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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 and she 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 decent 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

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Teacher 2019 * * * Stars

TeacherDirector: Adam Dick
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kevin Pollack, David Dastmalchian, Curtis Edward Jackson

A high school English teacher traumatized by being bullied himself, goes on a crusade to prevent other bullies from internally terrorizing his students. And oh yeah, the doting parents, would-be female dates, and blindsided administrators might be the enabling persecutors too (spoiler). That's the blueprint for 2019's complex, hard R-rated, and twisty, Teacher.

Teacher, with its plot detours aplenty and its unsafe, aggravation traces, is a well-acted, multiple character study. Yup, Teacher takes what feels like independent film-making and brings it to the dark dark side (and back again).

Image result for teacher 2019 movie scenes kevin pollakAs good as any film baited on a limited release and shot in Chicago, Illinois (must have been a suburb cause I really couldn't tell), Teacher is part deranged John Hughes flick, part 1999's American Beauty, part Taxi Driver, and part One Hour Photo.

Director Adam Dick (he's a rookie) shoots Teacher with a couple of flashbacks, a penchant for astute violence, and a feel for sterile, Suburbia chic. He borrows from the likes of Mark Romanek, Sam Mendes, and Miguel Arteta but it's still all good.

Dick also gets great performances from his well cast actors. David Dastmalchian and Kevin Pollack are excellent as the respective English teacher and father of one of the nasty bullies (mentioned in the first paragraph). Dastmalchian, with revenge and loneliness on his psyche, channels his inner Travis Bickle. Pollack, a veteran of such pics as The Usual Suspects and She's All That, remains pungent as his usual, smarmy self.

Image result for teacher 2019 movie scenes kevin pollakAll in all, Teacher doesn't quite tell you where it's headed, why its characters are so impervious, or how it will get there (that's a good thing because the whole disturbing shebang works). But its revelations about rich, dysfunctional upbringing, forced alcoholism, and high-schooling cover-ups will pull you through. Teacher "teaches" us to feel. Prepare to be forcefully agog-ed. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Art of Racing in the Rain 2019 * * * 1/2

The Art of Racing in the RainDirector: Simon Curtis
Year: 2019
Rated PG
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker

"This one, definitely this one". That's my take on The Art of Racing in the Rain. It's one of the most emotional and Forrest Gump-ed films of 2019. "Bible!" (that means facts).

Anyway, have you ever seen a drama where the dog gives the best performance and the dog's narrator gives the best speaking performance? And have you ever seen a drama where the concept of death feels a little more reassuring? "Racing" is that drama and at 109 tear-jerking minutes, it's my latest review.

Image result for the art of racing in the rain movie scenes"Racing", with Kevin Costner as the voice of the dog and Milo Ventimiglia as the dog's race car driver owner, feels like the kind of syrupy sweet endeavor where the syrup ain't too sugary. It's like Terms of Endearment and Wonder made a baby and called it Enzo (said dog's character's name).

"Racing" is feel-good fodder people, with a few dark turns (no pun intended), a story seen realistically through a whelp's eyes, and not a whole lot of actual racing. The casting of actors like Costner, Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, and Martin Donovan is perfect and the Golden Retriever for which the story is centered around, will make your heart melt (heck, the pup even looks like Kevin Costner).

"Racing's" director (Simon Curtis) shoots this flick from a 2008 novel for which it's based upon. It's original and communicable combining stock car racing, demise of loved ones, family squabbling, and "man's best friend" (we all know dogs love riding in cars). Curtis is the master manipulator when it comes to pulling the viewer's heartstrings. Whoever he hired to be Enzo's trainer should get an Academy Award nomination of his own (is there such a category?).

Image result for the art of racing in the rain movie scenesBottom line: You're not quite a human person if you can't enjoy a film like The Art of Racing in the Rain. According to "Racing", Enzo is more "person" than dog. Again "Bible!". My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, August 19, 2019

47 Meters Down: Uncaged 2019 * * * Stars

47 Meters Down: Uncaged Director: Johannes Roberts
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Corinne Fox, Brianne Tju, John Corbett

Four spunky girls with curiosity and diving gear in tote, venture into some underwater caves only to be confronted by nasty great white sharks. Oh and they are trapped with their air supply literally dwindling down to nothing. That's the gist of the numbing, relentless, and unfaltering, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged.

"Uncaged", with its grainy, mid-70s waterlogged look and its stinging musical score courtesy of tomandandy (a musical duo from NYC), is a solid refresher of every Jaws re-imagining imaginable. Yup, it's a wet nightmare that gets you right in the central nervous system.

Image result for 47 meters down uncaged movie scenesAs good as any sequel in the last 5-10 years and made to actually horrify you, "Uncaged" ain't just another flick about fish with pectoral fins. The Meg, Deep Blue Sea, and the disastrous Shark Night take those trophies.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is distributed by Entertainment Studios and directed by 43-year-old Brit Johannes Roberts. The acting in "Uncaged" starts out as a little campy, a little high school, and a little amateurish. Then when the actresses have to emote and exhibit some rolled out fear, everyone seems to hit just the right notes (look for Sylvester Stallone's daughter Sistine Stallone in a girly girl supporting role).

Sly offspring and scream queens aside, helmer Roberts pounds the viewer over the head with non-stop vigor and shark jump scares that are better than the ordinary (I flew out of my seat twice). Because virtually every scene is filmed underwater, you can't always tell what's going on. Maybe that's the point.

Image result for 47 meters down uncaged movie scenes"Uncaged" is The Descent with threshers. It's 2019's Crawl with tiger shark drawl. It's that rare sequel that actually surpasses the original 47 Meters Down. Oh and you'll never hear The Carpenters ditty "We've Only Just Begin" the same way after you see this movie. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Outsider 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The OutsiderDirector: Timothy Woodward, Jr.
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Trace Adkins, Jon Foo, Sean Patrick Flanery

If John Wick, The Revenant, or 2002's Road to Perdition were made into sooty Western dramas, the result would be 2019's The Outsider. Yup, "Outsider" is a mean-spirited, retribution pic and it's my latest review.

Country singer Trace Adkins doing his best Jeff Bridges impersonation, stars in "Outsider". He plays a down at heel Marshal with slight morals. Trace is no Laurence Olivier but he's intimidatingly tall and possesses the perfect acting voice for a flick about the felonious Old West. Sean Patrick Flanery plays a felon tracker (in "Outsider") named Chris King. Flanery channels his inner Russell Crowe with gruff, chuff, and scruff in tote.

Image result for the outsider trace adkins movie scenesIn The Outsider, a railroad worker of oriental descent (Jon Foo as Jing Phang) seeks vengeance to any above the law lawman who murdered and abused his wife. "Outsider's" setting feels like the late 1800's, there's plenty of vests and spurs, almost everyone has a mean streak, and at least one character cockily twirls a gun (never seen that before, just kidding).

"Outsider" is rooted in close-ups, Dutch angles, feeble action set-ups, and adult motifs (there's an upsetting rape scene and plenty of roughed up sex involved). It's a jet black Western in cinematography and theme and I wish I had a better view of what was going on (maybe it was my old beat-up flat screen, who knows).

Image result for the outsider trace adkins movie scenesDimness, obscure, and ribald tropes aside, The Outsider has a few intense moments and great supporting work from its antagonist (Kaiwi Lyman as corrupt sheriff James Walker). Still, the film feels a little anti-climatic, a little jaded, and blase blase in its final approach. It's the type of gunfighter endeavor where guys like the late Gary Cooper, the late Charles Bronson, and the late John Wayne would view it and confidently say, "hold my beer". Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Curse of La Llorona 2019 * 1/2 Stars

The Curse of La LloronaDirector: Michael Chaves
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velasquez, Sean Patrick Thomas

The setting is 1973 Los Angeles. A social worker and her two kids are being terrorized by a dead woman in a vale. Said dead woman murdered her own children way back in 1673 Mexico. That's the layout of the silly, doltish, and bland, The Curse of La Llorona (my latest review).

Starring Linda Cardellini and produced by James Wan, "Llorona" is yet another horror endeavor that relies on obviousness and a plethora of jump scares. Heck, there's enough of these scares here to fill five movies. We're talking "boo" scary and that's not really scary. Despite being stylish, a la mode, and well cast, everything on screen is about as frightening and/or traumatizing as a dead ant.

Image result for the curse of la llorona movie scenesThe Curse of La Llorona is directed by future Conjuring helmer, Michael Chaves. His flick is littered with supernatural mumbo jumbo, cut and dried plotting, and some interesting camera slants (I haven't seen the Dutch angle in a while). Within "Llorona", he fails to give any audience member substantial nightmares as they exit the theater. Mikey probably should have consulted guys like William Friedkin, Sam Raimi, or John Carpenter before shooting.

And yeah, let's talk about "Llorona's" main antagonist. You know, La Llorona herself ("The Weeping Woman"). She is played by Marisol Ramirez and her actions are totally repetitive (especially during the pic's prolonged conclusion). She screams, she's sneaky, and she annoys the viewer with every tired jolt. The demon in The Exorcist makes her look like a shy, doting school teacher in comparison.

Image result for the curse of la llorona movie scenesAll in all, The Curse of La Llorona is unoriginal, formulaic, and far from a more superior 70's style of fright fest film-making (I miss the zoom shots and the elongated shots from back in the day). Yup, "Llorona" is the lather, rinse, repeat of trepidation fare. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Stuber 2019 * * 1/2 stars

StuberDirector: Michael Dowse
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais

"Please be a 5-star ride". Stuber (my latest review) doesn't get 5 stars but I guess 3 and a half will do. There's some tips included but it's not what you think (ha-ha).

So OK, I'm not saying every Uber Driver should see Stuber (that's a cliche). But if you are one of those glorified taxi operators for hire, then this flick might amuse you slightly. We're talking ridesharing, clean cars, front seat conversations, smartphone apps, and everywhere LA destinations. Heck, next year I see studios making a film about Lyft starring a dude named Cliff. Or something about DoorDash. Or freaking Instacart!

Image result for stuber movie scenes
Directed by Canadian Michael Dowse, containing scenes that catapult troupers from one set piece to the next, and heralding itself as that rare, R-rated comedy from Disney, Stuber is hit-or-miss on the hysterical with some poorly choreographed action sequences. Call it a stupid-funny version of 2004's Collateral. Call it "lethal deafen". Call it "Starsky and crutch". Yup, you can call it "blips" (which rhymes with TVs CHiPs). 

The gist of Stuber involves a frazzled Uber Driver named Stu Prasad (hence the movie's catchy title). Stu picks up a near-blind cop in one of his rides. Said cop (Victor Manning played by Dave Bautista) is on the trail of a cold-blooded killer who murdered his rookie partner. Chaos ensues when Stu and "Vic" battle bad guys all night long with "Vic's" Uber bill topping off at just under six large (ouch).

Image result for stuber movie scenesAll in all, Stuber is a messy action farce that could've used a more attentive script supervisor and a stunt coordinator who didn't fall asleep at the cursory wheel (no pun intended Steven Ritzi). I did however, find the actors likable (Bautista is more emotive than The Rock) and there are some extremely funny and crass moments. In the cinematic world, Stuber is perceivable without being the equivalent of a more posh UberXL. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson