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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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

White Boy Rick 2018 * * * Stars

White Boy RickDirector: Yann Demange
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Jennifer Jason Leigh

"You're going to get in too deep and they're never gonna let you out". The ugly, gun-toting flick I'm about to review is palatable but it doesn't quite get deep enough. Did I mention that it's drug-fueled too?

Anyway, White Boy Rick is a non-fiction endeavor that allows Bruce Dern little screen time and portrays 80's Detroit as a gloom and doom vista view. With scenes that only rear themselves in the winter time, "White Boy" features Matthew McConaughey and newcomer Richie Merritt giving fantastic father and son performances. It also has McConaughey and Rory Cochrane reuniting in a pic after nearly 25 years (remember Dazed and Confused?)

Image result for White boy rick movie scenesAs far as fall releases go in 2018, "White Boy" teases but it never really takes off from a dramatic standpoint (despite some raw acting and a little family dysfunction). That doesn't mean I'm not gonna recommend it.

White Boy Rick chronicles the three-year span of one Richard Wershe Jr. At the wide-eyed age of 14, Rick became the youngest FBI informant ever. Wershe eventually got caught for selling cocaine and was sentenced to life in prison. Rick gets shot, becomes a father, hustles like a seasoned veteran, and learns to cut crack all before the age of 17. Talk about an early dose of life experiences.

"White Boy" as harbored character study and choppily edited catalyst, cuts corners with Rick's drug dealing plight even though the main character is in almost every frame. Oh well. "White Boy's" director (Yann Demange) creates a movie that's darkly dense, rift with diverting sleaze, and rich in its sense of time and place. There's nastiness, atmospherics, and danger all around.

Image result for White boy rick movie scenesSure Demange's storytelling sensibilities go off-kilter and yes, his ending makes you salivate for a little more reverence (as does the presence of the supporting Matthew McConaughey). Still, White Boy Rick has heightened, old school soundtrack and escapism residuals. Its Scarface/Boogie Nights pigeon is slightly more caustic than being just black and "white". My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Gotti 2018 * 1/2 Stars

GottiDirector: Kevin Connolly
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach

What's-a-matter with the flick I'm about to review? Uh plenty. Gotti is a skewed, timeline misfire. It features star John Travolta hamming it up, talking into the lens a la Ray Liotta, and sporting yet another fake hairpiece. As far as new releases go in 2018, Gotti tries way too hard to appeal to everyone's gangster sensibilities. Despite decent supporting work from an unrecognizable Kelly Preston (Travolta's actual spouse) and veteran character actor Pruitt Taylor Vance, Gotti is sadly pretty "spotty".

Note to Gotti's director Kevin Connolly and his whole freaking crew (no pun intended): Francis Ford Coppola called and says he wants all his mob cliches and cliched Italian names back. Also, Martin Scorsese phoned in. He doesn't want you to include the ditty "House of the Rising Sun" and says that famed editor Thelma Schoonmaker is unavailable to step in for a fixing. Finally, don't make an organized crime pic that lacks a sense of foreboding or real danger. It just renders the proceedings laughable and sadly irrelevant.

Image result for gotti 2018 movie scenesAnyway, Gotti sloppily chronicles the thirty-year monarchy of Gambino crime boss John Joseph Gotti Jr. (Travolta harbors a lot of parody-style rage here in the lead role). In truth, this film is never boring as its inconsistent soundtrack of Pitbull and 70's/80's tunage litters every frame. Still, Gotti leaves the viewer adrift with too many characters, screw loose editing, dead end plot threads, and numerous TV movie interludes.

So OK, helmer Connolly knows what to do with the camera. His storytelling sensibilities, well that's a different matter altogether. Kevin shoots everything in skewed, prearranged fashion with scene after scene completely jotting back and forth. He fashions Gotti as a second-tier Black Mass, using every borough in NYC as a setting and literally butchering the almighty cinematic form.

Image result for gotti 2018 movie scenesRemember when Kevin Connolly starred in Entourage and tried to produce its fictional, box office bomb Medellin? Well talk about art imitating indelible, real-life. Gotti with its eye-rolling, tough talking script and severe whiff of incoherence, gets a 1.5 star rating from me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Terminal 2018 * 1/2 Stars

TerminalDirector: Vaughn Stein
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mike Meyers, Simon Pegg

Margot Robbie gives a decent performance as a sicko femme fatale. Simon Pegg branches out in a distressed supporting role. Dexter Fletcher keeps his thick "Lock, Stock" accent alive and kicking. Lastly, Mike Myers strives for an acting comeback with so-so results.

Image result for terminal 2018 movie scenesYup, I'm talking about the troupers involved in 2018's Terminal, my latest review. Cloaked in pretension and set in fantasy-land, Terminal involves two twin sisters getting revenge on certain denizens that have randomly traumatized them. In truth, this film won't compel you, shock you, or disturb you enough. Terminal projects style for the sake of style and contains plot twists that are inserted just for the heck of it. It's like Usual Suspects meets The Prestige but sadly, it's the "play dumb" version.

Note to Terminal's conventional and rookie director show off, Mr. Vaughn Stein: Ridley Scott called. He says he wants his futuristic aerial shots back and his look-see lighting. Also, Terry Gilliam phoned in and says he wants his offbeat camera angles back too. Did I mention that Philip Noyce is a little disappointed that you copied his surveillance shtick a la 1993's Sliver? Finally, don't try to make Terminal out to be a film that thinks it's more apt than it really is. That's just plain annoying bruh.

Image result for terminal 2018 movie scenesAnyway, Terminal might have delayed its release had it not been for Robbie's inclination of getting nominated for an Oscar just months earlier. This flick is the equivalent of doltish British film noir, complete with lathered neon lights, circling ciggie smoke, dream-like elements, a Frank Miller remnant, and a look of chronic darkness. It's a Blade Runner wannabe. It's edited to be clever but the script will bore you silly. Finally, Terminal is a movie that a certain Minnesota-born helmer would have made had he not been concentrating on telling the story of Don Quixote (see last paragraph). Bottom line: Terminal may be earnest in its execution and obviously rift with darkened ideals. Still, its existence is "terminally" unnecessary. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Kin 2018 * * * 1/2 Stars

KinDirectors: Jonathan Baker, Josh Baker
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jack Reynor, Zoe Kravitz, Dennis Quaid

A troubled, adopted boy from Detroit stumbles upon a spaced-aged gun capable of blowing a hole through anything. The boy vows to use the Oblivion-style weapon to protect his older brother from some nasty gangsters he owes money to. That's the blueprint of Kin, a vehicle that studios pined to make in the 80's but rarely have the Repo Man-like cojones to make today.

Now Kin got lost in the summer shuffle of Marvel blockbusters, 2018's Ocean's 8 (ugh), Mission: Impossible sequels, and bad shark pics (yes I'm talking about The Meg). Kin's featured carbine with its crisp reloading sounds, its warlike statue, and its gleaming amount of red light gadgetry, feels like an actual star in the movie.

Related imageEncompassing a lousy box office take, an uninspired marketing campaign, and an end-of-August opening date, Kin will probably bow out in theaters very soon. Rather than salivate over what new fall releases enter the horizon, I suggest you see this refreshing bit of genre reverie and see it stat!

Anyway, Kin is dirtied-up, lower class sci-fi, furnished with an earthy post-rock soundtrack and some 70's tunes by the likes of one Joni Mitchell (1974's "Help Me" never sounded so good). Kin is also a thinking man's form of science fiction, relying less on bloodshed and plot over plot and more on character-driven theatrics.

Kin while never lacking in ingenuity, presents itself as a road trip movie, a slick techno fever dream, a squib of present day dystopia, and an exhilarating fantasy par excellence. You'll dig the raw performance of Chris Pratt lookalike Jack Reynor, the comfortable work of James Franco as Kin's scruffy heavy, Kin's surprise ending, and the badass cameo of Michael B. Jordan that goes along with said ending (I gotta say Kin's revelatory coda makes it a better film than it already is).

Image result for kin movie scenesBottom line: Kin may have not found an audience or caught the cult bug but I'm happy to start a cinematic petition. Call it my new and long lost "broheim". Call it sci-fi True Romance meets sci-fi Afterschool Special. Call it Kinship! Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 3, 2018

Summer of 84 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Summer of 84Directors: Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Judah Lewis, Tiera Skovbye, Cory Gruter-Andrew

Four horny, masturbatory teenagers who swipe whiskey for a sipping delight and ride their bikes around town to Bananarama's "Cruel Summer", try to prove that an overly nice, neighboring cop is a serial killer. That's the rub of Summer of 84, a build-up vehicle that's so Hitchcockian, so forestry suburbia-like, and so slow burn, it almost replicates the master himself. On a side note, I was ten years old during the dog days of 1984. My only exciting highlight was going to see Ghostbusters with my immature buds via a pizza and Pepsi b-day. In veracity, "84" teases as true story fodder but yeah, it's cut from original cloth. I'm no film historian or adolescent conspiracy theorist but I can see why.

Image result for summer of 84 2018 movie scenesAnyway, "84" is a movie set in the mid-1980's within the state of Oregon (you'll know that right off the bat). Its sense of time and place is half-arsed but it's more about the musical soundtrack, a mixture of early John Carpenter, 1983's Risky Business, and 80's synthesizer-style cheese. Listening to Summer of 84's background noise made me want to put on my Members Only jacket, play a little Pac-Man, and grow a mullet. Also, "84's" title card sort of reminded me of Michael Jackson's heavily iconic, "Thriller" music video.

Helmed by three people (Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell) and devoid of opportunistic, heightened suspense, Summer of 84's direction is still solid. It's full of zoom shots, mildly tight scripting, slight nostalgia, Spielberg references, and Carpenter-esque jolts. However, the flick reeks of predictability (you clearly know who the quiet murderer is early on) and features a conclusion that feels like a dangling loose end. The filmmakers fashion "84" as a foul-mouthed Super 8 with It overtones, obliged coming-of-age residue, and acting that projects as poor man's Stand by Me. I was somewhat intrigued and furled along but I'm going with a mixed rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson