The Wall: Movie Man Jackson

I’ll let someone else make a witty connection between this film’s title and the 45th president of the United States of America. In 2007, the Iraq War isn’t exactly over, but the pullout of American troops is beginning. Called to lookout after U.S. contractors building a pipeline are killed, Army sniper “Eyes” Issac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and spotter Sergeant Matthews (John Cena), make a move away from their protected positions to scope out the site. It’s been 22 hours, and they’re ready to be evacuated.

Shortly after inspection, all hell breaks loose. Scrambling from the open space fire, Issac finds protection in the form of an unsteady wall. Desperately trying to request help, his radio is not only damaged in the attack, but tapped by the enemy sniper. It becomes clear that Issac and Matthews are in grave danger, but their stalking assailant wants to play wretched mind games before launching a fatal salvo.

In the vein of 2016’s lean thrillers such as The Shallows and Don’t Breathe is The Wall. Director Doug Liman’s most recent film uses the backdrop of Iraq and the war to provide a movie that is technically a war movie, but sharing much more in common with those aforementioned films than a Hacksaw Ridge, Saving Private Ryan, and the like. The Wall ends up summer 2017’s first 100% lean thriller.

Liman, who knows his way around big-budget features in The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, seems to relish in directing on this minuscule scale that The Wall carries, reportedly made somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 million dollars. The minimalist approach is deployed, and it does immerse the viewer into its setting rather quickly. Music is entirely absent in the movie; one may forget they’re watching one. Swirling winds, the desert heat, and just the general fear of being in a person’s literal crosshairs make for a harrowing viewing experience, and Liman chooses to give little away as it pertains to his villain’s position. It’s a clever use of space, illustrating that distance between characters may be far, but still very claustrophobic.

However, even at a tight 81 minutes, I’d be lying if I failed to say that The Wall did not meander occasionally. Gradually, the audience does find out more about Issac and his reason for still being in Iraq as the war is winding down, giving a little bit of an emotional component. As the film goes on, some attempts are made to parallel—and in the case of the antagonist, somewhat humanize—the characters who lie on each side of the wall divide through Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare lines. At best, these parallels are broad, at worst, nonexistent. Not exactly painful-to-listen-to dialogue, but the type of dialogue that doesn’t accomplish as much as it wants to, either. As for the ending, it’s a bold direction, if a little farfetched for a realism-focused movie.

Keeping up his hot momentum after his marvelous turn in Nocturnal Animals is Aaron Taylor-Johnson here. His performance isn’t so much character-driven, but draws more upon the overall fatigue and hopelessness, mental, physical, and emotional, soldiers may find themselves into. This is unequivocally his movie, with the bulk of the camera focused on him, though John Cena provides adequate dramatic support in what is easily his best dramatic performance to date. Laith Nakli is the standard, sinister voice that’s needed for this type of feature when a mysterious character is unseen, think Kiefer Sutherfland in Phone Booth and Ted Levine in Joy Ride.

The first real surprise of the year? With a pretty limited script, a good director and strong performances keep The Wall from toppling over, ultimately making for an efficient war-set thriller.

B-

Photo credits go to Youtube.com, muscleandfitness.com, and liveforfilms.com

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Nocturnal Animals: Movie Man Jackson

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Whenever you’ve got it, hold onto it. Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has made a new life with husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). It’s a bourgeois life, one that Susan has been accustomed to with well-off parents. It’s also an empty one that only looks glamorous from the outside.

Many years before, Susan found love with writer Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). They married, and things were rosy for a while, until Susan determined that Edward couldn’t take care of her like she wanted to be taken care of due to his overly sensitive nature and writing profession.

Susan receives a manuscript of her ex’s latest novel, Nocturnal Animals, a name Edward affectionately called Susan. It’s a dark tale, about a Texas man and his family who run into a gang of unstable individuals on the highway. Seems random, but the more Susan delves into the novel, some characters and some events hit awfully close to home.

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With a title fitting for a horror movie, Nocturnal Animals is dark. It’s uncomfortable. It can be hard to watch and even a little scary. But like the best fashion, it is also impossible to take eyes off of, or forget. Nocturnal Animals illuminates in quality and memorability from from start to finish.

Attention is seized right from the movie’s opening credits sequence. Fashion mogul turned director Tom Ford (A Single Man) certainly sears this sequence on the brain as one that is equal parts revolting yet extremely mesmerizing, with a beautiful dreamlike musical track by composer Abel Korzeniowski.

While the meaning and/artistic merits of said scene are likely to be debated for a while (count yours truly as a guy who gets the meaning but still feels that it’s done for shock more than anything), I’ll admit that it was rather alluring. Much—if not all—of Nocturnal Animals is, whether it be in the sweltering Texas desert heat, or in the cool interiors of an NYC penthouse or art gallery. The color red makes its way into a great deal of the movie. Red typically symbolizes a lot: Love, anger, attention, revenge, courage, to name a few. These are all themes that Ford touches upon or goes into depth on, maybe not perfectly, but they are there.

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Honestly, Nocturnal Animals works a lot better narrative-wise than it should. What could easily become confusing to follow never does become so, thanks to on-the-point editing and stylistic choices. The parallels between stories aren’t always congruent with one another, but when they are, Ford’s feature is extremely fascinating and rewarding, and maybe it just requires another watch for every piece to fit snugly. Aside from one visual in particular, he pushes audiences to make their own final decision as to what the meaning of the story is, whether it’s positive or negative, what happens to the (real world) characters, etc. Another strong strength? It’s unpredictable.

It’s no surprise that the cast assembled here makes for one of the stronger ensembles of the 2016 calendar year. When Amy Adams, no obvious slouch, turns in what is probably the fourth best performance of the entire movie (more as a result of her character, not her actual skill), there’s some high level acting present. Jake Gyllenhaal, again pulling double duty in a feature, is brilliant once again, and the writing for his characters allows him to display his amazing skills as both are given wonderful arcs. As an aside, he has what may be the most truest and moving quotes about love I’ve heard in an extremely long time. They are lines of dialogue I’ll never forget.

It’s Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson who give Nocturnal Animals an element of “fun” that would likely not be there without them. Make no mistake as that does not mean the work they do here is not deserving of serious supporting category consideration (already has garnered it at the time of this writing), but their characters are so dogged and world-weary (Shannon) or eccentrically vile (Taylor-Johnson) and it makes for an interesting showdown that could easily be its own movie. Shannon’s been a stud for a while, but it’s nice to see Taylor-Johnson reassert himself as a talent. He’s more or less The Joker as a guy who seemingly just likes to watch the world burn and inflict suffering on people, but he’s chilling every time he’s on screen. Pick better roles please!

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I don’t pop Molly I watch Tom Ford. And with Nocturnal Animals, I want to keep watching him, and I hope he directs more. But if it takes seven years to come up with a unique story worth telling in cinematic form, keep on making those Gucci handbags and Saint Laurent dresses while prepping that next film, Ford.

A-

Photo credits go to thefilmstage.com, ukmovies.yahoo.com, and everythingaction.com

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Godzilla: Movie Man Jackson

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“Nature has an order…a power to restore balance.” 

The King of the Monsters is back, and of course it is none other than Gojira himself, known to us Westerners as Godzilla. This 2014 iteration starts by giving immediate backstory through opening credits to the impending situation at hand. The year is 1954, and as par for the course, no one ever knows what the military and government are up to. In this case, they are actively testing and detonating weapons of immense nuclear power. As one can expect, these fools know not of what they have created/awakened.

Fast forward to the party of 1999 (Prince reference), and a couple of scientists are asked to investigate an oddity in a quarry. Something looks to have hatched, and it looks pretty massive. Shortly after, seismic activity is recorded outside of Tokyo, and mayhem ensues. This is the type of stuff engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) deals with daily, but nothing can prepare him for this. Unfortunate happenings arise for everyone involved.

15 years later, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is making a life with a family in San Francisco as a Naval officer. His father, still in Japan, is hell bent on finding whatever truly happened those years ago. Whatever did happen, it will force the pair to come together, for it is still out there and just a small indication of what is to come.

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It is best to go into Godzilla with as little knowledge as possible. My knowledge was limited to what I had seen in TV spots, and as a result I was a bit uncertain on where this film would be going. After viewing, my reservations were largely alleviated, and this latest update to the legendary monster is all in all an extremely enjoyable ride. At the very least, this is miles better than the 1998 effort.

With that said, some will simply enjoy the 2014 effort more so than others. This statement really can apply to any movie, but it fits perfectly here. Divisive may be too strong of a descriptor in my opinion, but the way the movie is carried out will most likely diminish the enjoyment for a substantial populace.

For a blockbuster, this is a pretty methodical take. Like a point guard with high basketball IQ, Godzilla knows when to pick its spots. Sometimes, that means going at a breakneck yet still controlled clip, and other times that means slowing the game (movie) down. In totality, I enjoyed this unexpected progression, but there was a short period in the middle where it could have benefited by a quicker pace.

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Though the movie’s name is Godzilla, the focus is not squarely on the creature. He (she?) is left off the screen in a physical sense for a sizable amount of the runtime, but the presence and aura of the beast is always prevalent. So even when we don’t see Godzilla, we still feel it. Undoubtedly, some people will dislike this aspect, but it really wasn’t an issue. When it finally arises from obscurity, it makes it all the more memorable, since the anticipation was climbing.

As alluded to earlier, the pace is slower than anticipated, due to the attention it spends on its main characters, who are not monsters. Before something even remotely big occurs, we as an audience get a long look into the lives of a few of them, namely Cranston’s and Johnson’s. It is a thorough build, and one that makes you care about them and what they become subject to, even if they are not inherently interesting characters, if that makes sense.

Out of the two, Joe Brody has more depth, and Cranston works his magic like one would expect. His screentime is reduced however, but he seizes every minute of it. As for Ford Brody, portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, he is a bit more predictable and unimpressive. I am a fan of ATJ, and feel that he has a lot of potential, but here his performance is average. Part of that may just be due to the character itself, which is your standard persevere-and-show-little-emotion type of solider, but still there were moments that ATJ could have injected more oomph to Ford, but it never really happens. It is a serviceable performance, but on a lesser note from his Kick-Ass and Savages roles.

Other important characters include Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle, and Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa. The former, similar to Johnson, is serviceable but not given much to do. The latter serves as the sage of sorts who is there to inform the characters and the audience what they are dealing with, and why. The early goings pointed to a larger role, but ultimately lead to a side supporter. But, he does have a very funny moment when serving up the origins of “Gojira.”

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From a visual and technical standpoint, not many this summer are going to look better than this. Cinematography alone makes this worth a view. The design of the title character is wonderfully on point, and looks highly detailed from head to tail. A true testament to how far CGI has come. Luckily, director Gareth Edwards is able to harness a real sense of scale with the impressive creature design and attention to detail. All of the desolation and devastation is captured to its full extent, and he seems to know when to pull out, pan, linger, etc. through various shots. The sound and score adds to the sense of scale as well, and it is recommended to see this in the best theater possible.

Godzilla in many ways truly signals the arrival of summer movie viewing. Grand, bold, and full of mayhem, even with some slight missteps. A true monstrous start to the blockbuster season.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to businessinsider.com, filmjabber.com, and godzilla-movies.com.

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