Mini-Reviews: Jackie, Assassin’s Creed, Hidden Figures, Passengers & Sing

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Jackie

Director: Pablo Larrain

Writer: Noah Oppenheim

Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella, Beth Grant, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson and John Hurt

Synopsis: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

 

I’ll admit, I didn’t know too much after Jackie Kennedy before the film, besides of course her being the First Lady, and being the widow of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated when riding around Dallas. It’s a bit of shame that that’s the only thing most people, probably, know about her. However, here in Jackie, we get to see a glimpse of what she potentially – films based on true stories are already up for interpretation – through after her husband was shot.

The film starts off with a reporter, played by Billy Crudup, coming up to the house in Massachusetts where Jackie (Natalie Portman) is staying. The reporter starts to ask her questions and we flashblack to a couple of different events: her televised tour of the White House in 1961 and the week of the assassination. Through all of it, we see Jackie as she deals with the tour, and after the assassination of her husband, the grief of she is consumed by and how history will remember him.

Jackie is not an easy film to watch, not because it’s not any good, but because the majority of the film is Jackie Kennedy trying to keep herself composed after losing her husband. And I don’t know about most people, but I think some people sometimes forget that Jackie didn’t lose the President of the United States, she lost her husband, and that’s something the film bring up. Jackie lost her husband that just so happens to be the President. It’s a fine line that the film balances pretty well.

Another fine line the film balances is not making Jackie too much of a sympathetic character. The film has no problem making her a flawed person, and if you find her actions odd or even questionable, you’re not alone. The film isn’t there to make Jackie a saint, even though she lost her husband, the things she does make you believable she may be just a bit unstable. But that’s also the beauty of Jackie, Natalie Portman does an impressive job of creating and explore the layers to this public figure that went through it all, and through a very personal tragedy in the public eye. Once you get past the accent, you can really enjoy watching Portman hit every emotion to a tee.

All in all, Jackie rests in the capable hands of Natalie Portman as she brings Jackie Kennedy to life and walks a fine line between sympathetic and flawed that makes the film and character feel real.

Jackie

4.5 out of 5

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Assassin’s Creed

Director: Justin Kurzel

Writers: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael Kenneth Williams, Denis Menochet, Ariane Labed, Matias Varela, Callum Turner, Khalid Abdalla, Hovik Keuchkerian, Brendan Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling

Synopsis: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguliar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassin’s society.

 

Based off the highly popular and successful video game series, Assassin’s Creed was many people’s hopes to finally have a good, or at least descent, video game film. Well, while the film has some really cool and great moments, Assassin’s Creed is not the film that will change people’s perspective of the video game films. Also, for fans of the game, the film doesn’t follow a lead character from the games, but does have some big elements – at least from the games that I have played.

The film opens with a crawl of text that sets up the historic storyline and gives us the glimpse of the Assassins and their fight with the Templar. The film then jumps time as we see a young Cal finding his mother killed and his father the prime suspect. We jump again as see Cal (Michael Fassbender) getting executed to only wake up in a mysterious facility owned by Abstergo Industries. It’s there he meets Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), the daughter of the company’s CEO, played by Jeremy Irons, who runs the Animus project. A device that allows the user to see, feel and experience their ancestor’s life and memoires.

Cal finds out that he’s part of the company’s latest big project to find the Apple of Eden. The idea is the Apple of Eden will eradicate free will. In order to get the artifact they need Cal to get the memories of his 15th Century ancestor in Spain, Aguilar de Nerha, who was the last to have seen the Apple.

The film has a descent set-up, but the problem becomes the film moves too fast for its own good, and doesn’t live any of the characters breath. The first time we meet Cal really is right before he’s executed for a crime of killing someone – we find out later that he may have deserved it, but it felt like a throwaway line – but Cal is just someone walking through the paces. We never really feel connected to Cal in the real-world, which is a bit of a bad sign considering we spend a lot more time in the real-world than the past. Speaking of the past, that’s when we get to see Fassbender shine to the extreme. Aguilar doesn’t need to say much as his presences is enough to tell the story. Next to him is Ariane Labed’s Maria, who unfortunately doesn’t get fleshed out as much as she should, but shines in her small screen time with Aguilar.

The rest of the cast is just okay. Marion Cotillard’s Sofia is there to lead the “science” to the audience and give the feeling that she actually cares about Cal, while Jeremy Irons does the best he can with what he’s given. Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kenneth Williams and Charlotte Rampling are heavily underused in their small roles which is shameful in a lot of ways.

The saving grace in the film is all the past scenes. It also happens to be where most of the action takes place. Combined with the heavy score, the action scenes make the film actually worthwhile, and once they stop, it does take a lot of the air away from you. It could have also helped that all the present/real world scenes fall rather flat and the concept of what they want the Apple of Eden seems rather, to not make it sound harsh, stupid. There’s also the “bleeding effect” concept that is rather cool, but near the end of the film the effect could have used better, especially since it seemed important.

All in all, Assassin’s Creed is a film that has a descent enough set-up, but the overall execution is poorly delivered. The action scenes make up for it, but it would have been better if they spent more time in the past than the present. Things aren’t fleshed out enough and the plan by the villains is rather dumb. Assassin’s Creed won’t change the opinion of video game movie doubters, but it’s serviceable enough.

Assassin’s Creed

3.5 out of 5

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Hidden Figures

Director: Theodore Melfi

Writers: Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, and Glen Powell

Synopsis: A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

 

Based on the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is set in the early days of the space race and is also based on a true story. We focus on three African-American women who work for NASA in Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer, and Mary (Janelle Monae). Katherine is a brilliant mathematician, Vaughan acts as the supervisor – although she isn’t – over the African-American “Computers” (the African-American women that worked the calculators), and Mary works with the engineers and hangs with the best of them. We follow the three as the space race comes to a head when Russia successfully sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit. Katherine is placed in the special task group to get the math right, Dorothy works to get her girls more important positions and be seen as an equal, while Mary takes the advice and tries to become a certified engineer. Each of them deal with their own hardships and discrimination in a time that was trying to progress.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really that excited for Hidden Figures, but I’m glad I went to watch the film. The film is really well done and has great performances by the whole cast that is lead by Henson, and Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison, the supervisor of the program. While the film follows Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, its Katherine that we mostly follow, which is fair considering we see her story at the very beginning of the film. Dorothy has to deal with Kirsten Dunst’s character Vivian Mitchell, and Janelle Moane’s Mary has a great story, but seems to take a backseat to Katherine’s and Dorothy’s arcs. Overall, their stories are an important part in NASA and the space race’s history, but each of them have their own part to play within the film itself.

The film does of course touch heavily on the race issues during the time. It doesn’t tiptoe around the issue too much, and shows how hard people of color, especially women, had during the time. There is a montage that involves Katherine running from building to building that effects her and her work, and while some will see it as heavy-handed or played out, it pays off in full effect later on in one of the most powerful scenes in the film, and one that is carried by Henson.

All in all, Hidden Figures is a great true story that many people may not know too much about. Carried together by its great cast, the film hardly lets up and if you feel yourself get angry over the treatment our main characters feel, I think the film has done its job.

Hidden Figures

4 out of 5

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Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum

Writer: Jon Spaihts

Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia

Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

 

When you get two of the biggest and popular stars in Hollywood in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, you have to think it has to be great, right? Well, that is the case for Passengers, most of the time. The film follows Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), passengers on the spaceship Avalon that is destined to a new planet to start anew called Homestead II. However, the hibernation pods malfunction and they wake up ninety years too soon. With only a bartender android named Arthur (Michael Sheen), the two eventually develop feelings for one another until the ship starts to malfunction putting everyone still asleep and them in danger.

There is a lot more to Passengers than the marketing lets on, so I’ll keep everything to a minimal in this already mini-review. Like noted before, when Passengers works it really works. Everything is compelling, well-acted and Pratt and Lawrence’s chemistry is spot-on, with each getting their individual big moments. Sheen as Arthur the android bartender brings the comedic relief to the film.

I will admit, it’s a bit hard to talk about the big theme and decision a character makes in the film without spoiling something, but that decision is much better to see for yourself, instead of being spoiled. The decision is something that lingers throughout the film and when its bought up it really is the heart of the film. The good thing is the film doesn’t pick a side on it. It lets the characters really be weighed up it and feels like it lets you decide whether it was right.

The film does falter at times, and that’s when the film takes a plunge. The romance story almost gets too heavy handed in the sci-fi elements, but with Pratt and Lawrence leading the charge it makes it pretty okay.

All in all, Passengers has a good setup that works when it’s in full effect, but when the film slows down too much is when the film takes a dive.

Passengers

3.5 out of 5

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Sing

Directors: Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet

Writer: Garth Jennings

Voice Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones and Rhea Perlman.

Synopsis: A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

 

Illumination Entertainment has been pushing Sing for a while now. The film has been promoted since early this summer, non-stop. This meant that the studio had really high hopes for the film. After seeing the final product, I can somewhat see why, but Sing doesn’t do too much to separate itself from the crowded animated crowd this year.

The film follows Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala bear who runs a failing theaters. Desperate to return the theater to its former glory he decides to put an open casting call for a singing competition. The casting call gets more attention than he thought after an error and the auditions bring a bevy of talent to Moon. The ones we follow are overworked housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson), smooth talker Mike (Seth MacFarlane), showman Gunter (Nick Kroll) and trying to break free from his father’s life of crime Johnny (Taron Egerton).

The film has other characters like a shy elephant in Meena (Tori Kelly), who actually can sing, but is too shy in front of crowds, John C. Reilly as Buster’s best friend Eddie, Jennifer Saunders as Eddie’s rich Grandmother, and director Garth Jennings as Buster’s secretary Miss Crawly.

Like I mentioned, Sing doesn’t really do anything special to separate itself from the other animated films this year with the expectation of having songs you may recognize. The characters are great when they have their individual moments to shine, but it’s nothing we having really seen before.

All in all, Sing has its moments, but compared to the other animated films released this year, it doesn’t really come that close. Filled with some genuinely funny moments, and standout song sequences, Sing is just an okay animated film.

Sing

3 out of 5

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December Movie Releases

It’s December, ladies and gentlemen!

The year is almost over! How has your year been, because it’s been a great year for films, huh? December is also a tough month to set, because this is the big Oscar month, so a lot of films end up getting limited releases, expansion releases, and then wide releases. So if anything is off, it’s because of that. I’ll do my best to get everything where it’s suppose to go, and if not I’ll come back and update the schedule.  So let’s jump right in the films that will close out the year.

Also, Happy Whatever-It-Is-You-Celebrate!

 

2nd

Limited Release: Jackie (Biography Drama – Fox Searchlight Pictures/Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch)

Following the assassination of her husband, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children and define her husband’s historic legacy. The film has gotten a lot of love at the film festival circuit, and is getting a lot of Oscar buzz. It probably helped that this film has been in the works for a long time too. Jackie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Billy Crudip, Max Casella, Richard E. Grant, and Caspar Phillipson.

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Limited Release: La La Land (Drama Comedy Musical)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for La La Land which follows a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. The film is getting a ton of great reviews from the film festival circuit so this one is one you should keep your eye out for. Also the trailer really gives off the vibe that the film will be a nice tribute to films of old. The film also stars Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, Jason Fuchs, Hemky Madera, and J.K. Simmons.

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Incarnate (Horror Thriller – Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions/WWE Studios/IM Global/High Top Releasing/Deep Underground Films)

A scientist with the ability to enter the subconscious minds of the possessed must save a young boy from the grips of a demon with powers never seen before, while facing the horrors of his past. The film stars Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, David Mazouz, Emjay Anthony, Matt Nable, and Catalina Sandino Moreno.

incarnate

 

 

9th

Expanded/Wide Release: Nocturnal Animals

Expanded Release: La La Land

Expanded Release: Jackie

 

 

Office Christmas Party (Comedy – Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures/Bluegrass Films)

When his uptight CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager thrown an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand. The film also stars T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Jason Bateman, Rob Corddry, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Randall Park, Matt Walsh and Courtney B. Vance.

office_christmas_party

 

16th

Limited Release: The Founder (Biography Drama)

Michael Keaton stars in this film that tells the story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. I don’t think I’ve ever actually thought about the story of McDonald’s and since I’ve seen the trailer, it’s peaked my interest and I’m sure to many others as well. The rest of the cast includes Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, B.J. Novak, and John Carroll Lynch.

 

 

Collateral Beauty (Drama – New Line Cinema/Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Anonymous Content/Likely Star/PalmStar Media)

An advertising executive encounters three mysterious figures who encourage him to move on from the past. The film looks like it’s going to be a powerhouse with the cast, but the idea does seem odd, and one that you can probably figure out from the trailers. Hopefully the execution works. Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Michael Pena, and Helen Mirren star.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Sci-Fi Adventure –Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm)

Gareth Edwards directs the first spinoff/standalone film of the new set of Star Wars films, which actually takes us back in time as it follows Rebels on a mission to steal plans for the Death Star. Listen, it’s Star Wars, people are going to go watch it. However, the film’s last two trailers were freaking awesome, of course the film however, will have some closer eyes as the “dirty” word in Hollywood has hit the film: reshoots. Nonetheless, the film looks great and more importantly it looks different. The film stars Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Aris, and Forest Whittaker.

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21st

Sing (Animation – Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment)

A koala named Buster (Matthew McConaughey) recruits his best friend to help him drum up business for his theater by hosting a singing competition. I don’t know if I’m over talking animal animated film this year, but I’m not getting behind the Sing train. The voice cast also includes Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, John C. Reilly, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Nick Offerman, Peter Serafinowicz,  and Jennifer Saunders.

sing

 

Patriots Day (Lionsgate/CBS Films/Closest to the Hole Productions)

Directed by Peter Berg, the film is an account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s (played by John Goodman) actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Berg has already made a splash this year with Deepwater Horizon with Mark Wahlberg, so I can only think that this will be either as good or just as good. Patriots Day also stars J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Melissa Benoist, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, and Rachel Brosnahan.

patriots_day

 

Passengers (Sci-Fi Adventure – Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/LStar Capital/Original Film/Start Motion Pictures/Company Films)

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) are awakened 90 years early. Two of the most liked and extremely talented actors in Hollywood are getting together for a film, and one that looks not too bad, I think we looking at a big hit here, don’t you think? Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia also star.

passengers

 

Assassin’s Creed (Action – 20th Century Fox)

Based on the popular video game franchise, Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, who with the help of revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, The Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day. Justin Kurzel, who directed the well-received and great film Macbeth, directs and reunites not only with Fassbender but Marion Cotillard as well. The film also stars Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed, Mathias Varela, Brian Gleeson, and Michael Kenneth Williams.

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23rd

Limited Release: A Monster Calls (Fantasy Drama – Focus Features/Participant Media/River Road Entertainment/Apaches Entertainment/La Trini)

Based on a script and book by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls follows a boy as he seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom terminal illness. The film stars Liam Neeson as The Monster, Felicity Jones as the Mother, Sigourney Weaver as the Grandmother, Toby Kebbell as Dad, and Lewis MacDougall as the boy and Lily-Rose Aslandogdu as Lily. The film looks fantastic and I can’t wait to see how it does. The limited release is due to Focus Features trying to get the film an Oscar run. The film will come out early next year.

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Limited Release: Silence (Drama)

Directed by Martin Scorsese and based off the novel by Shusaku Endo, the film is set in the seventeenth century, where we follow two Jesuit priests that face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. The film has been looking for a release date and what better date to come out in than in December around Oscar season right? The film stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Tadanobu Asano.

silence

 

Why Him? (Comedy – 20th Century Fox/Red Hour Films/21 Laps Entertainment)

A dad (Bryan Cranston) forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend (James Franco). The film looks decently funny, at least we can hope, and seeing Cranston on the big screen is always nice – even if it’s a film like this. The film stars Zoey Deutch, and Megan Mullally.

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25th

Limited Release: 20th Century Women (Comedy Drama)

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s. The film stars Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Alia Shawkat, Laura Wiggins, and Billy Crudup.

 

Limited Release: Paterson (Drama Comedy) 

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet, who also happens to be named Paterson (Adam Driver). I saw the trailer for the first time recently, and it looks like a great little indie film that will showcase Adam Driver.

 

Limited Release: Hidden Figures (Drama)

Based on a true story, a team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical date needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kristen Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, and Kevin Costner.

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Limited Release: Live By Night

Based off the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes, directs and stars in this great looking film that is set during the Prohibition and follows Joe Coughlin, the son of a prominent Boston police captain, as he rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld and the trouble he falls into along the way. Besides the film looking great, it has a great cast in Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Michael Hall, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Chris Messina, and Chris Cooper.

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Fences (Drama – Paramount Pictures/Scott Rudin Productions/Bron Studios/MACRO)

Based on the play by August Wilson, and directed by Denzel Washington, Fences follows an African American father who struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. The film stars Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson.

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So, what are you looking forward to?

Mini-Reviews: Keeping Up with the Joneses, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Desierto, Ouija: Origin of Evil, & Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the sixth edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, there are more movie reviews than usual. I’ve been a bit behind so this is me making up for lost time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

 

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Director: Greg Mottola

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Kevin Dunn and Patton Oswalt

Synopsis: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

 

I didn’t think much about the film other than the fact it had a good cast. Ironically, I had that same feeling about Masterminds, which also had Zach Galifianakis, and while Keeping Up with the Joneses was a better movie than Masterminds, the film doesn’t do enough to warrant being a standout action comedy.

The film follows Jeff (Galifianakis) and Karen (Fisher) Gaffney, who quietly live in the suburbs. Karen is an interior designer while Jeff works Human Resources for a big company called MBI. However, the lives get turned upside when their new, and seemingly perfect, new neighbors Tim (Hamm) and Natalie (Gadot) Jones turn out to be spies. When the Joneses come clean, the Gaffney’s ended up being sucked into their mission to stop a deadly plot.

Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t the best action comedy out, but it certainly isn’t the worst. The cast isn’t that bad and the mismatched casting of Galifianakis and Fisher with Hamm and Gadot actually works, although the bonding scenes and overall chemistry of Galifianakis and Hamm plays out better than Fisher and Gadot. There are some genuine laughs in the film, but overall the film does shoehorn in some jokes that fall completely flat. The film also does rely more on the comedy side of things rather than the action. Although the standout action sequence is a car chase that does feel a bit out of place within the movie, but one that actually works in terms of action.

All in all, the film does have a lot of issues, and while many will probably end up forgetting they watched Keeping Up with the Joneses in a few years, it isn’t completely a waste of time like some will have you believe it is.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

3 out of 5

keeping_up_with_the_joneses

 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, and Robert Knepper

Synopsis: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

 

The first Jack Reacher was a pleasant surprise when it came 2012, but when the sequel was announced without director Christopher McQuarrie, fans were, respectfully, disappointed. That being said, the sequel went forward to new director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), who worked with Tom Cruise on The Last Samurai. However, the result this time around was not that great.

Never Go Back finds Jack Reacher (Cruise) traveling to Washington D.C. to meet up with Major Susan Turner (Smulders), who he has been talking to recently, and someone who has taken over his old unit. However, when Reacher finally reaches D.C. he finds out that Turner has been arrested for espionage, but something doesn’t feel right to Reacher and he decides to get to the bottom of it. To make things worse, Reacher finds out that there is a paternity suit against him and that he has a 15-year-old daughter named Samantha (Yarosh).

Tom Cruise really wants another franchise, and Jack Reacher could have been it if Never Go Back wasn’t such a mess. Cruise nails the no nonsense, tough guy one-liners, but having Reacher become a potential father doesn’t really fit the character, and at times, slows the movie down trying to make awkward situations where Reacher has to act like a father to Sam – and in some cases have Turner act as a mother. Some of the scenes are funny, but feel out of place next to the Reacher breaking nameless thugs’ bones, and a hitman named The Hunter (Heusinger) killing people that stand in his way.

I’m all for shaking a character up, but we’ve only had one movie with Reacher, and the first one had him as this unstoppable hitting machine that gets the job done. He’s like that here too, but it seems like he’s more tamed down this time around. There is a little more action this time around, although there’s nothing that compares to the chase scene in the first film.

The new cast is a nice addition. Cobie Smulders does the best she can with what they give her, but I kind of wished she was more important to the overall plot. Danika Yarosh as Sam, Reacher’s possible daughter, holds her own with Cruise and Smulders, but she’s sometimes left with being the person that it told to stay back or having to be saved. Patrick Heusinger’s The Hunter is an okay villain, when he’s actually being a villain, and Robert Knepper is severely underused.

All in all, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an okay movie that happens to be a sequel. Not saying the potential franchise can’t come back, but Never Go Back was a step backwards for the character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

3 out of 5

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Desierto

Director: Jonas Cuaron

Writer: Jonas Cuaron and Mateo Garcia

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano, Marco Perez, Oscar Flores and David Lorenzo

Synopsis: A group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States encounter a man who has taken border patrol duties into his own racist hands.

 

Directed by Jonas Cuaron, the son of Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity), Desierto is a timely film about the border of Mexico and the U.S., and while Cuaron does understand the material and issue, he rather follow the dangerous cat-and-mouse game between our leads. It’s not so much a bad thing, but Cuaron is still learning his footing in the directing game. It should also be noted that the names of the characters are never said in the film – only in the credits.

Desierto follows a Mexican man, named Moises in the credits, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who along with a group of Mexican immigrants are coming to cross the border illegally. When the truck they’re in breaks down, they are left to walk the rest of the way in the desert. However, they aren’t alone as a man, named Sam in the credits, played by Jeffrey Dead Morgan finds them and kills most of the group. Moises, along with a few others, are left to survive in the desert against Sam and his dog Tracker.

The film is one of the ultimate cat-and-mouse game films. The majority of the film is Sam chasing down Moises through the desert, which of course, adds a lot of tension since there is not a lot of places to hide there. It’s a hell of a lot harder when you also have a tracking dog and a madman with a rifle chasing you down. The film works best when it’s a thriller of the characters on the run, but it’s once it slows down is when the film starts to show its faults.

It’s not hard to see the political themes, especially this late in the political season. Sam’s truck even has a small confederate flag and once he kills the first group of people he sarcastically says “welcome to the land of the free.” It’s not a bad thing, but Cuaron never fully develops that idea, and chooses to focus on the chase instead.

When it comes the cast, Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dead Morgan fully invest in their characters. Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t go over-the-top like he could have, but he also doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong. In fact he barely flinches when killing the characters from far away. Gael Garcia Bernal, on the other hand, plays his character pretty straight. He’s trying to survive to make it to his kids, and does something in the film that I didn’t think the film would do. The only other character that gets some more depth is Alondra Hidalgo’s Adela.

The film does lose some steam near the end during the final confrontation between Moises and Sam because Cuaron wanted to keep the camera rolling. I’m not saying it wasn’t bad, but this is what separates him and his father in the director’s category. Although, not many directors are Alfonso Cuaron.

All in all, Desierto isn’t a bad film, but it works better when it’s a cat-and-mouse thriller rather than being a cat-and-mouse political undertone thriller. While Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are on point with their roles, the overall film lacks a certain punch to put it over the top.

Desierto

3 out of 5

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Jane Goldman

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Chris O’Dowd, Rupert Eveertt, Allison Janney, Judi Dench, and Terence Stamp

Synopsis: When Jake discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

 

Based on the novel written by Ransom Riggs – which I haven’t read yet – and directed by Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a movie I was actually looking forward to despite it being directed by Tim Burton. I haven’t been a fan of Burton’s for a while, but it looks like he was returning to form with his X-Men-esque fantasy tale. Also, having never read the book, I’m judging the movie for the movie itself, and not how loyal the film is to the book.

The film follows Jake (Butterfield), who is living in Florida, and wants to do something more in his life. That just happens when his grandfather, Abe (Stamp), passes away supernaturally. Remembering some stories as a child, Jake convinces his reluctant father (O’Dowd) to go to Wales so Jake can get closure on his grandfather’s passing, and maybe find out what really happening, all the while remembering the stories of his grandfather about a woman he once knew called Miss Peregrine (Green). Eventually Jake finds out the stories of his grandfather are not stories at all, and finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that has children with powers of invisibly, floatation, pryokinesis, and other peculiarities. However, Jake finds out that all of them are stuck in September 3rd, 1943. Worse of all, dangerous monsters – known as Hallows – are after them lead by Mr. Barron (Jackson).

The film works best when the fanatical elements are in full swing. When Jake direst arrives at the home and meets everyone, the film is fun. We get to see everyone uses their abilities. Ella Purnell’s Emma is the one we get to know the most as she and Jake spend the most time together, her peculiarity is air and being able to float off the ground. We also meet Olive (McCrostie), who can turn into anything she touches into fire, Hugh (Parker) who is always invisible, Enoch (MacMillan) who has an interesting ability that leads to a surprising and cool sequence near the end of the film. There are twins, Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has a mouth on the back of her head, Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) can project his dreams, Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) can manipulate nature, and Bronwyn (Pixie Davies) is super strong.

It did seem like Miss Peregrine was tailor-made for Burton, and Burton does his usual thing and makes sure that the whimsy never fully gets put in the background. When the film does go off the fantasy element is when the film slows down a bit, but that rarely happens in the film. However, the film does get lost in itself for a bit, which is prone to happen when you have a lot going on. There’s even one plot point bought up that gets completely forgotten about once it’s introduced.

The cast does a great job with everything they were asked to do. Butterfield’s Jake does have a peculiarity that makes sense for the film, and one that makes the film rather suspenseful at one point. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is great to watch. Green brings a levity and grand approach to the children’s guardian. Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron character is, well, Samuel L. Jackson playing a bad guy – minus the swearing. His character is a bit too cheesy at times and just a smidge over-the-top. Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd, and Allison Janney pop in for small roles that don’t really do too much in the film. One casting I couldn’t get over is Kim Dickens, who appears in literally two very short scenes as Jake’s mother.

All in all, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one of the better Tim Burton films in the recent years. While the film does have some things wrong with it, the cast and whimsy of it all will keep you invested until the end.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

3.5 out of 5

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Ouija: Origin of Evil

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas and Parker Mack

Synopsis: In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their séance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.

 

A sequel/prequel to the 2014 film, Ouija – which I never saw by the way, and kind of have no intention on seeing to be honest – Origin of Evil, is just that, an origin of the evil Ouija board that causes mayhem to the people that used it.

Ouija: Origin of Evil, set in Los Angeles in 1965, it follows the Zander family in mother Alice (Reaser), eldest daughter Lina (Basso) and youngest daughter Doris (Wilson), who run séance scam, but Alice does think she’s doing good by helping people, even if it’s not really true. Desperate for money, the family adds an Ouija board to shake things up. However, when Doris starts using the board more, strange things start to happen around the family, and eventually the family finds out that Doris has made contact with actual spirits – and they aren’t happy.

Never seeing the first film (although I read what the connection was afterwards), I can only judge the film for what it was, and in part I really enjoyed the film. Origin of Evil keeps a great deal of the focus on the family, making us really care for these characters, and when everything goes to hell at the end, you do feel worried for them. It also helps that the actresses are great, but the highlight and real star of the film is Lulu Wilson, who plays Doris. One scene in particular stands out where the focus is on her and talks about a certain subject that really sticks with you, and despite the subject, I couldn’t help but laugh because it was so uneasy to hear her talk about it.

The film does have some missteps, like a subplot with Henry Thomas’ character Father Tom. The subplot doesn’t really lead anywhere, and while it gives Elizabeth Reaser’s Alice more screen time, it felt shoehorned in. The other thing is the Ouija board. The board, while a huge and really only reason the events of the film takes place, is just hanging out in the background. The film could have probably done without the Ouija board and found a way to introduce the spirits another way.

All in all, Ouija: Origin of Evil handles itself pretty well, as a horror film that also has a solid family story holding it together. While I may not have understood some of the little things that may connect it to the first film, I still really enjoyed it for what it was.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

3.5 out of 5

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‘Straight Outta Compton’ Review

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Dir: F. Gary Gray

Writer(s): Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff

Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, R. Marcos Taylor, Marlon Yates Jr. and Paul Giamatti

Synopsis: The group NWA emerges from the streets of Compton, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

N.W.A aka Niggaz Wit Attitudes was one of – if not the – most known group and popular rap groups in the late 80s and early 90s. The success you could argue was because of the time and place they formed and got popular, but it doesn’t take away anything they have done or their talent. However, Straight Outta Compton feels like a mix of gritty drama, road movie, and behind-the-music. Moreover, the film touches on the racial tensions back then, but you can’t help but feel the connection to the present with all the racial tensions today as well. But of course the question is, is Straight Outta Compton any good? Or is it a water down biopic on a highly successful and beloved group? It’s a mix of both.

 

I’ll be honest; I’m not the biggest N.W.A fan out there. I do like a few of their songs and knew some of the history coming in to the movie, so for the most part I can in as a clean sponge ready to soak in everything about the group that I didn’t know and how they formed. Of course, you should know that the film does take some liberties with the history of the group. For one, some things don’t line up in history timeline, but that could be because the film was originally three and a half hours and it was cut down an hour for the theater cut. The other is some events in the groups history were completely taken out and not even mentioned, but I’ll leave that for you to find out what. Straight Outta Compton isn’t a complete biopic, but it is a good one that focuses on the group’s three major players: Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins).

 

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Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and O’Shea Jackson Jr.

 

The film starts off showing us the lives of the three live before they became the notorious group. Eazy-E is selling drugs, Dr. Dre wants a better life for himself and is confident about his abilities, and Ice Cube is writing lyrics and also wants a better life. Enter in Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby (Neil Brown Jr.), Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson (Aldis Hodge), and The D.O.C (Marlon Yates Jr.) and the group hit it off and make a hit song. Soon they get the attention of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who gets more exposure for the group and eventually makes them one of the biggest groups on the planet.

 

Once the group starts touring and becoming more and more popular, the group starts becoming a little splintered, due to contracts. It’s Ice Cube that sees Eazy-E and Jerry are getting the better end of the deal than him and goes off to do his own thing, while Dr. Dre realizes’ it and goes off to produce his own music with Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) to start their own company in Death Row Records. Eventually, everything starts to fall apart and everyone starts to look back at what was and could have been.

 

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Like I mentioned earlier, Straight Outta Compton drives more its focus on the group as people and where they came from to what happened after the success. Of course, not everything in the group history is in the movie, but the performances and tense drama is enough to overlook all that – at least when you’re watching the film – but even some stuff in the film seems biased only because you know they are not going to put everything into the film.

 

The performances are really what make the film pop and worthwhile. Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E is both tragic and charismatic and is one of the most defined characters in the film. Corey Hawkins’ Dr. Dre is probably the second most defined as we see his struggle with leaving the group and dealing with Suge Knight’s antics at Death Row Records. Finally, O’Shea Jackson Jr. gets to play his own father and it really is like seeing a spitting image of him. Jackson Jr. actually holds his own in his own scenes to the point you can tell he actually put in work and wasn’t just given the role because he looks the most like his father. Finally, there is Paul Giamatti’s Jerry Heller. Giamatti is as reliable as always and his best scenes are arguably with Mitchell’s Eazy-E, especially one of these last scenes together.

 

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The rest of the cast is really just along for the ride, Brown Jr.’s DJ Yella and Hodge’s MC Ren are really just background characters that get only a few moments to shine or do a little more, but get lost in the shuffle. Marlon Yates Jr.’s The D.O.C doesn’t even get a lot of screen time or lines for the matter, he’s easily the most forgettable character of the group until he’s mentioned in one particular scene. R. Marcos Taylor’s portray of Suge Knight hits a little more closer to home considering what is currently going on with him, but believing all the stories is a lot more easier once you see what happens in the film.

 

Director F. Gary Gray put a lot of thought into how the group finally comes together and the performances. Each one has its own vibe to it and nothing ever repeats itself. The big one is of course the famous concert in Detroit. I won’t go too much into it, but it is definitely one of the highlights of the film. Even the way the group supposedly got the inspiration for one of their hit songs, “Fuck Tha Police” was extremely well put together and had every bit of drama and tension that made that scene powerful in every way.

 

If there is one thing I didn’t like about the film, it would be the length. I’m not one to complain or even bring up the length of a film, only because it feels nit-picky. However, Straight Outta Compton could have taken out some scenes to cut the runtime and it wouldn’t have hurt the film in any way. I do get why the scenes were in there, but some of the previous scenes did the job well enough. However, knowing that the film Gray wanted to put out was originally three and a half hours long, and then had to cut down an hour, it makes sense some scenes feel a bit out of place. Moreover, there are “cameos” by artists by Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose) that feel forced and out of place, but again, knowing that the cut was originally longer, I guess it makes more sense.

 

All in all, Straight Outta Compton is a great film. The movie is surprisingly more dramatic and tense than you would think, but it’s the performances by the three main leads in O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell that makes the film worthwhile. Paul Giamatti is also a major player in the supporting cast role. The film does lose a lot of steam toward the end of the film, but gains it back a bit before the credits role. The film may not have the group entire history, and could be a bit biased, but there is no question to say the film isn’t good.

 

Straight Outta Compton

4 out of 5

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