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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Wilson 2017 * * * Stars

WilsonDirector: Craig Johnson
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer

In 2017's Wilson (my latest review), Wilson the persona isn't played by a volleyball this time around. It's played by a multi-layered, Woody Harrelson who is in nearly every frame.

So yeah, Wilson starts off as rather galling and virtually unwatchable in its first twenty minutes. Then the film sneaks up on you, frothing in its effective inquiry of a man who aches for any human connection.

Wilson has Washington-born director Craig Johnson making something along the lines of About Schmidt meets As Good as It Gets (minus any trace of Jack Nicholson). It's small scale and small town, a character study that's easily a slight triumph for Johnson. 

The majority of Wilson is offensively dry, genuinely coarse, and sadly heartbreaking. I liked how the troupe members looked and acted as if they were related in real life. I also enjoyed Wilson's soft, musical score which seemed to come in at all the right moments.

Image result for wilson 2017 movie scenesJohnson plots his film as an enclosed journey, where Harrelson's Wilson uncomfortably interacts with strangers and distanced acquaintances over various periods of time (three years gone by to present day to subsequently seventeen years). The whole premise at ninety-four minutes, works as almost every dialogue-driven scene feels bona fide, piteous, and true.

Wilson's story involves well, Wilson (Harrelson, whose dramatis personae has no last name). He's a social inept man, a pseudo-lonely man, and a thoroughly jobless man. As Wilson, Woody Harrelson hams it up in almost every clip. With receding hairline, some black rim glasses, and medium stubble, it's a role that's kinda perfect for him. Harrelson's Wilson is like a friendlier Frank Gallagher type and a poorer Melvin Udall type all rolled up into one. You could even throw in Woody's own sad sack Roy Munson for straight measure.

Throughout the flick, Wilson tracks down his estranged wife (Pippi played by Laura Dern) and his estranged, adopted daughter (little-known Isabella Amara as Claire). Eventually, he forms a solid reunion between the three before going to jail for kidnapping said daughter (spoiler).

Related imageIn conclusion, I'm gonna include Wilson as an honorable mention for my top ten movie picks of 2017. With its mayberry Minnesota locales, its good casting, and its plethora of sweet and wounding moments, Wilson could be classified as a minor winner. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Post 2017 * * Stars

The PostDirector: Steven Spielberg
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Sarah Paulson

In 2017's The Post (my latest review), Steven Spielberg opens the film with a combat sequence that is brief and all too pedestrian. It's patchwork stuff at best. That's surprising seeing that this is the same guy who shot the savage, beaches of Normandy battle in Saving Private Ryan. 

Anyway, cut to 1971 where the publisher and executive editor of The Washington Post risk their livelihood to put out the Pentagon Papers. These Pentagon Papers are classified documents chronicling America's involvement in the Vietnam War. In a hurried and glossed over two hours, I give you the true account of Steven Spielberg's underwhelming and underdeveloped "Post".

So OK, wanna see Steve's most self-serious and most pretentious flick to date? Just pony up six to ten dollars at any local theater (or don't after you read "Post's" short rounded assessment).

The Post, which has a sort of held back film score by legend John Williams, is clearly Steven Spielberg rushing to put out any type of material he can for the veritable Academy Awards season. He's clamoring and he knows that Oscar voters always surrender to his holier-than-thou groove.

Image result for the post 2017 movie scenesWith his "Post", I was obviously reminded of 1976's All the President's Men (just look at Ben Bradlee's desk setting which appears to be identical). Here's the thing though: Spielberg fails to generate the type of numbing atmosphere and/or paranoid tension that Alan J. Pakula did back in '76.

"Post", despite failing to garner my utmost recommendation, still has one of the best casts of any movie this year. I'm talking leads played by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, co-stars in the form Bradley Whitford and Bruce Greenwood, and side characters portrayed by Bob Odenkirk and Sarah Paulson. These are all decent troupers yet Spielberg doesn't handle them well. He lets everyone wink into the camera while they give off the sense of being increasingly irksome. There are too many unworkable, Spielbergian moments here and not enough workable, Hanksian moments. The whole experience of the candidly talky scenes is just plain awkward.

Image result for the post tom hanks movie scenesIn conclusion, Spielberg as always tries his darnedest to recreate a period of long days past. This is evident in The Post. "Post" has a sheeny look, an accurate attention to detail, and a 70's time setting that's just palatable enough. If the Academy does honor Steven next Tuesday, it will be because The Post is well, historically significant. For me, it doesn't matter either way. "Post" might be Stevie boy's weakest effort since 1991's Hook. That's not good. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Commuter 2018 * * Stars

The CommuterDirector: Jaume Collet-Serra
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson

It's January at the movie theaters and you know what that means. It means that it's Neeson time. Liam Neeson that is. He's the 65-year-old badass. He's the Buddha everyman. He's the AARP butt-kicker. He's well, the most reliable actor on the planet.

Neeson is perfectly cast in The Commuter despite the negative review I'm about to give it. He's an expert at playing the nice guy, retired cop whom the bad dudes choose to mess with. "Commuter" is also Liam's umpteenth showcase pic and his fourth collaboration with Spanish helmer, Jaume Collet-Serra. Neeson is Collet-Serra's unquieted muse and I liked their films Run All Night and Non-Stop. With The Commuter, they've unfortunately run into a misstep. This is an expendable, far-fetched redux that fumbles its way to a formidable "destination".

I will say this though. If you ride the Metra train to work (like my best friend does in Chi-Town), you might still think twice after getting a whiff of The Commuter's ransack, persecution complex.


Image result for the commuter 2018 movie scenes"Commuter", which is distributed by the long running production company StudioCanal, is almost identical to Collet-Serra's 2014 vehicle, Non-Stop (mentioned in the last paragraph). The only difference is that The Commuter takes place on a fast-moving train as opposed to the nominal, friendly skies. In truth, you could call "Commuter" mindlessly Hitchcockian (as some critics have). For me, it could only be labeled Hitchcockian if it was channeled on the veritable Redbox tip.

Anyway, Jaume Collet-Serra is one of the most efficient, thriller directors out there. He knows how to produce beautiful, streamlined camerawork and his flicks are always tension-filled and twisty. With "Commuter" however, the execution is sloppy this time around. The obligatory tension is there but the editing and plausibility factor are hackwork at best. Also, "Commuter's" fistfight scenes are badly choreographed and its conclusion feels anti-climatic with the makings of a Hollywood cop out.

Image result for the commuter 2018 movie scenesIn retrospect, you should see The Commuter for Neeson alone but know that Oskar Schindler and Collet-Serra have had better days. "Commuter" thanklessly adds co-stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. Sadly, their roles as villain and would-be villain (spoiler) are too vague to examine. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I, Tonya 2017 * * * 1/2 Stars

I, TonyaDirector: Craig Gillespie
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney

I, Tonya is my latest write-up. It's a biographical pic following the skating career of one Tonya Harding and her subsequent involvement in the Nancy Kerrigan baton assault. In "Tonya", Harding is painted as sympathetic and misread. She gets beaten, put down, and inhabits an unsafe, toxic existence.

About four days ago, I prematurely put out my top ten movie picks for 2017. After seeing I, Tonya with its ice skating sequences shot so fervently, I think I'm gonna have to make a swift revision.

I, Tonya may feel like a bullet point presentation of Harding's 20-year figure skating career from age 4 to age 24. And yeah, I'm not a huge fan of inserted interviews (of the present day personas) that reek of cliche. However, because Tonya Harding was such a polarizing figure and because I remember a lot of the news coverage from 1994, I feel that director Craig Gillespie makes the proceedings a little more special anyway.

"Tonya" is feverishly paced, with pinpoint storytelling, deadpan performances, a biting 70's soundtrack, and some nifty match edits (towards the flick's conclusion). It's equal parts satiric, upsetting, funny, and in a way, heartbreaking.

Image result for I, Tonya movie scenesI, Tonya's wiki page claims that it's a black comedy. I'm not sure on that one. I'd rather call it a comedy-drama that makes you wriggle. "Tonya" contains filthy, ferocious dialogue, a measure of sucker punch barrage, and an unabashed, wink wink to the audience (a lot of the actors talk right into the camera during regular scenes).

Come Academy Awards time, I'm hoping that Margot Robbie (as Harding) and Allison Janney (as Harding's nasty mom LaVona) get nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. Robbie may not look like Tonya Harding but her transformation and raw containment still comes to fruition. As for Janney, well she gives LaVona Harding a standoffish parka and some vile, spit-fire discourse to accompany her character.

Image result for I, Tonya movie scenesIn conclusion, I, Tonya projects like it's touched by the cast of Duck Dynasty or the nincompoops that inhabit the The Jerry Springer Show. Its white trash residue and its sledgehammering of squeamish behavior surprisingly make it a near-perfect film. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Wilde Wedding 2017 * 1/2 Stars

The Wilde WeddingDirector: Damian Harris
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Patrick Stewart

Ex-wives, ex-husbands, sons and daughters of both, and close friends gather for the wedding of movie siren Eve Wilde (Glenn Close) and writer Harold Alcott (Patrick Stewart with goofy hairdo in tote). For 95 minutes, the drunk jibber-jabber and suggested amour just goes on and on. That's the gist of The Wilde Wedding, my latest review.

So OK, wanna recipe for an exasperating, comic misfire with a screw loose ending and some out of place narration? Just hire big name stars and an unknown director. Yeah you know I'm talking about The Wilde Wedding.

Image result for the wilde wedding movie scenesThe Wild Wedding is weddings gone wild! It's like a slight makeover of 2013's The Big Wedding. I disliked The Big Wedding and remembered being incredibly vexed by it. As for The Wilde Wedding, well I disliked that flick just as much.

"Wilde" has well-known actors and C-list culprits looking lost. They are in a film full of bare-bones plot points and smug personalities. I mean come on, what was the real basis for making The Wilde Wedding? It never saw the light of day in theaters anyway and for good reason.

Director Damian Harris provides lackadaisical direction along with the tired adage of an occasional documentary feel (those darn video cameras). His "Wilde" also contains too many characters, incestuous relationships, visible texting, drug use, moonlight sex, and the infrequent mosaic of overlapping dialogue. About the only thing truly memorable in "Wilde", is its scenery which consists of naturally pretty, Ardsley, New York.

Image result for the wilde wedding movie scenesAll in all, The Wilde Wedding with its co-stars consisting of John Malkovich ("Wilde's" only charismatic performance), Minnie Driver, and Noah Emmerich, is like a more sophisticated version of 2017's Mad Families (my pick for worst film of this year). That doesn't mean I'm giving it any compliments. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 5, 2018

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2017

Image result for lady bird movie poster1. Lady Bird * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Every sequence in "Bird" feels raw, unflinching, and just plain genuine. Every actor nuance is blessed with unassuming clout. With whip-smart dialogue, grainy locales, and keen direction by actor turned director Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird puts coming-of-age candor through the almighty ringer". Rotten Tomatometer Score: 99%

Image result for life 2017 movie poster2. Life * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "So hey, Life is good. No I'm not talking about life itself, I'm talking about the darn movie. Critics have been calling it a retread of Alien. Allow me to retort. Life is an unsettling, sci-fi horror film that stands on its own. It doesn't need to be compared to Ridley Scott's 1979 megahit." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 67%

2. (tie) I, Tonya * * * 1/2 Stars
Image result for i tonya movie posterMy quote as a critic: "I, Tonya's wiki page claims that it's a black comedy. I'm not sure on that one. I'd rather call it a comedy-drama that makes you wriggle. "Tonya" contains filthy, ferocious dialogue, a measure of sucker punch barrage, and an unabashed, wink wink to the audience (a lot of the actors talk right into the camera during regular scenes)." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 89%
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3. Extortion * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Part thriller, part drama. and part psychological horror fare, Extortion shattered me and I'm sure it will shatter you too. Granted, it doesn't have a notable lead or a strong marketing ploy. And it's only being released in U.S. and in the Philippines. Regardless, this thing is still my pick for biggest movie surprise of 2017. It's cynical, frustrating, nasty, and harrowing. Heck, it's okay to get "blackmailed" into seeing Extortion." Rotten Tomatometer Score: Not Applicable
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4. John Wick: Chapter 2 * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "John Wick: Chapter 2 is an exercise in style and its violence is like ballet, poetry, or birds in flight. Oh yeah, this "wick" burns through and through." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 89%
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5. Detroit * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "For much of the way, Detroit is a crippling film to watch. It feels like the poster child for police brutality, the poster child for racial rigidity, and the rightful epitome of near torture porn. You the viewer, never feel totally safe while taking in this vehicle (no pun intended to The Motor City)." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 83%
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6. The Snare * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Although "Snare's" ending can be confused and over interpreted, this is still something hardcore fright fans might want to check out. The Snare starts out slow, with paint-by-numbers fortitude, fidgety editing, and stylistic indulgence. It then turns effectual, becoming its own, macabre entity." Rotten Tomatometer Score: Not Applicable
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7. Spider-Man: Homecoming * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "The vibe with Spider-Man: Homecoming is less dark, more fancy-free, more cheery, and more whimsy than anything else in the Spider-Man canon. It's like superhero fanaticism meets Pretty in Pink or She's All That. Add a creepy malefactor in Michael Keaton (he plays Adrian Toomes aka Vulture) and the result is a stony mixture of cutesy high schooling, deadpan humor, and intimidating villainy. What can I say, it just works." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 92%
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8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi *** Stars
My quote as a critic: "Star Wars: The Last Jedi is unlike any film I've seen in the Star Wars canon. It doesn't adhere to the swashbuckling residue of Episodes "IV", "V", and "VI" nor does it lolly in the CGI overkill possessed by the prequels from 10-15 years ago. "Jedi" shows that Johnson doesn't want to be George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, or even the late Richard Marquand (he shot Return of the Jedi). He gives the Star Wars charter a blooming makeover and yeah, he's all the better for it." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 93%
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9. Wonder * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Wonder doesn't always elaborate on what makes "Auggie" tick, or how he became so smart, or how he got those birthing marks on his face. Oh well. This vehicle somehow works anyway and every kid and/or parent should see it. In my brief review of 1982's E.T., I remarked, "if you don't elicit an emotional response while viewing this film, you might as well not be human". Well that same statement applies to Wonder." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 85%
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10: American Made * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Directed by Doug Liman and scripted by Gary Spinelli (Stash House), "Made" is a frenzied, bouncy affair. Liman usually makes action pics like The Bourne IdentityMr. & Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow. His American Made is something invariably different. It's unlike anything he's ever done before. In fact, I'm not sure Doug  was even behind the camera. His film at just under two hours, breeds kookiness, contains a rich, poppy soundtrack, and breaks a few rules. Heck, Duggy and lead Cruise are all the better for it." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 87%


Honorable Mention: Battle of the Sexes, Wind River, All Eyez on Me, Wilson, 47 Meters Down. These are all good films that didn't quite make the cut.

And the worst...

1. Mad Families * Star
My quote as a critic: "Mad Families is a so-called comedy about race and it feels really dated. Characters bicker, fight aimlessly, tell jokes, and project themselves as total buffoons. I wanted to slap these hackneyed characters and the actors who play them." Rotten Tomatometer Score: Not Applicable

2. Amityville Exorcism * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Made with troupers who obviously won the Hollywood lottery, green-lit with the tone of blackmailing, featuring an implausible binge drinking scene, and giving off a whiff of a rejected student film, "Exorcism" has a plot element that's as old as dirt. A young woman gets possessed and a priest must thrust the demons out of her. There's horrid acting, an opening credits sequence that feels like an 80's porno, some over-stylized direction, and a vibe of unintentional buffoonery." Rotten Tomatometer Score: Not Applicable 

3. Baywatch * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Baywatch, with its banal outtakes and self-satisfaction at the end credits, is basically CHiPs but with a little less vulgarity. Both flicks have cameos from their former series stars, both have visible penis gags, and yup, both films are pretty freaking stupid." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 18%

4. The Layover * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "In jest, The Layover has almost no cinematic innovation, a loose plot, and virtually zero character development. It runs 88 minutes, is playing in only a handful of theaters, and has been mostly demoted to release by way of the Internet. Granted, these are all bad signs. Believe that." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 0%

5. All Nighter * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "All Nighter plays like a combination of Due Date (just look at the poster), Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and 2015's Grandma. It's a road trip flick, a polar opposite buddy movie, and a shoddy L.A. story all rolled up into one. Whereas Due Date and "Planes" had some sort of purpose or destination, "Nighter" feels almost too lightweight and barely ceases to exist." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 0%

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Mountain Between Us 2017 * 1/2 Stars

The Mountain Between UsDirector: Hany Abu-Assad
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba

Two strangers named Dr. Ben Bass and Alex Martin (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba), find themselves alone on a mountain after their plane goes down in the middle of nowhere (the pilot had a stroke, ugh). They must try to pull through with limited food, blistering weather, and no sight of rescue. Oh yeah and a dog joins their plight but barely suffers one iota. That's the gist 2017's erred, The Mountain Between Us (my latest review).

So OK, sometimes a movie doesn't quite succeed with only two troupers commanding most of the scenes. "Mountain", which feels like a cinematic antiquity from the late 80's or early 90's, is sadly that movie.

Image result for the mountain between us movie scenesBetween a lovemaking sequence, a woman falling through frigid ice, a sappy ending, and a terrifying plane crash, The Mountain Between Us is a rinse, repeat cycle of ho hum Survivalism. The two main characters banter, walk aimlessly, and then build many a fire. Idris Elba's Ben must have one heck of a lighter because he blazes enough logs to equal the lethal destruction of Southern California.

"Mountain", with its scenic views of snowy, mountainous Vancouver (which substitutes for Idaho), is like a quasi-love story version of Alive and 2011's The Grey. The problem is that The Mountain Between Us isn't as clinching as the two films just mentioned. The screenplay by two writers (Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe) is filled with banalities. It recycles itself while sledgehammering the themes of death, dying, perseverance, and obliged romanticism.

Image result for the mountain between us movie scenesAs for Hany Abu-Assad's direction (he shot The Idol and 2013's Omar), well he keeps things tedious and repetitive. His "Mountain" includes almost no persona build-up, relentless snowflakes, and implausible death escapes. Winslet and Elba give decent performances but they have wandered into an unchanging, thriller miscalculation. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Greatest Showman 2017 * * Stars

Image result for the greatest showman movie posterDirector: Michael Gracey
Year: 2017
Rated PG
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams

The Greatest Showman is my latest assessment. It is touted as a musical. Therefore, how can I possibly recommend "Showman" if its best scenes don't involve the actors and/or actresses breaking into song.

Anyway, The Greatest Showman comes off like hasty rags to riches stuff. It tests your show tunes patience but it could never be mistaken as boring. "Showman" is meager and flashy and I guess, betters something like 2014's Into the Woods. In truth, Into the Woods didn't have an actual hint of a story. "Showman" in fits and starts, sort of does. 

Image result for the greatest showman movie scenesThroughout "Showman", I kept wondering what the late P. T. Barnum (the movie's subject and true-life inspiration) would have thought had he been alive to see it. He probably would've marveled at "Showman's" energy and playful, near period look. At the same time, P. T. would've scoffed at the lack of depth used to recreate his own life's account.

The Greatest Showman feels like a modern day take on Barnum's inception of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It has lavish dance numbers accompanied by contemporary melodies that pound you over the head with their Muzak-like senses.

Rookie director Michael Gracey thinks he's making an Academy Award winner with "Showman". The unfortunate validity is that his film lacks artistic merit and has an unintentional "popcorn" feel to it. Gracey fills The Greatest Showman with plenty of razzle-dazzle. His pace is feverish with roving camera movements and a few whip pans. Sure his "Showman" has a narrative but its narrative is arbitrarily slight and takes shortcuts. Gracey would rather have his flick "show" off musically, freakishly, and visually. That explains the running time of The Greatest Showman which is a less-than-monumental 105 minutes.

Related image"Showman", with its characters comprised of a bearded lady, a dwarf, and an acrobat, stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, and Michelle Williams. Jackman takes on the title role of P. T. Barnum. Jackman in a way, is almost perfectly cast. He's got the looks, he can dance, and he can act. The problem is that he's not much of a singer. As for Efron, well it feels like he took on his "Showman" role to shake off his image of appearing in lots of teenage sex comedies. Here's the problem: The Greatest Showman is not quite the vehicle to break Zac out of his raunchy, frat boy shell. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson