Review of “Deadpool 2”

Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has expanded his hunt for the worst of the worst bad guys worldwide. He takes out sex traffickers and gangsters no matter where they work from. One drug trafficker works in his own hometown and while Deadpool is able to kill many of his henchmen the main bad guy manages to hide in his safe room. Deadpool heads home to see Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) because it’s their anniversary. Vanessa tells him she wants to start a family and they have sex. After, they are chatting when Deadpool senses trouble coming, leading to an event that sends Deadpool on a downward spiral. In a dystopian future, cybernetic soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) comes home to find his wife and daughter burned alive by a vicious mutant calling himself Firefist. Equipped with a time-travel device, Cable travels back to a time when Firefist is also known as Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) and is a troubled teen at a mutant reeducation center run by a sadistic headmaster (Eddie Marsan) that tortures the children in his care. Russell has blown some things up at the school and Deadpool, along with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and others try to rein him in. Deadpool talks to Russell and the boy points out a member of the staff that has abused him. Deadpool then kills the staff member before he is subdued by Colossus. Both Deadpool and Russell are sent to a mutant prison called the Icebox where all prisoners are forced to wear collars that inhibit their mutant abilities. Cable shows up and tries to kill Russell but Deadpool stops him when the collar gets knocked off. With Cable’s technology and cybernetic implants Deadpool knows he needs help protecting Russell from another attack. That’s when he decides to form…The X-Force.

“Deadpool 2” is hardly a surprising take on the superhero movie genre considering it is very much like the original “Deadpool.” Star Ryan Reynolds as the title character is quick with a joke, insult and fourth-wall-breaking comment that skewers the idea of sequels and team-up films in a movie filled with second and third-string characters that could never topline a movie of their own. It could be looked at as derivative and a mere copy of its earlier self. The fact that “Deadpool 2” is subversive in its own way by being a story about family, loss, grief, mercy, self-awareness and forgiveness is how this sequel sets itself apart from the original.

Without spoiling too much Deadpool goes on a literal self-destructive journey as the film starts: He blows himself to bits in an effort to commit suicide. The shock of this is somewhat softened by the decapitated head of our hero explaining there’s more to the story that we learn in the flashback. Deadpool is dealing with a loss so profound he can only end the pain with his demise. Having the mutant power of healing makes that a tad difficult. The story sends him on other journeys of self-pity, family building and forgiveness. Most other superhero films don’t put their main character through such an arduous emotional journey as we get in “Deadpool 2.”

The film doesn’t seem that deep but if you give it a bit of thought you discover many of the same themes as in your highbrow, Oscar-bait dramas. Granted these themes are handled with broad humor, bloody violence and sexual suggestions that would make a sailor blush but it is still noteworthy.

“Deadpool 2” doesn’t work at all without the pitch perfect and enthusiastic performance of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, who was a driving force along with the original director Tim Miller in getting the first film made, is also a producer and credited writer on the sequel. His energy and charisma as a character that could easily be very annoying and unsympathetic makes Wade Wilson one of the most enjoyable members of Marvel Comics moviedom.

The direct opposite of Deadpool in tone and style is Josh Brolin’s Cable. Brolin has the aged and weathered face of experience that is perfect for the role of the cybernetic soldier from the future. He is able to maintain that serious and world-weary look throughout the film and gives the Merc with the Mouth someone to play off of and with. Brolin has spoken highly of Reynolds in publicity interviews about “Deadpool 2” as you would expect; but in an interview with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast, which was about far more than just promoting the film, Brolin seems to express a genuine affection and appreciation for Reynolds that’s more than just interview fluff. Brolin provides a level of gravitas to the film that it needs to counterbalance Reynolds manic humor.

Zazie Beetz is also a nice addition to the cast as the super lucky Domino. Her calm feminine energy is a nice respite from the hyper-masculine Deadpool. Beetz also delivers a fine performance as a hero that is constantly under estimated since she lacks a flashy ability. Being supernaturally lucky may not have the same cache as invulnerability or flight but as the old saying goes, I’d rather be lucky than good and Domino is always lucky.

“Deadpool 2” is rated R for language throughout, brief drug material, sexual references and strong violence. The drug material is when Deadpool retrieves a packet of cocaine from a hiding place in Blind Al’s apartment and sticks it under his mask, appearing to consume it all at one time. Sexual references are usually brief and consist of physically impossible acts suggested by or to Deadpool. Violence is frequently bloody and often involves heads being removed or crushed, bodies being ripped in half, limbs being amputated by swords and heads being impaled by various instruments and shot at close range by guns. Foul language is common throughout the film.

If you tire of laughing at the jokes or cringing at the violent ways various people die you can entertain yourself by looking for the hidden celebrity cameos throughout the film. The list of people includes several cast members from “X-Men: First Class,” Alan Tudyk, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and a ceramic Stan Lee. Don’t worry if you don’t see them all as some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-him quick while others are buried under makeup, wigs and beards. This is a small part of why “Deadpool 2” is so much fun. It is not only an action-packed and exciting superhero story but it also is something of a scavenger hunt which is on top of the story about family. It is the One a Day multivitamin of movies and it is well worth your time and money. Also, don’t miss the mid-credits scene. It is split into two sections so don’t leave until you see the second half.

“Deadpool 2” gets five stars out of five.

This week the only new film in wide release is “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

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Review of “Tully”

Marlo (Charlize Theron) has just had her third child, a healthy girl she and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) name Mia, and she’s overwhelmed. Her oldest child Sarah (Lia Frankland) is eight and doing well in school. Her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is five and has developmental and emotional issues making him difficult to handle when his routine is disrupted. The addition of a newborn pushes Marlo to the edge. Her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) tells Marlo he has arranged for a night nanny as a baby present to come over and give her a break. Initially reluctant to have a stranger in her house and interacting with her child, Marlo changes her mind after a particularly frustrating day. That night there’s a knock on the door and Marlo opens it to find Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Tully is in her 20’s and she is something of a free spirit juggling multiple relationships and viewing life as an open and positive adventure. She is excellent with Mia and Marlo is finally able to catch up on her sleep. Tully even cleans the house and bakes cupcakes for the kids to take to school. She is perfect in every way and is able to give Marlo a break to catch her breath.

Motherhood throughout history has never been easy unless you had the money to hire a nanny to do most of the day to day work of raising a child. “Tully” takes a slightly skewed look at modern child-rearing with a family that is familiar and a mom that is heartbreakingly relatable.

Charlize Theron is amazing in “Tully.” Her fatigue and frustration as the film starts is palpable. I grew tired just watching as Marlo repeats the routine of breast feeding, changing, rocking, pumping and all the other mundane but required aspects of taking care of a newborn. You can hear the voice in her head as she thinks to herself, “If I could just get one good night’s sleep everything would be fine.” That sleep never comes and even if it did we know the routine would just begin again the next day. Theron embodies Marlo fully. It is a little scary how Theron disappears into a role so completely. Much like with her Oscar-winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron packed on weight to play the three-time mother. The fullness of her face and body adds to the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion. There’s also pain in her performance. It isn’t physical pain but emotional. Marlo feels trapped in her life and wants to break free. While she would never abandon her family it is clear Marlo believes there is something more she should be accomplishing with her life. It is a performance that should get Theron talk of another Oscar nomination if it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of late season films.

Also giving an Oscar-worthy performance in a supporting role is Mackenzie Davis as Tully. It is a masterful high-wire act that Davis successfully pulls off. Tully could have quickly become an annoying lightweight character; but the brilliant writing of Diablo Cody and the skillful performance of Davis makes Tully like a warm blanket that we want to snuggle into. Tully initially comes off as a space cadet filled with idealism that we know will either be beaten out of her by life or she will run off with a guy named Space Child or Unicorn and live on a commune where they only bathe once a week and everyone sleeps in a stinky pile. Quickly, Davis reins in the crunchier aspects of Tully and she becomes a voice of calm and wisdom that Marlo and the audience start to believe in. We all see Tully as a beacon of hope for Marlo: Her lost idealism and youth. Tully embodies the energy and joy Marlo once had and longs for again. Mackenzie Davis is a breath of fresh air and the perfect person for this role.

The story by Diablo Cody is both painfully familiar and fresh. Rarely does the camera’s lens peer inside an average family’s home and Cody’s script pulls no punches in making this family mundane and unappealing. The constant demands of the new baby isn’t the most exciting story to put on film but Cody also manages to find small pockets of humor in the unending demands of life. Throwing in the added pressure of a special-needs child cranks up the heat on an already simmering pressure cooker. There isn’t much else that could be added to the mix that won’t cause the whole house to explode. The arrival of Tully and her calming influence on an initially skeptical Marlo is the release valve that keeps this situation from blowing up.

It all seems like a perfect bit of upper middle-class white privilege; but Cody is too good a writer to leave well enough alone. The film takes an unexpected turn late that practically knocked me out of my seat. Looking back there are signs and clues for what is to come but Cody buries and camouflages them in commonplace and everyday events. When the turn happens it makes for a truly shocking bit of storytelling. While I’m handing out Oscar nominations, let’s give one to Diablo Cody for best original screenplay.

“Tully” is rated R for some sexuality/nudity and language. Most of the sexuality comes from Marlo watching episodes of Showtime’s “Gigolos” where we see a couple having sex on the screen. We also get a couple of looks at a woman’s bare nipple as she prepares to breast feed. Foul language is common.

“Tully” is a nice break from superheroes and special effect-heavy blockbusters. It is a slice of life film that takes its time in telling a story of average people dealing with the common challenges of parenthood. It has great performances and a compelling story that takes a zig when most would expect a zag. It is a movie mothers will understand on a cellular level and will, I believe, enjoy.

“Tully” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Life of the Party” for

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Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—



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Review of “I Feel Pretty”

Renee Bennett (Amy Schumer) is the website manager for Lily LeClaire Cosmetics in New York City. She doesn’t work in the gleaming skyscraper headquarters but in a small office under a Chinese takeout with her coworker Mason (Adrian Martinez). Renee is insecure about herself. She doesn’t feel pretty enough, skinny enough and smart enough for the rest of the world that surrounds her. She hears of a receptionist position opening up at the company headquarters where the CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams) runs the cosmetics giant. Renee considers applying but her lack of confidence makes her unsure. One day at spin class she falls off the bike and strikes her head. When she wakes up and looks in the mirror, Renee sees herself as a gorgeous and confident woman that can do anything she chooses. She applies for and gets the receptionist job despite the position normally being filled by young models. Renee impresses Avery with her confidence and soon the receptionist is offering ideas for a line of cosmetics that will be sold in general retail and drug stores. Renee also begins a relationship with Ethan (Rory Scovel), a man she meets at the dry cleaners and practically bullies into giving her his number. Renee’s friends Vivian and Jane (Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps) notice the change in Renee and while they are happy for her success in her new job and her new relationship they aren’t crazy about how she is treating them like charity cases in need of sympathy for the way they date. Being the person with all the confidence in the world also comes with needing to know when you need to back off and let others find their own way. To put it another way: With great power comes great responsibility.

“I Feel Pretty” sells itself as a story of female empowerment but comes across more as power corrupts. Amy Schumer’s Renee is a sweet but insecure woman as the film starts but turns into something of a monster after an accident unlocks her confidence. Being the uber-alpha female in both the high-intensity environment of a New York City cosmetics firm and the much lower intensity friendship with long-time acquaintances requires an ability to be able to dial it back depending on the situation. Renee doesn’t possess that ability and comes across as mean and disrespectful of her friends. It is an unattractive attribute that goes against the ideal the film is trying to get across. It turns what could have been a decent comedy into something that is hard to watch at times and downright cruel at others. I don’t know what Schumer and the rest of the filmmakers intended to do with this story but what they have created works against an equal playing field.

When Renee wakes up from her minor head injury at the spin class she sees herself in the mirror as a beautiful and powerful woman. Every person that makes casual eye contact with her is, in her mind, checking her out. She announces that while it is understandable if people believe she will leave her receptionist job at the cosmetics firm for a modeling career that she has no plans to walk the runway as she sees her long term goal as staying at Lily LeClaire. She enters a swimsuit competition on the spur of the moment and understands when she doesn’t win because the “fix was in.” She practically bulldozes Ethan into exchanging phone numbers at the dry cleaners when he was only making idle conversation. Most of what Renee exhibits isn’t confidence, it’s delusion. While everyone else in the film seems to accept Renee’s new mindset as attractive and even inspiring, from the audience point of view Renee is mentally ill. It’s the kind of behavior that in the real world would get many people locked up for a psych evaluation. I’m not sure what point writers and directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein were trying to get to when coming up with this story buy my interpretation of what they have created is mostly the polar opposite of what the trailer for the film is selling.

While I believe the story is the weakest part of “I Feel Pretty” the performance of Michelle Williams as Avery LeClaire is probably the strongest. Williams is nearly unrecognizable as Avery with a wig of long, straight blond hair and a voice that is breathy and high-pitched. Avery is funny in her cluelessness. She doesn’t understand the struggles of middle class women and feels no need to learn which works against her as the company is preparing to introduce a budget-priced line of cosmetics that will be sold in nationwide chain department stores. Her grandmother, Lauren Hutton as Lily LeClaire, sees this shortcoming in her granddaughter and is not shy about letting Avery know. The struggle of making her grandmother happy while running a giant company that has a history of exclusivity is part of what opens the door for Renee to assist in the new line. Avery’s lack of confidence in herself and the way she speaks and moves through life is mined for humor as she confides in Renee. Williams performance is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise predictable romantic comedy.

“I Feel Pretty” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some partial nudity. There is a brief sex scene that has no nudity and is largely played for mild laughs. There is also a suggestive dance done during a bikini contest. We see a naked Schumer in silhouette a couple of times. Foul language is mild and widely scattered.

“I Feel Pretty” has a vein of cruelty running through it. Sometimes it is directed at Schumer’s character by those who see her as not belonging at Lily LeClaire. Sometimes it comes from Schumer’s character aimed at her friends. Sometimes it’s a general feeling of some characters not belonging despite their desire to be there. It’s a difficult thing to pinpoint at times but it’s there. While writers and directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein may have intended to tell a story of empowerment despite how someone looks it still manages to come off as physical beauty wins out. It also isn’t as funny as it should have been.

“I Feel Pretty” gets three stars out of five.

This week the 800-pound gorilla in the room is “Avengers: Infinity War” and it also is the only new film in wide release.

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Review of “Rampage”

The Energyne Corporation is run by brother and sister Clair and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy). While publicly the company is trying to use genetic manipulation to cure disease they are actually trying to develop a bioweapon by modifying animals. They are conducting experiments onboard their private space station but that is destroyed when a mutant rat, which has grown to the size of a large dog, gets loose. The canisters containing the mutation formula are designed to survive reentry into the atmosphere and land in various locations across the country. One falls in the Everglades and is eaten by an alligator. One lands in the Wyoming wilderness and sprays a wolf with its contents. A third crashes into the gorilla habitat at the San Diego Zoo. An albino gorilla named George approaches the canister and is also sprayed with its contents. Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) has been George’s keeper since he found him after poachers killed his family. He communicates with George via sign language. When George is found out of his habitat and in the grizzly bear habitat after having killed a bear, Okoye notices how much bigger George is. Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) shows up at the Okoye’s office after hearing about events at the zoo on the news. She says she works at Energyne and can help cure George. Meanwhile, the Wyden’s have sent a paramilitary team to Wyoming to retrieve the canister that fell there and the team finds the wolf has grown into an enormous and vicious killer. It wipes out the team and their helicopter with no trouble. George is in isolation because of his behavior and his increase in size. He becomes very aggressive and breaks out of his cage and nearly escapes from the zoo but is tranquilized by men in a government helicopter. They are under the command of Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Russell plans on keeping George tranquilized and transports him via military plane to a facility for study. Okoye thinks that’s a bad idea and he’s right. The Wyden’s have built a failsafe into their genetic coding. They will transmit a low frequency signal from atop their skyscraper headquarters in Chicago. The animals affected by their formula will be attracted to the signal and won’t be prevented from getting to it to try and stop it as it causes them pain. They plan on letting the military kill the mutated animals then collecting samples of their blood so they can continue their research. If a few thousand people have to die in downtown Chicago, that’s just the price of business.

Based on the video game of the same name “Rampage” is about as complicated as the console quarter-eater it spawned from. Three giant monsters destroy whatever they come across and it’s up to Dwayne Johnson to stop them. There are minor problems that crop up on the path to the happy ending we know we’ll get like plane crashes, imprisonment and lies between allies that threaten a recently created partnership. All this is merely what we expect from this kind of mindless effects-heavy action/adventure. I really wanted to like it but it is just okay.

My biggest problem with “Rampage” is it doesn’t have much of a story. A combination of corporate greed and wholesale digital destruction is pretty thin as far as compelling plots go. We are treated to a massive skyscraper’s collapse and three giant monsters (plus The Rock) battling it out for dominance but it all comes off as hollow and the action gets repetitive in the film’s final act.

I realize this is a meaningless popcorn movie that is designed to be visually thrilling and the special effects are spectacular. The motion capture used to bring George to life is seamless and amazing. Much like the recent “Planet of the Apes” reboot you would be hard pressed to say there isn’t a real albino gorilla on the screen. While the other mutated creatures are also visually stunning they are given certain added features that render them more creatures of fantasy. George is just an albino gorilla that is very, very large. The visuals throughout the film are very believable from the crashing of a military transport plane to the destruction of a skyscraper. It all looks very real.

What aren’t real are the characters. Each is a type that is needed to fill a need of the paper-thin story. Johnson is, of course, the mythic hero that is the linchpin holding all the other characters (good and bad) together. He is the moral center fighting for his gorilla friend and to prevent the greedy corporation from profiting from his friend’s suffering. Naomie Harris is part damsel in distress and part hero’s conscience. She reminds him of what is true function in the story is while also giving him something to save when needed. Malin Akerman is the heartless and greedy villain. She has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and even tries to place blame on Harris’ character. Jake Lacy is also a villain but he doubles as the dumb comic relief. He is far too brainless to have concocted the villain’s evil plan on his own and is used to do some of the dirty work so the main bad guy (or in this case bad girl) doesn’t have to get her hands dirty. His purpose is to soften the evil for the audience. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the ruler that breaks the rules. He’s a maverick that starts off as an antagonist but finds he likes the methods of the hero. No character in the film rise much above the bare minimum required of them and none of the actors turns in a particularly stellar performance.

“Rampage” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, crude gestures and brief language. There are some brutal creature on creature battles that include a couple of impaling and a beheading. There are also several nondescript human characters that are thrown great distances by the creatures to what are likely their deaths. Other people are stomped, bitten or consumed by the creatures. There is a great deal of destruction when the action moves to Chicago including several building severely damaged and one large skyscraper destroyed. George likes to “throw a bird” at Okoye and does it several times. Foul language is scattered and mild.

I like Dwayne Johnson a great deal as an actor. While most of his roles just involve him looking buff, muscular and imposing he clearly enjoys his work and seems to be a nice and likable guy. He deserves a better film than this and I think he knows that. He’s the executive producer and would have had some say in what the final script became. Perhaps the EP credit was merely a title to get him a larger paycheck. Maybe he doesn’t know the story is weak. It could be he’s saving his creative abilities for a more important project. Whatever the reason, the film is weak in some very important ways. I’d have preferred a more interesting story and compelling characters I could really invest myself in. As it is the most interesting character in “Rampage” is the digital ape.

“Rampage” gets three stars out of five.

Check out my review of “Beirut” at in the “Blogs” section.

Next week I’ll see and review at least one of the follow:

I Feel Pretty–

Super Troopers 2–


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Review of “A Quiet Place”

Life on Earth is under attack from an alien creature that appears to have come here on board a meteor that crashed in Mexico. Covered in an apparently impenetrable exoskeleton, the creatures can’t see but have incredibly sensitive hearing. The slightest noise over and above the background gets their attention. They also can move very fast and have a mouth full of long sharp teeth. The aliens make life difficult for the survivors but the Abbott family is doing the best they can. Lee (John Krasinski), Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) live a life of silence and slow methodical movements. Beau being a child of about five can’t grasp all the dangers of this new world and makes a fatal mistake. While walking back to their home from town to get an ailing Marcus some antibiotics, Beau pulls out a toy he picked up at the drug store operated by batteries and turns it on. The model of the space shuttle makes a siren-like sound and attracts the aliens. Despite Lee’s efforts to save Beau he dies. A year later the family is continuing to scrape by at the farm they live on. Lee works on Regan’s cochlear implant trying to get it working again. He has made numerous efforts to repair it and failed. Regan, who gave Beau the toy after her father had taken it away from him and removed the batteries, feels Lee blames her for Beau’s death. He doesn’t but the stress of their life and Regan becoming a teenager is leading to conflicts. Lee has a workshop and security center set up in the basement of their home. He has monitors showing security camera feeds along with a shortwave radio he uses to try and contact anyone in the outside world. Evelyn is pregnant and due to deliver in a few weeks adding another threat to their silent life. Color-coded lights, sound-dampening sand on their pathways and communicating through American Sign Language might not be enough to keep this family together and alive.

The first trailer for “A Quiet Place” had me intrigued. The next trailer had me excited and dreading seeing the film a bit. Films that build tension and have you constantly guessing where the next threat will come from can be exhausting exercises. Found footage horror movies have worn me out in this regard as they never end happily, just with the promise of more fear and dread coming in the sequel. “A Quiet Place” manages to pile on the dread while giving you a glimmer of hope. It also tells an emotional family story that is punctuated by ravenous unstoppable monsters. It’s the best of both worlds.

John Krasinski not only stars but co-wrote and directed “A Quiet Place.” He is truly a triple threat in this film. His script is of course short on words. Most of the time communication is done via America Sign Language along with body movements. This forces the story to be told in other imaginative ways. We get the backstory from newspaper headlines we see in Lee’s security center. There a white board with scribbled facts about the monster and a desperate looking phrase “What is the WEAKNESS?” We see the weary looks on both Lee and Evelyn’s faces knowing they constantly worry about their day-to-day survival along with the future of their children. They all have dirty fingernails from having to do hard labor just to provide the basic necessities of life and they can’t waste precious resources like water for bathing and electricity to heat the water. The children are at times tired, frustrated and angry at their lives. We know they are both approaching puberty and that is hard enough when you don’t have monsters trying to hunt you down. The beauty of this script is storylines spin off within the mind of the viewer from watching these people exist. It isn’t all about the monsters as they really play a very minor role in the film. It’s about the family and the work they have to do to survive plus the struggles of just getting along. Krasinski along with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck have put a great deal of thought and work into their script and story even if there aren’t many words.

The performances of real life married couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are powerful and amazing. The love and desire this couple feels in their lives is clearly used to make their characters more connected and believable. There’s a scene where she makes him dance with her and they share a pair of earbuds from a portable music player. Their slow swaying and embrace may bring a tear to your eye as they share a rare moment of quiet passion. Lee winds up dancing more with the baby bump than his wife by the end of the scene but it is still a sweet and touching moment.

As good and Krasinski and Blunt are they are overshadowed by the amazing performance of Millicent Simmonds. Ms. Simmonds is deaf in real life. Her performance is all through her face, her motions and the way she communicates with sign language. A scene between her and Krasinski where he is giving her a hearing aid he had been working on is a prime example of just how good an actress Simmonds is. Her movements and body language show her anger, her impatience and her pain. Regan believes her father blames her for Beau’s death. While he doesn’t, he hasn’t made the extra effort to show her he loves her. All this is seen in this brief interaction between a father and daughter and that is due mostly to Millicent Simmonds talent. I hope her hearing doesn’t keep her from getting more roles as she is very talented.

It’s time for “Stan Thinks Too Much” corner. This alien invasion appears to have decimated the population and caused the collapse of infrastructure but the survivors still manage to have electricity. We never see a generator and of course that would cause lots of noise. It might be solar but we never see any panels. It seems unlikely the power grid would still be functioning so I wonder how they keep the lights on and the water flowing? Also during a scene in the film Evelyn manages to escape from one of the creatures by leaving a kitchen timer in the back of the room so the alien would chase that noise. Why didn’t they keep other noisemaking devices on them so they could set them off and throw them in the opposite direction for the monsters to chase? The ending of the film also made me wonder why it hadn’t been thought of before. I don’t want to give anything away but the method to kill these creatures seems perfectly clear from the first time you see them as they listen for the slightest noise out of the ordinary. And that concludes “Stan Thinks Too Much” corner.

“A Quiet Place” is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images. There are several times when members of the family are stalked by the creatures. We see a raccoon get smashed by a monster with an accompanying splash of blood. We see a body in the forest that has been attack with a gaping wound in its side. There’s some blood associated with the birth of a baby. The monster’s anatomy is a bit disgusting to look at. There is no foul language as there is very little language of any kind.

John Krasinski has created a rare and wonderful thing: A horror movie that is both smart and scary. It also manages to be warm, emotional and mostly about a family just trying to survive. It works on just about every level. While I do have some questions and “I wonder why’s” about a few things they don’t take away from what is a fantastically tense movie. See it friends or in a full theater for a complete experience.

“A Quiet Place” gets five stars.

Next week I’ll be reviewing “Borg vs. McEnroe” for

I’ll also review one of the follow for this webpage:


Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero—

Truth or Dare—

Listen for the latest news for movies, streaming and TV on The Fractured Frame available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to

Review of “Ready Player One”

In 2045 the world is such a sad and depressing place many people spend the majority of their free time in a virtual world called the Oasis where they can be and do anything. Oasis was the creation of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). The two had a falling out and Halliday bought out Morrow. Halliday was a genius but also had difficulty dealing with people. He wanted the Oasis to be a place where people could break out of their shells and explore what they loved. One of those explorers is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan). In the Oasis his avatar is called Parzival. When Halliday died he released a recorded announcement saying he’d hidden an Easter egg in the Oasis. Three keys are required to gain access to the Easter egg. Whoever finds it will become the owner of the Oasis. This sets off a frenzy of activity to find the keys. Those that hunt for the Easter egg are called gunters (egg hunters) and Wade is one of these along with his friend Aech, a combination troll and android-looking creature that is great at building and rebuilding vehicles. If your avatar is killed in the games of the Oasis you lose all your upgrades and your money and have to start from scratch. Using all their resources to find the keys is Innovative Online Industries, or IOI. They build much of the real world hardware that is used to access the Oasis. Leading IOI is Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who worked with Halliday and Morrow when the Oasis was created. He plans to turn much of the Oasis into advertising space once IOI finds the Easter egg. During his search Wade as Parzival meets the avatar Art3mis. She is a famous gamer and Wade quickly falls in love with her. Of course they have never met in real life so Art3mis could be completely unlike her avatar and Wade would never know. Still, the two become close as they search for clues they believe are hidden in the archive of Halliday’s life. When Wade finds the first key he comes to the attention of Sorrento who puts his security chief F’Nale Zandor (Hannah John-Kamen) on the case to find and eliminate him in the real world. He also uses the avatar I-ROk (voiced by T.J. Miller) to try and kill his avatar in the Oasis.

“Ready Player One” is the kind of movie that can drive some people insane. Those people are completists. They must finish whatever they start and they must find all the little nooks and crannies where some information might be hidden. A completist will need to find every pop culture reference made in Steven Spielberg’s film that is stuffed to the brim with them. If you just have to know them all there are guides on the Internet and a Google search will find them. I find that kind of thing exhausting and am happy with the sudden flash of recognition when seeing a familiar video game or movie character. There was a great deal that made me happy in “Ready Player One” besides the familiar pop culture and music choices. It is a fun film.

While some of the real critics have complained “Ready Player One” is too concerned about cramming in as many pop culture references as possible and giving less attention to the story, I respectfully disagree. Script writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, Cline wrote the book the movie is based on, have put forth a very simple story: Unrelenting greed never leads to a happy future. It may not be the deepest or most complicated story for a movie but it does work especially considering the current political and economic climate. Nolan Sorrento is the embodiment of corporate greed. He sees the Oasis only as a cash cow to be exploited and not for the opportunities of expression and freedom it allows. Those that are aware of his cynical view of the Oasis are determined to stop him despite Sorrento having a huge corporation and dozens of people working to find the keys. It is a classic David and Goliath story and with Steven Spielberg at the controls it is a well-told story.

The CGI of “Ready Player One” is pretty spectacular. What I liked best about it was the hundreds of artists used to create the Oasis got the physics right. When a car crashes or an object breaks it looks real. There are many moments in the film that could have been visual deal breakers. Where the trajectory of a falling object or the apparent weight of a stone block from the wall of a castle could have looked wrong or conveniently too light but everything in the virtual world looked legit. It’s also a small miracle the artists were able to accurately render the dozens of toy, movie and video game characters and references. If you see a character from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Arkham video game or the motorcycle from “Akira” it will be done with a great deal of loving detail. The visuals of “Ready Player One” are the true stars of the movie.

I also enjoyed the performances in the real world scenes. Tye Sheridan does put upon teen very well. His Wade Watts is wide-eyed but also world-weary in a life that appears to be wearing him down. Escaping to his hideaway inside a discarded van buried deep in a junk yard, Wade has created an oasis of his own allowing him to escape into the virtual world. Orphaned young and living with an aunt that cares more about her abusive boyfriend than she does about him, Wade is essentially alone in a world that has gone mostly mad. He’s doing the best he can and the Oasis is a place he can freely express himself. While it might not win him an Oscar this performance will certainly get Tye Sheridan more work.

Olivia Cooke is the real world version of Art3mis. Cooke plays Samantha, a leader of the rebellion against IOI. While her avatar in the Oasis is brash and confident Samantha is anything but. She has a pale port wine stain birthmark over and on her right eye. She is very self-conscious of this blemish and it has clearly been a point of pain and suffering to her psyche. Samantha’s escape to the Oasis is clearly her attempt to soothe her pain and be the hero she can feel inside. It takes a desperate act to break her out of her self-imposed emotional exile and allow the bravery she has inside to escape. She takes chances and makes decisions that go against her own self-interest in an attempt to serve the greater good. It is a character young women can look to as a role-model.

The rest of the supporting cast is great but special kudos goes to Mark Rylance as Halliday. There is a childlike innocence to Halliday that tugs at the heartstrings. He’s clearly on the autism spectrum and struggling to make his vision clear to his partner Morrow played by Simon Pegg. Halliday wants everyone to see the Oasis the way he does: As a limitless playground to be enjoyed by all. There are moments when Halliday is speaking that I just wanted to hug him and tell him everything is going to be okay. Rylance is an amazing actor with incredible range and emotional depth. His Halliday is a child that can’t understand the complexities of business and why the world has to be so mean. He also thinks the Oasis should be used for fun and not for life. It’s a lesson that is saved for near the end of the film that even his love for his creation has its limits. It is a wonderfully subtle and emotional performance.

“Ready Player One” is rated PG-13 for language, bloody images, partial nudity, sci-fi action violence and some suggestive material. There are battles between video game characters and fights of various other types. The partial nudity is from a scene that takes place within the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” and involves a woman getting out of a bathtub. There is no actual nudity. The suggestive material also involves “The Shining” scene along with a mildly seductive dance between the two main characters. “The Shining” is also the source of the bloody images with tidal wave coming from the elevators. There are also a few real world injuries that show some minor bleeding. Foul language is scattered and mild.

My advice for seeing “Ready Player One” is to just let the pop culture references flow over you and don’t try to identify every character that’s been pulled from nearly every movie and video game from the last 50-plus years. Simply sit back and enjoy the magic and childlike wonder on display from the master of fantasy and adventure movie making. It is good to see Spielberg back to making a good old-fashioned crowd-pleasing bit of popcorn cinema. You’ll leave the theater far happier than you entered it.

“Ready Player One” gets five stars.

This week four new movies hope they have something to offer you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:



The Miracle Season—

A Quiet Place—

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