Review of “Midsommar”

Dani (Florence Pugh) has suffered an unimaginable loss when her mentally ill sister kills her parents and herself. Her emotionally distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) has been considering breaking up with Dani for a year but lacks the courage to do it. Six months after the tragedy, Dani accompanies Christian on a trip to Sweden with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Swedish native Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). The Americans are with Pelle as he returns to his small village deep in the Swedish wilderness called Harga. They are his guests for a festival in the village that is only held every 90 years. Harga is a close-knit community where everyone dresses in white, there’s a ritual for everything and nature is worshipped and revered. Josh, like Christian, is a graduate student working on his doctoral thesis. Josh is studying the summer solstice rituals of various cultures, including the version practiced in Harga. Everyone in Harga is warm and welcoming, happy to see the newcomers and looking forward to sharing their bounty and the festival with them. As the Americans see more of the festival, they are horrified by what is considered normal by the Hargans. Soon, the summer solstice festival will become a moment of truth and decision for Dani, Christian and the other visitors.

“Midsommar” is an acid trip of a movie. There are moments when fantasy and reality are indistinguishable, and images of beauty are splattered by levels of gore that I’ve rarely seen. It is a film that is both gorgeous and ugly, sweet and sour, and filled with warmth and frigidness. It is also a movie I could not take my eyes from and wanted more when it ended.

“Midsommar” is a film that is sold as a horror film but that is not true. It is a mix of genres while not being any one of them. I suppose “thriller” might be the most accurate slot in which to file the film, but that still isn’t quite right. “Midsommar” is a slow burn, presenting as a domestic drama at first before gradually oozing its way into a nightmare. It’s a film that requires patience and a willingness to allow the story to play out in its own time.

One of the most distinct things about the film is the cinematography. Vast landscapes are filmed with the love of a parent for a child. There is a shot that moves from right side up to upside down and stays inverted for a very long time. Drugs are consumed on a couple of occasions, both voluntarily and involuntarily, and that affects the way scenes are shot. There’s nothing flashy about these scenes and that’s what makes them so amazing. If you see the film you might not notice what I’m talking about, but there are moments when solid objects flow, oscillate and warp. It is done subtly but adds so much to the hallucinatory nature of these moments and the film in general.

It is also a movie that takes a close look at toxic relationships. There’s the obvious one between Dani and Christian, but there’s also the ones that surround them. Christian and Josh go from friends to enemies when Christian decides his doctoral thesis will focus on Harga, piggybacking on Josh’s research. Mark doesn’t like Dani and encourages Christian to dump her. Mark is passive-aggressive towards Dani and she feels his enmity towards her. The residents of Harga notice these cracks in their friendship and subtly use them to split the visitors apart. This could be an allegory for politics as those in power, and hoping to stay there, find the fracture lines of those that disagree with them and apply pressure to cause a fissure.

Maybe I’m looking for a meaning behind everything in this movie since I have to believe writer and director Ari Aster has that in mind. There is so much going on in both the foreground and the background, from the movements of the extras to the designs on the walls of the barn where everyone sleeps, that is clearly designed to tell the story without actually telling the story. We are given clues of what’s to come, but it just appears to be set dressing or random visuals to support how quirky the village is. All these clues of the madness to come are delivered in bright colors, mostly in daylight, and with a smile. Aster’s genius is showing you what’s going to happen without giving away any of the surprise. Even after having told you this, should you see the movie, you won’t see what’s coming. It’s a brilliant bit of film making.

The gore in the film is shocking in its suddenness and its extremeness. Usually, gore in horror movies is so over the top and expected (it’s a horror movie after all), its appearance loses some of the impact. In “Midsommar,” the gore is unexpected and is so visceral, so…gory, it is shocking while also being almost welcome. Much of what passes in movies of all genres for violence is so stylized that it loses the ability to move us. In “Midsommar,” the gore that happens early on, that tells us this isn’t your dad’s horror movie, will move you. You know something bad is about to happen, you expect what you’ve seen before, but you get something soooooooo much worse. It’s a shocking scene that works within the context of the movie despite having what’s come before being so idyllic. If you have a weak stomach, you will be tested by a couple of scenes in “Midsommar.”

“Midsommar” is rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language. I won’t go into a lengthy description of the violence and gore on display other than to say there are rocks, giant mallets and fire involved. There is a bizarre and unsexy sex scene near the end of the film. There are a couple of scenes featuring full frontal male and female nudity. Drugs are ingested both voluntarily (psychedelic mushrooms) and involuntarily. Foul language is scattered.

The reactions to some events of the film may leave you wondering why anyone would stay in the village after seeing them. I wondered that as well. There isn’t really a satisfactory answer to that question other than the characters didn’t feel like they could leave. They were guests in a friend’s home village, witnessing another culture’s ways, and some of the characters believed they should stay to absorb all the events in context before making any judgements. It doesn’t really work in my brain as a reason, but it’s the best I can come up with.

Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” is a weird experience, but one I’m glad I had. It’s a film that demands your attention but in the politest way. It lulls you into thinking this is going to be almost a travelogue then collects your passport and won’t give them back. You’re stuck with the rest of the audience as you take a journey into a Swedish “Twilight Zone” that would make creator Rod Serling say, “That’s too much!” It is visually stunning in every conceivable way and will have those willing to go for the ride with an open mind wanting more by the end. I loved “Midsommar” and need to go back and watch Aster’s “Hereditary” to see if I missed out on his madness early on.

“Midsommar” gets 5 stars.

Disney’s remake of “The Lion King” is the only new film opening this week. I’m not interested in seeing it and may either take the weekend off or see something else that I find more intriguing. Anyway, here’s the trailer:

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

Review of “Annabelle Comes Home”

After an investigation, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) bring the doll called Annabelle to their home. Lorraine figures out the doll is a beacon for spirits and the Warrens put it inside a special display case, made with glass from church, and blessed by a priest. Once the display case door is locked, Lorraine can tell the evil is contained. The display case is in a locked room along with the most dangerous items the Warrens have collected during their years of investigations. A year later, the Warrens are leaving for an overnight investigation. Their 12-year old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) will be watched over by a babysitter named Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) who will spend the night. Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) reads a newspaper article questioning whether the Warrens are frauds and learns of their paranormal past. She arrives at the Warren house after they leave with an agenda: Her father has recently died, and she hopes to contact his spirit using items from the Warren’s collection. Because of the newspaper article, Judy is being bullied at school and her friends are refusing to come to her upcoming birthday party. Judy is a sensitive to spirits like her mother and is seeing the ghost of a dead priest watching her at school. Daniela finds the keys to the locked collection room and looks around, touching numerous items and asking for a sign there’s a spirit present. Annabelle moves forward and bumps into the glass, getting Daniela’s attention. She unlocks the case and puts Annabelle back in her chair, but she forgets to lock the display case door. When she leaves the room, Annabelle again leans forward and this time, she escapes. Soon, everything in the collection room begins causing trouble for Daniela, Mary Ellen and Judy.

“Annabelle Comes Home” is the seventh entry in the “Conjuring” universe of films. Annabelle, along with the Nun, are the two big bads that have spun off into franchises of their own. Perhaps we’ll get a team-up film where the two demonic entities join forces to try and defeat the Warrens. But that’s another movie for another day. “Annabelle Comes Home” almost manages to overcome its genre conventions and tell a decent story with some scares thrown in to keep its fans happy. Sadly, almost is only good enough in hand grenades and horseshoes, and “Annabelle Comes Home” gives up the ghost as the inevitable happy ending approaches.

The main themes of the film are loss and acceptance. Katie Sarife’s Daniela is dealing with the loss of her father in a car accident. She is desperate to reconnect with her dad and get closure following his sudden passing. Her desire for contact overrides her doubt about the paranormal and her fear of the unknown. She abandons reason and safety to find peace and comfort. You see the same thing happen when the grief-stricken attempt to drown their sorrows with alcohol and/or numb their feelings with drugs. In all those examples, the pain remains, and the outcome isn’t good.

McKenna Grace’s Judy is being ostracized because of her parent’s work. She’s considered a freak and is the target of bullying at school. Judy is in a tough spot as she is about to enter her teenage years, hit puberty and get her first glimpses of adulthood. Adding parents that are the targets of public scorn and suspicion adds a nearly intolerable level of pressure for such a young and sensitive girl. Judy and Daniela begin an unlikely friendship, finding comradery in their different struggles. It’s this bonding, along with Mary Ellen, that forms the backbone of the story.

This exploration of female friendship and shared struggle is actually well done and engaging, considering this is a horror movie. The three don’t blame each other for the trouble they are facing (despite Daniela’s actions being the cause) and work together to contain Annabelle. They form their own little non-traditional family when there’s no one that can help them.

McKenna Grace gives a wonderful performance as Judy. She’s calm in the face of all the weirdness and uses what her mother has taught her about the spirit world to guide Mary Ellen and Daniela through the danger. Grace has a poise and maturity one might not expect for a 13-year old. She’s believable as the already experienced ghost buster and her character lacks the precocious snark that might be added in a less well thought out script.

While the story of female empowerment in the face of demonic threat is well done, the final act undoes most of the good work that sets it up. Director Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote the script with producer James Wan, falls back on haunted house scares in an overstuffed finale. Several things in the Warren’s collection get a moment in the moonlight as the film turns up the attempted scares per minute to maximum. I say attempted because nothing much in the film causes the pulse to quicken even a little bit. An early scene with spirits coming from a graveyard is effective, but that’s about all that managed to startle me. The movie does a good job of building tension but never quite pays it off, then it throws everything at the audience in a frenetic ending that becomes tiresome.

“Annabelle Comes Home” is rated R for horror violence and terror. There are some blood-covered ghosts, a werewolf, a horned demon, corpses with coins on their eyes and the spirit that guides them to the afterlife, the ghost of a priest with very dark eyes and a cursed suit of samurai armor. We see part of an exorcism, a stabbing, a werewolf tries to kill a character, a ghost pukes itself into the mouth of another character, a demonic TV shows a bloody future for one character and a demon tries to suck the soul out of a character. There is also some ghostly throwing of characters in various scenes. Foul language is mild and only occurs two or three times. Why the film got an R rating is a mystery.

Looking at my review of “Annabelle: Creation,” I have many of the same opinions about that film as I do “Annabelle Comes Home.” Both films have quality performances from young actresses but waste their efforts by building tension and setting up scares, but never delivering quality frights. This film tries to have quantity instead of quality as it throws everything at the audience in the last 20 minutes in hopes to score some scares, but the lackluster boogiemen won’t threaten anyone’s bladder control.

The “Conjuring” films and their spinoffs are wildly successful, taking in a worldwide gross so far of over $1.7 billion on films with a combined production budget of $139 million. That’s about 13 times return on investment. People keep paying to see these films, so the studio will keep making them. I haven’t found any of the films I’ve seen in the series to be very scary and “The Nun” was laughably bad. Perhaps I’m too jaded or too old to be affected by these films the way the makers intended, but scary should be scary no matter how old I get, and this film just isn’t scary.

“Annabelle Comes Home” gets three stars out of five.

A superhero and horror are on tap for the holiday week with both films opening prior to the weekend. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Spider-Man: Far from Home—

Midsommer—

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

Review of “Dark Phoenix”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dark Phoenix” gets five stars.

I’ll be reviewing “Shaft” for WIMZ.com.

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

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

Review of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”

Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) works with the Monarch project. She and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) live near a Monarch facility in China, where an egg of the larval form of Mothra is about to be born. Dr. Russel has designed and built a device called Orca that emits audio signals that can attract, aggravate and placate creatures like Mothra and Godzilla. Monarch has discovered there are nearly 20 Titans scattered around the planet, most of them in hibernation. After Mothra breaks out of its egg, eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) and his mercenaries attack the Monarch facility and kill everyone except the Russell’s. He takes them and the Orca. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is testifying before a congressional committee when he’s informed about the attack in China. He contacts Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), Emma’s ex-husband and Madison’s father. He left Monarch after a family tragedy caused by Godzilla and he wants all the Titans to be killed. He joins with the military and Monarch technology director Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch) going after Jonah hoping to retrieve Orca and save his ex-wife and daughter before Jonah can release a three-headed creature Emma refers to as Monster Zero: King Ghidorah.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a visually spectacular film. The creatures are amazing to look at. I wish there had been a scene where images of the monsters were frozen, and the audience is taken on a visual tour of each creature. With four main monsters and four or five secondary creatures, fans of the original Toho “Godzilla” films should find plenty to love in the film. Sadly, those hoping for a more well-rounded movie with a coherent story will be disappointed.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” has what 2014’s “Godzilla” lacked: More Godzilla. We also get plenty of King Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan. Perhaps this is too much of a good thing as the various kaiju battles begin to all look alike after the second or third clash. Granted, the first few fights are between different combinations of Titans, but the general look of each fight becomes familiar. The fights are also dark and frequently shown up close, so it’s easy to lose track of which beast is doing what. It’s the kind of issue I have with some fights between humans in movies, and it’s probably done for the same reason: To hide things that don’t look as good as the film makers want them to.

While it is an embarrassment of riches with the number of monsters and their amount of screen time, the weakest part of the film is the human story. There are numerous human characters, each with their own moments to shine and most with their specific stories and none of them is very interesting. The fractured family dynamic between the Russell’s feels tired and recycled from 1000 other movies. The film, written by director Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, is probably trying to give us characters we can relate to. With all the madness of giant monsters battling all over the planet and likely killing millions, the script is trying to make us connect with a divorced and grieving couple and their daughter when their drama is the least important part of the story.

Eco-terrorist Jonah is under-developed, and his motivation is best described as murky. He’s clearly the bad guy as he’s British and carries himself with an air of superiority, but he’s a blank slate with a line or two of dialog to explain his reasons for his actions. It doesn’t make much sense and fails to justify his violent attacks.

The history and purpose of the Titans gets more fleshed out in this film and that also doesn’t make much sense. Without giving too much away, the Titans are the original apex predator on Earth and have for some reason gone dormant. Our nuclear tests in the 1940’s and beyond awakened Godzilla as he feeds on radiation. All the Titans, except for one, bow down to Godzilla and follow his lead. Why don’t the Titans annihilate humanity and claim the planet for themselves? Our weapons have no effect on them, so they could easily wipe us out. Godzilla seems to be our protector, but why? All humans did in the first film was try to kill him. He doesn’t appear to be capable of higher cognitive functions, and in this film acts on instinct, so why has Godzilla apparently adopted humans as his pets he’d die to protect? I’d love a web series or section of the next film that would explain in a logical way why Godzilla chooses to be our hero, because so far there’s no reason.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, some language. There are numerous fights between various combinations of kaiju. One of the monsters is beheaded. Another is impaled with a stinger. There are various other injuries suffered by the monsters. We see several people shot in an attack early in the film. We see scattered dead bodies at another location. Foul language is scattered, and the film uses its one allowed “F-bomb.”

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” isn’t terrible. It just isn’t great. The film falls into a trap of depending on lots of CGI monster battles and using a tired storyline for the human characters. Initial reports from early screenings indicated the film was spectacular. Visually, it is. However, the film gets dull in spite of the massive kaiju battles. It’s fine, but it should have been much, much more.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is gets three stars out of five.

The last chapter for a franchise and an animated sequel opens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Dark Phoenix—

The Secret Life of Pets 2—

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

Review of “Brightburn”

Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are a childless couple trying to get pregnant when an explosion rocks their farmhouse in Brightburn, Kansas. Investigating, they find what looks like a spaceship and inside is a baby boy. They raise the child as their own. When the boy turns 12, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) becomes more aggressive, overreacts to perceived insults from his schoolmates and talks back to his parents. Brandon is also hearing voices in his sleep. The voices are coming from the spaceship his adoptive parents keep under lock and key in the barn. At night, it glows and speaks to Brandon in an alien language. Brandon is also developing powers. He can fly, is incredibly strong and can shoot heat rays from his eyes. People around Brightburn begin disappearing and dying with a mysterious symbol appearing near each scene. Tori and Kyle are at odds over what to do about Brandon. And Brandon is continuing to learn about his powers and making plans for a possibly dark future.

“Brightburn” is the origin story of Superman if the last son of Krypton was a psychopath. There are so many similarities to Superman’s story I’m surprised Warner Brothers and DC Comics didn’t sue Sony and producers James Gunn and Kenneth Huang for copyright violation. Perhaps a deal was worked out quietly and in advance to prevent any litigation. However it happened, “Brightburn” features a superpowered villain in a world of mortals. That is perhaps both a strength and a weakness.

The special effects in “Brightburn” look great considering the film was made for a paltry $6 million. Granted, when Brandon uses his abilities, he is frequently only shown as a blur or in darkness. There are also a few effects that look flat or stick out because they don’t equal some we’ve already seen. However, the visuals in the film are mostly impressive.

Brandon’s heat vision looks much like Henry Cavill’s Superman. The beams are rough around the edges and have a similar appearance to flame throwers, but somewhat more under control. It is used in a couple of very sinister ways, once to open a locked freezer door as shown in the trailer, and once to kill a person.

There are some gory moments in the film. The scene in a diner where a woman pulls a shard of glass out of her eye is shown in the trailer, but there are a couple of other far gorier deaths in the film. One involves a car crash and the other is the heat vision death I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Brandon also displays one of his kills in a way that shows he’s proud of his work, but also shows he needs enormous amounts of therapy and should be buried up to his neck in whatever his equivalent of Kryptonite is.

Where the production clearly didn’t spend any money was on the spaceship Brandon arrived in. It looks like something you’d see at a carnival to promote a futuristic ride and slapped together from leftover parts. It is squat, round and bulbous with lights evenly spaced over its exterior. Think of a mushroom only less sleek. I don’t know why the ship looks so bad when everything else looks good.

“Brightburn” borrows some horror movie tropes. Brandon will appear in the background and then disappear. His impending evil is often preceded by sinister or tense music. He will walk through a room when his potential victims are unaware of his presence. Brandon also has a flat affect, showing no emotion when his parents are talking to him about a tragedy and hiding his true feelings to lull them into thinking everything is alright. With his sweet face and youth, Brandon is the ultimate creepy child once his true nature is revealed.

Brandon is torn between two worlds: The world of his parents and community in small-town Kansas, and the alien world he came from. While his human parents probably want Brandon to finish high school, go to college, get a good job, marry and have some kids, his alien parents or creators have a plan for him that is vastly different. Despite his 12 years of human upbringing, his alien programming is stronger, likely written into his DNA. He tells his mom he wants to be good, but his true nature clearly makes it easy for him to be bad. There are times he appears to enjoy inflicting pain and causing destruction. There are also times he seems to lose control and acts out of anger. Either way, Brandon is not on a mission of peace from his home world.

I would have liked to have seen a heroic counterpart to Brandon’s villain. Another alien baby that landed in another state and, when he or she comes into their powers, senses Brandon and the two battle. Maybe that’s slated for any possible sequels should “Brightburn” prove profitable.

“Brightburn” is rated R for language and horror violence/bloody images. A woman gets a glass shard in her eye and pulls it out. A classmate of Brandon has her hand broken by the boy in retaliation. A character’s car is picked up and crashed into the ground by Brandon, causing a gory and bloody injury to the driver. A deputy is beaten into a bloody pulp while the sheriff is blasted into small pieces. A character has a hole burned through his head by heat vision. A character is dropped from a great height to their death. A nude body is shown hanging on the wall with a large open wound in the midsection. There are also mutilated chickens. Foul language is scattered.

“Brightburn” could be the beginning of a dark superhero franchise, or it could be a one off. I see potential for expanding the story to include other alien super beings, both evil and good, but I can also see this tale being all the story that needs to be told. “Brightburn” is self-contained and gives the audience a peek at what follows the movie with some brief scenes cut into the credits. There’s also Michael Rooker portraying an internet conspiracy theorist warning the world of Brandon and other evil creatures that also sound familiar to well-known superheroes. That could be a tease for an expanded universe, or a button on a finished story. Either way, “Brightburn” is a good introduction to a super villain that left me wanting more…in a good way.

“Brightburn” gets four stars out of five.

Monsters, suspense and music will be filling screens at your local multiplex. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Godzilla: King of the Monsters—

Ma—

Rocketman—

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

Review of “Pokemon Detective Pikachu”

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) lives in a small village outside Ryme City. He’s informed his father Harry, a private detective in the bustling, high-tech city, had died in a car crash while on a case. Tim and Harry weren’t close as Harry had moved to Ryme City after the death of Tim’s mother, leaving the boy in the care of his grandmother. Tim felt abandoned and wanted nothing to do with his father. Tim goes to Ryme City’s police department to see Lt. Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) and get the keys to his father’s apartment. Tim is checking his father’s mail when he’s approached by a junior reporter named Lucy (Kathryn Newton). She is working on a story about a mysterious surge in Pokemon attacks that somehow involves Harry. In Harry’s apartment, Tim finds a Pikachu. The weird thing is, Tim can hear what Pikachu is saying, which is unheard of. This Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is Harry’s partner, but is suffering from amnesia. Ryme City was founded by billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy). In Ryme City, humans and Pokemon live together in harmony with no Pokeballs and no battles. Clifford is suffering from a degenerative neurological disease and is trying to find a cure by studying Pokemon. His son Roger Clifford (Chris Geere) has taken over much of his father’s businesses, including a news network Lucy works for. Tim wants nothing to do with investigating whatever Harry was looking into despite the urging of Pikachu. It’s only when it appears Harry may not be dead that Tim joins with Pikachu to investigate Harry’s last case, one that may completely change the relationship between humans and Pokemon.

I was too old to get into Pokemon when it came to American airwaves on the Kids WB back in the late 1990’s. It also isn’t something that I believe would have interested me if it had come along at a more appropriate age. It’s a story that has no discernible ending and no purpose other than to pit these animals against each other for the glory of the trainer. It has a stink of animated cock fighting that I’ve always found objectionable. There’s not much battling in “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” and that makes a big difference for me. It’s also a plus that Ryan Reynolds provides the voice for Pikachu and gives the cute yellow electrified Pokemon enough mature edge to keep adults interested in what is a kids’ movie.

The extensive integration of digital characters with the human actors looks very good for the most part. There are some scenes where the people are clearly interacting with nothing but trying to look like they are working with something three dimensional. This is especially obvious when there are several small Pokemon climbing on a character or attacking a character. I think it’s the lack of weight and the missing reaction to that weight that makes some of these scenes noticeable. When humans and Pokemon are walking together or otherwise interacting, the eye lines and occasional contact between them is believable.

There is also an effort to add depth to the story by making it about a grown son that feels abandoned by his father. This isn’t examined very deeply but provides the basis for a somewhat moving scene where Tim begins to accept the death of his father. Justice Smith delivers a very good performance as a young man struggling to find his way in the world without both of his parents. The script doesn’t spend a great deal of time studying how Tim’s father’s leaving has hurt him, but it does show a young man that seems lost and without direction. In this world where everyone has a Pokemon partner, Tim can’t invest the time and emotion into getting close to one. The implication is he fears the Pokemon will leave him like his father did and he doesn’t want to take the chance of getting hurt again. While it barely scratches the surface of something deeper, the film at least tries to throw some emotion into a fantasy adventure movie.

Ryan Reynolds is the only thing that might attract adults without children to “Pokemon Detective Pikachu.” Unless they have fond memories of collecting the trading cards or playing the various video games, those unfamiliar with Pokemon and the various creatures may find themselves overwhelmed and a bit lost. Reynolds voicing Pikachu is the gateway for those of us that are pocket monster illiterate. Reynolds provides a bit of mature snark to the fuzzy yellow Pikachu. His comic riffs and asides make every scene with Pikachu completely watchable and entertaining. I would probably watch another film with just Pikachu, voiced by Reynolds, walking around and commenting on things he sees in Ryme City. Reynolds seems to enjoy providing voices for characters that are hidden behind masks or otherwise hide his face. Perhaps that is freeing and allows him to explore his imagination and sense of humor and improvise lines he discovers in the moment. That’s easier on the “Deadpool” films as those are live action and the character’s snarky lines aren’t reacted to by the other characters other than an eyeroll. With the animated Pikachu, Reynolds probably had to stay more on script since his lines were performed on set by another actor. Reynolds then voiced the character that then needed to be animated. Still, there are scenes where Reynolds appears to be winging it and they are very funny despite his not being able to use the kind of colorful language allowed in the R-rated “Deadpool.”

“Pokemon Detective Pikachu” is rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor, action/peril and thematic elements. Pikachu suggests he passed gas in one scene. There is a scene where Pikachu is injured that caused some tears and sniffling in the audience. The Earth seems to be trying to kill Tim, Lucy, Pikachu and Psyduck in one scene. There is a violent car crash that is shown at least four times. Pokemon become violent when exposed to a gas on a couple of occasions. Pikachu battle Charizard. Foul language is limited to one “Hell” and one “damn.”

Do those adults that know nothing about Pokemon need to take a crash course in the various types of pocket monsters they’ll be seeing? No. Just accept you’ll be exposed to numerous types of fantastical animals that are both familiar and strange and just let it wash over you like all the unnamed aliens you see in “Star Wars” and other sci-fi films. While on-screen labels would have been nice for the uninitiated, knowing their names and powers isn’t important as the film isn’t about the Pokemon, but about Tim, the search for his father, and the mystery at the center of Harry’s last case. It also helps that the movie is funny, moving and entertaining. Who cares what a Squirtle or a Bulbasaur can do?

“Pokemon Detective Pikachu” gets five stars.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” for WIMZ.com.

Other movies coming out this week:

A Dog’s Journey—

The Sun is Also a Star—

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

Review of “Long Shot”

Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) has plans to run for President in 2024; however, when former TV actor, President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), tells Charlotte he plans on leaving office after his first term to act in movies, she moves her ambitions up to 2020. Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is an investigative journalist whose small liberal Brooklyn-based newspaper has been purchased by conservative billionaire media mogul Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis) and Fred quits his job in protest. Fred’s best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson) takes him on a night on the town to cheer him up. The wind up at a fund raiser for the World Wildlife Fund where Charlotte is also in attendance. Charlotte and Fred knew each other growing up as they lived next door to each other. Fred had a crush on young Charlotte and even kissed her, leading to an embarrassing reaction. Charlotte and Fred talk briefly where they reconnect over their shared past. Wembley is there and Fred confronts him then falls down a flight of stairs. Charlotte wants to add Fred to her staff as a speech writer, much to the chagrin of her assistant Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael) who thinks Fred is too big a risk to her fledgling campaign. As they travel and work together, Fred and Charlotte develop an affection for one another that goes beyond friendship and could derail her presidential ambitions.

“Long Shot” asks a great deal of its audience, namely believing Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen are convincing as a romantic couple. While the film takes a few shortcuts to get the pair to fall in love, screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah do a good job of building a world where these two could be a couple. They also include some very funny situations and good jokes to smooth the way.

Charlize Theron is amazing in the movie. She comes across as a legitimate and polished government official and she can be very funny. Theron has proven in “Young Adult,” “Tully” and “Gringo” she has the comedy chops to steal any film from her costars and she does that in “Long Shot.” While Rogen has his moments, Theron is given the best lines and delivers them with gusto. A sex scene where she makes requests that shock Rogen’s Fred is a brilliant bit of role reversal that Theron delivers with the proper amount of lust and intensity, so you believe that’s what she wants, and she means to get it.

Theron also has the gravitas to make the scenes of Charlotte carrying out her duties ring true. Her walking through the halls of the White House, going over the schedule with her aides or dealing with a crisis in another part of the world, reminded me of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing,” except when she’s tripping on Molly and having to deal with a third world dictator. That’s more like a Rogen comedy than a Sorkin drama. That scene still works because of Theron and her ability to convincingly play a person on drugs holding it together to get past the emergency while trying to convince everyone else she isn’t high. It’s a scene that could have derailed the whole film, but Theron makes us believe Charlotte is capable and experienced enough to pull it off.

Rogen is mostly playing his usual man-child, but the script plays to that strength and makes the character increasingly self-aware. There are actual moments of growth and maturity for Rogen’s Fred as the story progresses. It’s not the kind of performance that will win any awards, but this is one of Seth Rogen’s better performances.

If the movie has an issue, it’s the high-mindedness of Charlotte. Perhaps I’m too cynical when it comes to politicians, but I simply couldn’t believe a decision Charlotte makes near the end of the film. I won’t give it away, but Charlotte chooses a path that is political suicide and does so for love. Actually, that mostly gives it away, but it’s a rom-com, so you know something along that line has to happen. Anyway, Charlotte’s decision is the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen in real life. It especially wouldn’t have the positive outcome as it does in the film. It’s the kind of thing we would hope our leaders would do, but they don’t.

“Long Shot” is rated R for strong sexual content, some drug use and language throughout. Along with the aforementioned sex scene, we see the outcome of a moment of self-pleasure along with discussions of a sexual nature. Fred and Charlotte take Molly, and at a security check point, Fred empties his pockets showing us he’s carrying several drugs. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Seth Rogen is frequently in films where his character is paired with a woman that is, based on looks alone, out of his league. “Knocked Up,” “Neighbors” and its sequel, “The Green Hornet,” and “Like Father” (a Netflix film), all pair Rogen with very attractive women as his love interest. I suppose this is part of the underdog theme that runs through most of his films, showing even the messy schlub can find happiness with a put-together and attractive woman. It’s just another part of the film that stretches credibility to near breaking point, but the script makes this “Beauty and the Beast” scenario work. It’s a minor miracle.

“Long Shot” gets five stars.

It’s a full slate of films opening this week, hoping you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” as many times as you can stand and looking for something different to watch. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Hustle—

Pokemon Detective Pikachu—

Poms—

Tolkien—

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