Phoenix Forgotten: Movie Man Jackson

Some things seen cannot be forgotten. March 13th, 1997. Bright, odd lights appear hover over Phoenix, Arizona. No one knows for sure what they are attributed to, but some in the city believe them to be UFOs.

One of those people is Josh (Luke Spencer Roberts). He, along with friend Mark (Justin Matthews), and love interest Ashley (Chelsea Lopez) decide to take it upon themselves to find out exactly what happened. But, the three go missing days after the sighting, with nary a sign as to what happened. Now in 2017, Josh’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan) is committed to solving the mystery of what happened to her brother and his company, going off of the documentary-style tapes that were left behind.

The most noteworthy thing about Phoenix Forgotten, a movie American moviegoers probably didn’t forget but rather, just not cared for based on the box office reports, is one of its co-producers being the legendary Ridley Scott. The producer connection seems to be in name only, going no further than an Easter egg featuring the Xenomorph on a poster. So that leaves Phoenix Forgotten as a traditional found footage movie more or less, not scraping the bottom of the genre barrel but not exactly leaving an imprint, either.

Almost any film in this genre ilk is going to be compared to The Blair Witch Project, fairly or unfairly. Really though, the story presentation of Phoenix Forgotten is a little Sinister-lite with mockumentary style injected, so not entirely found-footage delivered. In his first full-length feature, director Justin Barber toggles the first 40-50 minutes of the runtime between the present and the past, having Josh’s sister play her missing brother’s tapes and trying to piece together what exactly happened. The present-day scenes are adequate, but the fun exists (for a little while) in seeing the late 90’s recreated through the granular tapes and audio effects. To an extent, the particular story with these three teenagers does feel like it could have actually happened, which is a credit to Barber for balancing an actual real event with mostly fictional characters.

After around this 50 minute benchmark, Phoenix Forgotten transitions fully into the mode one expects it to. The film’s final act isn’t without a few thrills, but in the process ends up casting its main character/narrator aside and never brings her back. Which is odd, if only because the movie teases the question that what the audience is viewing cannot get out to the public, only for that possibility to go nowhere. As such, Phoenix Forgotten ends with a “That’s it?” type of feeling.

Barely being 80 minutes doesn’t really allow for signature character exploration. Phoenix Forgotten looks more at the idea of conspiracy obsession and the basics of how a family, especially a husband and wife, can be pulled apart after a terrible incident. Playing the father and the mother, respectively, Clint Jordan and Cyd Strittmatter do an excellent job of portraying parents who struggle to cope everyday with a missing child.

Although relatively brief, their character work is noticed. However, the four crux characters are surprisingly pretty forgettable—in part due to the lack of aforementioned runtime—but also in part because the cast playing them does so in the most bland of fashions. Outside of a few impressive moments from Chelsea Lopez, it’s hard to see anyone in this foursome getting increased high-profile work from their work here.

Even with a little of successful early movie genre subversion, Phoenix Forgotten doesn’t rise, as it eventually settles into the same repeated ashes and clichés that make up the genre it belongs to.

C

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, buzz.affcart.com, and blastr.com.

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Life: Movie Man Jackson

Let’s have the rapper Big K.R.I.T tell the people what he has to say about life. All aboard the International Space Station resides a crew of six individuals. In their space exploration, the crew recovers a probe from the planet Mars. This probe ends up containing extraterrestrial Life.

Tests show that this tiny organism—dubbed “Calvin”—is multi-celled, reacting to stimuli quickly and evolving rapidly. However, a specific test ends up making Calvin “aggressive” in ways that cannot be believed. With the crew’s safety compromised, they have to contain the threat and eliminate it before coming back to Terra firma. Good luck.

With the arrival of Life in theaters, I think we’ve officially reached peaked space disaster survival movie levels, if we haven’t already. They’ve always been present, but, pun intended, they always felt spaced out release date-wise from one another. From Gravity to Interstellar to The Martian to Europa Report to Passengers, all may be slightly different in the questions they pose to audiences (sometimes, none), but they are kind of the same when boiled down to the core. This is a way of saying Life has some solid good thrills and chills, good direction, and yet is still sort of underwhelming.

All of those aforementioned films are survival films to an extent, but Life, directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), carries a noticeable horror lean, which slightly separates it from its like minded brethren, even if ever so slightly. Taking cues from Alien, Espinosa creates palpable tension and a real feeling of isolation once s*** officially hits the fan. It’s a good looking movie overall, too, incorporating much more CGI than anticipated, but it blending seamlessly with the real-life cast. Some moments truly do stand out.

Generally speaking, yours truly likes his sci-fi to be thought-provoking, and raise a question or two. In the case of Life, that sadly never happens. Scriptwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick opt for the extremely conventional route here, settling into a (I hate this phrase, but it applies) by-the-numbers affair. Remove the organism, replace it with Jason, and voila! You’ve got Jason X. That’s not to say things aren’t still tense, but more predictable. The ending certainly leaves things open to more installments, though the prospects of this happening with the projected box office are slim to none at the moment.

Life boats three big name leads to carry matters, and they all do relatively good work despite being pretty flimsy. At times here, the great Jake Gyllenhaal looks like he’s sleepwalking through the proceedings, as a result of not having much to latch onto from a character perspective. But he, like all of the cast, still sells the fear that arises in being in space on a derelict ship with an unpredictable entity effectively.

This is a film that doesn’t concern itself with character information, just the scenario its characters find themselves in. The highlight of the movie is easily Ryan Reynolds, who brings levity to the situation without undermining it (in addition to having the most memorable scene). All of the cast members feel right at home as doctors and crew members in space, which does a lot for the believability aspect. Don’t expect to connect with any, though.

The fact of Life? It generates a passable pulse, taking similar jolts from other films to make a competent, if unspectacular, horror in outer space.

C+

Photo credits go to Youtube.com and Comingsoon.net.

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Get Out: Movie Man Jackson

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Tell em, Jojo.  Meeting the parents is always a nerve-racking moment for any couple. That time has come for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). Chris is Black, Allison, White. Not a big deal, but Chris, nonetheless, is nervous about what her parents may think.

Immediately upon setting foot on their estate, something doesn’t seem right. Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener), are overly accommodating to Chris to prove they are fine with their daughter dating him. And then there are the “keepers” of the land, each African-American, which looks a little suspect despite Dean giving reason why they are there. Could it all be in Chris’ head? Or is there legitimate reason for him to Get Out of this place immediately?

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No matter what color a person is, race and effects of it exist on a daily level, especially for minorities. Occasionally it is overt, but it often isn’t. The comedy sketch show Key and Peele did a lot of interesting and hilarious things, one of them being race relations and the minuteness of matters, especially from the perspective of black men. Now, first time director Jordan Peele takes a prolonged aim at black/white race relations in Get Out, using the horror/thriller genre as a lens for satire. It’s very well done as a whole, even if it falls short of top-notch greatness horror genre greatness.

In Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, it’s evident from the first shot that he knows what he is doing. Key and Peele consistently featured a high level of camera work and cinematography not often befitting of a sketch comedy show, and though Peele himself never officially directed, what he was exposed to technically carries over here. He builds a bevvy of memorable scenes with minimal cuts, a harp-heavy score (fitting, actually), appropriate camera angles, and good lighting. Get Out couldn’t be called a pure horror, but for two-thirds of it, there is a real notable atmosphere and mystery (and the requisite jump scare here and there) that compels the viewer to keep watching and feel uneasy.

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From a true horror movie sense, the scares that will keep someone up at night don’t really exist in Get Out. From that sense, it is a little of a disappointment. But, it is frightening in a sense because the scenario Peele exhibits is rather spot on. It’s a fear aspect. Relating just a bit to the main character, the small things, like being the only minority in a room, representing an entire group, or people saying how much they like something to appeal to one’s emotion registers the most—well—emotionally. Serious look, but also a legitimately humorous one that utilizes a good mix of humor and thrills for much of the runtime.

But, then there’s the last act. While still very entertaining, it comes off as feeling pretty Key and Peele-ish. Less like a feature film in this part, and more of a sketch. Again, this does not take away from the film’s enjoyment—especially in a packed house—it just prevents it from being truly classic in my opinion.

There are a couple of star-making performances in Get Out. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington is a great protagonist, written with a nice backstory. He’s asked to do a lot more than trailers and TV spots would indicate, selling the psychological toll that this place may or may not be having on him. There are some really difficult moments that Kaluuya pulls off easily. His chemistry with Allison Williams doesn’t feel cheap or forced, either. Williams, especially, does a job that may go unappreciated until after multiple watches. Tons of analysis can and will be written with regards to her.

Everyone contributes to the humor, written of course by Jordan, but don’t underestimate the delivery and timing aspects that can mar good humorous dialogue if executed poorly. Wouldn’t be surprising if Lil Rel Howery went on a Kevin Hart-esque run after this, he steals scenes whenever he’s in front of the camera. Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Keith Stanfield, and Milton Waddams himself (okay, Stephen Root) may not have big time roles, but they do not take away from the movie. They keep the focus on Kaluuya but always maintaining presence.

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A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Thankfully, Get Out doesn’t waste the viewer’s. Impeccable horror it’s not, but biting social commentary (with some horror thrills mixed in), it is.

B+

Photo credits go to BET.com, blumhouse.com, and bollywoodreads.com

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Split: Movie Man Jackson

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If a crazy person tells you something’s real, believe it. Shortly after a party held by one of her high school classmates, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) gets a ride from the party host, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), accompanied by Claire’s best friend Marcia (Jessica Sula). Before even making it out of the parking lot, they are attacked by an unknown assailant.

Upon waking in what appears to be an underground lair, the trio of girls discover that the assailant is Kevin, certainly an off-man simply because he took three girls in broad daylight. But quickly, Casey, Claire, and Marcia realize that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and each of his 23 personalities mean a different interaction each time. They’ve been abducted for a reason. A 24th personality, which Kevin’s therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) doesn’t believe to exist, could spawn, and this could mean trouble.

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Having back-to-back successes isn’t a streak, but it does point the proverbial arrow up, or at least stabilizes it. With 2015’s The Visit and now Split, it would appear that director M. Night Shyamalan is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, or a “Shymalanaissance” as everyone seems to be calling it. Outside of the awards circuit, Split is a reason to hit the local cinema when typically the month of January doesn’t provide many, if any.

Yes, Split is a film aided by a view in the theater. Much like in the vein of 2016 features like Don’t Breathe and 10 Cloverfield Lanealmost all of the events that take place in the runtime are confined to one location. The feeling of claustrophobia runs at a pretty high level throughout, and Shyamalan captures the various chase scenes and perspectives of his antagonist brilliantly with differing high-low camera angles. Simple things such as conversations take on a higher level of importance here, and the camera fixates itself in extreme close-up mode often to display what characters are thinking, or transitioning into/out of. The score composed by West Dylan Thordson (Joy, Foxcatcher) is rather minimal, but one track in particular becomes etched into the brain and invokes a sense of dread.

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Another reason to simply watch in theaters is the likelihood that the longer one goes without watching opens the chance of the movie being spoiled. This really deserves to be watched without any knowledge of what the major reveal is. With any M. Night movie, obviously, there’s the twist and/or ending. I’m honestly torn on how I feel about it. While being as un-spoilerific as possible, I’ll say I love the execution, but am not so psyched about where the ending strongly suggests things will go.

Regardless on how a person feels about the final moments, Split carries an efficient script. Weak in spots, sure, and not that deep considering the subject matter of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but it holds interest throughout. It is very reminiscent of 2003’s Identity, without the slightly deeper look at DID that movie possessed, but way more engaging and a much less dopey ending.

Split features better acting than that movie had from its leads, however. Can’t really say that James McAvoy carries this, but without his impeccable talent switching, sometimes mid-scene, this would be a feature that would probably split apart at the seams. McAvoy doesn’t get to act out all 24 personalities, but he probably could. The few he does show are all different and feel like full-on characters, He dials up humor when the script needs it, but transitions into menace effortlessly. He’s an obvious standout, but Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley create a triangle of great performances.

Taylor-Joy’s work takes a little while to appreciate, if only because it takes a while to see how she fits into everything, but she has an amazing arc that provides Split with a real emotional component. With some roles, believability is everything, and from the moment Ms. Buckley appears on screen as a therapist with a wealth of information, she has a way of making the audience believe everything that comes out of her mouth. Unfortunately, the roles of the latter two girls played by Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Lula go nowhere, to the point where one does wonder if the movie could have still been written without them.

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After a long stretch of poorly-received films that could make one believe that a once-promising director could have lost his mind (or at least his passion and skill), I think it is safe to say that with the conlusion of Split, a directorial beast has re-emerged, and his name is M. Night Shyamalan.

B

Photo credits go to movieweb.com, broadwayworld.com, and joblo.com.

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Shut In: Movie Man Jackson

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Naomi Watts and bathtubs simply do…not…mix. Psychologist Mary Portman (Naomi Watts) is under a lot of stress. Six months earlier, she lost her husband in a car crash, and her stepson Stephen (Charlie Heaton) is now comatose from the same accident, confined to a wheelchair. She’s thinking about sending him away to specialized care.

Adding to her stress is one of her young patients, Tom (Jacob Tremblay), who is being taken away from her care despite breakthroughs being made. However, one night, he appears in her isolated home, only to vanish minutes later in the cold. With a heavy storm incoming, the boy could die, if he isn’t abducted. Complicating matters is an intruder who seems to want Mary all alone.

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As stated before, 2016 has been a pretty strong year for small budget thrillers, especially of the home invasion/confinement variety. Don’t Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Hush immediately come to mind. Unfortunately, a fourth movie will not be joining that group. Shut In is 91 minutes one could spend doing a lot of things as opposed to watching this feature.

The thing is, Shut In doesn’t aspire to be a particularly great horror/thriller. It is evident within the first five minutes that director Farren Blackburn (Daredevil Netflix show) and debut Hollywood writer Christina Hodson (a name that appears like it is going to be heard a lot of in the future) aren’t that concerned with making something that stands out. Cheap, telegraphed jump scares and dream scares are used to an overkill level. Script-wise, the build-up is nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but Hodson manages to keep a little suspense as to what is happening in the film, at least for the first two thirds.

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And then, the big twist happens. To not spoil anything if one decides to view Shut In, all I’ll say is that it is one of those twists in which one immediately starts thinking about how it is possible in the first five seconds of its reveal. Honestly, it spits and pisses in the face of logic, and it is probably the most laughably awful twist since The Loft in 2015. From here, anyone who’s had experience viewing these types of movies knows exactly how, even where, the climax will take place and how it’ll end.

The one sole positive of Shut In is the uber-talented Naomi Watts, who gives this movie her all despite the movie not really deserving it. She sells all of her character’s difficulties and fears and possible craziness. If only she had someone to play off of. That person should have been Jacob Tremblay, but he’s a poor man’s version of what he did in Room without the bond he and Brie Larsen possessed and the character to boot.

The scenes Watts shares with Oliver Platt, playing as a shrink to Watts’ shrink, or David Cubitt, a potential love interest to Watts’ character, do little to nothing for the movie. Lastly, Charlie Heaton of Stranger Things fame is pretty bad here. 22 is not much older than 18, but he doesn’t have one of those faces that can pass for 18, so it becomes somewhat comical when he’s consistently referred to as a teen. As the feature progresses, his performance becomes a bad rendition of similar roles.

"Shut In" ©2015 EuropaCorp - Transfilm International Inc.

Want to see a film that devolves from “cliché but harmlessly average” to “pathetically illogical” by the end of its runtime? Shut In is that film. Otherwise? Stay in, and stay far away.

D-

Photo credits go to horrorpedia.com, yahoo.com, and traileraddict.com

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Sinister: Movie Man Jackson

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Some crimes are not meant to be solved. Or written about. True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is attempting to reignite his floundering career; it has been 10 years since he’s had a bona fide hit. Hoping to draw inspiration for his latest novel, Oswalt moves his family into a home in which a terrible crime that he is researching took place.

Immediately, mysterious snuff films turn up in the attic that give additional insight into this matter. Turns out that a series of grisly crimes have been committed within decades of each other, having similar connections. The connection is all is a vague face and ominous symbol that appears in each film. Something isn’t right here, and unwittingly, Ellison may have stumbled into a timeline from which he and his loved ones cannot escape from.

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An opening scene can be so powerful, so effective in setting the tone for the rest of the movie, especially in the horror genre. From the get-go, Sinister sets up an eerie tone with its unforgettable opener. It’s a tone that’s present in just about every moment of the movie. In other words, it does its job as a horror, to a really exceptional level.

Directed by Scott Derickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), Sinister is a very tight looking film. Obviously, the standout from a technical perspective are the snuff videos, each being as unnerving as the one that preceded it, if not more so. The violence is implied, not explicit, and the effect is stronger because of it. As a whole, Derrickson definitely subscribes to the less is more approach. Yes, there are cheap scares, and a particular moment with ghastly children is more eye-rolling than frightening, but a fair amount of them are actually legitimate, instead of the “loud noise made by a cat” variety.

Despite the bulk of the runtime taking place in some type of dimly lit home, I’d hesitate to use the word “claustrophobic.” There’s no “confinement” per se, but Derrickson makes the viewer wish there were, only because there are so many avenues to which the horror can infiltrate into. Sound design and score are superb. Both only better the feature.

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Derrickson not only directs Sinister, he also writes it, and he manages to make a pretty compelling mystery all in all. The mystery doesn’t really lie in what’s going to happen, but rather, how. While the end result can possibly be too predictable (and certainly a tad rushed) for some, I personally find the ending to be extremely effective and frightening. Sometimes, the predictable ending is the best one.

Derrickson does a good job with the plot, but does an even better job with the characters. Granted, none except Hawke are layered, but they aren’t cliched, either. Hawke turns in a truly committed performance that gets more and more unhinged as the plot gets…more sinister. His character may lack a little common sense, but Elliott is not without reason for doing what he does, even if it is very very misguided reason. The rest of his family is perfectly solid; those who play the kids aren’t annoying kids in horror who can’t act, and the wife, unremarkable on her own, has a few compelling scenes with Ethan.

Two supporting characters in particular standout in this horrific tale aside from Hawke. Vincent D’Onofrio has probably less than five minutes total, and though he’s relegated to exposition, he manages to be somewhat more than an information dump. It’s James Ransone as “Deputy So and So,” however, who balances the delivery of information with being an interesting character one doesn’t know what to make of, while bringing a little humor that doesn’t undermine the movie.

Ethan Hawke in a scene from the motion picture "Sinister." Credit:  Summit Entertainment [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Much like the image Ellison gets exposed to, Sinister stays in the head of the viewer long after viewing. Easily one of the best horror films of the decade.

A-

Photo credits go to imdb.com, inquisitr.com, theathleticnerd.com, and usatoday.com.

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Joy Ride: Movie Man Jackson

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Will never hear the words “Candy Cane” without thinking of this movie ever again. Lewis (Paul Walker) is wrapping up his freshman year of college, and is prepping to come home. Originally flying, Lewis calls an audible and instead buys a car to drive home. His reason? His crush, Venna (Leelee Sobieski) needs a ride home from college in Colorado.

His best-laid plans go out the window when he feels obligated to pick up his troubled older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) out of jail. On the way to picking up Venna, the brothers decide to have a little fun during their Joy Ride with a truck driver known only as “Rusty Nail” over a CB radio. But when the prank goes much too far, Lewis and Fuller will be lucky to make it to Colorado, much less home.

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Though it is awesome if they are, thrillers don’t have to be elaborate nor stocked to the brim with twist after twist. They just have to thrill and provide tension. 2001’s Joy Ride is very simplistic in its execution. Want a fun point A to point B horror/thriller? This is it.

Co-writers J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver along with director John Dahl (Rounders) go in with the less-is-more idea with Joy Ride. It is fascinating how much mileage they get out of a simple premise of prank calling—err—cb “radio-ing”—going wrong. There are no hidden meanings or truly meaty characters. The great Roger Ebert said it best, this is essentially Halloween (and of course being influenced by Steven Spielberg’s Duel from 1971). What you see is what you get…which is often white knuckle thrills that build and build to an impressive climax. If there were but one notable issue, it would be the actual ending. While not completely ending abruptly, it would have been nice to actually see some aftermath of the ordeal. Additionally, some of the actual end events fall a little into what I like to call “God Mode” territory, where one character is everywhere and can do anything and knows everything with little explanation as to how.

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Joy Ride feels a lot like film noir, just without the notable characters, detailed plot, or voiceover narration. John Dahl bathes a lot of the film’s biggest scenes in red and/or a torrential downpour, giving the movie a consistent feeling of danger and dread. It’s well paced also, giving enough quiet moments for said danger and dread to be of impact. Marco Beltrami’s score certainly isn’t subtle, but it does enhance some of the more harrowing parts.

The audience never gets a good glimpse of Rusty Nail, psycho trucker extraordinaire, but we certainly hear a lot of him, which may be just as frightening, if not more so. Rusty Nail is voiced by none other than Buffalo Bill himself, Ted Levine. His gravelly-based voice is the stuff of nightmares. The people on the receiving end of his threats are Paul Walker and Steve Zahn.

The duo are believable enough as caring yet dysfunctional brothers. Like some of his other early movies, Walker isn’t asked to do a ton, but he gets by with charisma and likability. Steve Zahn, for my money, has always been one of the more versatile actors in Hollywood. Here, he’s a little comedic as the jerkish older sibling, but still possessing the chops to sell terror adequately. Leelee Sobieski is quite the pretty face, but awfully forgettable as a thespian.

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But one shouldn’t view Joy Ride expecting great performances, but rather, to get some surprisingly well executed thrills through a simple premise. I enjoyed this ride much more than expected.

B

Photo credits go to imcdb.org, impawards.com, ign.com, and hotflick.net.

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Morgan: Movie Man Jackson

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No, not a movie about the USA women’s soccer team’s most attractive female player. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a scientific byproduct of a team of scientists. These scientists have been working for years on Morgan, their efforts to create an engineered human encompassing the best of humanity in intellect, feeling, decision making, and the works. Or so we think.

A violent incident, though, leaves Morgan’s future up in the air. This incident forces risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) into the foray. She must decide whether this creation is worth keeping around, or terminating. But like anyone who invests a lot of time into something for a long time, it can be tough to let go, and these scientists will not stand idly by and let another person make this big decision.

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The sci-fi genre has long been one of yours truly’s favorites. It is a genre that can be so inventive, much of its inventiveness often predicated on what is currently going on in the world. I think there are new science fiction stories to be told, but they’ll be dependent on what advancements are in the future pipeline of science and technology. As such, there have been a few notable sci-fi movies that delve into humanity lately. The latest in the genre, Morgan, takes one of the central themes of sci-fi, that of “what determines being human and can you create that synthetically?”, and creates a movie in which one could care less whether that question is answered or not.

More likely, I don’t know if Morgan, directed by Ridley Scott’s son, Luke, is itself interested in answering the question or even exploring it. Again, it is a question, albeit well-worn, that many films have made intriguing. At least for the first half or so of the film, Scott appears like he wants to get into the question, but man oh man, his full-length directorial debut has pacing problems. It’s one thing to be slow-burn, another thing to be flat out slow. Wouldn’t be so bad if more was found out about the characters, but little is and I struggle to remember all of their names and reasons for being in the story.

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Not until the oft-entertaining and memorable Paul Giamatti rolls in that Morgan begins to pick up the proceedings. The scene with Paul is easily the entire highlight of the movie and his character does the best job of addressing the question of being human. After that, Morgan gets reduced to a killing machine eviscerating most of the characters in the compound, not unlike a certain Friday the 13th character. But even the kills are pretty tame and drab, falling in line with much of the rest of the runtime. If you’re gonna get slasherific, might as well go bold with it.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Morgan is that there’s little reason to care about anything or anyone. As stated, most of the characters fail to make any lasting imprint. But even the story, as science-fiction as it is, doesn’t feel fully realized for a sci-fi movie. Compare this to, say, Ex-Machina, where in 15 minutes a good deal is found out about Ava, the program, the brilliant billionaire jerk genius, and the test subject. The audience is more or less dropped into this world with a brief debriefing over phone to the main character that does nothing for world-building.

Will be worthless to talk about the bulk of the cast, aside from Toby Jones whose recent work in Wayward Pines, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and now this seem to indicate he may be typecast as an unethical scientist. Focus is on the two main actresses who are responsible for the bulk of the film. Anya Taylor-Joy is a star is the making. She isn’t really the villain but gets tasked with obvious villainous actions, yet is still vulnerable with those striking eyes and a little heartfelt in some moments. Her opposition is Kate Mara, playing the heroine. She’s functional, nothing impressive. All for strong heroine leads, but she suffers from a lack of believability in her particular role. Not going to give anything away (feel like a dunce for not seeing the reveal sooner), but there are numerous actresses who carry hardened personas better than Mara.

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Morgan attempts to carry itself with the sophistication and intellect of sci-fi classics, but really, like a five year-old child, it doesn’t fully know what it wants.

D

Photo credits go to ew.com, teaser-trailer.com, and collider.com

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Don’t Breathe: Movie Man Jackson

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Seeing is overrated anyways, right? Three teens (who look more like young adults?) in Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto), live in the struggle that is Michigan, presumably Detroit. The three pull off minor robbery jobs that net them a little cash, but nothing that is life-changing. All want to get out of their current situations.

Money catches wind that a nearby house in a deserted neighborhood is sitting on at least 300K. The best part is that the owner of the house is a Blind Man (Stephen Lang), who surely cannot be that much of a threat despite being an Army veteran, right? Wrong.

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As yours truly has stated before, 2016 at the movie theater has been a pretty sizable disappointment, especially this summer. But if there is one genre that has actually impressed, it is that of the small budget thriller/horror one. Don’t Breathe, Fede Alvarez’s latest after the Evil Dead remake, is efficient, no frills, and tight thrills. Money well spent.

I have never seen Alvarez’s take on Evil Dead, mainly because I can get grossed out on non-stop gore and I don’t always feel that equates to horror. That is one of the reasons I dreaded seeing Don’t Breathe. Thankfully, while there are well-placed scenes of brutality when needed, a showcase of guts isn’t the focus.

Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Alvarez builds tension all in one place, and hardly ever leaves it. There is an awesome lights out sequence in the film, but the best scene may be the initial break-in of the marked house, possibly done all in one take that lets the audience in on some notable hotspots of the home’s geography. The result is a sustained claustrophobia that crescendos and decrescendos when it needs to, aided by a score from composer Roque Baños that is subtle. It is used perfectly along with the silence and “Don’t Breathe” aspect of the production.

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Alvarez not only directs, but co-writes Don’t Breathe with frequent script collaborator Rodo Sayagues. What they’ve done here is simple stuff, which isn’t a bad thing. They don’t take long to get things going. Attempts to provide sympathy for a few characters falls a little short—this, in my view, is very much bad people squaring off against a menace. Again, still entertaining, though.

As for the “shocking” twist, no spoilers here. All that will be said is that when the reveal is delivered, it is certainly unforeseen but possibly unneeded as well and may exist for shocks sake. The true ending, after a few false ones, is functional but not as strong as what leads up to it. And yours truly’s last opines about the ending without hopefully alluding too much to anything particular is that there is a shocking lack of “finishing the job” across the board for these characters. They’ve got to this point, why not just make sure that things are taken care of?

The main cast is small, but good. Daniel Zovatto’s character is annoying, but it’s probably not too much of a spoiler to say he doesn’t have much screentime. Jane Levy’s Rocky is a sound female protagonist and sells terror well; just wish that I felt more about her plight. Even with minimal attention to his, Dylan Minnette’s character is the one I connected with most. More efforts to develop his character would have been great. At 19, he’s got a bright future. Stephen Lang by far steals the show, however. He’s comparable to John Goodman’s role in the aforementioned Cloverfield movie, with the only differences being his minimal dialog and less grey shades. Although unlikely, it is possible that The Blind Man role could be the one people associate Lang with the most, even moreso than the Colonel in Avatar.

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More of a thriller in a horror slipcover than an all-out horror, Don’t Breathe still provides substantial scares and palpable tension. If the goal is to entertain, Alvarez and company simple vision has done so.

B

Photo credits go to RottenTomatoes.com, ew.com, and hypebeast.com.

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Lights Out: Movie Man Jackson

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I’d rather meet Dirty Diana before the Diana in Lights Out. Quite some time ago, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) left her mother, Sophie (Maria Bello) and younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman) not on the best of terms. She left mainly due to her mother, who has long suffered from a litany of mental issues.

Rebecca receives word from the Child Protective Services agency that Martin is having trouble staying awake in class, and she suspects her mother could be off of her medication and terrorizing Martin. That may be the case, but Martin claims it is some entity that only comes out in the dark—Diana—an old “friend” of Sophie’s.

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A surprise subplot of an otherwise underwhelming summer season is that small horrors/thrillers have not only been bankable (a usual given) but generally entertaining. Okay, The Purge: Election Year is divisive depending on who you talk to, but The Shallows, The Conjuring 2, and now Lights Out have made for a pretty good smattering of low budget horror. Any good horror movie is a win for the horror movie genre in this day and age. Lights Out is a good, solid, competent horror movie.

What Lights Out has going for it is a man overseeing the production with a stellar track record as it pertains to frights. Even if he isn’t directing, having James Wan, probably the best horror director today, on as a producer can only mean a good thing. Directed by David F. Sandberg, Lights Out, especially in its second half and climax, makes use of its, ahem, lights out premise to stage a few striking scenes. The beginning may actually take the cake, but a scene with black light is certainly a highlight as well. Jump scares are in good supply here, but most are actually legit, not many false ones for the sake of having them.

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Not even 90 minutes, Lights Out, expounded on from an original short directed by Sandberg, is trim with its story. It gets going immediately with the beginning and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Story information is parsed out evenly, with the only misstep being some heavy exposition that explains the connection the antagonist has to the main characters in the film. As far as the actual antagonist goes, she’s pretty universal in the sense that she can be anywhere in an absence of light. But sort of like It Follows, not much rhyme or reason is given to what her limitations are. Granted, the darkness aspect is a better mechanic and more straightforward than the “pass it on” one; still, a little definition would have been appreciated, for the tastes of yours truly at least.

Logic is often lost on characters that appear in horror movies. Not so with those in Lights Out. Teresa Palmer is the de facto lead, and she does a serviceable job while being a good heroine. But she is outshined in this movie by a few performers. Maria Bello, in particular, does great work with a role that could be cringy with other thespians, but with her she makes it believable and even heartbreaking.

Most kids are of the annoying variety in horrors or simply cannot act in them, but again, not so with Gabriel Bateman as the young Martin. He sells fear well. Even Palmer’s boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) is notable as a lovestruck boyfriend who will do anything for Rebecca. Arguably, he has the best moment in the entire movie when evading the baddie, deliciously humorous and heady. All together though, there is a real family element that outlines the feature, and the main cast actually feels like a family, also not something always achieved in scary movies. 

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Lights Out won’t leave one leaving every outlet installed with a night light, but it is effective more than not as a short, lean, and family-oriented horror film. Much worse is out there.

B-

Photo credits go to clickthecity.com, and warnerbros.co.uk.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson