American Assassin: Movie Man Jackson

Loss can drive a person to low depths…or amazing heights, depending on the point of view. Twenty-three-year-old Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has experienced a lot of it during his years, losing his parents in an accident at fourteen, and his fiancée literally minutes after proposing at the hands of a terrorist attack. This drives Mitch to seek undercover revenge on not just the terrorists who killed his woman, but all sleeper cells.

Being a terrorist vigilante attracts the attention of the CIA and its director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Most in the organization don’t trust Mitch’s psyche, but Irene believes he can do much good with some reigning in, so she ships him off to learn under the tutelage of Cold War vet Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). They need someone who can handle himself as a plan to build a nuclear weapon capable of starting and ending a war begins to manifest. It leads them to “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), an individual who has deep history with high ranking members of the CIA.

American Assassin has a title befitting of a movie made in the 1990’s. Visualize it with an older cast. Steven Seagal starring as the guy taking on some of the worst the world has to offer. Jill Hennessy as the CIA director. Ted Levine as the recruit gone rogue. American Assassin is essentially a 1990’s action movie, but devoid of the adrenaline and overall fun factor some of those films carried.

Adapted from a Vince Flynn book in the Mitch Rapp series, American Assassin starts off solidly enough, with director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) staging the uncomfortable opening and building enough sympathy for the lead character. Problem is, after this, little to no additional depths are explored towards the lead or any of the characters for that matter. This wouldn’t have been much of a gripe if American Assassin went all in on being bombastic from the get-go, but the approach taken is rather grounded and certainly heavy for a spy movie at least early on, harboring potential for deeper characterization and themes. There’s nothing wrong with that (I kind of prefer it, personally in a world of Bonds and Kingsmen which are fun in their own right), just commit to it.

Perhaps it’s the story of the novel which doesn’t translate greatly to the silver screen. At some undetermined point in the runtime, the approach goes from mature/semi-realistic to lowest common denominator/over-the-top. Sure, there are some solid (if unspectacular) action sequences that don’t shy away from brutality and blood, but they’re barely tied together by a dull story and boring dialogue that shoots blanks in attempting to suck the viewer in.

What’s more disappointing is that there’s no reveal or intriguing twist that jolts life into the proceedings, what’s there is there. By the final act, Cuesta and company seem to know this, throwing every cliché in the genre at the wall in an attempt to leave American Assassin on a fun note. All that’s left behind is some poor CGI.

The cast tasked with raising this story from the book pages to the big screen don’t really get the opportunity to elevate anything. Most characters are inconsequential, or so stock and generic, be it the deputy director played by Latham (seemingly only existing for exposition) or the villain played with Kitsch who has an issue with a person from his past. On a brighter note, at least Dylan O’Brien looks recovered from his Maze Runner accident. He’s a guy who’s got talent and a little charisma, but like a game manager, he can only be great if the elements around him are stable. And of course there’s Michael Keaton. While this is the bottom of the barrel in regards to his recent films of late, his presence and veteran guile alone can make up for a few film deficiencies.

American Assassin ends with the possibility of going on more missions with the uber-skilled Mitch Rapp. But if one is any indicator of what the future holds with these movies, Mr. Rapp’s first foray into counter-terrorism should be his last.


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Spider-Man: Homecoming-Movie Man Jackson

Welcome back. After the events of the Great Civil War and fighting alongside Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns to Queens and his uneventful high school sophomore life with best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). Pete longs for the attraction of senior hottie, Liz (Laura Harrier), but also wants ever so desperately to be a full-time Avenger.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing. The alien attack some odd years ago in New York left behind some mysterious alien artifacts. These artifacts have been mined, harnessed, and cultivated by Adrian Toombs (Michael Keaton), a man who’s providing for his family but in questionable ways. As much as Pete wants to leave the borough for the big time, his home is going to need the protection of a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

There’s the old saying that goes something like “what’s old is new again.” I never thought that saying could apply to Spider-Man’s latest standalone reintroduction to cinemas in Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was only three years ago when he was last seen doing battle against the Green Goblin, Electro, and mass amounts of CGI. What could really be done to spin a unique web for the longstanding webslinger?

Sharing more in common with The Edge of Seventeen and John Hughes offerings than most of the MCU’s films, Homecoming certainly has elements of a superhero origins story, but it is more akin to “a day in the life” than full-blown beginnings. That means going back to high school and all of its pitfalls, extracurriculars, awkwardness, popularity and the like.

This is a deep dive back into the teen years, certainly not a cursory one. Homecoming spends as much time in the classroom and the hallways as it does along the New York skyline and under the iconic Spidey suit. It’s very relatable—almost everyone can remember back to those days as a teen craving more responsibility while being told to enjoy being young—and surprisingly fresh, even though it honestly should not be.

Part of that freshness can directly be attributed to the writers and director of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Writer/director Jon Watts (Cop Car) and contributing writers Jonathan Goldstein, John Frances Daley, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, and Christopher Ford are more known for their comedy and animated contributions than anything in the superhero realm. As such, Homecoming comes, thankfully, without any forced contrivances or common expectations as to what a superhero movie needs to have or do. One could even call it a central character study before a superhero actioner.

The action is firmly solid, though it’s where Watts shows a little bit of inexperience. Nowhere near the best action Marvel’s ever put on screen; then again, this film isn’t action-centric. As for the humor, it sticks on just about all levels in a very organic, free-flowing way, perhaps the benefit of having comedy writers. It may stand as the MCU’s funniest and breeziest movie to date, and Michael Giacchino’s score seems to reflect that.

There is a huge cast in Spider-Man’s latest outing, but obviously, the bulk of the work belongs to Tom Holland as Tiger—err—Peter Parker. The baby-faced youngster carries the requisite wit, duty, athleticism, and likability that has come to define Pete. What’s great about this iteration of Parker is that he truly is “nerfed” and vulnerable. He doesn’t grasp all of his powers quickly or the full capabilities of his suit. Despite clashing face-to-face against Captain America, Tony Stark makes it clear that he’s nowhere near his level, nor is he supposed to be. RDJ’s father/mentor role, screentime limited, is fascinating. He’s in Homecoming just enough to connect to the larger universe, yet is dialed back appropriately to reinforce the focus on Parker and Spider-Man.

To spoil any significant details about Michael Keaton’s Toombs character to those who have still yet to see Homecoming would rob the surprise and layers this anti-antagonist possesses. But he stands as one of the best big baddies of any comic book movie in recent memory, and there’s a way that Keaton goes about this role in his delivery and general persona that makes you want to see him succeed in his goals. Homecoming showcases many characters found in the comics, but served in unfamiliar ways. While it takes a little time to buy into the new Flash Thompson (particularly), Liz Allen, Michelle, and Aunt May, by the end of the film, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, and Marisa Tomei all add something to Peter’s story and should continue to do so in the future.

No spidey sense tingling happening here. Spider-Man: Homecoming brings the wall-crawler back where he belongs in extremely successful and never-before seen fashion. Excelsior!


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Spotlight: Movie Man Jackson


“It takes a village to raise them. It takes a village to abuse them.”

Even the deepest buried skeletons can be uncovered with a little perseverance. In 1974, a Boston priest is brought in to a police station on possible molestation charges, but they all get swept under the rug and nary a word is made.

Now in the year 2001, new editor of the Boston Globe Marty Brown (Liev Schrieber) becomes interested in revisiting the story after reading a column about a priest who is believed to have molested multiple children over 30 years. The task of finding the story and bringing it to the masses who may not actually want the story published fall on to the Spotlight team of the Globe, a four-person investigative reporting unit led by “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), featuring Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James).


Does real journalism exist now? Yours truly is probably the wrong person to ask this question (of course it still does, if one seeks it out), but it does seem like the glut of what exists today, likely as a part of our digital society, is extremely light on substance and research. Spotlight is a true-to-life and riveting film about what it took to bring an unbelievably horrific and decades-spanning happening out of the dark and into the light.

“True-to-life” may be a very strong choice of words, but perhaps here more than any other movie, Spotlight feels less like a cinema feature and more like a documentary. Even documentary may be the wrong word. I’d go so far to say that Spotlight feels akin to you and I observing employees doing their jobs. In this case, the audience is watching journalists Robinson, Rezendes, Pfeiffer, and Carroll attempt to deliver an earth-shattering story. Even though the subject matter and how it evolves how from an isolated incident to a full-on epidemic is a focus of Spotlight, the focus is simply the painstaking work of being an investigative reporter.

It may sound dull, but it is far from being so. The look at journalism, its inherent responsibilities, and the constant grit-and-grind and it takes to get a single investigative story published is fascinating. Yours truly always has had massive respect for those who are really in the field, and even more respect after viewing this. Director Tom McCarthy (The Cobbler—?!) is pretty basic style-wise in regards to adding anything eye-catching, but it may be a stylistic choice, keeping everything “as is” with no unnecessary frills or embellishment.


Then again, when guys like Stanley Tucci and John Slattery are appearing in the cast and billed around the six or seven slot, directorial frills may not be a necessity. The aforementioned two, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schrieber, Mark Ruffalo, and Michael Keaton are all superb and extremely believable as a journalistic unit, with tons of well-written back and forth lines.

Perhaps the only small downside to them being so well oiled as a unit is the that, individually and for Oscar chances, they do not stand out as much. But these aren’t amazing, larger-than-life characters, nor should they be. They are people who are doing what they are hired to do, and that in of itself is refreshing with no external side romances, family issues, or the like.

If there is one person out of the awesome cast that does stand out, however, it, for my money, would be Ruffalo. His Renzendes character, like the others, isn’t one to be remembered for all time, but as the movie goes on, Ruffalo’s performance just sticks with the viewer, from his steadfastness in getting answers to his mannerisms in even just getting a cab and speaking with a lawyer. Back-to-back supporting nominations could be in the near future.


It’s great to see that McCarthy and Spotlight pay respect to those that finally brought needed attention and actual eyes to a dark chapter in the Archdiocese and ultimately the Roman Catholic church. In the form of a stellar film, Spotlight is also a great reminder that, in a world of TMZ’s and Perez Hilton’s, substantial journalism can still be had, and when it exists, we better take notice.

Grade: A

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Movie Man Jackson


“People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bull****.”

No, this isn’t a movie about the rapper  or the basketball player nicknamed as such. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is about Riggan Thomas, a once larger-than-life movie-star whose claim to fame was starring as “The Birdman,” a superhero character in a blockbuster film franchise. Now down on his luck and considered to be washed up by most in the business, Riggan seeks what everybody in showbiz or even everyday life desires: Relevance.

Riggan decides to undergo a reinvention by going to Broadway, where he will star, write, and direct a play titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. If successful, this has the potential for people to see Tom in a whole new light, one that doesn’t involve a bird suit. As he soon finds, the Broadway acting isn’t the issue, it is dealing with the many people he comes in contact with. From his estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), to his co-stars and producer (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough), everyone is seeking something. And no matter if he surprises people with this thespian work, he may always be The Birdman whether he likes it or not.


It takes a delicate hand to to be able to say so many things in a film and still make a coherent and consistent piece. It isn’t easy to pull off, but in Birdman, it is something that director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu achieves, and not just at a fringe level. Inarritu manages to make something sharp, comical, meta, and inward-looking into, but not limited to, Hollywood, Broadway, dramaturgy, and individual desire. If originality is craved, Birdman delivers.

I am sure Broadway and stage performances can be very riveting, but at this point in my young life I have no desire to see any. As the movie began, I really was unsure of whether I would enjoy or not, and by this admission it was a little of a slow start for yours truly, even a small bit of bore. And yet, this dissipated quite quickly, because Innaritu drew me in with the gorgeous cinematography. By utilizing a continuous (or at least very skilled editing) shot throughout, the characters and their situations felt so organic. There are no true scenes really, everything runs together as one complete take. so smooth and effortless, like a good actor getting into and out of character with no hitch. Spontaneous is a perfect way to describe, just like the outstanding, drum-heavy score that appears ever so often here.

Making use of this tracking technique allows a stronger, introspective look into these character’s lives. All are masters of a sociological theory known as dramaturgy, essentially how people interact with others based upon time, place, and audience. Really talented people can blur, perhaps unknowingly, what occurs in the backstage setting with what is supposed to be seen in the frontstage. Inarritu’s technique embodies this, in the sense that there often is no clear distinction when the acting ends and the real life begins for these characters.


As described earlier, nothing is left off the table here. It is just as much of a film about internal self worth as it is about the superhero genre or even love. The real treat though is the meta aspect that is present within this. Immediately, the parallels between the characters played by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton and their actual personas/career arcs in real life is abundantly clear.

Much like Riggan, Keaton once was a big star in the biz who hit peak popularity with portraying a well-known crimefighter, only to fall down a few rungs after his time in the Batmobile. Riggan’s co-star in Mike Shiner appears to be eerily similar to Edward Norton and all of his real life difficulties on set. Like Norton, Mike is extremely talented, immersing himself in his craft so much that he can be kind of a jerk in the process, fusing real life with whatever character he is portraying. For all of Birdman’s soaring surrealism, this real life allusion  grounds it in a necessary and needed way.

As time goes on, this may very well be regarded as Michael Keaton’s best role. Keaton is front and center here, playing the semi-broken, dejected, but “f**k you, I will do this and at a high level” type of guy. Every emotion seems to be covered here, and then some. Was it really just this year that Keaton was in Robocop and Need for Speed? Not to be overlooked is Norton, who is so douchey, gratingly perfect, and particular as his character, while still able to give him some soul and feeling.


Honestly, everyone here comes together to deliver extremely memorable work, like Emma Stone and Amy Ryan as Riggan’s troubled daughter and former wife, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough as Mike and Riggan’s co-stars, and even Zach Galifianakis in a subdued and serious role as the producer just trying to keep it together. Everyone in this film is intriguing, which makes it disappointing that at a certain point in the runtime, many seemingly get pushed to the wayside with hardly any revisiting to their personal plights. Just some additional resolution would have been appreciated.

The journeys are still worth experiencing though, just like Birdman is. Wholly original, superbly acted, and impressively directed, it glides to pretty sizable heights. The only ignorance would be failing to check this out.

Grade: A-

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RoboCop: Movie Man Jackson


“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!

Comparison is a way of life. Surely, some of us do it more than others but the fact remains. This practice carries over to film as well; especially remakes of beloved films from yesteryear. The 2014 iteration of RoboCop attempts to capture the vibe of its 1987 predecessor. In the new edition, the year is 2028 and OmniCorp, a subsidiary of OmniConsumerProducts (OCP), is the forerunner, innovator, and sole distributor of robot soldier technology. Limited to military usage, CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to implement these in the police force, particularly Detroit, but public sentiment as well as public policy is less than willing to hand over safety protection duties to machines.

But what if man and machine were melded? Sellars believes public sentiment would be more accepting of this, so enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). After a failed sting operation, his car is planted with a bomb by the targeted syndicate while visiting his wounded partner. While at home with his wife and son (Abbie Cornish, John Paul Ruttan), the alarm on his car sounds and while attempting to stop it, the bomb triggers and he is utterly blasted. Unfortunate, but now Sellars has his prospect, and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is tasked with rebuilding Murphy in OmniCorp’s image. After all is said and done, Murphy will be the future of law enforcement.


What isn’t the future is a sequel, as this is simply an average film. There are some positives though. I admire the fact that the writers attempted to make some changes and tweaks to the original. While the original was superb storytelling, personally I am OK with a remake trying to do different things. It was better than sitting through a shot-for-shot remake, a la The Omen (2006) and Psycho (1998), which is incredibly lazy. However, these changes and tweaks seem to miss more often than hit. The remake tries to incorporate a family element, but it often fails, resulting in moments that are clearly designed to invoke feeling from the audience but come off as forced. It is also more political than the 1987 movie; seen with the in-movie news show of “The Novak Element,” which showcases Samuel L Jackson as Pat Novak, an obviously biased host who is crafted in the mold of Fox News/CNN anchors. I assume this was the movie’s satire/parody attempt at modern culture, but it too is uninspiring, though the end is classic Samuel L. Going to be YouTubing that scene for a while.

If you are looking for satirical elements or even a bit of humor, look elsewhere. Aside from the sort of political attempts, none exist. As for directing, crime-ridden Detroit looks pretty tame visual wise, and it never truly feels like it is a hell-hole. This makes RoboCop seem like a luxury, not a necessity. I kind of hated the suit, the first one shown should have been kept. News flash: Black does not make everything look cool. The suit appeared to me made out of plastic, and neither looked nor sounded appropriate. And the running scene? Ugh.

The action scenes were rather uninspiring. Occasionally a few parts looked nice, but it really suffers from terrible editing and cutting. There are a lot of bullets, but half of the time you can hardly tell if they hit the target, and it is probably to blame on the PG-13 rating. I feel that the PG-13/R rating debate is overblown at times, but this film could benefit from a R. It might not have made a huge difference as far as writing goes because it probably still would have been weak in places, but I am fairly confident that the action would have been praised more, which would have caused people to look past the other flaws. Apparently, director Jose Padilha and lead Joel Kinnaman fought hard for an R but lost the battle as the movie’s inflating budget forced it to PG-13 in an effort by studio executives to get something back.


The film was not devoid of excitement. There was a 15-20 minute span where I was really engaged in it, but it was fleeting. Keaton and Oldman are the bright spots of the film. They really did everything they could to bring intrigue, and I liked their roles.

I have been been pretty critical of the film by this point, but the biggest criticism of all, in my view, is RoboCop himself, or rather, the actor playing the part. Joel Kinnaman is so wooden and unconvincing. Within the first 5 minutes when he is talking with the police chief at the station, I was unimpressed. He felt robotic before he even became a robot! He looked unsure of himself in the titular role, and by result I was unable to get behind him. Jackie Earle Haley was useless. Completely unneeded role, and I was so glad when he left the screen. Abbie Cornish, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, and everyone else is OK, but they suffer from a lack of screen-time (Williams), or underwritten and unnecessary roles (Cornish, Baruchel).

Lastly, the film suffers from a defined villain, or villains. The original RoboCop did feature two baddies, but they were extremely fleshed out and despicable. Here, we are asked to keep up with three: Antoine Vallon, Sellars, and Norton. Vallon never makes his presence felt and is absent for most of the film, and I never felt that Keaton and Oldman were truly bad guys, aside from the end in the former’s case.


Despite all of this, I am not ready to say this was a bad film. Again, I had fun in some parts and it looked cool occasionally. But by and large this was unnecessary. Perhaps if it didn’t have RoboCop as its name, it would be better received, and maybe if we stop comparing the two, it would get better. But c’mon! It has RoboCop as its title. I would watch again if family or friends wanted to check it out, but not one I’ll revisit personally, nor buy it for a dollar.

Grade: C-

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