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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Sully: Movie Man Jackson

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Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time. On January 15th, 2009, flight Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have the unprecedented arrive mid-flight in the skies. Their plane completely fails electrically after a flock of birds comes into contact with the engines. This isn’t going to end well.

Miraculously, Sully, the pilot vet with over 40 years of experience, thinks on his feet and manages to land right in the middle of the Hudson river, with no casualties whatsoever. Despite his humility and claim to just be doing his job, he’s a hero and should be treated as such. Yet, everyone doesn’t see it that way. The National Transportation Safety Board maintains through diagnostics that there was enough power to return back to the airport, and aim to show that Sully was more reckless than heroic in those 208 seconds from system failure to water landing.

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Death, taxes, and Tom Hanks delivering in an adult biographical drama. These are the only certainties in our world. It is of little surprise that Sully is solid. But to yours truly, it is a surprise that Sully is very good. Just maybe not for the reasons one might not expect, at least for yours truly.

Instead of working with longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks links up for the first time with director Clint Eastwood to tell the tale of one man’s duty to those around him. In Sully’s mind, he isn’t doing the heroic thing, he’s simply doing the dutiful thing and the right thing. It would have been really easy for the movie to come off as overly committed to romanticizing a man and painting him in an unbelievable soft and perfect light (a criticism many had with Eastwood’s last feature in American Sniper), but Eastwood commits to simplicity and a streamlined approach. Some may consider the flashbacks to the harrowing event a bit much; I found the piecewise flashbacks handled well with clarity (could have done without the military one, possibly). In a genre that can sometimes contain bloated screenplays and overlong runtimes, Sully is brisk and refreshing, clocking in at a tick over 90 minutes.

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Charles Barkley would love Sully. Why is he mentioned here? It was in February of 2015 that the “Sir Charles” went on a rant about how analytics were the result of people who had never played basketball using numbers to tell people how the game should be played and coached. Eastwood uses Sully to show the craziness of an overnight celebrity in the 21st century, but it ultimately is a story about man versus machine. No matter what the numbers or statistics may say or dictate, there is nothing like the human element which has to process a multitude of scenarios in real-time while actually being a human.

The finest aspects of Sully may be the technical ones, however. While at least half of the movie doesn’t “pop” in IMAX, the other half is pretty immersive, and as harrowing as one could imagine in that situation for all involved. But it is the little things that add to the immersion, like the establishing shots of the Hudson, or the interior of the aircraft. In particular, the sound is impeccable. A musical score is present, but nonexistent for the sequences in the plane. It’s a great artistic choice; hearing the malfunctions in the cockpit and the chant of “Brace brace brace! Heads down, stay down!” do more than any piece of music could do. This film’s sound design isn’t the type of feature that gets nominated in the respective award categories, but it should be.

What more is there to be said about Hanks at this point? His work is so effortless that it appears like he’s hardly trying. I think it is just the heightened quality level Hanks operates at. He forms one of the best, if not the best, bromances of 2016 sharing the skies with Aaron Eckhart, who provides a nice level of humor that does not undercut anything. Laura Linney adds a little to Sully’s character as his stressed-out wife. If there were somewhat of a substantial flaw with Sully, it would have to be its antagonists in the form of the NTSB officials. Their refusal to see anything past the data and what the flight simulations show (hard not to chuckle a bit at how much screentime those sims get during the end investigation) becomes sort of comical and eye-rolling by the film’s end.

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To call Sully extraordinary may be a reach, but seeing a hero’s tale handled so deftly and with such precision is great stuff. Eastwood flies pretty high with this one.

B+

Photo credits go to startribune.com, movieholichub.com, and directconversations.com.

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Hands of Stone: Movie Man Jackson

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Even the most stony of fighters become soft sometimes. Panamanian Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramírez) was born into nothing; no education, no father to learn from, etc. His home country of Panama is under political turmoil from the United States of America. In spite of all of this, Duran uses this to become a skilled and hardened boxer. 

With the help of legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert de Niro), Duran makes his way up the ranks, undefeated, to challenge fellow undefeated lightweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond IV). Duran gets to the apex of the boxing sport, but everyone knows that the fall is easily as precipitous, if not more so, than the rise.

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What to make of Hands of Stone, the latest boxing epic in a genre that seems to have found revitalized life in the last year? Well, much of what has been made before, really. This is to say that Hands of Stone is watchable, good in some aspects, poor in others. If it were a 15 round fight, it goes about 7 and a half.

The film is directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, unknown to this viewer before this film. Pretty clear to see he’s got passion for this project, and is dedicated to telling if not all of the highs and lows of Duran’s story, than at least most of them. The production does suffer from a few things. There’s really no sense of time even with the date stamps provided; yours truly was a little shocked that some of the fights and events in the film were much more spaced out according to Wikipedia then they appeared to be in the film. Particularly, the end comes very quick, not too long after our hero has hit rock bottom. A real oddity is the inclusion of nudity. I’m no prude (especially for the beautiful Ana de Armas), but the bare skin serves nothing to the story and it actually goes on a little long.

As for the in-ring action, it is sort of disappointing. Perhaps we are all still spoiled off of Creed with the technical prowess Ryan Coogler exhibited in his pugilism scenes. Hands of Stone can sometimes look like it was filmed with stone hands. Jakubowicz loves the 180 degree pans—not only for fighting—and it can become a little annoying. Questionable camera angles exist as well; for every good sequence, an equally scattershot one is found where it can be hard to discern what is going on. Whether the result of stars that can’t go in the ring, or poor direction, it is nonetheless frustrating.

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A few points on the scorecard are earned for the very solid work turned in the cast, though. Not counting Grudge Match, it is interesting to see Robert de Niro return to a boxing movie as a trainer, like Sly did as Rocky (obviously not being as linear). This isn’t a return to form for the legend, but it is certainly way less embarrassing than his appearance in Dirty Grandpa, and dry and unneeded story narration aside, he delivers a few dramatic highlights.

However, he’s actually outshined by a few of his less heralded cast-mates. Edgar Ramírez is Duran, and in a better movie we may be talking about his performance more. He’s compelling even in somewhat of a basic biographical/rise-fall boxing movie, and not a cookie-cutter protagonist, that term being used loosely here. All things considered, Usher keeps up and looks the role of Sugar Ray Leonard, not forcing Raymond to have to stretch too much as a pretty boy. Ana de Armas shows she can be much more than a pretty face moving forward, she’s very capable opposite Ramírez.

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Upon its conclusion, Hands of Stone feels like a boxer who has the potential knockout power, but never cared to learn how to box and take in the sweet science. He’s missing a few crucial things to make himself a true contender.

C-

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, teaser-trailer.com, and traileraddict.com.

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Facing Ali: Movie Man Jackson

Rest in Peace to the Greatest of All Time.

MMJ

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“Never feel sorry for me. I’m great.”

Some people are truly transcendent. Regardless of what they may make waves in, their personas and auras span across many areas. Cassius Clay, better known as legendary heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali, was undisputably one of these people in his heyday. Facing Ali is a documentary focused on the one of a kind fighter, told from the perspective of 10 contemporaries Ali clashed with in the ring.

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Like the DVD title says, Facing Ali is a knockout, in the best possible way. In 100 minutes we are treated to a very thorough recount and analysis from Ali’s combatants, such as Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks, Sir Henry Cooper, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, George Chuvalo, Ernie Terrell, and of course George Foreman. Each man has much to say about his respective bout from a boxing standpoint with the self-proclaimed “King…

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