Review of “Dark Phoenix”

Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) has been the ward of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) since a car crash caused by Jean’s powers killed her parents when she was eight in 1975. In 1992, the X-Men take on the rescue of the astronauts onboard the space shuttle Endeavour that’s been crippled by a solar flare. While Jean is on the shuttle, the solar flare strikes the shuttle which should have destroyed the space craft and killed Jean. However, Jean absorbs the energy that isn’t really a solar flare. On the ground, Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) gives Jean a medical exam and finds she is physically fine, but her mutant powers are off the scale. Meanwhile, during a dinner party, a woman hears her dog barking. She goes to investigate when she is attacked by aliens, one of them taking on her appearance. More aliens are with her and shapeshift into other human forms. They are a race called D’Bari and her name is Vuk (Jessica Chastain). They are looking for the energy Jean absorbed and plan on using it for evil purposes. That energy has changed Jean, overcoming mental blocks put in place by Xavier to protect her from her past and is causing her to hurt and kill those around her. Jean finds Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) at his protected island refuge for mutants, hoping to find a way to deal with her new power. When a military team arrives to capture Jean, she destroys one of their helicopters and has a tug of war with Erik over the other before he can push it away, saving all the soldiers from Jean. He tells her to leave as she is endangering his mutant enclave. Vuk finds Jean and tells her she can help her discover the truth about her abilities and that the X-Men fear her and will try to kill her.

With the purchase of 20th Century Fox by Disney, “Dark Phoenix” is the last X-Men film for a while. It is also the worst reviewed of the series with a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes and had the lowest opening weekend of the franchise with just $33 million. It was plagued by poor audience response in test screenings, reshoots, on-set script revisions and budget overruns. Projections put “Dark Phoenix” losing $100 million or so. It is by all measurements a complete failure…and yet, I liked it quite a bit.

The film has several good performances, including a brief appearance by a very young actress. Summer Fontana plays Jean Grey at the age of eight. She possesses a seriousness and maturity that is striking for someone of her young age. It may be the best performance in the film as it is the most memorable.

Sophie Turner and James McAvoy are also impressive in their final turns as Jean Grey and Charles Xavier respectively. Turner, once she is empowered by the cosmic energy, is in turns frightened and questioning, then powerful and aggressive. Jean is unsure of what has happened to her and Turner captures all Jean’s confusion. It’s like a child entering puberty and being unsure of what is happening to their body and mind. Jean is filled with power and when she uses it, people get hurt. Perhaps scaring Jean even more is she likes the feeling of losing control. Turner turns Jean’s switches in personality into believable moments as a woman with new gifts begins flexing her muscles, despite the consequences.

James McAvoy has a nice bit of character growth in “Dark Phoenix.” McAvoy’s Xavier enjoys the moment of acceptance the X-Men are getting, especially after Jean, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and the rest of the team save a space shuttle full of astronauts. Charles is getting congratulations calls from the President of the United States and good publicity for mutants on the news for a change. He’s basking in the warm glow of good feelings and it’s going to his head. He believes he’s doing everything for the betterment of mutants, but he’s also feeding his ego. Charles borders on smarmy when he’s dealing with VIP’s and he’s dismissive of Raven and Hank when they question his motives. McAvoy delivers a performance that leads the audience to dislike the character for perhaps the first time in the series. It’s a bold choice to turn a character from fatherly to bad step-fatherly in what is likely your last outing. McAvoy is always fun to watch, especially in “Dark Phoenix.”

There are numerous action scenes and they all work very well and look great. The scene of the X-Men saving the astronauts that really kicks off the story is an exciting start. Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler gets a chance to shine as a big part of the rescue. The bit of smoke or whatever that’s supposed to be left when Nightcrawler uses his power gets amped up this time and blocks the audience’s view at tense times to build suspense. Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops gets to blast his way into the action and play a major role. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver helps as well, despite the lack of gravity. The whole scene lets the audience know there are some impressive special effects to follow.

“Dark Phoenix” has a feeling of finality to it. It is the last entry in the 20th Century Fox version of the X-Men. While the Disney purchase of the studio was an unknown future when this film was being written, “Dark Phoenix” says goodbye to some characters and puts a period on other character’s relationships. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to go with this version of the characters and the film’s makers appear to know that. Many of the actors may also be at the end of their contracts and recasting might have been in the future if the Fox sale hadn’t happened. Looking at the reviews and the box office, perhaps it’s time for this version of the franchise to come to an end.

“Dark Phoenix” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action, disturbing images, intense sci-fi violence and some gunplay. There are numerous fights and battles but very little blood. Gunfire is limited and is mostly aimed at aliens that are able to withstand it without injury. There are a couple of scenes when the aliens use a power to cave in people’s chests. Foul language is limited, but the film uses its one allowed “F-bomb.”

The X-Men have always been a metaphor for the struggles of minorities and the outsiders of society. Despite all the super heroics and special effects, “Dark Phoenix” continues this tradition. It even mirrors the apparent acceptance of the different and the backlash that inevitably happens. It’s an interesting view on society that I hope will be continued by the folks at Disney when the X-Men eventually make their appearance in the MCU. While this film hasn’t been welcomed with open arms, I enjoyed it, found it exciting both in the action and the visuals, and a good way to wrap up this version of the X-Men. Make up your own mind, but I liked it.

“Dark Phoenix” gets five stars.

I’ll be reviewing “Shaft” for

Also opening this week is “Men in Black: International.”

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Review of “Red Sparrow”

Lead dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is injured when the lead male dancer does a leap and lands on her left leg, causing a serious fractured that ends her career. Her Uncle Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) works in a high position with Russian intelligence. He offers to make sure she keeps her apartment and provide doctors for her ailing mother Nina (Joely Richardson) if she agrees to help him. He wants her to meet a man at a hotel and swap out his cell phone for a duplicate so the government can eavesdrop on his calls. When she gets the man alone in the room an assassin kills him and takes her to meet with her uncle. Uncle Ivan makes her an offer: Go to a special training school where she will learn the arts of seduction and espionage and her mother will be taken care of. If she refuses she will be killed. Dominika accepts the offer to become what’s referred to as a “Sparrow.” CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) has been working an asset deep inside the Russian government for some time. A handoff of intelligence in a public park is interrupted by security and Nash is chased to the American embassy. There he learns he wasn’t about to have his and his mole’s cover blown but was merely going to be questioned about an unconnected matter. His bosses at CIA headquarters are unhappy and send him back to the U.S.; however, his contact within the Russian government won’t talk to any other agent so he is sent to Budapest, Hungary where his presence will likely ring alarm bells in Moscow and get the attention of his mole. Russian intelligence suspects there’s a traitor among them so they send Dominika, who has shown great potential in her time in Sparrow school, to try to seduce Nash and find out who the mole is.

“Red Sparrow” is a languidly paced espionage thriller that feels like it is perhaps three decades out of time. While the setting is completely modern the story is firmly set in the Cold War tensions of the previous century. Spies, moles, femme fatales, double agents, secret meetings, listening devices, dank prison cells where torture is carried out, it all feels dated despite the presence of smart phones, laptops and pinhole cameras providing HD images of clandestine gatherings. Even with a dated concept “Red Sparrow” is rather entertaining thanks to a riveting performance by Jennifer Lawrence that forces the audience to pay attention to every move she makes whenever she is on screen.

The plot of “Red Sparrow” is labyrinthine to say the least. Nothing is as you believe it to be past a certain point in the story. It is a web of deception so tightly constructed that one thread out of place would cause the entirety of it to fly apart. That’s one issue that most espionage thrillers have: They are too smart for their own good making the whole story feel more like a fantasy than a real-world drama. The grungy and drab nature of most of the film’s settings blunts the wilder and more unbelievable aspects of the story.

There is one scene in the film that really undercuts the believability of the story. I don’t want to give too much away as it is pivotal to what follows but a character is given a second chance when a bullet to the brain seems the most likely result of their suspected actions. The fact this character is allowed to live felt far too convenient.

By far the best part of “Red Sparrow” is the performance of Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence plays the part of the ballerina-turned-spy with a cold detachment that might seem boring; however, the character is able to read her target and become what that person needs so she has very little emotion until she needs it to convince her target of her intensions. She is also able to manipulate and intimidate using the same tools. Lawrence gives a performance that is mesmerizing in that she’s able to be cold-blooded in one moment and vulnerable in the next. Whether that is the character trying to throw the other people she is dealing with off guard or these are her true feelings is part of what makes Dominika so interesting.

Sadly I can’t say the same about Joel Edgerton’s Nate Nash. Dominika is clearly the character that has had the most thought put into her background and motivations. Nash is merely an obstacle for her to deal with. Nash is a shell of a character. We know nothing about him other than he works for the CIA. There was apparently no thought given to what makes Nash who he is and why he’s a good spy. The only reason we know he’s a good spy is he jumps to some very big conclusions when it comes to Dominika and whether or not she can be turned into an asset. Of course the audience thinks she can be turned because we know she hates being a Sparrow but he has no way of knowing that. Nash is that magical being dropped into films to drive the plot in certain directions whether it makes any sense or not. None of this is Edgerton’s fault as he is doing the best he can with what he’s given but what he’s given isn’t much.

“Red Sparrow” is rated R for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity, strong violence and torture. There are several scenes showing full or partial nudity of men and women. There is one scene of a rape in progress that is interrupted along with another attempted. There are some completely unsexy sex scenes that are used as training exercises at the Sparrow school. There is a sex scene between two characters that has almost no nudity and is one of those movie sex scenes that would never happen in real life. The violence is graphic. We see Dominika’s leg broken with nothing held back. There’s a scene showing the aftermath of a long torture session ending with the death of the tortured. There’s another torture session that ends in a knife fight with lots of blood. There are a couple of bloody head shots shown. We see a woman hit by a truck in the street. There are a couple of people shown being beaten with a cane and other instances of violence. Foul language is scattered.

“Red Sparrow” doesn’t always follow its own rules. While listening devices and cameras are apparently everywhere, the apartment of a known CIA operative in Budapest is devoid of all electronic eavesdropping equipment. There are other examples of “Red Sparrow” ignoring the conventions of the spy genre for the sake of moving the story along and for plot twists. These conveniently missed opportunities by the various clandestine agencies to maintain a watch on foreign operatives are part of what makes “Red Sparrow” a tad bit silly and melodramatic; however the performance of Jennifer Lawrence and a twisty plot that provides opportunities for more stories later on saves the film.

“Red Sparrow” gets four guitars out of five.

This week I’ll be review “Hurricane Heist” for

If I have time I’ll also review at least one of the follow:


Strangers: Prey at Night—

A Wrinkle in Time—

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Review of “mother!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend Request—

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle—

The LEGO Ninjago Movie—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast at under the “podcast” tab, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, PodcastOne or anywhere you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan, follow The Fractured Frame @fractured_pod and send emails to


Review of “X-Men: Apocalypse”

En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has been alive for many lifetimes and is the leader of Egypt 5000 year ago. Born the first mutant and able to transfer his consciousness from one body to another, En Sabah Nur is being transferred into the body of a mutant with healing abilities which would likely make him nearly immortal when some of his guards turn against him and seal him within a pyramid buried deep underground. With the public finding out about mutants in the 1970’s, a cult has developed around the myth of En Sabah Nur. CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating one of these cults in Cairo when she witnesses the awakening of En Sabah Nur but doesn’t realize what she sees. En Sabah Nur, seeing how the world has changed by absorbing information from a satellite TV connection, puts into motion a plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth and rule a world of only mutants. He recruits four followers giving their mutant abilities a boost. First is Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who is able to control the weather, next is Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who can project psychic energy in the form of a purple sword or whip, third is Angel (Warren Worthington III) who flies with wings of metal growing from his back and the last is Magneto (Michael Fassbender) with the ability to control metal and magnetic fields. En Sabah Nur detects the mind of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) while he is using Cerebro to look for Magneto. Overwhelming Xavier, En Sabah Nur abducts him with a plan to use his psychic abilities to contact all living minds. Xavier’s students and fellow instructors Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) join forces to stop En Sabah Nur and his Four Horsemen from bringing about an apocalypse.

Perhaps it’s superhero burnout. Perhaps it’s the release of this film close to the vastly superior “Captain America: Civil War.” Maybe it’s just the quality of this film. Whatever the reason, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a flat, uninvolving and somewhat repetitive mix of visually exciting CGI action and mind-numbing complications leading to a predictable ending and a post-credits scene that will only excite someone steeped in X-Men comics lore. I don’t hate “X-Men: Apocalypse” but I believe it could have been better.

My main issue with the film is it never involves the audience emotionally. Even when given a chance to with the death of a young mutant, it is tossed off like something meaningless. It never feels like there are real consequences to what happens in “X-Men: Apocalypse” as the ending is telegraphed by an early scene, showing us who will be responsible for the “good” mutants beating the “bad” mutants.

If you feel like that’s a spoiler you haven’t been paying much attention to the “X-Men” movies over the years. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg don’t stray too far from the formula that has been the staple of X-Men and other superhero movies. While the film does drop a few hints about what may come up in future installments (including that post-credits scene), it doesn’t really stretch the lore of these characters the way “X-Men: Days of Future Past” did. That film committed what many fans thought of as an unforgivable sin and completely reset the timeline of the movie universe. This film stays locked within the lines and acts like there are hot lava alligators lurking past the comfortable and expected edges. They are characters based on comic books. They can be and do ANYTHING! They aren’t constrained by time, physics, death or any other rule we normal humans can’t violate. They brought Professor Xavier back after we watched him die in the third X-Men movie and gave us absolutely NO explanation and we all collectively went “ok.” Play with these characters and stretch them in directions that aren’t straight from the moviemaking rule book. After all, (SPOILER ALERT) Marvel comics just made Captain America a HYDRA agent. If they can do that, you guys can give audiences some surprises when it comes to these films.

“X-Men Apocalypse” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action and destruction, sequences of violence and some suggestive images. Buildings are ripped from the ground and cars flung in the air but no loss of life is seen. One cameo appearance by an X-Men favorite leads to lots of dead bodies and some puddles of blood. Mystique is nearly choked to death. A woman and child are killed with a bow and arrow. There are other examples of mutant on mutant mayhem. I’m not exactly sure what the suggestive images are referring to as I don’t recall anything other than a couple of female costumes that might be considered such. Foul language is infrequent but there is one “F-Bomb.”

The story of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is rather convoluted but the idea behind the story is simple: Mutants are still feared and often abused or put on display by humans so En Sabah Nur uses mutants’ anger and fear to make them his soldiers. It seems fairly straightforward but for some reason Bryan Singer and the makers of the movie feel the need to throw in a great many complications, locations and action scenes to muddy the waters. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is an overwrought mess that needed to be reined in before it hit theatres.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” gets two stars out of five.

Love, music and more mutation hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these movies.

Me Before You—

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Reviews of “A Beautiful Planet” and “Keanu”

A Beautiful Planet

Images of Earth taken from the International Space Station are the stars of “A Beautiful Planet,” a 3D film shot with IMAX cameras. Narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, “A Beautiful Planet” highlights the sights of majestic beauty and natural awe visible from 250 miles in orbit including the dancing lights of the auroras, the shining of manmade lights from major cities at night and the wonders of seeing mountain ranges like the Himalayas and the twisting course of rivers such as the Nile while zooming overhead at 17,000 miles per hour. Adding to the beauty of nature is the wonder of seeing it in IMAX 3D. The viewer can see how the clouds are floating above the landscapes and the snowcapped mountains tower over the valleys below. Films such as this one really show off the capabilities of the IMAX 3D format.

We also get a look inside the space station as the film was shot by the astronauts themselves. Life in the zero gravity environment of the ISS is obviously quite different than here on the surface; however, there are enough similarities to make it recognizable to the average earthling. The astronauts have various jobs to do including keeping track of where every piece of equipment is lest it float off and get lost. They work out on specialized exercise gear to reduce the muscle and bone loss inherent during long periods of weightlessness. They need to keep clean and we watch an astronaut washing his hair while spherical droplets of water cruise past the camera seemingly close enough to reach out and grab. While a bizarre way of life, the international crew members, from the US, Russia, Japan, Italy and numerous other countries around the world, are shown adapting to it and seeming to enjoy it. While incredibly dangerous and requiring getting used to the stomach-churning sensation of being in constant freefall, “A Beautiful Planet” makes living on the International Space Station seem almost fun.

What isn’t fun is Jennifer Lawrence’s narration. I’m sure she was told to deliver the script in this way; however, it sounds like she’s trying to explain calculus to third graders. Her slow and plodding style became distracting after a time. Considering the beauty of the images, that’s saying something. It required a certain amount of effort to ignore her and just focus on the screen as the islands of the Caribbean floated by or Paris lit up at night zoomed past.

“A Beautiful Planet” is rated G.

As someone deeply interested in science and the space program “A Beautiful Planet” is exactly the kind of movie I want to see. It shows what happens when countries put aside their political differences and work together to increase knowledge and the betterment of humanity. It also doesn’t hurt that NASA and the other space programs of the world give us incredible images of our planet…the only one known to possess intelligent life. I believe you should show your intelligence and see this film.

“A Beautiful Planet” gets five stars.


Cousins Clarence and Rell (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) are extremely close. When Rell experiences are painful breakup with his girlfriend, Clarence heads over to comfort and support him. Before Clarence arrives, Rell hears scratching at his door. He opens it to find an adorable kitten he takes in and names Keanu. Having Keanu gives Rell a reason to live and focus his energy on other things besides his heartbreak. Clarence and Rell go out one night to see a movie. When they return, Rell’s home is in a shambles as someone has broken in, stolen some items and taken Keanu. Walking across the driveway to his weed dealers’ house, Rell asks Hulka (Will Forte) if he knows anything about the break in. Reluctantly, Hulka suggests it may have been a drug gang he’d started working with called the 17th Street Blips. Hulka tells Rell and Clarence the gang’s headquarters is at a strip club. Clarence and Rell head to the club to see if Keanu is there. Adopting thug personas, Clarence and Rell are introduced to the head of the 17th Street Blips, Cheddar (Method Man). He has Keanu but calls him New Jack. Bragging about how many people they’ve killed, Clarence are Rell are mistaken for a hitman duo called the Allentown Boys by Cheddar. Cheddar, impressed with the reputation of the faux-killers, asks if they can go with his crew, including Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), Trunk (Darrell Britt-Gibson), Bud (Jason Mitchell) and Stitches (Jamar Malachi Neighbors), on a drug run and show them how professionals work. In exchange for their help, Cheddar will give them Keanu, a.k.a. New Jack. Clarence does not want to be involved in drugs but Rell talks him in to it. What none of them know is Keanu has been through several different owners’ hands, none of them good people. The kitten’s past is going to catch up with all of them.

“Keanu” is a very funny movie. It hits a few lulls over its 98 minute run time but they are brief and the funny parts of the movie more than make up for the slower parts. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are two very funny comedian/actors that have proven their talents in everything from “Mad TV” to their own show on Comedy Central “Key and Peele” to a guest starring role on the first season of “Fargo.” Now that their show has wrapped up the talented duo can work on other projects and their first is “Keanu.” It is encouraging to see they are able to maintain a fairly thin premise for the duration of a whole movie. I’d love to see what they could do with something more complicated.

Key and Peele are chameleons, able to slip on various personas at the drop of a hat. They do that several times during “Keanu.” This may sound kind of mean but Key’s character in the film is about the whitest black man ever to appear on screen. Clarence loves George Michael music. That’s about all he listens to in his minivan. Yes, I said minivan. His hitman character actually turns that into a plus as he’s driving around with the gang members. Peele also modifies his character to fit whatever mood is required. Rell really wants Keanu back and uses all his hood/banger machismo to try and intimidate Cheddar. It kind of works but all backfires on him as well.

The story, while ridiculous, follows a fairly predictable arc. I was afraid it would fall into the trap of creating a love story where none needed to or could exist; but, Key and Peele are far too smart to be so mundane and they turn what looks like a possible romantic moment between Rell and Hi-C into a funny bit of business.

All of the gang characters are stereotypes of young people with bad family histories and not a great deal of education. While they are shown doing bad things from time to time, none of the secondary characters are so awful they can’t be likable. The exception to that is Cheddar who is just an all-around bad dude and he won’t give Keanu back to Rell. Method Man, while not a great actor, is very good as Cheddar. He has a believable hard edge that makes him an intimidating character.

Some might argue that, aside from Clarence and Rell, no person of color in the film is anything but a criminal. That occurred to me as I was watching the film and it troubled me a little bit. While the driving creative force of “Keanu” is a talent pair of African-Americans, most of the minorities in the film are shown as criminals. Does the fact that Key and Peele made the movie exempt them from criticism of stereotyping young black and Hispanic people as predisposed to becoming violent felons? I think it’s a question that deserves to be looked at.

Another problem I had with the film is it tends to lean too heavily and too long on a joke before moving on. One scene in particular involves Clarence and some of the gang members sitting in a van while Rell and Hi-C do a drug deal. The film cuts back and forth between Rell in the house and Clarence in the van trying to spin George Michael music on his phone into something the gang members would respect. Clarence creates a story about what a tough guy George Michael is and how he didn’t have a father growing up and suggest he killed former Wham bandmate Andrew Ridgeley. It takes some time, too long in my opinion, before he has the guys in the van singing along with Michael. It eventually works out to be a somewhat funny scene but could have been better if it had been a little shorter.

“Keanu” is rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity. There are a couple of shootouts along with individual shootings and threats of shootings and stabbings. Gore is minimal and is largely limited to a couple of pools of blood and a hole shot through a character’s hand. Drugs are shown being used in various forms. Topless stripers are visible briefly for a couple of scenes both on a stage and in a dressing room. Foul language is common throughout the film.

While the film is silly and unbelievable in all aspects, “Keanu” is still a fun way to kill 98 minutes (stay to the end of the credits for a brief bonus scene suggesting a possible sequel). Key and Peele will probably have a very long career in movies, TV or whatever medium they choose to display their talents. It also doesn’t hurt they used several very cute kittens in the role of their title character. The showbiz saying of avoiding working with babies and animals apparently doesn’t apply when working with a baby animal as both lead actors come out looking great when paired with their furry costar, even though Peele is very allergic to cats. He used allergy medicine to get through his scenes involving the seven kittens used in the film. Sometimes art demands sacrifice.

“Keanu” gets four stars out of five.

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This week is the outbreak of war, Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” I’ll be seeing and reviewing it next.

Captain America: Civil War—

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.


The Good Dinosaur—

Victor Frankenstein—

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