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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Triple Threat 2019 * * Stars

Triple ThreatDirector: Jesse V. Johnson
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins

"Yeah I got eight guns pointed at me right now". Sure why not.

In hustle-bustle Thailand, a billionaire's daughter has a contract put on her by a group of trained assassins. It's up to a couple of down-and-out soldiers to help protect said daughter. That's the rub of Triple Threat, my latest review. In all honesty, I gawked at the energy and harsh gusto by which "Threat" displayed in its never-ending string of rabid action sequences. I mean yeah, I kind of admired it (not!).

Image result for triple threat 2019 movie scenesShot with actors you've never even heard of and helmed by the guy who made last year's Accident Man (a film I recommended), Triple Threat is so enamored in its martial artistry, hailed bullets, and corn syrupy gore that it forgets to be purposeful. This is Big Trouble in Little China without the heart. This is Crouching Tiger, Hidden "Bandwagon". This is a prosaic David Ayer picture on anabolic steroids (and without any snarky line readings).

With "Threat", director Jesse V. Johnson revels in slickness, fast cutting fistfights, remorselessness, and gunplay that is completely cardboard in nature. It's as if the ghosts of John J. Rambo, James Braddock, and John Matrix came in to do some serious dispatching. As for the pace of Triple Threat, well it's one-snidely storyboard-ed and relentless. Despite "Threat's" twisty plot coming in at fits and starts, every other frame has some character perishing via assembly line slaughter. Yup, "Threat's" kill count as drinking game will give you a blood alcohol level of .3 (ouch).

Image result for triple threat 2019 movie scenesAction junkies in the form of sheltered teenagers (like myself in the 80's), might find some video game excitement in Triple Threat's overly violent tone and copious, affray set pieces. Otherwise this is a very hollow viewing experience. Most martial arts flicks are more epic, less dated, more authentic, and more soulful than "Threat". Heck, you might as well see John Wick: Chapter dos instead. My rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Last Man 2018 * Star

The Last ManDirector: Rodrigo H. Vila
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Harvey Keitel

Narration from an unrecognizable Hayden Christensen that feels as if it was lifted from Harrison Ford circa 1982. Co-star Harvey Keitel saying his lines as if he were reading them from cue cards. Cringe-worthy dialogue, obvious Pink Floyd references, a tired Mexican standoff, and acting that screams straight-to-video. Interior dig shots so dark and droll, you can't see what the heck is going on. Doofus side characters that look too much alike. It's all here in The Last Man (my latest review). Once is the "last" time I plan on seeing The Last Man. Sadly it's the Ishtar of science fiction endeavors. Natch!

Image result for the last man 2018 movie scenesAnyway, "Man" takes place in the future and was filmed in Argentina. Its musical score is decently apocalyptic while its look is rainy, thundered, and ho-hum dystopian. As for The Last Man's story, well it's about a combat veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder. With advice from an old-timer street prophet, he decides to prepare for the end of days. Somewhere Rick Deckard is viewing this flick while dreaming of unicorns and deciding whether or not he is openly human. And somewhere Malcolm McDowell's Alex DeLarge is getting his eyeballs dilated as he views some morbidly sadistic images.

Image result for the last man 2018 movie scenesThe Last Man, which comes off like a nowhere version of Blade Runner without any Philip Marlowe protocol, feels self-serious, tedious, and badly mean-spirited. You can even add a muted version of 1995's Strange Days and A Clockwork Orange for faux inspiration. Basically, "Man" rivals these movies yet doesn't have any real cinematic reason for existing. "Man's" director (Rodrigo H. Vila) forcefully plagiarizes his vision, there's some absurd beatings, lead Christensen mumbles his way through the proceedings, "Man" stumbles incredibly in its way-out narrative, and the flick announces itself as a jaded poster child for PTSD (mentioned earlier).

Bottom line: The Last Man is the most non-sensed form of sci-fi drivel I've seen in many a moon. It belongs in the Best Buy "trash bin". Rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Arctic 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Arctic Director: Joe Penna
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smaradottir

"She's running out of time". So says the battered character of Overgard in 2019's Arctic (my latest review). Arctic the movie, well it sure takes its "time". 98 minutes seems to feel a little more long-winded here.

Arctic while fitting, still has that seen it all before feeling. It's about a man who is stranded somewhere in the Arctic Circle after his small plane goes down. While waiting to be rescued, he is forced to survive with whatever bare resources he has around him. Frustrating, harrowing, and not without its various moments, Arctic might have been more pioneering say 30 years ago. My final reaction after Arctic's closing credits rolled was a muted sigh.

Image result for arctic movie scenesSo OK, Arctic is like 2013's All Is Lost in snow. It's also like The Grey without wolves, Gerry without the desert, or Alive without visible cannibalism. The sad thing however, is that Arctic isn't quite as terrifying, high arty, or compelling as the films just mentioned. Yup, it must have been a little too warm on the North Pole when Arctic's "man against nature" plight went down.

Directed by first-timer Joe Penna (he's a shorts and TV guy), containing almost no backstory, and made on a minuscule budget of $2 million, Arctic gives us its strongest asset in lead Mads Mikkelsen. As Overgard, Mads gives a performance that is totally weathered and seemingly staunch. Being perfectly cast in looks and in speaking voice, Mikkelsen effectively rivals the Robert Redford persona from All Is Lost (mentioned earlier).

Image result for arctic movie scenesIn conclusion, Arctic's music by Joseph Trapanese is rousing and wholly baseline for this type of genre. As for Arctic's cinematography (by Tomas Orn Tomasson), well the budget constraints make it feel like it was tersely filmed in snowy Colorado (or any Canadian province). Bottom line: Arctic isn't mediocre but it sure comes off like a paint-by-numbers exercise in brute survival. You take away the parching screen presence of Mads Mikkelsen and the outcome might be even worse. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 8, 2019

Apollo 11 2019 * * * * Stars

Apollo 11Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Year: 2019
Rated G
Rating: * * * * Stars
Cast: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Indeed.

In July of 1969, the spaceflight involving the first two people to land on the moon, is gloriously and masterfully depicted in Apollo 11 (my latest review). "Apollo" is shot in 70 mm, cut from thousands of hours of reel, baited in effective title cards, and contains cinematography from the actual astronauts involved (Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins). Barely grainy, split-screened, and nevertheless revolutionary, you as the viewer feel like you're stuck in an outputted time warp.

Image result for apollo 11 2019 movie scenesYup, it's official. "Apollo" is so far the best film of 2019 and the most heady since Kubrick's 2001. I left the theater elated and enthusiastic at what I just saw. Heck, Apollo 11 is the real "First Man", not the mediocre science fiction flick where Ryan Gosling plays a turgidly aloof Neil A. Armstrong.

Clocking in at a perfect 93 minutes, distributed by up-and-comer Neon, and containing archived restoration of the highest order, "Apollo" is a documentary without interviews, commentaries, narration, or whatever. Hey, its predictable true account just works and everyone from age 10 to 100 should check it out.

Director Todd Douglas Miller (a docu genius in the making) pulls you into "Apollo's" "in the moment" vision. He lets the actual people involved (no actors here) do the talking and his footage is so pristine and polished, your jaw will literary drop. After 50 years, I can't believe nobody thought about releasing this kind of maverick foresight earlier. Eat your heart out Paul Greengrass cause Apollo 11 is totally mind-blowing (and mind-boggling if you think about it).

Image result for apollo 11 2019 movie scenes"Apollo's" music by Ohio native Matt Morton, is an added bonus (it's fitting since most spacemen hail from the Buckeye State). It's stirring and Herculean and pounces in at all the right moments. Bottom line: Apollo 11 is the future of factual programs for years to come. Now all I gotta do is see Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old and my cinematic world will be complete. My highest rating: 4 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Trading Paint 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Trading PaintDirector: Karzan Kader
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Travolta, Michael Madsen, Shania Twain

Parodied character names like Sam "The Man" Munroe and Bob "Lead Foot" Linsky. The gorgeous Shania Twain phoning in her love interest performance as if she were the spokeswoman for Simple Mobile. The cheesiest sports commentary since the Ben-Hur-style pod race in The Phantom Menace. An ending too fanciful for words. It's all here in Trading Paint (my latest review). Let's just call "Paint" Days of "Blunder" shall we.

Image result for trading paint 2019 movie scenesAnyway, Trading Paint takes place in Alabama and was filmed in Alabama. Its production values basically consist of going to a small rural town, turning on the Panavision camera, and quickly yelling action! As for "Paint's" story, well it's about minor league dirt car racing, like father, like son racing, and rivalry racing all rolled up into one. The scenes where the stock cars are barreling down the speedway seem anti-climatic, underwhelming, pedestrian, and few and far between. Somewhere Cole Trickle is shaking his head in embarrassment while sipping some hardcore Tennessee Moonshine.

Trading Paint, which comes off like 1990's Days of Thunder on a shoestring budget (see first paragraph), feels insignificant, predictable, and incredibly small-scale. I give the filmmakers a little credit for trying to install a dramatic narrative as opposed to just relying on built sedans violently rubbing up against each other (hence the name of the movie). Still, "Paint" veers into straight-to-video territory real quick. Look there's "Paint" star John Travolta harboring little integrity, sporting his umpteenth hairpiece, and spewing more weirdo southern accents than Jim Nabors (how noble of him). And look, there's co-star Michael Madsen channeling his inner, uber-villain while trying to be relevant again (uh what the heck happened to this dude's career and speaking voice?).

Image result for trading paint 2019 movie scenes
Bottom line: Loved the catchy title of this film. Loved seeing Shania in tight jeans. Didn't really like Karzan Kader's cut corners direction. Didn't really like "Paint" in general. Sadly, Trading Paint is gearhead "finger-paint". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 1, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Alita: Battle AngelDirector: Robert Rodriguez
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali

"You are the most human person I have ever met". So says the lovelorn character of Hugo in Alita: Battle Angel (my latest review). Good insightful quote because I don't think anyone in "Alita" actually registered as a full-on "human" being. Robo-apocalypse now people!

In Alita: Battle Angel, a female half robot with a mortal brain attempts to recollect her past while trying to find herself in fictional Iron City (circa 2563). She also strives to become a star athlete in the savage sport of Motorball.

Image result for alita: battle angel movie scenesStarring Rosa Salazar, the miscast Christoph Waltz, and the miscast Mahershala Ali (these dudes should have switched roles as the villain and non-villain), "Alita" doesn't quite win the "battle" for my total recommendation. Big eyes and small-boned aside, Salazar as "Alita's" lead comes off a little wooden even though she aptly knows how to handle herself in a fight.

Registering at a running time of just over two hours and scripted by James Cameron (where the heck has he been?), Alita: Battle Angel is the cyborg movie to end all cyborg movies. Fundamentally, "Alita" is a little bit of Blade Runner, a little bit of A.I., a little bit of 1975's Rollerball, and something akin to an early flick by South African Neill Blomkamp. Look for some cheesy dialogue, some sumptuous yet dated special effects, and a one line cameo by former Oscar nominee Ed Norton (huh?).

Image result for alita: battle angel movie scenesAll in all, "Alita's" veteran director (Robert Rodriguez) has never been the most cohesive of maverick storytellers. With Alita: Battle Angel, it's just another sci-fi case of rinse, rinse, repeat. Still, Rodriguez knows where to put the camera, he knows how to shoot in 3D space, he ferociously knows his whip pans, and he knows how to intensely film samurai-style action. "Alita" may be polarizing, soulless, and mechanical but at least there are cinematic bodies in motion. That's half the darn "battle". Rating: 2.5 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Beneath the Leaves 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Beneath the LeavesDirector: Adam Marino
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Paul Sorvino, Doug Jones

"It's a cyclical pattern". So says the character of PI Erica Shotwell in Beneath the Leaves (my latest review). "Leaves", well it's quite the "sickening" movie.

In Beneath the Leaves, an ill-defined psychopath escapes from an elaborate prison fire. Twenty years after being incarcerated, he vows to carry out his mission to kill four boys (now grown men) he had once held captive. Said psychopath also has an obsession with lethal injection needles, drugged alcoholic beverages, and ripped out fingernails. Ouch, ouch, and double ouch!

Image result for beneath the leaves movie scenesStarring the likes of Paul Sorvino, Mira Sorvino, and Mira's husband Christopher Backus (talk about a Sorvino family affair), "Leaves" turned a little brown for me On Demand. I will say this though. Mira Sorvino sure is sexy and badass as a mirrored, Mariska Hargitay-style detective. At age 51, she's still a tall drink of water and a darn knockout.

Clocking in at 90 minutes flat and distributed by Eagle Films (various birds tend to show up metaphorically here), Beneath the Leaves is worth watching again even though I couldn't quite bring myself to recommend it. Basically, "Leaves" is part mystery thriller, part Law & Order: SVU episode on steroids, part torture porn, and part Sleepers for the modern day. Look for plenty of grisly killings, a rare Julian, California locale, and the most outlandish overacting since Rod Steiger played a frothing Mayor and Danny Aiello played a douche Captain in 1989's The January Man.

Image result for beneath the leaves movie scenesIn conclusion, the director of "Leaves" (rookie Adam Marino) fashions a film that is sometimes haunting, sometimes discombobulating (the opening scene in relation to the rest of the flick is kind of head scratching), and sometimes veered into camp. With a weird mixture of barbarity and out of place humor, Beneath the Leaves may make you feel effectively icky but it's still sort of "beneath" me. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Isle 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

The IsleDirector: Matthew Butler-Hart
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Alex Hassell, Conleth Hill, Tori Butler-Hart

2018's The Isle is my latest review. Set to be released in April of this year, it's a pseudo-horror pic that's distributed by DC Films (no relation to DC Comics). Added to that, "Isle" has a cast of virtual unknowns to go along with its sunless and soil-like, 1800's setting.

So OK, The Isle comes off as the ultimate cinematic tease in trepidation fare. And yes, the movie contains flashbacks that readily deflate any of the story's put-on scare factors. Still, "Isle" is gorgeously shot and has just enough earthy atmosphere and goad determinants to keep you involved as a viewer. I would compare it to something spectral I might have seen on the BBC network circa 1983.

Anyway, The Isle contains almost no gore, characters with contemporary European accents, and plenty of foreboding fog. In all honesty, if you like your mystery components to have more layman style than substance, then "Isle" will give you your stand-in fix. And if you like your ghostly persona to have softened, Evil Dead-style voices, then The Isle will satisfy your psyche of all things that go bump bump in the night.

Image result for the isle 2019 movie scenesDirected by Brit Matthew Butler-Hart, containing an effective yet repetitive musical score, and harboring lush cinematography by rookie Pete Wallington (he's done mostly shorts and TV docs), "Isle" is about three shipwreck survivors who stumble upon a haunted island off the west coast of Scotland. Said island has only four living people on it and an uncannily cryptic past. Before long, mild chaos ensues in the form of frazzled women inhabitants with spooky blue eyes. As Jack Nicholson said in The Shining, "you got a big surprise coming to you". I guess so.

All in all, helmer Matthew Butler-Hart gives The Isle a slow burn quality, a whimsical remnant, and a sense that something dreadful is coming. It's just a shame that despite all that buildup, his flick never quite takes off. Heck, Isle of Dogs might be a better vehicle containing the word "Isle" (natch). My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 15, 2019

Cold Pursuit 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Cold PursuitDirector: Hans Petter Moland
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman

2019's Cold Pursuit is my latest review. Released in February, it's a glacial weather film that embodies plenty of snowdrift and stars Liam Neeson. Yup, it's that time again. It's Neeson time.

So OK, "Pursuit's" ending seems to be an amusing glorification of death and dying. And yes, Cold Pursuit doesn't know whether it wants to be a black comedy, an exploitation conch, or a mordant B-movie. Still, "Pursuit" is much better than Neeson's last winter release titled The Commuter. I can assure you of that.

Cold Pursuit contains quick-stinted violence, a Lauren Dern character that fades out early, nominal plot buildup, and an accurate locale in Central Colorado. In truth, if you like your movie villains having cheesy one-word names ("Viking", "Avalanche", "Wingman"), then "Pursuit" is your cinematic baby. And if you like your flicks as frat boy drinking games when the bodies pile up (take a swig of whiskey every time someone dies and you'll be totally hammered), Cold Pursuit will help you get your veritable swerve on.

Image result for cold pursuit movie scenesDirected by Norwegian Hans Petter Moland and using title cards for every casual persona who bites the proverbial dust (I'm not kidding), "Pursuit" involves snowplow driver Nelson Coxman (a subdued Liam Neeson). When Coxman's son winds up dead from a heroin overdose, he has his doubts. Later on, Nelson finds out that his boy was killed by drug dealers prompting him to go into "half nelson" revenge mode (ha-ha).

Of note: Cold Pursuit doesn't really have many "special skilled" action sequences. It's just hit-men-style kills and there's lots of them. If you think you've gone in to see Neeson's Taken as a revved-up snow-blind version, you've bought the wrong ticket. And if you think Neeson plans on going Chuck Norris on everybody, you've been plainly mistaken. Oh and I almost forgot, Liam Neeson disappears halfway through "Pursuit" for about 20-25 minutes (as do a lot of the other underused characters at various points in time). It's almost like his name shouldn't have even been top billing on the poster.

Image result for cold pursuit movie scenesAll in all, Cold Pursuit has helmer Hans Petter Moland trying to one-up films like Wind River, Smokin' Aces, and 1996's Fargo. His direction is rather stylish, there are a few entertaining moments, and the script by Frank Baldwin (he's a rookie) provides a few juicy one-liners. Still, I gotta say Moland's nonchalant mixture of humor and savagery left me a little "cold". Yeah, I'm going with a rating of 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 11, 2019

What Men Want 2019 * * Stars

What Men WantDirector: Adam Shankman
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Tracey Morgan, Aldis Hodge

Directed by the guy who once was a judge on So You Think You Can Dance and produced by another guy who brought you Think Like a Man, 2019's What Men Want seems like a title that goes both ways. I'm a man and what I "want" to see is the beautiful and sexy Taraji P. Henson on screen. What I don't "want" is for her to show up in a lousy movie. Oops, too late. What Men Want is a remake and a gender-reversed version of What Woman Want from nineteen years ago. Too bad "Men" is less insightful, more mean-spirited, more stereotyped, and more potty-mouthed than the film it's trying to update.

Image result for what men want movie scenesHarboring a running time of just under two hours and co-starring the likes of an unrecognizable Brian Bosworth and Richard Roundtree (I couldn't make this up), What Men Want is about sports agents yet its raunchy script doesn't give us any real acuity as to what the heck these agents do. Along with that, "Men" is sadly just another R-rated comedy that offends, irks, and tries too hard for a laugh. Yeah I chuckled and snorted a couple of times but there's no way I could recommend this thing. Nay I say!

Helmed by Adam Shankman of Glee and Hairspray fame, and shot in predictable rom-com fashion with the addition of some extra racy sludge, "Men's" story involves Atlanta sports rep Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson). After being passed over for a promotion in her mostly male field, Davis drinks a potion from a psychic, hits her head at a night club, and ends up having the ability to read men's off-center thoughts. Of note: In 2000's What Woman Want, the thoughts of the ladies being voiced over sounded mostly heartfelt, complicated, and genuine. In What Men Want, the bad voice-overs of the men seem rather stupefied and awkward for awkward's sake. Hey, we dudes aren't as horrible, idiosyncratic, or loathsome as you think Tina Gordon ("Men's" unjustified and misinformed screenwriter).

Image result for what men want movie scenesBottom line: "Men's" lead in Taraji P. Henson, is a talented actress who either needs new representation or needs to be a little pickier about her projects. She better watch out because after stuff like What Men Want, Proud Mary, and No Good Deed, Henson might wind up becoming the next Gerard Butler. That's box office poison. My rating for What Men Want: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson