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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‘The Magnificent Seven’ Review

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Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writers: Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennet, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, and Matt Bomer

Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

 

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

 

Based on the classic Western of the same name, that was based on the classic film by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa Seven Samurai, Antoine Fuqua brings is take to The Magnificent Seven with his own star-studded cast and great visuals of his own. I’ll be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this – and yes, I’ve seen the originals – but of course I actually don’t mind remakes and knee-jerkingly reject them just at the thought of it. So, was my excitement worth it? Or does it have to take a long walk into the sunset with my head down? Let’s load up our horse and find out.

The Magnificent Seven starts off by showing just what kind of person the heroes would be going through. The town of Rose Creek are being taken over by a mining corporation run by Bartholomew Bouge (Sarsgaard) who wants the townspeople to sell him their land, but when he shoots the husband of Emma Cullen (Bennett) – played by Matt Boomer – she goes to find men to help her and townspeople take back their town. She eventually finds and recruits bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington), who in turn brings in gambler and playboy Josh Farraday (Pratt) to help him bring in the best people to give the town a shot. The two haul in famed sharpshooter Goodnight Robincheaux (Hawke) and his knife-wielding partner Billy Rocks (Lee), an outlaw named Vasquez (Garcia-Rulfo), tracker Jack Horne (D’Onofrio) and Comanche Native American named Red Harvest (Sensmeier). All seven of them get together to protect the town, even with odds stacked against them. What follows is a grand – or magnificent? – finale that will make any Western fan happy.

(l to r) Vincent D'Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee star in Columbia Pictures' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

(l to r) Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee 

I know I watched the originals, but let’s focus on the Western here, but it was a while ago so I can’t remember too much of it. However, I do know Fuqua’s version is different in its own way, and makes sense for the story he’s trying to tell. I know many won’t, and don’t like the idea of a Magnificent Seven remake – even though it itself is a remake, but whatever – but the film is a lot of fun, and completely worthwhile for new fans or old fans.

The cast is what makes the remake really worthwhile. Washington has worked with Fuqua three times now, and continues to show the duo have a lot of fun together and are great together. Chris Pratt’s Faraday looks like he’s enjoying poking fun at his fellow cast members and being a bit of a playboy, but he does have a sense of pride and duty once everything goes down. Peter Sarsgaard’s Bogue doesn’t have enough screen time as he probably should, which is saying something considering the film is a bit over two hours. Haley Bennett’s Emma Cullen gets a lot of screen time at the beginning, but blends into the background as the film moves forward.

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Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight has an interesting arc, although it takes a while for it to really come up and it kind of just slides away. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne is a tracker that gets compared to a bear a lot, Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is the calm and collective one, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Vasquez has a nice little rivalry with Faraday, and Martin Sensmeier’s Red Harvest has his moments.

Some, and even I’ll agree with some of it, will say the group gets together is too fast and there isn’t enough conflict between them. Especially since we hear that Jack Horne has killed a lot of Native Americans, and while their interactions with Red Harvest are minimal they never come off as standoffish but slight jabbing. It’s nice dynamic – all the characters have them – but it’s something that I know people will bring up. There are some other things that are never fully developed, but for the most part the film doesn’t suffer that much from it.

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The action is top notch and the final shootout is a sight to see. There is a lot going on in the scene, but you always know where you are and can follow the action throughout. It’s also pretty satisfying considering the film builds up to it for half the film. It also helps that the final shootout is great since right before the ending the film loses some steam and slows down.

All in all, The Magnificent Seven is a great, fun ride of a film. The cast is great and the final shootout is a great time. While the film may not be perfect in terms of some pacing issues and not going fleshing out some details, it is a worthwhile remake to a remake of a remake.

The Magnificent Seven

4 out of 5

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‘Black Mass’ Review

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Director: Scott Cooper

Writer(s): Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth

Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Julianne Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll

Synopsis: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.

 

 

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

*Reviewer Note 2: I fell behind on my movie watching, so some anticipate some more reviews this week*

 

Black Mass is based on the book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob” written by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and based on the true life of arguably one of the most notorious gangsters ever, James “Whitey” Bulger. Whether or not all the events in the film happen or not – two of the real life people that rolled with Bulger say some stuff was not true – the film is a brooding, dark, gritty and tremendously acted film.

 

The film stars in 1975 as we get an idea of who James, or Jimmy, “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is to the people surrounded by him. The film is introduced by Kevin Weeks (Plemons) as he’s being integrated and says that Bulger was a small time guy and suddenly he became one of the biggest names in South Boston or Southie as they called it. From there we’re introduced to John Connolly (Edgerton), who has returned to Boston and has joined the FBI. His first ambitious move, reunite with his childhood friend Bulger and convince him to join forces to take down the Mafia running North Boston. Bulger seeing this as an opportunity to take down the competition agrees and here is what beings his reign as the kingpin of Boston.

 

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The film isn’t just about Bulger, the film is also about John Connolly. The two get the same amount of screen time and Connolly gets his hands a bit dirty in his own way as much as Bulger. Connolly thinks Bulger is the FBI’s saving grace against the Mafia in Boston and it clouds his judgment from time to time, and it makes him – arguably – as corrupt as Bulger. All of it, done well by the great and always reliable Joel Edgerton.

 

Here is where I run into a problem with Black Mass. The film itself is just okay, but it is elevated thanks to the performances of the impressive and huge cast. Depp and Edgerton at the forefront and the supporting cast play their parts well. Depp is back to true form here. This is the kind of films I like Depp in, where he show his true potential and great acting prowess. Forget the wacky roles that he’s been playing for years now, it is when he plays a serious and real character that you remember how great he is, and playing Bulger is one of those roles. He’s terrifying and intimidating when he has to be, that includes scenes with Dakota Johnson’s Lindsey Cyr and Julianne Nicholson’s Marianne Connolly, the wife of John Connolly. As good as he is as Bulger, he can also be rather charming when he has to be, which is rather odd to see after all the scenes that involve him being a terrible person.

 

Edgerton, on the other hand, has his fair share of great moments with and without Depp, but his character at times is so blinded by the myth that is Bulger that he becomes a bit distracted of his real duties as an FBI agent. He also becomes a bit cocky that he managed to get one of the most wanted criminals the bureau ever wanted to work for them instead of taking him down.

 

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The supporting cast all plays their parts on point and all have their moments to shine, considering how big the film is. Jesse Plemons’ Kevin Weeks and Rory Cochrane’s Steve Flemmi provide framing devices for the most part, but also Bulger’s most loyal allies that will follow him to the end, as does W. Earl Brown as John Martorano. David Harbour’s John Morris plays the more conflicted FBI agent when it comes to working with Bulger and has one of the best and most tension filled scenes that involves a recipe. Kevin Bacon pops in as head of the FBI section in Boston as Charles McGuire as does the surprise cast member of Adam Scott as Robert Fitzpatrick.

 

Unfortunately, some cast members don’t fare that well as others. Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple are the only real female characters in the film, but it feels like they don’t much as characters. Johnson and Nicholson have more substance to their roles but Johnson disappears after the first half hour of the film and her scenes with Depp are the best at getting some dimension from Depp’s Bulger, and you miss it afterwards. Corey Stoll appears at the end as new District Attorney Fred Wyshak and Peter Sarsgaard’s Brian Halloran is a bit all over the place and although his character calls for it, I could have seen anyone else playing that role. Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays U.S Senator Billy Bulger has literally about ten minutes – if that – of screen time and has only one real good scene with Edgerton near the beginning of the film. His brotherly connection to Jimmy Bulger isn’t even touched on too much, and they only have a couple scenes together. It’s kind of a shame really.

 

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So despite the great cast and performances, Black Mass doesn’t really do much in getting us more in the head of Bulger. It does early on with the scenes with Johnson’s Cyr but that’s about it. We don’t get more into his head at all and it probably tries to make up for it by giving those conflicted moral scenes to Edgerton’s Connolly, but great acting only takes you so far.

 

All in all, Black Mass is filled with by great performances led by Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton. The film is a bit grim and hard to watch in some scenes, but the slow burn to the film may turn off some viewers anyway. Black Mass isn’t the perfect film or tale of Bulger’s legacy, but it worth the watch.

 

Black Mass

4 out of 5

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