Review of “Thor: Ragnarok”

Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) finally returns to Asgard after his quest to make sense of his dreams of Ragnarok, or the destruction of everything. When he arrives he sees Odin (Anthony Hopkins) but knows instantly it is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki takes Thor to Earth where he left him but the retirement home has been torn down. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) guides Thor and Loki to Norway where Odin is standing on a cliff looking over the ocean. He tells the two he is weak and can no longer hold back Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. When she returns to Asgard she will become more powerful than even Thor. Hela appears and Thor tries to defeat her with his hammer but she catches and destroys it. Loki calls for the Bifrost Bridge but Hela also hops on and is able to knock both Thor and Loki out of the transport beam. Thor lands on a planet called Sakaar, is captured by Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) and is brought to meet the leader named the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster runs gladiator fights to keep the masses entertained and the only way Thor can leave the planet is to fight and defeat the champion: It’s Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). His quinjet crashed on Sakaar two years earlier and he’s been in the Hulk form the whole time. When they meet in the arena the fight ends in a tie. Thor tries to convince Hulk to join him, find a way off Sakaar and return to Asgard to take on Hela. During his time on the planet, Thor learns that Scrapper 142 is the last surviving Valkyrie; a group of female warriors that fought for Odin in his war against Hela. Back on Asgard, Hela has made Skurge (Karl Urban) her executioner but he’s having second thoughts about working with the new queen. Heimdall (Idris Elba) has stolen the sword that opens the Bifrost Bridge and is trying to hide as many Asgardians as possible to keep them safe. Things are looking dark for the God of Thunder and the citizens of Asgard.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a much more light-hearted and funny film than any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It never takes itself terribly seriously even though the events within the comic book story universe are very life and death. It makes for a film that is both funny and exciting in equal measure. It’s a rare feat for a movie to have laughs and action with one or the other not getting shortchanged in the process.

According to an interview director Taika Waititi did with MTV at Comic Con, about 80 percent of the dialog in the movie was improvised on set. This usually makes for a film that is choppy and disjointed with lots of quick edits so the best lines, along with the ones that move the story in the proper direction, wind up in the final cut. “Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t have that feel. The director and stars must have been very comfortable with the story and confident in their improvisation abilities to come up with a funny movie and coherent narrative.

With a cast this large it’s difficult for a secondary character to stand out; but Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster certainly makes an impression. Charming, quirky and evil, the Grandmaster is a hedonistic dictator looking to be entertained at all times. He enjoys the blood sport that brings crowds to his arena and loves being the larger-than-life holographic ringmaster projected in the center of the ring, towering over his subjects. Goldblum’s non sequiturs often go unresolved and those that do are preceded by a fair bit of yammering. Those familiar with Goldblum and have seen his recent interviews will notice a similarity between his speaking style and that of the Grandmaster. It appears to be the perfect actor in the perfect role.

Cate Blanchett seems to be having the most fun in her role of Hela. Blanchett is at times smoldering, sarcastic, pitiful and vengeful. All of it makes sense and all of it is played with just the right intensity. She never chews the scenery so much for it to become camp despite gnawing on a few sets from time to time. Blanchett is measured in her excess and it makes for a particularly delicious villain.

The most of the rest of the cast turns in energetic and entertaining performances. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is finally given a chance to do more than just be a hissing, snotty bad guy. Idris Elba’s Heimdall is allowed to be a proper hero. Tessa Thompson is an entertaining and worthy addition to the under-staffed stable of Marvel female heroes. If I have to take points off for any performance it is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Ruffalo’s Banner acts like a meth addict that needs a hit. While we only see the human version of the Hulk for a relatively brief amount of time, Banner is twitchy and frankly annoying. He complains about being freaked out and whines to Thor about being on an alien planet. It’s the one performance that feels like it was a decision made on set at the time of shooting and it was the wrong choice.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material, action and intense sci-fi violence. The only thing suggestive I remember is a reference to an orgy on board one of the Grandmaster’s spaceships. There are numerous fights with scenes of soldiers and others stabbed and impaled by swords. There is very little blood. One character loses an eye. A giant wolf attacks and bites Hulk causing green blood to come out. Foul language is scattered and mild.

With films of this type the majority of the time everyone on screen is CGI. If you see a character thrown 100 feet through the air and crash into and through a brick wall you can be certain no actors or stunt people were harmed in the making of that scene. Much of “Thor: Ragnarok” has been created in the processors of computers. That makes the achievement of the film that much more impressive. Despite all the special effects, costumes, makeup and other worldly locales, “Thor: Ragnarok” still manages to be a superhero movie with a great deal of heart and humor that is dependent on the performances of very real and talented actors. Director Taika Waititi has pulled off a minor miracle and made a funny and entertaining film involving Thor. I wasn’t sure that could be done.

“Thor: Ragnarok” gets five stars.

This week there are a comedy sequel and a train of death coming to a movie screen near you. I’ll be seeing at least one of the following:

Daddy’s Home 2—

Murder on the Orient Express—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest movie news and more, follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Star Trek Beyond”

Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in the third year of a five year mission on board the United Federation of Planets Starship Enterprise. The day to day life of traveling from planet to planet, engaging in diplomatic missions and seeing the same faces among the crew every day is beginning to feel monotonous. An opportunity for promotion to Vice-Admiral and taking over operations of the newest starbase named Yorktown has Kirk thinking of a change of direction in his career. First officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also considering a change, leaving Starfleet and settling permanently on New Vulcan to help reestablish and repopulate his culture. While docked at Starbase Yorktown a small vessel appears out of a nearby nebula. The sole occupant, an alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) says her ship was disabled and crashed on a planet inside the nebula. She managed to escape in an effort to find help. Kirk and his crew are sent on a rescue mission to retrieve any survivors. Electromagnetic emissions from the gas in the nebula make communicating with Yorktown impossible. As they approach the planet, a swarm of small ships numbering in the thousands approach the Enterprise. Moving in a coordinated way, the ships crash into Enterprise, tearing her apart. Some ships are manned and soldiers begin attacking the crew. The leader of this attack is named Krall (Idris Elba) and he is looking for something onboard the Federation ship. Despite all their efforts Enterprise is lost and Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship. Some of the escape pods make it to the surface while others are intercepted by the alien ships and carried off. Kirk figures out what Krall is looking for, a piece of alien technology, and he hides it before abandoning ship. On the surface he runs into Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the pair begin looking for surviving shipmates. Spock and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) wind up inside one of the manned alien ships and manage to take it over but still crash land on the planet with Spock being severely injured. Communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and helmsman Sulu (John Cho) are among a group of other crew being held captive by Krall and his men. Chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) was in an escape pod alone but is found by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) on the surface. She explains her family was killed by Krall’s right hand man Manis (Joe Taslim) but she managed to escape and lives in the remains of a crashed Federation starship named Franklin that went missing over one-hundred years earlier. Krall has a deep hatred for the Federation with plans to exact his revenge…but why?

“Star Trek Beyond” had some goodwill to restore after the less than enthusiastically received “Star Trek Into Darkness.” All the secrecy and misdirection surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch and who he was playing, along with other story issues, left a bad taste in the mouths of fans. This on top of the controversy caused by the first film blowing up the cherished and nearly 50 year old timeline had long-time Trek fans grumbling how the reboot had ignored everything good and important about the original series (or TOS as it is called) and turned it into just another special effect and stunts filled summer popcorn franchise. I can’t argue against any of their complaints and I even share some of them; however, strictly looking at “Star Trek Beyond” as a bit of populist entertainment it is the best of the rebooted series so far.

While there is action and special effect aplenty in the film what makes this movie work best is the relationships between the characters and how they interact under the stress of the situation. The standout of these is Spock and McCoy. These two frequently bicker like an old married couple and nothing changes during their time lost on the planet while trying to keep from being captured. The pair also manages to show a level of caring and respect for one another that turns their trying time into a kind of relationship counseling. While still managing to insult one another in some of the most amusing ways possible, Spock and Bones strengthen their bond as both crewmates and friends.

The script from actor Simon Pegg and writer Doug Jung does a great job of isolating the crew from one another and allowing our main players to explore their relationships on a more intimate level. It turns the film into an examination of the dynamics at work amongst the crew and allows for more heart and humor than one might expect given the situation in which they find themselves.

If the film has an issue it is in the motivations of the bad guy. Krall is all anger and revenge that isn’t very well explained. Even once his reasons and the plot twist (spoiled by an online trailer) are revealed it doesn’t make that much sense. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling it but Krall has some history with the Federation and feels abandoned by the union of civilizations. His desire is to tear it apart but the reasons given for his hatred and all-consuming thirst for revenge don’t seem to add up to killing millions. Of course we’ve seen what little it takes for someone with a handgun, a rifle or even a truck to decide that as many people as possible must die. Still, Krall’s desire for blood isn’t supported by what’s in his story.

“Star Trek Beyond” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Phasers and other weapons are fired appearing to at least injure if not kill some background characters. One character has the ability to suck the life out of people, leaving them withered. There’s a rather brutal scene of hand to hand combat between two characters near the end of the film. The swarming spaceships that destroy Enterprise could disturb some younger children. Foul language is very limited and mild.

The death of Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in the TV series and an older version of Zachary Quinto’s Spock in the first two reboot films is handled with a great deal of class and sensitivity while also offering an olive branch to the fans of the original cast. It’s the kind of gesture that buys the new version of “Star Trek” a great deal of goodwill. It also helps that the filmmakers have put together a very entertaining and exciting film. While the good old days of “Star Trek” tackling difficult societal issues is probably long gone (except possibly in the new TV series coming in 2017), looking at all the movies in the series shows none of the theatrical releases was much more than an action/adventure movie set in space. Those that argue against the rebooted “Star Trek” films as just another special effects-heavy popcorn film aren’t wrong; but they’ve never been the heady and socially conscious expressions that the best of the TV episodes were. Fans should just enjoy that a crew with familiar names is traveling the cosmos onboard a ship we’ve dreamed of boarding one day.

“Star Trek Beyond” gets five stars.

This week, maternal comedy, covert action and social media tension are the subjects of new films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Moms—

Jason Bourne—


Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Reviews of “The Other Side of the Door” and “Zootopia”

(Edit:  The audio for my review was messed up so I have deleted it and I do not plan on rerecording.  Sorry for the inconvenience.)

The Other Side of the Door

Michael (Jeremy Sisto) is an antiques dealer based in Mumbai, India. He lives there with his wife Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their two children Lucy and Oliver (Sofia Rosinsky and Logan Creran). A traffic accident leaves Oliver dead and Maria devastated to the point where she attempts suicide. Their housekeeper Piki (Schitra Pillai-Malik) lost her daughter some years earlier and tells Maria of a way to say a final goodbye to Oliver. There is an abandoned temple far into the country where Maria must spread Oliver’s ashes on the steps then close and lock the door behind her. She will be able to briefly speak with Oliver once the sun goes down but must not, under any circumstances, open the door. Wanting more time with her son, Maria opens the door and allows Oliver’s spirit to cross over from the land of the dead to the living. It accompanies Maria home where strange and disturbing things begin happening.

“The Other Side of the Door” has the elements to be a fair to middling horror movie. It does a pretty good job of establishing a spooky atmosphere, troubled and troubling characters and consequences for not following the rules. What it fails at is capitalizing on the good points with quality scares and involving all the major characters in the meatier parts of the story.

Poor Jeremy Sisto’s character is pretty much done with the story once he impregnates Maria. Left out of or in the dark for the majority of the story, Sisto is only seen occasionally throughout the film as either a hard working or deeply concerned husband and father. Once the supernatural elements begin to develop his Michael is nowhere to be found. When he is brought in near the end of the film, his role is as the doubter that only gets pain and injury for his trouble. Leaving Michael out till the end is like if the “X-Files” kept Mulder and Scully apart until the last five minutes of the episode. Michael could have started skeptical then, as he saw more weirdness, became more of a believer and actually could have helped in the movie’s somewhat messy finale; however, for some reason he is considered as nothing more than an afterthought.

Sarah Wayne Callies is tasked with doing most of the heavy lifting in the movie. She is saddled with the more emotional role and is also the reason all the bad things happen. While Callies may be the best thing about the movie, there is still a kind of vacancy to her performance. Her reactions to weird happenings around her home feel a bit inappropriate at times. A book falls from a shelf and a chair moves near the edge of the dead boy’s bed, encouraging Maria to sit down and read the ghost a story which she happily does. Maybe the character is in shock and is just happy to have something of her child back in her life; however, if it was me I would have run screaming out of the room. There are other odd reactions to the presence of her dead child’s spirit throughout the film.

There has recently been a great deal of talk about diversity in Hollywood and I thought a film set and shot in India would probably be a showcase for Indian actors. I was wrong. Apart from Suchitra Pillai-Malik playing a housekeeper and a few scattered brief speaking roles, there are no Indians performing in any major parts. While the city of Mumbai and the Indian countryside are briefly displayed, the focus is squarely on the white characters. A few local actors play the parts of a cannibalistic tribe that follows Maria around after she visits the temple but their sole purpose is to act as boogeymen and provide the occasional mild scare.

“The Other Side of the Door” is filled with tense set ups and mild scares. It never manages to pull off a really frightening moment. Seeing the spirit of Oliver manifest itself as a rotting corpse, while explained later in the film, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The budget for the film appears to have been fairly low as there isn’t much in the way of special effects. A walking/crawling death demon appears to have had its appearance borrowed from “The Grudge.” If your expectations are low or you are easily frightened, “The Other Side of the Door” may be precisely what you’re looking for, otherwise stay away.

“The Other Side of the Door” is rated R for some bloody violence. The movie doesn’t deserve an R rating because that violence comes very late in the film and isn’t that graphic or gory. PG-13 probably would have been more accurate. We do see Oliver as a rotting corpse on a couple of occasions. We also see dead birds on the ground that quickly rots before our eyes. Foul language isn’t an issue.

While starting out with an interesting premise and spooky environment, “The Other Side of the Door” squanders what it’s given and presents the viewer with just another mediocre mildly tense horror flick.

“The Other Side of the Door” gets two stars out of five.


Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) never let her small size get in the way of her big dreams. Growing up on a carrot farm, Judy always dreamed of being a police officer in the gleaming metropolis of Zootopia where animals of all types, from the biggest predator to the smallest prey, lived together in harmony. Judy attended the police academy and figured out ways to use her small size to her advantage graduating at the top of her class. Zootopia mayor Leodore Lionheart’s (voiced by J.K. Simmons) new inclusion initiative means Judy will be the first bunny on the police force. Her boss Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba), a massive water buffalo, is unimpressed and assigns Judy to traffic detail writing tickets for parking violations. Soon Judy hears of 14 missing person cases all involving predators. A photograph connects one of the missing to a red fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) who considers himself a great con man. Confronted by Judy and threatening to use his own words against him to send him to jail, Nick reluctantly agrees to help Judy track down one of the missing predators. Judy and Nick soon discover there is a dark side to these disappearances that may tear all of Zootopia apart.

“Zootopia” is a simplistic film that manages to hide a deeply subversive message under its bright and colorful surface. It’s the kind of message that might upset some commentators in this contentious election year and could start arguments on talk shows. The subversive message I speak of? Don’t discriminate based on your fears and assumptions about those different from you. Shocking, I know.

“Zootopia” spends a great deal of time setting up its alternate universe where animals evolved (I know, another contentious word during an election cycle) beyond their base nature of being either predator or prey and began working together to establish a society that led to the city of the title. It is a fully realized world with high-speed elevated trains and various environments reflecting the homes of each type of animal. Rainforest, desert, savannah, tundra, and tiny rodent town are all explored and designed in a way that makes sense given the different needs of all the various sized animals. Visually, “Zootopia” is stunning with buildings one might expect to see in Dubai. While bright, the color palate of the film manages to avoid becoming a jangled mess and creates a world that is wild and imaginative yet still pleasant to look at.

The story of “Zootopia” takes a bit of time to develop and that’s great as it gives us more of an opportunity to get to know the characters, primarily Judy and Nick. There is a surprising bit of chemistry between the two even when they are at odds initially. The unbridled enthusiasm of Judy and the cynicism of Nick work to create a kind of combustible emotional mixture that at times explode into either humor or drama. Both Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are terrific in their voice parts. There is playfulness to both characters that the combination of the voices and the visuals really brings out.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you so I will keep specifics of the plot to myself; however, it is a rather sophisticated plan that takes a good deal of the movie’s 108 minute run time to unfold. As more details are revealed it makes the audience more and more curious about what exactly is going on. Any guesses before a certain point in the film will undoubtedly be wrong but feel free to join with your child and try to figure out the specifics. It is this plan that gets wrapped up in the ultimate message of looking past stereotypes and avoiding uneducated judgements. While parents will feel a bit beaten around the head and neck with the lesson the film tries to teach, the rest of the movie’s humor and action should soften the assault.

“Zootopia” is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. There are some chase scenes and a couple of threats of violence that may disturb the very youngest viewers. There are also a few jokes about how well rabbits multiply. The theme of discrimination and mob mentality might cause some discussion after the film. There are no language concerns.

“Zootopia” is the kind of film children and parents will both find enjoyable. From the goofy humor, the action and the bright colors to the message, this children’s film is one that is fully packed for audiences of all ages. Perhaps it should even be mandatory viewing for presidential candidates. They might learn something whether they like it or not.

“Zootopia” gets five stars.

Four new films hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these:

10 Cloverfield Lane—

The Brothers Grimsby—

The Perfect Match—

The Young Messiah—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “The Gunman”

Sometimes the actions of a performer off stage color or alter your perception of that person on stage. I don’t think most people will be able to watch Bill Cosby perform standup (or sit down in his case) without thinking about the allegations of rape or sexual misconduct against him by over three dozen women. And while many of his hardcore fans stayed faithful to him, Michael Jackson was always under a cloud of suspicion after allegations of child molestation that eventually led to a trial where he was found not guilty. While his actions usually aren’t illegal (except beating up the occasional photographer), actor Sean Penn is considered a left-wing radical by those who disagree with his political views and probably won’t go see his latest film “The Gunman.” Penn obviously doesn’t worry about his critics as he includes some of his politics in the script he co-wrote. If those who don’t like his views could look past their opinions for a couple of hours, they might find a pretty decent action movie.

James Terrier (Sean Penn) is working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to build a landing strip and help with humanitarian aid in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. In reality, Terrier and his co-workers are actually part of a private security firm being paid by mining interests in the region to provide security and other services. Terrier is informed by Felix (Javier Bardem), the liaison between his employer and their client, that he has been given an assignment to assassinate the minister who oversees mining agreements as he has just ordered all contracts to be renegotiated. Once the mission is completed, Terrier will have to leave the country immediately, abandoning his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a doctor working in a nearby village. Eight years later, hoping to atone for his actions, Terrier is back in the Congo with an organization digging wells to bring fresh, clean water to the people. Armed men show up looking for “the white man.” Terrier is able to kill all his attackers except one who is killed by one of his assistants. Searching the bodies, Terrier finds vials meant to hold samples of his blood once he was dead to verify via DNA they had killed the right man. Terrier flies to London to visit with his former colleague Cox (Mark Rylance) who, now in management, still works with the private security firm. Somebody wants Terrier dead and he hopes Cox can help. Cox doesn’t have any information but suggests he fly to Madrid where Felix is running a company connecting businesses and charities. While in London, Terrier is hit with debilitating headaches and nausea. After an MRI, a doctor tells Terrier he has plaque built up in his brain from repeated blows to the head. He’s supposed to avoid any more concussive noises and stress. Set up with phony documents, a car and an apartment by his friend Stanley (Ray Winstone), Terrier is cautious since someone could be following him. And someone is as we see people tracking his movements with public security cameras. He finds Felix’s house and observes him through a window, seeing him kiss Annie. They are now married and attempting to adopt a child. Meeting Felix at his company, Terrier asks for help and Felix says he will make a few calls to find out what he can. There’s an odd tension between the men due to Felix and Annie being married but is there something else Felix isn’t saying?

While there’s certainly nothing original about “The Gunman” and it isn’t terribly imaginative with its plot, I found myself enjoying the film despite its 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps it’s my age as Penn is just about a year older than me, but I enjoyed the action and the espionage aspects of the film. “The Gunman” is another in the “over-50” action genre that is pretty much the exclusive domain of Liam Neeson. It tries to be smarter by mixing in the interference of international conglomerates in the political affairs of a Third-World country; but the film lives or dies on the action and for me “The Gunman” did a pretty good job.

Penn appears to have the body of a 25-year old. From his bulging arms to his washboard abs, Penn must either spend hours in the gym with a personal trainer or is juicing. Either way, the results look impressive on screen for a 54-year old man. Penn needed the stamina to carry out the stunts he’s asked to do. There are several close up fights that, as is the current fashion, consist of martial arts moves and gymnastics. These are shown in medium shots that don’t isolate the movements of only one limb. You can see the action and actually follow what’s happening, which I appreciate.

The film also doesn’t skimp on the number of gunshot deaths we get to see with lots of gory detail. Whether it’s blood spatter on a wall behind a victim or being able to see the hole blown out of someone’s head, “The Gunman” isn’t shy about showing about as much as anyone could want to see.

The globetrotting the film does is a kind of travelogue for those of us who will probably never go to Europe. We spend time in London, Madrid and Gibraltar as well as what is supposed to be the jungles of the Congo. The settings are taken advantage of best in Madrid where we spend the majority or the film’s running time. Downtown apartments, estates in the countryside and narrow city streets give the film a luxurious and exotic feel. While it isn’t as exotic as most Bond films, it still manages to make the setting feel unique.

The movie runs into some trouble in two areas: First, the romance between Terrier and Annie feels forced, like they felt the need to create some emotional tension and tacked on a romantic aspect to the story. I didn’t believe the intense connection between the two characters and the decisions those feelings lead them to make. Jasmine Trinca is a fine actress who has done most of her work in her homeland of Italy. She has a believably beautiful face that conveys all the emotion one might expect from the events in the film; but the combination of Penn and Trinca feels like a mismatch. Second, the political and economic aspects of the story feel overly complicated and under explained. Perhaps in the editing some exposition was cut out. I felt lost on a couple of occasions and wasn’t sure who was doing what to whom. That confusion wasn’t from crafty storytelling, but from jumbled storytelling. While I like the idea of the story, the story itself isn’t fully fleshed out.

“The Gunman” is rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. As stated earlier, the film is full of bloody gunshot wounds. There are also a couple of stabbings and a death by goring. There are a couple of scenes with people in bed. One scene shows a couple having sex but there is no graphic nudity. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

It isn’t unique and it won’t set any box office records (it made only $5 million its opening weekend), but “The Gunman” still has something that made me like it. Perhaps it’s a combination of settings and action that appeals to me. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed “The Gunman” even though I appear to be in the minority.

“The Gunman” gets four stars out of five.

It’s a light week at the multiplex with just two new films opening up. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Get Hard—


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