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Review of “Fist Fight”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fist Fight” gets five guitars.

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

Collide—

Get Out—

Rock Dog—

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

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Review of “The LEGO Batman Movie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cure for Wellness—

Fist Fight—

The Great Wall—

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

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Review of “Rings”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rings” gets two stars out of five.

Fifty Shades Darker—

John Wick: Chapter Two—

The LEGO Batman Movie—

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

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Review of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter”

Alice (Milla Jovovich) emerges from the bunker under the White House to a destroyed Washington D. C. Stumbling amongst the ruins, Alice hears a noise and follows it inside a building. There she finds a computer printer spitting out “Hello Alice” over and over again. The hologram of the Red Queen (Ever Gabo Anderson) appears and tells Alice the human race is down to less than 5,000 people after 10 years of the T-virus ravaging the population. In 48 hours the final enclaves of humanity will be overrun by the infected. There is an anti-virus in the Hive back in Raccoon City that if released in the air would kill any person infected with the T-virus, including Alice. Alice doubts the Red Queen’s word but the computer program tells her all will be revealed once she arrives at the Hive. Alice finds a car that runs and begins the nearly 500 mile journey back to Raccoon City but her car runs over a spike strip and crashes. She begins searching for another mode of transportation and sees an Umbrella Corporation motorcycle under an overpass. She assumes it’s a trap and she’s right as her foot is caught and she is hauled upside down and surrounded by Umbrella Corp. troops. After quickly dispatching the soldiers she hops on the motorcycle and is hit with an electric shock knocking her out. She awakens inside a large armored transport carrier and is met by Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen) who she thought she had killed but it actually was a clone. Isaacs is also heading for Raccoon City with an army of the undead behind him. He plans on wiping out any remaining humans in the city. Alice manages to escape and steal another motorcycle and race ahead to Raccoon City. When she arrives she encounters a group of survivors including Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). Alice and the survivors defend Raccoon City from the hordes of undead but see two more groups headed there way. They head for the entrance to the Hive in hopes of releasing the anti-virus and stopping the end of humanity. Meanwhile Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) is trying to keep Alice and her friends from reaching the cure and discovering the truth buried deep within the Hive.

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is the seventh film in the franchise. Much like the other installments I’ve seen, this one is an incoherent mess filled with choppy action, a meaningless story and logic holes that, if thought about for a few seconds, would cause the entire franchise to collapse into a heap. In other words, the seventh in the “Resident Evil” series is just about as bad as it gets.

One of my consistent complaints about the franchise is the action scenes. The fights are shot with the camera practically between the combatants. This leads to a massive number of edits with individual shots often lasting less than a second. Add to that a camera that seems to be bolted to a paint can shaker and you have a nearly unwatchable and practically nausea-inducing fight scene. At first I thought his might be an effort to hide Milla Jovovich’s lack of fighting skills or bad CGI monsters. Now I believe it is just a preference by director Paul W.S. Anderson. Does he think it looks cool? Is he trying to give his editor a challenge? Is he hoping for some kind of technical award from the Oscars? I’m not sure what the reason is but it makes watching one of these action scenes nearly impossible.

Anderson also wrote the script which probably explains why the story is just as choppy as the action. I suppose with seven films worth of loose ends to tie up it only makes sense that some items get more screen time than others; but Anderson has also thrown in whole new aspects of the story including a twist or two that renders any other plot elements meaningless. Of course the story is the least important aspect of these films. It is after all based on a video game so the visuals, the monsters, the fantasy of it is far more important to get right. The story is merely a scaffold on which to hang the action set pieces. Sadly, as stated earlier, the action is difficult to watch and the story is just as bad.

There are also some major lapses of logic in the movie and the series as a whole. The entirety of human civilization has collapsed. As “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” opens it’s been 10 years since the outbreak of the virus. Despite all this time and the human population being down to 5,000 uninfected people, Alice is still able to randomly find not one but two vehicles that run and still have fuel. Where is this fuel coming from? Even if it somehow managed to be kept from evaporating (perhaps in underground tanks), how does it get pumped into the vehicles? Are there still people manning power stations? Batteries and generators would have long ago run out of charge and fuel but the electricity would need to come from somewhere. Anytime Alice or another character finds a gun, there is also ammo for it. Who’s making the ammo? Does the mysterious person working at the power station then also work in an ammunition plant? I realize I’m once again thinking too much about the minutiae but these things bothered me throughout the film. I suppose this is just a sign of how bad the movie is.

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is rated R for violence throughout. I could spend hours describing all the ways people and the infected die in this film but here’s a short list: Gasoline explosion, decapitation, shooting, stabbing, eaten alive, chopped up by a massive exhaust fan, Claymore detonation, multiple bomb blasts, clone-on-clone attack and knife through the head to name just a few. Foul language is surprisingly minimal.

While the title “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” implies this is the last film in the series, I believe that is a lie…or a misdirection. Watching this abomination of a movie all the way through to its conclusion will show the viewer that more mayhem is likely on the way if the box office indicates enough interest. I personally would prefer a T-virus infection and mutation into one of the winged critters seen in the film. At least then I could fly away from the next catastrophe in this franchise to hit the big screen.

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” gets one star out of five.

This week another franchise gets something of a reboot and a love story that crosses from one planet to another arrives it your local multiplex. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Rings—

The Space Between Us—

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

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Review of “Split”

Many of us contain many versions of ourselves. There’s the selfish version that takes the last piece of pizza, the giving version that makes charitable donations, the angry version that plots revenge, the calm version that lets slights roll off the back and so and so on. Most of us have all these versions combined into a single personality; but there are a few unfortunate souls that have had their psyche shattered into two or more different and distinct personalities by traumatic experiences that come to the forefront and take control of the body. At least, that’s what the doctor treating a mentally disturbed patient in the movie “Split” believes. To enjoy the film you have to buy in to the diagnosis. It helps that a very good actor is giving life to these various personas.

Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) suffered extreme emotional and physical abuse as a child from his mother. The result of this abuse is Kevin has 23 distinct and identifiable personalities. His psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) has a controversial theory about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): She believes the damage Kevin suffered opened up the potential of the brain allowing him and others sharing his condition to more fully access parts of his mind that are hidden from the rest of us. She believes Kevin is doing better as he’s had a job for some time without incident; however, Kevin has recently abducted three young women from the parking lot of a restaurant. Marcia, Claire and Casey (Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson and Anya Taylor-Joy) are rendered unconscious by a gas and taken by Kevin to his underground residence. Kevin, in his personality of Dennis, tells the girls they are food for the Beast but he doesn’t elaborate on what that means. Another personality, Patricia, tells the girls that Dennis is not allowed to harm them as they are meant for a higher purpose. Both Marcia and Claire attempt to escape and get locked in separate rooms apart from Casey. Casey attempts to talk to and befriend another personality named Hedwig, a nine-year old child. Despite all her efforts, Casey can’t get away and may soon discover if the Beast is real or not.

While the diagnosis of DID is somewhat controversial in the psychiatric community, James McAvoy leaves no doubt as to whether his character has the disorder in “Split.” McAvoy is fearless in his portrayal of Kevin’s various personalities. Whether it is the prim and proper Patricia, the OCD-afflicted Dennis or the precocious child Hedwig, McAvoy pours his all into each character. It is a fantastic performance that never strays into caricature or cheap theatrics. Each personality has its individual quirks and mannerisms and an easily identifiable voice. This helps to sell the entire premise of the movie. Should Kevin and his personalities not be believable the entire film falls apart.

And “Split” doesn’t fall apart. Well, it does a little bit but not from poor performances by McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley or any of the rest or the cast. The fault I see in “Split” is more in the way it never seems to be about anything specific. We are given lots of points to pay attention to with the mentally ill man, the abducted teenage girls and the caring doctor. There seems to be a point where the story is headed with the Beast, whatever that is, but overall “Split” never feels focused on one storytelling goal. Loose ends are left in a conclusion that feels more settled on than decided. A sequel is hinted at that might include at least one character from one of director M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier films, creating a cinematic universe. While I’m not against this idea I believe it lessens the impact of “Split.” It takes a strong story and sacrifices its conclusion with the hope of more movies in the future. Considering how well “Split” did at the box office in its opening weekend (early estimates put domestic box office at $40-million on a $10-million budget) the likelihood of a sequel seems high; however, I believe this film could have been quite a bit better had it been given a proper finish.

“Split” is rated PG-13 for some language, disturbing thematic content, disturbing behavior and violence. Without giving too much away, there is a tiny bit of gore briefly flashed during some of the final scenes. A woman is crushed to death. A character is shot twice with a shotgun. There is an implication of child sexual abuse. Foul language is widely scattered.

After a rough patch with some very bad movies (the end of “Signs,” “Lady in the Water,” “The Village,” “The Happening,” “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth”) writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has come back with two strong, low-budget efforts in “The Visit” and “Split.” I can only hope he continues to find his way back to his heyday (“Unbreakable,” “The Sixth Sense” and most of “Signs”). With any luck he’ll stay the course.

“Split” gets four guitars out of five.

Three new movies this week run the gamut from a family film with some controversy to what we are being told is the last entry in a long running franchise. I’ll see and review one of the following:

A Dog’s Purpose—

Gold—

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter—

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

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Review of “The Bye Bye Man”

College is a time of experimentation. A time to spread wings and test limits. You are in between childhood and adulthood. You can vote, go off to war, own property, legally drink alcohol (if you’re old enough, illegally otherwise), find your true love and get your heart broken…several times. It can be a wondrous, clarifying and confusing time. And if you’re not careful it can also be when you get an evil entity attached to you that leads to the deaths of everyone around you. They don’t mention that in the university catalogs.

Elliot, Sasha and John (Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas and Lucien Laviscount) are college buddies looking to get out of the dorms and live off campus. Elliot and Sasha are dating and John has been his best friend since they were children. They look at an old house for rent that Sasha finds creepy but Elliot and John think is perfect. After moving in and getting all the furniture out of the basement, Elliot finds a large coin on the floor near a night table. When he puts the coin back in the drawer it immediately hits the floor again. When he takes the drawer out of the table to look for holes he finds writing on the paper covering the bottom that says “Don’t Think It. Don’t Say It” over and over again. Pulling the paper out of the drawer he sees words scratched into the bottom that read “The Bye Bye Man.” Thinking nothing of it, he goes downstairs. Sasha’s friend Kim (Jenna Kanell) claims to be sensitive to the spirit world and the four have a séance. Kim says something dark is coming and Elliot says “The Bye Bye Man” causing the candle in the middle of the table to go out and Kim to fall to the floor. That night, Elliot sees images in the dark and hears strange scratching noises. He also begins to suspect John and Sasha are having an affair behind his back. John starts to become more aggressive and Sasha gets sick. With all the strange things going on Elliot decides to investigate what the Bye Bye Man is and what he discovers will change the course of everyone’s life.

While “The Bye Bye Man” sounds like an interesting concept for a film (say the bad guy’s name and he invades your thoughts, making you lose your mind and become a killer) the way it is pulled off takes any promise of scares and grinds them under the heel of a poorly written script, bad acting and a villain limited in just how evil he can be by pure numbers.

If you give any horror movie much thought there is a theoretical limit as to how much damage an evil creature can do. That is made blatantly apparent in “The Bye Bye Man.” The only way his evil can spread is if you hear or say his name and with one possible exception the only people killed in the film are those that said or heard the name. That means if everyone that says the name is killed or kills themselves the Bye Bye Man has no power as he feeds off the fears of the infected. At the beginning of the film we see he hasn’t been active since 1969 for that very reason. It’s the same numerical flaw that affects vampire movies: If everyone is turned into a vampire from whom do the vampires feed? If the entire world is infected by the Bye Bye Man and they all kill each other off then he has no fears on which to feed. The character of the Bye Bye Man is a victim of his own effectiveness and a poorly thought out design.

That could be forgiven if the rest of the movie wasn’t such a train wreck. All the actors, including in small roles Carrie-Anne Moss and the legendary Faye Dunaway, appear to be flailing away without a real clue of how they are supposed to behave. Cressida Bonas is particularly painful to watch as she looks like she was plucked from a recent high school production of “Our Town.” Even her fake cough is poorly done. The only person who does a decent job is Doug Jones in the title role. Wearing what looks like a couple of pounds of plastic on his face, Jones is menacing in his limited screen time including providing the only decent scare of the entire film that happens fairly early on. He has no lines which makes him the most fortunate of all the actors.

The script written by three-time “Survivor” contestant Jonathon Penner is clunky and filled with far too much exposition and not enough scares. A past appearance of the Bye Bye Man gets rehashed throughout the film as we see bits and pieces of his prior mayhem. No one says anything in the film that I believe would ever come out of the mouths of real people.

The whole film looks amateurish like it was made as a favor and was never planned as a wide release. There is some particularly bad CGI of a burning house near the conclusion of the film as well as a very cheap looking CGI demon dog. It feels like no one was quite sure what they were doing while making the movie and this is the result.

“The Bye Bye Man” is rated PG-13 for terror, horror violence, bloody images, teen drinking, partial nudity, thematic elements, sexual content and some language. I think putting “terror” in the list is a bit of an overstatement but there it is. We see a woman hit by a car causing a roll-over accident, several people are shot but only one could be considered the least bit gory and a few people are shown in pools of blood. We see a body dropped from the upstairs and land at the foot of the stairs. There’s a fantasy image of a badly beaten woman who has come back to life and is chasing a character. There’s a brief scene of a person who has been burned in a fire. There are two brief moments of sexuality with sounds coming through a door and an oddly shot scene near the end. There is no graphic nudity. Foul language is scattered and limited to the “s-word.”

While I’m not sure how, “The Bye Bye Man” looks like it will double its listed production budget of $7.4-million in its first weekend of release. The horror community must be desperate for something, anything to watch in theatres. It could have been more entertaining with a better thought out villain, a better script and better actors. In other words, if they had made a completely different movie with a totally different cast it might have been better. Since they didn’t we are stuck with this hairball of a movie. Don’t waste your time and never say hello to “The Bye Bye Man.”

“The Bye Bye Man” gets one guitar out of five.

It’s a busy week for new films and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

20th Century Women—

The Founder—

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone—

Split—

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage—

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

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Review of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The relaunch of “Star Wars” last year with “The Force Awakens” and plans to release other films that filled in backstory for some main characters and events had some people asking the question, “Is this too much ‘Star Wars’?” As long as films like “Rogue One” are what’s coming out of Lucasfilm and Disney Studios the answer is a resounding “NO!”

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) in an angry and directionless young woman. Her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken by Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to oversee the building of the Empire’s massive planet-killing weapon called the Death Star when Jyn was a small child. In the process, Jyn saw her mother killed by Krennic’s Death Troopers. Hiding in a prearranged location, Jyn is rescued by a friend of her parents named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who is a leader in the growing resistance movement against the Empire. Now an adult, Jyn lives under a false name and does whatever is necessary to survive. Captured using forged documents, Jyn is being held at an Imperial work camp when she is freed by a group of Rebels and brought before the resistance council. She is told her father is still alive and working on a massive weapon for the Empire. An Imperial freighter pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has recently defected and has information about the new weapon but is being held by Gerrera who is now waging his own personal war against the Empire and is no longer affiliated with the main group. The council wants Jyn to be a bridge between the two factions and get Gerrera to give them access to what the pilot knows. Taking her to Bodhi’s location will be Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a reprogrammed Imperial droid called K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Arriving on the planet Jedah, the rebels find it crawling with Imperial troops and ships. They try to keep a low profile but soon become involved in a fight started by some of Gerrera’s soldiers. During this fight they meet Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind former guard at the now overrun Jedi temple, and his friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Both men are handy in a fight and quickly help in taking out the Imperial troops; but they are all captured by Gerrera’s men. Jyn and Gerrera have an awkward reunion and he shows her a holographic message recorded by Galen and smuggled out by the pilot. Galen talks about why he built the weapon and that he knows a way to destroy it. He also talks of his love for Jyn and hopes that she is still alive. Just then the Death Star enters orbit over Jedah and targets the city near where Jyn and the other rebels are as both a low-power test and a demonstration of the awful weapon the Empire possesses.

That entire plot synopsis happens early in the film. The really exciting and “OH WOW” stuff doesn’t happen until later. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is packed with excellent story, action, adventure, humor and more. It may be the best film in the entire canon.

Starting with the visuals, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a masterpiece. The special effects are integrated seamlessly with the real backgrounds as the production traveled all over the world to find their numerous planetary landscapes. Everything from the towering AT-AT’s walking and shooting at rebel soldiers on a beautiful sandy and palm-lined beach to a simple shot of a ship’s shadow gliding along the rocky terrain below it, the filmmakers and special effects crews have done an amazing job creating the visual world of “Rogue One.”

The story of the film, how the Rebel Alliance got the plans for the Death Star, is something that was just given a quick mention in “Star Wars” and didn’t really have much information with it. Coming up with a fresh and interesting story that still fits in perfectly with the well-known canon of “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” must have been a challenge. It is a combination of being tied to the original movie while also having a huge playground of previously unknown characters. It could have gone wildly off the rails and felt like watching a contortionist trying to fit himself into a box. Instead, writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, working from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, manage to expand what we know about the rebellion and make some sense of a more troubling part of the original “Star Wars;” namely why there was this small but catastrophic flaw in the design of the Death Star. For fans of the series, it turns that one aspect of the original film, which was probably just a storytelling shortcut by writer George Lucas, from a liability into something that make sense. It is what some would call retconning and view as a weakness. I see it as amazing storytelling.

While “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” could be a viewer’s first foray into the world of “Star Wars” and find plenty to enjoy, fans of the original trilogy will see brief glimpses of familiar faces and find characters played by long-dead or much aged actors resurrected and rejuvenated by digital manipulation. There are even bits of unused scenes from the original movie that have been integrated seamlessly into the film. It boggles the mind at how creative some filmmakers are and how technology allows at least one actor, dead since 1994, to be brought back to life and play a major role.

As much as I am gushing over the film and I do love it and will see it again soon, there is one minor quibble I have with the development and evolution of Jyn Erso. We see her first as a victim: A child that watches her mother murdered and her father stolen away. Then we see her as an adult and she’s angry and a criminal that isn’t interested in the rebellion until she discovers her father is still alive. Then after seeing his message to her, Jyn enthusiastically joins the Rebels and practically becomes their leader. Her transformation doesn’t feel legitimate. It happens so quickly and with nothing but that one message, Jyn’s newfound loyalty to the cause feels unearned. It is a convenient way to have a female hero in what has been a largely male dominated film series. I understand the desire to have another strong female lead (along with Daisy Ridley’s Rey and of course Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia) and maybe there are other scenes that didn’t make the final cut of the film that would have made her change of heart make more emotional sense; but, what we see on screen here feels like a short cut.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action. There are numerous explosions, blasters fired and spaceships destroyed in the film. We see one character shoot a man in the back. There are various fights. A large slug-like creature with tentacles envelopes one character while trying to get information from him. A small child is shown in danger during an attack on a street. There is no foul language.

If the rumors are to be believed, the making of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” might make a good movie itself. There were extensive reshoots and while Disney says they were always planned some have said the studio wasn’t happy with the tone and the last act of early cuts of the film. A well-known script doctor was brought in and may have been on set more for the reshoots than director Gareth Edwards. For a time, some thought this film may be something of a catastrophe. All the rumors and speculation about a troubled production and stitched together final product are either blown way out of proportion or this might be the new model for making giant blockbuster movies. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will quicken the pulse of any long-time fan while also providing a way in to anyone that has somehow avoided seeing any of the movies in the nearly 40 year old franchise. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to give Lucasfilm and Disney some more of my money by seeing the movie again.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” gets five guitars.

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

There likely won’t be any posted reviews for the next couple of weeks due to the holidays. That doesn’t mean I won’t see anything but I just won’t be posting a review for it other than perhaps a paragraph. Here’s what’s coming out in wide release over the next couple of weeks:

Assassin’s Creed—

Passengers—

Sing—

Why Him?—