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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Outsider 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The OutsiderDirector: Timothy Woodward, Jr.
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Trace Adkins, Jon Foo, Sean Patrick Flanery

If John Wick, The Revenant, or 2002's Road to Perdition were made into sooty Western dramas, the result would be 2019's The Outsider. Yup, "Outsider" is a mean-spirited, retribution pic and it's my latest review.

Country singer Trace Adkins doing his best Jeff Bridges impersonation, stars in "Outsider". He plays a down at heel Marshal with slight morals. Trace is no Laurence Olivier but he's intimidatingly tall and possesses the perfect acting voice for a flick about the felonious Old West. Sean Patrick Flanery plays a felon tracker (in "Outsider") named Chris King. Flanery channels his inner Russell Crowe with gruff, chuff, and scruff in tote.

Image result for the outsider trace adkins movie scenesIn The Outsider, a railroad worker of oriental descent (Jon Foo as Jing Phang) seeks vengeance to any above the law lawman who murdered and abused his wife. "Outsider's" setting feels like the late 1800's, there's plenty of vests and spurs, almost everyone has a mean streak, and at least one character cockily twirls a gun (never seen that before, just kidding).

"Outsider" is rooted in close-ups, Dutch angles, feeble action set-ups, and adult motifs (there's an upsetting rape scene and plenty of roughed up sex involved). It's a jet black Western in cinematography and theme and I wish I had a better view of what was going on (maybe it was my old beat-up flat screen, who knows).

Image result for the outsider trace adkins movie scenesDimness, obscure, and ribald tropes aside, The Outsider has a few intense moments and great supporting work from its antagonist (Kaiwi Lyman as corrupt sheriff James Walker). Still, the film feels a little anti-climatic, a little jaded, and blase blase in its final approach. It's the type of gunfighter endeavor where guys like the late Gary Cooper, the late Charles Bronson, and the late John Wayne would view it and confidently say, "hold my beer". Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Curse of La Llorona 2019 * 1/2 Stars

The Curse of La LloronaDirector: Michael Chaves
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velasquez, Sean Patrick Thomas

The setting is 1973 Los Angeles. A social worker and her two kids are being terrorized by a dead woman in a vale. Said dead woman murdered her own children way back in 1673 Mexico. That's the layout of the silly, doltish, and bland, The Curse of La Llorona (my latest review).

Starring Linda Cardellini and produced by James Wan, "Llorona" is yet another horror endeavor that relies on obviousness and a plethora of jump scares. Heck, there's enough of these scares here to fill five movies. We're talking "boo" scary and that's not really scary. Despite being stylish, a la mode, and well cast, everything on screen is about as frightening and/or traumatizing as a dead ant.

Image result for the curse of la llorona movie scenesThe Curse of La Llorona is directed by future Conjuring helmer, Michael Chaves. His flick is littered with supernatural mumbo jumbo, cut and dried plotting, and some interesting camera slants (I haven't seen the Dutch angle in a while). Within "Llorona", he fails to give any audience member substantial nightmares as they exit the theater. Mikey probably should have consulted guys like William Friedkin, Sam Raimi, or John Carpenter before shooting.

And yeah, let's talk about "Llorona's" main antagonist. You know, La Llorona herself ("The Weeping Woman"). She is played by Marisol Ramirez and her actions are totally repetitive (especially during the pic's prolonged conclusion). She screams, she's sneaky, and she annoys the viewer with every tired jolt. The demon in The Exorcist makes her look like a shy, doting school teacher in comparison.

Image result for the curse of la llorona movie scenesAll in all, The Curse of La Llorona is unoriginal, formulaic, and far from a more superior 70's style of fright fest film-making (I miss the zoom shots and the elongated shots from back in the day). Yup, "Llorona" is the lather, rinse, repeat of trepidation fare. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Stuber 2019 * * 1/2 stars

StuberDirector: Michael Dowse
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais

"Please be a 5-star ride". Stuber (my latest review) doesn't get 5 stars but I guess 3 and a half will do. There's some tips included but it's not what you think (ha-ha).

So OK, I'm not saying every Uber Driver should see Stuber (that's a cliche). But if you are one of those glorified taxi operators for hire, then this flick might amuse you slightly. We're talking ridesharing, clean cars, front seat conversations, smartphone apps, and everywhere LA destinations. Heck, next year I see studios making a film about Lyft starring a dude named Cliff. Or something about DoorDash. Or freaking Instacart!

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Directed by Canadian Michael Dowse, containing scenes that catapult troupers from one set piece to the next, and heralding itself as that rare, R-rated comedy from Disney, Stuber is hit-or-miss on the hysterical with some poorly choreographed action sequences. Call it a stupid-funny version of 2004's Collateral. Call it "lethal deafen". Call it "Starsky and crutch". Yup, you can call it "blips" (which rhymes with TVs CHiPs). 

The gist of Stuber involves a frazzled Uber Driver named Stu Prasad (hence the movie's catchy title). Stu picks up a near-blind cop in one of his rides. Said cop (Victor Manning played by Dave Bautista) is on the trail of a cold-blooded killer who murdered his rookie partner. Chaos ensues when Stu and "Vic" battle bad guys all night long with "Vic's" Uber bill topping off at just under six large (ouch).

Image result for stuber movie scenesAll in all, Stuber is a messy action farce that could've used a more attentive script supervisor and a stunt coordinator who didn't fall asleep at the cursory wheel (no pun intended Steven Ritzi). I did however, find the actors likable (Bautista is more emotive than The Rock) and there are some extremely funny and crass moments. In the cinematic world, Stuber is perceivable without being the equivalent of a more posh UberXL. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Dead Water 2019 * * Stars

Dead WaterDirector: Chris Helton
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Judd Nelson, Brianne Davis

"Nothing but open water". Darn, if only my latest reviewed pic was as good as 2003's Open Water. Sigh

Anyway, a former Marine, his wife, and his best bud go on a boat trip only to be confronted by a pirate bent on robbing and killing them. That's just the surface with these wishy-washy characters (no pun intended). At ninety evaporating minutes, I give you the snaky and somewhat fizzled out, Dead Water.

Image result for Dead water movie scenes"Water", with its overhead vessel shots and its one continuous (and confusing) flashback, feels like a low quota thriller with C-list stars you don't "see" much of anymore (Judd Nelson, Casper Van Dien). Part Midnight Crossing I suppose and part 1989's Dead Calm, Dead Water has a couple of neat, puzzle piece twists even though you can see them coming a mile away.

Directed by an unknown rookie (Chris Helton), shot in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and featuring a military dog tag throwing scene straight from the annals of "Maverick", "Water" feels all too brief while giving us only a conventional level of torrid strain. Heck, the credit titles "and Judd Nelson" are featured three times within Dead Water. Twice during the movie and once on "Water's" regular poster. It seems fitting because it only reminds us that swindler Nelson was actually in the darn thing. He sleepwalks through his role like a bloodhound on extra strength NyQuil.

Image result for Dead water movie scenesThe other actors are otherwise decent with Russell Crowe lookalike Griff Furst playing the PTSD-laden Marine named David (mentioned earlier). All in all, Dead Water is not really noir, it's not really camp, and it's not in a word, budget extravagant. It's just the type of flick you watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon. "Water" is over before you know it and then that 2:30 nap comes around. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 26, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Once Upon a Time in HollywoodDirector: Quentin Tarantino
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

"That was the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life". Uh, not quite Leonardo DiCaprio but you'll always be one of my favorite stars in this lifetime or the next. DiCaprio and a host of well-known troupers (with amorphous cameos) litter the screen in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Anyway, "Hollywood" is a kaleidoscope of nostalgic images, a cinematic objet d'art if you will. It's the 9th film from legendary helmer Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino will never make anything as good as 1994's Pulp Fiction. He knows it and we know it. Basically, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood dutifully escorts that trend. "Hollywood" while harboring a whole lot of movie (within a movie), meanders in shape and overall form. Made to order as Q.T.'s powered final cut, it's probably one of the most scattered editorial efforts in his 27-year canon.

Image result for once upon a time in hollywood movie scenesIn Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino uses every directorial trick in the book (and even some stuff borrowed from other filmmakers). Quentin's sense of time and place is luscious (Hollywood, CA circa 1969), he loves to film old TV sets (and grubby feet), he rocks some obscure music, his attention to detail is totally enterprising, and he gives us a balls-out surprise ending. It's just too bad "Hollywood" doesn't know what it wants to be or what it really wants to say. 161 minutes go by and there's a final act of gratuitous violence that Tarantino is quintessentially known for. Howbeit, said graphic violence doesn't quite bind together what feels like mostly a kooky comedy/drama.

Image result for once upon a time in hollywood movie scenesDistributed by Sony Pictures Releasing and containing some tacked on narration by Kurt "Snake Plissken" Russell, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood involves washed-up actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and the Charles Manson saga involving the real-life Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Tarantino intertwines their stories through flashbacks, lasting back and forth cuts, reworked history, and Tinseltown ins and outs. The actors take it sternly, the production designers do their job, and Tarantino knows where to put the camera a la every dewy-eyed frame. Still, "Hollywood" beats its own drum and provides the audience member with an uneven viewing experience. Might I suggest watching Robert Altman's The Player instead. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 22, 2019

Into the Ashes 2019 * * Stars

Into the AshesDirector: Aaron Harvey
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Frank Grillo, Luke Grimes, Robert Taylor

"We were a family and you tried to kill us". Into the Ashes (my latest review) is about family but not the kind you wanna get mixed up in. We're talking guns, dirty money, malefactors, and overall criminality. Need I say more?

So OK, the poster for "Ashes" looks similar to the ones for American Assassin, 2015's Extraction, and 2017's Extortion. Am I seeing a trend here? Is this what every Internet-released poster is gonna look like? Anyway, I figured Into the Ashes wouldn't see much time in theaters. There are no stars except Frank Grillo (who once sparred with Liam Neeson in The Grey), there's that familiar revenge element, and the giveaway production values are stark at best.

Image result for into the ashes 2019 movie scenesInto the Ashes is helmed by writer and director Aaron Harvey (The Neighbor, Catch .44). Whether its rack focusing, the occasional close-up, a key flashback, or a rendered dissolve, Harvey commits to every shot. His "Ashes" is a little noir, a little Hitchcockian, a little C-listed, and a little home cooking. Heck, the film opens with a 4-minute tracking sequence that's fairly decent. Just call it the poor man's Copacabana a la Marty Scorsese.

Into the Ashes is also muddled and for the most part, half-done. For instance, what kind of bad stuff was the protagonist involved in before he left a life of crime? What's the backstory on the bad guys the protagonist was hanging with while he was up to no good? Why do said bad guys disappear in "Ashes" from time to time? Why does the sheriff in "Ashes" think he's as cool as Jeff Bridges? And how does said protagonist (Luke Grimes as Nick Brenner) get shot two times in the back and still go on living (huh?).

Image result for into the ashes 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Into the Ashes as senseless titles go, looks like the greatest flick an incoming USC film student could ever come up with on the fly. It's worth a look despite having tired, laddish character behaviors, muttered dialogue by its actors, and plot holes the size of Denver. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Crawl 2019 * * * Stars

CrawlDirector: Alexandre Aja
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ami Metcalf

A giant hurricane hits South Florida and a young college swimmer drives there to save her downtrodden dad. Here's the problem: Said dad is trapped in the basement of his house and there's a bunch of evil alligators salivating down there. That's the gist of the white-knuckled yet predictable and farcical, Crawl.

Crawl, with its mounds of apprehension, its B-movie nastiness, its crunchy sound editing, and its heroine implausibility (only the game leads survive this feeding frenzy), is one of your more serviceable Jaws genre-d ripoffs. Better than Lake Placid, less gory than Piranha 3D (same director), more chilling than The Meg, and Citizen Kane compared to 2011's Shark Night, Crawl is an ideal summer movie even if the foreseen outcome is there for the taking.

Image result for crawl 2019 movie scenesCrawl is produced by Sam Raimi and directed by Alexandre Aja. It has an undeveloped script that shadows the action and gators that get the formidable CGI treatment (it's still all good). Despite your typical thriller flaws here, Aja knows how to build tension, knows how to release it, knows how to shoot low to the ground, and knows how to make you fearfully squirm.

In truth, Crawl is so wet, ratty, and slimy you can almost feel your feet itch from your waterlogged shoes. I wouldn't say "run" to see Crawl but its stomach-in-your-throat ardor is at least worth the price of admission.

Image result for crawl 2019 movie scenesCrawl stars Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario as the father and daughter in peril. They have palatable screen presence, they look like they could be related, and they give decent performances. However, their wounds throughout Crawl are about as non-fatal as Thomas M. Gifford after a fishing accident (Kaya's persona should have lost about three limbs by the 60-minute mark). Add Aja's whiz-bang camera movement with his crocs slithering like they were in a Activision video game and Crawl barely gets a 3 star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 12, 2019

Vault 2019 * 1/2 Stars

VaultDirector: Tom DeNucci
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Theo Rossi, Clive Standen, Don Johnson

Macho criminals who don't wear masks, don't think rationally, and don't get the controlled crime lingo, try to pull off the biggest heist in U.S. history ($30 million-plus kiddies). That's the blueprint for 2019's pseudo-stylish and hot-messed, Vault.

Vault, with its slight Scorsese influence, its Steven Soderbergh drawl, and its Providence, R.I. suture, is yet another crime drama that seems to disregard long-ago ingenuity. Part Black Mass, part Departed, part 2018's Gotti, part Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, part Goodfellas, and part Ocean's Eleven, Vault is the cinematic equivalent of a bastardized mutt who can't find his mommy.

Image result for vault 2019 movie scenesVault is based on true accounts, takes place mostly in Rhode Island, and is directed by a thirtysomething named Tom DeNucci (a Rhode Island native himself). DeNucci likes to show off with the camera a la triple split-screens, zooms, flashbacks, and the occasional freeze-frame.

What Tom's Vault lacks ultimately is flow, flux, or a sense of A to B. As you watch Vault, you say to yourself, "why should I care about these characters, what is their deal, and how the heck did they get here?" The monkey editing in Vault is slipshod, the Mob violence is pedestrian (it could be the budget), the end credits in Vault make you chuckle (because everything feels a little arbitrary), and the actors (Theo Rossi, Clive Standen) do what they can with a tough-talking, clunky script.

Known troupers like Don Johnson, William Forsythe, Burt Young, and Chazz Palminteri show up occasionally but they barely register. In truth, everyone in Vault comes off like parody versions of ruthless gangsters.

Image result for vault 2019 movie scenesDespite a decent sense of time and place (the mid-70's), a clear-cut reference to Richard Nixon, an interrogation twist ending, and some retro commercials on the tele, this "vault" is still an unsavory "depository". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 8, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home 2019 * * * 1/2 Stars

Spider Man: Far From HomeDirector: Jon Watts
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

"We have a job to do and you're coming with us". You as a viewer have a job to do and that's to see Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Anyway, have you ever viewed a Marvel Studio movie where the humor almost single-handedly trumps the armed conflict? You know, kid and adult personas constantly making goofy quips with tongue firmly planted in cheek? "Far From Home" is that movie and at 129 free-flowing minutes, it's my latest review.

"Far From Home", with its international flavor and its introduction of Jake Gyllenhaal to the Marvel universe, feels like one of the best good time, hangout flicks in the Spider-Man franchise canon. Yes it's live-action fodder but "Far From Home" also has the look of being sort of cartoonish. Trust me, I'm okay with that.

In terms of casting, well Brit Tom Holland is perfect as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He's likable as a non-cocky protagonist and actually looks like what I envisioned Spidey to look like. Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire are decent actors but Sony completely gets it right with Holland.

Taking place in Europe (starting with Venice) and paying tribute to one Tony Stark (spoiler), Spider-Man: Far From Home involves Holland's Peter Parker wanting to go on a class trip only to be hurled back into saving the world by antihero Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Image result for spider man far from home movie scenesLook for solid, Zack Snyder-style film-making from director Jon Watts (I dug Jon's use of three-dimensional space within a large canvas). Also, look for love story elements (Parker and MJ), recurring Marvel characters (Maria Hill, Harold "Happy" Hogan, Fury), and lots of nasty, firing drones. Finally, know that "Far From Home" takes a page out of the Ant-Man films in that it's almost comedic and not wholly action-packed. Endgame begot, this duck soup sequel just wants to have a good time. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return 2019 * Star

A Haunting at Silver Falls: The ReturnDirector: Teo Konuralp
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * Star
Cast: Laura Flannery, James Cavlo, Harry Hains

"Just like Ghostbusters". No, not at all. Not just like Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters had a known cast, fresh comedic dialogue, production values, and box office sway. A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return (my latest review) is more akin to a fanboy, student film version of The Ring.

Anyhow, have you ever seen a movie where the budget constraints are so abundant the pseudo-Hitchcockian scenes are cut off at midpoint? And have you ever seen a flick where the musical score is the same two chords used in countless scare fests via the last twenty years? A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return is that movie and it's a sequel that needs to be "returned" to your local Redbox stat!

Image result for a haunting at silver falls 2019 movie scenes"Return", with its E-list stars, its community theater acting, its wink wink to all things VOD, and its massively cheapo special effects, is a continuation of 2013's A Haunting at Silver Falls. Devoid of any suitable jump scares, any jim-jams, and lacking anything resembling the conch of capable editing, "Return" is only frightening if you've never seen an actual horror film before. Yeah there's a couple of twin ghosts in "Return" that are clearly inspired by the siblings in The Shining. Still, they aren't nearly as creepy as those pale-edged girls from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 hit.

Shot in Oregon (which sort of looks like rural Europe) and directed by a cut corners rookie (Teo Konuralp), A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return has to do with a phantom aunt who uses the body of a ruthless convict to terrorize a bunch of young twentysomethings.

Image result for a haunting at silver falls 2019 movie scenesLook for characters saying the most cliched of fright night readings ("we've gotta get outta here" or "if we're gonna survive, it's now or never"). Also, know that "Return" is probably the most restrained, PG-13-style horror pic you'll ever take in. Its non-theatrical release can be put alongside any recent Amityville-franchised endeavor. Bottom line: "Return" is hardcore "downturn". My rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson