Free Fire: Movie Man Jackson

 

Take your shot. In 1978 Boston, an abandoned warehouse is the scene for a weapons transaction between Republican Army agents (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and gun runners (Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay), brokered by neutral yet-in-the know Americans (Brie Larson, Armie Hammer).

Tensions arise naturally, but the deal is still in place. Just as the deal seems to be squared away, chance undoes it. Immediately, everyone in this warehouse is left to fend for themselves. What does the last man (or woman) left standing receive? Whatever large amount of money is in the now unclaimed briefcase.

On one hand, it’s sort of impossible not to get somewhat taken aback by the frenetic, 90 minute ballistic blitz that is Free Fire. And on the other hand, Free Fire jams much more than anticipated. Why? Let yours truly try to take a shot at explaining.

Want to get right into the bloodshed? Director Ben Wheatley (The ABCs of Death, High-Rise) does just that, creating an adequate igniter that puts the two factions in each others’ crosshairs. Okay, 90 minutes of ballistic blitz isn’t entirely accurate, but 70 minutes is. And it’s during this beginning and subsequent immediate aftermath of this igniter that Free Fire is at its most enjoyable. The action, while a little hard to follow exactly at times, is nonetheless fascinating during this period, with seriously impressive SFX to boot.

However, the second half comes (which is a little of a misnomer, more on that shortly), and it’s around this point in time in which Free Fire’s premise gets spread too thinly and stretched too widely as what essentially amounts to an entire 1st act. It is cool to see action immediately in a movie, but doing that without any real expansion of its participants—or at least some breathing room to shine light on the characters taking part in said action—kind of dilutes it.

With few standout qualities and characteristics, most of the characters in Free Fire end up blending into one another. Everyone seems to say the word “c**ksucker.” It’s honestly hard to remember names, which side of the divide they’re on, who they’re shooting at, etc. If there were more fun dialogue interspersed or a locale change provided by Wheatley, Free Fire may have avoided that feeling of crawling and dragging to the conclusion.

This is a big cast, and as previously mentioned, most sadly blend into each other. Even stars like Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson don’t pop out like envisioned. But, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley do. Hammer, seemingly on a career uptick after The Lone Ranger, is right at home at being the coolest guy in the room…err…warehouse, as well as the biggest badass within it. Copley, South African accent and all, gets to be eccentric and physical in his comedy; every time his mouth opens something funny comes out of it. The two get a good amount of screentime together on the same side, having that vibe that Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe had one year ago in The Nice Guys. Maybe these two should have been the stars of CHipSthey’re that good, and make up for many of the film’s issues.

Free Fire definitely has its share of blank rounds, but also possesses some pretty explosive ones that occasionally hit center-mass. Worth a cursory view, if just for Hammer and Copley alone.

C+

Photo credits go to sundaypost.com, drafthouse.com, and theplaylist.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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Kong: Skull Island: Movie Man Jackson

The king stay the king. In 1973, the Vietnam War is winding down, and the United States is beginning to pull all of its assets out of it. While this is going on, a small government organization known as Monarch makes a pitch to its higher ups about exploring an uncharted territory known as Skull Island. Monarch’s leaders William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have their reasons for wanting to go, but all they’ll say is that this is for geological purposes.

Going to a place no one has traversed before means Monarch is going to need an expedition squad. Led by former British military operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his unit, Monarch is able to make their way unto the island and conduct research. Immediately, King Kong himself appears, defending his home from these intruders. Little do these people know, Kong is actually protecting them, for what lies on the island is just as dangerous—if not more so—than Kong is.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or in Hollywood’s case, hoping to make money. Having a shared universe is all the rage now, starting with Marvel’s first stab at it almost a decade ago and now Warner Bros’ attempts with the DC Extended Universe and a “MonsterVerse.” Why a universe needs to exist for what only looks like two main characters in King Kong and Godzilla, I’ll never know, but we have it. Kong: Skull Island is here, and…it’s a passable, relatively entertaining, blockbuster.

Even though the two share a genre and now a universe, in many ways, Skull Island is the inverse of the Godzilla we saw in 2014. That monster movie was so methodical in its approach, it almost wasn’t a monster movie, and it chose to hide its star well into the runtime, which divided some people. For those looking for mayhem immediately, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers on that front quickly.

Kong smashes. Kong pounds his chest. Kong causes massive collateral damage. Simply put, Kong does what one expects him to do, and he does it well, he’s rendered well, and it looks well. The fictional island serves as a good playground to showcase Kong, despite its lack of verticality. Not all of it looks stunning; some of the monsters Kong does battle with look a tad cheap, and a massive set piece hazed in green fog gets a little wonky, but as a whole, Kong: Skull Island features solid cinematography.

The script, penned by Nightcrawler writer Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, is another story. No, it’s not deplorable, but it’s hard to tell if they wanted the story to be more than it is. Which isn’t much. On one side of the prism, Kong: Skull Island aims low, simply providing a vehicle in which a 30-something foot tall behemoth can wreck things, people, and other large creatures, with some mostly poor attempts at humor thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are moments where it feels like this movie is aspiring to be in the vein of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, etc., and it doesn’t possess those movies’ narrative/character impact.

Many of the characters that land on Skull Island are rather bland, which is surprising for a cast that features such big names in Hiddleston, Goodman, and Larson, along with up and comer Corey Hawkins. Not to mention other fairly notable names such as John Ortiz, Toby Kebbel, and Shea Whigham who end up being fodder or take space. Three characters that stand out a little are Samuel L. Jackson (refreshingly not in complete SLJ mode until arguably the end), John C. Reilly (great backstory), and Jason Mitchell, mostly due to his charisma. Unfortunately, the glut of characters featured gives Skull Island a feeling of overstuffedness. Just five or six less could have given more attention to the ones that mattered.

As it stands though, Kong: Skull Island does its part in laying a nice base foundation for The Eighth Wonder of the World, placing him on a collision course with The King of the Monsters.

C+

Photo credits go to birthmoviesdeath.com, toofab.com, and movieweb.com

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Trainwreck: Movie Man Jackson

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“Monogamy isn’t realistic.”

Quite the words to live a life by. At young ages, sisters Amy and Kim Townsend (Amy Schumer, Brie Larson) have it beat in their heads by their cheating father (Colin Quinn), that people weren’t meant to stay with one person. As the women have grown into adulthood, sister Kim finds happiness in a traditional, monogamous lifestyle. Sister Amy has heeded the advice of her kooky father.

Magazine writer Amy has all of the fun—mostly sexual—that is afforded to a successful career woman living in New York City–without the commitment of being tied down. Things seem to work for her, but to most around her, she is in a neverending cycle that may be called a Trainwreck. On assignment to write a story on world-renowned sports doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), Amy tries to abide by the initial cycle of hanging out, sexing, and never seeing male friend again. But with Aaron, feelings exist that had never previously before. Could it really be the L word?

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How much can the script honestly be flipped in a romantic comedy? Not a lot. But, with Trainwreck, the simple flip of making the woman the one afraid of commitment instead of a man does, in some ways, make for a relatively fresh romantic-comedy. A groundbreaking one it isn’t, but a solid quality one that delivers pretty consistently in the laugh department.

If Trainwreck is to be remembered for one thing only, the official arrival of Amy Schumer would likely be it. Even with Judd Apatow directing (editing feels a little off with this one), he feels more along for the ride as opposed to putting his imprint on this. This serves as her first real film appearance in a feature, save for a bit part in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and all in all, it is a great and successful effort. Yours truly hasn’t seen a ton Schumer’s work on Comedy Central, but from what has been seen, the stuff has been not bad, and she brings the same unfiltered and blue comedy found on the show. However, she gets the chance to show some versatility as well with non-comedic moments, which could be a precursor for things to come down the line. In only one leading film, she should be set for life with these roles if she wants them.

Acting only is one part of her contribution here, with the other being writing. It’s quite the credit to be the sole writer on anything, regardless of experience, and she once again does a sound job in keeping the story running along and creating entertaining characters. But, it may not be as strong as her performance. The over two-hour length begins to be felt, as one would expect, near the end. Some bits run on a tad too long for my liking; not that the the last 30 or so minutes are lacking funny parts, just that two or three scenes could have been trimmed in length, and still been as funny. And as alluded to before, Trainwreck is more routine than anticipated, but again, how much can really be changed when working within the confines of the rom-com genre?

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Sort of like Melissa McCarthy’s Spy (though one may have to be more of a Schumer fan to enjoy this in contrast to a non-McCarthy fan enjoying Spy), Trainwreck gives ample opportunity for the lead’s supporting cast to shine. Just about all are game for it. Bill Hader is not completely a straight man, but he is, aside from Brie Larson, the most sensible person throughout while being funny when asked to be. As the father who puts Amy down her life path, Colin Quinn starts the movie on a riot, and though his emotional part of the story fell sort of flat for yours truly, it was a cool thing to see his relationship, or lack thereof, with his daughters. Even Tilda Swinton, once again sort of unrecognizable, has no issues assigning the worst possible stories for her magazine writers. The only characters who could be done without are played by Ezra Miller (weird intern), and Vanessa Bayer (placemat that everyone walks over).

The real scene stealers for my money are easily John Cena, and LeBron James. The former is only in for a maximum of probably 10 minutes and plays the character in a fitness nut/bodybuilder expected, but man, the champ is certainly here as a comedic force. Ohio’s own is nothing more than a fictional version of himself (why is he spending so much time in New York though?), but he is impressive and has many awesome moments of deadpan humor. Most importantly, he is natural and enaging, which many athletes fail at when on camera in movies or TV. Hader and LeBron share just as much chemistry, if not more, than Hader and Schumer, and their friendship is sweet and hilarious.

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With just the simple role reversal of wild woman being incapable of commitment instead of the man, Trainwreck is a fun look at an age-old rom-com convention, despite it not being that different with how things play out. As raunchy comedies go, it is one of the better ones of late, and if any doubts were had about Schumer being capable of being a comedy lead, they should be put to rest.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to nerdist.com, screenslam.com, and businessinsider.com.

The Gambler: Movie Man Jackson

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“Who wants the world at their feet?” 

If you don’t have the magic, try obtaining it by gambling. Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is going through a fairly rough patch in his life. His grandfather has passed away, and he has little to nothing in the process. At least he still has his job. By day, Jim Bennett is an associate professor of literature and an occasional writer. By night, he is The Gambler.

Playing the game(s) of odds for so long eventually puts Jim in some hot water. Many parties are owed monetary, and one in particular (Michael K. Williams) has only given Bennett seven days to pay the debt he owes. Factor in a crumbling relationship with his mother (Jessica Lange), and a day job he abhors, and this probably serves as rock bottom. The only thing that provides some cushion is a budding relationship with one of his students (Brie Larson). Still, Jim owes money, and the only way out of these predicaments is *insert cliche tagline* going all in.

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Odds are that if 10 people were polled, no more than five would know that The Gambler is a remake of a 1974 film bearing the same name. 40 years basically between updates essentially makes the new version an original film, right? Right. Unfortunately with the cast present at the table, The Gambler, whether remembered as a remake or not, fails to cash in on the potential.

Even if the story was a major letdown (and it is), at the very least, this could have been a mildly entertaining character study of sorts as it pertained to Jim Bennett. With an effort made to flesh out some backstory to Bennett, the investment had by the audience would likely be firmer as the danger escalates. But director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) incorrectly gambles by choosing not to build the character. It is almost as if he expects that just because Bennett is in unfavorable situations, that is enough to care. Looking from the outside, his life really isn’t all that terrible. Maybe not ideal, obviously, but everyone has problems. Those that Bennett has fall under the “first world” variety in yours truly’s eyes.

However, credit is given to Wyatt for constructing what feels like a shady underbelly of a gambling ring. The places the characters inhabit and frequent are grungy, smoky, concealed, and filled with no good whatsoever. Even if the story amounts to nothing, at least a jackpot is hit on the setting as well as the soundtrack heard in various scenes.

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Looking like a cross between a shorter Jim Morrison and Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, Mark Wahlberg is the lead here as Jim Bennett. He gives an interesting, if a little uneven, performance to say the least. There are moments, especially as the movie goes on, where Wahlberg is totally in command of the material he is given. For every one of these moments however, there are moments where the work Wahlberg turns in isn’t completely bad, but it does feel like he is struggling with it.

Thespians act; it is their job to portray any and all kinds of people and personalities without a hiccup. But, some are just easier to buy as a particular character. As a professor of literature, Marky Mark is hard to buy. It is clear that he took it seriously; he even sat in on college classes in an effort to try and nail this side of Jim Bennett, but it is average at best. He tries his darnedest, but seeing and hearing Wahlberg spouting about literary devices, why people aren’t brilliant, and why he is is actually quite comical, and it is all delivered in sort of a hammy way. Unintentionally perhaps, these instances do interject some energy in a flick largely absent of it.

Adding to the movie’s issues, Wahlberg’s Bennett is kind of a jerk and an ass. He is the type of guy who likes to hear himself talk. 80% of the time has a comeback for everything, and only 5% of the time it is mildly amusing. His quips, attitude, and the way he treated others made me side with the baddies, or at least see where they are coming from. This isn’t a Wahlberg issue, it is just an issue with writing. A goody-two shoes wasn’t expected, but it is very difficult to side with Jim at all here.

Film Review The Gambler

Flanking Wahlberg is a throng of others notables names, from John Goodman to Jessica Lange. Goodman never seems to have huge parts, but those parts that he does have he always maximizes them and makes something memorable, and the trend continues here. Also in a small role appears Lange, as Jim’s mother. Yours truly may not have cared for the main character, but there was care for his mother and their relationship, thanks to Lange and her brief work.

Also of note is Michael K. Williams as the film’s true villain. Even if his role is just an average bookie, he brings tangible screen presence and an accompanying edge. And finally, Brie Larson holds her own as Jim’s love interest, but her and Wahlberg never truly click which makes their “union” unrealistic, even more so when the fact is they go from zero to 100 real quick with hardly any indication. It just happens.

Like the moment before the flop cards are shown before a game of poker, The Gambler is filled with potential; the belief that “this is going to be a good one” before the cards are seen. It isn’t until the reveal when it is realized the movie hand that has been dealt just isn’t a winning one.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to Time.com, geeknation.com, and moviepilot.com.

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21 Jump Street: Movie Man Jackson

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“Are you ready for a lifetime of being absolutely badass mother****ers?”

High school. You may have peaked in it, or you may have suffered through it. At any rate, once you are done, you never are forced to go back…unless it is part of your job. This is the situation Jenko and Schmidt find themselves in during 21 Jump Street. Way back in 2005, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) were but a few of the average high school stereotypical students. Jenko is the average dumb jock, while Schmidt is a socially inept but smart dude.  Being on complete opposite ends of the high school food chain, it isn’t exactly shocking to see these two never interact. The off times they do, it goes as one would expect.

Enter 2012, and the two find each other in the police academy. Instead of remaining in high school mode, both end up helping the other with weaknesses they struggle with and ultimately forming a bond that leads to their graduation. After an odd mishap one day on patrol as bike cops, the duo is reassigned to the 21 Jump Street division, a program revitalized from the 80’s. Led under the direction of the always-angry Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), this tag-team is assigned to go undercover as high school students in an effort to snuff out a new drug known as HFS. Sounds easy enough, but 2012 in high school is nothing like 2005.

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If you have never seen the TV series sharing the same name of this film, do not fret. In all honesty, the only link the show and its remake share is the title. The 2012 version of 21 Jump Street eschews the seriousness and drama from its predecessor and opts for a lighter and humorous take. From start to finish, laughs are to be had at a pretty consistent clip.

Within the first few minutes, it is evident that this movie never takes itself too seriously. Whether it be through a simple moment of the main characters locking eyes over expertly timed music cues reminiscent of iconic 80’s movies, or expecting the obvious explosion to occur after shooting numerous flammable objects, it pokes fun at itself, the implausibility of the scenario, and staples of the buddy cop genre. The film also gets commended for going in an unexpected direction. At its core, I got the message of change in the fact that nothing stays the same and what was once cool can easily become outdated. It would have been real easy, and lazy, to keep Jenko as the ultra-suave and straight man while sticking Schmidt as the loser with no chance at progression. Thankfully, it goes a different route.

This “meta-ness” alluded to previously extends to the duo themselves. The stereotypes that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum embody here are in a way what others think about them in real life. Hill to a lot of people is or at least comes off as an insecure and occasionally douchey guy, and Tatum for the longest time (perhaps still) was only thought of as eye candy with not much to offer anywhere else. Maybe I am looking too much into this, and if I am so be it. It’s just something that worked into my mind when watching.

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Being able and willing to take shots at yourself is well and good, but the characters and the actors playing those said characters still have to be interesting enough to make it matter. Luckily, they are in 21 Jump Street. Jonah Hill has proven his comedic ability previously before this, but he is in top-notch form here. Not so much a shock to see him score so many laughs, but it was refreshing to see his character with a fair amount of heft. His character allows for more connection with the audience, as many have been there at some point in time.

Channing Tatum is the real revelation in the film from a comedic standpoint. He gets many great lines and serves them up with exceptional delivery. He is really shaping as a versatile guy in Hollywood, something I never would have thought possible during his roles in Coach Carter and Step Up. As a duo, their chemistry was infectious and appeared natural, which is a must for buddy cop films.

The supporting cast is nothing to scoff at though. Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Ellie Kemper, Brie Larson, DeRay Davis, and a few others bring humorous moments to varying degrees. But Ice Cube as the police captain steals the show as Captain Dickson every time he appears on screen. Based on a stereotype like Tatum and Hill’s characters, he is consistently angry throughout the movie in the most over-the-top way. His delivery and timing is flawless, and whenever he spars with Jenko and Schmidt is a riot.

As a whole, the dialogue and writing is pretty strong, if occasionally overdependent on the F bomb. For the most part it works more often than not, and it it pretty realistic of what is heard in most high schools. There were just a few times where it came across as a crutch, but it is to be expected with a R-rated comedy. What wasn’t expected in the way it was carried out happened to be the last third of the movie. Unlike the previous thirds, the last 30 or so minutes serves more as an action movie. Not that there is not still comedy to be had, but the tone obviously shifts and it is a bit jarring to see blood spraying and bodies dropping.

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More of a re-imagining than an remake/reboot, the film incarnation of 21 Jump Street is good entertainment through and through, bolstered by self-referential humor and a strong (covalent) bond between main characters. Maybe going back to high school isn’t such a bad thing.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to sonypictures.com, movieforums.com, & totalfilm.com.

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