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Saturday, May 19, 2018

10x 10 2018 * * * Stars

10x 10Director: Suzi Ewing
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Luke Evans, Kelly Reilly, Noel Clarke

10x 10 is an unrated, tersely compact thriller. As something about a man who confines a woman to a soundproof cell only to find out that she killed his wife, "10" has a torture porn setting without the actual torture porn. Granted, the film could've stretched its running time past a mere 87 minutes for added absorption. Oh and I forgot to mention the cliched clip of the authorities showing up right after the final confrontation goes down. Nevertheless, 10x 10 leaves you torn and nomadic on which gender to root for. It serves up its transient premise in creepy and effective fashion.

Image result for 10x 10 movie scenes"10" stars Luke Evans as the wealthy kidnapper and Kelly Reilly as the one being kidnapped. Evans is a tad wooden as Lewis when he is mourning his dead spouse through past home videos and random news footage. Reilly outmatches him as Cathy. She channels a sense of raw fear and raw distress as a would-be, bible-thumping criminal. Cathy and Lewis go at each other mano-a-mano and bloodied cat and mouse. They give 10x 10 the feel of being a violent, ungovernable, and unsettling affair.

Image result for 10x 10 movie scenesDirector Suzi Ewing (she helms mostly shorts) makes "10" atmospheric and woodsy in a Hostel/Human Centipede sort of way. She even uses a few long shots when the main damsel in distress is letting out shrill screams. Don't be fooled though. Ewing's narrative is wholly original and not really in the realm of horror fare. 10x 10 in totality, is more psychologically intentioned as opposed to psychotically intentioned. With a minuscule cast, minimal locations, and personas that have a high threshold for pain (and appetite for that matter), it's a low budget character study that's almost "ten"fold. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Breaking In 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Breaking InDirector: James McTeigue
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral

Breaking In is my latest review. As far as 2018 releases go, "Breaking" is equivalent to a home invasion version of Cliffhanger and a less violent model via 2005's Hostage. When I walked into the theater, I paid six dollars for "Breaking's" B-movie quirkiness and B-movie escapism. I didn't witness a cinematic game changer but I got exactly six dollars worth. Fair trade.

Breaking In is about dimwitted yet likable criminals (especially Eddie played by Billy Burke) and a relentless, purposeful mom. Gabrielle Union plays said mom in the form of realtor Shaun Russell. Russell's estranged father unexpectedly dies and now she has to take her two kids to his Wisconsin mansion. There, she attempts to get the tech-savvy mansion ready for sale as well as settling her father's estate. What Russell and her children don't know, is that some evil robbers plan to break into the abode and steal $4 million dollars from a hidden safe. From there on, all chaos ensues in congenial, cat and mouse form.

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Breaking In at eighty-eight minutes, feels like two, exhausting hours and that's even without a lot of character buildup. "Breaking's" director is James McTeigue and he's the same guy who made the intricate and complicated V for Vendetta.

As you watch Breaking In, you wonder why McTeigue would agree to direct such galvanizing schlock like this. What you don't wonder is that he obviously had nothing to do with "Breaking's" editing which feels sloppy and without standard continuity. Heck, you know things are shaky when certain characters beam themselves from point A to point B (how did big, bad Duncan get on that roof so fast?).

Scenes in "Breaking" barely flow from one frame to the next and at certain vignettes, it feels like the screenwriters are making stuff up as they go along. For instance, there's a moment where one antagonist stabs another antagonist as he is holding a large bag of dough. Cut to five minutes later and that same antagonist is telling a young victim, "I'm not gonna hurt you, I just want to know where the money is". Huh? In another instance, the young child of Union's Russell grabs a gun off the floor and shoots a bad guy. In the next shot of so, that same bad guy is holding that same gun and he is not wounded in any way. Double huh. Finally, there is mention of the robbers having only ninety minutes to get the safe open until an alarm goes off and the police show up. Trust me, it feels like they ran out of time hours ago due to a large amount of bizarre procrastination. As for the faceless fuzz, well of course in movie land they arrive after all the carnage and mayhem has already been exposed. Oy vey!

Image result for breaking in 2018 movie scenesAll in all, Breaking In at times, can be a nasty, pocket-sized thriller featuring a stealth heroine in Gabrielle Union. Surprisingly, it has some suspenseful moments and for the most part, it somewhat keeps your Panic Room psyche glued to the screen. The problem is I can't quite recommend "Breaking". You can only polish a turd so much until all the Pledge in "The Badger State" has completely run out. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 11, 2018

Life of the Party 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Life of the PartyDirector: Ben Falcone
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs

"I'll see you around the quad". So quips Melissa McCarthy in Life of the Party, a gender role reversal version of 1986's Back to School. As a flick about a woman who gets divorced by her other half and then decides to get her degree at the same college as her daughter, "Party" is less risque and far less momentous than "School".

Still, the film provides a few laugh-out-loud moments and that's not what I expect from something with a PG-13 rating (I'm more of an R-rated guy when it comes to comedies). To be frank, Life of the Party is no masterpiece but it's a heck of a lot better than stuff like McCarthy's 2016 vehicle The Boss and Identity Thief.

Image result for Life of the Party movie scenesMelissa McCarthy produces, stars, and co-writes "Party". As mid-life crisis student Deanna "Dee Rock" Miles, McCarthy does her same old shtick via a female version of Vince Vaughn and the late Chris Farley. This time however, she's a little more likable due to the fact that "Dee Rock" wholly loves her child and her ex-hubby's such a verbose a-hole. In truth, you kinda feel for Melissa's character and despite her obligatory use of grating dialogue and over-improvisation, you as the viewer almost completely let it slide.

All in all, Life of the Party has McCarthy's Deanna doing shots, bedding a guy half her age, exaggerating in physical comedy, taking I guess one class, and somehow graduating at the exact same time as her twentysomething daughter (Maddie Miles played by Molly Gordon). Yeah "Party's" premise is far-fetched, improbable, just for effect, and totally for show. It cuts considerable cinematic corners and it knows it.

Image result for Life of the Party movie scenesOh well, no need to nitpick when it comes to single-use laugh fests. There's amusing, supporting work here from Matt Walsh and Maya Rudolph (they play Deanna's ex and BFF respectfully). Also, I like the tender dynamic between Deanna and wide-eyed Maddie. Finally, Life of the Party might be the best spot of directing ever by McCarthy's highfalutin husband, Ben Falcone (Lord help us). Bottom line: Despite my mild dislike for Plainfield's favorite girl, I'm gonna go with a strong two and a half star rating. Party Hardy McCarthy!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I Feel Pretty 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

I Feel PrettyDirectors: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel

"Just thought I'd give you a sneak peak". So quips Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty, a syrupy, sort of lightweight NYC comedy that projects as a clear star vehicle for Schumer. As something about a woman who hits her head and then awakens to see that she's hotter than she really is, "Pretty" contains few laughs and has a tone that's somewhat facile. However, it's a film that promotes the heartfelt message of true beauty being on the inside.

Schumer produces and stars in I Feel Pretty. In the part of insecure and full-figured Renee Bennett, Amy is perfectly cast and appears less haughty than she was in Trainwreck. Having seen her in other movies, it's obvious she put on some considerable weight here. Her Renee needed severe dedication and a certain amount of character diving. Schumer accomplishes both of these feats with assumable aplomb.

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So yeah, "Pretty" is serviceable and there's ample commitment by Schumer. However, the pic tends to hold back a bit. Containing a PG-13 rating when a hard R could've let everyone roam a little freer, I Feel Pretty is like 2001's Shallow Hal without a visible gimmick (maybe there were budget constraints).

When Schumer's Renee looks in the mirror, she sees a sexy blond but for us the moviegoer, it's all left up to the imagination. We don't get that image in something like "Hal". You know, the scene where Jack Black is glimpsing Gwyneth Paltrow sans stout suit.

Aw heck, "Pretty" is a little frustrating anyway and the script by directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, well it makes the audience emerge smarter than the two-dimensional characters and their unwary motivations (Shumer's love interest played by Rory Scovel is the lone exception).

Image result for i feel pretty movie scenesIn hindsight, Amy Schumer is credible and staunch, Kohn and Sliverstein's direction is solidly apt, and Michelle Williams is shockingly creepy in a supporting role. However, I Feel Pretty "feels" patchwork-like, devoid of risk, and kind of heedful. I'm gonna go with a mixed review. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Super Troopers 2 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Super Troopers 2Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Paul Soter, Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffeman

Super Troopers 2 is my latest write-up. "2" is unfair to Canadians, mean-spirited, infantile, a little raunchy, and virtually plot-free. As a follow-up to 2001's cult film Super Troopers, "2" is comedy of the straightforward and hit-or-miss kind. Broken Lizard's writing is not as abstractly funny this time around, Super Troopers 2 isn't as quotable as the beloved original, and Marisa Coughlan has virtually no screen time. Still, there are a few guffaws to be had despite the boundlessness of thought up gags.

"2", with its various references to the first pic and its fair, continuing story arc, has the bungling officers from the Vermont Highway Patrol now working in Canada. They were fired and as a form of absolution, they attempt to provide law enforcement for a French Canadian whistle-stop that's moving to U.S. jurisdiction.

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Acting standouts include Kevin Heffeman (he portrays Officer Farva, the essential ingredient to any Super Troopers outing), Hayes MacArthur, and Rob Lowe. Lowe, with hockey player background, snide persona, and front teeth gone AWOL, hilariously plays the mayor of a small border town in France-infused Quebec.

Look for scenes involving attempted testicle shaving, attempted groin area sawing, a cameo by Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), co-ed strip clubbing, and electric shock therapy of the practical joke kind. Stupid funny and 420 obviousness are words I would use to describe this flick.

Image result for super troopers 2 2018 movie scenesWhen it comes to contemptible slapstick, the Broken Lizard troupe is akin to the guys who brought you the defunct Little Britain and the dudes that made Monty Python your go-to in the 70's. You either get the flaunted humor or you don't.

Bottom line: In my fifteen years of film critiquing, I've seen much worse sequels than Super Troopers 2. Heck, "2" is worth checking out with popcorn and "liter" of cola in hand. Natch! Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Proud Mary 2018 * 1/2 Stars

Proud MaryDirector: Babak Najafi
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Danny Glover

A hitwoman decides to leave a life of killing after joining an organized crime family in Boston, MA. Said hitwoman also attempts to look after a young kid who's being terrorized by the nasty thugs he works for. That's the gist of Proud Mary, my latest review. After an opening credits sequence that's a homage to blaxploitation films everywhere, "Mary" reeks in terms of familiarity and forced habitualness. It descends into becoming a totally stock mob thriller.

"Mary's" got cool cars but it has risible one-liners. It's got eccentric guns but it takes itself way too earnestly. Finally, "Mary" is violent but its violence doesn't completely sting. All the carnage and duality feels half-assed at best. Heck, there's no visual poetry or ferocity as birds in flight. Bottom line: Proud Mary ain't no downtown Foxy Brown.

Image result for proud mary movie scenesProud Mary's lead is Taraji P. Henson. She's visibly beautiful, she's a terrific actress, she's bad in black, and she has that apparent Pam Grier screen presence. However, Taraji is not an action star. "Mary's" director (Babak Najafi) knew this early on and that's why he films Proud Mary's fighting sequences so shoddily, so sloppily, and without clarity. When Henson's Mary Goodwin takes out 10-15 guys in "Mary's" final act, you don't believe it's possible and furthermore, you believe the stunt double did all the work.

Henson, an Oscar-nominated trouper and someone coming off a cinematic hit a la Hidden Figures, needs to have a long talk with her agent concerning "Mary". She needs to decide whether or not to bring down the anvil and fire this person.

Image result for proud mary movie scenesAll in all, Proud Mary has chintzy dialogue, two or more main characters that fade in and out, a barely resonant Neil McDonough, a tedious midsection, and Tina Turner's 1971 hit song being played as an obvious ploy. As a mediocre version of a female John Wick, a neutered version of this year's Accident Man, and a flick that borrows its plot line from 1994's The Professional, "Mary" sadly earns its January release date. This disposable movie is nothing to be "proud" of. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Spinning Man 2018 * * * Stars

Spinning ManDirector: Simon Kaijser
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Guy Pearce, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver

In 2001, I saw Christopher Nolan's Memento and that's when I discovered Aussie actor Guy Pearce. In Spinning Man (my latest review), Pearce sort of reprises his role from seventeen years ago as a guy who well, has a really foggy memory (unfortunately Guy's got no tattoos this time, sigh).

Pearce's character also drinks casually, has affairs with college girls, goes totally walkabout, and merits himself a worldly philosophizer. "Spinning", with its compact and conventional film-making by Simon Kaijser, saddles Guy with a regimented and unassumingly underplayed performance. You could call his Spinning Man Memento lite for it's less dangerous, non-tetchy, and far less foreboding.

Anyway, "Spinning" chronicles a college professor named Evan Birch (Pearce). When one of Birch's students goes missing, he becomes the prime suspect in her eventual murder. Evan while mild-mannered and readily insouciant, has to deal with a nosy detective on his heels (Robert Malloy played by Pierce Brosnan), the loss of his tenured job, and a pessimistic, ball-breaking wife (Ellen Birch played by Minnie Driver).

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Did he or did he not kill this young girl and hide her battered body? That's the question with Evan and it's told in willful, inch by inch fashion via "Spinning".

Spinning Man, which could've had a rating of PG-13, feels like a restrained Law & Order episode told from the point of view of the would-be criminal as opposed to Lt. Olivia Benson. With "Spinning", Kaijser's direction has just the right amount of flash, Brosnan and Pearce have scenes that slightly crackle, rural LA looks credible, and "Spinning's" ending sort of turned the tables on me.

Critics have called Spinning Man formulaic, incoherently twisty, purposeless, and forgettable. I on the other hand, dug its intrigue and its cat and mouse tenor. In truth, "Spinning" may be a safe thriller that rides the kiddie hill of apprehension. Still, it has moments that put it ahead of drivel like Secret in Their Eyes and 2017's diluted pic, The Snowman.

Image result for spinning man 2018 movie scenesBottom line: Spinning Man with minimal violence, decent scripting, and binding flash-forward in tote, keeps its head on a cinematic "swivel". I'm not sure "Spinning" got a theatrical release so the best way to see it is On Demand. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Traffik 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

TraffikDirector: Deon Taylor
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

Traffik is my latest write-up. As borderline, B movie mayhem and a relative form of trashy exploitation, Traffik starts off as a Straw Dogs/Deliverance tribute only to take a detour that's much more disturbing. I can't quite recommend it for it readily blurs the lines of bad taste. However, Traffik is effective enough that it might make you think twice about vacationing in Northern California.

Featuring a level of blatant vileness, not screened for critics, and starting off with some idle acting, Traffik hits us with a misleading trailer (it ain't about some cutesy couple on a tender, botched rendezvous). Traffik also has an interesting choice of closing credit dailies in which everything seems to be filmed upside down or inherently sideways.

Image result for traffik 2018 movie scenesTraffik chronicles journalist Brea who is played with frantic intensity by Paula Patton. Brea travels outside Sacramento with her boyfriend John (Omar Epps). They are on route to a romantic getaway, complete with a snazzy house in the mountains and an exotic pool to boot. When they collide with some biker ruffians who run a human trafficking ring, all hell breaks loose.

A twist here and there, some faceless characters, a winding car chase, multiple murders, and a police force that happens to be in on the villainous eventuality (spoiler). Traffik has all this as it ratchets up a relentless adage of anxiety and upsetting malaise.

Director Deon Taylor knows and protracts that he's basing his movie on true events. Unfortunately, he doesn't honor them in a deft manner. Deon would rather sensationalize Traffik with gore, race-related mantras, and visible, grindhouse overtones. He gives you a reason to think Traffik came out at the wrong time and he gives you another reason to think Traffik probably shouldn't have been made in the first place. Give me Jonathan Mostow, Florent Emilio Siri, or John Dahl at the helm and I might've upped my rating (we're talking a higher level of thriller sophistication with these veteran filmmakers).

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In conclusion, Traffik while giving off that coarse Saw vibe, did effect my shamefaced psyche and kept me on the edge of my seat for the last hour. It's messy, smash-mouth "congestion" so I'll go with 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Molly's Game 2017 * * * Stars

Molly's GameDirector: Aaron Sorkin
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

In Molly's Game (my latest review), we get a film based on a book and a true story. We also get a portrayal of a semi-protagonist who's in way over her head. Finally, we get the biggest amount of wayward chit-chat ever put on celluloid. Yup, this is Aaron Sorkin's sphere and we're just passing through it.

Sorkin penned "Game's" screenplay so you know the actors words will be juicy and expository to the nth degree. You also know that Sorkin's work will have hints of cynicism and cruelness. Finally, you know that Aaron Sorkin will be making yet another cameo appearance. With "Game", he plays an underground poker player that's just hanging out.

Anyway, Molly's Game has a similar arc to The Social Network (which is also written by Sorkin). And although "Game" isn't quite as invigorating, weighty, or compelling as "Network", it's still worth recommending.

Image result for molly's game movie scenesEdited tightly (even at 140 minutes), completely dialogue-driven, and containing ferocious performances from the likes of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, Molly's Game is about a former skier turned illegal Hollywood poker game runner.

"Game" dodges between flashbacks and present day scenes involving Molly Bloom (Chastain) and her quest to avoid jail time. In the vein of card shark tactics, buy-ins, rakes, and Russian mafia inquests, you can safely call Molly's Game 1998's Rounders on steroids (ha-ha).

In total veracity, I dug the intelligence and sophistication of a flick like "Game". This is Aaron Sorkin's first foray behind the camera and yes, he can direct as well as write. Sorkin shoots Molly's Game with a fast cutting style, a slow-motion know-how, and a rags to riches to rags residue. It's as if he were Martin Scorsese's unequivocal proxy. Firstly, Sorkin's a steamrolling director, sledgehammering character study interludes while filling the screen with countless details (his script feels like it's 5000 words long).

Image result for molly's game movie scenesNow despite not fully hitting its stride thematically and climatically, "Game" is nevertheless Aaron Sorkin in his highest comfort zone. This is him getting free rein to do whatever he wants. Basically this is Sorkin pushing the talky envelope. Sure his Molly's Game is overlong, over-explanatory, and narrative-binged (Chastain is like Ray Liotta talking twice as much as he did in Goodfellas). Regardless, this motion picture feels worldly-wised and more cultivated than your average, dumbed-down blockbuster. "Game" while no "royal flush", still checks in as the thinking person's moonlight drama. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Borg vs McEnroe 2017 * * * Stars

Borg vs McEnroeDirector: Janus Metz Pedersen
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason, Stellan Skarsgard

In Borg vs McEnroe (my latest review), Shia LeBeouf's John McEnroe utters, "you cannot be serious" and "you guys are the absolute pits of the world". This actually happened a year later, not during the 1980 Wimbledon semifinal (which is briefly depicted in "vs"). Oh well. We all get a kick out of seeing John McEnroe throw a tantrum on the tennis court. The filmmakers I suppose, added his famous outburst in just for effect.

Anyway, "vs" is slow-moving yet intricate. It also lacks excitement but feels saddened and absorbing. Borg vs McEnroe is equal to 2017's Battle of the Sexes, better than 2004's cutesy Wimbledon, and less syrupy than 1979's Players. If I had to rank it in the small throng of tennis movies, it would be near the top.

Based on a true story, predictable if you know tennis, and relatively accurate in terms of baseline recreation, "vs" chronicles the events leading up to John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg's famous clash at the 1980 Wimbledon final. Borg and McEnroe met 14 times in their careers with a record of 7-7 between the two of them. Borg vs McEnroe the movie pushes all that aside to handily focus on said final. Torrid behind the scenes stuff, wooden rackets, public cigarette smoking, headbands, mulled grass courts, and bad sportsmanship. It's all there vividly in "vs".

Image result for borg vs mcenroe movie scenesIn truth, "vs" is a decent flick. Janus Metz Pedersen's direction is solid as he creates something that is R-rated and at times, pressure cooked. He does well with various flashbacks and numerous overhead shots of the sweaty tennis action. The way he uses camera angles to film groundstrokes and volleys is like nothing I've ever seen before.

Pedersen's "vs" is also a master thesis in the character development of one Bjorn Borg (played by Sverrir Gudnason who looks like Borg and gets his mannerisms just right). As for the McEnroe persona channeled by Shia LeBeouf, well it's not fully drawn-out and for good reason. LeBeof gives a decent performance but doesn't look like John McEnroe, strut like John McEnroe, or completely act like John McEnroe (too many obvious F-bombs and no East Coast accent). The producers probably knew this and didn't want to fluctuate and/or elaborate on Johnny Mac's hard-ass back-story.

Image result for borg vs mcenroe movie scenesAll in all, it's hard to make a compelling film when you know the outcome. Also, Borg vs McEnroe's pace is somewhat glacial with some muted scenes feeling like pseudo PowerPoint presentations. Still, "vs" is edited well (check out Borg's superstitions/rituals with his Donnay sticks and his overall body routine) and has an effectively saturated look. As independent fodder made carefully with a little skill and craft, Borg vs McEnroe secures "match point" and gets my harnessed recommendation. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson