The Running Man (1987): Movie Man Jackson

(Originally posted as part of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by Tom at Thomas J, and Mark at threerowsback.com)

It’s 2017, and we are only two years away from this. 2017 has seen America become a terrible place. After an economic collapse, government has stepped up to suppress all individual rights and freedoms. Civilians are placated by a TV show that showcases convicted criminals fight for their lives in exchange for potential freedom. This show, known as The Running Man, is an ultraviolent hit and brings in massive ratings, spearheaded by its energetic host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). But, those ratings have plateaued.

Now 2019, helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is wrongly painted as a mass murderer during a food riot, and promptly sent to prison. Though able to escape, he is eventually arrested. He’s given two choices: Go back into prison, presumably for life, or fight for freedom on The Running Man. Reluctant, Ben chooses to fight, where he will have to deal with gladiatorial-esque stalkers with names like “Dynamo,” “Subzero,” “Buzzsaw,” and “Fireball.” Each is hell-bent on not letting a “runner” like Ben beat them at their own game.

There are a couple of things that immediately pop into my mind as I think about the 1980’s. Big hair is one of them. The epidemics of AIDS and crack cocaine is another. Movie-wise, I think of “The Governor.” Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 80’s go together like Montana/Rice and Crockett/Tubbs, appearing in Hollywood action staples that need no listing. One less popular one that peak Arnold starred in was 1987’s The Running Man, and it is a lesser movie when held in comparison to The Terminator, Commando, Conan the Barbarian, and Predator. But, as a relative 80’s popcorn actioner, it qualifies as solid entertainment, and a clear inspiration for future films like Battle Royale, The Condemned, and of course, The Hunger Games.

There’s a reason the word relative is used. The Running Man, loosely adapted from Richard Backman’s (aka Stephen King) novel, does touch on—maybe even foreshadowed—themes and ideas still relevant today. The oft brainless and shock reality television of 2017 isn’t all that far off from what’s depicted in director Paul Michael Glaser’s (Starsky in the famous television show) feature. An appetite for violence can be loosely paralleled to the football and MMA fighting that some fans view religiously. Perhaps the best implemented idea showcased by the movie is how editing can tell the story in a specific fashion. This isn’t a novel idea, especially in this digital day and age, but a person could see it being eye-opening during this movie’s release.

It’s nice stuff, but, The Running Man does feel like it wants to really be a film that a person truly gives deep deep thought towards when in actually it isn’t quite to that intellectual and thought provoking level. Most of these ideas are introduced in the first 30-40 minutes at a surface level, and never go beyond this. Maybe Arnie was on to something about Glaser being “…out of his depth…” Part of it is due to the presentation. Hard to be taken very seriously when villains are given names like Subzero, Fireball, Buzzsaw, and Dynamo, with the latter seemingly outfitted with dopey Lite Brite pegs and singing opera as he zaps people.

It benefits science fictions films to be sometimes looked at in a vacuum with the absence of superior effects that today’s cinema world has. However, many older sci-fi films have more or less stood the test of time. The Running Man, from a technical standpoint, isn’t one of those films, with the animations and major special effects looking on par with, if not worse than, an average 90’s cartoon. And for being set in the future, most everything lacks from a creativity perspective; the technology especially isn’t that much different from what was being used in the decade. At least Harold Faltermeyer is there to provide the 80’s signature synth sounds in the score.

So, some of The Running Man is shoddy. But, it still has the charisma of “Ahnold” to bank on. His inherent likability and action prowess is used to make Richards a person to root for, even while spouting one-liners that are hit-and-miss and super corny. To paraphrase a random elderly lady in the movie, “[Ben Richards] is one mean motherf***er.” Opposing him is none other than Richard Dawson, the original Family Feud host who parodies his old persona here, doing a complete 180 as Damon Killian. He’s a real gem throughout. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, from the two Arnold sidekicks in Marvin J. McIntyre and Yaphet Kotto, to the eye candy and obvious love interest in Maria Conchita Alonso. Brief hammy roles are present by WWE legend Jesse Ventura and NFL legend Jim Brown. They’re as 80’s as one can imagine.

 

On the strength of Schwarzenegger, Dawson, and a unique (for the time) if not particularly thorough story, The Running Man is cheesy fun worth catching on a rerun.

B-

Photo credits go to craveonline.com, imdb.com, joblo.com, and top10films.co.uk

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

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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.

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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Blade Runner (The Final Cut): Movie Man Jackson

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Man’s creations will eventually rebel against their creators. Los Angeles, 2019. The City of Angels is a place that has seen many of the world’s greatest technological advances. One of these advances is the creation of “Replicants,” androids who look and feel like everyday humans. Proven to be dangerous after an uprising, the remaining replicants are banished outside of Earth and relegated to slave labor.

A few escape, and land back on Earth in search of their creator, whom they believe can help extend their life expectancy. They need to be “retired,” no ifs, ands, or buts. Taken from the shadows is Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an individual who specifically tracks and eliminates replicate threats. Upon the course of his investigation/manhunt, he gets romantically involved with an experimental model replicant, Rachael (Sean Young), who believes herself to be human. Deckard’s involvement with Rachael forces him to confront his humanity, as well as those of whom he is hunting.

Almost 35 years after its release (as of this writing), it’s impossible to talk about Blade Runner without acknowledging the impact it has had on the science fiction genre, mainly on the technical side. Almost 35 years later, it’s still one of the better-looking science fictions movies in history.

The dystopian future is a lynchpin of many a feature in the genre, but few, if any, have topped the fully realized vision that director Ridley Scott employs here. Los Angeles circa 2019 world feels authentic and lived-in, and draws one into the film immediately starting with the first interrogation utilizing the Voight-Kampff machine. Production is absolutely stellar, from the way Scott sets up shots, to the impressive score and sound design. Clearly, a sci-fi, however, it doubles as a film-noir (earlier versions feature Deckard narration, thankfully removed) in its use of lighting and plot elements.

Even as a visual tour-de-force, Scott’s Blade Runner is a slow moving film, mainly for the first half. Not until the second half do the themes start coalescing and things become more balanced with action and narrative. Scott tackles issues of oppression and corporate control, but being mainly concerned with what makes someone human. With the protagonist narration removed, Ridley leaves this question open to interpretation for the viewer. 

With all of that said, Blade Runner doesn’t resonate like envisioned, even after two viewings. I look to Scott’s characters as to a reason why, and mainly, his protagonist. Rick Deckard, even as more of his backstory is hinted at, is rather bland and nowhere near as compelling as he should be. As such, Harrison Ford ends up sort of being forgettable. Compare his character to that of Peter Weller’s in RoboCop (a movie that has similarities to Blade Runner but better pacing and memorable central characters to carry out its themes through), and Deckard feels…there. No real reason to get behind him and care about his journey. Why is he a blade runner? Why is he pulled out of retirement to hunt these replicants down, as opposed to someone else?

The replicants actually steal the show, in particular Rutger Hauer as the central leader Roy Batty of the escaped crew inhabiting Earth. Looking the part of an unstoppable killing machine, Hauer and Scott peel back the onion to show that there’s more to his character than that, and ends up being arguably the best character of the entire movie. Another argument can be made for Rachael, played by Sean Young who gives the character multiple layers as well. Rounding out the replicants are Joanna Cassidy, Daryl Hannah, and Brion James—each getting adequate screentime to further sell this created world—but amounting to little in actual people generating feelings from the audience. 

More impressive from the production and vision aspect than a storytelling and character one, Blade Runner is a little disappointing from the latter front. But is it still quite the sci-fi-experience in totality? Absolutely, and for that alone, it’s a mandatory watch for anyone. 

B

Photo credits go to qz.com, rogerebert.com, and dkillerpondworld.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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Power Rangers: Movie Man Jackson

Sorry, Tim Hortons and Dunkin’ Donuts. You got outbid by Krispy Kreme to be featured prominently. In the sleepy city of Angel Grove resides five average high school teenagers. Quarterback jock Jason (Dacre Montgomery), popular gymnast Kimberly (Naomi Scott), geeky Billy (RJ Cyler), bad boy Zack (Ludi Lin), and outcast Trini (Becky G) are simply dealing with everyday ups and downs of growing up at Angel Grove High.

That all changes rather quickly, once these five find colored Power Coins. Or rather, the Power Coins have found them, and imbued them with amazing physical powers. Holding these power coins makes them the Power Rangers, and the world needs them now more than ever, for an old threat named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is after Earth Zeo crystal. This crystal has the power to wipe out the world. They’ve been chosen, but in order to defeat Rita, this fivesome has to come together as a unit to do so.

 

Here’s the predictable part where I tell about my fond memories of Power Rangers growing up as a 90’s kid. As my parents can attest, my sister and I did like (wouldn’t say love) the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, up through Turbo. Aged 3-5 during the original air, I can’t remember every detail, but remember the show being good fun. Reboots/re-imaginings get enough grief as is, most of it well-deserved.

But anyone who says the Power Rangers are sacred and should never be redone is wrong. Makes perfect sense to reintroduce them to the world, to some, their first time seeing. And so, 2017’s version of the Power Rangers has enough for old fans to enjoy, but actually is more concerned in charting its own path, which it does relatively well.

Director Dean Israelite takes inspiration from his prior film in 2015’s Project Almanac in what ends up actually working. Throw in a dash of Chronicle and a pinch of The Breakfast Club and you have what makes up the first two-thirds of this film, certainly not original but very functional. The enjoyment of 2017’s Power Rangers will likely be directly correlated to how much one is invested in these five characters before they finally don the iconic suits. Make no mistake about it, it’s a surprisingly slow burn to the stuff that seemed to comprise most of the 2nd trailer.

And surprisingly, it’s actually the best part about the movie. Sure, there’s some lame dialogue here and some odd tonal inconsistencies there, but all in all, the characters are pretty endearing, and it pays homage to the original in the sense that the original could be goofy and corny quite often. The five who make up this iteration of Rangers are competent on the acting front, even good more often than not, with the scene-stealer being RJ Cyler as the quirky but most pure personality Billy Cranston.

Though he’s the Blue Ranger and not the official leader, he’s just as much of a leader as Red Ranger Jason is, played by Dacre Montgomery. Females Naomi Scott and Becky G bring attitude. If there were one slight weak link in the five, it’s Ludi Lin as the brash Black Ranger, not necessarily due to anything he does, but the character tests the nerves for a while. The presence/voices of Bill Hader and Bryan Cranston add a lot to Alpha 5 and Zordon. All, even Alpha 5, come off as somewhat grounded in reality, except for the villainous Elizabeth Banks. Her turn as Rita Repulsa initially starts out interesting (and frightening), though by the end veers into the dark recesses of Campyville.

When it comes to action and direction, Power Rangers 2017 is merely okay. A good amount of the scenes feel like they were shot in the dark for no real reason, and the camera in two main chase scenes is all over the place. Israeilite’s camera work/editing feels akin to a video game with great graphics (the suits and overall design are a major plus), yet inconsistent framerate. The action in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was never all-out frenetic, but neither plodding (like it can be here), either. With that said, some moments do deliver and are fun to look at.

The Power Rangers are back for a new generation. Six movies seems like a aye-yi-yi-yi-yi stretch, but the first installment sets things off on the right foot.

B-

Photo credits go to morphinlegacy.com, screenrant.com, and comicbook.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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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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Logan: Movie Man Jackson

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Father time is forever, and will always be undefeated. In the future (2029, to be exact), the famous/infamous X-Man Logan (Hugh Jackman), spends his days in relative isolation on the Tex-Mex border, working as an Uber-driver of sorts. He takes care of a physically and mentally debilitating Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), still seen as a weapon by the U.S. government. His goal is to make enough money to get away from all of this and spend their lives in peace as the last known mutants on Earth.

Professor X is declining in health, but so is Logan. The Wolverine no longer has the rapid healing factor he once possessed, and each enemy encounter takes longer to recover from. His path crosses with a woman who needs his assistance getting a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) to the border of U.S./Canada for her safety. Why, Logan does not know, but he soon finds out that many bad people want Laura for unknown reasons, and unfortunately, he’s connected in all of this. He has to do something, reluctant as he may be.

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The X-Men, and by the associative property, Logan/Wolverine, have been around for 17 years now. And yet, people never really talk about them or their characters in the same vein like they do an Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, or Batman, despite that 2000 film sort of paving the way for modern day superhero movies. Box-office wise, mutants haven’t carried the same monetary reward like their aforementioned brethren have (though this past weekend, Logan has posted quite the number at 85 million plus, making $400+ worldwide a damn near certainty). My point is, with regards to the characters of the X-Men universe, perhaps we should talk about them in the same vein as those others. Or at least Logan.

James Mangold (The Wolverine, 3:10 to Yuma) returns to direct (and this time, write) Wolvie’s latest outing after redeeming the character from 2009’s disappointment, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The Wolverine was a good start really expanding its title character’s warrior/samurai backstory/parallels, only succumbing to “comic book-ness” and poor CGI in its final act. But Logan fully capitalizes on the 17 years most of us have seen Jackman as Logan. There’s a reason this is called Logan and not The Wolverine 2 or something similar. This is a very mature, character-focused production that does like to take its time (occasionally, plodding so) in telling its story and relationships.

Of course, there are many scenes that feature the usage of superhero/villain powers, but honestly, Logan never really feels like a superhero movie. And that’s a good thing. It’s integrated with the X-Men universe, but barely. Mangold and Jackson seem to want to have nothing to do with the X-Men universe. I made a point before about how the traditional Western is a thing no longer, but that that modern Western of nowadays and likely, the future, is a genre that is fused with other ones.

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Logan is, unofficially, a Western. The old, world-weary outlaw in the middle of nowhere, facing odds that are slim to none for survival against a heaping of mostly faceless opposition, defending something or someone because it is ultimately the right thing to do. Certainly not an original story (shades of Midnight Special and The Last of Us are apt comparisons), but the attention to detail and minimalist scenery Mangold uses to tell this story for a traditional superhero comes off as fresh. Logan, crazy to say, is relatable, in ways most “superhero” movies aren’t.  Sacrifice, pain, and duty are all words floated in many a comic book movie, but in Logan, they seem tangible.

And then there’s the biggest talking point of the Logan movie: Its R Rating. Not much more can be said by yours truly that one hasn’t heard at this point in time, but it bears repeating. This is absolute brutality the likes of few, if any, comic book movies have ever possessed on the silver screen, with amazing sound effects. But it, and the heavy tone in general, feels necessary, a natural progression for the characters of Logan and Professor X making their final stands. Some of the F bombs (and hit/miss humor, for that matter) do feel more like “Hey, we’ve got a R Rating now, let’s throw this around just because!” instead of natural, but most do end up sounding fine.

For over a decade, Hugh Jackman’s been turning in excellent performances as Wolverine, and yet, this is easily his best one as this character. Probably because he has more to do as Old Man Logan. Jackman sells the emotional and physical pain we are witnessed to from the get-go; it honestly hurts to watch him limp everywhere. Likewise for Patrick Stewart, who still serves as a father figure to Logan despite the worsening conditions he’s dealing with. It’s a relationship the duo have always had since the very first X-Men, but finally, it’s fully realized on both ends, as both assume the role of father and son throughout.

Brand new youngster Dafne Keen fits well with the established thespians, not being forced to do a ton dramatically until the end. Too early to say she’s a star in the making (not much to really go off of), but is believable for this part. No one else stands out all that much, even the villain(s) and Boyd Holbrook, not written with much meat, but passable for the plot at hand.

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Balls out, claws out. The last iteration of Hugh Jackman as Logan does just that, culminating in an emotional ending that ties any loose ends or lingering matters. A real downer that this is it for Jackman in a role he’s made iconic, but it’s always best to go out on top.

B+

Photo credits go to comicvine.gamespot.com, ign.com, and bustile.com.

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Arrival: Movie Man Jackson

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We come in peace? In peace we come? Peace we come in? They all mean different things! Out of nowhere, large opaque oblong spacecrafts come out of the sky, hovering over 12 cities across the world. They look threatening, so they had to have come to bring destruction to Earth. But, they just hover there, idly…

But idle cannot be assumed to completely mean peaceful. The fact of the matter is, someone needs to figure out what the point is of these extraterrestrials’ Arrival. That task primarily falls to linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). As both soon figure out, these beings operate with a higher sense of knowledge and communication than we do. Perhaps it isn’t them they should be concerned about, but rather, whether all parties across the world can collaborate with each other to figure out the meaning of their arrival.

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Few directors have had the critical success that Denis Villeneuve has experienced. Not counting Incendies (a film I so desperately need to see), he has helmed some of the best films of this decade in a relatively short time period with Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario. He’s hit must-see status…even with a weaker offering in Arrival. 

Don’t take that opener as disdain for Arrival. This is still a good movie, one in which Denis Villeneuve has firmly cemented himself as appointment viewing, up there with the likes of Christopher Nolan , David Fincher, and Quentin Tarantino. After delving into abduction, surrealism, and the cartels, the director tackles humanity and cooperation this time around. This is actually the first surprise—rather, misdirect—of Arrival. 

Despite having obvious elements of the science-fiction genre, it can be easily argued that Arrival isn’t much of one as a whole. Which is perfectly OK. The study of linguistics and how each and every culture can interpret meaning differently is fascinating, and it is an idea that is rendered wonderfully from a visual and auditory sense. If one ever wanted to see what a Rorschach test looked like on the silver screen, Arrival is probably the closest movie to capturing that. Arrival isn’t as striking as Sicario or as bizarre as Enemy, but even being more minimalist, there’s a tension (Villeneuve truly knows how to wield a camera to show this) that exists from the jump to the end of the second act. It only helps that the wonderful Johann Johannson provides moody musical cues that get at the extraterrestrial aspect of the story.

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So Arrival, script source material taken from the novella Story of Your Life, is undoubtedly cerebral. Where it falters, for yours truly at least, is tugging at the heartstrings. The rest of this paragraph can essentially be summed up as the super basic statement “It just didn’t do it for me,” but I’ll try to elaborate without spoiling. Perhaps I have no one else to blame but myself for expecting something that wasn’t there. It just feels that, however, something else could have, should have, been there. For all of the tension that is generated in the the initial acts of the movie, the reveal has sort of a flat feeling tied to it. It’s at this point when Arrival moves into full on heartfelt drama. Drama that, while structurally sound when held under a microscope, is a little uninteresting.

There are three performers billed on the movie’s poster, but one that gets all of the good material. That one being Amy Adams, who is always a captivating presence. The biggest reason why the cast works is that they are easy to buy into as their roles. All of Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker possess roles moreso than meaty characters (though Adams figuratively gets a full character circle, if you will), but this is a feature that requires actor and actress to be believable in delivering theories, calculating math, and delivering orders. When the three or some combination of the two are on screen together, they all work well with each other and the dialogue is worth listening to.

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At the very least, Arrival is worth a watch, not just for the impressive direction, but because it is unique, and films like this should be supported regardless of genre. Even with yours truly ultimately feeling a tad underwhelmed with the story aspects and endgame of this film, if it wasn’t clear before, it’s crystal clear now that Denis Villeneuve has arrived as a top-level filmmaker.

B-

Photo credits go to vox.com, nerdreactor.com, and rollingstone.com.

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Max Steel: Movie Man Jackson

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Nostalgia? Not exactly. Teenager Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) knows everything about moving around, nine times in 16 years he’s lived in different places with his widowed mother (Maria Bello). They’ve returned to the city where Max’s dad, a legendary scientist whom Max knows little about, died to begin life anew.

Randomly, Max begins to emit energy from his body, and attracts a small robot-like extraterrestrial named Steel, who claims the two have to work together not only to keep Max alive, but to protect Earth from incoming dangerous beings. Together, the duo is Max Steel. 

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Yours truly is 26 as of this writing, so I am (or was?) a 90’s kid. Everyone knows about the Hey Arnolds, the Power Rangers, the classic 90’s Disney channel movies, and the like. Back in the day, I had collected action figures of some of the lesser-known TV shows that I watched religiously, such as Beast Wars, Big Bad Beetleborgs, and Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog. All of this is to say that I don’t remember Max Steel ever existing in my life, despite apparently having a top selling toy figure and short-lived original animated television show. The weekend box office returns pretty much paints the picture on Max Steel’s 2016 movie. No one knows about it, and probably for good reason. It’s forgettable and mostly bland.

With the marketing being so nonexistent for this one, I don’t even recall seeing a trailer. I basically went in blind with no expectations of the story, the characters, etc. In about five minutes however, it is extremely easy to see how matters play out in this 92 minute runtime. It’s a conventional origins story with a little bit of romance and teen angst thrown into a blender together; think mainly Spider-Man with a little Iron Man and even the old video game series Jak and Daxter. For a film named Max Steel though, it does take a little while to actually see Max Steel in action.

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There are a few brights spots, such as Steel, who has got some fun lines and OK comedy. And the visuals, while not exactly stellar, aren’t too bad (save for the ending where the CGI looks pretty shoddy inside of the helmets). But overall, little of it is interesting, for a few reasons. Again, so much of it is predictable, one just knows how each character fits and who’ll be the antagonist.

But questions, like where Max’s dad originates from, or why the bad guy chose to do what he did beyond the “I wanted power” route, or even how a small floating orb can attach himself to a human and make a full suit of armor, aren’t answered. The worst (slight spoiler) easily has to be when Max’s mom states why she never told her son about what truly is going on, because he’s still a kid and can’t handle it. He’s 16! Terrible writing.

This isn’t the feature that announces Ben Winchell’s arrival in Hollywood. Nothing’s outright deplorable but he possesses little, if any, charisma to elevate his titular character to anything more than a low-rung generic hero, with the same shocked face throughout. It doesn’t help him that Max is written to be somewhat unlikable, and only accepts Steel when there are no other options. If recent roles in Lights Out, Prisoners, and McFarland, USA are anything to go off of, Maria Bello has settled into being a wife/mom of varying emotional degrees. The simple casting of Andy Garcia serves as a dead giveaway for the entire plot.

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More suited for straight to DVD that an actual wide release, Max Steel is best left for the scrap heap. Probably didn’t need me to tell you this.

D

Photo credits go to yahoo.com, collider.com, and comingsoon.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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