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.

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

 

 

Advertisements

Logan Lucky: Movie Man Jackson

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

C+

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, nerdist.com, and cinemavine.com.

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Wind River: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to Wyoming. Wind River, to be exact. In this Indian Reservation lies a lot of cold, snowy weather and a constant air of misery for many who live here. US Fish and Wildlife Service agent/tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is called on to look into a situation that involves local cattle being killed by another predator. Upon his investigation, Lambert stumbles upon a frozen corpse, a corpse that wasn’t prepared for the harsh outside elements. Foul play is suspected.

The corpse is identified as Natalie Hanson, an 18 year-old resident of the reservation. Now a murder mystery, FBI rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called into the Wyoming setting to investigate. Ill-prepared for Wind River, Banner must rely on her instincts and the guile of Lambert to solve this case and bring justice to Natalie and her remaining family.

It’s clear that the modern day Western genre bears little resemblance to the Westerns of yesteryear inhabited by John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and the like. Instead, today’s movies that could be classified as Westerns take inspiration from that genre but homogenize with others; think SicarioHell or High Water, and now Wind River. All three of these movies share a common tie: the writing credit of Taylor Sheridan. With Wind River, Sheridan gets the opportunity to direct what he writes. The result is a crime feature that doesn’t quite match the brilliance of his most recent writing, but shows more than enough to see Sheridan mentioned in the same future conversation as his directing contemporaries.

Wind River is a little bit of a slow burn—almost agonizingly so—at least in the early going. Sheridan’s first act introduces a few details, but overall, it seems to serve as an environment setup more than real story setup. However, Wind River does kick into gear around the time the awesome Gil Birmingham comes into the frame. Unlike his somewhat light character in Hell or High Water, Birmingham plays a somber, detached Native American father trying to cope with what happened to his daughter. From here, the straightforward story finds its groove.

While not as thematically complex as his prior work, Sheridan uses Wind River, inspired by true events, to shine light on—albeit not without legitimate white hero controversy—many Native American reservations and the hopelessness/negligence that they may carry. They may not resemble the traditional looking ghettos, but the mental and draining effect this environment has on many of the movie’s characters is entirely the same, pushing them towards bad things or paralyzing inaction.

The environment is more of a living and breathing character than almost all in the movie. Technically, Sheridan isn’t perfect yet; some aforementioned early pacing issues exist. A prolonged flashback, although filling in what exactly happened, sort of comes out of nowhere. But, an old-fashioned Mexican standoff that evolves into a big set piece, and a mid-movie suspect visit stand as some of the year’s most tension-drenched moments.

Wind River does come up short in one half of the lead character department. That’s no indictment on Elizabeth Olsen, she makes the most of what is presented to her and carries enough chemistry with Jeremy. This is Renner’s movie, however, and credit goes to Sheridan for writing a very detailed lead in Cory Lambert with gradual backstory revealed that draws the audience closer to his personal journey. It would have been easy for Renner to play this as a Liam Neeson knockoff, but Renner doesn’t, instead opting for a realistic and everyman approach. He’s a cowboy without the gusto, but a believer in frontier justice. His work here is a reminder that Renner’s is more than just a 2nd team Avenger.

The water isn’t particularly deep or 100% purified in Wind River. But ultimately, it is compelling as a simple pseudo-Western crime feature.

B

Photo credits go to collider.com, cinemavine.com, and bleedingcool.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

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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.

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

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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. 

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

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.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson