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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Hidden Figures: Movie Man Jackson

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Numbers are indiscriminate. Relatively speaking. The year is 1961. The United States of America is in a race with Russia to put an astronaut into space. But, they are hitting quite a few snags in the process. They simply do not have the manpower, or possibly the mindpower, to break through.

Three brilliant African-American females mathematicians in Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) are assigned to various departments to helm Langley’s efforts to launch one of its own into the stratosphere. All are qualified, but each face difficulties in getting their peers to accept them as equals. But the mission takes precedence, and hitting its intended target means putting aside any hate and coming together as a unit.

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Needing for a Disney-live movie that isn’t made by Disney? Hidden Figures does the trick, a true story that pays good tribute to amazing women. Well, relatively true. It’s sound in all areas without being extraordinary in any, either. Nothing wrong with playing it safe and filling a purpose.

The title of Hidden Figures serves as a double meaning. The movie’s core plot revolves around finding the math that doesn’t yet exist to propel a shuttle into space. But on a more figurative sense, for myself, I sadly had never heard of these women, but I suspect a good deal have not, either, effectively making these women almost ghost-like in the annals of history. Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) takes the quarterback manager approach here. There’s little that catches the eye cinematically, but it’s certainly competent. Producer Pharrell Williams provides a few high spots with original songs that fit the 1960’s setting perfectly.

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Melfi lets the story of Hidden Figures, adapted from the nonfiction book with the same name, tell itself. However, there are obvious embellishments and prints of Hollywood that are left on the production. Hidden Figures does a good job at showcasing the institutional racism that permeated the time period, the small things that made life difficult for African-Americans, and women in a male-dominated field. But, Hidden Figures becomes hokey at times with specific moments and certain characters who didn’t exist. This is not the film to get hyper-accurate history from.

Still, the lead characters of Hidden Figures provide some insight into these troubling times, and though they all work towards the same mission, all three women have their own storylines that the film addresses. It helps that each of the three actresses pull off great performances to make their characters likable and believable. Taraji P. Henson is the standout of the entire picture, and now seeing the list, it is a little disappointing to not see her get a Best Actress nomination; she’s that good with the requisite award scene that plays for a nominee that feels completely natural in the movie. The surprise is Janelle Monáe, who was good in Moonlight but has more to do here, and might be more deserving of the supporting nod than the über-consistent Octavia Spencer who did receive the nod.

As for the rest of the supporting cast, most end up playing the evil white person or misguided white person who thinks they mean well but actually do not. At least for many of the central characters at Langley, this applies. As such, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons are playing parts and not so much characters to give life to, though Dunst is a little more impressive with what she is given. On the other side of the spectrum of characters at Langley lies Kevin Costner’s (no one’s going to accuse him of having questionable views in Hollywood!), just a guy who’s about the job regardless of skin color. Costner’s character is good, even if a scene borders on being the aforementioned hokey. Aldis Hodge and Mahershala Ali provide solid yet unspectacular work as stock husband/love interest. But, it’s nice to see these up and coming actors of color in a high-profile movie.

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Hidden Figures is the sum of great lead performances to tell the stories of three women who didn’t get the recognition they deserve until now. Everything else in the film, facts included, is secondary, but it does end up equaling a feel-good watch.

B-

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, denofgeek.com, and filmandnow.com.

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No Good Deed: Movie Man Jackson

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“I would have thought with all those brains you got, you would’ve figured out the game I’m playing by now.”

Having a big heart is great, but it shouldn’t cloud judgment…especially as it pertains to inviting a very random stranger inside your home. In No Good Deed, Colin Evans (Idris Elba) is an extremely dangerous convict serving time for crimes he has committed, many domestic. He’s a man who uses his charm and good looks to get in with the ladies, but when things go off the rails, so does he.

After an unsuccessful parole hearing, Colin escapes out of transport and is back in society ready to terrorize it. On a rainy night, he arrives at the doorstep of Terri’s (Taraji P. Henson) home, needing to use a phone after a car crash. Weather is less than ideal, and Terri lets the stranger inside, having no idea of what is in store for her and her children.

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When you’ve seen one home invasion/killer psycho flick, it can feel like you’ve seen them all. Such is the case with No Good Deed, a film as standard and formulaic as can be with the subgenre. It is unfortunate, because the film has two very respected and talented actors in Elba and Henson, but their talents for the most part are wasted. They are done no favors with the script, as it is apparent early on that it is a weak one.

Heavy, relentless downpour that is supposed to evoke dread? Check. A house sort of secluded from everything that makes it hard to get help? Check. Woman having implied marital problems, so she’s immediately attracted to the stranger? Check. I could go on some more, but it would become repetitive, like the movie’s scenes that follow the same structure of encounter, struggle, and chase.  Around the middle it changes briefly, but returns to the structure in the final act in a different house. It would one thing if this familiarity existed and the plot was competent but it really isn’t. Even at 84 minutes, the movie is stretched because it really is nothing more than a cat and mouse battle in a house and it gets old after about 10 minutes of it.

Furthermore, many moments occur because there would be no movie without them, no matter how illogical they may be. There’s even a large effort to bring everything together with a twist, and while I won’t spoil it since it is sort of well-crafted (after thinking about it) with clues interspersed just enough, it’s not one that is impressive. While it can be argued that it gives some context as to what the antagonist is doing, it is just way too convenient and neat for my tastes.

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Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson do their best here, even if they never fully “click.” Henson is fine here, but has been better in other work. Part of that is just the character itself. Her role is that of a stay at home mom with hubby issues who was once focused on her career, which just isn’t that meaty. What is odd is how her character makes it a point to mention that her prior career in crime involved knowing and diagnosing domestic perpetrators and traits she looked for. You know, the same situation she finds herself in this movie! The people in charge of this probably thought it would be a nice addition to the character, but all this lack of awareness does is paint Terri as a buffoon.

Elba’s role isn’t a dynamic one, but he plays it well and it is the one of the few things No Good Deed has going for it. His Colin is sharp, physical, and nuanced, and Idris possesses a load of screen presence. His character’s omnipotence in the sense of being able to be right where he needs to be when needed is awfully convenient for the movie, but it is what it is. He’s not reason alone to recommend but he definitely brings some good to this. The movie is mainly a two person show, but Leslie Bibb gets some time here bringing brief comedy as a flirtatious sex kitten that you just know is going to get it.

NGD is directed by Sam Miller, and this film serves as his first credit on the silver screen. Nothing about it looks terrible, it is just par for the course, nothing more or less. However, since Mr. Miller prior directorial work has all been for TV, the film itself feels like something that could be seen on TV in a made for television Lifetime movie or even on Law & Order. Watching this in a theater didn’t add anything to the flick.

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When 84 minutes feels closer to two hours, something went wrong in the process. Greatness wasn’t expected with No Good Deed, but its tired and shallow plot prevents it from being even average despite good lead performances and an alright twist. If interested, the best deed you could do for yourself is to check out on home release.

Grade: D+

Photo credits go to blackfilm.com, ramascreen.com, and apnatimepass.com.

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