Justice League: Movie Man Jackson

The Superman is dead. Bury it. People are still coping with a Superman-less (Henry Cavill) world after he sacrificed himself to defeat Doomsday. Bruce Wayne himself (Ben Affleck) feels responsible for what happened, even if Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) reminds Wayne it wasn’t his fault.

Crime-fighting doesn’t cease, though. However, a new threat always emerges from the last one. Returning to this Earth is Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), a being who comes to obliterate worlds and conquer lands through power sources known as the “Mother Boxes.” Steppenwolf and his Parademons happens to be the vision Bruce saw, and it’s a vision that he knows he cannot defeat alone. So, he’s got to recruit some help in Wonder Woman, Cyborg (Ray Fisher), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa).

There are a lot of places to start with Justice League, obviously DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers. For all the events surrounding the production, it’s a minor miracle this is rather OK. Not groundbreaking or necessarily closing the gap on Marvel, and still a little disappointing compared to the high of Wonder Woman, but semi-enjoyable.

Two men essentially directed this movie in Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, with the latter coming in after the Snyder family tragedy. For the most part, it works enough. This is not a superhero story to get engrossed into, but as an extremely basic “bad guy whose only drive is to take over the world just because and heroes have to stop him because they’re heroes” plot, it is what it is. The slightly lighter tone is appreciated without completely doing away with a darker vision. Direction-wise, there are some sleek sequences, most containing The Flash and Wonder Woman. But like the large bulk of recent comic book movies, the CGI aspect can get to be a little mind-numbing, mostly in the final act where our heroes dash, spear, punch, and electrify drone upon drone of computer-generated baddie pawns.

But what mars Justice League are the sins of the father film in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s rushed. Numerous prior iterations of Batman and Superman don’t need reintroduction even in a different studio universe, and Wonder Woman got her fully detailed introduction in June. But for newbies in Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash, there simply isn’t enough time to build a connection with any of them. It’s a shame, too, because all three seem to have cool, unique backstories only hinted at that would make them all endearing in this team-up film.

Out of the three, only The Flash can claim to be endearing, possessing a teenage zeal comparable to Peter Parker. Hate making comparisons, but Rome aka Disney’s/Marvel’s The Avengers was not built in a day, but over a few years with intro movies that gave exposure to those who would make up the backbone of Nick Fury’s initiative. Not all of them were great, but, they laid the foundation for the big, crowd pleasing feature.

It’s also a shame that half of the team doesn’t get much background to experiment with because the casting is strong. It should be fun to see Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, and Jason Momoa as the stars of their own shows and the big deals their characters are, instead of being told they’re a big deal but being given no reason to believe so. As for the dynamic lead duo in Batman and Wonder Woman, their prior movies give them layers of depth and you can see Affleck and Gadot really understanding what their roles entail. But the scene-stealer as odd as it sounds is probably Superman being portrayed once again by Henry Cavill. For the first time, it truly appears as if Cavill is having a good time as the Man of Steel, still being the de facto paragon while noticeable charisma. The less said about JL’s villainous forgettable Steppenwolf, the better.

Justice League is ultimately a byproduct of mistakes made from prior DCEU installments, but somehow, the final product is serviceable. And looking to the future, there’s enough here to get a little excited for. Baby steps.

C

Photo credits go to variety.com, collider.com, and eonline.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 Mummy: Movie Man Jackson

Power isn’t given. It’s taken. In ancient Egypt resides Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). She has power, but she desires more, and goes about attaining it in a sinister way. She comes close to doing so, but is thwarted at the last moment, mummified into a tomb for her transgressions, and cast out of the ancient land.

Fast forward to present day Mesopotamia, aka Iraq, where soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and accomplice Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are looking for the next big score to sell to the black market. After surviving a battle, they come across the massive tomb of Ahmanet. Unwittingly, Nick releases her back into this world, and as a result, becomes a target for the resurrected princess who looks to complete the sacrifice she was unable to thousands of years ago.

Peace and love and universes, man. That’s what it feels like in 2017, with Marvel leading the way, DC playing aggressive catch-up, while Warner Bros (on a vastly smaller scale despite ironically featuring two of the biggest monsters in the world) and Universal feeling like they’ve got the IP to launch their own interconnected offerings. Just in case one didn’t know, Universal wants to make sure it’s known that The Mummy is the launching pad of the “Dark Universe” by saying so before The Mummy even begins in Universal font. It’s a bit much. But the end feeling walking out of The Mummy is that of a competent, yet somewhat disposable, summer blockbuster.

The Mummy 2017 serves as director Alex Kurtzman’s (People Like Us) first big-budget feature. He’s got a little bit of a difficult task in not only reestablishing a major monster character, but a larger universe. He mostly succeeds in this, at least in the first two-thirds. Though getting off to a bit of a rough start with some overlong story exposition (more of a writing fault than anything), Kurtzman generally settles into a directorial groove, with the highlights being some thrillingly fun action sequences peppered throughout adjoined by a solid score from the popular Brian Tyler. There’s been better CGI in summer blockbusters, but what’s found here gets the job done. One caveat: Stay away from the 3D offering, as it does little to nothing to enhance the overall presentation.

Surprisingly, the movie handles its juggling of a singular world along with introducing bigger matters fairly well. But, by the end, The Mummy bookends itself with more obvious exposition and promises of “a world of gods and monsters,” just in case it wasn’t known already. A simple mid-credits scene may have worked just as efficiently. Any attempts at emotional or intellectual investment fails to register much of a pulse, such as an inorganic, hot-shotted romance that seems to be exist only because the two leads are good-looking. Humor is hit and miss—sometimes a really big hit—but other times undercutting what intensity may be there.

There aren’t many legitimate mega movie stars that exist nowadays, but Tom Cruise still serves as one of them. He’s playing a role that many people could play in Nick Morton, but Cruise still brings some excitement if only because he’s Tom Cruise, running and delivering comedic lines like only he can. However, he’s got the same problem that Jake Johnson (takes a while to realize anytime ‘Nick’ is said in The Mummy, they’re not referring to Jake), has in this movie: They’re playing themselves, which I don’t think The Mummy is going for. Johnson’s character in particular, though occasionally funny, would fit better in a different production, like a Halloween episode of New Girl or something.

Little can be said for the person Annabelle Wallis stars as. Initially appearing to be an interesting, do-it-herself character, her character is ultimately revealed to a basic damsel archetype with no chemistry had with Cruise. Two standout performances come from Russell Crowe and Sofia Boutella. The trailers have done a great at hiding who exactly is Crowe, and the reveal as to how he fits into this upcoming world may be the best aspect of The Mummy. It’s excellent casting and perhaps the biggest reason to get excited about this future universe and a few age-old monsters. Boutella’s been knocking it out of the park recently in Kingsman and Star Trek: Beyond; this role doesn’t allow her to be as physical as those, but her presence is notable.

 

There’s absolutely nothing new or overly impressive hiding in the tomb of The Mummy. But for a 110 minute feature in the heat of the blockbuster season, there are worse fates than being a middling big-budget film made for eating popcorn during and not thinking much about afterwards.

C+

Photo credits go to flickeringmyth.com, impawards.com, indiewire.com, and cheatsheet.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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Wonder Woman: Movie Man Jackson

Men, who needs them? Growing up on the world of Themyscira is young Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson). This world of Themyscira is inhabited by nothing but females. Females who are Amazon warriors and quite adept at defending their home turf. They’re in a relative time of peace, and as a result, the Queen doesn’t wish for her daughter to be trained as a warrior, but rather to enjoy her childhood despite the daughter ever so wanting to get her hands dirty. In secret, Diana trains with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) in preparation for the end of peace.

That time comes when World War II soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on their home world telling stories of the horrors of the war he’s been fighting. Believing WWI to be the fault of God of War, Ares, mature Diana (Gal Gadot) sets out to extinguish him and bring eternal peace to the world, even it it means leaving Themyscira behind forever.

Electra and Catwoman. That’s it as far as super-heroines go as it pertains to getting their own features in the last 15 years. Yours truly doesn’t need to summarize the quality—or lack thereof—of those films. Wonder Woman arrives carrying the sizable burden of possibly ushering in more female protagonist superhero blockbusters depending on its quality. Even more of a burden than that is placed on Wonder Woman in the hopes that this is the film that course corrects the DC Extended Universe out of dark beginning waters. So, there’s only one question. Is it good? Absolutely.

Make no mistake, Wonder Woman is the basic superhero origin story. But, it’s the type of story needed when developing a massive, interconnected universe and getting audiences to care about its heroes who make it up. Its basic superhero story does play out a little more uniquely than most of its contemporaries. First, from a visual aspect, utilizing World War I and London and seeing a vibrant island world such as Themyscira in all of its gold hues and lushness simply makes for a more compelling watch, even before director Patty Jenkins (Monster) showcases the equally compelling action sequences.

Second, the fish-out-of-water approach works brilliantly, and more importantly, it allows Wonder Woman to distance itself from the “it’s so doom and gloom” complaints many rightfully had with most of the DCEU’s features up to this point. There’s legitimate comedy, and it comes off as organic, instead of feeling written in at the last moment. Aside from a noticeable period in the middle third, the movie rarely comes to a complete halt in its pace.

As a whole, Wonder Woman is endearing, partly because Prince isn’t written as a perfect, infallible character, but also, because Gal Gadot makes her so. Once again, her amazing work as the titular character is a reminder that the Internet more often than not needs to just let casting decisions play out before casting judgement on them. Gadot’s come a long way from Giselle in the Fast and Furious movies. She owns the screen, and is asked to convey a fair deal of emotion, all done in convincing fashion. Just as importantly, she looks the part.

The job she does here is that spectacular that it is a struggle to consider who else could play Diana Prince. After Gadot, Pine brings a lot; carrying the film’s message about humanity not being perfect, but very salvageable. The chemistry the two possess between each other, and among the bit characters played by Ewen Bremmer and Saïd Taghmaoui, is infections. As for the villain, akin to similar comic origin movies, the adversary—in this case, adversaries—leave a little to be desired. They’re adequate, but extremely basic stock cutouts that never feel like a true threat to our hero.

In Wonder Woman, DC finally manages to corral a fun and emotional origins story together. Maybe all it takes is a strong woman to make things better.

B+

Photo credits go to dailydot.com, comicbook.com, and dccomics.com

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Kong: Skull Island: Movie Man Jackson

The king stay the king. In 1973, the Vietnam War is winding down, and the United States is beginning to pull all of its assets out of it. While this is going on, a small government organization known as Monarch makes a pitch to its higher ups about exploring an uncharted territory known as Skull Island. Monarch’s leaders William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have their reasons for wanting to go, but all they’ll say is that this is for geological purposes.

Going to a place no one has traversed before means Monarch is going to need an expedition squad. Led by former British military operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his unit, Monarch is able to make their way unto the island and conduct research. Immediately, King Kong himself appears, defending his home from these intruders. Little do these people know, Kong is actually protecting them, for what lies on the island is just as dangerous—if not more so—than Kong is.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or in Hollywood’s case, hoping to make money. Having a shared universe is all the rage now, starting with Marvel’s first stab at it almost a decade ago and now Warner Bros’ attempts with the DC Extended Universe and a “MonsterVerse.” Why a universe needs to exist for what only looks like two main characters in King Kong and Godzilla, I’ll never know, but we have it. Kong: Skull Island is here, and…it’s a passable, relatively entertaining, blockbuster.

Even though the two share a genre and now a universe, in many ways, Skull Island is the inverse of the Godzilla we saw in 2014. That monster movie was so methodical in its approach, it almost wasn’t a monster movie, and it chose to hide its star well into the runtime, which divided some people. For those looking for mayhem immediately, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers on that front quickly.

Kong smashes. Kong pounds his chest. Kong causes massive collateral damage. Simply put, Kong does what one expects him to do, and he does it well, he’s rendered well, and it looks well. The fictional island serves as a good playground to showcase Kong, despite its lack of verticality. Not all of it looks stunning; some of the monsters Kong does battle with look a tad cheap, and a massive set piece hazed in green fog gets a little wonky, but as a whole, Kong: Skull Island features solid cinematography.

The script, penned by Nightcrawler writer Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, is another story. No, it’s not deplorable, but it’s hard to tell if they wanted the story to be more than it is. Which isn’t much. On one side of the prism, Kong: Skull Island aims low, simply providing a vehicle in which a 30-something foot tall behemoth can wreck things, people, and other large creatures, with some mostly poor attempts at humor thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are moments where it feels like this movie is aspiring to be in the vein of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, etc., and it doesn’t possess those movies’ narrative/character impact.

Many of the characters that land on Skull Island are rather bland, which is surprising for a cast that features such big names in Hiddleston, Goodman, and Larson, along with up and comer Corey Hawkins. Not to mention other fairly notable names such as John Ortiz, Toby Kebbel, and Shea Whigham who end up being fodder or take space. Three characters that stand out a little are Samuel L. Jackson (refreshingly not in complete SLJ mode until arguably the end), John C. Reilly (great backstory), and Jason Mitchell, mostly due to his charisma. Unfortunately, the glut of characters featured gives Skull Island a feeling of overstuffedness. Just five or six less could have given more attention to the ones that mattered.

As it stands though, Kong: Skull Island does its part in laying a nice base foundation for The Eighth Wonder of the World, placing him on a collision course with The King of the Monsters.

C+

Photo credits go to birthmoviesdeath.com, toofab.com, and movieweb.com

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Doctor Strange: Movie Man Jackson

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Screw Dr. James Andrews, I want what Stephen’s having. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-renowned surgeon, one of the best, if not the best the world has to offer in his field. With his supreme skills come a massive ego, one that he has no problems wielding around his fellow doctors, such as on-again, off-again lover Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

One day, a vicious car accident leaves Stephen still alive but without functional usage of his moneymaking hands. Rehab doesn’t work, and Stephen is left to find alternate methods to recovery. Traveling East to Nepal, Strange goes in search of “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton), an all-powerful sorcerer who can make him better again. As Strange gets better, his mind and world open to dimensions unseen to many, and all of these dimensions aren’t friendly. He has two options: Go back to his old and pretty selfish life, or sacrifice his ego for the betterment and ultimate protection of the world.

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How much can really be done with an origins story? Not a ton, but the main goal of one should always be to lay a foundation for a new character, rather than to put said character on a conveyor belt to a shared universe. Doctor Strange and director Scott Derickson (Sinister) do their jobs, as Strange is certainly going to be a man that can add immense depth to the MCU.

There are three certainties in this world. Death, taxes, and Marvel Studios nailing its primary protagonist casting. Once again, the studio seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to getting the right person for the right role. Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange, and I can’t see anyone else playing this character aside from Edward Norton (probably the facial hair Norton possesses). Stephen Strange himself is an amalgamation of Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, and a little bit of Thor with his cockiness. Not exactly the freshest of personalities, but Cumberbatch does elevate the standard material, and ends up making Strange an individual one wants to see more of in a solo movie.

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Elevating the material can be said for much of this superstar cast. Rachel McAdams is basically Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, and any other love interest previously found in superhero films. But, her chemistry is real with Cumberbatch, and a scene in particular in the first 15 or so minutes is rather moving for a superhero film. In a way, she kind of drives home the character of Strange in this one scene, which is important because Derrickson does rush the life altering moment, as it just feels like it comes too soon.

As The Ancient One, Tilda Swinton and Doctor Strange as a whole received some criticism for whitewashing an Asian character in the comics. Unfortunate it may be, if it is going to be done, do it with one of the more versatile thespians today, which Swinton absolutely is. As great as Cumberbatch is, Chiwetel Ejiofor may be the best character in the feature. Ejofor imbues his mentor character of Mordo with mysteriousness and a rigid sense of ethics. While not a villain in this installment, the next ones will surely set him up as such, and he has the potential to rival Loki as Marvel’s best baddie to date. For this initial outing however, Mads Mikkelsen is rather forgettable playing the antagonist. He’s essentially the Satan to Swinton’s God, rebelling and being cast out and now wanting to throw the world into chaos or whatever. He doesn’t do a bad job, but simply doesn’t stand out.

The Doctor Strange screenplay is functional, not great. Not a huge negative, just what one expects out of an origin story by hitting all of the beats without excelling in any area. If there were but one semi-major oddity, it would be that of the humor, for yours truly at least. A few bits are humorous, trademark Marvel humor. But most are rather forced, not necessarily the delivery but the actual content of the jokes.

Still, it’s hard to pay attention too much to them when the visuals are so captivating and the set pieces so unique. This is the one movie to splurge on and catch in the 3D format (thanks Tom). Doesn’t make up for some of the other shortcomings, but entertain it does in the first five minutes. In a way, this kind of feels like the movie Suicide Squad should have been, aesthetically all of its psychedelic colors and unconventionality.

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Doctor Strange is a pretty standard origins films, but with better performances and stellar visuals than most similar fare. To reword a popular Cameo song: He’s strange, and I like it.

B

Photo credits go to YouTube.com, heroichollywood.com, and thewrap.com.

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The Jungle Book: Movie Man Jackson

junglebook

The Jungle Book is a reminder that the jungle, no matter how beautiful it may look, is still filled with danger everywhere. In this jungle lives Mowgil (Neel Sethi), a man-cub who has known nothing but the jungle since being found as a very young boy by the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). He’s been raised as a wolf by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o), and learns the ways of the wolves despite having obvious shortcomings.

Not everyone approves of a man-cub living among animals. The Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) makes no reservations about ridding his jungle of man, and threatens the other jungle animals by stating if Mowgil does not leave, their cozy way of life will cease to exist. With the threat fully realized, Mowgil leaves, and undertakes a journey of survival and self-realization.

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Can style trump substance? Absolutely. And when a movie has as much style as The Jungle Book, a few slip-ups can be forgiven. For what director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf) and all others from production to art direction to animation are able to accomplish as a collective whole is nothing short of extraordinary. Yours truly is actually kicking himself for not forking over the extra cash in 3D, as I’m betting it would probably be the closest thing to a pop-up book in a long, long time.

Some substance does exist in The Jungle Book. But even for a guy like myself who has shockingly never seen any of the previous adaptations until now, and was out of the know as to what the Red Flower was immediately, it is quite easy to see that this is a coming-of-age story mixed with the fish-out-of-water (but not really) template. The story terrain is certainly well-worn, and generally easy to predict. That does not mean it isn’t effective. When done well, and not with a ton of weird ideas like say, Max, the coming-of-age genre is like the missionary position: Old but still a crowd-pleaser.

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So, the script is functional, but it sure isn’t the draw that makes The Jungle Book an absolute must-see feature in theaters before the theatrical run ends. Said numerous times before this writing, but it deserves being said again: Favreau’s latest feature is a technical marvel, no argue for debate. It’s the little things that add up to making this a stellar production, like the way Shere Kahn breathes while laying on a rock, or how mouths don’t look stitched into the animals, further making one believe that these animals can actually talk. Even the small decision to not have any opening credits as the movie begins is a wise one, further immersing the audience and creating a sense of awe and, in some cases, scares. Hyperbolic? Maybe, but jump scares are on par here with the average horror. Families with extremely young offspring, you’ve been warned.

The marvelous digital work gets all of the buzz as it should, but also assembled is a voice cast of who’s who. One could argue that The Jungle Book really doesn’t need high profile names to voice their many characters, but the presence of them does not detract from the experience; in fact, it is a huge bonus. It is hard to explain, but the animals sounded as how I imagined they would if they were actually real.

Sir Ben Kingsley possesses the regalia that a black panther emits, Idris Elba the cool menace of a tiger, Scarlett Johansson the allure and sneakiness of a snake, and Bill Murray the intelligence befitting of a bear. The only time when the voicework is a little suspect occurs in the few song numbers. Not only is it not all that catchy, the tunes come about during times in the plot that just feel out of place tonally. As far as the only thing “real” in this film, youngster Neel Sethi does pretty good, all things considered and noting that he was basically interacting with air. Are there better kid performances? Without a doubt, but, he doesn’t take the viewer out of the experience, either.

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Taking the bare necessities and putting them in a beautifully realized CGI environment, The Jungle Book appears to be the remake that honors the original yet presents it for a new age. Welcome to the jungle.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to Youtube.com, rottentomatoes.com, and aceshowbiz.com

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Midnight Special: Movie Man Jackson

midnightspecial

No, this Midnight Special isn’t something you can get at IHOP. In San Angelo, Texas, an Amber Alert has been launched for eight year old Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher). He’s been abducted by two males, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), and the abduction quickly makes national news. Are these guys dangerous, or are they saints rescuing Alton from a terrible fate?

It’s quickly seen that these two fellows are not the only people who are after Alton. Other entities, such as the government, and a fanatical cult, are trying to harness for their own gain. What gain? Well, he’s got tremendous powers, and would be an asset for these entities in many fashions.

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As other reviewers have noted, it’s hard to pin down exactly what Midnight Special is. It doesn’t fit neatly into a specific genre, as the fact of the matter is, it is a thriller, science fiction, drama, fantasy, even a family film. For many films, being stretched across multiple categories spells would spell nothing but a trouble in focus, but Jeff Nichols’ (Mud) feature quite easily manages to meld all into something worthwhile.

Sometimes, it’s more about the journey than the actual final destination. Nichols really takes that sentiment to heart in Midnight Special. The screenplay, penned by Nichols itself, revels in giving little, or even nothing at all in some cases. For yours truly, the latter can be a little frustrating in its steadfastness in refusing to reveal any concrete ideas. This lack of finality only impacts the ending, though, in my opinion, As it stands, the ending is fine, and does tie in ultimately with the core of the story. For me, at least, it is a little disappointing if only because I felt like there was one trick up Nichols’ sleeve to use. Extremely vague thoughts, I know, but only because it isn’t right to go too deep into the plot.

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Still, the production quality that Nichols wrings out of an 18 million budget is nothing short of extraordinary, like its main character. Obviously, it is very early to say, but it is hard seeing any other fairly small budget movie looking as big-budget-esque as Midnight Special does. Seriously, the effects are of high quality, adding more to the mysteries and slow reveal of the plot when they are used. They are so good, one wishes that more of the why and how could be explored to them. Outside of effects, the movie just features excellent cinematography, both in the daytime, nighttime, out in the open of nowhere, or in the confines of a white-light enclosed space.

The cast hits all of the right notes as well, starting with the young Jaeden Lieberher as Aldon. His role isn’t that talkative, but it does require a huge presence for a child actor that Lieberher brings to the role. It’s very cool, calm, and collected work. Supporting actors Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton are supporting, in the truest sense, which is to say they’re doing their jobs and doing them well. Adam Driver’s character is really the audience in a nutshell, gradually getting more information to the scenario at hand and reacting appropriately.

But Michael Shannon’s character is a chameleon as it pertains to how we as the audience are supposed to feel to him. Though surely his role in the story is made known in many summaries, I was pleasantly surprised at his involvement, and feel it wrong to reveal it here. Just know that his involvement to the story is touching, and relatable to many.

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Full of intrigue and mystery from the get-go, Midnight Special is a fun journey, akin to a road trip to nowhere. The final stop may not be worth remembering, but the drive to it is.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to yahoo.com, collider.com, and huffingtonpost.com. Links to digitalshortbread.com, fastfilmreviews.com, and keithandthemovies.com.

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice-Movie Man Jackson

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You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. 18 months after Superman’s (Henry Cavill) literal world-shattering battle with General Zod, much of Metropolis has been reduced to rubble. Superman, once hailed as symbol of purity and what the world should aspire to be, is now looked upon by many as an example of how absolute power absolutely corrupts an individual.

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is in the camp of Superman being a menace to society, and as such, the Caped Crusader is determined to rid the world of The Man of Steel. The two titans are on a collision course, but lurking in the shadows is scientific genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Luthor has the intellect to rid the world of both Superman and Batman, plunging the world into total chaos.

eisenberg

Movie hype is unavoidable, and can be good or bad. To put it in the context of science, a film that appears to be getting stronger in positive word of mouth as its release date draws closer could be “doubling time,” growing exponentially in a period of time. It can work in reverse too with the “half-life” concept, with a film’s hype being so prolonged that as the release date draws closer, word of mouth becomes more negative, quelling the excitement for film. In the case of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the latter seems to have occurred with what amounts to a three year hype period, and in its aftermath, some calling it one of the worst comic books adaptations ever. Is it that bad?

Story-wise, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is as clunky, and as lengthy, as its title. There is just so much going on that doesn’t feel like it merits inclusion, at least at this point in the genesis of the DC-shared universe. One wishes it were more straightforward as the Batman V Superman part of its title alludes to, instead of the strands of plots the viewer is subject to that include some criminal Russian involvement that somehow connects to Lex Luthor (yet isn’t made clear), and some many dream sequences that, maybe on a rewatch, may make more sense. But perhaps one of the biggest issues with BvS is that, unfortunately, even if some of the additional story material does make sense on another view, yours truly still isn’t sure if it is necessarily interesting.

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With all of that said, however, it is just best to focus on the Batman V Superman part (this title is actually coming in handy during this write-up!). In my opinion, director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel, 300) does get it right when these two colossal heroes finally clash with each other. You can call the build too prolonged, but even with the bloated plot, it doesn’t deter from wanting to see the main event. With help from a score that combines the talents of Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer, Snyder is able to make his fight scenes memorable with a ton of grandeur and, yes, epicness. Seeing the two beat the holy hell out of each other is popcorn viewing at its most basic level, and that isn’t a negative, it’s a positive.

Batman is listed first in the movie’s title, and though the two titans’ presence would seem to indicate that this is a feature that equally highlights both characters, BvS is likely the closest the world will get to an origin/standalone Batman movie in this DC Universe. As such, this puts the attention solely on Ben Affleck, the much derided selection to star as the new Dark Knight. Defying the majority of the population who believed he couldn’t do it effectively, Affleck looks the part, and for a darker tale that makes Christopher Nolan’s trilogy seem like child’s play by comparison, he’s game. Maybe it is the chin, the increased bulk, or the recognition of the director to put him in the best situations to shine. Whatever the case, he does.

But, let’s not forget about Henry Cavill, who doesn’t seem to be getting the same appreciation Affleck is. This isn’t really his story, yet his Superman character provides the little emotion to it. showed Cavill physically resembling the part, but BvS feels like the first time one sort of gets to connect with/care for the character, or at least I did. As a whole, Batman V Superman is pretty solidly acted, from Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (in extremely brief time), to Jeremy Irons as Alfred.

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The only big piece of the cast that is the outlier is Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor. Not ready to put the whole blame on Jesse though. Part of his puzzling performance yours truly believes is the result of a lack of character motivation. Just what is Lex getting out of this? What is his end game? The answer isn’t discernible. But, Eisenberg simply isn’t the menacing presence, or even the intellectual presence, that is befitting of Luthor. I can see why some may love his performance, as the viewer could look at it as he being the only bit of energy in what is otherwise a dreary affair. Count MMJ in the camp of he being the wrong casting choice, however.

And so, the question posed at the beginning is asked again: Is Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice that bad. The answer to many of life’s questions often lie in the middle, and this is no different.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to hypable.com, technobuffalo.com, and latimes.com.

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Goosebumps: Movie Man Jackson

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“All the monsters I’ve ever created are locked inside these books. But when they open…”

Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare…on the silver screen. Teenager Zach (Dylan Minnette), and his vice principal mother Gale (Amy Ryan), have moved from New York to the sleepy town of Madison, Delaware for a fresh start. It’s kind of a dull place, but Zach does meet an girl his age in the cutie-next-door Hannah (Odeya Rush), who has a creepy and mysterious father, Mr. Shivers, (Jack Black) who wants Hannah to stay away from Zach.

As Zach begins to delve deeper into who Mr. Shivers is and why he is so protective of Hannah, it becomes clear that he’s hiding something, and for good reason. Upon stumbling on multiple locked Goosebumps books authored by R.L. Stine, one is accidentally opened, and eventually all are opened. Unleashed are the horrors that make up each respective story. Now running rampant in Madison, it is up to Zach, Hannah, new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) and R.L Stine to take these creatures out of the real world and back onto the pages.

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Anyone who was in the age range of eight-to-eighteen around the mid-90’s knows about Goosebumps. Not the cultural phenomenon that Harry Potter was, yet still, much credit has to be given to author R.L Stine for drawing so many youngsters into the world of literature. So, after many years in development and way after the series’ peak, the Goosebumps movie is a real thing, and it is simple, family friendly fun. But in the view of yours truly, it is easy to wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if it had just came out a decade or so earlier.

The good thing about Goosebumps is that there is absolutely some nostalgia in seeing these monsters fully CGI realized with effects that are about middle-grade quality. There’s the occasional fun to be had with trying to spot out that character from your favorite book in the series. But, this doesn’t work as strongly as hoped, though. Speaking for myself, because it has been so many years since I have read one of these books, only a few of the big antagonists were remembered clearly.

This is only brought up because a time comes about in the runtime where monster upon monster is introduced, and it feels like the movie assumes the viewer knows what those things are, what book they came from, etc. There is no doubt that Goosebumps and director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Gulliver’s Travels), rely on the nostalgia and WHOA! factor to make up the crux of the feature in lieu of a great plot, and though it works initially, it wanes quickly.

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Story-wise, there’s nothing amazing or crappy about it. Like Jack Black’s character states, every story that has ever been told can be broken down into three parts: A beginning, a middle, and a twist. The Goosebumps screenplay, like the novels, follows suit, setting the stage for an all-but-certain sequel. It moves quick enough, perhaps a tad too quick, but it doesn’t drag at any point. There’s a meta-aspect in both the humor sometimes (more chuckles than outright hilarity), and the actual plot, and even if there is a lot going on, the story told this way is probably better than lifting a story from one of the books directly. That is what the 90’s television show was for. Shame composer Danny Elfman couldn’t throw this awesome theme in some fashion here, however.

Dylan Minnette and Jack Black both serve as lead actor in this one. The former is perfectly solid and likable as the average male teenager that is tasked with saving the day. He also shares good chemistry with his love interest, played by Odeya Rush. Their romance is something that could have felt forced but actually is fairly sweet. The latter (Black), is over-the-top just enough without it being completely goofy, and is the man who provides the most laughs. It feels like it has been a while since he has done something of note that was a live movie. Other characters, like friend Champ, two police officers, and an aunt played by Jillian Bell are present for comedy only, except they fall short more times than not in delivering it. It’s the type of comedy that might endear itself better to kids than older people.

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Goosebumps is probably best looked at under two lenses. The 10-12 year old me likely would have loved this, while the 25-year old me isn’t as forgiving. But, the fact that this is really at least 10 years overdue, competent, and not mangled beyond belief is a win. Let’s split the difference.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to vibeonfilms.com, ew.com, and parade.com.

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Timeline: Movie Man Jackson

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“You make your own history.”

History can literally be changed, you just have to go back to that specific point in time to change it. In Timeline, anthropology professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) leads his students on an archaeological dig study in the ruins of Castlegard, a village in France that was one of the battleground settings for the Hundred Years’ War. One of Professor Johnston’s students happens to be his son Chris (Paul Walker), who has taken a strong but semi-unrequited liking to his classmate Kate (Frances O’Connor).

The team begins to receive and discover some oddly dated objects, which prompts Professor Johnston to fly to the ITC Corporation in New Mexico, the corporation that is sponsoring the dig. After a few days of not hearing any word from him, Chris and classmates are asked to the company’s headquarters, where they find out the truth about Edward. By way of a wormhole, Professor Johnston is now in the year 1357. To rescue him, it is simple. Chris and friends must go into the past to bring the professor back in order to preserve the present and future.

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For a director who has done many films that can, in a way, be considered as crown jewels in their respective genres (Superman 1978, The Omen, The Goonies, even Lethal Weapon), it is shocking that Richard Donner is the man behind Timeline, a massive dud on mostly all fronts. It is not much better than a straight-to-video effort, compounded by the fact that it cost roughly 80 million to make.

Timeline is an adaptation of the novel with the same name authored by Michael Crichton, the man who is credited with creating the television show ER as well as the massive franchise in Jurassic Park starting with the novel. The novel may be fine, but what transpires on the screen is the furthest thing from it. It fails to interest, doesn’t really know if it is a science fiction or a medieval fantasy, and has no real idea of pacing or development of its characters.

In essence, the film is a series of love stories between father and son, young men and young women, and it is expected that these relationships will give the film the emotional core it needs, but with so little effort put into them, it is tough to care about whether they come to fruition or not. With the stinker of the plot, it is here where one can see the creative differences that occurred between Donner and the studio. About the only aspect that does work—mildly—happens to the design, though for the money tied into this, it leaves something to be desired as well.

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Sadly, these problems are only exacerbated by downright putrid performances. Lead billing goes to Paul Walker. Walker always possesses the super California cool, likable, and magnetic personality, traits that were great positives to most of his movies. But here, as an archaeological student, he is woefully miscast. Even in 14th century garb, it is impossible not to see Brian O’Conner in this, as his delivery is basically what is seen and heard in that franchise, and he doesn’t appear to be trying to do anything else. Yours truly halfway expected to see his character ride out in the iconic Skyline or Toyota Supra.

Romantically, he has zero chemistry with the woman who plays his love interest, Frances O’Connor, who is so dull and lifeless here. Really, that can be said for just about everyone that appears here, including Neal McDonough, Anna Friel, and Martin Csokas to name a few. Only Gerard Butler as a archaeologist is the positive from the acting sense. He has next to nothing to work with, but his character is written the strongest (by default) , and Butler seems to get into it more than the others.

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When the writer of the novel decides to disassociate themselves from their film adaptation to the point that they would be fine in never selling any text rights to a studio again, the studio must have created a deplorable film. This is a hard timeline to follow.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to imdb.com. people.com, and galleryhip.com.

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