Baywatch: Movie Man Jackson

Defend the bay, at all costs. Lifeguard “lieutenant’ Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) is the longtime protector of Emerald Bay, keeping its denizens safe and the bay the place to be, along with Emerald lifeguard veterans Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ (Kelly Rohrbach). He and the others take their jobs seriously, which the community thanks them for.

Buchanan’s team has three openings on it, and they are filled by the sassy Summer (Alexandra Daddario), the dorky yet persistent Ronnie (Jon Bass), and the bad-boy, two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). The latter addition tests Buchanan’s patience. While the initiation of the newbies is occurring, shady activity and dead bodies are proliferating on the bay, and it seems to suggest that new beachfront owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) may be connected. Though this is a job clearly for the authorities, who better to crack the case than the lifeguards of Emerald Bay?

 

There’s value in setting the bar low. Or adapting from something in which the bar happened to be so low. That bar I’m talking about is Baywatch 2017, of course adapted from the 90’s television show. I certainly do not remember anything about the show, or recall watching one episode in full, but the slo-mo beefcakes and buxom beauties is as ‘Merican as apple pie. This iteration of Baywatch provides that, yet unfortunately, little else consistently to be a memorable comedy, even with a low bar.

It wouldn’t be Baywatch without gratuitous slow motion (a spectacular opening scene uses it the best) featuring shots that focus on both male and female anatomy. On that front, director Seth Gordon (Identity Thief, Horrible Bosses), succeeds. There’s ample eye candy for all moviegoers. Seth Gordon is in on the joke…at least for the first 30 or so minutes, focusing on the absurdity of it all. There’s a turning point however, that occurs around this 30-minute mark that makes Baywatch not completely serious, but more serious than one may anticipate.This is the point in which all of the lazy editing, sometimes horrid CGI, and boring action sequences are noticed and the near two-hour runtime felt. At least there’s a nice soundtrack.

So the direction isn’t great, but Gordon isn’t the biggest issue in Baywatch. That would be the writing. Is it as bad as CHiPs? Not a chance. However, the story, though clear with no frills, plays out as an uninteresting murder mystery. “Mystery” is a bit of a misnomer, as all the trailers have outlined each puzzle piece and how they fit. What’s left is some crude R rated humor—most of it unfortunately sinking like an anchor—and Johnson’s character making a lame running joke throughout by not calling Efron’s character by his name, instead referring to him as “Bieber,” “*NSYNC,” or some other similar boy band/group. Gets old fast.

This should be better just by the presence of the two leading men. Everyone knows Dwayne is charismatic (he still is here), and Zac has found his career destiny in comedies playing some variants of hollow, douchey, yet somewhat still layered guys. But, their chemistry and timing isn’t completely tight; then again, they’re not given much to take advantage of. The lines they’re asked to read and the skim characters they’re asked to play simply do not allow for much comedy to be delivered.

Out of the rest of the cast, the most humorous moments are actually delivered by Jon Bass and Kelly Rohrbach. As far as the other women go, Daddario and Hadera fill roles of love interests with little else, and Chopra’s character, despite the movie trying to build her up as an intelligent villainess in an industry full of men, is extremely one-note the moment she appears on screen. It’s a shame, too, for as much diversity as the film carries in its cast, none of it translates to interesting, or at least consistently amusing, characters.

Perhaps old television shows should just be left alone and untouched at sea. This new Baywatch isn’t worth stopping for or staring at.

D+

Photo credits go to movpins.com, fromthemovie.com, and slashfilm.com

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword-Movie Man Jackson

Hear ye, hear ye. Born in a brothel, the streets of Londinium has become home for young Arthur. The streets have molded him into a tough, confident, yet still honest individual who does the right thing more than not. Now older, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) gets by as a Robin Hood-esque character of sorts, providing for his hometown what they need and dispensing justice where applicable.

One particular incident puts Arthur in the path of King Vortigern (Jude Law), who has ascended to the throne via treacherous means. Knowing of Arthur’s royal lineage (unbeknownst to Arthur, he’s the son of the deceased king Uther (Eric Bana)), Vortigern looks to exterminate him. Wanting no part of this, Arthur so wishes to go back to his normal life, but he who has the strength to draw the fabled sword Excalibur from the stone must use it, and topple Vortigern once and for all.

Unless you’re The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, medieval/Middle Age/mythology movies and productions have a tough go at drawing audiences to the theaters, at least here in America. From a critical perspective, they might as well be poison in most cases now (see Seventh Son, Clash of the Titans, Warcraft), with people often making up their minds as to the actual quality of them and refusing to be wavered in thinking anything different. Most aren’t great, but every now and then the genre is fresh enough to deliver some legitimate fun. Enter the latest telling of King Arthur. By no means amazing, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ends up being, all in all, an energetic summer movie.

Holding the directorial sword in King Arthur rebooted is Guy Ritche. Ritchie is an individual who brings a noticeable imprint to any movie he does, and that doesn’t really change here. Expect a whizzing, hyperactive camera to intercut whenever characters deliver exposition, or give context to (what is supposed to be) pertinent information. It isn’t nearly as funny as Ritchie thinks it is. This style doesn’t 100% work in the movie, but does keep the energy up, and sort of makes up for a story that can feel stretched at times, especially in the latter third before the climax.

 

However, from an action perspective, Ritchie’s style does work in the world that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is composed of. The 180 pans, stop-start shots, and the like just goes well with all of the magic and supernatural elements. Save for some questionable CGI near the end that stands out in a negative way, there’s a real sense of “epicness” that Guy brings to the proceedings in various scenes. But, the real MVP of Legend of the Sword may be composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs), who creates a standout score that goes against sonic genre type and truly elevates the film.

Only two characters really receive proper attention and development in this King Arthur fable. Of course, one is the titular character portrayed by Charlie Hunnam. Arthur is a little more grittier and less proper in this retelling, and Hunnan is the perfect fit, providing physicality yet everyman likability to make a character worth rooting for. His opposition is played by Jude Law, clearing having a good time while getting some scenes to showcase his range and flesh out his despicable king.

As the supporting cast goes, the enigmatic Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) is the most intriguing individual; there’s a lot of potential with her if future movies come to fruition. Unfortunately, most who make up the fabled knights of the roundtable come off as generic spacefillers, even Djimon Hounsou. At least he’s not playing a secondary antagonist like he’s been doing as of late (Furious 7, Seventh Son, The Legend of Tarzan).

After the financial performance of King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, it may be long time until the sword is removed from the stone again. Though far from perfect, it’s a shame. I for one, wouldn’t mind seeing another Excalibur stab taken at expanding this tale.

B-

Photo credits go to liveforfilm.com, blastr.com, and warnerbros.co.uk.

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The Running Man (1987): Movie Man Jackson

(Originally posted as part of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by Tom at Thomas J, and Mark at threerowsback.com)

It’s 2017, and we are only two years away from this. 2017 has seen America become a terrible place. After an economic collapse, government has stepped up to suppress all individual rights and freedoms. Civilians are placated by a TV show that showcases convicted criminals fight for their lives in exchange for potential freedom. This show, known as The Running Man, is an ultraviolent hit and brings in massive ratings, spearheaded by its energetic host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). But, those ratings have plateaued.

Now 2019, helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is wrongly painted as a mass murderer during a food riot, and promptly sent to prison. Though able to escape, he is eventually arrested. He’s given two choices: Go back into prison, presumably for life, or fight for freedom on The Running Man. Reluctant, Ben chooses to fight, where he will have to deal with gladiatorial-esque stalkers with names like “Dynamo,” “Subzero,” “Buzzsaw,” and “Fireball.” Each is hell-bent on not letting a “runner” like Ben beat them at their own game.

There are a couple of things that immediately pop into my mind as I think about the 1980’s. Big hair is one of them. The epidemics of AIDS and crack cocaine is another. Movie-wise, I think of “The Governor.” Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 80’s go together like Montana/Rice and Crockett/Tubbs, appearing in Hollywood action staples that need no listing. One less popular one that peak Arnold starred in was 1987’s The Running Man, and it is a lesser movie when held in comparison to The Terminator, Commando, Conan the Barbarian, and Predator. But, as a relative 80’s popcorn actioner, it qualifies as solid entertainment, and a clear inspiration for future films like Battle Royale, The Condemned, and of course, The Hunger Games.

There’s a reason the word relative is used. The Running Man, loosely adapted from Richard Backman’s (aka Stephen King) novel, does touch on—maybe even foreshadowed—themes and ideas still relevant today. The oft brainless and shock reality television of 2017 isn’t all that far off from what’s depicted in director Paul Michael Glaser’s (Starsky in the famous television show) feature. An appetite for violence can be loosely paralleled to the football and MMA fighting that some fans view religiously. Perhaps the best implemented idea showcased by the movie is how editing can tell the story in a specific fashion. This isn’t a novel idea, especially in this digital day and age, but a person could see it being eye-opening during this movie’s release.

It’s nice stuff, but, The Running Man does feel like it wants to really be a film that a person truly gives deep deep thought towards when in actually it isn’t quite to that intellectual and thought provoking level. Most of these ideas are introduced in the first 30-40 minutes at a surface level, and never go beyond this. Maybe Arnie was on to something about Glaser being “…out of his depth…” Part of it is due to the presentation. Hard to be taken very seriously when villains are given names like Subzero, Fireball, Buzzsaw, and Dynamo, with the latter seemingly outfitted with dopey Lite Brite pegs and singing opera as he zaps people.

It benefits science fictions films to be sometimes looked at in a vacuum with the absence of superior effects that today’s cinema world has. However, many older sci-fi films have more or less stood the test of time. The Running Man, from a technical standpoint, isn’t one of those films, with the animations and major special effects looking on par with, if not worse than, an average 90’s cartoon. And for being set in the future, most everything lacks from a creativity perspective; the technology especially isn’t that much different from what was being used in the decade. At least Harold Faltermeyer is there to provide the 80’s signature synth sounds in the score.

So, some of The Running Man is shoddy. But, it still has the charisma of “Ahnold” to bank on. His inherent likability and action prowess is used to make Richards a person to root for, even while spouting one-liners that are hit-and-miss and super corny. To paraphrase a random elderly lady in the movie, “[Ben Richards] is one mean motherf***er.” Opposing him is none other than Richard Dawson, the original Family Feud host who parodies his old persona here, doing a complete 180 as Damon Killian. He’s a real gem throughout. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, from the two Arnold sidekicks in Marvin J. McIntyre and Yaphet Kotto, to the eye candy and obvious love interest in Maria Conchita Alonso. Brief hammy roles are present by WWE legend Jesse Ventura and NFL legend Jim Brown. They’re as 80’s as one can imagine.

 

On the strength of Schwarzenegger, Dawson, and a unique (for the time) if not particularly thorough story, The Running Man is cheesy fun worth catching on a rerun.

B-

Photo credits go to craveonline.com, imdb.com, joblo.com, and top10films.co.uk

The Wall: Movie Man Jackson

I’ll let someone else make a witty connection between this film’s title and the 45th president of the United States of America. In 2007, the Iraq War isn’t exactly over, but the pullout of American troops is beginning. Called to lookout after U.S. contractors building a pipeline are killed, Army sniper “Eyes” Issac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and spotter Sergeant Matthews (John Cena), make a move away from their protected positions to scope out the site. It’s been 22 hours, and they’re ready to be evacuated.

Shortly after inspection, all hell breaks loose. Scrambling from the open space fire, Issac finds protection in the form of an unsteady wall. Desperately trying to request help, his radio is not only damaged in the attack, but tapped by the enemy sniper. It becomes clear that Issac and Matthews are in grave danger, but their stalking assailant wants to play wretched mind games before launching a fatal salvo.

In the vein of 2016’s lean thrillers such as The Shallows and Don’t Breathe is The Wall. Director Doug Liman’s most recent film uses the backdrop of Iraq and the war to provide a movie that is technically a war movie, but sharing much more in common with those aforementioned films than a Hacksaw Ridge, Saving Private Ryan, and the like. The Wall ends up summer 2017’s first 100% lean thriller.

Liman, who knows his way around big-budget features in The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, seems to relish in directing on this minuscule scale that The Wall carries, reportedly made somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 million dollars. The minimalist approach is deployed, and it does immerse the viewer into its setting rather quickly. Music is entirely absent in the movie; one may forget they’re watching one. Swirling winds, the desert heat, and just the general fear of being in a person’s literal crosshairs make for a harrowing viewing experience, and Liman chooses to give little away as it pertains to his villain’s position. It’s a clever use of space, illustrating that distance between characters may be far, but still very claustrophobic.

However, even at a tight 81 minutes, I’d be lying if I failed to say that The Wall did not meander occasionally. Gradually, the audience does find out more about Issac and his reason for still being in Iraq as the war is winding down, giving a little bit of an emotional component. As the film goes on, some attempts are made to parallel—and in the case of the antagonist, somewhat humanize—the characters who lie on each side of the wall divide through Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare lines. At best, these parallels are broad, at worst, nonexistent. Not exactly painful-to-listen-to dialogue, but the type of dialogue that doesn’t accomplish as much as it wants to, either. As for the ending, it’s a bold direction, if a little farfetched for a realism-focused movie.

Keeping up his hot momentum after his marvelous turn in Nocturnal Animals is Aaron Taylor-Johnson here. His performance isn’t so much character-driven, but draws more upon the overall fatigue and hopelessness, mental, physical, and emotional, soldiers may find themselves into. This is unequivocally his movie, with the bulk of the camera focused on him, though John Cena provides adequate dramatic support in what is easily his best dramatic performance to date. Laith Nakli is the standard, sinister voice that’s needed for this type of feature when a mysterious character is unseen, think Kiefer Sutherfland in Phone Booth and Ted Levine in Joy Ride.

The first real surprise of the year? With a pretty limited script, a good director and strong performances keep The Wall from toppling over, ultimately making for an efficient war-set thriller.

B-

Photo credits go to Youtube.com, muscleandfitness.com, and liveforfilms.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

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The Dinner: Movie Man Jackson

This stuff never happens during brunch. The Lohman family—politician Stan (Richard Gere), his wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), Stan’s brother Paul (Steve Coogan), and his wife, Claire (Laura Linney), are getting together one night for dinner at an upscale restaurant. It’s a busy time for Stan, who’s hoping to get a bill passed and retain his public office role.

But, matters need to be attended to that involve the respective sons of these families. They’ve done something that can land not only themselves in hot water, but undo all of the goodwill and public standing the Lohman family has. Over the course of a few hours, a five course meal is served, but that’s merely a backdrop for a conversation to ascertain what actions—if any—should be taken with their children.

First World Problems? White Privileged? These could also be titles for The Dinner, albeit pointed ones. Director Oren Moverman takes a look at a family in disarray, while asking some questions about parenting, affluenza, and even mental health. These are elements that could make up a compelling movie overall, but, The Dinner isn’t really so.

It’s no surprise that The Dinner is driven by dialogue. Dinner tables have often served for many uncomfortable conversations, and Moverman nails that quality very easily, using the upscale locale and dim lighting to create a stuffy atmosphere. The atmosphere, pretentious and artificial, comes to serve as the representation of the bulk of the four characters. At the actual table is where The Dinner is most intriguing and a tasty bite.

 

Whenever The Dinner leaves the table—not literally, but figuratively—is where the film loses its storytelling and structure. Based off a Dutch novel with the same name, I imagine certain plot points and moments come off better in written word compared to the silver screen. As stated, the mental health of one particular character is a pretty important piece of this film, and at times, the story is told from this character’s viewpoint.

There are a lot of prolonged flashbacks that are designed to give context to characters, but end up breaking the pace and flow. Maybe Moverman was going for a disjointed approach to mirror the mental health issues the character was having, narration is occasionally used as well, but it becomes hard to follow. One flashback in particular involving a Gettysburg memorial visit may be up there as one of the more painful scenes in recent memory, making one question why it was left in the final cut (and it goes on and on and on). The Dinner also seems to struggle a little with point of view, initially beginning with one character, but switching to another in the final act. With that said, the ending isn’t bad, but it would have been nice to see a little more aftermath of it.

The Dinner may be arriving in theaters with little fanfare, but, it does possess an impressive cast to boot. Sadly, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall can do much more than what they’re gifted with here, which essentially amounts to entitled ice queens. But, each does get a moment or two in the last act to show off their talents. Much of the meat belongs to Richard Gere and Steve Coogan. Gere should run for office; he’s easy to buy into as a politician, and is the one character out of the foursome who garners some sympathy from the viewing audience. Coogan, who may be known more for comedy in some circles, does good as darker details are revealed about his Paul. But the biggest issue may be simply finding one person to truly side with in this morality story, and no amount of solid acting can overcome this.

All of this leaves The Dinner feeling like it should have been prepared more in the kitchen before being served on a plate. Some aspects on it are tasty, but most others are overcooked/undercooked.

D+

Photo credits go to IMDB.com, YouTube.com, and Ew.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Free Fire: Movie Man Jackson

 

Take your shot. In 1978 Boston, an abandoned warehouse is the scene for a weapons transaction between Republican Army agents (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and gun runners (Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay), brokered by neutral yet-in-the know Americans (Brie Larson, Armie Hammer).

Tensions arise naturally, but the deal is still in place. Just as the deal seems to be squared away, chance undoes it. Immediately, everyone in this warehouse is left to fend for themselves. What does the last man (or woman) left standing receive? Whatever large amount of money is in the now unclaimed briefcase.

On one hand, it’s sort of impossible not to get somewhat taken aback by the frenetic, 90 minute ballistic blitz that is Free Fire. And on the other hand, Free Fire jams much more than anticipated. Why? Let yours truly try to take a shot at explaining.

Want to get right into the bloodshed? Director Ben Wheatley (The ABCs of Death, High-Rise) does just that, creating an adequate igniter that puts the two factions in each others’ crosshairs. Okay, 90 minutes of ballistic blitz isn’t entirely accurate, but 70 minutes is. And it’s during this beginning and subsequent immediate aftermath of this igniter that Free Fire is at its most enjoyable. The action, while a little hard to follow exactly at times, is nonetheless fascinating during this period, with seriously impressive SFX to boot.

However, the second half comes (which is a little of a misnomer, more on that shortly), and it’s around this point in time in which Free Fire’s premise gets spread too thinly and stretched too widely as what essentially amounts to an entire 1st act. It is cool to see action immediately in a movie, but doing that without any real expansion of its participants—or at least some breathing room to shine light on the characters taking part in said action—kind of dilutes it.

With few standout qualities and characteristics, most of the characters in Free Fire end up blending into one another. Everyone seems to say the word “c**ksucker.” It’s honestly hard to remember names, which side of the divide they’re on, who they’re shooting at, etc. If there were more fun dialogue interspersed or a locale change provided by Wheatley, Free Fire may have avoided that feeling of crawling and dragging to the conclusion.

This is a big cast, and as previously mentioned, most sadly blend into each other. Even stars like Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson don’t pop out like envisioned. But, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley do. Hammer, seemingly on a career uptick after The Lone Ranger, is right at home at being the coolest guy in the room…err…warehouse, as well as the biggest badass within it. Copley, South African accent and all, gets to be eccentric and physical in his comedy; every time his mouth opens something funny comes out of it. The two get a good amount of screentime together on the same side, having that vibe that Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe had one year ago in The Nice Guys. Maybe these two should have been the stars of CHipSthey’re that good, and make up for many of the film’s issues.

Free Fire definitely has its share of blank rounds, but also possesses some pretty explosive ones that occasionally hit center-mass. Worth a cursory view, if just for Hammer and Copley alone.

C+

Photo credits go to sundaypost.com, drafthouse.com, and theplaylist.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com. 

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How to be a Latin Lover: Movie Man Jackson

One gets what they work for, not what they wish for. Growing up at a young age and believing that his father’s hard work got their family absolutely nothing, Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) makes a decision to never have to work a day in his life. How will he go about this, exactly? By finding an extremely wealthy and older woman. He’s achieved his goal by courting and marrying Peggy (Renée Taylor), which lasts 25 years before Maximo is kicked to the curb. 

Now in his 40’s with no job skills and an inflated sense of worth, the gigolo has nowhere to go except to his estranged sister, Sara (Salma Hayek), and her son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Discovering that his nephew has a crush on a classmate who just so happens to be the granddaughter of a very rich socialite, Maximo sees his opportunity to get back onto the gravy train…while simultaneously assisting Hugo in getting his crush to notice him.

Remember the old Chappelle’s Show skit, where Dave gets lucky enough to impregnate Oprah Winfrey, and then proceeds to live like a king until he finds out the baby actually isn’t his? Minus the baby part, How to Be a Latin Lover is essentially that Chappelle’s Show skit, with an effort to throw in some heartfelt moments. There’s probably a reason this works better as a short compared to a full-fledged feature.

Latin Lover happens to be the directorial debut of comedy actor Ken Marino, and written by Jon Zack (The Perfect Score) and Chris Spain, filmed in English and dubbed to Spanish. There are certainly worse written comedy screenplays, but a lack of meat and substance make for a movie that feels every bit of its one hour and fifty five minute runtime. Mainly, because the comedy rarely hits big, whether it be of the physical slapstick variety (one gag in a pool does hit its mark), or traditional dialogue (generally, the characters speaking in Spanish for some reason makes the movie slightly funnier as compared to when they do not).

How to Be a Latin Lover is designed to be a vehicle of introduction tp Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez, consistently recognized as one of the most recognized actors in the Latin American community, to the U.S. audience. As yours truly watched him for the 1st time, it’s easy to see why he’s so popular. The man has substantial charisma and presence, and it will be interesting to see what comes of his career in the Americas.

If only the character he plays were a little easier to find humor in, instead of being either a complete buffoon or just generally unlikable. Like these comedies go sometimes, the redemption arc for the main character can end up feeling rushed and unearned, which is the case with Latin Lover.

However, the ageless beauty Salma Hayek and Raphael Alejandro do a good job at delivering sentimentality and being honest people the audience should root for. On a supporting cast level, How to Be a Latin Lover assembles names that many audiences will be pretty familiar with. Every Rob in Hollywood appears in this feature (Rob Corddry, Rob Riggle, Rob Huebel, and Rob Lowe) and are joined by Raquel Welch, Kristen Bell, and Michael Cera. As interesting as it is to see all of these names in this comedy, there are a lot of characters and most don’t really add much to the proceedings, unfortunately, outside of a small laugh here and there.

Cómo es? Though showcasing some good performances, How to Be a Latin Lover doesn’t have enough comedic heat to support its long runtime.

D+

Photo credits go to moviefone.com, fandango.com, and themoviemylife.com

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Phoenix Forgotten: Movie Man Jackson

Some things seen cannot be forgotten. March 13th, 1997. Bright, odd lights appear hover over Phoenix, Arizona. No one knows for sure what they are attributed to, but some in the city believe them to be UFOs.

One of those people is Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts). He, along with friend Mark (Justin Matthews), and love interest Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) decide to take it upon themselves to find out exactly what happened. But, the three go missing days after the sighting, with nary a sign as to what happened. Now in 2017, Josh’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) is committed to solving the mystery of what happened to her brother and his company, going off of the documentary-style tapes that were left behind.

The most noteworthy thing about Phoenix Forgotten, a movie American moviegoers probably didn’t forget but rather, just not cared for based on the box office reports, is one of its co-producers being the legendary Ridley Scott. The producer connection seems to be in name only, going no further than an Easter egg featuring the Xenomorph on a poster. So that leaves Phoenix Forgotten as a traditional found footage movie more or less, not scraping the bottom of the genre barrel but not exactly leaving an imprint, either.

Almost any film in this genre ilk is going to be compared to The Blair Witch Project, fairly or unfairly. Really though, the story presentation of Phoenix Forgotten is a little Sinister-lite with mockumentary style injected, so not entirely found-footage delivered. In his first full-length feature, director Justin Barber toggles the first 40-50 minutes of the runtime between the present and the past, having Josh’s sister play her missing brother’s tapes and trying to piece together what exactly happened. The present-day scenes are adequate, but the fun exists (for a little while) in seeing the late 90’s recreated through the granular tapes and audio effects. To an extent, the particular story with these three teenagers does feel like it could have actually happened, which is a credit to Barber for balancing an actual real event with mostly fictional characters.

After around this 50 minute benchmark, Phoenix Forgotten transitions fully into the mode one expects it to. The film’s final act isn’t without a few thrills, but in the process ends up casting its main character/narrator aside and never brings her back. Which is odd, if only because the movie teases the question that what the audience is viewing cannot get out to the public, only for that possibility to go nowhere. As such, Phoenix Forgotten ends with a “That’s it?” type of feeling.

Barely being 80 minutes doesn’t really allow for signature character exploration. Phoenix Forgotten looks more at the idea of conspiracy obsession and the basics of how a family, especially a husband and wife, can be pulled apart after a terrible incident. Playing the father and the mother, respectively, Clint Jordan and Cyd Strittmatter do an excellent job of portraying parents who struggle to cope everyday with a missing child.

Although relatively brief, their character work is noticed. However, the four crux characters are surprisingly pretty forgettable—in part due to the lack of aforementioned runtime—but also in part because the cast playing them does so in the most bland of fashions. Outside of a few impressive moments from Chelsea Lopez, it’s hard to see anyone in this foursome getting increased high-profile work from their work here.

Even with a little of successful early movie genre subversion, Phoenix Forgotten doesn’t rise, as it eventually settles into the same repeated ashes and clichés that make up the genre it belongs to.

C

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Unforgettable: Movie Man Jackson

What will Unforgettable teach a person? Have a Facebook account, Twitter account, something. For Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson), everything seems to be fitting into place. She’s just taken the next step in her editorial career, moving to the sunny West Coast. Her personal life couldn’t be any better, finally meeting the man of her dreams, David (Geoff Stults), and set to be a stepmom to his daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice).

Julia has an unfortunate past that she’s managed to put behind her. If only others, such as David’s ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl) could possess her resolve. Instead, Tessa seems consumed with trying to win David back and disparage his new flame (often subtly) at every opportunity. This suburbia ain’t big enough for the three of them.

As I’ve stated before, one of my guilty pleasure film subgenres is that of the psycholover-ex thriller variety. Most never do reach the heights of, say Fatal Attraction or Play Misty for Me, but they can be—sometimes—enjoyable and ridiculous diversions. Well, except for The Boy Next Door, and now, Unforgettable.

There’s an unofficial theory that yours truly has subscribed to when it comes to what makes these types of these movies successful, or at least worthy enough of a Saturday afternoon Oxygen/Lifetime view. It all comes down to the individual playing the antagonist, and how adept they are at playing crazy. Are they easy to buy as being bonkers? Do they find that early movie sweet spot where there’s something just a bit off about them, but still feel enough like a real person and not a caricature?

Being the antagonist in Unforgettable, this pressure falls unto Katherine Heigl to make this fun and…ahem…unforgettable. Sadly, she will not get a gold star for her work here. Not all of the failure in making this enjoyable falls at her feet, as some of the dialogue is tough for any actress to deliver confidently. But for most of the runtime, Heigl comes off more as a spoiled, privileged, word that rhymes with “witch” as opposed to a terrifying psychopath. And she does nothing memorable to try to be dynamic.

As a result, Unforgettable quickly becomes a dull affair with the typical moments befitting a film like this, with the only slight difference in storytelling being an in media res start from first-time feature director Denise Di Novi (producer of Edward Scissorhands and Crazy.Stupid.Love). It would be one thing if the movie and/or some of its stars recognized some of its schlock and just went with it (à la The Perfect Guy and Michael Ealy), but everything is played so rigid one does wonder the point of its existence.

It’s a shame to see Rosario Dawson in such a tepid production. Still, she manages to play her role as best as she can, providing an adequate protagonist to get behind with a little bit of interesting character backstory. Her chemistry with Geoff Stults is fine, Stults being the average man who is laughably oblivious to just how insane his ex is. There’s the occasionally amusing line from comedian Whitney Cummings, but by and large, characters do and say exactly what you think they would, which gives everything a overly mechanical feeling.

What does Unforgettable even mean in the context of this film? Not sure, but outside of it, it’s a horrid title. Even removing the “un” and calling this Forgettable is probably being too nice.

D-

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