film reel image

film reel image

Monday, March 19, 2018

Midnighters 2017 * * Stars

MidnightersDirector: Julius Ramsay
Year: 2017
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Alex Essoe, Perla Haney-Jardine, Dylan McTee

A gloomy setting that projects light fog and early morning dew. A hooey story that unfolds like a blandly horrific stage play. A torture scene where some guy's fingers are driven through a chair with hammer and nails. Another torture scene where a girl's face is struck three times and all she does is put a tiny bandage on her forehead (huh?). It's all here in 2017's Midnighters (my latest review).

Taking place on New Year's Eve, projecting itself as poor man's Kubrickian, and distributed by Eagle Films, Midnighters chronicles a couple whose marriage may be on the downslope. Half-drunk and possibly upset with each other, they accidentally drive over a man as he's walking down a desolate road. Being that they're in the middle of nowhere, the husband and wife take the dead body and then later on, try to cover everything up. Unknowns Ward Horton, Dylan McTee, and Alex Essoe round out the cast. Their acting is anywhere between overreaching to just plain middling.

Image result for midnighters 2017 movie scenesMidnighters has its director (Julius Ramsay) clearly being inspired by 1998's A Simple Plan. "Plan" is a mean and lean drama that leaves you shaken and disturbed. Its varied twists and turns are effective and well, "simple". Midnighters on the other hand, over-complicates itself. It may have "Plan's" similar musical score but it surprisingly harbors a lack of suspense. With its weird plot contrivances and its push for trying to be too clever, Midnighters goes AWOL as thriller-based cinema. It never quite distresses you like it should.

Julius Ramsay's direction is palatable so the biggest culprit for Midnighters has to be its shambolic screenplay (written by Ramsay's brother, Alston Ramsay). Alston creates a film experience where you don't have a clear idea of who the protagonists or the antagonists are. Obviously inexperienced at his craft, Alston seems to literally be making up stuff as he goes along. Oh and he insults the audience by thinking it's a victory for the heroine to escape with $50,000 (that's a nothing amount in today's world). 

Image result for midnighters 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, I've reviewed two films recently with the words "midnight" in their titles. Guess what, Midnight Special and now Midnighters are both pretty lame. Thankfully we have 1978's Midnight Express to fall back on (ha-ha). Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bent 2018 * * * Stars

BentDirector: Bobby Moresco
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Karl Urban, Sofia Vergara, Andy Garcia

He looks like a young Benicio Del Toro. His character is portrayed as a mild vigilante. His character bites the ear off a nefarious bad guy. Finally, his rattled persona comes off as a present day Philip Marlowe type. So OK, I'm talking about Karl Urban and he stars in 2018's Bent (my latest review).

Urban, who's been absent from appearing in an actual movie theater these days, holds his own in Bent as tainted cop Danny Gallagher. Gallagher, with loaned gun and morality on his mind, comes back after serving three years in prison for showing up at a failed drug bust and accidentally killing a fellow peace officer. He gets out and tries to solve a murder mystery. Said murder involves a woman whose car blows up after she unknowingly turns the keys (ouch).

Image result for bent 2018 movie scenesAnyway, Bent has flashbacks, tough guy speak, a generous use of the word "scumbag", lots of people puffing cigarettes, and a winding narrative. You may need multiple viewings to get the full gist of it (I know I might).

Still, Bent is directed with intrigue and tantalizing valor by Bobby Moresco (he's the co-writer of 2005's Oscar-winning Crash). Moresco shoots Bent primarily with a daytime noir setting in steamy (and sometimes rainy) Louisiana. His film is part Hitchcockian, part Usual Suspects, and has a twisty, non-traditional ending that's well staged.

Image result for bent 2018 movie scenesSure his Bent contains wooden, cue card acting by co-star Sofia Vergara. And yes, his film gets its title from another co-star in Andy Garcia (Garcia says the word "bent" 5-6 times throughout and it's kinda annoying). Nevertheless, Moresco takes what could have been a direct-to-video turd and polishes it to pristine silver.

In truth, Bent reminded of John McTiernan circa 2003 (the military flick Basic is what I'm referring to). Bent, with its sense of alienation and its statue as glossed enigma, is anything but "straight-lined". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Hurricane Heist 2018 * * Stars

The Hurricane HeistDirector: Rob Cohen
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten

Obvious, green screen CGI laces every sequence. Symbolic, ghostly images embed themselves in the eye of the storm. Faceless actors spout bad one-liners. Those same actors trade dialogue with fake southern accents. Villains snarl, growl, and yell on cue. Welcome to The Hurricane Heist, my latest write-up.

Taking place in Alabama yet shot in Bulgaria (I'm not kidding), "Heist" tells the story of a plethora of thieves trying to rob the U.S. Treasury during a Category 5 hurricane. As the film concludes, said hurricane looks more like an F5 tornado as opposed to anything else .

Image result for the hurricane heist 2018 movie scenesThe Hurricane Heist, which feels like it avoided direct-to-video territory simply because director Rob Cohen was attached, uses the line "harsh" in a pivotal clip and it's unintentionally laughable. Principally, "Heist" is a combination of Hard Rain with added 100 mph winds, Die Hard with bad weather, and 2014's Into the Storm minus any criminality.

Of note: There's a scene in "Heist" where two trucks are driving away from stormed destruction in side by side fashion. One truck containing the bad guys gets hurled a thousand feet in the air while the truck containing the good guys drives away unharmed. Oh Hollywood, you never disappoint.

Anyway, "Heist" actually gets off to a promising start. And although complex, it surrenders to sloppy editing, jerry-built concatenation, and a darkened look that suggests that the camera lens needed to be cleaned thoroughly. In truth, "Heist" is not the worst movie ever made. However, it fails to be cheeky enough to meet the merits of say, the midnight movie circuit or any kind of drive-in fodder.

Image result for the hurricane heist 2018 movie scenesAll in all, Rob Cohen was more proficient progressing his characters and their unhinged stunts via 2001's The Fast and the Furious. With The Hurricane Heist, he takes unknown troupers Toby Kebbell, Ryan Kwanten, and Ralph Ineson and keeps them from being anything but continually unknown. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Just Getting Started 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Just Getting StartedDirector: Ron Shelton
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo

Just Getting Started (my latest review) is a loose and rather harmless action comedy by the reclusive Ron Shelton. Seeing that Shelton hasn't made a film in about fourteen years, "Started" shows that he isn't quite on his A game. Still, Just Getting Started isn't as bad as some critics have made it out to be. The pic feels like a future Christmas classic to be viewed by many old timers in Palm Springs, CA. Heck, I'll at least go with a mixed rating.

"Started" stars 80-year-old Morgan Freeman and 71-year-old Tommy Lee Jones. This is the first movie they've ever been in together and I'd be lying if I said it was an epic event. It's interesting watching Freeman and Jones bring the funny considering that their entire body of work is mostly dramas and thrillers. Just Getting Started portrays them as AARP ladies men, capable of getting with much younger women as they look like poster children for that little blue pill.

Image result for just getting started 2017 movie scenesThe story of "Started" involves one Duke Diver (now there's an original character name). Diver played by Morgan Freeman, is an ex-mob lawyer who's now in the Witness Protection Program. Duke moves out west where he's the manager of a swanky resort. Everybody there worships Diver until a formal FBI agent named Leo comes along and signs up for residency at said resort (Leo is played by a drawling Tommy Lee Jones). The two bicker and compete with each other in games of cards, golf, ping pong, and limbo. Eventually, this is all to win the love of an auditor name Suzie (the sexily-voiced Rene Russo).

Ron Shelton shoots Just Getting Started as if he'd been studying material like Caddyshack, 1986's Club Paradise, a sequel to Meatballs, or his own 90's classic, Tin Cup. In fact, he actually uses phrases from "Cup" to put in his sometimes charming yet lazy screenplay (in "Started" you'll hear the words "Romeo", "huevos", and "waggle" on occasion). Basically, "Started" is like a senior citizen farce for juveniles, a sledgehammering Xmas film with palm trees, and a non-periled mob flick all rolled into one. As probably the most laid-back vehicle in Shelton's 30-year career as a filmmaker, Just Getting Started looks as though a lot of people had fun making it.

Image result for just getting started 2017 movie scenesAll in all, I like Just Getting Started as a movie title and I dug the fact that director Ron Shelton included a cameo by Johnny Mathis (how random is that). Like most of Shelton's flicks, "Started" is sometimes metaphoric, sometimes sports-related, and filled with semi-wry dialogue exchanges. However, if you compare it to his best stuff (White Men Can't Jump, Bull Durham, Dark Blue, and Tin Cup mentioned earlier), it's sadly a step below. Still worth at least one viewing. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Death Wish 2018 * * * Stars

Death WishDirector: Eli Roth
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

2018's Death Wish is my latest write-up. It's not a horror film per se despite director Eli Roth at the helm. Yeah Roth occasionally dabbles in torture and stomach-churning gore with "Wish". Still, he crafts an exercise in style that shows sheer, off-genre maturity.

The action sequences in Death Wish are virtual perfection from a storyboard standpoint and the script by Joe Carnahan, well it's diverting and purely machismo. If you live in Chicago like I do (Chi-Town is "Wish's" urban setting), then this flick will give you a perturbed feeling as you exit the theater. With all the school shootings and club shootings that have happened in the U.S. recently, Death Wish may have garnered bad timing with its release. Nevertheless, I'm gonna recommend it because it pretty much eclipses the quality of the original Death Wish vehicle from 1974.

"Wish's" lead is none other than Bruce Willis. After phoning in performances via direct-to-video sludge like The Prince, Precious Cargo, and Acts of Violence, Bruce finally gets to shine here and does so. It feels like forever since he's been on screen at the local multiplex. Roth brings John McClane back from the dead and there can't be anything wrong with that.

Image result for Death wish 2018 movie scenesAnyway, the story of Death Wish involves Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis). Kersey has a loving wife and a daughter set to attend college. One night while Paul is performing surgery at his resident hospital, some robbers invade his home, kill said wife, and put said daughter in a coma. Because the cops don't dig deep enough into the investigation, Kersey becomes a vigilante and takes the law into his own hands. He vows to catch the scumbags that took his life from him and maybe help others from Chicago's vile criminals bent on ruining society.

In the original Death Wish, the late Charles Bronson played Paul Kersey. He was stone-faced, had a decent screen presence, and blew bad guys away on a dime. Bruce Willis with hoodie and itchy trigger finger in tote, steadily outdoes Bronson in the acting department. He shows added emotion and manages to flesh out his character more. Whereas Bronson came off as a second-tier Steve McQueen in '74's "Wish", Willis does his best work in years. As the king of grimacing while firing an automatic weapon, Bruce is back with a chrome dome noggin and a level of superior badassery.

Image result for Death wish 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, the one thing the original Death Wish has over the new Death Wish is the jungle-style musical score by Herbie Hancock. Otherwise, this is Eli Roth successfully rebooting the Death Wish franchise with updating, social media outlets and splashy, B-movie residue. Sure his villains lack character development and Roth's overall premise is far-fetched. Nonetheless, Eli portrays the "Windy City" as hell on earth and that supplements his nastily violent vision. They say nothing in life is certain except "death" and taxes. Well you can add solid Death Wish remakes to that list. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 2, 2018

Hangman 2017 * 1/2 Stars

HangmanDirector: Johnny Martin
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Brittany Snow

With a couple of car chases, the occasional fast cutting, and some tepid gore, I give you 2017's Hangman (my latest review). In veracity, Hangman is the type of flick that David Fincher would watch and laugh his butt off in reverse envy.

Hangman's story involves just another sicko who murders people. Said murderer whose makeup seems laughable and trite, offs randoms according to the outline of a children's guessing game called Hangman (hence the name of the film).

Hangman, which could've been titled 11 PM (don't ask), is like every other serial killer movie ever made. Its ending has a jolt or two but it's not enough. Hangman is unoriginal, conventional, uninspiring, silly, and totally paint-by-numbers. Al Pacino stars and totes dyed hair, dyed goatee remnants, and a sleep-induced Louisiana accent.

Image result for Hangman 2017 movie scenesHangman at ninety-eight minutes, feels just like a mediocre Law & Order episode (with an R rating of course). It has the obligatory police captain who is angry at his or her subordinates. It also has the obligatory detective who can't seem to retire or is coming out of retirement for one last gig. Finally, Hangman has a journalist persona following investigators as they discover grisly bodies lined up for the slaughter. In the realm of the real world, this would never be allowed to happen.

In truth, I couldn't recommend Hangman unless I was paid to do so. Director Johnny Martin never seems to generate any tension or palatable intrigue throughout. With Hangman, Johnny boy fidgets relentlessly with image after image of darkened gruesomeness. It seems fitting considering that he can't seem to light a scene so that the viewer has a clear idea of what's going on.

Image result for Hangman 2017 movie scenesAll in all, Hangman has blase acting from its side characters, a tired locale in the form of Atlanta (which masquerades as the The Bayou State), and an image of a continued clock that reminds everyone of Pacino's past flop, 88 Minutes ("tic-tock, doc" ugh).

Bottom line: Hangman is probably one of the dopiest thrillers since 2004's Suspect Zero (that's the pic where Aaron Eckhart whines on occasion). As a Redbox time spacer, it just can't "hang". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 23, 2018

Game Night 2018 * * * Stars

Game NightDirectors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

Game Night is my latest review. It's not really a black comedy for it's too cheery for that. "Night" is more blackish, a light comedic romp.

The laughs in Game Night aren't of the belly variety but there's plenty of snorts and chuckles to garner my recommendation. No one truly seems in peril despite incidents of gunshots, kidnappings, and fistfights. Basically "Night" never lets you take it too seriously. It's wholly original buffoonery that just wants to have fun.

Jason Bateman is in the lead. He plays yet another sad sack everyman. Bateman channels this type of role in a lot of his farces. With his congenial looks and his breakneck style of delivering lines, Game Night seems like it gives him the best, most comfortable fit. Dare I say that "Night" is the exemplary Jason Bateman vehicle.

Image result for Game night movie scenesThe story of Game Night revolves around a married couple named Max and Annie (Bateman and Rachel McAdams). Having in common an incredibly cutthroat nature, they invite other couples over for charades, board games, and plenty of chips and salsa. One weekend, everyone changes it up a bit and goes over to the house of Max's brother (Brooks played by Kyle Chandler). Brooks decides to turn a normal "game night" into a real-life murder mystery. Just imagine a combo of violent abductions, slapstick encounters, and scavenger hunts.

Of note: I'm not sure why "Night" has been saddled with an R rating. It's not completely vehement, I don't remember hearing any F words, and there's not much in the way of sexual innuendo. I mean, a teenager wouldn't even flinch if they saw it.

Anyway, Game Night will resonate if you've seen stuff like Horrible Bosses or 1987's Adventures in Babysitting. It has mild twists and turns and some aerial shots that actually look like objects in the game of Monopoly. "Night" also has neat closing credits that are humorous and don't involve outtakes (that's a refreshing change).

A lot of the characters in "Night" spew movie references from material like The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense, Pulp Fiction, and Django Unchained. Normally, I find this adage tired and stock but surprisingly it adds to "Night's" peppy charm.

Image result for Game night movie scenesBottom line: Would I call Game Night a comedy classic? Probably not but I did enjoy it. Would I say that it's a good way to get to the theater and escape those late winter blues? Definitely. "Game on!" Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Looking Glass 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Looking GlassDirector: Tim Hunter
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas

Looking Glass is my latest write-up. It's a murder mystery with style to burn not to mention a surprisingly restrained performance by Nicolas Cage. "Glass" echoes the works of David Lynch, Nimrod Antal, and newbie helmer, Tom Ford. I can't quite recommend it but it does give you reason for avoiding residence at a seedy motel.

"Glass", with its stirring score by Mark Adler, its blase, villainous turn by Marc Blucas, and its Shining-style cinematography by Patrick Cady, revolves around a dude named Ray (Cage). Ray drinks, smokes, looks like a nervous Nellie, and becomes relentlessly curious throughout the entire, 104-minute film.

Image result for looking glass 2018 movie scenesRay loses his daughter in a devastating accident. He then takes his drug addict wife (Maggie played by Robin Tunney) and moves to a rundown lodge somewhere in desolate California. There, he becomes the sole owner. Said lodge is plagued by prostitution sex, lesbian encounters, and cold-blooded liquidation (involving pigs and humans no less). Ray observes a lot through a mirror in room ten (hence the title of Looking Glass). The whole pic is set against Grindhouse-style opening credits, Hitchockian residue, and fading, in-and-out characters.

Director Tim Hunter (1986's River's Edge) may be a seasoned veteran but he shoots "Glass" with too much enigma. He toys with his audience while deeming his flick as something where every single persona messes with Cage's Ray for no penetrable reason.

Image result for looking glass 2018 movie posterHis direction seems admirable and the performances are on par. However, Hunter's premise for the majority of the way, meanders. It never fully adds up until the audience has had enough of the pic's manipulative guessing game. Bottom line: Looking Glass may be striving for introspect and pungent, U Turn navel-gazing. Nevertheless, it "looks" like just another genre exercise in cactus desertion. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Winchester 2018 * * Stars

WinchesterDirectors: The Spierig Brothers
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jason Clarke, Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook

The setting is San Jose, CA in 1906. A widow named Sarah Winchester believes she's being haunted by ghosts in her swank, reconstructed mansion. Fearing that she is mentally ill, a doctor named Eric Pence is sent in to give her a psychiatric evaluation. Oh and there's a creepy kid relative that's sometimes being controlled by evil spirits. Oscar winner Helen Mirren plays the wealthy Sarah while Zero Dark Thirty's Jason Clarke plays the unissued Pence. That's the gist of Winchester, my latest review.

Image result for Winchester 2018 movie scenesWinchester has the excitement level of an episode of Ghost Adventures (ugh). It's not very lucid as a true story, it contains familiar fright tropes, and it's rather blase in the overall approach. Basically Winchester is ninety-nine minutes of humdrum horror fare. The Spierig Brothers (twins Peter and Michael) dig to try to recreate the dimmed corridors of something like 2001's The Others. They direct Winchester with fair haunted house lighting, a slight sense atmospheric dread, and a determined eye for setting up shots. Don't confuse them with the Coen brothers though. Their film although well cast, throbs with a held back, frivolous PG-13 rating. It never quite lifts off.

Winchester while old-fashioned in its ghostly look, relies heavily on weak jump scares (with tired, pouncing music) and systematic jolts. The pic sometimes comes off as funny rather than frightening. It doesn't help that lead Mirren chews scenery while constantly dressed in widowed, black cloak. Her jittery character is habitually scripted. She's more like a glaring horror parody than anything else.

Image result for Winchester 2018 movie scenesAll in all, Winchester is pretty vapid as its supernatural happenings scarcely go bump bump in the night. This vehicle probably could've benefited from a surprise ending made to revitalize the pulse of your average moviegoer. Where the greatest demonic possession flicks announce themselves as cinematic prime rib, Winchester is more like your average skirt steak at Ponderosa. The Exorcist it ain't. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Accident Man 2018 * * * Stars

Accident ManDirector: Jesse V. Johnson
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Scott Adkins, Ray Stevenson, Ashley Greene

Fixedly hollow yet effervescent in its hand-to-hand combat, 2018's Accident Man is my latest review. The Accident Man persona is played by Scott Adkins. Adkins, who's in nearly every frame, commands with an ample screen presence. He's pretty hands-on in the exhaustively stingy action sequences.

So OK, "Accident" is overly violent, overly twisted, overly demented, and has a direct-to-video title. Still, it distracts the viewer by being a tad tongue-in-cheek and containing some ruffian dialogue. Plus, it has an intricate story to tell. I might be going against my better judgment but I'm gonna surrender and recommend this thing anyway.

Accident Man has director Jesse V. Johnson shooting the film with mucked up freeze-frames. He's like an unbalanced Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie on steroids. As "Accident's" poster looking like Thor: Ragnarok resonates, bones are cracked, tons of people are killed, and slow-motion, martial artistry is a mainstay.

Image result for Accident man movie scenesA predominance of "Accident" is about the hitman being the inevitable hit. You've seen this before in other flicks. Johnson gives the British proceedings a mean-spirited, cynical feel. It may be off-putting at times but heck, it just works.

Accident Man's story involves one Mike Fallon (Adkins). He was bullied as a kid before he toughened up, mentored an older contract killer, and became a contract killer himself. Mike's method of offing someone involves making it look like an accident (hence the name of the movie).

When Fallon's pregnant ex-girlfriend gets murdered by someone in his own, hitmen-circled crew, he turns detective and eventually seeks vengeance. Adkins looks like Maroon 5's Adam Levine but don't worry. Looks can be deceiving. Scott is a confident badass, delivering his lines with consummate vigor while he barrels through "Accident" as if he were the only Caucasian in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 

Related imageAll in all, Accident Man is a glistening, draining thriller that may upset you. It has shots of head dismemberment, clips of double-crossing, a soundtrack mixed with RocknRolla ditties and synthesizer marks, and an off-the-grid likeness channeling Kill Bill. Yeah it's no "accident" that I kinda dug its hardcore groove. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson