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

Photo credits go to deadline.com, pointofgeeks.com, and denofgeek.com.

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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

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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.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming-Movie Man Jackson

Welcome back. After the events of the Great Civil War and fighting alongside Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to Queens and his uneventful high school sophomore life with best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). Pete longs for the attraction of senior hottie, Liz (Laura Harrier), but also wants ever so desperately to be a full-time Avenger.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing. The alien attack some odd years ago in New York left behind some mysterious alien artifacts. These artifacts have been mined, harnessed, and cultivated by Adrian Toombs (Michael Keaton), a man who’s providing for his family but in questionable ways. As much as Pete wants to leave the borough for the big time, his home is going to need the protection of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

There’s the old saying that goes something like “what’s old is new again.” I never thought that saying could apply to Spider-Man’s latest standalone reintroduction to cinemas in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was only three years ago when he was last seen doing battle against the Green Goblin, Electro, and mass amounts of CGI. What could really be done to spin a unique web for the longstanding webslinger?

Sharing more in common with The Edge of Seventeen and John Hughes offerings than most of the MCU’s films, Homecoming certainly has elements of a superhero origins story, but it is more akin to “a day in the life” than full-blown beginnings. That means going back to high school and all of its pitfalls, extracurriculars, awkwardness, popularity and the like.

This is a deep dive back into the teen years, certainly not a cursory one. Homecoming spends as much time in the classroom and the hallways as it does along the New York skyline and under the iconic Spidey suit. It’s very relatable—almost everyone can remember back to those days as a teen craving more responsibility while being told to enjoy being young—and surprisingly fresh, even though it honestly should not be.

Part of that freshness can directly be attributed to the writers and director of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Writer/director Jon Watts (Cop Car) and contributing writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Frances Daley, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, and Christopher Ford are more known for their comedy and animated contributions than anything in the superhero realm. As such, Homecoming comes, thankfully, without any forced contrivances or common expectations as to what a superhero movie needs to have or do. One could even call it a central character study before a superhero actioner.

The action is firmly solid, though it’s where Watts shows a little bit of inexperience. Nowhere near the best action Marvel’s ever put on screen; then again, this film isn’t action-centric. As for the humor, it sticks on just about all levels in a very organic, free-flowing way, perhaps the benefit of having comedy writers. It may stand as the MCU’s funniest and breeziest movie to date, and Michael Giacchino’s score seems to reflect that.

There is a huge cast in Spider-Man’s latest outing, but obviously, the bulk of the work belongs to Tom Holland as Tiger—err—Peter Parker. The baby-faced youngster carries the requisite wit, duty, athleticism, and likability that has come to define Pete. What’s great about this iteration of Parker is that he truly is “nerfed” and vulnerable. He doesn’t grasp all of his powers quickly or the full capabilities of his suit. Despite clashing face-to-face against Captain America, Tony Stark makes it clear that he’s nowhere near his level, nor is he supposed to be. RDJ’s father/mentor role, screentime limited, is fascinating. He’s in Homecoming just enough to connect to the larger universe, yet is dialed back appropriately to reinforce the focus on Parker and Spider-Man.

To spoil any significant details about Michael Keaton’s Toombs character to those who have still yet to see Homecoming would rob the surprise and layers this anti-antagonist possesses. But he stands as one of the best big baddies of any comic book movie in recent memory, and there’s a way that Keaton goes about this role in his delivery and general persona that makes you want to see him succeed in his goals. Homecoming showcases many characters found in the comics, but served in unfamiliar ways. While it takes a little time to buy into the new Flash Thompson (particularly), Liz Allen, Michelle, and Aunt May, by the end of the film, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, and Marisa Tomei all add something to Peter’s story and should continue to do so in the future.

No spidey sense tingling happening here. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings the wall-crawler back where he belongs in extremely successful and never-before seen fashion. Excelsior!

A-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, comicbookmovies.com, and lrmonline.com.

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Baby Driver: Movie Man Jackson

Baby…cab driver. Can you take me for a ride? Young man Baby (Angel Elgort) makes his living—reluctantly, as a getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a big-time crime lord in Atlanta. Over the years, Doc has employed many underlings to carry out his elaborate heists, but one piece never changes, that being Baby. Give him an iPod and he’s that damn good in the heat of the moment, constantly needing music due to a condition that produces nonstop ringing in his ears.

Baby’s had enough though, and he’s ready to get out of the game, especially after meeting the beautiful waitress Debora (Lily James). The two are ready to leave their lives behind and just go West. Unfortunately, one last job requires Baby’s efforts, working with Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to rob a post office with bags upon bags of valuable money orders. There’s a way out for Baby and Debora, but it’s going to involve a lot of driving. And maybe some blood shed.

A postmodern musical? The deconstruction of a musical? That’s the first thing that popped into my head upon the first 10-20 minutes of watching Baby Driver. Director Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) latest uses mostly licensed music to accentuate whatever’s on the screen at any given time. There’s little to no singing, but this is almost as much of a musical as, say, La La Land. So the music is a big part, but not the only part. Edgar Wright delivers a pretty spectacular and inventive crime/romance/musical movie that laps much of the 2017 summer movie fare.

Baby Driver is escapist fare, and I believe it is fair to look at it more as of an exercise in style over any notable substance. That is not to say that the story Wright has penned is poor, but it is simply adequate, partly rushed in spots such as the romance component, and 50/50 in the hit/miss comedy ration. A final act character twist doesn’t make a ton of sense. But it’s probably best to look at Baby Driver as a pure fantasy rather than a grounded crime-drama. With that said, Wright certainly makes things unpredictable in the last act, and that is a good thing.

The overall average story works, however, because the great cast elevates the material. Angel Elgort plays the enigmatic Baby with a lot of cool-calm charisma and likability, whether in the driver’s seat or lip-syncing and grooving to the myriad tracks on his iPod. Though her role is very basic, Lily James injects her character of Debora with enough honest heart. With no real elaboration on time elapsed, one has to assume that everything is happening pretty quickly in Baby Driver. As such the relationship that spawns between the two lovebirds is again rushed, but Elgort and James carry so much natural and endearing chemistry with one another that it becomes easy to buy into by the end of the film.

As for the rest of the cast, it’s comprised by professionals who know how to own each minute of their screentime. Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx (who starred in Horrible Bosses together), play slightly paired-down versions of their roles there; Spacey still delivering dialogue in a pompous and superior way, Foxx relishing his turn as a buckwild and unstable entity. Even Jon Hamm and Eiza González, whose characters initially seem to be the least important of the criminal stable, turn out to play huge parts in the latter stages of the film.

But, it is the technical stylings of Edgar Wright that is the true star of Baby Driver. As stated, the music is a noticeable piece, snapping into place into much of the happenings either by way of effectively capturing the feelings of our main character, or as another sonic layer to the existing musical track via finger taps, whizzing bullets, and the like. Baby Driver plays a little like Grand Theft Auto V, with its heist setups and resulting chaos that arises afterwards. The action is extremely exhilarating and tightly choreographed, enhanced by precise cinematography and bold colors. There probably won’t be chase sequences that top these in the remaining months of the year.

Baby Driver is easily one of the best times anyone will have viewing a movie in theaters this entire year. Who needs Dominic Toretto when you’ve got Baby?

B+

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com and empireonline.com.

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The Mummy: Movie Man Jackson

Power isn’t given. It’s taken. In ancient Egypt resides Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). She has power, but she desires more, and goes about attaining it in a sinister way. She comes close to doing so, but is thwarted at the last moment, mummified into a tomb for her transgressions, and cast out of the ancient land.

Fast forward to present day Mesopotamia, aka Iraq, where soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and accomplice Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are looking for the next big score to sell to the black market. After surviving a battle, they come across the massive tomb of Ahmanet. Unwittingly, Nick releases her back into this world, and as a result, becomes a target for the resurrected princess who looks to complete the sacrifice she was unable to thousands of years ago.

Peace and love and universes, man. That’s what it feels like in 2017, with Marvel leading the way, DC playing aggressive catch-up, while Warner Bros (on a vastly smaller scale despite ironically featuring two of the biggest monsters in the world) and Universal feeling like they’ve got the IP to launch their own interconnected offerings. Just in case one didn’t know, Universal wants to make sure it’s known that The Mummy is the launching pad of the “Dark Universe” by saying so before The Mummy even begins in Universal font. It’s a bit much. But the end feeling walking out of The Mummy is that of a competent, yet somewhat disposable, summer blockbuster.

The Mummy 2017 serves as director Alex Kurtzman’s (People Like Us) first big-budget feature. He’s got a little bit of a difficult task in not only reestablishing a major monster character, but a larger universe. He mostly succeeds in this, at least in the first two-thirds. Though getting off to a bit of a rough start with some overlong story exposition (more of a writing fault than anything), Kurtzman generally settles into a directorial groove, with the highlights being some thrillingly fun action sequences peppered throughout adjoined by a solid score from the popular Brian Tyler. There’s been better CGI in summer blockbusters, but what’s found here gets the job done. One caveat: Stay away from the 3D offering, as it does little to nothing to enhance the overall presentation.

Surprisingly, the movie handles its juggling of a singular world along with introducing bigger matters fairly well. But, by the end, The Mummy bookends itself with more obvious exposition and promises of “a world of gods and monsters,” just in case it wasn’t known already. A simple mid-credits scene may have worked just as efficiently. Any attempts at emotional or intellectual investment fails to register much of a pulse, such as an inorganic, hot-shotted romance that seems to be exist only because the two leads are good-looking. Humor is hit and miss—sometimes a really big hit—but other times undercutting what intensity may be there.

There aren’t many legitimate mega movie stars that exist nowadays, but Tom Cruise still serves as one of them. He’s playing a role that many people could play in Nick Morton, but Cruise still brings some excitement if only because he’s Tom Cruise, running and delivering comedic lines like only he can. However, he’s got the same problem that Jake Johnson (takes a while to realize anytime ‘Nick’ is said in The Mummy, they’re not referring to Jake), has in this movie: They’re playing themselves, which I don’t think The Mummy is going for. Johnson’s character in particular, though occasionally funny, would fit better in a different production, like a Halloween episode of New Girl or something.

Little can be said for the person Annabelle Wallis stars as. Initially appearing to be an interesting, do-it-herself character, her character is ultimately revealed to a basic damsel archetype with no chemistry had with Cruise. Two standout performances come from Russell Crowe and Sofia Boutella. The trailers have done a great at hiding who exactly is Crowe, and the reveal as to how he fits into this upcoming world may be the best aspect of The Mummy. It’s excellent casting and perhaps the biggest reason to get excited about this future universe and a few age-old monsters. Boutella’s been knocking it out of the park recently in Kingsman and Star Trek: Beyond; this role doesn’t allow her to be as physical as those, but her presence is notable.

 

There’s absolutely nothing new or overly impressive hiding in the tomb of The Mummy. But for a 110 minute feature in the heat of the blockbuster season, there are worse fates than being a middling big-budget film made for eating popcorn during and not thinking much about afterwards.

C+

Photo credits go to flickeringmyth.com, impawards.com, indiewire.com, and cheatsheet.com.

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Wonder Woman: Movie Man Jackson

Men, who needs them? Growing up on the world of Themyscira is young Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson). This world of Themyscira is inhabited by nothing but females. Females who are Amazon warriors and quite adept at defending their home turf. They’re in a relative time of peace, and as a result, the Queen doesn’t wish for her daughter to be trained as a warrior, but rather to enjoy her childhood despite the daughter ever so wanting to get her hands dirty. In secret, Diana trains with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) in preparation for the end of peace.

That time comes when World War II soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on their home world telling stories of the horrors of the war he’s been fighting. Believing WWI to be the fault of God of War, Ares, mature Diana (Gal Gadot) sets out to extinguish him and bring eternal peace to the world, even it it means leaving Themyscira behind forever.

Electra and Catwoman. That’s it as far as super-heroines go as it pertains to getting their own features in the last 15 years. Yours truly doesn’t need to summarize the quality—or lack thereof—of those films. Wonder Woman arrives carrying the sizable burden of possibly ushering in more female protagonist superhero blockbusters depending on its quality. Even more of a burden than that is placed on Wonder Woman in the hopes that this is the film that course corrects the DC Extended Universe out of dark beginning waters. So, there’s only one question. Is it good? Absolutely.

Make no mistake, Wonder Woman is the basic superhero origin story. But, it’s the type of story needed when developing a massive, interconnected universe and getting audiences to care about its heroes who make it up. Its basic superhero story does play out a little more uniquely than most of its contemporaries. First, from a visual aspect, utilizing World War I and London and seeing a vibrant island world such as Themyscira in all of its gold hues and lushness simply makes for a more compelling watch, even before director Patty Jenkins (Monster) showcases the equally compelling action sequences.

Second, the fish-out-of-water approach works brilliantly, and more importantly, it allows Wonder Woman to distance itself from the “it’s so doom and gloom” complaints many rightfully had with most of the DCEU’s features up to this point. There’s legitimate comedy, and it comes off as organic, instead of feeling written in at the last moment. Aside from a noticeable period in the middle third, the movie rarely comes to a complete halt in its pace.

As a whole, Wonder Woman is endearing, partly because Prince isn’t written as a perfect, infallible character, but also, because Gal Gadot makes her so. Once again, her amazing work as the titular character is a reminder that the Internet more often than not needs to just let casting decisions play out before casting judgement on them. Gadot’s come a long way from Giselle in the Fast and Furious movies. She owns the screen, and is asked to convey a fair deal of emotion, all done in convincing fashion. Just as importantly, she looks the part.

The job she does here is that spectacular that it is a struggle to consider who else could play Diana Prince. After Gadot, Pine brings a lot; carrying the film’s message about humanity not being perfect, but very salvageable. The chemistry the two possess between each other, and among the bit characters played by Ewen Bremmer and Saïd Taghmaoui, is infections. As for the villain, akin to similar comic origin movies, the adversary—in this case, adversaries—leave a little to be desired. They’re adequate, but extremely basic stock cutouts that never feel like a true threat to our hero.

In Wonder Woman, DC finally manages to corral a fun and emotional origins story together. Maybe all it takes is a strong woman to make things better.

B+

Photo credits go to dailydot.com, comicbook.com, and dccomics.com

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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

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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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.

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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