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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Like a Boss 2020 * Star

Like a BossDirector: Miguel Arteta
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek

"Business and friendship don't always mix". Comedies and January release dates don't always mix either. My latest review is 2020's Like a Boss and it came out last week. Whoever had a hand in making it needs to be "demoted" or drummed out.

Anyway, have you ever taken in a raunchy chick flick that sort of evaporates as you view it? And have you ever seen an R-rated farce that's dirty yet fails to really push the envelope? Like a Boss is both of these things and it makes stuff like Girls Trip and Bridesmaids feel like Oscar winners in comparison.

Image result for like a boss movie scenesLike a Boss, with its genitalia jokes, its workplace drones, and its umpteenth filming location in Atlanta, Georgia, is like an 83-minute exercise in which comedic scenes flop and die. Director Miguel Arteta (he's mostly a TV guy) favors a lousy script for actresses who deserve a better one. He also favors outtake-style line deliveries as opposed to the funnier bits that were obviously left in the trailers.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures, harboring a look of feminine pastel purgatory, and featuring an overreaching co-star in Salma Hayek, Like a Boss is about female besties Mel and Mia (played by Rose Byrne and always-in-character Tiffany Haddish). They run a cosmetics company that's about to go under until they invest with a nasty magnate who wants to steal all their good ideas.

In truth, the screenplay for Like a Boss is its biggest culprit. Rambling on about friendship and roaring career women, it feels arbitrarily dated, totally unfunny, trite, and completely fanciful. It brings out the worst in the actors even if they brought their A game or Meryl Streep for moral support.

Image result for like a boss movie scenesBottom line: Thanksgiving has come early this year in the form of Like a Boss. It's truly a turkey. Better yet, it's a turkey with cheap mascara and silver ball bearings attached to it. Dug the title though. Rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 17, 2020

1917 2019 * * * Stars

1917Director: Sam Mendes
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Benedict Cumberbatch

It was September of 1999. I was sitting in a South Bend, IN movie theater watching the domestic dysfunction that is American Beauty. Its director (Sam Mendes) won an Oscar that year and I was thinking to myself, "this guy might have something". Cut to twenty years later and Mendes is back with the on the mark yet sometimes tedious, 1917 (my latest review).

Sam's 1917 has to do with World War I (hence the title). Two British soldiers named Tom Blake and Will Schofield (played wonderfully by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) have to deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. Said message is for the Devonshire Regiment to call off a planned attack that could save the lives of 1600 men.

Image result for 1917 movie scenesReflecting on 1917, I was reminded of two filming techniques done in two different movies by the same director. The movies in question are The Revenant and Birdman and they are helmed by Mexico City's own Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Mendes takes a page out of Inarritu's gifted, how-did-they-film-that playbook. He shoots 1917 in almost one continuous take and his camerawork is surrounding, provocative, and completely encircling. The camera is rather a stalker that stalks in panoramic fashion, every single movement by the actors. It's an impressive feat if not a gimmick and you wonder if 1917 would be totally conventional had it not been for Sam's audacious trickery.

Wonderment and impeccable dramatic timing aside, 1917 isn't brutally rabid like other war pics. It's also shot low to the ground with its WWI trenches immersing as staunch main characters. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is lush, wide lens-ed, and wholly canvassed. Finally, 1917's ending is the best part because it's a culmination and a journey evoking real vehemence. Will 1917 win some Academy Awards next month? I thinking yeah. Out of ten nominations it sure as heck better. Rating: 3 stars.

Image result for 1917 movie scenesOf note: Check out the final credits in which you realize that the paternal grandfather of Sam Mendes (Alfred Mendes) actually served in the First World Wars. That is in a word, inspiring.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 13, 2020

Underwater 2020 * * Stars

UnderwaterDirector: William Eubank
Year: 2020
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Vincent Cassel

"You're descending seven miles to the bottom of the ocean". Sounds like a hoot. That's a quote from my first review of 2020 titled Underwater. Kristen Stewart stars in Underwater as the short-haired, athletic heroine named Norah Price. Aside from looking like a female Roy Batty, Kristen has screen presence and is embroiled in "underwear". Sadly, her line readings are a little garbled.

Anyway, Underwater is draggy even with a running time of ninety-five minutes. Yup, it's not fully epic despite having shades of 2005's The Descent. In fact, Underwater resembles a lot of flicks such as Leviathan, The Abyss, DeepStar Six, Alien, Life, and (gulp) Event Horizon. Here's the problem: Underwater came after all that stuff so that deems it a little last-ditch. What a shame.

Image result for underwater 2020 movie scenesNow has Hollywood run out of ideas in the regurgitated, sci-fi realm? Oh yeah. And is Underwater the outline of true life form leftovers? Almost.

The director of Underwater is Massachusetts native and former HD technician, William Eubank. His vision of Underwater is murky cinematography, choppy editing (no pun intended), pouncing jump scares, not a whole lot of critter striking, and not a whole lot of character development.

Underwater has virtually no buildup as we the audience watch the film from perhaps the middle or second act. Besides some cringe-worthy comic relief from goofball (and Hudson wannabe) T.J. Miller, the personas are virtually non-indelible. They are slack passengers just waiting for the parasitic slaughter.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox and containing a decent musical score by Marco Beltrami (Free Solo, A Quiet Place), Underwater is about heinously morphed creatures who terrorize some research crew members far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Image result for underwater 2020 movie scenesLook for a backhanded ending (which I liked) and some science fiction dialogue that reeks of vessel deja vu (that I didn't like). Underwater was released in January and was shot almost three years ago. That's some bad cinematic juju if you ask me. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 2019 * * * Stars

Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerDirector: J. J. Abrams
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill

It was the fall of 1977. I was only three when my dad took me to see the original Star Wars (A New Hope). I may have fell asleep during the opening crawl but it still remains my earliest childhood memory. Now forty-two years later, J. J. Abrams has come to wrap up the Star Wars saga via Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The Jedi are still battling the Sith, Rey and Kylo Ren are still confronting each other with badass lightsabers, and Poe and Finn are still on rescue mission mode.

Reflecting on the first three Star Wars films (episodes IV, V, and VI), "Rise" resembles them somewhat even if it lacks their fabled, magical dust. Abrams returning to direct the final installment, doesn't get all artsy and cerebral like Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi. He fashions "Rise" as rather a fast-clipped, popcorn pic. At 142 minutes, it's long but far from being boring.

Image result for star wars: the rise of skywalker movie scenesThere are critics who say that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is confusing, poorly edited, and lacking in continuity. This critic followed the flick just fine. Abrams packs every frame with action to the gills, some friendly Resistance ribbing, and some whizzing set pieces. His CGI is effective without being overdone yet his tying up of all things "galaxy far, far away" is a little brusque. Oh well. It's not easy trying to finalize nine movies over the past four decades.

Let me put it this way: J. J. Abrams improves greatly on his foray into Star Wars lore sans the meat and potatoes vehicle, The Force Awakens. He keeps it old school in the heirloom-ed, space opera universe. Look for a Harrison Ford-Han Solo cameo, the return of Emperor Palpatine, and the return of good old Lando Calrissian. Bottom line: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker rarely feels retreaded or riskless nor does it bring back any annoying characters (I'm glad I didn't have to see Jar Jar Binks). It's exciting, knife-edge, and aerodynamic in its approach. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Overcomer 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

OvercomerDirector: Alex Kendrick
Year: 2019
Rated PG
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Alex Kendrick, Priscilla Shirer, Aryn Wright-Thompson

John Harrison is an enthusiastic, high school basketball coach. Small town abode aside, he is hyped for his upcoming season with all his top-notch players coming back. After John loses his team due to the student athlete's parents losing their jobs, he is forced to coach cross country with one participant who has asthma. That's just the blueprint of 2019's emotional and steered, Overcomer. Yup, it's my latest review.

Overcomer starts out kinda familiar with its Disney-like candor, its God's Not Dead residue, and its ode to all things John Lee Hancock (remember 2009's The Blind Side?). It's also akin to watching Kevin Costner's McFarland, USA with bells on (a film I conceded yet recommended).

Image result for overcomer movie scenesOvercomer however, becomes a no offense-d Christian drama and gets rather preachy towards the end (no pun intended). Hey, I believe in god but I also know when I'm being bible thumped and slightly bamboozled. There are some hardcore tearjerker moments here (and some divinity) but I came to watch a movie, not a perplexed sermon.

Overcomer, with its director, star, and writer in charge (Alex Kendrick), was filmed in Columbus, Georgia. This flick has a twist and some sledgehammering Christianity that keeps it from being just a regular sports pic (a dying father gets to coach his estranged daughter to a state championship victory via some long-distance running competition).

Yeah you tear up occasionally and you respect Overcomer's languid, PG rating. You also feel that you're no longer watching a drama and just taking in a forced infomercial (I didn't want that to happen).

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So OK, I'm not hating on Overcomer. I'm just not looking to be cinematic-ally manipulated. On occasion, the poignant moments in Overcomer resonate if you can get through the sappy and lingering discourse. My rating: A strong but not recommendable, 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Trauma Center 2019 * Star

Trauma CenterDirector: Matt Eskandari
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Bruce Willis, Steve Guttenberg, Nicky Whelan

"You're a witness". Yeah I was a witness too. I witnessed one of the worst pics of 2019 in Trauma Center. Prepare to be "traumatized" if you choose to see it (VOD is probably your only vested option).

Anyway, have you ever viewed a film in which the present day lighting looks and feels like a flashback? And have you ever taken in a Steve Guttenberg performance with two short scenes that scream acting 101? Trauma Center is that film and it makes hospital fodder like Coma, Halloween II, and John Q. seem like Citizen Kane in comparison.

Image result for trauma center movie scenes 2019Trauma Center, with its muttered line deliveries by star Bruce Willis and its idle production values, feels like it was made by amateurs for amateurs. Director Matt Eskandari (who should know better) favors cue card, soap opera performing over capable casting. He also favors Michael Bay aerial shots over baseline camerawork. Finally, he favors short cut scripting over well, a decent script.

Probably made feverishly on time and on budget (what budget you ask), Trauma Center's story involves a woman who witnesses two corrupt cops kill another cop. The woman (Madison Taylor played by Nicky Whelan) survives a gunshot wound and is taken to an isolation ward for her safety. Sadly, said cops know she is alive. They plan to find her, kill her, and take a piece of evidence she has that will implicate them in the murderous crime (the attestation is a bullet in her leg, hilarious).

Image result for trauma center movie scenes 2019As a critic, I have a long-running rule. The rule is never give zero stars to a movie. Why? Because film-making is hard work and involves a lot of hard-working bodies. With Trauma Center's minuscule character development, bad consultation, and nonchalant way of short-changing the audience, I nearly broke that rule. Bottom line: Stay away from Trauma Center and stay away "stat!" Rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 28, 2019

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2019

Image result for apollo 11 movie poster1. Apollo 11-  The spaceflight involving the first two people to land on the moon is gloriously and masterfully depicted in Apollo 11. It's the best film of 2019 and the most heady since Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Image result for Dark waters movie poster2. Dark Waters - If you like the dreary temperament of North Country, the investigative candor of Erin Brockovich, the exhaustion of A Civil Action, or 2015's Spotlight, then Dark Waters will effectively put you in cinematic harm's way.

Image result for the art of racing in the rain movie poster3. The Art of Racing in the Rain - The Art of Racing in the Rain is feel-good fodder people, with a few dark turns (no pun intended), a story seen realistically through a whelp's eyes, and not a whole lot of actual racing (that's OK). You're not quite a human person if you can't enjoy a film like this.

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3. (Tie) Uncut Gems - Directed by two brothers (Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie), filmed chiefly in close-ups, featuring some weird colonoscopy imagery, and co-starring former NBA great Kevin Garnett (that's some brilliant casting there), Uncut Gems is the cinematic equivalent of pure cocaine mixed with high-grade angel dust.

Image result for miss bala movie poster

4. Miss Bala - "Bala's" director (Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight fame) creates a flick so dangerous, so well plotted, so willful, and so vulnerably unsafe, you won't be able to catch your breath.

Image result for spider-man far from home movie poster5. Spider-Man: Far From Home - Spider-Man: Far From Home, with its international flavor and its introduction of Jake Gyllenhaal to the Marvel universe, feels like one of the best good time, hangout flicks in the Spider-Man franchise canon. Yes it's live-action fodder but "Far From Home" also has the look of being sort of cartoonish. Trust me, I'm okay with that.

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5. (Tie) Richard JewellRichard Jewell, while looking more proficient instead of being unnecessarily flashy, is a sledgehammering account of persecution, a well cast drama, and a thorough biopic to boot.

Image result for ford v ferrari movie poster6. Ford v Ferrari - With smooth direction by James Mangold, some capable editing by Michael McCusker, some sleek rides, and a bleached out, beach blanket be-bop look, Ford v Ferrari provides the viewer with an old-world night at the cineplex. Call it "stampede for speed".

Image result for serenity movie titles7. Serenity - A fishing boat captain named Baker Dill, is visited by his frazzled ex-wife. She wants him to kill her current husband because the a-hole is harshly abusive to their astute son. That's the fugazi blueprint for 2019's Serenity. In all truthfulness, I really got into Serenity. Yeah, it's a movie lover's movie if there ever was one.

Image result for the irishman movie poster8. The Irishman - The Irishman is a sprawling and calculated epic. It's talky rather than flashy. It's phlegmatic as opposed to being overly violent. Its sense of time and place is sumptuous as opposed to being visibly forced. Its use of flashbacks is pertinent as opposed to being an obligatory gimmick.

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9. Ma Ma, with its eager malaise and unpromising, small town feel, provides spot-on casting and the makings of something a la the midnight movie circuit. Octavia Spencer in Ma's lead role, gets her Kathy Bates on and becomes the badass, cinematic wretch terror fans have always yearned for.

Image result for queen and slim movie poster

10. Queen & SlimQueen & Slim's director (rookie Melina Matsoukas) presents a bleak vision of racial injustice and badge number hellfire that although fictitious and one-sided, feels all-too real. With Melina's streamlined and atmospheric direction and Tat Radcliffe's massively surrounding camerawork, I felt like I was in Queen & Slim. Heck, I felt like I was living it.

Honorable Mention: John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, We Die Young, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Anna, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Little Women, Cold Blood. These are all good films that didn't quite make the cut.

And the worst...

1. Trauma Center - Trauma Center, with its muttered line deliveries by star Bruce Willis and its idle production values, feels like it was made by amateurs for amateurs.

1. (Tie) A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return - This garbage is only frightening if you've never seen an actual horror film before.

2. The Challenger Disaster - The Challenger Disaster seems like a fitting title. Fitting for the "disaster" part anyway.

3. Against the Clock - Against the Clock is the classic case of a Hollywood studio letting the director do whatever he wants when he wants.

4. Glass - Glass again shows director M. Night Shyamalan at his most pretentious and his most la-di-da.

5. Trading Paint - Imagine Days of Thunder on a shoestring budget with star John Travolta sporting yet another bad hairpiece.

List compiled by Jesse Burleson