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.

C-

Photo credits go to cdanews.com, areyouscreening.com, and slashfilm.com.

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IT: Movie Man Jackson

Tears of a clown? More like fears of a clown. The town of Derry, Maine is a quite a peculiar one. People disappear at six times the normal national average, and that’s just adults. For kids, it’s worse—way—worse. No one knows why. The latest child to go missing is Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher).

Everyone around him, friends included, assumes he’s dead. Bill refuses to stop looking, and goes all in during the summer to figure out what happened. Along with Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), “The Losers Club” begins to witness firsthand what is going on in Derry. What they witness is some all-powerful presence known commonly as “Pennywise the Clown” (Bill Skarsgård) that feeds off children that can morph into anything IT wants to, by gaining power from those who experience fear. Standing no chance alone of defeating it, the club will have to stick together to overcome this entity.

IT has been a long time coming, literally and figuratively. The re-imagining of the original 1990 feature was in development hell for an eternity, suffering through casting and directing defections before finally getting everything in place for a 2017 release, ironically 27 years after. Figuratively speaking, while there’s certainly been a few smaller good movies over the last month and a half, nothing since Dunkirk has truly been a must-watch go see event. IT is the shot-in-the-arm the box office needs; short of a flawless horror but one worthy of praise.

You’ve got to start with Pennywise, right? The version that appears here is very much different than the one in 1990. No one’s going to call Tim Curry’s rendition mediocre because it wasn’t; but the gifs have been seen and immortalized and looking at it now, IT 1990 is a little bit campy. Bill Skarsgård’s rendition is much more menacing. He makes the killer clown, instead of the killer clown and all of the get-up making him.

And as a whole, this new IT is simply darker. Pennywise is the main attraction, but the mature themes and implied happenings are arguably more darker and unsettling than any jump scares or things the dancing clown can conjure up. There feels as if there’s a missed opportunity to go deeper into the source material and Stephen King’s novel lore (the town, why people can’t see certain things, etc.), but the execution of the story as is makes for a solid one; sort of a mash up of Stranger Things meets Stand By Me and John Hughes movies with a smattering of blood and gore.

For a film that runs at 2 hours and 15 minutes, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) rarely loses pace, save for a rushed stretch in the early middle that calls for almost every child to experience IT. Muschietti sets up the tone immediately, crafting an unforgettable opening scene with help from composer Benjamin Wallfisch that is essentially the original yet undoubtedly improves upon it. Many of his scenes make a lasting impression, utilizing great lighting and positioning to create the desired effect. Not all is perfect, though. Muschietti hooks his audience quickly and doesn’t let go, but IT reaches its peak around 30 minutes to go, making for a climax that isn’t as chilling as what came before. Part of that is due to the mediocre—sometimes shoddy—CGI that dilutes the experience.

What doesn’t dilute the experience is the overall impressive efforts of the adolescent cast that makes up The Losers Club. Some performances individually are more buoyant than others, but this is a movie that leans more on the collective chemistry and even levity (there’s much of it) of the group rather than particular standouts. To that end, each of the seven performers make the viewer care about the group, and by associative property, the viewer cares about them as individuals surviving this horror.

IT is event-viewing, steered by confident and passionate direction and a great cast. We’ll just have to wait and see if Chapter II can float, too.

B

Photo credits go to popculture.com, horrorfreaknews.com, and collider.com.

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Logan Lucky: Movie Man Jackson

Easiest way to break a family curse? Get rich. For decades, the Logan family has been categorized as perpetually unlucky. The most recent heirs to these presumptions are the Logan brothers. Jimmy (Channing Tatum) was once an all-state quarterback before a career changing leg injury, and Clyde (Adam Driver) lost an arm while doing a tour in Iraq. Together, they reside in the dead end Boone County, West Virginia; Clyde bartends, while Jimmy does basic construction work under the Charlotte Motor Speedway track.

His job is lost when HR determines his injury is too severe to continue working. Out of money and facing the real prospect of not seeing his daughter, Sadie (Farrah McKenzie) consistently with his ex moving across West Virginia lines, Jimmy concocts a plan to solve all their issues. That plan is stealing from the vault the lies under the track. A crew is going to be needed, consisting of Clyde, sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and the notorious Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), along with others. Pull it off right, and this “Hillbilly Heist” will go off without a hitch.

Guess who’s back…back again. Soder’s back…tell a friend. Well, I guess he was never truly gone filling his time with various side projects, but Logan Lucky marks Steven Soderbergh’s official return to feature filmmaking after a four-year hiatus. People looking for a WOW! return won’t get that with Logan Lucky, but a two hour, fairly zippy and passable crime movie will have to do.

One could make an argument to call Soderbergh the father of the modern-day heist movie after Ocean’s Eleven. Anything from Fast Five to The Italian Job to even Inception owes at least a little to Soderbergh’s remake. Logan Lucky is essentially an Ocean’s movie scaled back notably in locale and in tone. The West Virginia and NASCAR setting lends itself to different cinematography and setpieces. Soderbergh and his longtime cinematograher “Peter Andrews” certainly make it easy to get lost into this feature. Composer David Holmes, also a longtime collaborator with the director, makes some solid, offbeat tracks to accompany what is see on film.

 

Logan Lucky is perfectly competent, right down to the montage revel that so many of these types of films have. However, it is levels firmly under those heist movies mentioned previously. Not so much for the actual direction (which is great), but the overall emotion of it all. Logan Lucky pitches itself light, but there are enough scenes of sentimentality/drama that attempt to tug at the heartstrings when in actuality, they kind of miss their mark. This is a small piece of a bigger problem in Logan Lucky. Simply put, there are no noticeable stakes or compelling reasons to care enough for what may or may not happen. The film also runs a few false endings, and the ending chosen isn’t as strong as one or two that came before it.

In his return, Soderbergh packs a wallop of all-star talent, with varying results. The best performance is without a doubt Daniel Craig’s, the first time in a long long time in which the actor known as 007 is so not the cool collected guy seen not only in James Bond movies, but a lot of the roles he’s played outside of that. Tatum and Driver as the Logan brothers forge a believable brotherhood and are the only two characters with backstory that comes to light in the 2nd half. The level of humor derived from Logan Lucky will boil down to how quick the country bumpkin shtick will wear down for each viewer.

Other appearances in the cast are made by Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Macon Blair, Seth MacFarlane, and Hilary Swank. Most are celebrity cameos, with not enough screen time or character writing to be anything else, but, they add name value and don’t bring down the production. MacFarlane and Swank feel off in this movie; Seth going for the pure comic relief but failing throughout, and Swank perhaps being too stern and rigid as the FBI agent tacked on in the last 20 minutes.

It’s hard to be like Mike and come back immediately into the game like you never left it. Logan Lucky is a reminder of Soderbergh’s talents, even if he’s a little rusty.

C+

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, nerdist.com, and cinemavine.com.

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Ingrid Goes West: Movie Man Jackson

I love the ‘Gram I love the ‘Gram. I’m addicted to it I know I am I know I am. That’s Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) in a nutshell. Ingrid is an Instagram addict and has issues. By following the starlets of today on her app, she’s somehow convinced herself she is a part of their lives. Her most recent stunt comes as a result of not getting invited to a famous person’s party whom she believed to be her “friend” and the consequences of her actions put her in the mental asylum for a while.

Fast forward to an undetermined amount of time, and Ingrid decides to go west to California to start anew after receiving an inheritance. Her reason for doing so is to meet and befriend the famous influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whom she becomes enamored with after seeing in a magazine and liking/commenting on her IG posts. Slowly but surely, Ingrid begins to work her way into Taylor’s life and inner circle, receiving the attention and #BFF she always craved and would do anything for.

 

The perils of technology and living in a world where everything is at our fingertips isn’t a new idea seen in film. Hell, it just happened recently with The Circle. But with Ingrid Goes West, it feels like the first time in which a film looking at the digital (specifically Instagram in this case) lifestyle does do with audience identification. Ingrid Goes West offers a pretty one sided and pessimistic view on social media, but it’s a view that, depending on the way a person feels about it, isn’t necessarily wrong. And it is a view that is certainly quite entertaining.

Ingrid Goes West nails the ridiculousness of the Instagram scene. In his full length debut, director Matt Spicer embellishes the little things, like scrolling through a feed and liking every post without thought. Or, using an internal voice to mock the sometimes (read: often) self-important captions that attempt to be meaningful but really are anything but. Or, getting that right angle for the perfect gram photo. The Cali setting is an obvious, but fitting one for this cautionary tale of superficiality and carefully curated personas.

Spicer traverses through a few genres in Ingrid Goes West, going from black comedy to satire to drama to romance and arguably even horror. Having this many genres can be problematic at times, but they all meld together here in a relatively short runtime of 97 minutes. Spicer’s script is sharp, with enough turns to make things unpredictable. As for how the film ends (no deep spoilers), the tone can be interpreted in a few ways, but I can’t shake the feeling that an opportunity was missed to be bold.

Much of the success of Ingrid Goes West goes beyond the solid script. The fresh faced cast delivers in spades, starting with star Aubrey Plaza. This is undoubtedly the actresses’ best work of her career in a role that shows off her range. She is deliciously deranged, yet so relatable, probably because we all know people like Ingrid, or perhaps, may be Ingrid without knowing. As she goes deeper and deeper into the ruse formulating dark plans that seemingly spawn out of thin air, it’s uncomfortably funny and depressing seeing her downward spiral into oblivion.

Elizabeth Olsen and Wyatt Russell also achieve in playing individuals who we may not know personally but feel like we do because of the transparency of social media. There are hidden levels of depth to their characters that both tap into effectively. With that said, most of the characters in Ingrid Goes West are hard to get behind…expect for Dan Pinto—the vape-smoking, Batman-obsessed, screenwriter-landlord who has some feelings for Ingrid, played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. He’s easily the one character who is exactly who he is, with a touching backstory revealed mid-movie that explains his obsession with The Dark Knight. Hollywood, please cast him in more productions, as it is a crime that he’s hasn’t done anything since Straight Outta Compton until this.

Ingrid Goes West tells a story that isn’t foreign, but a story that feels personal and certainly capable of making a person think about the next time he or she opens that Instagram app. Definitely worth viewing, no ragrets.

B+

Photo credits go to popsugar.com, dailymail.co.uk, and flickeringmyth.com.

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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.

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Menashe: Movie Man Jackson

We’ve all been where Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is. Menashe is going through just a little bit of turmoil. He’s a recent widower and a working father, and in his New York City Hasidic community, strict rules are enforced in these situations. The Talmud states that any good man should have “a good wife, a good home, and good dishes.” It also states that a man cannot raise a son without a spouse.

As such, his son is required to live with Menashe’s brother-in-law. This angers Menashe, who’s already an outcast in his Jewish community; his adherence to tradition isn’t as strong as his brethren. Pleading with his rabbi, he gets an exception and one week to prove how fit he is to raise his child alone, all while juggling his faith responsibilities and full-time job.

In all of its simplicity, Menashe is pretty fascinating movie. Suppose nothing less should be expected from the A24 studio, its successes over the years well documented. Another can be added to the list with Menashe, a unique look at a real-life world few people—at least myself—know about.

Menashe isn’t a documentary…but essentially, it may as well be. Without the subjects talking into a camera, director Joshua Z Weinstein still makes this as authentic as possible. For starters, the entire movie is performed in Yiddish, shot on location in the setting exhibited. And, no one that appears on screen is a trained actor. As an audience, we’re pretty much getting a legitimate portrayal of this Hasidic community within the confines of a movie. It isn’t so much directed by Weinstein as it is just shown in earnest.

 

Perhaps the biggest revelation, Menashe‘s plot is a loose real-life depiction of its titular character, played by Menashe Lustig. Despite the lack of knowledge many will have with this particular world, Menashe‘s story works predominately because it is one that many will be able to connect with; that black sheep feeling that can exist within our families, or the corporations we work for, or our communities. Menashe himself is all of us: Capable of a lot, yet capable of being his own worst enemy.

Credit to Weinstein, who doesn’t make his lead character infallible. In fact, as the film goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that Menashe may not be the guy he thinks he is, and seeing him wrestle with this fact is the heart of the movie. For a non-actor essentially carrying the movie, Menashe Lustig’s performance is honest, occasionally humorous (intentionally) and understated. At 81 minutes, Menashe doesn’t stretch itself out needlessly to fill time. This is a singular focused production on one character telling a specific story in a defined timeframe. I wish, however, that more time could have been given for a real moving ending. As it stands, the film kind of peters out in the last 15 or so minutes.

Perhaps the fashion in how Menashe wraps up is the ultimate point. Life just goes on. Maybe we’re learn from our deficiencies and improve upon them, or learn to accept them and the resulting consequences. It’s simple reality.

B

Photo credits go to teaser-trailer.com, a24films.com, latimes.com, and musicboxtheatre.com.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard: Movie Man Jackson

If Ben Affleck isn’t open to returning to play Bruce Wayne, Samuel L. Jackson can take his place. Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is considered the world’s top bodyguard. Once a CIA agent, he’s decided to take his skills and profit off of them. He uses his skills to protect some of the world’s most powerful figures, earning “Triple A” status in the process, never missing a detail. He’s the Uber of protecting people, if such a service exists.

Two years later, Bryce loses it all as the result of a client losing his life while he was on assignment. Now forced to rebuild everything, his next assignment—or rather only available assignment—sees him protecting a hitman, the free-spirited Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). He’s made a mistake and lands in hot water in Interpol custody. His way out is testifying against ruthless dictator Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) in The Netherlands, but getting there isn’t going to be easy, as Dukhovich’s men will stop at nothing to make sure Kincaid won’t make an appearance in court. The two are very mismatched in personality, but need to lean on each other to save the day, if they don’t kill each other first.

The buddy cop genre. It’s a genre that’ll never cease to be out of style, because it’s a genre that can deliver a simple but sometimes memorable time. On the other side of the coin, it’s a genre in which movies in it can easily feel uninspired and fitting of the “middle of the road” descriptor. Though it’s working with big-name talent,The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a slight tick above the Mendoza line in this genre, but only barely.

Positives? Massive fans of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson will eat The Hitman’s Bodyguard up. The entire movie is built on this uneasy alliance, making it up to Ryan and Samuel to carry the proceedings. This duo carries real chemistry, getting some laughs out of a familiar setup. Nothing from these two that hasn’t been viewed before, though. SLJ is doing his SLJ thing, shouting expletives and having a good time, Reynolds playing more straight and witty, Wade Wilson-esque dialed down to about 3. They’re having a blast, and that makes it a little easier to take in THB, even when the jokes don’t land with the precision of a headshot.

Two other big names in Gary Oldman and Salma Hayek fill out the cast, to mixed results. Oldman particularly is a big waste of clout; his turn as a foreign Belarus dictator kind of embarrassing to watch. Hayek has one noticeable scene; otherwise, she’s relegated to dull love interest status just as Elodie Yung is. Again, this film is Jackson’s and Reynolds’ alone, non-fans are highly advised to stay away.

Aside from the comedy, action plays an equal significant part of The Hitman’s Bodyguard. On that front, it is adequate. Directed by The Expendables 3 director Patrick Hughes, for every good sequence, (the chase sequence is the best of the bunch) there’s one in which the action is sadly hard to follow due to shots that are too close-up. Hughes does some good stuff, however. Surprisingly, flashbacks are used moderately and most of them add a little meat and even heart to both of the lead characters. Midway through, the question of morality is raised as to who’s the good guy and the bad guy out of this tenuous partnership. It’s a little compelling, but not something that is fully explored by the end of the movie.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard runs long, too. Way too long for this average plot. Two hours gets up there, felt mainly in the first 20-30 minutes. Quite a while it takes to get moving. Honestly, this could be a 90-100 minute romp, and it would be all the better for it. Almost two hours has THB stumbling over landmines at times with regards to tone.

Not bulletproof but providing a little bit of the entertainment factor, The Hitman’s Bodyguard hits something. Just not center mass.

C

Photo credits go to deadline.com, pointofgeeks.com, and denofgeek.com.

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Kidnap: Movie Man Jackson

Mad Max: Fury Road with a SUV and without the fury. Waitress and divorcee Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) gets some much-needed time to spend with her six-year old son, Frankie (Sage Correa) at the county fair. It’s time away from the mundane job she works, and it allows her to take her mind away from the impending custody battle with her ex-husband.

While taking a call concerning the custody, Frankie vanishes. Panicking, Karla manages to spot her youngster being forcibly kidnapped and placed into a car. What follows is a long, long pursuit across the freeway, countryside, and everywhere in between. Karla does not know why Frankie was targeted, but one thing is certain: She’s not stopping until she gets her son back.

A title can say it all. In the vein of similarly basic-named movies like Taken, Hot Tub Time Machine, and Snakes on a Plane is Kidnap. There’s something a little cool about hearing a movie’s title and knowing exactly what it will consist of. There’s also a level-set aspect after hearing such obvious, generic titles. As a result, it’s hard to be truly disappointed with the final quality of said movie. Kidnap is said movie—nothing exceptional, kind of awkward—but watchable.

A person can go into Kidnap blind (as I did, never viewing the trailer) and know rather quickly how the events will play out. It plays like a poorer man’s version of Breakdown, released roughly 20 years earlier. However, writer Knate Lee and director Luis Prieto do buck convention, just a little. Instead of a “whodunit,” that aspect is immediately removed about 10-15 minutes in. What we’re treated to is a prolonged car chase that manages to grab attention, despite having some choppy, fragmented cinematography, as well as an odd fixation on how fast Berry’s traveling on the speedometer. The climax, as common as it is, carries a moderate level of tension. Overall, Prieto’s direction is perfectly competent with flashes of impressiveness, and some over-direction.

Around 87 minutes, Kidnap is too short to ponder its existence. But that doesn’t mean that those minutes are expertly paced. For a movie this short, quite a few shots and moments feel needlessly put in or drawn out. Take for example, the aforementioned early call that Karla takes concerning the custody of her child. Being introduced when it is, this would surely play into the plot at some point, right? No, this proverbial Checkhov Gun detail never goes off and is completely inconsequential to the story, as it could be told without knowing Karla is a divorcee in a custody battle. While it isn’t a bad thing, the plot never evolves from bad guys doing a bad act because they’re bad. The common clichés found in an average thriller/horror (dead phone, car breaks down, incompetent police, etc.) are present here.

Being the only star of the movie, all the responsibility unsurprisingly falls onto Halle to do her best to elevate it. She’s not given the best stuff to play with; there are some brutally bad monologues during the car chase that are a pain to watch and hear her say. Her distressed faces can border on being over-the-top. Still, Berry’s a professional, and more than not she plays her part well in being a scared yet resilient parent during chaos. No one else really makes an impression, as they all just fall into forgettable roles.

There’s worse out there than Kidnap, certainly. However, likely to vanish from sight, mind, and theaters quickly, an eye won’t be batted and nothing of value will be lost.

C-

Photo credits go to bloody-disgusting.com, kfd.be, and deadline.com

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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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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Movie Man Jackson

Because the galaxy couldn’t hold 1,001 planets. The 28th century spawns Alpha, an intergalactic space station home to tons of creatures living peacefully together. Maintaining order throughout the galaxy are special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHann) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). They are a duo who could be more; Valerian is finally ready to put away his player ways and wishes to marry Laureline.

Before their future can be properly assessed, the two get assigned to solve a mystery happening in the heart of Alpha. It’s a mystery that if unsolved, is certain to end all life not only on Alpha, but in the whole entire galaxy.

In some corners, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is jokingly being referred to as “the most expensive independent movie made,” pulling in less than 20 million opening weekend on a production budget of at least 150 large. Honestly, it’s been destined to be dead on arrival in the United States since the first trailer,  and no amount of 10-minute showings before Spider-Man: Homecoming changed that. Being dead on arrival doesn’t mean that Valerian is bottom-barrel bad, but, in a way, one almost wishes it were. Just so there would be more to talk about.

What is there to talk about? The visuals. Director Luc Beeson (Lucy, The Fifth Element) crafts a movie that looks very unique even in a cinema landscape that has seen numerous space opera/otherworldly features of late like Star Wars, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avatar. It takes a little while to get used to the amount of green screen, but the easiest way to describe what Beeson does here is thinking of Valerian like a moving painting. This mostly applies to early scenes in a desert setting that stand out vividly, and in later scenes Beeson comes up with a few sequences of action that are sharp and, most importantly, coherent.

Coherent isn’t a word that’s all that applicable to Valerian’s story, however. Also written by Beeson, his film starts out compelling enough and builds the mystery with enough intrigue…but it doesn’t last. Specifically, the side plots never really connect to the main story at hand, and it isn’t until well into the second half when Valerian begins to funnel its focus into the A plot. A plot, in essence, that involves some predictable shady dealings by a character in power seen many times over.

Concealed from much of the trailers, Valerian additionally moonlights—surprisingly heavily— as a love story between the characters played by DeHann and Delevingne. They are passable together, though the two lack truly great chemistry with one another, and anytime their romance is asked to carry large chunks of the runtime, Valerian suffers. Delevingne is solid; looking and acting the part as a believable, hold-her-own, rough-around-the-edges operative. It’s hard to unequivocally say the same about Dane DeHann’s work, unfortunately.

DeHann’s a capable and talented actor (in my opinion), but his best work seems to come in off-kilter and/or tweener/antagonist roles. As Valerian, he’s hard to take seriously as a hero and galaxy lady-killer, and rather unlikable for at least half of the movie. Even his voice sounds odd in the way a person tries to portray someone sounding cool. While playing more like cameos than notable characters, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock nonetheless add to the unique world that is Alpha.

A gorgeous looking universe without boundaries needs heroes without limits. It also needs a tighter story and a better lead performance. That about sums up this space jaunt that is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. 

C-

Photo credits go to highsnobiety.com, collider.com, and theverge.com.

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