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Monday, July 22, 2019

Into the Ashes 2019 * * Stars

Into the AshesDirector: Aaron Harvey
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Frank Grillo, Luke Grimes, Robert Taylor

"We were a family and you tried to kill us". Into the Ashes (my latest review) is about family but not the kind you wanna get mixed up in. We're talking guns, dirty money, malefactors, and overall criminality. Need I say more?

So OK, the poster for "Ashes" looks similar to the ones for American Assassin, 2015's Extraction, and 2017's Extortion. Am I seeing a trend here? Is this what every Internet-released poster is gonna look like? Anyway, I figured Into the Ashes wouldn't see much time in theaters. There are no stars except Frank Grillo (who once sparred with Liam Neeson in The Grey), there's that familiar revenge element, and the giveaway production values are stark at best.

Image result for into the ashes 2019 movie scenesInto the Ashes is helmed by writer and director Aaron Harvey (The Neighbor, Catch .44). Whether its rack focusing, the occasional close-up, a key flashback, or a rendered dissolve, Harvey commits to every shot. His "Ashes" is a little noir, a little Hitchcockian, a little C-listed, and a little home cooking. Heck, the film opens with a 4-minute tracking sequence that's fairly decent. Just call it the poor man's Copacabana a la Marty Scorsese.

Into the Ashes is also muddled and for the most part, half-done. For instance, what kind of bad stuff was the protagonist involved in before he left a life of crime? What's the backstory on the bad guys the protagonist was hanging with while he was up to no good? Why do said bad guys disappear in "Ashes" from time to time? Why does the sheriff in "Ashes" think he's as cool as Jeff Bridges? And how does said protagonist (Luke Grimes as Nick Brenner) get shot two times in the back and still go on living (huh?).

Image result for into the ashes 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Into the Ashes as senseless titles go, looks like the greatest flick an incoming USC film student could ever come up with on the fly. It's worth a look despite having tired, laddish character behaviors, muttered dialogue by its actors, and plot holes the size of Denver. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Crawl 2019 * * * Stars

CrawlDirector: Alexandre Aja
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ami Metcalf

A giant hurricane hits South Florida and a young college swimmer drives there to save her downtrodden dad. Here's the problem: Said dad is trapped in the basement of his house and there's a bunch of evil alligators salivating down there. That's the gist of the white-knuckled yet predictable and farcical, Crawl.

Crawl, with its mounds of apprehension, its B-movie nastiness, its crunchy sound editing, and its heroine implausibility (only the game leads survive this feeding frenzy), is one of your more serviceable Jaws genre-d ripoffs. Better than Lake Placid, less gory than Piranha 3D (same director), more chilling than The Meg, and Citizen Kane compared to 2011's Shark Night, Crawl is an ideal summer movie even if the foreseen outcome is there for the taking.

Image result for crawl 2019 movie scenesCrawl is produced by Sam Raimi and directed by Alexandre Aja. It has an undeveloped script that shadows the action and gators that get the formidable CGI treatment (it's still all good). Despite your typical thriller flaws here, Aja knows how to build tension, knows how to release it, knows how to shoot low to the ground, and knows how to make you fearfully squirm.

In truth, Crawl is so wet, ratty, and slimy you can almost feel your feet itch from your waterlogged shoes. I wouldn't say "run" to see Crawl but its stomach-in-your-throat ardor is at least worth the price of admission.

Image result for crawl 2019 movie scenesCrawl stars Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario as the father and daughter in peril. They have palatable screen presence, they look like they could be related, and they give decent performances. However, their wounds throughout Crawl are about as non-fatal as Thomas M. Gifford after a fishing accident (Kaya's persona should have lost about three limbs by the 60-minute mark). Add Aja's whiz-bang camera movement with his crocs slithering like they were in a Activision video game and Crawl barely gets a 3 star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 12, 2019

Vault 2019 * 1/2 Stars

VaultDirector: Tom DeNucci
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Theo Rossi, Clive Standen, Don Johnson

Macho criminals who don't wear masks, don't think rationally, and don't get the controlled crime lingo, try to pull off the biggest heist in U.S. history ($30 million-plus kiddies). That's the blueprint for 2019's pseudo-stylish and hot-messed, Vault.

Vault, with its slight Scorsese influence, its Steven Soderbergh drawl, and its Providence, R.I. suture, is yet another crime drama that seems to disregard long-ago ingenuity. Part Black Mass, part Departed, part 2018's Gotti, part Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, part Goodfellas, and part Ocean's Eleven, Vault is the cinematic equivalent of a bastardized mutt who can't find his mommy.

Image result for vault 2019 movie scenesVault is based on true accounts, takes place mostly in Rhode Island, and is directed by a thirtysomething named Tom DeNucci (a Rhode Island native himself). DeNucci likes to show off with the camera a la triple split-screens, zooms, flashbacks, and the occasional freeze-frame.

What Tom's Vault lacks ultimately is flow, flux, or a sense of A to B. As you watch Vault, you say to yourself, "why should I care about these characters, what is their deal, and how the heck did they get here?" The monkey editing in Vault is slipshod, the Mob violence is pedestrian (it could be the budget), the end credits in Vault make you chuckle (because everything feels a little arbitrary), and the actors (Theo Rossi, Clive Standen) do what they can with a tough-talking, clunky script.

Known troupers like Don Johnson, William Forsythe, Burt Young, and Chazz Palminteri show up occasionally but they barely register. In truth, everyone in Vault comes off like parody versions of ruthless gangsters.

Image result for vault 2019 movie scenesDespite a decent sense of time and place (the mid-70's), a clear-cut reference to Richard Nixon, an interrogation twist ending, and some retro commercials on the tele, this "vault" is still an unsavory "depository". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 8, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home 2019 * * * 1/2 Stars

Spider Man: Far From HomeDirector: Jon Watts
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

"We have a job to do and you're coming with us". You as a viewer have a job to do and that's to see Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Anyway, have you ever viewed a Marvel Studio movie where the humor almost single-handedly trumps the armed conflict? You know, kid and adult personas constantly making goofy quips with tongue firmly planted in cheek? "Far From Home" is that movie and at 129 free-flowing minutes, it's my latest review.

Image result for spider man far from home movie scenes"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.

In terms of casting, well Brit Tom Holland is perfect as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He's likable as a non-cocky protagonist and actually looks like what I envisioned Spidey to look like. Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire are decent actors but Sony completely gets it right with Holland.

Taking place in Europe (starting with Venice) and paying tribute to one Tony Stark (spoiler), Spider-Man: Far From Home involves Holland's Peter Parker wanting to go on a class trip only to be hurled back into saving the world by antihero Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Image result for spider man far from home movie scenesLook for solid, Zack Snyder-style film-making from director Jon Watts (I dug Jon's use of three-dimensional space within a large canvas). Also, look for love story elements (Parker and MJ), recurring Marvel characters (Maria Hill, Harold "Happy" Hogan, Fury), and lots of nasty, firing drones. Finally, know that "Far From Home" takes a page out of the Ant-Man films in that it's almost comedic and not wholly action-packed. Endgame begot, this duck soup sequel just wants to have a good time. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return 2019 * Star

A Haunting at Silver Falls: The ReturnDirector: Teo Konuralp
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * Star
Cast: Laura Flannery, James Cavlo, Harry Hains

"Just like Ghostbusters". No, not at all. Not just like Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters had a known cast, fresh comedic dialogue, production values, and box office sway. A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return (my latest review) is more akin to a fanboy, student film version of The Ring.

Anyhow, have you ever seen a movie where the budget constraints are so abundant the pseudo-Hitchcockian scenes are cut off at midpoint? And have you ever seen a flick where the musical score is the same two chords used in countless scare fests via the last twenty years? A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return is that movie and it's a sequel that needs to be "returned" to your local Redbox stat!

Image result for a haunting at silver falls 2019 movie scenes"Return", with its E-list stars, its community theater acting, its wink wink to all things VOD, and its massively cheapo special effects, is a continuation of 2013's A Haunting at Silver Falls. Devoid of any suitable jump scares, any jim-jams, and lacking anything resembling the conch of capable editing, "Return" is only frightening if you've never seen an actual horror film before. Yeah there's a couple of twin ghosts in "Return" that are clearly inspired by the siblings in The Shining. Still, they aren't nearly as creepy as those pale-edged girls from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 hit.

Shot in Oregon (which sort of looks like rural Europe) and directed by a cut corners rookie (Teo Konuralp), A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return has to do with a phantom aunt who uses the body of a ruthless convict to terrorize a bunch of young twentysomethings.

Image result for a haunting at silver falls 2019 movie scenesLook for characters saying the most cliched of fright night readings ("we've gotta get outta here" or "if we're gonna survive, it's now or never"). Also, know that "Return" is probably the most restrained, PG-13-style horror pic you'll ever take in. Its non-theatrical release can be put alongside any recent Amityville-franchised endeavor. Bottom line: "Return" is hardcore "downturn". My rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Kid 2019 * * * Stars

The KidDirector: Vincent D'Onofrio
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Chris Pratt

"No one has to die today". You tell em' Ethan Hawke. Hawke and Chris Pratt don felt hats and revise their Magnificent Seven days with 2019's The Kid.

Anyway, have you ever seen a western that stayed more faithful to the western action genre than this? You know, the costumes, the bar whiskey, the music, the small town sets, the egotistical demeanor, the dustiness? "Kid" is that western and at 100 (sometimes) trudging minutes, it's my latest review.

The Kid, with moments of lush cinematography, Days of Heaven remnants, and occasional shards of tomahawk violence, provides decent casting and the workings of something Clint Eastwood might have made right after shooting Pale Rider.

Image result for the kid movie scenes ethan hawke 2019Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Dane DeHaan (he plays "Kid's" lead in Billy the Kid), appears formidable as a grubby cowboy. However, he strains a bit in his line readings. It's Hawke and Pratt that shine as the legendary Pat Garrett and Grant Cutler respectively. With Colt revolvers in holsters, shower-less looks, and a searing manner, they come off as scruff-ed up badasses. You just wish the late Lee Van Cleef or Sam Elliott would show up to you know, sweeten the deal.

Taking place in Eastern New Mexico and directed by veteran actor Vincent D'Onofrio, The Kid chronicles a brother and sister who flee their violent uncle after shooting their equally violent father. Along their journey across the Southwestern United States, said brother and sister encounter never-ending conflict between Billy the Kid and Garrett (mentioned earlier).

Image result for the kid movie scenes ethan hawke 2019Look for some rack focusing, a couple of brief tracking shots, and boundless mood lighting courtesy of a keen-eyed D'Onofrio (this is only his second directorial effort). Minus some excessive plodding, some choppy editing, a vague title, and an all-too-familiar milieu, this "Kid" is still mature enough to be in any gun-swilling room. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Captive State 2019 * * Stars

Captive StateDirector: Rupert Wyatt
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Vera Farmiga

Aliens that we rarely get to glimpse and are almost in the background, institute martial law on the human race. That's the layout of the sporadic and spasmodic, Captive State (my latest review).

"State" is yet another PG-13 thriller that takes place in dystopian Chicago, Illinois (this Mud City really needs to take a break from the film biz). Its look is so grubby, so inky, and so sunless, you can barely tell what's going on. Not to promote the essence of Mop & Glo floor cleaner but Captive State sure could have used a cinematic coat of it. When the squishy E.T.'s show up unannounced, you really need to squint to get your view on.

Image result for captive state movie scenesCaptive State, which features an always reliable John Goodman in one of its leads, has a sense of urgency and can never be deemed as boring. The problem is this fast-paced vehicle lacks continuity with its rookie editor clearly on mock holiday (Andrew Groves has only been involved in shorts, TV movies, and TV series up until this point). Profuse characters of a serious nature fade in and out, scenes are storyboard-ed so quickly the viewer never gets a foothold, and Chicago locales like Soldier Field and Wicker Park feel a little too conspicuous to someone who lives there (like myself).

Oh well. At least the musical score by Rob Simonsen is disquieting, the Willis Tower is still standing, and scruffy co-star Alan Ruck goes full incognito (his days of playing Cameron Frye and T.S. are long gone). Bottom line: Captive State strives to be intelligent science fiction with a Matt Reeves and Neill Blomkamp flavor. Still, it gives your average conspiracy enthusiast no sound reason to latch on. "State" leaves the audience member adrift, lost, and held "captive" (ha-ha). Call it "district nein" as in "no". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men in Black: International 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Men in Black: International movie posterDirector: F. Gary Gray
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson

Men in Black: International is a ho-hum sequel and my latest review. Billed as gimmick-ed science fiction with overseas flavor (hence the salient title), "International" feels more like a cutesy kids comedy than anything else. Call it The Phantom Menace of the Men in Black franchise. Call it pubescent tongue-in-cheek. Call it "men without tact". And just like the neuralyzer used in "International", you'll forget about the film the moment you exit the theater (for the record, I feel the original Men in Black wasn't that great to begin with).

Image result for mib international movie scenesTessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth replace Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as the new Men in Black leads. They are strapping, good-looking people who can act but they are saddled with an elongated, cringe-worthy screenplay. Yup, with game Liam Neeson signing on in a nixed supporting role, everyone comes off as a little haphazard here.

In Men in Black: International, Thompson and Hemsworth's characters have to save the E.T.-surplussed world while trying to find a mole in the Men in Black organization (you as the viewer could spot it a mile away). At an almost two-hour running time, it's hard to take "International" seriously. There's the usual shiny gadgets (which I like), a little bit of the action, some wonted special effects, too much of the drollness, and sadly, a lot of the disposable.

Image result for mib international movie scenes
In conclusion, the biggest reason these Men in Black movies continue to get made is strictly a financial one (the four installments have garnered over a billion dollars worldwide). Based on the sparse amount of people at the screening I just attended, that trend might just end. Bottom line: If you must see Men in Black: International, head to a dollar movie theater, bring the kiddies (if you have any), take in the pseudo surround sound, and try to enjoy the Styrofoam popcorn. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Abduction 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

AbductionDirector: Ernie Barbarash
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Scott Adkins, Andy On, Lily Ji

"She's been abducted." Yeah she has. By albino, hooded aliens who have been around for centuries no less. Said aliens sure know how to fight (and brawl) Bruce Lee-style. They show up haphazardly in 2019's Abduction (my latest review).

So OK, everyone in Abduction mysteriously knows how to kick butt in the avenue of exotic martial arts. No explanation, no reasoning, no stock rationale, and no know-how. Just bone-crunching, fist fighting scenes in the vein of some B-movie, John Wick echo. Yup, for a film starring C-list action guru Scott Adkins and having him harbor a stutter, Abduction really wants you to take it seriously. I did until all the shoddiness and pseudo-cheesiness sort of crept in.

Image result for abduction movie scenes 2019Directed by Xmas Netflix-er Ernie Barbarash (he was also a co-producer on 2000's American Psycho) and plotted well from a VOD standpoint, Abduction is a preposterous mix of black magic, time travel remnants, purported violence, and sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Call it "big trouble in little Vietnam". Call it "the matrix rebooted". Call it a John Carpenter pic ruined and refurbished by a form of MTV sheen.

The gist of Abduction which involves two intertwining vignettes, has to do with SWAT guy Quinn (Adkins) and gangster Connor (played by Andy On). Quinn and Connor's loved ones get captured by creepy-looking figures who are bent on steadily destroying the human race. They speak with Evil Dead-style voices, they wear black capes, they stealth it up, and they give the Grim Reaper a run for his money a la the personality department.

Image result for abduction movie scenes 2019Bottom line: Abduction is sophisticated, eerie camp with a prototypical premise, standardized direction, and a knack for having some decently choreographed block blow sequences. Compared to more commercial releases however, the film just seems a little underwhelming. Abduction conveys random "ruction". Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Domino 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

DominoDirector: Brian De Palma
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Guy Pearce, Nicolas Bro

"It's rare to find this kind of talent". Brian De Palma would agree. He himself is pretty talented. After a seven-year hiatus in the movie biz, De Palma is back with 2019's Domino. It's my latest review.

Anyway, Domino gives us one of Brian De Palma's quintessential, over-dramatic film scores. He didn't write the music mind you but the notes are well known here. Italian Pino Donaggio is Domino's composer and if you've seen De Palma's Carrie, his Blowout, or his 1980 razor flick Dressed to Kill, you'll know it's the exact same dude. Every scene and even every tuneful moment is punctuated with pseudo-suspense, malaise, and uneasiness. For a film showcasing 78-year-old De Palma on straight-to-video holiday, Domino could have been a whole lot worse.

Image result for Domino 2019 movie scenesIn Domino, all the De Palma trademarks are slightly evident. The Hitchcock mentoring, the split-screens, the security cameras, the dire violence, the slow-motion build-ups. It's in there Prego-style. Now is it as elaborate or serpentine as what Brian De Palma was doing in the 1970's or 80's? Not quite. Is it still sort of fun to watch? Yeah, sure it is.

Shot in Denmark, Italy, and Spain (the European locales are more than adequate), Domino's story involves Copenhagen cop, Christian (played by Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Christian's partner gets killed by a member of ISIS and he seeks justice for the guy that did it. The only problem is that same guy is working as a double agent for a member of the CIA (Joe Martin played by an excellent Guy Pearce).

Image result for Domino 2019 movie scenesAll in all, Domino feels abrupt and unfinished at 89 minutes. Heck, I'm not even sure De Palma had any say over final cut (he should though because he's been around for over six decades). Still, Brian's cast is game and like an aging veteran who's a little past his prime, Alfred's faithful protege still has a few cinematic tricks up his sleeve. Domino "falls" but not too far. It gets a rating of 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson