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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Kid 2019 * * * Stars

The KidDirector: Vincent D'Onofrio
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Chris Pratt

"No one has to die today". You tell em' Ethan Hawke. Hawke and Chris Pratt don felt hats and revise their Magnificent Seven days with 2019's The Kid.

Anyway, have you ever seen a western that stayed more faithful to the western action film genre? You know, the costumes, the bar whiskey, the music, the small town sets, the egotistical demeanor, the dustiness? "Kid" is that western and at 100 sometimes trudging minutes, it's my latest review.

The Kid, with its moments of lush cinematography, Days of Heaven remnants, and occasional shards of tomahawk violence, provides decent casting and the workings of something Clint Eastwood might have made right after shooting Pale Rider.

Image result for the kid movie scenes ethan hawke 2019Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Dane DeHaan (he plays "Kid's" lead in Billy the Kid), appears formidable as a grubby cowboy. However, he strains a bit in his line readings. It's Hawke and Pratt that shine as the legendary Pat Garrett and Grant Cutler respectively. With Colt revolvers in holsters, shower-less looks, and a searing manner, they come off as scruff-ed up badasses. You just wish the late Lee Van Cleef or Sam Elliott would show up to you know, sweeten the deal.

Taking place in Eastern New Mexico and directed by veteran actor Vincent D'Onofrio, The Kid chronicles a brother and sister who flee their violent uncle after shooting their equally violent father. Along their journey across the Southwestern United States, said brother and sister encounter never-ending conflict between Billy the Kid and Garrett (mentioned earlier).

Image result for the kid movie scenes ethan hawke 2019Look for some rack focusing, a couple of brief tracking shots, and boundless mood lighting courtesy of a keen-eyed D'Onofrio (this is only his second directorial effort). Minus some excessive plodding, some choppy editing, a vague title, and an all-too-familiar milieu, this "Kid" is still mature enough to be in any gun-swilling room. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Captive State 2019 * * Stars

Captive StateDirector: Rupert Wyatt
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Vera Farmiga

Aliens that we rarely get to glimpse and are almost in the background, institute martial law on the human race. That's the layout of the sporadic and spasmodic, Captive State (my latest review).

"State" is yet another PG-13 thriller that takes place in dystopian Chicago, Illinois (this Mud City really needs to take a break from the film biz). Its look is so grubby, so inky, and so sunless, you can barely tell what's going on. Not to promote the essence of Mop & Glo floor cleaner but Captive State sure could have used a cinematic coat of it. When the squishy E.T.'s show up unannounced, you really need to squint to get your view on.

Image result for captive state movie scenesCaptive State, which features an always reliable John Goodman in one of its leads, has a sense of urgency and can never be deemed as boring. The problem is this fast-paced vehicle lacks continuity with its rookie editor clearly on mock holiday (Andrew Groves has only been involved in shorts, TV movies, and TV series up until this point). Profuse characters of a serious nature fade in and out, scenes are storyboard-ed so quickly the viewer never gets a foothold, and Chicago locales like Soldier Field and Wicker Park feel a little too conspicuous to someone who lives there (like myself).

Oh well. At least the musical score by Rob Simonsen is disquieting, the Willis Tower is still standing, and scruffy co-star Alan Ruck goes full incognito (his days of playing Cameron Frye and T.S. are long gone). Bottom line: Captive State strives to be intelligent science fiction with a Matt Reeves and Neill Blomkamp flavor. Still, it gives your average conspiracy enthusiast no sound reason to latch on. "State" leaves the audience member adrift, lost, and held "captive" (ha-ha). Call it "district nein" as in "no". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men in Black: International 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Men in Black: International movie posterDirector: F. Gary Gray
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson

Men in Black: International is a ho-hum sequel and my latest review. Billed as gimmick-ed science fiction with overseas flavor (hence the salient title), "International" feels more like a cutesy kids comedy than anything else. Call it The Phantom Menace of the Men in Black franchise. Call it pubescent tongue-in-cheek. Call it "men without tact". And just like the neuralyzer used in "International", you'll forget about the film the moment you exit the theater (for the record, I feel the original Men in Black wasn't that great to begin with).

Image result for mib international movie scenesTessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth replace Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as the new Men in Black leads. They are strapping, good-looking people who can act but they are saddled with an elongated, cringe-worthy screenplay. Yup, with game Liam Neeson signing on in a nixed supporting role, everyone comes off as a little haphazard here.

In Men in Black: International, Thompson and Hemsworth's characters have to save the E.T.-surplussed world while trying to find a mole in the Men in Black organization (you as the viewer could spot it a mile away). At an almost two-hour running time, it's hard to take "International" seriously. There's the usual shiny gadgets (which I like), a little bit of the action, some wonted special effects, too much of the drollness, and sadly, a lot of the disposable.

Image result for mib international movie scenes
In conclusion, the biggest reason these Men in Black movies continue to get made is strictly a financial one (the four installments have garnered over a billion dollars worldwide). Based on the sparse amount of people at the screening I just attended, that trend might just end. Bottom line: If you must see Men in Black: International, head to a dollar movie theater, bring the kiddies (if you have any), take in the pseudo surround sound, and try to enjoy the Styrofoam popcorn. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Abduction 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

AbductionDirector: Ernie Barbarash
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Scott Adkins, Andy On, Lily Ji

"She's been abducted." Yeah she has. By albino, hooded aliens who have been around for centuries no less. Said aliens sure know how to fight (and brawl) Bruce Lee-style. They show up haphazardly in 2019's Abduction (my latest review).

So OK, everyone in Abduction mysteriously knows how to kick butt in the avenue of exotic martial arts. No explanation, no reasoning, no stock rationale, and no know-how. Just bone-crunching, fist fighting scenes in the vein of some B-movie, John Wick echo. Yup, for a film starring C-list action guru Scott Adkins and having him harbor a stutter, Abduction really wants you to take it seriously. I did until all the shoddiness and pseudo-cheesiness sort of crept in.

Image result for abduction movie scenes 2019Directed by Xmas Netflix-er Ernie Barbarash (he was also a co-producer on 2000's American Psycho) and plotted well from a VOD standpoint, Abduction is a preposterous mix of black magic, time travel remnants, purported violence, and sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Call it "big trouble in little Vietnam". Call it "the matrix rebooted". Call it a John Carpenter pic ruined and refurbished by a form of MTV sheen.

The gist of Abduction which involves two intertwining vignettes, has to do with SWAT guy Quinn (Adkins) and gangster Connor (played by Andy On). Quinn and Connor's loved ones get captured by creepy-looking figures who are bent on steadily destroying the human race. They speak with Evil Dead-style voices, they wear black capes, they stealth it up, and they give the Grim Reaper a run for his money a la the personality department.

Image result for abduction movie scenes 2019Bottom line: Abduction is sophisticated, eerie camp with a prototypical premise, standardized direction, and a knack for having some decently choreographed block blow sequences. Compared to more commercial releases however, the film just seems a little underwhelming. Abduction conveys random "ruction". Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Domino 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

DominoDirector: Brian De Palma
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Guy Pearce, Nicolas Bro

"It's rare to find this kind of talent". Brian De Palma would agree. He himself is pretty talented. After a seven-year hiatus in the movie biz, De Palma is back with 2019's Domino. It's my latest review.

Anyway, Domino gives us one of Brian De Palma's quintessential, over-dramatic film scores. He didn't write the music mind you but the notes are well known here. Italian Pino Donaggio is Domino's composer and if you've seen De Palma's Carrie, his Blowout, or his 1980 razor flick Dressed to Kill, you'll know it's the exact same dude. Every scene and even every tuneful moment is punctuated with pseudo-suspense, malaise, and uneasiness. For a film showcasing 78-year-old De Palma on straight-to-video holiday, Domino could have been a whole lot worse.

Image result for Domino 2019 movie scenesIn Domino, all the De Palma trademarks are slightly evident. The Hitchcock mentoring, the split-screens, the security cameras, the dire violence, the slow-motion build-ups. It's in there Prego-style. Now is it as elaborate or serpentine as what Brian De Palma was doing in the 1970's or 80's? Not quite. Is it still sort of fun to watch? Yeah, sure it is.

Shot in Denmark, Italy, and Spain (the European locales are more than adequate), Domino's story involves Copenhagen cop, Christian (played by Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Christian's partner gets killed by a member of ISIS and he seeks justice for the guy that did it. The only problem is that same guy is working as a double agent for a member of the CIA (Joe Martin played by an excellent Guy Pearce).

Image result for Domino 2019 movie scenesAll in all, Domino feels abrupt and unfinished at 89 minutes. Heck, I'm not even sure De Palma had any say over final cut (he should though because he's been around for over six decades). Still, Brian's cast is game and like an aging veteran who's a little past his prime, Alfred's faithful protege still has a few cinematic tricks up his sleeve. Domino "falls" but not too far. It gets a rating of 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Rocketman 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

RocketmanDirector: Dexter Flecher
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden

If Michael Gracey directed a musical a la the 1960's, 70's, 80's or early 90's, the result would be 2019's Rocketman (my latest review).

Taron Egerton gives a committed (and raw ) performance as Rocketman's main lead and legendary musical icon, Sir Elton John. The only problem is he does the actual singing of Elton's jams and well, he's pitch-y and not much of a singer. 

Image result for Rocketman movie scenesIn Rocketman, Elton John's life is chronicled from his distant childhood with his parents to his rise to stardom to his life-changing rehab stint in 1990. The film is rooted in fantasy, reality, trances, and scenes involving various characters breaking into song. I liked the actuality of the story but the fantasy elements and almost everything else zap Rocketman of having any sustained, dramatic momentum.  

Containing decent acting, a lot of splashy visuals, and a sort of combative narrative, Rocketman gets some of its timelines wrong just like in last year's Bohemian Rhapsody ("Don't Go Breaking My Heart" wasn't recorded before "Bennie and the Jets", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", and/or "Honky Cat"). Plus, the movie doesn't rely on being credibly artsy and succumbs to having a saturated, candy coated TV feel. 

Still, Egerton dons glittery garb and gives it his all (despite looking more like a young Ewan McGregor than Elton John). And there's excellent supporting work by an almost unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard (she plays Elton's aloof mom, Sheila Eileen). 

Image result for Rocketman movie scenesBottom line: I've been a fan of Elton John's music (and Bernie Taupin's lyrics) for pretty much my entire life. Their early stuff from the albums Tumbleweed Connection to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is my vivid, euphonious childhood.

Nimbly paced musically without giving the viewer ample time to breathe, Rocketman is a so-so tribute to Elton's long-lived life that could have done without the miscued, Greatest Showman treatment. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ma 2019 * * * Stars

MaDirector: Tate Taylor
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans

"This never happened, OK". But it did happen my friends and that's the unsettling part.

Anyway, have you the reader ever seen a horror version of a John Hughes flick? Or better yet, have you ever checked out 2002's One Hour Photo or the villainous prose of Unlawful Entry (minus any police protocol)? I have in regards to the latter and Ma (my latest review) resembles those attributes.

Image result for ma movie scenesMa, with its eager malaise and unpromising, small town feel, provides spot-on casting and the makings of something a la the midnight movie circuit. Octavia Spencer in Ma's lead role, gets her Kathy Bates on and becomes the badass, cinematic wretch terror fans have always yearned for. Ma's director (The Help's Tate Taylor) gives the film inching tension and envelope-pushing, R-rated fare. He gets almost everything right except the ending which seems implausible as to how much stabbing resilience (and fire immunity) a human being can take.

Taking place in I guess, Ohio (I got that from a car's license plate), cropping out at 100 minutes, and containing an 80's-style soundtrack (hence the John Hughes reference), Ma chronicles one Sue Ann (Spencer). Sue Ann traumatized by her past and a bit of a lone wolf, befriends some free spirit, high school kids who want her to buy beer for them. Next thing you know they're hanging out in Sue Ann's basement and having cringed, wild parties. Sue Ann's behavior turns a little kooky, said high school kids reject her, and she ends up making their lives a living hell.

Image result for ma movie scenesLook for some mild twists and a woman getting run over by another woman to the sounds of Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" (you'll never think of that song the same way again). Also, look for privacy-violated Facebook allocations, partial male genital nudity, and Scooby-Doo van musings. Bottom line: Ma is disturbingly upsetting, pseudo-Hitchcockian, and will give you the fresh, genre-ed creeps as you exit the theater. Somehow it all just works. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Poison Rose 2019 * * Stars

The Poison RoseDirectors: George Gallo, Luca Giliberto, Francesco Cinquemani
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: John Travolta, Morgan Freeman, Brendan Fraser

The Poison Rose is my latest review. Set to be released in May of this year, it's an uneventful, paperweight film noir that was directed by three people (the most notable being Midnight Run scribe, George Gallo). In addition to that, "Rose" has star John Travolta looking like The Most Interesting Man in the World. Yup, that's a shout-out to Dos Equis beer and bearded silver foxes everywhere.

Image result for the poison rose movie scenesSo OK, The Poison Rose cements the fact that Travolta doesn't really care whether his movies are great or not. Hey it's not that his performance is bad here. It's just that "Rose" is another excuse for John to delve into twangy stature and acting self-parody. With umpteenth Southern accent and umpteenth hairpiece in tote, Johnny boy obviously forgot that he once shined in Pulp Fiction. "I like to drink, I like to smoke, and I like to gamble". That's great John Travolta. Can you channel your inner cerebration and juggle upside down too? Just kidding.

Anyway, the gist of The Poison Rose goes like this: An alcoholic detective named Carson Phillips (played by Travolta in chimney-smoking, Philip Marlowe mode) travels to Galveston, Texas to solve a murder involving a star college quarterback. Said murder might have entailed the actions of Carson's long-lost daughter (which subsequently is played by Travolta's real-life offspring, Ella Bleu Travolta).

Image result for the poison rose movie scenesClocking in at just over an hour and a half, baiting atmospherics, and registering as the first time Morgan Freeman and Travolta ever shared the screen together, "Rose" has its tres directors using fade outs, wipes, and generic shootouts to move the clunky narrative along. Adjoined to that, The Poison Rose has a time setting of 1978 which feels incredibly inauthentic. Heck, it could have been 1988 or even the late 90's for all we know. Bottom line: "Rose" is an unintentional, spoofed and campy affair (even for a smoldering thriller). Sadly, it has "thorns" and lifeless stems in its side. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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