Don’t Breathe: Movie Man Jackson

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Seeing is overrated anyways, right? Three teens (who look more like young adults?) in Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto), live in the struggle that is Michigan, presumably Detroit. The three pull off minor robbery jobs that net them a little cash, but nothing that is life-changing. All want to get out of their current situations.

Money catches wind that a nearby house in a deserted neighborhood is sitting on at least 300K. The best part is that the owner of the house is a Blind Man (Stephen Lang), who surely cannot be that much of a threat despite being an Army veteran, right? Wrong.

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As yours truly has stated before, 2016 at the movie theater has been a pretty sizable disappointment, especially this summer. But if there is one genre that has actually impressed, it is that of the small budget thriller/horror one. Don’t Breathe, Fede Alvarez’s latest after the Evil Dead remake, is efficient, no frills, and tight thrills. Money well spent.

I have never seen Alvarez’s take on Evil Dead, mainly because I can get grossed out on non-stop gore and I don’t always feel that equates to horror. That is one of the reasons I dreaded seeing Don’t Breathe. Thankfully, while there are well-placed scenes of brutality when needed, a showcase of guts isn’t the focus.

Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Alvarez builds tension all in one place, and hardly ever leaves it. There is an awesome lights out sequence in the film, but the best scene may be the initial break-in of the marked house, possibly done all in one take that lets the audience in on some notable hotspots of the home’s geography. The result is a sustained claustrophobia that crescendos and decrescendos when it needs to, aided by a score from composer Roque Baños that is subtle. It is used perfectly along with the silence and “Don’t Breathe” aspect of the production.

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Alvarez not only directs, but co-writes Don’t Breathe with frequent script collaborator Rodo Sayagues. What they’ve done here is simple stuff, which isn’t a bad thing. They don’t take long to get things going. Attempts to provide sympathy for a few characters falls a little short—this, in my view, is very much bad people squaring off against a menace. Again, still entertaining, though.

As for the “shocking” twist, no spoilers here. All that will be said is that when the reveal is delivered, it is certainly unforeseen but possibly unneeded as well and may exist for shocks sake. The true ending, after a few false ones, is functional but not as strong as what leads up to it. And yours truly’s last opines about the ending without hopefully alluding too much to anything particular is that there is a shocking lack of “finishing the job” across the board for these characters. They’ve got to this point, why not just make sure that things are taken care of?

The main cast is small, but good. Daniel Zovatto’s character is annoying, but it’s probably not too much of a spoiler to say he doesn’t have much screentime. Jane Levy’s Rocky is a sound female protagonist and sells terror well; just wish that I felt more about her plight. Even with minimal attention to his, Dylan Minnette’s character is the one I connected with most. More efforts to develop his character would have been great. At 19, he’s got a bright future. Stephen Lang by far steals the show, however. He’s comparable to John Goodman’s role in the aforementioned Cloverfield movie, with the only differences being his minimal dialog and less grey shades. Although unlikely, it is possible that The Blind Man role could be the one people associate Lang with the most, even moreso than the Colonel in Avatar.

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More of a thriller in a horror slipcover than an all-out horror, Don’t Breathe still provides substantial scares and palpable tension. If the goal is to entertain, Alvarez and company simple vision has done so.

B

Photo credits go to RottenTomatoes.com, ew.com, and hypebeast.com.

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TRI: Movie Man Jackson

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Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. When matters get tough for medical technician Natalie (Jensen Jacobs), she has never been the one to harden up and buckle down. In her life, she has left many things unfinished, which is something her husband, Rex (Jaylen Moore), as well as her good friend, Skyler (Walker Hays), haven’t exactly let her forget.

Upon encouragement from one of her cancer patients, Candice (Shawn Pelofsky), Natalie signs up for her first triathlon. 12 weeks isn’t an extremely long time to train, but it does afford her the opportunity to meet others who are using this triathlon for their own personal discovery. In them, she can find strength when she feels like quitting.

Directed by Jai Jamison, Tri (pronounced “try”) is an award-winning film scoring accolades like Film of the Year, Best Actress (Jensen Jacobs), Best Family/Faith-based film, and more from festivals such as the Northern Virginia International Film & Music Festival and the Boston International Film Festival. Its story is a simple one of overcoming adversity, and ultimately cancer.

Tri looks and plays out like a better Lifetime movie. This isn’t a slight, in this case, it is quite the praise. The cast is very sound in their performances, and most have had experience in movies before. That goes a long way in making the characters they play believable. They feel like real characters with real struggles, fears, doubts, etc., especially the central character played by Jensen Jacobs. She’s relatable, a person we’ve all been most likely during one time or another. The editing, sometimes a trouble spot in very small budgeted productions, has a nice, consistent flow to it, and the scenes where some of the characters are fighting with their internal thoughts are pulled off well. The only occasional personal annoyance is the overuse of background songs a few times.

Tri is an uplifting and grounded film, the result of its writing team having firsthand experience in triathlon training and completion, cancer survival, and the heartbreak that cancer loss can have on loved ones. The film is likely to be most powerful for those who may be embarking on a long program or lifestyle change, such as a marathon or weight loss, or dealing with the tragic loss of somebody dear at a particular time. With that said, though, its main lesson of trying, having the benefit of a support system, and not giving up no matter the circumstances can be applicable anywhere no matter the circumstances.

B

I’d like to thank Clint Morris for reaching out to me and providing me an opportunity to watch this good film. Some additional information:

TRI,  which earlier this year walked away with the top prize at the Northern Virginia International Film & Music Festival, begins at the Strand Theatre, Delaware Friday August 19.

The screening coincides with the Ironman race in Delaware, Ohio on Aug. 21.

 

TRI is an inspiring, emotionally-charged drama about a medical technician with a history of not finishing things who is inspired by a cancer patient to sign up for her first Triathlon.  The film’s potent garland of performers includes Jensen Jacobs and legendary TV star Tim Reid.

Natalie (Award-winning actress Jensen Jacobs), an ultrasound tech with a history of not finishing things, is inspired by a cancer patient to sign up for a Triathlon. Natalie is introduced to the strange (and aerodynamic) world of triathletes and meets a colorful cast of characters as she trains for the Nation’s Triathlon. With the support of her new teammates, she digs deep to discover just how far she can push her mind and body.

TRI is the first scripted feature narrative about triathlons that has been developed for theatrical release. Triathlon is the fastest growing endurance sport in the world and was the fastest growing of all sports in the UK in 2014. There are over 600,000 athletes registered with USA Triathlon, and over 3.2 million worldwide. 

Tickets are on sale now

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Sausage Party: Movie Man Jackson

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Don’t play with your food, it plays with each other. In a common grocery store, every single food item fantasizes about being purchased by “Gods,” humans who will whisk them away from shelves, freezers, and the like and into “The Great Beyond.” No food truly knows what happens after leaving the store, but the consensus is that a life of freedom and care by the Gods is given.

For Frank (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog (he’s a hot dog, not a sausage) friends, getting purchased means getting to slide their meat into some plump buns. He has always had eyes on Brenda (Kristen Wiig). His mission is almost achieved by getting a coveted spot in the shopping cart, but an incident from Honey Mustard (Danny McBride), begins to put doubt into Frank as to whether the Great Beyond is heaven, or more akin to hell. The better question may be, does it even exist?

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Let’s call it what it is. Sausage Party, mainly from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End) is Toy Story (or any other inanimate object, for that matter) in edible form. In R-rated edible form. With that said, though, Sausage Party is rather thought-provoking, and may even be adept at leaving its mark on some viewers long after viewing. Is it funny? That depends.

Sausage Party feels most similar to Rogen and Goldberg’s 2013 comedy This is the End, albeit with a different message. Unlike that movie, which didn’t concern itself with the question of the existence of a higher power or whether a stylized Backstreet Boys-led heaven afterlife was real, Sausage Party actually does. The overall mature elements of the screenplay might just be the strongest element of the entire production written the longtime duo, plus Jonah Hill this time around. What is also surprising is how we as the audience actually begin care for a few of these characters and their well-being, such as a deformed hot dog in Barry (Michael Cera). As far as technical quality goes, this is no high-budget Pixar offering, but it looks well enough, and ends up making some really memorable set pieces. Yes, set pieces, ones that feature action, horror, and something that would be right at home in the infamous 1979 movie Caligula.

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But even with surprising and pretty well handled themes, Sausage Party is a comedy that is 100% Rogen & Goldberg through and through, full of weed love and penis appreciation. Great news for Rogen fans, bad news for non-fans. Yours truly personally falls in the middle. The premise does allow for some good comedic wittiness that didn’t always appear in their other films, but the hardcore raunch does begin to take its toll after a while. The third act may be better enjoyed under the influence of a substance. It is the 50/50 hit/miss rate towards humor that leaves this comedy a little disappointing.

And while one should assume full responsibility for stepping into a R rated comedy, it can be argued that Sausage Party does veer into the very uncomfortable territory here and there, with one character in particular as a literal douche. Voiced by Nick Kroll, Douche is rarely funny, actually disturbing in some of his actions, and doesn’t really add to any of the plot’s proceedings. Gum is pretty hilarious, however as a clear nod to Hawking.

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Love Seth Rogen’s cut of comedic meat? Sausage Party is one that will absolutely be filling, along with some interesting ideas that are actually satisfying to digest. For all others, its comedy doesn’t fill all of the laugh holes on a consistent basis.

C

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, comicbook.com, and moviepilot.com.

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Suicide Squad: Movie Man Jackson

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I’ll just stick to mixing sodas together. To be better prepared for extraterrestrial threats such as Superman who might not be as friendly as the Man of Steel, the government, led by intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), decides to put together a group of talented, yet unstable, individuals.

Call them a Suicide Squad, if you will, comprised of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Slipknot (Adam Beach). Along with de facto special forces leader Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and appointed bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the ragtag group is asked to take down not The Joker (Jared Leto), but a threat that could destroy the world. If they succeed, wonderful. And if they fail? Well, there’s a reason the baddest of the bad drew this straw and got called a suicide squad.

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Some popular memes going around the Internet concern Marvel vs DC Comics, and how much the latter lags behind the former. One of my personal favorites is this one here, taken from Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Sam Wilson aka Falcon talks about how he does everything Captain America does but much slower. This is, in a way, a perfect image that defines the struggles the DC Extended Universe has had in getting off the ground since BvS and now with Suicide Squad. The irony is, however, that by hotshotting a multitude of characters in the hopes of creating a big comic book universe fast in two movies has actually had the opposite effect.

The talented David Ayer (End of Watch, writer of Training Day), was tagged to not only direct this next entry in the DCEU. Ayer is one of the grittiest directors, and writers, of today, and with the supposedly dark material that Suicide Squad houses in the comics, that would seem to be up his alley, right? Not exactly. There’s a part of me that understands that with the criticism of Dawn of Justice, there was no way that a following DC movie could be as somber.

But, Suicide Squad does unfortunately feel a little neutered, fragmented, and duller than could be imagined. Perhaps it isn’t Ayer’s fault, but the fault of what appears to be a meddling studio yet again. Perhaps we’ll see an extended cut on Blu-Ray akin to Batman V Superman, though a second time with subsequent films gives off the wrong idea. On a bright note, a pretty good score is found by Steven Price, but the soundtrack drives the scenes more, for good and for bad.

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Ayer does present a nice setup. Though exposition-heavy in a scene that seems to last forever in a restaurant, there likely was no other feasible way to introduce the characters that make up the squad. It does its job. The problem is that after that, the story is pretty rinse-and-repeat. I actually didn’t find it that hard to follow, but there very much is a bait-and-switch element to the proceedings. Pretty much a whole act is devoted to getting through two waves of literal faceless enemies to get to a building to extract someone. There are some cool visual moments, mainly of Deadshot being an expert marksman, but it all adds up to a meh trek to the finale, which is hampered by middling to bad CGI and the cheesiness of slow-motion.

The main reason why Suicide Squad isn’t a complete waste is because it is easy to see that the cast is fully committed to these characters and the movie, even if some do not get the requisite attention or backstory. Will Smith is always gonna be Will Smith to me, never fully bleeding into a character. That is not to say he isn’t entertaining, though, and his Deadshot possesses the most humane storyline of any character. Margot Robbie is the true star, and rightfully so. WB has promoted her crazy person act as the franchise player, and it isn’t hyperbolic to say she may one day rival or surpass Batman’s popularity on the silver screen in the DCEU. More of her, please.

In a film of nuts and psychos, Viola Davis’ role is important, if only just to give some sense to the proceedings. Finally, Jared Leto’s Joker is something I was down on after the conclusion of this film, but after thinking about it more, one has to respect his efforts to do something different. Maybe the real reason I was down was the simple fact that he’s not the real opposition this feature deserves, but it’s the one we needed.

The rest of the squad has a clear hierarchy after Deadshot and Quinn. Jay Hernandez and Joel Kinnaman get some development, the former’s actually a little emotional while the latter’s only serves to propel the movie’s baddie. Jai Courtney gets a few funny lines here and there, and barely edges above worthless. Sadly, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Karen Fukuhara are basically that as Killer Croc and Katana, respectively. Nothing against them as actors, just have no care if their characters somehow turned up dead before the sequel. This really needed a stronger villain than the one given to us played by Cara Delevingne. By film’s end, it’s pretty brutal and not in a good way. 

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Suicide Squad contains a good-to-great foundation for future DC film property in its own universe, but its present is a little bit mucky. Squad goals? Not exactly yet.

C

Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, ew.com, and screenrant.com

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Any Given Sunday: Movie Man Jackson

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On Any Given Sunday, a hero can fall, and a hero can rise. The Miami Sharks, once one of the best franchises in their football league, have fallen on hard times. They aren’t a profitable franchise anymore, and owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) is contemplating moving the team. They’ve lost four straight, and Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) has just lost his 38 year old quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) to a debilitating injury.

In relief of Cap comes Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), a talented-yet-inexperienced young quarterback. Beamen begins to lead the team to success, but also clashes with D’Amato and his no-nonsense approach. If that weren’t enough, owner Pagniacci may have had enough of the coach’s refusal to adapt to the new age. There’s an unforgiving game played on the gridiron, but the game played outside of it can be just as unforgiving, if not more so.

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When it comes to football movies, there are generally a few classics that are at the top or near the top of every list. Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Remember the Titans, The Longest Yard. One that doesn’t get mentioned as often but in the opinion of yours truly is just as fulfilling, if not more than those aforementioned movies, is the Oliver Stone-directed Any Given Sunday. It’s a movie I loved when I was young, and one I believe gets better and better with age.

Stylistically, like many of Stone’s movies, Any Given Sunday can be very hyperactive, full of cuts, splices, and the like. It is annoying in some movies, but in AGS, the style works wonderfully, in particular, the football scenes. They are so frenetic and fast paced to show that American football, in spite of all of its downtime between plays, is a manic couple of seconds when those plays are going on. Specifically, Stone captures what playing quarterback would be like stepping into a pressure cooker for the first time at the highest level of football. For my money, the opening scene when Foxx’s Beamen arrives to the line of scrimmage for the first time set to Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now is one of my favorites opening scenes of cinema ever, regardless of genre.

Stone doesn’t only focus on the football, though. Any Given Sunday is just as interested in the stuff that occurs outside of the hashmarks as it is inside of them. The business side of football, the locker room side of football, and the personal side of football are all analyzed. In many ways, the issues and ideological clashes Stone brings attention to such as team doctor ethics, old-school pocket quarterbacking v.s. dual-threat quarterbacking, and whether players are nothing more than new slaves for ownership foreshadowed many hot-topic conversations that exist today in football.

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These stories are very compelling. But still, a major issue of the film is its runtime. Not so much due to bloating or information overload, but the random scenes Stone throws in here and there that just feel overindulgent. Spending roughly one full minute seeing players snort cocaine off of escorts, seeing a player lose an eye, and witnessing an offensive lineman having to go to the bathroom urgently make little sense as to why they had to be included.

Everyone does their jobs cast-wise with what their roles ask of them. Coach D’Amato is one of Pacino’s best recent performances, which says a lot about his recent roles when one considers this was released in 1999. Despite the odd wardrobe for a coach, Pacino feels like a guy who has been around the game for a while, seen a lot of things, and is unsure about his place in the game as it becomes more modernized. Of course, his inches monologue is legendary and galvanizing. I’d say, however, that he is equaled or even upstaged by Jamie Foxx, taking on his first real dramatic role as “Steamin” Willie Beamen. Looking the part of the respective athletic position is important for any football movie, and it is easy to see Foxx’s natural athletic ability. But he’s so good next to Pacino, as a good amount of the film is the two characters coming at each other from different viewpoints. Beamen has layers; dynamic yet traditional, arrogant yet rightfully convicted in his skills. Willie Beamen is one of my personal favorite characters in any film, period.

Notable actors include Dennis Quaid as the grizzled quarterback who knows about leading a locker room, LL Cool J as a selfish running back only looking after himself (his character’s clashes with Beamen feel all the more real as Foxx/LL had real issues with one another), James Woods as a questionable-at-best team doctor, Aaron Eckhart as an up-and-coming coordinator, and Cameron Diaz who really impresses as a female owner/general manager who is very much hands-on. Non-actors such as Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown, while not exactly being stretched and for good reason, add to the proceedings and actually give the production an air of legitimacy.

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Any Given Sunday still serves as the truest movie representation of pro football and all of its issues that aren’t confined to the field. It might not be at the consensus very top of the draft board for football movies, but it hits just as hard in the entertainment department, if not harder than, those oft-mentioned movies at the top.

A-

Photo credits go to footballsfuture.com, esquire.com, and bluray.highdefdigest.com.

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Jason Bourne: Movie Man Jackson

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If you didn’t know his name, it’s Jason Bourne. After getting to the bottom of Operation Blackbriar 10 years ago, David Webb, more commonly known as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), has lived off the grid in Greece. He remembers everything now, and he is seemingly at peace with his past.

But just because he remembers everything doesn’t mean he knows everything, as said by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), Bourne’s old accomplice. Some new information comes to the forefront that immediately puts Bourne right back into the spotlight he escaped from. Once again, there are some people in the CIA that want Bourne dead or alive, but somehow, he manages to stay one step ahead of everyone on a path to revealing what the Agency really wants to do.

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Count yours truly as one of the many who jumped on the hype train for Jason Bourne when the Super Bowl spot aired. The official full-length trailer only heightened its arrival. Hype can be good and is sometimes very warranted, but just as often, it is akin to a drug that clouds judgment. It wasn’t until a recent rewatch of the Damon-led trilogy got me thinking as to whether Jason Bourne was needed at all. After seeing the final product, it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks in competency.

Jason Bourne is funny. Not literally, but figuratively. It was director Paul Greengrass, who previously helmed Supremacy and Ultimatum, who stated that a fourth Bourne movie which would ultimately become The Bourne Legacy should be titled “The Bourne Redundancy,” and the only way he and star Matt Damon would return were if the script was a worthy one. Greengrass tagged himself to do the writing for Bourne’s latest.

This would automatically assure Jason Bourne’s script to be worthy and actually different, right? Not at all. Aside from a subplot about privacy featuring Riz Ahmed’s character that is absolutely timely but doesn’t connect with the main story until absolutely necessary, Greengrass blatantly lifts story beats from his prior films in the series. The plot is fine by all means, but making a huge statement about refusing to do another Bourne movie because the script wasn’t up to snuff and redundant, only to write a script that is more redundant than what came before it is absolutely worth nitpicking and ridiculing, in my opinion.

 Jason Bourne (2016)

Greengrass returning also means his signature handheld style makes its way back into the fray. While he may not have been flawless using this style in his previous two movies, he got more right than wrong. With Jason Bourne, he’s about 50/50. Their are some riveting action sequences, mainly the chases that aren’t impacted all that much and may be the best wide-scale action of the entire franchise. Unfortunately, most of the the hand-to-hand is pretty jumpy with its editing, and the off chance it isn’t, the camera feels too tight with close up shots to figure out who’s dishing damage.

Still, the cast is solid. Jason Bourne has always been a man of minimal dialogue, due in part to his amnesia. Damon still owns the role, but one does wonder how much longer physically he can do this particular role at a high level. Bourne is a character of mystery, and with that mystery essentially solved at the end of Ultimatum, he unfortunately loses a little bit of intrigue. He might as well be John Bourne or Jason Wick with his character’s motivations this go around, just without the style and flair Reeves’ character possessed.

Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander are simply obstacles that Bourne is destined to cross paths with. Vikander’s role seems like it is going to be more meaty at the start, until it is to be revealed to be the exact same role that Joan Allen played in previous films, right down to her issues with Tommy Lee Jones’ CIA director. TLJ’s character is more or less the epitome of what many Americans see the government as: shady and self-serving. The Bourne series has always had great stone cold assassins, and Vincent Cassel is the latest in that line.

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Cue Moby’s Extreme Ways for the end of this. Jason Bourne still puts out entertainment here and there, but not from start to finish like previous installments. In all honestly, he’s beginning to look a little tired.

C+

Photo credits go to ew.com and theplaylist.net.

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Bad Moms: Movie Man Jackson

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The PTA has more power at a school than the superintendent, apparently. Since the age of 20, Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) has been a mother. She is the lynchpin of her family—cooking, cleaning, and being a chauffeur in addition to working a demanding part-time job. In other words, she is a good mom, but also underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated.

She’s not the only one. After another overlong PTA meeting led by the prissy Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), Amy tells her how she really feels. That same night, she meets new friends in Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), who are in the same overworked and unappreciated boat as she is. Wanting to get away from their maternal responsibilities, the three start doing what they want to do instead of what others expect for them to do. Are they becoming Bad Moms in the process, or just blowing off some much needed steam?

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No one doubts the importance and hard jobs mothers (as well as fathers, but in this case, mothers) have. Each and every single one who takes their maternal job seriously needs to be commended. But, does a comedy about mothers eschewing their responsibilities honestly have a lot of legs for the majority of the viewing public? I tend to think not. Bad Moms might resonate a lot with the specific target audience (mothers), but for everyone else, there may not be all that much here.

The writers of The Hangover Trilogy and 21 and Over team up again to write and direct another comedy. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore take on motherhood, with the message being that no mother is a completely perfect mother, nor should they be. The message is a good one, and does make for a feel good moment near the end. However, it is a message that never finds a sweet spot until the end. Does being a “bad mom” mean getting hammered on weeknights, taking the daughter to play hooky, etc? Sort of looks that way.

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Yours truly probably wouldn’t have minded the incongruous message as much if there were sizable laughs in Bad Moms. Again, while the intended audience may find the premise full of laughs and zippy dialogue (older women in my theater couldn’t stop laughing), yours truly found most of the movie lacking in energy and in big humor. Additionally, it is also aimless in plot until about the second half, in which finally there becomes some goal that Kunis’ character aspires to obtain.

The cast tries, but they’re probably not as well-equipped to handle such writing shortcomings. As the lead, Mila Kunis grounds the film as needed, and not surprising, is the most relatable and realistic character. Her flanking buddies are filled by Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn. Bell’s role is essentially the straightest of the straight woman, while Hahn’s is much more of the wild card, over-the-top variety. Simply put, Hahn’s foul-mouthed, jackhammered character is a character one will either dislike or like; and actually, a large part of the enjoyment of the movie may hang on what side the viewer falls on because she does get a good amount of screentime. Sadly, I fell more on the dislike side.

Taking on the antagonist spot is Applegate, who is the most memorable character as a PTA ice queen. She’s flanked by Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo. Comedy doesn’t seem to come naturally to the former, while the latter is playing a dumb henchwoman Nothing needs to be said about the men, who are all dopes, save for Jay Hernandez. There are some unforeseen cameos to be found that add fleeting moments of hilarity.

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Bad Moms carries an overall good message, but scattershot humor at best and nonexistent humor at worst. If only a little more motherly love was applied to its other areas.

D

Photo credits go to etonline.com, highnoblesociety.com, and Today.com

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Nerve: Movie Man Jackson

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Wu-Tang clang ain’t nothing to f*** with. Neither is Nerve. Nerve is a truth or dare game for the 21st century, played over a digital landscape. Everyone who participates has a hand in the game, either as a watcher, or an active player. The watchers give dares to the players, who earn money for successfully completing dares in the alloted time. As the potential reward becomes more sizable, each dare becomes progressively harder and more dangerous.

For soon to be high school college graduate Vee (Emma Roberts), she’s a spectator in life, one who plays it safe in comparison to her best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade). But after a bad day, she decides to become a player in Nerve, and actually garners a big following playing with fellow player Ian (Dave Franco) in a short amount of time. The cash return is immediate, but each stunt becomes worse, and attempting to leave the game apparently isn’t an option. Nerve is no longer a game, its real life for everyone to see.

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Nerve is a silver screen adaptation from a young adult novel with the same name. Watching Nerve and its plot premise might invoke feelings of Déjà vu. Seriously, this has elements of Cheap Thrills, The Purge, The Hunger Games, GamerUnfriended, and even Mr. Robot, just to name a few. All this goes without saying that Nerve isn’t remarkable, but to use a generic phrase, it is better than it has any right to be.

Word of caution. Nerve is very “poppy,” a movie that caters most to teenyboppers and young girls, especially. Expect a lot of top 50, techno, and EDM songs from the start to the end of it. Honestly, it can be a little grating at times. Sonically, one might love this or hate it. Stylistically, directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3) give the film a futuristic, hyperspeed feeling where everything and everyone is dialed into their devices 24/7. Phones are used as directorial devices, occasionally to a disorienting degree, but I believe it adds to the digitized feeling overall. The neon lighting that permeates many of the scenes doesn’t appear to add anything thematically to the production, but at least it adds to the cinematography.

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Obviously embellished, still, Nerve takes a look at how easy fame can be obtained in a sort amount of time in today’s day and age, and how much of a high that can be in the right way. But it is more concerned with the negative aspects, like the desperate lengths people will go to get noticed, the way all of our information on social media can come back to haunt us, or to stay unnoticed and assume no responsibility for what happens to others. Yes, the troll culture is addressed here!

It does build to impressive dares…yet loses steam near the end. It kind of goes in that wrap up everything nicely mode, which is a shame because even with the final act missteps and characters performing far-fetched skills and acts, the climax is thrilling, if a bit melodramatic. But instead of showing the aftermath, the film just ends on a cheesy epilogue. Much of this sounds vague, but it may make sense when viewed.

If adults are going to be used to play teenagers/young adults, might as well make sure they can pass. Emma Roberts at 25 doesn’t look a day over 18. Her character arc is small but it does go somewhere, and she does well enough with the dramatic moments. I’m convinced Dave Franco is limited as an actor. His chemistry with Roberts is OK, nothing special. At the end of the day, this isn’t a feature in which anyone shines; actors and actresses fit into sketched roles and are generally fine.

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Nerve is likely to click more with its target audience. But even for those who fall outside of its age range, it’s a better than expected YA adaptation in a genre that can often be tough to be a watcher of.

C+

Photo credits go to ew.com, collider.com, and imfromcleveland.com.

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Lights Out: Movie Man Jackson

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I’d rather meet Dirty Diana before the Diana in Lights Out. Quite some time ago, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) left her mother, Sophie (Maria Bello) and younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman) not on the best of terms. She left mainly due to her mother, who has long suffered from a litany of mental issues.

Rebecca receives word from the Child Protective Services agency that Martin is having trouble staying awake in class, and she suspects her mother could be off of her medication and terrorizing Martin. That may be the case, but Martin claims it is some entity that only comes out in the dark—Diana—an old “friend” of Sophie’s.

 diana

A surprise subplot of an otherwise underwhelming summer season is that small horrors/thrillers have not only been bankable (a usual given) but generally entertaining. Okay, The Purge: Election Year is divisive depending on who you talk to, but The Shallows, The Conjuring 2, and now Lights Out have made for a pretty good smattering of low budget horror. Any good horror movie is a win for the horror movie genre in this day and age. Lights Out is a good, solid, competent horror movie.

What Lights Out has going for it is a man overseeing the production with a stellar track record as it pertains to frights. Even if he isn’t directing, having James Wan, probably the best horror director today, on as a producer can only mean a good thing. Directed by David F. Sandberg, Lights Out, especially in its second half and climax, makes use of its, ahem, lights out premise to stage a few striking scenes. The beginning may actually take the cake, but a scene with black light is certainly a highlight as well. Jump scares are in good supply here, but most are actually legit, not many false ones for the sake of having them.

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Not even 90 minutes, Lights Out, expounded on from an original short directed by Sandberg, is trim with its story. It gets going immediately with the beginning and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Story information is parsed out evenly, with the only misstep being some heavy exposition that explains the connection the antagonist has to the main characters in the film. As far as the actual antagonist goes, she’s pretty universal in the sense that she can be anywhere in an absence of light. But sort of like It Follows, not much rhyme or reason is given to what her limitations are. Granted, the darkness aspect is a better mechanic and more straightforward than the “pass it on” one; still, a little definition would have been appreciated, for the tastes of yours truly at least.

Logic is often lost on characters that appear in horror movies. Not so with those in Lights Out. Teresa Palmer is the de facto lead, and she does a serviceable job while being a good heroine. But she is outshined in this movie by a few performers. Maria Bello, in particular, does great work with a role that could be cringy with other thespians, but with her she makes it believable and even heartbreaking.

Most kids are of the annoying variety in horrors or simply cannot act in them, but again, not so with Gabriel Bateman as the young Martin. He sells fear well. Even Palmer’s boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) is notable as a lovestruck boyfriend who will do anything for Rebecca. Arguably, he has the best moment in the entire movie when evading the baddie, deliciously humorous and heady. All together though, there is a real family element that outlines the feature, and the main cast actually feels like a family, also not something always achieved in scary movies. 

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Lights Out won’t leave one leaving every outlet installed with a night light, but it is effective more than not as a short, lean, and family-oriented horror film. Much worse is out there.

B-

Photo credits go to clickthecity.com, and warnerbros.co.uk.

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Star Trek Beyond: Movie Man Jackson

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Everything becomes old at some point. Even space. It has been about three years into a five-year exploration trek for Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew on the USS Enterprise. To be honest, Kirk doesn’t know if captaincy is right for him anymore, and he starts to think about what else may be out there beyond the vast reaches of space. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is in the same mindset as well, as his efforts may be needed back on his home world.

But in the present, their full attention is needed as the Enterprise is bombarded and ransacked by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba) and his “swarm,” looking for a piece of technology that is vital for his ultimate mission. The destruction caused by the swarm has left the crew stranded and separated from each other on an unknown planet, with no working communication. Escape from this planet appears impossible, but there’s always hope in the impossible.

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50 years is a long time for anything to be around and and active, be it a man, woman, automobile, whatever. In 2016, Star Trek Beyond arrives to punctuate the 50th anniversary of Gene Rodenberry’s original series. Kind of a big deal? Absolutely. Adding to the pressure is the simple fact that the blockbuster season of 2016 has been terribly lean on action thrills since Captain America: Civil War hit cinemas two and a half months ago, or technically, before summer truly began. May have come a little late, but Star Trek Beyond honors what came before it, while bringing the big budget summer fun.

With an obligation to direct another popular space opera franchise, J.J. Abrams couldn’t make the return to the captain’s seat (more of a co-pilot as a producer). This time, that honor falls to Justin Lin, Fast & Furious franchise savior. After seeing what he did with the latter half of the Fast franchise, there was never any doubt in my eyes as to whether his skills could translate to a different universe. Do scenes get a little cut-happy sometimes? Sure, but at least there’s not as much lens flare, right? His destruction scenes are every bit what Independence Day: Resurgence by all accounts should have been and then some, with awesome cinematography and the sounds of Michael Giacchino accompanying them. Rest assured, this isn’t Dom Torreto and Brian O’Conner in space; this is very much Star Trek.

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And not just Star Trek—revisiting cool but well-worn species, foes, and locales—but Star Trek—introducing new species, foes, and locales. Video gamers may notice some similarities to Mass Effect 2 in a few places (the bee swarm looks a lot like the Collectors), and the object in question that pushes the adequate plot is more or less an MacGuffin, but still, kudos goes to Lin and writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung for including a few touching callbacks to the original series but also choosing to go forth into new terrain. Specifically, the two new characters are welcome additions.

Idris Elba is unrecognizable, but even under a bevvy of makeup and costume, he’s got presence. He carries a level of menace that hasn’t been seen in the new reboots by any previous baddies. While he isn’t as mysterious or developed as, say John Harrison, was, he does have a thread that gives him some depth in the final act. The real star of the feature, though, is undoubtedly Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella. She’s unique visually and can hold her own with intellect or in battle. The thing is, there is much to be uncovered into her backstory. But this is a great introduction, and let’s hope that future installments continue with more Boutella in this role.

As for the returning cast, there’s not much more to be said for them except for that they are strong in their roles. Better yet, none look to be tired with what they are doing. Some, like Saldana’s Uhura and Cho’s Sulu are pushed to the backburner this time, but others like Pegg’s Scotty, Urban’s Bones, and the late Yelchin’s Chekov have many pivotal scenes and more importance to the plot than before. Pine and Quinto are still the stars, but Beyond truly feels like an ensemble effort this go-around, and that isn’t a bad thing.

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Star Trek Beyond was not sabotaged by its first trailer, or by its latest director. With three quality films into the reboot, yours truly is very excited and even eager to see where the next journey takes Captain Kirk and company.

B+

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, uproxx.com, and moviepilot.com.

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