Atomic Blonde: Movie Man Jackson

How…does it..feel? Cold. As in the Cold War, the year being 1989. In Berlin, the war is winding down, but political unrest is winding up. After a high-ranking secret agent is killed in the streets, the MI6 sends in their best, agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron). Her mission is to track down Bakhtin (Jóhannes Jóhannesson), who not only killed agent Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), but is in possession of a list that is trouble for everyone who doesn’t have it.

To retrieve it, she’s paired with station agent chief David Percival (James McAvoy). The two must traverse the shady, seedy city of Berlin to prevent major worldly damage from occurring. But in the world of espionage, no one can ever truly be trusted, and everyone knows more than they’re letting on.

There are some movies that earn their keep almost entirely on one scene. In Atomic Blonde, that one scene is an amazing stairwell fight scene that rivals some of the best American action movie scenes in recent memory, namely, John Wick’s red circle club shootout, that movie being co-directed by David Leitch. He’s on his own here, and in this one scene, it’s tightly constructed, highly unpredictable, and impeccably choreographed. Honestly, it along with the production is probably worth the price of admission alone. That doesn’t absolve the rest of the movie from its mild-at-best storytelling and script. But Atomic Blonde brings enough hot aspects to offset them ever so slightly.

Atomic Blonde is bathed in style from the get-go, employing a cool and neon-hued color palette that makes the locale of Berlin and that of its many hotspots pop off the screen. Based on a graphic novel known as The Coldest City, Leitch seems to draw inspiration from that medium in the way some scenes are shot and presented. In addition to the technical achievements, this film features a moody, industrial score by composer Tyler Bates (yet again, another John Wick connection) and an easy-listening, new-wave/synth pop soundtrack. He even manages to craft a central theme that will surely be used in any subsequent sequels.

And yet, Atomic Blonde’s probably closer to being a bad movie than a great one. At least script-wise. The espionage plot can more or less be summarized by “everyone twists everyone.” Even the characters who are rarely seen, if at all, are twisting everything. Leitch uses an interrogation by an unreliable narrator that frames the events of the story. At times this method works, but other times, little is added, or rather, the natural flow of the story is broken. A conventional telling would likely make things more comprehensible.

With multiple watches, it is a possibility that the numerous pieces, curveballs, and turns fit better and make some sense. Problem is with Atomic Blonde, it’s hard to actually want to go back and immerse into this world any deeper than surface-level. Watching an espionage movie already conditions the viewer (or at least, yours truly) to distance themselves from the characters who make up it. If everything is going to be flipped on its head, what’s the point of getting invested into anything or anyone?

Still, there’s a ton of talent on hand in the film that keeps it afloat. Charlize Theron, of course, can do it all. A dangerous and debonair dame, she’s perfectly cast in the role of Lorraine. An ass-kicker, but takes her share of getting her ass kicked, strong, yet vulnerable. Her dynamic with James McAvoy, having mass amounts of fun being a complete wild card, is compelling. Due to the twisty nature of the genre, however, no characters are given much weight; everyone is disposable to some degree. John Goodman and Toby Jones, while nice to see on screen, play roles anyone could play as nothing is asked of them. Outside of Lorraine and Percival and maybe Delphine (Sofia Boutella), all other characters might as well be a jumbled mass of indiscernible people who sound the same with similar-sounding names.

Looking for a brunette or redhead? Go elsewhere. Atomic Blonde is light and ditzy on characterization and solid storytelling, but high on direction and sensory fun. Blondes do have more fun.

C+

Photo credits go to cinemavine.com and landmarkcinemas.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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10 Cloverfield Lane: Movie Man Jackson

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Save a person’s life, do whatever you want to do with them afterwards. After an unseen fight with her partner, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) decides she’s had enough and leaves her place, off to somewhere presumably to blow some steam off. Before she is able to do so, her car gets absolutely totaled in a collision, one in which Michelle should be dead from.

Somehow, she survives, though waking to less than ideal situation in being chained to a location seemingly in the middle of nowhere, along with another captive, Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.). She’s been saved by Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that the surface level is no longer safe due to some undetermined attack by military or even martians which has left the air unbreathable. It becomes clear quickly that Howard is a control freak, and off of his kilter. They have to get out of this underground bunker…but is the crazy man actually telling the truth?

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In our 21st century digital age where information travels so fast to everyone, it almost takes an act of God to be surprised with anything. Movies are no exception. How many times over the years have release dates been set in stone…for sequels in which the parent movie hasn’t even released yet? Or the trailer that reveals every single good aspect of a movie’s plot and action? A very, very slow clap should be given to 10 Cloverfield Lane. It has achieved what few movies have tried to do, springing up out of nowhere two months before release, and shrouding itself in secrecy with its hooking and mysterious trailers. It is also, and most importantly, a pretty good movie.

To say a whole bunch about concrete story details should always be frowned upon in any review, but especially so for 10CL. It is best for the viewer to go in with as little knowledge as possible. It is also key to know that this is no carbon copy of 2008’s Cloverfield, and the link between the two is existent, but not clearly so; “Cloverfield” didn’t even need to be put in the title, it is that much different than its “predecessor.” The movie can be a little disappointing in the sense that 10CL brings up just as much questions as it does answers by the end of the runtime, but two movies into this series, its accepted that the how and why isn’t this series’ aim. It’s the what that is.

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The what in 10 Cloverfield Lane is directed by Dan Trachtenburg. In his first feature film, Tractenburg has delivered with a methodical, slow burn (term has been used ad nauseam with this, but it is applicable) of a thriller. Perhaps a tad too slow in a small stretch during the second half, but it remains gripping mostly for the whole time. Definitely much more claustrophobic and uneasy than yours truly ever imagined, and there’s a point in the film where the final shot of the trailer occurs midway through the runtime. I bring this up to highlight the fact that I had no idea of where 10CL was headed, and as such, the tension remains throughout.

Even with a great directorial effort, there’s a version of 10 Cloverfield Lane that exists in an alternate reality that is subpar because the casting wasn’t up to snuff. Not to discredit Trachtenburg who does a lot of good, but this movie belongs to its cast, sans Bradley Cooper, but at least his voice sounded good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great heroine and shows off a lot of strength. She’s not overly in your face, or even all that talkative, but she has strong screen presence and is truly mesmerizing. John Gallagher, Jr. has nice chemistry with Winstead and does a nice job at keeping things light when needed. The undisputed star of the show is John Goodman, however. Goodman provides menace, dry humor, and even towering physicality into the Howard character, and shifts along the spectrum of audience perception so effortlessly. He’s undeniably off, but maybe he has a reason to be? In a most basic sense, he’s just a blast to watch.

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Hailed as the spiritual successor to Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane succeeds that film in nearly every aspect, to the point where it is almost a shame to have that in its title, if only because it implies things fairly or unfairly. Little desire to return back to this address again, but boy, it is worth one-time visit.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, telegraph.co.uk, and comicbook.com.

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Trumbo: Movie Man Jackson

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“The blacklist is alive and well, and so is the black market.”

Out of the key societal institutions, one would think that art and Hollywood would at least be more tolerable than most with regards to personal beliefs. Not so, at least in the 40’s and 50’s. In the year 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is undoubtedly the movie industry’s top writer, his scripts worth their weight in gold for studios.

His success doesn’t quiet or suppress his beliefs, though. During a time in which Communist paranoia is at a peak, Trumbo doesn’t shy away from the fact that his ideals, and those ideals of his companions, are communist ones. Believing that their movies are being tainted by Communist propaganda, Dalton and others are ostracized by Hollywood for their beliefs, and blacklisted from ever working in show biz again. But with a little ingenuity, Trumbo and friends may be able to prove that Hollywood is, for lack of a better word, just dumb.

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Grab a mental image of what the typical November/December (aka Oscar season) biopic looks like, and I’d wager that it looks a little like Trumbo. That’s not a damning statement; Trumbo is a solid film that gives what seems to be—for the most part—a knowledgeable retelling of Dalton Trumbo’s mid-1940’s and 50’s life during a time in America’s history where Red Party fear was rampant. Is it likely to be remembered? Doubtful.

Trumbo the man was a compelling character, and writers John McNamara, Bruce Cook, and director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers series), appear to know that. While what made him compelling is the fact that he was willing to stand up for an ideology that always has carried an extremely negative sentiment, he’s still shown to be a smart, loving, and family man, an American with an un-American political siding. And yet at the same time, he’s shown to be possibly a little selfish in his war against Hollywood for the wrong reasons. Though the results of his war on both his family and “Hollywood 10” friends are decidedly predictable, his unique character allows Trumbo the movie to be more than just a what-is-Communism type movie.

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But, the movie does really fall short in delivering a high level of emotional impact. A prolonged prison scene in particular which is supposed to be sad, appears to only exist in the movie for Trumbo to reference a line later for a cheap laugh. Perhaps it is due to Trumbo sometimes being drama, and sometimes comedy. It is not a jarring shift in tone, because Dalton’s wit is established early, but the humor can be considered undercutting to the film’s emotional core. The story doesn’t jump around a ton, but does so a little more often than desired, if only because in these moments it feels like some parts were removed for whatever reason.

Is Bryan Cranston ever not a highlight of a film or television show? His Dalton Trumbo is a tough role, dependent on a look and character in an era that could resemble a bad play instead of a feature film. Cranston may not be completely flawless, as it just calls for a lot of mannerisms, makeup, and smoking, but he never makes Trumbo to be a joke. He’s without a doubt the strongest aspect. Surely to be underrated work, Diane Lane and Elle Fanning provide the story with the few emotional beats that work. Ever a model of consistency, John Goodman shines with his few scenes in the film.

Unfortunately, some of the cast is weaker than others. Louie CK does play one of Trumbo’s closest allies and confidantes, but he feels more out of place in this feature than say, American Hustle, where playing a version of himself wasn’t that bad. And while Helen Mirren has received acclaim for her turn as the Bourgeoisie gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, it’s more caricature than anything of substance.

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Not as strong as the Oscar-winning scripts he wrote, Trumbo is a nevertheless a good (maybe slightly forgettable) biopic that can be uneven here and there, but is overall an intriguing real story supported with a sound lead performance.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to blogs.wsj.com, cinemablend.com, and ew.com.

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The Hangover Part III: Movie Man Jackson

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“Someone needs to burn this place to the ground.”

If The Hangover Part III is “The epic conclusion to the trilogy of mayhem and bad decisions,” it only makes sense for it to take place in “The Capital of Second Chances.” Not much has really changed with three-fourths of the Wolfpack members since their last adventure in grungy Thailand. Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Stu (Ed Helms) are all fully adjusted to marriage life, effectively putting the bad choices, memories, and shocking happenings behind them.

The last fourth of the Wolfpack has undoubtedly lost it (did he ever have it?). Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has just killed a giraffe, and is increasingly irascible as a result of being off of his medication. After a argument with his father leads to his father’s death, everyone agrees that Alan needs to go into rehab, which Alan agrees to only if the gang drives him to the facility in Arizona. What is to be a smooth ride turns into another mess, as the three are kidnapped by characters connected to their past. They are set free, but to survive, they are going to have to reunite with another character from their past in Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who has just escaped prison and is the key to setting things straight.

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When the mid-credits scene might very well be the funniest thing in the entire film, which is supposed to be a comedy, said film has a huge problem. The Hangover Part III has that problem, to the point where the viewer may very well wonder whether it is even a comedy at all. In many ways, it runs the gamut of genres of everything but comedy. Whatever it is, even a drunken stupor will likely not be enough for a viewer to enjoy this one.

With the complaints many had about the second one being a carbon copy of the first, some credit has to be given to franchise writer (of part 2 & 3)/director Todd Phillips for trying to flip the script and offer something different than what came before. That said, it is very puzzling to have ‘hangover’ in your title and not use one in your movie. And if you don’t use one, you better be able to deliver the comedy. At the very least if this new direction is taken, rename it to The Hangover III: We’re Sober B***hes!, or something, anything to note that this is a different direction taken.

What ends up being really odd is how “straight” Part III is presented. It is possible that if one knew absolutely nothing about the trilogy and III served as the entry point, there would be a strong likelihood that this would be seen as a light action and thriller before a comedy. Decapitating a giraffe and breaking dogs’ necks after sedating them comes off as a lazy attempt at humor. There are lines that hit here and there at the beginning and the end to make a viewer remember that this is in fact a comedy, but the middle could be right at home in any generic crime thriller, with less polish to boot. Hearing John Goodman’s crime boss character essentially describe the plot of why the foursome are in the predicament they find themselves in sets the tone, in a bad way, for the majority of the rest of the movie.

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Every franchise cannot be The Fast and the Furious and reinvent itself a few films in, staving off the inevitable sickness known as franchise fatigue that sinks its teeth into just about every film series that has at least three installments. Not only does the writing and overall cinematography appear uninspired, so does the work of key stalwarts Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms. Whether they knew this was going to be underwhelming from the start of filming or just decided to mail it in regardless after the second, both give performances that are equivalent to that of a high-priced free-agent in sports (especially in the case of Cooper), understanding that they are contractually obligated to complete the string of their deal, but knowing they are bolting when it expires.

Maybe by choice, or sensing two of his four stars less than enthused to be there, Phillips decides to beef up the characters of Alan and Mr. Chow. The results are honestly pretty disastrous. In carefully measured doses, Galifianakis and Jeong’s over-the-top, off-kilter characters are the perfect contrast to the relatively even-keeled rest of the Wolfpack members. Since two however, both have become more abrasive and unlikable, effectively removing most of the pleasure that existed previously. It would be one thing if The Hangover Part III were more of a ensemble effort, but in reality this is a story revolving around Chow and Alan with everyone else pushed to the background. They’re the two best friends that anyone could have, but that doesn’t mean an entire script should be focused on the duo.

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Not as dark as two but not as funny as its predecessors, it is for the best that The Hangover Part III is the end. It is time to get sober. Don’t feel bad for turning your back on the Wolfpack.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to allposters.com, cinema.theiapolis.com, aceshowbiz.com, and screenrant.com.

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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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