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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Isle 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The IsleDirector: Matthew Butler-Hart
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Alex Hassell, Conleth Hill, Tori Butler-Hart

2018's The Isle is my latest review. Set to be released in April of this year, it's a pseudo-horror pic that's distributed by DC Films (no relation to DC Comics). Added to that, "Isle" has a cast of virtually unknowns to go along with its sunless and soil-like, 1800's setting.

So OK, The Isle comes off as the ultimate cinematic tease in trepidation fare. And yes, the movie contains flashbacks that readily deflate any of the story's put-on scare factor. Still, "Isle" is gorgeously shot and has just enough earthy atmosphere and goad determinants to keep you involved as a viewer. I would compare it to something spectral I might have seen on the BBC network circa 1983.

Anyway, The Isle contains almost no gore, characters with contemporary European accents, and plenty of foreboding fog. In all honesty, if you like your mystery fare to have more layman style than substance, then "Isle" will give you your stand-in fix. And if you like your ghostly persona to have softened, Evil Dead-style voices, then The Isle will satisfy your psyche of all things that go bump bump in the night.

Image result for the isle 2019 movie scenesDirected by Brit Matthew Butler-Hart, containing an effective yet repetitive musical score, and harboring lush cinematography by rookie Pete Wallington (he's done mostly shorts and TV docs), "Isle" is about three shipwreck survivors who stumble upon a haunted island off the west coast of Scotland. Said island has only four living people on it and an uncannily cryptic past. Before long, mild chaos ensues in the form of frazzled women inhabitants with spooky blue eyes. As Jack Nicholson said in The Shining, "you got a big surprise coming to you". I guess so.

All in all, helmer Matthew Butler-Hart gives The Isle a slow burn quality, a whimsical remnant, and a sense that something dreadful is coming. It's just a shame that despite all that buildup, his flick never quite takes off. Heck, Isle of Dogs might be a better vehicle containing the word "Isle" (natch). My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 15, 2019

Cold Pursuit 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Cold PursuitDirector: Hans Petter Moland
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman

2019's Cold Pursuit is my latest review. Released in February, it's a glacial weather film that embodies plenty of snowdrift and stars Liam Neeson. Yup, it's that time again. It's Neeson time.

So OK, "Pursuit's" ending seems to be an amusing glorification of death and dying. And yes, Cold Pursuit doesn't know whether it wants to be a black comedy, an exploitation conch, or a mordant B-movie. Still, "Pursuit" is much better than Neeson's last winter release titled The Commuter. I can assure you of that.

Cold Pursuit contains quick-stinted violence, a Lauren Dern character that fades out early, nominal plot buildup, and an accurate locale in Central Colorado. In truth, if you like your movie villains having cheesy one-word names ("Viking", "Avalanche", "Wingman"), then "Pursuit" is your cinematic baby. And if you like your flicks as frat boy drinking games when the bodies pile up (take a swig of whiskey every time someone dies and you'll be totally hammered), Cold Pursuit will help you get your veritable swerve on.

Image result for cold pursuit movie scenesDirected by Norwegian Hans Petter Moland and using title cards for every casual persona who bites the proverbial dust (I'm not kidding), "Pursuit" involves snowplow driver Nelson Coxman (a subdued Liam Neeson). When Coxman's son winds up dead from a heroin overdose, he has his doubts. Later on, Nelson finds out that his boy was killed by drug dealers prompting him to go into "half nelson" revenge mode (ha-ha).

Of note: Cold Pursuit doesn't really have many "special skilled" action sequences. It's just hit-men-style kills and there's lots of them. If you think you've gone in to see Neeson's Taken as a revved-up snow-blind version, you've bought the wrong ticket. And if you think Neeson plans on going Chuck Norris on everybody, you've been plainly mistaken. Oh and I almost forgot, Liam Neeson disappears halfway through "Pursuit" for about 20-25 minutes (as do a lot of the other underused characters at various points in time). It's almost like his name shouldn't have even been top billing on the poster.

Image result for cold pursuit movie scenesAll in all, Cold Pursuit has helmer Hans Petter Moland trying to one-up films like Wind River, Smokin' Aces, and 1996's Fargo. His direction is rather stylish, there are a few entertaining moments, and the script by Frank Baldwin (he's a rookie) provides a few juicy one-liners. Still, I gotta say Moland's nonchalant mixture of humor and savagery left me a little "cold". Yeah, I'm going with a rating of 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 11, 2019

What Men Want 2019 * * Stars

What Men WantDirector: Adam Shankman
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Tracey Morgan, Aldis Hodge

Directed by the guy who once was a judge on So You Think You Can Dance and produced by another guy who brought you Think Like a Man, 2019's What Men Want seems like a title that goes both ways. I'm a man and what I "want" to see is the beautiful and sexy Taraji P. Henson on screen. What I don't "want" is for her to show up in a lousy movie. Oops, too late. What Men Want is a remake and a gender-reversed version of What Woman Want from nineteen years ago. Too bad "Men" is less insightful, more mean-spirited, more stereotyped, and more potty-mouthed than the film it's trying to update.

Image result for what men want movie scenesHarboring a running time of just under two hours and co-starring the likes of an unrecognizable Brian Bosworth and Richard Roundtree (I couldn't make this up), What Men Want is about sports agents yet its raunchy script doesn't give us any real acuity as to what the heck these agents do. Along with that, "Men" is sadly just another R-rated comedy that offends, irks, and tries too hard for a laugh. Yeah I chuckled and snorted a couple of times but there's no way I could recommend this thing. Nay I say!

Helmed by Adam Shankman of Glee and Hairspray fame, and shot in predictable rom-com fashion with the addition of some extra racy sludge, "Men's" story involves Atlanta sports rep Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson). After being passed over for a promotion in her mostly male field, Davis drinks a potion from a psychic, hits her head at a night club, and ends up having the ability to read men's off-center thoughts. Of note: In 2000's What Woman Want, the thoughts of the ladies being voiced over sounded mostly heartfelt, complicated, and genuine. In What Men Want, the bad voice-overs of the men seem rather stupefied and awkward for awkward's sake. Hey, we dudes aren't as horrible, idiosyncratic, or loathsome as you think Tina Gordon ("Men's" unjustified and misinformed screenwriter).

Image result for what men want movie scenesBottom line: "Men's" lead in Taraji P. Henson, is a talented actress who either needs new representation or needs to be a little pickier about her projects. She better watch out because after stuff like What Men Want, Proud Mary, and No Good Deed, Henson might wind up becoming the next Gerard Butler. That's box office poison. My rating for What Men Want: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 8, 2019

Serenity 2019 * * * Stars

SerenityDirector: Steven Knight
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Diane Lane, Anne Hathaway

A fishing boat captain named Baker Dill, is visited by his frazzled ex-wife. She wants him to kill her current husband because the a-hole is harshly abusive to their astute son. That's the fugazi blueprint for 2019's Serenity (my latest review). In all truthfulness, I really got into Serenity. Yeah, it's a movie lover's movie if there ever was one.

Image result for serenity 2019 movie scenesShot in early 2017 yet released this past month, Serenity displays an obvious nod to film noir with co-lead Anne Hathaway casually sporting a fedora hat and informally walking in the rain.

Basically, Serenity is a steamy, neo-noir endeavor that's not what you think it is and not what you think it will ever be. With Serenity, director Steven Knight readily commits to every darted shot. Whether it's overhead camera angles, plenty of fast cutting, coarse 50's-style dialogue, or sweaty actor close-ups, Knight really gets you into his groove. Credit also goes out to Serenity's attractive cast and standout Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill (mentioned earlier). Heck, you won't have to wait till March's The Beach Bum to see "full" McConaughey. Here, he's awesomely beast-like and a total badass as he smokes, knifes, and drinks his way through every scene.

Image result for serenity 2019 movie scenesIn retrospect, Serenity at times doesn't take itself too seriously and feels a little too trashy for its own good. Also, the film's Greek Chorus in Reid Miller (played by Molly's Game's Jeremy Strong) reeks of being a poor man's character from a watered-down David Lynch outing. Still, Serenity with its fantasy elements and big reveal early on (all the personas are non-existent and are rather part of a kid's video game), seems more daring and more gleefully off the reservation than most of the junk that comes out in January. Bottom line: Serenity containing tales of thrusting sex, Truman Show oddities, and big boy tuna catching, is a cinematic "amenity". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Miss Bala 2019 * * * 1/2 Stars

Miss BalaDirector: Catherine Hardwicke
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Isamael Cruz Cordova

Gloria Meyer (played by the engaging Gina Rodriguez) goes to visit her best friend in Tijuana only to get embroiled in the Mexican cartel. She must play a cat and mouse game with the DEA (and said cartel) in order to survive a vacationed nightmare. That's the rub of Miss Bala, my latest review.

Yup, I am announcing "Bala" as the first great film of 2019. After seeing it, I'll probably think twice about crossing the almighty Border. Come to think of it, I might just avoid hitting any restroom at a swanky nightclub as well (you'll know what I mean after you watch "Bala's" buildup-free, first act).

Image result for miss bala 2019 movie scenesDistributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, harboring a scorched look, and containing visceral gunfights with minimal bloodshed (hence the borderline, PG-13 rating), Miss Bala is a trafficking movie and a slight case of Stockholm syndrome all rolled into one. "Bala's" director (Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight fame) creates a flick so dangerous, so well plotted, so willful, and so vulnerably unsafe, you won't be able to catch your breath. Kudos also goes out to the calculated editing by Terilyn A. Shropshire and the performance of Gina Rodriguez which contains seething screen presence. If Miss Bala does well at the box office, the perfectly cast Rodriguez might wind up being a bona fide star (heck, she's got my vote).

So yeah, Miss Bala's loathsome premise, against your will latitude, and abundance of bad cop corruption seems a little far-fetched. And yes, Anthony Mackie playing yet another hard-nosed authority figure feels a little tiresome and typecast (does Runner Runner, Triple 9, and Love the Coopers ring a bell?). Still, "Bala" has enough twists and turns and ratcheted tension for a dozen films (you won't believe what government job the Rodriguez character takes at the pic's conclusion).

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Bottom line: Miss Bala with its Mule-like elevation and its untidy crossfire, is truly one of the reasons I like to hit the good old Cineplex. I sometimes want to feel my stomach in my throat, roller coaster style! Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Challenger Disaster 2019 * Star

The Challenger Disaster Director: Nathan VonMinden
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * Star
Cast: Glenn Morshower, Dean Cain, Eric Hanson

"Do you want the space program to continue? Yes or no?" The question is, do I want the wearied, dialogue-driven film I'm reviewing to continue? That would be a confirmed nada. Man, this thing at 98 preaching minutes, still goes on and on and on.

Released in the same month as the actual Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (circa 1986) and feeling parodied and over-extensive to the nth degree, 2019's The Challenger Disaster seems like a fitting title. Fitting for the "disaster" part anyway. This is a drab and dry true story adaptation, with middling acting, a goofy conference call scene, alleged NASA negligence, and total fact-based injustice. Seven people died going up in that shuttle back in good old 86'. In regards to the misguided "Challenger", they truly deserved a better tribute.

Feeling like a TV movie (which it is), showing a blase time setting for the mid-80's, and containing spacey dialogue that's totally technobabble, The Challenger Disaster has its characters constantly bickering and acting a fool. Of note: It was interesting seeing C-list actor Dean Cain show up as a poodle-like lawyer in "Challenger". To be truthful, I haven't viewed this dude in anything since he cameo-d in a 2009 episode of Entourage. Oh yeah, there were those few stints as the dopey-eyed Rick in Beverly Hills, 90210 (via 1992). All I gotta say is ugh.

Image result for the challenger disaster 2019 movie scenesDirected by a guy known for shorts (Nathan VonMinden), containing rash, flashback editing, garnering some cheesy italics, and showing thespian clowns as a suitable solution for a cast, "Challenger" chronicles steadfast engineer Adam (played by Eric Hanson). Adam wants to stop the STS-51-L from achieving flight because of a vast temperature change in Cape Canaveral, Florida (30 degrees or colder). He fails and ends up suing the NASA company he works for.

All in all, The Challenger Disaster is a closed in, behind the scenes squabble that took place the day before the infamous shuttle explosion on Jan. 28, 1986 (33 years later and this is what Hollywood has come up with? Come on!). With its notion of human lives mattering less than salaried jobs and its labored, brought-by-committee ending, "Challenger" is sadly the equivalent to the badly reviewed Parkland flick concerning the JFK assassination (at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, that can't be good for 2013's Parkland). My rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Glass 2019 * 1/2 Stars

GlassDirector: M. Night Shyamalan
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy

"We almost got you bro". So says James McAvoy's Hedwig in 2019's Glass (my latest review). Glass the movie, well it didn't quite "get" me either. With an overwrought narrative, weird camera angles, a lack of terror/suspense, and some shoddy Spielbergian interludes, M. Night Shyamalan directs the film like a poker player with way too many hands. Sadly, he comes up with a metaphoric, busted straight.

Anyway, Glass is a mumbo jumbo sequel to Unbreakable and 2016's Split. It involves the characters from those flicks (David Dunn, Hedwig, Elijah Price) being locked in a mental hospital with a psychiatrist trying to prove that they aren't formidable superheroes.

Image result for glass movie scenesBruce Willis reprises his role as Dunn and sorta phones it in. Samuel L. Jackson and McAvoy are reliably solid as Price and Hedwig. As for the part of psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple, well Floridian Sarah Paulson comes off as awkward and incredibly annoying. It doesn't help that Shyamalan insists on shooting her in amateurish, close-up fashion. Oh and I almost forgot, M. Night also makes another look-at-me cameo in Glass. Like many of his other Hitchcock-wannabee cameos, it's pretty forgettable.

Harboring a paltry, $20 million dollar budget (it shows), feeling completely different than your typical superhero endeavor (I'm talking Marvel and DC Comics), and containing an obligatory Shyamalan spill ending that reeks of being run out, Glass again shows M. Night Shyamalan at his most pretentious and most la-di-da. This movie is multi-layered, pat, and hooey-ed, with every supporting player acting as if this is the first time they've ever been in front of a camera. While watching the prolix, dark-hued Glass, I felt underwhelmed, under embellished and at times bored. Yeah, Glass is a cinematic "bypass".

Image result for glass movie scenesBottom line: The Sixth Sense and Split are the only flicks I would consider to be Shyamalan masterpieces (Unbreakable upon multiple viewings, is serviceable). Glass unfortunately falls into The Happening territory (ugh). It's not completely "broken" but it sure seems "see through". My rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 18, 2019

Against the Clock 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Against the ClockDirector: Mark Polish
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mark Polish, Dianna Agron, Andy Garcia

"All signs point to the loss of brain function". So says Justin Bartha's character in 2019's Against the Clock (my latest review). Is he secretly talking about the raucous movie he's in? Possibly. Is he talking about the inapt sensory overload in the movie he's in? Definitely.

Image result for against the clock 2019 movie scenesAnyway, "Clock's" scenario goes like this: A Central Intelligence Agent named Kelley Chandler gets injured during a mission and winds up comatose. His wife (Tess Chandler) goes to great lengths to try and save him from a vegetative death. Mark Polish plays Chandler with stuntman overkill, unintentional physical comedy, and almost no dialogue. Every sequence involves him basically running and falling and running and falling and running (lather rinse repeat). Polish also directed Against the Clock while writing the laddish script as well. All I gotta say is "C-list" ego trip alert! Natch.

Only released in the U. S., saddled without an MPAA rating, and harboring the feel of something made by a film school graduate who couldn't wait to show off his mad skills, "Clock" is abundant style over minimal substance. This flick is loud, seizure-d, and jittery, with a visual palate equivalent to a stoner's nightmare and editing that looks as though it was done by a couple of simians on Foxy Methoxy. While watching the massively cross-cutting Against the Clock, I was reminded of the late Tony Scott and some of his stuff from the mid-2000's (Domino, Man on Fire). Too bad Scott is Orson Welles compared to the headache-inducing and morbidly chi-chi Mark Polish.

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"Clock", with its alternate title being Headlock, stars the likes of Andy Garcia and Justin Bartha (mentioned earlier). They are known actors who play "Clock's" dodgy CIA directors (Gerald Hotchkiss and Peter Hobbs). Bartha and Garcia unknowingly damage their reputations in this vehicle. They are decent but it doesn't help that every other supporting performance around them feels as wooden as Pinocchio's forehead. Bottom line: Against the Clock is the classic case of a Hollywood studio letting their director do whatever the heck he wants, when he wants. When "Clock's" story finally comes together after numerous scenes being discombobulated to the nth degree, "time has run out" on the viewer's patience. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 12, 2019

American Hangman 2019 * * * Stars

American HangmanDirector: Wilson Coneybeare
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Vincent Kartheiser, Joanne Boland

Boom bang boom! "Do I have your attention now?" OK, here we go:

A comatose, retired judge gets kidnapped, locked up in a basement, and put to trial for supposedly sentencing an innocent man to death. This so-called legal action involves only a defendant and a prosecutor while being broadcast live to millions of people. That's the gist of American Hangman, my latest review. "Hangman" starts out as a preposterous, Hostel-style torture flick only to submerge into a slow burn, mano-a-mano character study. I couldn't help but be reminded of star Donald Sutherland being in a similar predicament via 1989's Lock Up.

Image result for american hangman movie scenesNot released in theaters, rid of empathy, and taking place in a hub unknown to its audience (the setting kinda looked like Atlanta or I guess, Kansas City), American Hangman presents a fresh take on the tired, old adage of social media power. Just imagine Money Monster as a decently made form of Renaissance drama and that's what you get here. With "Hangman", newbie director Wilson Coneybeare creates more tension, more strain, more wallop, and more edge-of-your-seat suspense than Jodie Foster could ever muster. He also gets great, smoldering work from his leads in Sutherland and Vincent Kartheiser (they respectively play the aforementioned judge and the snide kidnapper).

So yeah, the supporting performances in "Hangman" are sadly a little wooden and out of place (how unnecessary is the dude who noshes on finger food and stupidly watches the mock trial at a bar?). And yes, the ending is quite a downer as it paints society, the police force, a smug attorney, and various news people as silently shooting themselves in the foot (no pun intended). Still, American Hangman is wholly original with an intricate script, a wake-up call to piss-take justice, and some well placed story-boarding. It ruggedly "hangs" on for a three star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Escape Room 2019 * * * Stars

Escape RoomDirector: Adam Robitel
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Taylor Russell, Deborah Ann Woll, Logan Miller

Six strangers are promised $10,000 if they can unknowingly win a life and death game. They have to exhaustively find their way out of a Minos Escape Room Facility in downtown Chicago (ah, yet another freaking movie that takes place in yet doesn't echo The Windy City). That's the rub of Escape Room, my latest review. In truth, I found "Escape" to be as disturbing or upsetting as any PG-13 endeavor I've ever seen. After viewing it, you might think twice about entering any sterile office building with I guess, one creepy employee and a butt load of surveillance.

Released in January yet better than your typical January "junk", Escape Room revitalizes the helplessly trapped, twenty-something genre. Bucked with a hint of originality, it has elements of stuff like The Game, The Belko Experiment, any Saw sequel, 1997's Cube, and even The Breakfast Club (go with me on this one). With "Escape", director Adam Robitel gives us a nifty little thriller that resembles the aforementioned but in good taste. He piles on the tension, effectively inserts flashbacks, avoids any bloodstained gore, and provides riotous set designs with mounds of verve. Credit also goes to the performance of Taylor Russell as Escape Room's reserved contestant named Zoey. Russell goes from timid physics student to gun-toting badass as the film readily wears on. It's a heck of a transformation.

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So yeah, "Escape's" polar characters walk the fine line between being annoying bickers and nervous humorists. And yes, Escape Room's last act piles on twists, turns, and implausible revelations just for the heck of it (the whole diegesis might have been a hallucination or an experimental fugazi, seriously?). Still, this flick with its fringe booby traps, its inventive shocks, and its remorseless cantering keeps you enthralled for 75% of the running time. Yup, I'm down for joining this "Escape Club" (that's a reference to an English pop band from the 80's if you didn't already know). My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson