Wonder Woman: Movie Man Jackson

Men, who needs them? Growing up on the world of Themyscira is young Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson). This world of Themyscira is inhabited by nothing but females. Females who are Amazon warriors and quite adept at defending their home turf. They’re in a relative time of peace, and as a result, the Queen doesn’t wish for her daughter to be trained as a warrior, but rather to enjoy her childhood despite the daughter ever so wanting to get her hands dirty. In secret, Diana trains with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) in preparation for the end of peace.

That time comes when World War II soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on their home world telling stories of the horrors of the war he’s been fighting. Believing WWI to be the fault of God of War, Ares, mature Diana (Gal Gadot) sets out to extinguish him and bring eternal peace to the world, even it it means leaving Themyscira behind forever.

Electra and Catwoman. That’s it as far as super-heroines go as it pertains to getting their own features in the last 15 years. Yours truly doesn’t need to summarize the quality—or lack thereof—of those films. Wonder Woman arrives carrying the sizable burden of possibly ushering in more female protagonist superhero blockbusters depending on its quality. Even more of a burden than that is placed on Wonder Woman in the hopes that this is the film that course corrects the DC Extended Universe out of dark beginning waters. So, there’s only one question. Is it good? Absolutely.

Make no mistake, Wonder Woman is the basic superhero origin story. But, it’s the type of story needed when developing a massive, interconnected universe and getting audiences to care about its heroes who make it up. Its basic superhero story does play out a little more uniquely than most of its contemporaries. First, from a visual aspect, utilizing World War I and London and seeing a vibrant island world such as Themyscira in all of its gold hues and lushness simply makes for a more compelling watch, even before director Patty Jenkins (Monster) showcases the equally compelling action sequences.

Second, the fish-out-of-water approach works brilliantly, and more importantly, it allows Wonder Woman to distance itself from the “it’s so doom and gloom” complaints many rightfully had with most of the DCEU’s features up to this point. There’s legitimate comedy, and it comes off as organic, instead of feeling written in at the last moment. Aside from a noticeable period in the middle third, the movie rarely comes to a complete halt in its pace.

As a whole, Wonder Woman is endearing, partly because Prince isn’t written as a perfect, infallible character, but also, because Gal Gadot makes her so. Once again, her amazing work as the titular character is a reminder that the Internet more often than not needs to just let casting decisions play out before casting judgement on them. Gadot’s come a long way from Giselle in the Fast and Furious movies. She owns the screen, and is asked to convey a fair deal of emotion, all done in convincing fashion. Just as importantly, she looks the part.

The job she does here is that spectacular that it is a struggle to consider who else could play Diana Prince. After Gadot, Pine brings a lot; carrying the film’s message about humanity not being perfect, but very salvageable. The chemistry the two possess between each other, and among the bit characters played by Ewen Bremmer and Saïd Taghmaoui, is infections. As for the villain, akin to similar comic origin movies, the adversary—in this case, adversaries—leave a little to be desired. They’re adequate, but extremely basic stock cutouts that never feel like a true threat to our hero.

In Wonder Woman, DC finally manages to corral a fun and emotional origins story together. Maybe all it takes is a strong woman to make things better.

B+

Photo credits go to dailydot.com, comicbook.com, and dccomics.com

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Hell or High Water: Movie Man Jackson

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Almost anything can be done with ruthless determination. Brothers Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) have begun to rob banks in small towns of Texas. Robbery and crime comes easy for lifelong convict Tanner, but Toby, with no criminal record to speak of, is a little taken aback by the action. But it needs to be done in his mind. He owes a ton of child support to his ex-wife, and the Howard farm is up for foreclosure.

On the trail of the brotherly due is soon-to-be-retiree ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). Though unsaid, he’s actually a little afraid of retirement and relishes this one last opportunity to sink his teeth into something substantial with his Hispanic/Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). This is old fashioned cops and robbers. Who’s in the right?

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Is the Western making a comeback? I don’t believe the traditional Western genre will ever be like it once was, but it does feel like Hollywood has been fusing the genre with more modern genres moreso than ever. Enter Hell or High Water, a movie that doesn’t carry Western in its genre listing but is pretty much so. It will be hard for any upcoming Western to top the final product here.

Director David McKenzie (Perfect Sense) manages the proceedings here. The Texas—technically, New Mexico–backdrop isn’t flashy, but there is something striking about it. But he may be outshined by the screenplay turned in by Taylor Sheridan. Debuting with last year’s Sicario, the man has quickly established himself as a talented writer in less than a year’s time.

Nothing about Hell or High Water is truly original, but in a way, that makes what Sheridan accomplishes all the more surprising and impressive. At the core, this is a movie about inequality, the 1% versus the 99%. It is a theme that is as old as the beginning of time, and one that is ever-popular in recent years from The Dark Knight Rises to Money Monster. But it is subtle, such as the billboards that the brothers find on the road that bring up debt and quick cash. The script gives reasons to care about the main characters; they’re actually people with believable motivations. And on a basic sense, the characters are just entertaining to hear talk. This isn’t an action-heavy piece, as even the robbery scenes are muted. Dialogue definitely is at the forefront. With a title like Hell or High Water, one might expect nonstop heaviness and grit. What is surprising is how much humor is injected in the movie and how it actually is effective, and its characters are made more endearing for it.

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Each of the three main actors, Texas drawls and all, turn in impressive performances. He may not be a lead character in this, but Gil Birmingham flashes great chemistry with Jeff Bridges and their ride-along relationship is entertaining. Bridges himself is a better version of what Tommy Lee Jones’ character was in No Country for Old Men. He understands the situation at hand instead of being taken aback by it, and his zeal for wanting to get the job done is a treat to watch.

The dynamic that Ben Foster and Chris Pine show is electric. Character-wise, Tanner should be a guy that is impossible to root for, and yet he isn’t. Ben Foster does stellar work with the role, and gives heart to a semi-unstable character. It is Chris Pine, however, who comes out of this one as the talking point of the film. I’ve always felt he’s had it in him to do this quality of work, and his Toby is likely the high point of his career to this point, and the end scene that is reminiscent to Heat‘s iconic De Niro/Pacino moment seals the deal, his character’s plight, and why.

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Hell or High Water is high tide for the Western genre. Coming near the end of the summer, it feels like the perfect catalyst to lead into a (hopefully) good fall movie season.

A-

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, thefilmstage.com, and ew.com

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Star Trek Beyond: Movie Man Jackson

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Everything becomes old at some point. Even space. It has been about three years into a five-year exploration trek for Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew on the USS Enterprise. To be honest, Kirk doesn’t know if captaincy is right for him anymore, and he starts to think about what else may be out there beyond the vast reaches of space. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is in the same mindset as well, as his efforts may be needed back on his home world.

But in the present, their full attention is needed as the Enterprise is bombarded and ransacked by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba) and his “swarm,” looking for a piece of technology that is vital for his ultimate mission. The destruction caused by the swarm has left the crew stranded and separated from each other on an unknown planet, with no working communication. Escape from this planet appears impossible, but there’s always hope in the impossible.

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50 years is a long time for anything to be around and and active, be it a man, woman, automobile, whatever. In 2016, Star Trek Beyond arrives to punctuate the 50th anniversary of Gene Rodenberry’s original series. Kind of a big deal? Absolutely. Adding to the pressure is the simple fact that the blockbuster season of 2016 has been terribly lean on action thrills since Captain America: Civil War hit cinemas two and a half months ago, or technically, before summer truly began. May have come a little late, but Star Trek Beyond honors what came before it, while bringing the big budget summer fun.

With an obligation to direct another popular space opera franchise, J.J. Abrams couldn’t make the return to the captain’s seat (more of a co-pilot as a producer). This time, that honor falls to Justin Lin, Fast & Furious franchise savior. After seeing what he did with the latter half of the Fast franchise, there was never any doubt in my eyes as to whether his skills could translate to a different universe. Do scenes get a little cut-happy sometimes? Sure, but at least there’s not as much lens flare, right? His destruction scenes are every bit what Independence Day: Resurgence by all accounts should have been and then some, with awesome cinematography and the sounds of Michael Giacchino accompanying them. Rest assured, this isn’t Dom Torreto and Brian O’Conner in space; this is very much Star Trek.

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And not just Star Trek—revisiting cool but well-worn species, foes, and locales—but Star Trek—introducing new species, foes, and locales. Video gamers may notice some similarities to Mass Effect 2 in a few places (the bee swarm looks a lot like the Collectors), and the object in question that pushes the adequate plot is more or less an MacGuffin, but still, kudos goes to Lin and writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung for including a few touching callbacks to the original series but also choosing to go forth into new terrain. Specifically, the two new characters are welcome additions.

Idris Elba is unrecognizable, but even under a bevvy of makeup and costume, he’s got presence. He carries a level of menace that hasn’t been seen in the new reboots by any previous baddies. While he isn’t as mysterious or developed as, say John Harrison, was, he does have a thread that gives him some depth in the final act. The real star of the feature, though, is undoubtedly Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella. She’s unique visually and can hold her own with intellect or in battle. The thing is, there is much to be uncovered into her backstory. But this is a great introduction, and let’s hope that future installments continue with more Boutella in this role.

As for the returning cast, there’s not much more to be said for them except for that they are strong in their roles. Better yet, none look to be tired with what they are doing. Some, like Saldana’s Uhura and Cho’s Sulu are pushed to the backburner this time, but others like Pegg’s Scotty, Urban’s Bones, and the late Yelchin’s Chekov have many pivotal scenes and more importance to the plot than before. Pine and Quinto are still the stars, but Beyond truly feels like an ensemble effort this go-around, and that isn’t a bad thing.

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Star Trek Beyond was not sabotaged by its first trailer, or by its latest director. With three quality films into the reboot, yours truly is very excited and even eager to see where the next journey takes Captain Kirk and company.

B+

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, uproxx.com, and moviepilot.com.

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Star Trek Into Darkness: Movie Man Jackson

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To get to the dawn of the day, one has to make it through the darkness of the night. On an exploratory mission to preserve new life undetected, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) of the U.S.S Enterprise violates the undetected part to save a friend. For his actions, he is stripped of the ship and his status as captain.

But, he’s brought back to power when a mysterious threat declares war on StarFleet by wiping out many of its senior officers in one fell swoop. It’s up to Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and the rest of the crew to find the threat, hiding in dangerous deep Klingon space, and eliminate it.

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Like most sequels, Star Trek Into Darkness works with a bigger budget than before. Unlike many sequels, Star Trek Into Darkness actually holds the line more or less, when compared to its predecessor. Better than the first? Debatable, but the fact that it is a legitimate question to ask means Into Darkness is pretty darn entertaining.

JJ Abrams returns to the directorial seat of the Enterprise to direct the adventure of Kirk, Spock, Bones, and crew again. He sure likes lens flares maybe a tad too much but this is Star Trek and one expects things to carry some light and look bright. Isn’t that big of an issue in the opinion of yours truly. Action-wise, there are a few really good scenes, more than the first film for sure, but aside from the climatic set piece which is awesome, the extra 35 million in budget doesn’t completely improve upon the action from the initial Star Trek reboot.

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For diehard Trekkie fans, Into Darkness is probably looked at as Abrams and his team of writers in Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof peeing and desecrating on everything sacred that Star Trek possesses. Its story apparently takes some sizable inspiration from The Wrath of Khan and other old episodes/seasons, but adding little twists and additions. For casual fans such as myself whose first real exposure to Star Trek was 2009, I could never get all of the Easter eggs or changes, and as such, the story is simple yet satisfying, not disrespectful to what came before it. While it would have been interesting to see this movie explore some deeper themes like the old Star Treks were famous for doing, this 21st century reboot seems focused on being light, which is fine.

However, the 21st century reboot has been focused on character just as much, if not more than, action, and relies on the cast to deliver those character moments. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto reprise there roles and further the challenging yet unbreakable bond that defines Captain Kirk and Spock. Honestly, the best moments of Into Darkness are between the two leads rationalizing what friendship means to each of them, and it sounds corny, but is executed wonderfully. A returning Zoe Saldana steps back into the Uhura role, with this time given more to work with. Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin (R.I.P) do well in supporting roles adding humor at times, and Bruce Greenwood is a steady hand that adds emotion.

Newcomers to the cast include Alice Eve, Peter Weller, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Eve is the only person who feels out of place in the film, sort of bland in her performance and existing to only serve as eye candy in what is now the infamous lingerie scene that serves no purpose. Weller, while having a very minimal role in terms of screen time, is very pivotal, and there is something cool about seeing the Robocop star as a part of the cast in one of the biggest media franchises there is. Lastly, Cumberbatch’s character is a great mystery. He’s a presence, both emotionally, physically, and audibly.

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Make it so. Star Trek Into Darkness makes the JJ Abrams directed reboots 2 for 2. Diehards will be be none too pleased, but everyone else? Resistance to enjoying STID is futile.

B+

Photo credits go to dvdizzy.com, ew.com, and Collider.com.

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Star Trek (2009): Movie Man Jackson

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The future begins in the remnants of the past. In space, a Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana) is seeking vengeance across the galaxy. His home world has been destroyed seemingly by the Federation, an organization that seeks to keep the peace between worlds.

Nero is from the future, which obviously complicates matters in ways no one is sure of. Receiving a distress signal from the Vulcan planet, the Federation deploys the USS Enterprise to investigate. On the ship, James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) find difficulty in working together due to their conflicting personalities and worldviews. But, the two must come to respect each other in order to save lives.

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Franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek don’t just have casual fans, they have diehards of worldwide fans who know every detail and minutiae of franchise lore. Diehards who don’t take kindly to even the slightest bit of change or a reimaging. You can’t please everyone, and the 2009 reboot of Star Trek might not cater itself to the hardcore Trekkie. But, it does pay respect to the iterations before it, while being highly accessible and most importantly, fun.

The director in the captain’s seat of the USS Enterprise is JJ Abrams, who earned his stripes writing and directing the beloved Lost and Fringe TV shows, and blockbusters Mission Impossible III and Cloverfield. Star Trek, like most reboots, is an origins story, and really, it is an origins story of two characters: Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. JJ Abrams does a ton right in his version, but one of the strongest aspects of his storytelling in this movie is that nothing feels wasted, or elongated for no particular reason. While juggling two stories in about 20 minutes, Abrams tells the audience exactly who these two iconic characters are, and why the audience should care about them.

One could argue, though, that some aspects of the story are a wee bit fuzzy, or a little underdeveloped. Time travel, for whatever reason, always seems to give yours truly a tough time to wrap his head around. The villain Nero is as generic as they come. And Trekkies may not like the lack of meaty themes, something that the original series often included. Even the effective humor could be much for some (this is a very light movie). But, origin stories need not to be complex, just entertaining.

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Additionally, Abrams uses his CGI to stage pretty special action sequences, one in particular being a space jump followed by hand-to-hand and ending with a space free-fall that is one of the best blockbuster action sequences of the last 10 years. It’s not just the action, though, its the fully realized environment of space, but also, the fully realized interior of the Enterprise. The ship is a marvel to look at, feels “alive,” and, even if just aesthetically, as important to Star Trek as its characters.

Even with all of the previously mentioned good things, the reintroduction to Starfleet wouldn’t be as well-received if the casting wasn’t up to snuff. Not considering the foil, I do not believe there is a weak link in the crew. Karl Urban is consistently entertaining playing Bones, Zoe Saldana a presence as one of the only females Uhura, John Cho showing he can do more besides being Harold as Sulu, Anton Yelchin being memorable as Chekov, and Simon Pegg as funny as ever portraying Scotty.

But of course, the lynchpins are Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, respectively. Pine put himself on the map playing the captain, showing off his character’s brashness yet steeliness in the face of peril. It’s a really fun role to watch, even if it can be a little too amped up once or twice. It is made better by Quinto’s precise performance. The two play off of each other well, and are both likable in their own ways, and seeing both characters coming full circle and accepting one another is a feel-good moment.

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Abrams’ initial foray into the Star Trek pays tribute to what came before it, but not to the point where it is too foreign to the uninitiated. All aboard the Enterprise, because this Star Trek prospers in more ways than one.

A-

Photo credits go to startrek.com, movieposter.com, http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org, and hautemacabre.com

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Horrible Bosses 2: Movie Man Jackson

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“Hello Nick, guy who saved my life, guy who f****d my wife.”

Hate your boss? Become one yourself. That there is the general idea of Horrible Bosses 2. After getting what they wanted in their bosses being gone one way or another, best buds Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) go all into a joint venture. The “Shower Buddy” is the result of an idea had over beers, and though it sounds like junk, there is potential to get this off the ground.

Some hustling and grinding by the threesome give way to an opportunity with an investor, and a meeting with father and son Bert and Rex Hanson (Christoph Waltz, Chris Pine), leads way to a partnership. The three appear to be on the path of living their dream until Burt decides to sever the business relationship in the 11th hour, leaving Nick, Dale, and Kurt with outstanding debt. With no feasible way to fight the tycoon in court, crime is the only way to get back control of the company. Except it isn’t murder this go-around, but a kidnapping and ransom of Rex. These things always go well.

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When it comes to comedy sequels, more times than not they just do not seem to be needed. Perhaps more than any other genre, they seem to really exist just for a quick and sometimes easy cash grab. True, everyone and all genres are in the business of making money, and almost all sequels come in with a built in fanbase, but at least other genres can more effectively operate under a guise of “this story needs to be continued.” So many comedy sequels feel like complete wrecks, missing what was special with the original. To yours truly at least, maybe the biggest positive to take away from Horrible Bosses 2 is that while its existence is highly debatable, it is still a generally amusing but overall uneven raunch comedy.

HB2 at least cannot be accused of the exact same plot structure of its predecessor…at least for most of the movie. While at the essence it is still about committing a crime of some sort on a working boss, there is a concerted effort to throw many unforeseen occurrences throughout. It can feel a little too much at times however. Only in the last 20 minutes or so does HB2 become pretty conventional, even carbon-copied in many respects (read: key respect) of the first, and as a result, the climax is more like a whimper.

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The usual lead suspects are back once again. The chemistry possessed with the three is still there, and all know what they are brought into do. Straight man Bateman is still one of the best dry comic actors today, Day comes with the moronic, overly-loud in places shtick, and Sudeikis brings no filter to the party.

They play off of each other well, but the assumed-to-be improvisation goes on far too long in places, almost as if there is nothing there in a scene but the director Sean Anders (Sex Drive, That’s My Boy) tells the trio to keep talking to try and make something funny. Uneven is what it is. Going off of the audience (and my) pattern, this film seemed to be loaded with consistent laughs in chunks, but not as a whole.

Of the new additions, Chris Pine either steals the show, or comes pretty close to doing so. Going off of what was shown in the trailer, I had no idea of how he would fit in here, but the fact is he easily holds his own with the other, more traditional comic actors and even outshines them in moments. More comedy roles may be in his future if he wants them. Christoph Waltz joins him as well, but he isn’t around enough to truly make an impression despite being key to the plot.

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Two of the three previous bosses make a return here in Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey. While it is nice for a short while to see these two return, one has to wonder why they are needed here. Aniston is still busy on a mission to get her holes filled by any man who is upright (or bedridden), but this time her character isn’t as fresh and just mainly comes off as a crazed 40-ish woman who has issues. Her comedic bits this time are more vulgar and offensive but not in a particularly laughable way.

For my money, Kevin Spacey is the definition of a horrible boss, and lo and behold he is back here. He possesses one of the funniest scenes in the film though, so he does have that going for him. And last but not least, everyone favorite motherf****r in Dean “MF” Jones is in the house portrayed by Jamie Foxx. Yours truly didn’t love him from the original so nothing really changed here, though he is cool in spots. He’s the same guy as before, nothing more or less. The big issue with this trio’s inclusion this time around is that when they turn up in the story’s confines, it never feels natural. Rather, it feels pretty forced, like some screentime quota was in the contracts of these actors to appear, even if it was during a time that didn’t make a ton of sense.

So, the question is asked again. Did Horrible Bosses 2 really need to be made? The short answer is probably no, but it is here and there is nothing that can be done about it. There have been worse comedy sequels, but the performance review on this one is pretty middling.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to whysearch.com, technologytell.com, and flicksandthecity.com.

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