War for the Planet of the Apes: Movie Man Jackson

The night is darkest just after the dawn. Years after Koba’s betrayal, the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his nation of apes remain taking residence in the woods. Trying to live peacefully away from conflict, conflict finds them by way of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). His assault on the apes’ home leaves massive casualties.

Now out for revenge, Caesar, along with Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), found hermit Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), and a young mute female straggler (Amiah Miller) embark on a journey to locate and eliminate The Colonel. The woods are no longer safe for apes, but a new location has been scouted and deemed livable. But, the war between apes and humans must reach a conclusion before the next chapter in ape evolution can begin.

Who knew that in 2011 the dawn of the next great trilogy was beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Considered a middling IP at best after Tim Burton’s 2001 spin on things, Rise and Rupert Wyatt invigorated new life into the franchise. But, director Matt Reeves pushed it in places it’s never been before, both visually and thematically, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He officially ties the bow neatly on this trilogy with War for the Planet of the Apes.

Of course, it should go without saying at this point that the CGI, motion capture, rendering, and whatever else I’m probably forgetting on the technical side of this feature is absolutely impeccable. I’m saying it again because as spectacular Dawn was on that front, War takes it up multiple levels, proving that in three years technology evolves at an exponential rate. There are shots—extreme close up shots—of Caesar and his mains-in-command that are mind-blowing, and full of weight.

Fear and loss play a huge part in this movie; the consternation is seen on many of the lead characters’ faces. The character arc of Caesar goes very deep, and Serkis does it all as the ape leader. His delivery of dialogue, as well as sign language and facials, is moving. Not to be shortchanged either are newcomer Steve Zahn, Michael Adamthwaite, and Karen Konoval. Woody Harrelson stands as the best human character the reboot has seen, his style being perfect for the military leader. Some of the best moments are devoid of any dialogue or even subtitles. Reeves opts to tell some of War for Apes completely visually. The sounds of composer Michael Giacchino go a long way in making this endeavor a success.

In a cinema world in which seemingly every big studio is on the hunt for the next universe starter or continuation, War for the Planet of the Apes has no real aspirations to do so. One would be doing themselves a massive disservice by not watching the predecessors, but, it is cool that Reeves commences War with two-sentence recaps for newbies that summarizes everything newcomers need to know before seguieng into an impressive opening action sequence. War for Apes is a mostly cold and bleak affair, befitting of a predominately cool grey and blue color palette. That doesn’t make it any less of a technical masterpiece, though.

War for Apes, like Dawn before it, uses its primates to hold a mirror to our own society. However, where Dawn was subtler in its approach, War goes a little more overt and obvious, lessening the impact and the thought-provoking themes ever so slightly. The war aspect of the title is present, but the war itself seems to be more metaphorical than literal. Do not go in expecting a prolonged blitzkrieg; War for Apes is emotional-drama first, action-blockbuster second.

The last stand for Caesar and company caps off an amazing epic that will rank up there with the best trilogies in film history. This war closes the chapter between humans and apes, but won’t quickly be forgotten.

A-

Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, aceshowbiz.com, and digitalspy.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 Edge of Seventeen: Movie Man Jackson

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Rather stand at the edge of tomorrow continuously than revisit The Edge of (age) Seventeen again. Since birth, the awkward Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always had issues fitting in with her age group. Where making friends and being the object of everyone’s affection has always come easy for her slightly older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine’s had no such luck. If it weren’t for her lifelong friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), being seventeen would be unbearable.

Unfortunately, it becomes just that once Krista takes a liking to her older brother and the feeling is reciprocated. With her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) never really having a connection with her, and her father sadly out of the picture, Nadine finds slivers of support in her sarcastic history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and equally awkward classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto).

Hayden Szeto in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

If the old, 80’s style genre film that John Hughes popularized is what someone’s hearkening for, The Edge of Seventeen fills that void superbly. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig hasn’t kept it a secret as to her inspiration(s) for this movie. The look alone, how it starts (teen angst songs abound but not annoyingly so), how it’s told, some common characters, and more are all throwbacks to the genre films of yesteryear. Like most flicks in the genre, its pretty linear and easy to see how things are going to play out. Only difference is, this doesn’t take place in the 80’s. It’s very much a 21st century movie, but the great thing about this is that The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t rely on its setting. This is going to be a movie that ages quite well.

In The Edge of Seventeen, Craig has written a film with a lot of heart. Almost all of the sentimentality feels earned and legitimate, as the runtime is just right and the screenplay well-paced, with maybe only a slight bit of “rushedness” between the climax and resolution. Craig has also written a film that is simply believable in how teenagers act, how they speak, etc., and she stays away from trying to paint her lead character as 100% correct while everyone around her is incorrect. Nadine is flawed, sometimes shockingly so, but this ultimately makes her more relatable and endearing.

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As good as some of those 80’s teen movies were, some were laden with middling and bad acting, even from the leads.  Every notable cast member in The Edge of Seventeen delivers good to superb performances. Great writing can certainly give more to a performance, but a sizable chunk of responsibility still falls on the actor and actress. It starts with Hailee Steinfeld, in her first real starring role. She does it all, be it off-the-head snide sarcasm or strong scenes of emotion. Her Nadine’s annoying, overreactive, lovable, and awkward, sometimes all at once. And again, it helps that she isn’t written as Ms. Perfect, as it gives more authenticity to the proceedings.

The teacher role that Woody Harrelson takes on is a perfect fit for his talents. No one is saying he isn’t talented, but occasionally he has the issue of not being able to assimilate nicely into features. Not so here; the relationship he has with Nadine is sweet but not in a extra sappy way, providing sagely advice in his own unique way. Even typically skim throwaway roles such as the oblivious mother, douchebag brother, and best friend are fleshed out, and acted well by Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, and Haley Lu Richardson, respectively. If there were one person who steals scenes away from Steinfeld, however, it would easily be Hayden Szeto in what is one of the best supporting roles of the year. If a photo accompanied teenage awkwardness in Merriam-Webster, his would be there.

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What’s old can still be new. Bolstered by strong writing and wonderful acting work, The Edge of Seventeen cements itself as an all-around stellar film, and one of the very best in its genre.

A-

Photo credits go to collider.com, comingsoon.net, and http://www.phase9.tv.

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Now You See Me 2: Movie Man Jackson

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Completely missed opportunity to be named the more interesting Now You Don’t, as opposed to the uninspired Now You See Me 2. It has been one year since the Four Horsemen have been seen last in public. It’s been so long that one member, Henley Reeves, has left the group and “The Eye” entirely. Now left are Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and new Horsewoman Lula May (Lizzy Caplan).

The foursome are still being pursued/overseen by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and await their next mission, which involves exposing a tech CEO and his practices. Unfortunately, all goes to hell, and the group find all of their secrets exposed. But by who? Enter Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), rich businessman who wants a powerful piece of technology to remain unseen. The Horseman have no choice: Pull off the job, or die.

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In the first movie, it was Morgan Freeman’s character who mentioned that the audience should “Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.” That only works if there is something worth looking closely at. Now You See Me 2 is not really one of those things.

In a way, NYSM2, in the opinion of yours truly, kind of comes to the fight with one arm tied behind its back, due to the failures of the final act in the first. I was ready to put those failures behind completely behind me, as I did have a little fun with the first, and I sort of did due to the simple fact I paid to see the sequel. Problem is, doesn’t take long to bring those story fails back to the forefront, and the movie never really gets into a flow. It all amounts to a feature that is rather choppy, in both direction and storytelling, and the attempts at humor aren’t all that funny (how this is listed as a comedy on IMDB is beyond me).

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With the heist aspect, movies like the Ocean’s trilogy and Fast Five have been mentioned when discussing Now You See Me 2. But, NYSM2 lacks the energy, fun factor, and functional stories that those movies had, and the twists are so overabundant and just as facepalm-inducing as before, if not more so. So much of the dialogue seems devoid of nothing. Sure, there are a few interesting sequences shot by Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but many of the big scenes pale in comparison to the original’s and look cheaper, despite having a bigger budget. And the explanations for said big scenes? I guess they work enough. But another issue had as a whole with this production is this whole “science vs. magic” matter. It’s like the movie wants to be super-smart with how it pulls off these grand schemes by explaining what happens via conventionality. Cool, but what about the scenes where characters stop rainfall, or vanish into thin air or concrete? That is what needs to be explained.

Bigger budget means bigger cast. Most of the same faces return, and like before, they really aren’t more than followers with little to no character arcs. As the new addition to the magician stable, Lizzy Caplan fits in nicely. Of the four, Harrelson stands out the most in sort of a goofy performance. Issue had is how the writing paints them to be the heroes, almost to a cringy level. For my money, this is a villain versus villain (versus villain) story. Radcliffe is the spoiled pompous youngster who has a tie to a past character, Freeman still serves as the story’s de facto narrator, and Ruffalo plays both sides. There’s no one to truly get behind, and the way threads wrap up with seemingly everything and everyone intertwined and closer than believed, it is hard to see how a third will be done without it feeling overpowered to one side. Yet, a third is all but certain. 

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Every magic trick is said to be broken down into three acts of a pledge, turn, and prestige, and it looks like the same can be said for this series. If Now You See Me is an average pledge, Now You See Me 2 is a pretty broken turn, with little extraordinary coming from the ordinary. Not much anticipation for the prestige.

D

Photo credits go to moviepilot.com, http://www.smh.com.au, and joblo.com.

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Now You See Me: Movie Man Jackson

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Even The Masked Magician couldn’t make complete sense of Now You See Me. In various areas of the United States, four unique but separate magicians in illusionist Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt McKinley (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and sleight-of-hand con artist Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) make a living off of their skills.

Their skills lead each of them to be recruited by some unknown entity. One year later, the individuals have formed to become the Four Horsemen, selling out arenas and putting on grandiose shows in Las Vegas. All is well and good until the group pulls off the unthinkable by robbing an actual bank in Paris and no one knowing how they’ve accomplished doing so. Magic? Actual real methods? It is up to FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to figure this out.

NOW YOU SEE ME Ph: Steve Dietl © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Magic can be cool to look at. But once it is boiled down to its core elements, there isn’t all that much there. This is, in my opinion, a good description of Now You See Me. Some cool stuff on the surface, but as more becomes revealed, little is of substance.

Louis Leterrier holds the magic directorial wand here, and technically, it doesn’t look that bad. The large scale matters like the heist and chase scenes have a nice flow to them. Since we’re dealing with magicians, we’re always looking at these moments with a tighter eye than usual, just to see if we can catch what the magicians are up to. Some of the more smaller scaled bits like throwing cards or floating in a bubble look cheaper than anticipated,. Even with the script problems (and there are a litany of them), the pace never really slows to a crawl, which is a good thing.

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But as stated, there are a litany of script problems that even the best director likely wouldn’t be able to overcome. While the pace never slows, it is rushed at times. After a wonderful setup that introduces the audience to all four magicians, they are immediately thrown together faster than you could say Abracadabra. Their robbery is amazing to watch, but I’d argue it is also the climax at only a third of the way through. This rushing plagues the four characters throughout; simply, there’s little, if anything, that becomes known of them. It is somewhat sad, too, because The Four Horsemen actors (and actress) are good. Not amazing, but good and fun to watch, especially Harrelson and Eisenberg, It would have been nice to have a reason to care about why they’re doing what they’re doing, but there isn’t a reason, and they all end up feeling like disposable vessels for their mission.

However, the thin character writing isn’t the worst offense. The worst offense is easily the much maligned 3rd act, specifically the ending. The ending is the type of ending that one could try to the end of time to make sense of, and will likely never be able to. Somehow, it is both stupidly bad and just flat out laughable in its reveal, how it is shot, how the actors look, and all that came before it to lead up to the moment. Hey, at least it’ll be remembered, right?

To top all of that off, there’s a requisite love story that does little for yours truly. Taken on their own, the two roles are fine, but their relationship that is present between the two characters feels extremely shoehorned in. Ruffalo’s been better, but he’s still entertaining here, even if he’s overdoing it a little at times. Mélanie Laurent is steady, just underwritten. Michael Caine is Sir Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman does the old sage role as well as anyone at this point in film.

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“The more you look, the less you see.” With Now You See Me, it is more along the lines of “The more you watch, the less it’ll make sense.” Watch with that mindset, and the magic that the film does possess in places can be a little captivating.

C

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, moviepilot.com, and thetalkiespodcast.com.

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Triple 9: Movie Man Jackson

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Make a bomb go off, the police are there at the location in three minutes. Do a 999—on the other side of town—and you got all damn day to do whatever you please. On the mean streets of Atlanta, a trio of three men: ex military officers Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul), and Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), combine with a duo of corrupts cops in Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.) to form a squad of five, pulling heist jobs around the area. They work for a Russian Israeli mob boss named Irina (Kate Winslet), who pays them handsomely in return for what she receives in some vital pieces to bring her brother home from exile.

While the crew is ready to leave the game forever after their recent job, Irina forces them to pull one more to get what she needs. This one is impossible however, because roughly a 20 minute window is needed. To get this window, a plan is hatched to execute a Triple 9–police code for officer down. The mark is Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a good cop with a family who doesn’t deserve this fate.

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Think about cop/heist movies (combining the two subgenres here) and there always seem to be a few on top of the list with regards to the best. Training Day, Heat, End of Watch, and Reservoir Dogs are just a few that come to mind. With the cast that director John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless) deploys here, a lover of the genre couldn’t help but get giddy at the prospect after seeing the redband that Triple 9 could be in that stratosphere. After watching, is it? Not at all. But, is it a solid entry into the genre? Absolutely.

Whether by virtue of the lack of features he’s helmed, the type of features he’s helmed, or for other reasons unbeknownst, John Hillcoat isn’t a household name. Yours truly isn’t saying he should be yet, either. But, what I am saying is that Hillcoat is a master at creating an intriguing and compelling world in his films, and Triple 9 is just the latest example, with this time a modern but grimy setting being at the forefront. Even when the story can occasionally bog down, and they sometimes do in his works, there’s reason to continue watch because the production is of such high quality.

But yes, the actual plot of Triple 9 is not bullet-proof. As mentioned, a few points exists in which it feels like nothing is really going on, and this is where the movie can slow down to a crawl. I want to say that that this is for character development, but that necessarily isn’t the case, although some characters and relationships do get more meat. And honestly, this can all be a little—wait for the magic word—predictable. Not 100% predictable; there are a few third acts surprises that one may not see coming, but without spoilers (hopefully), let’s just say it can get a little bit like clockwork.

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Where Triple 9 shines is in its three big set pieces for each third of the movie. These scenes are dressed to the nines with tension and unpredictability, outfitted with a score by Atticus Ross. And, they aren’t action scenes where slugs fly freely into the wind. No, many of the scenes are methodical, and each shot out of a weapon actually means something more than not. Simply put, it is edge of the seat material.

Ensemble casts can be great, but when they are so big, it can become hard to give everyone the requisite attention they deserve. Such is a little of the problem here. Most cover the swath of genre characters, but that doesn’t mean that the performances aren’t what is expected from the talent assembled. The true standout would probably have to be Anthony Mackie, who easily has the most complex character and as a result, gets the opportunity to flex some acting muscle. It’s fun to see Chiwetel Ejiofor play a baddie, as he’s shown in Four Brothers and Serenity that he’s capable, and he has some dark moments here.

Casey Affleck is a sound protagonist, and does his job, but to say he’s asked to do a ton is misleading. In an otherwise serious movie, Woody Harrelson occasionally brings a little bit of lightness to a grim affair, though he can feel a little caricature at times. What is it about crime movies that require an European character to be the big bad henchman? That role falls to Kate Winslet, who doesn’t have a ton of screentime, but is as cold as they come. Speaking of limited screentime, Gal Gadot and Teresa Palmer play the same nondescript role as lovers of the lead characters, just on opposite teams, and Norman Reedus at least looks cool in his minor role. Wrapping the all-star cast up is Aaron Paul, who is rather sympathetic but very “Jesse-ish”, and Clifton Collins, Jr., a chameleon who works in about any role.

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Triple 9 is a B movie with an superb cast, which can be a little disappointing with all the talent brought on and the clear directorial skill of Hillcoat. But something so tense, well acted, and produced still should be enough for anyone who is a diehard fan of the genre.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to euronews.com, filmonic.com, and fastcocreate.com.

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Seven Psychopaths: Movie Man Jackson

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“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

Aren’t we all a little crazy? Of course. Are some of us crazier than others? Depends on who is the judge. Seven Psychopaths is the story of Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) a screenwriter suffering from a major bout of writer’s block. He is doing everything possible to lift the block because his work, titled Seven Psychopaths, could be a huge hit. In the process however, he has become sort of an alcoholic.

Marty’s best friend is an unemployed actor by the name of Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell). Billy is doing his best to motivate his friend through this rut, all while running his side business with his co-partner, Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken). Hans and Billy kidnap dogs from rich owners, and then return them for monetary value. It is a pretty smooth endeavor until a Shih Tzu is taken one day. This action inevitably brings Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), an extremely volatile and merciless gangster, into the picture. Before you know it, Marty is shoehorned into this bizarre situation. Crazy as it may sound and be, it may be just what he needs to break out of this funk.

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Despite having a title befitting of a horror or thriller, Seven Psychopaths is largely a comedy-crime film. Comedy of the dark variety sure, but a comedy nonetheless. It is one of the more unpredictable and eccentric films in recent memory, in the best of possible ways. Just about all of the humor is taken from extremely morbid situations and themes, and yet, you never really feel guilty laughing at it. This may be due to the fact that it is so absurd (a dog causing insanely peculiar crazy people to go to these wild lengths!) that laughter is the only coping mechanism here.

But this isn’t a one-trick pony. There are more than a few tension-filled scenes that get fairly heavy and end in gory fashion from time to time. Yes, blood and gore is found pretty frequently in this one. Perhaps not on the level of today’s standard horror slasher movie, still some people are going to be shocked during some moments. Mainly because while most of what occurs in the movie is played in a comedic way, the violence appears to be pretty straightforward with no noticeable comedic lean. Overall, the movie is able to effectively balance the complete darkness with the obvious comedy, aside from a few instances where it feels like it shifts rather quickly in tone.

The story found in Seven Psychopaths is pretty clear, but in all actuality it is nothing more than a backdrop for the true focus of the film. In fact, I wouldn’t so much call it a story, but rather a series of events improbably intertwined with a meta “tint”. Which makes sense, as a main plot strand of the movie is about a writer completing a movie, and how what he wants isn’t necessarily what Hollywood wants. Sound familiar? When it is all said and done, the true focus of the film ends up being the unforgettable characters.

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While I know that psychopathy comes in many variances, I generally think of psychopaths being of a general type most commonly portrayed in the media—just general crazy and non-remorseful people. This movie definitely has that type present, but also reaffirms that psychopathy and sociopathy can appear in many forms. For this type of movie to succeed though, the performances need to be strong, and each person of note is brilliant in their respective performance.

Colin Farrell is a classic boom or bust actor with the roles he chooses. This one serves as one of his finer roles. Playing the more conventional man among a bevvy of nutjubs, Farrell is impressively able to portray the self-doubt, general fear, and bewilderment his character has in this predicament. It is a very solid role in his own right, but Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell steal the show here. Their characters couldn’t be anymore different, but both are essentially the same. Rockwell and Walken provide much of the comedy throughout, albeit in very distinct ways, especially Rockwell in an unforgettable role. This is all I really want to say out of fear of spoiling anything monumental.

Rounding out the big four is Woody Harrelson, who plays his ruthless character with an obvious edge but vulnerability as well. The only knock on him is that he is absent for much of the runtime, which isn’t his fault. All four do amazing jobs, because they are able to make us care about them. No matter how screwed up they may be, each one is striving towards something, be it redemption, finality, fantasy, etc. I would have liked to see more of the leading ladies in this (Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko), but from a meta perspective touched upon in the movie, their limited screentime makes sense.

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Written and directed by Martin McDonagh of In Bruges fame (also a dark comedy), Seven Psychopaths not only features an abnormal script, but technically proficient cinematography as well. There are the gruesome scenes that are filmed with practical effects which look great, but the real standout(s) occur during simple scenes with nothing but dialogue. McDonagh really knows how to frame these moments, adding layers of uncertainty as well as anticipation. In addition he utilizes a warm and occasionally hazy filter found more so near the end of the movie which again lends to the overall wacky feeling of the movie’s premise.

It may not be for everyone, but if star studded casts and offbeat stories mixed with black humor interest you in the slightest, Seven Psychopaths is a must-watch on intrigue alone.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com & beyondhollywood.com.

P.S. I’d also like to thank Time Warner cable for giving me a full free weekend of Showtime! Wasn’t able to watch as many films as I would have liked, but I was able to see this gem.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.