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.

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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.

wickreeves

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

sleepless

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.

scoot

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.

kitchen

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

jackreacherstub

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.

 reachertrailer

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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The Accountant: Movie Man Jackson

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*Blows fingers two times before typing this.* Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) makes his money as an accountant, balancing spreadsheets, doing audits, the like. He’s The Accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous individuals and organizations, working behind an unassuming storefront to conduct his business.

How does he do it, lying in bed with such shady bedfellows? Christian lives with a high-functioning level of autism, which allows him to simply focus on the numbers and do his job, while simultaneously making it difficult to be sociable with people. Seeing some weird activity, the U.S. Treasury Department works night and day to figure out who is working behind the scenes for these organizations, which prompts Wolff to invest his talents in a real client—a state of the art robotics company. However, after clearing the books, something doesn’t add up. But the dead people certainly do, and if Christian isn’t careful, he could be next.

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Attention Bryan Mills, John Wick, Jason Bourne, Robert McCall: It is time to welcome Christian Wolff into your badass circle of ass-kickery. Director Gavin O’Connor’s (Warrior, Jane Got a Gun) latest in The Accountant is a lot of things. It’s a drama, it’s an action, it’s a crime, it’s a romance, it’s a character study. Truth be told, not all of it meshes well, but it somehow works…just enough.

In Christian Wolff, The Accountant showcases a very intriguing character. The “exploration” of autism—in this specific case, Asperger’s—isn’t something seen often in movies, so it still feels fresh when done. Going beyond the repetitiveness and physical cues that sometimes define autism, O’Connor fleshes out his lead character with well-timed flashbacks that do their job in understanding who Wolff is and how he has the skills he does. Visually and even musically, the style is pretty cold in its cool blues and dark hues, (in a good way) in what seems to be a direct reflection of it main, mostly expressionless, character.

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And one has to give it up to Ben Affleck, who in recent years appears to have found his groove as an actor. No, he’ll never be dynamic or a complete chameleon, but there’s a benefit in knowing how to stay in your own lane and play to your strengths, his in particular being good at being stoic. Affleck is undoubtedly the strongest aspect of The Accountant. He’s not all cold and gloom, though, as O’Connor gives Affleck a few opportunities for dry humor that build a connection with his character, especially when he’s with Anna Kendrick. Kendrick doesn’t have a meaty role, but it is important, and her chemistry with Affleck and how she plays off of him is wonderful without being sappy.

Where the film loses its balance is around the second half mark, in which all of the plot strands, balanced imperfectly but adequately in the first half, start to become a little messy and/or possibly unneeded. The biggest offender is a strand involving two characters played by J.K Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson who are looking for the accountant. It’s a plot that appears important, but is eventually revealed to only be present as exposition that is drawn out to an agonizing length, and at the end, one may be left wondering why this strand was really needed. 

As The Accountant moves away from its jack-of-all-trades approach to genre and more into action territory as it goes along, I do believe that the focus on its central character becomes lost. Well, not completely lost, but relegated to the backseat. By the end, what makes Wolff all that different from a Wick, Bourne, Mills, or McCall, all films that are decidedly action? I thought less about the person and more about the action said person committed. With that said, the action itself is well-filmed.

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What’s the final audit report on The Accountant? Not a liability, but in need of a few execution adjustments.

C+

Photo credits go to drafthouse.com, geeknation.com, and comingsoon.net.

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Jack Reacher: Movie Man Jackson

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He who drifts is not directionless. Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a former U.S. Army Military police officer living away from society more or less. He’s impossible to find or locate. However, he’s drawn out of the shadows by by an old acquaintance who needs his help.

A man by the name of Barr has been accused of murdering five innocent people, and all of the evidence points to him. While not surprising to Reacher in the fact that Barr is the main suspect, something doesn’t exactly sit right with him. Along with Barr’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the two work to uncover the case, the killer’s motives, and of course, the right killer.

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It may feature the same star, but the silver screen treatment of the Jack Reacher character from the novels is far from what one (a.k.a me) might initially expect it to be. Mission: Impossible, this is not. Jack Reacher is perfectly content being a little more lowkey.

After the marvelous (and very, very unnerving) opening sequence with the sniper setting up shop, one of the first things noticed about this Christopher McQuarie feature is how it looks. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why, but Jack Reacher feels like a movie that would be right at home in the 90’s or the 80’s, maybe even the 70’s through camera angles, lighting, score, etc. Despite the heavier tone, I immediately thought of movies like Speed and Beverly Hills Cop when watching this.

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Plot-wise, Jack Reacher is sort of like a poor man’s The Bourne Identity. The few action sequences are well-filmed, with the highlight being a great car chase midway through. But this is more committed to telling a mystery, or, more accurately, at least how Reacher solves it. It starts off well enough, but by the midpoint, it is a tad tedious and the finale couldn’t come sooner.

As time wore on, one might find that they’re not watching the film for its plot but for Tom Cruise. Or at least, I was. The fun lies in the character, not the mystery that devolves into common corruption and foreign baddies. The wrong actor could have made this Reacher movie a big disappointment, but Cruise keeps it at a consistent quality level. Reacher’s a wise-ass who knows exactly how everything went down or didn’t go down in CSI fashion just because he’s that good, a hardened soldier, a ladies man, and a vigilante who isn’t pure good or bad, among other things. And Cruise embodies all of this, even with his diminutive height. Didn’t know it was an issue until some of the notes about the casting were read. Author Lee Child stated it best: “With another actor you might get 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher. With Tom, you’ll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height.”

The rest of the cast predictably comes nowhere near Cruise, but aren’t major detractors to the movie, either. Usually derided in much that he appears in, Jai Courtney is actually a pretty good, albeit generic, menacing antagonist here, much better than Werner Herzog’s character, who lacks intrigue and any real fear aspect. Rosamund Pike fits well with Cruise, and David Oyelowo is sound as an agent who doesn’t know what to make of Reacher. Robert DuVall’s gun owner character doesn’t appear until the middle and then becomes the wily sidekick of Reacher. Not that he isn’t entertaining, but the choice comes out of nowhere. It never feels like Reacher is that close enough with him to employ him as backup.

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Jack Reacher is a prime example of a true movie star elevating basic, cliched, and possibly boring in the wrong hands, material to something of a pleasing watch. Do I ever want to see Jack Reacher again? Sure, as long as Cruise is involved.

C+

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, topgear.com, en.wikipedia.org, and cinemablend.com.

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