated by pretty much everyone he contacts including his fellow officers. Gosling plays K almost as an automaton with very little emotional range. There’s a good reason for that but I won’t spoil it for you. Since he’s the lead character and practically in every frame of the film his cold and sullen demeanor rubs off on the audience. He’s so emotionally detached it has the effect of making everything in the film feel unimportant. Despite what we’re told about how this case could lead to or stop a war, there’s very little in what happens that creates much in the way of excitement or emotion.

Part of what adds to that lack of caring is a lack of knowledge. I saw all three prequel short films so I probably entered the movie with more information about the world of “Blade Runner 2049” than most; however, it wasn’t enough. For all the proclamations about how the events we watch are world-changing, none of it struck me as being that important. That, I believe, comes from a lack of understanding just what the use of replicants means to the world in the near future. There’s some brief talk about how using them provides the workforce necessary to take care of the basic needs of humanity and grow enough food for an ever expanding population but the film doesn’t help me grasp just how these events could bring about the end of civilization or humanity or whatever. The original “Blade Runner” suffered from a similar lack of importance in my understanding of what made events so reality-altering.

This lack of an emotional hook isn’t helped by a running time of over 150 minutes. There are numerous scenes that are stretched out for what feels like an interminable amount of time. Gosling’s Officer K walks so slowly it’s a surprise when he actually gets somewhere. There are long and loving shots of cityscapes and cars flying between massive skyscrapers and none of them do anything to move the story along. I could have done with fewer and shorter shots of the Los Angeles of the future and more explanation of why I should care.

“Blade Runner 2049” is rated R for nudity, language, some sexuality and violence. There are some fights and some shootings. Some of these are bloody but the violence is scattered throughout the film. We see a few naked women at various times. There are also statues that show a woman’s breasts. We see the beginning of an unconventional three way sexual encounter but there is no nudity of sexual activity shown. The outside of a brothel is shown and we can see the sex workers engaged in activity inside through smoked windows. We see what appear to be monochrome models of replicants that show their sex organs but this is brief. Foul language is scattered.

I’ve said this with other movies but perhaps I’m just not smart enough to fully understand and appreciate the story of “Blade Runner 2049.” I wanted to love the film as it has mostly glowing reviews; but I must admit, I don’t love the original film. It has many of what I perceive as the same problems of being about something in which I’m not emotionally invested. I don’t know how the events of either film are something that can be important to the characters, much less to me. I don’t hate the film. It is visually stunning and is interesting to watch but I just can’t invest myself in the story. Maybe it’s just me but “Blade Runner 2049” is lost on me.

“Blade Runner 2049” gets three stars out of five.

This week there’s an action film, horror movie and a couple of “based on a true story” pictures to choose from. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Foreigner—

Happy Death Day—

Marshall—

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast available at WIMZ.com, Apple Podcasts, Google Play and everywhere you get podcasts. Send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “American Made”

It’s the late 1970’s and Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is a pilot for Trans World Airlines. He’s bored by the daily grind of flying from one city to the next so he likes to pull stunts that shake up the passengers and his co-pilot. One day while laid over in yet another city and another hotel, Barry is approached by Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) with an opportunity: Own your own business and fly reconnaissance missions in Central America for the CIA. Seal’s photos are appreciated by Schafer and his bosses and they decide to add runs to Nicaragua for Seal to give Manuel Noriega payoffs in exchange for his intelligence on communist rebels. Seal’s flights in and out of Central America attract the attention of a cocaine smuggling cartel that includes Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia). The cartel wants Seal to fly their product into America on his return trips. In exchange they will pay him enormous sums of cash. The CIA turns a blind eye to Seal’s work for the cartel but the Drug Enforcement Agency tries to shut him down so Schafer moves Seal, his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and their kids to a small town in Arkansas. There they set Seal up with his own airport and thousands of acres of undeveloped land surrounding it. Soon the CIA wants Seal to ferry Contras into the US for training and transporting thousands of guns for their insurrection against the communist government of Nicaragua. Barry Seal is playing both sides in a dangerous, high stakes game that could lead to a great deal of death and destruction. If only he had listened to Nancy Reagan and just said “No!”

“American Made” follows the adventures of Barry Seal and his dealings with the CIA, a major drug cartel and the Contras of Nicaragua. It is a story of patriotism, capitalism and the fight against communism. It’s a story of hubris and well-informed stupidity. It is also a study in not learning from history and being doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. In other words, “American Made” is about what’s going on right now. It is an entertaining movie that takes a true story and almost makes you hope Barry Seal somehow gets away with everything he’s doing and lives happily ever after with his wife and kids under a new identity in a small town staying under the radar. Sadly, real life rarely works out fairly.

I really enjoyed “American Made” and the performance of Tom Cruise as the devil-may-care Barry Seal. This is the kind of role Cruise can sink his teeth into; creating a nuanced and complicated character that is able to ride the line between hero and villain. Nothing Seal does after about the first five minutes of the movie is remotely legal, even if he is doing it for the US government; but Cruise makes Seal such a likable rogue you can’t help but hope he succeeds (check Wikipedia to find out how things turned out for Seal). Unlike the character he played in “The Mummy,” Cruise is able to find the right balance of caring husband/father and gun/drug-running scumbag. He’s the kind of guy you’d like to have a few beers with and be enthralled by his stories. You’d never know if he was lying to you but Seal (as played by Cruise) is so charming and entertaining you wouldn’t care. Barry Seal is probably Cruise’ best performance in the last 20 years.

Domhnall Gleeson is also terrific as CIA operative Monty Schafer. A brilliant combination of best friend, kindly mentor and threatening bureaucrat, Gleeson gives Schafer just the right mix to make him interesting to watch since you are never quite sure which side of his personality will show up. Gleeson is woefully underused in the role. While it would have never happened in real life it would have been great to see Schafer join Seal on a trip to Nicaragua and experience life in the field for once.

While “American Made” is extremely entertaining the story is also ultimately infuriating. Knowing how things turn out for the CIA operation and the eventual creation of the Iran/Contra plan that tainted President Reagan’s legacy and wound up exposing the extent of the intelligence agency’s involvement in drug running, money laundering and arms dealing, watching it all unfold onscreen and seeing how there were numerous opportunities to stop it makes you wonder just how smart the people running the darker corners of the government are. It reminds me of the new PBS documentary on the Vietnam War from Ken Burns. In the second episode there are at least two, possibly three, opportunities for America to pull out of Vietnam; but the fear of Communism and the desire of President Kennedy to get reelected proved to be more powerful than common sense. While I’m no student of history, there are probably more examples of obvious signs that should have been heeded to prevent catastrophe and failure that were ignored. Apparently tunnel vision is a very real and dangerous thing.

“American Made” is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. The nudity consists mostly of women in lingerie and Tom Cruise’ bare backside he flashes at his family as a joke. We see a couple of sex scenes but they are very mild and brief. Foul language is common throughout the film.

On numerous occasions I have referred to Tom Cruise as a “tool” for his behavior on the Today Show towards Matt Lauer and his association with the Church of Scientology and I maintain that opinion; however, I am also of the opinion that, if given the right role, Cruise is one of the best actors in the world. In “American Made,” Cruise is in the right role. While Barry Seal may have been a dumpy man way in over his head, Cruise makes him a charismatic rebel that almost pulls off a masterful plan to get rich beyond anyone’s dreams. It may be a perversion of the American Dream but Seal, as played by Cruise, makes it look attainable and worth the risk.

“American Made” gets five stars.

A long-gestating sequel, a high-altitude adventure and animated juvenile equines debut on screens this week. I’ll see and review one of the following:

Blade Runner 2049—

The Mountain Between Us—

My Little Pony—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and anywhere you get podcasts. Send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Since joining the secret intelligence agency the Kingsman, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has found a purpose to his life, a beautiful girlfriend, Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom), and a close group of friends from his old days to keep him grounded. He still has strong feelings of sadness over the loss of his mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) but he focuses on the happy memories. While leaving the Kingsman tailor shop that is the front for spy agency he is approached by former recruit Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft). Eggsy thought Charlie was dead from their last encounter but he survived and is back with a high-tech metal arm and a desire for vengeance. Eggsy and Charlie fight inside a moving car and Charlie’s metal arm comes off. Eggsy is able to escape Charlie and the other bad guys in three SUV’s following him and must use the underwater capabilities of his car to enter a Kingsman secret base. What Eggsy doesn’t know is once he has left the car Charlie’s metal arm comes to life and plugs into the computer terminal. It transmits the locations of all Kingsman offices and addresses of agents to Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a ruthless drug dealer with plans to expand her business. With the information, Poppy launches guided missiles, destroying all Kingsman facilities and killing most of their agents. The only ones that survive are Eggsy and tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong). Merlin initiates the doomsday protocol and discovers a bottle of Statesman whiskey in a secret safe. The bottle guides them to the Statesman distillery in Kentucky where they run into Tequilla (Channing Tatum) while checking out an overly secure storage facility. It turns out the whiskey factory is a front for an independent investigative organization similar to the Kingsman. Led by Champagne, who prefers to be called Champ (Jeff Bridges), the remaining Kingsman agents are taken in and aided in their mission to stop Poppy Adams from forcing the legalization of all recreational drugs after she has spiked all the drugs she sells with a virus that will kill all users. Unless her demands for legalization are met she won’t release the antidote that will save everyone including Eggsy’s girlfriend. The existence of the Statesman is a surprise but that Harry is still alive and in Statesman custody is an even bigger shock for Eggsy and Merlin.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” doesn’t mess with the formula that worked with the first film ”Kingsman: The Secret Service.” If anything this sequel turns up everything to a proverbial “11” and while that may work in some films it proves to be a bit distracting and a detriment in this case.

The film is a bit all over the place, zipping from one locale and group of characters to another. Just as we get comfortable with one scene it is immediately replaced with another. From mountain vistas to a painfully obvious CGI Statesman headquarters, the movie is a bit like a jittery child that can’t stay in one place for too long before moving somewhere else.

This is the fault of a story that is scattered like a shotgun blast. The script by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn is chock full of plot points that send the characters all over the world on mostly meaningless side missions. Side missions are fun in video games but can feel like an utter waste of time in a movie. With a running time of two hours 20 minutes, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is over stuffed with asides that could easily have been cut out.

The action and gadgets in the movie have been upgraded and made more outlandish in the film. Attaché cases that double as machine guns and bazookas are fairly banal when compared to a car that can convert into submarine or a watch that can hack any device with a microchip. The mechanical arm used by one of the bad guys also seems over the top since it is merely strapped to him with belts and Velcro but can pull down stone columns and propel a bowling ball through a wall. Obeying the laws of physics is probably asking too much of a campy spy movie but giving some thought to how something might work and react in the real world would be nice.

It would be easy to dislike “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” if you give it too much thought; however there is plenty to find enjoyable in the film. First, it doesn’t ask too much of the audience. There is a crazy lady with a crazy plan that just might work unless the super spies can stop her. The story is fairly straight forward even if the script throws in a great deal of needless running around. Second, the characters are all fairly likable. Even Julianne Moore’s Poppy is sweet and charming until she’s not. I enjoyed the way Moore’s character is able to order one of her henchmen to kill another and do it with a smile. It’s a disarming trait that softens the edge of what could have been a shrieking monster. Third is the discovery of how Elton John may be the next elderly action hero. I know this is farfetched but John, playing himself as a captive entertainer in Poppy’s hideout, is very funny in the movie. He is given the opportunity to do both comedy and action and succeeds wildly at both. Of course, his action scenes are largely comprised of CGI (especially when he does a flying karate kick) but they work well within the loose structure of the story. Elton John appears to have been willing to do whatever director Matthew Vaughn asked and what shows up on screen is great.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is rated R for language throughout, drug content, sequences of strong violence and some sexual material. A main part of the story is how everyone’s drugs are spiked with the virus so we are shown people using pot and one person using meth. Other people show up with symptoms of the virus that aren’t shown using drugs but that’s the only way they could get the virus. There are numerous shooting and stabbings throughout the film with some more bloody than others. There is one awkward sex scene that is a little troubling to watch. There is no graphic nudity but there is a suggestion of a sexual act that is done during a mission. It felt like a forced scene that could have been handled another way. Foul language is common throughout the film.

It’s doesn’t live up to its predecessor but “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is a fairly enjoyable spy romp that continues the hyper-action and violence of the first film. There isn’t a jaw-dropping church scene like in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” but the discovery of the Statesman and the reveal of Harry still being alive and how that happened is almost as good.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” gets four stars out of five.

This week there are four new films hitting screens at your local multiplex. I’ll be seeing and reviewing one of the following:

American Made—

Flatliners—

A Question of Faith—

Til Death Do Us Part—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to, subscribe and review The Fractured Frame podcast available where ever you get podcasts. Follow The Fractured Frame on Twitter @fractured_pod. Send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “mother!”

Him and Mother (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence) live in a secluded home in a clearing surrounded by woods. The wife has been renovating the home after a fire severely damaged it. Him is a writer and has some popular books published but is suffering writer’s block. He hopes the seclusion will help the ideas flow. One day a stranger knocks on their door. This stranger is Man (Ed Harris) who says he was sent to the home by locals that thought it was a bed and breakfast. Him insists that since it is so late Man stay the night but Mother thinks inviting a stranger to stay in their home is a bad idea. Showing Man around their home Him brags how Mother has redone everything by herself. In his office, Him shows Man his prized possession: A fragile crystal orb that came from the remains of his burnt home. Man wants to hold it but Him says no and puts it back on its display stand. Not long after Man arrives Mother begins to feel ill. She puts some medicinal powder in a glass of water, drinks it and feels better quickly. Man has some sort of illness that causes coughing fits that keep him and Him up all night; but the next morning both act as if they had a good night’s rest. Later that day the Man’s wife Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and Him invites her to stay as well. Soon Woman gets drunk and begins asking rude and personal questions of Mother. Despite being told to stay out of the office Him writes in, Man and Woman enter and break the crystal orb driving Him into a rage and orders Man and Woman to leave his home. Not long after, Man and Woman’s Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) and Younger Son (Brian Gleeson) arrive to argue over the Man’s will and what will happen to his money. The two sons fight and Oldest Son kills Younger Son. Then things get weird.

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is a challenging movie to watch and it’s challenging to figure out what it means. It’s a film that is so open to interpretation it could be accused of meaning nothing. As I write this I am just about 24 hours away from leaving the theatre and I am still questioning what I saw. Is that the mark of a good film? I don’t know. It certainly is the mark of an Aronofsky film as I have seen three of his other works over the years: “The Fountain,” “Black Swan” and “Noah.” If nothing else, Aronofsky is a film maker that doesn’t spoon-feed his audience. The images are up on the screen and what you do with them is entirely up to you. While it is an interesting experience I can’t say it was particularly entertaining.

In doing some reading online by other critics and movie websites, it appears that “mother!” is a biblical allegory for God’s creation of the Garden of Eden and Man’s fall from Grace. Once it is pointed out to me the correlation is painfully obvious. It may also be a metaphor on how man is given the beautiful gift of the Earth but uses its resources and fouls the air, land and water and must be punished for his arrogance. That fits as well.

“mother!” is a whirlwind of meaning with layers of symbolism stacked one on top of the other. It is almost sensory overload as you watch the film as it often keeps a very tight close up of Lawrence’s Mother as she moves from one room to the next doing chores or looking for Bardem’s Him. Lawrence’s face is frequently a blank slate in the early parts of the film. Only later does her face contort into confusion and pain. Lawrence is probably the best thing about “mother!” Her performance is the anchor and the access point for the audience. It may not be the doorway to understanding but Lawrence’s Mother is the most human and relatable of all the characters. She is a dutiful wife, a caring and hard-working homemaker and a skilled craftsperson bringing a burned-out shell of a home back to life. She has poured so much of herself into the renovation she can even feel that life pulsing through the walls. What do these scenes mean as she touches the walls, closes her eyes and sees and feels the heartbeat of the house? I haven’t a clue but Lawrence’s performance made me want to find out.

There are parts of “mother!” that are beautiful to look at and some of that dare you to keep watching. Late in the film one of the characters is being beaten. The impacts of the fists and feet seem to jump off the screen and pummel you in the audience. There are more scenes of violence and chaos as the world of “mother!” descends into utter madness. Is this more symbolism for a world consumed with greed, lust and envy? The biblical allegory could be stretched further into Genesis with the Great Flood washing away the evil of humanity. You’ll have to see the film yourself if you want to see exactly what I’m talking about.

The real question: Is “mother!” entertaining? For me it wasn’t. I was always interested in what would happen next and enjoyed some of the weirder and more twisted things in the film but by the end I was left with the question of if what I’d just witnessed improved my life and/or mood. Did it elevate my humanity or relieve any stress? I can’t say that it did. The ending is far from satisfying and left me wondering what exactly the point is? Is “mother!” art merely for art’s sake? If so, that’s fine with me but having experienced it I can’t say I have been enlightened or improved in any way.

“mother!” is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, language, strong disturbing content and strong violent content. We see a person alive and burning. Several people are shown shot in the head. There are some stabbings and at least one beating. General riot-like mayhem occupies most of the last 20 minutes of the movie. There are a couple of explosions. There is a brief scene of Javier Bardem getting out of bed nude. There is also a brief scene of Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts exposed but it is in a violent context. The remains of a baby that has been ripped apart are briefly shown. Foul language is scattered.

For the previous 1100 words I have pontificated on the meaning and qualities of “mother!” but the question remains: Is the movie any good? My honest answer is I don’t know. While it kept me interested for the full two hours I can’t say I enjoyed the movie; but I didn’t hate it either. This is one of those rare films that I simply cannot get my head around. It is an enigma wrapped in a riddle and I am not smart enough to work my way in between the words, the images and the meaning. In short, “mother!” has me stumped.

Simply because I don’t know what else to do, “mother!” gets three stars.

This week three new films open and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Friend Request—

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle—

The LEGO Ninjago Movie—

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Review of “IT”

Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) is dealing with the mysterious loss of his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) with the help of his friends: Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), A.K.A. “Trash Mouth” Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), a sickly boy that can’t go anywhere without his inhaler and Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff), a germaphobe preparing for his bar mitzvah under the glaring eye of his rabbi father. Constantly under threat of a beating by a gang of bullies lead by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) that calls them the Losers Club, Bill and his buddies are just trying to navigate school and deal with the traumas going on in their lives. Soon to join their group is Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the “new kid” that has no friends but has the wrath of the bullies in common with the Losers Club. He has a crush on Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), a girl that is rumored to be the school tramp but really is living a different kind of hell with her abusive father. The most outside of the outsiders is Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), an orphan living with his grandfather and working on his sheep farm. Mike is homeschooled and is one of the few African-Americans in Derry. This draws particularly violent attention from Bowers and his bully friends. But the scariest thing in Derry is an ancient evil that lives in the sewers and comes out every 27 years to feed on the flesh and fear of children: His name is Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard). Pennywise takes on the appearance of a clown to lure children in close so he can collect them. He ripped Georgie’s arm off before dragging him down into the sewers. Now more children are going missing and no one knows what to do about it or who will be next. Investigating Georgie’s disappearance, Bill has put together that whatever is killing the kids of Derry, it travels through the sewers. He also learns he and his friends have all seen Pennywise and been threatened by him. Bill wants to find it and kill it.

Based on Steven King’s book of the same name, “IT” was brought to life in a 1990 two part TV movie starring Tim Curry as the clown. For the time, it wasn’t half bad. It had a fair number of known TV actors playing the grown-up versions of the kids in a final showdown with Pennywise. While it had limitations of special effects and a TV budget the four hour production did find an audience and a place in my memory. Now director Andy Muschietti has more money, digital effect and more time to devote to a more faithful telling of the story of a killer clown preying on the children of a small town. “IT” is a sizable improvement over its TV ancestor.

The best part of the film is probably the ensemble cast of terrific young actors making up the Losers Club. From top to bottom, the entire group is perfect. The standouts are Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier and Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak. Wolfhard’s Richie is the kid that tries too hard to be the leader of the group when everyone knows he’s not it. Richie wears thick glasses and has the mouth of a horny sailor. Dropping inappropriate insults and one-liners like bad habits, Wolfhard is certainly the most entertaining member of the group.

A close second is Grazer’s Eddie. A hypochondriac with an overprotective mother, Eddie is constantly on the lookout for anything that might make him sick. The rundown of everything in the drainage tunnel that likely will give him some sort of infection is hilarious; particularly since much of the medical information he spouts is wrong. He tells a long story of how a friend of his mother’s told her about a friend of his that caught AIDS from the pole of a subway. He becomes more and more frantic as his get deeper into the story and the misinformation just keeps growing. While all the kids are great these two really stand out.

What also is impressive about the young cast is their depth of emotion in dealing not only with the threat of Pennywise but the dangers within their own families. There isn’t a missed beat or out of place reaction as we get brief looks inside the lives of almost all the kids. Most troubling of course is Beverly and her sexually abusive father. While nothing is shown on screen, it is clear there is something inappropriate about the way her father touches and talks to his young daughter. We don’t know where Beverly’s mother is or why she isn’t around but clearly there is something out of whack about this household over and above their poverty. Sophia Lillis shines in these dark scenes as she tries to sneak past her father, hoping he won’t notice she’s there. Starting the movie with long hair, Beverly cuts it short in an act of defiance and an effort to make herself look less attractive to her father. It is at once both a heartbreaking and liberating scene as she takes a pair of shears to her long auburn locks. None of the children in the story have easy or perfect lives and the cast is able to bring a surprising amount of depth and maturity to these complex roles.

Another interesting aspect of the film is how all the adults seem to be just a little off. There’s a creepy pharmacist that’s a little too greasy and blond and takes too much of an interest in Beverly. Eddie’s mom is sedentary, very overweight and requires too much attention from her own son. There’s a library worker lurking in the background behind Ben taking too much of an interest in the boy. The local cop lurks around too much and is clearly abusive to his son that happens to be the leader of the bullies. Bill’s dad is distant and doesn’t want him to continue investigating Georgie’s disappearance. None of it is over-the-top but there’s something not right about nearly every adult character we see.

Of course the most not right character of them all is Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise. Skarsgard is an energetic killer clown often dancing or hopping or twisting himself into and out of difficult shapes. His voice is screeching at times and soothing at others. When we first meet Pennywise he’s talking to Georgie from a storm drain in the street. He’s smiling and seems friendly but you notice drool dripping from his mouth and his glowing red eyes. It isn’t long before Pennywise shows his true colors, and his mouth full of jagged sharp teeth, and rips Georgie’s arm off then drags him into the sewer. Even though you know something bad is going to happen (it must since this is the first few minutes of the movie) it still comes as something of a surprise when Pennywise’ mouth opens overly large and row after row of teeth is exposed, quickly clamping down on Georgie and sealing his fate.

Director Andy Muschietti uses Pennywise sparingly but effectively. It feels like Pennywise is in every scene but he disappears for long stretches of the movie only to pop back in briefly to try and eat one of the Loser’s Club. Muschietti digitally centers the clown’s face in a couple of scenes so no matter how he moves his face is always the focal point of the image. It’s an effective technique that keeps the audience centered on that malevolent mouth and the damage it is waiting to inflict on its next victim. Pennywise manages to be both terrifying and interesting and we may get to learn more about him in the sequel.

“IT” is rated R for language, bloody images and violence/horror. We see the aforementioned biting off of Georgie’s arm. A character has a capital “H” carved in his stomach with a knife. Various people are shown in various states of decay. Several people are shown being hit by rocks. A woman from an impressionist painting comes to life and threatens one of the children. A man described as a leper is shown with oozing face sores. A person is shown getting their throat stabbed by a knife and bleeding profusely. A person is shown being smacked in the head with a toilet tank lid and bleeding a great deal. A bathroom sink begins gushing blood out of the drain. A character is shown being impaled with an iron bar a couple of times. Foul language is common throughout the film.

A second chapter is coming. The enormous opening weekend box office for “IT” means a sequel is already being worked on. This film will likely focus on the adult versions of the kids coming back to Derry to face off with Pennywise in a battle to the death and, if reports are to be believed, we’ll also learn more about the history of the clown. I hope we get a flashback as I’d like to see the kids again because they are such good actors. Everyone watching the film will likely see themselves or someone they know in the characters. While “IT” may not be the scariest movie ever released it works as a film that has memorable characters behaving in a way that is relatable and believable. It is a minor miracle that “IT” works on so many levels.

“IT” gets five stars.

This week I’ll review “American Assassin” for WIMZ.com.

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

All I See is You—

Mother!—

Listen to my podcast The Fractured Frame where each week a couple of friends and me talk about movies. It’s available everywhere you get podcasts and on WIMZ.com. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.