Detroit: Movie Man Jackson

It was once a great American who stated that “…riots do not develop out of thin air.” In America, circa 1967, The Civil Rights Movement is a major fabric of everyday life. The Long Hot Summer of 1967 comprises numerous race riots across the nation. From Newark to Tampa, the disenfranchised and overlooked African-American populace is tired of their voices being unheard.

None perhaps more so, than those who reside in Detroit. Sunday, July 23rd is the initial day of the five-day chaos, but the chaos peaks in the third day at the Algiers Motel. Shots ring out of the hotel window, which draw the local—and mostly white—police force to the scene to neutralize the situation. Here, they will make life an unbearable hell for all—mostly black individuals—who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Could we be entering into a period of historical movies that desire to focus on the event first more so than the people who make it up? Just a few weeks ago of this writing, Dunkirk released, focusing all of its attention to the event with little in the way given to the characters who are involved in it. It certainly is an interesting and respected decision, though one that made it hard to really get invested into for some. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark ThirtyDetroit is predominately concerned with an unnerving singular event, but also chooses to give some attention to a few characters before and after said event. In turn, going this route makes Detroit one of the toughest, yet strongest, watches of the year.

There’s been much discussion on whether Bigelow, a white female, was the right person to direct this film. My opinion? The experience on set her cast seems to outline paints the process as a collaborative one. Also, talent is talent, and Bigelow’s proven herself to be a sound director regardless of race or gender. Aside from a clunky and animated opening that sort of assumes the audience is a little dense, Kathryn’s style brings everything together. The handheld aesthetic and minimal score brings a noticeable rawness and unfiltered grit to everything that occurs in the film, but of course is most noticed in the prolonged 2nd act that is the Algiers Motel interrogation. Many words can be said about this entire act, but I’ll just leave one that doesn’t do it enough justice: Tense. Extremely…tense.

Detroit’s 2nd act is complete perfection, but its first and third acts, far from failures, aren’t nearly as flawless. In the first act, Bigelow and writer Mark Boal weave in and out of some of the main characters’ lives who will later be trapped in Algiers. This hopping around isn’t seamless, but, it does give the audience an opportunity to connect with some of these people, some of whom have more meat than others.

The final act simultaneously provides closure and foreshadows to the future. It could be a movie of its own, which is its biggest flaw because it doesn’t get the attention needed to resonate. Instead, these court proceedings and controlled interrogations end up feeling a little tacked on. However, one has to take into account that some of the specifics are imagined due to a lack of hardcore facts, and the movie doesn’t hide that in showing an end card that states this. With that in mind, the writer/director tandem team have done a largely impressive job of making this feel real and not overly Hollywoodized.

From a performance perspective, there isn’t one that qualifies as weak. From Jason Mitchell to Anthony Mackie to John Krasinski, everyone brings weight to their roles, even if the writing for their characters takes a backseat to the event. As stated, the event is the character itself. But, there are three characters that stand above the others and as such, three acting roles that could get some possible awards buzz. Algee Smith is probably the breakout star of Detroit as The Dramatics lead singer Larry Reed, a person with all the talent in the world that is too shook go back to what he did before. John Boyega as security officer Dismukes grapples with trying to maintain order while being looked upon as a sellout by his people of color. The emotion he shows when interrogated later in the movie is outstanding. Lastly, officer Krauss (a combination of many officers during this period) is played by Will Poulter. It’s a nasty, frightening performance that never veers into cartoon territory.

Real life or stuff that reminds us of real life isn’t something we always want go to the movies for. It’s one reason why Detroit is polarizing and not being experienced by a wide audience, and honestly, that’s perfectly OK. But those willing to check into an uncomfortable moment of The Motor City’s history will likely be moved.

B+

Photo credits go to narniaweb.com, comingsoon.net, and shadowandact.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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Baby Driver: Movie Man Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B+

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

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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

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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The Running Man (1987): Movie Man Jackson

(Originally posted as part of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by Tom at Thomas J, and Mark at threerowsback.com)

It’s 2017, and we are only two years away from this. 2017 has seen America become a terrible place. After an economic collapse, government has stepped up to suppress all individual rights and freedoms. Civilians are placated by a TV show that showcases convicted criminals fight for their lives in exchange for potential freedom. This show, known as The Running Man, is an ultraviolent hit and brings in massive ratings, spearheaded by its energetic host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). But, those ratings have plateaued.

Now 2019, helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is wrongly painted as a mass murderer during a food riot, and promptly sent to prison. Though able to escape, he is eventually arrested. He’s given two choices: Go back into prison, presumably for life, or fight for freedom on The Running Man. Reluctant, Ben chooses to fight, where he will have to deal with gladiatorial-esque stalkers with names like “Dynamo,” “Subzero,” “Buzzsaw,” and “Fireball.” Each is hell-bent on not letting a “runner” like Ben beat them at their own game.

There are a couple of things that immediately pop into my mind as I think about the 1980’s. Big hair is one of them. The epidemics of AIDS and crack cocaine is another. Movie-wise, I think of “The Governor.” Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 80’s go together like Montana/Rice and Crockett/Tubbs, appearing in Hollywood action staples that need no listing. One less popular one that peak Arnold starred in was 1987’s The Running Man, and it is a lesser movie when held in comparison to The Terminator, Commando, Conan the Barbarian, and Predator. But, as a relative 80’s popcorn actioner, it qualifies as solid entertainment, and a clear inspiration for future films like Battle Royale, The Condemned, and of course, The Hunger Games.

There’s a reason the word relative is used. The Running Man, loosely adapted from Richard Backman’s (aka Stephen King) novel, does touch on—maybe even foreshadowed—themes and ideas still relevant today. The oft brainless and shock reality television of 2017 isn’t all that far off from what’s depicted in director Paul Michael Glaser’s (Starsky in the famous television show) feature. An appetite for violence can be loosely paralleled to the football and MMA fighting that some fans view religiously. Perhaps the best implemented idea showcased by the movie is how editing can tell the story in a specific fashion. This isn’t a novel idea, especially in this digital day and age, but a person could see it being eye-opening during this movie’s release.

It’s nice stuff, but, The Running Man does feel like it wants to really be a film that a person truly gives deep deep thought towards when in actually it isn’t quite to that intellectual and thought provoking level. Most of these ideas are introduced in the first 30-40 minutes at a surface level, and never go beyond this. Maybe Arnie was on to something about Glaser being “…out of his depth…” Part of it is due to the presentation. Hard to be taken very seriously when villains are given names like Subzero, Fireball, Buzzsaw, and Dynamo, with the latter seemingly outfitted with dopey Lite Brite pegs and singing opera as he zaps people.

It benefits science fictions films to be sometimes looked at in a vacuum with the absence of superior effects that today’s cinema world has. However, many older sci-fi films have more or less stood the test of time. The Running Man, from a technical standpoint, isn’t one of those films, with the animations and major special effects looking on par with, if not worse than, an average 90’s cartoon. And for being set in the future, most everything lacks from a creativity perspective; the technology especially isn’t that much different from what was being used in the decade. At least Harold Faltermeyer is there to provide the 80’s signature synth sounds in the score.

So, some of The Running Man is shoddy. But, it still has the charisma of “Ahnold” to bank on. His inherent likability and action prowess is used to make Richards a person to root for, even while spouting one-liners that are hit-and-miss and super corny. To paraphrase a random elderly lady in the movie, “[Ben Richards] is one mean motherf***er.” Opposing him is none other than Richard Dawson, the original Family Feud host who parodies his old persona here, doing a complete 180 as Damon Killian. He’s a real gem throughout. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, from the two Arnold sidekicks in Marvin J. McIntyre and Yaphet Kotto, to the eye candy and obvious love interest in Maria Conchita Alonso. Brief hammy roles are present by WWE legend Jesse Ventura and NFL legend Jim Brown. They’re as 80’s as one can imagine.

 

On the strength of Schwarzenegger, Dawson, and a unique (for the time) if not particularly thorough story, The Running Man is cheesy fun worth catching on a rerun.

B-

Photo credits go to craveonline.com, imdb.com, joblo.com, and top10films.co.uk

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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The Fate of the Furious: Movie Man Jackson

Racing may have left the franchise, but bald heads never will. With Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) finally remembering everything, she and husband Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) are spending some much needed R&R time in Cuba, thinking about what the future holds for them in making a family of their own. It would appear that the Dom certainly doesn’t miss the bullets like Brian once did.

Unfortunately, the bullets and high-risk scenarios always seem to find him; this time, via an enigmatic woman known as “Cipher” (Charlize Theron). Cipher, having secret information on Toretto that puts who he loves at risk, forces him to carry out her dangerous plans by using his own team/family to capture a world-altering device…only to take it from them and deliver it into her hands.

Being crossed, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are left to pick up the pieces. And that means going after Dom and figuring out why, with an uneasy ally in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) added into the fray.

If Fast Five was Universal doing Marvel’s The Avengers before that movie happened, the latest in the F&F universe, The Fate of the Furious, feels a little like Captain America: Civil War, or The Avengers 3 or whatever. How so? It manages to bring back almost everyone of note while introducing new characters that are sure to play roles in future offerings, and flips the script a little in making a central character a major antagonist. It definitely lacks the emotional aspect of Furious 7, as well as and the large stakes, character moments, and insane thrill ride that was Fast Five. But, “F8,” though skidding more on the road than past predecessors, doesn’t completely wreck itself.

At eight films deep, the Fast and Furious universe has lore. Lots of it, and the eighth installment uses every inch of trunk space it has to accommodate it. In other words, it has continuity…in a way. Thought God’s Eye was just a MacGuffin to never be seen or referred to again? Put to actual good use here! Believed Elena would just slip into the background? Think again. Everyone knows how ridiculous this franchise can be, proudly wearing that ridiculousness as a badge of honor. But credit to where it’s due; writer Chris Morgan continues to draw up new scenarios that give mileage to the universe.

Don’t mistake that praise as complete support for The Fate of the Furious‘ script. It does enough to get by (a poor man’s version of Civil War, even with a bit of The Winter Soldier), with a familiar theme and intriguing reveal. But for some reason, its story holes and matters unexplained actually make one think about them more in a logical way. That’s not supposed to happen with a F&F movie! And as stated before, the continuity generally works, but the end scene (as well as a few others) does betray much of what the prior movie(s) established in the way of character relationships, making it hard to accept that some sins in this world are somehow forgivable.

Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Friday) makes the third new different director in the last three Fast and Furious movies to helm the film’s physics-defying action. Having some experience in action with The Italian Job, Gray, like Wan, mostly impresses. It’s hard not to be impressed with the massive set pieces, in large part done practically. CGI gets a little iffy at times for such a big budget production. Like Wan, however, Gray comes up short compared to Lin on a hand-to-hand combat level. Not quite shaky cam, but the angles used can sometimes be disorienting. Still, he makes a case to direct the next one if need be.

Perhaps Vin should give directing a shot, with the amount of power he seems to be wielding as of late. Performance-wise, Diesel simultaneously serves up a surprising job in spots, as well as an unintentionally funny one, often in the same scenes. Unfortunately, Paul Walker is missed, not necessarily in the action scenes where he more than held his own, but in the slower scenes. He brought an everyman presence that is lacking here, especially as the lengthy movie grinds to a halt in spots.

The real news coming into F8 was the legit beef between Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with rumors being that Vin wasn’t happy with Dwayne stealing some franchise thunder. After seeing F8, I can see why. Johnson is the clear star of this series now, bringing his trademark energy, dead-eye one-liners, and larger-than-life persona to the Hobbs character. Jason Statham eclipses Vin as well, his dry and rugged Deckard meshing well with Hobbs and generating interest in a future teamup. Out of the newcomers, Charlize Theron is the most menacing villain the franchise has ever had, if only her Cipher wasn’t as vague in her motivations. Scott Eastwood and Helen Mirren add name value, little else, but they’re fun enough. Returnees Ludacris, Tyrese, Michelle Rodriguez, and Kurt Russell get little spots to shine, though ultimately take backseats to Johnson, Diesel, Statham, and Theron.

If the Furious series is a mile represented by 10 movies at 1/10th of a mile each, it’s not inconceivable to think it hit top speed a few movies ago, and is decelerating as it approaches the purported finish line. One thing’s for certain, though. There’s no stopping before that line comes, and every drop of gas will be used before it comes.

C+

Photo credits go to irishexaminer.com, birthmoviesdeath.com, and moviepilot.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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John Wick: Chapter 2: Movie Man Jackson

jw2stub

Time to make another dinner reservation. After exacting revenge on the people that brought him out of retirement before, the assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) makes another attempt to leave his old life behind.

Unfortunately, a contract killer sometimes has contracts and obligations to fulfill. An old acquaintance, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) arrives at Wick’s front step demanding Baba Yaga’s services, a binding agreement the two made years ago. Having no choice but to comply, John goes back into the criminal underworld as a hunter to take out Santino’s target. But in the criminal underworld, no matter the carried-out fulfillments, the hunter can quite easily become the hunted.

rome

What is the biggest takeaway yours truly has after watching John Wick: Chapter 2? If there were a hypothetical battle royale deathmatch featuring the preeminent action film characters over the last 15 years or so that I had to bet my life on, I’d take John Wick every day of the week, and not think twice about it. Sorry James Bond, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Robert McCall, and Bryan Mills, but John is a man of focus…sheer will…and determination that surpasses you all.

OK, done with the hypothetical and into the reality. Or at least the reality that John Wick inhabits. One half of the John Wick co-directors in Chad Stahelski returns to helm the sequel solo. The long takes, impeccable stunt work, precise camera angles ,and stellar action pieces are on on display again, doubled really. The setting of Rome lends itself to amazing cinematography (horror-esque at times) and scale. The music of Tyler Bates and how it adds to the proceedings shouldn’t go unnoticed, either. After a relatively slow-paced first third (mind you, after an explosive 10 minute start), the second John Wick ups the ante on the action front. Set pieces here might be a tad underneath the WHOA level of the Red Circle club scene, but not by much. And the fact that there’s simply more action present pushes the sequel past the first from an action perspective.

fishburne

John Wick’s 2nd chapter is a symphony of violence, and the movie does revel and glorify in it. That doesn’t mean that the carnage isn’t beautiful, but it needs to be noted. Thankfully, the tone seems to recognize this and seems to know when a casual-but-not-wall-breaking wink to the audience is needed. Chapter 2’s script works good from an expansion standpoint, fleshing out the lore that the first installment hinted at.

As for an emotional standpoint, Wick’s 2nd outing doesn’t quite resonate like before, driven more by duty than desire. This certainly aids the world and rules that Baba Yaga is a part of, but not the character. In a way, John Wick: Chapter 2 is a victim of John Wick’s surprise out of “nowhere-ness.” Before, John Wick felt vulnerable, and as spectacular as he was, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility he could die; part of that feeling existed because we didn’t know what the endgame was with the first. Now, with a trilogy all but certain, John’s might as well be Wolverine with adamantium coursing through his veins—at least in Chapter 2. He still takes damage, but he’s gonna survive it.

However, the Wick character is still a blast to watch, because of Keanu Reeves. With all apologies to Neo and Ted, this may very well be the role people remember him most for once his career comes to a close. At 52, he hasn’t lost a step, and Wick still plays to his strengths while limiting his deficiencies. Couldn’t see anyone else having the success he’s had in the role.

As supporting characters go, most do well. Ian McShane’s returns as the NYC Continental hotel manager with expanded screentime and positioned to be a major future factor, Laurence Fishburne has a nice extended reunion scene with Reeves. Common more than holds his own as an assassin. Then again, it’s a role he has played  more than a few times. And Riccardo Scamarcio is one note but relatively effective. Unfortunately, a big misfire is Ruby Rose, who looks more like someone trying to pose as a threat as opposed to being one.

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All in all though, John Wick: Chapter 2 cements John Wick as not a flash-in-the-pan action character, but a legitimate one that deserves to be mentioned with other iconic characters in the genre. Chapter 3 is coming, and whenever it does, it’ll be on my viewing hitlist.

B+

Photo credits go to uproxx.com, screenrant.com, and futurepreviews.com

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Sleepless: Movie Man Jackson

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What happens in the casino, stays in the casino. Las Vegas officer Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) spends a little too much time in the muck of Sin City, seemingly more interested in self-serving than serving and protecting others.

Internal Affairs officer Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is dedicated to ridding Vegas of its corruption, and she believes that starts with Downs. One of Vincent’s selfish actions while on the job backfires, and his teenage son, Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) is taken from him in broad daylight from the people he ripped off. With Thomas held up in a casino with people who won’t think twice about killing him, it is truly a race against time for Vincent to get his son back, and evade punishment.

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I don’t believe it when people say that Hollywood is out of ideas. But, my belief in that isn’t exactly supported when Hollywood opts to make remakes of good international films that don’t warrant them. Few, if any, are clamoring for U.S. updates of District B13 (Brick Mansions), or Secret in Their Eyes, to name a few. The latest movie to follow this trend is Sleepless, remade from the French film Sleepless Night. The remake is as generic as its title would indicate.

Sleepless seems to exist for one main reason: To serve as an igniter for a potential mid-career redesign for Jamie Foxx as an elder action star. Much like a Liam Neeson in Taken, the entire movie revolves around the main character’s efforts to find his child from bad people. To that extent to positioning Foxx as an action star, Sleepless does do its job, though it isn’t as action-packed as one may think, at least for a the first half to two-thirds. Still, director Baran bo Odar showcases Foxx in two pretty good fighting sequences. Don’t expect any super-long takes, but the choreography is less haphazard than many big-budget actioners, and Jamie shows he’s game and able to do his own stuff. There may be something here in the next few years for him in the B-ish movie genre.

And he does carry the movie in a way that a lesser star probably couldn’t. His character receives a little bit of backstory, also, and though technically enough is there as to what side of the morality scale he falls on, it’s not entirely so, and it does give Sleepless a level of plot intrigue.

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For the movie taking place in Las Vegas (though some of it shot in Atlanta), however, Odar doesn’t take much advantage of the scenery, or at least The Strip. 75% of it takes place at the casino, which is where the “Die Hard in a casino” comparisons are coming from. A casino should be rife for awesome shootouts, but instead, much of the runtime consists of characters posturing against other characters, making real or thinly veiled threats, or running stakeouts to locate their targets. Some of these scenes carry tension, but others do not. Oftentimes, the score (not a bad one) pops in and swells to crazy volume levels, and it becomes a little distracting to the events on screen.

Foxx is good, but everyone else generally falls into cliched roles. Michelle Monaghan’s Jennifer plays the resistance to Foxx’s Downs on the law side. Her character has a reason for being so hardened, but she’s overly so, and in the process, becomes kind of unlikable. Gabrielle Union and Octavius J. Johnson are simply the estranged wife and the child-in-distress, and their actions are dictated by whatever the script needs at a particular moment. Rapper T.I., Scott McNairy, Dermot Mulroney, and David Harbour all encompass stock characters seen in many crime films, leaning towards caricature. However, they aren’t always afforded with the strongest dialogue either, which plays a role in that.

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There are better movies to cure insomnia; Sleepless is too competent and entertaining enough to doze off on. But then again, it’s not going to be a movie where people are going to say it was slept on, either.

C

Photo credits go to rottentomatoes.com, and sleeplessmovie.com.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back-Movie Man Jackson

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At least Tom Cruise runs in this one! After doing his thing in the shadows with a little help from his “contact” Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) the mysterious nomad Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) resurfaces again, hoping to pay her some thanks. Maybe even take her on a date.

But once he gets to Washington, D.C., Reacher finds out that Turner has not only been removed of her post, but thrown in jail under questionable circumstances. This sends Jack on a mission to figure out exactly what’s going on. All the while, a young teenage girl, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), is somehow connected to all of this, by the simple fact that she could possibly be Reacher’s daughter.

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Some films are hard to garner the desire to post thoughts about. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, is one of those films. Generic may not be the word to use, but little, if anything, is worth remembering. It honestly feels like one of the latest in novels that just don’t cut it on the big screen.

Out steps Christopher McQuarrie and in steps Edward Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai) into directorial responsibilities in the Jack Reacher franchise. Technically, there isn’t anything wrong with Never Go Back. The action, albeit sparser than I personally would like here, is shot good enough when it happens. Composer Henry Jackson has some musical highlights that accompany a few scenes.

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But, the action would be a lot more satisfying if there were a story worth even getting semi-invested in. For yours truly, an action movie doesn’t have to have the greatest of stories to be fun. Maybe the issue is I want Jack Reacher to be more of an action when it really isn’t. All of this is a long winded way of saying that Never Go Back is rather dull in its A and B plot, failing in execution to deliver emotional gravitas (tries so hard to bring some to the table), as well as compelling crime story  that can be summed up as “bad organization links to corrupt officials.”

The dialogue does the feature little favors, either. Whereas the first Reacher had some cheesy amusing bits of dialogue and one-liners, Never Go Back doesn’t. More times than not, the dialogue is nondescript, (which isn’t the greatest of descriptions though worse could be had). But, there are a few moments of cringeworthiness, most notably a scene midway through where the two protagonists talk about a seedy motel and what they’d do to each other. It’s all kinds of bad and awkward.

Cruise is still a movie star, and always will be. And while more times than not, a star raises the most average of movies to good status, not unlike a good quarterback taking a bad team from bad to average or average to good. This doesn’t always work, however, as some things just can’t be elevated. Tom is in that predicament with Never Go Back. His charisma, often ever-present in most of his appearances, is pretty nonexistent. Far from a bad performance, but it isn’t a Cruise entertaining performance.

He’s paired with Cobie Smulders for much for the runtime. There’s an argument to be made that they’re not supposed to have chemistry with their respective character personalities, but pushed as potential love interests they don’t have it. The damsel in distress role is filled by Danika Yarosh, leaning more towards annoying than endearing. Couldn’t tell you anything about the villains, except that the hitman is a poor man’s rendition of any hitman found in like-minded action movies.

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Never give in, never give up, never go back. That’s the tagline for the latest Jack Reacher film. Follow the first part as it pertains to viewing. If you didn’t (like me), make sure to follow the last.

C-

Photo credits go to imdfb.org, guruofmovie.com, and themoviemylife.com

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