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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice League 2017 * * * Stars

Justice LeagueDirector: Zack Snyder
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams

"I had a dream. It was the end of the world". So quips Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne, the main corroborator in Justice League (my latest review).

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg join forces to try and stop Steppenwolf and his evil band of Parademons (aliens that look like insects). That's the gist of "League", a flick possibly made for the younger, more zealot, comic crowd.

Image result for justice league 2017 movie scenesLook, I don't pretend to know a lot about films of the DC publisher nature. And to be truthful, I'm not the biggest fan of said films. You know what though, I sorta dug 2017's Justice League. Rooted in comic relief, saturated in scorched, cartoon violence, and containing an all-star selection of established superheroes, "League" is just plain fun.

Justice League at a budget of roughly $300 million, is supposedly one of the most expensive movies ever made. It makes sense. Every shot is littered with special effects and there's also a host of high-profile actors that just had to get paid by Warner Bros. (Affleck, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, and Diane Lane to name a few).

"League's" director is Zack Snyder. I liked his latest and Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice but for different reasons. "Dawn of Justice" is dark, with broodiness, a plot over plot stature, and the emergence of Ben Affleck as a credible Batman. Justice League on the other hand, is goofy, not as epic, and not quite as self-serious.

Image result for justice league 2017 movie scenesSnyder, who had a little help from Joss Whedon (Joss contributed some re-shoots towards post-production), provides "League" with a more solid use of three dimensional space. There's also some tighter editing and some tighter storytelling than in his previous endeavors. "League" is trimmed down to a swift two hours. It weaves all the superhuman's stories until everyone comes together for a merrymaking, elaborate battle. Bottom line: If you liked this summer's Spider-Man: Homecoming, you'll probably embrace the jocular Justice League as well. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Daddy's Home 2 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Daddy's Home 2Director: Sean Anders
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, Mel Gibson

Daddy's Home 2 is my latest review. It's a follow-up to 2015's surprise hit, Daddy's Home. The first outing wasn't great to begin with. Guess what, "2" is even worse.

Remember when Chevy Chase got into all kinds of shenanigans during National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? Well Will Ferrell does the same exact shtick in Daddy's Home 2. Ferrell's gifts as a physical comedian are evident. The difference is that Chase's movie was done with a bit more craft. Heck, it had an actual story mind you.

"2", with its clips of kids getting drunk on eggnog, a nativity scene being destroyed, Xmas lights getting caught in a snowblower, and captain "Sully" Sullenger making a small cameo, is a yuletide cash grab just like A Bad Moms Christmas (released ten days earlier). The films are eerily similar with Daddy's Home 2 being the gender-flipped version of "Christmas". With A Bad Moms Christmas, the males are reduced to forgotten caricatures as they harbor minimal dialogue and fade into the background. With "2", the females don't have much to do either in terms of the overall plot. They are merely around for decoration (ha-ha, get it?).

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Listen, "2" may be PG-13 (as opposed to A Bad Moms Christmas having a hard R) and it may be more slapstick in nature. Don't be fooled though. These flicks are mirror images of each other. They are both using the holidays as a hook to capitalize on the success of the originals. Yup, Daddy's Home 2 isn't a "home" worth saving.

"2's" director (Sean Anders) sans production values and trouper, conflict coherency in favor of sloppy editing, too many characters (stepdads, stepmoms, grandpas, stepchildren, etc.), and perennial, movie star wattage. His "2" isn't an actual motion picture. It's more of a series of set-ups, designed to get the viewer to chuckle occasionally. Almost every scene in Daddy's Home 2 is manipulated (or inserted) onto the screen without a true reason for being. Oh and by the way, Ferrell's pseudo-clumsiness here is definitely not rooted in reality.

In the realm of casting, Anders brings in John Lithgow and Mel Gibson to play the weirdo dads to Mark Wahlberg and Ferrell. Gibson, who has always been a favorite of mine, has obviously not been forgiven by Hollywood yet. In his heyday, he would've never agreed to star in something as shambolic as Daddy's Home 2.

Image result for daddy's home 2 movie scenesAll in all, the final sequence in "2" involves everyone snowed in at a movie theater on Xmas day. As the whole cast belts out "Do They Know It's Christmas?", I realized that I need to picket the resurrection of every sequel from hear on out. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 10, 2017

Happy Death Day 2017 * * Stars

Happy Death DayDirector: Christopher Landon
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine

A snobby, college babe named Tree (played fiercely by Jessica Rothe) relives the same day over and over again by getting murdered via a fellow student. Tree's mission then becomes to find her killer and at the same time, try to be a better, overall person in the process. That's the rub of Happy Death Day, my latest review.

So OK, I gotta hand it to "Day". Despite having a tiny budget, unknown actors, and being minuscule in scope, this film has grossed over $78 million worldwide. That's pretty impressive. Yeah you probably won't deem it unforgettable the moment you leave the theater (I know I didn't). However, there are worse ways to spend five to ten bucks on a cold, November afternoon (or are there?).

Image result for happy death day movie scenesNow if you've read the reviews, caught the opening Universal Pictures logo repeating itself, or have already seen Happy Death Day all the way through, you'll know that it apes 1993's Groundhog Day (obviousness reeks havoc as Bill Murray's name is attached in a wink wink ending). You can also throw in Edge of Tomorrow, facets of a 90's teen comedy, and Wes Craven's Scream for "Day's" manifest inspiration.

All in all, "Day" is nifty, campy, and devoid of being too grave. It's also restrained as a so-so horror film (hence the PG-13 rating). With minimal gore, side characters that range from dopey to spiteful, a bland gimmick of die/repeat, and some slight humor, Happy Death Day never feels scary or amusing enough (that honor would go to John Carpenter's Halloween).

Sure there's a whodunit element that keeps you guessing and director Christopher B. Landon profusely adds layers to his plot. Nevertheless, I can't quite go with a recommendation. Landon never times his scenes with Tree's 9-plus lives to make complete sense. His troupers around her find their marks but not every "Groundhog Day" effect feels totally in sync. Oh and I almost forgot, the editing in "Day" is swift and painless yet you don't know why Tree is going through the skewed, time continuum in the first place. Bewildered was my first and foremost thought.

Image result for happy death day movie scenesTypically, low budget scare fests find a way to be successful financially. With Happy Death Day, I get why fright fans salivated for an October release but I don't understand all the monetary love here. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Bad Moms Christmas 2017 * 1/2 Stars

A Bad Moms ChristmasDirectors: Scott Moore, Jon Lucas
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn

Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. Well you can add Donald Trump tweets and inferior movie sequels to what Benjamin Franklin preached about back in 1879.

A Bad Moms Christmas is in fact, a sequel. It is my latest review and yeah, it's pretty darn inferior. "Christmas", which I don't think was screened for critics, is a half-baked continuation of last year's Bad Moms. Heck, it doesn't even feel like it has much of a connection to the first film.

A Bad Moms Christmas is like a cash grab for the holidays, a vehicle that is more akin to a raunchy version of Love the Coopers ( or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) than to being a legitimate, Bad Moms part deuce.

Image result for a bad moms christmas 2017  movie scenesIt annoyed me that "Christmas" is yet another holiday film that takes place in Chicago (even though it was shot in Atlanta). It also annoyed me that A Bad Moms Christmas is another holiday flick in which chaos ensues when overbearing parents arrive on the scene. I am aware that the similar-themed, Daddy's Home 2 is coming out next week. In truth, I think I'll now avoid that movie like the plague.

Anyway, with "Christmas" the main characters (played by Kathryn Hahn, Mila Kunis, and Kristen Bell) are not that "bad" this time around. Yeah they get drunk at a mall, grind on Santa, and steal a Christmas tree from Lady Foot Locker. But hey, that's only about seven minutes of screen time. Their actions just aren't as rebellious, wayward, or unladylike as in the first outing.

Most of the script in A Bad Moms Christmas feels lazy. The screenwriter's idea of generating laughs is to add potty-mouthed F-bombs and a sequence where male genitalia is being waxed (ha-ha what a knee slapper). The production of "Christmas" feels rushed and slapdash as well. The snow outside looks fake, the sets try hard to appear like a poster child for a JCPenney Xmas catalog, and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (yes there are two of them) have a real hard-on for slow motion shots with some tired, R&B music in the background.

All in all, A Bad Moms Christmas does offer a few heartfelt moments between the focal moms and their own, weirdo moms (played by Susan Sarandon, Christine Baranski, and Cheryl Hines). Unfortunately, "Christmas" also has a stupid cameo by Kenny G along with a shaming dance montage at the closing credits (Kenny G is in that too and he dry humps his saxophone, how cute).

Image result for a bad moms christmas movie scenesDuring the first half hour of "Christmas", Kathryn Hahn's Carla quips, "let's put the ass back in Christmas". Well A Bad Moms Christmas definitely achieves that notion. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 30, 2017

All Eyez on Me 2017 * * * Stars

All Eyez on MeDirector: Benny Boom
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Lauren Cohan

All Eyez on Me is my latest review. It's a biopic of the poetic Tupac Shakur. Tattooed, volatile, and sneering, Pac was once one of my favorite hip-hop artists from the 90's.

At 140 minutes, the director of "Eyez" (Benny Boom) tries his darnedest to include all of Shakur's life. I'm talking from when he was in his mother's womb to his infamous death via September of 1996. It's a valiant but glossed over effort with a little TV movie shtick, a workmanlike pace, and some side characters that sort of fade in and out (Dr. Dre, The Notorious B.I.G., Shock G, etc.).

Nevertheless, All Eyez on Me is still an absorbing drama. A lot of it is total, behind the scenes stuff giving you the Tupac Shakur you thought you knew. I'm not sure if everything is accurate but the film outlines the rapper as boisterous, tangled, and even kind of misunderstood.

Image result for all eyez on me movie scenesAnyway, I didn't gather why Shakur was falsely incarcerated for sexual assault nor why he was accused of shooting two off-duty cops in Atlanta. Also, I didn't know the whole side account with "Eyez" involving Tupac's mom (former Black Panther party member, Afeni Shakur). These are just a handful of examples because after taking in All Eyez on Me, I now have some hard insight into Shakur's complicated existence.

For what it's worth, "Eyez" paints a detailed picture for most of the way. It's a movie in which you the viewer, never feels safe (much like the way Shakur felt for 25 years). In the lead role, Demetrius Shipp Jr. looks eerily similar to the rap legend. Not only that, he gets all of Tupac's mannerisms and tics down to a T. Being a novice actor who pretty much auditioned on a whim, Shipp's portrayal almost feels like an impression (as opposed to a performance) but it's still darn good.

Image result for all eyez on me movie scenesNow could "Eyez" have worked out better if it was made into an actual documentary? Maybe. I'm not sure if this has already been done but you could include some archive footage and interviews from the people who knew Tupac intimately. Could "Eyez" as a do-cu transport you into Shakur's closed-off world while stirring up tension in the mind's eye? Possibly but the real-life stuff is more subdued than the make-believe. I sometimes dig make-believe more. Bottom line: See 2017's All Eyez on Me. It's no masterpiece but as a blow-by-blow, biographical yarn, it's "all" good. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Geostorm 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

GeostormDirector: Dean Devlin
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Ed Harris

2017's Geostorm is my latest review. It was initially shot over three years ago but that doesn't really diminish its quality. Geostorm is a disaster film and yeah, I'm a sucker for that kind of popcorn fury. You wanna see random cities get destroyed by hail storms, tidal waves, and millions of lightning bolts? Geostorm's got your back. You wanna see denizens parish from molten heat and from being flash frozen? Geostorm will give it to you.

But wait, that's not all. Geostorm doesn't just have the weather as its only antagonist. There's also a creepy Secretary of State playing government cover-up by implanting a computer virus to destroy the planet. You just know that Geostorm is then gonna have vapid car chases, some fistfights, and some gnarly shootouts. Hey, I can dig it.

In truth, Geostorm is a little intense for PG-13 fare. I remember getting the same feeling watching people burn to death in something like The Towering Inferno (a disaster trope that today could have been rated R). Guess what, you've been warned as a moviegoer.

Image result for geostorm 2017 movie scenesFor what it's worth, I almost decided to recommend Geostorm. What can I say, it surprised me. Call it science fiction fodder with ideas as opposed to just relying on chintzy special effects. Geostorm creates its own, unique world in which satellites control the Earth's climatic overhaul. There's also a sense of fragility and peril when it comes to Geostorm's take on natural disasters. Geostorm's logic is hokey yet weirdly fascinating. Its scenes of destruction are partial yet boldly intense. The critics have been lambasting this thing every since it came out last Friday. Frankly, they just need to chill.

Now where would I rank Geostorm in the disaster porn canon? Well it's better than Deepwater Horizon, better than Into the Storm, better than 1979's Meteor, and much better than 1974's Earthquake. However, Geostorm is not quite on par with Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, and Deep Impact. So OK, I'd probably put it in line with something like The Core. There's a flick I'd also saddle with a strong, mixed rating (hint, hint).

Anyway, Geostorm is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and features a musical score straight from the annals of Michael Bay. Added to that, Geostorm chooses the cities of Rio, Orlando, Florida, and Tokyo as candidates to bite the proverbial dust. In the casting department, Geostorm stars scruffy Scot and ICSS commander hero, Gerard Butler.

Image result for geostorm 2017 movie scenesListen, I believe Gerard to be a decent actor. I really do. The problem is that his agent keeps putting him in movies that are critically panned on a dime. Geostorm inhabiting that kind of movie (this isn't my opinion), puts Butler in the position of being the poor man's so-and-so (Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, take your pick). It's a shame. Heck, flicks like Playing for Keeps and The Bounty Hunter won't get him any closer to the Academy Awards either. Oh well. Butler is the heart of Geostorm and he does a bang-up job. My overall assessment of this motion picture: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 23, 2017

It Comes at Night 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

It Comes at NightDirector: Trey Edward Shults
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo

"You can't trust anyone but family". So quips the character of Paul played by Joel Edgerton. Joel yields paranoia, a quarantine protocol, and plenty of firearms in It Comes at Night (my latest write-up).

"Night" is distributed by A24 as box office poison. It is heralded as a psychological horror film but doesn't really horrify you. It Comes at Night is more of a paint-by-numbers thriller. It revels in pretension with tons of buildup, a forestry setting, and imposed, Hitchcockian nuances.

Image result for it comes at night movie scenes 2017With its title being seemingly unclear (I never figured out what exactly comes at night), "Night" is one of those movies that saturates itself. It thinks it's more clever, more complex, and just plain better than it really is. "Night's" plot is a mere snapshot of a family trying to protect itself from a contagious outbreak that has taken over the free world. The flick's script gives us a set of rules for safety against said outbreak. Everything is taken so seriously to the point where It Comes at Night almost becomes paradoxical in nature.

In truth, I wanted to experience something more like the similar-themed Cabin Fever. That film upset me and occasionally humored my psyche. Regrettably, "Night" gave off a vibe akin to 2004's The Village. Not my ideal. It Comes at Night "comes" with a scattered, mixed review.

Director Trey Edward Shults (he helm-ed 2015's Krisha) provides meh dream sequences, occasional zoom shots, and some admirable tension. Yeah his "Night" is moderately stylish but lacks considerable atmospherics. Shults probably could've benefited from the advice of Sam Raimi, Eli Roth, or even Stanley Kubrick's resonant ghost.

Image result for it comes at night movie scenes 2017Bottom line: Despite a decent musical score, some tightly would guises, and some effectively cautious acting from the leads (Edgerton, Christopher Abbott), It Comes at Night is kinda unceremonious. It is abrupt cat and mouse that misleads the audience with its fearful trailer. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Ghost Story 2017 * * Stars

A Ghost StoryDirector: David Lowery
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

Remember when Casey Affleck appeared in 2002's Gerry? I do. I enjoyed that film despite the fact that certain scenes went on incessantly. A Ghost Story (my latest review) also stars Affleck. It too has extending wide shots and parlays over ninety minutes that could've just equaled an hour.

Now did I like "Story" as much as Gerry? Not really. Despite a decent musical score and a wholly original template, A Ghost Story felt a little pretentious and a little too symbolic for my taste. With "Story", the camera peers in on every frame, there's some pseudo creepiness, and there's plenty of uncomfortable silences. A Ghost Story has slight shades of Terrence Malick and at the same time, gives off the whiff of being akin to an independent version of 1990's Ghost (starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore).

Anyway, "Story" is filmed mostly at a real house outside of Irving, Texas. Said house could easily come off as the pic's unequivocal star. Shot on a screen resembling the outline of a small pool table, A Ghost Story isn't conventionally scary but is indeed about ghostly figures. There are a couple of them. They are dressed in white capes with eye holes cut out.

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Casey Affleck plays up apparition as an anonymous character. He's a husband who dies in a car accident and comes out of death as Casper for a new generation. He tries in afterlife fashion to connect with his grieving wife. Then, he lies dormant as his other half moves to a different town (Affleck's sweetie is yet another anonymous persona played by Bedford, NY native, Rooney Mara).

In conclusion, "Story" is directed with soared ambition by David Lowery (Pete's Dragon, Ain't Them Bodies Saints). Lowery has tailored intentions but fails to give his audience an emotional connection to his troupers (we barely get to know anything about them except that they binge-eat homemade pies and then throw up). He also robs his flick of having a sustained level of entertainment value.

Bottom line: A Ghost Story might make one hit the fast forward button on their DVD remote. It perturbs giving you every painstaking sequence from an extensive distance. Call it tricked "storytelling" that's announced as overthought, spoon-fed art. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson