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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.

Image result for an affair to die for movie scenesContaining 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 2019 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

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

We Die Young 2019 * * * Stars

We Die YoungDirector: Lior Geller
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, David Castaneda, Elijah Rodriguez

"Yo Lucas, I'm gangster". Oh yeah, you tell em' big boy and young, naive thug. The movie I'm about to review is about as gangster as gangster can get.

Anyway, a teenage minor and his younger brother get mixed up with an evil drug lord. It's up to a mute war veteran to pack heat and help them get out of a sad life of crime. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays said veteran with a weathered look, some genuine facial tics, and a massive amount of brute screen presence. Sans those previous Tostitos commercials and stints of direct-to-video gamuts, The Mussels from Brussels gives us one of the best performances of his career. Yup, that's the gist of We Die Young, my latest review. 

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Set in a bad part of Washington, D.C., tackling the notion of post-traumatic stress disorder, and released in the USA by way of Internet, "Young" has a scorched look and a bloody residue that litters the screen. Yeah it's a devastating drama, riddled with jittery camerawork, raw performances, and a couple of slight Mexican standoffs. No one is safe in this flick and you know what, no one should be.

Fundamentally, We Die Young has numerous face tats, blazing guns, remorseless kills, claustrophobic coatings, and plenty of habitual drug use. Director Lior Geller creates a Capital of the World version of City of God. Added to that, Lior also wants to give the audience the ten-years-after version of 2008's Street Kings.

Related imageBottom line: D.C. may be a place where monuments shine, tourism harks, and the President occasionally goes to twiddle his thumbs via the annals of The White House. With We Die Young, the District of Columbia feels more like Beirut on an off day. The municipality comes off as a hidden, veritable hellhole. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 5, 2019

Pet Sematary 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Pet SemataryDirectors: Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz

"Sometimes dead is better". Sure, I'll concur on that one. "They don't come back the same". Yup, they sure don't. "Those woods belong to something else". Uh, you think? "Maybe just some crazy folk tale". Uh, I doubt that.

In the actual town of Ludlow, Maine, a doctor, his stay-at-home wife, his feline, and his two kids move into a large house located near a woodsy area. Beyond said woods is an ancient burial ground. Basically anything that's buried there will come back to life and be downright evil. That's the gist of 2019's Pet Sematary, my latest review. In total veracity, I've only seen brief snippets from the 1989 film that came before this second reworking. Therefore with aging eyes and virginal heart, I'm judging the new "Sematary" as a biased, stand-alone vehicle.

Image result for pet sematary movie scenes 2019Based on a novel by Stephen King (like you didn't already know), running at 100 minutes, and directed by a couple of unknowns (Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch), Pet Sematary will only scare the wits out of you if you've never seen a snuff flick before. This is fodder that has a look of something from the Lifetime channel, the CW, or the 27-year-old Syfy network. This is hairball cats, You're Next masks, and crackling wood without the 70's horror graininess. This is hallucinatory imagery and voiceover that comes off as amusing and not completely frightening.

With the conventional "Sematary", directors Widmyer and Kolsch revel in zoom shots, mild shock value twists, masterful pacing, solid casting (Jason Clarke, Jete Laurence, and John Lithgow are standouts), and neutered gore. Their movie is effectively harmless but it doesn't upset you like other Stephen King adaptations. If I wanna truly be given the creeps I'll see The Mist, The Shining, Misery, or Creepshow instead. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Beach Bum 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The Beach BumDirector: Harmony Korine
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher

Stephen Bishop's "On and On" is featured on the soundtrack of The Beach Bum (my latest review). "Beach Bum" the movie, well it wanders massively. It too just goes "on and on". On another note, Eddie Money's "Two Tickets to Paradise" is featured as well. "Beach Bum's" setting is "paradise" that stinks real pretty.

The Beach Bum while amusing, still could've used a slight mantra of a script. It's about a drugged-up writer named Moondog who must pen a final poetry book in order to claim the rich inheritance of his dead wife. Foul-mouthed, sloppy, g-stringed, pot enhanced, and containing clips of simultaneous junk grabbing, The Beach Bum comes off like a bunch of random scenes snipped from the cutting room floor. I was regaled but sort of shook my head as the final credits came up.

Image result for the beach bum movie scenesSo OK, "Beach Bum" is like 1987's Barfly for the South Beach circuit. It's also kinda like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas without the souped-up paranoia. With a look containing purple, orange, and blue hues, The Beach Bum might be the most beautiful, scuzzbucket of a movie I've ever seen. "One day I will swallow up the world". Indeed.

"Beach Bum" is directed by Harmony Korine. Harmony makes films and I don't think he cares whether you like them or not. As a legend in the art of off-kilter framing and pitying, self-indulgence, Korine puts his muse (Matthew McConaughey as Moondog) in nearly every frame.

McConaughey as a gentler version of Mickey Rourke's Henry Chinaski, doesn't really give a performance. He just acts a fool without knowing that the cameras are even rolling. Matthew's Moondog is the type of footloose character we all want to be for a day. The sad part is I don't think anyone would even attempt to try it.

In conclusion, "Beach Bum" has well known actors like Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg, Jonah Hill, and Martin Lawrence making appearances but not exactly registering in terms of plot mechanics (or lack of plot mechanics). They are there to sort of ensure that Moondog is the Forrest Gump or Zelig of kooky junkies.

Image result for the beach bum 2019 movie scenesBottom line: The Beach Bum slightly hinders its message about being yourself and not caring what the heck anybody thinks. This flick might turn out to be a stoner classic as long as you actually get stoned while watching it (for the record, I don't endorse this action). Heck, if I had a dime for every time someone lit up a joint in "Beach Bum", I'd be a darn millionaire. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Triple Threat 2019 * * Stars

Triple ThreatDirector: Jesse V. Johnson
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins

"Yeah I got eight guns pointed at me right now". Sure why not.

In hustle-bustle Thailand, a billionaire's daughter has a contract put on her by a group of trained assassins. It's up to a couple of down-and-out soldiers to help protect said daughter. That's the rub of Triple Threat, my latest review. In all honesty, I gawked at the energy and harsh gusto by which "Threat" displayed in its never-ending string of rabid action sequences. I mean yeah, I kind of admired it (not!).

Image result for triple threat 2019 movie scenesShot with actors you've never even heard of and helmed by the guy who made last year's Accident Man (a film I recommended), Triple Threat is so enamored in its martial artistry, hailed bullets, and corn syrupy gore that it forgets to be purposeful. This is Big Trouble in Little China without the heart. This is Crouching Tiger, Hidden "Bandwagon". This is a prosaic David Ayer picture on anabolic steroids (and without any snarky line readings).

With "Threat", director Jesse V. Johnson revels in slickness, fast cutting fistfights, remorselessness, and gunplay that is completely cardboard in nature. It's as if the ghosts of John J. Rambo, James Braddock, and John Matrix came in to do some serious dispatching. As for the pace of Triple Threat, well it's one-snidely storyboard-ed and relentless. Despite "Threat's" twisty plot coming in at fits and starts, every other frame has some character perishing via assembly line slaughter. Yup, "Threat's" kill count as drinking game will give you a blood alcohol level of .3 (ouch).

Image result for triple threat 2019 movie scenesAction junkies in the form of sheltered teenagers (like myself in the 80's), might find some video game excitement in Triple Threat's overly violent tone and copious, affray set pieces. Otherwise this is a very hollow viewing experience. Most martial arts flicks are more epic, less dated, more authentic, and more soulful than "Threat". Heck, you might as well see John Wick: Chapter dos instead. My rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Last Man 2018 * Star

The Last ManDirector: Rodrigo H. Vila
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Harvey Keitel

Narration from an unrecognizable Hayden Christensen that feels as if it was lifted from Harrison Ford circa 1982. Co-star Harvey Keitel saying his lines as if he were reading them from cue cards. Cringe-worthy dialogue, obvious Pink Floyd references, a tired Mexican standoff, and acting that screams straight-to-video. Interior dig shots so dark and droll, you can't see what the heck is going on. Doofus side characters that look too much alike. It's all here in The Last Man (my latest review). Once is the "last" time I plan on seeing The Last Man. Sadly it's the Ishtar of science fiction endeavors. Natch!

Image result for the last man 2018 movie scenesAnyway, "Man" takes place in the future and was filmed in Argentina. Its musical score is decently apocalyptic while its look is rainy, thundered, and ho-hum dystopian. As for The Last Man's story, well it's about a combat veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder. With advice from an old-timer street prophet, he decides to prepare for the end of days. Somewhere Rick Deckard is viewing this flick while dreaming of unicorns and deciding whether or not he is openly human. And somewhere Malcolm McDowell's Alex DeLarge is getting his eyeballs dilated as he views some morbidly sadistic images.

Image result for the last man 2018 movie scenesThe Last Man, which comes off like a nowhere version of Blade Runner without any Philip Marlowe protocol, feels self-serious, tedious, and badly mean-spirited. You can even add a muted version of 1995's Strange Days and A Clockwork Orange for faux inspiration. Basically, "Man" rivals these movies yet doesn't have any real cinematic reason for existing. "Man's" director (Rodrigo H. Vila) forcefully plagiarizes his vision, there's some absurd beatings, lead Christensen mumbles his way through the proceedings, "Man" stumbles incredibly in its way-out narrative, and the flick announces itself as a jaded poster child for PTSD (mentioned earlier).

Bottom line: The Last Man is the most non-sensed form of sci-fi drivel I've seen in many a moon. It belongs in the Best Buy "trash bin". Rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Arctic 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Arctic Director: Joe Penna
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smaradottir

"She's running out of time". So says the battered character of Overgard in 2019's Arctic (my latest review). Arctic the movie, well it sure takes its "time". 98 minutes seems to feel a little more long-winded here.

Arctic while fitting, still has that seen it all before feeling. It's about a man who is stranded somewhere in the Arctic Circle after his small plane goes down. While waiting to be rescued, he is forced to survive with whatever bare resources he has around him. Frustrating, harrowing, and not without its various moments, Arctic might have been more pioneering say 30 years ago. My final reaction after Arctic's closing credits rolled was a muted sigh.

Image result for arctic movie scenesSo OK, Arctic is like 2013's All Is Lost in snow. It's also like The Grey without wolves, Gerry without the desert, or Alive without visible cannibalism. The sad thing however, is that Arctic isn't quite as terrifying, high arty, or compelling as the films just mentioned. Yup, it must have been a little too warm on the North Pole when Arctic's "man against nature" plight went down.

Directed by first-timer Joe Penna (he's a shorts and TV guy), containing almost no backstory, and made on a minuscule budget of $2 million, Arctic gives us its strongest asset in lead Mads Mikkelsen. As Overgard, Mads gives a performance that is totally weathered and seemingly staunch. Being perfectly cast in looks and in speaking voice, Mikkelsen effectively rivals the Robert Redford persona from All Is Lost (mentioned earlier).

Image result for arctic movie scenesIn conclusion, Arctic's music by Joseph Trapanese is rousing and wholly baseline for this type of genre. As for Arctic's cinematography (by Tomas Orn Tomasson), well the budget constraints make it feel like it was tersely filmed in snowy Colorado (or any Canadian province). Bottom line: Arctic isn't mediocre but it sure comes off like a paint-by-numbers exercise in brute survival. You take away the parching screen presence of Mads Mikkelsen and the outcome might be even worse. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 8, 2019

Apollo 11 2019 * * * * Stars

Apollo 11Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Year: 2019
Rated G
Rating: * * * * Stars
Cast: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Indeed.

In July of 1969, the spaceflight involving the first two people to land on the moon, is gloriously and masterfully depicted in Apollo 11 (my latest review). "Apollo" is shot in 70 mm, cut from thousands of hours of reel, baited in effective title cards, and contains cinematography from the actual astronauts involved (Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins). Barely grainy, split-screened, and nevertheless revolutionary, you as the viewer feel like you're stuck in an outputted time warp.

Image result for apollo 11 2019 movie scenesYup, it's official. "Apollo" is so far the best film of 2019 and the most heady since Kubrick's 2001. I left the theater elated and enthusiastic at what I just saw. Heck, Apollo 11 is the real "First Man", not the mediocre science fiction flick where Ryan Gosling plays a turgidly aloof Neil A. Armstrong.

Clocking in at a perfect 93 minutes, distributed by up-and-comer Neon, and containing archived restoration of the highest order, "Apollo" is a documentary without interviews, commentaries, narration, or whatever. Hey, its predictable true account just works and everyone from age 10 to 100 should check it out.

Director Todd Douglas Miller (a docu genius in the making) pulls you into "Apollo's" "in the moment" vision. He lets the actual people involved (no actors here) do the talking and his footage is so pristine and polished, your jaw will literary drop. After 50 years, I can't believe nobody thought about releasing this kind of maverick foresight earlier. Eat your heart out Paul Greengrass cause Apollo 11 is totally mind-blowing (and mind-boggling if you think about it).

Image result for apollo 11 2019 movie scenes"Apollo's" music by Ohio native Matt Morton, is an added bonus (it's fitting since most spacemen hail from the Buckeye State). It's stirring and Herculean and pounces in at all the right moments. Bottom line: Apollo 11 is the future of factual programs for years to come. Now all I gotta do is see Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old and my cinematic world will be complete. My highest rating: 4 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson