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Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Violent Separation 2019 * * * Stars

A Violent SeparationDirectors: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Ben Robson, Ted Levine

"You drop a stack of hay in a tub of water and the needle will fall to the bottom". Huh, that's interesting.

Anyway in 1998, I remembered seeing one of my all-time favorite films. That would be Sam Raimi's coaxing and nasty thriller, A Simple Plan. A Violent Separation feels very rain-soaked, very Mayberry, slightly neo-noir, and Simple Plan...ish. Yup, it's my latest review.

"Separation" with its depressing, closed-in feel, heralds solid performances from its B-list cast. That's especially inherent in Ted Levine who plays a disciplined, can't-let-it-go detective. "Separation's" two brother directors (Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz) create a flick with palpable tension and diverse moments where nothing is actually what it seems. Their "Separation" may be slow at times but it unfolds effectively with a Lady Macbeth-type character flaw (spoiler).

Image result for a violent separation movie scenesHarboring a setting involving small town Missouri circa 1983 (even though it doesn't really look like 1983), A Violent Separation chronicles two siblings named Norman and Ray Young (played intensely by Brenton Thwaites and Ben Robson). Ray accidentally kills his girlfriend by gunshot and his young, sheriff bro Norman tries to help him cover it up.

Look for actors who resemble other actors (Thwaites looks like Andrew Garfield, Robson looks like Chris Hardwick, and Alycia Debnam-Cary has that Emmy Rossum thing going on), a lot of metaphoric fishing scenes, an ardent musical score, and lots of bar tussles. Basically, "Separation" has the same southern fried look as 2017's Running Wild. You can smell the horse manure, leather boots, leather chaps, and well whiskey from a mile away.

Image result for a violent separation movie scenesA Violent Separation was shot in Louisiana yet made to look like it all went down in The Show-Me State (I didn't pick up on that initially). It's a little Lifetime network, a little direct-to-video, and sort of low budgeted (watch for fake snowflakes and even faker ground snow). Still, A Violent Separation is involving enough to recommend. "Separation" is mucho "trepidation". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 20, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum 2019 * * * Stars

John Wick: Chapter 3 - ParabellumDirector: Chad Stahelski
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane

"Guns. Lots of guns". You tell em' Keanu and the underused Halle Berry. The movie I'm about to review is "armed" and far from being "gun-shy".

Anyway, badass hit man John Wick now has a $14 million dollar bounty on his head. That's all because he killed a member of the international assassin's guild (it's no longer about a wife and a dead dog people). Everyone from New York City to Morocco is out to get John and he must use his special skills (and swanky suits) to defeat them.

Image result for John wick 3 movie scenesKeanu Reeves plays Wick with a familiar screen presence, a flax of physicality, and a comparable way in which he hastily reloads a Walther P99. In all validity, Reeves seems to be steadily reinventing himself as an action star and it's a beautiful thing. Yeah, that's the gist of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (my latest write-up).

Set in a fantasy world full of Spaghetti Western nods, cardboard liquidators, old school phone operators, pilot subtitles, and flux swordsmen, "Chapter 3" feels like a 130-minute, junkie bone-crunching sermon. Yeah there's a smidgen of a mumbo jumbo plot but it's more about the relentless melee here.

"Chapter 3's" director (Chad Stahelski) moves his camera around like a mild typhoon, letting everything spill out a la a bleeding video game. As for Reeves, well he's like Stahelski's almost indestructible muse. Basically Keanu makes Jet Li and even the late Bruce Lee look like Mister Rogers in comparison.

Image result for John wick 3 movie scenesIn conclusion, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum isn't the best of the John Wick series (that honor goes to Chapter 2) but it's easily the most violent and most kung fu-ed. Call it "crouching tiger, hidden" Keanu. Call it "enter the" Keanu. Call it the Keanu "identity". Yup, it's a "wick" that still burns rightly and brightly. The question is will it burn enough with a 4th installment coming around the corner (hint, hint)? My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Zoombies 2 2019 * * Stars

Zoombies 2Director: Glenn Miller
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Erica Sturdefant, Jonathon Buckley, Jarrid Masse

I gotta admit, I like the title (Zoombies is a combination of "zoo" and "zombies". Duh).

"You're a bad mama". Therein lies the problem. "We are leaving". Ah, that's a nod to Aliens from 1986. "The animals are going crazy!" Uh ya think? These are quotes from my latest review, Zoombies 2. "2" is a sequel to 2016's Zoombies. I've never viewed the original Zoombies but I'm thinking that's perfectly fine. I didn't plan on seeing it anyway.

So OK, here's the uneven gist with "2": Cartoonish wildlife in the form of zebras, pythons, porcupines, rhinos, hippos, and aardvarks turn into witchcraft corpses and then attack various humans in a faraway jungle (the gophers in Caddyshack and the anacondas in Anaconda got nothing on these toothed, untamed creatures).

Image result for zoombies 2 movie scenesClocking in at a choppy 84 minutes and distributed by The Asylum (they're responsible for those Sharknado flicks and the inspired 2006 vehicle, Snakes on a Train), Zoombies 2 only occasionally pushes the envelope the way other zombie pics do. "2" is Roger Corman-like and low-budgeted. "2" is perfunctory Cable watching at 4 am. "2" is akin to 1982 John Carpenter on holiday. Finally, Zoombies 2 is pure camp so I guess you'll have to light up the S'mores, pitch a tent, and keep the home fires burning.

With the fake, CGI-enhanced Zoombies 2, director Glenn Miller lets middling to bad acting, dialogue-d grandstanding, and timeline-skewed editing spill onto the screen (how could one character have a bloodied, scratched up face and then be totally camera-ready in the next scene?). His "2" minus a hefty amount of scares, is like a direct-to-video version of Critters, Ghoulies, and dare I say, Jurassic Park (ugh). Add a musical score that was meant for a better film (thanks Christopher Cano and Chris Ridenhour) and some cheesy opening credit titles and Zoombies 2 gets a generous "two" star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 10, 2019

Long Shot 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Long ShotDirector: Jonathan Levine
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O'Shea Jackson Jr.

If Judd Apatow directed a movie with less gnawing improvisation, a 90's soundtrack, and a little less grossness, he'd get 2019's appropriately titled Long Shot (my latest write-up).

Seth Rogen in "Shot's" lead role, morbidly strikes again. With his groggy looks and his nerd-like swagger, Rogen gets to be frisky with yet another beautiful leading lady (Charlize Theron, Rose Byrne, Katherine Heigl, Elizabeth Banks, etc.). Basically this is Seth Rogen at his most Seth Rogen. Expect the usual F-bombs, drug sightings, cultural references, slapstick physicality, and scruffy, manic behavior.

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In  Long Shot, Seth plays out of work journalist Fred Flarsky. While taking in an intimate Boyz II Men concert (I forgot those guys still existed), Flarsky runs into his old babysitter named Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). Field is now the U.S. Secretary of State and is soon planning on running for President. Charlotte needs a good speechwriter and decides to hire Fred based on his previously strong penning. The two of them unlikely hook up and plot devised conflict ensues. Yup, the sight of neon-dressed Rogen and any hot babe truly reminds me of Beauty and the Beast. Natch.

Containing a healthy bit of the raunchy and a healthy bit of heart, "Shot" is like a combination of Knocked Up, Hitch, and 2010's She's Out of My League. Long Shot's director (NYC native Jonathan Levine) creates a well-structured comedy that's vague on political nuances, rife with masturbatory innuendo, and short on overall plausibility (there's hardly a chance Field and Flarsky would ever get together let alone trot the same sidewalk).

Image result for long shot 2019 movie scenesStill, Theron and Rogen give decent performances and there's a few mild laughs to be had. In truth, you sorta wish Rogen would revert back to his brilliant supporting gig in 2015's Steve Jobs but you'll settle for this umpteenth, typecast turn. Bottom line: Long Shot gets a mixed review as it "longs" to be a simpatico rom-com. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Intruder 2019 * * Stars

The IntruderDirector: Deon Taylor
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Meagan Good, Michael Ealy

"Lights out!" So says the weirdo, ex-homeowner Charlie Peck in The Intruder (my latest review). "Intruder" the movie, well it sure seems "light" in terror compared to some of the kindred vehicles that came before it.

The Intruder while mildly involving, still has that been there, done that feel to it. It's about a married couple who buy a home in Napa Valley only to have its previous owner being unable to let go of said home's nostalgic remembrance. Borderline camp, weak in persona development, and weak in overall buildup, "Intruder" is disposable, B movie schlock that features its dreamy abode as a bona fide, architectural star. My final thought after the closing credits came up was, "hey, this flick was almost worth $6.50 at the matinee ticket booth".

Image result for the intruder 2019 movie scenesSo yeah, The Intruder is like 1992's Unlawful Entry without you know, the law. It's also like Obsessed without goofball Jerry O'Connell or 2015's The Perfect Guy without any investigative po-po showing up. The sad thing however, is that "Intruder" isn't quite as frantic, horror-struck, or scary as the pics just mentioned. Yup, I needed more than just a few noisy jump scares and one axed kill to get my pulse racing.

Directed by Deon Taylor (Traffik, Meet the Blacks), featuring a loud, pouncing musical score by Geoff Zanelli, and distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, The Intruder gives us its strongest performances in the married couple (mentioned earlier) played by Meagan Good and Michael Ealy. Their realistic portrayals as troubled spouses (and unsure newlyweds) rise above the otherwise formulaic material.

As for "Intruder's" lead in Dennis Quaid (Charlie Peck), well Quaid has never been a real villain in anything he's ever done via a 40-year screen career. He comes off here as uncomfortable, forced, and sort of overreaching. It's like he's doing "Intruder" as a prolonged, acting checklist. I wanted to see the bad guy but all I could get was well, Dennis Quaid (he's much too famous for this swipe). Oh and check out how Quaid's Peck seems to savagely attack everyone in the house as if he was beamed from place to place. It's as if Denny boy was a faux character in any Star Trek endeavor (oh brother).

Image result for the intruder 2019 movie scenesBottom line: The Intruder will probably be in theaters for a very short time (it's gonna get the heave-ho courtesy of Avengers: Endgame). With its side characters appearing as if they were from another movie, its Jack Nicholson-esque way in which a heavy enters through a door (you'll see), and its sundry references to foreboding cigarette inhaling, you might be "interloped" by Hollywood if you view "Intruder" more than once. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Berserk 2019 * * Stars

BerserkDirector: Rhys Wakefield
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Nick Cannon, Nora Amezeder, Rhys Wakefield

A struggling screenwriter, a B-list druggie actor, and a kooky female director end up committing some violent crimes as they try to finish a script for a not yet green-lighted film. It's neon, it's tripped out, it's LA, it's candy-coated, it's acidly, and it's fake "Holly-weird". That's the blueprint of 2019's sporadic (and hammy) Berserk. Yup, it's my latest review (and my disquieted ode to aspiring troupers everywhere).

Image result for Berserk 2019 movie scenesWhen a character in Berserk says, "we're gonna need another writer", I thought yeah, that makes sense. When another character says, "life's awesome" I thought no, not your spotted, lavish life as a nonchalant murderer. Finally, when yet another character says, "we're going to jail man", I thought you should go to jail. Heck, Christian Slater did three months for punching his girlfriend while high on cocaine and some fueled heroin.

Starring an overacting (and overreaching) Nick Cannon, a Deputy Dewey-like James Roday, a femme-fatale in Nora Amezeder, and an ego-tripped Rhys Wakefield (he's also the writer, producer, and director), Berserk is "berserker" as quasi, movie-within-a-movie remnants. Oh and I'm officially creeped out by the sight of drones at this point (just watch Berserk's balls-out second act and you'll see).

Berserk with a running time of 85 minutes, comes off as a screw loose black comedy mixed with plenty of drug use, saturated visuals, and lots of trite, Hollywood dreaming. Basically, it's part Very Bad Things, part Basic Instinct, and part Bad Times at the El Royale. Look for a chameleon as a metaphor, a pool as another metaphor, lots of "show off" Blade Runner flood lighting, a little double crossing, and visions of shrooming delight.

Image result for Berserk 2019 movie scenes
Bottom line: Berserk is messy, ambitious student film-making that seems to think it's more sagacious and groundbreaking than it really is. My rating: 2 stars Olaf. "I don't think sexy". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Breakthrough 2019 * * * Stars

BreakthroughDirector: Roxann Dawson
Year: 2019
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Marcel Ruiz

"Boys, get off the ice. It's not safe!" Yeah you tell em' concerned citizen and snooping neighbor. Truer words were ever spoken in the semi-cheesy, TV-esque film I'm about to review.

Anyway, an adopted teenage boy (John Smith) falls through a frozen lake and is deemed practically lifeless by various doctors. His mother unable to menially let go (Joyce Smith), prays for John to make an almost impossible recovery. That's the rub of 2019's Breakthrough, my latest write-up.

Image result for breakthrough movie scenesIn the vein of stuff like God's Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, and 2000's Left Behind, Breakthrough is indeed a welled up Christian movie. Watching for 116 minutes, I was waiting for Kirk Cameron, David A.R. White, and Brad Johnson to show up you know, just for kicks and giggles.

Set in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, coming off as sort of preachy (no pun intended), and co-produced by NBA superstar Stephen Curry (I'm not kidding), Breakthrough might be a little manipulative, a little syrupy sweet, a little exacted, and a little embellished. Oh well. This flick based on harrowing true events, still manages to catch you off guard and pack a controlled, emotional wallop.

Kudos goes out to Breakthrough's mannered editing by Maysie Hoy (The Single Moms Club, Spare Parts) and its raw performances from Chrissy Metz and Marcel Ruiz (they play John and Joyce Smith respectively). I could've done without the flick's Muzak soundtrack, stock side characters, and slight Bible-thumping but I'll give them a pass.

Image result for breakthrough 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Bring plenty of tissues, a secured masculinity, and a thick handkerchief to see Breakthrough. Yup, you might need them. And do you want a change of scenery from Avengers: Endgame mania or held-over, Captain Marvel madness? Well this might be your ticket to a solid family night at the Cineplex. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

An Affair to Die For 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

An Affair to Die ForDirector: Victor Garcia
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Claire Forlani, Titus Welliver, Jake Abel

"Enjoy my wife". Sure, a 27-year-old male, a lavish suite, and a subtle, brunette cougar. Ooh that sounds like loads of sexy fun (uh, not really).

Anyway, An Affair to Die For is my latest review. Its film score is suspenseful, we get it (just look at the conch of never-ending subtitles). Also, there's a lot of door knocking, sudden raging, S&M flanking, and obvious cell phone ringing. Again we get it. No need to make a darn stink about it.

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"Affair" while authentic, still could've eased up on the just-for-the-heck-of-it twists and turns. It's about two married people who have a six-month affair and pay dearly for it. They find themselves trapped in a hotel room, hateful eight ed, and watched through relentless amounts of nonviable surveillance. Bloody, manipulative, trashy, closed-in, and macho, An Affair to Die For is rain-free film noir crossed with a snobbish Saw movie (pick any one of them). I give it points for being daring but I kept saying to myself, "oh brother" and "come on dude, really?"

"Affair" is directed by Spaniard Victor Garcia (The Damned, Hellraiser: Revelations). His casting of leads Claire Forlani, Jake Abel, and Titus Welliver is decent. Added to that, his voyeurism as cat-and-mouse game auteur keeps you pinned throughout "Affair's" elongated, 82-minute running mark. It's just too bad that Garcia tries too hard to make you feel sympathy for a bunch of bad, horn-dogged denizens.

Containing a mini knife as a metaphor, a resort bag carrier as a Greek chorus, a steamy yet infertile Colorado setting, and a Paul Verhoeven-like, back lighting fest, An Affair to Die For is shrewd, mixed fare. It's like the stock, direct-to-video version of 2016's Nocturnal Animals. Not that "Animals" was really that good in the first place. Rating: An enthusiastic yet overly earnest, 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 19, 2019

Pet Graveyard 2019 * * Stars

Pet GraveyardDirector: Rebecca Matthews
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Rita Siddiqui, Romulus Stoicescu, David Cotter

"After three minutes, wake us up". Uh yeah, after 100 minutes of the flick I'm about to review, I was awake but turned off the DVD player and moved along quickly.

Anyway, four people who have lost loved ones, decide to kill themselves. They want to visit said loved ones and then somehow return from the dead. Too bad you can't cheat eternal rest because the cheaply concocted Grim Reaper is hastily waiting for them. That's the blueprint for 2019's Pet Graveyard, my latest write-up. In all sincerity, "Graveyard" feels like one of the best student films ever made. Sadly, that's just not a compliment.

Image result for Pet graveyard 2019 movie rebecca matthewsDirected by a rookie (Rebecca Matthews) and having very little to do with graveyards, Stephen King, or pets (there is that one skinless cat with glowing red eyes), Pet Graveyard's title and poster image sort of rips off Pet Sematary. Yup, you have to wonder if there was some kind of mini lawsuit involved.

Organically, "Graveyard" is a low budget endeavor in the vein of those late, Amityville Horror movies and Saturday the 14th. It's also the type of far-fetched, trepidation fare where the filmmakers suspend disbelief and overall logic (you need more than just a bogus oxygen mask and a pep talk to revive a lifeless twenty-something). Director Matthews doesn't come off as the spokesperson for novelty here. Viewing "Graveyard", it looks as though she saw any Final Destination or 1990's Flatliners one too many times.

Image result for Pet graveyard 2019 movie rebecca matthewsBottom line: Pet Graveyard is decently plotted, has Evil Dead-style voices (I kind of like that), some unique opening title cards, and acting that could have been worse (considering the blase blase script by Suzy Spade). But with minimal jump scares, minimal locations or set pieces, and a musical score that basically consists of one chord ("ominous" came up in the subtitles), Pet Graveyard needs to be "buried" in the abundant, direct-to-video "world". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, April 15, 2019

Crypto 2019 * * Stars

CryptoDirector: John Stalberg, Jr.
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Beau Knapp, Kurt Russell, Alexis Bledel

"When I see things like this, I get pretty worried". When I the critic see a movie like the one I'm about to review, I wrack my brain a little. No joke.

Anyway, a financial banker named Martin Duran, Jr., uncovers corruption and theft via the Russian mafia in his New York hometown (I think it was Upstate Albany they were talking about). Beau Knapp plays Duran, Jr. with a disciplined screen presence, a sneering look, and one of the most baleful voices in the history of acting. Yup, that's the essence of 2019's Crypto, my latest write-up. Oh and don't adjust your eyes, the movie poster for Crypto is not the same one as 1999's Simpatico. Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, and Kurt Russell do kind of look alike though.

Image result for crypto 2019 movie scenesDistributed by Grindstone Entertainment Group and co-starring another Hemsworth (that would be first-born Luke), Crypto is a great title for a vehicle that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. Weird sound editing, fuzzy characters that fade in and out, random dispatches, arbitrary overhead shots with cars, and a self-serious film score only enhance that notion.

Structurally, Crypto is a techno thriller without the high-tech, a muted drama without the "Dramamine", a crime conundrum without a defining crime. Novel director John Stalberg Jr. fashions Crypto as Boiler Room meets 1984's Country. Heck, you could even throw in 1987's Wall Street meets The Astronaut Farmer if you wanna get creative.

Image result for crypto movie scenesBottom line: Crypto has a slight amount of suspense, a minuscule budget that shows (despite the lead wearing $10,000 suits), and a zest for the form of cash known as Bitcoin. Why legend Kurt Russell decided to sign on to this ode to coded, Slavic secrets is anybody's guess. Yeah I'm gonna say nae to this "tale from the Crypt-o". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson