film reel image

film reel image

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

BlacKkKlansman 2018 * * * Stars

BlacKkKlansmanDirector: Spike Lee
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier

Yup, I'm a fan of Spike Lee. Ever since I saw 1995's Clockers, he has been appointment movie time for me. Spike shoots films that other helmers would be hard pressed to touch. His work is involving, absorbing, compulsively watchable, and messy. In truth, I expect that familiar Terence Blanchard film score whenever a quote unquote, "Spike Lee Joint" is released. I also expect the obligatory Spike Lee cameo even though I can kinda do without it. Finally, I expected and got Isiah Whitlock Jr. giving us his patented catchphrase. You know, he's the actor that always says "sheee-t".

Image result for blackkklansman 2018 movie scenesIn BlacKkKlansman (my latest review), Lee opens the proceedings with a clip from Gone with the Wind (I'm not kidding). The director then chronicles the true story of one Ron Stallworth. Stallworth was the first African-American detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Also in the early 70's, Ron managed to infiltrate and uncover central Colorado's infamous Ku Klux Klan. On a side note, the character of Stallworth is played effectively by John David Washington (he happens to be Denzel Washington's son). When you watch John David move through BlacKkKlansman with big head of hair and strut in tote, you're reminded of his dad via Spike Lee's He Got Game from twenty years ago.

Like with most Spike Lee endeavors, there is controversy, race-related humor, and plot over plot mechanics. BlacKkKlansman is controversial with its uncomfortable racial epithets yet it's about as straightforward and non-violent a story as Lee has ever concocted (except for maybe 2006's Inside Man). Spike doesn't push the envelope here and at 135 minutes, he only scratches the surface of what unpleasantness BlacKkKlansman could've become.

Image result for blackkklansman 2018 movie scenesOh well. The actors pull you through (especially Topher Grace as a quirky David Duke and the chameleon-like Adam Driver), Spike's go-to cinematic tricks are intact, and BlacKkKlansman's message of hate and racism is relevant today as it was in 1970. How do I know this? Well all you gotta do is check out the ending news footage Lee provides in the form of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It ups the ante on an otherwise behaviorally tamed flick early on. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Bohemian RhapsodyDirector: Bryan Singer
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Rami Malek, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello

Just for the record, I'm a big fan of Queen. Ever since childhood, their out-of-the-box music has always been in my DNA. From the years 1970 to 1985, the story of rock's most eccentric band is chronicled in Bohemian Rhapsody (my latest review). Actually, it's mostly about Queen's flamboyant and over-biting lead singer, Freddie Mercury. On a side note, the character of Brian May (Queen's lead guitarist) looks like a cross between REO Speedwagon's early Kevin Cronin and Howard Stern. Epic fail for the costume department.

Like with Lizard King Jim Morrison in 1991's The Doors, Mercury's frontman persona is in nearly every frame. The only difference is that "Rhapsody" is sadly rated PG-13 whereas "Doors" merits a hard R. I'm not gonna lie. I have reservations about that and I want some realism darn it.

Image result for bohemian rhapsody movie scenesAnyway, the best reason to see Bohemian Rhapsody is for the lead performance portrayal of "ready" Freddie (played by a totally committed Rami Malek). It's staggering stuff as Malek literally disappears into the role. Is it an impersonation? Yes, but it's the gold standard of rock n' roller impersonations. When he's on stage carousing at Wembley Stadium with mustache and half-microphone stand in tote, Malek makes his Freddie Mercury a totally commanding presence. "It comes to you as to us all. We're just waiting for the hammer to fall". Indeed.

"Rhapsody", with a swiftly paced running time of 133 minutes and some choppy editing, is like a popcorn flick that happens to be a straightforward, rock biopic. The movie also has a splashy look and mounds of energy. I especially enjoyed the final sequence in which Queen performs a badass set of 20-plus minutes at the widely-watched, Live Aid concert. It's accurate, well filmed, extravagant, and ultra cool. I also dug Queen's songs of course but I would've liked to see them perform "You're My Best Friend". That ditty is pure nostalgia for me.

Image result for bohemian rhapsody movie scenesThe only reasons I'm giving Bohemian Rhapsody a mixed review are the fact that it's not particularly deep and lacks a sense of readied rawness. It's almost like a TV movie that the Academy would wince at (sans Malek's favorable acting). Added to that, director Bryan Singer who's not known for tackling this kind of VH1 rock genre, gets the timelines wrong in terms of Queen's successful discography ("We Will Rock You" came out in 77' not 1980, Freddie Mercury didn't get his AIDS diagnosis till 1987 as opposed to 1985, and the band claims they hadn't played for years prior to Live Aid despite putting out an album just 15 months earlier). Honestly, I would've liked to see what scorched residue Oliver Stone would have produced had he been behind the camera here. Bottom line: Bohemian Rhapsody is placidly entertaining yet sort of "easy come, easy go". My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 2, 2018

Mid90s 2018 * * * Stars

Mid90sDirector: Jonah Hill
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Gio Galicia

"F*ck, sh*t, that was dope". The lowdown flick I'm about to review teeters on the edge of greatness so yeah, it's kinda dope. Did I mention the proceedings are also filmed with a Super 16 millimeter camera that feels like it's peering in on pimple-faced adolescence?

Anyway, Mid90s is an uninhibited coming-of-age endeavor that doesn't feel the need to push its cultured envelope. It highlights non-actors acting and portrays 1990's Los Angeles as the land of smutty, surfin sewage. With scenes that sometimes have a documentary feel, Mid90s features 13-year-old Sunny Suljic giving a fervent performance in the lead role. Mid90s also has Lucas Hedges going from playing a timid, nice guy character in other movies to playing a total d bag character this time around.

Image result for Mid90s movie scenesAs far as fall releases go in 2018, Mid90s is a mere snapshot of a certain time and place. It's a film that puts a small smile on your face yet at the same time, feels kinda unfinished. Don't worry all you skateboard fanatics, malted 40 oz drinkers, and Tony Hawk wannabes, I'm still gonna recommend Mid90s. Really I am.

So OK, Mid90s chronicles newly-christened teenager Stevie (Suljic). Stevie gets bullied daily by his brother Ian (Hedges) and fails to connect with his aloof mom (Katherine Waterston as Dabney). Bored and looking to find his place in the world, Stevie befriends a group of poorly yet talented skaters and forms a bond with them. Said skaters nickname Stevie boy "Sunburn". They take him to parties where he relentlessly smokes weed, hooks up with older females, and gets drunk. When I was in my teens I was still watching cartoons and munching on my favorite Post cereal. Sigh.

Now Mid90s is a neutered, West Coast version of Kids coupled with personas straight out of Saturday Night Fever (everyone involved is looking for a way out of their existence even though their futures aren't too bright to begin with). Directed by two-time-Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill, Mid90s has an assured vision as Hill creates atmospheric LA in ghetto bird fashion. He's like a more contentious version of Larry Clark.

Image result for mid90s movie scenesAll in all, I loved the improvised dialogue in Mid90s which makes it one of the rawest indies ever made. I also liked Hill's elongated shots of the skateboard artists weaving down a turning lane with the camera being firmly placed in the distance. Bottom line: Mid90s with its enthralling soundtrack lounging between The Mamas & the Papas, old school rap, and grunge, gets a tripling 3 stars. I can't wait to see what lived-in, personalized vehicle Jonah Hill tries to concoct next.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Star Is Born 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

A Star Is BornDirector: Bradley Cooper
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot

A famous, alcoholic country singer befriends an aspiring pop singer. They fall in love, perform on stage together, and eventually marry. There's a rock concert ambience feel going on here as well as a tainted romance. Oh and did I mention there's also an unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay doing supporting work? That's the gist of 2018's A Star Is Born, a sun-drenched uber-biopic that clocks in at a dragged out 135 minutes.

Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as crooner Jackson Maine and muse Ally Campana, "Star" is a remake of a remake of a remake. Cooper channels his inner Kris Kristofferson while Gaga proves she can decently act and react (she's an even better singer though, trust me). As far as musical dramas go, "Star" ain't bad but it feels too much like a downer (don't let the blithe trailer fool you). To be honest, I'd rather smile a little while watching Almost Famous again.

Image result for a star is born movie scenesAnyway, A Star Is Born is a kaleidoscope of pills, booze, rocking tunes, Solid Gold remnants, and show business fortitude. It's somber but not as heavy as I thought it would be because Cooper's Maine is a milder, pacifist drunk (unlike sleep-deprived Nicolas Cage via 1995's Leaving Las Vegas).

Oh I almost forgot, Bradley Cooper helms "Star" as well? His direction is claustrophobic yet largely canvassed at the same time. He loves his close-ups, his jittery camera movements, and his lighting technique which is very Last Waltz-esque. Coop also likes his widescreens too and his concert sequences are surprisingly deft for a rookie director.

What ultimately fails A Star Is Born, is its script by three writers (Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters). Outside of the live music, the searing guitar solos, and the cheering crowds, the film never quite takes off. It's like an earnest work of dramatic hooey, a slight of hand vanity project from Cooper, and a seen it before, rise and fall requiem. The actors spew improvised dialogue with conversations between a boozed-up rocker, his brother, his wife, and his wife's manager seeming repetitive as ever. Yup, it just goes on and on.

Image result for a star is born movie scenesBased on other critic reviews and audiences going "gaga" with the box office take, the Academy might make "Star" its darling and give it some award nominations. I'm going to retort and saddle A Star Is Born with a mixed rating of two and a half "stars".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale * * 1/2 Stars

Bad Times at the El RoyaleDirector: Drew Goddard
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm

A few strangers check into an uninhabited hotel that sits on the border of California and Nevada. Within time, chaos ensues between said strangers in the form of stabbings, shootings, privacy invasions, and kin kidnappings. There's a kind of Twin Peaks fantasy flavor going on here. Oh and did I mention there's also a shirtless cult murderer involved? That's the overlong blueprint of the decently acted yet look-at-me personified, Bad Times at the El Royale. Yup, it's my latest review.

Image result for bad times at the el royale movie scenesStarring the likes of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, and the slinky-strutting Chris Hemsworth, "Bad Times" equaled "mixed" times for me at the theater. I will say this though. The film gave me a new appreciation for The Mamas & the Papas ditty "Twelve Thirty" and of course, Deep Purple's "Hush".

Bad Times at the El Royale with a running time of 142 minutes, could've been trimmed down by at least a half hour. It's a fire and brimstone flick that gives the year 1970 a reason to reach its equivocated "Waterloo". Basically, "Bad Times" is part Hateful Eight, part 1985's Clue, part Death Proof, and part Pulp Fiction (look for numerous title cards, some graphic violence, 1960's restaurant signage, and skewed timelines).

Image result for bad times at the el royale movie scenesDirector Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) becomes an effective modus operandi behind the camera. He fashions "Bad Times" as scorched noir, with a 60's/70's Rat Pack look, a forced confrontational pull, and a scintillating jukebox soundtrack comprised of timeless oldies. It's a shame however that Drew's storytelling skills and screenplay are too thinly stretched out to encapsulate such a prolonged production.

Bottom line: Bad Times at the El Royale is the ultimate exercise in style over substance or Tarantino mimicking over natural distinctiveness. It's a "Royale" with cheese that doesn't quite melt all its flavors. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Halloween 2018 * * * Stars

HalloweenDirector: David Gordon Green
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton

After forty years in a mental institution, evil-eyed Michael Myers escapes to reek havoc on the fragile inhabitants of Haddonfield, Illinois. With plenty of armed weaponry and PTSD in tote, badass survivalist Laurie Strode (a weathered Jamie Lee Curtis) vows to kill Myers while keeping him from showing off his neato butcher knife. That's the crux of 2018's Halloween, my latest review. Trick-or-treat all you fanboys, Samhain enthusiasts, and tattooed worshipers of masked Micheal!

Image result for halloween 2018 movie scenesAnyhow, Halloween is the 11th film in a series that dates back all the way to John Carpenter's pioneering installment via 1978. It announces itself as the only sequel and denounces every other story angle from all the money-grabbing sequels that came before it. Gone is the campy feel from Halloween's 4, 5, and 6. Gone is the scuzzy and vile stature from Rob Zombie's carnival vision. Gone is every element from Season of the Witch (naturally). Added is the gore and squeamish factor from 1981's Halloween II (plus a little humor courtesy of actor turned scribe, Danny McBribe).

In truth, this new Halloween is lean, mean, and impracticable, with streamlined direction from ill-defined genre director David Gordon Green. Granted, Green is not as stylish, innovative, or tension-ridden as Carpenter nor does he have Johnny boy's fiendish way with the characters (almost everyone involved is either underdeveloped or obvious denizens just waiting for the slaughter). Still, Halloween '18 is uber-memorable. It gets the "bloody" job done while being one of the more sophisticated entries in the Halloween film franchise.

Image result for halloween 2018 movie scenesAs the equivalent of meat and potatoes film-making for the horror-salivating millennials, Halloween is like J.J. Abrams helming The Force Awakens or Christopher Nolan cleaning up the cartoonish Batman chapters. No need to reinvent the wheel here and no need to dumb-down teen slasher mechanics. Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun DUN!!! Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

First Man 2018 * * Stars

First ManDirector: Damien Chazelle
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler

The true account of asocial astronaut Neil Armstrong and NASA's tireless efforts to make him the first dude to set foot on the moon, is depicted in 2018's straightforward and somber, First Man (my latest review).

Question: What overlong flick would under-utilize known actors like Patrick Fugit, Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Lucas Haas, and Ethan Embry? Answer: First Man would and does it in spades.

Image result for first man 2018 movie scenesAnyway, First Man is not the "first" film to tackle the notions of Space Race, lauded craters, and/or extravehicular activity. Apollo 13, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, and The Right Stuff came before it and therein lies the problem. First Man may be educational and helmed by a guy who just won an Oscar (La La Land's Damien Chazelle). However, it feels dated and almost would've been better off as a History Channel documentary or a filmstrip via my napping days in junior high school.

Projecting at 141 aseptic minutes with a bleakness and an audience detachment equivalent to its aloof, leading man (an always droopy-eyed Ryan Gosling), First Man goes through the motions with its bullet point presentation masquerading as simplified narrative. The movie has little sense of awe and because most Americans know what went down on July 20,1969, almost has no sense of elaborated surprise.

Image result for first man movie scenesSans some terrific sound mixing by veteran Mary H. Ellis, the only thing that saves First Man from tumbling into a regional black hole (no pun intended), is the rattled performance of Clair Foy (she plays Armstrong's wife) and Damien Chazelle's solid if not unconventional direction. Chazelle's obsession with close-ups, his aeronautic attention to detail, and his need to put you in the seat of his loud and visceral cockpit, kinda serve him well here. If only the rest of First Man wasn't so filled with underdeveloped side characters, a sophomoric film score, and pretentiousness the size of Jupiter. My rating: An "unmanned" two stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 12, 2018

Hell Fest 2018 * 1/2 Stars

Hell FestDirector: Gregory Plotkin
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Amy Forsyth

Two PDA-locked couples and one would-be couple happily flock to an elaborate haunted house carnival on Halloween night. Little do they know that a psychotic killer is lurking in said carnival's shadows. Regrettably, the uncharismatic butcher has no motive, no cool walking motion, and no reason for existing. That's the rub of Hell Fest, a slasher flick that borrows heavily from stuff like Halloween, 1981's The Funhouse, and Scream. Sure "Fest" has the novelty of a haunted house setting and yeah, it has a wistful Tony Todd cameo along with a couple of nasty, copycat kills. Sadly, that doesn't render the film any more innovative and/or tongue-in-cheek.

Image result for hell fest movie scenes 2018On a side note, I'm a Michigan native and the city of Niles certainly makes haunted abodes and movie locale train stations its go-to attractions. I attended a "Fest" screening in the Four Flags city hoping it would enhance my darkened, cinematic experience. Bottom line: Would I ever see Hell Fest again with its mediocre, twentysomething acting, its antagonist whistling "Pop Goes the Weasel", and its blase ending that doesn't quite compute? Uh "hell" no.

Anyway, "Fest" feels like the production company worked so hard on its colorful set design and its demented, Candy Land look. The problem is that this ode to sledgehammered, haunted house porn just isn't scary enough. When you figure out that the carnival is a non-creepy affair and the only foreboding thing in it is the rude stepchild of Michael Myers and Scream's masked face psycho, you wonder why Hell Fest was even made in the first place. "Fest" is re-fried and retried trepidation, with minimal build-up in its 89 minutes and cartoonish characters that make all the wrong decisions in excess horror fare (remember the dorks from that chainsaw GEICO commercial via a couple months back?).

Image result for hell fest movie scenes 2018Helmed by a unknown director (Gregory Plotkin) and penned by three writers, Hell Fest makes you yearn for something more grainier, more ruefully R-rated, and truly more bona fide (the personas in "Fest" wander off by themselves when a knife-wielding slayer is just around the corner. Never seen that before). In truth, the evaporating Hell Fest should be out of theaters in short order very soon. Its risque title comes off as a tad unjustified. I'm more looking forward to Jamie Lee Curtis getting her revenge on come October 19th. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 5, 2018

Searching 2018 * * * 1/2 Stars

SearchingDirector: Aneesh Chaganty
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La

"I didn't know her. I didn't know my daughter". Me, well I "know" that Searching is far and away one of the best Geek Squad movies of 2018. As something that makes mouse double-clicking, secretive livecasting, MapQuest seeking, and Facebook watching so eerie and intricate, Searching "searches" for greatness and nearly achieves it via the belated Age of the Internet. Man if only there was a little more human to human interaction between the pawned characters. Sigh.

Related imageAnyway, Searching chronicles widower and doting father, David Kim (played by Harold & Kumar vet John Cho). David discovers that his 16-year-old daughter has gone missing. With the help of detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) and the use of said daughter's left behind computer, Kim plays detective himself as he contacts her friends and acquaintances while looking for clues to her whereabouts.

So OK, Unfriended is what happens when every confined scene is enhanced through the inkling of someone looking at their upgraded laptop. Oops, I did it again. Wrong pic. I'm talking about Searching (ha-ha), a classy PG-13 thriller in which lead Cho gives a raw, seething performance. Searching is also an exercise in effortless storytelling and triumphant editing due to the flick's re-imagining of a reheated gimmick (every moment is seen through the eyes of bludgeoning, social media and Unfriended, I mean Searching is all the better for it).

Image result for searching 2018 movie scenesRookie director Aneesh Chaganty (he has only done "shorts" and "video shorts" up until this point) provides meat hook tension, thought out technobabble, and twists and turns you don't see coming. And while Searching may not be completely compelling, it still provides shattering moments that relinquish the factors of gore, suggestive language, and teenage horror remnants. It's a smart, game-guessing refresher that would've qualified as a second-tier Murder, She Wrote had it not been for its superior whiff of World Wide Web/Blair Witch advances. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Mandy 2018 * * Stars

MandyDirector: Panos Cosmatos
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

"I'm you're God now!" The bloodied flick I'm about to review is not "Godlike" as some critics have suggested. It's just style that begets style, symbolism that begets symbolism, and ferocity that begets ferocity. And yeah, there will be blood. Oh yes, there will be blood.

Anyway, Thor: Ragnarok is what happens when self-indulgent art film, grandiose horror film, and dim-lighted action film combine. Oops, wrong vehicle. I'm talking about Mandy, a Nicolas Cage affair where Cage wears his caked face like Martin Sheen a la Apocalypse Now. As something that only takes place in the darkest hours, Mandy projects like a standard revenge tale that doesn't get going till the 70-minute mark. In truth, Mandy is a Roger Corman wet dream, a fantasy-ridden tale rudely set in 1983, and something where a chainsaw fight gives Captain Cage L. Willard a chance at a new, fresh kill. Somewhere Barry Manilow is fuming and is in maligned, faint mode.

Related imageAs far as fall releases go in 2018, Mandy has red and black colored hues and a penchant for medieval credit titles. It lives in its own, twisted world where entertainment value is necessitated and out of place aliens need to be identifiable. Heck, I couldn't recommend Mandy unless the Death Race crowd cornered me at a scheduled comic-con convention.

Mandy chronicles Red Miller (played by Cage in subtle, Cage "rage" mode). Miller loses his girlfriend to a sadistic, religious cult and seeks vengeance on said cult. The moral of the story is don't mess with a man whose loving chick gets slaughtered by quote unquote, "Jesus freaks". You'll get the proverbial horns and the wrath of a silvery ax Cage-style.

Image result for mandy 2018 movie scenesMandy as intolerable reverie and improbable stoner pic, salutes Italian director Panos Cosmatos as a screw loose, visionary helmer. The problem is that is his vision is rooted in pretension, lost in viable storytelling modes, and deemed way too far out of left field. The audience might be bored and exhausted halfway through. Bottom line: I'm going with a rating of 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson