Review of “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the chief of the Viking village of Berk, a haven for Vikings and dragons alike. Hiccup and his best friend Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) lead a band of soldiers made up of Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig and Justin Rupple) on raids against dragon hunters, freeing those captured and bringing them back to Berk. Hiccup’s friend and adviser Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson) warns that Berk is getting too crowded with dragons and the hunters are getting closer to discovering where all the freed dragons go. A group of dragon hunters looking to field an army on dragon-back, calls in Grimmel (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), a long-time dragon killer that hunted the Night Fury to extinction, or so he thought. Informed by the dragon hunters that there is one Night Fury left, Grimmel agrees to help them captured all the dragons of Berk and in exchange, he wants to kill the last Night Fury called Toothless. Grimmel has just the bait to bring Toothless in close for the kill: A female Night Fury. Seeing the female, Astrid calls her a Light Fury, Toothless is instantly smitten. Hiccup discovers a trap in the woods near where the Light Fury was seen and knows the hunters have found them. Eret (voiced by Kit Harington) recognizes a tranquilizer dart near the trap as belonging to Grimmel and warns Hiccup he is more dangerous than any other hunter he’s faced. Hiccup remembers a legend his father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) told him as a child. A land from where the dragons all came he called the Hidden World. It was to the west where sailors feared to go as it was deemed the edge of the world. Hiccup convinces the citizens of Berk to leave their home and go west with their dragons to find the Hidden World so they could all live in peace and safety. There’s no guarantee the Hidden World actually exists, but they have no choice but to look for it and keep their dragons safe from Grimmel.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the likely end of the “Dragon” story, and it goes out on a beautiful, emotional and exciting note. The visuals of the series have been impressive right from the start, but in this third film, I believe the animators and camera people (yes, they use cameras to shoot some scenes in animated films) have reached a pinnacle that will require a massive leap in technology to beat. It will likely be up for best animated feature at the 2020 Oscars. There are not enough nice things I can say about the film, but I’ll try.

First, as stated above, it looks amazing. There are shots in this film you would believe are live-action if they didn’t have a flying dragon with a couple of people on its back. The imagery is startlingly life-like in several scenes. The water, the hair on character’s heads, the trees, grass and flowers, all move in a believable fashion. The physics, the reactions of objects when thrown or bumped or whatever, is spot on. There is a substance to this world that feels real, despite it being impossible to touch and only existing in computer memory and digital code. I have been a fan of the “How to Train Your Dragon” films, but this may be the best looking of the bunch.

It also has a great story of what growing up and being responsible for yourself and others means. Hiccup was thrust into the job of chief after the untimely death of his father in the second film. He’s never been comfortable with being a leader and needs the support of Astrid and his recently returned mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett) to keep up his confidence. Their support has never been more important than in the fight with Grimmel. More than once, Hiccup makes a mistake that endangers his tribe and the dragons. He questions whether he’s up to being Berk’s chief, and if losing Toothless makes him less of a leader. He must learn that leading is done best with the help of a group of trusted friends and allies and can never be done alone. Hiccup also learns that no one is perfect and there will be mistakes along the way. It is important that he learns from these mistakes and doesn’t repeat them. These lessons he learns from his friends and advisors, discovering the experience of others can improve the leadership of the chief. In other words, those that don’t play well with others don’t necessarily make the best people to be in charge.

The voice cast is stellar, as always, and gives the film both the comedic and emotional punch it needs to appeal to both children and the adults bringing them to the theaters. Jay Baruchel has given Hiccup a believable evolution from teenager to young adult and from son of the chief to being the chief. Baruchel has a friendly-sounding voice and can deliver both the witty aside along with the heartfelt speech to the people of Berk and the kind and loving words to his friend Toothless.

The twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut also get bigger roles in this third chapter of the story. Kristen Wiig again plays the tomboy Ruffnut, while Justin Rupple replaces T.J. Miller as Tuffnut. The pair are annoying together, but nearly insufferable apart. Ruffnut is captured by Grimmel at one point, but is such an unstopping motormouth, he releases her. While there is a purpose in letting her go, it also ends her jabbering about how great she is and how her pigtails are her hand puppet dragon friends. Wiig gives Ruffnut enough femininity to differentiate her from Tuffnut while still showing us she’s as rough and tumble as her brother.

Perhaps the best acting job is by Justin Rupple. He was brought in after the film had been animated and the part voiced by T.J. Miller and had to recreate the role. Miller ran into a rough patch after finishing his voice acting. He was accused of a 2001 sexual assault and called in a drunken bomb threat while riding a commuter train in 2018. The studio decided to pull Miller from the cast and rerecord his part using comedian and impressionist Justin Rupple. There are times in the film when I believed I was listening to Miller, but there are times it clearly isn’t him. Rupple had to match his delivery to the animated mouth movements (called lip flap) and give a good performance. Rupple should be commended for performing well under difficult circumstances, given he was brought in to replace a well-known actor.

F. Murray Abraham is menacing as Grimmel. He gives the villain a quality showing this bad guy enjoys being a bad guy. Grimmel is very good at being evil. He is happy with his life and was a very good dragon hunter, feeling cheated that there is one Night Fury left. His determination and focus on capturing Toothless is daunting and he is prepared for whatever Hiccup and his crew plan. Abraham is a gifted performer, winning the Academy Award for best actor as Salieri in 1984’s “Amadeus,” and winning and being nominated for many other awards. Attracting this kind of talent to do voice work in an animated film says a great deal about how much respect the actor has for the project. “How to Train Your Dragon” has been a series of films that have delivered amazing visuals and performances and this third installment may be the best of the bunch.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is rated PG for some mild rude humor and adventure action. There may have been some belches and farts in the film, but I don’t recall there being much in the way of rude humor. There are fights between humans and between humans and dragons. Grimmel has dragons that spew acid instead of fire. Some people are shown being hit on the head and being knocked out. People and dragons are shot with a tranquilizer dart. Humans are chased by angry dragons. There is no foul language.

“How to Train Your Dragon” is one of my favorite films of the last 10 years. The mixture of humor, action and emotion was a surprise in what could have been a run-of-the-mill animated kids movie. While I wasn’t as enamored with the second film, it was still entertaining and visually stunning. Now with the third film wrapping up the trilogy, I find myself wanting more. Not because there’s something lacking in “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” but because I want to spend more time with Hiccup and Toothless and a world filled with friendly, flying dragons. Alas, we will not likely revisit the world of Berk, Vikings and dragons…at least, until Dreamworks animation decides to reboot the franchise in a cynical cash grab. Fortunately, we will be able to look back on this original trilogy of films with fond memories, especially the last one.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” gets five dragon-flame stars.

Two new movies open this week. Maybe I’ll go crazy and see both, but I guarantee I will see at least one of the following:

Greta—

Tyler Perry’s A Media Family Funeral—

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

Review of “Alita: Battle Angel”

In the 26th Century, the world is still recovering from a war 300 years earlier called The Fall. The rich and powerful live in the floating city of Zalem, the last sky city left from The Fall. Under Zalem is Iron City where life is hard, and people do whatever is necessary to survive. One of the few good people living in Iron City is Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a physician that takes care of the many citizens with artificial limbs. Zalem’s trash is ejected from the bottom of the floating city and collects in a massive dump in Iron City Dr. Ido is searching the dump to scavenge spare parts for his patients when he finds the head, shoulders and part of the chest of a female cyborg. Dr. Ido takes her to his office and attaches her head to a cybernetic body he already had on hand. When the cyborg comes back on line, she has no memory of her past. Dr. Ido calls her Alita (Rosa Salazar). While showing her around his neighborhood in Iron City, Alita meets Hugo (Keean Johnson), a scavenger that finds parts for Dr. Ido. Alita and Hugo fall for each other and plan to meet the next day. As Alita is on her way to meet Hugo, she is stopped by Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) who looks closely at Alita’s hand. Chiren is Dr. Ido’s ex-wife. The two divorced after the death of their daughter, also named Alita. The body cyborg Alita is using was built for Ido and Chiren’s daughter who was confined to a wheelchair, but she died before she could be transferred to her new body. There’s a violent sport called Motorball where the participants replace parts of their human bodies with cybernetic parts to improve their game play. Chiren works for Vector (Mahershala Ali), an entrepreneur with Motorball teams who gambles on the outcome that he also controls. Roaming the streets of Iron City are part cybernetic bounty hunters. One of the most successful is Zapan (Ed Skrein), a bounty hunter who is almost entirely machine. Alita is seeing flashes of memory whenever she’s involved in a violent conflict. She sees herself fighting a battle on the moon along side another female cyborg named Gleda (Michelle Rodriguez). As Alita becomes more known in Iron City, she becomes the target of people wanting her technology as it is something that hasn’t been seen since The Fall. The most dangerous person hunting her is Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), a massive cyborg that doesn’t care who is hurt when he hunts. All the while, there’s an unseen master that is directing everything from Zalem.

Does the above plot synopsis of “Alita: Battle Angel” sound confusing? It’s pretty easy to follow as you’re watching, but there’s far too much going on in this adaption of the Japanese manga called “Gunnm” and the animated movie “Battle Angel.” Writers Laeta Kalogridis and James Cameron (yes, THAT James Cameron, who is also a producer) apparently wanted to stick in every subplot and side quest from the source material, overwhelming the audience and the plot, and making a scattershot film without a satisfying ending. It looks great, the action scenes are frequently impressive and the performance of Rosa Salazar is affecting, however “Alita: Battle Angel” is nothing more than a two-hour preview for “Alita: Battle Angel 2.”

As the movie was coming to an end, I got angry. I’ve been angry at characters and their actions, but few movies are able to create that feeling in me just for existing. “Alita: Battle Angel” is a rare exception as it caused me to question if I wanted to ask for my money back. Director Robert Rodriguez has crafted half a good movie out of a script containing enough material for at least three films and yet, there’s no ending. The movie concludes, but what happens is anti-climactic. As the credits begin to roll, it is clear the film is nothing but a long trailer for movies yet to come. It is infuriating that $170-million was spent to create a coming attraction for a film that may never start production as this entry probably won’t break even.

There’s something especially cynical about a movie, all of which are released with the hope and expectation that they’ll make money, that appears to only be a cursory introduction to characters so the audience will know them in the next movie when something will actually happen. Lots of things happen in “Alita: Battle Angel,” but none of them amount to anything by the end of the film. The audience is left with the knowledge that there’s more to come and, if we see it at all, it is several years from coming out. It’s like being promised a Christmas present, then that gets moved to Valentine’s Day, then your birthday and so on, until you just don’t care anymore.

The problem is I do care. I want to see a good story with these characters in this world. The world of manga and anime is one where great battles and epic stories are promised, and started, but we rarely get a real, definite conclusion. One need only watch an episode of any of the Dragonball series on Adult Swim to see what I’m talking about. Perhaps our patience will eventually be rewarded with a final showdown between Alita and the shadowy overseer that’s guiding everything from Zalem, but I don’t plan on holding my breath for a satisfying conclusion.

Despite my disappointment in “Alita: Battle Angel,” there are some nice elements in the film. First, Rosa Salazar is able to deliver a moving and believable performance via the facial motion-capture dots and cameras. Salazar squeezes empathy for Alita out of nearly every scene. Her caring for Dr. Ido and Hugo, and anyone who finds trouble on the streets of Iron City, including a stray dog, shines through the digital manipulation of her face to create the oversized eyes of Alita. The effects used to make her unique face don’t stick out like a sore thumb and, after a few minutes, you don’t notice much difference. Some of the action takes on the quality of a cut scene between segments of a video game, but those moments are brief and scattered. Some of the action is breathtaking and the violence is jarring as cyborgs are ripped apart, but the human head is still alive. That happens more than once in the film and it gets a little creepy on occasion.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language. There are numerous battle scenes, mostly involving cyborgs, and mechanical limbs go flying. Humans get hurt and killed as well. There isn’t much blood and no gore. Foul language is mild, but there is an “F-bomb.”

“Alita: Battle Angel” has some good points and, if it had a better ending, it might have gotten a higher rating from me. Since the likelihood of a sequel is fairly low, I guess we’ll have to make due with this version of the manga and anime. It’s too bad, as director Robert Rodriguez and writer/producer James Cameron have produced some amazing cinema over the last 30 years. Perhaps they have too many projects on their plates to provide a complete story and a satisfying ending. What we have here is most of a movie and a fair one at that, but it feels incomplete and more than a little cynical.

“Alita: Battle Angel” gets two stars out of five.

Opening this week are two new films with family at their cores. I’ll see and review one of the following:

Fighting with My Family—

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World—

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

Review of “Destroyer”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) has a great number of regrets, starting with an undercover operation she worked with an FBI agent named Chris (Sebastian Stan). Seventeen years earlier, she and Chris infiltrated a gang of bank robbers led by the charismatic Silas (Toby Kebbell) just as they are preparing a big job that could net them millions of dollars. In the present, Det. Bell arrives at the scene of a murder being worked by city detectives. They tell her it’s out of her jurisdiction, but she checks out the body and sees three oval tattoos on the victims’ neck and hundred-dollar bills stained with purple dye scattered around the body. Erin knows something about the case, but she’s not sharing the information with her colleagues. Erin’s memories about her time with the gang, with Chris, with Silas, with Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany) and the decisions at the time that have ruled her life since come flooding back as she considers what her next move must be.

“Destroyer” is a dark, dark movie. It doesn’t waste time with characters that are either black or white and focuses on all the varying shades of grey, most of the on the darker end, that make up the inhabitants of Los Angeles populating this universe. It’s a film that plays with perceptions, time and morality and is anchored by a breathtaking performance from Nicole Kidman who at times is unrecognizable. The glamourous Kidman disappears under layers of grime and time to become the title character in “Destroyer.”

Kidman’s performance is what makes “Destroyer” a great film as there are some issues with the characters and the plot. While no character, besides Erin, has a huge amount of screen time, Toby Kebbell’s Silas is a ghost that haunts scenes despite not being seen. Silas is shown in flashbacks as a messianic figure, able to control his followers and make them do things against their better judgement. I would have liked to see more of Silas, but at the same time, I don’t think the character would have worked as the all-knowing, all-seeing villain he is portrayed to be if he appeared in bigger chunks of the film. Silas comes off as a Manson-type leader, able to get his crew to take stupid chances and punishing anyone that lies to or betrays him, but we never see his tactics, only his long dark hair, penetrating stare and too calm demeanor. Silas instills loyalty and fear in his crew, even nearly two decades after they last saw each other. Why? The movie never answers that question.

The non-linear narrative also distracts from the storytelling. The film jumps back and forth in time so much, the only way you can tell what part of the story you are in is by what Kidman’s Erin looks like. The past has her looking recognizable, while the present shows Erin as if she’s been sandblasted. While we get all the details about the story in these scenes, it makes it difficult to keep up and easy to miss important plot points. An event late in the film makes all this jumping around make more sense and provides something of an “ah-ha” moment. Still, all the time jumps create some confusion.

“Destroyer” is rated R for language throughout, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use. There are a couple of beatings shown with blood coming from facial injuries along with one beating causing vomit. There are also some bullet wounds shown in a couple of shootings. A game of Russian Roulette is shown as well. A powder is shown being snorted. There is an uncomfortable sex scene that involves no nudity but is just gross. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Nicole Kidman turns “Destroyer” from a standard, dark crime drama into an event. Her performance is both painful and mesmerizing as a cop haunted by a past she can’t live with and a future she doesn’t care about. Every bad decision is etched on her face and her efforts to make things as right as she can are likely to fail. It is a story of greed and envy, and the road to Hell and redemption. I can’t say you’ll love “Destroyer,” but I bet you won’t be able to forget it.

“Destroyer” gets five stars.

This week, I’ll be reviewing Liam Neeson in “Cold Pursuit” for WIMZ.com.

Other movies coming out this week are:

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part—

The Prodigy—

What Men Want—

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

Review of “The Kid Who Would Be King”

Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are the targets of bullies in their school. Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris) target the younger and smaller kids, stealing their money and punching them. Alex stands up to them and is facing expulsion for tackling Lance. Alex and his single mom Mary (Denise Gough) have been going it alone since Alex’s dad left. Mary tells Alex he was fighting his demons and couldn’t be around them. Running from Lance and Kaye after school, Alex hides in a construction site of a building being demolished. There he finds a sword stuck in a partially demolished column and pulls it out. He shows it to Bedders and they put the writing on the hilt into Google translate, discovering it says “Sword of Arthur.” Believing it is the legendary sword Excalibur, Alex hides it in his closet, so his mother doesn’t take it away. Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), imprisoned deep in the earth centuries earlier, is aware the sword has been found and begins gathering her strength to return to a world that is lost in darkness, despair and anger. The wizard Merlin (as a young man, Angus Imrie/as an old man, Patrick Stewart) has also felt the discovery of Excalibur and has returned through a portal located at Stonehenge. He pretends to be a student at Alex’s school to keep an eye on him. When Merlin discovers there are only four days to a total solar eclipse, he announces to everyone that Morgana and her army of undead skeleton soldiers will return to take over Britain and the world and that Alex is the Once and Future King. Soon, Alex, Bedders and the reluctant Lance and Kaye begin an adventure to fight off evil and save the world.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is the ultimate fantasy kid’s movie. The hero is a child of meager means, not physically imposing, with few friends and missing his absent father. His best friend is a fat kid that is afraid of everything and doesn’t like breaking rules. The other kids on the quest are his enemies that he reluctantly takes on as allies so they can see the threat they face. There’s also a loopy wizard that changes into an owl when he sneezes and can’t be out after dark as it weakens him. It’s up to Alex, the kid with no leg up in life, to save the world whether he wants to or not. It stretches credibility and runs on a bit too long, but “The Kid Who Would Be King” deserves your patronage and loyalty.

Louis Ashbourne Serkis is the son of motion-capture king and actor Andy Serkis, best known as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films, Caesar in “The Planet of the Apes” trilogy, King Kong in Peter Jackson’s film of the same name and as the Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue in the MCU. He comes from a very active acting family and young Serkis clearly has inherited the performance gene. Serkis is an emotive young actor, his performance coming as much from his facial expressions as from his voice. Alex is dealing with a great deal of pain and loss and Serkis shows that without it being too melancholy or melodramatic. Serkis is a natural performer and is relatable to the target audience of children while not being annoying to the adults that brought them. It is a pleasing performance that works well within the insanity of the story.

The rest of the cast is great with Dean Chaumoo as a standout as Bedders. The insecure child constantly questioning whether what they are doing is the right thing borders on being annoying, but the story is guiding us down that path, leading to a confrontation between the two best friends that reshapes their relationship. It’s a simple and wide-eyed performance that is the only credit on his IMDb page. I thought he probably had done live theater in Britain, but a Google search of his name only turns up a page from King’s College School in Wimbledon announcing his getting the part with no reference to any other acting. If this is his first ever role, he should be congratulated for giving such a good performance.

Another great performance is Angus Imrie as the young Merlin. He’s all enthusiasm and energy as the wizard that gets younger as he ages (Patrick Stewart appears a few times as an elderly version of Merlin). Merlin is the comic relief of the film. His wild hand gestures as he’s performing a spell seem like an opportunity for anyone wanting to stop him to punch him in the face. No one does as that would bring an unwelcome bit of reality to the story. Since the movie is about knights and demons and wizards and sorceresses, no one wants the real world to interfere. Imrie is a joy when he’s on screen. His apparent love for the role (possibly acting in general) shines through the screen and he adds just a little bit of extra spark to a film that is already filled with energy.

While is said no one wants reality to interfere with the film, sadly my middle-aged brain wouldn’t let some things go. For instance, when Morgana sends her evil undead soldiers to attack the kids at night, only the people Alex has knighted can see them and the rest of the people in the world disappear, leaving all their possessions where they were, including their cars. A scene in the film finds the kids fighting the undead knights using a car then, when the last one is beaten, all the people return, including the people in the car the kids were using. It’s a reality-bending bit of world building that ignores the real-world consequences. The film does that a great deal, including for Alex to succeed, he must kill Morgana. That’s a heavy burden to put on a kid who isn’t old enough to drive. The children of Alex’s school must battle the undead army. No consideration is given to if any of them will be hurt or killed. It’s a minor issue I have with the film, but it feels like something that could have added a bit of depth to what is otherwise a light kids adventure story.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” is rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language. The kids battle the undead army, trees that come to life, underground roots and a couple of fire-breathing dragons. Lance and Kaye are shown bullying Alex and Bedders on a couple of occasions. The reality of an absentee father and the reasons for his being gone are briefly explored. Foul language is mild and very scattered.

The movie takes its time in guiding Alex and his knights through their adventure. The missing dad is revisited one time too many and the consequences of abandonment are hammered into the audience unabated. We get it! Stay and raise you kids! Otherwise, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a fun and lighthearted romp that children will love, and their parents will find entertaining enough. It’s silly and funny with likable characters and a good message. And remember: Always follow the chivalric code! It will see you through life and serve you well.

“The Kid Who Would Be King” gets five stars.

With only one new wide release, I’ll also possibly check out some new arthouse films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

In Like Flynn—

Miss Bala—

Stan and Ollie—

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

Review of “Glass”

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) runs a home security company by day and patrols the streets of Philadelphia by night stopping or avenging crimes. The blurry images of David in his poncho have earned him the media nickname of The Overseer. David, with the help of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), is on the hunt for Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with 24 distinct personalities, who has kidnapped four cheerleaders. One of Kevin’s personalities is a violent killer called The Beast. Joseph is able to narrow down the search area and David actually bumps into Kevin, getting a psychic image of the girls in an abandoned factory. David frees the cheerleaders and fights with Kevin as The Beast. After they fall out of a window, the two are apprehended by police and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). David and Kevin are taken to a mental hospital where they are held along with Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the man responsible for the train crash of which David was the only survivor nearly 20 years ago and who wants to be called Mr. Glass. Dr. Staple tells the three she specializes in treating people with a particular kind of mental disorder: Those that consider themselves superheroes. She connects physical and emotional trauma from their lives to their delusion of being extraordinary. David and Kevin are held in rooms that can weaken them. David’s room is equipped with high-pressure nozzles spraying him with water while Kevin’s room is fitted with strobe lights that force another personality to take over should he become the aggressive Beast. Elijah is kept under constant sedation. Dr. Staple has three days to examine and treat them. If she cannot convince the trio of their averageness, they may never leave the hospital.

Director and writer M. Night Shyamalan apparently had a plan back in 2000 when “Unbreakable” was released to continue the story of David Dunn and Mr. Glass. Other projects and a downturn in the quality and box office of his films put that plan on hold until “Split” came out in 2017. The success of that film brings us to the team-up flick “Glass” which completes what has been dubbed the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. Sadly, Shyamalan had too much time to ponder how the story should go and couldn’t make up his mind, so it went in several different directions leading to an unsatisfying mush.

“Glass” starts out with great potential. The battle between David Dunn’s reluctant hero and Kevin Crumb’s damaged villain seems like a brilliant premise for a movie. Even when the pair plus Mr. Glass get locked up together, the setting for a battle of brains and brawn feels more complete and intriguing. Dr. Staple’s inclusion muddies the waters a bit and the choices made by David and Kevin to play along (David could break his chains and Kevin could simply close his eyes) are odd since their existence and reality are being challenged. When we get to the finale, that’s when things really start to implode.

Prior to that, there’s a practical matter that really screams out for discussion: The mental hospital where our three protagonists are held is the most poorly run institution on the planet. Apparently, the place empties out of doctors and staff after 5 pm leaving one orderly to work overnight. Elijah meanders around the building with no trouble. He and Kevin walk out practically unnoticed. David also strolls through the building looking for his rain poncho with no interference. This was a catastrophe begging to happen, and it does.

That said, the ending of “Glass” is kept in the confines of the grounds of the hospital. While the plan is to create chaos at another location (which is made clear on a couple of occasions), Shyamalan stays firmly rooted just outside the mental institution, staging what is likely one of the choppiest and most disjointed fight scenes in movie history. Dunn is supposed to be this incredibly strong man, impressing his young son with how much weight he can lift in “Unbreakable,” but never actually punches Kevin when he’s in Beast mode. By the same token, the Beast never punches David. They spend most of their fights throwing each other around and trying to strangle each other. Some of the fights are shot in POV so there is a distracting amount of movement. It becomes disorienting trying to focus on what’s happening when the entire world you can see is shaking like a paint mixing machine. There are also long pauses for explanations and revelations about past story items. While one is the ubiquitous “Shyamalan Twist,” it brings what little excitement generated from the action to a halt.

There is a second twist to “Glass” that comes out of nowhere and it feels like a bad idea that no one could talk Shyamalan out of. I shan’t get into it here, so I don’t spoil it, but it builds a whole added layer into the mythology that seems unnecessary and so out of left field as to be a last-minute thought. I can’t say much more than that, but it seems like Shyamalan has thoughts of continuing the story of superheroes among us.

The film also sputters to a stop. It seems to be over a couple of times, then there’s another five to 10 minutes. This is another reason why the second twist feels like an end-of-the-writing-process inclusion. Shyamalan felt like another tag scene needed to be added. Then another and another, so the last-minute addition was complete. From my end, it’s a lot of images that don’t add anything to what’s come before.

“Glass” is rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language. There are numerous times when a person is thrown against the wall by either David or Kevin. One woman is hit by a table thrown by Kevin and we find out later she had broken bones from it. One person gets their throat slashed but the only blood we see is in the aftermath and not as much as there would be. We see another person crushed by Kevin. Kevin also bites and rips off flesh from a person, but we only see blood around his mouth. There are suggestions of the kind of abuse young Kevin suffered but we don’t see it directly. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Despite all the issues I have with “Glass,” I enjoyed watching the film. I’ve seen both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” so finding out the two films existed in the same universe and the story would be concluded in “Glass” was an interesting concept. The movie has so much potential and gets off to a good start; however, once the doctor with the oddly specific specialty is added and the seemingly last-minute added layer of mythology is exposed, “Glass” becomes a muddled mess of half-thought-out ideas that’s been too long in the creation process. I wanted to love it, but “Glass” broke me.

“Glass” gets three stars out of five.

This week, kids training to save the world and a fisherman’s past comes back to haunt him open in theaters. I’ll see one of the following:

The Kid Who Would Be King—

Serenity—

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

Review of “Escape Room”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Escape Room” gets four stars out of five.

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

Also opening this week:

A Dog’s Way Home—

Replicas—

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

Review of “Holmes and Watson”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Holmes and Watson” gets 1 star.

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

Escape Room—

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