Review of “Captain Marvel”

It’s 1995 and the Earth is unaware of all the intelligent life in the galaxy. Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior in the fight against a shapeshifting race called Skrulls. Vers is part of a team led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and is sent on a mission to retrieve a Kree spy on another world that is being invaded by Skrulls. The mission is a trap and Vers is captured. Her brain is scanned by Skrulls and several memories are retrieved. The Skrulls are looking for an engineer and inventor on Earth named Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) they believe has invented a lightspeed engine. Vers can’t remember her life prior to arriving on the Kree home world and these recovered memories give her a glimpse into her mysterious early life. Vers breaks free and steals an escape pod, but it is damaged and disintegrates entering the atmosphere. Vers crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster video store. She manages to cobble together a communications device using parts from a Radio Shack and a pay phone to contact Yon-Rogg, letting him know she is on Earth. He tells her to stay put and a ship is on its way, but Vers tells him she needs to find Dr. Lawson and keep the Skrulls from getting her lightspeed engine. Agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg) from SHIELD arrive and attempt to take Vers into custody, but she runs off after a disguised Skrull attacks her with an energy weapon. During the chase, Fury discovers the Coulson riding in the car with him is a disguised Skrull, leading Fury to intentionally crash his car, killing the Skrull. At SHIELD headquarters, the Skrull is autopsied in the presence of Fury and his boss Director Keller (Ben Mendelsohn). Director Keller is actually the Skrull, Talos. Doing some research at an internet café, Vers searches for a restaurant she saw in one of her memories. When she arrives, Nick Fury is waiting for her and they talk about what she is and why she’s on Earth. He trusts what she’s telling him, so he takes her to the facility where Dr. Lawson’s engine is being developed. Skrull Keller arrives with other SHIELD agents to arrest Vers and Fury. The pair escape then go on the run to find Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) to try and help Vers recover more memories of her early life when she was known as Carol Danvers and was an Air Force pilot, while also looking for the lightspeed engine to keep it away from the Skrulls.

“Captain Marvel” is Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie. There’s a great deal of pressure to make more inclusive superhero movies. The majority of these films have both male leads and men playing the villain. The only female hero prior to “Captain Marvel” has been DC’s “Wonder Woman” and a shared lead position in Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” The only female antagonists I can think of are Ghost from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and Hela in “Thor: Ragnarok.” While Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Nakia, Okoye, Shuri and other female characters have played important supporting roles in Marvel films, none have focused on a singular woman hero with power until now. This film has faced more scrutiny than most Marvel releases. It is the first MCU film following the death of Stan Lee. It has also been the focus of many internet trolls looking to make a point from their parent’s basements. They feel any woman with power (or powers) is an attack on all men. Their actions forced Rotten Tomatoes to change their audience score reporting, but apparently had no impact on the film’s power at the box office. With so much attention on “Captain Marvel,” and taking all the social/political nonsense out of the equation, is it an entertaining film?

The cast of “Captain Marvel” is terrific. Academy Award winner Brie Larson is perfect for the powerful, proud, capable, and confident Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. Her playful banter with Jackson’s Nick Fury feels natural, not a script she learned for a job. Larson is also a natural action star, performing the complicated (granted, heavily edited) fight scenes early in the film with the grace of a dancer.

There’s a through-line in the film of Vers/Carol being stubborn and a “pain in the ass.” It’s a simple technique to show a perceived flaw as an actual strength. Larson handles all the aspects of the character’s personality as natural traits instead of showy actor flourishes. It’s a beautifully nuanced performance of a character that could have been a cliched “superhero,” hands-on-hips, wind-in-her-hair routine.

Ben Mendelsohn’s Skrull Talos is able to shapeshift into any person he sees. Mendelsohn also tailored his performance depending on how he looked. When he’s Director Keller, Mendelsohn is all business and speaks with an American accent. When he’s under all the latex appliances to become Talos, he uses his natural Australian accent and is more playful. While his speech is somewhat affected by the makeup and prosthetic teeth, Mendelsohn still manages to put a spark in Talos that implies there’s more to the character than a mindless killing machine. The Skrulls are an interesting race, with their abilities and exposed backstory later in the film. Perhaps Mendelsohn will return in a future project telling us more about the history of the Skrulls in a standalone film or Disney+ project. I’d see that because of Mendelsohn.

The Nick Fury of “Captain Marvel” is far different than the one we’ve seen in the MCU to date. This younger Fury is a bit more trusting and laughs easier. He takes Vers’ word for what her mission is after she doesn’t vaporize him with her photon blasts. She gets personal information out of Fury that we’d never get out of the one we’ve known for the last 10 years. Samuel L. Jackson looks like he’s having fun playing Fury, something I couldn’t say in his earlier appearances. Fury is also a bigger part of the story instead of a peripheral character. Jackson and Larson’s interactions are understandably tentative at first but become warmer and even familial as the story progresses.

While the performances are great, the story of “Captain Marvel” comes up a bit short. First, it’s repetitive. I’m sure an examination of all superhero movies would show similar repetition, but it really stands out in “Captain Marvel.” There’s a fight, a chase, a resolution, some chat, a fight, a chase, a resolution, some chat, etc. The series gets repeated at least five times. It would be different if something truly amazing happened in one or more of these series, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

For an origin story, there’s not much original in what happens until the last 15 minutes of the movie. Only then does the film come alive and impress us with a superpowered light show and something of a tutorial about how to manage Captain Marvel’s true abilities. All the back and forth with the Skrulls, learning about her past, being on the run with Fury, spending time in Louisiana with Maria, it all feels like filler. There is important story information in some parts of these scenes, but it’s padded and like busy work given to script writing interns. While the average superhero movie is two hours or more (sometimes much more, “Avengers: Endgame”), and this film clocks in at two hours, four minutes, it feels too long. While every film has stuff in it that could probably be trimmed, the best ones should feel like every frame is important and worth seeing. “Captain Marvel” doesn’t feel that way.

“Captain Marvel” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language. Punches are thrown, beatdowns are given (Fury comes out on the short end of one), energy beams are shot, stuff blows up. It’s standard superhero action. We get a look at a Skrull being autopsied. The suggestive language consists of a male Air Force pilot asking Danvers if she knows why it’s called a “cockpit.” Foul language is otherwise widely scattered and mild.

Returning to my original question, is the film entertaining, my answer is mostly. It feels too long and too repetitive with nothing special about the storytelling or what we learn about Carol Danvers. The film’s twist isn’t all that surprising given what we see about those involved in it. However, the performances by Larson, Jackson, Mendelsohn and the rest of the cast raise the entertainment value, along with the way Captain Marvel will be involved in the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (make sure you watch the mid-credits scene for a sneak preview), making “Captain Marvel” required viewing. It’s not the best MCU film and it isn’t the worst. It is squarely in the middle and does the job required of it.

“Captain Marvel” get three stars out of five.

Opening this week are films about oppression, teen romance during illness and the power of imagination. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Captive State—

Five Feet Apart—

Wonder Park—

For the latest in movie, TV and streaming news listen to The Fractured Frame, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Glass”

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) runs a home security company by day and patrols the streets of Philadelphia by night stopping or avenging crimes. The blurry images of David in his poncho have earned him the media nickname of The Overseer. David, with the help of his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), is on the hunt for Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with 24 distinct personalities, who has kidnapped four cheerleaders. One of Kevin’s personalities is a violent killer called The Beast. Joseph is able to narrow down the search area and David actually bumps into Kevin, getting a psychic image of the girls in an abandoned factory. David frees the cheerleaders and fights with Kevin as The Beast. After they fall out of a window, the two are apprehended by police and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). David and Kevin are taken to a mental hospital where they are held along with Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the man responsible for the train crash of which David was the only survivor nearly 20 years ago and who wants to be called Mr. Glass. Dr. Staple tells the three she specializes in treating people with a particular kind of mental disorder: Those that consider themselves superheroes. She connects physical and emotional trauma from their lives to their delusion of being extraordinary. David and Kevin are held in rooms that can weaken them. David’s room is equipped with high-pressure nozzles spraying him with water while Kevin’s room is fitted with strobe lights that force another personality to take over should he become the aggressive Beast. Elijah is kept under constant sedation. Dr. Staple has three days to examine and treat them. If she cannot convince the trio of their averageness, they may never leave the hospital.

Director and writer M. Night Shyamalan apparently had a plan back in 2000 when “Unbreakable” was released to continue the story of David Dunn and Mr. Glass. Other projects and a downturn in the quality and box office of his films put that plan on hold until “Split” came out in 2017. The success of that film brings us to the team-up flick “Glass” which completes what has been dubbed the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. Sadly, Shyamalan had too much time to ponder how the story should go and couldn’t make up his mind, so it went in several different directions leading to an unsatisfying mush.

“Glass” starts out with great potential. The battle between David Dunn’s reluctant hero and Kevin Crumb’s damaged villain seems like a brilliant premise for a movie. Even when the pair plus Mr. Glass get locked up together, the setting for a battle of brains and brawn feels more complete and intriguing. Dr. Staple’s inclusion muddies the waters a bit and the choices made by David and Kevin to play along (David could break his chains and Kevin could simply close his eyes) are odd since their existence and reality are being challenged. When we get to the finale, that’s when things really start to implode.

Prior to that, there’s a practical matter that really screams out for discussion: The mental hospital where our three protagonists are held is the most poorly run institution on the planet. Apparently, the place empties out of doctors and staff after 5 pm leaving one orderly to work overnight. Elijah meanders around the building with no trouble. He and Kevin walk out practically unnoticed. David also strolls through the building looking for his rain poncho with no interference. This was a catastrophe begging to happen, and it does.

That said, the ending of “Glass” is kept in the confines of the grounds of the hospital. While the plan is to create chaos at another location (which is made clear on a couple of occasions), Shyamalan stays firmly rooted just outside the mental institution, staging what is likely one of the choppiest and most disjointed fight scenes in movie history. Dunn is supposed to be this incredibly strong man, impressing his young son with how much weight he can lift in “Unbreakable,” but never actually punches Kevin when he’s in Beast mode. By the same token, the Beast never punches David. They spend most of their fights throwing each other around and trying to strangle each other. Some of the fights are shot in POV so there is a distracting amount of movement. It becomes disorienting trying to focus on what’s happening when the entire world you can see is shaking like a paint mixing machine. There are also long pauses for explanations and revelations about past story items. While one is the ubiquitous “Shyamalan Twist,” it brings what little excitement generated from the action to a halt.

There is a second twist to “Glass” that comes out of nowhere and it feels like a bad idea that no one could talk Shyamalan out of. I shan’t get into it here, so I don’t spoil it, but it builds a whole added layer into the mythology that seems unnecessary and so out of left field as to be a last-minute thought. I can’t say much more than that, but it seems like Shyamalan has thoughts of continuing the story of superheroes among us.

The film also sputters to a stop. It seems to be over a couple of times, then there’s another five to 10 minutes. This is another reason why the second twist feels like an end-of-the-writing-process inclusion. Shyamalan felt like another tag scene needed to be added. Then another and another, so the last-minute addition was complete. From my end, it’s a lot of images that don’t add anything to what’s come before.

“Glass” is rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language. There are numerous times when a person is thrown against the wall by either David or Kevin. One woman is hit by a table thrown by Kevin and we find out later she had broken bones from it. One person gets their throat slashed but the only blood we see is in the aftermath and not as much as there would be. We see another person crushed by Kevin. Kevin also bites and rips off flesh from a person, but we only see blood around his mouth. There are suggestions of the kind of abuse young Kevin suffered but we don’t see it directly. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Despite all the issues I have with “Glass,” I enjoyed watching the film. I’ve seen both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” so finding out the two films existed in the same universe and the story would be concluded in “Glass” was an interesting concept. The movie has so much potential and gets off to a good start; however, once the doctor with the oddly specific specialty is added and the seemingly last-minute added layer of mythology is exposed, “Glass” becomes a muddled mess of half-thought-out ideas that’s been too long in the creation process. I wanted to love it, but “Glass” broke me.

“Glass” gets three stars out of five.

This week, kids training to save the world and a fisherman’s past comes back to haunt him open in theaters. I’ll see one of the following:

The Kid Who Would Be King—

Serenity—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Incredibles 2”

After taking on the Underminer as he robbed a bank, Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), and their kids Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) are all detained by the police. Supers are still banned from using their powers and the damage caused by the family in their effort to stop the Underminer leads to the ending of the Super Relocation program meaning in two weeks the family will be homeless unless something happens. That something is a meeting with Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener). Devour owns a massive tech firm and his sister is their head of research and development for the company. Winston is a fan of Supers and thinks they should be allowed to operate in public again. His father was a fan of Supers as well but was murdered in a home invasion robbery after all the Supers was banned. He believes Elastigirl is the best choice to be the public face of Supers as her style causes less collateral damage then Mr. Incredible. That means Mr. Incredible (or Bob Parr) will need to be a stay at home dad for Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack. There’s a new villain that is the target of Elastigirl’s first mission: Screenslaver. Screenslaver can send hypnotic messages through any video screen making those affected do whatever they are told. Meanwhile, Jack-Jack is starting to show he has powers…lots of powers. This makes an already difficult job for Bob that much harder.

“Incredibles 2” was released 14 years after the original. That’s several lifetimes in movie years. For a while we got a new “Paranormal Activity” and “Saw” film every year. While there have been long breaks between trilogies “Star Wars” movies are coming out every two years (plus the “Star Wars Story” flicks). With a film as successful as “The Incredibles” was in 2004 you’d expect Disney and Pixar to have jumped on the sequel train before now. After all we’ve had three “Toy Story,” three “Cars” and two “Monsters Inc.” movies. What was the hold up on getting “Incredibles 2” into theaters?

Writer and director Brad Bird has been mulling what to do for “Incredibles 2” since the first film came out. Bird is a director that is much in demand so his other projects for Disney/Pixar and other studios kept him too busy to focus on the next chapter in the lives of the Parr family. Plus, animated films take as long if not longer to produce than live-action movies. Once Bird had the time to focus on the script the story of gender role reversals, angsty teenagers and a superpowered baby came into focus. The skill and artistry of thousands of animators, programmers and actors combined with Bird’s script and direction has given us a sequel that was a long time coming but was certainly worth the wait.

It should come as no surprise that “Incredibles 2” looks, well, incredible. The retro modern design of the characters, vehicles, buildings and fashion along with the bright color palate make the visuals pop with vibrancy and a sense of motion even when things are standing still. The way the Supers’ powers are shown is also gorgeous with a character able to open portals from one location to another through glowing holes, electrical emissions shooting from another’s hands and a rather disgusting power of spewing boiling hot glowing gastric juices out of a character’s mouth. That character is rightly named Reflux. You expect a Disney/Pixar film to nail all the little details that have made the animation giant a reliable source for entertaining, fun and sometimes heartbreaking films. “Incredibles 2” has the visual flair you expect and demand from the studio in spades.

It also has a story that is surprisingly contemporary even though it has been told over and over for nearly as long as movies have been a thing. The swapping of roles between a mother and father, from breadwinner to homemaker and vice versa, was the subject of 1983’s “Mr. Mom” starring Michael Keaton and Teri Garr. Thirty-five years later “Incredibles 2” tells the story again. As in “Mr. Mom” the initial results are borderline disastrous, but both our male heroes figure it out eventually.

I’m not sure if it’s good or bad news that we apparently still need to use this trope as the basis for a film but “Incredibles 2” uses it to good effect. It shows the audience that even those people that seem to have it all figured out don’t always know what they are doing. As Bob tries to help Dash with his homework (“Math is math!”) and indirectly ruins the dating life of his daughter Violet he has the sudden addition of Jack-Jack’s emerging powers heaped on top of everything else. He struggles with handling it all but never succumbs to the urge to call his wife Helen. She is trying to make it possible for all Supers, including Bob and the kids, to choose whether they want to be public with their abilities. If you wanted to read far more into it, it could be analogous to people living alternative lifestyles being able to be open and honest with their family and friends. Again, that’s reading far more into this story than is blatantly there but it’s a possibility.

The voice work is stellar as you would expect. Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and all the rest deliver quality performances that only add to the breathtaking visuals. Nelson’s exasperated Bob Parr while trying to help Dash with his homework is alone worth the price of admission. Hunter gives an A+ performance as Helen, giving both the hero and the mother similar yet still unique emotional signatures. Elastigirl takes both roles seriously. While you always expect him to drop a “M*****F****R!” at any moment, Jackson gives Frozone the level of cool you’d expect. While she doesn’t get much screen time, Edna Mode steals the few scenes she’s in. Voiced by writer/director Brad Bird, Mode delivers her trademark biting sarcasm with the fashionable style we love. If they ever decide to make an Edna-centric spin-off, I’ll happily preorder tickets.

“Incredibles 2” is rated PG for some brief mild language and action sequences. While there are threats of injury in the action scenes there is no real damage done to any characters even when large objects land on them. Mr. Incredible is put in peril throughout the film but the most harrowing is when he is trapped underwater for an extended period. There are other action scenes involving explosions and crashes. Elastigirl is locked in a freezer making it dangerous for her to try to use her powers. Foul language is limited to the words “fart” and “Hell.”

While there are times when the characters seem to be in some real peril “Incredibles 2” manages to be a brightly colored antidote to anyone dealing with the emotional aftermath of “Avengers: Infinity War.” We always knew the Marvel heroes would face their mortality at some point due to aging actors and the many times characters are killed (and are eventually reborn) in the comics. It can make for a grim and mildly depressing experience once these inevitable deaths occur. “Incredibles 2” manages to put its characters in danger and still deliver a fun, exciting and ultimately joyous movie. And since these characters are animated they’ll never grow old and never die. If only all our heroes could be immortal.

“Incredibles 2” gets five stars.

There will be no review next weekend as I have some prior commitments, but I’ll be back the weekend of 6/30 to review one or more of the following:

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—

Sicario: Day of the Soldado—

Uncle Drew—

Listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Saints—

Birth of the Dragon—

Leap—

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

Review of “Kong: Skull Island”

It’s 1973. An agreement to end the Vietnam War has been announced. Bill Randa (John Goodman) with the Monarch Project is trying to get a US Senator to approve an expedition to a previously unknown South Pacific island. Randa, and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), sell the expedition as an opportunity to discover new resources and to get to it before the Soviets do. Reluctantly, the senator agrees to piggyback Randa’s project with a survey by Landsat to explore the island. Also going on the trip is a military escort led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). He and his men are fresh from Vietnam and are diverted from going home to go on the mission. Others in the group include a former British Special Forces soldier named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to act as a tracker and hunter, and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photojournalist that formerly worked in Vietnam. The island is surrounded by constant electrical storms that cut off communications with their base ship as they fly in on helicopters. To conduct the geological survey explosive charges are dropped from the helicopters and their vibrations through the ground are picked up by sensors. After a few charges are dropped the fleet of helicopters is attacked by a 100-foot tall gorilla. Swatting all of them out of the air and killing several soldiers and researchers, the survivors are split up and must survive in the jungle while dealing not only with the giant gorilla, but the massive insects and lizards that want to eat them for a snack. Conrad, Weaver and a few others run into a group of natives that live on the island as well as a WWII fighter pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who was shot down by the Japanese. Marlow tells the group that the ape is named Kong by the locals and is treated like a god. He protects the natives from the other animals on the island that come from caverns underground. Lt. Col. Packard wants to kill Kong in retaliation for the deaths of his men and is willing to risk the lives of the other survivors to get the job done.

“Kong: Skull Island” is the second film in a series that plans on bringing giant monsters back to theatres over the next several years. The invasion of the giants began in 2014 with the “Godzilla” reboot and will culminate with a battle royale featuring Kong and Godzilla in 2020. In the interim we’ll see a second Godzilla film where he likely takes on other kaiju from his past including a giant moth and a three-headed monster. While fans of the Japanese “Godzilla” films weren’t thrilled about the latest reboot, the film made over half a billion dollars worldwide. Is the big, hairy ape reboot worth your hard earned money? Read on.

“Kong: Skull Island” delivers on the action front with several encounters between Kong and the numerous massive creatures on the island. We also get a very early look at Kong in a flashback that starts the film. While the CG is a bit flat at times (I saw the 2D version) the digital creations look amazing and the artists are able to keep Kong’s size consistent relative to his surroundings throughout the film. The other monsters on the island, including the big lizard that gives Kong the most trouble, are all creative inventions. Some are based on known animals while others are totally new. It was good to see some other creatures instead of the usual dinosaurs that are the bad guys on Kong’s home turf.

The various monsters are far more interesting than any of the people in “Kong: Skull Island.” Other than Samuel L. Jackson’s intense and insane Army man and John C. Reilly’s goofy marooned pilot, the characters are all pretty cookie cutter and interchangeable. Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins and John Goodman are largely wasted in clichéd and underwritten roles that are mostly good for exposition and little else. While each gets a brief moment when the character is spotlighted none of it is interesting enough to make the audience really care what happens to any of them. The supporting players are mostly used as monster kibble so don’t get too attached to anyone even if some of them are far more intriguing than the top-billed players.

What is far more interesting is the struggle Kong has to survive not only his natural enemies but the two-legged variety that shows up uninvited. The audience is meant to root for Kong against the island creatures and it isn’t hard to take his side against the humans. Jackson’s Packard is a seething hate machine that is looking for redemption after the feeling of betrayal by politicians in Vietnam. He wants to fight a war he can win and believes he is just the man to cut the massive ape down to size. The fact that Kong is the only thing keeping the giant lizards at bay and possibly spreading over the rest of the world isn’t enough for him to end his fight. He’s obsessed and won’t let common sense or the fate of the world deter him from winning this time. I’m sure there’s a political statement in this character somewhere but I was too interested in the outcome of the final battle to figure it out.

“Kong: Skull Island” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence/action and brief strong language. While most deaths aren’t shown we do see Kong smash several people with his paws. The lizard monster consumes a few people. One character dies when impaled through the mouth. We see various creatures burned and ripped apart. Several human characters are shown with blood from injuries. Kong is shown with a large gash on his arm. Kong and another monster are shown being shot by machine guns. Several creatures are shown being cut apart by a sword. One character is carried away by flying creatures and is shown getting an arm ripped off. Foul language is widely scattered but one “F-bomb” gets dropped.

The climactic battle between two massive creatures was surprisingly thrilling despite it being two monsters completely created in computers. Both Kong and the giant lizard are made with very robust personalities. While they are just pixels molded and shaped by various talented artists and engineers they are also extremely well made. I actually cared about how the battle would turn out even though I had a pretty good idea which beast would come out victorious. Even though the human characters are mostly bland and forgettable, “Kong: Skull Island” has monsters with far more personality and they make the movie entertaining. I think next time it would be a better movie if it just had the monsters and used the puny humans as just extras to be crushed under foot…or paw…or claw…or tentacle…or whatever.

“Kong: Skull Island” gets five stars for the monsters and the fights, not for the people.

P.S. There is a brief bonus scene at the end of the credits. It teases what’s to come but should you need to go pee or whatever and miss it, it won’t be a catastrophe.

This week at the local multiplex it’s a tale as old as time along with survival of the fittest. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Beauty and the Beast—

The Belko Experiment—

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

Review of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a typical teenager living in Florida with his dad Frank (Chris O’Dowd) and mom Maryann (Kim Dickens). Jake feels unnoticed by his schoolmates and largely ignored by his family. The only person he feels really close to is his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). Jake gets a frantic phone call from Abe ranting about him being in danger and unable to protect himself without his gun. When Jake arrives, his grandfather’s house has been ransacked and Abe is lying in the woods behind his house with his eyes missing. Abe begs Jake to follow a map and go on a quest of some sort. Jake doesn’t understand and is so shocked he thinks he sees a giant monster wondering in the woods. Thinking he’s crazy, Jake sees Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), a psychiatrist, who suggests Jake and his father travel to the Welsh island where Abe lived for several years during WWII at a home for orphaned children. Abe had told stories about the incredible woman that ran the home and the unusual children that lived there. Arriving on the island, Jake explores the dilapidated home that was hit during a German bombing raid. There he finds old pictures of the former residents…then one is standing in front of him looking the same as in the picture. Freaking out, Jake runs away but knocks himself out. He awakens being carried across the shoulder of a six-year old girl. Set on the ground, Jake finds himself face to face with the children his grandfather had told him about. They lead him through a cave and he walks out into a completely different world. The bombed out house is good as new and he’s greeted at the door by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and is introduced to her group of peculiar children.

There is a great deal more to the story of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” including time loops, 20-foot tall creatures with sharp, jagged teeth and tentacles emanating from their mouths and a group of people looking for eternal life that eat the eyeballs of “peculiars.” This group is led by Mr. Barron played by Samuel L. Jackson wearing a “Don King” fright wig and chewing enough scenery to require a dentist visit to remove the splinters from his gums. In the hands of Tim Burton, a director known for his films about outsiders looking for acceptance and his visual flare, the movie should have leapt off the screen and wowed us while also moving us to tears. It does neither.

The look of the film is not the problem. Burton and his talented effects crew have created a stunning visual world filled with oddities and surprises. From ornate lead shoes to topiary, there’s very little about “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” that isn’t eye catching. Eva Green’s hairstyle, with whirls, odd points and a blue tint, manages to even provide some entertainment as I wondered how and why they made it look that way.

What comes up short is the emotion, the heart, the desire to feel anything about these children in their odd situation. The story is very predictable and feels like all the passion and energy was left on the pages of the graphic novel on which it is based. Other films based on books, like the “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” series, manage to convey the intensity of feeling the characters are experiencing and allowed the audience to feel it too. Perhaps the subject matter “Miss Peregrine’s…” was a bit too whimsical and light to translate from the page to the screen. In any case, the movie merely fills the eyes and not the soul.

It doesn’t help that Asa Butterfield either isn’t a very good actor or was horribly miscast. He looks confused through most of the movie and rarely expresses what appears to be the proper emotion. It’s almost like his response to events occurs half a second later than it should. Seen over and over again, this slight delay becomes increasingly obvious and annoying.

I could go on about the cast, giving each member either their props or comeuppance; however, the only person in this rather large assemblage of actors that really stands out is Samuel L. Jackson and it’s for all the wrong reasons. Jackson seems to be playing a slightly amped up version of himself we see in the Capital One credit card commercials. He’s showboating in a fairly small role to I suppose try and make the part bigger simply by making the character bigger. All he manages to do is stick out like a sore thumb and seem like the wrong actor for the part.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is rated PG-13 for violence and peril and intense fantasy action. There are a couple of scenes showing a character with the eyes removed from the sockets. There is some scary long-legged monsters shown chasing after the children. One character takes hearts and implants them in both dead and inanimate objects, bringing them to life briefly. Some monsters are shot in the head with a crossbow. There is no foul language.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” isn’t a terrible movie. It just isn’t terribly memorable. It looks amazing and features some interesting ideas in regards to people with unique abilities. What it doesn’t do is really strike deep in the heart of the audience and make us care about what happens to the denizens of this peculiar world.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” gets three apathetic stars out of five.

Three new movies hope you feel anything but apathetic about seeing them in the theatre. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Birth of a Nation—

The Girl on the Train—

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life—

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

Reviews of “The Big Short” and “The Hateful Eight” 70mm Roadshow Version

The Big Short

Seeing the impending collapse of the housing market, hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) creates a fund that bets against the massive mortgage funds sold by the biggest banks called a credit default swap market. Believing they will rack up huge fees and never have to pay off his investment, many major banks agree to the fund. Meanwhile, investor Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears about Burry’s fund and begins finding his own investors for the credit swap market. A chance wrong number phone call catches the interest of stock trader Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and he invests millions with Vennett. Two young investors, Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), see a prospectus for Vennett’s fund and approach friend and retired trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them get in on the growing market betting on the failure of mortgage funds. Through greed, manipulation and lax regulation, the American economy and millions of home owners, retirees and small investors were about to lose trillions of dollars while a select few were reaping huge profits from their misfortune.

“The Big Short” is not a film for someone with a short attention span. The labyrinthine collection of funds, abbreviations and acronyms for various packaged mortgage debt is dizzying but essential to having a grasp on what’s going on in the film and why it led to the meltdown of the world economy. Director/co-writer Adam McKay (best known for his work with Will Ferrell) and writer Charles Randolph have done their best to explain what happened in the simplest terms and using Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez as themselves explaining the more complicated concepts directly to the camera in ways the audience can understand. It is a brilliant way to take a hugely complex issue and turn it into somewhat understandable nuggets with humor and a fair amount of rage.

The main cast is broken up into three segments with Bale’s Burry starting things off by figuring out the mortgage market was a house of cards with a time bomb ticking away at its base. Gosling and Carell get involved once the debt market is opened. Magaro, Wittrock and Pitt bring up the rear. While the three groups never interact, they are all dancing in the same financial ballet. The entire cast is pretty brilliant with Gosling and Bale delivering standout performances. Gosling is a slimy Wall Street investor with a slick pitch, spray tan and an utter disdain for his assistants. He berates them when they say anything during his sales pitch. He’s the boss from Hell that still manages to inspire loyalty. Bale has probably the most difficult role as he plays Michael Burry as if he was on the autism spectrum. In the film, Burry displays obsessive behavior, often staying up for days at a time, working in his office with loud heavy metal music playing through speakers or in his earbuds. His ability to focus on the intricacies of subprime mortgages and wade through mountains of reports allows him to see what others cannot. Bale makes subtle decisions with the character that keep Burry from turning into some kind of “Rain Man” caricature. While Burry clearly is wired differently from most others he doesn’t come off as someone who is completely out of place.

If there is any part of “The Big Short” that struck me wrong it was Steve Carell’s Mark Baum. Due to a personal tragedy, Baum is a constant ball of anger and frustration who can’t keep his opinion to himself. He has an investment firm with three other people and works directly with one of the major banks. It seems unlikely he could keep any of these business arrangements considering how quickly he flies off the handle. Carell does the best he can with the part and despite my finding his character grating, Baum is still one of the more sympathetic figures in the movie as his frustration at the impending collapse is based on his revulsion at how the system is so thoroughly corrupt; however, that doesn’t stop him from profiting from the suffering of others. Carell is also wearing an odd wig that looks like it doesn’t quite fit. I found his hair to be a distraction.

“The Big Short” is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity. There are two scenes involving strippers. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Much like a liquid medicine that has a flavor added so your first impression is pleasant then once you swallow the bitterness causes you to shiver, “The Big Short” wraps its message of utter contempt for the banking industry and those who oversee it in a humorous package. There are some decent laugh-out-loud moments in the film. Once you reach the end, that shiver begins to run down your back as you realize the sins of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s are probably being committed again as you read this. There’s a saying about learning from history otherwise we are doomed to repeat it, making “The Big Short” required viewing for anyone with a mortgage.

“The Big Short” gets four stars out of five.

The Hateful Eight

Eight people are waiting out a blizzard at a store/way station called Minnie’s Haberdashery in the mountains of Wyoming in the late 1800’s. John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter who has Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) manacled to his wrist. She is on her way to Red Rock to be hanged. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is also a bounty hunter with three dead outlaws strapped to the top of a stagecoach he was sharing with Ruth and Domergue. Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) was picked up walking through the snow by that same stage coach. He claims his horse broke its leg as he was riding to Red Rock to be sworn in as sheriff but both Ruth and Warren have their doubts about his story due to his family history. Arriving at the store to wait out the storm, they find Oswoldo Mobray (Tim Roth) who identifies himself as the hangman for the territory, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy on his way to visit his mother for the holidays, General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a Confederate general who is on his way to visit his son’s grave, and Bob (Demian Bichir), the Mexican handyman who is watching the store for the Minnie and her husband Sweet Dave while they go visit family on the other side of the mountain. Ruth is not the trusting type and suspects one or more of the people at the store are working with Daisy to kill him and set her free. Despite his reservations, Ruth enters an agreement with Warren working together to make sure Daisy meets her maker at the end of a rope.

I saw the much hyped 70mm version of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” The things you won’t get in the regular version that will play in most theatres is an overture before the film, some alternate versions of some scenes due to the way they will look on smaller screens and an intermission. What you may miss most is the intermission as even the shorter cut is still two hours and 47 minutes. “The Hateful Eight” is filled with beautiful scenery, long tracking shots of characters crossing the one large room in which most of the action takes place and buckets of blood with chunks of flesh added for realism. It is an orgy of set and costume design as well as special effects provided by Greg Nicotero, the man behind the zombies of “The Walking Dead.” And despite all the cursing and racial epithets, the script is something akin to poetry as Tarantino has structured each bit of dialog to be like a verse of a song, providing both information and entertainment. We learn a great deal about most of the characters in “The Hateful Eight” and often times we are taught in a humorous way. And, as with all Tarantino films, there are homages to the westerns of the past that shaped the director’s vision in his youth and, of course, he uses a soundtrack done by Ennio Morricone, the man behind the music for Spaghetti western auteur Sergio Leone. This is probably the most “Quentin Tarantino” movie the director has ever made. Why then was I not that impressed.

Probably the biggest issue was the length. At just over three hours (overture and intermission included), “The Hateful Eight” is a film that takes its sweet time getting moving. Early on we get long views of snow-covered mountains and trees. There is a shot of a statue depicting Christ on the cross that agonizingly slowly pulls out to show us a stagecoach approaching the camera (this includes the opening credits but it still felt leaden). Later, there long dialog scenes that last an eternity. While I praised the script earlier, there are a lot of scenes that are unnecessarily long with Tarantino showing off how he can make his characters say awful things to one another, so much so that after a while it fails to have much impact.

The ending of the film I also found disappointing. After investing one-eighth of a day in watching these characters dance around each other and then endure an orgy of blood and viscera, the movie staggers to a conclusion that fails to deliver any kind of meaningful emotional payoff. It lays there like a fish out of water, the life slowly oozing from it as it gasps for a last breath. Tarantino asks a great deal from his audience in “The Hateful Eight” and he puts on, for the most part, quite a show; however, when he should have put forth his best effort, he seems to have done just barely enough to get to the closing credits. It’s like being on a plane for 18 hours thinking when you land you’ll be on the other side of the world but finding out you’ve just been circling your home airport. You’ve spent an awfully long time traveling but discover it really wasn’t worth the trip.

“The Hateful Eight” is rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic nudity, language and violent sexual content. It’s a Tarantino film so the bloody violence is a given. I won’t give specifics as not to spoil it for you but there are numerous shootings with various degrees of bloodiness and goriness. Some limbs get separated from bodies at times as well as one head. One character is punched numerous times producing a great deal of blood. There is a scene showing a naked man walking through snow and there is full frontal nudity. A sex act is shown and graphically described. Foul language is common.

Tarantino has been interviewed numerous times in the run-up to the release of “The Hateful Eight” and has described in glowing terms how much better film is than digital photography. In the past, Tarantino has called digital projection “TV in public.” Having seen this film in 70mm widescreen, I would point out to the director I could see the graininess of the film. The print I saw already had nicks and scratches in it during what was only its fifth screening. Using a lens that hasn’t been on a camera since Charlton Heston’s “Ben Hur” was filmed is great for nostalgia but doesn’t really do anything to advance the art of filmmaking.

Tarantino loves old movies so much he bought a theatre in Los Angeles, CA and programs only the films he thinks should be seen and remembered. That’s great if you’re a rich director and need a hobby. As a moviegoer, I want directors to push the envelope and use all the tools science and industry gives them to create images and stories I’ve never seen before. While “The Hateful Eight” is a beautifully shot and impeccably designed movie, it lacks an emotional connection that Tarantino should be a master at creating by now. His desire to show just how good of a moviemaker he is has gotten in the way of connecting his story to his audience. It was nice to look at but I didn’t want to live there.

“The Hateful Eight” gets three stars out of five.

No new movies are opening this week so it will be two weeks when I review my next film and that is the horror movie, “The Forest.”

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