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Monday, July 16, 2018

Skyscraper 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

SkyscraperDirector: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Ng Chin Han

Actors cheating death by doing stunts that would make the late Hal Needham jealous. CGI flames that come on like gangbusters but look kinda fake. Dwayne Johnson failing to equal his best performance (that would be 2013's Snitch) by coming off as the poor man's Bruce Willis. Johnson's daffy, acting style consisting of him readily talking to himself (ugh). Three foggily-defined villains that barely connect to each other. It's all here in 2018's Skyscraper, my latest write-up.

Taking place in Hong Kong, promoting the manly use of duct tape, and partially filmed in Vancouver (I can see the slight resemblance), Skyscraper tells the story of a one-legged security expert (Johnson as Will Sawyer) being framed for starting a blaze in the tallest building in the world (nicknamed "The Pearl"). As Skyscraper barrels at a lightening pace, you can see "Pearl's" copied architectural style and copied aerial shots from a certain 1974 vehicle (I'll get to that later).

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Skyscraper, which feels like it should've been rated R (this thing is a tad violent), is techy, loud, futuristic, and preposterous yet adds a certain amount of appeal. Mainly, it's a condensed, souped-up combination of The Towering Inferno and Die Hard. That's minus "Inferno" and Die Hard's feasible buildup, extensive character development, and non-middling plot.

Questions I asked myself during a screening of 2018's Skyscraper: Why didn't the fire department show up when this flick marched into its second act? And why do two main characters not stick to the ceiling when an elevator is barreling downward at Mach 1? And oh yeah, where the heck has actress Neve Campbell been for the last decade?

Anyway, Skyscraper is the definition of a high-octane, action endeavor. It's relentless and farcical, with plenty of jaw-dropping, "yeah right" moments. The good guys survive by the skin of their teeth and the bad guys perish in similar situations. Bottom line: If you're afraid of heights or surrender to vertigo, avoid seeing this 109-minute film at all costs.

Image result for Skyscraper 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, Skyscraper's director is Rawson Marshall Thurber. Normally he does comedies. Here, he distracts the thinking man's audience by blowing stuff up, piling on the tech-savvy gadgets, letting veritable bones crack, and paying homage to one Bruce Lee (check out the rooftop mirror fight scene in Skyscraper's last ten minutes). Thurber pulls out all the stops so get your earplugs ready. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp 2018 * * * Stars

Ant-Man and the WaspDirector: Peyton Reed
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas

Yup, there's a connection between Ant-Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Infinity War. All you gotta do is check out the short clip after the closing credits come up. Marvel Comics, you just couldn't resist could you.

Anyway, Ant-Man and the Wasp is overly plotted compared to first Ant-Man installment. Added to that, "Wasp" doesn't take itself as seriously, it's not a blueprint vehicle, and there's a little less at stake (Paul Rudd's Scott Lang isn't saving the world this time when he puts on that dwindling suit). Oh well. "Wasp" with its nod to the quantum realm gods, is a lot of fun and it turns your everyday superhero movie on its collective head. 2015's Ant-Man came off as an action comedy. Ant-Man and the Wasp is compulsory comedy with some jaunty action on the side.

Before production commenced on "Wasp", director Peyton Reed managed to get every single cast member from the first Ant-Man to sign on. This time around, their personas are fleshed out even more as a result. Examples would be Michael Pena's kooky, ex-con named Luis, Scott Lang's twinkling, cutesy daughter (Cassie played by Abby Ryder Fortson), and of course Evangeline Lilly as the butt-kicking companion dubbed Wasp.

Image result for ant man and the wasp movie scenes"Wasp", while totally worth the price of admission, sometimes revels too much in sci-fi mumbo jumbo, backstory convolution, and serpentine gadgetry. However, Peyton Reed still keeps things light and breezy with his whip pans, his techie-staged fistfights, and his collective wink wink to the audience.

Reed, who I'll always think of as the antithetical Joss Whedon and the dude that filmed 2006's The Break Up, stylizes "Wasp" as a fast-paced and whiz-bang affair. Heck, he even throws in a science lab as a diminished suitcase and a long-winded car chase via the streets of San Francisco (eat your darn heart out Steve McQueen).

Image result for ant man and the wasp movie scenesWith "Wasp", Peyton relies less on extravagance and morbid destruction and more on cartoonish hyperbole. He's quickly trying to distract you from his unexplained expansion of the Ant-Man universe (the shrinking technology of humans and objects needs backtracking and gets complicated here). His Ant-Man and the Wasp is a hot mess, with goofy humored quips at the end of each scene and a spine-tingling villain named Ghost (naturally). The original Ant-Man while less funny, is leaner and meaner with more grounded storytelling. Bottom line: I liked both flicks equally but I can't explain why. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 2, 2018

Tag 2018 * 1/2 Stars

TagDirector: Jeff Tomsic
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson

Tag is my latest review and a misconstrued spotlight for the city of Spokane, Washington. It's a film about the game of tag, its adjoining of lifelong friendship, and its silly tag along amendments. Heck, Tag might be the very first pic to ever dabble in the subject of said game.

Now would I rightly recommend Tag? No. Would I call its premise a little too lightweight? Yes. Would I deem Tag to be stupid funny and effectively doltish? In small moments. Finally, would I say that Tag is a rare genre trailblazer? Again no.

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Anyway, I knew Tag's chancy trailer would doom it from the start. Tag is based on true events via a story in The Wall Street Journal. I couldn't make this up. A group of middle age men have been playing the same game of tag for over thirty years and yup, they only do it in the month of May. Man that's goofy. Something tells me that these dudes are a little off. Also, it seems that they are starving for attention, are bent on scarring their families, and want a peek at fifteen minutes of fame. In hindsight, Tag is not heinous but it has shades of being a cinematic "red flag". You should never trust a movie in which its production company contains the words "broken" and "road".

Tag is directed by a TV helmer (Jeff Tomsic) and penned by two writers (Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen). It's a poor man's Hangover "makeover". Tag's recycled screenplay reeks of penis jokes, pot quips, bland improvisation, and homophobic innuendo. Basically it feels as though it was written about fifteen years ago. With the addition of an old school hip-hop soundtrack, some R-rated dialect, a messed up waterboarding scene, and some slo-mo, Jason Bourne-like fight sequences, Tag tries to mask how trivial and flimsy it really is. In truth, it's hard to make an efficacious movie about sneaking up on someone and simply tapping them on the shoulder. Maybe a horror version of blind man's bluff or Capture the Flag might have been a better option.

Image result for tag 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, Tag stars Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, and Jeremy Renner. They are the five friends who partake in the pastime of tag and never know how to venture past pubescence. Helms and Johnson are basically playing the same sad sack characters as in all their other movies. And yes, Hannibal Buress is pretty much doing the same line reading shtick as he did when he co-starred in the Neighbors vehicles. As for Jon Hamm and Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner, well they need to scold their agents for recommending that they appear in something as asinine as Tag. Bottom line: If you must, see Tag once but don't get "tagged" along into seeing it again. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Gringo 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

GringoDirector: Nash Edgerton
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton

I remember reading reviews about box office flops resembling 2018's Gringo (my latest write-up). That was a long time ago. Studios rarely make out of the blue stuff like Gringo these days. I mean they did but it was probably back in the late 80's or early 90's.

Anyway, Gringo is a case of mistaken identity, a gagman's true wet dream, and a way-out black comedy that's the movie equivalent of a rabid "dingo" (ha-ha). Gringo is also more happy-go-lucky than most dark comedies and definitely more commercial.

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As something about a mild-mannered businessman who gets embroiled in a drug cartel via the country of Mexico, Gringo makes you want to avoid visiting said country unless you plan to stick to the touristy areas. In truth, this flick is a mixture of high-octane violence, Mexican standoffs (naturally), look at me banter, and clear-sighted stunt work. Many known actors working with Gringo's textured script, bark into the camera as they constantly try to one-up each other in the snarky department.

Gringo at an hour and fifty-one minutes, stars David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley, and Thandie Newton. Director Nash Edgerton (Joel's older brother) tries to give everyone ample screen time. Some of his characters are underdeveloped, some of them fade in and out, and some of them surround as dregs. Almost all of the personae are anywhere between despicable, heartless, and scurvy.

In Gringo, the bad guys get theirs and the nice guy protagonist (Oyelowo as lowly Harold) finishes first for a change. And oh yeah, Gringo is yet another flick where we see Joel Edgerton get arrested for being a naughty, naughty boy (spoiler).

All in all, despite some dexterous shootouts and a modern film score that resembles all things Alan Silvestri, Gringo has many unfinished plot contrivances giving the movie a chintzy, cut-and-pasted feel. I can't quite recommend it but it's worth at least one look.

Image result for gringo 2018 movie scenesBottom line: Gringo may be imprecise by today's uber drug tale standards. Still, it's abruptly paced, contains sound R-rated sitcom humor, and is entertaining to a fault. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Delirium 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Delirium Director: Dennis Iliadis
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Topher Grace, Patricia Clarkson, Callan Murphy

"Trust my brain, not my eyes". So says the persona of Tom Walker in Delirium. Walker (a rightly cast Topher Grace) loves his Fruity Pebbles, loves to sketch people, and loves his mid-90's college music. Sadly, he gets put through the ringer via Delirium with zero sympathy, solicitude, or empathy. Heck, he's like a wilted pinata that's smacked around and beaten at every turn. Eugene Levy said it best when he spouted the words, "what a week I'm having".

Anyway, Delirium contains some blood-curdling moments that actually feel genuine. It has an elaborate mansion that almost acts as a main character. Delirium deals with brute force, hallucinatory effigies, suicide, and self-infliction. Finally, Delirium heralds a decent, sort of one-man show performance by the everyman-looking Grace. Added to that, veteran actress Patricia Clarkson is effectively nasty as a kooky probation officer with schizo motives.

Image result for delirium 2018 movie scenesReleased by way of Internet in the U.S., containing a bit of dry humor, and directed by Athens, Greece native Dennis Iliadis, Delirium involves Tom Walker (mentioned earlier). Walker is a medicated, mental patient with a psychotic older brother that's doing time for murder. Tom gets put on house arrest at his dead parent's abode for thirty days. If Tommy boy can survive with ankle monitor and haunted images in tote, he's home free and doesn't have to go back to the creepy institution for which he was temporarily allowed to leave from.

Delirium's premise is a little silly, a little far-fetched, kinda plot implemented, and highly unlikely. Still, the film (at times) seems hair-raising and vaguely original considering the countless other scare fests that have come before it.

In total veracity, Delirium reminded me slightly of The Shining, 1986's House, any Saw movie, and 2007's 1408. I'd recommend the flick had it not been for its downer ending that kind of lacks some real resolution. As a viewer, you experience a lot of bruises and blackening while taking in Delirium. By the time the end credits roll out, you'll wonder if it was actually worth all that effort.

Image result for delirium 2018 topher grace movie scenesIn retrospect, Delirium mildly succeeds as a fun-house horror flick that eventually turns into an off the rails thriller. Yeah Delirium may have too many implications, it might be a little too mean-spirited towards its lanky protagonist, and it may possess too many icky twists. Oh well. It's at least equivalent to a two and a half star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hereditary 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

HereditaryDirector: Ari Aster
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne

"Don't you ever raise your voice to me, I'm your mother!" So quips the character of Annie Graham in Hereditary. Graham is shown in a couple of close-up scenes shivering like Danny Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. It's a valiant effort but it pales in comparison to what Kubrick did with grainy early 80's, lens chic.

Anyway, Hereditary contains decapitations and spiritual seances. It has buzzing flies and scaling demons. It boasts plenty of adolescent weed smoking and head-scratching dollhouse construction. Finally, Hereditary heralds a performance from Toni Collette that's better than her Oscar-nominated turn in The Sixth Sense.

Taking place in mountainous Utah and directed by a first-timer (NYC's own Ari Aster), Hereditary's blueprint story involves a family dealing with the loss and grief of veritable loved ones. The movie then veers more into mumbo jumbo territory with a screw loose ending involving naked Paimon spirits.

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Hereditary, which has a trailer that's very misleading, isn't just about a dead grandmother and a creepy thirteen-year-old who makes noises with her jaw. No there's much more going on than that. Maybe too much and not of the overriding kind.

In truth, I may have gotten a slight Amityville Horror/Shining vibe from watching Hereditary. Too bad I can't garner a recommendation. What can I say, it takes a heck of a lot more than contrived references and manner over substance to get me scared.

For what it's worth, helmer Aster does an impressive job with a $10 million dollar budget. His camerawork is supreme, he bounces off of Hitchcock, and he sets up a lot of his shots well. His Kubrickian-like direction laced with art house novelty is assured but for all the wrong reasons. Hereditary goads you and baits you into thinking you'll be frightened out of your seat. The problem is that nothing ever quite comes to fruition making Hereditary the ultimate cinematic tease.

Image result for hereditary 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, many critics have already hailed Hereditary as a horror masterpiece. I for one think it's too slow burned, too faux inducing, too baffling, and a bit overrated. Hereditary may offer a few eldritch moments but it doesn't "inherit" greatness. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Adrift 2018 * * * Stars

AdriftDirector: Baltasar Kormakur
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Thomas

Adrift is an ample love story, a factual account, and a shimmering tale of nautical survival. As far as new releases go in 2018, Adrift is like All Is Lost except that it has a non-linear narrative, less peril, and a heck of a lot more dialogue.

Note to Adrift's helmer, Baltasar Kormakur: Robert Redford called and wants his fixer upper can of epoxy back. Also, George Clooney phoned in and wants his scruffy, fisherman's beard back too. Finally, is there any way you could re-shoot Adrift in say, chronological order? I'm not saying what you did was second-rate. It's just arrant curiosity that's all.

Anyway, Adrift has affable leads (in the form of Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin), sympathetic performances, a kissing scene straight outta From Here to Eternity, a stirring musical score, and an "I see dead people" twist that I didn't "sea" coming. In retrospect, Adrift may be a little cut and dry for the Academy but it's far more poignant than any handheld, Open Water sequel.

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Director Baltasar Kormakur shoots Adrift by cutting profusely between flashbacks and present day sequences. He creates a film that is stylish, lifelike, and subversive. Basically, his water level vision is all his own.

Kormakur's main focus is on drifter slash free spirit, Tami Oldham (played by Shailene Woodley who's mentioned earlier in the review). Tami befriends and falls in love with a mariner named Richard Sharp (played by Sam Claflin, also mentioned earlier). After a courtship of nearly five months, Tami and Richard get an offer to sail somebody's boat from Tahiti to San Diego, CA for $10,000. Chaos ensues when a hurricane causes said boat to ruin and drift hundreds of miles away from its intended destination. With minimal food, other minimal resources, and Sharp's leg and ribs being badly broken, the dedicated couple tries to keep from dying in the middle of the ocean.

Image result for Adrift 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, Adrift has a weak sort of foundation for creating the look of 1983. Plus, the commercial nature of this flick, its various plot holes, and its far-fetched complexion of Tami's sailing skills keep it from fully doing justice via a true story fashion. Oh well. The acting pulls you through and the main characters are adorable and genuine. You feel their plight and their winsome chemistry without any pretension. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, June 4, 2018

Social Animals 2018 * * Stars

Social AnimalsDirector: Theresa Bennett
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Noel Wells, Josh Radnor, Aya Cash

Social Animals is a depressing, sort of pseudo comedy that features a borderline, unlikable lead in Zoe (played by San Antonio, Texas native, Noel Wells). As far as new releases go in 2018, "Animals" is like Reality Bites, Richard Linklater's Slacker, and 1998's Your Friends & Neighbors being melded in a cinematic blender.

Note to the rebelling filmmakers of Social Animals: Janeane Garofalo called and wants her undisguised promiscuity back. Also, Jason Patric phoned and wants his sobering masculinity brought back into fruition too. Finally, don't include a fellatio scene with a cucumber just for kicks. It utterly feels like witless filler.

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Anyway, the flick dons effective use of Austin, Texas locales and a whiff of the city's legendary music scene. However, "Animals" makes you want to avoid certain parts of that freewheeling borough in the long run. In veracity, words like uneven, honest, tiredly manipulative, and doleful are what I'd use to describe Social Animals.

Director Theresa Bennett (this is her feature film debut) crams several, daft relationship stories into ninety minutes but her main focus is on sad sack Zoe (mentioned earlier). Zoe is a woman who is late on her rent, lives in an RV, and owns an unsuccessful waxing outlet. She's single, almost broke, and smokes pot whenever an average occasion arises. Zoe out of boredom or sheer desperation, befriends a friendly, loser married guy and has an affair with him.

Image result for social animals 2018 movie scenes"Animals" despite its decent performances and its effectively rundown, suburban inhabiting, never fully finds a coherent tone. With its Gen X careening, its woe is me dialogue, and its need to include animated illustrations of sexual innuendo, Social Animals might have been germane say, fifteen years ago. Oh and one more thing, what does the title of this movie mean anyway? My rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story 2018 * * * Stars

Solo: A Star Wars StoryDirector: Ron Howard
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke

Solo: A Star Wars Story is not as epic as the first three Star Wars films nor does it contain their legendary amount of build-up. There are no lightsaber fights or battles to defeat the Empire. Plus, there's no sightings of Darth Vader, the Death Star, C-3PO, or R2-D2 this time around. Oh well. "Solo" omits these attributes and still feels like a formidable Star Wars movie anyway. In fact, "Solo" is probably the most entertaining and invigorating "Wars" installment since 1983's Return of the Jedi.

During the production of "Solo", Ron Howard took over for directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street). Lord and Miller were fired over creative differences and it doesn't help that they are essentially comedic helmers.

Image result for solo a star wars story movie scenes"Solo" while totally recommendable, doesn't quite feel like a Ron Howard project. However, the 135-minute film shows that Ronnie can hang with past Star Wars filmmakers like George Lucas, Richard Marquand, Irvin Kershner, and Gareth Edwards.

Howard gives Solo: A Star Wars Story an incredibly brisk pace. Saddled with a trademark Lawrence Kasdan script, he adds relentless movement, some nifty hand-to-hand combat sequences, and some nasty, freakish creatures. His look for "Solo" tends to be a little foggy at times but he makes up for it. Ron uses three dimensional space well and stages intergalactic warfare with veritable aplomb. Oh and I almost forgot, "Solo's" editing in certain match cuts by Pietro Scalia, is smooth as silk.

In terms of casting, "Solo" contains Star Wars universe newcomers (Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover) and Ron Howard regulars (Paul Bettany, Woody Harrelson, Clint Howard). Alden Ehrenreich in the lead as young Han, doesn't look, act, or completely strut like Harrison Ford. Still, he's likable and his performance while snarky, is enjoyably quick-witted.

Image result for solo a star wars story movie scenesIn retrospect, "Solo" under Howard's watch, isn't entirely about Han Solo despite the main character being in nearly every frame. Added to that, "Solo" is a little more than a personage showcase vehicle and a Chewbacca introduction. "Solo" in all truthfulness, is a fleeting sci-fi romp with robbery elements, a sense of mild danger, a familiar narrative concerning the Rebel Alliance, and some tongue-in-cheek humor. It will please younger viewers of the Star Wars pics because it doesn't take itself too seriously and just wants to have some popcorn-esque fun. As for the older supporters of the Star Wars franchise, well there might be some nitpicking going on. You know what, those fanboy purists just need to lighten up. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tully 2018 * * * Stars

TullyDirector: Jason Reitman
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston

2018's Tully is the type of movie studios just don't make anymore. I'm glad Denver and Delilah Productions stepped in and reconsidered. As something about an exhausted mother who hires and forms a friendship with her night nanny, Tully projects as an in-your-face drama with mild shades of kookiness. On the surface, it's about nannies. Look closer though because the flick may be about mental illness and hallucinatory weariness as well.

Admittedly, Tully does have a final fifteen minutes that contain a few dangling plot threads. You might need to a second viewing just to put the pieces together. Also, the whole film places its good-hearted main character in the median of otherwise shallow, side characters. Regardless, Tully is a tribute to hard-working, struggling moms everywhere. There's endless detail here when it comes to a woman raising two small children and one budding newborn.

Image result for tully movie 2018 movie scenesTully stars Charlize Theron as mama Marlo and Mackenzie Davis as caretaker Tully. Theron and Davis have great chemistry on screen and their performances for the most part, are exceptional. Theron channels Marlo with unassuming, nerve-ending intensity while Davis plays it calm, cool, and spiritual in a tailor made supporting role. I know it's only May but the Academy should now take note of these two.

Marlo and Tully are apart in age but they form a special bond. They are like two best buds in the middle of the pitted, outside world. Tully the movie takes a detour when you realize that Tully the persona may instead turn out to be Marlo's actual, imaginary friend (small spoiler). Trust me, when the closing credits come up, you the audience member will be hard-pressed to get that notion out of your head. 

Image result for tully movie 2018 movie scenesDirector Jason Reitman is at the helm of Tully. He's the king of taking humdrum, everyday human situations and giving them some added bite. Jason also provides third act twists too. He shoots, fast cuts, and edits Tully partly like his 2009 pic Up in the Air and his Young Adult from seven years ago. George Clooney and frequent flyer miles withstanding, Jason seems to have a fascination with glowing women, pregnancy, and comprehensive breastfeeding. To each his own.

Bottom line: Tully is insightful, initially heartbreaking, and contains a very sharp script by Reitman's partner in crime, Diablo Cody. Jason Reitman once again "rights" the cinematic ship in novel fashion. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson