Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Movie Man Jackson

Because the galaxy couldn’t hold 1,001 planets. The 28th century spawns Alpha, an intergalactic space station home to tons of creatures living peacefully together. Maintaining order throughout the galaxy are special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHann) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). They are a duo who could be more; Valerian is finally ready to put away his player ways and wishes to marry Laureline.

Before their future can be properly assessed, the two get assigned to solve a mystery happening in the heart of Alpha. It’s a mystery that if unsolved, is certain to end all life not only on Alpha, but in the whole entire galaxy.

In some corners, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is jokingly being referred to as “the most expensive independent movie made,” pulling in less than 20 million opening weekend on a production budget of at least 150 large. Honestly, it’s been destined to be dead on arrival in the United States since the first trailer,  and no amount of 10-minute showings before Spider-Man: Homecoming changed that. Being dead on arrival doesn’t mean that Valerian is bottom-barrel bad, but, in a way, one almost wishes it were. Just so there would be more to talk about.

What is there to talk about? The visuals. Director Luc Beeson (Lucy, The Fifth Element) crafts a movie that looks very unique even in a cinema landscape that has seen numerous space opera/otherworldly features of late like Star Wars, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avatar. It takes a little while to get used to the amount of green screen, but the easiest way to describe what Beeson does here is thinking of Valerian like a moving painting. This mostly applies to early scenes in a desert setting that stand out vividly, and in later scenes Beeson comes up with a few sequences of action that are sharp and, most importantly, coherent.

Coherent isn’t a word that’s all that applicable to Valerian’s story, however. Also written by Beeson, his film starts out compelling enough and builds the mystery with enough intrigue…but it doesn’t last. Specifically, the side plots never really connect to the main story at hand, and it isn’t until well into the second half when Valerian begins to funnel its focus into the A plot. A plot, in essence, that involves some predictable shady dealings by a character in power seen many times over.

Concealed from much of the trailers, Valerian additionally moonlights—surprisingly heavily— as a love story between the characters played by DeHann and Delevingne. They are passable together, though the two lack truly great chemistry with one another, and anytime their romance is asked to carry large chunks of the runtime, Valerian suffers. Delevingne is solid; looking and acting the part as a believable, hold-her-own, rough-around-the-edges operative. It’s hard to unequivocally say the same about Dane DeHann’s work, unfortunately.

DeHann’s a capable and talented actor (in my opinion), but his best work seems to come in off-kilter and/or tweener/antagonist roles. As Valerian, he’s hard to take seriously as a hero and galaxy lady-killer, and rather unlikable for at least half of the movie. Even his voice sounds odd in the way a person tries to portray someone sounding cool. While playing more like cameos than notable characters, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock nonetheless add to the unique world that is Alpha.

A gorgeous looking universe without boundaries needs heroes without limits. It also needs a tighter story and a better lead performance. That about sums up this space jaunt that is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. 

C-

Photo credits go to highsnobiety.com, collider.com, and theverge.com.

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The Big Sick: Movie Man Jackson

Love isn’t easy. That’s why they call it love. Pakistani immigrant turned American citizen Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is looking for his big break in comedy consistently doing stand-up at a Chicago club and making ends meet as an Uber driver. One night, he’s heckled—affectionately—during a comedy set by Emily (Zoe Kazan). The two hit it off instantaneously and begin a relationship.

It isn’t without troubles. Kumail’s traditional Pakistani parents want him to marry in preordained fashion, and would disown him if they found out he was dating an American woman. Not wanting to divulge his new relationship to his family frustrates Emily to the point of relationship dissolution, who has already informed her mother Beth and father Terry (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano) that she’s seeing someone seriously. A most unfortunate event occurs that forces Emily’s parents and Kumail to be together, learn from one another, and keep hope that things will get better for the person they love.

“Based on a true story” is something hardly ever prefaced or alluded to in romantic comedies. Maybe more rom-com flicks should seek to do so. The Big Sick markets itself as “an awkward true story.” While embellishments are present, the relative accuracy of it all makes for a fascinating view in a genre sometimes devoid of them.

Something special can be seen early on in The Big Sick. From the moment Zoe Kazan’s character heckles and teases Kumail, there’s an immediate and—for lack of a better word, lovable—chemistry that provides the romantic foundation for the entire movie. Hopefully this serves as a launching pad for both leads. Nanjiani particularly, known for Silicon Valley and various bit roles in mainstream comedy, possesses the talent to be successful in many genres. Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) is along for the ride, placing all of his focus on the characters, though he’s not without some nice back-and-forth over-the-shoulder camerawork in intimate scenes.

The first act is pretty straightforward, and if this ended up being a basic Jim-and-Pam “will they, won’t they?” affair, it would still be entertaining due to the aforementioned leads doing the work they do. But, the second act rolls around and makes an infectious love story much more. Writers Nanjiani along with his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon put focus on the culture clashes when introducing Ray Romano and Holly Hunter (strong work by both) into the film, which makes for early awkwardness which eventually transitions into acceptance and appreciation at a natural pace. The duo also goes deeper into the Pakistani culture, expectations, and self-identity placed on Nanjiani by his family. Some of it is amusing in its presentation, but some of it is equally emotional and very moving; a story that doesn’t need the romantic aspect for people to connect to it.

I’m all for improvisation in comedy, but not when it’s predominant and in place of an obviously weak or nonexistent script, which feels more like the norm nowadays in most mainstream comedy offerings. In The Big Sick, there’s no improvisation because the movie doesn’t need any. Jokes are well written, and there’s rarely a time in which something said or done by characters isn’t scoring laughs on a big level. Its comedy runs just about all of the gamut: dark, light, sweet, uncomfortable, you name it. If there were but one minor issue, the occasional transition from heavy drama to cutting it up in the comedy club backstage with hopeful up-and-coming comedians looking for their big breaks is a little clunky.

At the end of the day, The Big Sick drops by into the marketplace taking the mantle as the best comedy of the year to this point. But that would be selling short The Big Sick, which does a lot as an overall feature to put it on the list of 2017’s healthier quality viewing options.

A-

Photo credits go to abcnews.com, comingsoon.net, and burnsfilmcenter.org

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War for the Planet of the Apes: Movie Man Jackson

The night is darkest just after the dawn. Years after Koba’s betrayal, the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his nation of apes remain taking residence in the woods. Trying to live peacefully away from conflict, conflict finds them by way of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). His assault on the apes’ home leaves massive casualties.

Now out for revenge, Caesar, along with Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), found hermit Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), and a young mute female straggler (Amiah Miller) embark on a journey to locate and eliminate The Colonel. The woods are no longer safe for apes, but a new location has been scouted and deemed livable. But, the war between apes and humans must reach a conclusion before the next chapter in ape evolution can begin.

Who knew that in 2011 the dawn of the next great trilogy was beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Considered a middling IP at best after Tim Burton’s 2001 spin on things, Rise and Rupert Wyatt invigorated new life into the franchise. But, director Matt Reeves pushed it in places it’s never been before, both visually and thematically, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He officially ties the bow neatly on this trilogy with War for the Planet of the Apes.

Of course, it should go without saying at this point that the CGI, motion capture, rendering, and whatever else I’m probably forgetting on the technical side of this feature is absolutely impeccable. I’m saying it again because as spectacular Dawn was on that front, War takes it up multiple levels, proving that in three years technology evolves at an exponential rate. There are shots—extreme close up shots—of Caesar and his mains-in-command that are mind-blowing, and full of weight.

Fear and loss play a huge part in this movie; the consternation is seen on many of the lead characters’ faces. The character arc of Caesar goes very deep, and Serkis does it all as the ape leader. His delivery of dialogue, as well as sign language and facials, is moving. Not to be shortchanged either are newcomer Steve Zahn, Michael Adamthwaite, and Karen Konoval. Woody Harrelson stands as the best human character the reboot has seen, his style being perfect for the military leader. Some of the best moments are devoid of any dialogue or even subtitles. Reeves opts to tell some of War for Apes completely visually. The sounds of composer Michael Giacchino go a long way in making this endeavor a success.

In a cinema world in which seemingly every big studio is on the hunt for the next universe starter or continuation, War for the Planet of the Apes has no real aspirations to do so. One would be doing themselves a massive disservice by not watching the predecessors, but, it is cool that Reeves commences War with two-sentence recaps for newbies that summarizes everything newcomers need to know before seguieng into an impressive opening action sequence. War for Apes is a mostly cold and bleak affair, befitting of a predominately cool grey and blue color palette. That doesn’t make it any less of a technical masterpiece, though.

War for Apes, like Dawn before it, uses its primates to hold a mirror to our own society. However, where Dawn was subtler in its approach, War goes a little more overt and obvious, lessening the impact and the thought-provoking themes ever so slightly. The war aspect of the title is present, but the war itself seems to be more metaphorical than literal. Do not go in expecting a prolonged blitzkrieg; War for Apes is emotional-drama first, action-blockbuster second.

The last stand for Caesar and company caps off an amazing epic that will rank up there with the best trilogies in film history. This war closes the chapter between humans and apes, but won’t quickly be forgotten.

A-

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, aceshowbiz.com, and digitalspy.com.

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Movie Man Jackson looks at: 2017 Music in Movies (Part 2)

 

Part 2 already? Part 2. Welcome back to another entry that deals with the music behind the feature films. If you missed Part 1, you can find that here. Part 2? Let’s do it.

Beauty and the Beast (soundtrack by various artists, score composed by Alan Menken)\

Belle 

Gaston

Beauty and the Beast

The Beast

Transformations

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the feeling when hearing Alan Menken on 2017’s Beauty and the Beast live-action movie. With just a handful of new tracks, this largely qualifies as a remastering along with a few slight tweaks of his previous work found the 1991 animated offering, which happened to win Best Original Score and Best Original Song in its respective year. The Beast and Transformations still carry the same richness as before.

Even the live songs are surprisingly good-quality (with a tad of technology help, but still), especially for actors and actresses not known for singing voices. Props are given to Emma Watson, Luke Evans, Dan Stevens, and Josh Gad (Josh Gad!) for making the musical numbers very listenable in and outside of the movie.

Power Rangers (composed by Brian Tyler)

Power Rangers Theme

Confessions

United

Let’s Ride

Go Go Power Rangers

Outside of Michael Giacchino and Hans Zimmer, there may not be a bigger name composer than Brian Tyler, lending his talents to many blockbuster franchises including many Marvel films, the Fast franchise, Now You See Me, and more.

Tasked with providing the music to the rebooted Power Rangers franchise, Tyler opts for a slightly grounded approach in this department. And it makes sense in the movie; the characters take center stage for quite a bit before any real action setpieces come to fruition. Tracks like United and Confessions hit at this idea of responsibility and everyday heroism.

But Tyler does deliver on a standout theme heard first in the plainly titled Power Rangers Theme and intersperses that throughout. It’s a theme befitting of characters uniting for something bigger than themselves. He rightfully holds off on the iconic “Go Go Power Rangers” sound until a brief snippet is heard in Let’s Ride and finally at the end in full.

Life (composed by Jon Ekstrand)

Welcome to the ISS

Life isn’t a wholly unique space movie, but what is when it comes to space movies nowadays? Composer Jon Ekstrand plays with two ideas here The 1st idea is that of wonder, exploration, and stumbling upon something no one person truly knows about. The rich and full sounds in Welcome to the ISS and It’s Alive invoke a feeling of bold discovery, not unlike something one may find in Star Trek, or better yet, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Thrusters

Godspeed, Doctor

I Thought They Came to Rescue Us

The 2nd idea is manifested through the above tracks. It’s the idea that humans are so captivated by finding extraterrestrial life that we could lose ours in the process. In other words, it plays our like pure vicious horror with bellowing brass and stalker-like electric sounds. Feels in line with something out of that old Ridley Scott classic and the video game series Dead Space.

Godspeed, Doctor

A Long Way Back

Life ends with Godspeed, Doctor, a heroic track inspiring sacrifice for the greater good, and A Long Way Back, a twisted, uncomfortable listen that drives home the sinister denouement. It’s got a lot in common with Johann Johannson’s Sicario track of The Beast: 

But if you’re ripping, rip from the best! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The Fate of the Furious (composed by Brian Tyler)

Nobody’s Intel

Rogue

Confluence

From small-scaled street racing matters to global escapades, The Fast and the Furious universe has obviously transformed itself in 16 years. And the same can be said for the music, once reliant more on licensed music than actual score tracks. Since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, composer Brian Tyler has been just as much a part of the transformation as say, Vin Diesel or Justin Lin, scoring every film except for Fast and Furious 6.

Since Fast & Furious 2009, Tyler’s been able to craft elaborate songs for the series’ biggest set-pieces. But I’ve always found myself most pleased with his smaller, sometimes character specific numbers, such as Letty from 2009, The Perfect Crew , Hobbs, Tapping Inand Full Circle from Fast Five, and Vow for Revenge and Farewell from Furious 7. The same goes for F8 tracks like the above.

Welcome to the Club

But it’s the theme melding in Tyler’s Welcome to the Club that stands out as the movie’s best musical moment. Played when Hobbs is entering his cell the first time and becomes reacquainted with Deckard, it serves as perfect representations of each character. Hobbs being brash and tank-like, Deckard being more minimalist and subdued but no less dangerous. Let’s hope we hear this again in their spinoff.

How to be a Latin Lover (soundtrack by various artists)

Los Felegreses (performed by Jungle Fire)

The group Jungle Fire contributes a couple of pieces that are merely meant to accompany How to Be a Latin Lover in a toe-tapping, head-nodding fashion. The music is nothing to provoke any emotion (most music in comedies rarely do), but the piece above does have a nice, sunny, tropical vibe.

Free Fire (composed by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury)

Money Count

Crawl Chase

The Phone Rings

The talented duo, who came into popularity by providing the musical accompaniment to the thought-provoking Ex Machina and Black Mirror, join forces again for Free Fire. 

Free Fire is far less ambitious than the prior two works Barrow and Salisbury contributed to. But, they do a nice job of accompanying the various moments in this prolonged setpiece. The eccentric music cuts are fitting for an eccentric movie, and are not unlike something one would hear on the radio during the time period in which the events of the movie take place.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (composed by Tyler Bates)

Space Chase

Space Chase is the track that feels so Guardians, a manic trip through the entire galaxy by this fivesome of antiheroes with danger on their tails. It’s one of the few “big tracks” in the score by Tyler Bates. Vol 2 does go more for the emotional feels than the superficial ones.

Family History

Gods

Photo credits go to wearemoviegeeks.com, consequenceofsound.net, collider.com, thestar.com, filmmusicreporter.com, and soundtracktracklist.com.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming-Movie Man Jackson

Welcome back. After the events of the Great Civil War and fighting alongside Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to Queens and his uneventful high school sophomore life with best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). Pete longs for the attraction of senior hottie, Liz (Laura Harrier), but also wants ever so desperately to be a full-time Avenger.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing. The alien attack some odd years ago in New York left behind some mysterious alien artifacts. These artifacts have been mined, harnessed, and cultivated by Adrian Toombs (Michael Keaton), a man who’s providing for his family but in questionable ways. As much as Pete wants to leave the borough for the big time, his home is going to need the protection of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

There’s the old saying that goes something like “what’s old is new again.” I never thought that saying could apply to Spider-Man’s latest standalone reintroduction to cinemas in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was only three years ago when he was last seen doing battle against the Green Goblin, Electro, and mass amounts of CGI. What could really be done to spin a unique web for the longstanding webslinger?

Sharing more in common with The Edge of Seventeen and John Hughes offerings than most of the MCU’s films, Homecoming certainly has elements of a superhero origins story, but it is more akin to “a day in the life” than full-blown beginnings. That means going back to high school and all of its pitfalls, extracurriculars, awkwardness, popularity and the like.

This is a deep dive back into the teen years, certainly not a cursory one. Homecoming spends as much time in the classroom and the hallways as it does along the New York skyline and under the iconic Spidey suit. It’s very relatable—almost everyone can remember back to those days as a teen craving more responsibility while being told to enjoy being young—and surprisingly fresh, even though it honestly should not be.

Part of that freshness can directly be attributed to the writers and director of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Writer/director Jon Watts (Cop Car) and contributing writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Frances Daley, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, and Christopher Ford are more known for their comedy and animated contributions than anything in the superhero realm. As such, Homecoming comes, thankfully, without any forced contrivances or common expectations as to what a superhero movie needs to have or do. One could even call it a central character study before a superhero actioner.

The action is firmly solid, though it’s where Watts shows a little bit of inexperience. Nowhere near the best action Marvel’s ever put on screen; then again, this film isn’t action-centric. As for the humor, it sticks on just about all levels in a very organic, free-flowing way, perhaps the benefit of having comedy writers. It may stand as the MCU’s funniest and breeziest movie to date, and Michael Giacchino’s score seems to reflect that.

There is a huge cast in Spider-Man’s latest outing, but obviously, the bulk of the work belongs to Tom Holland as Tiger—err—Peter Parker. The baby-faced youngster carries the requisite wit, duty, athleticism, and likability that has come to define Pete. What’s great about this iteration of Parker is that he truly is “nerfed” and vulnerable. He doesn’t grasp all of his powers quickly or the full capabilities of his suit. Despite clashing face-to-face against Captain America, Tony Stark makes it clear that he’s nowhere near his level, nor is he supposed to be. RDJ’s father/mentor role, screentime limited, is fascinating. He’s in Homecoming just enough to connect to the larger universe, yet is dialed back appropriately to reinforce the focus on Parker and Spider-Man.

To spoil any significant details about Michael Keaton’s Toombs character to those who have still yet to see Homecoming would rob the surprise and layers this anti-antagonist possesses. But he stands as one of the best big baddies of any comic book movie in recent memory, and there’s a way that Keaton goes about this role in his delivery and general persona that makes you want to see him succeed in his goals. Homecoming showcases many characters found in the comics, but served in unfamiliar ways. While it takes a little time to buy into the new Flash Thompson (particularly), Liz Allen, Michelle, and Aunt May, by the end of the film, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, and Marisa Tomei all add something to Peter’s story and should continue to do so in the future.

No spidey sense tingling happening here. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings the wall-crawler back where he belongs in extremely successful and never-before seen fashion. Excelsior!

A-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, comicbookmovies.com, and lrmonline.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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All Eyez on Me: Movie Man Jackson

There will never be another. At an early age, Tupac Amaru Shakur (Demetrius Shipp, Jr) is exposed to a lot—both good and bad—that would eventually shape him into the man he would become. The son of Black Panther party members, Tupac was always given an honest depiction of the world from his mother, Afeni (Danai Gurira). Afeni encouraged her son to get into the arts, which included acting, poetry, and music.

His move from inner-city Baltimore into inner-city Bay Area, California sparks his foray into rap music, first as a member of Digital Underground, then as a solo act. As 2pac, he quickly becomes one of the greatest and most influential artists ever. But his rise isn’t without controversy, nor does it end without an untimely demise.

Most, if not all rapheads, would agree that 2pac is forever entrenched as one of the top five emcees of all time, if not the greatest one to ever do it. His 25 years on this Earth, short as they were, were filled with momentous incidents and cultural significance that hit at the many layers of the legendary rapper. All of that should make for at least a solid, if not fascinating, biographical drama, correct? Some of the moments in All Eyez on Me are there, but the overall total execution often isn’t.

From a narrative perspective in All Eyez on Me, ‘Pac’s life is told to an interviewer (Hill Harper) while in prison, from his birth until his eventual bailout by Death Row Records mogul Suge Knight (played by Dominic L. Santana, in a role written with little subtlety). This takes up about a half or so of the movie, but it is not a bad way for director Benny Boom to tell the rapper’s story. Every now and then, there are small hints to the depths and duality that made up Shakur’s character, portrayed pretty well by Demetrius Shipp, Jr.

In what amounts to his first ever role in film, Shipp looks the part and generally displays good chops. Perfect? No, but there’s something there. Outside of a Tupac hologram assuming the position, probably the best we could hope for. However, he’s the one bright spot in a cast that does itself in with overacting. Pac was certainly a real one, but everyone around him here feels fake. An aside: If Jamal Woolard can reprise his role as The Notorious B.I.G from a movie released over seven years ago, why couldn’t some small agreement come to fruition to bring back those who starred as characters in Straight Outta Compton who also make appearances in Tupac’s biopic? Every studio’s making shared universes, why not a multi-studio spanning “Rapverse” beginning with SOC and AEoM?

The talent or lack thereof in All Eyez on Me is an issue, but the lackluster writing and general technical direction serve as bigger weights on the biography. Despite the semi-linear approach described previously for much of the movie, the film is poorly paced, often spending too little time on transformative moments, or too much time on inconsequential ones (a prison stabbing and a 10-second focus on a woman’s buttocks are examples of this). In about 10-15 minutes, ‘Pac goes from neighborhood poetry club contributor to Digital Underground roadie to signing with Interscope and releasing 2Pacalypse Now. The progression is jarring, and it ends up marring the rapper’s rise to stardom.

There are two words I didn’t think would ever describe this movie. However, after viewing All Eyez on Me, much of the events and more accurately how they’re shown and told are rather cheesy and corny. Made for a reported 40 million, what’s here is on par with those straight-to-BET movies the station used to carry. At times, what occurs is unintentionally funny and/or just eye-rolling, with an odd reliance on slow-motion shaky shots. The ending is simply horrid. Benny Boom is a great music video director, but one does have to wonder if the directorial responsibility for a movie of this level would have been better in more experienced hands, as opposed to a man whose only directorial film credits are Next Day Air and S.W.AT: Firefight.

For such a massive icon, Tupac deserves a better tribute in All Eyez on Me. Shed so many tears, indeed.

D

Photo credits go to uproxx.com, BET.com, and xxlmag.com.

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The House: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to their house. Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler) are two good parents who have a lot to be proud of. Their daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), has been accepted into the prestigious Bucknell University. And the best thing about it is that she happens to be a straight-A student, a virtual lock for the town’s full ride scholarship.

At least, that’s what they thought, until city councilman Nick Kroll takes away her award immediately upon granting it to her, claiming “budget cuts” as the reason. After an unfruitful trip to Las Vegas with friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to win the money needed to support Alex’s college bills, the three concoct a plan to raise her money by running an underground casino in Frank’s home. The House always wins, but the house also attracts unwanted clientele that can make life very miserable for the Johansens.

Does Hollywood have a mid/big-budget comedy problem? Obviously, the genre is the most subjective there is—one person’s laughing trash is another’s laughing treasure. Still, since 22 Jump Street and possibly Trainwreck, there hasn’t been that big pure comedy that audiences and critics agree upon and flock in droves to see and spend money on. Even with the comedy stalwarts in Ferrell and Poehler, The House, proven by its box office results as of this writing, definitely isn’t that comedy.

Any enjoyment of The House may likely come down to how much one enjoys the typical antics of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. A good chunk of their interactions, both together and with others, appear to be improvised, for better and for worse. Out of the two, Ferrell delivers more consistently with the laughs; two running gags involve his character struggling with the most basic of math problems and channeling a dark alter ego known as “The Butcher.” Still, both have been better before.

It’s probably Mantzoukas who has the best parts tied to his character. His total arc comes up pretty flat, but he absolutely steals scenes as the gambling addict Frank, the divorcee trying to win back his love by…running a casino. Nick Kroll is amusing playing the shady councilman, but others in the cast are pretty worthless, even Alex, who the story is supposed to revolve around.

The House suffers from predictability. This isn’t a bad thing in of itself—especially in a comedy—but when the jokes are folding at the table, it can be. Additionally, The House takes a long time to set up the opposition, often shifting between villains in its last act. The SNL skit feeling is hard to escape when watching. First-time director Andrew J. Cohen (writer of Neighbors) makes a basic, standard-looking feature that takes story and scene inspiration from Casino. Nothing shoddy or praiseworthy particularly stands out.

And ultimately, that last sentence sums up The House pretty succinctly. It’s an average hand in a genre in desperate need of a flush.

C

Photo credits go to theplaylist.net, movpins.com, and slashfilm.com. Article credit to Variety.com.

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Baby Driver: Movie Man Jackson

Baby…cab driver. Can you take me for a ride? Young man Baby (Angel Elgort) makes his living—reluctantly, as a getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a big-time crime lord in Atlanta. Over the years, Doc has employed many underlings to carry out his elaborate heists, but one piece never changes, that being Baby. Give him an iPod and he’s that damn good in the heat of the moment, constantly needing music due to a condition that produces nonstop ringing in his ears.

Baby’s had enough though, and he’s ready to get out of the game, especially after meeting the beautiful waitress Debora (Lily James). The two are ready to leave their lives behind and just go West. Unfortunately, one last job requires Baby’s efforts, working with Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to rob a post office with bags upon bags of valuable money orders. There’s a way out for Baby and Debora, but it’s going to involve a lot of driving. And maybe some blood shed.

A postmodern musical? The deconstruction of a musical? That’s the first thing that popped into my head upon the first 10-20 minutes of watching Baby Driver. Director Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) latest uses mostly licensed music to accentuate whatever’s on the screen at any given time. There’s little to no singing, but this is almost as much of a musical as, say, La La Land. So the music is a big part, but not the only part. Edgar Wright delivers a pretty spectacular and inventive crime/romance/musical movie that laps much of the 2017 summer movie fare.

Baby Driver is escapist fare, and I believe it is fair to look at it more as of an exercise in style over any notable substance. That is not to say that the story Wright has penned is poor, but it is simply adequate, partly rushed in spots such as the romance component, and 50/50 in the hit/miss comedy ration. A final act character twist doesn’t make a ton of sense. But it’s probably best to look at Baby Driver as a pure fantasy rather than a grounded crime-drama. With that said, Wright certainly makes things unpredictable in the last act, and that is a good thing.

The overall average story works, however, because the great cast elevates the material. Angel Elgort plays the enigmatic Baby with a lot of cool-calm charisma and likability, whether in the driver’s seat or lip-syncing and grooving to the myriad tracks on his iPod. Though her role is very basic, Lily James injects her character of Debora with enough honest heart. With no real elaboration on time elapsed, one has to assume that everything is happening pretty quickly in Baby Driver. As such the relationship that spawns between the two lovebirds is again rushed, but Elgort and James carry so much natural and endearing chemistry with one another that it becomes easy to buy into by the end of the film.

As for the rest of the cast, it’s comprised by professionals who know how to own each minute of their screentime. Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx (who starred in Horrible Bosses together), play slightly paired-down versions of their roles there; Spacey still delivering dialogue in a pompous and superior way, Foxx relishing his turn as a buckwild and unstable entity. Even Jon Hamm and Eiza González, whose characters initially seem to be the least important of the criminal stable, turn out to play huge parts in the latter stages of the film.

But, it is the technical stylings of Edgar Wright that is the true star of Baby Driver. As stated, the music is a noticeable piece, snapping into place into much of the happenings either by way of effectively capturing the feelings of our main character, or as another sonic layer to the existing musical track via finger taps, whizzing bullets, and the like. Baby Driver plays a little like Grand Theft Auto V, with its heist setups and resulting chaos that arises afterwards. The action is extremely exhilarating and tightly choreographed, enhanced by precise cinematography and bold colors. There probably won’t be chase sequences that top these in the remaining months of the year.

Baby Driver is easily one of the best times anyone will have viewing a movie in theaters this entire year. Who needs Dominic Toretto when you’ve got Baby?

B+

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com and empireonline.com.

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Rough Night: Movie Man Jackson

Rick James said it best: Cocaine is a hell of a drug. Ten years ago at George Washington University, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) become lifelong friends during their freshman year. 10 years later, everyone’s in the real world living their own lives. Jess is striving to become a city official, Alice is educating little kids, Frankie is taking up activism, and Blair is working to get full custody of her son.

This doesn’t leave them time to hang out. But because Jess is getting married to fiancé, Peter (Paul W. Downs), this is the perfect time for the college foursome, plus Jess’ Australian study abroad friend, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), to get together again for a wild bachelorette weekend. The city of Miami is the playground for clubbing, cocaine, and a nightcap that involves a stripper. Too much of a good time leaves the hired stud dead, and the women struggle with what to do with the body. It’s a Rough Night, indeed, that can soon turn into a rough life if the ladies are convicted of involuntary murder.

Are in the midst of a female ensemble comedy boom? Bridemaids came many years ago, but in the last year films like Ghostbusters and Bad Moms arrived within weeks of each other. And now, Rough Night is here, with a somewhat similar looking-film in Girls Trip on the upcoming horizon. Rough Night is certainly the darkest of the bunch, put together by Broad City directors/writers Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello. While the cast possesses the chemistry to make for a good summer comedy, Rough Night is a shot that goes down a little rough but isn’t impossible to take.

For the first going, Rough Night takes most of its cues and inspirations from the aforementioned Paul Feig feature and the first Hangover, placing its subjects in a glitzy locale right before the knot’s getting tied for some grown up debauchery. It’s all pretty basic, and pretty forgettable. Once the instigating moment comes, the movie does kick up a tad. While the direction of the story and twist is very predictable, a fun and bizarre side-plot is introduced during it that becomes the absolute best part of the comedy.

In an ensemble comedy showcasing big names in the genre such as Bell and McKinnon, it’s actually a male who steals the show and is responsible for the laughs the elicit the biggest response. In a bit of a gender expectation swap, Paul W. Downs plays the worried, “boring” bachelor male in Peter, with the joke being that his wine party is much more lowkey and simplistic than his fiance’s. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, which eventually leads to Peter making a “Sad Astronaut” mad dash to Miami hopped on Xanax and Redbull to find out what’s going on with his woman. It’s a very much absurd B plot, yet somehow works thanks to Downs’ timing, delivery, and facial expressions.

Unfortunately, the female fivesome doesn’t reach the comedic heights Downs and his character’s literal journey does. They all do a great job with chemistry, general banter and even heavier drama moments; they’re highly believable as a close-knit group of women who have a lot of history together. Jillian Bell feels like an acquired taste at this point; her particular style does little for yours truly. Zoë Kravitz and Scarlett Johansson, even in basic straight (wo)men roles, feel somewhat miscast. The “best” lines belong to Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon, the latter hamming it up ever so slightly in an Australian accent.

Perhaps it’s the dissimilar tones that exist in Rough Night that do not allow it, and the main characters by extension, to be as funny as it could be. Definitely Hangover III-esque vibes at times, where the viewer doesn’t know if this is a complete ensemble romp, or a darker comedy-drama trying to have the occasional funnybone jolts.

Whatever the case may be, Rough Night isn’t a completely awful night. But highly doubtful it will be a night one will look fondly upon years down the line.

C-

Photo credits go to etonline.com, slate.com, and elitedaily.com

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47 Meters Down: Movie Man Jackson

If you’ve got to do this to win back an ex, he/she simply isn’t worth it. Two sisters in Lisa and Kate (Mandy Moore, Claire Holt) are vacationing in Mexico. Lisa has recently come off of a breakup, but still has feelings for her ex, Stewart, who broke things off because he found Lisa boring.

What better way to make Stewart jealous? By cage diving in a shark-infested ocean while taking pics of the expedition, of course! Despite Lisa’s reluctance and rightful unease, she agrees to do it. After a few calm and fun minutes, the cage breaks away from its rope, sending the sisters spiraling down to the ocean floor. Now, 47 Meters Down with limited radio contact, air supply, and numerous hidden sharks, Lisa and Kate must do whatever’s possible to stay alive and return to the surface.

After the success of The Shallows, it appears that we could possibly be entering a phase in which shark movies are coming back to the big screen during the summer months. Enter 47 Meters Down, a movie that was supposed to go straight-to-DVD last August from Dimension Films, yet was purchased and saved for wide release this summer by Entertainment Studios films due to the success of that Blake Lively vehicle. While there’s baseline genre thrills, 47 Meters Down takes only an average bite in delivering a harrowing tale.

47 Meters Down‘s main problems start with the script, penned by director Johannes Roberts. Particularly the first 10-15 minutes, which set up why the two females feel compelled to do what is ultimately their undoing. The reason, stated before in the first paragraph, is extremely shallow and stupid, considering that we as the audience never see the ex-boyfriend Lisa is referring to. He only exists in a response to a text sent from Lisa when she tells him how much fun Mexico is and how much better it would be if he were there. His paraphrased text? “That’s really cool…I’m moving out my stuff tonight.” He’s totally worth trying to win back.

The few efforts to flesh out the two lead roles do not work, be it via early movie cringey dialogue, or mid-movie “sister-talk.” Mandy Moore and Claire Holt do their best—they’re not insufferable and they’re good at screaming and hyperventilating (Moore, especially) —but with lazy writing, neither is charismatic or talented enough to overcome script deficiencies and make audience truly care for their characters here. Every other person in 47 Meters Down is disposable or inconsequential, aside from Matthew Modine who exists to deliver status updates and key information via radio.

47 Meters Down can’t completely be dismissed, however, because it mostly gets the things right in a shark movie that audiences come to see. While not quite up to the technical quality of better Great White features, Roberts directs most moments and shark attacks with skill, and the addition of rapidly declining oxygen tanks adds some tension. The sharks look very believable, and many different types of shots are used to convey the disorienting and dark depths of the ocean. Most shark movies don’t go as “deep” as 47 does, so that in itself is sort of unique. Although predictable when it is first brought up, there’s a cool final act “twist” that gives some life to the film. Unfortunately, 47 ends flat, with no aftermath follow-up of what comprised most of the runtime.

 

47 Meters Down is OK enough to not be deep-sixed into oblivion, getting by with staple shark movie thrills. But, it’s better to wait and watch this in the format Dimensions Films originally intended.

C

Photo credits go to variety.com, dailymail.co.uk, and movieclips.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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