Free Fire: Movie Man Jackson

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C+

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

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

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How to be a Latin Lover: Movie Man Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D+

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

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CHiPs: Movie Man Jackson

The only question to be asked is “Why?” In Los Angeles, the California Highway Patrol welcomes in two new members, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña), and Jon Baker (Dax Shepard). Their reasons for being in the CHP differ. Ponch, a successful yet difficult-to-deal-with Miami FBI agent, has been assigned to work undercover within the department, while Baker is a rookie who has been accepted into the force on probationary status. Once a champion motocross rider whose injuries have taken a toll on the body, Baker is now in a failing marriage with Karen (Kristen Bell), and feels that becoming an officer is the only way to save it.

Ponch’s task while undercover is to figure out if there is some corruption going on in the department, as it is suspected that a few officers know something about a robbery in which millions were stolen in broad daylight. His partner on the case is Baker, since he’ll generally stay out of the way. Immediately the two do not click, but they’ll have to in order to solve the case in which they may be the only two clean cops on the roster.

The tagline “Chip happens” may be the lamest tagline a 2017 major movie release possesses. It serves as a sign of what’s to come. The 2017 feature movie re-imagining of CHiPs, from the late 1970’s TV drama series, is pretty lame. If this were a police test and CHiPs were a prospect looking to pass, they would fail, and I’m not even confident they’d be asked into the compound to take said test.

Where to start? Dax Shepard wears a lot of hats for this one, in charge of writing, directing, producing, and co-starring. The writing’s pretty abysmal, especially when one considers that 21/22 Jump Street have provided the perfect template for these types of remakes to succeed, or at the very least, be mildly entertaining with some meta-humor and/or self-realization of their existence.

What Shepard concocts here turns out to be a crime movie that is simultaneously predictable (corruption) yet still jumbled (extraneous details and leads that make little sense). Doesn’t help that it feels like at least a fourth of the dialogue consists of the words “dude,” “man,” “homey,” or “bro.” I’m often against having too many cooks in the kitchen from a writing standpoint, but maybe Dax could have used another hand to bounce ideas off of. All of this makes an average length runtime much longer than it is.

The action area is one area where CHiPs isn’t completely deficient. While nothing is spectacular, the few scenes do manage to be mild “high points” in a movie devoid of them, in particular, the vehicular chases, which surprisingly feature more carnage than one might believe. Maybe Shepard should just direct a traditional actioner, because it still comes back to the humor, or lack thereof.

Oftentimes, a buddy cop movie will succeed in spite of its shortcomings if its two leads have a good on-screen rapport and comedic timing. Peña and Shepard don’t have enough of it to elevate the material. Peña, who can do a lot in Hollywood, in particular feels handcuffed by Shepard’s writing. Little of this seems improvised. He’s trying, but the best humor garners little more than a chuckle or two, if that. He was funnier and more endearing in End of Watch. Little can be said that’s positive for the rest of the cast, either. They all fill the most basic thinly sketched characters, be it a shady lieutenant (Vincent D’Onofrio), a witchy wife (Kristen Bell), or love interests for our heroes (Jessica McNamee, Rosa Salazar).

At the start of the movie, there’s a disclaimer stating that the real life California Highway Patrol doesn’t endorse anything that happens in CHiPs. Neither should you.

D-

Photo credits go to IMDB.com, digitaltrends.com, and collider.com.

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Table 19: Movie Man Jackson

There’s the devil’s rejects, and there’s the wedding rejects. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) was slated to be the maid of honor for her best friend’s wedding, but a recent messy breakup with the best man in all of the proceedings,Teddy (Wyatt Russell), has left her in a bad way. Not wanting to attend, she decides to, only because it’s her best friend getting hitched.

No longer being a central part of the ceremony, Eloise is relegated to Table 19, where all of the people who have only the slightest connections to the bride and groom take space at. These people include the rocky Jerry & Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow), awkward Walter (Stephen Merchant), preteen hormone raging Rezno (Tony Revolori), and retired nanny Jo (June Squibb). They are the forgotten at this wedding, but rest assured, by the time this ceremony is over, they’ll make their presence felt.

 

The Breakfast Club at a reception table? Or maybe the Suicide Squad (hyperbole) at a reception table?That’s kind of what Table 19 comes off as. Just without the memorable characters or honest feel-good aspect of the John Hughes classic. Popular acting names and a tight runtime can’t save this production from feeling predominately forced.

Independent movies can be cool sometimes, offbeat and charming enough to compensate for real flaws. And other times they can be just as lazy, if not more so, than their big budget brethren, relying on being an indie movie for artificial heart. From the get-go, something feels off with Table 19. Maybe it’s the song used, or how the meat of the story is set-up, essentially in a montage that does little to expand on its characters. In about five minutes’ time, the rejects are brought together and the story starts. Very haphazard it is, and director Jeffrey Blitz seems to rely on the novelty of the idea to sell what happens rather than any real solid writing. While some characters’ backgrounds are delved into at the table (Kendrick, Robinson, Kudrow—the focus is primarily on them), some are not (June Squibb, Tony Revolori, Stephen Merchant).

 

One of the biggest—if not the biggest—issue with the comedy-drama Table 19 is that it isn’t competent in any of its tagged genres. Save for Stephen Merchant, who is funny more times than not, the movie fails badly to tickle the funnybone. This shouldn’t be hard with Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, and to some extent Anna Kendrick as known quantities in comedy, but I can’t remember laughing once legitimately to anything their characters said or did. Most of them are written to be annoying or flat out uninteresting. One can see why each of them was relegated to the table no one would really notice. The drama is written so thick and melodramatic it’s hard to take seriously. There’s some meaning of “people not being right for each other yet actually being right and that’s love” that is just as messy as it sounds.

Doesn’t help that Blitz edits Table 19 in an odd way, for a significant period in the runtime cutting between the reception and serious moments with the outcasts all alone in a hotel room. It’s distracting, and does little, if nothing, to connect more with the characters. 2017 is still young, but an early contender for Worst Scene of the Year award has emerged in Table 19, featuring a shirtless Robinson entering a shower with a bare Kudrow trying to find the spark again set to awful background music. Not romantic or heartwarming, just awkward and embarrassing. The “happy ever after” ending doesn’t exactly come out of left-field, but is not earned.

Outside of a briefly fun premise and an amusing Merchant, Table 19 doesn’t do anything well. Even if you could sit at this table, you wouldn’t want to.

D-

Photo credits go to justjared.com, out.com, and YouTube.com.

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The LEGO Batman Movie: Movie Man Jackson

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Shamone!  In Gotham City, of course, resides Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Will Arnett). As he’s done for the past 78 or so years, the Caped Crusader defends his city from all of its evil-doers, most notably The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Despite always “beating” Joker and the rest of Gotham’s criminal denizens, Batman has never fully eradicated, or lessened the city’s crime.

Perhaps it’s because he always works alone. When new police commissioner Barbara Gordon proposes a plan to reduce crime that involves Batman working with the community, he balks. But as The Joker crafts a plan to unleash all of Gotham’s worst at once (and command R-E-S-P-E-C-T) from Batman, The Dark Knight may have to learn how to work together with a team to save the day again.

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Deadpool for a PG-crowd? Not entirely, but The Lego Batman Movie does share some of the same self-referential tone that last year’s movie possessed, not taking itself too seriously and making light of comic book conventions, often to hilarious levels. Heck, it even features fourth-wall breaking beginning and end credit sequences. Overall, it’s a whimsical and all-ages pleasing type of watch.

Lego Batman not only captures all ages, but almost all fans who fall on every notch on the spectrum as it pertains to comic book enjoyment. Sure, the understanding of some jokes and visual shots here and there may lend themselves better to those who are immaculate in their Batman lore, but one doesn’t necessarily have to be a Batman fan to have a good time with this movie. The jokes fly fast, sometimes too fast to completely digest and take appreciation in, but that also means that little time goes by without someone laughing in the audience, lest yourself.

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From a story perspective, The LEGO Batman Movie comes off as the inverse of the movie that preceded it. If The LEGO Movie was ultimately about embracing individuality in a philosophical way, LEGO Batman Movie addresses the importance of teamwork and collaboration using Batman’s immense backstory to often amusing effect. Not a particularly fresh story, but few mainstream animation movies really are. The story gets the job done, but feels like it was written around jokes for a large portion of it. For the first and final acts, Batman’s full foray into Lego Land rarely bogs down, but a fairly significant portion in the middle of the movie does.

Still, the film is a visual treat to look at, even during slow periods. It actually is a notch under the impressiveness that was 2014’s LEGO Movie, if only because the color palette is a little darker (duh) and we’ve now seen it before. But consistency is important, and Chris McKay, animation co-director of the previous film, makes sure that the stop-motion continues to look fluid.

Stealing the show before as a side character, Will Arnett and Batman return as the feature character this go around, with an actual arc. Arnett gives stellar delivery at all times, never missing a beat. This is important, because the rest of the cast isn’t all consistent. Zach Galifianakis isn’t a bad Joker, and Ellie Kemper is memorable in a bit part. Ralph Fiennes is marvelous as Alfred. But some of the other important characters in Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) are a little disappointing. Feels like a missed opportunity to have some notable star power powering the vocals of the other key characters.

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Why so serious? The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t. Mostly fast-paced, light, and committed to its source material, The LEGO Batman Movie may lack in substance, but not in style.

B-

Photo credits go to geektyrant.com, gameinformer.com, and moviepilot.com

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Fist Fight: Movie Man Jackson

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Today is not a good day for high school English teach Andy Campbell (Charlie Day). At Roosevelt High, it’s the last day of school, and pranks are abound. As the mild-mannered pushover, Campbell is an easy mark for students to take advantage of. Doesn’t help that everyone in the high school is up for review, which means possible job losses. Not something Andy needs with a newborn on the way.

A most unfortunate situation that Campbell has with the volatile History teacher Strickland (Ice Cube) leads to the latter getting terminated. Fuming, Strickland challenges Campbell to an old school Fist Fight. Come 3pm in the parking lot, the entire school is going to see faculty members come to blows. Campbell worried about losing his job, but he needs to be worried about losing his life.

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Unbeknownst to yours truly, Fist Fight is an unofficial loose remake/re-telling of 1987’s Three O’Clock High, and even 2001’s Joe Somebody. That alone should tell anyone that isn’t a movie that is looking to reinvent the wheel, just provide some moderate entertainment. Moderate entertainment might not have been seen in the trailer, but Fist Fight is moderately surprising in its comedic effectiveness.

Written by Van Robichaux, Evan Susser, and New Girl’s Max Greenfield, Fist Fight’s plot isn’t something to heap a ton of praise on, and the premise, taking place in one day, can get a little stretched in places. But, there’s nothing wrong with being simplistic. And, the writers deserve one gold star with the overall setup. By placing the film in an end-of-the-year, anything-can-be-done scenario, it allows the movie to be accepted in all of its zaniness much easier. And though there’s the requisite R rated penis jokes and toilet humor, some legitimate physical comedy hits the mark along with improvisational dialogue here and there. Any implied statements about today’s state of education falls flat, though. Blackboard Jungle, this is not.

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Thankfully, Fist Fight delivers on its title. Spoiler alert: There’s no bait and switch. What’s advertised actually does happen, and quite honestly, it’s better directed than the average Hollywood fisticuffs action scene. I hesitate to say that it is reason alone to give the movie a view, but, anyone wanting an Ali-Frazier throw down (which will be most of the paying audience, myself included) will get one and likely be very pleased with it. Hearkens memory to the 1995 end fight in another Ice Cube comedy, Friday. Not a bad way to kick off a silver screen directorial debut, Mr. Richie Keen.

The cast in Fist Fight doesn’t do a whole lot differently from what they’ve been known for in their careers. Good, if you’re a fan, bad if not. We all know Cube for being the angry, mean-mugging expletive-laden character in everything he does, and we know Charlie Day for being the loud, eccentric, weird sounding passive wimp. They resume these characters here, and are good for what they are, playing off of each other well. Of the two, the story is told from Andy’s perspective, and he gets more of a character arc, albeit a fairly rushed one in the last 20 or so minutes.

Side characters are a mixed bag. Tracy Morgan impresses in his first role back on-screen as an oblivious loser coach, and Silicon Valley‘s Kumali Nanjiani delivers straight man humor. Much like the leads, Jillian Bell has a style and delivery that can grate on a viewer, or ingratiates herself to a viewer. Personally, not a big fan, but fits in enough here. The odd person out of all of this is Christina Hendricks, more weird than hilarious.

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By no means does Fist Fight score a comedic knockout. But by the end of the film’s runtime, laughs hit enough to score a split decision.

C+

Photo credits go to darkhorizons.com, movieweb.com, and ca.sports.yahoo.com.

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The Comedian: Movie Man Jackson

thecomedian

Ha. Ha. Ha. Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) is a icon in the world of comedy, making his name as “Eddie,” a famous television character he played years as. It’s all anyone wants to see when he does stand-up now. When he just performs as Jackie, no one cares about his reinvention, and his routine often suffers for it.

The aging comic ends up getting physical with a audience heckler, and is forced to serve 30 days in jail. Upon coming out of imprisonment, he meets Harmony Schiltzstein (Leslie Mann), a woman who is attempting to reinvent herself. What starts out as simple friendly company for unwanted responsibilities and social functions ends up becoming a more solid companionship then the two realized was possible.

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One could mistake The Comedian, the latest movie featuring Robert De Niro, as a Dirty Grandpa clone without Zac Efron. It’s almost as crass, but a lot less juvenile. So if the similarities to that movie are there, why is this one a better watch?

For one main reason, The Comedian is a lot more believable. Believable isn’t something a film has to be (much less a comedy), but let’s just say that a crude old man chasing youth and an endless supply of sex and drugs on spring break stretches the realm of possibility. In The Comedian, director Taylor Hackford (Ray, The Devil’s Advocate) places De Niro’s Jackie into a world where his character is fictional, but most around him are not. It gives Jackie more credence as a older comic when he interacts with people like Jimmie Walker, Hannibal Buress, and Billy Crystal, and he’s treated like an equal. The world here and structure feels a little like Chris Rock’s feature a few years back, Top Fivewith a jazzy soundtrack/score that evokes a bygone era.

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De Niro himself is probably the funniest he’s ever been since Meet the Parents. That’s not to say that there aren’t low points in his performance, as some of his jokes are too one note and surface-level, but they’re few and far between. He commands the stage and showcases a level of charisma that hasn’t been seen in most of his recent movies. The spotlight is clearly his here, but others play prominent roles.

Leslie Mann shares good chemistry with De Niro, and the two become intertwined in something that looks to be predictable and then, is not. She’s not playing too much different of a role than what has become typical of her, but it works well enough regardless. Names like Edie Falco, Danny DeVito, and Patti LuPone make appearances, mainly in an effort to round out De Niro’s character.

As a comedy, subjectively speaking, The Comedian nalis more times than not. But, it’s not a perfect movie because it isn’t purely a comedy. Really, The Comedian is a character study, or at least fancies itself as one. Intriguing questions about 21st century fame and the nature of comedy are posed. However, the screenplay never answers or goes deep into them. Furthermore, most character studies often feature a noticeable arc that the main character goes through. Come the end of the film, it is debatable as to how much Jackie truly evolves, if at all, and it ends up leaving the film not as resounding emotionally as I believe it intends to be.

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Still, The Comedian provides De Niro with his best feature vehicle in quite some time, which kind of deserves a small round of applause. Not a flawless routine, but not a joke, either.

C

Photo credits go to spicypulp.com and Youtube.com.

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La La Land: Movie Man Jackson

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Dreams, dreams, dreams. Los Angeles, California is the place people go to achieve their dreams. However, it is also the place where many a dream unfortunately go to die. For aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone), and old-school jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), only failed auditions and small-bit gigs have come from their hard work. Both do not have much more effort to give to their aspirations.

But, their batteries are recharged after chance run-ins continue to bring them together. Romance arises out of it. And luck actually begins to change for both of them. Their careers appear ready to take off, but the relationship they’ve built together could be undone if so.

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Much like Hail, Caesar!, La Land Land is a love letter to something particular. Whereas the former film was a love letter to old Hollywood, the latter film is much more specific in its scope, writing a letter to a particular genre of film. That genre of film being the musical. Its simplicity and uncommon-ness in today’s day and movie age makes for a fascinating and fresh watch.

Yours truly never looks forward to watching a musical, and I was a little skeptical of La La Land for this very reason initially. My skepticism was put to bed rather quickly, as director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) opens the movie with an astonishing set piece on the actual LA freeway. What Chazelle does here is simply amazing. The music happens rather organically, rather than overly manufactured. Though the pieces become significantly smaller scale-wise as the film progresses, that doesn’t make them any less impressive. In fact, it allows the cinematography to shine brighter, making for a beautiful-looking movie. This obviously isn’t a three-dimensional feature, but it pops a lot more than most do. It’s impossible not to appreciate all of the technical hard work and cinematic skill that’s on display. Underrated aspect of the movie? Cool to see the City of Angels not as a dunghole of despair, but—ahem—a beacon of hope and opportunity.

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But, La La Land isn’t purely a musical. It is basic romance between two characters that initially start at odds, the common backbone for many a film. He also takes stabs at a few themes that hit emotionally, mainly the idea of taking destiny in one’s own hands and the internal fight an individual has with remaining true to their artistic values, versus cashing in and providing stability.

Chazelle also wisely veers away from falling into overly cheesy mode or the happy Hollywood ending, and it gives more credence to the story. Perhaps 10-15 minutes could have been trimmed off in the middle, but otherwise, the film moves at a brisk pace, and an engaging musical number is seemingly right around the corner when things ever so slightly bog down.

I like to believe that the strongest romantic on-screen chemistry between stars makes a viewer believe that off-screen, the two could easily be an item that plasters the front pages of the tabloids and leads the E! nightly news. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have that kind of chemistry, surely cultivated from previous movies, scintillating from the initial crude beginning on the freeway to the touching ending. Neither is classically trained in the art of song and dance, but their commitment is evident. These aren’t easy roles to nail even with extensive research or hours upon hours of practice. It speaks to the raw skill that each person has that their performances come off pretty effortless.

Sound and unmemorable work is turned in by supporting castmates John Legend, J.K. Simmons (pretty much a cameo), and Rosemarie DeWitt, but they do their jobs. Their roles aren’t written to be meaty, just to provide more meat to the characters Gosling and Stone occupy. Outside of Stone, Gosling, and Chazelle, the biggest star of the film is the unseen choreographer Mandy Moore (to my surprise not the singer). If Chazelle wins Best Director, Moore’s got to be right beside him or mentioned at the top of the acceptance speech.

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Liking the musical genre does not need to be a prerequisite for appreciating La La Land. To qualify it as only a musical would be a disservice to it. There’s more than enough in this particular number for anyone who just likes film.

A-

Photo credits go to reddit.com, ew.com, comingsoon.net, and popsugar.com.

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Office Christmas Party: Movie Man Jackson

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Ain’t no party like an Office Christmas Party cause an office Christmas party don’t stop. Christmas is coming around the corner at Zenotk, a Chicago-based technology company led by its manager Clay Vanstone (TJ Miller). Spirits aren’t exactly high in the office; the company isn’t meeting its profit goal, and the threat of layoffs and the branch being closed is high. Clay’s uptight CEO sister, Carol, (Jennifer Aniston), wouldn’t mind this, as she’s always had some jealousy towards her brother.

The only shot Clay has in saving his branch and the employees he loves is to land a big client. When the pitch he, CTO Josh Parker (Jason Bateman), and lead engineer Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn) make to industry leader Walter Jones (Courtney B. Vance) fails, they have but one last card to play: Invite Walter to their annual “nondenominational holiday mixer,” aka Xmas party. Here, they can show why they are a company worth giving business to. Even if this fails, at least the company goes out in a blaze of glory, right?

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The party comedy. I never really think of that as a subgenre, but it absolutely is, whether as a launching pad to the rest of the movie, à la The Hangover or This Is the End, or the movie itself such as Project X, Sisters, and House Party. Throw the obviously-named Office Christmas Party into that subgenre, sharing similarities with the aforementioned titles. So what does this mean?

It means that Office Christmas Party is stretched pretty thin. Certainly, with a title like such, one’s not exactly expecting a well-woven screenplay. On one hand, kudos should be given to writers Justin Malen, Laura Solen, Dan Mazer, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, and Timothy Dowling for trying to cobble up some story and character relationships around the massive party. And, they kind of achieve in the first act right before it.

On the other hand…that’s a lot of writers that have a hand in contributing to the story! Around the midpoint of the party, things start to go haywire in the script and not necessarily in the best comedic ways. Throw in some forced reconciliation and commensurate romances into mix as well. Some less interesting side characters and plots get promoted to “A” status while more interesting side characters and plots get cast to the storage closet. It does make a person wonder if a few less party planners  writers could make for a stronger offering.

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The party itself is riotous, maybe not full of non-stop hilarity, but definitely where Office Christmas Party gets the bulk of its laughs, supplied by a good portion of its all-star cast. Kate McKinnon and TJ Miller are probably the most valuable players, much more hit than miss anytime they’re on screen. Miller in particular brings the most honest-to-goodness nature, his manager reminiscent of a poor man’s Michael Scott which provides the movie with a little holiday sentimentality. Smaller character like Courtney B. Vance (huge surprise), Randall Park, and Rob Corddry steal scenes.

Not all of the all star cast is comedic fire though. There’s no bigger fan of straight man Jason Bateman than yours truly, but he is slightly dull here and not as funny as in previous films. Olivia Munn’s never really been comedic, and Jennifer Aniston, someone who’s proven to be legitimately funny numerous times (often with Bateman), is nothing more than a overly mean witch. The pimp character played by Jillian Bell sounds great in doses, but becomes annoying by film’s end once she becomes a central figure.

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Far from a fruitcake but not the best gift ever, Office Christmas Party is the proverbial gift card gift in movie comedy form. Won’t be mad with it and can certainly get some usage out of it, but not a gift to remember, either.

C+

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, indiewire.com, and yahoo.com.

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The Edge of Seventeen: Movie Man Jackson

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Rather stand at the edge of tomorrow continuously than revisit The Edge of (age) Seventeen again. Since birth, the awkward Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always had issues fitting in with her age group. Where making friends and being the object of everyone’s affection has always come easy for her slightly older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine’s had no such luck. If it weren’t for her lifelong friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), being seventeen would be unbearable.

Unfortunately, it becomes just that once Krista takes a liking to her older brother and the feeling is reciprocated. With her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) never really having a connection with her, and her father sadly out of the picture, Nadine finds slivers of support in her sarcastic history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and equally awkward classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto).

Hayden Szeto in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

If the old, 80’s style genre film that John Hughes popularized is what someone’s hearkening for, The Edge of Seventeen fills that void superbly. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig hasn’t kept it a secret as to her inspiration(s) for this movie. The look alone, how it starts (teen angst songs abound but not annoyingly so), how it’s told, some common characters, and more are all throwbacks to the genre films of yesteryear. Like most flicks in the genre, its pretty linear and easy to see how things are going to play out. Only difference is, this doesn’t take place in the 80’s. It’s very much a 21st century movie, but the great thing about this is that The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t rely on its setting. This is going to be a movie that ages quite well.

In The Edge of Seventeen, Craig has written a film with a lot of heart. Almost all of the sentimentality feels earned and legitimate, as the runtime is just right and the screenplay well-paced, with maybe only a slight bit of “rushedness” between the climax and resolution. Craig has also written a film that is simply believable in how teenagers act, how they speak, etc., and she stays away from trying to paint her lead character as 100% correct while everyone around her is incorrect. Nadine is flawed, sometimes shockingly so, but this ultimately makes her more relatable and endearing.

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As good as some of those 80’s teen movies were, some were laden with middling and bad acting, even from the leads.  Every notable cast member in The Edge of Seventeen delivers good to superb performances. Great writing can certainly give more to a performance, but a sizable chunk of responsibility still falls on the actor and actress. It starts with Hailee Steinfeld, in her first real starring role. She does it all, be it off-the-head snide sarcasm or strong scenes of emotion. Her Nadine’s annoying, overreactive, lovable, and awkward, sometimes all at once. And again, it helps that she isn’t written as Ms. Perfect, as it gives more authenticity to the proceedings.

The teacher role that Woody Harrelson takes on is a perfect fit for his talents. No one is saying he isn’t talented, but occasionally he has the issue of not being able to assimilate nicely into features. Not so here; the relationship he has with Nadine is sweet but not in a extra sappy way, providing sagely advice in his own unique way. Even typically skim throwaway roles such as the oblivious mother, douchebag brother, and best friend are fleshed out, and acted well by Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, and Haley Lu Richardson, respectively. If there were one person who steals scenes away from Steinfeld, however, it would easily be Hayden Szeto in what is one of the best supporting roles of the year. If a photo accompanied teenage awkwardness in Merriam-Webster, his would be there.

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What’s old can still be new. Bolstered by strong writing and wonderful acting work, The Edge of Seventeen cements itself as an all-around stellar film, and one of the very best in its genre.

A-

Photo credits go to collider.com, comingsoon.net, and http://www.phase9.tv.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson