The Magnificent Seven (2016): Movie Man Jackson

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

B+

Photo credits go to pgr.com and filmandtvnow.com

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Jack Reacher: Movie Man Jackson

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

C+

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, topgear.com, en.wikipedia.org, and cinemablend.com.

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Snowden: Movie Man Jackson

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

B-

Photo credits go to themillimetre.com, theguardian.com, and moviefone.com.

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Sully: Movie Man Jackson

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Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time. On January 15th, 2009, flight Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have the unprecedented arrive mid-flight in the skies. Their plane completely fails electrically after a flock of birds comes into contact with the engines. This isn’t going to end well.

Miraculously, Sully, the pilot vet with over 40 years of experience, thinks on his feet and manages to land right in the middle of the Hudson river, with no casualties whatsoever. Despite his humility and claim to just be doing his job, he’s a hero and should be treated as such. Yet, everyone doesn’t see it that way. The National Transportation Safety Board maintains through diagnostics that there was enough power to return back to the airport, and aim to show that Sully was more reckless than heroic in those 208 seconds from system failure to water landing.

Sully - MovieholicHub.com - Watch Movie Trailers

Death, taxes, and Tom Hanks delivering in an adult biographical drama. These are the only certainties in our world. It is of little surprise that Sully is solid. But to yours truly, it is a surprise that Sully is very good. Just maybe not for the reasons one might not expect, at least for yours truly.

Instead of working with longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks links up for the first time with director Clint Eastwood to tell the tale of one man’s duty to those around him. In Sully’s mind, he isn’t doing the heroic thing, he’s simply doing the dutiful thing and the right thing. It would have been really easy for the movie to come off as overly committed to romanticizing a man and painting him in an unbelievable soft and perfect light (a criticism many had with Eastwood’s last feature in American Sniper), but Eastwood commits to simplicity and a streamlined approach. Some may consider the flashbacks to the harrowing event a bit much; I found the piecewise flashbacks handled well with clarity (could have done without the military one, possibly). In a genre that can sometimes contain bloated screenplays and overlong runtimes, Sully is brisk and refreshing, clocking in at a tick over 90 minutes.

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Charles Barkley would love Sully. Why is he mentioned here? It was in February of 2015 that the “Sir Charles” went on a rant about how analytics were the result of people who had never played basketball using numbers to tell people how the game should be played and coached. Eastwood uses Sully to show the craziness of an overnight celebrity in the 21st century, but it ultimately is a story about man versus machine. No matter what the numbers or statistics may say or dictate, there is nothing like the human element which has to process a multitude of scenarios in real-time while actually being a human.

The finest aspects of Sully may be the technical ones, however. While at least half of the movie doesn’t “pop” in IMAX, the other half is pretty immersive, and as harrowing as one could imagine in that situation for all involved. But it is the little things that add to the immersion, like the establishing shots of the Hudson, or the interior of the aircraft. In particular, the sound is impeccable. A musical score is present, but nonexistent for the sequences in the plane. It’s a great artistic choice; hearing the malfunctions in the cockpit and the chant of “Brace brace brace! Heads down, stay down!” do more than any piece of music could do. This film’s sound design isn’t the type of feature that gets nominated in the respective award categories, but it should be.

What more is there to be said about Hanks at this point? His work is so effortless that it appears like he’s hardly trying. I think it is just the heightened quality level Hanks operates at. He forms one of the best, if not the best, bromances of 2016 sharing the skies with Aaron Eckhart, who provides a nice level of humor that does not undercut anything. Laura Linney adds a little to Sully’s character as his stressed-out wife. If there were somewhat of a substantial flaw with Sully, it would have to be its antagonists in the form of the NTSB officials. Their refusal to see anything past the data and what the flight simulations show (hard not to chuckle a bit at how much screentime those sims get during the end investigation) becomes sort of comical and eye-rolling by the film’s end.

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To call Sully extraordinary may be a reach, but seeing a hero’s tale handled so deftly and with such precision is great stuff. Eastwood flies pretty high with this one.

B+

Photo credits go to startribune.com, movieholichub.com, and directconversations.com.

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When the Bough Breaks: Movie Man Jackson

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Baby making is serious business. So is choosing the person to carry the baby you can’t have. Professional couple John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall) have been ready to accept parenthood for a while. Unfortunately, multiple attempts have beared no fruit. Laura is unable to get pregnant.

All options exhausted lead to the last possible one. The two, mainly on Laura’s plea, decide to have their baby through a surrogate. They select Anna (Jaz Sinclair), a 21 year old waitress who is the right fit even with an off-putting boyfriend in Mike (Theo Rossi). As a token of appreciation, they even open their home to her. The more time Anna spends around the two, she develops an intense attraction to John. Her love is unrequited though. But perhaps, she holds all the cards, and the baby, and as such, John may be forced to play along.

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It is a tradition unlike any other, and yours truly is not talking about The Masters on CBS. Since 2014, the second weekend of September has been a weekend in which the moviegoing world gets a predominately African-American movie from Screen Gems. No Good Deed, The Perfect Guy, and now, When The Bough Breaks. All follow similar plotlines more or less, similar direction, and even share a star or two here and there. This is simply to say that the quality is about what one would expect.

I’ve made my appreciation of the psycho jilted lover genre well-known before. That’s all When The Bough Breaks really is. Director Jon Cassar competently films the events on screen without adding much to the proceedings. I’m not sure if any of these movies are actually ever “good;” at their best they are very fun watches like Play Misty for Me or Swimfam. At their worst, they are on par with The Boy Next Door, too boring to be so bad it’s good.

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When The Bough Breaks is a little closer to the latter than the former. Everything is so perfunctorily telegraphed that most amusement is lost. Seeing the trailer so many times isn’t lost on me in regards to this being so telegraphed, but anyone who has seen a few of these films knows exactly what will be killed, where the final confrontation will be held (hint: somewhere secluded that the characters casually mention early on), and how conveniently why the law cannot help our protagonists.

The fun factor of the jilted psycho lover movie almost always seems correlated to how well the antagonist does crazy well. Are they believable being completely unhinged? Even more importantly, are they noteworthy? Jaz Sinclair is the off-kilter tempest, and she doesn’t do too bad. Still, she does pale in comparison when held up to similar roles, and her early performance is somewhat uneven before she goes, somewhat abruptly, full-fledged crazy. As for the other sides in the love triangle, Hall and Chestnut are dependable. Chestnut’s character is a little more smarter, whereas Hall’s is dumbed down in the decision-making department early on because otherwise there would be no movie.

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The story has been seen before, and in more memorable fashion. When The Bough Breaks features a familiar delivery, but nothing worth remembering. Better to leave this baby unattended in the crib.

D

Photo credits go to joblo.com, fandango.com, and screenrant.com.

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War Dogs: Movie Man Jackson

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Every dog has its day. David Packouz (Miles Teller) hasn’t had his yet. He’s a college dropout who massages Miami’s biggest clientele (which sounds better than it seems), and a failing entrepreneur who hitched his wagon attempting to sell blankets to unneedy retirement homes. Cash flow is sparse, and he’s going to need more of it with a baby on the way from his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas).

Just at the right time, his old best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) returns to the cocaine capital, doing very well for himself. Efraim has gotten into the arms dealing business, bidding on U.S. military contracts to supply wartime squadrons. He’s a one man operation, but needs another guy to get this operation humming. David makes the decision to work with Efraim, eating off of the crumbs that other guys brush off to the side. Before you know it, the duo are rolling in dough, and taking on progressively bigger, and progressively more dangerous and unethical, contracts.

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An evolution, in any arena of life, rarely happens overnight. Rather, it is gradual and incremental. While striking out with some, possibly most, comedies here and there, director Todd Phillips has helmed some of the more memorable ones of the 21st century in The Hangover and Old School. His latest in War Dogs still retains some of the style that those movies had, but also is a tad more serious. Though not flawless, the final product indicates that there is some real potential for Phillips to tackle something really substantial down the line.

Even in Hollywood where many biographies take liberties, War Dogs takes the cake and might as well be an original screenplay. Okay, not exactly, but it is clearly less about the facts and more about the “unfathomable-ness” of the whole ordeal. Hell, it doesn’t carry the requisite character facts at the end of a feature that accompany so many biographies! Perhaps any real emotional impact or stabs at political commentary is lost, but looked at as another story of how the largest American dreams are often seized by the people who lack morality the least, War Dogs works just fine script-wise.

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For the most part, Phillips paces War Dogs well, moving at an efficient clip. The narration done by Teller’s character is a nice addition, the cultivated soundtrack fits nicely at the right times, and the visual direction approaches fourth-wall breaks without going all of the way there. It is only at the end where the movie begins to drag on the inevitable fallout and consequences, and the last 15-25 minutes become very elongated. Again, Phillips sort of struggles with the resonating aspect of the film. Unlike, say, The Big Short which really stuck with me personally a few days/weeks after viewing, despite Phillips’ best efforts, War Dogs never comes close to leaving an emotional imprint.

But who cares about emotions when what is being viewed is constantly entertaining? Credit really goes to the cast. It would be fair to call Miles Teller a little dry and dull in this one, but it works perfectly for who he plays off of, and near the end he does have some great dramatic moments. Ana de Armas is just begging to be unleashed in the right role; her housewife isn’t though she does what she can with it. Bradley Cooper adds more name value than anything, but he actually appears interested to be in a Phillips production again, and his character is a big part of the movie. With more screentime, he really would have left a mark.

But undoubtedly, “fat” Jonah Hill (because there is a difference between the rotund version and the svelte version) makes War Dogs worth remembering. He goes all in as his Efraim character, and imbues the events on screen with an infectiousness that is hard not to appreciate and fall for, just like the many he comes across in the movie do. Teller is certainly important here, but Jonah Hill is first billed for a reason. As much as this may seem to be a buddy movie, this is purely Jonah’s vehicle for the first time in his career.

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War Dogs never truly hits introspectively or emotionally, and yet it is pretty intriguing from beginning to end. Tasty crumbs. Anyone else feel like this is going to be a staple on HBO for years and years?

B-

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, rollingstone.com, and metacritic.com.

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Morgan: Movie Man Jackson

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No, not a movie about the USA women’s soccer team’s most attractive female player. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a scientific byproduct of a team of scientists. These scientists have been working for years on Morgan, their efforts to create an engineered human encompassing the best of humanity in intellect, feeling, decision making, and the works. Or so we think.

A violent incident, though, leaves Morgan’s future up in the air. This incident forces risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) into the foray. She must decide whether this creation is worth keeping around, or terminating. But like anyone who invests a lot of time into something for a long time, it can be tough to let go, and these scientists will not stand idly by and let another person make this big decision.

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The sci-fi genre has long been one of yours truly’s favorites. It is a genre that can be so inventive, much of its inventiveness often predicated on what is currently going on in the world. I think there are new science fiction stories to be told, but they’ll be dependent on what advancements are in the future pipeline of science and technology. As such, there have been a few notable sci-fi movies that delve into humanity lately. The latest in the genre, Morgan, takes one of the central themes of sci-fi, that of “what determines being human and can you create that synthetically?”, and creates a movie in which one could care less whether that question is answered or not.

More likely, I don’t know if Morgan, directed by Ridley Scott’s son, Luke, is itself interested in answering the question or even exploring it. Again, it is a question, albeit well-worn, that many films have made intriguing. At least for the first half or so of the film, Scott appears like he wants to get into the question, but man oh man, his full-length directorial debut has pacing problems. It’s one thing to be slow-burn, another thing to be flat out slow. Wouldn’t be so bad if more was found out about the characters, but little is and I struggle to remember all of their names and reasons for being in the story.

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Not until the oft-entertaining and memorable Paul Giamatti rolls in that Morgan begins to pick up the proceedings. The scene with Paul is easily the entire highlight of the movie and his character does the best job of addressing the question of being human. After that, Morgan gets reduced to a killing machine eviscerating most of the characters in the compound, not unlike a certain Friday the 13th character. But even the kills are pretty tame and drab, falling in line with much of the rest of the runtime. If you’re gonna get slasherific, might as well go bold with it.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Morgan is that there’s little reason to care about anything or anyone. As stated, most of the characters fail to make any lasting imprint. But even the story, as science-fiction as it is, doesn’t feel fully realized for a sci-fi movie. Compare this to, say, Ex-Machina, where in 15 minutes a good deal is found out about Ava, the program, the brilliant billionaire jerk genius, and the test subject. The audience is more or less dropped into this world with a brief debriefing over phone to the main character that does nothing for world-building.

Will be worthless to talk about the bulk of the cast, aside from Toby Jones whose recent work in Wayward Pines, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and now this seem to indicate he may be typecast as an unethical scientist. Focus is on the two main actresses who are responsible for the bulk of the film. Anya Taylor-Joy is a star is the making. She isn’t really the villain but gets tasked with obvious villainous actions, yet is still vulnerable with those striking eyes and a little heartfelt in some moments. Her opposition is Kate Mara, playing the heroine. She’s functional, nothing impressive. All for strong heroine leads, but she suffers from a lack of believability in her particular role. Not going to give anything away (feel like a dunce for not seeing the reveal sooner), but there are numerous actresses who carry hardened personas better than Mara.

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Morgan attempts to carry itself with the sophistication and intellect of sci-fi classics, but really, like a five year-old child, it doesn’t fully know what it wants.

D

Photo credits go to ew.com, teaser-trailer.com, and collider.com

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Hands of Stone: Movie Man Jackson

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Even the most stony of fighters become soft sometimes. Panamanian Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramírez) was born into nothing; no education, no father to learn from, etc. His home country of Panama is under political turmoil from the United States of America. In spite of all of this, Duran uses this to become a skilled and hardened boxer. 

With the help of legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert de Niro), Duran makes his way up the ranks, undefeated, to challenge fellow undefeated lightweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond IV). Duran gets to the apex of the boxing sport, but everyone knows that the fall is easily as precipitous, if not more so, than the rise.

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What to make of Hands of Stone, the latest boxing epic in a genre that seems to have found revitalized life in the last year? Well, much of what has been made before, really. This is to say that Hands of Stone is watchable, good in some aspects, poor in others. If it were a 15 round fight, it goes about 7 and a half.

The film is directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, unknown to this viewer before this film. Pretty clear to see he’s got passion for this project, and is dedicated to telling if not all of the highs and lows of Duran’s story, than at least most of them. The production does suffer from a few things. There’s really no sense of time even with the date stamps provided; yours truly was a little shocked that some of the fights and events in the film were much more spaced out according to Wikipedia then they appeared to be in the film. Particularly, the end comes very quick, not too long after our hero has hit rock bottom. A real oddity is the inclusion of nudity. I’m no prude (especially for the beautiful Ana de Armas), but the bare skin serves nothing to the story and it actually goes on a little long.

As for the in-ring action, it is sort of disappointing. Perhaps we are all still spoiled off of Creed with the technical prowess Ryan Coogler exhibited in his pugilism scenes. Hands of Stone can sometimes look like it was filmed with stone hands. Jakubowicz loves the 180 degree pans—not only for fighting—and it can become a little annoying. Questionable camera angles exist as well; for every good sequence, an equally scattershot one is found where it can be hard to discern what is going on. Whether the result of stars that can’t go in the ring, or poor direction, it is nonetheless frustrating.

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A few points on the scorecard are earned for the very solid work turned in the cast, though. Not counting Grudge Match, it is interesting to see Robert de Niro return to a boxing movie as a trainer, like Sly did as Rocky (obviously not being as linear). This isn’t a return to form for the legend, but it is certainly way less embarrassing than his appearance in Dirty Grandpa, and dry and unneeded story narration aside, he delivers a few dramatic highlights.

However, he’s actually outshined by a few of his less heralded cast-mates. Edgar Ramírez is Duran, and in a better movie we may be talking about his performance more. He’s compelling even in somewhat of a basic biographical/rise-fall boxing movie, and not a cookie-cutter protagonist, that term being used loosely here. All things considered, Usher keeps up and looks the role of Sugar Ray Leonard, not forcing Raymond to have to stretch too much as a pretty boy. Ana de Armas shows she can be much more than a pretty face moving forward, she’s very capable opposite Ramírez.

 trainer

Upon its conclusion, Hands of Stone feels like a boxer who has the potential knockout power, but never cared to learn how to box and take in the sweet science. He’s missing a few crucial things to make himself a true contender.

C-

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, teaser-trailer.com, and traileraddict.com.

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Haven’t done one of these in a minute. Sunshine Blogger Award acceptance.

sunshineblogger

Thanks go out to Kelchi Ehenulo and Just Shrewd Me for the nominations. Let’s get to it:

From Kelchi Ehenulo:

  1. What’s your favourite 80s film? Robocop
  2. Who’s your favourite film director? Ever? Stanley Kubrick. Now? Denis Villeneuve.
  3. If you could invite up to four celebrities for dinner, who would it be? Jake Gyllenhaal, Aly Raisman, Paul George, Danny McBride
  4. Who’s your favourite actor to play Batman out of:
    • Adam West
    • Michael Keaton
    • Kevin Conroy (Animated Series)
    • Val Kilmer
    • George Clooney
    • Christian Bale (X)
    • Ben Affleck
  5. Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario? Other: Crash Bandicoot. But out of the two, Mario. 
  6.  If there was a prop/item from a movie you wish you could own, what would it be? The razor glove that Freddy Krueger wears. 
  7. What was the last film you watched you fell asleep through? Completely? Probably Gladiator. 
  8. If you could guest star in any TV series, what would it be? Mr. Robot. Best show on TV. 
  9. What’s your favourite hobby besides blogging? Dating, working out, and playing Madden. 
  10. Dream holiday destination? Jamaica, easily. 
  11. If you could change one thing about the Oscars, what would it be? More diversity, not necessarily in a black/white sense, but more attention to, for example, blockbusters that are actually good like say, Captain America: Civil War which will get little to no serious award looks. 

From Just Shrewd Me:

  1. Star Wars or Star Trek? Star Trek. Like that universe better, but can really only speak to the Kelvin timeline. 
  2. James Bond, Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne? Bond. Always, Bond. 
  3. Cinema or Netflix or other? Pray tell. Cinema. Netflix and watching at home is cool, but great movies benefit being on the silver screen. 
  4. What’s the most overrated thing in your opinion? Summer. Not that I don’t love it, but it pales in comparison to…
  5. What’s the most underrated thing in your opinion? Fall. Such a great season. 
  6. Favorite artist or band? (cliché, I know) Lupe Fiasco
  7. Favorite actor/actress? (cliché, I know) Jake Gyllenhaal
  8. What’s your best T.V. series right now? (Don’t be like me. Pick only one.) Mr. Robot, great cinematography and mature story. 
  9. If you, I don’t know, maybe got like marooned on a desert island with the choice of one, only one movie to watch on loop for ever and ever what movie will it be? Any Given Sunday. Love the performances, football aspect, etc. 
  10. If you could spend a day with any celebrity who will it be? Paul George, Indiana Pacers basketball player. 
  11. Wait, have you actually met one? I have…Actually I have not. 

Now for my questions:

  1. Favorite sport?
  2. What fall 2016 movie (Sept-Dec.) are you most looking forward to?
  3. Will movie theater watching ever completely die?
  4. Favorite food at the theater?
  5. What role would you take on in a movie production (actor/actress, director, producer, composer, etc)?
  6. All-time favorite movie genre?
  7. Favorite actor right now?
  8. Favorite actress right now?
  9. Any actor/actress you fail to see the hype in?
  10. How far do you live away from most frequented theater?
  11. Last Blu-Ray/DVD purchased?

I nominate:

https://markmyworld.me/

https://potatofiles.wordpress.com/

https://theandreachronicles.wordpress.com/

https://jasonsmovieblog.com/

https://thebigscine.wordpress.com/

https://flicksandpieces.com/

https://lazysundaymoviesblog.wordpress.com/

https://onthescreenreviews.com/

https://sarahblogger94.wordpress.com/

https://reelryan.com/

https://backtotheviewer.wordpress.com/

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Movie Man Jackson looks at: 2016 Music in Movies (Part 3)

Welcome back to another entry that deals with the music behind the feature films. If you missed Parts 1 and 2, you can find those here and here. Let’s do it.

The Nice Guys (soundtrack by Various Artists, score by John Ottman)

Papa Was a Rolling Stone (The Temptations)

 

September (Earth, Wind, and Fire)

Dazz (Brick)

Boogie Wonderland (Earth, Wind, and Fire)

Escape/The Pina Colada Song (Rupert Holmes)

 Theme from The Nice Guys

All due respect to John Ottman who is a solid composer (his theme for the movie hearkens to classic 1970’s cop TV), but his work is overshadowed by the brilliant licensed song selections that make up The Nice Guys.

This is one of those rare cases where the soundtrack absolutely does more for the movie than any score. Starting with The Temptations classic, the music just works at setting the audience into the 1970’s. But the real highlight is the house party around the middle of the movie that features the two Earth, Wind, and Fire songs along with the Brick song. Just pure fun escapism.

X-Men: Apocalypse (composed by John Ottman)

ottman

Ahh, there he is again! Apocalypse’s big entrance is treated with all of the horrific grandeur he deserves in X-Men: Apocalypse. The vocals (Latin, maybe?) add a layer of scale and “giganticness” that is fitting for someone such as Apocalypse. This track announces that stuff is about to go down whenever this mutant is on screen. This track would be right at home in say something such as God of War. 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (soundtrack by The Lonely Island)

I’m So Humble

Equal Rights

Bin Laden

Mona Lisa

Things in My Jeep

Ibitha

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a comedy that might end up being more appreciated years down the line when it is played on VH1 than it is now. While it can be debated if its premise is stretched (I actually don’t think it is), Popstar’s shining light is its soundtrack done by The Lonely Island trio, which satirizes today’s vapidness, stupidity, and obliviousness that comprises a good chunk of the most popular acts, to amazing hilarity. The crazy thing, though? As bad as the songs are intentionally supposed to be, they are quite good and could easily be played on radio.

The Lobster (soundtrack by Various Artists)

String Quartet No.4 (Beethoven)

Apo Mesa Pethamenos (Danai)

Three Pieces for String Quartet (Igor Stravinsky)

There’s a little bit of beauty and tranquility that exists in The Lobster, but much more coldness and bleakness. The classical music fits the color palette and the bizarre events that take place, especially in the hotel. It’s a perfect musical choice (most of the songs chosen are covered by modern orchestras surely due to the price tag needed to secure the originals for this move). I’m sure I could be wrong, but I play The Lobster back in my head and I don’t know if it can be scored with traditional music.

Now You See Me 2 (composed by Brian Tyler)

tyler2

Main Titles

Diversion Tactics

See You in 3 to 5

Brian Tyler, to me at least, has always been a steady hand as a composer, making many notable contributions to big time movies and franchises like Iron Man 3, Age of Ultron, and many installments in the Fast and Furious saga. I like to think that sometimes it takes a second movie for a theme to truly stick, and he’s made a good one that accompanies Now You See Me 1 and 2. The magic and overall movies have sort of been a letdown, but the main theme is exciting and adventurous. I just wish the entire movies were like it. His score is easily the best part of a otherwise magic-less movie.

 The Neon Demon (composed by Cliff Martinez)

martinez

The Neon Demon

Demon Dance

Gold Paint Shoot

A Messenger Walks Among Us

Are We Having a Party

I love doing this yearly look at scores/soundtracks to the movies I watched, but there are obviously a few that I am more interested to revisit compared to others. Once the title track to Refn’s latest started the movie, I knew this was going to be an entertaining-sounding composition.

Nicolas Winding Refn is an interesting director, no doubt, often choosing to tell stories with visuals and sounds than actual dialogue or completely cohesive plots. He may not always make sense, but you can’t take your eyes off of the product. Like Refn’s many scenes in The Neon Demon, Cliff Martinez’s score (also composed Drive and Only God Forgives) is mesmerizing throughout with the moody synths, and it is actually a score that works well as a standalone listen. You can’t take your eyes off of The Neon Demon, and you can’t turn your ears away, either.

The Shallows (composed by Marco Beltrami)

Ambient MIE 1/100@f/4 - Key Profoto D 1 500 MIE, 1/60@f/14 camera right 55°, 4’ from subject and 6’6” feet high with a beauty dish.  Fill Profoto D 1 500 MIE,1/60@f/8 camera left 45° 5’6” away from subject and 9’6”’ high with a Westcott 7’ parabolic umbrella.  Shot at 1/60@f/14 with a Canon 5D Mark III, 85mm f/1.2, 13’ from subject 4’4”’ high.

Pulled Down Deep

Shark Crashes Whale

Contrast The Neon Demon’s score with that of The Shallows. Beltrami’s work here isn’t that memorable listening standalone, but best listened in immersion, surround sound, in a theater. The two tracks posted above are shark-like, not in your face, but constantly present and frightening. No, nothing from The Shallows is going to be iconic sound-wise as Jaws‘ classic theme, but within the move it sits nicely.

Photo credits go to likesuccess.com, screendaily.com, scoringsessions.com, and YouTube.com.

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