Black Panther: Movie Man Jackson

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. After participating in the legendary Civil War that pitted Tony Stark and Steve Rogers against each other, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to his technologically advanced and off-the-grid African nation of Wakanda. The Black Panther carries a heavy heart; the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani) ever lingering within it. Yet, a king is needed, and that responsibility falls unto T’Challa to take the mantle.

As Wakanda prepares to enter a new era, many in the world are hellbent on discovering her secrets. Arms dealer Ulysses Klawe (Andy Serkis) and mysterious nomad Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) align themselves with each other to achieve what they’re after, respectively. For Klawe, it’s precious vibranium and the riches that come with it, but for Killmonger, it’s a lot more personal. He’s coming for the crown, and the man’s willing to spill as much blood as needed to get it, T’Challa’s included.

Bar none, one of the best feelings is being in a theater and realizing that what is on screen can never be duplicated or replicated. The energy and mood are unforgettable. In less than one calendar year, the world has received two cultural touchstone films in Get Out and, now, Black Panther. Like Jordan Peele’s work, there are some that may only see this as one type of movie only, but the fact is, that’s kind of limiting. Black Panther fits extremely well into the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but honestly—like the best superhero films—it’s able to transcend genre and create something long-lasting.

Praise goes all around, but let’s start with the juggernaut. Marvel’s got a formula, which is news to no one. Black Panther, for the most part, stays in the framework of it. However, in their recent catalog the studio has shown a desire to jigger things up and/or play against the superhero genre conventions, be it The Winter SoldierGuardians of The Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarokor even Ant-ManSuccess can make people and organizations stagnant, but it can also allow for more chances to be taken; no way a movie like this gets made ten years ago.

Perhaps the most surprising thing coming out of Black Panther is just how much control uber-talented writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) has over everything. What’s often lost in blockbuster films is a director’s style and vision. But unequivocally, this is Ryan’s vision from the jump, tackling modern issues and topics such as identity, nationalism, and utilitarianism and framing them in the environment that is Wakanda. None of it feels forced or one-sided, either, as valid points are made for each side of the proverbial coin. Providing so much minutiae and plot meat only serves to crystallize the belief that Wakanda is this world that is as culturally reach and detailed as the visuals show. Only the first 10 minutes are arguably a little rough around the edges with a lot of information dumping and a scene that plays out better as we return to it midway through.

Of course, this amount of writing depth carries over to the wide cast of characters in Black Panther, starting with…the Black Panther. Civil War wonderfully introduced the world to T’Challa on a surface level, but his solo film goes into his psyche—sometimes literally—like few superhero movies do with their saviors. Chadwick Boseman is the lead actor this role needs, supremely confident, silently charismatic and in possession of this royal gaze that carries a ton of weight. In short, he’s awesome and an awesomely fresh hero.

But where Black Panther separates itself from its Marvel film brethren is through its villain of one Erik Killmonger, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan in a role that calls for physicality, swagger, and vulnerability. The studio has always had an issue in creating compelling foils for its legendary heroes. Rarely has a baddie been introduced better in his or her opening scene than here. To spoil even the slightest is a sin, but to say it simply, only Loki has a claim as Marvel’s best villain, and so much of the emotion of Black Panther comes from Killmonger’s past and his rational viewpoint that fuel his actions. Seeing T’Challa and Erik wage war over how to best run Wakanda is kind of Civil War-like, where no guy is completely wrong. Only difference are the levels Erik is willing to go to achieve his vision.

Boseman and Jordan are the anchors, but Coogler allows almost everyone to shine. Whether it’s Lupita Nyong’o pushing shoeless on the pedal metal, Andy Serkis going unhinged as a South African gangster, Martin Freeman being the fish-out-of-water, Daniel Kaluuya commanding an entire head of security, Danai Gurira laying waste to a room with a staff spear, or T’Challa’s brilliant sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) cranking out the latest addition to the Black Panther’s repertoire. Some roles like those of Forest Whitaker’s and Angela Bassett’s might be weaker than others, but they all fuse to make Wakanda what it is.

Everything to this point makes Black Panther sound more like a gloomy movie more in line with that other comic book universe, but rest assured, Black Panther is very entertaining even for those who don’t care to digest the emotional beats and geopolitical questions. The writing is mature in both themes and humor. Sight gags do exist, but the strength of the laughs mostly derives from the delivery and timing of the cast. For those who have seen Creed, it should come as no surprise that Coogler can craft long-take scenes of action and spectacle, this time getting really inventive with some of the setpieces backed by a great soundtrack and a magnificent score by Ludwig Göransson. Whether basking in the purple royalty hues of the spiritual skyline or the sparkling waterfalls, Wakanda is an eye-popping marvel whether 3D is utilized or not.

Even the very last shot of Black Panther seems to realize the moment at hand, drawing parallels to the movie that started it all with the MCU way back when in 2008. Whatever goes down in The Avengers’ next chapter, one thing’s for certain: T’Challa’s here to stay. Wakanda Forever.


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Fifty Shades Freed: Movie Man Jackson

Pain gets easier to deal with on the third time, right? America’s favorite pain-inflicting couple in Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) are back and taking things to the next level. This doesn’t mean only sexually, but Ana taking Christian’s last name in holy matrimony. Their relationship, forever a complicated one, seems to finally be on the same page.

Still, there are things Ana wants that Christian is not entirely sold on. like the idea of a family. This is troubling, but not as troubling as old thorn Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) popping up consistently in efforts to get revenge on the newlyweds for ruining his life. Bliss cannot be fully achieved until Hyde is fully removed from the situation.

Why Fifty Shades Freed? Yours truly is a completionist in just about everything I do in this life, and if there’s a clear end seen, I’ll often stick with it. Fifty Shades Freed is the clear end to the E.L James trilogy of novels adapted into features on the silver screen starting with Fifty Shades of Grey. No matter how this goes, this is the last one. Reason for celebration. You don’t need me to say this is a bad film, but I will. At least this series has consistency.

But, there are (a few) positives! Fifty Shades Freed and director James Foley, responsible for last year’s sequel in Fifty Shades Darker, his stars, and the like finally seem to be in on the joke more times than not. “FSF” is—surprisingly—amusing at times in a completely intentional way. This addition does result in a slightly less dull watch than Darker, and by default, Freed is a better movie than the second, for whatever that’s worth. Still, these fleeting moments and dialogue are the exception, not the norm. Most of what is heard is as agonizing as those films that came before it, despite the committed efforts of the brightest spot of the series in Dakota Johnson giving and baring her all.

Like those other films, Johnson tries to bring strength to the role, but Anastasia is what she is at this point: A character whose actions often don’t jibe with her words and desires, making her a challenging character to invest into. The return of Johnson of course means the return of Dornan as the playboy billionaire sexual miscreant Christian Grey. Dornan is hilarious at times, whether crooning on the piano or giving no cares in the world with how often his American accent slips into his native Irish one. But like the other movies, he’s mostly dry and stiff, and together, the duo just does not possess the smoldering chemistry needed to overcome the trilogy’s story problems.

Being slightly more self-aware doesn’t make the bruises go away, however. Fifty Shades Freed, like its predecessors, is doomed from the start simply because of its source material shooting blanks in regard to providing anything of substance plot-wise or character-wise. Even at one hour and forty-five minutes which amounts to the shortest Fifty Shades run-time to date, there’s isn’t enough here to constitute it.

It’s probably why Foley, when not filming a Fast and Furious-like scene or generic Lifetime thriller set-pieces, resorts to an endless supply of pop tunes every 10 minutes in any given scene, whether BDSM is involved or not. To put a final bow on the proceedings, Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do plays over the series’ most famous/infamous scenes and is a perfect representation of the glossy coat of paint that has attempted to cover its pitfalls.

“Don’t miss the climax” is the main tagline for Fifty Shades Freed, and it is sort of funny. The word climax typically carries a positive connotation, suggesting that whatever came before it was at the very least semi-memorable. Can’t have a good climax without good foreplay, though. Time to turn out the lights on the Red Room of Pain for good.


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The Commuter: Movie Man Jackson

Should have flown. Oh wait…nevermind. Sixty year-old Michael McCauley lives as basic as one can in their sixties; mortgage, wife (Elizabeth McGovern), and soon-to-be-college-student son (Dean-Charles Chapman). He’s prepping for retirement in roughly five years from his financial adviser position, a role he took some years back after serving in the New York police force.

Costs a lot to send a kid through university, however, and Michael’s best laid plans are obliterated when life happens. On his daily ride home on the train, he’s approached by a “social experimenter” in Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who offers to solve all of Michael’s financial problems if he can do one thing: Find the person who isn’t supposed to be on the train, for they have something very valuable in their bag. Doing this nets Michael 100K, but failure to do so may result in loss of life for everyone on the train, and even those off it in Mike’s family.

Honestly, it’s fascinating how one Liam Neeson has not only created a genre for himself, but for other older actors and some actresses since Bryan Mills introduced his set of skills to the world in 2008 with Taken. Ever since that movie, it’s been a boom to Neeson’s career. There’s value in a person knowing what they’re getting. I don’t even know if The Commuter is bad. It just…exists.

No, The Commuter isn’t bad because it’s two stars are solidly good at their day jobs. Yes, two stars, one of them being director and longtime Neeson collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night, Non-Stop). His direction is a formula for these types of films, and it is arguably a carbon copy of Run All Night. But it is an effective one, nonetheless, taking advantage of a tight and enclosed environment for some occasionally tense moments. Additionally, Serra manages to direct a fight scene that is somehow simultaneously (strangely) impressive and laughable. Hard to explain, but a person will know it when they see it.

And of course, there’s Ol’ Reliable, also known as Liam Neeson. I’m saying nothing that is not clear knowledge now, but the fact is, he can play this role in his sleep. This means that while he’s not necessarily stretched per se, he does bring a level of professionalism, commitment to the material, and—arguably most important—lead star power—critical as this story becomes more incredulous as the runtime goes on.

Speaking of star power, The Commuter is up there with Run All Night with regards to consisting of the most star power of any Liam Neeson-led movie from 2009 and beyond, featuring the likes of Conjuring co-stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, and even Sam Neill. But, none make their mark on the movie, either entrenched as stock stereotypical characters (Neill, Wilson), or barely present at all to do anything (Farmiga, Banks). Farmiga in particular is a disappointment; mainly due to how the film sets her up.

The Commuter has an awesome set-up. That’s not hyperbole, either; Collet-Serra’s first fifteen minutes are wonderful in laying out the story of one man and his traditional, nondescript life through unique editing. The introduction of Farmiga’s character is brilliant, as is the dilemma she presents, evoking shades of the classic opposing philosophical theories debate of deontology vs utilitarianism. Around the point that Farmiga physically exists the film is when the plot goes off the rails, much of it relying on this idea that people can control every little minutia of a particular situation well ahead of it actually occurring. Collet-Serra’s writing falls back more on the “Eureka” moment that Neeson’s ex-cop experiences rather than a logical process of elimination with snuffing out suspects. Lastly, the ending is very rough, way too neat, and opening up way more questions than answers.

Collectively, Neeson and Collet-Serra the director deliver The Commuter to its destination—barely. Still, better trips are out there for the fare it takes to get on this train.


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Phantom Thread: Movie Man Jackson

In sickness, and in health. The scene is 1950’s London, where fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is regarded as one of the best—if not the best—dressmaker in the couture world, running his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). His attention to detail and control in the couture world has carried into every facet of his life; he fills his need for companionship by rotating women, many of whom model his dresses.

Everything changes when Woodcock lays his eyes on a particular waitress during a lunch in Alma (Vicky Krieps). The love is there on both sides, and soon, Alma moves into Reynolds’ house and serves as the ultimate spark for his work. However, she can only take so much of his stubborn temperament. Most women, often at the behest of Woodcock, just leave when it gets to this point, but for Alma, she is a different breed. For the first time in his existence, Woodcock will meet his match.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few directors who can sell a movie on name alone. His latest in Phantom Thread would be a must-watch regardless of cast, but there’s this ever-so-small news floating around that his movie is the last one that actor Daniel Day-Lewis will ever appear in. With these two reuniting for the supposed final time, Phantom Thread is peak PT Anderson (for better and for worse) and DDL operating at the levels we’ve come to know of them.

Phantom Thread shares a similar striking, pastel-like, worn-in visual style as many of PT Anderson’s recent flicks. Sometimes, it’s surreal, other times, realistic, but regardless, it is a world that is impossible to not become engrossed with. Throw in the meticulous costume designs by Oscar nominee Mark Bridges along with a rich and debonair score by composer Jonny Greenwood that often juxtaposes the events on screen with a conflicting sound (in a good way), and Phantom Thread has few equals on the production side of things.

Anderson’s film takes a concentrated look at a few things. Mainly, the psyches of true artists in how what makes them great also makes them extremely difficult to be around for most people. The aspect of power dynamics framed in more of a traditional father/mother relationship is evident as well. Really, Phantom Thread isn’t a story-driven feature; that’s not to say that there isn’t one, but to articulate it isn’t the easiest to do. This is a character-centric feature through and through. What isn’t present in story momentum is there in dialogue. You want to hear these main characters engage in conversation, much of it surprisingly funny in a subdued fashion.

The focus on character leads to spectacular acting work from the three leads. Would anything else be expected in DDL’s last performance? His Reynolds is yet another role that allows the legendary actor to disappear completely into it. Anytime food is involved seems to bring out the worst, and a middle runtime dining scene is almost 100% assured to be played during the Best Actor award announcement. It’s the little things, like Lewis’ delivery, timing, mannerisms, and the like that add another notch to the belt that is his filmography.

While he necessarily doesn’t get upstaged, Vicky Krieps without a doubt goes toe-to-toe with Daniel Day, and seeing her character evolve from semi-meek to completely assured is a treat. Balancing the entire movie is Manville in a job much more critical than initially to be believed, and she too shows steely versatility in handling both Reynolds and Alma’s most negative aspects.

Spearheaded by a superb direction and awesome cast work, Phantom Thread is a well-tailored film. Would anything else be expected?


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Movie Man Jackson looks at: 2017 Music in Movies (Part 6)

Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t. Part 6 of the yearly Music in Movies series ends here. Even though I missed a few things (ahem…Phantom Thread), I promise, we’re done with 2017 finally. If you missed parts one, two, three, four, and five, they’re available here , here, here,  here, and here. Groove out.

I, Tonya (composed by Peter Nashel, soundtrack by various artists)

Devil Woman

How Can you Mend a Broken Heart?

The Chain

The Incident

Music doesn’t completely play into I, Tonya’s storytelling like Baby Driver did, but still, the licensed soundtrack definitely paints a rebellious, edgy, and grungy tone that supports the fourth wall breaking aspects of the movie. Often times, these songs serve to tap into the psyche of Tonya, which is far from rosy. However, The Incident stands as a moody, uneasy track for the obvious moment that everyone associates Harding for.

Lady Bird (composed by Jon Brion)

Title Credits

Played during the opening sequence of the film, Jon Brion’s opener sets the stage for a warm, offbeat, and quirky experience. C’mon, there are oboes heard extensively! It kind of sounds like an average high school woodwind band. Perhaps that was the affect, pulling on the nostalgia strings?

Drive Home

Rose Garden

Summer in Sacramento

Lady Bird

Brion’s motif heard in the above three tracks might be my favorite motif/theme of 2017. Using that word again, it creates a very warm feeling despite sounding a little cold. The pieces are so layered, I feel nostalgia, introspection, and a sense of yearning the minute those keys are played and the hi-hat clicks and the descending call-response part comes on. The titular track of Lady Bird simply serves as an amazing coda to the film.

The Shape of Water (composed by Alexandre Desplat)

The Shape of Water

Elisa’s Theme

The Shape of Love


The Escape

Rainy Day

So rich and so ethereal is Alexandre Desplat’s score of The Shape of Water. The sounds and melodies that Desplat crafts are broad, deep, dreamy, and lush, befitting of Del Toro’s fantastical production. It’s impossible not to get sucked in, whether during the thrilling and even pulse-pounding moments during The Escape, or the opening narration played over the title track.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (composed by Carter Burwell)

Mildred Goes to War

Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s score has a outlaw/last stand/revenge feel to it. Honestly, that sounds a lot more interesting than the score sounds. But, the opener above paints the picture as a vengeful, methodical, almost spaghetti-western like tale that promises a scorched Earth left behind by it’s main character.

The Post (composed by John Williams)

The Presses Roll

Deciding to Publish

The Court’s Decision and End Credits

With the urgency The Post champions, it’s only right that John Williams makes a score that carries a sense of fitting weight and urgency. There’s a lot of power in many of these tracks that is punctuated by Williams’ precise sharp strings and swooping brass orchestra; one can feel the intensity of putting pen to paper and fingers to typewriter and unearthing something important.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (composed by John Williams)

The Supremacy

A New Alliance

The Last Jedi

There’s that guy again. C’mon, it’s John Williams, Star Wars. Little more needs to be said. Even for a non-Force geek like myself who couldn’t tell a Porgi from an Ewok (kidding…I think), there’s something undeniably epic about a Star Wars score and every sound of Williams’ orchestra. Bold, energetic, and vibrant.

All the Money in the World (composed by Daniel Pemberton)

The Minotaur

We Are Kidnappers



Police Raid

Sold to an Investor

Money Drop

Visuals do a lot when it comes to painting a picture of setting or time period, but a well crafted score can be just as important, if not more so. Daniel Pemberton’s work in All the Money in the World continues his great recent work. Whether giving life to a retelling of King Arthur, or painting different periods of Steve Jobs’ life, his sounds are always unique and go different places than most composers.

AtMinW is no different, combining classical Italian opera vocals and melodic instrumentation with street sounds and electric spurts that play up the thriller aspect when applicable. A score that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Call Me By Your Name (soundtrack by various artists, Sufjan Stevens)

Futile Devices (Doveman Remix)

Love My Way

Visions of Gideon

For all the love that songwriter Sufjan Stevens is getting for his Mystery of Love track as a potential Oscar Best Original Song contender, his other contributions to Call Me By Your Name are actually stronger. The lyrics to Futile Devices and Visions of Gideon are painful to listen to, not because they are bad, but so relatable, in the sense that love can be hard to verbalize and worthless to do so, but actions are ever present in the former song. The latter song is heartbreaking, remembering something that was so real and vivid but almost too real, using the Jewish prophet of Gideon to draw light parallels to Elio and his situation. A flooring way to end the movie.

Darkest Hour (composed by Dario Marianelli)

The War Rooms

History is Listening


The piano is such a dynamic instrument, able to convey feelings of love and tenderness, but also aggression and importance. The tracks above by Dario Marianelli, paired with a full orchestra, get at the urgency and importance of the seemingly impossible task that Churchill had in convincing his party to keep fighting in the midst of despair. Very business and processional-like.

Molly’s Game (composed by Daniel Pemberton)

Staring Down a Mountain

Area Codes

House of Cards


All the Beauty in the World

I fittingly end my look at 2017 films and the music that accompanies them with, in my opinion, the most dynamic film composer working today in Daniel Pemberton. He may very well be the best in the game right now at crafting a style for a particular movie. Molly’s Game is crisp and smooth. Sounds like more an adult drink than a film score, but that’s the truth. The metronome in Staring Down a Mountain paired with steel drums and a funky electric guitar creates a 70’s-ish vibe with. The whole score, whether brimming with energy or more sedated like the somber and reflective Scars, feels like clockwork, apropos to the content in Molly’s Game.

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Going to try something different this year to end this yearly series. Instead of ranking my favorite scores of the past year in cinema, I’m going to list my top 25 favorite tracks in cinema over the past year, and, my composer of the year. Again, all subjective, and just because a movie may have been generally deemed great or awful by the masses, I could really love one or two, or hell, maybe three or more, of the tracks on its score and the movie may be stellar or poor. These are the tracks I have found myself listening to often, working out to, falling asleep with, humming randomly, or just thinking a lot about.

Composer of the Year: Daniel Pemberton (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, All The Money in the World, Molly’s Game)

Top 25 of 2017

25. Paradise Lost (War for the Planet of the Apes)

24. A Long Way Back (Life)

23. Hitman’s Bodyguard (The Hitman’s Bodyguard)

22. Demonstration (Atomic Blonde)

21. Project Monarch (Kong: Skull Island)

20. The Last Jedi (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

19. Wonder Woman’s Wrath (Wonder Woman)

19. John Wick Reckoning (John Wick: Chapter 2)

18. Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga (Get Out)

17. We Are Kidnappers (All The Money in the World)

16. Elisa’s Theme (The Shape of Water)

15. Staring Down a Mountain (Molly’s Game)

14. Visions of Gideon (Call Me By Your Name)

13. The War Rooms (Darkest Hour)

12. Original Score Medley (Logan Lucky)

11. Lady Bird (Lady Bird)

10. The Beast is on the Movie (Split)

9. History is Listening (Darkest Hour)

8. Supermarine (Dunkirk)

7. Growing Up Londinium (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword)

6. Futile Devices (Call Me By Your Name)

5. Main Titles (Logan)

4. The Shape of Water (The Shape of Water)

3. All The Beauty in the World (Molly’s Game)

2. The Mole (Dunkirk)

1. Sea Wall (Blade Runner 2049)

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Den of Thieves: Movie Man Jackson

This is Grand Theft Auto V played out on the silver screen. Los Angeles is the home of many things, including (apparently) the most bank robberies. Heading a crew of career criminals and military men is Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), who’s got the right-hand man in Enson (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and talented driver Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr) among other squad mates. Their goal? To pull off the job of all jobs: Rob the LA branch of the Federal Reserve, which houses untraceable money if taken at the right time.

In their way is Sheriff Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler), a brash, take-no-prisoners officer lawman who may be just as bad as those who his crew is trying to stop. This can only end one way. The heat is on.

Quick, what do Proud Mary and Den of Thieves, two movies released in back-to-back weeks, have in common? Both employ people behind the camera who had major responsibilities in 2016’s London Has Fallen, the movie that keeps on coming back! Instead of Babak Najafi, Den of Thieves is put together by Christian Gudegast, the writer of that Mike Banning sequel who carries directing duties in addition to screenplay responsibilities this time around. While this is far from the best of the best in the cops versus robbers genre, it is surprisingly competent and even a little entertaining.

Hard not to compare every recent cops and robbers movie against Michael Mann’s legendary Heat, and Gudegast certainly doesn’t seem to shy away from the similes. Our good guys (read: bad guys) and bad-der guys intersect quite early and often, somewhat laughably with the frequency this occurs. Anyone who has seen this movie before knows what the climax will consist of. There’s some superfluous additions and scenes to the overall story; 140 minutes could probably be cut down to 120, max. However, a level of unpredictability does keep things engaging, and while somewhat implausible, there is a massive twist that doesn’t completely collapse when thought about.

Den of Thieves isn’t the all-out, fully-automatic heist-action the trailers set it up to be. This mad city (get it?), while not exactly slow paced, is slightly more methodical than anticipated. Think of it like GTA V, in that there are many set-up missions to get to the massive heist. Honestly, the film could use one more set piece—preferably in the middle—but at least Gudegast does bookend with a tense beginning and end action sequence that are shot and captured much, much better than anything in London Has Fallen or Proud Mary, aided by a steady score by composer Cliff Martinez. Good stuff for a directorial debut.

Despite Gudegast’s efforts to flesh out his main characters, they are of the one and slightly two-dimensional than three-dimensional ones. Machismo is the name of game in Den of Thieves; sadly, there’s not a prominent female to be found. 50 Cent is a name who’s not required to do much except look tough and be convincing with a rifle. That he can do. Easily, this is certainly Gerard Butler’s best role in years. Looking at his filmography, that’s not saying much, but there is a gruffness, gung-ho, and even intentionally comedic aspect he finds, playing off the stereotypical asshole officer in charge without being corny or groan-inducing.

But, the standouts are the underrated Pablo Schreiber, physically convincing and cerebral as the gangleader, and O’Shea Jackson, Jr, once again showing star power and thespian versatility in spades as the link that tethers the opposing forces. Even when the movie is too methodical in its pacing without adding a ton in the substance department, there’s enough collective charisma to keep from checking out.

Any movie that’s designated for January release that actually isn’t a dumpster fire feels like a minor win. Den of Thieves does not operate at a high level, but a level slightly higher than mediocre.


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Downsizing: Movie Man Jackson

Less mass, fatter cash. Obviously, there’s more to the process scientists have developed known as Downsizing, an optional yet irreversible decision people can choose to make themselves roughly 1/200th of the size they currently are. Essentially, five inches. Since its introduction five years ago, waste has been reduced, and resources go a longer way than ever before. The average middle income or even lower income person can potentially—almost certainly—live an easier life by getting smaller. This is the real draw.

After seeing and hearing the happiness his old friend Dave Johnson (Jason Sudeikis) is getting out of downsizing, American everyman and everywoman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) decide they want to be next, relocating to “Leisure Land” to start anew. The transformation is successful…for Paul, though he’s all alone in this new world without his spouse who bailed at the last possible moment. May not seem like it to him, but this could be a silver lining as he figures out if he is truly meant for something bigger.

There’s a scene about 90 or so minutes into Downsizing where a group of 5-7 people listen to a scientist espousing the values of something or the troubles of one thing. The exact details are hazy. But the main takeaway is, the people and the actors involved in this scene look bored and disinterested. This scene is a microcosm of the viewing experience of Downsizing, a predominantly mundane viewing experience.

At least the first third does relatively good with the film’s intriguing premise. Director/writer Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Nebraska) uses this first act to show off some adept CGI and camera angles juxtaposing the tiny and the normal sized, introducing some amusing sight gags, and just generally building up the mystery and the event that is the downsizing process. The first act is arguably—no, definitively—the act in which Downsizing and its rife potential for satire and social commentary is seen most clearly; a great moment taking place in a bar where a drunk patron makes thought-provoking points about the downsized populace and whether they should be a part of society. This scene gives a viewer hope.

Sadly, Downsizing‘s momentum tapers off slightly but consistently after the titular event and then lost for good about fifteen minutes later. An overlong party scene does nothing to the narrative when contemplated, only the day after provides a core character. To not spoil anything (for those still carrying some desire to view), there does seem to be a good ending message of selflessness and the greater good, but even that is not all that clear.

It is hard to pin down exactly what Downsizing desires to be, or the story it aspires to tell, because it pulls itself into so many story directions/themes and genres without being compelling in any one of them. End of the world, environmentalism, cultism, racism/discrimination, and more are only touched upon. But, the biggest frustration as it pertains to Payne’s latest film might just be the fact that so much of the story has nothing to do with downsizing even one iota. Most of the last two-thirds is shot and told no differently than what is seen in most traditional dramas. You’ll forget that these characters are five inches tall. Maybe that’s the point, but again, it’s so hard to know for certain.

What is hard is seeing this cast slog through nothing of interest and seemingly appear to know it. Lead Matt Damon, recreating his look from Elysium in the downsizing process, isn’t exactly asked to carry the movie but still asked to be the focal point, but his Paul simply isn’t a guy to get invested in, and to spend over two hours with him is asking for a lot. There’s an argument to be made that perhaps Downsizing would work better if it followed Paul’s friend of Dave, played by Jason Sudeikis. He gets the best lines and seems to be the one character who speaks to the satire of the whole situation, but he’s punted quickly as is Kristen Wiig, losing much of the potential fun that could be had.

Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau stand out the most, but for reasons that aren’t great. Waltz plays an extremely forgettable foreign party guy with little else worth discussing. Chau, on the other hand, turns in a good acting job for a role that is written rather weak. Despite the problematic stereotype she is saddled with, she does get the viewer to care about her way more than this film should.

However, Downsizing is still a disappointment, any way it is sized up. Very big on an idea, very small in the execution of it.


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Proud Mary: Movie Man Jackson

Say it loud, say it proud. Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is a hitwoman in Boston, carrying out the death deeds when the family ran by Benny (Danny Glover) needs people to be dealt with. On one routine hit, Mary executes her target professionally as always, but is taken aback when her mark is discovered to have a young boy.

This shakes Mary who isn’t quite the same after this day, and as such, has been looking over the boy from afar, who has run into some tough times. Feeling responsible, the hitwoman takes “Danny” (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) in privately, gives him some TLC, and finds the people responsible for Danny’s situation. But, the youngster is tied to some deep criminal roots, roots that have the potential to start a war between Mary’s criminal family and another, putting everyone and their lives at risk.


Proud Mary. Look at the poster, the name of the movie taken after the famous Ike and Tina track, the tagline (“Killing for the man every night and day”), and the general plot summary. Sounds a lot like a 70’s Blaxploitation flick, right? Wrong. Now, to expect something on the tone of, say Black Dynamite would be asking for too much, but, the recipe is here for 50% of that along with some solid, John Wick/Atomic Blonde-esque action. Unfortunately, what is present is an average-to-poorly made crime drama befitting of its release date.

Proud Mary starts off well enough. The title credits look like they came out of the 70’s, accompanied by The Temptations classic of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Fun stuff, and Henson’s hitwoman wastes no time getting down to business with executing a lethal hit. But, that nice opening is the exception, not the rule, to Proud Mary. Once this movie jumps to one year after the incident, any hopes of the movie being a crowd-pleasing, gleefully violent ride down memory lane are lost.

Really, Proud Mary is a “family” drama and not a compelling one. The story itself is essentially a basic “time for me to get out” one, so it comes down to the relationship/chemistry between Henson and Winston’s characters in getting the audience to care about their plights. At best, the chemistry between the two is mediocre and nonexistent at worst, hampered by a rushed union and saddled by sometimes clunky dialogue.

This is a problem that not only these two share, but others in the movie, in which characters have a weird habit of talking over others for no real reason. Other bonds and revelations come to the forefront in attempts to add stakes, but midway through, one may find it hard to care about either of the lead characters and whether they make it to see tomorrow. And this is terrible, because Taraji P. Henson is not only likable, but quite talented. But, Proud Mary never gives her much of an opportunity to be or sound cool, or look like a badass. Or, maybe she never gives herself the opportunity, being executive producer and all.

Director Babak Najafi’s last movie was London Has Fallen, not exactly a movie a director wants on their resume to show off their talent. Some of the jagged and rough editing issues found in that one pop up here as well, if not more so. A mid-movie raid shootout and one-against-all blitz play climax should feature ton of satisfying moments…if only they could be seen in clear. Hard to remember light being used so poorly in a feature after viewing this one. One scene in particular obscures 90 percent of Glover’s face in a basic conversation, making someone wonder how this could just be left in the movie as is.

With a lighter tone and tighter editing, Proud Mary could have been a fun throwback action flick in what is typically a lean month for new releases. Instead, it’s dynamite. Not the good kind.


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Darkest Hour: Movie Man Jackson

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. There’s nothing but difficulty in Great Britain circa 1940. Smack dab in the early part of World War II, the German forces are invading and ransacking their opposition, the pressure’s on England to fortify their national security. The populace (read: Parliament) doesn’t believe their current Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain is up to the task, so he is ousted.

In steps Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), not the first replacement choice but the second and possibly the only choice who can rally an European party of decision makers. He needs to, because most are advocating the white flag surrender to Hitler. But, Churchill, in all his intestinal fortitude, refuses to lay down. His words are going to have to be decisive to get Britain out of her Darkest Hour. 

There’s something honest about Darkest Hour. Not necessarily in its presentation of facts (far from a completely and unabashedly artistically licensed movie, but it’s definitely present), but what director Joe Wright’s (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) film is primed to do. What is that? Serve major awards prospects on a silver platter for one of the best actors today. And he’s eating.

Darkest Hour begins and ends with the work of Gary Oldman. Prosthetics and makeup sometimes have the wrong intended effect; instead of making a thespian more believable and lifelike in their famous figure portrayal, the figure ends up feeling artificial and even unintentionally comical. Costume designer and longtime Joe Wright collaborator Jacqueline Duran deserves a ton of credit, as does the general set cast for recreating the stuffiness and feel of these conference and war rooms on display. But Oldman never lets the getup overshadow his performance.

Occasionally called out for overacting in a couple of roles, Oldman finds a strong balance of power mixed with restrain. The Oscar clips are here, but honestly, the more quieter moments such as Churchill speaking with the President or coming to grips with his doubts resonate just as much, if not more so, than the big ones. He’s earned whatever accolades come his way. Providing sound support are Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI, Lily James as Elizabeth Layton, and Kristen Scott Thomas as Clemmie.

Light is used to great effect in Darkest Hour, creating this sort of sheen that matches most of the setting impeccably. There’s not much else that pops out; Wright’s directing here seems to take a background relegation its star and rightfully so. Anthony McCarten handles script duties. We see the struggles of Churchill galvanizing his party, and struggling with his feeling on whether he’s doing the right thing. Rinse, repeat. That’s the extent of it, really, but, it’s enough to get the film from point A to point B.

Without victory, there is no survival. That was also once said by Winston Churchill. Let’s tweak it to, “Without Gary Oldman, there is no Darkest Hour.


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Call Me By Your Name: Movie Man Jackson

Nothing is as sweet as a peach, or your first love. The summer of 1983 brings Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) something he’s never felt before. Seventeen-year-old Elio lives in Italy with his parents, spending the days immersing himself into classical music. Each summer brings a different person into Elio’s home, because his father, Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) works as a professor and needs the help during the period to prep and research. The youngster has grown to accept this, even if it means giving up his room consistently.

But this summer is different. Twenty-four year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer) is the scholar this year, and a magnetism quickly draws Elio to him. And it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is a thing—a spark—that keeps on building and building, whether at the meal table, out for a swim, or biking along the countryside. Six weeks is a short amount of time, but in ways, it’s a lifetime.

Seeing Italy as the setting for a romance is nothing new. Outside of Paris, France, it’s pretty much the country of love. After viewing Call Me By Your Name, however, no romance has tapped into its environment more than director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash). The environment, as much as the masterful acting work, cements Call Me By Your Name as a requisite watch for not only romance lovers, but any film nuts.

For as great as the acting work is, Call Me By Your Name will be remembered for the locale. Filmed on location, there’s an immense level of warmth felt from the get-go and the opening titles. It’s natural and inviting; one can damn near feel the morning sun and the nighttime breeze in every respective scene. Alluring is the word, and Guadagnino’s intentionally distanced direction, along with a beautiful score and soundtrack by Sufjan Stevens, makes his film stand as an impressive production.


Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Call Me By Your Name is how methodically patient it plays out. Sure, at times it can be a little too slowly paced with nothing of real importance occurring, but nonetheless, unique to see a romance unfurl with the speed of a tortoise and still be compelling. And the unfurling occurs without real conflict. While it would have been nice to see some significant impediments to the budding union and some more meat on these character, this is not how the novel was written by author André Aciman. Not only is it cool to see a mostly intended vision (by most accounts) upheld, there’s a simple yet nice message that love can sort of exist separately as its own entity. Narrative-wise, this isn’t a groundbreaking romantic story, but it is still well-told.

What is groundbreaking happens to be the lead performance of Timothée Chalamet. He dives into the part with so much assuredness. His part is obviously not easy, not only due to the occasional explicitness, but for how he’s got to portray emotion while not being outwardly emotive. Not much more can be said about his work that hasn’t already been said. Not the forgotten-but-still-second-fiddle is Armie Hammer, equal parts mysterious, charismatic, and quirky. On their own, the work would still be great but probably a little empty.

Together, it’s electric seeing the opposite personalities recognize their key differences but being totally unable to stay away from one another. This is very much a two person movie, three if the setting is included (and it should be), though Michael Stuhlbarg, continuing his torrid streak of buzzworthy movies since 2015, chews some scenery and absolutely is in possession of the feature’s most emotionally resonant moment.

More than enough for technical aficionados or those who just love their romantic movies, Call Me By Your Name is a sweet and succulent viewing. Bite in.


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