War: Movie Man Jackson

OneSheet (Page 1)

“Get ready for a war.”

War! Huuh! Good God y’all! What is it good for? FBI agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham), and partner Tom Lone (John Lone), are tracking the elusive “Rogue” (Jet Li), a former CIA agent now working for the Japanese Yakuza in San Francisco. The two have located him, and Lone decides to execute him before he executes Crawford.

Shockingly, Rogue has survived, and comes for Lone, and successfully kills he and his family. Now driven by vengeance, his partner Crawford has made it his mission to seek out and destroy Rogue, who is not to be found. He does resurface three years later, on a mysterious personal mission of his own that involves the Triads and Yakuza. One man wants justice, the other revenge. To obtain it, they will have to go through the warring factions, and of course each other.

partners

Just look at the poster at the top. No, the red flaming background isn’t amazing, but with Jet Li and Jason Statham staring a hole into each other, it still effectively imprints a mental image of what one would expect to get when seeing War; that being impressive action, and the promise of seeing two modern action stars in their prime going mano a mano. The key word in that past sentence is expect. Sometimes, to expect and get something else delivered is a nice surprise, and other times the failure to deliver even the most basic of expectations can leave a bad taste in the mouth.

The one and really only reason one would watch War is to see action, likely of the martial arts variety. It is a bummer on two fronts that the movie does not deliver either for the majority of the runtime. Honestly, about an hour goes by before a big-time action sequence is shown. From here, more action is introduced, thankfully, but little of it is anything to be remembered.

li

Blame can be attributed to the director, Philip G. Atwell, to which War happens to be his first full-length feature (and to this point his only one). Much of the film’s action pieces are hastily cut, often obscuring what is going on. When you have Li and Statham at your disposal, this is a disservice to them. It isn’t a shock that it looks this way, as Atwell has made his name on being a music video director, but that doesn’t make it any less of a chore to keep up with who is hitting who.

As time goes on, there is a feeling that Atwell wasted his leads. Instead of letting Jet Li do his thing as a martial artist, his character carries out his most of this business with a gun. If I wanted Shoot ‘Em Up I’d watch that. At least he does get more chances to look cool, unlike Statham. Until that sequence an hour in, Statham does relatively nothing but talk. Yours truly likes the guy, but he wouldn’t be my first choice for a role with heavy dialogue if equal moments of being an action hero don’t exist in the script.

Unfortunately, with the lack of well-filmed action, the plot comes to the forefront. I didn’t say lack thereof, because there is one, but it just is not interesting, and kind of takes itself very seriously. Atwell and the writers try hard to build this Japanese lore through needless dialogue and flashbacks, but less couldn’t be cared about it. One positive that does exist within the plot is an unseen twist, that, with a little overlooking of one or two aspects of it, somewhat makes sense. The main issue with it, though, is that it comes right at the end which feels extremely rushed. Literally in the last two minutes of the movie, something happens, scene fades to black, new scene begins with no explanation of the last, and the movie ends with a minute-long zoom-out on a car.

stathamvslee

The merits of this War are few and far between with mostly incompetent action due to wonky editing and a tepid plot. Even the biggest Li and Statham fans are likely to be disappointed.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to impawards.com, superiorpics.com, and latest-news15.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Advertisements

Big Game: Movie Man Jackson

big game poster

“You gotta cock it, motherf***er!”

Kids can do the darndest things nowadays. 13 year-old Oskari (Onni Tomilla) is coming up on a coming-of-age moment in his life. He is at the point where he must prove his manhood to his Finnish kinsfolk. This involves going on a hunting excursion alone with only a bow and arrow and a hunting knife, in an effort to bring back some dead Big Game which will affirm his status amongst his people.

On the hunt for game, Oskari instead discovers an escape pod in the woods that is housing none other than the President of the United States, William Allen Moore (Samuel L. Jackson). Moore’s Air Force One plane has been reduced to rubble, and unbeknownst to him, he is a victim of an inside job by one of his Secret Service agents. Now, Oskari and Moore have to become linked at the hip to survive and unravel just who flipped on the President, and of course, save the world.

kidhunter

Big Game takes its inspiration from 80’s/early 90’s movies, both of the action and coming-of-age variety. If yours truly could describe it, think The Karate Kid mixed with a very tame Rambo, a tablespoon of Cliffhanger, and a hint of Spy Kids. Problem is, this isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as those (Spy Kids 1 was solid). Instead of trying to pay homage to those films, Big Game comes off as a lame attempt to do so, ultimately making this an agonizing chore to get through.

Directed by Jalmari Helander and shot on a budget of nine million, one can expect that some scenes just are not going to be up to snuff like their big budget brethren. That is fine, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that so much of the movie’s action and set pieces are uninspiring and filled with very noticeable CGI and green screen. In a nutshell, there is much worse action out there, but better action has been created with smaller budgets. This is a problem, but an even bigger one happens to be that the real explosive stuff doesn’t occur until two-thirds of the movie have been completed. Not a problem, except for the fact that, you know, this is an action movie.

slj

The lack of action only brings more unwanted attention to the mundane story. I know it isn’t supposed to be taken seriously, but since it takes much time for anything of note to occur, this actually pushes the flimsy story to the forefront. Where to start? For starters, there is a ton of dialogue that is designed to bring some background to Oskari and his village. Almost all of it is through subtitles, which yours truly normally has no problem with. Here, however, the font and white letter coloring makes the subtitles unreadable against a snow-capped background, which truly is a tough way to begin viewing a movie. After the 10-minute subtitle fiasco, much of Big Game, until the final act, is really just Samuel L. and Tomilla walking around trying to figure out what to do next. It isn’t exciting, adds nothing to the story, and the two leads have mediocre chemistry at best.

Despite not being the star of this, Samuel L. Jackson is the only person to have his name on the poster. Over the years, whenever SLJ appears in something, audiences don’t expect an amazing performance but at least know that a fun time will likely be had. Maybe it is the character he plays, or just a straight cash-in, but whatever the reason, Jackson is pretty sedated. Big Game desperately needed an over-the-top performance where Jackson goes off on hilarious tirades and what not, but aside from one classically delivered line near the end, his casting essentially feels like an effort to have someone recognizable in the movie without taking advantage of it.

He becomes the sidekick to Onni Tommila. The kid looks convincing in doing action, and down the line it isn’t hard to see him being a consistent and villainous presence in the genre. Still, he comes off as very wooden here, which I believe is unintentional even though the film tries so hard to be a cheese-fest, which is painfully unfunny from that regard. Honestly, his character and subsequent adventure are not that compelling.

mountain

Considering there were no expectations on my end with this one, hopefully all of this says something about the feelings yours truly has about Big Game, a film luckily not many have seen or are even aware of based upon the financial returns. More fitting titles would be Big Lame, Big Shame, or Big Disdain.

Grade: F

Photo credits go to Youtube.com, IMDB.com, wideopenspaces.com, and bloody-disgusting.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Bloodsport: Movie Man Jackson

bloodsport

“You are next!”

Ahh, so this is where Johnny Cage comes from?  American Frank Dux (Jean Claude Van Damme) is an Army soldier and a super-skilled martial artist. At a young age, he was trained by sensei Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao) in the various fighting artforms along with Tanaka’s son Shingo. A family tragedy comes over the family, one that forces Senzo to impart his full knowledge and skill unto Frank.

Wanting to honor the Tanaka clan, Frank feels that the best way to do so is to compete in the Hong Kong-based Kumite, an illegal underground fighting tournament that honors the best fighter. Receiving Senzo’s blessing, he leaves his responsibilities to travel to Hong Kong, where he befriends a fellow American fighter (Ray Jackson) and reporter Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) who is trying to get more info on the Kumite. The Kumite is secret, and anyone who fights in it accepts the risk of death.

bolo

No matter how many ways you punch it, kick it, snap it, or chop it, Bloodsport is a bad movie by most standards. A paper-thin plot, bad acting, and inconsistent editing are all found here. But if this is held to the standards of the best that cinema has to offer, it is, at least to yours truly, wrong to do so. On its impact on martial arts and sheer watchability? Bloodsport is “good,” and pretty entertaining.

Bloodsport can’t be talked about without bringing up Jean-Claude Van Damme’s first. “The Muscles from Brussels” has done many (straight to home) movies over the years, but his breakout role as Frank Dux may possibly still be his best. JCVD is legitimate as a martial artist, and makes moves looks pretty effortless on film. As an actor, he’s average at best and an embarrassment at worst, made worse by the fact that his character is 100 percent American with a Belgian accent. Nominated for the Worst New Star Razzie, one can certainly see why, but the bad that JCVD puts in turns out to be so damn good.

jackson

Luckily, there’s enough of “so bad its good acting” to go around in this that everyone gets a chance to shine. Whether it be a young kid playing a teenage Frank Dux (possibly the worst performance I’ve ever seen), the other American fighter Ray Jackson who looks like he belongs on a buffet table instead of a fight to the death tourney, the blonde reporter who only serves one purpose, or even a commanding officer who would go on to win an Oscar, Bloodsport is full of deliciously challenged performers delivering equally poor lines. And it is made all the more memorable because many appear to take their roles seriously.

Not only did Van Damme use this as an acting vehicle, he also had a hand with the final product in the way of editing. The slow-motion effect does become overdone, and Van Damme and director Newt Arnold love montages maybe a little too much, but he manages to compile solid-looking martial arts action, which is the reason why anyone likely views this. For my money, though, the best things about this film are easily the 80’s power ballads that accompany any of the important scenes, with Paul Delph’s On My Own taking the title. They are one of the purest representations of cheesiness that exist in cinema history.

jcvd

Whether the events of the film are real or entirely fabricated, Bloodsport has, in all of its cheap and hilarious flaws, served as very real inspiration for franchises like Mortal Kombat, and any other low budget straight-to-video fighting movies. Long live the Kumite, Kumite, Kumite. Even if it actually didn’t exist, it feels like it did.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to gymtalk.com, moviepostershop.com, and moviebuzzers.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Run All Night: Movie Man Jackson

ranstub

“No sin goes unpunished in this life.”

Why does it feel like so many running/escape movies take place in the Empire State? Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is an old, grizzled, and essentially retired hitman. Every individual in the past he’s killed while working for his old mob boss and best friend Sean Maguire (Ed Harris) has weighed heavily on his psyche. His line of work has made family and relationships difficult, like the nonexistent one with his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman).

During a routine day as a limo (or cab?) driver, Michael becomes a witness to something he was not supposed to see after dropping off Sean’s son Danny for some business. As such, he is targeted by Danny, and only saved when Jimmy lays a fatal slug into him to save Michael. Angered by the death of his son, Sean commands the whole NY underworld to take down the father and son. If that wasn’t enough, the police, corrupt and honorable, are after the two as well. To survive, Jimmy and Michael have only one option: to Run All Night.

harris

Yours truly cannot be the only one surprised that if you take the first letter out of the words Run All Night, you get a nice abbreviation of RAN, right? Intentionally or not, cool tidbit. RAN, like others movies based in New York revolving around being on the run like The Warriors and Escape from New York, is a nice, familiar, B-level movie that isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Behind the director’s chair for this one is Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop), going a third go-around with the 21st century action hero Liam Neeson. Both are extremely reliable and comfortable here, in nothing that hasn’t been seen or done before. Neeson may not be flexing a ton of acting muscle, but when he’s asked to do so it’s successful, as his character does have some layers to it. Whenever Liam appears in a film these days, action is almost always sure to follow. Truth be told, this isn’t action-filled and more along the lines of a drama with action interspersed at specific times. Nothing really looks amazing from an action sense, but it is all solid and far from shoddy. Neeson still has the particular set of skills, and Collet-Serra knows how to exhibit them.

common

There’s a predictability on two fronts with this flick. One reason being that, as alluded to, there’s really not a ton done here that hasn’t existed before. The other reason is that the story structure begins in media res, more towards the end than the absolute middle. As a result, it’s not where the movie is going, but how it will get there to what has been shown. This does lead to Run All Night feeling overly long at points. The predictability is not damming, but it is what it is.

Part of the reason why it isn’t damming is because almost everyone appearing in this gives a strong performance, with convincing New York accents nonetheless. Neeson has already been mentioned, but Ed Harris takes the cake. His character is calm, methodical and straightforward, seen most clearly in scenes with Neeson. One in particular seems like a well-done homage to Michael Mann’s Heat that truly raises the hunt.

Other supporting characters add a lot to RAN without the screen time Liam and Ed get. Vincent D’Onofrio may be channeling his years on Criminal Intent, but he looks and sounds the part as a police investigator. It is nice to see inspired work from Kinnaman after his RoboCop was so dull. He and Neeson work well together. A feel for his character is had, not liking what his father did but deep down still desiring a fulfilling relationship with him. As the real emotional cog of the story, Kinnaman deserves kudos for giving it that element. And who knew Common would be so effective as a hired gun? He blends in with the rest of the noteworthy cast and makes for a nice physical foil to the protagonist.

fatherson

All of this adds up to Run All Night being a steady, unambitious, but reliable crime action-drama that probably doesn’t have to been seen on the silver screen, but isn’t a bad decision if done so. Running at night isn’t safe, but this film is and sometimes there is nothing wrong with that.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to screenrant.com and 411mania.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

Fast & Furious 6: Movie Man Jackson

f&f6poster

“You don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.”

All roads lead to this, just with more road after “this.” Fast & Furious 6 finds the members of the Dominic Toretto/Brian O’Conner super crew (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker), living very comfortably after pulling off the job of the century in Rio de Janeiro. For some, like Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang) and Giselle (Gal Gadot), comfortable is living lavishly and traveling county to county. For others like Dom and Brian, comfortable is just living with loved ones. Regardless of their definition, they are all free.

And yet there is something missing because living free doesn’t mean fulfilling if you can’t return home. While their incomplete lives are being lived, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is after an elite street gang headed by dangerous mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). As this pursuit has trekked across the globe, Hobbs knows there’s only one way to catch wolves: With wolves. This means asking the crew to reassemble again, and despite Dom’s resistance, Hobbs shows evidence of Dom’s past lover Letty alive with the rival gang. The promise of full pardons and potential of reuniting with Letty is enough to hop back in the driver’s seat one more time.

Film Title: Fast & Furious 6

Once again, the laws of physics have no place in the F&F universe. Fast & Furious 6 follows very much in the trailblazing, franchise-rebranding path of Fast Five, focusing on full-scale car chases, open-environments shootouts, and white-knuckle faceoffs. Is it dumb entertainment? Sure. Is it highly entertaining? Without a doubt.

Director Justin Lin goes bigger and more outlandish with about everything in F&F6 from an action perspective, which is impressive because F5 was nothing to scoff at either. Want to see a tank take out a complete highway? Maybe a wild finale on a plane featuring the longest runway known to man? Or perhaps a simple, good ol’ catfight or two? All of that is here, some of it more ridiculous than others, but the implausibility hardly matters because it looks so awesome and full of unbridled mayhem, with only the rare occasion where CGI sticks out too much.

Though familiarity with the franchise isn’t needed to enjoy the pedal-to-the metal set pieces, a level of it makes for more connection with the story and namely the characters who make up F&F. The actual story is nothing more than a gang trying to stop another gang from getting/creating some high-tech military piece that can shut down an entire region (or something), but the real story that has been fueling the series for sometime now is the bond between family and friends. It is the type of thing that may be overly sentimental and not mean much to those who haven’t spent time with thees movies, but for those that have a level of investment exists, and it gives a layer of emotion and feeling as crazy as that may sound.

 london

Lasting over 10 years has meant a lot in the way of chemistry and banter. When Fast & Furious 6 isn’t busy rewriting Newton’s laws or trying to give some middling efforts to the plot, it is more than happy with letting its characters talk and crack jokes, which are legitimately comical, especially anything having to do with Tyrese as Roman Pearce. Whether he is delivering lines or taking them from other crew members like Tej, Han, Giselle, or Hobbs. In a lot of ways, the movie does comedy better than actual comedies.

Back to Hobbs for a second. While he may not be the “antagonist” he was in the latter movie throwing down against Toretto and O’Conner, his presence and bold, no nonsense persona is on display throughout, with a little bit of humor thrown in just like his wrestling days as The Rock. As important as he is (and he is very), Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are still the guys driving this vehicle, and what Mia (Jordana Brewster) states about Dom and Brian being stronger together than apart applies to the actors themselves.Call it a bromance if needed, but the two are just akin to peanut butter and jelly in the way they mesh.

Coming back into the fray is Michelle Rodriguez, still robotic in delivery but also at the forefront of many of the film’s best fight scenes. It is nice to see her return here. Lastly, Luke Evans serves as the heroes’ foil, and he isn’t a dud, but his character and crew never seem to serve as a true formidable force to the honorable gang. Ultimately, Evans’ greatest contribution may be serving as a launching pad to potentially the series’ greatest villain as seen in the post credits.

dombrian

The roads aren’t the only terrain occupied. It isn’t the reinvention like Fast Five was, but Fast & Furious 6 continues on what was built there with more characters, more humor, and more explosive action. The engine’s still revving.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to planetofmovies.com, aceshowbiz.com, & cinema.theiapolis.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Kingsman: The Secret Service: Movie Man Jackson

Kingsmanstub

“If you’re prepared to adapt, you can transform.”

Whether you’re kicking butt, or just hanging out and such, if you’re a Kingsman, you are always doing it in impeccable style. Kingsman: The Secret Service focuses upon a secret organization that values manners and style just as much, if not more than combat skill. During one high-pressure mission in 1997, high-ranking member Harry Hart (Colin Firth), loses one of his colleagues and feels responsible for it. To atone somewhat, Hart pays a visit to the deceased’s widow and young son, leaving behind a medal with an engraved phone number that promises to give help in dire situations.

Fast-forward to the present day, and troubled but talented young man Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton) is now the sole possessor of that medal. When Eggsy finds himself in a pickle, he makes the call and is saved by Harry, while finding his connection with the organization. With an opening within it for a new “lancelot” agent, Eggsy is put into a rigorous selection process with several others candidates. As this is happening, a mysterious threat begins to rise under rich man Richard Valentine’s (Samuel L. Jackson) lead, a threat that has global implications.

samuel

Even though it may be fun to rib about when it occurs, not every film that is pushed back from its original debut date has an automatic destiny of doom. Now more times than not, delays do little to salvage the final product, but every now and then a postponement does what it aims to do: Smooth the rough edges, fill loose holes, etc. Kingsman: The Secret Service bucks the trend of the traditional low quality that comes with films being pushed back into the period of “Dumpuary,” and brings a solid crowd-pleasing good time to an old-school template.

Really, the reason behind the postponing is unknown. It is very possible that Kingsman is the exact same movie now that would have released months ago, and the delay was for strategic box office reasons. Regardless, perhaps I should have had more faith in Matthew Vaughn, the director who restored/brought two different comic-book franchises to life in Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class and does so again here. Vaughn again serves as an architect, giving weight and intrigue to a story, world, and characters lifted from its respective comic.

Seen early on in the movie through its characters, world, story, and even score, it is undeniable that there is an affectionate soft spot for the spy tales that came before this. Pieces of Bourne and 24 are evident, but let’s face it: the Bond franchise is the inspiration for much here, elements both shaken and stirred into parody and tribute. Yours truly has never been a crazy 007 or spy movie super fan, so sometimes it is hard for interest to be had with them. Kingsman’s story isn’t amazing, and from time to time it is all over the place tonally, but one aspect it does have going for it is unpredictability. That alone keeps interest throughout.

shot

All of the previously mentioned is well and good, but if there is one thing Vaughn can take to his grave, it is the fact that he knows how to exhibit balls-out and over-the-top sequences of action. In these scenes of complete anarchy, there’s a frenetic fluidity that exists to them. It is a pleasure to watch, but a bit below undeniably satisfying. Why?

Yours truly usually isn’t a bloodhound (I’m more of a pug), but it was somewhat surprising that little to none of the red stuff was present in the notable moments. While I do believe that blood for blood’s sake gets old also, it is very odd to see a body sliced in half with no messy aftermath, and this continues. Maybe that plays into the whole lack of seriousness here; this very much feels like a fabricated world compared to something like Kick-Ass. That too had unbelievable happenings, but was grounded and built upon the idea that when fantasy moonlighting meets everyday real-life, the consequences are not pretty and rather brutal, which made for more satisfying and impactful action. At the end of the day it might just be a personal preference.

Part of the draw of Kingsman is witnessing actors in nontraditional roles. Look no further than Colin Firth as a dapper, erudite, dry-witted individual who only throws down when he has to. Firth is a hell of an actor, but seeing him look so effortless in combat is mindblowing. Also flipping the script from his usual work is Mark Strong as one of the good guys lending support to the youngsters. He may not have a ton to say, but his presence is noted. The most meta-roles belong to Samuel L. Jackson and Sofia Boutella as the blade-legged Gaselle. Every cliche and commonality found in villains appearing in spy movies is present with Jackson these two, and it is pleasant fun, if a tad overused as this progresses.

firth

Credit has to be given to Taron Egerton, not first-billed on the marquee but showing a lot to many witnessing his work for the first time. It would have been real easy to not care for and maybe even dislike his character of Eggsy, but his character is written well and Egerton brings a load of charisma to support it. He may be one to watch with the requisite star look and ever-developing chops.

Though there may be a few blanks fired here and there, Kingsman: The Secret Service is hyperactive, irreverent, and does what it wants to do. Kingsmen may have there own rules, but this film plays by its own set.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to vixenvarsity.com, forbes.com, and nydailynews.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

Fast Five: Movie Man Jackson

f5poster

“And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”

When street racing doesn’t pay the bills anymore, it is time to find another lane that will. Fast Five begins right where Fast & Furious left off, when Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) lead an attack on a bus transporting friend and brother Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to Lompac federal prison. The successful breakout and those who staged it make national headlines.

The three are forced to flee out of the states and to Rio de Janeiro, where they run into corrupt businessman Herman Reyes, who isn’t the guy to cross. But, their options are limited, pushing Dom and Brian to an idea: To get their freedom, they must steal from the man who runs Rio. It isn’t going to be easy, and it will require the help of past friends Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang) and others, but if successful the crew will net $100 million. Dealing with Reyes and his mercenaries is serious business as is, but throw in relentless special forces agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the job is, in Roman’s words: “Mission infreaking sanity.”

hobbs

It isn’t everyday that a franchise gets to five movies. Even rarer is a franchise reinventing itself in a fifth movie. Fast & Furious 2009 in retrospect got the ball rolling with the evolution to the series, but Fast Five takes the ball and runs with it, blazing a new, wildly fun path for the series. Though it is a new path aimed to reach out to a wider population and a fairly doable jumping point for newbies, it is hard to see many people despising 1-4 and immensely enjoying this, but is is certainly possible.

The shift to a broad action flick with cars in the rear-view as opposed to cars being at the forefront is a sound, efficient change, but there are one or two moments where fans of the earlier films may miss the traditional race scenes. One moment in particular has a perfect build towards one that occurs, but all that is seen is the aftermath of it. If the story shift wasn’t believed before, it is here where F5 cements it.

However, it is only a small downer though, because the street racing story focus had a limited ceiling, especially in 2011 (or now) compared to the start of the franchise in 2001 when street racing was still very popular. Those earlier movies may still have been filled with mayhem, but they always felt restrained, restricted to only one gear. Not so here. Director Justin Lin fully embraces the departure from the norm, removing the shackles from the car culture focus and in the process creating over-the-top and physics-defying action set-pieces. They are also loaded with fun and extremely hard not to enjoy, shot with great precision and clarity, and Rio makes for a new, unfamiliar playground to feature the craziness. Look past the impossibilities, and it is hard to find flaws from an action perspective in Fast Five.

f5climax

At least script-wise, F5 shares more in common with the Ocean’s movies than it does with its franchise brethren. With that similarity, there is a feeling of “been here, done that,” but for every film save for possibly the first, the story found here is all and all pretty good, even if some aspects of it aren’t bought into easily (for fugitives, these guys sure do get a lot of time and resources to hone their plan). The more “emotional” sections may do nothing for people unfamiliar or long uninterested to the F&F universe, but for those who have had enjoyment with it more times than not, these occurrences do work, if only for the simple fact that five movies does lend a level of connection to these characters.

In addition, just seeing many of the key players from previous entries come together to assemble and banter is like a poor movie’s The Avengers. These interactions are cool and amusing, but they can feel stretched out in spots, which is a reflection of the movie’s runtime. 130 minutes could and probably should be no more than 110.

For all of the things F5 does better than the rest, for yours truly there is one thing that it finally gets right: the villain(s), or a more fitting description, the opposition. And, it isn’t as obvious as believed. There is a traditional villain, and he isn’t really all that great, but contrasted with others from earlier films, he does grab attention. But he pales in comparison to the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as dogged Luke Hobbs. Johnson steals scenes and ups the ante anytime he appears, and gives Dom, Brian and the crew a formidable and intimidating foe for the first time. To the main characters he may be the bad guy, but Hobbs fighting on the right side of the law actually makes the crew, namely Dom & Brian, villains and opposition in their own right. This dynamic, not mind-blowing in the least, does give a extra layer of intrigue to the events.

bridge

Enough has been said about Dwayne serving as a newfound rock to this series, but the old hands are still as consistent and effective as before. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel will forever be Brian and Dom, their characters being a great combination of chemistry and healthy rivalry mixed with respect. The supporting characters of Roman Pierce, Tej, Han, Gisele, and others fit nicely throughout, whereas before many were stretched in the movies they appeared in. Jordana Brewster’s role is scaled back but still pretty important. No one is going to blow viewers away with their performances, but for what they are all asked to do little complaints can be had.

At this point, Fast Five will likely not be the epiphany to change those who cared little or nothing at all for the franchise. For those that have been having fun riding with Dom and Brian for a while now, this still has trademark NOS running through its vehicle, it is just not the singular thing anymore.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to fanpop.com, pixarplanet.com, and fastfive.co.uk

Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson.

The Equalizer: Movie Man Jackson

theequalizerstub

“I don’t have a lot of time. Which means you don’t have any.”

It is often the quiet, unassuming people who end up being the ones you will never see coming. Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is this type of person in The Equalizer. In his elder stage of living, McCall lives a traditional and perhaps even boring life to some looking in on the outside as a department store manager. You get the feeling that Bob doesn’t mind the lack of excitement so much, as he appears content with his routine of wake up, bus ride to work, work, ride home, eat, and read at the local diner.

Over time, this routine does get a shake-up when a troubled young girl making a living in a rough profession named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) befriends McCall. The two begin to share something close until her Russian handlers get in the way and threaten Teri’s well being. Obviously, this does not sit well with Robert and he will not stand idly by. No one knows what this man is capable of, but when odds are insurmountable, he may just be the equalizing force needed to overcome them.

diner

If the Internet didn’t exist, I never would have known that this film was based on a mid to late 80’s television show of the same name. The first thing I always thought of when hearing “The Equalizer” was never a TV show, but rather, the famous tune composed by Sam Spence found in NFL Films productions and many commercials. So even though this film isn’t exactly original, since the TV show came before my time this is basically new stuff to yours truly. After getting into it, The Equalizer isn’t exactly breaking new ground in the action genre, but it does offer a mostly solid two hour viewing experience.

There is no underlying message or nuanced storytelling within The Equalizer. Stereotypical villains and their well-worn operations are present here, with nary a surprise. It certainly works, and it is probably better this way than trying to go for an “epic” story. With that said, there does appear to be some minor untapped potential in that particular department. However, much like its main character, the story does the job in the quickest and systematic way possible. It is a reminder that revenge movies do not need to be elaborate, just effective.

In a surprise to no one, Denzel Washington again turns in a screen-seizing performance as mysterious Robert McCall, proving that he is as close a thing to a bankable movie star in Hollywood today. Bob McCall is mild-mannered, reserved, but deeply involved and invested with the lives of those around them. McCall is always at equilibrium in the most dangerous of situations, which come pretty often here. If there were one word to describe his performance here, placid fits the bill. His character is the type of guy who could literally be stuck in a furnace and not be visibly affected.

csokas

The only issue with the character in my opinion, and it isn’t Denzel’s fault, is that Robert McCall is just as mysterious at the end as he is at the beginning for all intents and purposes. He is a man with a complicated past and an impressive skill-set yet this complicated past or impressive skill-set is never really examined or even hinted at where it came from. Well, there is a scene in the movie that attempts to give McCall some backstory but that itself runs needlessly long with hardly any explanation made as to the origins of McCall. I am making him sound like a superhero now but the fact is, while what he can do is awesome, at best it is fuzzy as to how and why he is so deadly.

Without a doubt this is Denzel’s movie, but the main opposition his character clashes with is nothing to scoff at. Martin Csokas plays Teddy, a ruthless Russian crime lord with no compassion for anyone. He just looks and sounds like a creepy man and is everything McCall opposes. His character isn’t fleshed out too thoroughly but neither is this film, and he does a wonderful job of giving the audience someone to despise.

Csokas even holds his own against Washington in the tense confrontation scenes, especially one near the end which is superbly acted. Similar to most crime lords, he’s flanked with an army of henchman but all are indistinguishable and dispensable, just fodder for McCall until the ultimate showdown. Chloe Grace Moretz is probably the 2nd most recognizable name in the cast and while she is good in her very limited screen time, it is almost as if she doesn’t exist for a large part of it, despite her character putting the events in motion.

tryme

The Equalizer reunites Denzel Washington with the man who directed his Oscar winning Training Day performance in Antoine Fuqua. While both movies are brutal, Fuqua’s latest is much more in-your-face graphic than his 2001 offering. McCall dispatches his foes in many ways, and Fuqua showcases a unique way of capturing it all. There is this nice, almost Hitman: Absolution/pseudo bullet time-like effect utilized to showcase how McCall assesses a situation. When he (as well as others) does attack, little is left to the imagination. The first few action scenes are good in their own right, but it is the climax that is may be worth the price of admission. It is filmed in a noir-ish style, set to a magnificent musical piece that syncs perfectly with the action. Score-wise, The Equalizer is high quality, with many highlights interspersed throughout.

The main highlight is Washington though, and he is right at home in this type of film, and he gives The Equalizer the credibility it may not possess with another actor in the star role. Though it may not stand on equal ground with legendary action films, the odds are favorable enough for enjoyment.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to blackfilm.com, cinemablend.com, and beliefnet.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

The Expendables: Movie Man Jackson

expendableposter

“Only thing you need to know is the job’s real, and the money’s real.”

The few…The proud…The Expendables. Barney Ross (Sly Stallone) is the leader of The Expendables, a highly trained collection of mercenaries with various skillsets who specialize in challenging missions. After resolving a mission in the Gulf of Aden with some Somali pirates, Barney and his cohorts Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) receive a contract from Mr. Church that will place them on Vilena, an island on the Gulf of Mexico.

The mission? Eradicate a relentless dictator by the name of General Garza. Almost immediately, the objective changes and The Expendables will have to adapt. What was once just a “simple” elimination assignment has now expanded into rescue, not to mention survival amid insurmountable odds.

hangon

With all of these big name action stars from yesteryear and today, it should be no surprise as to what one is getting themselves into when watching The Expendables. What is that you may ask? Guns, blood, gore, language, and stuff blowing up mixed with well timed one-liners. This film was tailor made to have a good time just as long as expectations were realistic. But, even with the lowered expectations, it is underwhelming for a few reasons.

Surprisingly, it is played rather straight. I would like to think that this movie knows what it is, and yet, so much of it is overly serious. It is a bare bones story; nothing is truly memorable. There are some bad guys, and some good guys who must take down the bad guys. It is by the book, functional, and all that is really needed for this. What isn’t needed are the attempts to give this some drama and heavy moments in an effort to make the audience care for the characters. Whether it be an authority figure struggling with his alignment and relationship with his child, or one of the crew going on and on about how a failed mission shaped his life, the heavy fails to resonate and comes off as extremely forced.

When not occupied with unneeded sternness, The Expendables takes its stab at humor. Unfortunately, the common humor found in these types of action films falls awfully flat in this. So much of the banter between the crew and during relentless dismemberment is supposed to be funny, but it simply isn’t, and it is made worse due to the fact that these guys deliver their lines with expressions that totally say “Yeah, the audience is going to crack up over this.”

statham

When there aren’t time wasting and bore-inducing moments, the film is exactly as advertised: A balls-to-the-wall, testosterone fueled thrill ride. Problem is, there is a lack of it, and what does exist vastly underwhelms in many scenes. It has been done before, and better, in other films. Sure, that may be the point, but old action staples can still be cool to watch. So much here just was ho-hum. Additionally, it is somewhat jarring to see so many set pieces rely on CGI, and if there were anyone who you would think would attempt to stray away from it as a director after so many of his past roles were rooted in realistic action, it would be Stallone.

That isn’t to say that the action is entirely fake, just most of the payoffs (read: kills). Much praise has to be given to these stars for their physical commitment to their roles. Reportedly, Sly suffered 14 injuries when shooting this movie, and if that does not show the willingness to make the fights look real, I am not sure what does. Most if not all of the featured fight scenes and stunts look to be done by the main cast, and if not, kudos to the editing.

bikes

Comprised of an ensemble cast, you would assume The Expendables to give adequate screen time to all of its members. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For a sizable chunk of the runtime it is pretty much a buddy cop movie. With how the trailers made it a point to showcase everyone, for it to go this route is disappointing. Stallone is OK as the seen-it-all-before leader, but Statham does the best in this film while giving his character, well, some character. Out of all the “heavyness” applied to the film, his is the most interesting.

Still, the full team is hardly seen aside from (SPOILERS!) the beginning and the end. Which is a shame, especially for guys like Jet Li and Terry Crews, who are and have been generally entertaining in many past roles. There isn’t a ton for them to do here, or to really make an impression on us. Others of note include Steve Austin, who plays the hired muscle for the opposition, and Dolph Lundgren, one of the more unstable compadres in the Expendables gang.

Shot in Louisiana and Brazil, the movie does possess a guerrilla warfare type feel that I am sure it was going for. It looks unbearably hot with danger prevalent in every step. It would have been great for more action to occur during the day though, as so much of the explosive moments take part at night, making some of the action more drab and harder to follow than it should be.

Ultimately, The Expendables struggles a bit more than anticipated with stuff that should come easy for it, like action and humor. As both a homage to 80’s works of yesteryear and a 2010-era action film, it never comes together as desired.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, screencrave.com, and sears.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Edge of Tomorrow: Movie Man Jackson

 Edgestub

“There is no courage without fear.”

War is unforgiving. Comprised of many battles and confrontations, it fatigues everyone involved both physically and maybe even more so mentally. Now multiply that mental fatigue by 100, and repeat it daily in the exact same fashion. The result is Edge of Tomorrow. In this film, malevolent alien beings knows as Mimics have engaged in a war with humans in continental Europe. They are flat out dominating us, and little hope is on the horizon.

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) isn’t a soldier, but he is a smooth talking guy the military has effectively utilized. It is his unlucky day though, as General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders Cage to the front lines in France after a heated meeting. Shockingly, the Mimics seem to have correctly anticipated a human assault, and consequently many casualties are suffered.

Cage manages to take down an Alpha mimic during the ruckus, but the blood emitted from the downed being burns and kills him. Except he wakes up the next morning, and the next, and the next, and relieves the same battle over again. A gritty female combat soldier (Emily Blunt) is the only person who can help him. Cage possesses the literal power to change the course of this war, but it is going to take a lot of sacrifice and careful attention to detail to do so.

ground

It is a shame that Edge of Tomorrow isn’t doing huge box office numbers domestically. As a pure summer movie, this is infectious entertainment. It may not feature the traditional lens to society that many sci-fi films yield, but there is more than enough here for a great time (it’s the summer anyway). EoT’s story is rather simplistic. There is a war, featuring aliens and humans squaring off for their existence, with some very logical time travel elements interspersed. It truly embraces the science fiction roots in visual style and setting, just minus the social commentary.

With this review being late, this has most likely already been said but it will be said again: Edge of Tomorrow feels like watching a video game on the silver screen. This sounds like a negative, but it is in fact a compliment. To me personally, it resembled some of Mass Effect 3 along with a dash of Gears of War and a hint of Call of Duty. The war witnessed came across as intense and as realistic from a futuristic standpoint as could be, with all praise to the cinematography and presentation.

Director Doug Liman has done a magnificent job framing all of the action in fluid and clear detail. Each bullet, collision, Mimic rip, etc. is captured in full, all without wonky camera angles or unneeded effects. He only has a misstep at the end. It is a little too muddled visually (and scriptually) that it ends up hitting an anticlimactic note. Still, along with Godzilla, this shares the mantle for best looking movie of the year so far. Supplementing the cinematography is an impressive orchestral score that raises tension when needed and further evokes the grim reality of the war.

gundown

With its premise, one would think that reliving the same day a la Groundhog Day would make watching EoT a tedious drag after a while. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movie manages to feel fresh each time it loops because it hardly ever starts right at the beginning of Cage’s day. It sort of progresses like a video game checkpoint; once Cage has “mastered” a certain section, it really isn’t seen again. A nice decision to carry out the events this way, as if the loops were shown at the start of each day, it would have been a bore after a while.

Carrying out the premise this way is also proof that the filmmakers thought highly of the audience’s ability to think for themselves, a nice feeling to have. It is never shown how many times Cage has to relive this day. All we know is that he is able to get slightly further each time, but it can be imagined that maybe 40, 50, or hundreds of times were needed to master the previous section, and another 40, 50, or 100 times to master and advance the next section. Thinking about relieving that is mind-blowing.

Edge of Tomorrow is bleak, but not completely throughout. Seeing Tom Cruise perish over and over again is sort of depressing especially once you truly think about how many times he has to live, die and repeat. But honestly, it is laugh out loud funny in parts, however morbid that may sound. It keeps the film light enough in spite of its hero’s predicament. This may be a slight indictment of the other comedies I’ve viewed in theaters this year, but I easily laughed hardest during this film. There is something about how Cruise sells his situation through grunt or quip before execution that is nearly impossible not to laugh hard at.

cuffed

With this starring role, Cruise still shows he has what it takes to lead a blockbuster. Whether you care for the man or not, his commitment to his roles is undeniable. He has always been hit and miss for me, but his charisma and talent is exhibited here. William Cage is a likable enough guy to get behind, and his transformation from a shaken and unsure individual to a battle-experienced soldier is believable.

Not forgotten is Emily Blunt as all-around hardened war veteran Rita Vrataski. If people desire less conventional female depictions in cinema, this role is a great template. Rita doesn’t need her battles to be fought, she is pretty effective herself.  And yet, she needs Cage, and Cage needs her. In the process, they form a strong bond in the midst of devastation that gives the movie emotion. The rest of the cast is forgettable however except for Bill Paxton, who also brings humor as the average military tightwad. No one in J squad is memorable, and General Brigham’s (Brendan Gleeson) motives are never explained.

Thankfully this is a star driven film. Edge of Tomorrow may not crank out the cash it deserves here in the U.S, but it is without question a summer experience that should keep most viewers on the edge of their seats.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to itsartmag.com and comickbook.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.