Review of “A Quiet Place Part II”

There aren’t many things back to absolute normal yet. The theater chain closest to my home just announced customers that are fully vaxxed can go maskless to see a movie. They ask unvaxxed people to continue wearing a mask. They aren’t requiring proof of vaccination to go without a mask, so anyone could come in without a mask whether they have been vaccinated or not. As I sat in a theater, fully vaccinated since mid-April, with maybe half a dozen people watching “A Quiet Place Part II,” I wore my mask when I wasn’t enjoying my overpriced popcorn and soft drink. I’m fully trained to protect others despite my vaccination status and until this damnable plague is completely over, I will continue to wear a mask. I’m not being brave like the characters in “A Quiet Place Part II,” I’m actually trying to avoid catching a summer cold which is almost as bad as being attacked by the alien creatures in this movie.

After a flashback to the first day of the alien invasion, Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and her infant son, set off toward the smoke from a signal fire near where they live after the death of her husband Lee (John Krasinski). Approaching an industrial area, Evelyn trips a homemade alarm made from cans and bottles. The family runs to avoid the approaching aliens that hunt their prey by sound. Marcus steps in a bear trap and the pain causes him to scream. Evelyn pries open the jaws, freeing Marcus, and they continue running as the alien’s approach. Entering a building, they are grabbed by Emmett (Cillian Murphy) and guided to a disused boiler where they can hide, and their voices will be hidden. Emmett tells the Abbotts they cannot stay as there isn’t enough food or water. Regan puts a set of headphones plugged in to a radio on Marcus and scans the dial using the white noise of static to calm him. She crosses a station that is playing music, something that hasn’t happened since the invasion, and Marcus stops her. Regan tracks the signal to a small station set on an island just offshore. Regan gets the idea to take her cochlear implant to the station and create the feedback she discovered could disorient the aliens and broadcast it across the area. She tells Marcus of her plan, but he says Evelyn wouldn’t allow it. Leaving in the middle of the night, Regan sets out on her own. Evelyn begs Emmett to go look for Regan and bring her back.

Writer/director John Krasinski has delivered a quality follow up to his 2017 “A Quiet Place.” The alien invasion/family drama/post-apocalyptic thriller was the kind of film that kept audiences silent which is a rare feat in this age where people feel comfortable talking back to the screen. “A Quiet Place Part II” doesn’t have quite the same silencing effect on the audience and it doesn’t need to. While there are similarities between the two stories, there’s more of a feel of adventure, a road trip quality that makes this a different experience.

This time, the family is split up with Regan on a journey to find the radio station, Evelyn making a trip into town to find antibiotics and oxygen bottles at the drugstore, and Marcus left at the factory to rest his injured leg and keep an eye on the baby. All three experience different adventures and emotional journeys. The most fulfilling is Regan and Emmett.

Fulfilling in the way all the characters grow and learn. Emmett is broken by the experience of the invasion and the losses he suffered in its aftermath. He is satisfied to hunker down in the abandoned factory, hiding in the boiler when aliens approach and living is relative safety. He wants the Abbott family gone as quickly as possible to return to his solitary existence and not be faced with losing anyone else. Chasing down Regan at the pleading behest of Evelyn, Emmett begins to realize how much of his humanity he’s abandoned for the illusion of safety. He has become selfish in his isolation and is challenged by Regan’s stubborn determination to reach the coast, find a boat and broadcast feedback, giving the survivors a chance to fight back.

Millicent Simmonds delivers another standout performance as Regan. Her expressiveness and fierceness burst from her hands and eyes as she delivers stinging opinions about Emmett cowardice and how he doesn’t measure up to her late father. While Emmett doesn’t understand sign language, we see her words via subtitles, something Emmett is lucky he lacks access to. This young actress deserves more roles as her presence is magnetic in every scene.

The movie is exciting and tense throughout, but I do have one nit to pick. Whenever an encounter with an alien is shown, the action slows to a crawl as the characters approach either an escape or a kill. They move extremely slowly, cautiously, as if trying to drag out the interaction. I don’t want to give anything away, but during the final showdown, the humans move as if in slow motion. There would seem to be an urgency to ending the confrontation and reducing the chance of more aliens using their echolocation to track down their prey. Instead, we get drawn out movements, lingering looks and lots of opportunities for something to go wrong. I’d like to believe it’s the characters being in some degree of shock due to the unbelievable circumstances they are in, but in reality, it’s Krasinski trying to build up the tension. If there’s anything I dislike about “A Quiet Place Part II,” it’s that.

“A Quiet Place Part II” is rated PG-13 for terror, violence and bloody/disturbing images. We see the beginnings of the invasion with people be swept aside by the aliens as if they were small toys. The injury sustained by Marcus and one inflicted on Evelyn late in the film are a bit gruesome, but not too bloody. We see various corpses that are in different states of decay. When the aliens are killed, their heads tend to explode in bloody messes.

Aside from dragging out the endings, “A Quiet Place Part II” does a great job of continuing the story of the Abbott family and adding Cillian Murphy’s Emmett. The small-town folks confronted by a seemingly unstoppable alien invasion is full of possibilities for more spinoff stories and at least one more film. If done correctly, we could get a tense but rousing finale to Krasinski’s trilogy.

“A Quiet Place Part II” gets four stars out of five.

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Review of “Spiral: From the Book of Saw”

The slow return to normalcy continues. The CDC announced fully vaccinated people could go without masks while numerous communities lifted their mask requirements. Some privately owned businesses continue to require masks in order to receive service. Former child star, now proudly conservative adult, actor Rick Schroder filmed an encounter with a Costco employee, complaining about having to wear a mask inside the store. I don’t like wearing masks any more than Mr. Schroder does. They are hot and cause my face under the mask to sweat. They also fog up my glasses with each exhale. I can’t wait to put all mine in a drawer and never think of them again. However, we are nowhere near a fully vaccinated population with many questioning the safety, efficacy and even need for it. The likelihood of a variant form of COVID-19 developing that’s vaccine resistant grows with each day a big chunk of the public doesn’t vaccinate. And Mr. Schroder ignores the fact there are other rules he must follow to be allowed to do business with a Costco. For instance, they likely have a “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” rule. Does he believe he can walk around the big box store with his now likely saggy body on full display? Doesn’t that trample his freedoms? A privately held business can make rules about customer conduct and choose not to do business with anyone that violates or ignores those rules. For instance, the theater I went to this week to see “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” required I wear a mask unless I was eating and drinking. Considering the quality of this film, they maybe should have required a blindfold as well.

Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) turned in a dirty cop several years ago and ever since, his fellow officers have considered him an untrustworthy rat. They ignored his calls for backup leading to his being shot. His father was at the time also the Chief of Police, Captain Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson). His father is now retired, but Zeke is still in a squad room surrounded by coworkers that don’t trust him, hence he can’t trust them. Det. Marv Boswick (Dan Petronijevic) is chasing a purse snatching suspect in the sewers when he’s abducted. He wakes up with a device clamped to his tongue as he hangs over a subway train track. A television plays a recording telling Boswick he has a choice to make: He can either be hit by the train due to arrive in two minutes, or he can jump from the small platform on which he is standing and rip out his lying tongue and probably survive. Making the choice too late, both options occur. Zeke is called to the scene along with his new partner, rookie Det. William Schenk (Max Minghella). When they return to the precinct, a box is delivered to Zeke with a zip drive featuring the same voice as the recording played for Boswick, featuring the image of a spiral painted on the side of the courthouse. When officers arrive, there’s another box containing Boswick’s tongue and his badge. The theory that it’s a Jigsaw copycat is quickly developed and this time the killer is going for dirty cops, many of whom have a direct connection to Zeke.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is the ninth film in the horror series. Original “Saw” star Tobin Bell only appears in a photograph and is otherwise not in the movie. Anytime a film series reaches nine installments, it is likely to have dropped off in quality, however many were excited when this sequel was announced with Chris Rock as the lead actor and heavily involved in its development. While most of the original creators of the franchise were not involved in this film, it was viewed as a legitimate effort to reinvigorate the series that began in 2004 and put out a new installment every year through 2010 before taking a seven year break. 2017’s “Jigsaw” was a big commercial success and “Spiral…” seemed to be a sure fire hit when it was announced. And yet, it struck me as amateurish, jumbled, poorly structured and oddly shot.

Chris Rock gives it his all to make “Spiral…” something special and entertaining, but his performance is one of the big failures of the film for me. Rock is either low key to the point of asleep or hyper like he’s on stage performing for a standup audience. There’s very little in the middle. The script Rock is given doesn’t help as he’s either hurling insults at the cops he doesn’t trust or yelling at Capt. Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) about not being able to trust the other cops in his squad. Rock appears to be “winging it” with his performance for returning director Darren Lynn Bousman who helmed “Saw II-IV.”

The traps in “Spiral…” seem uninspired. Dangling by your tongue and having your fingers pulled off, to name just two, sound awful and probably would be horrific to experience, but Jigsaw in the first film constructed much more elaborate torture devices that required less hardware. In “Saw,” the traps and “games” were mostly psychological. The victim had to make a choice that was both physically and emotionally devastating. And even if they survived, there was a price to pay. As the traps became more elaborate and the damage more gory, they lost their emotional punch. And one of the torture traps in “Spiral…” seems both silly and non lethal. It involves glass recycling. Good for the Earth but apparently bad for your health. Perhaps I prefer my serial killers to be more hands-on and not require a mechanical engineering degree.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, pervasive language, some sexual references and brief drug use. The aftermath of the traps is gory and seeing them in action might sicken an easily turned stomach. Horror veterans will be unaffected. With both Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in the cast, the F-bombs fly at a high frequency. Both the drug use and sexual references are brief. There are some shootings shown.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” is hoped to revive one of the most profitable movie franchises in history. None of the films cost more than $20 million to produce and all have returned a minimum of six times their production budget at the box office. That means this installment needs to gross $120 million in ticket sales, VOD rentals/purchases and DVD/Blu Ray sales. I’m kind of doubting that’s possible given the pandemic and the glut of streaming options available to keep us entertained in our homes. While I’m not a huge “Saw” franchise fan, I always hope I’m putting my money down on an entertaining film. Hardcore fans might find much to love in this latest entry. For me, it was not quite torture, but not much fun either.

“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” gets two stars out of five.

Subscribe, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

I’m Back with a Review of “The Courier”

Is it just me or is it weird doing normal-ish things? I add the “ish” due to wearing a mask when I’m inside a building or with a group (I have received both doses of Pfizer’s vaccine but I’m still wearing a mask), but I did something I hadn’t done since last September: I went to a movie at a theater. We are still in the time of the novel coronavirus as the theater I was in had a ground total of four people in it and the lobby was virtually deserted when I entered aside from a few workers and a couple of patrons. It felt both odd and good to be back in a theater again and I’m thankful I didn’t risk my health for a bad film.

It’s 1960, the Cold War is heating up and Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a British businessman always looking for the possibility of new contacts leading to new business. He connects parts suppliers with factories and is pretty good at his job, even working in Eastern Bloc countries in the recent past. He enjoys glad-handing and drinking with this fellow businessmen at various bars and clubs. His wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) is a stay-at-home mother, taking care of their young son Andrew (Keir Hills), but she doesn’t give Greville too long a leash as he has strayed in the past. In Moscow, after hearing a speech from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, promising the nuclear destruction of the West, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), the head of the Soviet Committee for Scientific Research, gets an American student to deliver a message to the US embassy. That message gets to CIA officer Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) who sets up a meeting with her MI6 counterpart Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) looking for a way to tap into Penkovsky’s access to Soviet nuclear secrets. Sending an agent is deemed too risky, but a civilian with business ties to Eastern Bloc countries wouldn’t raise as much suspicion amongst the Soviet secret police, the KGB. Franks and Donovan set up a lunch meeting with Wynne and broach the subject without being too obvious they’re asking him to work undercover behind the Iron Curtain. Despite their subtlety, Wynne quickly figures out they’re asking him to spy. Initially hesitant and fearing for his safety as well as that of his family, Wynne agrees. Franks and Donovan assure Wynne the danger is minimal as he will be acting not as a spy, but as a courier for whatever secrets Penkovsky gives him.

“The Courier” is a tour de force acting performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. His work alone makes the film worth your time and money. Cumberbatch is both subtle and electric as the reluctant spy. The scene where he is asked to become an operative without directly being asked plays out entirely on his face. You can practically hear the gears in his brain grinding as he figures out he’s being approached to risk his life for his country and the world and how incredulous he considers the idea. Cumberbatch is always good but this performance should be considered for awards season next year. Likely it will be forgotten among all the films to come as the virus becomes less of a concern (get vaccinated everyone and don’t take medical advice from Joe Rogan) but I hope the studio makes a push to get him in consideration when the time comes.

The movie overall is pretty good but is mired in Cold War espionage conventions. The secret passing of small packages containing government secrets is done again and again. There’s not much discussion about the history of tensions between East and West, just that there are tensions. While someone my age is familiar with the Cold War, younger viewers will likely be befuddled about what’s going on.

All the supporting characters aren’t given much to do other than deliver exposition. Jessie Buckley is severely under utilized as Wynne’s wife. Her character is only properly used in a scene late in the film. Brosnahan and Wright don’t get much better treatment as they are used merely to drop in the “spy speak” along with their cohorts. Only Merab Ninidze as the provider of Soviet state secrets is given a meaty role as one might expect. Ninidze’s Penkovsky is a dreamer, hoping for a better life for his family when they eventually defect to America. Penkovsky is taking the bigger risk of two as he has seen first hand how traitors to the Soviet Union are dealt with.

That makes his and Wynne’s ultimate fates all the more crushing as the pair develop a friendship that goes beyond their mutual need of each other. The two men on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain find they are far more alike than their governments would like you to believe. Both are married with a small child (Penkovsky and his wife have a young girl), both hope for a world for their children better than the one in which they currently live, both men smoke and drink too much and enjoy the benefits of their work. They are practically the same person but for the governments under which they live.

“The Courier” is rated PG-13 for violence, partial nudity, brief strong language, and smoking throughout. The violence is limited to a scene of a person being shot in the head in front of a crowd (there’s no blood or gore) and scenes inside a Russian gulag. It’s the early 1960’s so smoking is as common as vodka. The nudity is of a male character who is stripped after being arrested. There is no frontal nudity. Foul language is scattered and mild.

“The Courier” is based on the true story of Greville Wynne and his work for MI6 and the CIA in providing early warning for Soviet missiles being installed in Cuba. Wynne spent 18 months in a Soviet prison before being released in exchange for a Russian spy held in the west. Documentary footage at the end of the film shows the real Wynne after he returned home. In this film he seemed chipper and happy, almost unfazed by his ordeal at the hands of the KGB. Perhaps is was the adrenaline of being reunited with his family that lifted his spirits. As shown in “The Courier,” Wynne had little hope of seeing freedom ever again. I hope we all get free from this virus and the damper it has put on our lives since early 2020. I think seeing someone who made a true sacrifice in an effort to save his family, his country and the world should put having to wear a mask and get a couple of vaccine injections into perspective.

“The Courier” get four stars out of five.

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Review of “Tenet”

A CIA operative known only as the Protagonist (John David Washington) is given a case to prevent a third world war. Working with another agent, Neil (Robert Pattinson), he must infiltrate the operation of Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) by going through his art dealer wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). The war the agents are trying to prevent is one that won’t be fought with conventional or nuclear weapons; this war will be fought using the flow of time. Someone has figured out a way to control entropy, changing the normal order of cause and effect. If a government or terrorist group could observe the events of the future, they could counter any efforts to stop their plans. The past, present and future are at stake.

Trying to explain the story of “Tenet” is like teaching a squid how to write. It’s complicated, messy and I don’t think I have the intelligence to grasp it all. Writer and director Christopher Nolan has crafted a bizarre and labyrinthian story of technology, power and greed with the fate of the world in the balance. I won’t be surprised if audiences are deeply divided in their opinions on the film with some thinking it’s a masterpiece while others find it taxing and incoherent. Both will be correct. Much like cause and effect are reversed in the film, feelings about it will also travel in both directions. While struggled as I watched the movie and the alternating passage of time, sometimes occurring simultaneously, I felt the door to a level of understanding crack ever so slightly as the events played out. I happen to be one that thinks “Tenet” is brilliant.

That doesn’t mean it is flawless. The dialog can be dense when characters are discussing the finer points of entropy and how the rules of one person traveling in one direction while the rest of the world is moving in another. And perhaps it was the speaker set up in the theater, but I had a hard time understanding what characters were saying from scene to scene. Maybe it was the ambient background noise on the soundtrack mixed with the various accents, but some of the dialog was garbled and lost to me.

Otherwise, the movie is also unbearably loud. The action scenes with guns, explosions and car crashes left my ears ringing. I would have chocked that up to my individual theater, but I’ve seen other viewers post how near deafening the volume is. This appears to be a deliberate choice by Nolan and the studio to crank up the sound and beat the audience into aural submission. If you have especially sensitive hearing or suffer from hearing loss, you may want to bring ear protection just in case.

Have you ever had a TV show suggested to you and the suggester says, “It really gets good by episode 3,” or “The second season is where it takes off”? That’s kind of how “Tenet” is. Things won’t make much sense in the early scenes, and you’ll wonder if Nolan has let you down with a subpar effort. However, visuals you’ll find confounding will make more sense as you go through the story. By the end, scattered and random events early will finally become clear. Nolan has made a movie that is the epitome of the conspiracy theorist cork board with pictures, headlines and random pieces of paper covered in scribbles connected with push pins and red string.

While the story takes some time to make sense, the performances will hold your interest until your brain catches up. While the film is filled with characters, our four main players dominate the screen and ably so. John David Washington keeps his character’s emotions in check, just as a seasoned CIA operative would. While he’s facing an unprecedented situation, Washington’s Protagonist rolls with it. While some may criticize his performance as dull, I found his ever in control operative to be a source of calm in a temporal storm.

Debicki, Pattinson and Branagh provide all the emotion for the film. Debicki’s Kat is a woman in a loveless marriage to a cold and cruel man holding their son as leverage over her. Her flares of anger and pain ring so true they caused me to wince. Pattinson provides a bit of comic relief as Neil. Allowed to speak with his British accent, Pattinson’s Neil is droll and a tiny bit condescending while also being a master of understatement. Neil is the Protagonists fixer, gofer and sounding board. His role is to give the CIA operative the tools and materials he needs to do the job. Providing a laugh along the way is a bonus. Branagh’s Sator is a fairly standard villain but provides flashes of the madness and cruelty that make him rise above. Branagh slinks through some scenes like a python approaching his prey. In other scenes he’s brash and big like a bull elephant charging through the African plains. While the role doesn’t provide much meat on the bone, Branagh strips it clean and makes a meal from the part.

“Tenet” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language. There are fights, shootings and crashes of various types throughout the film. Gore is kept to a minimum even during a scene of torture. A 747 is crashed into a building. A couple of people are shot at close range. A person is beaten to death with an unusual object. Foul language is scattered and mild except for one F-Bomb.

The action scenes in “Tenet” are unconventional but thrilling. Some of them happen in regular time while others are going backwards. Some scenes have some of the characters traveling in one direction while others in the same scene are going backwards. Nolan filmed the actors doing the scenes forward and backward so he could splice the two together as seamlessly as possible. For the most part it works, but sometimes people are clearly running backward and then had the film reversed and vice versa. Those moments are rare and don’t ruin what is otherwise a very good film. I would have liked a clearer understanding of what’s causing the reversal of time and would also have liked a better reason for why the bad guys wanted to fulfill their ultimate goal. That said, “Tenet” is a brain-breaking sci-fi/action/thriller that, if you’re comfortable heading to the theater, should be seen on the big screen. Just remember to wear your mask.

“Tenet” gets four stars out of five.

Release schedules are still thin so my return to reviewing may be erratic for the foreseeable future.

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Hunt”

Twelve people, including Crystal (Betty Gilpin), Gary (Ethan Suplee), Don (Wayne Duvall) and Big Red (Kate Nowlin), wake up in a field. They’re all from different parts of the country and don’t know how they got there. Soon, they are being shot at by a group of wealthy liberal Social Justice Warriors. Some of them escape the field and find a small roadside gas station and convenience store run by Ma and Pop (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney) who tell the group they are in Arkansas. When Crystal finds the store, she suspects there’s more to the kindly old couple than meets the eye and kills them both. Crystal also discovers she’s not in Arkansas and realizes she is a target of rich people that hunt humans for sport on an estate called The Manor. The Manor has been the subject of internet rumors since it was first exposed by an email hack. The leader of the hunters is Athena (Hilary Swank), a powerful and ruthless businessperson looking to exact revenge on those she feels have slighted her. But what could these 12 random people, unknown to each other from around the country, have done to Athena and her friends.

Originally scheduled for a late September 2019 release, “The Hunt” was pulled from the schedule by the distributor, Universal Studios, following mass shootings that occurred in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Once the subject matter of the film, a battle to the death between wealthy liberals and working-class conservatives, became known, Fox News and President Trump trashed the movie, making assumptions it would belittle conservatives and cram the liberal agenda down audiences’ throats. As with most things discussed with no knowledge, they got it exactly wrong. “The Hunt” should thrill fans of the President, as it shows the “wealthy elite” as brain dead and concerned more about labels and gendering than the plight of everyday Americans. It also shows them as bloodthirsty and intolerant while conservatives are shown to be susceptible to the conspiracy theories of people like Alex Jones and diehard supporters of the Second Amendment and strong boarders. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tweet from the President or one of his sons extolling the virtues of “The Hunt” as more of a documentary than a fictional film. It’s a shame COVID-19 has depressed movie going as “The Hunt” is a fun and gory satire on America’s current political divide and the dangers of extremism on both sides.

“The Hunt” features a powerhouse performance from Betty Gilpin. Playing a confident and prepared woman who is no one’s victim, Gilpin exudes confidence and power in every frame. Crystal is wary and distrusting of everything she sees once she wakes up in the field. Keeping herself separated from the others, she survives the initial attack and forges her own path. I believe it’s an example of how everyone should navigate the current political minefield by not accepting everything said by pundits, vloggers, bloggers and podcasters as pure, unvarnished truth. She casts a wary and skeptical eye on everyone presenting themselves as allies, not taking what they say at face value. Crystal represents the reasonable but skeptical consumer of information: Listening attentively, but not believing it all. We should all try to be our own “Crystal.”

Most of the ire from the film’s perspective is aimed at the liberals. They fret over labels and gendering of groups. They select a person for death because he’s a big game hunter, ignoring their own hypocrisy. They don’t choose a black conservative because of the optics, even though they are the only ones that will know. It’s a cascade of jokes at the expense of the liberal elite with one of them saying, “White people, we’re the f***ing worst.”

Conservatives don’t escape the critical eye as those with numerous guns, anti-immigrant beliefs and the racially intolerant being mocked. Actually, they aren’t mocked, they are allowed to express their thoughts and the audience is allowed to decide if they are laughably ignorant or not. It’s a remarkably fair examination of ideas from both sides. My opinion on both sides is they are too extreme in both directions to be allowed to run the country unfettered. But that’s just me. You might need to risk leaving your home to see the film for yourself and make up your own mind.

Part of the marketing for “The Hunt” is the tagline, “The Most Talked About Movie of the Year is One That No One’s Actually Seen.” It’s a brilliant use of the controversy surrounding the film to sell it. If not for the fear of contracting COVID-19 it might have worked beautifully. It also speaks to the failure of our clickbait-driven social media world. A salacious headline for a link to a far less controversial article will be read a million times, while the article itself may only be read half a million times. The link will be shared or retweeted by the ignorant half a million with an angry comment declaring a government agency, celebrity or other entity is preparing to wipe us all out or wants to kill and eat babies when the story is far more tame and reasonable. Mark Twain once said that a lie will fly around the whole world while the truth is getting its boots on. Only he didn’t. The quote likely came far earlier from Jonathon Swift. See, you need to question everything you read and the motivations from everyone from whom you hear it. Even me.

“The Hunt” is rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout. Heads explode, bodies explode, people are impaled on various items including arrows and spikes in the ground. One person is beaten severely with a pipe. A pig is shot to death. A Cuisinart is used as a deadly weapon. A pen is jammed on one person’s neck. A high heel is used to stab someone in the eye. There are numerous other violent and gory deaths. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“The Hunt” has had the worst timing of any film in modern history. First its release was delayed due to two mass shootings that attracted the ire of those that blame such things on popular media like video games and movies despite evidence to the contrary. Then COVID-19 became a serious threat with a death rate five times higher than the seasonal flu a week or so before the film’s rescheduled release. While the movie has a less than original story arc, like horror films featuring a “last girl,” “The Hunt” approaches the toxic political climate with equal doses of humor and exaggeration. Liberals and conservatives alike should find things to love and hate in the film and, to me, that means it must be doing something right, annoying good people on both sides.

“The Hunt” gets four blood-soaked stars out of five.

Because of the COVID-19 threat, there isn’t a new wide release scheduled until April 10. Whether I’ll watch some films that have been out a few weeks, watch some original releases on the streaming services, or just stay home, I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when I figure it out. Stay safe, wash your hands, don’t go to work if you’re sick, don’t hoard supplies and be good to each other. For more information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Onward”

The world used to be filled with magic and magical creatures, like unicorns, faeries, sprites, dragons and more. Learning magic was difficult, so technology like electric lights, telephones and appliances began to replace spells. Now the world looks very much like our own, but there’s still magic if you know where to look. Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) are elves living with their mother Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) live in a comfortable house in the community of New Mushroomton. Ian and Barley’s father Wilden (voiced by Kyle Bornheimer) got sick and died while Laurel was expecting Ian, so he never met him. Having just turned 16, Ian is smart but shy. He’s scared of many things including learning to drive and talking to other students at his high school. Laurel brings a wrapped package down from the attic and presents it to both Ian and Barley, saying it’s a gift from their dad. Opening it, the boys find a wizard’s staff, magical phoenix gem and a letter from Wilden. The letter contains a spell that will allow Wilden to be brought back to life for one day. Barley tries dozens of times to cast the spell, but nothing happens. The boys give up, but Ian begins saying the spell out loud and the staff begins to glow. He grabs it and finishes the spell and a beam of energy shoots out from the phoenix gem. Barley walks in to see what the commotion is and finds the staff and stone is rebuilding his father from the shoes up. The exertion of casting the spell is pushing Ian backwards across the room. Barley tries to help and grabs the staff, but the gem explodes, ending the spell prematurely. The boys discover their father is only half recreated with his body ending at the waist. He can walk around and is able to communicate with taps but cannot talk, see and hear. The boys attach a retractable leash to Wilden to keep him with them. Barley decides they must go on a quest to find another phoenix stone, but they will face challenges, both personal and magical, that tests their relationship.

“Onward” is a very typical Disney/Pixar animated film. Perhaps too typical. While there are the usual beautiful visuals and relatable humor, “Onward” isn’t anything special. It’s well done and has great voice work but offers no surprises. It is in no way bad, but it isn’t great as we expect from the geniuses at Pixar. It’s fine.

Watching “Onward” I kept waiting for “The Moment.” It’s the scene, the character, the joke that would put the film over the top. To put the movie on the level of “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles,” and “Inside Out.” That scene doesn’t exist. “Onward” does beat on your tear ducts with overt sentimentality, squeezing out drops with scenes of emotional discovery and pure manipulation. I’m not saying those tears aren’t earned, but they feel cheap this time.

“Onward” is playing it safe. I would guess there’s a book in their headquarters that sets forth how a Pixar movie’s story is to be designed. There must be a sweet protagonist that doubts themselves at the beginning of the film, a quest or problem that presents itself to challenge the protagonists status quo, a buddy or sidekick that, wanted or not, accompanies the protagonist on this journey into a world that is also outside the hero’s comfort zone, a disagreement between the two that causes the dissolution of or strain on the relationship, an event that brings to two back together, leading to the eventual end of the adventure, either successful or unsuccessful, that causes the protagonist to realize he was looking for resolution in the wrong place and learning a valuable lesson about life. Almost every Pixar movie follows a story structure similar to this. There are of course variations to this formula and those variations are what makes Pixar movies much better than most other kid’s films. However, “Onward” follows this design so closely, it never transcends its genre. It hits all the expected beats with the precision of an atomic clock, but it never tries to syncopate the rhythm and find joy in the unexpected.

“Onward” does something I’m learning to hate in movies: Bringing a dead parent back to life. This emotional trick is usually done via dream sequences, visitation while a character is suffering a medical crisis, or other unlikely way for a grown child to visit a deceased mom or dad. As I get older, I find this to be a cheap and manipulative storytelling device. I lost my dad in 2000 and my mom less than a year later. It was devastating to go from having both parents alive to both gone in less than 11 months. While I have fond memories of my folks, and my siblings and I share happy stories about them during those unfortunately rare times we are all together, I have never had a dream where I felt like I was visiting with them in the flesh. I haven’t bumped my head or had a disease that put me in a coma, and they came to help me realize it wasn’t my time yet. Their ghosts haven’t appeared to me in the middle of the night to warn me about some danger or just to say hi. When their bodies succumbed to the diseases that took their lives, that was it. They were gone and all I had were memories. There is no magic to bring them back, even for just a day. Using this device to tell children a story of learning to find your true self, in my opinion, borders on cruelty.

There is no fault to be found in the voice work of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer or the rest of the voice cast. They clearly understand the passion and emotion they need to convey as they tell this story. There are some moments when you’ll wish these performances were in a better Pixar movie. I’d love to see Octavia Spencer’s Corey get her own spinoff film about the life of the Manticore before civilization tamed the wild beast. Perhaps the pixies that forgot how to fly and formed a biker gang could get a short. There’s plenty of material in “Onward” that could be built upon for other projects.

“Onward” is rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements. There are various chases, encounters with dangerous beasts and physical challenges throughout the film. There is also the concept of the loss of a parent. There is no foul language.

Despite my reservations about “Onward,” I liked the movie. It moves quickly, doesn’t waste much time setting up the situation, watching the bottom-half-dad walking around with a stuffed top half creates some laughs, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt give great vocal performances and there are some truly beautiful visuals throughout the film. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Pixar’s consistent excellence, but I expected more from this film. It follows a well-worn formula but doesn’t add anything to the mix. It’s a very good film, but not when compared to Pixar’s other efforts. It’s fine but I wanted it to be more.

“Onward” gets four stars out of five.

Three new films open this week. I’ll see and review at lease one of the following:

Bloodshot—

The Hunt—

I Still Believe—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Invisible Man”

Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) has recently escaped an abusive relationship from Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian nearly caught Cecilia, but her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) picked her up and drove her away to safety. Living with her cop friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his soon-to-leave-for-college daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), Cecilia is afraid to walk outside fearing Adrian will find her. That fear finally dissipates when Emily tells her Adrian has died by suicide. Cecilia receives a letter from Adrian’s lawyer and brother Tom (Michael Dorman) that she is Adrian’s heir. At a meeting in his office, Tom informs Cecilia she is inheriting $5 million, distributed in monthly $100,000 payments, as long as she doesn’t violate any of the will’s stipulations. If she is charged with a violent crime and/or she’s found mentally incompetent, she will forfeit the money. Unconcerned about the conditions, Cecilia sets up a college fund for Sydney as a thank you to her and James for housing and protecting her. But soon, Cecilia feels like she’s being watched. Her portfolio of architecture drawings disappears, and she is drugged, causing her to pass out at a job interview, among other odd occurrences. She begins to believe Adrian isn’t dead and is somehow responsible. Her sister, James and Tom all believe she is losing her mind, but Cecilia knows there’s something more.

In 2017, Universal Studios had big plans for its classic monsters. Hugely popular in the 1930’s and later decades, Dracula, Wolfman, Gill Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mummy and Invisible Man had series of financially successful B-movies, but in recent times were largely unused, with the exception of occasional one-off’s. Then the Dark Universe was announced with a lineup of A-list actors like Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, and Javier Bardem, scheduled to star in origin, but interconnected, movies then form a monster team-up. The first of these films was “The Mummy” starring the current superstar of superstars, Tom Cruise. The film was critically panned, and audiences largely stayed home. It grossed over $400 million worldwide but, on a budget of nearly $200 million, it likely cost Universal tens of millions in losses. The Dark Universe had a wooden stake driven through its heart. Now, Universal has changed course and is producing smaller, standalone films with its classic monsters, the first of which is “The Invisible Man.” If this film is any indication, Universal may eventually have the Dark Universe they dreamed of.

“The Invisible Man” isn’t some globetrotting blockbuster adventure like “The Mummy,” but a small and simple story of a woman trying to escape a controlling, manipulative and abusive man. It’s something audiences can sadly relate to more than an international spy slapping on a high-tech suit or drinking a magic formula and turning invisible. It’s a story of power, control, money and sex. It’s a #MeToo horror story with a bit of razzmatazz thrown in. Bullies can be invisible on the Internet, wielding their words like a cudgel, threatening death, financial ruin and sexual exploitation while maintaining their own anonymity behind a screenname and avatar. While “The Invisible Man” is more hands-on in his efforts to harm and manipulate, the effects are just as devastating.

Elisabeth Moss is so very good as Cecilia. Her PTSD in the immediate aftermath of leaving Adrian is heartbreaking as she cannot leave her friend’s house. She keeps her eyes down, her body is a tight coil of fear waiting to spring out of danger’s way. When she sees a jogger wearing a dark sweat suit with his hoody up and dark sunglasses hiding his eyes, she runs away fearing it is her abuser. Once she believes he’s dead, Cecilia is once again subjected to fearing for her safety and sanity as she is attacked again and again. Moss can deliver a frantic and tortured performance like few others. Her work on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has earned her both Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for her acting. She was also a standout on the AMC show “Madmen.” Moss is a powerhouse in the role of Cecilia, and I hope her work doesn’t get ignored during next awards season because the film came out early in the year, and because it’s a genre film. Her performance is deserving of consideration.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell has designed a tight and fast-paced tale of psychological revenge and physical escape. It’s a masterclass in economical film making. Whannell’s script doesn’t waste one moment on unnecessary dialog or meaningless sentimentality. It is a relentless film that rarely takes its foot off the gas. Even quiet moments are fraught with unending tension. From the opening scene until the surprising ending, the audience is never sure what’s about to happen but knows something eventually will. I found myself looking in the background for objects to move or footprints to appear, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. No matter what, you expect something to happen and that makes the tension more excruciating. Whannell wisely keeps the audience guessing about the next surprise and doesn’t tip his hand with cheap tricks. All the fear generated by the film is earned and it’s exhausting.

“The Invisible Man” is rated R for some strong bloody violence, and language. There are numerous shootings, and most have some blood spray. We briefly see a picture of Adrian’s suicide, also bloody. Two necks are slit and there is a great deal of blood from those. An invisible assailant picks up Cecilia and threatens her with a knife. There are a couple of fights between visible and invisible combatants. One character is beaten bloody. A young woman is threatened and thrown around. Foul language is surprisingly rare.

Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions is one of the producers of “The Invisible Man.” Blum is known for his low-budget and obscenely profitable films including “Get Out,” “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious,” “The Purge,” and many, many more films and franchises in the horror genre. “The Invisible Man” had a production budget of $7 million, and an estimated opening weekend domestic gross of $29 million. Depending on pre-release promotion, the film has probably already turned a profit and will continue to ring up revenue for Universal and Blumhouse. It is yet another example of how genre films don’t need to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the screen when some well-done sleight of hand can produce the same if not better results. Of course, that won’t stop the next budget-busting blockbuster from nearly bankrupting a studio (James Cameron, I’m talking to you), but it should be yet another lesson to producers that bigger isn’t always better.

“The Invisible Man” gets five fully visible stars.

This week, four new films hope you vote with your dollars for the next leader of the box office. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Emma—

First Cow—

Onward—

The Way Back—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Brahms: The Boy 2”

While Sean (Owain Yeoman) was working late on a project, his wife Liza (Katie Holmes) and son Jude (Christopher Convery) are attacked in their London flat during a home invasion. Liza suffers a concussion and Jude is so traumatized he stops speaking, communicating by writing message on a pad he wears around his neck. The family decides they need to take a break from the city and rent a guest house on the Heelshire property. The Heelshire home has been vacant since the murders that took place there a few years earlier. A speculator bought the house and attempted to turn it into luxury condos, but various delays caused him to abandon the project. While the family is strolling through the woods, Jude is drawn away from his parents toward a patch of ground with a porcelain hand sticking up from the dirt. Digging in the soft ground, Jude finds an antique doll that he calls Brahms. Liza cleans up Brahms and he becomes Jude’s constant companion. During another walk with Liza, Jude finds a box with clothes for the doll. They also meet Joseph (Ralph Ineson) and his dog, a German Sheppard named Oz. Joseph describes himself as a caretaker of the grounds. Oz growls at Brahms and Jude. Strange events occur in the vacation home with a TV turning itself on, unexplained footsteps and voices, and Liza’s nightmares involving Brahms. Is there more to this doll than just a creepy dead stare?

“Brahms: The Boy 2” is a sequel to the financially successful but critically derided “The Boy” from 2016. Both films heavily feature a lifelike antique doll and the odd events that occur in its vicinity. I hadn’t seen “The Boy” prior to its sequel, but out of curiosity, I rented it after I watched the follow up. While both films share the same director and writer, I was shocked at how the creative team seemed to have forgotten what happened in the first film while making the second. And aside from that, the sequel is painfully dull and doesn’t follow its own rules.

“Brahms: The Boy 2” implies the child of the married couple is already a little twisted before meeting the doll as he enjoys scaring his mother. In the opening scene, Katie Holmes’ Liza walks in their home and Jude can be seen in the openings between the stairs. It’s that classic horror movie scene where the victim walks in the room and the villain is slightly out of focus in the background, then walks out of the shot. In this instance, this sets up Jude frightening his mother, something he was taught to do by his father. Jude takes an abundance of joy in scaring his mother and that’s supposed to set up the audience for what’s to come. However, the film doesn’t work that hard to frighten us for the rest of the scant 86-minute run time. The only other time the audience might feel a surge of adrenalin is when Joseph’s dog barks when we meet he and Oz for the first time. No other moment in the film comes close to providing any sort of thrill after that.

Precious little happens in “Brahms: The Boy 2.” After the home invasion in the opening minutes and a child being impaled on a sharp stick midway or so, there isn’t much going on in the film. Katie Holmes struggles mightily to look concerned, confused and frightened by all the nothingness going on around her. It’s a losing battle. Holmes and the rest of the cast are trying to swim upstream with both hands and one leg tied behind their backs. All they can do is flop around as artistically as possible. It’s not pretty to watch.

If you haven’t seen “The Boy” and plan to, you will want to skip this paragraph as there will be spoilers for the 2016 original. You’ve been warned. Ready?

