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Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Irishman 2019 * * * Stars

The IrishmanDirector: Martin Scorsese
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

"Something's gotta be done". That "something" is to check out The Irishman which is a true storied flick on Netflix. I mean you could see it at a theater but it's better watched with a plate of linguine and clams, a bottle of wine, and a few bathroom breaks. When you're here (or at home) you're family. Ha-ha.

Anyway, The Irishman is a retrained, Martin Scorsese pic that is his cinematic, greatest hits collection (no pun intended on "hits"). There's a subtle, master-class piece of acting involving Robert De Niro and a ferocious turn from Al Pacino as labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

Image result for the irishman movie scenesAs far as late releases go circa 2019, "Irishman" reminded me of Scorsese's Goodfellas, his 1995 opus Casino, and The Good Shepherd. Yeah the film runs about three and a half hours but hey, those rise and fall minutes seem to glide right by.

Now would I put The Irishman in Scorsese's top five via his 50-year span as a filmmaker? Probably not. Would I recommend it? Of course I would. "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.

The Irishman spans decades while chronicling humble hit-man and labor union lackey, Frank Sheeran (De Niro). Sheeran was once a truck driver in the 1950's until he saw an opening to be part of a high rank crime family. Yup, that's an interesting and dangerous promotion.

All in all, I reveled in Scorsese's remarkable camerawork and his ability to insert one unforgettable tune in the proceedings ("In the Still of the Night" by the Five Satins). Yeah "Irishman's" script by Steven Zaillian is rife with vapid, tough-talking entities. Oh well. Thelma Schoonmaker's editing here is still tight as a drum.

Image result for the irishman movie scenesOne critic referred to The Irishman as the Forrest Gump of mob movies. This critic thinks of "Irishman" as more The Green Mile version. Now that it's Oscar season, it's time to walk "Irishman's" long but rewarding "mile". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Queen & Slim 2019 * * * Stars

Queen & SlimDirector: Melina Matsoukas
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Flea

"So what happens tonight?" These are the words of Ernest "Slim" Hines in Queen & Slim (my latest review). Yeah, a lot "happens" in Queen & Slim. From the opening diner sequence, it's flat-out dangerous and relentless.

Anyway, Queen & Slim is a fictional vehicle in which every frame projects a decaying cityscape, a foreboding niche, or a totally rundown neighborhood. With almost every scene focusing on the protagonist criminals while letting the antagonist law enforcement appear in the background like paperweight black hats, Queen & Slim features actors Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith in ride or die, Bonnie and Clyde mode.

Image result for queen and slim movie scenesAs far as 2019 releases go, Queen & Slim has remnants of  Bonnie and Clyde, True Romance, and 1986's Wisdom. Sadly, it also has a bullet-ridden conclusion that doesn't justify the exhausting journey the main characters take.

That doesn't mean I'm not gonna recommend it. Queen & 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.

Queen & Slim chronicles Ernest "Slim" Hines and Angela "Queen" Johnson. They go on a first date only to get pulled over by an overzealous cop. When said cop threatens to shoot them over nothing but a failed turn signal, "Slim" accidentally kills the police officer and the two go cross-country in search of their "crossing the border" freedom.

All in all, I dug Queen & Slim's soundtrack full of jazzy riffs, hip-hop sonnets, and numbing instrumentals. I also dug the raw performances from pretty much everyone involved (look for Bokeem Woodbine playing a tripped out "Uncle Earl").

Image result for queen and slim movie scenesWhat starts out as an edgy expedition you can't look away from to a love story where two once strangers connect, Queen & Slim gives you a curious enough reason to hit the cineplex this Thanksgiving. It's a movie we need today even if it hurts inside to watch. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

21 Bridges 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

21 BridgesDirector: Brian Kirk
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Taylor Kitsch, J.K. Simmons

"I just need the truth that's all". So says Andre "Dre" Davis in 2019's 21 Bridges (my latest review). The "truth", is that "Bridges" is nastily punchy and far from being jejune. Not a second goes by when a Glock 19, a Beretta, or a rifle silencer isn't being drawn. Not a minute goes by when someone isn't being chased or shot via point-blank range.

21 Bridges while energized, still feels like recycled, dirty po-po movies in the stylings of Street Kings, Pride and Glory, Sleepless, and 2001's Training Day. It's about a NYC detective who closes down the viaducts connecting Manhattan in order to seek out some nasty cop killers.

Image result for 21 bridges movie scenesViolent, loud, he-man scripted, and containing a few plot holes (and bad New Yorker accents), "Bridges" feels a little cop thriller, film noir in its approach. Most of New York in "Bridges" looks overly dark with obvious soundstages masquerading as actual locales. What does actually look like the "Big Apple", is a few hazy aerial shots that are numerously sprinkled throughout.

Directed by a rookie in Brian Kirk (he is mostly a TV and shorts guy) and garnering a 100-minute running time, 21 Bridges comes off a little unfinished with its editing team appearing as though they're scurrying to put out a finished project. Most of the back-stories entailing the side characters (and lead) are trite. Plus, the "Bridges" film score by Henry Jackman is overly serious to the point of being daft.

Image result for 21 bridges movie scenesOh well. "Bridges" packs a guilty wallop if you like standard police drama twists, intervals of hailed gunfire (you can literally smell the bullets), tough-talking swipe, and lots of badass stares from Mr. Black Panther himself (that would Chadwick Boseman). "He never freezes". My assessment: 21 Bridges "crosses over" to a 2 and a half star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Kitchen 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The KitchenDirector: Andrea Berloff
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elizabeth Moss

2019's The Kitchen is my latest review. And no, it has nothing to do with Emeril Lagasse, the Power Smokeless Grill, or someone named "Dinah".

Released in August of this year, "Kitchen" is helmed by a rookie in writer turned director Andrea Berloff. Berloff wants to see how many unnecessary bodies can pile up in a 103-minute film and how many unknown assailants can be responsible for said bodies. I lost count after the first hour unless a high stakes drinking game was involved (ha-ha just kidding).

Image result for the kitchen 2019 movie scenesStarring the likes of a comedian-free Melissa McCarthy, a comedian-free Tiffany Haddish, Bill Camp, and future headliner Elizabeth Moss, "Kitchen" is like Widows for the veritable Showtime crowd. It could also be called The Godfather for pearls with gun-toting girls.

So yeah, I liked how McCarthy and Haddish got out of their funny woman comfort zones. I was also amused by the Domhnall Gleeson character (a Vietnam veteran and would be hitman) and I dug some of the 70's jams on "Kitchen's" earthy soundtrack ("Barracuda", "Carry On Wayward Son", "The Chain"). Still, The Kitchen is a little far-fetched and runs out of screenwriter Mafia ideals near its abrupt finality. Yup, this "kitchen's sink" is a bit too full if you ask me.

With minimal and reusable set locations (everything looked sort of like a Hell's Kitchen soundstage), threadbare production values, and a mean-spirited rue of which I've rarely seen before, "Kitchen" has to do with three downtrodden mob wives who take over the family business after their husbands are forcefully sent to prison.

Image result for the kitchen 2019 movie scenesAll in all, "Kitchen" is entertaining to a fault with its three female leads going dark side and strutting around like the three sons of Corleone. Unfortunately, their plight feels a little farcical, a little unfathomable, and unseeingly bloody. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ford v Ferrari 2019 * * * Stars

Ford v FerrariDirector: James Mangold
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Christian Bale, Josh Lucas, Matt Damon

Christian Bale is one of the most ironclad, reliable actors on the planet. You pair him with the equally reliable Matt Damon and the well cast, sleazeball-ing Josh Lucas and you get a spot-on, co-starring team. Damon and Bale don accents and trade torque/throttle in Ford v Ferrari (my latest review).

Ford v Ferrari's true story goes like this: A car designer named Carroll Shelby (Damon) and a hard-edged race car driver named Ken Miles (Bale), try to best Enzo Ferrari's souped-up automobiles via the 1966 Le Mans. In truth, Ford v Ferrari is a longing film that ends on a down note but it's not without a touch of energy and the almighty whimsical.

Image result for ford vs ferrari movie scenes"Ford v Ferrari's running time flies by even at 152 minutes. Most of these minutes involve mild emotion undercut with some heart-pounding, endurance race sequences. If you like a superior sense of time and place, then Ford v Ferrari will give you your mid 60s fix. And if you wanna see a more sophisticated version of say, Days of Thunder, then Ford v Ferrari will make you forget about that commercialized, Tom Cruise vehicle (no pun intended).

Directed by New Yorker James Mangold with its vroom vroom scenes shot at ground level, Ford v Ferrari is the type of flick that needs to be seen with the best movie theater sound system possible. Mangold knows how to film racing action no doubt. He avoids all the Fast & Furious BS and instead opts for minimal flash and loads of stash. Yup, it's about the clamor here. You can hear the fuel burning, the tires screeching, the engine humming, the studs spinning, and the racers rubbing. It's decibel, ear orgasmic.

Image result for ford vs ferrari movie scenes"Now Ford v Ferrari does fail to fully flesh out its 2-3 main characters (that's rare for a 2 and a half hour pic). And yeah, the film's first half has a lot more collared, dramatic momentum. Still, 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". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Running with the Devil 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Running with the DevilDirector: Jason Cabell
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Leslie Bibb, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg

Running with the Devil is my latest review. And no, it has nothing to do with that 1978 ditty sung by the mighty David Lee Roth. Released in the US (and Serbia) via September of this year, "Devil" is helmed by a rookie in actor turned director Jason Cabell. Yup, Cabell is like that guy who wants to measure his manliness. He plays too many darn hands at the cinematic poker table.

Image result for running with the devil movie scenesStarring the likes of a hefty Nicolas Cage, a horny/hefty Laurence Fishburne, Leslie Bibb, and Barry Pepper, Running with the Devil "runs" adrift in its over-coincidental narrative and host of too many nameless characters who don't say a lot (or don't say enough). I was perversely engrossed though because Jason Cabell goes thriller, ambiance rogue. He seems hellbent on turning "Devil" into 2000's Traffic minus any hint of art or independent vehicle-ness.

Running with the Devil is a poster boy drug movie that garners a "running" time of 100 minutes. Those 100 minutes that cross scores of countries and weave mounds of story lines, feel like two-plus hours. Bloodied bodies hit the floor, lots of happenstances abound, twists are aplenty, kilo globetrotting is a mainstay, and numerous scenes are cut rather quickly. The editing in regards to "Devil", appears as if it was done by 3-5 people who couldn't come to a mutual agreement. To my dismay, only veteran Jordan Goldman was locked in that room.

Image result for running with the devil movie scenesAll in all, "Devil's" cast looks seething, smoldering, and appears game. However, "Devil's" whole synopsis about drug cartel aides who track cocaine shipments and the FBI agents that follow them, seems disconcerted. Its effect simply wears you out. This film might have felt more relevant had it come out before the whole Layer Cake/Traffic/True Romance phase via many years ago. Rating: I'll play "devil's" advocate and give Running with the Devil a generous 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate 2019 * * * Stars

Terminator: Dark FateDirector: Tim Miller
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis

"I hunt Terminators". Great. Someone needs to gun down those pesky, Legion-ed prototypes.

Anyway, are you a Terminator fan? Well fab because Terminator: Dark Fate gives you just what you want. Granted, "Fate" is not as good as the first three Terminator films (funny being that it bares an uncanny resemblance to Judgment Day and the original). And it feels a little recycled in terms of themes, cores, car chases, and action set pieces. Oh well. "Fate" is fast-paced, whiz-bang, and involving. Linda Hamilton is back guns blazing, the production budget is higher, James Cameron is back producing, and Arnold Schwarzenegger looks a little younger (and healthier) this time around.

Image result for terminator dark fate movie scenesAlso in "Fate's" mix playing a badass, cyborg soldier, is Mackenzie Davis (Tully, Blade Runner 2049). Davis at a lean-and-mean 5'10, sure knows how to yield a chain while snarlingly mugging to the camera. If the Terminator franchise continues (and I'm thinking it might), I see her probably being on board (or "back", no pun intended).

Terminator: Dark Fate, which takes place in Mexico as opposed to sequel mainstay Los Angeles, is directed by Deadpool helmer and title sequence monger, Tim Miller. Miller avoids any sort of epic mantra and fashions "Fate" as a less violent and less self-serious, "popcorn" movie. He films action well (and in panoramic form), his special effects are dated yet juicily effective, his camera is true-blue, and his villain (amoeba-ed, Terminator Rev-9 played by Gabriel Luna) is totally Robert Patrick-esque.

Image result for terminator dark fate movie scenesSure "Fate's" plot is a little stock (a Terminator model arrives from the future to kill a young, random man/woman). And yes, Miller's "edge of tomorrow" doesn't create a more foreboding and bombastic atmosphere like the mighty Jimmy Cameron (most filmmakers can't). Still, Terminator: Dark Fate takes us back to circa 1984-2003 when the Terminator movies were zingy, high-velocity, and faithfully blueprinted. In terms of giving a favorable rating, "Fate's" "fate" at 3 stars is sealed.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, November 4, 2019

Low Tide 2019 * * * Stars

Low TideDirector: Kevin McMullin
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jaeden Lieberher, Keean Johnson, Alex Neustaedter

"Are you gonna grow up to be the good guy or the bad guy". That's a quote from Sergeant Kent in 2019's Low Tide (my latest review).

Anyway, Low Tide is a numbing, languid drama/thriller that marks the directing debut of one Kevin McMullin (his only previous credit was a short called First Prize). For me, "Tide" at eighty-six drawn-out minutes, is like a mixture of The Outsiders, 2001's Bully, Stand by Me, and Hot Summer Nights.

Image result for low tide movie scenesHinting at the 1980's with a rich sense of time and place and shot more than two years ago, Low Tide is well acted by its four young leads in Jaeden Lieberher, Keean Johnson, Alex Neustaedter, and Daniel Zolghadri. Lieberher is like Johnny Cade, Johnson is like Ponyboy Curtis, Neustaedter is like "Dally" Winston (or "Bob" Sheldon), and Zolghadri is like Randy Anderson. Author S. E. Hinton is probably smiling all the way from the Sooner State right about now.

"Tide's" story involves some teenage, Jersey Shore thieves who discover a gold coin treasure. Said treasure violently threatens the boys friendship when the police become hot on their tails. Each coin is worth a thousand dollars and these buds found about a hundred of them (dang).

Helmer McMullin creates "Tide's" atmospheric style while building tension with every careful inch. His editor (Ed Yonaitis) shapes the film in slow, tight cuts which favor the actor's rhythms. "Tide's" account entailing crime doesn't pay remnants, Coppola switchblade shots, and fragmented kinships, seems easy to follow.

Image result for low tide movie scenesMy first question is where the heck are the parents when all this death and revenge is going on. My second question is what are these youngster characters gonna do later in life when their futures don't seem too bright to begin with. My final question is why didn't Bruce Springsteen make a "Tunnel of Love" cameo. Just kidding. Rating: Low Tide gets a slightly recommendable 3 stars and well, it's on the "low".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 1, 2019

Joker 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

JokerDirector: Todd Phillips
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy

I've seen four actors play the Joker in my forty-five years of existence. They are Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and Joaquin Phoenix. With Phoenix in 2019's Joker (my latest review), I've never witnessed someone go so far down the rabbit hole as he does in this role. Let's hope he got out of character when production ended and quick. Talk about some madness in that method.

Anyway, Joker is a little bit Network, a little King of Comedy, and the lonelier version of Taxi Driver (I didn't think that was possible). Heck, this flick is so dark and depressing it seems that director Todd Phillips wanted you to forget that he ever had a hand in making Old School (or Road Trip, take your pick).

Image result for joker movie scenes 2019As a film about how failed comedian Arthur Fleck converts himself into the offending intellect known as the Joker, Joker just protrudes as it goes on and on. Its glamorization of comic book muck makes you wanna take a shower and then cleanse yourself (you won't wanna put on a "happy face" when this thing's over).

So yeah, Joker is not a superhero movie, an action movie, or a DC Comics-felt movie (the rating here is a hard R). In fact, Joker is more of a balls-out character study that's messy, incessant, glum, intermittently violent, and in dire need of some editing.

At a running time of two hours and two minutes, Joker also stars Shea Whigham, Frances Conroy, and tack man Robert De Niro (hint, hint). Todd Phillips tries to include the portable cast but this is clearly Phoenix's show. Included in almost every frame, Phillips shoots Phoenix in wide screen, close-up, ground level, and every other way to give him that glaring, cuckoo look.

Image result for joker movie scenes
Bottom line: Joker is worth seeing for Joaquin Phoenix's tour de force performance and the noxious atmospherics that border him (Gotham City in 1981 never looked so swallowing). Otherwise, I'd be "joking" myself if I ever had the gumption to recommend the tranquilizing woe that is Joker. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 25, 2019

Daughter of the Wolf 2019 * * Stars

Daughter of the WolfDirector: David Hackl
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Gina Carano, Richard Dreyfuss, Brendan Fehr

"Where is my son?" "WHERE IS MY SON?!" That question and many others get asked a lot by Gina Carano via 2019's Daughter of the Wolf. Carano as Clair Hamilton proves she can headline a movie and not always a caged, MMA fight. "Wolf" has her in heavy-duty, female Haywire mode.

Anyway, Daughter of the Wolf at eighty-eight long minutes (that's an oxymoron), is like a version of The Grey with less nasty wolves, more ransom remnants, less terrain-ed obstacles, and weaker production values. It also feels like every cold weather/Internet thriller made in the last seven years despite some pretty nifty overhead shots.

Image result for daughter of the wolf movie scenesThe director of "Wolf" (Canadian David Hackl) stages a terrific shootout and chase sequence at the beginning. It gets your ears and eyes to perk up. The rest of the flick although steadfast, becomes uneven and tedious as it runs out of perpetual steam. Joe Carnahan would have looked around and said, "hey I can set up that shot a heck of a lot better".

Filmed in British Columbia, helmed by the guy who made Saw V, and showcasing scruffy Richard Dreyfuss in a rare, sort of villainous role, Daughter of the Wolf is about a military veteran (played by Carano) who tries to track down some ruffians responsible for kidnapping her teenage son.

Look for characters repeating the same dialogue in numerous scenes (see first paragraph), look for characters falling and drowning yet recovering very quickly, and look for Gina Carano emoting more as an actress as opposed to being just a bone-crunching, butt kicker.

Image result for daughter of the wolf movie scenesYup, Carano can act. Yup, Carano has some searing screen presence, and yup, Carano can sure as heck make loading a firearm seem coldly badass. Unfortunately the movie around her is wolves symbolism hooey. It doesn't quite measure up as this "wolf" is kept at bay. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson