Review of “The Belko Experiment”

Located well outside the city limits of Bogota, Colombia, the office building of Belko Industries is surrounded by farmland, spike-topped fences and armed guard towers. On this day security, made up of Colombian soldiers, is heightened much to the chagrin of Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) who is in charge and wants to get inside. Also held up by security is Mike Milch (John Gallagher, Jr.) and new hire Dany Wilkins (Melonie Diaz) who is starting her first day. Things are pretty normal at the office except all the local workers were sent home at the gate. Front desk security guard Evan Smith (James Earl) tells Mike there was some kind of threat and that is the reason for the new guards and sending the locals home. The day progresses normally with Mike checking on Leandra Flores (Adria Arjona), his office girlfriend, who is getting unwanted attention from Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley). As the day moves along a strange voice comes over the building intercom informing everyone that of the 80 people in the building, two must be killed by whatever means necessary in the next 30 minutes or other actions would be taken. The announcement causes some employees to panic while others consider it a joke. After the announcement ends metal plates slide up over all the windows and doors. After 30 minutes passes and no one is killed, the voice returns saying there are consequences for not following directions and several people’s heads explode from the inside. Everyone at Belko has a tracking chip implanted under the skin at the back of their heads. Everyone was told it was to track the employee in the event of a kidnapping and was a requirement of employment. The voice returns saying 30 people must be dead by the end of two hours or 60 more will die by exploding chips. Soon, the employees are beginning to split up into factions: Those who think 30 should be sacrificed and those still looking for a way for everyone to escape.

“The Belko Experiment” pretty much gives away the story from the title: Some shadowy group is doing a life-and-death experiment with the 80 people in the building. The biggest question is why? What purpose does this experiment serve? What answers are trying to be gleaned? How does this serve mankind in general? The answers we get at the end of a brisk 89 minute film are unsatisfying and turn the movie into a showcase for special makeup effects artists but little else.

There are some pretty good performances in “The Belko Experiment” from Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley and Adria Arjona. As the various factions begin to form it becomes clear there are some severely unhinged people on staff. McGinley’s Wendell Dukes is frightening in his willingness to kill and to follow Goldwyn’s Barry Norris without question as it comes time to choose who lives and dies. Arjona deftly plays both sides of the fence as she is willing to at least entertain the idea of picking victims. Her waffling seems to be a sign of her being involved in the experiment somehow but that never comes to fruition.

The ending of the film also is lacking. Without giving anything away, one character suddenly develops ninja-like abilities out of nowhere. He struggles to survive the majority of the film but at the end is capable of pulling off a maneuver that most sleight of hand magicians have to study years to perfect. It makes the movie even more meaningless than it already was.

I guess my biggest problem with “The Belko Experiment” is it’s just about watching these people kill each other. Had someone on the inside been a plant from whoever was running it that might have given some meaning to what was going on. As it is, “The Belko Experiment” is just a version of the TV show “Survivor” where instead of getting voted off the island, you get a bullet in the brain. While it certainly is a showcase for some gory kills it doesn’t really add up to anything more than that.

“The Belko Experiment” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language, some drug use and sexual references. From a wrench to the head to an explosive chip in the back of the head, there are numerous bloody kills in the movie. Perhaps the two most graphic are an axe used to split a person’s face and a tape dispenser smashing down numerous times on a person’s skull. The drug use is limited to two brief scenes showing characters smoking marijuana. The sexual references are also fleeting and either used for comic effect or to drive home how creepy one character is. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“The Belko Experiment” has an interesting premise but the execution (pardon the expression) is lacking. If the movie was about something bigger than the kills then it might have made more of an impact on me. As it stands, “The Belko Experiment” is a failed attempt at some kind of social commentary.

“The Belko Experiment” gets two stars out of five.

This week there are three new films, two based on existing properties and one that is original. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

CHiPs—

Life—

Power Rangers—

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

Review of “Kong: Skull Island”

It’s 1973. An agreement to end the Vietnam War has been announced. Bill Randa (John Goodman) with the Monarch Project is trying to get a US Senator to approve an expedition to a previously unknown South Pacific island. Randa, and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), sell the expedition as an opportunity to discover new resources and to get to it before the Soviets do. Reluctantly, the senator agrees to piggyback Randa’s project with a survey by Landsat to explore the island. Also going on the trip is a military escort led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). He and his men are fresh from Vietnam and are diverted from going home to go on the mission. Others in the group include a former British Special Forces soldier named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to act as a tracker and hunter, and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photojournalist that formerly worked in Vietnam. The island is surrounded by constant electrical storms that cut off communications with their base ship as they fly in on helicopters. To conduct the geological survey explosive charges are dropped from the helicopters and their vibrations through the ground are picked up by sensors. After a few charges are dropped the fleet of helicopters is attacked by a 100-foot tall gorilla. Swatting all of them out of the air and killing several soldiers and researchers, the survivors are split up and must survive in the jungle while dealing not only with the giant gorilla, but the massive insects and lizards that want to eat them for a snack. Conrad, Weaver and a few others run into a group of natives that live on the island as well as a WWII fighter pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who was shot down by the Japanese. Marlow tells the group that the ape is named Kong by the locals and is treated like a god. He protects the natives from the other animals on the island that come from caverns underground. Lt. Col. Packard wants to kill Kong in retaliation for the deaths of his men and is willing to risk the lives of the other survivors to get the job done.

“Kong: Skull Island” is the second film in a series that plans on bringing giant monsters back to theatres over the next several years. The invasion of the giants began in 2014 with the “Godzilla” reboot and will culminate with a battle royale featuring Kong and Godzilla in 2020. In the interim we’ll see a second Godzilla film where he likely takes on other kaiju from his past including a giant moth and a three-headed monster. While fans of the Japanese “Godzilla” films weren’t thrilled about the latest reboot, the film made over half a billion dollars worldwide. Is the big, hairy ape reboot worth your hard earned money? Read on.

“Kong: Skull Island” delivers on the action front with several encounters between Kong and the numerous massive creatures on the island. We also get a very early look at Kong in a flashback that starts the film. While the CG is a bit flat at times (I saw the 2D version) the digital creations look amazing and the artists are able to keep Kong’s size consistent relative to his surroundings throughout the film. The other monsters on the island, including the big lizard that gives Kong the most trouble, are all creative inventions. Some are based on known animals while others are totally new. It was good to see some other creatures instead of the usual dinosaurs that are the bad guys on Kong’s home turf.

The various monsters are far more interesting than any of the people in “Kong: Skull Island.” Other than Samuel L. Jackson’s intense and insane Army man and John C. Reilly’s goofy marooned pilot, the characters are all pretty cookie cutter and interchangeable. Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins and John Goodman are largely wasted in clichéd and underwritten roles that are mostly good for exposition and little else. While each gets a brief moment when the character is spotlighted none of it is interesting enough to make the audience really care what happens to any of them. The supporting players are mostly used as monster kibble so don’t get too attached to anyone even if some of them are far more intriguing than the top-billed players.

What is far more interesting is the struggle Kong has to survive not only his natural enemies but the two-legged variety that shows up uninvited. The audience is meant to root for Kong against the island creatures and it isn’t hard to take his side against the humans. Jackson’s Packard is a seething hate machine that is looking for redemption after the feeling of betrayal by politicians in Vietnam. He wants to fight a war he can win and believes he is just the man to cut the massive ape down to size. The fact that Kong is the only thing keeping the giant lizards at bay and possibly spreading over the rest of the world isn’t enough for him to end his fight. He’s obsessed and won’t let common sense or the fate of the world deter him from winning this time. I’m sure there’s a political statement in this character somewhere but I was too interested in the outcome of the final battle to figure it out.

“Kong: Skull Island” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence/action and brief strong language. While most deaths aren’t shown we do see Kong smash several people with his paws. The lizard monster consumes a few people. One character dies when impaled through the mouth. We see various creatures burned and ripped apart. Several human characters are shown with blood from injuries. Kong is shown with a large gash on his arm. Kong and another monster are shown being shot by machine guns. Several creatures are shown being cut apart by a sword. One character is carried away by flying creatures and is shown getting an arm ripped off. Foul language is widely scattered but one “F-bomb” gets dropped.

The climactic battle between two massive creatures was surprisingly thrilling despite it being two monsters completely created in computers. Both Kong and the giant lizard are made with very robust personalities. While they are just pixels molded and shaped by various talented artists and engineers they are also extremely well made. I actually cared about how the battle would turn out even though I had a pretty good idea which beast would come out victorious. Even though the human characters are mostly bland and forgettable, “Kong: Skull Island” has monsters with far more personality and they make the movie entertaining. I think next time it would be a better movie if it just had the monsters and used the puny humans as just extras to be crushed under foot…or paw…or claw…or tentacle…or whatever.

“Kong: Skull Island” gets five stars for the monsters and the fights, not for the people.

P.S. There is a brief bonus scene at the end of the credits. It teases what’s to come but should you need to go pee or whatever and miss it, it won’t be a catastrophe.

This week at the local multiplex it’s a tale as old as time along with survival of the fittest. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Beauty and the Beast—

The Belko Experiment—

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

Review of “Logan”

The X-Men movie franchise is one of the longest running and consistent superhero movie franchises. While there have been large gaps of time between films, they are all connected within the same universe. Batman and Superman have been rebooted several times with different actors and with each reboot, a new reality for the characters is created. X-Men have kept all their films within the same continuity even with the soft reboot “X-Men: Days of Future Past” that blew up the timeline. Now with “Logan,” the X-Men opens a doorway into the next generation of mutants and gives us an appealing new claw-wielding anger machine while giving Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart a loving and tender send off as both actors are adamant that this is their final appearance in the series.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is trying to live a quiet life as a limo driver under an assumed name. His healing factor is fading, he’s in constant pain and he’s looking old. Logan is taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is suffering from dementia and is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the government after an incident that occurred in the past. Logan gives Xavier medicines to keep his condition manageable. Helping Logan is the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Times have changed and there hasn’t been a mutant born in 25 years. Most of the other X-Men are dead but Logan is approached by a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) with a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) she says is a mutant and on the run from the company Transigen that created her. Logan has already run into a member of their security team, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who is looking for Gabriella and Laura. Despite his illness, Xavier has known another mutant was out in the world and urges Logan to help. Fighting it all the way, Logan still feels compelled to help Laura and try to get her, Xavier, Caliban and himself to safety. Gabriella tells Logan they are on their way to a set of coordinates on a map she refers to as Eden. Logan and Xavier embark on a cross-country trek, trying to stay one step ahead of Pierce, keep Xavier’s condition under control and get Laura to safety. But sinister forces are lurking and every step of the way is filled with danger and an unstoppable killing machine.

After playing Wolverine in nine of the X-Men films over 17 years, Hugh Jackman has said unequivocally this is his last appearance as the character. No matter how much Ryan Reynolds begs or offers him sexual favors for a Deadpool/Wolverine team-up, “Logan” is the last time we’ll see Jackman sprout the claws…unless Fox allows Marvel Studios to use the character in a crossover with the Avengers. Since that will never happen, despite it guaranteeing a billion dollar-plus box office return, “Logan” is Jackman’s swan song as the mutant from Canada with an adamantium-enhanced skeleton and claws. Knowing that, I believe director and co-writer James Mangold took extra care and crafted a finale story that tries to touch all the bases with fans of the character and the entire X-Men universe and he largely succeeds.

Jackman inhabits the well-worn and heavily scarred skin of Logan like no one else possibly could. Logan is tired and so is Jackman. In his late 40’s, it can’t be easy for Jackman to get into the kind of shape playing Wolverine requires. That weariness is a tool Jackman uses to round out and ground the character. Crankier than ever and tired of fighting, Logan just wants to be left alone. What he really wants is to be allowed to die. He even carries around an adamantium bullet he one day plans on using to kill himself. Events in the story intervene and force him to keep on fighting, but this time he has something to fight for that may be bigger than any other battle: Laura.

Dafne Keen is a scene stealer. Laura, also referred to as X-23 in her medical file, is a child that doesn’t know what family or compassion is until she is shown it as the trio travels along their path. The three misfits form an uneasy alliance with Xavier being the kindly grandpa and Logan the grumpy dad. Keen, who is largely without dialog for the majority of the film, is able to emote in a way that leaves no doubt what she is feeling. This is especially true when she becomes enraged and her own claws come out. While I’m sure most of the stunt work was done by either small women or is CGI enhanced, Keen must have done some of it herself. Her performance is as fearless as Laura’s fighting. With the early success of the film, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Keen in the role.

Patrick Stewart has always been a favorite actor of mine. From his performance in “Dune” to his time on the bridge of the Enterprise in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stewart has delivered some great performances in genre films and TV. While most of his work in the X-Men franchise has been a bit on the reserved side, his last go round as Charles Xavier frees him with a performance that could garner him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. From frenzied mental confusion to warm and comforting compassion, Stewart gives one hell of a performance. His work here is stellar and, if he’s true to his word about this being the last time, he sends the character out on a masterful note.

Much has been made of the violence and language that has given “Logan” an R rating. The violence is bloody and brutal and the language is coarse. Some might argue films about superheroes should mostly be family friendly. Most of the time I agree; however, this film and this character deserve a chance to be grown up and be a film for grown-ups. In the comic books the violence is frozen in primary colors and we can’t really get a sense of the brutality being inflicted. With “Logan,” there is no doubt just how much pain injuries like this would cause and that many characters, without a doubt, die on screen. Wolverine was always known for her berserker rage and how deadly he was with his claws. “Logan” is true to the character in all his graphic glory.

The middle of the film may run a bit too long. We spend a great deal of time on the road getting to the explosive conclusion and at least one of the stops along the way could have been cut. Still, the film rarely makes that mistake or any other as we travel across a slightly different future America with our unusual and dysfunctional family.

“Logan” is rated R for language throughout, brief nudity and strong brutal violence. There are bloody shootings, stabbings, limb amputations and decapitations. We also see a mutant that is allergic to sunlight tortured by being exposed to daylight. The brief nudity is a girl showing Logan her breasts as he is driving her and friends to a party. Foul language is common throughout the film.

There is so much I would love to tell you about “Logan” but I don’t want to spoil the surprises scattered through the film. “Logan” not only delivers a strong story about characters we’ve loved for nearly two decades, but also provides fan service for those that are deep into the comic book X-Men lore. It is probably the most well-rounded and grown up comic book movie in film history. It is also a fitting send off for two actors that have devoted a big part of their careers to Wolverine and Charles Xavier. While the Fox Studios X-Men films have been hit-or-miss over their lifetime, “Logan” is undeniably a hit.

“Logan” gets all five stars and more.

The king of all movie monsters (in some people’s opinion) returns with what looks like a summer-worthy blockbuster. Next week, I’ll see “Kong: Skull Island.”

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

Review of “Get Out”

Chris Washington and Rose Armitage (Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams) are a young couple in love.  They are headed to a weekend away with her parents Dr. Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener), psychiatrist, at their secluded home deep in the countryside.  Before leaving, Chris was concerned about how Rose’s parents would react to him being black; but the couple greets him with open arms while Mr. Armitage is trying too hard to make Chris feel welcome.  Chris meets Georgina and Walter (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson), the housekeeper and groundskeeper respectively, and notices the pair act a bit odd in a way that could be considered hostile.  Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) arrives home from medical school, gets drunk, and behaves somewhat aggressively towards Chris.  Missy does hypnotherapy and offers to place Chris under hypnosis to help him quit smoking.  Chris declines but Missy does it anyway, making Chris relive the night his mother died in a hit and run accident when he was 11.  This is the weekend of the annual family garden party with numerous guests expected to arrive.  One of those guests is Andrew Logan King (LaKeith Stanfield) who is also black.  When Chris approaches him, King also behaves oddly.  Chris attempts to secretly take a cell phone picture but the flash goes off.  King attacks Chris and has to be restrained by several guests.  Chris sends the photo to his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent, and he recognizes the man as someone that has been reported missing for six months.  Chris tells Rose they have to leave but the Armitage family has other plans.

 

“Get Out” is the first feature directed by Jordan Peele, best known as half the comedy team of Key and Peele.  Should the film be successful (and early indications are it will be), comedy’s loss will be moviegoer’s gain as this first outing is about as good a thriller and social commentary you can get and Jordan Peele will likely be directing many more movies.

 

Part of what makes “Get Out” extra creepy is the normalcy of most of what happens.  A young couple of mixed race, the man meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, the clash of cultures that is desperately being played down as much as possible, the awkward efforts to make the outsider feel comfortable, all of it is given this added veneer of effort and “everything is going to be alright” that screams to the audience that it won’t be close to alright.  These small touches I believe are what built up the dread in me as the events unfolded.

 

The film is filled with great performances from the entire cast.  Daniel Kaluuya shines as Chris.  You can see his desire to run away during every second of his time at the Armitage house.  He sticks out like a sore thumb during the garden party and feels like an animal in a zoo being looked over and appraised.  He can feel it but he brushes it off as his just feeling uncomfortable around a bunch of white people.  Kaluuya is a very talented young actor with an impressive list of credits on British TV as well as films and theatre.  If you have Netflix, check out his lead role in the episode of “Black Mirror” called “Fifteen Million Merits.”  His portrayal of Chris will likely have him doing even more work in movies in the US.

 

While the role of Chris’ friend Rod is small, Lil Rel Howery makes the most of his screen time.  Howery provides most of the comic relief in the film and it is all perfectly timed to relieve tension and prepare us for the next horror that is to come.  Howery is a stand-up comic with a special on Netflix and now perhaps a new career playing the funny best friend in movies.  Director Jordan Peele allows Howery to take over a scene and flex his comedy muscles while also making his character a TSA agent, something that already is the subject of more than a few jokes.  Howery is a joy to watch and he makes his brief appearances memorable.

 

While I don’t want to give too much information about what’s really happening in the story that makes it a thriller/horror film, I do want to complement the way the scarier aspects of the story are structured and introduced.  Not until late in the film do we gain a full understanding of what’s happening and when we do it hits with enormous emotional force.  Throughout the film we see the seeds of the plot being sown but don’t understand what’s going on right before our eyes.  When we finally have all the pieces of the puzzle, the reveal is especially satisfying in its twisted nature.  Most horror/suspense films show you the boogeyman, or reveal its existence, early on.  “Get Out” keeps its cards very close to its chest and only shows them when the time is perfect.  It’s a terrifically structured story and mystery written by Peele.

 

“Get Out” is rated R for language, bloody images, sexual references and violence.  The bloody images and violence is largely saved for the last 30 minutes or so of the movie.  During that time there are some fights, weapons used, parts of a surgical procedure are shown, there’s a bloody stabbing, a person hit by a car and some shootings.  The sexual references are very mild.  Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

 

“Get Out” is not just about thrills as it also makes a commentary about race and class in America.  When confronted with the fact their daughter is dating a black man, the parents try extra hard to show they have no problem with him.  Dad even takes Chris aside for a tour of the house and says he’d have voted for Obama a third time; but we all know this merely a smoke screen for his true feelings just as many whites profess their lack of racism despite incidents of racial hate being on the rise.  Some put on a happy and non-judgmental face to those of a different race then continue to judge and stereotype them behind their backs.  The movie puts a twist on that two-faced behavior that is more immediately dangerous but no less deadly.  It also does so without diminishing how tense and entertaining the film is.

 

“Get Out” gets five stars.

 

There are three new films coming out this week.  I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

 

Before I Fall—

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rgEzpE93so

 

Logan—

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH3OxVFvTeg

 

The Shack—

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExPfhBQ6ps4

 

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

 

 

Review of “Fist Fight”

Roosevelt High School is in a state of chaos. It’s the last day of school and it’s the unofficial senior prank day. Even on a good day the place is out of control thanks largely to a group of teachers that are just biding their time until retirement. One that isn’t is history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube). He’s a no-nonsense disciplinarian with a short fuse and is feared by the entire student body. English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), while a dedicated teacher, is something of a milquetoast. He doesn’t want to rock the boat and doesn’t stand up for himself with the students or administration. Andy and the rest of the staff are concerned because the school board is laying off teachers to cut the budget and no one’s job is safe. Adding to the stress, Andy’s wife is pregnant and three days past her due date. Ron asks Andy to help with an issue he’s having getting a video tape to play during his class. Andy notices a student is using an app on his phone to turn off the VCR tells Ron. This enrages the history teacher who gets a fire ax from the hallway and chops up the student’s desk causing all the kids to scurry into the hall. Principal Tyler (Dean Norris) calls Ron and Andy into his office and wants to know if the students reporting the incident are telling the truth. Under pressure Andy caves and rats out Ron, getting him fired. In private Ron challenges Andy to a fist fight after school.

“Fist Fight” has a razor-thin premise, relies heavily on the kind of high school screw-up characters used in the ‘80’s in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and leans on outrageous and highly illegal behaviors by students and teachers alike to get laughs. Most movies that try this approach are accused of lazy and clichéd storytelling. Fortunately for this film that can be forgiven as it has the one thing most of those other films lack: Laughs.

Charlie Day can do manic and twitchy like no one else. He reeks of fear and confusion through most of “Fist Fight.” I can’t really call it a performance since everything I’ve seen him in, from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to both “Horrible Bosses” films, shows us basically the same character with the only difference being the volume is turned up or down. Day can be grating when his mania is at maximum. Fortunately that happens for only brief periods in this film.

The movie does of a good job of spreading the funny lines around a large cast of mostly comedy veterans: Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell and Kumail Nanjiani do most of the heavy lifting. There are also solid turns by Dean Norris and Christina Hendricks as the principal and French teacher respectively.

Hendricks is like a comedy assassin as her character pops up in a scene, delivers a killer line or bizarre behavior and then disappears like a wisp of smoke. Jillian Bell adds yet another scene-stealing supporting role as the meth-using guidance counselor. Bell is an expert at delivering the most troubling yet hilarious dialog with a kind of innocence and detachment that makes one wonder if her character isn’t insane. Tracy Morgan is the lovable loser of a coach who is just hanging on. Morgan throws in some gems from his standup material (including talking about getting student’s moms pregnant). It’s good to see Morgan back on screen following his nearly fatal 2014 car accident. Kumail Nanjiani plays the school security officer. This very funny man gets too little screen time but Nanjiani makes the most of it informing Day’s Andy that since the fight is happening after school hours it is outside his jurisdiction. It is a quiet and subtle performance that juxtaposes well with Day’s hyper maniac.

With all the outrageous shenanigans going on in “Fist Fight,” the film also works in a bit of social commentary about public school funding. While it is only in one scene and will likely fly over the head of anyone watching the movie, the script at least takes a little bit of time to talk about how schools are perpetually underfunded and cuts are often made with little regard to how it affects the students. It’s a tiny aspect of the film but I appreciated the effort.

“Fist Fight” is rated R for language throughout, drug material and sexual content/nudity. The sexual content consists largely of a porn scene playing on a laptop. We see breasts and two women kissing. There is drawings of sexual organs as well as what can best be described as a sketch of a male climax. You have to see it to understand. There is also a brief discussion of sex. Using drugs is discussed and the planting of drugs in an effort to stop the fight is shown. There is also a very brief scene of someone lighting a joint. Foul language is common through the entire film.

The R-rated comedy is a feast-or-famine kind of genre. While there may not be one, or a good one, for years at a time they occasionally start popping up like dandelions. Quantity doesn’t usually mean quality in Hollywood as it is often the sign of a cash grab by studios. “It worked for the other studio so let’s slap one together and release it as soon as possible.” The most recent one I remember is “Office Christmas Party” and I liked that one too. Maybe studios are starting to figure out the right combination of ingredients to make these films both funny and profitable. As long as they make me laugh they can turn out one a week. This week, they released “Fist Fight” and, in my opinion, it’s a knock out.

“Fist Fight” gets five guitars.

This week, car crashes, color barriers and musical canines are the newest additions to your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Collide—

Get Out—

Rock Dog—

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

Review of “The LEGO Batman Movie”

The ongoing battle between Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) and the Joker (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) continues as the Clown Prince of Crime plans on detonating a giant bomb causing Gotham City to collapse into the caverns below. During the epic battle that pits Batman against his entire rogue’s gallery, the Caped Crusader tells Joker he isn’t his biggest enemy. This breaks Joker’s heart. Batman defuses the bomb and easily defeats all his enemies’ singlehandedly but they also all get away. Meanwhile, in his guise as playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne, Batman attends the retirement party of Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (voiced by Hector Elizondo) and is immediately struck by the beauty of his replacement, Gordon’s daughter Barbara (voiced by Rosario Dawson). He is so attracted to her he doesn’t realize he agrees to adopt an orphan named Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera). Joker and all the villains attack the party but also all surrender and are locked up in Arkham Asylum. It’s all part of a diabolical plan to force the Dark Knight to admit the Joker is his greatest enemy.

Anyone that has been a fan of Batman, especially the movie incarnations of the hero, will find plenty to love in “The LEGO Batman Movie.” The filmmakers have taken great care to dive deep into Batman lore and make numerous references to the versions of the Dark Knight over the decades. It is both a loving tribute and an at times vicious send up of the World’s Greatest Detective. It also is often very funny with more jokes than you can keep up with for three quarters of the film.

The voice work “The LEGO Batman Movie” is terrific. Maintaining that low gravelly voice for long recording sessions couldn’t have been easy for Will Arnett. He manages to infuse a great deal of emotion in a voice that could have become rather monotone after a while. Much of that emotion and attitude can be credited to the script from Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna. Batman is a character that could easily come off as far too dour to ever be as funny as he is in this film. Grahame-Smith and McKenna use the darkness and anger to some degree but play up the character’s ego and his self-aggrandizement for much of the humor early on.

Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes (as loyal butler and surrogate father Alfred Pennyworth) all are given bits of fun and silliness to let their characters shine. While the rest of the massive voice cast is used mostly for seasoning, all the characters are given a chance to make an impact often with jokes that could easily get lost in the avalanche of dialog in the often crowded scenes.

My only major problem with the film is the last quarter as all the heroes prepare to face the villains for the final time. The jokes slow down to a crawl as the battles between Batman and the villains start to become repetitive. While the story is trying to show how Batman needs the help of his friends and family and how they are willing to take the risk of fighting some of cinema’s worst bad guys, Batman does the most predictable thing for the most predictable reason. It feels mostly like the writers spent all their energy and imagination on the earlier sections of the film and didn’t have anything left in the tank to carry it through the end. Since this could be considered a kid’s movie maybe they never planned for it to have a story that would appeal to adults. That seems unlikely as there are many jokes early on that will probably go over the heads of most children. Either way, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is in some ways like a marathon runner that just can quite make to the finish line as strong as he would like.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” is rated PG for rude humor and some action. The rude humor is probably in reference to the use of the words “butt” and “fart.” There are numerous action scenes with two characters falling from a plane and out of a building as it is being destroyed around them. There are also fights but all involve characters formed from LEGO. Aside from the earlier words mentioned there is no foul language.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” is quite the roller coaster ride for most of its 104 minutes; but maybe it should have been closer to 90 minutes as the final act feels repetitive and a bit wooden with a significant reduction in jokes and the seemingly required kid’s movie message hammered down the audience’s throats. It’s not quite a home run but is certainly a solid triple.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” gets four stars out of five.

This week features psychological horror, high school hijinks and monsters in feudal China. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

A Cure for Wellness—

Fist Fight—

The Great Wall—

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

Review of “Rings”

Julia and Holt (Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe) are young lovers now separated as Holt has gone to an out-of-town college while Julia stays home to take care of her ailing mother. The pair keeps in touch with nightly Skype calls but after a few months, Holt stops calling. After getting a frantic Skype call from a girl named Skye (Aimee Teegarden) on Holt’s account, Julia decides to go find Holt. She stops first at a lecture given by Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), a professor for whom Holt had expressed admiration. Gabriel initially pretends to not remember Holt and Julia follows him to a room filled with students and images of others that appear warped. She overhears a conversation between Gabriel and Skye. Skye is upset and concerned for her safety. Gabriel assures her everything will be alright and to make a copy and find a tail. Confused, Julia follows Skye to her car and asks about Holt’s whereabouts. Skye tells her she knows where he is but she has to come to her home and see something. At Skye’s house, Julia notices text messages coming from Holt. She tells Holt where she is and he tells her not to watch any videos Skye might show her. Julia locks herself in a room of the house and hears odd noises coming from the other side of the door. When it quiets down, Julia opens the door to find Skye sitting in a chair dead with her face contorted in an unnatural way. Holt shows up at Skye’s house and the pair checks into a motel where Holt explains about the video of a little girl in a well and after you watch it your phone rings with a little girl on the other end that says “seven days.” At the end of the seven days, you die. Gabriel believes the video is proof of the existence of a soul and of the afterlife. He’s seen the video and passed it along to other people. As long as you make a copy and someone else watches it your seven day deadline is postponed. The person you show it to is called a “tail.” The last person that sees it needs to find a tail before their seven days is up to stop their countdown. Concerned for Holt’s life, Julia decides to watch the video. While on the phone listening to the girl say “seven days,” Julia begins to see visions of a room with a bolted metal door. The handset overheats and burns a pattern into her hand. Holt and Julia then go to Gabriel and explain she has watched the video. He says she needs a tail but Julia refuses to show the video to anyone; but she agrees to make a copy of the video just in case. When she tries to copy the video she discovers the video she watched has more information embedded in the frames. Gabriel is able to make the information available and Julia watches it. From the extra video the group discovers there is a mystery that needs to be solved that might possibly save their lives.

As with most film franchises, the more entries there are the worse they become. “Rings” continues that sorry tradition with a convoluted story, bad acting and a monster that has far too many rules and requirements in order to collect victims.

The basic premise of “Rings” is rather complicated: Watch a video, get a phone call, try to get more people to watch the video to postpone your death, try to get those people to get more people to watch the video, etc., etc., etc. It strains the even tenuous credibility of a horror movie. Add to that the outdated VCR/video cassette technology that apparently must be the original point of infection and you see how “Rings” is nearly dead on arrival (pardon the expression).

A good story and compelling characters might have saved the movie but writers David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes and Akiva Goldsman only manage to come up with a mystery about the backstory of Samara, the girl at the bottom of the well. It’s not necessarily a bad choice to make as there’s only so much you can do to freshen up the third installment of a film franchise. Sadly, the mystery isn’t very well conceived as it requires a great deal of correct guesses and coincidences to solve. I appreciate the effort but the execution comes up lacking.

The acting in “Rings” is largely amateurish. Both Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe only stretch their acting muscles in one direction, nailing the “deer in headlights” look over and over again as insanity presents itself before them.

Johnny Galecki doesn’t seem to have a tight grasp on his character’s motivation. He never plays the role of the college professor that starts off the video infection as smarmy or callous enough to be effective. He is fine in the role but doesn’t work nearly as hard to sell the part as he does his character on “The Big Bang Theory.”

The only actor that seems to truly pour himself into the role is Vincent D’Onofrio as the blind cemetery groundskeeper Burke (yes, you read that right). D’Onofrio always looks for little bits of business to flesh out his characters no matter how small the role. He does the same here. It is a small but pivotal part that proves to be the singular shining light in an otherwise dreary film.

“Rings” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality, brief drug material and violence/terror. Not much terror to speak of. The people Samara kills look like they’ve been submerged in water for a few days and have distorted faces. There is a car crash that results in a death. There are a few scenes of violence involving the death of Samara as well as an attack using a heavy cane. There is a very brief scene of a character smoking a joint. The sexuality involves Julia and Holt rolling around in bed both mostly clothed. Child abuse and holding a person prisoner are discussed. Foul language is mild and rare.

“Rings” uses many of the tried and true horror movie tropes in an effort to scare its audience. They are so over used they have become ineffective: Tense music, moments of silence broken by a sudden loud noise, dark settings, squeaking doors revealing pitch black rooms and several more are put to work in the film and none produces more than a slight jump scare. Add in the messy storytelling and high school-level acting and you have a sometimes tedious third film in a franchise that needs to be retired. While I appreciate the history/mystery aspect of the plot it can’t save what is a premise that needs to be thrown back to the bottom of the well from which it came.

“Rings” gets two stars out of five.

Fifty Shades Darker—

John Wick: Chapter Two—

The LEGO Batman Movie—

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