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.

A-

Photo credits go to digitalspy.com, nairobiwire.com, and hollywoodreporter.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Advertisements

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.

C-

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, comingsoon.net, and femalefirst.co.uk.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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 Flanagan (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.

C+

Photo credits go to avclub.com, page58.com, and Youtube.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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.

D

Photo credits go to thedailybeast.com, abcnews.go.com, and filmipop.com

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Justice League: Movie Man Jackson

The Superman is dead. Bury it. People are still coping with a Superman-less (Henry Cavill) world after he sacrificed himself to defeat Doomsday. Bruce Wayne himself (Ben Affleck) feels responsible for what happened, even if Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) reminds Wayne it wasn’t his fault.

Crime-fighting doesn’t cease, though. However, a new threat always emerges from the last one. Returning to this Earth is Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a being who comes to obliterate worlds and conquer lands through power sources known as the “Mother Boxes.” Steppenwolf and his Parademons happens to be the vision Bruce saw, and it’s a vision that he knows he cannot defeat alone. So, he’s got to recruit some help in Wonder Woman, Cyborg (Ray Fisher), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa).

There are a lot of places to start with Justice League, obviously DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers. For all the events surrounding the production, it’s a minor miracle this is rather OK. Not groundbreaking or necessarily closing the gap on Marvel, and still a little disappointing compared to the high of Wonder Woman, but semi-enjoyable.

Two men essentially directed this movie in Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, with the latter coming in after the Snyder family tragedy. For the most part, it works enough. This is not a superhero story to get engrossed into, but as an extremely basic “bad guy whose only drive is to take over the world just because and heroes have to stop him because they’re heroes” plot, it is what it is. The slightly lighter tone is appreciated without completely doing away with a darker vision. Direction-wise, there are some sleek sequences, most containing The Flash and Wonder Woman. But like the large bulk of recent comic book movies, the CGI aspect can get to be a little mind-numbing, mostly in the final act where our heroes dash, spear, punch, and electrify drone upon drone of computer-generated baddie pawns.

But what mars Justice League are the sins of the father film in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s rushed. Numerous prior iterations of Batman and Superman don’t need reintroduction even in a different studio universe, and Wonder Woman got her fully detailed introduction in June. But for newbies in Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash, there simply isn’t enough time to build a connection with any of them. It’s a shame, too, because all three seem to have cool, unique backstories only hinted at that would make them all endearing in this team-up film.

Out of the three, only The Flash can claim to be endearing, possessing a teenage zeal comparable to Peter Parker. Hate making comparisons, but Rome aka Disney’s/Marvel’s The Avengers was not built in a day, but over a few years with intro movies that gave exposure to those who would make up the backbone of Nick Fury’s initiative. Not all of them were great, but, they laid the foundation for the big, crowd pleasing feature.

It’s also a shame that half of the team doesn’t get much background to experiment with because the casting is strong. It should be fun to see Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, and Jason Momoa as the stars of their own shows and the big deals their characters are, instead of being told they’re a big deal but being given no reason to believe so. As for the dynamic lead duo in Batman and Wonder Woman, their prior movies give them layers of depth and you can see Affleck and Gadot really understanding what their roles entail. But the scene-stealer as odd as it sounds is probably Superman being portrayed once again by Henry Cavill. For the first time, it truly appears as if Cavill is having a good time as the Man of Steel, still being the de facto paragon while noticeable charisma. The less said about JL’s villainous forgettable Steppenwolf, the better.

Justice League is ultimately a byproduct of mistakes made from prior DCEU installments, but somehow, the final product is serviceable. And looking to the future, there’s enough here to get a little excited for. Baby steps.

C

Photo credits go to variety.com, collider.com, and eonline.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Thor: Ragnarok-Movie Man Jackson

Ah-ah, ah! After the events of Sokovia, The God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has been busy scouring the Earth for Infinity Stones. He’s been hell-bent on prepping his city of Asgard from a destruction known as Ragnarok, a feeling he possesses as a result of his reoccurring visions of this event. Believing that he has prevented Ragnarok from happening after defeating Surtur the fire demon, the hero returns home in good spirits.

But, those do not last long, as the defeating of Surtur wasn’t the catalyst to stopping Ragnarok. In truth, Ragnarok has already begun, and the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), announces it with an impact arrival, obliterating Thor’s legendary hammer and banishing him, along with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to a foreign planet called Sakarr. Led by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), it’s a place where fatal battles are fought for entertainment, and Thor is forced to enter and fight an old friend in The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). To get back home and save his home, Thor must fight, and somehow get the help of Banner, Loki, and even a mysterious nomad by the name of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to drive out Hela.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if it’s fraying, re-coat it. Terrible similes aside, the two Thor movies showcasing the God of Thunder weren’t exactly broken, but the fact is, they are two of the more forgotten or rather, nondescript movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fans, especially The Dark World (truthfully, yours truly is rather fond of 2011’s Thor). So with Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has certainly left behind a movie that won’t be considered “nondescript.” Has he left a movie behind that many are calling one of Marvel’s best? That’s up for debate.

The direction is certainly worth taking note of and remembering. The style the trailers promised is front and center throughout. Asgard has never looked better, but it’s the world of Sakarr—a trippy, futuristic hue of neon colors and post-apocalyptic feel—that stands out the most. It makes the somewhat bumpy first 20 or so minutes worth sticking around for. Waititi’s action, visual flair, and predominately 80’s inspired score/soundtrack coalesce to create something so unlike what has been seen in the MCU up to this point. Even the movies that Ragnarok will be most compared with in Guardians of the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2, the third chapter of Thor is substantially different than those.

One main thing Ragnarok shares with those movies is an appetite for humor. It wouldn’t be out of line to consider Thor: Ragnarok comedy first, action/adventure second. And for the most part, the comedy hits more than it misses. Seriously, there are some very funny jokes and awesome delivery found in all characters. But honestly, it can get to be a bit much. The story, while functional, kind of seems to be written around the jokes (apparently 80% of the film is improvised). Absolutely nothing is wrong with a lighter superhero film, though going so light while still trying to generate emotion can undermine some of the more dramatic moments of the production. In a few “big” moments, Ragnarok seems to struggle with this, wanting to immediately cut to the next visual gag or joke from something with a serious or vice versa.

With that said, one does have to commend those in charge who say they’d like to flip the script and actually achieve in doing it. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t a Jason Bourne, a franchise in which director and lead actor said they’d never do another unless they could do something else—only to proceed with doing the same thing they had done three movies prior. The changes in Ragnarok seem to revitalize the main holdovers from the prior installments in Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Both seem to really be having fun like never before, and the machinations of the story allow them to take advantage of their natural chemistry. Those who wanted more Hulk get their wish granted; the not-so-jolly green giant has a load of screentime and Ruffalo handles the two parts of the beast and Banner like only he can.

Newbie to the MCU Tessa Thompson brings a great new character into the fold as Valkyrie, the foundation and backstory being laid for her own potential standalone journey. As for other newbies, their characters don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but in the ride that is Thor: Ragnarok, they fit right in. Anytime a wide-eyed Jeff Goldblum is cast (save for Independence Day: Resurgence), it can only amp the fun factor up. There are some disappointments, but not due to performance. The villainous Hela is introduced wonderfully and played up wonderfully by Cate Blanchett, only to be forgotten in long stretches of the movie. Karl Urban, always a joy to watch, is a little underutilized as a basic henchman. Taika Waititi probably possesses the biggest laughs lending his voice to Korg, a rock-based gladiator-turned-gatekeeper of the battle arena.

 

Thor: Ragnarok is a sugar rush in the most positive and negative of ways. But Marvel does deserve some praise for wanting to tweak its formula and try a few new things with one of its less beloved lead Avengers. No matter what…Marvel, uh, finds a way.

C+

Photo credits go to collider.com, polygon.com, and comicbook.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

American Made: Movie Man Jackson

Stuff is only illegal if you get caught doing it. Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) makes his living as a TWA pilot in the late 1970’s, raising a family along with wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Always something of a free spirit, Barry’s one of the best in the world but deep down desires more.

Enter Monty Schaefer (Domhnall Gleason), a CIA agent who offers Seal the opportunity to fill that wild spirit void—and to make solid coin—by taking airborne pictures of Central America for reconnaissance purposes. It doesn’t take long for Seal to attract the attention of the locals, particularly the powerful Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Mejia), who quickly approach Seal and ask him to smuggle their product into the U.S. With the CIA looking the other way, Barry is allowed to live large while increasingly taking on more improbable and dangerous missions.

There’s always those few movies that come out around the fall movie season that feel more like light summer fare. Director Doug Liman’s (Edge of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity) latest in American Made is one of those movies. Despite the traditionally dark and gritty treatment the subject matter often generates in cinema, Liman and star Tom Cruise go the other way, opting for a telling that is breezier and fun—if empty.

Honestly, the term “movie” barely fits American Made. That’s not a complete negative or indictment as some of it is intentional. Liman goes for a documentary-esque approach in even the most elementary of scenes, and the narrative framing relies on voiceover from Cruise done through grainy videotape to spur the on-screen events forward and add the occasional necessary exposition. It works solidly enough, the ol’ “style over substance” approach.

Emphasis on style. Because, American Made has little in the way of meat to chew on. Even compared to similar-minded, relatively light films based on unbelievable and/or embellished real-life individuals in War Dogs and The Wolf of Wall Street, American Made kind of makes those films look like thought-provoking works. Perhaps it’s due to the telling of the story, which comes off as a series of increasingly insane events stitched and put together rather than real story cohesion. No real pronounced act structure exists; the time frame of the events will often jump years ahead without warning. Maybe it’s just representative of it’s whimsical main character, a dude living for the thrills without thought given to anything else.

Sometimes being a mega-star is a bad thing that renders a viewing audience unable to distinguish the star from the part they’re playing. This is one of the reasons The Mummy 2017, starring mega-star Tom Cruise, failed. Whereas some roles and films benefit from a lesser name, others depend on it.

Resembling in no way, shape, or form Barry Seal, it doesn’t matter much because Tom Cruise gets across Doug Liman’s vision of him. It’s hard to see many deliver the charisma, swagger, and “don’t go away because you might miss something outrageous” feeling Tom does here. Seal’s a guy with questionable morals at best, yet hard to despise significantly. Obviously, he’s not the only performer that appears in American Made; Domhnall Gleason and Sarah Wright are perfectly fine, but they’re definitively overshadowed by Cruise. Love or hate him, the man still has the undeniable “it” factor.

Firmly in the group of biopics made to entertain first and educate second (if at all), American Made is a middling romp, but a romp raised in quality by Cruise.

C+

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, laineygossip.com, and gq.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

 

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle-Movie Man Jackson

Yet another reminder to stay away from drugs. Fully settling into his role as a Kingsman secret agent, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), balances protecting the free world with being a serious boyfriend to Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), the woman he saved in his initial mission. Things are going well until an old foe resurfaces, and as a result, the UK headquarters of the Kingsman are reduced to rubble and ashes.

Suffering mass loss of life, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong), seemingly the only Kingsman who survived, are left to find aid in their United States brethren known as the Statesman. There, they are introduced to the group’s leader Champagne (Jeff Bridges), and agents Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), Tequila (Channing Tatum), and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). They’ve all been targeted by an equally secret major drug organization known as The Golden Circle, led by Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a woman looking to finally get the respect she deserves as an entrepreneur even it means putting the entire world’s population in danger. Of course, it’ll come down to Eggsy and company to save the world and look dapper doing it.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle isn’t going to convert those who disliked Kingsman: The Secret Service. It does carry some of the pitfalls of being a sequel, which can be summed up as “too much (fill in the blank)” Bloated-ness, ‘been there, done that,’ shock value and other words come to mind. But, at the core, this is still the same irreverent movie in the same vein in the same style. Make of that what you will.

It’s fair to wonder if some of the dislike towards The Golden Circle can be attributed to what its trailer suggests. What is suggested is a fairly big role for the Statesman, especially Channing Tatum, that never materializes. On that front, the sequel is disappointing, and the presence of Tatum thrown to the wayside. However, Matthew Vaughn returns to direct and co-write the sequel, and that is a good thing. Admittedly, there’s a lot to take in on this second dip, and without a doubt, 2:21 is a tad bit long for this production. But despite the number of subplots going on that include parallels to a particular commander-in-chief, amnesia, and betrayal to name a few, Vaughn and Jane Goldman manage to tell a story that gels just enough to avoid becoming incomprehensible.

While the franchise is only two films deep, it is clear that one doesn’t come to the Kingsman franchise to get realism. Vaughn’s quick-cuts, 180 pans and fast/slow framerate show up again, and arguably make the action just as good overall, if not better than, the first film. Gadgets once again are in plentiful supply, and no stone is left unturned on that front. The only real piece of this film that could be classified as “grounded” are the relationships, mainly of Eggsy, Merlin, and the returning Harry (Colin Firth).

Their scenes give Kingsman: The Golden Circle an unforeseen amount of emotion. It’s a shame then, when Vaughn and company go towards shock value to get a rise out of the audience. Akin to the final scene from the first installment, two scenes in particular aiming for dark laughs stand out as just crude and disgusting without serving anything upon further review to move the narrative forward.

Like many sequels, the cast in The Golden Circle is beefed up considerably. Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Jeff Bridges, and the previously mentioned Channing Tatum all appear. Unfortunately, though their presences are appreciated, only Pascal gets anything to do of note, regulating the rest of these talented individuals to what essentially amounts to glorified cameos. Julianne Moore puts in a fun performance, but the writing for her character leaves something to be desired. Her megalomaniac entrepreneur needed a layer of menace to be memorable; instead, Moore more often comes off as a basic psycho b**ch.

The Golden Circle, despite the addition of the Statesman, still belongs to the Kingsman and their troika threesome. Taron Egerton is super-comfortable as likable as Eggsy, Mark Strong—ahem—strong as Merlin, and Colin Firth playing his amnesia-riddled Harry with the requisite uncertainty. The question rages on of whether Harry’s return should have been better hidden (it should have), but there’s no debate that this franchise benefits from having Firth.

Gold is still gold, even when tainted. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is definitely not 24 karat quality, but shines enough to still be relatively valuable and occasionally captivated.

B-

Photo credits go to YouTube.com and collider.com

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

American Assassin: Movie Man Jackson

Loss can drive a person to low depths…or amazing heights, depending on the point of view. Twenty-three-year-old Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has experienced a lot of it during his years, losing his parents in an accident at fourteen, and his fiancée literally minutes after proposing at the hands of a terrorist attack. This drives Mitch to seek undercover revenge on not just the terrorists who killed his woman, but all sleeper cells.

Being a terrorist vigilante attracts the attention of the CIA and its director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Most in the organization don’t trust Mitch’s psyche, but Irene believes he can do much good with some reigning in, so she ships him off to learn under the tutelage of Cold War vet Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). They need someone who can handle himself as a plan to build a nuclear weapon capable of starting and ending a war begins to manifest. It leads them to “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), an individual who has deep history with high ranking members of the CIA.

American Assassin has a title befitting of a movie made in the 1990’s. Visualize it with an older cast. Steven Seagal starring as the guy taking on some of the worst the world has to offer. Jill Hennessy as the CIA director. Ted Levine as the recruit gone rogue. American Assassin is essentially a 1990’s action movie, but devoid of the adrenaline and overall fun factor some of those films carried.

Adapted from a Vince Flynn book in the Mitch Rapp series, American Assassin starts off solidly enough, with director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) staging the uncomfortable opening and building enough sympathy for the lead character. Problem is, after this, little to no additional depths are explored towards the lead or any of the characters for that matter. This wouldn’t have been much of a gripe if American Assassin went all in on being bombastic from the get-go, but the approach taken is rather grounded and certainly heavy for a spy movie at least early on, harboring potential for deeper characterization and themes. There’s nothing wrong with that (I kind of prefer it, personally in a world of Bonds and Kingsmen which are fun in their own right), just commit to it.

Perhaps it’s the story of the novel which doesn’t translate greatly to the silver screen. At some undetermined point in the runtime, the approach goes from mature/semi-realistic to lowest common denominator/over-the-top. Sure, there are some solid (if unspectacular) action sequences that don’t shy away from brutality and blood, but they’re barely tied together by a dull story and boring dialogue that shoots blanks in attempting to suck the viewer in.

What’s more disappointing is that there’s no reveal or intriguing twist that jolts life into the proceedings, what’s there is there. By the final act, Cuesta and company seem to know this, throwing every cliché in the genre at the wall in an attempt to leave American Assassin on a fun note. All that’s left behind is some poor CGI.

The cast tasked with raising this story from the book pages to the big screen don’t really get the opportunity to elevate anything. Most characters are inconsequential, or so stock and generic, be it the deputy director played by Latham (seemingly only existing for exposition) or the villain played with Kitsch who has an issue with a person from his past. On a brighter note, at least Dylan O’Brien looks recovered from his Maze Runner accident. He’s a guy who’s got talent and a little charisma, but like a game manager, he can only be great if the elements around him are stable. And of course there’s Michael Keaton. While this is the bottom of the barrel in regards to his recent films of late, his presence and veteran guile alone can make up for a few film deficiencies.

American Assassin ends with the possibility of going on more missions with the uber-skilled Mitch Rapp. But if one is any indicator of what the future holds with these movies, Mr. Rapp’s first foray into counter-terrorism should be his last.

C-

Photo credits go to cdanews.com, areyouscreening.com, and slashfilm.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Wind River: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to Wyoming. Wind River, to be exact. In this Indian Reservation lies a lot of cold, snowy weather and a constant air of misery for many who live here. US Fish and Wildlife Service agent/tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is called on to look into a situation that involves local cattle being killed by another predator. Upon his investigation, Lambert stumbles upon a frozen corpse, a corpse that wasn’t prepared for the harsh outside elements. Foul play is suspected.

The corpse is identified as Natalie Hanson, an 18 year-old resident of the reservation. Now a murder mystery, FBI rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called into the Wyoming setting to investigate. Ill-prepared for Wind River, Banner must rely on her instincts and the guile of Lambert to solve this case and bring justice to Natalie and her remaining family.

It’s clear that the modern day Western genre bears little resemblance to the Westerns of yesteryear inhabited by John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and the like. Instead, today’s movies that could be classified as Westerns take inspiration from that genre but homogenize with others; think SicarioHell or High Water, and now Wind River. All three of these movies share a common tie: the writing credit of Taylor Sheridan. With Wind River, Sheridan gets the opportunity to direct what he writes. The result is a crime feature that doesn’t quite match the brilliance of his most recent writing, but shows more than enough to see Sheridan mentioned in the same future conversation as his directing contemporaries.

Wind River is a little bit of a slow burn—almost agonizingly so—at least in the early going. Sheridan’s first act introduces a few details, but overall, it seems to serve as an environment setup more than real story setup. However, Wind River does kick into gear around the time the awesome Gil Birmingham comes into the frame. Unlike his somewhat light character in Hell or High Water, Birmingham plays a somber, detached Native American father trying to cope with what happened to his daughter. From here, the straightforward story finds its groove.

While not as thematically complex as his prior work, Sheridan uses Wind River, inspired by true events, to shine light on—albeit not without legitimate white hero controversy—many Native American reservations and the hopelessness/negligence that they may carry. They may not resemble the traditional looking ghettos, but the mental and draining effect this environment has on many of the movie’s characters is entirely the same, pushing them towards bad things or paralyzing inaction.

The environment is more of a living and breathing character than almost all in the movie. Technically, Sheridan isn’t perfect yet; some aforementioned early pacing issues exist. A prolonged flashback, although filling in what exactly happened, sort of comes out of nowhere. But, an old-fashioned Mexican standoff that evolves into a big set piece, and a mid-movie suspect visit stand as some of the year’s most tension-drenched moments.

Wind River does come up short in one half of the lead character department. That’s no indictment on Elizabeth Olsen, she makes the most of what is presented to her and carries enough chemistry with Jeremy. This is Renner’s movie, however, and credit goes to Sheridan for writing a very detailed lead in Cory Lambert with gradual backstory revealed that draws the audience closer to his personal journey. It would have been easy for Renner to play this as a Liam Neeson knockoff, but Renner doesn’t, instead opting for a realistic and everyman approach. He’s a cowboy without the gusto, but a believer in frontier justice. His work here is a reminder that Renner’s is more than just a 2nd team Avenger.

The water isn’t particularly deep or 100% purified in Wind River. But ultimately, it is compelling as a simple pseudo-Western crime feature.

B

Photo credits go to collider.com, cinemavine.com, and bleedingcool.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson