Black Panther: Movie Man Jackson

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. After participating in the legendary Civil War that pitted Tony Stark and Steve Rogers against each other, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to his technologically advanced and off-the-grid African nation of Wakanda. The Black Panther carries a heavy heart; the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani) ever lingering within it. Yet, a king is needed, and that responsibility falls unto T’Challa to take the mantle.

As Wakanda prepares to enter a new era, many in the world are hellbent on discovering her secrets. Arms dealer Ulysses Klawe (Andy Serkis) and mysterious nomad Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) align themselves with each other to achieve what they’re after, respectively. For Klawe, it’s precious vibranium and the riches that come with it, but for Killmonger, it’s a lot more personal. He’s coming for the crown, and the man’s willing to spill as much blood as needed to get it, T’Challa’s included.

Bar none, one of the best feelings is being in a theater and realizing that what is on screen can never be duplicated or replicated. The energy and mood are unforgettable. In less than one calendar year, the world has received two cultural touchstone films in Get Out and, now, Black Panther. Like Jordan Peele’s work, there are some that may only see this as one type of movie only, but the fact is, that’s kind of limiting. Black Panther fits extremely well into the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but honestly—like the best superhero films—it’s able to transcend genre and create something long-lasting.

Praise goes all around, but let’s start with the juggernaut. Marvel’s got a formula, which is news to no one. Black Panther, for the most part, stays in the framework of it. However, in their recent catalog the studio has shown a desire to jigger things up and/or play against the superhero genre conventions, be it The Winter SoldierGuardians of The Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarokor even Ant-ManSuccess can make people and organizations stagnant, but it can also allow for more chances to be taken; no way a movie like this gets made ten years ago.

Perhaps the most surprising thing coming out of Black Panther is just how much control uber-talented writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) has over everything. What’s often lost in blockbuster films is a director’s style and vision. But unequivocally, this is Ryan’s vision from the jump, tackling modern issues and topics such as identity, nationalism, and utilitarianism and framing them in the environment that is Wakanda. None of it feels forced or one-sided, either, as valid points are made for each side of the proverbial coin. Providing so much minutiae and plot meat only serves to crystallize the belief that Wakanda is this world that is as culturally reach and detailed as the visuals show. Only the first 10 minutes are arguably a little rough around the edges with a lot of information dumping and a scene that plays out better as we return to it midway through.

Of course, this amount of writing depth carries over to the wide cast of characters in Black Panther, starting with…the Black Panther. Civil War wonderfully introduced the world to T’Challa on a surface level, but his solo film goes into his psyche—sometimes literally—like few superhero movies do with their saviors. Chadwick Boseman is the lead actor this role needs, supremely confident, silently charismatic and in possession of this royal gaze that carries a ton of weight. In short, he’s awesome and an awesomely fresh hero.

But where Black Panther separates itself from its Marvel film brethren is through its villain of one Erik Killmonger, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan in a role that calls for physicality, swagger, and vulnerability. The studio has always had an issue in creating compelling foils for its legendary heroes. Rarely has a baddie been introduced better in his or her opening scene than here. To spoil even the slightest is a sin, but to say it simply, only Loki has a claim as Marvel’s best villain, and so much of the emotion of Black Panther comes from Killmonger’s past and his rational viewpoint that fuel his actions. Seeing T’Challa and Erik wage war over how to best run Wakanda is kind of Civil War-like, where no guy is completely wrong. Only difference are the levels Erik is willing to go to achieve his vision.

Boseman and Jordan are the anchors, but Coogler allows almost everyone to shine. Whether it’s Lupita Nyong’o pushing shoeless on the pedal metal, Andy Serkis going unhinged as a South African gangster, Martin Freeman being the fish-out-of-water, Daniel Kaluuya commanding an entire head of security, Danai Gurira laying waste to a room with a staff spear, or T’Challa’s brilliant sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) cranking out the latest addition to the Black Panther’s repertoire. Some roles like those of Forest Whitaker’s and Angela Bassett’s might be weaker than others, but they all fuse to make Wakanda what it is.

Everything to this point makes Black Panther sound more like a gloomy movie more in line with that other comic book universe, but rest assured, Black Panther is very entertaining even for those who don’t care to digest the emotional beats and geopolitical questions. The writing is mature in both themes and humor. Sight gags do exist, but the strength of the laughs mostly derives from the delivery and timing of the cast. For those who have seen Creed, it should come as no surprise that Coogler can craft long-take scenes of action and spectacle, this time getting really inventive with some of the setpieces backed by a great soundtrack and a magnificent score by Ludwig Göransson. Whether basking in the purple royalty hues of the spiritual skyline or the sparkling waterfalls, Wakanda is an eye-popping marvel whether 3D is utilized or not.

Even the very last shot of Black Panther seems to realize the moment at hand, drawing parallels to the movie that started it all with the MCU way back when in 2008. Whatever goes down in The Avengers’ next chapter, one thing’s for certain: T’Challa’s here to stay. Wakanda Forever.

A-

Photo credits go to digitalspy.com, nairobiwire.com, and hollywoodreporter.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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Proud Mary: Movie Man Jackson

Say it loud, say it proud. Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is a hitwoman in Boston, carrying out the death deeds when the family ran by Benny (Danny Glover) needs people to be dealt with. On one routine hit, Mary executes her target professionally as always, but is taken aback when her mark is discovered to have a young boy.

This shakes Mary who isn’t quite the same after this day, and as such, has been looking over the boy from afar, who has run into some tough times. Feeling responsible, the hitwoman takes “Danny” (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) in privately, gives him some TLC, and finds the people responsible for Danny’s situation. But, the youngster is tied to some deep criminal roots, roots that have the potential to start a war between Mary’s criminal family and another, putting everyone and their lives at risk.

 

Proud Mary. Look at the poster, the name of the movie taken after the famous Ike and Tina track, the tagline (“Killing for the man every night and day”), and the general plot summary. Sounds a lot like a 70’s Blaxploitation flick, right? Wrong. Now, to expect something on the tone of, say Black Dynamite would be asking for too much, but, the recipe is here for 50% of that along with some solid, John Wick/Atomic Blonde-esque action. Unfortunately, what is present is an average-to-poorly made crime drama befitting of its release date.

Proud Mary starts off well enough. The title credits look like they came out of the 70’s, accompanied by The Temptations classic of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Fun stuff, and Henson’s hitwoman wastes no time getting down to business with executing a lethal hit. But, that nice opening is the exception, not the rule, to Proud Mary. Once this movie jumps to one year after the incident, any hopes of the movie being a crowd-pleasing, gleefully violent ride down memory lane are lost.

Really, Proud Mary is a “family” drama and not a compelling one. The story itself is essentially a basic “time for me to get out” one, so it comes down to the relationship/chemistry between Henson and Winston’s characters in getting the audience to care about their plights. At best, the chemistry between the two is mediocre and nonexistent at worst, hampered by a rushed union and saddled by sometimes clunky dialogue.

This is a problem that not only these two share, but others in the movie, in which characters have a weird habit of talking over others for no real reason. Other bonds and revelations come to the forefront in attempts to add stakes, but midway through, one may find it hard to care about either of the lead characters and whether they make it to see tomorrow. And this is terrible, because Taraji P. Henson is not only likable, but quite talented. But, Proud Mary never gives her much of an opportunity to be or sound cool, or look like a badass. Or, maybe she never gives herself the opportunity, being executive producer and all.

Director Babak Najafi’s last movie was London Has Fallen, not exactly a movie a director wants on their resume to show off their talent. Some of the jagged and rough editing issues found in that one pop up here as well, if not more so. A mid-movie raid shootout and one-against-all blitz play climax should feature ton of satisfying moments…if only they could be seen in clear. Hard to remember light being used so poorly in a feature after viewing this one. One scene in particular obscures 90 percent of Glover’s face in a basic conversation, making someone wonder how this could just be left in the movie as is.

With a lighter tone and tighter editing, Proud Mary could have been a fun throwback action flick in what is typically a lean month for new releases. Instead, it’s dynamite. Not the good kind.

D

Photo credits go to thedailybeast.com, abcnews.go.com, and filmipop.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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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Movie Man Jackson

There is no one-size-fits-all method for dealing with grief. But for Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), she would appear to be in the stages of anger/depression. It’s been roughly seven months since she lost her daughter, a victim of a rape murder. Believing that her town and the local law enforcement is doing nothing to solve the crime, she decides to bring heavy attention to the tragedy by buying Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that say blunt things like “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?

The salvo has been launched, rattling the debilitating-in-health the Chief (Woody Harrelson), and the anger-filled officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). But instead of building awareness and inspiring action, Mildred’s actions seem to drive most, if not all, of the townsfolk against her. Is this case ever going to solved, or will in-town fighting prove to be a hindrance in cooperation?

This is nothing new, but every now and then there’s really a film that I can mull over for a while, re-watch again, and still struggle to gather how exactly I feel about it. The latest one to make yours truly feel this way is Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, both a drama and black comedy that maybe doesn’t coalesce as intended, but features some great cast work and overall unpredictability.

Though there’s a mystery aspect at play in the film with who killed Mildred’s daughter, that aspect is the least of writer/director McDonough’s (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges) concerns; in fact, it only appears in earnest during the middle and the end. The effects of it on various individuals in Ebbing and how they deal with it are the core of TBOEM, whether by anger, apathy, sadness, or some combination. In short, what McDonagh has concocted here is a character study of sorts with two, arguably three, main characters. The level of enjoyment one garners from Three Billboards will likely come down to how much one enjoys spending time with these characters.

On the nobility side of things, these characters are, undoubtedly, the worst of the worst seen in the entire 2017 year. There’s something undoubtedly captivating, cool, and ballsy about this. Not to mention funny, as there are a few scenes and moments that register high on the dark humor scale. The characters’ general lack of civility can be humorous, but is also a bit of a double-edged sword, mainly later on in the movie.

As the movie transitions more into drama and full-on character redemption, it becomes hard to forget the nastiness that McDonagh wasted no time in going deep into at the beginning. A soliloquy in the form of letters do serve to give some solid context, but it doesn’t absolve all sins, making the arcs feel unearned. Above all, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to struggle with wanting to be a realistic look at small-town Midwest life in the ups and downs in 2017 and an over-the-top dark romp, never completely balancing the two. The dialogue can be shocking, not in a “Wow, that was very mean” way, but in more of a “Would any sane person really talk like that?” way. A line in a flashback in which Mildred states that she hopes her daughter gets raped is a prime example. Instances like this and even the idea of an Australian beauty such as Abbie Cornish (in full Aussie natural accent!) being married to Harrison’s basic town sheriff in boonie Ebbing makes for an oddity that is neither funny nor purpose-serving to the story.

There are aforementioned issues, but a talented cast keeps things afloat. Supporting characters played by Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, and Abbie Cornish are more afterthoughts, though contribute steady performances. The movie belongs to Harrelson, Rockwell, and McDormand. At risk of being the forgotten man, Harrelson is truly the fulcrum of much of the movie, carrying it in a sense. But, it’s Rockwell and McDormand who are getting most of the praise and deserving so. Rockwell has a magnetic presence even when covered in complete dirt and slime, and McDormand carries a dogged persona from her talk to her walk and even the way her face seems to carry the same “tired with everything” feeling throughout. I’m totally underselling her work; she’s super impressive in this movie.

A game cast and some surprising moments make Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at least worth a viewing stop in this boonie town. An extended stay? Depends on one’s tolerance for its inhabitants.

C+

Photo credits go to cinemavine.com, westword.com, and baltimoreblack.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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The Shape of Water: Movie Man Jackson

Love doesn’t have to be traditional. Working as a nighttime janitor in 1960’s Baltimore is Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who is mute. Her responsibility, along with best friend coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is to clean the urine, feces, and all other matter that is left behind in the Occam Aerospace Research Center. When she’s not working, she’s often making conversation and viewing musicals with her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Minus the cleaning part, it’s not a bad life, yet far from a memorable one.

That changes once Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings an Asset (Doug Jones) to the compound in the form of a mysterious amphibian monster that can supposedly help the United States get an advantage in the Cold War. After testing, no secrets are made about the asset being killed. He’s already abused and berated consistently. In between these abuse periods, Elisa begins to build a strong bond with the monster, and realizes that she must do whatever it takes to get him out of this facility.

Death, taxes, and Guillermo del Toro melding polar opposite genres together into something unique. There’s dark fantasy, and then there’s del Toros’ dark fantasy, as seen in Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, and now, The Shape of Water, which takes del Toro’s love for the otherworldly and combining a love story to the likes we’ve probably never seen before. At the very. very least, it’s certainly unique and memorable.

In a cinema world often derided for the lack of auteurs as it pertains to directors, Guillermo is one of the few who makes his vision and creates art. Two well-worn inspirations in Beauty and the Beast and Creature from the Black Lagoon are evident, but even video games like Fallout and Bioshock and literature such as Stranger in a Strange Land appear to help build the 1960’s world showcased here.

Aesthetically, this Baltimore is a surreal-looking locale, coated perpetually in green and teal tint sharing similarities with many monster movies. But, the color symbolizes more in life, sickness, hope, inexperience, and—most importantly—love, all themes that The Shape of Water delves into. A high point tension-wise is a surprisingly tense and unpredictable heist scene. Something’s wrong with the major cinematography awards if Dan Laussen doesn’t get recognition for the cinematography that is present, and a score composed by Alexandre Desplat accentuates the fantastical production.

The Shape of Water is a spectacular production with a solid story and generally great execution, but it isn’t without pitfalls. The actual union feels a little rushed, and it is testament to the lead talent at hand that they sell the believability of it by film’s end. While the Cold War setting seems to initially hint at more integration into the plot, the tale could have easily been told in any other era with little impact. Lastly, it is fair to wonder if some additional subtlety by del Toro would have gone a long way towards garnering more intense emotion. There’s one scene that ends with the door closing, telling us all we need to know, and it’s well done. Other scenes come off as a little too self-indulgent, even cringey and/or corny, to the point that they drew me, personally, out of this world.

But, as much credit as the director and his technical team are deserving of, it is the cast and specifically the lead performers that sell what’s going on. Working backwards, supporting veteran castmates in Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg add a level of sophistication and gravitas despite their characters, save somewhat for Jenkins, being light on meat. Out of the supporting characters, Michael Shannon chews scenery from the moment he’s introduce as the simply pure evil and tunnel-vision focused Colonel. But of course, it’s Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins who come away as the talking points of The Shape of Water. Both hardly say any words but their non-verbals and chemistry is in full force, and the performance of Hawkins runs the gamut from loneliness to levity to pure bliss.

Save for a few odd-fitting moments, The Shape of Water takes its many genres and melds them into a fully formed fantasy and distinct view worth going into the deep for.

B

Photo credits go to indiewire.com, joblo.com, awardsdaily.com, and trailers.apple.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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The Wall: Movie Man Jackson

I’ll let someone else make a witty connection between this film’s title and the 45th president of the United States of America. In 2007, the Iraq War isn’t exactly over, but the pullout of American troops is beginning. Called to lookout after U.S. contractors building a pipeline are killed, Army sniper “Eyes” Issac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and spotter Sergeant Matthews (John Cena), make a move away from their protected positions to scope out the site. It’s been 22 hours, and they’re ready to be evacuated.

Shortly after inspection, all hell breaks loose. Scrambling from the open space fire, Issac finds protection in the form of an unsteady wall. Desperately trying to request help, his radio is not only damaged in the attack, but tapped by the enemy sniper. It becomes clear that Issac and Matthews are in grave danger, but their stalking assailant wants to play wretched mind games before launching a fatal salvo.

In the vein of 2016’s lean thrillers such as The Shallows and Don’t Breathe is The Wall. Director Doug Liman’s most recent film uses the backdrop of Iraq and the war to provide a movie that is technically a war movie, but sharing much more in common with those aforementioned films than a Hacksaw Ridge, Saving Private Ryan, and the like. The Wall ends up summer 2017’s first 100% lean thriller.

Liman, who knows his way around big-budget features in The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, seems to relish in directing on this minuscule scale that The Wall carries, reportedly made somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 million dollars. The minimalist approach is deployed, and it does immerse the viewer into its setting rather quickly. Music is entirely absent in the movie; one may forget they’re watching one. Swirling winds, the desert heat, and just the general fear of being in a person’s literal crosshairs make for a harrowing viewing experience, and Liman chooses to give little away as it pertains to his villain’s position. It’s a clever use of space, illustrating that distance between characters may be far, but still very claustrophobic.

However, even at a tight 81 minutes, I’d be lying if I failed to say that The Wall did not meander occasionally. Gradually, the audience does find out more about Issac and his reason for still being in Iraq as the war is winding down, giving a little bit of an emotional component. As the film goes on, some attempts are made to parallel—and in the case of the antagonist, somewhat humanize—the characters who lie on each side of the wall divide through Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare lines. At best, these parallels are broad, at worst, nonexistent. Not exactly painful-to-listen-to dialogue, but the type of dialogue that doesn’t accomplish as much as it wants to, either. As for the ending, it’s a bold direction, if a little farfetched for a realism-focused movie.

Keeping up his hot momentum after his marvelous turn in Nocturnal Animals is Aaron Taylor-Johnson here. His performance isn’t so much character-driven, but draws more upon the overall fatigue and hopelessness, mental, physical, and emotional, soldiers may find themselves into. This is unequivocally his movie, with the bulk of the camera focused on him, though John Cena provides adequate dramatic support in what is easily his best dramatic performance to date. Laith Nakli is the standard, sinister voice that’s needed for this type of feature when a mysterious character is unseen, think Kiefer Sutherfland in Phone Booth and Ted Levine in Joy Ride.

The first real surprise of the year? With a pretty limited script, a good director and strong performances keep The Wall from toppling over, ultimately making for an efficient war-set thriller.

B-

Photo credits go to Youtube.com, muscleandfitness.com, and liveforfilms.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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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

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Max: Movie Man Jackson

maxstub

“Max just has to know you want him.”

The other, smaller, Max of 2015. Out in Afghanistan, US Marine Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), makes rounds with his most loyal friend, German Shepherd Max. Max servers as his eyes, ears, and support during the most harrowing of times. Sadly, Kyle loses his life during a patrol with his unit, and the aftermath proves to be traumatic for the war dog.

Back at home in Texas, Kyle’s family learns of the heartbreaking news. His indifferent brother who-has-a lot-of-growing-up-to-do Justin (Josh Wiggins), was never all that close to his older sibling and keeps to keep to himself amongst his family. But oddly enough, he is the only person with whom Max is not hostile towards once Max comes home. As Max is Kyle’s last piece in the world, the Wincotts take him in to prevent him being put down. Slowly but surely, Justin slowly begins to grow closer to the dog, who changes not just his life, but everyone’s.

shepherd

At the core, Max is a coming-of-age story, and this can be seen in the first 15-20 minutes. The exact way it will unfold is unknown, but generally, one knows that in some fashion, the dog is going to somehow help the younger brother grow into a young man. That does happen in Max, but so does a bunch of other stuff. This other stuff ends up making the movie more like random bits of shrapnel scattered about.

Coming-of-age stories happen all of the time, and when done right, they can still work. No, they don’t reinvent the wheel, and can be pretty basic. But, they can provide a sometimes captivating story. Max, while far from captivating, works best when it focuses solely upon building the bond between Max and his new guardian Justin. As melodramatic (the whole film is scored to the hilt) and rushed as this bond is, it did mildly tug at the heartstrings of yours truly.

kyle

The thing that is weird about this, though, is the fact that director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) is not content with that emotional core being enough. As average as a movie with only that would likely be, at least there would be no struggle with trying to decipher what Max wants to be. There are so many other side plots introduced that it does end up marring the heartfelt impact. Look hard enough and one can see Yakin trying to make social commentary on xenophobia, stereotyping, and racism, but it all comes off as more cringeworthy than educational.

Another subplot exists about weapons being dealt to Hispanic arms dealers in something that is probably meant to bring light to the difficulties ex-soldiers have in finding work upon returning from duty. In the movie, it never quite comes together, and ends up moving Max from a family-friendly offering to more of a very dark PG-affair. Really, the last third of the runtime evolves, or perhaps devolves, into a thriller/action. It becomes clear that the rating restricts what Yakin wants to do, and the editing in the final act sort of reflects this.

The canine who plays Max is the definite star of the movie. Maybe he can be the next Rin Tin Tin or Pal in show business. As far as his human counterparts go, they are serviceable. Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church are no slouches, but play the average middle-class parent roles that could be filled by anyone. Josh Wiggins is the sidekick for all intents and purposes to Max, and he seems to be a little shaky in his performance in spots in what is only his second film. Aside from common names in Graham, Church, and Jay Hernandez, much of the heavy lifting here is left to those who play teenagers. Like Wiggins, the people playing the roles have very limited experience in film, or even acting for that matter, and it unfortunately shows more times than not.

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Though some credit has to be given to Yakin for trying to diversify a standard coming-of-age story, sometimes the best path is sticking with the well-worn one. Max suffers from not knowing what it really wants to be, taking multiple but ultimately small bites at different ideas instead of a big but fulfilling one.

Grade: D+

Photo credits go to kidsmoviehq.com, usatoday.co, and dailymotion.com.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron: Movie Man Jackson

aoustub

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

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

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

ultron

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

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

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

scarletquicksilver

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

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

reintroduction

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

Grade: B-

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

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

Liebster Award: Take 3

Here we go again!

I would like to sincerely thank Jonathan Robbins over at https://robbinsrealm.wordpress.com/ for nominating me for this Liebster Award. He has great thoughts on many movies, old and new, and tackles them with a level of analysis I’d love to get at one day!

The rules for accepting this award are as follows:

1. Thank the person who nominated you.
2. Answer the questions from the person who nominated you.
3. Nominate 11 bloggers for the award.
4. Notify the bloggers you have nominated.
5. Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.

Now, to answer the questions RobbinsRealm posed to me!

1. Do you watch “Game of Thrones?” If so, who is your favorite character?

  • I have never seen a full episode, and I am OK with that. Middle Earth and that type of historial fantasy has never truly appealed to yours truly.

2. List three of your favorite authors?

  • Richard Wright (Black Boy, Native Son (may be my favorite book ever)), George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm), and R.A Montgomery/Edward Packard (Choose Your Own Adventure, loved those books!)

3. What is the best place you have ever been to on vacation?

  • Daytona Beach, FL. Not a glamorous place when compared to other cities in the state, but it was the scene of the wildest end of year school parties I have ever been a part of. Two years running.

4. What is something that you are passionate about?

  • Writing this blog, I’d like to hope I am pretty passionate about film! Other things include scores of said films, education (I work in that sector), sports, and self-fulfillment.

5. What is your favorite kind of food?

  • Going to have to go with Mexican here. I grew up in Arizona, so that state knows its Mex. But my mother makes amazing tacos and my dad is the man with enchiladas. So many possibilities and options with Mexican.

6. What was the last film you saw and loved?

  • Furious 7. I do not believe it to be the best of the franchise, but it is up there, and delivered on just about everything I thought it would, along with an extremely beautiful tribute to Paul Walker.

7. What was the last film you saw and disliked?

  • The Hangover Part III. Missed this one in 2013, and it probably should have stayed this way. I still cannot believe how unfunny this was. As a comedy goes on, it is embarrassing to see that hardly any jokes are landing, and this feeling is magnified when watching a lame comedy in a theater.

8. Are you a coffee drinker, a tea drinker, both, neither?

  • Tea just about every day, and twice on Sundays. I love black tea, green tea, white tea, chamomile tea, and many others. Last time I tried to get into coffee was when I was 16. Not for me, though on a blue moon I’ll do a flavored espresso like French vanilla.

9. What is a television show that is no longer on that you would like to see get a reboot?

I’m going off the grid with this one. City Guys.

Loved this show, and had a solid cast with great chemistry. I see no reason why this couldn’t be done in the present day with a new batch of characters. Make it happen NBC!

10. What is your favorite color?

  • Dark blue is almost always a winner, but I’m fond of black, white, gold, and green as well.

11. If you could switch places with someone for one day, who would it be?

  • I’m more than content with being myself now, but to answer the question, give me Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s so mysterious. Being around that quality harem of women wouldn’t be a bad thing for 24 hours. Pure unadulterated fun!

Now it is time for me to choose eleven bloggers to give the award to. I feel honored to be such a great part of the WordPress community, specially with movies. I want to give some spotlight to those I haven’t been following long:

1. https://matchdaymovies.wordpress.com/

2. https://themoviereviewdude.wordpress.com/

3. https://wilsonreviews.wordpress.com/

4. http://pickoftheflix.com/

5. https://outofthisfilmworld.wordpress.com/

6. https://thatmovieperson.wordpress.com/

7. https://jwkurtz.wordpress.com/

8. https://filmandnuance.wordpress.com/

9. https://blockbusternostalgia.wordpress.com/

10. http://loganbushey.com/

11. http://tenstarsorless.com/

And now, for the questions for them to answer:

1. Who is your favorite film reviewer to read work from (living or deceased)?

2. Worst film you have recently seen?

3. Best film you have recently seen?

4. What summer 2015 blockbuster are you most excited about?

5. Twitter or Facebook?

6. It is one night before you are executed for a crime you didn’t commit. What is your last meal?

7. How far away do you live from your closest theater?

8. Where do you see yourself in five years (interview question!)?

9. Age-old question: Pop or Soda?

10. Is censorship always a bad thing?

11. Favorite TV comedy of all time?

Once again, thanks for Robbin’s Realm for nominating me, and thank you guys for giving me the support and feedback on this site. We all make up a great community!

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

 

Interstellar: Movie Man Jackson

interstellarstub

“This world’s a treasure, but it’s been telling us to leave for a while now.”

Time is such a delicate thing, and in Interstellar, the world doesn’t have much of it left. On future Earth, humanity’s prospects do not look good. The climate doesn’t cooperate, and crops are routinely ravaged by dust storms and other hardships, creating famine. Those with children face the impending reality that their sons and daughters may be the last of their bloodline.

One of the notable men with a family is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widower and former NASA test pilot/engineer now making his career as a farmer. Farming is not something Cooper enjoys, but the world needs more farmers with intellect like his, and he is a man who will do anything for his son and daughter (Timothee Chalamet, Mackenzie Foy). After stumbling upon something very secret, Cooper is chosen to lead a band of explorers across the expansive solar system for one mission: Finding a place that can support human life. Only problem is, a habitable planet may not be out there, and it isn’t a guarantee that he may every seen his family again even if he does.

 fatherdaughter

Interstellar is just as much of a spectacle as it is a film. It is grand and very ambitious, and in many ways the closest thing our generation may have to 2001: A Space Odyssey. This doesn’t make it a completely pristine piece of cinema, but it is a damn good piece in totality. A piece that may need to be seen multiple times to fully comprehend and analyze, and one that probably warrants it.

Over the years, director Christopher Nolan has built up quite the sizable fanbase, most often known as “Christopher Nolan fanboys” who seem to live and unabashedly support every action in every movie he has ever done. I don’t consider myself a part of this fanbase. No doubt, the man is very talented and skilled in his craft, but hyperbole often makes more of something or someone than perhaps deserved. Still, almost all of his works are intriguing, and many carry a sense of scale and unique storytelling that other works by other filmmakers do not possess. It doesn’t always come together seamlessly, but more times than not his ideas work, and the man must be commended for trying them.

Interstellar is much of the same in the scale sense, and different at the same time. There are few things bigger than exploring space, because it is so vast when time, gravity, wormholes, and other science concepts are factored in. This future, desolate Earth and expansive galaxy is fully realized in this. It is almost like Mass Effect on the big screen, without alien races. It is very sci-fi focused, and this could truthfully turn off many as much homework sounds like it was done to get things right factually. Regardless, Nolan does a wonderful job of crafting a world rife with permutations and possibilities, and as the explorers set out to find a new place, we are right along with them.

The production here is stellar; cinematography, sound mixing, and score all come together to create a sense of astonishment, unease, and wonder. Not enough can be said about this score, as once again Hans Zimmer proves he is one of the best in the business. Mind you I did not see this in an IMAX format perhaps like I should of, and yet it still blew me away.

hathaway

Even in all of the movie’s “epicness,” this is one of Nolan’s more basic and truly human movies. It does provoke thought on where we would be headed if for some reason our crops were reduced (really though about how farming is so crucial to my everyday life during this!). Sure, it is about space, exploration and the future of humanity, but at the core, it is about a man and his love for his family. It is an interesting look at how the care we have for our flesh and blood supersedes the care or lack thereof of people we have no real connection to. It is the classic short-term gratification v.s. long term potential. This aspect gives Interstellar the serious heft it needs to get it through an almost three-hour runtime.

Almost is the key word though. While the film is overall engrossing, there are more than a few times in which noticeable drag occurs. Some of the heavy dialogue, always a staple in Nolan films it seems, comes off as being wordy just for wordy’s sake, like taking 20 words to say something that could have been said in 10. Unrelated to the plodding pacing but still an issue is the disjointed area in the semi-climax of this that doesn’t feel tight or well-thought out at all. The narrative structure is pretty solid in totality, but what occurred in this part of the film and how it was presented became hard to follow and temporarily ceased the immersive experience had to that point.

wonder

This recent career arc of Matthew McConaughey’s career can probably stop being called a “McConissance” at this point. As Cooper, McConaughey turns in a magnificent performance. Cooper is the type of guy that is stubborn and a bit arrogant, but he is also a deeply caring guy who just wants the best for those he loves and even for his home of Earth. The two desires clash though, and Matthew absolutely sells the internal discomfort of what is at stake. His journey is one that makes you invested on where it is going, and where it will end.

While McC is the undeniable star in this and easily turns in the best character work, his movie daughter played by Mackenzie Foy does a superb acting job as Murph, and is only bested by Matthew. The bond the two build in little time sets up the movie, and is integral to caring where everyone ends up. Foy’s scenes are very emotional, and very impressive for a child to emote so confidently. Filled with such accomplished actors, it is somewhat surprising that only McConaughey’s and Foy’s performances truly stand out. That isn’t to say that Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, or Matt Damon are terrible here, but they have all been better before. They are perfectly able and adept, nothing more or less.

At the end of the day, Interstellar is science fiction done at a very high level, even if it could have been tighter and more compact. Whether in 35mm, 70mm, IMAX, Ultrascreen, or whatever else, give this a view, alright, alright, alright?

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to joblo.com, nydailynews.com, and screenrant.com.

Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson.