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.

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.

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.

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?—

Review of “Office Christmas Party”

I don’t know about you but where I work used to throw a very nice Christmas party. We would dress up, go to an off-site location, like a restaurant that closed for us or a ballroom, have a great spread of food, open bar, karaoke and prizes for employee of the year and gift cards for the staff would be passed out. It was quite a shindig that would be talked about for days after. Now things are a bit more laid back. We gather in a conference room at work, have a potluck lunch and play a few games for gift cards. There’s no bar, no catering and, much to my chagrin, no karaoke. I’m not complaining as we probably get far more of a holiday treat than most. Still, I miss the parties that sometimes got a little wild and how we would talk about “that” co-worker that passed out in his chair or puked on the dancefloor from too much holiday cheer. No matter how excessive our get-togethers became, they look like a Boy Scout Jamboree compared to the events in “Office Christmas Party.” While I think I would feel wholly out of place and very uncomfortable at such a massive drink-and-drug-fueled bacchanalia I did enjoy watching it in movie form.

The Chicago office of tech/server company Zenotech is managed by Clay (TJ Miller), son of the late company founder. His sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the interim CEO which may be made permanent at the next board meeting. Clay and Carol have a strained relationship as he was coddled and protected by his father, allowing him to skate through school and life, while she worked hard and made herself into a smart and shrewd business executive. Chief Technical Officer for the Chicago office is Josh (Jason Bateman) who has just finalized his divorce. His immediate underling Tracey (Olivia Munn) thinks Josh plays it too safe and she has been working on a new method for wireless internet access that could revolutionize connectivity. Josh thinks the plan is far from ready. Carol storms into the office and calls a department head meeting where she announces layoffs of 40% of the staff, no bonuses and cancels the Christmas party. Clay and Josh tell her they are about to pitch a big server contract to Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) who handles tech purchases for a giant company. If they can land the contract Carol, who is leaving that night for London, agrees there won’t be any layoffs and bonuses will be paid. Clay, Josh and Tracey meet with Davis but he fears Zenotech is more concerned about the bottom line than its employees, citing the recent closing of another branch. Clay ensures Davis Zenotech is more like a family than a company and invites him to the office Christmas party despite it being cancelled by Carol. He agrees to come giving Clay, Josh and Tracey only five hours to throw together a massive blowout from scratch.

“Office Christmas Party” is a pretty typical R-rated raunchy comedy. There is some nudity, some drug use, some hidden attraction between a couple of characters that slowly is exposed, a quirky member of the staff that goes from being hated to being loved, family rifts are mended, etc. Looking at what makes up the story, the film is a convoluted and overstuffed mess. Judging it by how much I laughed, it’s a holiday miracle.

“Office Christmas Party” is filled with lots of funny people: TJ Miller, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni, Matt Walsh and more. Some of these folks, namely Miller, were allowed to improvise on set extensively. A surprisingly high percentage of what stayed in the film works. It’s one of those rare comedies where the actors were allowed to just play and see what happens and it actually came out funny. There are a lot of laughs in “Office Christmas Party.” Many of them are cheap visual gags and tasteless sexual humor but funny is funny so who cares.

A surprising comedic performance is turned by Courtney B. Vance. Better known for his dramatic roles in a couple of the “Law & Order” series and most recently in “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” for which he won an Emmy outstanding lead actor in a drama limited series, Vance starts out serious and straight-laced; but an encounter with a face full of cocaine accidently put through a snow blower releases the party animal within the character. It is a wildly different role for Vance and he performs it with abandon and glee. You actually feel his character is relieved to let loose and have fun for once. Granted, it ends somewhat badly for that character but still, Vance’s performance is so energetic it almost makes his injuries worth it.

Kate McKinnon also turns in another brilliant supporting performance as Mary, the head of human resources. Constantly reminding people about the risks they run for enjoying themselves too much at the party (including telling them they need to have any party sex off the work property and in the parking lot next door), McKinnon plays Mary like a volcano about to erupt. She wants to do the things she warns others not to but lacks the confidence and fears what her co-workers would think of her. She shouldn’t worry since none of them like her for her constant reminders about following proper office protocols and the dress code. McKinnon might be getting pigeonholed as the eccentric supporting player but she tears into this one with enormous gusto and fearlessness. I’m sure we’ll discover she is a brilliant dramatic actress one day but I do enjoy her performance here as the odd duck that finally finds her place.

The story of “Office Christmas Party” is overly complicated and takes a few odd turns while still being rather predictable. I won’t get too specific about the details but it seems to not be sure exactly how to get to the inevitable happy ending so it keeps throwing in complications for the main characters while juxtaposing it with the increasing insanity of the party. The ever increasing alcohol abuse, drug use and office casual sex reaches such an overload it isn’t realistically sustainable. I know it’s a movie and there wasn’t any actual substance abuse and rampant unsafe sex but there comes a point where its onscreen depiction exceeds the audiences’ ability to accept or believe it. The same can be said for the complications piled on complications that show up for our heroes. The speed with which they are solved also makes the weak and overloaded story that much more threadbare.

“Office Christmas Party” is rated R for drug use, crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language throughout. Pot and cocaine are shown being freely used in the latter half of the movie. Alcohol overindulgence is also a major part of the story. There are several brief views of topless women, a very brief view of male genitalia and an equally brief view of a couple having sex on a desk as well as many bare backsides of both sexes. Foul language is common throughout.

It may not become a family holiday tradition to watch the DVD of “Office Christmas Party,” but it is a fun way to kill a couple of hours if you want to take a break from holiday shopping in your local multiplex. The laughs are as free flowing as the alcohol at the party of the title. It isn’t for the easily offended and those that can’t take a joke at the expense of the holiday. If you have your big boy Santa hat on, this might be just the relief from the holiday hassle you are looking for.

“Office Christmas Party” gets five stars.

This week we get a visit from death, love and time plus we return to a galaxy far, far away. I’ll see and review at least one of the following and who am I kidding as we all know what I’m going to see:

Collateral Beauty—

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—

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

Review of “Incarnate”

There are few things that signal a movie in which the studio has no faith than its release date. Any movie released in the first few weeks of January is probably not very good and isn’t expected to make much money. Labor Day weekend is also a bit of a dumping ground. Plus movies released in an incompatible season; for instance, films where a holiday is prominently featured but its release date is nowhere near that holiday. To a lesser extent, scary movies that come out near Christmas tend to be really, really bad. That’s what I expected when the only movie in wide release the weekend of December 2, 2016 was “Incarnate” and I wasn’t all that excited about seeing it. It may not be great but it surprised me.

An 11-year old boy named Cameron (David Mazouz) hears a noise in his kitchen late one night. Walking through the apartment he shares with his recently divorced mother Lindsey (Carice van Houten), Cameron winds up in the kitchen where he notices dirty footprints on the floor and hears a hissing sound coming from the ceiling. Looking up, Cameron sees a homeless woman he noticed earlier outside his building is floating above him. The woman falls from the ceiling and attacks Cameron. The woman is possessed by an evil spirit and it transfers from the woman to Cameron. When the transfer is complete, Cameron snaps the woman’s neck. After an attempt by the Catholic Church to exercise the demon fails, the Vatican sends its representative named Camilla (Catalina Sandino Moreno) to contact Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), an exorcist that uses non-religious means to cast out demons. Dr. Ember calls what he does evictions of parasitic non-corporeal entities. Either way, Cameron needs his help but Dr. Ember is reluctant unless whatever has Cameron is one specific demon he calls Maggie. Dr. Ember learned as a child when he went to sleep he could enter the minds of possessed people. He tried to ignore his ability and live a normal life but one entity seemed to seek him out. Driving with his wife and 11-year old son, Dr. Ember’s car is hit head on by a drunk driver named Maggie but the woman is actually possessed by a demon that promises to hurt everyone Ember loves. Ember’s wife and son died in the crash and Ember is confined to a wheelchair. He now hunts for Maggie in every person he helps. Ember uses drugs to lower his heart rate and breathing down to REM sleep levels and enters the mind of the possessed. He only has seven minutes to get the job done or his heart could stop. Convinced Maggie has taken over Cameron, Ember risks an eternity of torment for his chance at revenge.

“Incarnate” isn’t a great movie but its far better than it has any right to be. Released just before Christmas from Blumhouse Productions and WWE Studios, neither of which are exactly known as quality film houses, the movie would appear to be just another cheap “Exorcist” knockoff that hopes to make a profit off a micro-budget of $5-million. Most of the action takes place in dimly lit rooms with sparse and generic furnishings. Special effects are minimal and consist mostly of fuzzy images and spotlights. At times it looks about as cheap as its budget but somehow, for me anyway, for the most part the movie works.

Some of the acting looks a bit like a high school production of “The Glass Menagerie” with sudden loud voices and grand, sweeping gestures; but a few performances stand out. David Mazouz as the possessed Cameron actually gave me the creeps on occasion. Speaking in the voice of the demon, Mazouz’s facial expressions and mannerisms perfectly conveyed the contempt and superiority Maggie feels towards Dr. Ember. It is a far more convincing and nuanced performance than Mazouz gives in his regular role as young Bruce Wayne on the TV show “Gotham.” Perhaps that show is trying to present the future Batman as having his trademark stoicism from an early age and not allowing Mazouz to show a wider range of expression. His work in “Incarnate,” which was filmed nearly two years ago, shows a much broader range of ability than we see every week on “Gotham.” Perhaps the makers of that show should loosen up their interpretation of the character a bit as Mazouz obviously has the ability.

In a smaller role, Matthew Nable is interesting to watch as Cameron’s father Dan. With limited screen time, Nable shows his character actually grow and learn from his mistakes. It is nice work given how Nable isn’t on screen for very long.

The story takes a few weird turns here and there. A subplot involving a priest with a taste for the finer things in life and an interest in some bizarre, hands-on research that aids Ember’s work seems to have been tacked on to provide a few more characters and explain a plot point late in the film. The movie also doesn’t follow its own rules that it takes a generous bit of time explaining to the audience. I realize it is creating a world of demon possession and exorcism taking place directly within the mind but still, if you say THIS must happen and it does but what was said would result doesn’t, it feels like the filmmakers believe the audience is stupid and won’t notice. I hate that.

“Incarnate” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images, brief strong language, sensuality and thematic elements. Some of those possessed spew black goop and have solid black eyes. We see one character’s neck broken and another character’s arm broken. We see a character burst into flames after a crucifix is shoved in its mouth. An insane character is shown behind a glass door and running into that door. A character has his throat slashed. We don’t see the actual slashing but we see blood spraying on another person. The sensuality is very brief and early in the film. Foul language is widely scattered but there is on “F-Bomb.”

While it isn’t that scary, it doesn’t always follow its own rules and some of the acting could have been better, I don’t believe “Incarnate” is as bad as most of the “real” critics claim. It tells an effective story, it works as both a horror/thriller and a procedural, and there are some really good performances from David Mazouz and Matthew Nable. It won’t win any awards are break any box office records but it is entertaining and that all I really ask.

“Incarnate” gets four out of five stars.

The new movies this week involve holiday hijinks and political dirty pool. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Miss Sloane—

Office Christmas Party—

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

Reviews of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Moana”

It was a magical weekend at the movies for me as I saw both “Moana” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” While there is the shared notion of things beyond our understanding working in the background or shadows, the events of one film are far darker than the other.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just arrived in America from his native England carrying a suitcase filled with magical creatures. When one of them escapes, he struggles to find it and, in the confusion, accidently swaps his suitcase with that of a cannery worker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Kowalski opens the case at his apartment and some of the creatures escape, threatening to expose the wizarding community in America. A magic cop named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) sees Scamander, realizes he’s a wizard, and brings him in to the offices of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) where she plans on charging him for being an unregistered wizard. When they open his case and see only pastries inside (Kowalski is a wannabe baker), Goldstein is dismissed as being incompetent. Meanwhile, a group called the New Salem Philanthropic Society led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is trying to convince people witches and wizards are practicing in America and the group wants to establish witch trials with those convicted being executed. The group points to a recent rash of building destructions done by a dark amorphous force with no apparent explanation. To complicate matters more, there is Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard that believes non-magical people (No-Maj’s in America, Muggles in England) should be ruled over by the magical and has been eliminating those that oppose him.

While it may not have the joy and whimsy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” does provide a pleasant entry into the adult wizarding world. It contains more magical animals than probably all the “Harry Potter” films combined along with a complex story that teases darker times to come. The entry of a younger version of a beloved character is mentioned and will likely be the focus of future films. Potter fans are probably clutching their wands in glee (which sounds dirtier than I intended).

Another pleasing aspect of the story is the introduction of a non-magical main character. While he is often comic relief Jacob Kowalski, as played by Dan Fogler, provides a relatable human character that proves helpful to his new wizard buddies frequently by accident. Kowalski also gets the first love story in this new franchise and it plays like a high schoolers first crush. It is painfully cute to see Kowalski and Tina Goldstein’s sister Queenie, played by Alison Sudol, making doe eyes at each other. Assuming the next film in the series doesn’t focus on completely different characters, it will be fun to see how a no-maj and a magical person deal with their differences as their relationship grows and as they face whatever peril comes their way next as Grindelwald is likely to be the baddie through the entire series.

The visual effects are overall spectacular with a few minor glitches. There is one particularly large beast that is featured near the end of the film and with which Newt physically interacts where the CGI was flat and the contact between the two looked awkward. Otherwise, the creatures and their effect on the physical environment is believable. The destructive force that is tearing up and through the streets of New York rarely looks the same twice and that’s the way it is meant to be as it is chaos personified. It is a great boss (to borrow a gaming term) since it is sometimes invisible, seemingly unstoppable and totally unpredictable. I look forward to seeing more magical creatures.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence. People are shown being thrown around by various magical events. One character is shown shooting electrical bolts from his wand and shocking another character. A couple of people are killed by the unknown violent force and their faces are shown turned grey and with various cuts. Kowalski is bitten by one of the creatures in the suitcase. There are other scattered acts of mayhem.

“Harry Potter” fans will find much to enjoy in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” but those who are unfamiliar with wizards, muggles, Hogwarts and the like will probably be lost and refuse to invest the time to acquaint themselves with this magical realm. That’s ok as it means more popcorn at the theatre for the rest of us.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” gets five stars.

Moana

Ever since she was a small child, Moana (voiced by Auli’I Cravalho) has heard the story from her grandmother Tala (voiced by Rachel House) about how the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) had stolen the Heart of Creation, a magical stone, from Te Fiti, the creator of all islands. Stealing the stone leads to a creeping blackness that spreads death wherever it touches. Moana’s father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temuera Morrison) dismisses the stories as legends and urges Moana to prepare herself to become the leader of her people on their beautiful Pacific island. Between the coconuts and other crops growing on the island and the plentiful fish in the reef-protected lagoon, there is no need for Moana’s people to travel past the reef into the dangerous open ocean. But soon the coconuts and crops are turning black and there are no more fish in the lagoon. With her dying breath, Tala gives Moana the Heart of Creation that she has carried in a seashell locket around her neck and tells her to find Maui and replace the Heart of Creation to save their people.

“Moana” is an uplifting tale of facing your fear, going from being a child to an adult and learning to live with others shortcomings as they have to live with yours. In short, it’s your basic Disney animated film. It also looks spectacular and has some very nice songs as well. It’s also another Disney animated film with a strong lead character that’s a female. It won’t go unnoticed by some that the male characters are largely stubborn, unyielding and far too proud to admit they are wrong until it is shoved in their faces and they are unable to deny it any longer. While films of this nature often deal in absolutes (and in life there are none save death) “Moana” manages to dish out its message in a pleasant way without sounding too preachy.

Visually, the film is beyond spectacular. From the island vistas to the vast ocean views, “Moana” is a feast for the eyes. The ocean, which is a character in itself, sparkles and shimmers in the sun in a hypnotic way. It will remind anyone that’s been to the beach of that one perfect day on vacation. I almost felt the need for sunscreen after seeing the film. There are undersea creatures and monsters that seem to jump off the screen even in the 2D version I saw. A giant lava monster may actually be too intense a visual for some younger members of the audience as it exudes an anger and dread that is transmitted directly into the nightmare region of your brain.

While your mind is dealing with what you are seeing, there are the songs that soar with anthems of hope and a dream for a brighter future. One song, sung by Dwayne Johnson’s Maui character, is a comic showstopper. There isn’t a super catchy tune like “Frozen’s” “Let it Go” (which I’m sure will come as a welcome bit of news for parents burned out on that ear worm) the songs are fun, uplifting and pleasant in a way that might not cause hours long repeats in the car.

The voice cast is amazing with a special kudos going to Rachel House who voice Moana’s grandmother Tala. I could listen to Tala tell stories and offer advice from now until the end of time. While I doubt it will happen, I wouldn’t mind seeing a spin-off film of the adventures of young Tala narrated by old Tala. House is able to wring every bit of joy, sadness and every emotion in between from each of her lines. It’s a great performance that needs to be experienced by anyone that’s a fan of good voice acting.

“Moana” is rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements. The grief over the loss of a loved one is shown. Violent storms are shown throwing around Moana’s canoe. There are fights between Maui and a couple of mythical creatures, including the lava monster. That lava monster is shown crawling on all fours in an effort to attack one character. There are small coconut-looking creatures that are described as pirates and killers shown attacking Moana and Maui.

“Moana” is a nearly perfect animated film with plenty for both the kids and their parents. It’s the kind of movie adults won’t mind sitting through until it is released on DVD or on streaming platforms when your children will demand to watch it over and over again. Even then for the first several viewings you’ll find little nuances in Dwayne Johnson’s performance as Maui that may keep you entertained for a few seconds. There are certainly worse films you could be forced to watch again and again.

“Moana” also gets five stars.

There’s only one new film in theatres this week. Unless something very interesting shows up at me arthouse cinema, I suppose I’ll be seeing the new horror flick “Incarnate.”

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