SPOILERS

In the final act of “The Boy,” we learn Brahms, the actual child of the Heelshires, survived the fire that was thought to have killed him and was living in the walls of the home wearing a porcelain mask similar to the doll. Actions that appeared to be done by the doll, or a spirit living in the doll, were done by the now nearly 30-year-old Brahms. There was nothing supernatural about the strange events. In “Brahms: The Boy 2,” the living Brahms is nowhere to be found and everything happening around the doll may be supernatural. Scenes from the first film are repurposed for the sequel while also retconning the story to make it fit. The way this film ends it makes it appear there is something else that channels the otherworldly forces at work. The film’s writer, Stacey Menear, apparently doesn’t mind changing or ignoring the rules of her own creation for the sake of expediency. Retconning is common in long-running genre franchises. Major and minor tweaks to the history of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and the “X-Men” franchises don’t seem to have hurt the desire of audiences to keep watching their favorite characters. Sometimes there is online fanboy outrage, but people keep buying tickets and the world keeps turning. However, when you are only two films into what is hoped to be an ongoing series, you can’t be taking an eraser to your too brief history.

“Brahms: The Boy 2” is rated PG-13 for terror, violence, disturbing images and thematic elements. Terror, not so much. We see hot candle wax thrown in a character’s face. A character is hit in the head with the butt of a shotgun. A woman is attacked in her home by two masked men. She fights back but is struck in the head and knocked unconscious. We see a boy bullying Jude about his mental issues after the attack. A child is shown impaled on a sharp stick. The carcass of a dead animal is shown in the forest. Disturbing images are shown in Liza’s dreams.

Maybe the writer was out of ideas. Maybe the deadline crept up and the creative team played word association games to get the script done (the release date was moved back twice). Maybe the studio wanted to get another inexpensive film in the same universe out in theaters hoping no one would care it wasn’t very good. “Brahms: The Boy 2” is worse than not very good, it’s boring. It’s less than 90 minutes long but feels like more than two hours. I give a film the benefit of the doubt if I get the impression the makers actually tried, but this pitiful sequel feels like those in charge gave up and slapped some scenes together so they could move on to the next project. They fulfilled their contractual obligations, cashed their checks and the audience be damned. I know movies are mostly about making money, but they should also be about not insulting the paying audience. On that front, the makers of “Brahms: The Boy 2” failed miserably.

“Brahms: The Boy 2” gets one dim star out of five.

Only one new film is opening in wide release this week, but there some interesting arthouse films that I might need to see as well. I’ll review at least one of the following:

The Assistant—

The Invisible Man—

The Lodge—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)”

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Joker have broken up, for good this time. Harley is looking to establish herself as a criminal force to be reckoned with in Gotham, however without the protection of her former boyfriend, she becomes of the target of everyone with a grudge against her. One of those people is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), nightclub owner and the king of crime on the east side of Gotham City. Sionis has plenty of enemies of his own including GCPD Det. Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). She’s been building a case against him for years but can’t get enough evidence to get support from DA Ellen Yee (Ali Wong). The singer at Sionis’ club is Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). She has a beautiful voice and a hidden ability. She also has a crush on Sionis. Someone is using a crossbow to kill some of Gotham’s organized crime figures. That someone is Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and she’s also attracting Sionis’ attention. However, Sionis has his eyes on a bigger prize. The Bertinelli organized crime family was gunned down years earlier, but no one was ever able to put their hands on their fortune valued in the millions. Sionis knows all the account numbers hiding the Bertinelli’s millions were laser etched on a 30-carat diamond and he has finally tracked it down. He sends Dinah and his enforcer, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), to pick up the diamond, but it is stolen by a teenaged pickpocket named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Sionis puts a half-million-dollar bounty on Cain’s head, sending everyone in Gotham’s crime world, including Harley, looking for her. As the hunt for Cain heats up, Harley, Montoya, Huntress and Lance find themselves forced to team up to protect the young pickpocket’s life and their own.

“Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn)” is another in the trend of giving the bad guys their own movie. We’ve gotten “Suicide Squad,” “Venom” (both getting sequels), “Joker” (possibly getting a sequel), and now “Birds of Prey.” While not strictly about villains, three-fifths of the main characters are criminals in some way, so majority rules. As has happened in all but “Joker,” the bad guys rally to fight a worse guy, making them the good guys that do bad things for the best reasons. Since watching villains do things with no redeeming value is depressing (but profitable as in “Joker”), the trend of villain-centric films is something of a cop out since they wind up being the heroes by the end. “Birds of Prey” continues this trend but does it with such style and attitude, you don’t mind seeing a rehash of most other bad guy stories.

Margot Robbie’s Harley is the narrator of “Birds of Prey” and, reflecting the characters scattered personality, the movie’s story jumps around in time. While I initially found the jumbled narrative annoying, it eventually makes sense as all the story threads tie together. While this isn’t the most imaginative way to tell a story, it works to fit in with Harley’s unfocused nature.

“Birds of Prey” teeters on falling apart for most of its runtime. Between Harley’s insanity, Sionis’ cruelty, neurosis and suggested bisexuality, and the over-the-top violence, director Cathy Yan dances on the razor’s edge of catastrophe. To her credit, Yan manages to pull back from the precipice and deliver a film that gives the audience insane stunts, graphic violence, and characters with enough redeeming values to forgive their past transgressions. All while staying true to the characters and their comic book origins.

Yan and writer Christina Hodson fill “Birds of Prey” with plenty of action and, more importantly, humor. The film is plenty dark when it needs to be, but even when Harley is facing certain death at the hands of Sionis or any one of the people coming after her, she manages a funny quip or an imaginative way out of her sticky situation. The script gives funny moments to just about every speaking character, and even finds some humor for Harley’s pet hyena she names Bruce.

DC films had developed a reputation for being awfully dark and overly serious. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” was certainly guilty of that, and to a lesser extent, “Justice League.” The shakeup of leadership in the DC Extended Universe seems to have allowed some lighter, more humorous takes to be applied to the most recent films. “Wonder Woman,” “Shazam,” “Aquaman” and now “Birds of Prey” have all been significantly less dour than their predecessors. The odd man out here is “Joker,” but I have my own theories as to why that doesn’t count in the DCEU. Listen to the next episode of Comedy Tragedy Marriage for a more thorough explanation. That episode should be out on Tuesday evening, February 11.

“Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn)” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material. Several legs are broken at the knee with that joint bending in the wrong direction. A few arms suffer similar fates at the elbow. There are numerous shootings including an entire multi-generational family being gunned down. Several people get shot with crossbow bolts with some of those injuries being very bloody. A family has their faces peeled off. Numerous bad guys are hammered with a giant mallet. A character is blown apart by a hand grenade. That’s a small portion of the violence in the film. The drug material involves a humorous scene where Harley uses cocaine stored in police evidence as a shield from bullets. The bullets rip through the pallet of coke bundles, creating a cloud around Harley. She inhales deeply to gain energy to fight against those attacking her. To be honest, I don’t remember any overt sexual moments in the film. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Birds of Prey” was initially thought to debut with an opening weekend box office of around $60 million. While it took the top spot in its first weekend, it brought in what is considered a surprisingly low $33 million. Some analysts think the problem is the R rating keeping younger audiences away. “Suicide Squad” was PG-13 and opened at over $130 million. I don’t think that was entirely the issue. To be perfectly honest, I believe there was a combination of misogyny and no highly powered villain playing a big role in the story. The largest segment of the comic book movie audience is male. The only men on screen in this film are vile. With no one to reflect their hero fantasies back to them on screen, men comprised 49 percent of the opening weekend audience (according to numbers from Box Office Mojo). I believe that lack of strong male on screen presence is why some of the nerds that normally fill theaters stayed away. And, with all its faults, “Suicide Squad” had some flashy villains like Enchantress, El Diablo and Killer Croc. While one of the characters in “Birds of Prey” is Black Canary, she only uses her powers to full force once. No one is flying, shooting fire, wielding magic or looks like a humanoid crocodile ripping out necks. Fortunately, such things don’t trouble me enough to stay away from what is a fun adventure, and those holding a grudge over very little testosterone on screen should get over it.

“Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn)” gets five stars.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing the likely very unromantic film “Fantasy Island” for WIMZ.com.

Other movies coming out this week:

The Photograph—

Sonic the Hedgehog—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Gretel & Hansel”

Gretel and Hansel (Sophia Lillis and Sammy Leakey) live in a dark time of plagues, poverty and famine. Their father has died and their mother, unable to feed them and becoming mentally ill, sends them out to find work and food on their own. Traveling through the dark woods, they become more and more hungry, resorting to eating wild mushrooms that cause them to giggle uncontrollably and hallucinate. Eventually, they run across a house that emanates the smell of cakes, bacon and other delicious foods. Gretel sends Hansel in through a window where he finds a huge table set with a roast pig, fresh fruits, pies, breads and more. Looking through the window, Gretel sees her brother swept up by a dark figure. Trying to break through with a rock, Gretel is preparing to start a fire when the home’s owner appears. Holda (Alice Krige), holding Hansel, is an elderly woman that invites Gretel to come in. Inside the dark house, Gretel and Hansel eat to their heart’s content. Holda is a bit odd but unthreatening. She tells the pair they are welcome to stay as long as they wish. Hansel thinks the pair have hit the jackpot, but Gretel is unsure. She has experienced some of the world and knows nothing is given without something expected in return. Holda doesn’t seem to want anything from the two but accepts their offer to do chores in exchange for food and a bed. Gretel notices there are no animals or fruit trees around and wonders where the pig, beef and milk come from. Holda begins to teach Gretel the ways of witchcraft and she is a quick study. Soon, Gretel begins having nightmares of secret rooms filled with corpses and children hiding in the woods. Nothing in Holda’s cabin is quite what it seems: The food, the dreams, nothing.

As I left “Gretel & Hansel,” I wasn’t exactly sure what to think. The film is stylish, going for a combination of depressing grey and smoky orange color schemes to light the film. There are massive storytelling gaps that might be considered artistic in a French impressionistic film from the 1950’s but now cause more confusion that anything else. There are no scares in the movie, only moments of tension and dread as you wonder what might be about the happen next. There’s also a thread of sadness and pity for these two children, sent out into a world that has nothing to offer but abuse, arduous labor and death. It’s not exactly the film to see if you’re looking for a lighthearted romp or a scary dive into a nightmare, but it might work if you’re forgiving and looking for a challenge.

To be honest, nothing much happens in “Gretel & Hansel.” There’s backstory involving the dark magic that appears later, a moment of peril as a strange man attacks the pair and a funny moment where the desperately hungry children trip balls after ingesting some magic mushrooms. Once the pair arrives at Holda’s cabin, the story puts on the brakes until the very end. There are some nightmares where Gretel sees a room under the house with a big table. The table has corpses under a sheet. There are other nightmares that might be real. Much of the film involves Holda and Gretel talking. It isn’t anything that interesting yet is presented as a revelation of dark insights. It works well enough to instill a desire to see what’s next, but the film only delivers anything truly interesting at the end. That ending feels undeserved and beyond what could be expected. I don’t want to spoil it for those wanting to see it, but “Gretel & Hansel” requires patience to find enjoyable.

“Gretel & Hansel” is rated PG-13 for disturbing images/thematic content, and brief drug material. I described the drug material earlier. The pair eat the mushrooms out of desperation, not to get high. There are scenes of blood, entrails and a severed limb poured onto a table. There is also a dream sequence showing children appearing on the other side of a mirror and pounding to get out. A crazed man is shot by an arrow in the head to prevent him from attacking the children. A nobleman asks Gretel if she’s a virgin. There is no foul language.

The original fairytale has received Hollywood’s attention before, most recently in 2013 with “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” an R rated action movie where Jeremy Renner plays Hansel as a diabetic, caused by all the sweets he ate at the witch’s house. He and Gretel, played by Gemma Arterton, roam the countryside, killing witches for money. It was a silly film with more in common with “The Avengers” than Grimm’s fairytale, however it made over $250 million worldwide on a $50 million production budget. Perhaps that’s why this film got made.

“Gretel & Hansel” didn’t make me feel much of anything. It is an interestingly shot film with a great deal of potential. Focusing on Gretel, as the title suggests, is a good idea from co-writer and director Oz Perkins, son of “Psycho” himself, Tony Perkins. It is a shame that so little came from it. Made for a paltry $5 million, the film will likely make a profit and provide Perkins with more directing opportunities, however this seems like a missed opportunity. Sophia Lillis is a very good actress. She made an impression with “IT: Chapter One” and deserves a vehicle that will fully showcase her talents. Unfortunately, “Gretel & Hansel” only makes her stick out like a sore thumb because she doesn’t put on a British accent. It seems like a careless oversight to not have her a voice coach so her character would blend in better with a largely UK cast. That is just one of many mistakes this film makes. And still I found myself enjoying the movie despite its best efforts to turn me against it.

“Gretel & Hansel” gets three stars out of five.

There’s only one new film opening this week, “Birds of Prey.”

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