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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Home Again 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Home AgainDirector: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Candice Bergen

"Home again, home again, jiggety-jig". Oops, wrong movie. I'm just talking about Home Again, the 2017 vehicle starring the justly adorable, Reese Witherspoon. In truth, if you like a romantic farce mixed with the ins and outs of making it in Hollyweird, then "Again" is the flick for you.

Home Again's blithe story is as follows: Witherspoon stars as Alice Kinney. She's a 40-year-old mother of two and has been recently separated from her record producer husband (Austen played by Michael Sheen). Kinney, the daughter of a famous movie director, moves back to Los Angeles to live in her father's old house. One night, Alice goes out on the town and ends up partying with three aspiring filmmakers who are much younger than her. They all stagger back to her abode and she reluctantly plays the cougar role. She hooks up with one of them in 27-year-old Harry (played by Pico Alexander). All three gents find themselves living with Alice because they are broke and are waiting for their big, Hollywood break.

Image result for Home again movie scenesSo OK, I'm not gonna beat around the bush. Home Again feels like a been there, done that version of Something's Gotta Give. You could also throw in elements of 2009's It's Complicated. It all makes sense. "Again's" helm-er is Hallie Meyers-Shyer and she is the daughter of Nancy Meyers.

Nancy as most of you know, is responsible for Something's Gotta Give and that was a big box office hit. Meyer-Shyer is an admirable director but heck, she doesn't want to be her own person here. She'd rather emulate her mother who happens to be one of Home Again's multiple producers. The result is a sort of lightweight, situation comedy whose screenplay doesn't always ring true. I mean, is Micheal Sheen's estranged husband really that bad of a guy? And does Pico Alexander's Harry really deserve to be put out by Alice just because he missed one supper date? At times, "Again's" pseudo love story kind of comes to fruition. During other times, it feels a little unfinished and hoax-like. Take for instance Home Again's cutesy ending. It left me teetering on the edge of something. Of what I'm not quite sure.

Now Home Again and Something's Gotta Give have the same background music and the same happy happy stature. Basically, they are the cinematic equivalent of nurtured buttermilk. Both films also have scenes where people are always smiling, always laughing, and always having relaxing family dinners. I mean even when a character gets punched in the face (towards "Again's" third act), there's still a sense that everything is gonna be okay.

Image result for Home again 2017  movie scenesIn conclusion, Something's Gotta Give excels in its emotional sequences between Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Home Again doesn't quite reach that feat. Reese Witherspoon sort of resembles the Keaton trouper but she is not given enough script material to shine. Remember when Diane Keaton got nominated for an Oscar with "Give"? Well Witherspoon is definitely not gonna get to that plateau this time around. Bottom line: There are some feel-good moments within "Again" but it's still a two and a half star rating for me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Security 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

SecurityDirector: Alain Desrochers
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Gabriella Wright, Ben Kingsley

I might be one of the few people who prefers 2005's Assault on Precinct 13 over John Carpenter's original from 1976. Security which is my latest write-up, heavily reminded me of 2005's "Assault" (and slightly reminded me of 2004's Dawn of the Dead). The only difference is that the happenings take place in a mall as opposed to a police station. Also, the target hit isn't Laurence Fishburne's menacing Bishop. Instead, it's a bratty little girl named Jamie (played by an actress who vaguely resembles Curly Sue).

Image result for security 2017 movie scenesAnyway, Security does have a few moments that could qualify it as a ruthless, loud, and relentlessly violent thriller. However, this film is tense yet disposable at the same time. You have thunder and lightning coming in on cue to add to Security's recycled agitation. Then, you get Rio Bravo being aped multiple times which robs Security of its unmentioned originality. Finally, there's an annoying character named Vance (Liam McIntyre). His opening, head-of-mall-guard monologue almost keeps Security from sustaining any sense of dramatic thrust.

At 88 undermining minutes, Security might evaporate in your mind right after you see it. Yeah it's good to have Antonio Banderas and Ben Kingsley go head to head as a Marine Captain and a nasty contract killer. But hey, you wonder why they agreed to a screenplay that has some really idiomatic expressions (some of the mall-speak in Security is very difficult to listen to).

Image result for security 2017 movie scenesIn retrospect, director Alain Desrochers (he mostly helms TV series stuff) pulls off bullet-ridden shootouts and some nifty hand-to-hand combat sequences despite the fact that you can't quite view every detail. Hold up though. With minimal gore and a direct-to-video release in the states, Security's budget ($15 million) is half of what Jean-Francois Richet's was in 05'. It shows. In jest, Security lacks the epic tranquility and theatrical stamina of Assault on Precinct 13. Added to that, the acting around its leads (Kingsley and Banderas overshadow the C-list cast) is less than persuasive and not very memorable. Overall, a mixed review from me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Layover 2017 * 1/2 Stars

The LayoverDirector: William H. Macy
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kate Upton, Alexandra Daddario, Matt Barr

Meg (Kate Upton) and Kate (Alexandra Daddario) are best friends who live together. Meg is really bad at selling beauty products and Kate is a high school teacher who might be forced to resign. When their lives become screwed up, they decide to relax and take a trip to Florida. On their plane ride to the Sunshine State, Meg and Kate encounter a pending hurricane and are diverted to St. Louis, MO. While stuck in St. Louis, they compete hard for a hunky guy (Matt Barr as Ryan) and fracture each other's friendship in the process. That's the central theme of The Layover, my latest review.

By definition, a film director controls a movie's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfillment of that vision. William H. Macy, a shining TV actor who kills it on Shameless, is "Layover's" antonym director. As you watch The Layover, you wonder if Macy lost a bet or had pressure from the suits at Vertical Entertainment to put out an assembly line, R-rated comedy product. In jest, "Layover" has almost no cinematic innovation, a loose plot, and virtually zero character development. It runs 88 minutes, is playing in only a handful of theaters, and has been mostly demoted to release by way of the Internet. Granted, these are all bad signs. Believe that.

Image result for the layover movie scenesNow it's hard for me to accept that William H. Macy actually filmed The Layover. Sadly, he did and he makes a lot of mistakes in his second directorial effort. The first is casting Kate Upton in one of the lead roles and then relegating known troupers like Kal Penn and Rob Corddry to two-minute cameos. Listen, I think Upton is pretty to look at and she gets props for having the same birthplace as me (St. Joseph, MI). But let's be real shall we. She's not ready to carry a movie yet and her acting is borderline inept. It's mind-boggling to think that Macy would truly approve of some of her dialogue takes. When Kate's Meg is trying to say something sincere or trying to appear unladylike, it's cringe-worthy as heck.

Another mistake Macy makes is the general way in which he presents The Layover itself. There are plenty of slapstick moments, road trip instances, a ridiculous sex scene straight from the annals of Macy's own Shameless, some bathroom humor, and the usual, sexual innuendo. These elements feel like pawns to simply keep the narrative going. Overall, the brand of funny here feels forced and familiar and that's something William H. Macy never exhibits when brilliantly playing a sleazeball on America's television set.

Finally, Macy makes the big miscalculation of approving a film soundtrack that could take Muzak to a whole new level. With the exception of Human League's 1981 ditty "Do You Want Me", every song in The Layover could easily be featured on a Kidz Bop compilation album. Basically, we're talking about tunes that can make your ears bleed.

Image result for The layover 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, William H. Macy's direction is uniformly standard. With minimal sway, Bill almost holds back on the R-rated fare and tries to wrap up "Layover" in the same sort of fashion as Kate Upton's other flick, The Other Woman (small spoiler). Here's the problem: The Other Woman with its notion of girl-minded revenge and guy player mentality, wasn't that great to begin with. Bottom line: The Layover gets a one and a half star rating from me. As a moviegoer, you really need to "delay" yourself from seeing it.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Wind River 2017 * * * Stars

Wind RiverDirector: Taylor Sheridan
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham

An FBI agent straight out of Las Vegas, hires a game tracker to help solve a rape and eventual murder. That's the essence of Wind River, my latest review. Elizabeth Olsen plays agent Jane Banner and Jeremy Renner plays Wildlife Service expert Cory Lambert. So OK, it has been over a month since I've given a favorable write-up. With "River", I figured I was due.

Image result for wind river movie scenesDistributed by the Weinstein Company and released at Sundance via January of this year, Wind River is filmed in Utah but its setting is Wyoming. So yeah, we get it. It's darn cold in Wyoming. And despite a few images of beautiful, mountainous scenery, "The Cowboy State" is a pretty dour place to live in as well. A wrongdoer in "River" quips, "there's nothing here but snow and silence!" Later on, the protagonist preaches, "you either survive or surrender". Finally, that same protagonist exclaims, "luck don't live out here". Here's an idea, why don't these characters just get up and get the heck out of Wyoming. Jeez.

Anyway, Wyoming is like a star in "River" and it's referenced to the point where obviousness becomes a dirty word. I mean, this isn't Devil's Tower Wyoming we're prattling about nor is it summertime Wyoming like in Brokeback Mountain. No I'm talking the Wind River Indian Reservation where blizzards come and go, temps drop to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, crime/drug use is a mainstay, and the police force is comprised of six people. To quote humorist Dorothy Parker I say, "what fresh hell is this?"

Now as a movie clocking in at just under two hours, Wind River is like Fargo on downers, Cliffhanger minus the popcorn heroics, or The Grey without crashing 747's. In hindsight, it's a brutal motion picture, cloaked in vulnerability, violence, false mercy, loud bullet-ridden gunfire, and naked depression.

Director Taylor Sheridan working from his own, figurative script (Sheridan penned 2015's Sicario), doesn't obsess with wide shots and cinematography that has the wilderness at his full disposal. He's more into his story which is well told even if the methodology is straightforward in the whodunit department.

Image result for wind river 2017 movie scenesTaylor carefully inserts a devastating flashback toward "River's" conclusion while getting superb performances from his leads (Renner and Olsen). He does go a little overboard adding a souped-up Mexican standoff and a death sequence by which the main malefactor perishes from sub-zero, temperature inhalation (it didn't even look like it was that cold out). But hey, with all the blood and white flakes and symbolism (you could even throw in a haunting violin soundtrack as well), it's just way too difficult for me not to recommend Wind River. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Blind 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

BlindDirector: Michael Mailer
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Demi Moore, Alec Baldwin, Dylan McDermott

2017's Blind is my latest review. Its opening scenes are intriguing. Then, Blind descends into yet another film in which the screenwriters become vague. Yes I'm talking about the details on how criminal characters are arrested, processed, and put through the almighty penal system. So OK, let's get all the puns out of the way shall we. There's basically no harm in "seeing" Blind. Natch.

Now in Blind, Robert Redford sings a song during the closing credits. That's right, Robert Redford. He's not one of Blind's producers, he doesn't star in Blind, and he's not behind the camera in any capacity. I mean how random is that?

Anyway, the story of Blind is as follows: Suzanne Dutchman (Demi Moore) and Mark Dutchman (Dylan McDermott) are a rich, married couple living in New York City. Mark, who's a crooked businessman, gets detained by police and thrown in jail. As Mark awaits trial, Suzanne also gets charged with knowing about her husband's illegal dealings. She's sentenced to community service and has to take care of a blind novelist named Bill Oakland (played by Alec Baldwin). Bill and Suzanne eventually have an affair all to the dismay of an angered Mark.

Blind, which proclaims that Brooklyn is the new Paris, is set to a backdrop similar to what Peter Glantz did when he directed 2014's The Longest Week. Some of Blind is tedious and some of it is professing. Ultimately, this askew dramatization gets mixed results from me.

Image result for blind 2017 movie scenesThe acting from the leads nevertheless, is pretty decent. Everything else around them, not so much. Baldwin and Moore have okay chemistry but McDermott is truly the standout. As a dude who cheats on his wife and cheats on the American public, no one does ruthless, cold, and cunning quite like Dylan McDermott. As for Baldwin, well he paints an admirable portrait channeling a persona who can't see five feet in front of him. However, he's no Al Pacino (see next paragraph). Alec Baldwin's way of playing a blind chap is to pick a spot on the wall and basically stare at it. Valiant try there Alec.

In conclusion, Blind at ninety-eight minutes, is caught somewhere between a hard drama, a direct-to-video trash exploit, and a catatonic love story. Directed by Michael Mailer with a screenplay by John Buffalo Mailer (Michael's younger brother), Blind is for the most part, kind of watchable. Still, Mailer's film is sort of uneven as it shifts its cinematic tones literally on a dime. Imagine watching something that feels like Scent of a Woman meets Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Then, add a TV movie feel to it. That's what you get with Blind. After watching it, I realized that Blind is a flick that doesn't really know what it wants to be. "Eyesight" isn't exactly 20/20. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Logan Lucky 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Logan LuckyDirector: Steven Soderbergh
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Channing Tatum, Seth MacFarlane, Adam Driver

Remember when a great actress gave a bad performance? I do. It was in 2013's Elysium with Jodie Foster projecting acting 101 as a humanoid, secretary of defense. In Logan Lucky (my latest review), Hilary Swank does the same thing. The multiple Oscar winner delivers her lines in a robotic manner playing Special Agent Sarah Grayson. Now was her screen time in "Lucky's" last twenty minutes completely necessary? I'm thinking no.

Anyway, Logan Lucky's story involves two brothers (played by Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan and Adam Driver as Clyde Logan) attempting to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tatum's character has a limp in his leg and Driver's character has one arm. They are almost broke, they are down on their luck, and they really need the money. Tatum and Driver on a quest to secure many garbage bags full of dough, are surrounding by a host of troupers. You have an unrecognizable Daniel Craig (safecracker), an unrecognizable Seth McFarlane (British businessman), an underdeveloped Katherine Waterson (love interest), and a goofy Dwight Yoakam (prison Warden). Everyone sort of fades in and out of "Lucky" making it the equivalent of a holed, cinematic blueprint.

Steven Soderbergh is the director of Logan Lucky and well, he can still do pretty much anything. His Out of Sight is different than his Solaris. His Traffic is dissimilar from his Full Frontal. Finally, his Erin Brockovich is much more disparate from his 1999 picture, The Limey.

Image result for Logan Lucky 2017 movie scenesOn a different note, Steven is also a director who hasn't made a film in four and a half years. Supposedly, Side Effects was gonna be his swan song. Now in present day, he comes back with "Lucky" which for all things southern, is a drawled crime caper. Yeah it all feels too little, too late.

Punch-drunk on the success of his Ocean's Trilogy, Soderbergh shoots "Lucky" in the same vein as his Magic Mike. You can spot similar degrees of sliding camerawork and relaxed story-boarding. He then projects Logan Lucky as an Ocean's Eleven for the hick nation. Jotting between the settings of North Carolina and West Virginia, "Lucky" is like a less complex and certainly less drawn-out version of "Eleven".

Logan Lucky's only hook mind you, is that it trades George Clooney and Brad Pitt for the middle class or the should I say, the rural working class. You get to see (and hear) toilet seat horseshoes, John Denver tunes, bobbing for pig's feet, and decorated cockroaches. At the same time, you leave "Lucky" wondering why it was even made or better yet, why Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement to make it. Heck, what was the point of it all really?

Image result for Logan Lucky 2017 movie scenesNow I'm not saying Logan Lucky is a bad film because while watching it, I realized that Soderbergh hasn't lost his touch. His direction is streamlined and assured. Added to that, his actors for the most part, deliver and he keeps the proceedings moving with a nifty, breezy soundtrack (courtesy of mainstay David Holmes). In the end though, it just feels like his "Lucky" is a design for a flick as opposed to an actual feature. I suppose that's why things are left open for a Logan Lucky sequel. Based on "Lucky's" mediocre, opening weekend at the box office ($8 million), I just don't think that's gonna happen. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 19, 2017

First Kill 2017 * 1/2 Stars

First Kill
Director: Steven C. Miller
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Bruce Willis, Gethin Anthony 

Will and Danny are father and son. Together, they leave the big city with Will's wife in tote. All three of them head to Will's hometown where Will and Danny plan to reconnect on a hunting trip. While on said trip, they witness some criminal behavior involving dirty cops and bank robbers. That's the crux of First Kill, my latest review. 

In "Kill", Hayden Christensen and Ty Shelton (this is his acting debut) respectively play Will and Danny. Their performances are much stronger than the movie they are in. Now "Kill" does have a couple of enthralling, opening scenes but it takes a while to really get going. All sense of intrigue and inching tension is sorely missing. Added to that, First Kill is a generic thriller whose production design gives off the vibe of sheer minimalism. Yep, this flick is hardly the "first" of its kind. 

Helmed by Steven C. Miller (a possible director pseudonym) and filmed entirely in the town of Granville, Ohio, "Kill" has pedestrian action sequences, a drawn-out approach (despite a short running time of 97 minutes), timeworn kidnap situations, and a severe level of predictability. You know who the bad guys are literally within the first half hour. 

Image result for First kill 2017 movie scenes
Speaking of bad guys, well Bruce Willis gives yet another phoned-in gig as First Kill's depraved, police chief (spoiler alert). He is mediocre when it comes to playing any type of heavy. In jest, Steven C. Miller and Brian A. Miller (I'm pretty sure they are brothers) continue to show off Bruce as their pseudo-celebrity muse. They give him monosyllabic dialogue and bring out the worst in his trouper acumen. Basically, the Millers fail to realize that Bruce is better off as the scruffy anti-hero.

In conclusion, a remake of Death Wish is being released in November of this year. Lets hope star Willis fairs better than with the inclusive conch that is "Kill". Bottom line: First Kill heralds Steven C. Miller as a filmmaker who is content on being a hack because his stuff never seems to make it to the dark end of a movie theater. He uses his locations (or location) sparingly, he furnishes plot twists and turns that are clearly foreseeable, and he doesn't supply a script that utilizes the plausibility of common law protocol. Heck, you might as well skip First Kill and just see something like "First" Blood instead. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Girls Trip 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Girls TripDirector: Malcolm D. Lee
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish

"Girl, you can't get no infection in your booty hole! It's a booty hole". That's just one of the quotes from 2017's Girls Trip (my latest review). In it, Tiffany Haddish plays the fool-mouthed Dina. Dina is truly an iconic character and probably the reason "Trip" has become such a big box office hit. Like Kathryn Hahn in last year's Bad Moms, Haddish proves that women can be just as perverse as any strapping male counterpart. There's no filter or the ability to maintain self-control in her front. Haddish just lets it rip, so to speak.

Now based on her spitfire performance involving dry humping, cussing, and psychotic malaise, you wonder if Tiffany is either a darn good actress or just playing herself. After seeing Haddish talk in interviews with Jimmy Kimmel and such, I'm gonna have to go with the latter.

Directed with pedestrian solace by Malcolm  D. Lee (The Best Man Holiday, Scary Movie 5) and distributed by Universal Pictures, Girls Trip is about four best friends who get together for a weekend in The Big Easy. Basically, "Trip" is like Bridesmaids, New Orleans style!

Image result for Girls trip 2017 movie scenesGirls Trip, with its behind closed doors girl talk and its unrealistic consumption of trouper alcohol intake, isn't as humorous as Bridesmaids. However, "Trip" is definitely more established than stuff like Rough Night and 2012's Bachelorette. It's the quintessential (gross) chick flick that only groups of tight-knit females would flock to. That means no dudes allowed. Ha!

Anyway, Girls Trip is a hit-or-miss farce that throws everything at you but the kitchen sink. Yup, it's pretty raunchy stuff. "Trip" gives the audience full frontal nudity, projectile urine, multiple penis references, and a scene in which a woman performs simulated fellatio using a banana and a grapefruit. Oh yeah, you can also throw in drug use, drug references, fierce sexual innuendo, and surprisingly violent cat-fights as well. So anyhow, you know the term ladylike? Well "Trip" leaves that locution happily by the wayside.

Image result for girls trip movie scenesAll in all, Girls Trip clocks in at just over two hours. Improvised with a clunky script while using the Essence Music Festival as a taunt, product placement, the film meanders and wanders without so much as a meaningful account. The last quarter of "Trip" is where things start to settle down. A mild drama arises with an actual story of friendship, infidelity, and relationships coming about. Still, Girls Trip is billed as a nasty comedy for most of the way. And while it does have a couple of outrageous moments, "Trip" tries almost too hard for a laugh as it fiercely coerces some dramatization with the funny. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson