Wind River: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to Wyoming. Wind River, to be exact. In this Indian Reservation lies a lot of cold, snowy weather and a constant air of misery for many who live here. US Fish and Wildlife Service agent/tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is called on to look into a situation that involves local cattle being killed by another predator. Upon his investigation, Lambert stumbles upon a frozen corpse, a corpse that wasn’t prepared for the harsh outside elements. Foul play is suspected.

The corpse is identified as Natalie Hanson, an 18 year-old resident of the reservation. Now a murder mystery, FBI rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called into the Wyoming setting to investigate. Ill-prepared for Wind River, Banner must rely on her instincts and the guile of Lambert to solve this case and bring justice to Natalie and her remaining family.

It’s clear that the modern day Western genre bears little resemblance to the Westerns of yesteryear inhabited by John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and the like. Instead, today’s movies that could be classified as Westerns take inspiration from that genre but homogenize with others; think SicarioHell or High Water, and now Wind River. All three of these movies share a common tie: the writing credit of Taylor Sheridan. With Wind River, Sheridan gets the opportunity to direct what he writes. The result is a crime feature that doesn’t quite match the brilliance of his most recent writing, but shows more than enough to see Sheridan mentioned in the same future conversation as his directing contemporaries.

Wind River is a little bit of a slow burn—almost agonizingly so—at least in the early going. Sheridan’s first act introduces a few details, but overall, it seems to serve as an environment setup more than real story setup. However, Wind River does kick into gear around the time the awesome Gil Birmingham comes into the frame. Unlike his somewhat light character in Hell or High Water, Birmingham plays a somber, detached Native American father trying to cope with what happened to his daughter. From here, the straightforward story finds its groove.

While not as thematically complex as his prior work, Sheridan uses Wind River, inspired by true events, to shine light on—albeit not without legitimate white hero controversy—many Native American reservations and the hopelessness/negligence that they may carry. They may not resemble the traditional looking ghettos, but the mental and draining effect this environment has on many of the movie’s characters is entirely the same, pushing them towards bad things or paralyzing inaction.

The environment is more of a living and breathing character than almost all in the movie. Technically, Sheridan isn’t perfect yet; some aforementioned early pacing issues exist. A prolonged flashback, although filling in what exactly happened, sort of comes out of nowhere. But, an old-fashioned Mexican standoff that evolves into a big set piece, and a mid-movie suspect visit stand as some of the year’s most tension-drenched moments.

Wind River does come up short in one half of the lead character department. That’s no indictment on Elizabeth Olsen, she makes the most of what is presented to her and carries enough chemistry with Jeremy. This is Renner’s movie, however, and credit goes to Sheridan for writing a very detailed lead in Cory Lambert with gradual backstory revealed that draws the audience closer to his personal journey. It would have been easy for Renner to play this as a Liam Neeson knockoff, but Renner doesn’t, instead opting for a realistic and everyman approach. He’s a cowboy without the gusto, but a believer in frontier justice. His work here is a reminder that Renner’s is more than just a 2nd team Avenger.

The water isn’t particularly deep or 100% purified in Wind River. But ultimately, it is compelling as a simple pseudo-Western crime feature.

B

Photo credits go to collider.com, cinemavine.com, and bleedingcool.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Advertisements

The House: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to their house. Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler) are two good parents who have a lot to be proud of. Their daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), has been accepted into the prestigious Bucknell University. And the best thing about it is that she happens to be a straight-A student, a virtual lock for the town’s full ride scholarship.

At least, that’s what they thought, until city councilman Nick Kroll takes away her award immediately upon granting it to her, claiming “budget cuts” as the reason. After an unfruitful trip to Las Vegas with friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to win the money needed to support Alex’s college bills, the three concoct a plan to raise her money by running an underground casino in Frank’s home. The House always wins, but the house also attracts unwanted clientele that can make life very miserable for the Johansens.

Does Hollywood have a mid/big-budget comedy problem? Obviously, the genre is the most subjective there is—one person’s laughing trash is another’s laughing treasure. Still, since 22 Jump Street and possibly Trainwreck, there hasn’t been that big pure comedy that audiences and critics agree upon and flock in droves to see and spend money on. Even with the comedy stalwarts in Ferrell and Poehler, The House, proven by its box office results as of this writing, definitely isn’t that comedy.

Any enjoyment of The House may likely come down to how much one enjoys the typical antics of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. A good chunk of their interactions, both together and with others, appear to be improvised, for better and for worse. Out of the two, Ferrell delivers more consistently with the laughs; two running gags involve his character struggling with the most basic of math problems and channeling a dark alter ego known as “The Butcher.” Still, both have been better before.

It’s probably Mantzoukas who has the best parts tied to his character. His total arc comes up pretty flat, but he absolutely steals scenes as the gambling addict Frank, the divorcee trying to win back his love by…running a casino. Nick Kroll is amusing playing the shady councilman, but others in the cast are pretty worthless, even Alex, who the story is supposed to revolve around.

The House suffers from predictability. This isn’t a bad thing in of itself—especially in a comedy—but when the jokes are folding at the table, it can be. Additionally, The House takes a long time to set up the opposition, often shifting between villains in its last act. The SNL skit feeling is hard to escape when watching. First-time director Andrew J. Cohen (writer of Neighbors) makes a basic, standard-looking feature that takes story and scene inspiration from Casino. Nothing shoddy or praiseworthy particularly stands out.

And ultimately, that last sentence sums up The House pretty succinctly. It’s an average hand in a genre in desperate need of a flush.

C

Photo credits go to theplaylist.net, movpins.com, and slashfilm.com. Article credit to Variety.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Arrival: Movie Man Jackson

arrivalstub

We come in peace? In peace we come? Peace we come in? They all mean different things! Out of nowhere, large opaque oblong spacecrafts come out of the sky, hovering over 12 cities across the world. They look threatening, so they had to have come to bring destruction to Earth. But, they just hover there, idly…

But idle cannot be assumed to completely mean peaceful. The fact of the matter is, someone needs to figure out what the point is of these extraterrestrials’ Arrival. That task primarily falls to linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). As both soon figure out, these beings operate with a higher sense of knowledge and communication than we do. Perhaps it isn’t them they should be concerned about, but rather, whether all parties across the world can collaborate with each other to figure out the meaning of their arrival.

communication

Few directors have had the critical success that Denis Villeneuve has experienced. Not counting Incendies (a film I so desperately need to see), he has helmed some of the best films of this decade in a relatively short time period with Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario. He’s hit must-see status…even with a weaker offering in Arrival. 

Don’t take that opener as disdain for Arrival. This is still a good movie, one in which Denis Villeneuve has firmly cemented himself as appointment viewing, up there with the likes of Christopher Nolan , David Fincher, and Quentin Tarantino. After delving into abduction, surrealism, and the cartels, the director tackles humanity and cooperation this time around. This is actually the first surprise—rather, misdirect—of Arrival. 

Despite having obvious elements of the science-fiction genre, it can be easily argued that Arrival isn’t much of one as a whole. Which is perfectly OK. The study of linguistics and how each and every culture can interpret meaning differently is fascinating, and it is an idea that is rendered wonderfully from a visual and auditory sense. If one ever wanted to see what a Rorschach test looked like on the silver screen, Arrival is probably the closest movie to capturing that. Arrival isn’t as striking as Sicario or as bizarre as Enemy, but even being more minimalist, there’s a tension (Villeneuve truly knows how to wield a camera to show this) that exists from the jump to the end of the second act. It only helps that the wonderful Johann Johannson provides moody musical cues that get at the extraterrestrial aspect of the story.

pod

So Arrival, script source material taken from the novella Story of Your Life, is undoubtedly cerebral. Where it falters, for yours truly at least, is tugging at the heartstrings. The rest of this paragraph can essentially be summed up as the super basic statement “It just didn’t do it for me,” but I’ll try to elaborate without spoiling. Perhaps I have no one else to blame but myself for expecting something that wasn’t there. It just feels that, however, something else could have, should have, been there. For all of the tension that is generated in the the initial acts of the movie, the reveal has sort of a flat feeling tied to it. It’s at this point when Arrival moves into full on heartfelt drama. Drama that, while structurally sound when held under a microscope, is a little uninteresting.

There are three performers billed on the movie’s poster, but one that gets all of the good material. That one being Amy Adams, who is always a captivating presence. The biggest reason why the cast works is that they are easy to buy into as their roles. All of Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker possess roles moreso than meaty characters (though Adams figuratively gets a full character circle, if you will), but this is a feature that requires actor and actress to be believable in delivering theories, calculating math, and delivering orders. When the three or some combination of the two are on screen together, they all work well with each other and the dialogue is worth listening to.

adams

At the very least, Arrival is worth a watch, not just for the impressive direction, but because it is unique, and films like this should be supported regardless of genre. Even with yours truly ultimately feeling a tad underwhelmed with the story aspects and endgame of this film, if it wasn’t clear before, it’s crystal clear now that Denis Villeneuve has arrived as a top-level filmmaker.

B-

Photo credits go to vox.com, nerdreactor.com, and rollingstone.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Captain America: Civil War-Movie Man Jackson

civilwarstub

Bob Marley was quoted one day saying that “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy.” The recent events of the Avengers are going to test that quote to the fullest. Anytime the Avengers protect and serve, they also seem to bring unintended, but significant, collateral damage. First in New York, then with the total collapse of the city in Sokovia, and now the situation in Nigeria that leads to multiple deaths of innocents. Many in the world now do not see the Avengers as superheroes, but vigilantes.

The powers that be determine that these superheroes need to be held accountable via the Sokavia Accords, a document that basically gives power to the government to ascertain when and where the Avengers should be deployed. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a proponent of the Accords, still feeling responsibility for many of the incidents. Joining him on his side is Vision (Paul Bettany), Rhody/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Aligning with Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) on the side of freedom is Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd). The two viewpoints make a showdown all but a certainty. However, growing underneath the tension is an unforeseen threat, one who wants to make The Avengers pay for their past actions.

starkrhody

As soon as Captain America: Civil War was announced back in late 2013 and everyone knew what the Civil War would consist of, everything that came before it has really been leading up to this film. And that is for bad and good. Bad, because in a way, other films that would normally be huge events on their own (i.e Avengers: Age of Ultron) kind of lacked the memorability and importance such a film should command. However, it is good because CA:CW is, more or less, what Age of Ultron should have been: Important, memorable, and extremely entertaining. And the build-up throughout that time is a big reason.

The latest entry to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe makes no concessions to those who haven’t followed along over the years. But with the box office returns being so high, most know all about these characters, so why should it? As stated, Marvel has been building to this moment for a while now, especially in the interactions between Stark and Rogers, and as such, it makes it much more easier to fall into the story and buy everything the writers tell us. Compare this to, say, Batman V Superman (it’s just too convenient not to!), where characters, their relationships and plot threads are thrown into one movie instead of allowing them to be gradually introduced to us.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s second superhero feature following The Winter Soldier is written about as well as one could generally hope, especially with the amount of characters making appearances. It isn’t all perfect. There are a few lulls, one in particular being right after the highest point of the movie. This definitely feels a full 136 minutes during the end. The main villain, even with sound motivation and a good performance by the talented Daniel Brühl, suffers simply because he isn’t all that interesting. It would have been nice to see more of Frank Grillo’s Crossbones, but at least he owns it while he’s on the screen.

renner

But, the lack of a compelling traditional villain isn’t felt as much in Civil War because the true opposition comes from within, obviously from the opposing viewpoints that Captain America and Iron Man support. It’s important to note that neither one, no matter what “team” you may be on, is all that vilified, though Iron Man has always been a guy who possessed heelish tendencies and as such, feels slightly like the bad guy. Both men have good reasons for carrying the ideologies they carry, and a cool extra layer exists under what side they support. Personality-wise, Rogers is as orderly and straight-laced as heroes come, compared to the brash and free-wheeling Stark. So, the fact that Captain America refuses the order and the government and Iron Man readily accepts it despite what their personalities would suggest is something yours truly found intriguing.

With 12 notable characters on the screen, one would think that some characters would naturally get the shaft. While some shine brighter than others, all have their moments, not just in action, but in non-physical interplay with one another, like Vision and Scarlet Witch (dropped accent and all), or Falcon and War Machine to name a few. Sometimes the interplay is emotional, sometimes it is funny, but in all cases, it adds to the characters, which in turn adds to the action.

Once again, though this time assisted by John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the Russo brothers film action as practical as they possibly can. A little shaky in a few spots, but overall it’s about on par with their work from Winter Soldier. Much like the first Avengers, which has the scene everyone remembers with the panning of our new superhero team, this one has that similar moment as well, setting up an action sequence that could stand as the best of the year when all is said and done.

rogersvstark

Captain America: Civil War achieves where Age of Ultron didn’t. It’s as big but more focused. It’s more emotionally satisfying. There are actual changes that should carry sizable ramifications. And above all, it’s more fun. If every movie in Phase 3 will be this good, in the words of Captain America, “I can do this all day.”

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to collider.com, comicbook.com, and forbes.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Avengers: Age of Ultron: Movie Man Jackson

aoustub

“How is humanity saved if it isn’t allowed to evolve?”

How is it that striving for peace almost always seems to make things worse than they are? There is no assembling The Avengers this time around, the group is already comprised. In Age of Ultron, the good guys are back and a cohesive super unit. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye are doing their best to keep the world and humanity running smoothly. They are doing a great job, but as Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) states, they should be fighting in the hope that one day, they will no longer have to.

Enter the Ultron program, which Tony Stark is not able to build in a cave…with a box of scraps. Designed to be a global artificial intelligence defense that keeps unwanted intruders from entering Earth, Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), decide to give another go. Unfortunately, the Ultron AI goes haywire, and “peace” in its mind involves the eradication of The Avengers and humanity.

ultron

At this point, Marvel cannot lose, from a revenue sense at least. Maybe one day a huge loss will come that ends up changing the terrain of comic book feature presentations, but not yet. From a quality sense, Avengers: Age of Ultron is still a winner, but not to the extent that the The Avengers was. Don’t take that as AoU being a failure, take it as AoU being a functional blockbuster.

Director Joss Whedon has the job of once again bringing these popular comic book characters together, and he possesses a real talent in doing so. He wastes no time in reintroducing the audience to the gang in a frenetic, fun, and maybe too comic-book-ish (it probably is stupid to complain about this given the origins, but whatever) opening sequence. Whereas maybe one or two characters from the first movie had less total impact and screentime, this go around, everyone’s contributions do feel as equal as could possibly be.

There’s even some notable depth given to a few of them that is totally unforeseen. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is more than the human archer, and yet he isn’t at the same time. Sounds confusing, but it makes sense when seen. But the real development occurs with the arrogant Tony Stark. Downey, in yours truly’s opinion, hasn’t been this good since the first Iron Man. What is being done with his character is a nice, long, slow burn heel turn, reminiscent of a wrestler who shows bad guy tendencies for months but never officially turns until way down the line. It should be great to see it culminate in next year’s Civil War.

scarletquicksilver

Not everything is handled expertly, however. It could just be a personal preference, but I’d prefer my Avengers films to be love-free. Not to spoil anything, but anytime two specific characters get doe-eyed and spout double entendres around each other, it is hard to stomach and the movie truly bogs down in pace. This is one of a few moments/side plots that are odd in their presence, adding to a story that at its base is somewhat coherent yet fragmented; not as complete as the predecessor. For what has come out with Whedon and the creative differences pertaining to AoU in various scenes, it will be interesting to see how things appear in the rumored extended cut once a home media release rolls out.

With a group this large and egos this sizable, you have got to have a villain to be formidable. Ultron (James Spader) is…just good. Visually, he looks menacing, and Spader gives a distinct voice to the character, but a belief exists that he could be so much more. His inclusion comes off as a tad rushed, as in it doesn’t even take a minute for the program to become corrupt. And, he falls short of being the badass he could be. The trailers painted him as a ruthless, sentient being, and he gets to about 75-80% of that. The other 20-25% is filled with hit or miss one-liners, which can be said for most of the film, and underdeveloped motivations.

reintroduction

Avengers: Age of Ultron is still the definitive christening of the summer blockbuster season, and it is hard to be completely dissatisfied with what is present here. If a hunger for comic book heroes and villains exists, one will get their fill with this one. But instead of feeling like a unique event all in of itself like the original did, AoU ends up feeling like another cog in the Marvel machine.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to geekslife.com, io9.com, and comicbook.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Marvel’s The Avengers: Movie Man Jackson

avengersposter

 “Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it!”

And this is the story all about how a little blue box turned the world upside down. Director of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) makes his way onto the Santa Fe headquarters of the agency one day during an evacuation. The fabled blue cubed Tesseract is beginning to act funny, and before the research team can figure out why, a portal to another realm opens, and out of it arrives Asgardian Loki (Tom Middleton). Having lost his rule over his homeland previously, Loki has struck a deal with an otherworldly race: If he seizes and gives the Tesseract to these beings, they will be under his control to rule over Earth.

With the powerful cube gone, Fury decides it is essentially code red. What is code read? The Avengers initiative. This is war, and not a war that can be fought singularly by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), or the Norse God of Thunder. Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and and others are going to need each other to take down this threat. Getting these guys on the same page, however, may be a tougher war than taking down Loki.

loki

No matter how many times it is watched, The Avengers still carries a feeling of astonishment, to yours truly at least. Whenever I think of this movie, I think of that semi-iconic scene where the camera does a nice pan around all of the heroes. It is a geek-out moment, and this is coming from a guy who isn’t a comic book nerd. The fact that director Joss Whedon can extract that feeling, or make it from nothing in some cases, is quite the feat.

That is to say that Whedon has made something in The Avengers that works well enough standalone, but the true magic is seeing how all of the other films tied to Phase 1 before it have built up to the specific moment. Some might have been better quality than others, certainly, but at the end of the day they all had enough linkage to each other to comprise the intertwined universe that Marvel envisioned.

It’s little things like, for example, hearing Tony mention to Bruce that Steve is the guy his father worked on. This intertwining gives depth, and also makes the rather simple plot of “taking back item X (the Tesseract) from the bad guy” a bit more substantial and meaningful because the object of attention has had a presence in many of the previous films.

pan

Where Whedon shoots for the moon and hits the target over and over again are the massive action set pieces. Aside from some lumbering and very stylized hand-to-hand combat, when it is time for buildings to crumble, planes to come down, and intruders to get hammered, blasted, smashed, or “shielded,” the movie dazzles consistently.

Even with the high quality of superhero action in this, the best moments, at least to yours truly, are the smaller moments among the heroes. Unlike some later films that really forced the humor (looking at you primarily, Iron Man 3), the humor here is natural, and comes from well-written lines and the simple clashes that come with these larger-than-life personalities.

Each alpha carries distinct traits that make them who they are for mostly better but worse when forced to assimilate in a group. Watching Captain America and Iron Man spar verbally with different ideologies (really planted the seeds early for Civil War), or Thor flexing his demigod status making it occasionally difficult to connect with others is compelling. One can tell there’s a real comfort level, whether a good guy/woman, a smaller side character, or bad guy, everyone has with their roles, which also applies to the guy who has the least experience with his superhero character. Mark Ruffalo absolutely nails The Hulk from appearance to personality, adding to the spot-on casting that Marvel always seems to bat close to 1.000 on.

Nothing said here about The Avengers by yours truly is groundbreaking, insightful, or newly eye-opening. But years later, it is still clear that Whedon has assembled many parts to create something very whole that will last the test of time.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, comicvine.com, and fanpop.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.