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

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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.

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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.

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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-

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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.

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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.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard: Movie Man Jackson

If Ben Affleck isn’t open to returning to play Bruce Wayne, Samuel L. Jackson can take his place. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is considered the world’s top bodyguard. Once a CIA agent, he’s decided to take his skills and profit off of them. He uses his skills to protect some of the world’s most powerful figures, earning “Triple A” status in the process, never missing a detail. He’s the Uber of protecting people, if such a service exists.

Two years later, Bryce loses it all as the result of a client losing his life while he was on assignment. Now forced to rebuild everything, his next assignment—or rather only available assignment—sees him protecting a hitman, the free-spirited Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). He’s made a mistake and lands in hot water in Interpol custody. His way out is testifying against ruthless dictator Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) in The Netherlands, but getting there isn’t going to be easy, as Dukhovich’s men will stop at nothing to make sure Kincaid won’t make an appearance in court. The two are very mismatched in personality, but need to lean on each other to save the day, if they don’t kill each other first.

The buddy cop genre. It’s a genre that’ll never cease to be out of style, because it’s a genre that can deliver a simple but sometimes memorable time. On the other side of the coin, it’s a genre in which movies in it can easily feel uninspired and fitting of the “middle of the road” descriptor. Though it’s working with big-name talent,The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a slight tick above the Mendoza line in this genre, but only barely.

Positives? Massive fans of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson will eat The Hitman’s Bodyguard up. The entire movie is built on this uneasy alliance, making it up to Ryan and Samuel to carry the proceedings. This duo carries real chemistry, getting some laughs out of a familiar setup. Nothing from these two that hasn’t been viewed before, though. SLJ is doing his SLJ thing, shouting expletives and having a good time, Reynolds playing more straight and witty, Wade Wilson-esque dialed down to about 3. They’re having a blast, and that makes it a little easier to take in THB, even when the jokes don’t land with the precision of a headshot.

Two other big names in Gary Oldman and Salma Hayek fill out the cast, to mixed results. Oldman particularly is a big waste of clout; his turn as a foreign Belarus dictator kind of embarrassing to watch. Hayek has one noticeable scene; otherwise, she’s relegated to dull love interest status just as Elodie Yung is. Again, this film is Jackson’s and Reynolds’ alone, non-fans are highly advised to stay away.

Aside from the comedy, action plays an equal significant part of The Hitman’s Bodyguard. On that front, it is adequate. Directed by The Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes, for every good sequence, (the chase sequence is the best of the bunch) there’s one in which the action is sadly hard to follow due to shots that are too close-up. Hughes does some good stuff, however. Surprisingly, flashbacks are used moderately and most of them add a little meat and even heart to both of the lead characters. Midway through, the question of morality is raised as to who’s the good guy and the bad guy out of this tenuous partnership. It’s a little compelling, but not something that is fully explored by the end of the movie.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard runs long, too. Way too long for this average plot. Two hours gets up there, felt mainly in the first 20-30 minutes. Quite a while it takes to get moving. Honestly, this could be a 90-100 minute romp, and it would be all the better for it. Almost two hours has THB stumbling over landmines at times with regards to tone.

Not bulletproof but providing a little bit of the entertainment factor, The Hitman’s Bodyguard hits something. Just not center mass.

C

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Atomic Blonde: Movie Man Jackson

How…does it..feel? Cold. As in the Cold War, the year being 1989. In Berlin, the war is winding down, but political unrest is winding up. After a high-ranking secret agent is killed in the streets, the MI6 sends in their best, agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron). Her mission is to track down Bakhtin (Jóhannes Jóhannesson), who not only killed agent Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), but is in possession of a list that is trouble for everyone who doesn’t have it.

To retrieve it, she’s paired with station agent chief David Percival (James McAvoy). The two must traverse the shady, seedy city of Berlin to prevent major worldly damage from occurring. But in the world of espionage, no one can ever truly be trusted, and everyone knows more than they’re letting on.

There are some movies that earn their keep almost entirely on one scene. In Atomic Blonde, that one scene is an amazing stairwell fight scene that rivals some of the best American action movie scenes in recent memory, namely, John Wick’s red circle club shootout, that movie being co-directed by David Leitch. He’s on his own here, and in this one scene, it’s tightly constructed, highly unpredictable, and impeccably choreographed. Honestly, it along with the production is probably worth the price of admission alone. That doesn’t absolve the rest of the movie from its mild-at-best storytelling and script. But Atomic Blonde brings enough hot aspects to offset them ever so slightly.

Atomic Blonde is bathed in style from the get-go, employing a cool and neon-hued color palette that makes the locale of Berlin and that of its many hotspots pop off the screen. Based on a graphic novel known as The Coldest City, Leitch seems to draw inspiration from that medium in the way some scenes are shot and presented. In addition to the technical achievements, this film features a moody, industrial score by composer Tyler Bates (yet again, another John Wick connection) and an easy-listening, new-wave/synth pop soundtrack. He even manages to craft a central theme that will surely be used in any subsequent sequels.

And yet, Atomic Blonde’s probably closer to being a bad movie than a great one. At least script-wise. The espionage plot can more or less be summarized by “everyone twists everyone.” Even the characters who are rarely seen, if at all, are twisting everything. Leitch uses an interrogation by an unreliable narrator that frames the events of the story. At times this method works, but other times, little is added, or rather, the natural flow of the story is broken. A conventional telling would likely make things more comprehensible.

With multiple watches, it is a possibility that the numerous pieces, curveballs, and turns fit better and make some sense. Problem is with Atomic Blonde, it’s hard to actually want to go back and immerse into this world any deeper than surface-level. Watching an espionage movie already conditions the viewer (or at least, yours truly) to distance themselves from the characters who make up it. If everything is going to be flipped on its head, what’s the point of getting invested into anything or anyone?

Still, there’s a ton of talent on hand in the film that keeps it afloat. Charlize Theron, of course, can do it all. A dangerous and debonair dame, she’s perfectly cast in the role of Lorraine. An ass-kicker, but takes her share of getting her ass kicked, strong, yet vulnerable. Her dynamic with James McAvoy, having mass amounts of fun being a complete wild card, is compelling. Due to the twisty nature of the genre, however, no characters are given much weight; everyone is disposable to some degree. John Goodman and Toby Jones, while nice to see on screen, play roles anyone could play as nothing is asked of them. Outside of Lorraine and Percival and maybe Delphine (Sofia Boutella), all other characters might as well be a jumbled mass of indiscernible people who sound the same with similar-sounding names.

Looking for a brunette or redhead? Go elsewhere. Atomic Blonde is light and ditzy on characterization and solid storytelling, but high on direction and sensory fun. Blondes do have more fun.

C+

Photo credits go to cinemavine.com and landmarkcinemas.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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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Movie Man Jackson

Because the galaxy couldn’t hold 1,001 planets. The 28th century spawns Alpha, an intergalactic space station home to tons of creatures living peacefully together. Maintaining order throughout the galaxy are special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHann) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). They are a duo who could be more; Valerian is finally ready to put away his player ways and wishes to marry Laureline.

Before their future can be properly assessed, the two get assigned to solve a mystery happening in the heart of Alpha. It’s a mystery that if unsolved, is certain to end all life not only on Alpha, but in the whole entire galaxy.

In some corners, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is jokingly being referred to as “the most expensive independent movie made,” pulling in less than 20 million opening weekend on a production budget of at least 150 large. Honestly, it’s been destined to be dead on arrival in the United States since the first trailer,  and no amount of 10-minute showings before Spider-Man: Homecoming changed that. Being dead on arrival doesn’t mean that Valerian is bottom-barrel bad, but, in a way, one almost wishes it were. Just so there would be more to talk about.

What is there to talk about? The visuals. Director Luc Beeson (Lucy, The Fifth Element) crafts a movie that looks very unique even in a cinema landscape that has seen numerous space opera/otherworldly features of late like Star Wars, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avatar. It takes a little while to get used to the amount of green screen, but the easiest way to describe what Beeson does here is thinking of Valerian like a moving painting. This mostly applies to early scenes in a desert setting that stand out vividly, and in later scenes Beeson comes up with a few sequences of action that are sharp and, most importantly, coherent.

Coherent isn’t a word that’s all that applicable to Valerian’s story, however. Also written by Beeson, his film starts out compelling enough and builds the mystery with enough intrigue…but it doesn’t last. Specifically, the side plots never really connect to the main story at hand, and it isn’t until well into the second half when Valerian begins to funnel its focus into the A plot. A plot, in essence, that involves some predictable shady dealings by a character in power seen many times over.

Concealed from much of the trailers, Valerian additionally moonlights—surprisingly heavily— as a love story between the characters played by DeHann and Delevingne. They are passable together, though the two lack truly great chemistry with one another, and anytime their romance is asked to carry large chunks of the runtime, Valerian suffers. Delevingne is solid; looking and acting the part as a believable, hold-her-own, rough-around-the-edges operative. It’s hard to unequivocally say the same about Dane DeHann’s work, unfortunately.

DeHann’s a capable and talented actor (in my opinion), but his best work seems to come in off-kilter and/or tweener/antagonist roles. As Valerian, he’s hard to take seriously as a hero and galaxy lady-killer, and rather unlikable for at least half of the movie. Even his voice sounds odd in the way a person tries to portray someone sounding cool. While playing more like cameos than notable characters, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock nonetheless add to the unique world that is Alpha.

A gorgeous looking universe without boundaries needs heroes without limits. It also needs a tighter story and a better lead performance. That about sums up this space jaunt that is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. 

C-

Photo credits go to highsnobiety.com, collider.com, and theverge.com.

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War for the Planet of the Apes: Movie Man Jackson

The night is darkest just after the dawn. Years after Koba’s betrayal, the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his nation of apes remain taking residence in the woods. Trying to live peacefully away from conflict, conflict finds them by way of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). His assault on the apes’ home leaves massive casualties.

Now out for revenge, Caesar, along with Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), found hermit Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), and a young mute female straggler (Amiah Miller) embark on a journey to locate and eliminate The Colonel. The woods are no longer safe for apes, but a new location has been scouted and deemed livable. But, the war between apes and humans must reach a conclusion before the next chapter in ape evolution can begin.

Who knew that in 2011 the dawn of the next great trilogy was beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Considered a middling IP at best after Tim Burton’s 2001 spin on things, Rise and Rupert Wyatt invigorated new life into the franchise. But, director Matt Reeves pushed it in places it’s never been before, both visually and thematically, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He officially ties the bow neatly on this trilogy with War for the Planet of the Apes.

Of course, it should go without saying at this point that the CGI, motion capture, rendering, and whatever else I’m probably forgetting on the technical side of this feature is absolutely impeccable. I’m saying it again because as spectacular Dawn was on that front, War takes it up multiple levels, proving that in three years technology evolves at an exponential rate. There are shots—extreme close up shots—of Caesar and his mains-in-command that are mind-blowing, and full of weight.

Fear and loss play a huge part in this movie; the consternation is seen on many of the lead characters’ faces. The character arc of Caesar goes very deep, and Serkis does it all as the ape leader. His delivery of dialogue, as well as sign language and facials, is moving. Not to be shortchanged either are newcomer Steve Zahn, Michael Adamthwaite, and Karen Konoval. Woody Harrelson stands as the best human character the reboot has seen, his style being perfect for the military leader. Some of the best moments are devoid of any dialogue or even subtitles. Reeves opts to tell some of War for Apes completely visually. The sounds of composer Michael Giacchino go a long way in making this endeavor a success.

In a cinema world in which seemingly every big studio is on the hunt for the next universe starter or continuation, War for the Planet of the Apes has no real aspirations to do so. One would be doing themselves a massive disservice by not watching the predecessors, but, it is cool that Reeves commences War with two-sentence recaps for newbies that summarizes everything newcomers need to know before seguieng into an impressive opening action sequence. War for Apes is a mostly cold and bleak affair, befitting of a predominately cool grey and blue color palette. That doesn’t make it any less of a technical masterpiece, though.

War for Apes, like Dawn before it, uses its primates to hold a mirror to our own society. However, where Dawn was subtler in its approach, War goes a little more overt and obvious, lessening the impact and the thought-provoking themes ever so slightly. The war aspect of the title is present, but the war itself seems to be more metaphorical than literal. Do not go in expecting a prolonged blitzkrieg; War for Apes is emotional-drama first, action-blockbuster second.

The last stand for Caesar and company caps off an amazing epic that will rank up there with the best trilogies in film history. This war closes the chapter between humans and apes, but won’t quickly be forgotten.

A-

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, aceshowbiz.com, and digitalspy.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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