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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Hell or High Water 2016 * * * Stars

Hell or High WaterDirector: David Mackenzie
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster

"Only as*holes drink Mr. Pibb". So states the trouper of Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), an ex-con who just got out of the joint. He's a trigger-happy wild man in 2016's Hell or High Water (my latest review).

Quote: "The ex-presidents rip off banks to finance their Endless Summer. Whoa!" Oops, wrong movie, wrong quote. "High Water" is about two brothers from Texas. They instead rob a series of banks that are trying to foreclose on their family ranch. You see their mom died leaving said ranch in debt due to a reverse mortgage. Time for these boys to saddle up, switch cars from village to village, steal regular amounts from the teller drawers, and pay off everything secretively.

Hell or High Water is familiar stuff. Heck, if you've seen Public Enemies, Bandits, Point Break, or even 1986's Wisdom, you know what you're getting into. Oh well. Director David Mackenzie (Spread, Starred Up) does an admirable job to boot. He creates a world in which "High Water" feels like the type of flick the Coen brothers would have made years ago. It's bullets and blood undercut with a little darkness, a little tongue in cheek humor, and shades of a modern-day Western. It has big name stars and another star in the canvasing cinematography by Giles Nuttgens. His camerawork showcasing the Great Plains, gives you the viewer something to stew over. The "Big Empty" becomes the "big zesty". The Lone Star State dons its ski masks, its cowboy hats, its desolate abodes, and its sizzling sirloins. Ha!

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Anyway, the two actors playing the Howard brothers are Chris Pine (Toby Howard) and Ben Foster (Tanner as mentioned earlier). The Texas Ranger in hot pursuit of them, is played by the veritable Jeff Bridges (Marcus Hamilton). They all immerse themselves in these roles to the point where you forget that it's actually the same guys. "High Water" plays out like a cat and mouse game between everybody with almost no interaction via the gun-toting robbers and their prognostic, old timer cop. Foster and Bridges could easily play these characters in their sleep. Pine however, really comes into his own just like he did in January's The Finest Hours.

In conclusion, Hell or High Water is a nifty little genre piece, a film that feels almost too perfect for its own good. Its score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is at times haunting and the ending is a non-violent standoff with overly preachy dialogue. Also, the opening shot by Mackenzie is panned to perfection and the shootout scenes are loud and panting. With "High Water's" late August release and commonplace approach, I unfortunately have to give it a fifty/fifty chance at Academy Award consideration. "High Water" as a flick doesn't feel dated but it also doesn't quite meets its "Waterloo" either. Again it's a little too familiar but entertaining in a blithe sort of way. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 19, 2016

Snowden 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

SnowdenDirector: Oliver Stone
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo

I had one thought going into Oliver Stone's latest film. The issue isn't whether Stone is being paranoid. The issue is whether he's being paranoid enough. Natch.

So OK, conspiracy, controversy, yesteryear, and a persecution complex to boot. That's the Stoney way. And with Snowden (my latest review), he gives us his best film since Any Given Sunday.

Image result for snowden 2016 movie scenesOverall, Snowden is heads and tails above Oliver's box office bomb Alexander, his weak sequel in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and his conventional World Trade Center from a decade ago. It feels like the flick he was born to make. Granted, I don't know why Snowden's initial release was delayed (it was suppose to come out Christmas Day circa 2015). As a film, it doesn't appear as though it needed any additional scenes or reshoots.

Virtually nonviolent, dialogue driven and containing crisp cinematography, Snowden can be classified rather as violence of the mind, an absorbing multilayered drama, a frills-free thriller. No one feels safe in this movie and you know what, no one should. Oh and I almost forgot, there's a sequence where a drone flies above troupers heads (at a party) and then crashes to the ground. Man those things give me the creeps.

Anyway, this is a return to form for the ripe, 70-year-old filmmaker. In truth, it might not be as flashy as some of his best work from the 1990's. Nevertheless, he brings some of his old tricks back to the table anyway. With Snowden, there is some indulgence with visuals in the form of freeze frames, archive footage, and even slight animation. Stone as expected, also gives us a script in Snowden that seems to wanna speculate on facts even though everything is supposedly based on a true story (this isn't necessarily a bad thing). Finally, Stone revels in casting well known actors/actresses that fade in and out of the proceedings. Snowden has brief appearances by Scott Eastwood, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, and Rhys Ifans. Again, this isn't a negative connotation towards Oliver Stone. It's just you know, predicted.

Resembling a neutered version of Stone's own masterful JFK and a shortened version of 2006's The Good Shepard, Snowden chronicles the main character of real-life, CIA whistleblower Edward Joseph Snowden (played brilliantly by consummate chameleon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Much of the film is told in flashbacks from 2004 to present day in 2013. Ed Snowden journeys from being a discharged Special Forces candidate to a "security specialist" to working for the Central Intelligence Agency to being a lead technologist at NASA. The movie also gives insight into Edward's long-standing relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley).

Image result for snowden 2016 movie scenesBottom line: Oliver Stone's work always seems to be overfilled with ideas. He's the mad dog filmmaker, the guy who conjectures, the guy whose storytelling sensibilities go a little off-kilter. Snowden is an example of this but like most of his best vehicles, it brims with energy, fire, and eerie secrecy. My nephew and movie critic colleague gave it four stars. I thought it dragged a bit at 138 minutes but still stuck with me long after the closing credits came up. My overall rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 16, 2016

Blair Witch 2016 * 1/2 Stars

Blair WitchDirector: Adam Wingard
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid

I remember it clearly. There I was, sitting in an air conditioned movie theater during the hot summer of 1999. The film was The Blair Witch Project, a grainy, disturbing little masterpiece made for I guess $60,000. It was the first of its kind, a found footage experiment, a real-time horror documentary if you will. After "Project" was over, I left staggered and shaken, raving positively about it to anyone who would listen. That was a long time ago. 17 years have passed and tons of found footage/hand-held camera movies have since made their way to the silver screen. I have a few things to say about that: These kinds of movies are now lame. These kinds of movies are now tired. These kinds of movies have ran their course. These kinds of movies are now irrelevant. These kinds of movies have run out of ideas. These kinds of movies have drones now! Huh? Yup, you heard me.

So OK, Blair Witch (my latest review) is the direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project. It is made for more money, it is indisputably made to be more modern, and it is more tech-savvy. No matter. 2016's "Witch" lacks the intensity, extremity, and psychological warfare that made 1999's "Project" such a worldwide financial success. It takes the worn out path, reveling in systematic jump scares that are drawn up out of thin air. Translation: "Witch" is sadly, half hitch.

Lacking in character development, overall buildup, and decent enough acting, Blair Witch comes at us with an almost rail thin premise and plot holes aplenty. An example of these plot holes would be a trouper getting a huge gash on her foot. The foot becomes infected. She gets sick. Then, she pulls a bone fragment out of said foot but we never know why or what the point of it all is.

Image result for blair witch 2016 movie scenesAnyway, the story goes like this: Remember Heather Donahue? Well she was the star of the original Blair Witch Project. She went missing and was pronounced dead after her and two friends ventured into the evil Burkittsville, Maryland woods all alone. Cut to present day and her brother (James Donahue played by James Allen McCune) is hellbent on finding Heather in the haunted house that she disappeared into (located somewhere in the Black Hills woods). Brother James ventures to Burkittsville twenty years later. He is accompanied by a female/male couple, an attractive film student making a docu, and two kooky local residents. And like every other horror film, these dummies venture where they are not wanted while ticking off the unholy spirits. Guess what (spoiler), they don't come back. How predictable.

Certainty and flimsiness aside, "Witch" has some of the most jittery camerawork I've ever seen from flicks of the hand held genre. It's like the cinematic equivalent of a seismic earthquake that you want to avoid watching. Oh and I almost forgot, everyone in "Witch" also has too many digital devices so it's hard to tell who's doing the filming or documenting. It's inconsistent editing especially during the times when they are randomly turned on and off.

All in all, Blair Witch gave me a thought after it was over. My thought was, why don't producers have the guts to tell their directors to stop making this swipe. If it's for profit, well we all gotta make a living so I guess you'll get a little sympathy from me. If it's for integrity, well you'll get nothing, absolutely nothing. Blair Witch is a bad, unnecessary sequel. Sadly, this witch casts a spell on itself. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sully 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

SullyDirector: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood. What a winning combination. Hanks as usual, is Hanksian. Clint is of course, the Man With No Name. Together they give us the audience, a PG-13 version of 2012's Flight minus the notions of alcoholism and vapid drug use. Their film is titled Sully and excitedly, it is my latest review.

Sully starts out mid-plot, starts out as non-linear, and feels a little draggy (no pun intended). It then turns to aviation while switching into high gear. So far it is one of this year's best films, a harrowing technical achievement, a fascinating recreation of events in the weakest of our economic times.

Now unless you've been living in a cave for the last seven years, you'd know that Sully is based on a true story. Director Eastwood puts forth the behind the scenes stuff, the info you didn't get even though you might have watched all the news coverage back in January of 2009. So yeah, you probably know Sully's premise (a US Airways flight lands in the Hudson River), you probably know its outcome (155 passengers survive), and yes, you probably know the protagonist's fate (Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is a hero, duh). It doesn't matter though. You're still riveted for much of the way.

Image result for sully movie scenesIn terms of overseeing the vision and being faithful to Sully's fact-based material, well Clint Eastwood looks more and more like an aging genius everyday. He shoots this flick with a sense of lewd craft, a sense of realism, and a numbing sense of profound proficiency. He puts you the moviegoer, right in the middle of "The Miracle on the Hudson" (and I mean literally in the middle of it). You wonder how he was able to re-imagine two plane landing sequences (from two different points of view) with such authenticity, such panache. It's powerful stuff whether you figure it out or not. Also in Sully, he effectively includes scenes of aircraft simulation that are part of Sullenberger's character's public hearing. Again he's adroit and seamlessly technological. He's that kind of filmmaker.

Add the veritable Tom Hanks as the essential everyman playing Chesley Sullenberger (Sullenberger is a more upper echelon everyman but still an everyman) and you have a total winner with Sully. Yup, I plan on seeing it again. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 5, 2016

Blood Father 2016 * * * Stars

Blood FatherDirector: Jean-Francois Richet
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty

In Blood Father (my latest review), Mel Gibson is meaty and super intense. His character John Link, bites the ear off a nefarious bad guy. All I gotta say is welcome back mad Mel, we missed you ya crazy loon.

Anyway, Mr. Gibson despite having personal issues in the tabloids, remains one of my all-time favorite actors. No one says the f-word, loads a handgun, breaks a car window, or shoots a sawed-off quite like Australia's favorite son. All grizzled, bearded, and wrinkled up, he makes "Blood" feel sort of like his mild comeback vehicle.

This film, with its balls out opening sequence and plot device about criminal father/estranged daughter relationships, reminded me of the earlier released Term Life. It reminded of "Life" even more when I found out that Gibson will be directing Vince Vaughn in November's Hacksaw Ridge. The difference with "Blood" however, is that it has a more malicious edge to it. Mel spits, purges, rages, and eradicates. Vaughn kinda coasts by and sports a mop-top haircut. Nuff said.

Directed by Jean-Francois Richet who shot one of my favorite remakes in 2005's Assault on Precinct 13, Blood Father is a nasty thriller, full of bikers, bullets, tats, and torque. Richet gives the flick a saturated look and provides some jilted camerawork similar to what went down in "Assault". "Blood's" only weak point for me, might be its script which could've done the actors/actresses a little more justice. Its liberation about drug dealers, hit men, alcoholism, and violent betrayals seems at times, inconsistent. The dialogue spoken teeters between macho, preachy, and the way adults jibber jabber as if they were in TV sitcoms. The humor (or lack thereof) in Blood Father feels out of place too.

Image result for blood father movie scenesOh well, these are all minor oversights. The stride of "Blood" mostly comes off as fast and forthright. The shootout/standoff scenes are standard, calculated, and well filmed. The story which feels as though it takes place about fifteen years ago (there's the presence of payphones) is as follows: Mr. John Link (Gibson) is a recovering alcoholic, a tattoo artist living in California, and a probationary convict on the mend. His daughter Lydia (played by Erin Moriarty) has been a missing person since her teenage years. Lydia gets in trouble with the wrong crowd and accidentally shoots a gang member she's associated with (during a break-in and subsequent robbery). Running from the law and just about everyone else, Lydia finally contacts father John, finds solace in him, and the rest of "Blood" involves Link trying to protect her.

Watch for a final, bloody gunfight involving an exploding Harley-Davidson and the protagonists tied up in the back of Bronco. It gives you the viewer, a feeling that Mel hasn't lost his level of superior badassery just yet. In truth, this is his best action film since 2002's We Were Soldiers. Right now it's clocking in at $7.99 via On Demand so you gotta check it out.

Bottom line: At 88 muscular minutes, Blood Father hasn't made a killing at the box office (less than a million dollars so far) and won't boost Mel Gibson's career (I don't feel like he needs the help anyway). It is however, worthwhile B-movie viewing. To borrow from Internet-laden RhymeZone, "Blood" ain't no dud. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 26, 2016

Don't Breathe 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

Don't BreatheDirector: Fede Alvarez
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette

In Don't Breathe, one of the main characters is a blind Army veteran. At the beginning of the film, he is seen walking with a standard, blind man's cane. Cut to the last act and it's as if the filmmakers forgot that the dude even lost his own vision. Also in "Breathe", every actor/actress gets severely tortured, beaten, or thrown up against a wall. They get up, dust themselves off, and forge on. Now could any human being survive this kind of carnage? Not a chance in my book. Anyway, these two factors are the only points I shaved off my rating for one of the best releases of 2016.

Don't Breathe in essence, seems like a great title for the film I'm about to review. If you choose to check out a screening, you'll be so enthralled you'll forget to um, "breathe" and possibly chew off every fingernail on both hands.

Image result for Don't breathe movie scenes"Breathe's" director is Fede Alvarez. He made the forgettable remake Evil Dead. Here, he goes from amateur status to almost genius status in a little over three years. Fede comes back with a vengeance giving us one of the most effective thrillers I've seen in a long time. He fits every plot point neatly in place, supplies efficacious close-ups, provides camerawork that feels Brian De Palma-lite, and throws lots of genuine twists and turns at you. And just when you think Don't Breathe is about to end, it just keeps going, relentless and interminable. Does that add to the flick's potency? Uh, you know it.

Notice that I labeled "Breathe" a thriller. That's what I believe it to be. Most critics and IMDb enthusiasts have saddled it as a horror fest. I go more with the latter route and it's a nasty and unforgiving one at that. At 88 minutes, "Breathe" is bloodily violent and stomach-turning but not in a demon sort of way. Instead, it absorbs you as if you've been in the theater for 2-plus hours. It's a little movie made on a tiny budget (under $10 million) but it nestles in your brain and has a big chip on its shoulder. If you're a fan of suspense and like simple agog, genre pleasures, Don't Breathe is the ticket. "Don't" hesitate to get your butt to the multiplex to see it. Natch.

Taking place in Detroit, Michigan (which is made to look like modern day Beirut), containing only a smidgen of actors, and produced by the legendary Sam Raimi, Don't Breathe is lean and mean with remnants of films like The Descent and Cujo to keep you floored. It has no real protagonist or hero. Everyone involved is a bad person in their own little way. The story is about three lawless thieves named Rocky (Reese Witherspoon lookalike Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Alex (Dylan Minnette). They break into people's houses and are very successful at it until they meet their match trying to rob a guy simply known as "The Blind Man" (played nicely by Avatar's Stephen Lang). "The Blind Man" knows how to fire a gun, knows how to arm himself with fists, and obviously has darn good hearing. He senses these cocky kids are trying to steal a money settlement from him in his old, rundown house (the amount of the settlement is I guess, $300k). Bad move. "The Blind Man" kills one of the thieves (spoiler) and traps the other two in his abode until he is able to finish them off as well. "The Blind Man" with his snarly dog to aid him, also bolts everything up and turns his whole place into a fun house you'd find at an amusement park. Watch for a scene a la Silence of the Lambs in which he turns all the lights off so that his captors can experience what he experiences everyday. Also, check out the opening shot where a body is being dragged on a deserted street. You don't know what you're seeing until the camera eventually zooms in. Pretty unexpected.

Image result for Don't breathe movie scenesBottom line: Despite its minimal shortcomings, Don't Breathe is grubby, dirty, and darkened with above average performances. It is by turns original, indigenous, and tension-filled. A new classic. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 19, 2016

War Dogs 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

Director: Todd Phillips
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper

The rise and fall of the American dream gets the veritable Todd Phillips treatment. And after 15 years of directing explicit comedies, he decides to venture elsewhere with the meta-drama, War Dogs (my latest review). Good for him. "Dogs" closely resembles the 2006 vehicle Lord of War except that it's far from dull. With a certain amount of flamboyance, a more entertaining flow, and Bradley Cooper in a steely-eyed, supporting role, War Dogs is the kind of movie Lord of War wish it could have been. Bravo Todd the bod. You went out of your comfort zone to channel a little Martin Scorsese (the use of freeze frames, voice-over narration, and freewheeling camera movement) and the result is one of 2016's best. "War, huh good God, y'all". Indeed.

Anyway, "Dogs" is based on a true story and takes place anywhere between Miami Beach, Florida to Albania to Jordan to the largest city in Iraq (that would be um, Baghdad). There are decent performances from the two leads (Jonah Hill and Miles Teller), a favorable use of dialogue-inserted title cards, and biting soundtrack tunes spanning at least four decades. Yeah I was a little unfulfilled with the way "Dogs" ended or if it even had an actual ending. No matter. This Warner Bros. release is sumptuous in every frame. Whether it's giving us long shots of high-rise condos in South Florida, rapid editing by way of business computers (and bookkeeping), plenty of characters smoking dubage, and even a poolside scene straight out of Scarface (the flick War Dogs references frequently), "Dogs" is a step above most cinema endeavors that have hit theaters in the dog days of August. Just call director Todd Phillips the surprising lovechild of 90's Scorsese and Andrew Niccol. The only difference is that he is not quite as self-serious.

With a running time of just under 2 hours (114 minutes to be exact) and featuring the stunning Ana de Armas (Knock Knock, Exposed) as its love interest, War Dogs chronicles two twentysomethings named Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller). David lives with his pregnant girlfriend and is just getting by financially with his massage and (nursing home) bed sheet businesses. Efraim is his best friend and just happens to be an arms dealer operating out of Los Angeles. Hill's character saddled with plenty of cockiness and will, takes David out of his life of doldrums all the while showing him how to make some real money. They team up to form a company and land a $300 million dollar arms deal that gets them in over their heads. There are random bits of humor here, suggestive language, a slight of hand towards the Bush administration, some mild violence, and plenty of guns (duh). Ultimately, this is Todd's best and most full-grown work. He should do films like this more often and stop resorting to his frat boy tendencies. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, August 15, 2016

Lights Out 2016 * * * Stars

Lights OutDirector: David F. Sandberg
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello

While attending a screening for 2016's Lights Out (my latest review), it felt like I was watching a student horror film or should I say, one of the greatest student horror films ever made. With a tiny budget of $5 million, only a handful of characters, and some efficacious jump scares (despite the fact that they were a bit familiar), "Lights" director David F. Sandberg makes this cinematic debut stylish and rather unsettling. He makes it his own.

For what's it worth, Lights Out is old school, nuts and buts moviemaking. Its eerie, first 45 minutes reminded me of the fright fandom of yesteryear. Containing a simple concept in which a disturbing, Medusa-like apparition only appears in darkness, "Lights" is for the most part, effective until its novelty loses steam in the final, underwhelming act. This nifty little scare-fest is invariably small scale, a one-trick pony, a ghostly canard. I'm going to recommend it and also praise the raw performance of Maria Bello (a Chicago Film Critics Award winner) which elevates the acting cred of "Lights" to an even higher level.

Containing a twist ending I didn't see coming (it all made sense though) and produced by Saw man James Wan, Lights Out introduces us to a new breed of spectral villainy named Diana (she's played by Alicia Vela-Bailey). Diana is a back from the dead mental patient, a unpleasant imaginary friend, and when the lights are off and it's nighttime, she kills people by throwing them around like a sack of potatoes. Throughout the film's short running time (an hour and twenty-one minutes with credits), Diana terrorizes a small family (Maria Bello as depressed mother Sophie, Teresa Palmer as her daughter Rebecca, and Gabriel Bateman as her son Martin) until they can find a way to stop her.

Director Sandberg taking cues from 2013's The Conjuring, plays with his audience by not letting them know when to flinch in their seats or not. My favorite scene overall (spoiler), is when Diana takes out two L.A. cops with loud gunfire blazing. It's something else. Also, I liked the way the actors/actresses reacted with fear in "Lights". I don't wholly agree but most troupers say reacting is even harder than actual acting.

Now if I had to pick one flaw in Lights Out, it would be the notion that "dirty" Diana can turn any house light off with her supernatural powers but can't blow out a candle or suck the life out of batteries in a flashlight. Huh? I expected more from a ghoul who speaks like she's smoked four packs of Lucky Strikes, moves from one dark room to another with lightning speed, and hasn't had a manicure in decades. Ha-ha. Anyway, "Lights" isn't the scariest movie ever made but if you're game, it may do for incandescent lighting what Jaws did for not wanting to go in the water. I wasn't entirely affected after I left the theater but as a ten-year old, it would've given me massive nightmares. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bad Moms 2016 * * * Stars

Bad MomsDirectors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate

In Bad Moms (my latest review), Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, and Christina Applegate are perfectly realized as characters. Hahn is a comic force of nature playing single mom Carla. She is for lack of a better word, a promiscuous potty mouth (not to mention the definition of a female Rob Corddry). Bell is spot-on as Kiki, a dorky, socially inept mother of four. Finally, Applegate is pure evil as Gwendolyn, the antagonistic head master of the PTA (you know, the parent-teacher association).

Anyway, "Moms" feeling like Bridesmaids meets 1999's Office Space, is the most surprising release of 2016. It starts off as a family comedy only to descend into massive F-bombs, fierce sexual innuendo, conversations about circumcision, and a reference to Fifty Shades of Grey. Translation: It's funny as heck. Yeah it's an R-rated vehicle that takes place in a middle school. Yeah it has child actors in many a frame. And yes, it deals with uncomfortable themes of midlife crisis parenting. No matter. Bad Moms combines the sweet, the moral, and the raunchy all in one fell swoop. "Mother did it need to be so (pause) high?" Natch.

Now in normal fashion, I viewed its cliched trailer recently on YouTube with some of the comments almost making sense (one YouTube viewer actually predicted that it would be quote unquote, "complete trash"). Boy was I wrong after attending a midday screening. "Moms" tries to provide you with a hearty laugh in almost every scene. It succeeds about 90% of the time so no complaints here.

Taking place in Chicago for the umpteenth time (what movie doesn't take place in the "Windy City" these days), containing a feel-good ending, and featuring a left field cameo by Martha Stewart (she makes everyone jello shots with vodka, nice), Bad Moms chronicles young and exhausted mother, Amy Mitchell (played by Mila Kunis). Amy has two kids and takes care of them like no one's business. She cooks, cleans, and even works at a coffee company while her husband sits on his butt doing nothing (I guess he has a job but said job doesn't entail too much). Pissed off and fed up, Amy has a meltdown at a PTA meeting and quits to the chagrin of Applegate's Gwendolyn (as mentioned earlier). She then decides to get drunk, have some me time, and join forces with two other moms (Hahn and Bell) in her vicarious plight. They go to the movies during the day, throw a party to get all the other PTA moms on their side, and trash a supermarket without so much as getting arrested. Watch for a sequence where Amy steals her hubby's red Muscle Car and drives like a maniac. Also, look for the reclusive Wanda Sykes in a small role as a jiving marriage counselor to Ames and her worse half (Mike Mitchell played by David Walton).

Bottom line: If you're a working mother or a stay-at-home mom, you'll find this flick quite amusing. You might identify with it or you might not. Either way, Bad Moms with its foul-mouthed dialogue and its ode to most things unladylike, is a "good" movie. Ha-ha get it. Rating: 3 stars.

Of note: During the closing credits for "Moms", we get to see interviews with the stars of the film (Kunis, Hahn, Bell, Applegate, Smith, Annie Mumolo) plus their real-life mothers. Yeah it's kinda weird to view this at the end of something that's equal parts filthy and coarse. Oh well. Like everything else in Bad Moms, it just seems to work. Oh and by the way, these actresses look almost identical to their parental units (especially with regards to Kathryn Hahn).

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 5, 2016

Suicide Squad 2016 * * Stars

Suicide SquadDirector: David Ayer
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto

Earlier this year, Zack Snyder helmed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now with Suicide Squad (my latest review), he is the de facto executive producer of 2016's second, DC Comics endeavor. Snyder has always been a good director visually but his storytelling comes off as sort of suspect. You can tell that he had heavy influence over what went into "Squad's" two-hour plus running time. Yeah it might be David Ayer shooting this vehicle but Snyder's trademarks are all over it. Ayer is more of a blitzkrieg filmmaker, a cops and robbers guy, Mr. machismo. With "Squad", we're a long way from his stylish writing in Training Day and his assertively-violent, Street Kings.

Obviously inspired by 1981's Escape From New York (the anti-heroes have bombs implanted in their necks) and containing a classic rock song to accompany almost every clip (if I hear "Sympathy for the Devil" one more time in a movie I'm gonna lose it), Suicide Squad has a PG-13 rating which sort of keeps it from being ultra-nasty. Regardless, it's still a scuzzbucket of a motion picture, complete with dirty colors, unbearable loudness, and more flashbacks than Oklahoma tornadoes. The simple blueprint for a superhero diegesis is there. Five comic book criminals who are all serving long prison sentences, get a chance at leniency by going on a black ops mission via a city that looks like Chicago, Illinois (actually it's a mixture of Chi-Town and parts of Ontario, Canada). Too bad David Ayer clutters "Squad" with uneven character introductions, add-on subplots, and an underdeveloped Joker (played with kooky abandon by Jared Leto) that feels like its in a separate flick altogether.

Bottom line: You can call this thing The Dirty "Cousins". Suicide Squad has slow-motion, samurai action setups and deep-seated shootout sequences that are anywhere between slipshod and sufficient. In terms of the acting, well inmate Will Smith as a hired assassin, caged inmate Margot Robbie as a crazed psychiatrist, and ratboy Jay Hernandez as a human flame thrower, give decent performances. However, they spout one-liners, make speeches, and emote with their scenes seeming out of place and not quite sticking. That's because "Squad" is an editing calamity. It was reported that the film needed reshoots to make things more humorous and less dark. You can tell.

Anyway, I saw "Dawn of Justice" a second time and it sort of flowed better. I almost changed my mind about recommending Batfleck's, Bruce Wayne debut. I plan on seeing "Squad" a second time as well in hopes that I'll reach that same dissertation. Until then, I'll have to give it a mixed review. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson