Lady Bird: Movie Man Jackson

Lady Bird, sounds like a classic 1950’s jazz album. Spoiler: It’s not, but it is the nickname that Sacramento high school senior Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) wishes to go by. She’s the artistic, headstrong, and independent type. Her personality often gets her into clashes with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who only wants Christine to be the “best version of herself.”

Lady Bird wishes to go out to New York for college despite the financial struggles her family is experiencing, as she is convinced she needs to get away from sleepy Sacramento to thrive. Before it’s time to fly, she’ll find out that there are many, many more lessons for her to learn before leaving the California roost.

From Spider Man: Homecoming to Dope to Brooklyn to The Edge of Seventeen, the last few years have shown that there is always room for a well-told coming-of-age movie regardless of setting or even main genre. The latest in the subgenre comes from Greta Gerwig, known mainly for acting more so than directing at this point. In her first full directorial credit, she’s steered Lady Bird to 195 fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. If yours truly’s post were factored into it, I certainly wouldn’t break the streak. Lady Bird is deserving of its praise.

Lady Bird doesn’t breathe completely new life into the coming-of-age genre, but no movie really does in this subgenre. Still, it’s an extremely authentic and rooted portrait of growing up, seemingly inspired by Gerwig and her experiences growing up in Sacramento; the extent of what actually occurred and didn’t is a mystery. Doesn’t matter though, because, Gerwig’s writing is so honest and natural. Everything from the dialogue (possibly the most important thing in a coming-of-age: do the kids sound like kids?) to the traversing of high school and the many mines that are present each day. Gerwig imbues this familiar story with quirkiness and humor emphasized by the opening music by composer Jon Brion, but never forgets the heart, also punctuated by two beautiful end tracks.

Lady Bird isn’t a film one would necessarily think would be cinematic, but boy, it certainly is. The sleepiness and tucked away vibe of Sacramento, California serves as a perfect backdrop for this drama shot on location. Who knew that 2002 had such nostalgia and a real aesthetic to it? Going far beyond the timely Justin Timberlake “Cry Me a River” and other fitting musical songs (some were released around 2002 but all fit the style of the film) and fashion styles, the world Gerwig creates is very memory-evoking. Immersion may not be the right word, but Greta makes the viewer feel like they’re a fly on the wall watching all of this unfurl with the small but noticeable details.

Most teenagers are hard to get, bold one moment, afraid the next. Gerwing’s writing is great for her two lead characters, and her stars take advantage of it. No longer an up-and-comer, Saorise Ronan is simply one of the best thespians today. With Lady Bird, she’s allowed to be a lot more dynamic and proactive than, say, Brooklyn, another great movie and role albeit more reactive. Sometimes you love her for wanting to be so independent, sometimes you hate her for being so selfish.

But it’s always realistic, as is the mother of Lady Bird played by Roseanne alum Laurie Metcalf. Like Christine, Marion is far from a perfect individual, but one can see where she’s coming from. The clashing of mother-daughter is compelling and uncomfortable in a way not seen in a long time in cinema, and both should be on the short list for every major award circuit. Not to be forgotten are castmates Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush, and especially, Tracy Letts as the father on hard career luck having an equally hard time serving as the glue that holds the household together. His actual screentime may not be enough for serious consideration, but nonetheless, his time on the screen is moving.

As we fully descend into awards season with the recent announcement of the Golden Globes, Lady Bird certainly has a presence with four nominations. Safe bet that the rest of this season will find Lady Bird perched somewhere near the top.

A-

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The Man Who Invented Christmas: Movie Man Jackson

Charles Dickens. Renowned author, creator of Christmas as we know it. In 1842, Dickens (Dan Stevens) is riding high off his successes, gaining immense popularity across the world. Fast forward 18 months, however, and the author has fallen on hard financial times (get it?), with three flops that make people question whether Charles still has it.

Even Chuck questions whether he’s still got it, struggling through a bout of writer’s block. He only begins to break out of it by getting inspiration from those around him in London, including a miserly old man he sees at a funeral (Christopher Plummer). A Christmas Carol is born, and while Charles begins interacting with the book’s many characters in his imagination, he begins to see parallels between his fictional story and his life.

 

There are a few characters synonymous with the Christmas holiday. Christ, Rudolph, Frosty, and of course Jolly ol’ St. Nick are up there. But Scrooge and his story are as well. A Christmas Carol is a story as old as time, told many years over and over. The story of Charles Dickens is a lot less known, but this version of his classic serves to tell a little about his life while framing it in his classic. This combination makes for an unconventional and unique spin, but a spin that ends up pretty cold.

Directed by Bharat Nalljuri (MI-5), The Man Who Invented Christmas would feel at home on ABC Family—excuse me, Freeform now—rather than the silver screen. Nineteenth-century London is recreated beautifully through the costumes, lighting, and architecture. Still, the movie comes off more play-like than cinematic, though Dickens’ moments with his characters are entertaining. What Nalljuri does do well is capture how a writer can catch an idea out of thin air and go to town within seconds.

Fusing Dickens’ real-life story with his most famous creation sounds interesting in theory, until you figure out that Dickens’ story is kind of dull. OK, maybe dull is too negative, but seeing Charles’ family problems and using those to draw parallels does little from an emotional standpoint. Or maybe it’s the way the story flows between scenes, sometimes in a disjointed way that doesn’t appear to be intentional.

Playing the famous author is Dan Stevens. Stevens has no problem utilizing his natural charisma for a character that is rather dry despite every effort made by the script for him not to be. It’s a solid central performance, but doesn’t hold weight in the stocking like Christopher Plummer’s turn as Ebenezer Scrooge. Perfection ensues from the moment Plummer first appears as the miser, nailing every aspect from his physical appearance and disdain for niceties to his discovery of the true meaning of Christmas.

For those who want to see another side of the story that is The Christmas Carol that is more personal, The Man Who Invented Christmas is likely to be a interesting gift to unwrap. Others who rather just have Scrooge be the star would be best serve to catch one of the many adaptions that is not this one.

C

Photo credits go to imdb.com, myvue.com, statecinema.com/au, and ourwindsor.ca.

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I Love You, Daddy: Movie Man Jackson

Art imitates life. TV writer and producer Glen Topher (Louis C.K.) has amassed much fame and fortune during his career. This success has come with a cost to his personal life, losing relationships with his ex-wife, Aura (Helen Hunt), and his girlfriend, Maggie (Pamela Adlon). He shares an enabling relationship with his seventeen-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), seemingly always getting what she wants by asking her daddy and following it up with “I love you, Daddy.”

Their relationship becomes turbulent with the arrival of legendary filmmaker Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich) onto the scene, who just so happens to be Glen’s idol. The pushing-70 Leslie immediately takes a liking to Glen’s daughter, naturally creeping out the father. Glen struggles with how to approach this, in addition to trying to overcome writer’s block for a new television show and navigating a partnership with the starlet Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne).

Nothing ever completely exists in a vacuum, be it art, food, technology, humans—or in this case—-thoughts on a film. I Love You, Daddy doesn’t so much arrive on the scene as it does get shooed to the back like a kid working backstage on a school play who accidentally is made visible. The accidentally visible, in this case, being screeners sent ahead of the storm. It is impossible to view this Louis CK-helmed flick without thinking about the sexual misconduct news and admission that involves CK (as well as a bevvy of other known figures). It leaves his film as a weirdly fascinating yet mostly disturbing viewing for mostly the wrong reasons.

Let’s get this out of the way, however. I Love You, Daddy features a guy who’s done horrific things, but it is still far from a horrific movie. There is some good here, beginning with the black-and-white styled employed by C.K., paying homage to works done by Woody Allen (Manhattan, particularly) and Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. While Louis’ editing as it pertains to telling a coherent story can be problematic at times, within scenes, his camera work can be quite good and steady accompanied by a old-school orchestral score. The cast featuring names like Byrne, Adlon, Moretz, Charlie Day, and Malkovich make for a solidly acted production with the writing for their characters that is given, with Byrne and Moretz turning in the best work and managing to hold interest.

Louis C.K. shot this film in secret, and after watching, easy to see why. “Art imitates life” has never felt as fitting as it does in I Love You, Daddy. This is not an exercise in subtly. In roughly 25 minutes of screentime, the viewer is subjected to 45 seconds of simulated masturbation, a “casting couch” scene that covers all the bases of power abuse from both sexes, and an open admission by a character calling another a pedophile. Finally, there’s the dialogue, which feels way too spot-on to be clever. Lines such as “He’s kind of gross, you know? But he’s hilarious,” and “I’m sorry to all women. I want all women to know I apologize for being me!” are akin to reading OJ Simpson’s If I Did It.

Which raises the ultimate question: Why was this film made? As a comedy, little is funny. As a drama, little is dramatic. Did we really need a movie representation of what 2017 is going to be known for? Thematically, there appears to be a desire on Louis C.K.’s part to make some pseudo-intellectual message about everyone being perverts in the world in one way or another. But, this holds no water, especially after the weak, tie-a-bow-on-it nice ending that leaves little resolved.

One can only surmise that Louis C.K. made I Love You, Daddy to serve as some sort of release therapy to himself that would be played across a national viewing audience that could potentially “understand” it. Some things aren’t meant to be understood, but taken at face value. I Love You, Daddy is one of those things.

C-

Photo credits go to vulture.com, rollingstone.com, en.wikipedia.org, and the malaymailonline.com.

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Daddy’s Home 2: Movie Man Jackson

The dads are back in town. After going to war over who would be the rightful dad to Dusty’s (Mark Wahlberg) kids, stepfather Brad (Will Ferrell) and biological father Dusty have reached an understanding and one could even call them friends. There’s a clear understanding of schedules and needs, and everything’s working out, aside from Christmas-time. To make for a more enriching X-mas, Brad suggests a “together Christmas” between the two families with everyone around to celebrate the holiday in the same house.

The only thing that could screw this up is the presence of their dads. And what do you know, Dusty’s dad, macho Kurt (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s dad, mushy Don (John Lithgow) arrive. The basic Christmas has turned into an elaborate cabin vacation getaway at the push of a phone button by Kurt. All the great progression Brad and Dusty made turns into regression, and threatens to ruin Christmas and their friendship forever.

If it feels like we just got Daddy’s Home 2 last week, it’s because we did. Technically, this is the same movie give or take as A Bad Moms Christmas, only flipping the genders. Neither sequel should really exist, but Bad Moms 2 at least feels a little more inspired and carries a little more of a good time. The same cannot be said for the sequel to Daddy’s Home. Comparisons or not, this is simply a bad, low-rung comedy.

Nary a plot exists in Daddy’s Home 2. There’s the whole dysfunctional parents and a “will they, won’t they” breakup aspect between Dusty and Brad, but most of the movie’s runtime is comprised of various slapstick moments fluffed with bad writing. For every OK-to-good line of funny dialogue, there seems to be two or three lines plus an unfunny/telegraphed/callback sight gag that fails to do the trick. At least the word “scoff” is used liberally. Par for the course for many of these Christmas movies, the themes of family and forgiveness are prevalent and made to be wrapped up and addressed via a “heartwarming” finale that speaks to the holiday season. It happens so fast, however, that the effect is lost, further speaking to the cash-in feel of the movie.

Returning writer/director Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2) had to know this, which is perhaps why the sequel is beefed up with a bigger cast, with Gibson, Lithgow, and John Cena (very underutilized, by the way) of course being the main attractions after Wahlberg and Ferrell. Problem is, there are too many characters for the film to get into a comedic groove. It’s weird, too; it’s hard to really consider Daddy’s Home 2 an ensemble movie, but throw in Gibson, Lithgow, Cena, Ferrell, Wahlberg and Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio, and an additional three to four other kids and it just gets to be way too much. Easier to overlook if more of the comedy did the job, which it doesn’t.

 

Most of the coal goes to the script or lack thereof, but that doesn’t mean that the cast is absolved of all holiday sins. Of the cast, Lithgow probably has the best moment or two. Ferrell and Wahlberg have obvious chemistry, but it alone cannot elevate what is present. The other big name in Mel Gibson screams miscast and/or laziness. Mel’s been funny before as the smug, masculine asshole with an underlying heart (see: What Women Want), but that ship likely has sailed, and put more succinctly, there’s no heart at all in his character in Daddy’s Home 2.

What’s left is Gibson spouting annoying insults and statements going on about what makes a man a man. I wonder if the two grandfather roles in Gibson and Lithgow would have made for more comedy if they were flip-flopped and had each actor go against type. He kind of epitomizes another huge problem with the sequel. It’s darker than it needs to be, with two scenes played for laughs yet being more disturbing than intended. As for the rest of the cast, there’s too many of them as previously stated to build comedic chemistry and worthwhile scenes.

And so, enough scoffing been said about Daddy’s Home 2. There are other funnier and heartwarming films about the Christmas time that don’t leave the viewer in a depressed state.

D-

Photo credits go to collider.com, itunes.apple.com, and hellogiggles.com.

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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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A Bad Moms Christmas: Movie Man Jackson

Tis the season to be jolly—errr, overworked. The threesome of friends in Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) is up to their limits in stress. Why? It’s Christmas season, which means a lot hustling here and there, cooking, and being responsible for every gift and event. All the ladies want is a relaxed, lowkey time of year with their loved ones.

Those best laid plans go to the wayside when each of their moms come in ahead of schedule to complicate matters even further. There’s Amy’s mother (Christine Baranski), the perfectionist, Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines), the suffocator, and Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon), the deadbeat. To take Christmas back, the three younger mothers need to be the strong women they are and stand up to the ones that birthed them into this world.

It’s easy to see why one wouldn’t necessarily be excited at the prospect of A Bad Moms Christmas, the sequel to last year’s surprise hit Bad Moms. The state of recent affairs as it pertains to mid-to-big budget comedies over the past few years isn’t exactly a laughing matter. And there’s the whole sequel aspect that many movies—especially comedies (looking at you, Dumb and Dumber To, Zoolander 2, and Hot Tub Time Machine 2) —drop the ball on. It’s with surprise, then, that A Bad Moms Christmas is the rare comedy sequel that is on par with and possibly better than the first.

Co-directors and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore return to direct the mothers finding themselves under immense stress again. Bad Moms rightfully tapped into an audience that was underrepresented in a movie-going audience, and achieved in becoming a sleeper hit. But intentional or not, it did feel a little too narrow on the four-quadrant movie scale. Not so with A Bad Moms Christmas. The broadening of scope to the holiday season generally makes for a more enjoyable time and an easier connection for a wider viewership, as we’ve all been there—mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmas, and grandparents—experiencing the stresses of the St. Nick season. While not for all ages, it’s easy to see this becoming a staple in Christmas rotations and top 10 Christmas movie lists.

A Bad Moms Xmas is kind of dark. Not dark in a dark comedy sense (the vulgarity is doubled this time, for better and for worse), but thematically, tackling parenting issues of negligence, perfection, and attachment and seeing how these pressures can manifest down to the next generation of parents in a family. Some of it is forced, but this does give a little more emotion and depth to the storyline on this go-around. As for more heavy negatives, “Bad Moms 2” shares some of those common ones found in the modern R comedy, namely an over-reliance on montages, being vulgar for vulgar’s sake, and a runtime that runs long in the final act.

But overall, A Bad Moms Christmas delivers more than not on what it’s designed to do: Make an audience laugh. That is somewhat attributed to the returning threesome of Kunis, Bell, and Hahn, clearly having fun to the point where they seem to be legitimately laughing during the back-and-forth between their characters. But, they, along with everyone else, happen to be honestly overshadowed by the “Golden Girl” trio of Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon, and Christine Baranski in what happens to be amazing casting. Hines is gloriously twisted from the get-go, and Baranski has moment upon moment of excellent lines and running jokes delivered to stoic perfection. Of the three, Sarandon’s character is the distant third as Hahn’s mom, “Isis,” a little too mean-spirited to earn consistent humor as Hines and Baranski do, but nonetheless, at least she’s not in Tammy.

Whether a product of very disappointing big comedies or low expectations equated to sequel-itis, it comes as a surprise that A Bad Moms Christmas is not only competent but actually worth some real hearty laughs. Joy to the (comedy) world.

B-

Photo credits go to imdb.com, YouTube.com, metacritic.com, and collider.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-

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

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Logan Lucky: Movie Man Jackson

Easiest way to break a family curse? Get rich. For decades, the Logan family has been categorized as perpetually unlucky. The most recent heirs to these presumptions are the Logan brothers. Jimmy (Channing Tatum) was once an all-state quarterback before a career changing leg injury, and Clyde (Adam Driver) lost an arm while doing a tour in Iraq. Together, they reside in the dead end Boone County, West Virginia; Clyde bartends, while Jimmy does basic construction work under the Charlotte Motor Speedway track.

His job is lost when HR determines his injury is too severe to continue working. Out of money and facing the real prospect of not seeing his daughter, Sadie (Farrah McKenzie) consistently with his ex moving across West Virginia lines, Jimmy concocts a plan to solve all their issues. That plan is stealing from the vault the lies under the track. A crew is going to be needed, consisting of Clyde, sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and the notorious Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), along with others. Pull it off right, and this “Hillbilly Heist” will go off without a hitch.

Guess who’s back…back again. Soder’s back…tell a friend. Well, I guess he was never truly gone filling his time with various side projects, but Logan Lucky marks Steven Soderbergh’s official return to feature filmmaking after a four-year hiatus. People looking for a WOW! return won’t get that with Logan Lucky, but a two hour, fairly zippy and passable crime movie will have to do.

One could make an argument to call Soderbergh the father of the modern-day heist movie after Ocean’s Eleven. Anything from Fast Five to The Italian Job to even Inception owes at least a little to Soderbergh’s remake. Logan Lucky is essentially an Ocean’s movie scaled back notably in locale and in tone. The West Virginia and NASCAR setting lends itself to different cinematography and setpieces. Soderbergh and his longtime cinematograher “Peter Andrews” certainly make it easy to get lost into this feature. Composer David Holmes, also a longtime collaborator with the director, makes some solid, offbeat tracks to accompany what is see on film.

 

Logan Lucky is perfectly competent, right down to the montage revel that so many of these types of films have. However, it is levels firmly under those heist movies mentioned previously. Not so much for the actual direction (which is great), but the overall emotion of it all. Logan Lucky pitches itself light, but there are enough scenes of sentimentality/drama that attempt to tug at the heartstrings when in actuality, they kind of miss their mark. This is a small piece of a bigger problem in Logan Lucky. Simply put, there are no noticeable stakes or compelling reasons to care enough for what may or may not happen. The film also runs a few false endings, and the ending chosen isn’t as strong as one or two that came before it.

In his return, Soderbergh packs a wallop of all-star talent, with varying results. The best performance is without a doubt Daniel Craig’s, the first time in a long long time in which the actor known as 007 is so not the cool collected guy seen not only in James Bond movies, but a lot of the roles he’s played outside of that. Tatum and Driver as the Logan brothers forge a believable brotherhood and are the only two characters with backstory that comes to light in the 2nd half. The level of humor derived from Logan Lucky will boil down to how quick the country bumpkin shtick will wear down for each viewer.

Other appearances in the cast are made by Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Macon Blair, Seth MacFarlane, and Hilary Swank. Most are celebrity cameos, with not enough screen time or character writing to be anything else, but, they add name value and don’t bring down the production. MacFarlane and Swank feel off in this movie; Seth going for the pure comic relief but failing throughout, and Swank perhaps being too stern and rigid as the FBI agent tacked on in the last 20 minutes.

It’s hard to be like Mike and come back immediately into the game like you never left it. Logan Lucky is a reminder of Soderbergh’s talents, even if he’s a little rusty.

C+

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, nerdist.com, and cinemavine.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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Ingrid Goes West: Movie Man Jackson

I love the ‘Gram I love the ‘Gram. I’m addicted to it I know I am I know I am. That’s Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) in a nutshell. Ingrid is an Instagram addict and has issues. By following the starlets of today on her app, she’s somehow convinced herself she is a part of their lives. Her most recent stunt comes as a result of not getting invited to a famous person’s party whom she believed to be her “friend” and the consequences of her actions put her in the mental asylum for a while.

Fast forward to an undetermined amount of time, and Ingrid decides to go west to California to start anew after receiving an inheritance. Her reason for doing so is to meet and befriend the famous influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whom she becomes enamored with after seeing in a magazine and liking/commenting on her IG posts. Slowly but surely, Ingrid begins to work her way into Taylor’s life and inner circle, receiving the attention and #BFF she always craved and would do anything for.

 

The perils of technology and living in a world where everything is at our fingertips isn’t a new idea seen in film. Hell, it just happened recently with The Circle. But with Ingrid Goes West, it feels like the first time in which a film looking at the digital (specifically Instagram in this case) lifestyle does do with audience identification. Ingrid Goes West offers a pretty one sided and pessimistic view on social media, but it’s a view that, depending on the way a person feels about it, isn’t necessarily wrong. And it is a view that is certainly quite entertaining.

Ingrid Goes West nails the ridiculousness of the Instagram scene. In his full length debut, director Matt Spicer embellishes the little things, like scrolling through a feed and liking every post without thought. Or, using an internal voice to mock the sometimes (read: often) self-important captions that attempt to be meaningful but really are anything but. Or, getting that right angle for the perfect gram photo. The Cali setting is an obvious, but fitting one for this cautionary tale of superficiality and carefully curated personas.

Spicer traverses through a few genres in Ingrid Goes West, going from black comedy to satire to drama to romance and arguably even horror. Having this many genres can be problematic at times, but they all meld together here in a relatively short runtime of 97 minutes. Spicer’s script is sharp, with enough turns to make things unpredictable. As for how the film ends (no deep spoilers), the tone can be interpreted in a few ways, but I can’t shake the feeling that an opportunity was missed to be bold.

Much of the success of Ingrid Goes West goes beyond the solid script. The fresh faced cast delivers in spades, starting with star Aubrey Plaza. This is undoubtedly the actresses’ best work of her career in a role that shows off her range. She is deliciously deranged, yet so relatable, probably because we all know people like Ingrid, or perhaps, may be Ingrid without knowing. As she goes deeper and deeper into the ruse formulating dark plans that seemingly spawn out of thin air, it’s uncomfortably funny and depressing seeing her downward spiral into oblivion.

Elizabeth Olsen and Wyatt Russell also achieve in playing individuals who we may not know personally but feel like we do because of the transparency of social media. There are hidden levels of depth to their characters that both tap into effectively. With that said, most of the characters in Ingrid Goes West are hard to get behind…expect for Dan Pinto—the vape-smoking, Batman-obsessed, screenwriter-landlord who has some feelings for Ingrid, played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. He’s easily the one character who is exactly who he is, with a touching backstory revealed mid-movie that explains his obsession with The Dark Knight. Hollywood, please cast him in more productions, as it is a crime that he’s hasn’t done anything since Straight Outta Compton until this.

Ingrid Goes West tells a story that isn’t foreign, but a story that feels personal and certainly capable of making a person think about the next time he or she opens that Instagram app. Definitely worth viewing, no ragrets.

B+

Photo credits go to popsugar.com, dailymail.co.uk, and flickeringmyth.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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