Review of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

 

 

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) refers to himself as a Triple A Rated Personal Security Expert. He guards less than savory characters if they are willing to pay his high rates. One client, a Japanese arms dealer, is killed while under Bryce’s protection. He blames his girlfriend Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), an Interpol agent he told about this client. His anger at her over her alleged betrayal leads to the ending of their relationship. The death of his client destroys his reputation and Bryce is reduced to protecting lesser clients for whatever cash he can get. Meanwhile, the former dictator of Belarus Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) is on trial for war crimes at The Hague. All the testimony from the prosecution witnesses is deemed hearsay by the panel of judges and all the other witnesses who can provide corroborated evidence have been killed by Dukhovich’s band of thugs. The only surviving witness is a notorious contract killer named Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) who is being held in prison. Kincaid agrees to testify against Dukhovich in exchange for the release of his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) who is being held in custody. Roussel and a group of Interpol agents are tasked with transporting Kincaid to the court but a mole within the agency has told Dukhovich’s men and they attack the caravan. Kincaid and Roussel are the only survivors and they hide in a nearby safe house. Desperate, Roussel calls Bryce to guard Kincaid and get him to The Hague before a deadline otherwise Dukhovich goes free. Bryce and Kincaid have a great deal of history and don’t like each other. If they get to the court without killing each other or getting killed by Dukhovich’s men will be a miracle.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a perfect summer popcorn movie. It’s filled with jokes and action while also being about nothing particularly controversial and having a villain that is easy to loathe. With a cast made up largely of well-known comedic and action stars and locations scattered around Europe, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” has all the makings of a massive hit…almost.

There is a great deal of laughs in the film. The script, written by Tom O’Connor, was originally created as a drama but underwent a major rewrite to add the humor. I can see how the film could have gone either dramatic or comedic as the trial of a brutal dictator for crimes against humanity isn’t exactly the foundation of a laugh-a-minute action romp. O’Connor has managed to find a way to show the audience Dukhovich’s cruelty and have that banked in their mind while also giving us two characters that have the kinds of personalities that create sparks and the likelihood of humorous situations.

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are perhaps the perfect actors to take these roles. Both are known for their comedic turns in various films that aren’t necessarily comedies. Reynolds is currently shooting the sequel to the very funny “Deadpool” and has made a career out of playing the smart aleck ready with a quip at the drop of a hat. Even his Twitter feed is often funny to follow. Both these actors have terrific comedic chemistry together and the film largely is successful due to their combined talents.

Salma Hayek is also amazing as Kincaid’s wife Sonia. Most of her scenes are in a prison cell talking to guards or officers and to Jackson in a phone call. Her passion and anger as Sonia is nearly overwhelming. Speaking in a combination of English and Spanish, Sonia pulls no punches and never should be underestimated. Even her cellmate spends most of her time cowering in a corner until Sonia tells her it’s alright to move. Hayek’s role needed to be bigger, perhaps breaking out and helping her husband get where he needs to go. Still, Hayek is a burst of unpredictable energy in a very predictable movie.

That’s my biggest problem with the film: It is so predictable. Once the story gets going it is clear how it will play out. The identity of the traitor in Interpol is obvious from the first time the character appears on the screen. Kincaid questions Bryce’s commitment to his security clients and the exact situation occurs later in the story. None of the main story beats and their connected events will come as a surprise to anyone watching with the least bit of interest. I suppose giving us a unique story is asking a lot from a standard Hollywood action/comedy vehicle but would it have killed them to throw a little curveball in to the story just to shake things up a bit? Apparently, yes, it would have killed them.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. There are numerous shootings that are bloody. There is a scene of torture using wet cloth and a car battery. We also see a pen stabbed into a character’s hand. Samuel L. Jackson is in the film so you know there’s going to be enormous numbers of “MF’s” and assorted other foul language from most of the characters.

I enjoyed “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as a mindless summer action/comedy and didn’t give much thought to the silliness of the plot or the blandness of most of the characters. There isn’t a great deal of imagination in the film aside from its basic premise. Still, the film has some big laughs and great action scenes but it just needed a better and more unique story to take it over the top. If you don’t think about it too much, it is worth your time.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” gets four stars out of five.

This week faith plays a part in all three new films: Faith in God, faith in yourself and faith in your talents. I’ll see and review one of the following:

All Saints—

Birth of the Dragon—

Leap—

Listen to my podcast “The Fractured Frame” dropping every Monday on iTunes, Google Play and everywhere you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Annabelle: Creation”

Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a doll maker in small town. He lives with his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and their young daughter Bee (Samara Lee). While coming home from church one Sunday, the family pickup truck gets a flat tire. While changing the tire, Bee runs into the road and is struck and killed by a car. Twelve years later the Mullins open their home to six orphans from a Catholic charity. Overseen by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the six girls range in age from 10 to 17 and are impressed by the size of their new home. One girl, Janice (Talitha Bateman), has a lame leg due to polio some years earlier. Her best friend is Linda (Lulu Wilson). The two girls are extremely close and hope to be adopted into the same home. Mr. Mullins says his wife Esther won’t be seen much as she was injured several years earlier and stays in her room in bed. Mr. Mullins also warns Janice that a room upstairs is locked and is off limits. That doesn’t stop her from investigating when she hears noises coming from the room. When she tries the door it is unlocked and she enters to find what looks like a little girl’s room filled with dolls and an elaborate dollhouse that looks very much like the Mullins’ home. In the dollhouse she finds a key and soon finds the door it opens inside the room. There she finds a doll sitting in a chair and the walls of the room are covered with pages torn from the Bible. Spooked by the appearance of the doll she closes the door but it opens on its own. Hurrying back to her room when she sees Mr. Mullins, Janice is unaware of the evil she has released from its prison where it was safely kept for the last 12 years.

“Annabelle: Creation” gives us the backstory of how the creepy looking doll introduced in “The Conjuring,” and got her own movie “Annabelle,” became cursed with a demon. Good scary movies are hard to find and the initial Rotten Tomatoes score was extremely high. It settled down into the upper 60’s by the films’ release and now, having seen it, I think that number is just about right.

“Annabelle: Creation” has only one really seat-jumping moment in it and that has nothing to do with ghosts or demons. It happens early when the daughter and father are playing a game of hide and seek and the father appears from the side of the screen and tackles the little girl to the floor and tickles her. It is a heartwarming domestic moment that starts with a bit of a scare. All the rest of the alleged scary moments that follow are weak in comparison. “Annabelle: Creation” does a very good job of building tension, establishing dread and creating the right conditions for some heart-stopping moments on screen. What it fails to do is actually deliver those moments.

Films like “Annabelle: Creation” frequently use sound, or the lack of sound, to heighten tension. Knowing something is going to jump out from the shadows or appear behind the person being stalked is made all the more frightening when all the ambient sound you’d expect to hear is suddenly silenced. We take for granted the whirring of heating and air units, the hum of refrigerators and the buzz of electric lights. It all fades into the background of “white noise” as we live our lives; however, on those rare occasions when the power goes out and everything stops working, you realize just how much noise constantly surrounds us. During “Annabelle: Creation” we are treated to perfect silence sometimes punctuated by ragged, fast breathing just before the monster appears. Sadly, these frights never live up to the buildup that precedes them.

Some of the performances are also underwhelming: Namely Anthony LaPaglia. His Samuel Mullins is a bit of a creeper once the girls move into the house. He’ll walk by open doorways and stand and stare at the girls as they are talking. It is later explained that he fears for the girls’ safety but it never comes off as concern. It is more like someone that doesn’t know how to interact with people; perhaps like he has a condition that makes talking to people difficult. He rarely smiles or nods as a simple acknowledgement of other people’s existence, he just walks away awkwardly. It is a sometimes painful performance to watch and I have to wonder what made director David F. Sandberg and LaPaglia think this was the right way to go.

A couple of performances I did enjoy where from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson as the best friends Janice and Linda. Bateman does a very convincing scared young girl. She’s able to make the tears roll easily, giving the audience even more reason to feel bad for her as she faces a demonic onslaught. Wilson, whose performance I enjoyed in “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” has a lock on the cherubic innocent market in Hollywood horror films. Wilson does a great job at making us feel her friendship with Janice and sharing her desire to be adopted into a real family. There are some odd choices for her character as the story plays out and the weirdness goes into overdrive but Wilson does a good job at making us root for her and Janice to make it through this scary adventure.

“Annabelle: Creation” is rated R for horror violence and terror. A demon pukes black bile into the mouth of one of the children. A scarecrow comes to life and menaces a couple of girls. One of the girls is dragged into the darkness and a bite shows up on the back of her leg. A girl is dropped from a considerable height onto the floor. A character’s fingers are shown being broken and bent back one at a time by an invisible force. A character is shown with a large injury on her face that removed her eye. A character has his throat slashed and blood is shown spurting. A character is shown transforming into a demon with what sounds like bones breaking. Foul language is scattered.

This is my first foray into “The Conjuring” universe as I haven’t seen any of the other films in the series. I do enjoy scary movies and these films seem to have their fans. “Annabelle: Creation” is ok as a horror movie it just doesn’t have much in the way of scares. It doesn’t help that Anthony LaPaglia turns in an odd performance and comes off as a bit of a creeper. The movie is vastly improved when it focuses on the demon and the orphan on whom it focuses. Considering the movie is projected to make $71 million worldwide in its opening weekend against a budget of $15 million probably means we will be getting more movies about the creepy doll and the bad things that happen to those that own it. Ramp up the scares and I’m in.

“Annabelle: Creation” gets three stars out of five.

This week there are two new films and both will be reviewed by me. First I’ll see “Logan Lucky” and review it for WIMZ.com.

Then I’ll watch “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and review that for stanthemovieman.com.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Listen to my podcast “The Fractured Frame” that comes out every Monday. Just click on the “podcast” tab on WIMZ.com, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes, on the Google Play Store and anywhere you get podcasts.

Review of “The Dark Tower”

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a teenager growing up in New York City. His dad was a fireman killed on the job and his mom has remarried. Jake has been having vivid dreams about a world at war, about a Man in Black, a Gunslinger, weird looking creatures, children strapped into a machine and being used as a power source for a directed energy weapon and a Dark Tower. Jake draws what he sees in his dreams and is obsessed with the images. It’s causing trouble at home and at school. Jake’s psychiatrist tries to convince him they are only dreams caused by the stress of his dad’s death but he is certain they are something more…something real. His parents plan on sending Jake to a weekend evaluation at a mental hospital but Jake doesn’t trust the two people sent to pick him up and he runs away. While on the run, Jake finds a house that looks like one he’s seen in his dreams. It’s abandoned and he breaks in. Walking down the hall, Jake hears a voice asking where he wants to go. It’s coming from a console built into the wall. Jake has seen the numbers “19-19” in his dreams and enters that on a keypad. A portal opens up in the wall that looks like it goes to another world. Jake enters and finds himself on an arid plain and sees two moons in the sky overhead. Jake walks until he finds a smoldering campfire where he comes face to face with the Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba). Not trusting him at first, the Gunslinger tells Jake to go away but Jake persists mentioning the Man in Black. The Gunslinger threatens Jake, accusing him of being an illusion. Jake shows his drawings to him and the Gunslinger suggests they go to a nearby village to allow a seer to interpret his dreams. Meanwhile, Walter, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is searching for a special child; one that can power a weapon to bring down the Dark Tower that separates all the parallel Earths from one another and also blocks out monsters that live at the fringes of the Universe. If the Dark Tower falls the monsters will overrun all the Earths and the Man in Black will rule over a kingdom of destruction. Jake’s travel from his home to this other world has not gone unnoticed and the Man in Black discovers Jake is the perfect child to power his weapon. Now Jake and the Gunslinger must find a way to prevent the Man in Black from succeeding in his plan to destroy all the Earths in the Universe.

Based on “The Dark Tower” series of books from author Stephen King, this movie isn’t exactly taken from any specific book; but is a collection of ideas composed into a film. Fans of the books may balk at the idea this movie is more of an impression of the much loved series. Those of us that haven’t read the books may actually find the film flawed but fairly entertaining.

When dealing with a story that takes place through eight books, 4,250 pages and 1,334,631 words, it seems an impossible task to distill all those ideas and characters down into one 95-minute movie. Fortunately, the makers of “The Dark Tower” didn’t even try to do that. This film, I believe, is designed to give the audience a taste of the grand mythology King created and to instill a desire to learn more about all the various Earths and the heroes and villains that populate them. If that is the idea then “The Dark Tower” is a success. I enjoyed learning of Keystone Earth and Mid-World, the war the Man in Black won against the gunslingers including Roland and his father and the idea that magic is a powerful force in some of these worlds. It is a colorful universe that obviously has a great deal more to offer and I hope to get a chance to see what it might serve up in future editions.

“The Dark Tower” is far from perfect. The story feels like it’s in a huge hurry to get from point to point at the expense of a clear narrative. Writers Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and director Nikolaj Arcel seem to be taking for granted that we’ll catch up on details in future projects and they don’t need to worry with a lot of details in this outing. I would have liked to be a bit more informed about what’s happening as it’s happening but the script just wants to steamroll on through and let you catch up on your own time. That makes a huge assumption that we’ll be waiting with anticipation for the proposed companion TV show slated for release in 2018 or that we’ll pick up the books and plow through King’s often dense and complicated prose. That assumption could sink this multi-platform franchise right off the bat.

The movie also makes some quick emotional turns that aren’t supported by the story. Jake at one point seems to rebel against the Gunslinger and his mission after making a discovery back on his Earth. That emotional U-turn is just as quickly reversed after a little target practice and the reciting of the Gunslinger’s Oath. It all rings hollow as both Jake’s change and the Gunslinger’s remedy feel out of left field. Both of these should have been emotional high points. Instead they are treated as afterthoughts or like common, everyday events. The lightning pace of the story doesn’t leave much room for us to get to know these characters other than the very basics and these two scenes deserved more set up and examination.

While neither of their characters is written up to their talents, both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey turn in fine performances. Elba’s Gunslinger is a reluctant hero on a mission to avenge the death of his father. This is his singular goal and saving the Tower is merely the consequence of killing the Man in Black. It’s a measured performance that isn’t flashy but still remains powerful.

McConaughey seems to be enjoying his role as the Man in Black. He’s all flair and is known by all those that worship him as a deadly force. He’s full of himself and has every right to be as he is a powerful sorcerer able to control the minds of anyone he chooses, except Roland. This vexes him but he’s happy to kill everyone the Gunslinger loves instead. McConaughey makes a formidable villain and would be wise to play more of them.

“The Dark Tower” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. Numerous people are shot but there is very little blood. A giant bug-like creature attacks Roland and Jake impaling Roland against a tree. People are shown being slashed by swords but again there is very little blood. A character is shown getting a nose bleed as they are subjected to psychic torture by the Man in Black. A couple of people are shown dying by the Man in Black telling them to stop breathing. Children are strapped into a machine to power a weapon. The powering of the weapon causes the children to scream in pain.

“The Dark Tower” franchise is designed to include TV shows as well as movies. A prequel series to fill in the backstory of the film is scheduled to air sometime in 2018 and sequel films are on the drawing board. Some or all of these plans may be at risk if this film doesn’t deliver a big enough return at the box office. A domestic projected opening weekend take of $19-million doesn’t bode well for a return trip to Mid-Earth but we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the world reacts to this latest Stephen King adaption. If you don’t like this one, the “It” movie comes out in a month.

“The Dark Tower” gets four stars out of five.

A horror sequel, a family drama and an animated sequel are opening at a theatre near you this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Annabelle: Creation—

The Glass Castle—

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature—

Listen to my new podcast, The Fractured Frame, you can hear it here: http://wimz.com/podcasts/the-fractured-frame/

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Atomic Blonde”

M-I 6 Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is being debriefed in 1989 following a failed mission in Berlin by her superior Mr. Gray (Toby Jones) and a representative of the CIA (John Goodman). The mission was to retrieve microfilm stolen from a murdered agent that contains the names of all the Western agents embedded in the Soviet Union. It also has the name of a KGB double agent known only as Satchel. Broughton meets another M-I 6 agent named David Percival (James McAvoy) who has been in contact with the East German Secret Police agent that stole the microfilm who is known only as Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). After the microfilm is stolen Spyglass tells Percival that he has committed all the names to memory and he wants to defect to the West along with his family in exchange for not giving the information to his bosses. Upon her arrival in Berlin, Broughton is attacked by several KGB agents who knew her name and what time she would be arriving. Unable to trust anyone, Broughton is certain she is being compromised at every turn. She notices a young woman following her around and later discovers she is a French spy named Delphine (Sofia Boutella). Delphine is new to the espionage game and is in over her head. She and Broughton begin a physical relationship and Broughton believes she may be of some use in the case. Everywhere she turns Broughton is ambushed and pushed to her physical limits. Who is setting her up and trying to cause the mission to be a failure?

“Atomic Blonde” is based on a graphic novel released in 2012 called “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The movie is a violent, dark and gritty look at the coming collapse of the Soviet Union and how the last vestiges of Cold War gamesmanship played out over the course of a few days in the divided city of Berlin. There are brutal fights and sneaky double crosses amongst secret agents that are all aware of each other and their professed allegiances yet no one can be believed at their word. It’s a world that would be impossible to navigate which is one of the reasons “Atomic Blonde” is so good: You never know who is on what side and if they’ll stay there.

The trailers for “Atomic Blonde” do a good job at selling the action and there is plenty more in the film. Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is a very bad woman when she’s forced to defend herself. Anything can be a weapon: A high heel shoe, a set of car keys, a corkscrew, and a garden hose, anything she can reach can be used against her attacker. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and believably executed. Many are shown as a single unedited shot while others have sneaky edits inserted by whipping the camera around or sending the combatants into a dark corridor. Director David Leitch has figured out how to shoot the action in a way that is both close enough to where you almost can feel the impact of the punch but not so close you have trouble seeing what’s going on. It’s one of my biggest complaints about many action films including all the “Bourne” movies. The camera in those films is almost between the combatants and is constantly moving. In “Atomic Blonde,” the action is shot at the perfect distance and is always centered in the frame.

The action is also handled in a realistic way to the character. By that, I mean that Broughton isn’t always going to beat up every man she faces. Poorly trained East German police don’t give her much trouble but experienced KGB and Stasi agents get in almost as many punches as she does. Broughton takes a great deal of punishment over the course of the film and her body, which we get a few chances to see, shows the signs. Broughton isn’t shown as the kind of hero that doesn’t face a real test until the very end like in most films of this type. In “Atomic Blonde” the hero faces challenges at nearly every turn making her all the more believable and human.

Charlize Theron plays Broughton with a cold, detached and world-weary stare. She’s seen it all and done it all so nothing will faze her. When she is told she has a different look in her eyes when she’s telling the truth she responds that she won’t do it again as it could get her killed. Broughton is the quintessential yet stereotypical working woman in that she feels like she must be better at her job than any man and she can’t take time for a personal relationship as she would be seen as weak and not serious about her profession. In a way “Atomic Blonde” is a statement about how working women are held to a different standard than men but that is only if you think about it too much.

“Atomic Blonde” is all about the action and the intrigue. No one can be trusted and everyone is a potential traitor. This keeps the tension going throughout the film. Who is Satchel and will Spyglass and his information make it out of East Berlin? I won’t spoil it by telling you the answer but I will tell you finding out is a great deal of fun.

“Atomic Blonde” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity. There are numerous bloody fights and shootings. Theron and Boutella have a sex scene where breasts and bottoms are shown. We also see Theron getting out of an ice cube bath and see her mostly naked. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

As usual with a female-led action movie much is being made of having a woman performing stunts and engaging in brutal violence in a film. Any time a woman stars in a film genre that is usually the domain of men it generates articles and blogs about how this is a great step forward for women or cautionary stories wondering if it will make enough money to justify more action movies with female leads. The discussion is silly since the sex of the top-billed star is irrelevant: Is the movie any good? Does it deliver a good mix of action and story? Does it make sense? In the case of “Atomic Blonde” the answer to all three is “yes.” All the bloggers should look for more important stories to worry about.

“Atomic Blonde” gets five stars.

This week there’s a Stephen King adaptation and another female-led action thriller arriving at your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Dark Tower—

Kidnap—

Listen to my new podcast The Fractured Frame available at wimz.com/podcasts, on iTunes and the Google Play Store.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

 

Review of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

A space station that once orbited Earth is now massive and inhabited by thousands of aliens from hundreds of planets. The station now called Alpha was pushed into deep space to act as a beacon for any and all intelligent life to come and share their knowledge and technology. Alpha has existed in peace for over 500 years but something is threatening to destroy it. An area of deadly radiation has appeared at the core of Alpha and its growing. All attempts to investigate the cause have failed. Human police force agents Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are called in to provide protection for Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), the leader of Alpha; but he is abducted by a group of aliens whose DNA does not register on Alpha’s sensors. Valerian and Laureline begin a search for the Commander and stumble into a mystery involving the destruction of a planet 30 years earlier and the desire to keep all details of that event a secret at any cost.

Director Luc Besson has been trying to make “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” for 20 years. He had been a fan of the comic book “Valerian and Laureline” when he was a kid and while making “The Fifth Element” he used the services of the comic book’s illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières who suggested he take a crack at adapting the story for a film. Besson thought the technology to create all the various alien species wasn’t available at the time but when James Cameron released “Avatar” he knew it would be possible. Now his dream has come true and the massive special effects movie is in a theatre near you. Should you invest the time, gas, money and effort into seeing Besson’s creation? The short answer is probably not.

That’s not to say “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” doesn’t have it good points. First of all, it looks amazing. The visual style of the film dazzles you with amazing colors and more alien species than you can count. From massive aquatic creatures to small bird-looking bipeds with big noses to tiny animals that look like a cross between a hamster and a lizard, the creature creation in the movie shows enormous imagination.

The concept of the story, about a giant space station filled with thousands of alien lifeforms all living in peace, is thanks to the comics written by Pierre Christin and the aforementioned Jean-Claude Mézières. While the setting of the film and the comics is vastly different, the idea of human/alien cooperation is clearly shared in both. Also the notion that a seemingly benevolent government might also be to some extent corrupt plays out in both. The comics, which ran for over 40 years, represented Christin’s political views. Besson doesn’t seem all that interested in making a political statement but in telling a fantastical story. That’s where the film runs into trouble.

The story of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a mess. While we are treated to a several alien species and amazing looking planets, the story has apparently had a great deal less care taken with it. The main story threads are left to dangle for large parts of the film. As we blast through walls with Valerian and go on an underwater adventure with Laureline the main story is mostly abandoned. I don’t want to give away the major plot points and the movie apparently feels the same way. We are finally given a long section of exposition that lays out everything late in the film but by then I had lost so much interest I took it as a good sign the movie was almost over.

There’s also the issue of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne having zero chemistry with each other. Valerian is supposed to be both Laureline’s partner and lover but when the two flirt with each other it lands with an audible thud. Delevingne looks more annoyed and bored than attracted to DeHaan. DeHaan in these scenes looks more creepy than anything else. It’s a pair that does not strike me as a believable couple and that makes any effort to humanize the characters with their alleged attraction to one another fail miserably. I didn’t like the idea that these two highly trained agents would also be emotionally and physically involved with one another. That would tend to violate any code of conduct in any military service today and would render one partner susceptible to compromise should the other be captured by an enemy. It also would damage their working partnership should their relationship end. None of their romance worked on any level for me.

DeHaan also appears to be doing a Keanu Reeves impression through the entire film. Speaking in what seems to be an unnaturally low vocal register, DeHaan sounds very similar to the “John Wick” actor while not having the same physical presence. DeHaan is a very good actor and has turned in great performances in “Chronicle” and “Lawless” along with other films so I can only blame his choices on director Luc Besson who apparently wanted some effort at menace in everything Valerian says. Sadly DeHaan isn’t able to dredge up any menace but plenty of breathiness.

The best actors in the film are all the CGI aliens and the creatures created with motion capture. Meanwhile, all the humans that aren’t digitally altered don’t look like they are having much fun. Cara Delevingne only looks like she’s trying when the character is screaming in anger and while going into battle. Clive Owen, who is missing for a big chunk of the middle of the film, is chewing as much digital scenery as he can to make Commander Filitt as much of a villain as possible. It doesn’t work. Rhianna turns in a passable performance as a cabaret entertainer with a secret. She isn’t on screen for very long and most of her performance is voice acting but still she holds her own.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language. Guns of a futuristic type are fired in various scenes throughout the movie. We see characters hit by the weapons but there is no blood. One character is briefly tortured by having a gun fired into its shoulder. Another character is shown being tortured in a lab. The suggestive content includes a pair of characters tussling playfully while on a beach in their swimsuits. Also the dance done by Rhianna’s character could be considered risqué. Foul language is scattered and mild.

There’s probably a good movie to be made from the source material but “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” isn’t it. It ignores its own story for far too long to get in some action scenes and it has a couple of lead actors that have no sexual chemistry at all. While the film is a visual wonder it doesn’t need to be seen in 3D. The movie doesn’t have the visual pop with the added dimension I had hoped. I guess I’ll have to reinstate my moratorium on seeing movies in 3D that weren’t actually filmed in 3D. And knowing what I know now I can’t suggest you see “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” with any enthusiasm.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” gets two stars out of five.

Check out my new podcast “The Fractured Frame.” You can click here http://wimz.com/podcasts/the-fractured-frame/ or subscribe on iTunes. Please leave a review and let me know if you like it and what I can do to improve it.

See my review of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” here: http://wimz.com/blogs/stan-movie-man/1723/review-of-dunkirk/

This week Charlize Theron kicks it up a notch and one emoji tries to save his digital world. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Atomic Blonde—

The Emoji Movie—

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

Reviews for “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “The Big Sick”

War for the Planet of the Apes

The band of intelligent apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) are being hunted by a persistent group of soldiers led the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). A raid on their compound leads to the deaths of Caesar’s wife and oldest son. Caesar sends the tribe on a journey over the mountains to find a new home far away from the humans; but Caesar intends on tracking down the Colonel and killing him in revenge. Despite telling them to go with the others, Maurice, Luca and Rocket (Karin Konoval, Michael Adamthwaite and Terry Notary) accompany him. Checking out a group of buildings looking for the Colonel’s base, the four apes come across a man that tries to kill them but Caesar kills him instead. Inside one of the buildings they find a young mute girl (Amiah Miller). Maurice refuses to leave her to die so she joins them. The apes find the Colonel’s base and Caesar discovers all of the apes have been captured. Caesar is captured as well by a gorilla that once followed Koba (Toby Kebbell) in his rebellion against Caesar. Several of Koba’s loyal apes are working with the Colonel’s troops. Called “donkeys” the turncoat apes serve as pack mules, carrying heavy weapons and acting as guards and overseers of the captured apes being forced to build a wall for the Colonel. The Colonel is preparing to defend against an attack but is it an attack by apes or other humans?

“War for the Planet of the Apes” continues the impressive visuals of the previous two films in the series. If anything it improves on those visuals and is a sure contender for the special effects Oscar next year; but it also might be nominated for Best Picture as this third entry in the series is possibly the best, serving up a gut-wrenching story of loss, betrayal and longing for a safe place to call home.

While there is debate about whether Andy Serkis performance as Caesar is more human or computer, I’m not sure it matters as Caesar is perhaps one of the most complex and well developed characters in any Hollywood blockbuster and the core of that performance is purely human. Serkis, best known as the king of motion-capture characters, delivers an amazing performance as the product of a genetic experiment that becomes the leader of his kind. It is clear the toll his being the leader has taken on Caesar. Serkis’ portrays the character as if he always has a heavy load on his back. His gait is ponderous and appears difficult. The CGI that makes up Caesar’s face has more grey hair and the creases look deeper. His eyes are dark and troubled. Even when times are good for the group survival in the wilderness is hard and having to constantly be on guard has obviously worn on him. The combination of Serkis’ physical performance and the wizardry of the computer effects artists makes Caesar the epitome of the saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

While the main characters are monkeys and apes the story is so human I at times no longer saw the fur and the simian features but saw only relatable people. Serkis and the other actors portraying apes are aided by a story that could have easily been transplanted into a historical setting with which we are more familiar. Instead of apes it could have been Native Americans forced off their lands by white settlers or Jews in Europe during WWII or escaped slaves on the run in the South during the 1800’s or refugees from the war in Syria. It is a story that sadly has several parallels in world history and modern times and one that needs to be told again and again in an effort to keep it from recurring. I’m not so naïve as to think this movie or any other bit of pop culture will eventually teach us to stop treating those that are different as the enemy but it can’t hurt to try.

Woody Harrelson is great as the obsessed Colonel. He plays the part with a quiet cruelty that’s always just below the surface. While he could probably get better results by practicing a tiny amount of decency with his captive apes it isn’t within him due to his history. I won’t explain why he has such a burning hatred of the apes since that is a major spoiler but it infuses every decision the character makes and turns the Colonel into something more than a guy with a gun that doesn’t like smart monkeys. Harrelson oozes contempt for Caesar and his kind making the Colonel a villain that audiences will love to hate.

Amiah Miller’s mute child is the only human in the movie that is sympathetic and likable. Miller conveys a great deal of emotion and meaning in her silent performance. Her fear is palpable on her first meeting with the apes; but her curiosity, and Maurice’s friendly overtures, overrides any anxiety she has. Miller’s character is the audience’s only connection to humanity that is positive in the film. If her performance was too cute or too grown-up it wouldn’t resonate with the audience the way it should. Miller is a very talented young actress that does a great deal with a part that has no words.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action, some disturbing images and thematic elements. There are several battle scenes with explosions and bodies being thrown in the air. There are also shootings at close range that are more like executions. Arrows are also used as weapons and we see several people/apes hit. There are also scenes of apes tied to crosses as punishment/torture. One ape is shown strangled to death while another dies slowly after being stabbed by a bayonet. There is also discussion of the murder of the adult child of one character that is very intense.

The dark future portrayed in the “Planet of the Apes” series, from the out of control virus that decimates humanity to the loss of humanity amongst the survivors, is particularly scary as it is entirely plausible. The Black Death in the 14th century wiped out 30 to 60 percent of the population of Europe. A flu epidemic in 1918 killed more people than World War I. The highly mobile nature of the modern world makes the barriers of oceans no longer an effective way to stop the spread of highly infectious diseases. Each year there seems to be a new strain of flu, whether avian, swine or some other variety that is suggested might be the next great killer. With the over-prescribing of antibiotics creating resistant infections, it may only be a matter of time before we are faced with a similar predicament as the characters in the “Apes” trilogy. Perhaps if we should create a breed of super-intelligent apes we might treat them significantly better than the humans in the films so that we can work and live together and survive into a meaningful future. Let’s hope so.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” gets five stars.

The Big Sick

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling standup comedian in Chicago who also is an Uber driver to make ends meet. At the comedy club one evening he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) and the pair strikes up an instant attraction. Despite Emily’s protests that she is not looking for a relationship, she and Kumail continue to date for some time. Kumail’s family emigrated from Pakistan when he was 14. They believe in the old ways including arranged marriages. Frequently when Kumail is having dinner at his parents’ house, an eligible Pakistani woman about his age drops by with a photograph for his growing collection ofpotential wives. Kumail isn’t interested in finding a wife that way but fears being disowned if he tells his father Azmat (Anupam Kher) and mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) about his feelings and that he is dating a non-Pakistani woman. When Emily is over at Kumail’s apartment one night she finds the cigar box filled with the photos of potential wives. She becomes angry realizes there is probably no future with Kumail and storms out telling him to not call her again. A few days later, Kumail gets a call from one of Emily’s friends that she is in the hospital with flu-like symptoms. He goes there to be with her but she is not happy to see him. Her condition worsens and the doctors believe she needs to be put in a medically induced coma to deal with her infection. Kumail calls Emily’s parents in North Carolina and tells them about the situation. Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) arrive and, having been kept up to date about the relationship from Emily, aren’t overly friendly to Kumail. He continues to stay at the hospital and visit with Emily while also spending more time with her parents. Soon the three bond over their shared love and concern for Emily as Kumail realizes he may have made a mistake by not standing up to his parents and allowing that to end his relationship with her. With her illness continuing to baffle her doctors he may never get the chance to make things right.

“The Big Sick” is based on the true story of the relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. The pair wrote the movie and, with the help of Judd Apatow, acted as producers as well. Not many first timers would be able to wield that kind of power but with friends like Apatow and a budget that was likely $5-million or less, Nanjiani and Gordon were given the reigns on a story that only they could really tell. Amazon Studios spent $12-million on the rights at the Sundance Film Festival in what has been described at a huge deal and critics have been heaping praise on it ever since. Does it deserve all the love?

The short answer is “yes!” “The Big Sick” is something rare and special: It’s a romantic comedy that isn’t built on the stupidity or gullibility of one of the romantic pair in the story. It is a film about flawed but interesting people involved with each other but with outside pressures of family, custom and religion forcing them apart. It is also about fear, doubt, regret and redemption. It is a film about life told in a smart, honest and funny way. Like I said, it is rare and special.

The various story threads of “The Big Sick” could have become a tangled mess in less capable hands but director Michael Showalter, who was responsible for one of my favorite films from 2015, “Hello, My Name is Doris,” is able to juggle the romantic, his family, the illness, her family and the comedy club relationships giving each one just enough time and attention. It’s a masterful job of giving each aspect enough space to live but not overwhelm the rest of the story. Naturally, the important threads involve Kumail and Emily’s relationship and his reaction to her illness. That each other part of the story could be so effortlessly interwoven into the narrative is quite a feat.

Kumail Nanjiani carries “The Big Sick” with a natural charm and ease that makes you think you’re just eavesdropping on someone else’s life, not watching a movie. Nanjiani is effortlessly funny when needed like a scene where he’s having lunch with Emily’s parents in the hospital and makes a 9/11 joke that tore up the audience with which I was watching the film. Nanjiani also handles the more awkward scenes with an honesty and pain that he seems to draw from experience. A scene where he loses his mind with a fast food drive-thru worker is both funny and cringe-inducing as he comes to the realization he’s acting like a crazy person. Watching Nanjiani on “Silicon Valley” doesn’t give you the full idea of what a good actor he is. “The Big Sick” does.

Zoe Kazan is also great in the role of Emily. While she’s gone for a big chunk of the middle she makes quite an impression in the first and last third of the film. Kazan gives Emily a spunkiness and energy that is infectious. A scene where she’s embarrassed to go to the bathroom at Kumail’s apartment because he doesn’t have air freshener or matches has an exuberance that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her. Kazan also is able to go from calm to confused to angry in a few seconds very believably when she discovers the pictures of women in a cigar box. Kazan’s performance is a nice compliment to Nanjiani’s.

Both Holly Hunter and Ray Romano steal the movie out from under Nanjiani on a couple of occasions. Hunter especially is great as the pitbull mother looking to protect her daughter at every turn. Romano and Nanjiani have a couple of nice scenes together as they try to deal with the uncomfortable realities of the situation. None of the supporting performances disappoint in “The Big Sick.”

“The Big Sick” is rated R for language including some sexual references. The sexual references are fleeting and, to be honest, I don’t remember any. Foul language is common throughout.

I have listened to Nanjiani’s and Gordon’s podcast “The Indoor Kids” on the Nerdist network. While they no longer make new episodes, I would look forward to hearing about the new video game they were playing or whatever they chose to talk about. I also listened to Nanjiani’s “The X-Files Files” about his favorite TV show which also plays a small part in the movie. Having listened to the pair talk on their own podcasts and others, I must admit being strangely proud of them for getting the movie of their story made. That’s not to say I’m giving them a pass. If the movie had sucked I would have said so; but I’m glad it doesn’t. “The Big Sick” is a great date movie for a couple that is just starting out or a long term relationship that been through some stuff. For the newbies it shows that life isn’t always going to be roses and rainbows. For the veterans it is a reminder that what you might take for granted could all be taken away in an instant. Along with the lesson you get some laughs as well.

“The Big Sick” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Dunkirk” for the WIMZ website.

On this webpage I’ll be seeing one of the following:

Girls Trip—

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—

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

Review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has experienced a great deal in his 15 years: He lost his parents and lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him super strength and the ability to climb up walls, and he briefly joined the Avengers at the request of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) during the battle in Berlin. Stark is letting Peter keep the high-tech Spider-Man suit Stark gave him for that battle. Peter wants to be an Avenger but Stark thinks its best if Peter is just your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man and deal with mundane street crime in New York City. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is not your average street criminal. He was once a salvager working to clean up the mess left after the Battle of New York between the Avengers and Chitauri but he was shut down by a government agency taking over the clean-up, ruining him financially. Toomes kept some of the salvaged alien tech and began making very powerful weapons he sells on the black market. Peter, patrolling as Spider-Man, comes across a gang breaking into an ATM using some of Toomes tech and in the fight a corner store across the street from the bank is destroyed. Peter makes it his mission to find out where these weapons are coming from and follows a van containing some of the weapons when he is attacked by a man wearing jet-powered wings and with hydraulic claws on his feet. Toomes has made a flying suit with the alien tech and attacks Peter, nearly killing him. Peter is persistent and tries to capture Toomes and his gang during a weapons deal on the Staten Island Ferry that nearly leads to mass casualties. Stark, angry Peter is taking on missions that are above his experience, takes back the high tech spider suit leaving Peter feeling like a failure and unworthy of being an Avenger.

The cynical among us would look at “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as a blatant cash grab in the third version in 15 years of the character on the big screen. The hopeful among us would look at it, as the title suggests, as a homecoming of sorts for the character as Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) was directly involved in the creation of the story and allowed Tony Stark/Iron Man and Captain America to be used in this film made by Sony/Columbia Pictures. Everyone that enjoys superhero films was just hoping it would at least be an improvement over the Andrew Garfield version of the web-slinging teenager or the third Sam Raimi film. I am happy to report all is looking good in the Spider-verse.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” feels like a more hopeful and positive version of Spider-Man. Perhaps not completely rebooting the character back to the death of Uncle Ben (again) allows this version of Peter Parker to be more positive and less mired in the guilt of that character’s death. That’s not to say Peter doesn’t take the role of being a superhero seriously: If anything he takes it too seriously and devotes all his free time to waiting for a call from Stark to go on another Avengers adventure. This Peter Parker is shown living a dual existence between being a high school student with the responsibilities that entails and being a superhero looking for trouble in his neighborhood. Several times he decides he has to don his suit and face the dangers of his job while letting down his friends and classmates. He leaves a party, leaves an academic decathlon and leaves his date at the homecoming dance and most of the time despite the sacrifice of his personal life; he fails at being a hero. Even when he loses his Stark-tech-enhanced suit, he still feels the obligation to wear his amateurish homemade version and fight the bad guys. It’s his willingness to fail and not give up that makes this Spider-Man especially appealing.

Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is obviously enthusiastic about the part, being quoted in interviews saying he’d like to be the web-slinger for the next 30 years. While that’s unlikely he is contracted for a total of six films and it should be fun seeing Holland and the character grow up over time as long as the scripts and stories are good.

Michael Keaton plays perhaps the best villain in any Marvel movie. Adrian Toomes is a menacing figure with a hair-trigger temper but Keaton has the talent and intelligence to play him with a quiet menace and makes his volatility that much more frightening. A scene late in the film could be used as a convincing argument for a best supporting actor Oscar for Keaton. There’s a chance we’ll see him again in future Spider-Man films and I fear Peter Parker is in for a rough time should the Vulture be freed to fly again.

The rest of the cast is strong and provides terrific supporting performances for the leads. Zendaya is especially good as Michelle, a bookish, oddly turned classmate of Peter’s. She is always close by to provide an ego deflating comment or dose of reality for Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Marisa Tomei’s version of Aunt May is the most modern and certainly the youngest in the character’s movie history. This Aunt May is a force to be reckoned with for Peter as she isn’t easily put off or deceived. It’s also a source of humor as more than Tony Stark is shown flirting with her or expressing interest in her. There is a great deal of potential in this version of Peter’s guardian including future scenes where she is able to extract herself from trouble without the assistance of her super powered nephew.

While the film is a good mix of humor, character development and action, there are times when the action looks muddy. The CGI battles frequently occur at night, making the fast movements nearly impossible to see. While the special effects are very good during the daylight scenes the nighttime set pieces tend to get lost in the darkness.

There’s also another little thing that bothered me about “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Peter’s friend Ned discovers his secret identity (not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer) but then he can’t stop talking to Peter about it in school, constantly asking him questions even when they are surrounded by other students. If I had a secret of that size I certainly wouldn’t want my friend chatting about it out loud around other people. There are numerous situations where Ned is asking question but he isn’t being subtle and there are always people standing or sitting nearby. It is a recipe for having your secret spread all over school in no time and inevitably discovered by the super villains you fight. That really stuck out to me.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief suggestive comments and some language. There are numerous fights but no gore. One person is turned into a pile of ash by an alien weapon. Spider-Man is shown being dragged behind a van and thrown into trash cans and mailboxes. There is a plane crash and other mayhem caused by the weapons. I do not remember anything that could be considered suggestive other than some very mild comments about Aunt May. Foul language is mild and scattered.

At the end of the film we are promised Spider-Man will return. We know he’s in “Avengers: Infinity War” as well as its sequel and two more scheduled solo movies. That, along with his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” would total Tom Holland’s six contracted films as the web slinger. While it is difficult for any series of films to maintain the quality of the original, Marvel seems to be more successful at it than most. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have this Spider-Man for a while and not need to reboot the franchise for quite some time. As long as the future films are as good as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” I’m perfectly happy with that.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” gets five stars.

Three new movies open in wide release this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Big Sick—

War for the Planet of the Apes—

Wish Upon—

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