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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mad Families 2017 * Star

Mad FamiliesDirector: Fred Wolf
Year: 2017
Rated NR
Rating: * Star
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Leah Remini, Naya Rivera

I met Clint Howard in South Bend, Indiana during a film festival. It was three years ago. He's a nice guy. Therefore, I wish I could go back in time to tell him not to appear in 2017's Mad Families (my latest review).

So OK, what do you get when you put Charlie Sheen, Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, Howard, Leah Remini, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Chris Mulkey in a quasi-movie together? Well, you get the weirdest casting combo since 2004's Wild Hogs. You also get one of the most annoying films this side of last year's Undrafted. I ranked Undrafted the worst piece of cinematic crap via 2016. It's only March but Mad Families might take 2017's Razzie prize come December.

Oh I almost forgot, Dennis Quaid is sadly featured in a cameo during the ninety minute running time of "Families" (seventy-five if you take out the commercials and end credits). He plays a park ranger who slurps rum and watches porn. I'm gonna have to watch him in Breaking Away just to get those images out of my head. Ugh.

Image result for mad families movie scenesAnyway, "Families" is about three families comprised of African Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians. They have similar last names and because of a computer error, they all book the same camp site on a hot Fourth of July weekend. These socially inept weirdos have a competition and whoever wins said competition, gets to stay and take in the leafy wilderness at Site 16. IMDb doesn't indicate where the proceedings were shot but hey, who cares. Oh and "Families" doesn't have an MPAA rating but I'll go with a hard PG-13. Again, who cares.

Cultural tensions, ratings, and sparkler holidays aside, 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. Are these troupers appearing in Mad Families strictly for the paycheck? Maybe. Are they embarrassing themselves regardless? Yup.

What's worse is that this flick's production company (Crackle), appears on screen via the lower right-hand corner throughout. I don't think I've ever seen that in a movie before. Pretty lame and tacky if you ask me. Bottom line: "Families" as an Internet release, should've never been made. David Spade co-wrote the script and you wish that he would just go back to being on the canceled sitcom, Rules of Engagement. Nevertheless, my rating is one star only because I don't give zero stars to anything. After all, making a film is hard work even if it sucks as much as this drivel.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Belko Experiment 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

The Belko ExperimentDirector: Greg McLean
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jim Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona

A Columbia setting, murder by tape dispenser, the hero being the same guy who got offed by John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane, kneel down executions during a Spanish version of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive". Yeah it's all present in 2016's The Belko Experiment (my latest review).

So OK, here's the gist: Eighty employees are working at Belko Industries (a fictional company). They become trapped in the facility's huge office building. The walls are sealed off, the air conditioning has been shut down, the security guards are replaced, and an unknown intercom voice instructs the workers to kill thirty of their own or sixty will die instead. I guess you can cross off Hawaiian shirt day or any staff promotions that week. Bummer.

Now I like horror films. I like thrillers. Heck, I like a little dark humor as well. "Belko" is a mixture of all three. Just imagine 1999's Office Space and The Maze Runner having a cinematic offspring. Now imagine that same offspring turning into a raving sicko. In truth, a truckload of people die in The Belko Experiment. And hey, it's all for the study of human behavior done by lucid, social scientists. To call this movie disturbing is like calling Donald Trump's approval rating unsatisfactory. Both statements are inherently true.

Image result for The belko experiment 2016 movie scenesAnyway, "Belko" is directed by Greg McLean. He's the same dude who did the serial killer flick, Wolf Creek. Greg has a clear vision in that he wants you to squirm one minute and laugh mildly the next. There are exploding heads, endless blood splattering, and death by axes, guns, and knives. Oh and the elevator music in between is a nice touch. That's right, elevator music.

In terms of casting for The Belko Experiment, well it reads like a list of veteran B actors who randomly show up in commercial movies from time to time. Yes I'm talking about Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, and Michael Rooker. Call me crazy but I think Greg McLean put Rooker in "Belko" just to remind everybody that he was in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And McGinley, well wasn't he in Office Space mentioned earlier? Just a random thought.

Image result for The belko experiment 2016 movie scenesAll in all, The Belko Experiment has almost no character development in its gory eighty-eight minutes. And within the first ten, you have to quickly get to know everyone and the peril they are about to go through. With its corporate thumb nailing, its dead bodies spread out like mouse droppings, and its cubical nature, "Belko" does contain a startling ending that reveals a bigger picture than the movie itself. And yes, this flick is fairly well done and will affect you somewhat psychologically. However, The Belko Experiment feels too demented and/or twisted to freely garner a recommendation. Call it bloody, B-movie mayhem. Call it a maverick, "experimental" model. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island 2017 * * Stars

Kong: Skull IslandDirector: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson

Kong: Skull Island is a big budget movie that likes to show off. It's got Richard M. Nixon bobble-heads, Sam Jackson making another silly speech, and John C. Reilly playing a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Being a die hard White Sox fan myself, my question is this: Did "Skull" really need to be made in the first place? No. But hey, all Hollywood execs have to corral a buck.

In Kong: Skull Island, King Kong as usual, beats his chest and roars. In Kong: Skull Island, King Kong the monster is the protagonist once again. In Kong: Skull Island, the story minus timeline constraints, involves a bunch of eager beavers venturing into forbidden Skull Island not knowing the dangers that await them. In Kong: Skull Island, the only thing missing is Kong scaling the Empire State Building. So OK, Kong: Skull Island at a cost of $185 million, is my latest review.

A large cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, and Brie Larson, gets lost in the shuffle via "Skull". And as the eighth film in the King Kong franchise, "Skull" also suffers from pacing that's a little off, a lack of cinematic freshness, and some real patchy editing.

Image result for kong: skull island 2017 movie scenesSo all right, what's left to admire during Kong: Skull Island's two-hour running time? Well it's the special effects and capable cinematography courtesy of Hawaii and Australia.

Now if you decide to view "Skull", you'll probably reminisce about Colonel Kurtz, Martin Sheen, mangoes, and good old "Charlie". Let me explain.

Call it a hunch but I think director Jordan Vogt-Roberts viewed 1979's Apocalypse Now before even making "Skull". I mean how else do you explain the presence of colored smoke grenades, patrol boats going upriver, rampant palm trees, slow motion sounds of helicopter rotor blades, and a similar movie poster depicting Earth's huge, tucked away sun. Yeah Kong: Skull Island bleeds nostalgia for Coppola's drawn-out vision of the Vietnam War. Too bad it's not nearly as epic. Sigh.

Image result for kong: skull island 2017 movie scenesWistful candor and fledgling choppers aside, "Skull" has decent visual effects shots and a scorched look. However, it possesses these traits in nothing but standard fashion. Peter Jackson did more twelve years ago with 2005's vaguely titled, King Kong. Of course Jackson's film is bloated at three hours long. And yes, it also contains the same structural miscues as Kong: Skull Island. Nevertheless, 2005's "Kong" is more eye candy than "Skull" will ever be.

With King Kong, Jackson inserted some real nasty CGI creatures in the form of giant bugs, "Scorpio-pedes", and "Piranhadon". Vogt-Roberts instead, goes the military route giving us an overly violent PG-13 flick that just gets by. Bottom line: I'm a sucker for 60's/70's rock tunes and "Skull" has that kind of a soundtrack (better yet, it's obsessed with said soundtrack). Also, King Kong is a character that in any one of his movies, will never just go away. Nonetheless, I can't quite give Kong: Skull Island a true recommendation. No need to rush out and visit this "island" any time soon. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I.T. 2016 * * * Stars

I.T.Director: John Moore
Year: 2016
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, James Frecheville, Anna Friel

I've seen Unlawful Entry. I've seen 1996's Fear. I.T. (my latest review) feels similar and in terms of being a guilty pleasure, I sort of liked it. Pierce Brosnan plays the protagonist for a change. He grits his teeth and rages. Based on his recent run of glitzy projects, Brosnan senses the need to be executive producer here as well. In other casting news, James Frecheville portrays I.T.'s twenty-something antagonist. He's real nasty and out of control. 

Now I.T. doesn't have an MPAA rating but I'll saddle it with a formidable R. It's shoddily violent with a few F words and a masturbation scene. As far as Internet releases go, this ode to gloss, sheen, and deadly hard drives, is formidably above the Mendoza line.

Anyway, I.T. gets the reward for being the slickest, most techy thriller I've viewed in many a moon. It's about an aviation tycoon developing an Uber-like app, an app made to get people in a plane to fly cross country. In regards to I.T.'s look, well it's so sterile and pristine, you could literally lick the surface off of any screen it's playing on.

Slickness and high-tech proficiency aside, I.T. doesn't feel like present day. It appears as if it takes place in the future (maybe twenty years ahead). The moral of its story is that you should never mess with a computer genius who works for you and wants to take out your underage daughter. He might be a sociopath, a hacker, or a lonely screw head. And if you rub him the wrong way, he may be bent on ruining your life.

Image result for i.t. 2016 movie scenes pierce brosnanWith I.T., there are sleek automobiles, a reincarnation of the song "Words" by Missing Persons, an environment mostly populated by the upper class, and Pierce using an Irish accent this time around. It makes sense. This dude is in fact, Irish. Also, I.T. contains a Baltimore, Md setting, co-stars that resemble notables (Brosnan's daughter and wife characters look like a young Ginnifer Goodwin and Annette Bening respectively), and a director who gets a bounce back period from dreck like A Good Day to Die Hard and Max Payne (that would be Ireland's own John Moore).

All in all, I.T. is far from epic. It produces an ending that is rote and variably abrupt. However, this flick is willful and tightly edited in a way that could satisfy any audience member looking for a rental time killer. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Running Wild 2017 * * Stars

Running WildDirector: Alex Ranarivelo
Year: 2017
Rated PG
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Sharon Stone, Tommy Flanagan, Jason Lewis

Martin Scorsese and Paul Verhoeven once saw talent in Sharon Stone. I still see it. Unfortunately, her fledgling acting career has dwindled down to almost nothing. Now, she's co-starring in little seen films made by unknown production companies. Yes I'm talking about 2017's Running Wild (my latest review).

"Wild's" diegesis goes like this: Stella Davis (played by Dorian Brown) becomes a widow after her rancher husband dies in a car crash. Stella's late hubby failed to inform her that he was six million dollars in debt. The improbable solution: Save her soon-to-be, foreclosed ranch by hiring convicts to restore wild horses that happened to wander onto the Davis property.

Image result for Running wild 2017 movie scenesAnywho, Running Wild's "running" time is 99 minutes. Most of these minutes are monetarily far-fetched. With beautiful scenery (courtesy of Napa Valley) and a feel-good ending, this is the type of cinematic fodder that caters to a certain group of people. For example, the Christian groups love their Left Behind and God's Not Dead movies. The wine connoisseurs, well they dig stuff like Sideways and Bottle Shock. "Wild" seems bent on satisfying the stallion enthusiast in all of us. Case in point: The title card at the end of this flick says, "For all of our horse loving friends". Nuff said.

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo (he competed in the third season of Project Greenlight) and filmed almost a year and a half ago, Running Wild's opening scene is undramatic and quickly edited (that would be the car crash segment mentioned earlier). If I had to classify "Wild", I'd say that it's a straightforward drama with a TV feel. It also contains middle-of-the-road acting, sweeping aerial shots of northern California, and plenty of high-tailed thoroughbreds.

Now "Wild" does have some solicitous moments with Ranarivelo's camera glowingly tracking and the Cali sun glistening. However, it all adds up to the equivalent of watching a filmstrip built on clamoring to the horse whisperers of the world. It's amusing and educational but not quite worth recommending. Bottom line: Running Wild is at best, a last-ditch family rental on a Saturday night. Call it "Graze of Heaven". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Get Out 2017 * * * Stars

Get OutDirector: Jordan Peele
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Allison Williams, Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener

When I think of the words "get out", I instantly revert back to that part in The Amityville Horror where a supernatural voice yells violently at the late Rod Steiger. Cut to 2017 and I'm now reminded of a movie with the same title as those infamous words.

Get Out (my latest review) is directed by Jordan Peele. He's actually a comedic actor by trade. His debut as a filmmaker, happens to be original in scope. Now when I mean original, that's probably because I haven't seen 1975's The Stepford Wives yet. Supposedly, a few critics and Peele himself, saw "Wives" as an inspiration for Get Out. No matter. This vehicle despite having a lack of jump scares, still has enough juice to moderately give you the creeps.

Premiering at Sundance Film Festival (via January of this year), harboring a budget of 4.5 million (most of it was spent on eye drops, ha), and dealing with themes of race, religion, and the occult, Get Out projects itself like a fright fest from the late 1970's or early 1980's. This is evident even though the flick clearly takes place in present day. There's a scene where a cuckoo family appears on an old television set (in an in-house commercial no less). Then, you get some nostalgic, hair-raising music from Michael Abels (he mostly does orchestra works). Finally, there's a hypnotism segment in which the main trouper "sinks into the floor" and is rendered paralyzed.

Visually and audibly, Get Out is pretty evocative. Jordan Peele must have been using a special lens because he captures cinematic images that feel so 40 years ago.

Image result for Get out 2017 movie scenesAt 103 brief minutes, Get Out starts as a slow burn only to pick up variable speed. Its last act is bloody and sadly, it's a little anti-climatic. Yeah the bad guys (and girls) get theirs but I wanted more of a deadening schism between a Twilight Zone parentage and their helpless prey. The story is as follows: Photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (future star in the making Allison Williams), are visiting Rose's parents at their lavish estate (Get Out was shot in various places in Alabama). Washington is African American. Armitage is Caucasian. What Chris doesn't know is that Rose's mom and pops plan on using pseudo-immortality on him. It's all a setup. They are respectively, neurosurgeons and hypnotists and they want to plant the brain of their frail friend into his body. This will render Chris a vegetable and a person unable to function in their brought upon, comatose state.

All in all, Get Out has a blatant twist, some mild comic relief from Washington's best bud (Lil Rel Howery as Rod), and features the song, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" in a crowning moment towards the film's conclusion. Man, you won't look at Dirty Dancing the same way again (or bingo cards either but that's another story). In truth, this is a nicely plotted, well crafted horror mystery that could've used some grander character development. Talk about a cinematic contradiction. Whatever. I'll give Get Out a pass for Peele's keen eye behind the camera. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fist Fight 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Fist FightDirector: Richie Keen
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan

Do you remember 1987's Three O'Clock High? I do. It was on cable a lot. Filmed at Ogden High School (in Ogden, Utah), "High" was about two high schoolers (a bully and a nibish) having a violent fight in said school's parking lot. They came ready with brass knuckles, a huge crowd watching, and surrounding cars as a veritable boxing ring. Three O'Clock High was decent entertainment. It wasn't an Academy Award winner. It wasn't a critical darling. It was just a 101-minute time spacer. Who knew that something similar would be made thirty years later. I didn't.

Anyway, Fist Fight (my latest review) has "High's" blueprint but Father Time makes it a slightly different animal. First off, "Fight" is R-rated and includes drug use, masturbation, penis jokes, and manifest F-bombs. Three O'Clock High on the other hand, is PG-13 with a little humor and some actual drama. "High" is more darkly comedic than anything else. Second, Fist Fight has its end-of-school showdown occurring between two teachers. "High" on the other hand, has two opposite students punching each other to a bloody pulp. Third, "Fight" has the advantage of social media. Thirty years ago in Three O'Clock High, there weren't cell phones, YouTube, Facebook, or hashtags to let people know about the big fight after the final period bell. In Fist Fight, the bloodied up brawl between its combatant characters, ends up on national news. I guess the whole country got to see some of the footage. Heck, I'm not surprised.

Now let's not beat around the bush. You're wondering if I would recommend Fist Fight. Well my answer is a firm no. This is a so-called comedy that is mean-spirited, rude, crude, and lewd. And in truth, no one on screen resembles the actions of any realistic human being. The worst part is that "Fight" with its envelope-pushing level of tactlessness, contains very few laughs. Yeah I chuckled once or twice but that was during a scene where some guy's daughter sings Big Sean's "I Don't F**k with You" at a local talent show. Even then, I felt a little guilty by my actions.

Image result for fist fight movie scenesProtagonist's daughters and minimal guffaws aside, "Fight" is a movie that lives and breathes in its own vacuum. It takes place in a high school environment where students treat the faculty like garbage and get away with it (the inmates basically run the asylum). Also, the principal is bent on firing every departmental teacher without any true reason whatsoever. The fantasy-like plot has nice guy teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), getting short-tempered teacher Rod Strickland (Ice Cube) fired for taking an ax to one of his student's desks. Angry and fumed, Strickland challenges Campbell to a "fist fight" after school. He proclaims Campbell to get his butt whooped and says quote unquote, "snitches get stitches".

Anyhow, despite my eventual one and a half star rating for Fist Fight, I will say that Ice Cube and Day are perfectly cast for their roles. Charlie Day is basically playing the same wheezily trouper from his Horrible Bosses flicks. His high-pitched voice and improvisation overload however, become grating after a while. As for Ice Cube, well a lot of critics say that he "growls" when he acts. This is true in "Fight". Plus, Cube's every facial expression looks like an overwrought scowl.

Overall, Fist Fight ends with outtakes that are just as lousy as the film itself. I don't know why filmmakers insist on using these tropes. They are tired and feel like something better suited for 10 years ago. It's the same old BS. Actor messes up a scene, everyone laughs and giggles, actor tries different improvisational tactics to complete the scene. Rinse, rinse, repeat. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 16, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 2017 * * * 1/2 Stars

John Wick: Chapter 2Director: Chad Stahelski
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne

His name is Johnathan "John" Wick and yup, he's back! John Wick: Chapter 2 (my latest review) is a movie that lives in a world all its own. It's that underground world filled with lustrous images, hidden crime, and 50's-style telephone operators. "Chapter 2" also cements Keanu Reeves as one of the best action stars on the planet. He's up there with Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington and my personal favorite, Mel Gibson. I remember seeing "The One" in 1991's Point Break and wondering if he could take on the role of action hero and veritable butt kicker. I haven't wondered for some time for he's done it in a steadily manner over the past 26 years.

So OK, Keanu's martial arts moves in The Matrix were a little stiff. And yes, he's not exactly the acting caliber of Daniel Day-Lewis. No matter. It's a whole new spiel now. Reeves using minimal dialogue and beholding a overly seething screen presence, is almost synonymous with intimidating dudes you don't wanna mess with. In "Chapter 2" he dons a slick suit and spotty beard, loads and reloads a P30 faster than a jack rabbit, and eliminates gun-toting baddies like a champ. His 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.

Image result for john wick chapter 2 movie scenesNow in 2014, I did give the first John Wick a mixed review. I said that it didn't add anything fresh to the action thriller genre. With John Wick: Chapter 2, I almost went the same route until I viewed "Chapter 2's" final shootout sequence. Heck, I don't know director Chad Stahelski from Adam but I'm pretty sure he paid homage to Bruce Lee and Lee's mirror fight scene from Enter the Dragon. Stahelski's interpretation of the last ten minutes of "Chapter 2", is a real humdinger. It single-handedly makes for a superior sequel which is a rare thing.

As for John Wick: Chapter 2's diegesis, well it's different from what transpired in the original John Wick. This time, it's not about Keanu's trouper getting revenge on some Russian gangsters who kill his dog and take his kick ass ride (a Boss 429 Mustang). And this time, the proceedings are even more violent, more bloody, and more smash-mouth. "Chapter 2's" story involves Jonathan being coerced back into the hitman life. First, he has to assassinate an Italian crime lord's sister and then, Wick has to dodge every other professional killer because he's got a $7 million dollar contract on his head. Be on the lookout for more tantalizing subtitles (from the first installment) and Stahelski's standard and forthright camerawork. He may be the antithetical Paul Greengrass. Also, look for a couple of scenes where Keanu Reeves is reunited with his wise old co-star from The Matrix Trilogy (Mr. Laurence Fishburne). Aw, it feels so good.

Image result for john wick chapter 2 movie scenesAll in all, I honestly don't think plot matters in glitzy, neo-noir flicks such as John Wick: Chapter 2. It's more about the bullets flying, the techno music in the background, the hand-to-hand combat, and director Chad Stahelski using white background colors (in a subway station) to show an audience what real blood spattering looks like. As "Chapter 2" concludes, the film clearly leaves the door open for a third go-around. Keanu's Wick quips in future tense, "whoever comes, I'll kill them all." Dang, I can't wait. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Split 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

SplitDirector: M. Night Shyamalan
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Becky Buckley

M. Night Shyamalan directed The Sixth Sense. To this day, that film still creeps me the heck out. It has taken seventeen years for Night to make my psyche go all frazzled again. Hence, I give you 2016's Split (my latest review).

Now the oddest thing about Split, is that it doesn't feel like India's favorite son was even behind the camera. Shyamalan relies on the personalities of other directors (just like Split's main lead actor, ha). And the only thing similar is that his flick takes place in Philadelphia (Shyamalan's hometown and go-to setting). Was there some Dan Trachtenberg or Sam Raimi influence involved? Oh for sure. Nevertheless, Split is traumatizing, upsetting, and unsettling. M. Night uses a handful of close-ups, effective flashbacks, and the absence of a blatant surprise twist to enhance his vision. Reluctantly, he gives his characters a few moments of screen time to breathe. Then his film puts them through torrid, psychological hell.

Image result for Split movie scenesSplit isn't ghostly scary or even demon scary. It's more on the tripped out, cognitive tip. Without a happy ending or any kind of loosening resolve, this film caused me to leave the theater shaken. Heck, my pulse felt totally out of order. Granted, I'm not giving Split a favorable rating for its entertainment value. I recommending it for how it affected me and how it gave me a corresponding feeling when I saw 2014's Tusk. Hopelessness, raw fear, despair, gnawing demoralization. M. Night is back. Yup, he's back with a spurred vengeance baby!

Anyway, Split is about a messed up individual, a stifling son of a bitch. Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy) is said individual and he has 23 personalities ("23" is a screwed up number to begin with). He kidnaps three young females and holds them captive below the famed, Philadelphia, PA Zoo. In a candid interview, McAvoy said that he only channeled 9 of the 23 weirdos throughout Split's 117-minute running time. No matter. His performance here is towering and startlingly good. You forget that a trouper is actually inhabiting this role. For the most part, you hold on to the fact that this is a real fracked person. As for McAvoy's co-stars (Anna Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula), well they convey a realistic level of heightened distress. Douglas Aibel's casting of these young, unknown thespians is right on. I would put them in another horror conundrum any day. Believe it.

Image result for Split movie scenesOverall, Split with its claustrophobia, its kind of movement for a sequel, and its sense of sunlight absence, is destined to become a classic. It's M. Night Shyamalan's way of giving the middle finger to all the critics who have ribbed him over the past 10-12 years. Oh and by the way, look for the Bruce Willis cameo at the end. Dang, it's been awhile since I've seen old Brucie in an actual, mainstream movie. Also, be on the lookout for Betty Buckley as Crumb's sympathetic psychologist. She was Miss Collins from 1976's infamous Carrie. Welcome back Betty. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Monster 2016 * * Stars

The MonsterDirector: Bryan Bertino
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Zoe Kazan, Scott Speedman, Ella Ballentine

I'm starting to get really annoyed by the use of flashbacks in film. 2016's The Monster (my latest review) has them in the form of an alcoholic mother battling with her vexing daughter. Do said flashbacks form an adequate background story for "Monster?" Somewhat. Am I to a degree, still annoyed? Oh for sure.

I'm also starting to get exasperated by the use of scary movie cliches. The Monster has them by way of a car stalling after hitting an animal, heavy rain that won't stop, and the protagonists being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Does "Monster's" director (Bryan Bertino) film these scenes admirably and with a sense of style? Sort of. Am I again, still exasperated? Yup.

Anyway, The Monster which stars Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine, clocks in at just under eighty-five minutes (ninety-one if you count the credits). Watching it, I realized that its budget is relatively low. That's a good thing because "Monster's" box office take is currently a paltry $62,953. Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) is a manageable filmmaker but he shoots "Monster's" kill sequences in such heavy darkness. It's hard to tell what's really going on. Heck, I could've used some night-vision goggles if you know what I mean.

Now The Monster is indeed a flick about a monster. This slimy savage has long sharp teeth, a hunchback disposition, and a standard growl. It appears similar to the mucky gremlin from Twilight Zone: The Movie, the aliens from Aliens, or the basement demon from 1983's Amityville 3-D. It terrorizes Kazan and Ballentine's characters yet doesn't show up till forty-five minutes in. The effect I guess, is to evoke early Ridley Scott, Spielberg's method with Jaws, or something Hitchcockian. Sadly, it's all a bit underwhelming.

Questions I asked myself during The Monster: Is this ugly beast who lives in a Canadian forest, a product of chemical waste disposal? Maybe. Was it dropped by a spacecraft into the Earth's banal atmosphere? Sure, why not. Finally, did it emerge from a meteorite all angry and bloodthirsty? I guess so. Truthfully, I don't think an audience member will ever know. Furthermore, I don't think the filmmakers themselves even know. I guess that concept wasn't discussed during the production meetings.

Image result for the monster 2016 movie scenesIn veracity, I didn't feel scared or frightened while viewing The Monster. It has no real jolts and or jump back moments. That's probably because I've seen all these types of creature features many times over.

The raw acting by Ballentine and Kazan helps a little but their troupers are portrayed in such a downtrodden way. Ella Ballentine plays Lizzy and basically she is reprising her role from Standoff (another 2016 release). She's the sad and solemn girl who gets neglected and suffers through a crappy childhood. Zoe Kazan channels Kathy, her tattooed, lower-class mother. Startlingly, Kazan looks more like Ballentine's big sister than her emotionally distraught mommy. The two of them could come off as heroines but they more or less project a couple of people destined to be on The Jerry Springer Show. Ouch.

In conclusion, The Monster is a rental that doesn't make any quantum leap in the horror genre. It's not deficient but you'd be better off checking out Charlize Theron's 2003 crime drama of virtually the same name. "Monster's" boisterous rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson