Review of “Brightburn”

Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are a childless couple trying to get pregnant when an explosion rocks their farmhouse in Brightburn, Kansas. Investigating, they find what looks like a spaceship and inside is a baby boy. They raise the child as their own. When the boy turns 12, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) becomes more aggressive, overreacts to perceived insults from his schoolmates and talks back to his parents. Brandon is also hearing voices in his sleep. The voices are coming from the spaceship his adoptive parents keep under lock and key in the barn. At night, it glows and speaks to Brandon in an alien language. Brandon is also developing powers. He can fly, is incredibly strong and can shoot heat rays from his eyes. People around Brightburn begin disappearing and dying with a mysterious symbol appearing near each scene. Tori and Kyle are at odds over what to do about Brandon. And Brandon is continuing to learn about his powers and making plans for a possibly dark future.

“Brightburn” is the origin story of Superman if the last son of Krypton was a psychopath. There are so many similarities to Superman’s story I’m surprised Warner Brothers and DC Comics didn’t sue Sony and producers James Gunn and Kenneth Huang for copyright violation. Perhaps a deal was worked out quietly and in advance to prevent any litigation. However it happened, “Brightburn” features a superpowered villain in a world of mortals. That is perhaps both a strength and a weakness.

The special effects in “Brightburn” look great considering the film was made for a paltry $6 million. Granted, when Brandon uses his abilities, he is frequently only shown as a blur or in darkness. There are also a few effects that look flat or stick out because they don’t equal some we’ve already seen. However, the visuals in the film are mostly impressive.

Brandon’s heat vision looks much like Henry Cavill’s Superman. The beams are rough around the edges and have a similar appearance to flame throwers, but somewhat more under control. It is used in a couple of very sinister ways, once to open a locked freezer door as shown in the trailer, and once to kill a person.

There are some gory moments in the film. The scene in a diner where a woman pulls a shard of glass out of her eye is shown in the trailer, but there are a couple of other far gorier deaths in the film. One involves a car crash and the other is the heat vision death I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Brandon also displays one of his kills in a way that shows he’s proud of his work, but also shows he needs enormous amounts of therapy and should be buried up to his neck in whatever his equivalent of Kryptonite is.

Where the production clearly didn’t spend any money was on the spaceship Brandon arrived in. It looks like something you’d see at a carnival to promote a futuristic ride and slapped together from leftover parts. It is squat, round and bulbous with lights evenly spaced over its exterior. Think of a mushroom only less sleek. I don’t know why the ship looks so bad when everything else looks good.

“Brightburn” borrows some horror movie tropes. Brandon will appear in the background and then disappear. His impending evil is often preceded by sinister or tense music. He will walk through a room when his potential victims are unaware of his presence. Brandon also has a flat affect, showing no emotion when his parents are talking to him about a tragedy and hiding his true feelings to lull them into thinking everything is alright. With his sweet face and youth, Brandon is the ultimate creepy child once his true nature is revealed.

Brandon is torn between two worlds: The world of his parents and community in small-town Kansas, and the alien world he came from. While his human parents probably want Brandon to finish high school, go to college, get a good job, marry and have some kids, his alien parents or creators have a plan for him that is vastly different. Despite his 12 years of human upbringing, his alien programming is stronger, likely written into his DNA. He tells his mom he wants to be good, but his true nature clearly makes it easy for him to be bad. There are times he appears to enjoy inflicting pain and causing destruction. There are also times he seems to lose control and acts out of anger. Either way, Brandon is not on a mission of peace from his home world.

I would have liked to have seen a heroic counterpart to Brandon’s villain. Another alien baby that landed in another state and, when he or she comes into their powers, senses Brandon and the two battle. Maybe that’s slated for any possible sequels should “Brightburn” prove profitable.

“Brightburn” is rated R for language and horror violence/bloody images. A woman gets a glass shard in her eye and pulls it out. A classmate of Brandon has her hand broken by the boy in retaliation. A character’s car is picked up and crashed into the ground by Brandon, causing a gory and bloody injury to the driver. A deputy is beaten into a bloody pulp while the sheriff is blasted into small pieces. A character has a hole burned through his head by heat vision. A character is dropped from a great height to their death. A nude body is shown hanging on the wall with a large open wound in the midsection. There are also mutilated chickens. Foul language is scattered.

“Brightburn” could be the beginning of a dark superhero franchise, or it could be a one off. I see potential for expanding the story to include other alien super beings, both evil and good, but I can also see this tale being all the story that needs to be told. “Brightburn” is self-contained and gives the audience a peek at what follows the movie with some brief scenes cut into the credits. There’s also Michael Rooker portraying an internet conspiracy theorist warning the world of Brandon and other evil creatures that also sound familiar to well-known superheroes. That could be a tease for an expanded universe, or a button on a finished story. Either way, “Brightburn” is a good introduction to a super villain that left me wanting more…in a good way.

“Brightburn” gets four stars out of five.

Monsters, suspense and music will be filling screens at your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Godzilla: King of the Monsters—

Ma—

Rocketman—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Saban’s Power Rangers”

Angel Grove’s star high school quarterback Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets himself in some trouble with the law, has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is forced to serve Saturday detention at his high school. There he meets Billy (RJ Cyler), an autistic science genius that blew up his locker, and saves him from a bully. Also in detention is cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), new girl Trini (Becky G) and quiet but crazy Zack (Ludi Lin). The five have nothing in common but all wind up at the gold mine that provides most of Angel Grove’s jobs. There, Billy sets off an explosive that exposes a glassy rock face. Taking hammers to the glass the five find five glowing coins, each showing a different color. Mine security begins chasing the teens and they all get in Billy’s mom’s van. They try to get past a railroad crossing before the train gets there but mistime it and the van is struck dead center. The next morning, all the teens wake up in their own beds with no memory of how they got there and they all discover they have increased strength and speed. Returning to the mine they find an underground complex that begins to come to life as they enter it. They are soon approached by a robot calling itself Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and he introduces the five to an alien whose essence has been encased in a computer allowing him to communicate with them via an interactive wall. The alien is named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and he used to be the leader of a team of five heroes that travelled the universe to protect life from evil. Zordon explains that one of his team turned evil and decided to use her powers for her own gain. This evil creature is named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and she is somewhere on Earth regaining her strength and preparing to try and steal the Zeo crystal. Every planet with life on it has a Zeo crystal. If that is removed, all life on the planet will cease to exist. Zordon tells the five teens they most form a cohesive fighting team to protect the Zeo crystal from Rita and any other threat. They must become the Power Rangers.

“Saban’s Power Rangers” is a mashup of “The Breakfast Club” and “The Avengers.” It takes the basics of the cheesy Saturday morning “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” (and all its various spinoffs) and turns it into the movie equivalent of YA fiction. We get a diverse and appealing group of young, troubled characters that are directionless and looking for meaning in their lives. When the possibility of becoming superheroes is presented to them they fight it every step of the way and only become a team when faced with a massive crisis. “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner” all began their lives as YA novels and all have similar character arcs. With its start as a Japanese-turned-American kids show, “Saban’s Power Rangers” has a bigger hill to climb for audience credibility than these other properties and it doesn’t quite have enough steam to get over the top.

The effort to turn this show into something palatable for movie audiences gets hamstrung right from the start with the names of various entities: Rita Repulsa, Putties, Zords, Morphing, it all sounds like the kinds of things my friends and I would come up with in grade school for our made up space alien battles. Simply saying the names of some of these things with a straight face should be considered a victory by these actors.

The group gives it their best shot and tries to make the material as grown up as possible; however, the come-to-Jesus moments of the movie are a bit embarrassing. The campfire scene where they all (except Kimberly) confess their deepest fears and biggest flaws mostly belongs back on Saturday morning TV. While the scene is earnest it is also extremely sappy. The problems a few of these characters have are serious and relatable (ailing mother, no money, pressure from parents to succeed) but the rest is generic high school garbage that doesn’t rise to the level of meaningful drama.

This is also the scene where we learn Trini is a lesbian. She doesn’t say it herself as that is left to another character. Also, the word “lesbian” is never said. Trini is asked if her parents are constantly on her about “boy troubles.” Her reaction gets that amended to “girl troubles” and everyone understands what THAT means. That is the only reference to her sexuality in the whole film and it is never brought up again. We also never see Trini with anyone outside the team so the celebrations of having a LGBTQ superhero are a bit premature. Also, any protests or boycotts of the film over this are the very definition of overreaction as you almost have to figure out what they are implying to fully understand.

Adding to the overly earnest high school semi-drama nature of the story, there is a level of silliness and cheese left over from its Saturday morning beginnings that simply cannot be knocked off. While watching giant robots fight against giant monsters made of gold might sound exciting on paper, the execution left me a bit underwhelmed. There was a nice move that is a callback to an earlier training scene but otherwise it is unimpressive. Also, the level of destruction wrought by both the bad guys and the good guys might turn the townspeople of Angel Grove against their hometown heroes.

“Saban’s Power Rangers” is rated PG-13 for language, action and destruction, sequences of sci-fi violence and some crude humor. There are fights between the Power Rangers and holographic putties as well as real ones. The battle between the Megazord and Goldar causes a great deal of destruction of property but no obvious human injuries. A joke early on about a teenage boy milking a cow that was actually a bull becomes a bit graphic. There is scattered foul language but it is mild and infrequent.

The heroes of many people’s youth have been modernized and somewhat matured in “Saban’s Power Rangers.” They are facing more contemporary problems like discovering their sexual identity and dealing with peer pressure and over-exposure in social media. Despite all that effort, the characters still feel like they would be more at home in an after school special than on a movie screen. While it isn’t as bad as I was expecting, “Saban’s Power Rangers” needs more powerful and believable characters, problems and storytelling.

“Saban’s Power Rangers” gets three stars out of five.

Check out my review of the new sci-fi thriller “Life” at the WIMZ website:
http://wimz.com/blogs/stan-movie-man/1723/review-of-life/

This week, two new movies hope you’ve already seen “Beauty and the Beast.” I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Boss Baby—

Ghost in the Shell—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Following the near fatal attack by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is shaken that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has somehow hijacked her friend and lover from the 74th Hunger Games and turned him into an assassin with her as his only target. Katniss’ concern for Peeta complicates her relationship with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Leader of the resistance Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the Mockingjay as a propaganda tool to encourage others to join their cause and keep Katniss off the front lines but her anger at Snow for what was done to Peeta makes Katniss find a way to be a part of the assault force that is moving through the Capital. Their journey through the deserted street is complicated by a series of booby traps set up by the game designers.

I wasn’t a fan of the first “Hunger Games” movie. The whole concept of the poor and oppressed fighting to the death for the entertainment of the rich and powerful left a bad taste in my mouth and a less than favorable opinion of the series in general. Of course, one needs only a tiny bit of historical knowledge to see the parallels to ancient Rome and the gladiators of the coliseum with the “Hunger Games” series of novels and movies. Some could argue the same thing happens today with politicians pitting their constituents against the supports of the rival party. The whole thing is a very dark and depressing look at what can happen when power and revenge run amuck. The second film in the series won me back as the oppressed begin to fight back and the third film sets up what is the final push to the Capital and the fourth movie pays off everything that has come before with a few surprises thrown in. Does it end the franchise in grand style or do the characters and story limp to the finish line?

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is a mixed bag with a tone as dark and depressing as the first film. Characters die, Katniss starts injured and gets more injured along the way, things become bleak then bleaker and lovers are tested. What few moments of happiness are shown are quickly ground into the dirt. It makes one question which would be worse: Losing the war or winning it?

Jennifer Lawrence continues her great work as Katniss. The character’s spirit, determination and bravery are tested by the trials forced upon her by the machinations of both President Snow and Alma Coin. Lawrence is able to breathe some life into a sad character in a dour situation. While the entire situation stretches credibility, Lawrence is able to keep the character grounded and believable. Her work as Katniss Everdeen will likely not win her any major acting awards but it is something of which she can be proud.

The rest of the cast is largely window dressing as nobody is on screen for any significant amount of time; however a couple of performances do deserve some praise. Liam Hemsworth gives a strong performance as Gale. His heartbreak at Katniss’ interest in Peeta’s recovery from brainwashing is etched onto his face. One of his scenes late in the movie (no spoilers) is brief but devastating. Josh Hutcherson is allowed to stretch and be more than “the other guy.” The pain and confusion caused by the mind games played by Snow on him leads to some surprises along the way. Hutcherson has been a part of the films since he was in his late teens. His growth as an actor is clear and this might be considered something of a graduation.

While I enjoyed the film and the performances there were a few things that troubled me. First, the film feels all of its 136 minute running time. With all the effort to give attention to the emotional parts of the story along with the action, there are times when the film seems to come to a complete halt. All narrative momentum is sacrificed so the audience can experience the feels. It seemed forced and an effort to play to the fans of the books instead of the fans of the movies.

It’s time once again for “Thinking about the Details Too Much.” There have been some nagging questions about the logistics of how the world of “The Hunger Games” works that really came to the forefront in this film. First, where do the rebels get all the fuel they need to fly their planes and drive their trucks? I know there was a cache of weapons and equipment they captured earlier but fuel is something that is very difficult to produce in a way that isn’t vulnerable to attack. How they get their food is also something that confuses me. With the disruptions caused by the rebellion, it seems like no one in Panem would be working to make food that might fall in the hands of either side. Perhaps there are stores of rations saved up for emergencies but that wouldn’t last very long in an ongoing war and would also be a target for attack. And that concludes “Thinking about the Details Too Much.” Thanks for listening.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material. There are numerous battles between armed groups. We see one person killed by a landmine. Another couple is killed in various ways by booby traps. There is another death caused by poison and a character is shown coughing up blood. Katniss kills a couple of people with arrows. Various explosions cause more death. There is no gore. We see some of the injuries sustained by Katniss mostly consisting of bruises on her neck and her ribs. I’m not sure what the reference to “thematic material” is other than a character is disfigured after disappointing a person in power.

Some might consider “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” to be more of the same: Characters pitted against a powerful government with only their determination and imagination to help them. That is largely correct; however, this final entry into “The Hunger Games” film series is consistent in tone and style and manages to wrap up the story in an exciting, entertaining but still dark way. While it is probably about 15 minutes too long, fans of the books and the movies should find this a satisfying conclusion.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” gets four stars out of five.

The Thanksgiving holiday means a midweek release of three new films. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Creed—

The Good Dinosaur—

Victor Frankenstein—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.