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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ad Astra 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Ad AstraDirector: James Gray
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones Ruth Negga

Ad Astra is my latest review. It was released in September of 2019 with reshoots causing the film to go $20 million dollars over budget. James Gray directs "Astra" giving the audience a mixture of sci-fi Apocalypse Now, Mission to Mars, and 2014's Interstellar. Oh and you can even throw in a little 2001: A Space Odyssey because well, why not.

So OK, Ad Astra has known troupers in it that barely register (Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones). And yes, Brad Pitt as the lead gives a performance so inert and underplayed, his heart rate probably never rose above 60 (his character's rarely went over 80). Still, "Astra" has a tamed look of steely-eyed convention. It's 124 minutes of space-age, numbing beauty. Add Max Richter's Cliff Martinez-like musical score and some canvased cinematography and Ad Astra is well, total science fiction 101.

Image result for ad astra movie scenes"Astra" has shards of glacial violence, some NASA implausibility (Neptune and Jupiter aren't as far away as I thought), numerous Brad Pitt-ed close-ups, and some narration by Pitt that feels awkward at best (he's no Captain Willard mind you).

In truth, if you like your science fiction fantasies to be more pretentious family drama than action, then Ad Astra is your go-to vehicle. And if you like a flick that keeps you at a distance with a lonely, closed-in feel, then "Astra" will help you meet that particular "Waterloo".

All in all, Ad Astra is a movie about an astronaut named Roy McBride (Pitt) who goes to Neptune to find his father (Clifford McBride). Roy wants to bring said father back to earth and help him eliminate plans for an expedition that might destroy the universe.

Image result for ad astra movie scenesBottom line: "Astra" is an icy, slow burn journey of a film and because of its artsy-fartsy residue and languidness, I might not have the gumption to see it again. Or maybe just see it "ad" hoc. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

10 Minutes Gone 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

10 Minutes GoneDirector: Brian A. Miller
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Michael Chiklis, Bruce Willis, Meadow Williams

10 Minutes Gone is my latest review. It was released in late September and I'm thinking it was an Internet only affair. That's what you'll get from director, nutrition-less action helmer, and monumental slick-ster, Brian A. Miller.

So OK, "Gone" has empty, streamlined shootouts where no one really hits a target. And yes, the dialogue feels word for word with the script supervisor obviously not changing a thing. Still, Brian A. Miller as a filmmaker seems to be growing a little. His flick has a twist I didn't see coming and his plot is a little more intricate than in past efforts. "Miller time" isn't so bad (unfortunately compared to Miller's The Prince/Vice, that ain't saying much).

Image result for 10 minutes gone 2019 movie scenes10 Minutes Gone contains lots of hailed gunfire, some constant Michael Bay camera movements, numerous flashbacks, a character walking away from an explosion in slow-motion (never seen that before), and a wooden performance from Bruce Willis that shows he didn't have to move five feet within the first hour (did Brucie even know where his mark was?).

In truth, if you like a digestible heist thriller with some raw (effective) acting from The Shield's Michael Chiklis, then "Gone" is gonna do it for you. And if you like obsessive aerial shots of Cincinnati, Ohio ("Gone's" go-to locale), then 10 Minutes Gone will sort of make you wanna visit "The Nati" (I stress the words "sort of").

Using a movie poster that screams direct-to-video and distributed by four production companies (Lionsgate occupying two of them), "Gone" involves a bank robbery gone afoul with the protagonist robber getting hit over the head (he loses consciousness for ten minutes, hint hint). When said protagonist wakes up, he has to figure out who double-crossed him.

Image result for 10 minutes gone 2019 movie scenesBottom line: 10 Minutes Gone isn't hot garbage but it gives us another reason to believe Brian A. Miller's work will never hit an actual movie theater. He's stuck in one, gun-toting genre with his Bruce Willis muse, his counterspy app-ed film scores, and his novice choices for actors (Michael Chiklis excluded). Yup, 10 Minutes Gone is "reservoir dogged". It has "gone" to the place of a mixed review. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 4, 2019

Inside Man: Most Wanted 2019 * * * Stars

Inside Man: Most WantedDirector: Michael J. Bassett
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Rhea Seehorn, Aml Ameen, Roxanne McKee

An FBI agent from Harvard and a cocky hostage negotiator (Will Smith lookalike Aml Ameen) try to save some lives during a Nazi gold bank robbery in NYC. That's the gist of the slick and polished, Inside Man: Most Wanted.

"Most Wanted", with its script reading like episodes of Criminal Minds, Law & Order, and/or Scorpion, is fast-paced, mildly violent, twisty, and feinted from its opening frame. Everyone involved with this film really wants you to take it seriously. That's admirable from the standpoint of "Most Wanted" being sadly relegated to direct-to-video status (what'd you expect? It's 13 years later).

Image result for inside man most wanted movie scenesBrit helmer Michael J. Bassett signed on to direct "Most Wanted" with it being a long-delayed sequel to 2006's Inside Man. No one from the original flick was involved but Bassett keeps the mysterious heist dream alive. Just like in the first Inside Man, "Most Wanted" tells us that nothing is what it seems when it comes to hastily stealing from a Federal Reserve lender.

There's some cool explosions, a couple of ending flashbacks, a 1945 combat flashback, and characters saying the word "boom" (and "bam") on multiple occasions. Just to let you know that Inside Man: Most Wanted is an undisclosed follow-up, there's also a portrait of Denzel Washington on a classroom wall as well as a mugshot of Clive Owen in an FBI file.

Image result for inside man most wanted movie scenesIn retrospect, "Most Wanted" isn't high art but with its own "den of thieves", it tries to come real close. There's no Spike Lee this time around, no Jodie Foster, no Terrence Blanchard music, and no known stars involved (have you guys ever heard of actress Rhea Seehorn or actor Urs Rechn? Neither have I). Still, Inside Man: Most Wanted might be even more exciting and rousing than the first Inside Man installment. Sans a sizable film crew and a big budget, that's no "inside" joke. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Anna 2019 * * * Stars

AnnaDirector: Luc Besson
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Sasha Luss, Cillian Murphy, Helen Mirren

"Which room?" So says the fixed character of Anna Poliatova before going in for a mission-ed kill. Poliatova changes her downtrodden life by becoming a twenty-something KGB assassin in 2019's Anna (my latest review).

Anyway, Anna is a sleek and sterile thriller with a female, John Wick kick to it. It's also another round of Luc Besson, his silencers, his femme fatales, his whipped car chases, and his cinematic, French-y cuisine.

Image result for anna 2019 movie scenesSo OK, tell me how was this film overlooked? It made only $7.7 million in the US (and $28.4 million worldwide) but heck, after the lousiness that was 2014's Lucy, I kinda dug it.

I guess Anna's low box office take might have been attributed to its sparse marketing efforts, its Keanu competition, and its nearly unknown lead in Sasha Luss. Looking like a Russian version of Jennifer Lawrence and having only one other movie credit to her dossier (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), Luss meets the physicality requirements of Anna Poliatova as well as the sudden, volatile nature. Move over Jason Statham and Jet Li because the gun-toting Sasha Luss kicks some serious arse.

Anna's director, producer, writer, and maker of all things hit-girl, is Frenchman Luc Besson (mentioned earlier). Anna is Besson at his most Besson. It's also intricate, thinking man's Besson. Channeling his inner Rashomon while harboring a Mexican standoff and using his camera like a slithery serpentine on fire, Luc Besson makes Anna virtually recommendable.

Image result for anna 2019 movie scenes
In conclusion, I liked Anna's various twists and revelations (told through flashbacks), its supporting performances from Helen Mirren and Cillian Murphy, and its groovy, bone-crackling action which "kicks" in at about the 40-minute mark (no pun intended). Bottom line: Anna may be familiar in the realms of the existing, button woman genre. Still, it's no "Fata Mongana". My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Fanatic 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The FanaticDirector: Fred Durst
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja

"I just wanted an autograph". So says the sorry character of Moose when it comes to collecting memorabilia from B to C-list celebs. Moose with weirdo hairdo and even weirdo wardrobe in tote, stalks his favorite, brute action hero in 2019's The Fanatic (my latest review).

Anyway, "Fanatic" is brief (at 88 minutes) and somehow holds the viewer back from wanting a little more. It's a Holly-weird, personified thriller littered with over the top acting, over the top shallowness, out of place narration, and under the belt budget constraints.

Fred Durst (lead singer of Limp Bizkit) steps behind the camera for his third feature film. Yes he directs "Fanatic" well (I love the artwork) but his effort at times also feels rushed and kinda pasted together. Fred either based The Fanatic off his own experiences or watched 1996's The Fan and/or Big Fan one too many times. Nevertheless, he knows where to put the camera and knows that an isolated fan portrayal isn't quite playing with a full deck.

Image result for the fanatic movie scenes
In "Fanatic", Durst gets John "I don't show up in movie theaters anymore" Travolta to step in as the lead. As Moose, Johnny boy painfully throws himself into the role only to become a carbonated parody of Gil Renard and Paul Aufiero (played by Robert De Niro and Patton Oswalt respectively).

Travolta is decent as a hit-and-miss actor but he's a little miscast here (the dude is 65 years old, really?). In The Fanatic, he simply tries too hard with his quirky persona being a cross between Dustin Hoffman's Raymond Babbitt and Corey Haim's Lucas Blye. It's a bloated stretch to say the least.

Image result for the fanatic movie scenesAll in all, The Fanatic isn't quite as disastrous as it was perceived via the movie-going public (it only grossed about $3 grand and played in 52 theaters). In the future, I think Fred Durst will helm better flicks if he gets the casting right, the production values magnified, and avoids the notion of borderline, directorial hacking. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Score to Settle 2019 * * Stars

A Score to SettleDirector: Shawn Ku
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Benjamin Bratt, Noah Le Gros

"Time keeps marching on. Ain't nothing we can do about it". In 2019's A Score to Settle, "time" sure has weathered the face of paycheck player, twitch-meister, and hair evolution icon, Mr. Nicolas Cage. He looks about as hungover and damaged as I've ever seen him in an Internet-only, released vehicle.

Anyway, a mob enforcer (Frank Carver) forcefully tracks down his own employees after they caused him to be imprisoned for 19 years. He's got wishy washy vengeance on his mind, a need to collect Italian guns, and some do re mi to spend (that means money). That's the blueprint for "Score" and at 103 elongated minutes, it really "settles" in. I mean really.

Related imageA Score to Settle, with its all over the place character study masking as routine revenge thriller, deals with macho confrontations, romanticism, a couple of retribution kills, some blurred flashbacks, and some fanatical, father-son bonding. Salivating action junkies might not get what they're looking for with "Score".

Cage in the lead role as Carver (mentioned earlier), gives us the usual "cagey" ad lib-s and overall, kooky "Cage-ness". In a structurally dissident flick with no stinking rules (and no explanation of buying time), he's like a cross between his Roy Waller in Matchstick Men, his Frank Pierce from Bringing Out the Dead, and his Donald Kaufman from 2002's Adaptation.

At times Nic's persona is like a worn schizo who crashed and forgot to take his Ambien. The overacting (and mediocre acting for that matter) is evident and the income tax repayment film tour continues (Nicky boy seems to still be in real-life debt).

Image result for a score to settle movie scenesAll in all, five production companies, five distributors, four editors, and one unseasoned director (Shawn Ku) had a hand in making A Score to Settle (yeesh). I like the good intentions, the dare to be slow burn, and the enthusiasm but I'm going with a "score" of two stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hustlers 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

HustlersDirector: Lorene Scafaria
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles

"The game is rigged and it does not reward people who play by the rules". So says the persona of Ramona Vega in 2019's Hustlers (my latest review). Vega is played by Jennifer Lopez who finds a role she can really sink her teeth into. This is one of the best performances of J.Lo's career and it's marginally better than the unadorned movie she is in.

Anyway, Hustlers is like a female version of Goodfellas and 2015's Black Mass (mixed with cult classic Showgirls). The only difference is that no one gets whacked, Paul Verhoeven doesn't slick it up, Joe Eszterhas isn't the writer, and there's nothing at all mob related.

Image result for hustlers 2019 movie scenesThe director of Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria) shoots the film in time lines (2007-2015) and A to B state of affairs that cut corners. Not really gritty and harnessed with non-elaborate production values, one would have wondered the outcome of Hustlers had famed director Martin Scorsese or Scott Cooper gotten behind the directorial wheel.

Filmed in New York City, based on a true story, and featuring an almost unrecognizable Constance Wu (this ain't Crazy Rich Asians people), Hustlers is about strip club employees who decide to drug Wall Street workers and then use their Platinum credit cards to rob them blind (it's pretty scary if you think about it).

In hindsight, my biggest problem with Hustlers is why should we root for these true-life, women pickpockets and why should their true accounts even be told. Heck, they don't actually do any time (spoiler) and their naive, Wall Street victims don't really get a shred of justice.

Image result for hustlers 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Despite some ample performances from a game cast and some decent, magic Michaelene strip sequences,  Hustlers is just another cinematic rise and fall (and rise) requiem. It unfortunately gets "hustled" itself. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Booksmart 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

BooksmartDirector: Olivia Wilde
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams

"Don't knock it until you've tried it". So says the wide-eyed character of Molly Davidson when it comes to life and the kinky art of scissoring. Molly and a bunch of other eccentric hoodies cut loose on the last day of secondary education via 2019's Booksmart (my latest review).

Anyway, Booksmart is disordered, sometimes funny, slow mo-ed, and a hot mess script-wise. It's a mad-dog (but not mean), HS comedy populated by tonal shifts, exhausting improvisation, a tripped out animation sequence, and a nasty, balls to the wall hip-hop soundtrack (I gotta admit, that's my favorite part).

Image result for booksmart movie scenesOlivia Wilde (a familiar name who's never helmed a movie before) steps in behind the sun-drenched camera for her nifty little debut. Watching Booksmart, it's apparent that Wilde's swagger was influenced by Can't Hardly Wait, 2007's Superbad, Sixteen Candles, and William Shakespeare's 10 Things I Hate About You. Yeah she can direct if not bootleg. It's also apparent that Liv might have channeled her inner David O. Russell (and/or John Hughes) before shooting began (hey that's just pure speculation).

In Booksmart, Olivia Wilde gets good actors who are game (Beanie Feldstein, Skyler Gisondo, Kaitlyn Dever) and fosters enough spark and energy for ten Millennial farces. It's just unfortunate that her out of the box camerawork, flashy bravura, and promotion of DJ Shadow background raps can't mask the film's REM unevenness.

Image result for booksmart movie scenesAll in all, Booksmart is another pic that's Point Grey Pictures-like (that means it's R-rated teenager stuff). It might reveal the modern psyche of today's highschool-er but it's not the one I remember (do 15 to 18-year-old kids, sheltered parents, and suspect teachers actually come off like this?). If for sheer open mindedness or leveled curiosity, I might need a couple more viewings of Booksmart to get into Wilde's raw, possibly misunderstood groove. "Book" it. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Cold Blood 2019 * * * Stars

Cold BloodDirector: Frederic Petitjean
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jean Reno, Sarah Lind, Joe Anderson

Eight production companies, fourteen producers, and eight distributors had a hand in the making of 2019's Cold Blood. Hey, whatever gets the job done.

Anyway, Cold Blood is a carefully plotted and slow-building affair. It's like a combination of 2017's Wind River, Eye of the Beholder, and last year's Siberia (starring Keanu "whoa" Reeves). "Blood" is not an action-packed thriller or a grand ole shoot-'em-up per se. As something about a reclusive hit-man who takes in a total stranger only to find out that said stranger wants him dead, Cold Blood is indeed winter-esque. It's almost like you can see Dr. Yuri Zhivago or Victor Komarovsky coming around the corner.

Image result for cold blood 2019 movie scenesGranted, "Blood" could have had an ending that wasn't so underwhelming. It doesn't seem justifiable considering that Mr. hit-man was at times a good Samaritan. Nonetheless, Cold Blood (whose working title was Cold Blood Legacy) keeps you intrigued and entangled for most of the way. You're constantly glued to the screen wondering how it will all end.

Jean Reno as "Blood's" mellow contract killer Henry, exudes decent screen presence and a gruff-ed stare. His performance seems minimalistic but somehow right for this type of role. Jean's adversary in Sarah Lind (she plays Melody), is also effective and somewhat forthright. Lind's character is like Maggie Hayward, a femme fatale, and Beatrix Kiddo all rolled into one.

Image result for cold blood 2019 movie scenes"Blood's" director is rookie Frederic Petitjean. His thinking was yes, "there will be blood" (and there is). Petitjean creates an icy, bird's eye look and with budget constraints aside, knows where to put the camera. If only he remembered to put actors in his flick that talked like they were from upper Washington ("Blood" takes place in "The Evergreen State" but was filmed entirely in the Ukraine). Oh well. Cold Blood "warms" you up to its tight editing and its nippy, atmospheric chic. It's worth at least a three star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Killers Anonymous 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Killers AnonymousDirector: Martin Owen
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gary Oldman, Jessica Alba, Tommy Flanagan

"I just want you to know that I tried". That's probably the random thoughts of director Martin Owen in regards to 2019's Killers Anonymous (my latest review). Mr. Owen my man, you are a poised swaggerer. You probably "tried" way too hard.

Anyway, Killers Anonymous is about a support group for well, contract killers. Jessica Alba and Gary Oldman who have never shared the screen before, star in "Killers". Oldman looks like he'd be bored if he wasn't doing anything other than acting. Alba cloaked in lip scars, a bandanna, and tomboyish flair, barely registers in a cameo that she's probably too good for.

Image result for killers anonymous movie scenesAs for the rest of the cast of "Killers", well they are mostly cocky unknowns. Their characters bicker and brawl amidst each other with thick British accents and annoying, short fuses. Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, and Guy Ritchie made something similar to Killers Anonymous many many years ago. Martin Owen is trying to bring it all back. Owen should have listened to Johnny Mathis when Johnny exclaimed, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late to try again".

Distributed by Lionsgate, filmed in modern-day London, and giving off a sort of fantasy-like, neon look, "Killers" is all style and no peaked "smile". The filmmakers had a lot more fun making it than the audience who has to sit through it. "Killers" has a broken narrative, some weird (showoff) camera angles, some Kill Bill-ed splatter violence, some hacky flashbacks, and some twists and revelations that are put in just for the heck of it.

Image result for killers anonymous movie scenesBottom line: Hitman movies seem as dated as compact discs, a beer no one drinks anymore, jelly shoes, or Tab (which you can find randomly at a dozen stores). Killers Anonymous is just another cinematic runt in that littered litter. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson