Reviews of “The Last Witch Hunter” and “Steve Jobs”

The Last Witch Hunter

After the death of his wife and child, Kaulder (Vin Diesel) joins other 13th century witch hunters in the search for the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) responsible for the plague that killed their families. Within a massive tree, Kaulder finds the Witch Queen and runs her through with his burning sword; however, before she dies she curses Kaulder with immortality. Eight-hundred years later there’s a truce between the priests that oversee Kaulder as the last witch hunter and witches. As long as they don’t practice magic on humans they won’t be hunted, tried before a council and locked up in a prison below the church. The priest that works directly with the witch hunter is called a Dolan. He acts as a guide, confessor and scribe writing down all of the hunter’s adventures. The 36th Dolan (Michael Caine) is retiring and will be replaced by the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood). On his last night the 36th Dolan dies in his apartment, apparently of natural causes; but Kaulder is suspicious. Looking for the signs of magic, Kaulder finds the elder Dolan was put under a spell that mimics death and was tortured for information. He left clues behind telling the witch hunter to relive his death inside that tree. Needing a potion to help him remember what happened right after the death of the Witch Queen, Kaulder seeks the aid of a young witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie) at a bar that is exclusively for witches. Chloe creates the potion but Kaulder is attacked by a powerful witch named Belial (Olafur Darri Olafsson) trying to stop him. Strange and dangerous forces are trying to keep Kaulder from seeing what happened after the Witch Queen cursed him. The question is why?

With a Rotten Tomatoes score in the mid-teens I was surprised I enjoyed the first half or so of “The Last Witch Hunter.” The writers of the film had created an interesting world largely populated with unique characters doing strange and fanciful things. Had it continued that way I might have been one of the movie’s loudest supporters. As it is, I’m lukewarm on the latest Vin Diesel project because it trades in imagination for generic action thrills.

Diesel actually manages something akin to warmth in parts of the film. He has a brief interaction on a plane with a child and shows a bit of charm. His scenes with Rose Leslie don’t devolve into an uncomfortable romance as I was afraid it might but the pair has a rough chemistry that serves the story. The father/son relationship between Diesel and Michael Caine felt a bit forced but still managed to seem like a friendship that had been around for a while. Elijah Wood is under used in his role so he and Diesel’s characters never feel like they are really partners. Perhaps that was the goal. No one in the movie does a bad job in their role. Sadly, they aren’t given that much to work with.

The film is let down by a third act that is just scaffolding to get to the action/sfx scenes. We get a few brief glimpses at what Kaulder has lost at the hands of the Witch Queen and the events in that third act contradict what we’ve seen before. I’m trying to avoid giving away too many plot details; but the story kind of reverses itself in a blatant attempt to create a need for a sequel. With opening weekend domestic box office of less than $11-million, that seems unlikely.

“The Last Witch Hunter” is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images. We see people stabbed with swords and knives. There are a few large, ugly creatures. The Witch Queen will be scary for the very youngest viewers. A character is impaled on a spike through the shoulder. A character is consumed by vines at the base of a tree. A character is shown ripping their skin off to reveal a different creature inside. Foul language is widely scattered and very mild.

The world of “The Last Witch Hunter” could have been fascinating if the vision of the writers early in their script has been carried through to the end. As it is, the movie becomes a predictable action/fantasy with some decent visuals but is nothing special. I wish it had been the kind of film that put a spell on me but alas, it’s all just a cheap trick.

“The Last Witch Hunter” gets three stars out of five.

Steve Jobs

Preparing to give a public demonstration of the new Macintosh computer Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is berating Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of his engineers, because the vocal program is having a hard time saying “Hello.” Jobs wants to show how friendly the Macintosh is and refuses to pull it from the demonstration. His long-suffering personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is attempting to coordinate the presentation while wrangling the taciturn Jobs. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is trying to get Jobs to thank the Apple II engineers during the presentation but Jobs refuses saying it looks back in the past and the Macintosh is the future. Waiting backstage is Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) with her daughter Lisa. Based on a blood test a judge ruled that Jobs was Lisa’s father but he denies that. In a magazine article, Jobs says that up to 28% of the men in America could also be Lisa’s father. This angers Chrisann as it appears Jobs is saying she sleeps with many different men. Chrisann wants money over and above the child support the judge granted her. Jobs only pays attention to Lisa when she takes an interest in the Macintosh in the dressing room.

“Steve Jobs” tells a story about the face of Apple using three product launch events in front of hundreds of adoring fans. Jobs could do no wrong in their eyes and everything he touched they thought was the next big thing. In the film, Jobs seems to only be comfortable on the stage in front of those that didn’t know him. In the film, being a part of Steve Jobs life seemed like a less than pleasant experience. The movie also is less than pleasant as it loses its belief in itself and tries to turn Steve Jobs into a misunderstood teddy bear.

Michael Fassbender may get some awards season love for playing the title role. His performance is mesmerizing. Jobs is a ball of energy that can become dangerously focused on anyone that he feels has done him a disservice or isn’t living up to his expectations. Jobs is shown in the film as a man with a singular vision he feels must be put forth unadulterated. It’s the same whether he’s involved in business or personal matters. Fassbender is absorbed in the role and it must have been emotionally taxing for him. Playing a person of such conviction and willingness to mow down anyone that might get in the way has to take its toll. Fassbender manages to be charismatic even when making threats or explaining something that doesn’t need explaining. His performance, and the performances of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels Katherine Waterston and the rest of the cast, is outstanding. Sadly, they are all let down by a script that doesn’t believe in its own convictions.

While Steve Jobs is shown to be able to express a tiny amount of warmth and compassion, the majority of the movie’s two hour running time is spent showing the man as the lowest form of life. He’s rude, egotistical and doesn’t take anyone’s feelings into consideration. If he was anything like portrayed on screen it’s a miracle someone didn’t put a bullet in him at some time in his life. Writer Aaron Sorkin does a good job of making Jobs unlikable. Then, out of left field, we get a scene that could best be described as redemptive. For me, it completely didn’t work. It is pounded into our minds what a dirt bag Jobs is. He denies Lisa is his daughter, he threatens to have Chrisann killed, he is prepared to embarrass one of his engineers in front of an auditorium full of people if the Macintosh voice synthesizer doesn’t work and that’s just a few of the things shown in the movie and then, without any set up or evidence to the contrary, we are shown a warm and fuzzy Steve Jobs. Perhaps, as he aged, Jobs become more human. The movie doesn’t give us any indication that it happens or why. One of the most brutal confrontations occurs not long before this miraculous conversion. Jobs is as blunt and biting as he is in any other scene in the movie and then, a few minutes later, he’s overflowing with love, compassion and contrition. It takes what is a scathing portrait of a well-known figure and cheapens it into a feel-good family melodrama.

“Steve Jobs” is rated R for language. Foul language is infrequent.

I realize I’m in the minority on this one but “Steve Jobs” isn’t the brave and searing portrait of one of the best known tech giants in history; instead, it shows us a flawed but brilliant man and tries to redeem him using cheap emotional tricks. Jobs deserved better.

“Steve Jobs” gets three stars out of five.

Three new movies close out the month of October looking to scare up some business. I’ll see and review at least one of them.


Our Brand is Crisis—

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “The Martian”

Botanist and astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a six-person crew exploring the surface of Mars as part of the Ares III mission. Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is informed by crew member Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) of an approaching dust storm that has intensified since the last weather update and may cause their return vehicle to topple over. Lewis orders the crew to head to the launch vehicle and prepare to return to their mothership Hermes in orbit. As they walk from a habitat module to the return vehicle, a piece of equipment is picked up by the wind and strikes Watney with such force that it carries him away from the others. Unable to see him in the blinding storm and receiving telemetry that his suit has been breached, Lewis makes the decision to leave him behind since it appears he is dead. The crew launches and begins the nine month trip back to Earth. Watney wakes up, injured but alive. He returns to the habitat and assesses his situation. He can’t contact Hermes or NASA since his communications equipment was destroyed in the storm. He is in a habitat designed to last 30 days with a limited food and water supply and he’s looking at a minimum of four years before the next mission is scheduled to arrive. Watney begins thinking of ways to extend his food and water supply. Back on Earth, Mars Mission Director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) asks NASA Director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) to use satellites orbiting Mars to look at the Ares III landing site but Sanders refuses fearing images of Watney’s body on the surface would turn public sentiment against the space program. Kapoor asks an operator in Mission Control to redirect a satellite to look at the Ares III location and notices a rover has changed locations. NASA realizes Watney is alive and begin working on plans to send him supplies. Using his remaining supplies and repurposing the equipment to which he has access Watney does everything he can to stay alive and have the best chance at rescue.

“The Martian” is more than a science-fiction movie. The story wouldn’t be hugely different if the setting was in the wilderness and a lone character had to figure out how to survive with just his wits and limited supplies. While the potential wait for rescue would be significantly shorter, the basics would remain the same. That’s what makes “The Martian” a movie that appeals to those that like sci-fi and those that don’t, as shown by the large take at the box office. It is a film that focuses on one man’s struggle to survive in an environment that has several different ways it can kill him. While the locale is out of this world, the struggle is completely relatable.

Matt Damon is such an everyman he easily fits into just about any role. From a troubled mathematical genius to an amnesiac super spy to a stranded astronaut, Damon finds the humanity in all his characters no matter what insanity might swirl around them. His work in “The Martian” is no different. Damon plays Watney as a brilliant man, cool under pressure, but not someone that doesn’t have doubts about his chances from time to time. The strain of being alone takes its toll on Watney and Damon unapologetically shows us his fear and anger. It’s a brilliant performance on which the entire movie rides.

That isn’t to say the rest of the cast isn’t given a chance to shine. Large chunks of the story take place on Earth and on board the Hermes. As the characters deal with the pressures of figuring out a way to save their stranded comrade and the guilt of having left him behind, we see the kind of political, personal and public relations decisions that go on behind the scenes. There are hard choices that have to be made and difficult calculations on the worth of one man’s life. Is the risk of saving Watney worth the cost in materials, manpower and possible bad PR? It’s the kind of questions the real space program hasn’t had to answer publicly but I’m sure discussions about all the possible outcomes of missions have led to some heated debates. It’s that sort of real-world consideration along with the excitement and tension that make “The Martian” such a grounded story for a sci-fi movie.

“The Martian” is rated PG-13 for injury images, brief nudity and some strong language. We see Watney’s injury and his self-surgery to repair the damage. There are a couple of views of Watney’s bare backside. Foul language is widely scattered but the film does use its maximum allowed number of “F-Bombs.”

“The Martian” is based on a book of the same name by Andy Weir. According to an interview in the podcast “SciFi Geeks Club,” Weir says screenwriter Drew Goddard consulted him on certain aspects of the story and the movie is about 95% faithful to his book. That is almost unheard of in making books into movies. That kind of adherence to the source material may play some part in why “The Martian” is such a great movie. It doesn’t dumb down the science and it keeps the characters grounded with real emotion along with humor to keep the threat of impending death from making the movie too grim. It is well worth your time and money whether you enjoy science fiction or not.

“The Martian” gets five guitars out of five.

This week, there is only one wide release film and that’s the prequel story of Peter Pan. While I may see that visual effect extravaganza, there are some smaller films that look interesting as well. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:


Hell and Back—

Learning to Drive—


Pawn Sacrifice—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Dumb and Dumber To”

Usually, when a movie is a smash hit and generates lots of devoted fans, a sequel is two to three years down the road. If the movie is part of a huge franchise (like “Harry Potter” or “Paranormal Activity’) the next film in the series could be as little as a year away as these movies are often shot concurrently. “Dumb and Dumber To” is not like any of the above as the first film was released in December, 1994. Now, almost 20 years later, we pay a much delayed return visit to those lovable numbskulls Harry and Lloyd. Was the two decade delay worth the wait?

Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) has been in a nursing home for the last 20 years. He went into a catatonic state following the rejection of his true love Mary Samsonite. Each Wednesday, Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) visits Lloyd bringing him candy, talking to him and even changing his adult diaper. On this visit, Harry tells Lloyd he may not be back for a while as he has a medical condition that will require attention. As Harry is walking away, Lloyd begins to stir. Harry grabs Lloyd and encourages him to speak. Lloyd then yells “Gotcha!” in Harry’s face saying his condition has been a 20 year long practical joke. Both boys have a good laugh at that. Back at their apartment, unchanged in 20 years, Harry tells Lloyd he needs a new kidney or he’ll drown in his own pee. Lloyd suggests they visit Harry’s parents to see if they would be able to give him a kidney. Harry is reluctant since he hasn’t seen his parents in 20 years but agrees and the pair jumps on a bike and ride the 150 feet down the street to Harry’s parent’s house. Harry asks about getting a kidney when his parents, both very Asian, tell Harry he’s adopted. Disappointed, Harry and Lloyd leave with a box of Harry’s mail that’s been collecting for him. There they find a postcard from Harry’s old girlfriend saying she’s pregnant and Harry should call as soon as possible. Lloyd suggests they find Harry’s kid and see if he or she can donate a kidney. The postcard is over 20 years old. Harry doesn’t know where the woman lives but remembers he met her at the funeral home run by her family. There they see her for the first time in over two decades and time hasn’t been kind. Fraida Felcher (Kathleen Turner) doesn’t look anything like the hot young girl of their memories. She proves she’s Fraida by showing them the smiley face tattoo just above her backside that, over time, has become a frown. Fraida tells the boys she gave her baby girl that she named Fanny up for adoption. She regretted the decision almost immediately but by then it was too late. Fraida wrote the girl a letter a few years ago but it was returned unopened with a note written on the envelope telling her not to contact her again. Thinking things are hopeless Lloyd tells Harry he should just give up until Fraida shows them a picture she found on social media. The young woman, now named Penny Pinchelow (Rachel Melvin) is beautiful and Lloyd is immediately smitten, telling Harry they should find her using the address on the letter. The boys then set off on an adventure that takes them from their hometown in Rhode Island all the way to El Paso, Texas. Along the way, they’ll encounter murderous twin brothers, an evil stepmother and a convention center full of nerds.

“Dumb and Dumber To” essentially tells the same story as “Dumb and Dumber” but this time the emphasis more on Harry than Lloyd. Their journey takes them across the country in various odd vehicles, encountering numerous individuals of questionable character and always managing to barely escape danger by using their complete lack of wits. Substitute a briefcase full of money with a small, mysterious box containing a billion-dollar invention and you’re ready to go. The story is largely a retread and unfortunately so is many of the jokes. The problem is this time the Farrelly Brothers seem to have lost their nerve for the crudest jokes that were the funniest from the original film leaving this sequel feeling tired an unnecessary.

Neither Jim Carrey nor Jeff Daniels deserves any blame for the lackluster humor as they are giving their all to the characters and the story (such as it is). Both men re-inhabit their characters with the same sort of abandon they displayed in the original. Carrey, who doesn’t seem to worry about looking stupid, dives head first into Lloyd and pulls out all his rubbery face moves and wild gesticulations. Daniels, kind of the straight man of the pair, is given the job of selling the emotional context of the story as he’s dealing with learning he has a grown daughter. Harry feels guilty about not being there for her and he worries he’ll be rejected when she finds out he needs a kidney. But none of this stops Harry from diving head first into all the madness the pair encounters. Sadly, the madness is pretty tame in comparison to the first film.

The rest of the supporting cast isn’t given much to do but either look confused or roll their eyes at Harry and Lloyd’s antics. Rob Riggle is largely wasted in the dual role of Travis and his twin brother, Special Forces Captain Lippincott. Riggle seems to be somewhat muzzled as his usual energy is missing here. He’s never allowed to cut loose and provide his characters with any originality or uniqueness. Rachel Melvin as Penny is dumb as a stump. She’s cute and wide-eyed and innocent and couldn’t reason her way out of a wet paper bag. The character is just a rehash of Harry and Lloyd and it doesn’t really work. Penny talks kind of like Shirley Temple in her early movies. It’s a bit annoying and you just want her to shut up. Kathleen Turner comes out better as Fraida Felcher. She seems to have impeccable comic timing and turns her brief screen time into scene stealing moments. She should have gone on the road trip with Harry and Lloyd but sadly she disappears for most of the middle section of the film. It seems like a wasted opportunity to put Turner’s deep, raspy voice to good use.

The story tacks on a crime subplot just like the first film. It is so outlandish that it never really holds our attention and makes us wonder how it will turn out. The payoff doesn’t do much to justify its existence and once again mimics the first film. The script, written by the Farrelly Brothers along with four others, follows the first movie pretty much beat for beat. It never tries to expand beyond the parameters of the first film and plays it safe by simply repeating the same formula. That could have worked had it been funnier.

“Dumb and Dumber To” is rated PG-13 for language, crude and sexual humor, partial nudity and some drug references. It wouldn’t be a Farrelly Brothers movie if there were plenty of poop, pee and fart jokes. There are also a few crude sexual references. The partial nudity refers to the several times we see male butt crack or full butt. There’s also a brief scene with Penny in her panties and underwear. The drug references are early in the film in regards to Harry’s new roommate who make crystal meth. Foul language is scattered and the film uses its one ratings-allowed “F-bomb.”

“Dumb and Dumber To” is funny…about 20 percent of the time. There are some big laughs but they are so few and far between that I grew impatient waiting for the next truly funny bit. Many of the gags in the trailer (the catheter bit, the elderly lady in the nursing home) are there and somewhat expanded upon, plus a couple of other scenes, one involving a barking dog Lloyd encounters and one where the boys try to get free beers at a convention of geniuses, work well and produce some serious laughs. It’s too bad that after 20 years there aren’t more gut busters. “Dumb and Dumber To” is mostly just dumb.

“Dumb and Dumber To” gets two stars out of five.

This week, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1” is the only new release. I’ll see it or maybe something at the art house theatre like “Birdman” or the directorial debut of Jon Stewart “Rosewater.” Check back next week to find out.