Keeping Up With The Joneses: Movie Man Jackson


There’s no love stronger than the love between…neighbors? Suburban couple Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) are pretty much the definition of basic. Both have solid, if boring, jobs/careers, and have made two children who are off to summer camp. Having the home to themselves for a couple of weeks seems the perfect opportunity to spice up the repetitive routine.

Their routine gets quite the jolt once new neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot) move into their suburbia cul-de-sac where everyone knows everyone. They’re a perfect couple, perfect conversationalists, perfect everything. Too much so, which raises Karen’s paranoia about what exactly they’re doing here. Acting on paranoia leaves Jeff and Karen in an awfully sticky situation, one in which Keeping Up with the Joneses is the only choice they have for their safety.


The action-comedy (or comedy-action, depending on how you look at it) hybrid genre is one that, in my opinion, offers the best in pure entertainment when a film hits on all cylinders, combining gut-busting laughs with well-done action. When a film is merely average in both areas, you get Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) and writer Michael LeSieur do a functional job with their responsibilities. Action-wise may be this movie’s strongest element, with a surprisingly entertaining car chase around the middle. One wishes there was more of that; the climax in particular is underwhelming. The story is fine enough, but the problem is, Keeping Up with the Joneses is a movie that really does outline exactly everything in its trailer, or even 30 second TV spot. 


This means that the humor has to land pretty big to overcome this predictability, and unfortunately, the movie’s humor lands here and there but there’s not that one memorable laugh or laughs, at least for my money. That doesn’t mean that Keeping Up with the Joneses necessarily drags; it just means that there’s little beyond the surface level for jokes.

The quartet of Galifianakis, Fisher, Hamm, and Gadot are essentially the film. Mottola positions the couples as equals, certainly not aesthetically, but emotionally. Males and females are paired off together throughout in order to give more depth to the characters and it works, on one side. Hamm and Galifianakis end up building a relationship that is sort of heartwarming and very believable as it evolves. Generally, the best and most amusing moments in the film are the two sharing screentime absent from others. The same can’t be said for Fisher and Gadot. On their own, they are OK characters, but their relationship ends up feeling a little forced. Perhaps it is the chemistry, Zach and John have more of it together, whereas Gal and Fisher never seem to click as efficiently.


Not Kardashian-level bad, but Keeping Up with the Joneses is fine, but ultimately disposable, action-comedy fare. There are other movies to keep up with before this one.


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Joy Ride: Movie Man Jackson


Will never hear the words “Candy Cane” without thinking of this movie ever again. Lewis (Paul Walker) is wrapping up his freshman year of college, and is prepping to come home. Originally flying, Lewis calls an audible and instead buys a car to drive home. His reason? His crush, Venna (Leelee Sobieski) needs a ride home from college in Colorado.

His best-laid plans go out the window when he feels obligated to pick up his troubled older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) out of jail. On the way to picking up Venna, the brothers decide to have a little fun during their Joy Ride with a truck driver known only as “Rusty Nail” over a CB radio. But when the prank goes much too far, Lewis and Fuller will be lucky to make it to Colorado, much less home.


Though it is awesome if they are, thrillers don’t have to be elaborate nor stocked to the brim with twist after twist. They just have to thrill and provide tension. 2001’s Joy Ride is very simplistic in its execution. Want a fun point A to point B horror/thriller? This is it.

Co-writers J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver along with director John Dahl (Rounders) go in with the less-is-more idea with Joy Ride. It is fascinating how much mileage they get out of a simple premise of prank calling—err—cb “radio-ing”—going wrong. There are no hidden meanings or truly meaty characters. The great Roger Ebert said it best, this is essentially Halloween (and of course being influenced by Steven Spielberg’s Duel from 1971). What you see is what you get…which is often white knuckle thrills that build and build to an impressive climax. If there were but one notable issue, it would be the actual ending. While not completely ending abruptly, it would have been nice to actually see some aftermath of the ordeal. Additionally, some of the actual end events fall a little into what I like to call “God Mode” territory, where one character is everywhere and can do anything and knows everything with little explanation as to how.


Joy Ride feels a lot like film noir, just without the notable characters, detailed plot, or voiceover narration. John Dahl bathes a lot of the film’s biggest scenes in red and/or a torrential downpour, giving the movie a consistent feeling of danger and dread. It’s well paced also, giving enough quiet moments for said danger and dread to be of impact. Marco Beltrami’s score certainly isn’t subtle, but it does enhance some of the more harrowing parts.

The audience never gets a good glimpse of Rusty Nail, psycho trucker extraordinaire, but we certainly hear a lot of him, which may be just as frightening, if not more so. Rusty Nail is voiced by none other than Buffalo Bill himself, Ted Levine. His gravelly-based voice is the stuff of nightmares. The people on the receiving end of his threats are Paul Walker and Steve Zahn.

The duo are believable enough as caring yet dysfunctional brothers. Like some of his other early movies, Walker isn’t asked to do a ton, but he gets by with charisma and likability. Steve Zahn, for my money, has always been one of the more versatile actors in Hollywood. Here, he’s a little comedic as the jerkish older sibling, but still possessing the chops to sell terror adequately. Leelee Sobieski is quite the pretty face, but awfully forgettable as a thespian.


But one shouldn’t view Joy Ride expecting great performances, but rather, to get some surprisingly well executed thrills through a simple premise. I enjoyed this ride much more than expected.


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Max Steel: Movie Man Jackson


Nostalgia? Not exactly. Teenager Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) knows everything about moving around, nine times in 16 years he’s lived in different places with his widowed mother (Maria Bello). They’ve returned to the city where Max’s dad, a legendary scientist whom Max knows little about, died to begin life anew.

Randomly, Max begins to emit energy from his body, and attracts a small robot-like extraterrestrial named Steel, who claims the two have to work together not only to keep Max alive, but to protect Earth from incoming dangerous beings. Together, the duo is Max Steel. 


Yours truly is 26 as of this writing, so I am (or was?) a 90’s kid. Everyone knows about the Hey Arnolds, the Power Rangers, the classic 90’s Disney channel movies, and the like. Back in the day, I had collected action figures of some of the lesser-known TV shows that I watched religiously, such as Beast Wars, Big Bad Beetleborgs, and Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog. All of this is to say that I don’t remember Max Steel ever existing in my life, despite apparently having a top selling toy figure and short-lived original animated television show. The weekend box office returns pretty much paints the picture on Max Steel’s 2016 movie. No one knows about it, and probably for good reason. It’s forgettable and mostly bland.

With the marketing being so nonexistent for this one, I don’t even recall seeing a trailer. I basically went in blind with no expectations of the story, the characters, etc. In about five minutes however, it is extremely easy to see how matters play out in this 92 minute runtime. It’s a conventional origins story with a little bit of romance and teen angst thrown into a blender together; think mainly Spider-Man with a little Iron Man and even the old video game series Jak and Daxter. For a film named Max Steel though, it does take a little while to actually see Max Steel in action.


There are a few brights spots, such as Steel, who has got some fun lines and OK comedy. And the visuals, while not exactly stellar, aren’t too bad (save for the ending where the CGI looks pretty shoddy inside of the helmets). But overall, little of it is interesting, for a few reasons. Again, so much of it is predictable, one just knows how each character fits and who’ll be the antagonist.

But questions, like where Max’s dad originates from, or why the bad guy chose to do what he did beyond the “I wanted power” route, or even how a small floating orb can attach himself to a human and make a full suit of armor, aren’t answered. The worst (slight spoiler) easily has to be when Max’s mom states why she never told her son about what truly is going on, because he’s still a kid and can’t handle it. He’s 16! Terrible writing.

This isn’t the feature that announces Ben Winchell’s arrival in Hollywood. Nothing’s outright deplorable but he possesses little, if any, charisma to elevate his titular character to anything more than a low-rung generic hero, with the same shocked face throughout. It doesn’t help him that Max is written to be somewhat unlikable, and only accepts Steel when there are no other options. If recent roles in Lights Out, Prisoners, and McFarland, USA are anything to go off of, Maria Bello has settled into being a wife/mom of varying emotional degrees. The simple casting of Andy Garcia serves as a dead giveaway for the entire plot.


More suited for straight to DVD that an actual wide release, Max Steel is best left for the scrap heap. Probably didn’t need me to tell you this.


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The Accountant: Movie Man Jackson


*Blows fingers two times before typing this.* Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) makes his money as an accountant, balancing spreadsheets, doing audits, the like. He’s The Accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous individuals and organizations, working behind an unassuming storefront to conduct his business.

How does he do it, lying in bed with such shady bedfellows? Christian lives with a high-functioning level of autism, which allows him to simply focus on the numbers and do his job, while simultaneously making it difficult to be sociable with people. Seeing some weird activity, the U.S. Treasury Department works night and day to figure out who is working behind the scenes for these organizations, which prompts Wolff to invest his talents in a real client—a state of the art robotics company. However, after clearing the books, something doesn’t add up. But the dead people certainly do, and if Christian isn’t careful, he could be next.


Attention Bryan Mills, John Wick, Jason Bourne, Robert McCall: It is time to welcome Christian Wolff into your badass circle of ass-kickery. Director Gavin O’Connor’s (Warrior, Jane Got a Gun) latest in The Accountant is a lot of things. It’s a drama, it’s an action, it’s a crime, it’s a romance, it’s a character study. Truth be told, not all of it meshes well, but it somehow works…just enough.

In Christian Wolff, The Accountant showcases a very intriguing character. The “exploration” of autism—in this specific case, Asperger’s—isn’t something seen often in movies, so it still feels fresh when done. Going beyond the repetitiveness and physical cues that sometimes define autism, O’Connor fleshes out his lead character with well-timed flashbacks that do their job in understanding who Wolff is and how he has the skills he does. Visually and even musically, the style is pretty cold in its cool blues and dark hues, (in a good way) in what seems to be a direct reflection of it main, mostly expressionless, character.


And one has to give it up to Ben Affleck, who in recent years appears to have found his groove as an actor. No, he’ll never be dynamic or a complete chameleon, but there’s a benefit in knowing how to stay in your own lane and play to your strengths, his in particular being good at being stoic. Affleck is undoubtedly the strongest aspect of The Accountant. He’s not all cold and gloom, though, as O’Connor gives Affleck a few opportunities for dry humor that build a connection with his character, especially when he’s with Anna Kendrick. Kendrick doesn’t have a meaty role, but it is important, and her chemistry with Affleck and how she plays off of him is wonderful without being sappy.

Where the film loses its balance is around the second half mark, in which all of the plot strands, balanced imperfectly but adequately in the first half, start to become a little messy and/or possibly unneeded. The biggest offender is a strand involving two characters played by J.K Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson who are looking for the accountant. It’s a plot that appears important, but is eventually revealed to only be present as exposition that is drawn out to an agonizing length, and at the end, one may be left wondering why this strand was really needed. 

As The Accountant moves away from its jack-of-all-trades approach to genre and more into action territory as it goes along, I do believe that the focus on its central character becomes lost. Well, not completely lost, but relegated to the backseat. By the end, what makes Wolff all that different from a Wick, Bourne, Mills, or McCall, all films that are decidedly action? I thought less about the person and more about the action said person committed. With that said, the action itself is well-filmed.


What’s the final audit report on The Accountant? Not a liability, but in need of a few execution adjustments.


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The Girl on the Train: Movie Man Jackson


I’ll stick with taking the A train. Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) has lost everything. Her marriage, home, and career are all gone as a result of her drinking problem. Her former husband Tom (Justin Theroux) has moved in the woman he cheated on Rachel with, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and they have a newborn. The only enjoyment she gets out of life these days is when she’s riding on the train, drawing pictures and visualizing a perfect life through voyeuristic eyes of a married couple, Meghan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans). Coincidentally, they live right down the street from Tom and Anna.

That perfect dream life dissolves when Rachel sees something that suggests infidelity. She takes it upon herself to inform Scott, who has his reservations about taking a stranger’s word for fact, but acknowledging that a psychiatrist his wife has been seeing could be the other man. The matter of possible infidelity becomes even more serious when Meghan goes missing, with nary a lead—except for Rachel waking up with gashes and a noticeable amount of blood. Surveillance and witness account put Rachel in the neighborhood hours before Meghan was last seen. And so questions are raised: Did Rachel actually see infidelity occur? More importantly, could she, in a drunken stupor, have more to do with this disappearance then she believes?


Yours truly had an awfully tough time writing the opening summary to The Girl on the Train, the silver screen adaptation to one of 2015’s most popular novels. And I don’t believe I did a good job in doing so. Some books are simply difficult to carry over into big screen success, and I believe that is where most of the problems of The Girl on the Train arise from.

Let me explain. The great thing about novels is the fact that chapters, entire sections, etc., can be chunked out, separated, and given the requisite time needed to learn and know the characters, the background, the relative timeline, and how each person fits into the proceedings. This can be done in movies as well, but the trouble is that so much of the novel’s information has to be condensed to fit time, and in the case of The Girl on the Train, it feels like there’s a lot of information that isn’t delivered in a way that makes narrative sense.

From the first line of spoken dialogue, director Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get on Up) feature just seems a little off, getting extending openings for each lead female character without, aside from maybe Rachel, really understanding them. The pace truly does meander for the first half, whether moving straightforward in its storytelling, or backwards and then forwards. As a whole, the execution in storytelling is lacking, with flashbacks being used generously but without focus. It is difficult to ascertain when they end and when events are unfolding in current time. Even the visual style and technical aspects come off as a little cheap and something one could see on Lifetime, despite the starpower attached and the fairly sizable budget.


The story does find its groove somewhat in the 3rd act (as flashbacks become minimized), but unfortunately, it is a little too late to care about the payoffs by that point. No favors are done either with a twist that is pretty obvious about halfway through with a certain line of dialogue, which is saying something because I’m usually terrible with predicting those types of things. Overall, The Girl on the Train is very cold, darn near impossible to get invested into any one character.

The character that comes closest to evoking a emotional response is Rachel, played greatly by Emily Blunt. She’s been on the up and up for a while now, and roles in movies like Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario have proven her to be a scene-stealer capable of owning a feature. Her character is not the most well-written, and her arc is sort of rushed, but Blunt has a presence that is impossible to take eyes off of. As for everyone else, though there are no true bad performances, characterizations are so light (whore, womanizer, devoted mother, hard-nosed cop) that those in the roles have no real opportunity to do anything with them.


Seemingly destined to be the next great film based on a wildly popular adult novel, The Girl on the Train gets derailed with lackluster directing and a slow moving story that struggles to flow. All aboard the D train.


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Off the Rails: Movie Man Jackson


We all have vices. For some, they may be drugs, sex, food…or transit. New Yorker Darius McCollum has harbored a fascination for trains and trams at an early age. Not just a passing fascination, either. McCollum has Asperger’s, and his interest in trains and the like is highly intense.

How intense? Since the age of 15, Darius has been to jail 32 times for impersonating conductors, drivers, booth workers, you name it. All for his love of transit. What he’s doing is a crime, but Darius actually isn’t causing any harm or even disturbing the peace. Does he really nee to be treated as one of America’s worst criminals?


Looking for a fairly heart-wrenching, under-the-radar type movie? Look no further than Off the Rails, a surprisingly in-depth and saddening look at an individual, his plight, and the external forces that contribute to his perpetual cycle.

If you’re anything like yours truly, the story of Darius McCollum may be an unknown one. I had honestly heard nothing about this man before. The lack of familiarity makes Off the Rails a documentary that is all the more compelling. Director Adam Irving does a strong job at not relying on information-dumping to fill runtime; rather, he gives just enough information on what Asperger’s is without making it overtly feel like a PSA, even if it sort of is. This is a documentary that is completely focused on its mission. Just but one issue: Some of the dramatizations are a little cringeworthy and cheaply done.


Irving’s documentary asks one main question: Is it the fault of the criminal justice system that McCollum cannot get his life on track? Though he certainly raises the possibility that some of the responsibility could and probably should land on the subject (Darius does appear to relish in making headlines…does he secretly love the spotlight?), the point is made clear that the law is too much black and white, or rather, ill-prepared or even unwilling, to handle such an odd case.

And it is hard to debate that the system is doing enough, if only because McCollum has been locked up 32 times. Obviously, the belief that being imprisoned so often would correct his behavior is a faulty one. Without hopefully spoiling anything, the way the documentary ends is one of the more emotionally charged endings I’ve personally seen all year, driving home the fact that this is a real person who may never receive the proper attention needed.

I sometimes feel like the watchability factor of documentaries in particular live and die by their subject matter. The more interesting that can be, the better the final product is for the viewer. As an off-the-beaten-path documentary from a subject matter regard, Off the Rails manages to be informational yet very moving.


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The Birth of a Nation: Movie Man Jackson


Looking for a happy ending? Not going to find it here. Southampton County, Virginia, the year 1831. Slavery has been in full effect for quite some time now. Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was born into it. Unlike most, he’s actually been taught on how to read, in particular, The Bible. While still not being seen as an equal, the white man does see Nat as a valued commodity who gets treated “better” as such, compared to his brethren.

Fearing rumors of a slave revolt which would be devastating during drought season, plantation owners such as Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) decide to use Nat as a tool to quell any revolution. Surely slaves hearing about how they should remain docile from a fellow slave would do the trick, right? Over time, however, Nat sees his people suffer horrible atrocities, and begins to question what he is doing. The stage becomes set for a revolution that promises to be just as bloody as the one fought between the Patriots and the Loyalists.


The real talking point leading up to The Birth of a Nation (no relation to the 1915 KKK propaganda version, but its title was selected very deliberately), is the controversy that happens to surround star, producer, and director Nate Parker back when he was in college. It is a point that is sure to be brought up relentlessly from now until February 26. 2017, the date of the Oscars. But things deserve to be looked at as objectively as can be. Objectively as yours truly can be, The Birth of a Nation is a bold way to launch a feature directing career. The good outweighs the bad, but like most debuts, everything doesn’t hum perfectly.

The narrative isn’t the issue with The Birth of a Nation. It is actually a pretty thorough screenplay that goes beyond the “slavery is wrong” aspect by introducing religion and the identity that one has to themselves and their social group, especially in times of turmoil, which resonates today. Nat Turner the historical character has a lot of meat. Honestly, Parker doesn’t seem to get into all of it. But for what he does present to the audience, he does do an impressive job as the lead character.

Not a performance that immediately grabs the viewer, and starting out, it does feel a little suspect. But by the middle and into the end, Parker truly sells not just the physical anguish Nat experiences, but the mental anguish and internal crisis that Nat is exposed to. It is the latter that truly hits home, more so than the physical depictions of slavery. He’s firmly on the Best Actor nominee list.


However, the cast as a whole isn’t an undeniable strength of The Birth of a Nation; for every strong performance, there is a role that lacks gravitas and even realism, which whips the movie down a few notches on the emotional scale. Armie Hammer does lose himself in his slave owner character Samuel Turner. Yes, he is a bad man, but there’s still a shred of humanity that makes one care for him if only because you know he could be a good person. And in a smaller role, Roger Guenvier Smith (Dope, Deep Cover) excels.

Most of the rest suffer from having too little to do (i.e. the women in the cast, either damsels in distress or conveniently written love interests), or from being a little too caricature-y to be taken seriously (Jackie Earle Haley, especially Mark Boone Jr.). The Birth of a Nation is also weirdly inconsistent in tone in places. While no one is going to confuse this for a fluffy watch, some of the moments of lightness are endearing, but others undercut the seriousness of what’s at hand.

Directing a feature film for the first time, Parker shows good raw skill. Not many shots truly stand out, but a few do in the latter half. He certainly takes inspiration from works such as Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan during the impressive climax. If there were a noticeable flaw, I’d say that scenes which show Nat’s destiny as a leader come off as a little pretentious and overly artsy for the sake of being so. While there may be some symbolism there that flew over my head, it doesn’t really add anything to the film, at least on first view.


The Birth of a Nation doesn’t rise up to classic biography status. But all controversy aside, The Birth of a Nation is an imperfect, yet still overall compelling biography movie about a very intriguing character and moment in history.


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The Magnificent Seven (2016): Movie Man Jackson


Sometimes it takes an army. Other times, it takes only seven people. Some time in the 1870’s, the town of Rose Creek is under hostile takeover. Industrial businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) is interesting in mining the town for gold. He gives the residents two choices: Either accept his payment of $20 per acre, or die trying to defend it.

The townspeople want to defend, but few know how. After losing her husband to Bogue and his henchman, widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) looks to hire some assistance, starting with Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), supreme bounty hunter. From there, Chisolm treks the Old Frontier for help, settling on gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Confederate deadeye Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his partner and assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Native-American warrior drifter Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and Mexican wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Together, The Magnificent Seven provides a fighting chance for residents to keep their town.


The season of fall officially began Thursday, September 22nd for the northern hemisphere. The season of fall began for Hollywood a couple of weeks ago. However, at least out here in Columbus, Ohio, summer doesn’t feel like it has left yet, weather-wise. And for a little over two hours, The Magnificent Seven makes one feel like we’re still in blockbuster season. In a point almost certain to be made in a lot of positive reviews, The Magnificent Seven is one of the movies summer 2016 needed.

Doesn’t mean it is flawless, but darn entertaining. I didn’t expect anything less from director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Olympus Has Fallen). His movies, sans Training Day, may lack substantial substance but he’s always had a great eye and hand behind the camera. That doesn’t change here. The Western setting is fully realized, from the garb to the firearms to the alcohol. And when the quick draw action and prolonged gunfights goes down, it is thrilling, with the high point being a PG-13 limit-pushing climax where no one is safe. The Magnificent Seven 2016 absolutely benefits with today’s camerawork.


This isn’t a shot-for-shot remake (thankfully), and even calling it a remake is somewhat misleading. But this is the retelling of a story that will probably always be retold every 40-50 years. That is to say that the story written by True Detective showrunner Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk follows the same beats as the 1960 and 1954 version, with a little more lightness and surprisingly good humor during the quieter moments. Putting it under a modern comparison, Fast Five (especially with the diversity aspect) and The Avengers come to mind, without the lore those movies afforded themselves as franchises.

Don’t go expecting to be blown away by any characters. A few have some interesting backstories that are briefly hit on, but by and large the actors are being seen and not the characters they portray. It’s not a bad thing, if only because everyone is having such a great time. Each member of the seven gets time to shine, some brighter than others. Denzel is a great lead as Chisolm, believable as the one guy who could get this group to work cohesively. He’s got some connection to the film’s main villain, played well by Sarsgaard. I think the finale could have had more emotional punch if their connection and why Chisolm is driven to take down Bogue was revealed earlier, however.

Hawke is good, even if his character’s struggles are only briefly touched upon. Though this is obviously a different movie, there’s something awesome about seeing him in scenes again with Washington 15 years later. D’Onofrio is easily the oddest of the bunch, yet lays a claim for being the most memorable as well. This film could be the vehicle to launch lesser stars like Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and Byung-hun Lee into more prominent positions in Hollywood. Chris Pratt’s already in a prominent position, and he’s just a engaging personality here.


Is the Western making a comeback? That remains to be seen, but The Magnificent Seven certainly could be an ignition starter. Anyone hankering for a traditional and explosive jaunt into the Old Frontier will find it here.


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Jack Reacher: Movie Man Jackson


He who drifts is not directionless. Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a former U.S. Army Military police officer living away from society more or less. He’s impossible to find or locate. However, he’s drawn out of the shadows by by an old acquaintance who needs his help.

A man by the name of Barr has been accused of murdering five innocent people, and all of the evidence points to him. While not surprising to Reacher in the fact that Barr is the main suspect, something doesn’t exactly sit right with him. Along with Barr’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the two work to uncover the case, the killer’s motives, and of course, the right killer.


It may feature the same star, but the silver screen treatment of the Jack Reacher character from the novels is far from what one (a.k.a me) might initially expect it to be. Mission: Impossible, this is not. Jack Reacher is perfectly content being a little more lowkey.

After the marvelous (and very, very unnerving) opening sequence with the sniper setting up shop, one of the first things noticed about this Christopher McQuarie feature is how it looks. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why, but Jack Reacher feels like a movie that would be right at home in the 90’s or the 80’s, maybe even the 70’s through camera angles, lighting, score, etc. Despite the heavier tone, I immediately thought of movies like Speed and Beverly Hills Cop when watching this.


Plot-wise, Jack Reacher is sort of like a poor man’s The Bourne Identity. The few action sequences are well-filmed, with the highlight being a great car chase midway through. But this is more committed to telling a mystery, or, more accurately, at least how Reacher solves it. It starts off well enough, but by the midpoint, it is a tad tedious and the finale couldn’t come sooner.

As time wore on, one might find that they’re not watching the film for its plot but for Tom Cruise. Or at least, I was. The fun lies in the character, not the mystery that devolves into common corruption and foreign baddies. The wrong actor could have made this Reacher movie a big disappointment, but Cruise keeps it at a consistent quality level. Reacher’s a wise-ass who knows exactly how everything went down or didn’t go down in CSI fashion just because he’s that good, a hardened soldier, a ladies man, and a vigilante who isn’t pure good or bad, among other things. And Cruise embodies all of this, even with his diminutive height. Didn’t know it was an issue until some of the notes about the casting were read. Author Lee Child stated it best: “With another actor you might get 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher. With Tom, you’ll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height.”

The rest of the cast predictably comes nowhere near Cruise, but aren’t major detractors to the movie, either. Usually derided in much that he appears in, Jai Courtney is actually a pretty good, albeit generic, menacing antagonist here, much better than Werner Herzog’s character, who lacks intrigue and any real fear aspect. Rosamund Pike fits well with Cruise, and David Oyelowo is sound as an agent who doesn’t know what to make of Reacher. Robert DuVall’s gun owner character doesn’t appear until the middle and then becomes the wily sidekick of Reacher. Not that he isn’t entertaining, but the choice comes out of nowhere. It never feels like Reacher is that close enough with him to employ him as backup.


Jack Reacher is a prime example of a true movie star elevating basic, cliched, and possibly boring in the wrong hands, material to something of a pleasing watch. Do I ever want to see Jack Reacher again? Sure, as long as Cruise is involved.


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Snowden: Movie Man Jackson


Is freedom worth it if it’s obtained at any cost? American Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants so much to protect and serve the country he loves. A medical discharge forces him from the Army, but his brilliant intellect lands him in the CIA, where his love for computers and technology can be harnessed.

He’s put on the fast track to advancement right away. In the process, he meets the beautiful Lindsey (Shailine Woodley), who eventually becomes his girlfriend. While being exposed to many key players and bold new technologies, Snowden begins to see that who he works may not have the same idea of how to go about preserving freedom. He’s compelled to say something about how the government abuses the privacy of everyone, but the secrecy of his job makes this impossible to do so, even to Lindsey. If he goes public, some may see him as a traitor. Others may see him as a hero.


Saturation is very much a real thing. When you see an idea, a person, a whatever so much and so often, any intended effect that subject would normally have is somewhat dulled. I think that is the real issue with Snowden, director Oliver Stone’s take on one of the most fascinating men and events of the 21st century. Much like Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which came fairly quickly after a 2013 biopic of the Apple founder, Snowden comes fairly quickly after Laura Poitrus’ documentary Citizenfour, and only three years after the real life leaks that Snowden did.

Some takes have painted Stone’s latest take to be awfully safe, as the director has made a name for taking on some of the most controversial and intriguing events/people and making them into a film. Snowden is safe in the sense that anyone looking for a screenplay to show both sides and viewpoints in the same light will not find that here, as there is a crystal delineation between the good guy(s) and the bad guys. However, Snowden isn’t a boring film to look at,  Stone’s always had a unique flair and style. The film isn’t as notable as some of his others in a cinematography aspect, but biopics certainly have looked more mundane than this.


I’ve never actually seen Citizenfour. But over the last few years since Snowden did what he did, his actions have clearly been used as allusions and/or flat out referenced directly in many television shows and movies. Hell, Jason Bourne has a whole sidestory about shady government surveillance (We’ve just been hacked…Could be worse than Snowden“). All of this is to say that Oliver Stone’s Snowden, even with a not-always-smooth-way-of-storytelling, is functional enough in its screenplay to get by. However, the emotional impact does lack somewhat, and the build to the big moment is a little more anticlimactic than anticipated. In turn, this makes Snowden drag during specific times in its runtime.

Though he is supported by a talented cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries the Snowden movie as the titular title character. Concerns about his voice are extremely overblown; he is spot on with the vocal inflections. He does sell the conflict of being a layered person, being about his country but not blindingly so. It helps that he shares a sound physical resemble. The end with an appearance by the real Edward only solidifies the JGL casting.

Good chemistry is had with Shailine Woodley in what has to probably be her most mature role if since The Spectacular Now. The fighting the two have becomes a little rote, but their romance is believable and dare I say even cute. They are opposites but share a real connection. You want them to work out. The rest are bit characters but all carry importance in lifting the veil. Nicolas Cage is very subdued as what Edward could become, dropping hints that the government isn’t exactly what Snowden imagines; one wonders why he can’t always be like this in productions. It’s clear what role Rhys Ifans is going to be playing, no surprises and he plays it well. Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo, and Zachary Quinto have little to ultimately do, but they’re pros pros and don’t draw any more attention to themselves than needed.


Snowden ends with the common “where are they now/what happened” slides and text at the end of most biographies, and it is a little weird only because most know about this. While I do think that Snowden is getting somewhat of a worse rap than deserved, and the acting absolutely raises the film overall, I do wonder whether it would have been best to hold off on this project if only because it is still ongoing and a true ending hasn’t been reached yet. Perhaps then, the full gravitas of Snowden and his actions would have been realized.


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