Murder on the Orient Express: Movie Man Jackson

Everyone is a suspect…and connected by six degrees of separation. After a demanding case solved in Jerusalem, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh)—the world’s greatest detective—is allowing himself some R&R in Istanbul. The best laid plans never go according to plan, as durign his time away from work, Poirot is called to London to investigate a case.

With no travel plans readily available, Hercule turns to his friend Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman), who helps run the Orient Express, a train on the path to London. While vacation is cut short, at least the detective can relax by reading some Dickens for a few days.

Again, the best laid plans never go according to plan, as the train is derailed from its course, and during this derail, someone on the train has killed a passenger. There’s a Murder on the Orient Express and said murderer is still on the train. Only one man can solve this.

Ahh, the whodunit mystery. It is a movie genre that can be pretty limiting when one thinks about it. Often, there isn’t a ton of depth under the initial mystery to make for anything unforgettable, whether the production is loosely defined as an “original” (à la Happy Death Day) or a remake adapted from an Agatha Christie novel, which Murder on the Orient Express happens to be. Summed up, this remake is probably unnecessary but is certainly impressive to look at, have a little fun with, and never think about again after an initial watch.

The first thing noticed about “MotOE” is the well-done cinematography, commitment to the respective time period via costumes/setting, lighting, and just the mostly strong direction from director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Cinderella) shot on 65mm. Very easy to feel transported into 1934. Along with a fitting score by composer Patrick Doyle, it all adds to the old-school feeling. Stylistically, this is a classic movie made in 2017. In ways, the last-generation video game LA Noire comes to mind, from style to execution. While this Orient Express is far from original, there is a small feeling of freshness, because this type of production isn’t that common. As a basic whodunit, those who have never been exposed to prior iterations (like yours truly) may be surprised at how everything shakes down. While the actual culprit reveal isn’t something I’m completely pleased with, it did keep me guessing for the bulk of the runtime, doing the job on that front.

While Murder on the Orient Express’ highest plus is that of the technical work behind the screen, it isn’t without a little fault. The murder scene in particular which the movie is built around is rather rushed and isn’t really treated with the gravitas one would be led to believe. The medium shots from outside the train peering into the glass in voyeuristic manner is nice to look at, but probably a bit overused as well after so many times without amounting to much. As inane as this may sound, the white subtitles were a little easy to miss at times with some of them being shown against backgrounds (walls, dress shirts) that also happen to be white. Small, but some of this dialogue is critical and easy to miss.

What isn’t easy to miss is that mustache Kenneth Branagh sports as the famed detective. It stands out among everything, like his performance among the rest of the cast. Call Murder on the Orient Express ‘The Kenneth Branagh Show’ as director, lead actor, and producer. He is an interesting character with some internal depth and Branagh does a great job with an intro scene that makes Poirot easy to buy into as the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective. Where Branagh (and screenplay writer Michael Green) struggles is with the repeated stabs at humor. A few are effective, most are not. Same can be said for the interrogation scenes. Half seize attention, but others can actually be dull.

A cast this beefy shouldn’t be predominantly forgettable though. Yet, that’s accurate for this film. Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo all blend into each other. Honestly, I can’t remember who was the countess and who was the cook! Others like Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer do make a little more of a lasting impression, but to call them fairly detailed would be a tad too generous. This is Branagh’s baby and his alone.

It is Branagh as the conductor, engineer, and bellhop who leads Murder on the Orient Express to a destination of Finesville. Choo-choo.

C+

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The Strange Ones: Movie Man Jackson

Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think. Two young travelers in Nick (Alex Pettyfer) and Jeremiah (James Freedson-Jackson) are making their way across what looks to be the American heartland. It’s a vacation of sorts…or so it is to be believed.

No one knows exactly why the two are being nomads. Even Jeremiah doesn’t really know what the deal is. Regardless, there are hidden depths and secrets that may prove to be the key as to who these young men are, and what their aim is.

Along with it being an independent film, hearing a movie titled The Strange Ones perked the intrigue level for yours truly. Carrying the genre descriptors of drama and thriller only seemed to hint at the possibilities of something truly unique. Alas, The Strange Ones is part mesmerizing and part mundane, making for a product that exists in a gray area of meh.

There are two halves to The Strange Ones, co-directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein. The first half relies on the mysterious relationship coupled with the open-world, frontier-like setting. Little hints in pieces of dialogue serve to build expectations for a worthy story reveal. It can be frustratingly slow and tough to latch onto any one individual, but, Radcliff and Wolkstein do a strong job of keeping interest levels high via confident technical direction and a dingy (in a positive way) cinematography that amps up the mystery along with another ambient score by Brian McOmber (It Comes At Night).

The first half is undoubtedly stronger than the second half. As the reveals and the reasons for the brothers being on the run and the nature of their relationship are brought to light, the film loses its vice grip on the audience. To hopefully spoil nothing, there seems to be a lot wanting to be said about trauma/coping, perception, and growing up, however, the execution is lacking and left a little too vague. Perhaps it is here where the troubles of adapting what was originally a 2011 short movie into a full-length feature are evident. From a thrilling aspect, The Strange Ones disappoints as well, serving much more as a drama and mystery than anything truly white-knuckled or unnerving.

There’s a chance that more clarity could be gained from an additional re-watch. However, the detached story begets detached characters that ultimately makes for an empty experience. There are a few atrocities and disturbing moments that are striking, but it is hard to say they garner any emotion. Unfortunate, too, because the two lead performances are quite sound in Alex Pettyfer and James Freedson-Jackson. Pettyfer—probably known more for his physique and difficulties with Channing Tatum than his acting chops—blends easily into a role that should launch him into other meatier roles. But the standout is the young Freedson-Jackson (Cop Car). The way he delivers specific dialogue and holds his gaze when recollecting things is spectacular. One scene early on in particular is haunting. With stronger scripts, the youngster should have ample future opportunities to become a rising star.

And maybe that’s the best way to look at The Strange Ones, a production featuring actors and directors who show obvious talents that have yet to be fully realized. It’s a half-empty one and a half-full one.

C

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Marshall: Movie Man Jackson

Justice isn’t guaranteed, it’s earned. Young Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) makes his living fighting injustices. He’s a traveling lawman for the NAACP, defending people of color who have been wrongfully accused of crimes they never committed. His latest assignment brings him to Bridgeport, Connecticut to defend a Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur who’s been charged with the rape and attempted murder of his provider, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).

Things take a turn when Marshall isn’t allowed to take the lead. Rather, the defense lead is given to the man who briefed him on the situation, Jewish insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who is reluctant to take the responsibility for fear it’ll tarnish his business. With Friedman having no experience in the criminal realm, Marshall has to lead from the side while Sam takes point, navigating a slanted judge and jury while being the only hope an innocent man has in avoiding life behind bars.

The latest biographical movie, Marshall, follows the trend of late for Hollywood biographical movies and/or events. That trend being, to focus on a specific period and/or event instead of the overarching life and/or story. This approach does streamline things and allows a sometimes-staid genre to be less conventional. At the same time, there’s a little missing in the way of character building when going about a “biography” this way. Marshall sees both ends of this double-edged sword, but the good largely outweighs the bad.

There’s a reason “biography” was put in quotations, not because of loose facts, but what the idea of a biography conjures up; i.e. a relatively deep and possibly somber dive into a subject. Director Reginald Hudlin (The Great White Hype) and writers Michael (real life Bridgeport attorney) and Jacob Koskoff choose to place much of the focus not on the meat of the lead characters, but the trial that they are a part of. Marshall is great as a courtroom drama, which happens to be most of the movie’s runtime. To spoil bits of it would be a disservice, as the case being one of Marshall’s first ones makes it likely (at least for this viewer) that only the history nuts will know of the verdict and all the twists and turns. Watching this with a bit of uncertainty makes for a relatively gripping finale.

The case that the writers have selected from Marshall’s catalog is an intriguing one that places all attention on the legal proceedings, but in the process, does marginalize Marshall the man to an extent for a few reasons. This serves as a very surface level—almost Disney-like—look at Thurgood; those expecting great depths into the man’s everyday life and character will be very disappointed.

There’s a running joke going around many parts of the Internet that the film’s title should be Marshall & Friedman (aptly sounding), but it serves the point that Marshall is really a co-star and even a secondary player at times in a production named after him. The film itself takes on more of a buddy cop feel than foreseen, especially in tone, and the light one can be problematic. The levity is appreciated in spots, yet simultaneously undermines some serious moments, as does the mostly hokey score. Certain jokes simply do not need to be here. Whether delivery or timing, some dialogue is a bit odd-sounding and juxtaposes the noir-like recounts told by people on the stand.

After playing notable African-American individuals in Jackie Robinson and James Brown in 42 and Get on Up, it’s no surprise that Chadwick Boseman can carry the acting responsibility of portraying one of the greatest lawyers in history. The difference in his role, however, is that it seems to rely more on Boseman’s natural charisma and screen presence than those other two. He gets a lot of reign to show swagger and confidence that makes Marshall more of a dynamic watch than a history lesson. The dynamic he shares with Josh Gad is again an odd one in spots, but it works. Gad isn’t the strongest comedy guy turned serious actor, but he’s largely solid and better as the movie goes on. Rest of the cast is filled out by steady talent in Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dan Stevens, and James Cromwell. A few characters can border on caricature, however; by and large the cast grounds them into enough realism.

The jury (of one) ruling on Marshall? Not a definitive introspective look at the man who would become the first African-American Supreme Court judge, but, a lighter-toned, relatively solid entertaining courtroom drama.

B-

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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+

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Stronger: Movie Man Jackson

Pain endures. But determination is everlasting. Disaster strikes the city of Boston, Massachusetts on the date of April 15th, 2013 during one of the city’s most cherished celebrations in the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon bombing leads to loss of life and for many, injuries and lost limbs. One of those people falling in the latter category is Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was attending the race to get back in good with his on-again, off again girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany).

A day after being amputated and treated for his lost legs, Jeff describes the people who committed the act, and becomes a hero in the process after their capture/death. But, as Jeff soon realizes, it’s a long road back to not only walking again, but general normalcy. Being a symbol can be a burden, and nothing can ever truly be the same as it once was. Physically and emotionally, Jeff and everyone around him will have to get Stronger to deal with the hand they’ve been dealt.

Stronger is not the movie I expected. What did I expect? Something akin to Bleed for This, which is to say a formulaic biopic with a standard fall/rise story progression and a strong(er) lead performance. What I actually got? A biopic that bucks the usual biographical drama format and generates real emotional investment, along with one of the year’s best lead actor performances. Stronger emerges as the fall season’s first legitimate awards contender.

There’s an alternate universe where Stronger would be overly contrived and even exploitative, sort of like the actual movie poster. While a moment or two of forcedness or ill-timed levity exists, director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Joe) never approaches this story in that matter. The act of the bombing isn’t played up for shock value, neither is the removal of Jeff’s bandages. Even the requisite moment that many of these movies have when the seminal “recovery” act is performed by the lead character accompanied by a swelling orchestral piece is thankfully absent. Directing-wise, Green has a way of putting the camera in the right places and focused on the right things while rightfully defocusing and/or obscuring what is too excessive. Stronger likely will not garner any technical merit, but DGG shows respect for the story and subject by going about it in this fashion.

And going about it in this fashion allows Stronger to truly tug at the heartstrings, but not entirely for the reasons expected. Stronger is a moving watch partly due to the tragedy of the Boston Bombing and what it did to Bauman, but that is only a part of the entire story. Similar movies would tell their stories and lead character in A to B form, with their lead characters only being defined by “getting back what they lost.”

Gordon Green has no fear in delving into the uncomfortable depths of Jeff Bauman and those around him, particularly his family and mother, Patty, played by an opportunistic and disheveled Miranda Richardson. For long stretches, Jeff can be unlikable and his mother insufferable. But, Green and screenplay writer John Pollono give reasons for them being as such. The exploration of symbols and even overnight celebrity allow the main characters to be that much more three-dimensional than initially envisioned at first glance.

Impressive writing does a lot for Stronger, but so does Jake Gyllenhaal, yet again adding another impressive role to his resume. Like his director, his performance never feels exploitative or in bad taste. But, he lets us in on the tortuous anguish. The most basic of tasks and PTSD flashbacks are excruciating to watch at times, as are the flaws in his character, leading to standout second and third act scenes. Remains to be seen if this is the one that finally gets him that elusive Best Actor nom (very early), but he should be in the conversation. His chemistry with Tatiana Maslany is outstanding, herself delivering work that goes well beyond the supportive girlfriend role. Their evolving relationship never gets old and is hardly ever sappy. It feels real and in the moment.

Stronger is a biopic that rarely feels as such. On the back of a great direction and brilliantly acted lead work, there’s a strong base that makes this real-life story every bit as resonant as it should be.

A-

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IT: Movie Man Jackson

Tears of a clown? More like fears of a clown. The town of Derry, Maine is a quite a peculiar one. People disappear at six times the normal national average, and that’s just adults. For kids, it’s worse—way—worse. No one knows why. The latest child to go missing is Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher).

Everyone around him, friends included, assumes he’s dead. Bill refuses to stop looking, and goes all in during the summer to figure out what happened. Along with Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), “The Losers Club” begins to witness firsthand what is going on in Derry. What they witness is some all-powerful presence known commonly as “Pennywise the Clown” (Bill Skarsgård) that feeds off children that can morph into anything IT wants to, by gaining power from those who experience fear. Standing no chance alone of defeating it, the club will have to stick together to overcome this entity.

IT has been a long time coming, literally and figuratively. The re-imagining of the original 1990 feature was in development hell for an eternity, suffering through casting and directing defections before finally getting everything in place for a 2017 release, ironically 27 years after. Figuratively speaking, while there’s certainly been a few smaller good movies over the last month and a half, nothing since Dunkirk has truly been a must-watch go see event. IT is the shot-in-the-arm the box office needs; short of a flawless horror but one worthy of praise.

You’ve got to start with Pennywise, right? The version that appears here is very much different than the one in 1990. No one’s going to call Tim Curry’s rendition mediocre because it wasn’t; but the gifs have been seen and immortalized and looking at it now, IT 1990 is a little bit campy. Bill Skarsgård’s rendition is much more menacing. He makes the killer clown, instead of the killer clown and all of the get-up making him.

And as a whole, this new IT is simply darker. Pennywise is the main attraction, but the mature themes and implied happenings are arguably more darker and unsettling than any jump scares or things the dancing clown can conjure up. There feels as if there’s a missed opportunity to go deeper into the source material and Stephen King’s novel lore (the town, why people can’t see certain things, etc.), but the execution of the story as is makes for a solid one; sort of a mash up of Stranger Things meets Stand By Me and John Hughes movies with a smattering of blood and gore.

For a film that runs at 2 hours and 15 minutes, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) rarely loses pace, save for a rushed stretch in the early middle that calls for almost every child to experience IT. Muschietti sets up the tone immediately, crafting an unforgettable opening scene with help from composer Benjamin Wallfisch that is essentially the original yet undoubtedly improves upon it. Many of his scenes make a lasting impression, utilizing great lighting and positioning to create the desired effect. Not all is perfect, though. Muschietti hooks his audience quickly and doesn’t let go, but IT reaches its peak around 30 minutes to go, making for a climax that isn’t as chilling as what came before. Part of that is due to the mediocre—sometimes shoddy—CGI that dilutes the experience.

What doesn’t dilute the experience is the overall impressive efforts of the adolescent cast that makes up The Losers Club. Some performances individually are more buoyant than others, but this is a movie that leans more on the collective chemistry and even levity (there’s much of it) of the group rather than particular standouts. To that end, each of the seven performers make the viewer care about the group, and by associative property, the viewer cares about them as individuals surviving this horror.

IT is event-viewing, steered by confident and passionate direction and a great cast. We’ll just have to wait and see if Chapter II can float, too.

B

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Logan Lucky: Movie Man Jackson

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

C+

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Ingrid Goes West: Movie Man Jackson

I love the ‘Gram I love the ‘Gram. I’m addicted to it I know I am I know I am. That’s Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) in a nutshell. Ingrid is an Instagram addict and has issues. By following the starlets of today on her app, she’s somehow convinced herself she is a part of their lives. Her most recent stunt comes as a result of not getting invited to a famous person’s party whom she believed to be her “friend” and the consequences of her actions put her in the mental asylum for a while.

Fast forward to an undetermined amount of time, and Ingrid decides to go west to California to start anew after receiving an inheritance. Her reason for doing so is to meet and befriend the famous influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whom she becomes enamored with after seeing in a magazine and liking/commenting on her IG posts. Slowly but surely, Ingrid begins to work her way into Taylor’s life and inner circle, receiving the attention and #BFF she always craved and would do anything for.

 

The perils of technology and living in a world where everything is at our fingertips isn’t a new idea seen in film. Hell, it just happened recently with The Circle. But with Ingrid Goes West, it feels like the first time in which a film looking at the digital (specifically Instagram in this case) lifestyle does do with audience identification. Ingrid Goes West offers a pretty one sided and pessimistic view on social media, but it’s a view that, depending on the way a person feels about it, isn’t necessarily wrong. And it is a view that is certainly quite entertaining.

Ingrid Goes West nails the ridiculousness of the Instagram scene. In his full length debut, director Matt Spicer embellishes the little things, like scrolling through a feed and liking every post without thought. Or, using an internal voice to mock the sometimes (read: often) self-important captions that attempt to be meaningful but really are anything but. Or, getting that right angle for the perfect gram photo. The Cali setting is an obvious, but fitting one for this cautionary tale of superficiality and carefully curated personas.

Spicer traverses through a few genres in Ingrid Goes West, going from black comedy to satire to drama to romance and arguably even horror. Having this many genres can be problematic at times, but they all meld together here in a relatively short runtime of 97 minutes. Spicer’s script is sharp, with enough turns to make things unpredictable. As for how the film ends (no deep spoilers), the tone can be interpreted in a few ways, but I can’t shake the feeling that an opportunity was missed to be bold.

Much of the success of Ingrid Goes West goes beyond the solid script. The fresh faced cast delivers in spades, starting with star Aubrey Plaza. This is undoubtedly the actresses’ best work of her career in a role that shows off her range. She is deliciously deranged, yet so relatable, probably because we all know people like Ingrid, or perhaps, may be Ingrid without knowing. As she goes deeper and deeper into the ruse formulating dark plans that seemingly spawn out of thin air, it’s uncomfortably funny and depressing seeing her downward spiral into oblivion.

Elizabeth Olsen and Wyatt Russell also achieve in playing individuals who we may not know personally but feel like we do because of the transparency of social media. There are hidden levels of depth to their characters that both tap into effectively. With that said, most of the characters in Ingrid Goes West are hard to get behind…expect for Dan Pinto—the vape-smoking, Batman-obsessed, screenwriter-landlord who has some feelings for Ingrid, played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. He’s easily the one character who is exactly who he is, with a touching backstory revealed mid-movie that explains his obsession with The Dark Knight. Hollywood, please cast him in more productions, as it is a crime that he’s hasn’t done anything since Straight Outta Compton until this.

Ingrid Goes West tells a story that isn’t foreign, but a story that feels personal and certainly capable of making a person think about the next time he or she opens that Instagram app. Definitely worth viewing, no ragrets.

B+

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Menashe: Movie Man Jackson

We’ve all been where Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is. Menashe is going through just a little bit of turmoil. He’s a recent widower and a working father, and in his New York City Hasidic community, strict rules are enforced in these situations. The Talmud states that any good man should have “a good wife, a good home, and good dishes.” It also states that a man cannot raise a son without a spouse.

As such, his son is required to live with Menashe’s brother-in-law. This angers Menashe, who’s already an outcast in his Jewish community; his adherence to tradition isn’t as strong as his brethren. Pleading with his rabbi, he gets an exception and one week to prove how fit he is to raise his child alone, all while juggling his faith responsibilities and full-time job.

In all of its simplicity, Menashe is pretty fascinating movie. Suppose nothing less should be expected from the A24 studio, its successes over the years well documented. Another can be added to the list with Menashe, a unique look at a real-life world few people—at least myself—know about.

Menashe isn’t a documentary…but essentially, it may as well be. Without the subjects talking into a camera, director Joshua Z Weinstein still makes this as authentic as possible. For starters, the entire movie is performed in Yiddish, shot on location in the setting exhibited. And, no one that appears on screen is a trained actor. As an audience, we’re pretty much getting a legitimate portrayal of this Hasidic community within the confines of a movie. It isn’t so much directed by Weinstein as it is just shown in earnest.

 

Perhaps the biggest revelation, Menashe‘s plot is a loose real-life depiction of its titular character, played by Menashe Lustig. Despite the lack of knowledge many will have with this particular world, Menashe‘s story works predominately because it is one that many will be able to connect with; that black sheep feeling that can exist within our families, or the corporations we work for, or our communities. Menashe himself is all of us: Capable of a lot, yet capable of being his own worst enemy.

Credit to Weinstein, who doesn’t make his lead character infallible. In fact, as the film goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that Menashe may not be the guy he thinks he is, and seeing him wrestle with this fact is the heart of the movie. For a non-actor essentially carrying the movie, Menashe Lustig’s performance is honest, occasionally humorous (intentionally) and understated. At 81 minutes, Menashe doesn’t stretch itself out needlessly to fill time. This is a singular focused production on one character telling a specific story in a defined timeframe. I wish, however, that more time could have been given for a real moving ending. As it stands, the film kind of peters out in the last 15 or so minutes.

Perhaps the fashion in how Menashe wraps up is the ultimate point. Life just goes on. Maybe we’re learn from our deficiencies and improve upon them, or learn to accept them and the resulting consequences. It’s simple reality.

B

Photo credits go to teaser-trailer.com, a24films.com, latimes.com, and musicboxtheatre.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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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