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

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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.

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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.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard: Movie Man Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C

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

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The Big Sick: Movie Man Jackson

Love isn’t easy. That’s why they call it love. Pakistani immigrant turned American citizen Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is looking for his big break in comedy consistently doing stand-up at a Chicago club and making ends meet as an Uber driver. One night, he’s heckled—affectionately—during a comedy set by Emily (Zoe Kazan). The two hit it off instantaneously and begin a relationship.

It isn’t without troubles. Kumail’s traditional Pakistani parents want him to marry in preordained fashion, and would disown him if they found out he was dating an American woman. Not wanting to divulge his new relationship to his family frustrates Emily to the point of relationship dissolution, who has already informed her mother Beth and father Terry (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano) that she’s seeing someone seriously. A most unfortunate event occurs that forces Emily’s parents and Kumail to be together, learn from one another, and keep hope that things will get better for the person they love.

“Based on a true story” is something hardly ever prefaced or alluded to in romantic comedies. Maybe more rom-com flicks should seek to do so. The Big Sick markets itself as “an awkward true story.” While embellishments are present, the relative accuracy of it all makes for a fascinating view in a genre sometimes devoid of them.

Something special can be seen early on in The Big Sick. From the moment Zoe Kazan’s character heckles and teases Kumail, there’s an immediate and—for lack of a better word, lovable—chemistry that provides the romantic foundation for the entire movie. Hopefully this serves as a launching pad for both leads. Nanjiani particularly, known for Silicon Valley and various bit roles in mainstream comedy, possesses the talent to be successful in many genres. Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) is along for the ride, placing all of his focus on the characters, though he’s not without some nice back-and-forth over-the-shoulder camerawork in intimate scenes.

The first act is pretty straightforward, and if this ended up being a basic Jim-and-Pam “will they, won’t they?” affair, it would still be entertaining due to the aforementioned leads doing the work they do. But, the second act rolls around and makes an infectious love story much more. Writers Nanjiani along with his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon put focus on the culture clashes when introducing Ray Romano and Holly Hunter (strong work by both) into the film, which makes for early awkwardness which eventually transitions into acceptance and appreciation at a natural pace. The duo also goes deeper into the Pakistani culture, expectations, and self-identity placed on Nanjiani by his family. Some of it is amusing in its presentation, but some of it is equally emotional and very moving; a story that doesn’t need the romantic aspect for people to connect to it.

I’m all for improvisation in comedy, but not when it’s predominant and in place of an obviously weak or nonexistent script, which feels more like the norm nowadays in most mainstream comedy offerings. In The Big Sick, there’s no improvisation because the movie doesn’t need any. Jokes are well written, and there’s rarely a time in which something said or done by characters isn’t scoring laughs on a big level. Its comedy runs just about all of the gamut: dark, light, sweet, uncomfortable, you name it. If there were but one minor issue, the occasional transition from heavy drama to cutting it up in the comedy club backstage with hopeful up-and-coming comedians looking for their big breaks is a little clunky.

At the end of the day, The Big Sick drops by into the marketplace taking the mantle as the best comedy of the year to this point. But that would be selling short The Big Sick, which does a lot as an overall feature to put it on the list of 2017’s healthier quality viewing options.

A-

Photo credits go to abcnews.com, comingsoon.net, and burnsfilmcenter.org

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The House: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to their house. Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler) are two good parents who have a lot to be proud of. Their daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), has been accepted into the prestigious Bucknell University. And the best thing about it is that she happens to be a straight-A student, a virtual lock for the town’s full ride scholarship.

At least, that’s what they thought, until city councilman Nick Kroll takes away her award immediately upon granting it to her, claiming “budget cuts” as the reason. After an unfruitful trip to Las Vegas with friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to win the money needed to support Alex’s college bills, the three concoct a plan to raise her money by running an underground casino in Frank’s home. The House always wins, but the house also attracts unwanted clientele that can make life very miserable for the Johansens.

Does Hollywood have a mid/big-budget comedy problem? Obviously, the genre is the most subjective there is—one person’s laughing trash is another’s laughing treasure. Still, since 22 Jump Street and possibly Trainwreck, there hasn’t been that big pure comedy that audiences and critics agree upon and flock in droves to see and spend money on. Even with the comedy stalwarts in Ferrell and Poehler, The House, proven by its box office results as of this writing, definitely isn’t that comedy.

Any enjoyment of The House may likely come down to how much one enjoys the typical antics of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. A good chunk of their interactions, both together and with others, appear to be improvised, for better and for worse. Out of the two, Ferrell delivers more consistently with the laughs; two running gags involve his character struggling with the most basic of math problems and channeling a dark alter ego known as “The Butcher.” Still, both have been better before.

It’s probably Mantzoukas who has the best parts tied to his character. His total arc comes up pretty flat, but he absolutely steals scenes as the gambling addict Frank, the divorcee trying to win back his love by…running a casino. Nick Kroll is amusing playing the shady councilman, but others in the cast are pretty worthless, even Alex, who the story is supposed to revolve around.

The House suffers from predictability. This isn’t a bad thing in of itself—especially in a comedy—but when the jokes are folding at the table, it can be. Additionally, The House takes a long time to set up the opposition, often shifting between villains in its last act. The SNL skit feeling is hard to escape when watching. First-time director Andrew J. Cohen (writer of Neighbors) makes a basic, standard-looking feature that takes story and scene inspiration from Casino. Nothing shoddy or praiseworthy particularly stands out.

And ultimately, that last sentence sums up The House pretty succinctly. It’s an average hand in a genre in desperate need of a flush.

C

Photo credits go to theplaylist.net, movpins.com, and slashfilm.com. Article credit to Variety.com.

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Rough Night: Movie Man Jackson

Rick James said it best: Cocaine is a hell of a drug. Ten years ago at George Washington University, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) become lifelong friends during their freshman year. 10 years later, everyone’s in the real world living their own lives. Jess is striving to become a city official, Alice is educating little kids, Frankie is taking up activism, and Blair is working to get full custody of her son.

This doesn’t leave them time to hang out. But because Jess is getting married to fiancé, Peter (Paul W. Downs), this is the perfect time for the college foursome, plus Jess’ Australian study abroad friend, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), to get together again for a wild bachelorette weekend. The city of Miami is the playground for clubbing, cocaine, and a nightcap that involves a stripper. Too much of a good time leaves the hired stud dead, and the women struggle with what to do with the body. It’s a Rough Night, indeed, that can soon turn into a rough life if the ladies are convicted of involuntary murder.

Are in the midst of a female ensemble comedy boom? Bridemaids came many years ago, but in the last year films like Ghostbusters and Bad Moms arrived within weeks of each other. And now, Rough Night is here, with a somewhat similar looking-film in Girls Trip on the upcoming horizon. Rough Night is certainly the darkest of the bunch, put together by Broad City directors/writers Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello. While the cast possesses the chemistry to make for a good summer comedy, Rough Night is a shot that goes down a little rough but isn’t impossible to take.

For the first going, Rough Night takes most of its cues and inspirations from the aforementioned Paul Feig feature and the first Hangover, placing its subjects in a glitzy locale right before the knot’s getting tied for some grown up debauchery. It’s all pretty basic, and pretty forgettable. Once the instigating moment comes, the movie does kick up a tad. While the direction of the story and twist is very predictable, a fun and bizarre side-plot is introduced during it that becomes the absolute best part of the comedy.

In an ensemble comedy showcasing big names in the genre such as Bell and McKinnon, it’s actually a male who steals the show and is responsible for the laughs the elicit the biggest response. In a bit of a gender expectation swap, Paul W. Downs plays the worried, “boring” bachelor male in Peter, with the joke being that his wine party is much more lowkey and simplistic than his fiance’s. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, which eventually leads to Peter making a “Sad Astronaut” mad dash to Miami hopped on Xanax and Redbull to find out what’s going on with his woman. It’s a very much absurd B plot, yet somehow works thanks to Downs’ timing, delivery, and facial expressions.

Unfortunately, the female fivesome doesn’t reach the comedic heights Downs and his character’s literal journey does. They all do a great job with chemistry, general banter and even heavier drama moments; they’re highly believable as a close-knit group of women who have a lot of history together. Jillian Bell feels like an acquired taste at this point; her particular style does little for yours truly. Zoë Kravitz and Scarlett Johansson, even in basic straight (wo)men roles, feel somewhat miscast. The “best” lines belong to Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon, the latter hamming it up ever so slightly in an Australian accent.

Perhaps it’s the dissimilar tones that exist in Rough Night that do not allow it, and the main characters by extension, to be as funny as it could be. Definitely Hangover III-esque vibes at times, where the viewer doesn’t know if this is a complete ensemble romp, or a darker comedy-drama trying to have the occasional funnybone jolts.

Whatever the case may be, Rough Night isn’t a completely awful night. But highly doubtful it will be a night one will look fondly upon years down the line.

C-

Photo credits go to etonline.com, slate.com, and elitedaily.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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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. 

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.