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Monday, July 28, 2014

Planes: Fire & Rescue 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

Planes: Fire & RescueDirector: Roberts Gannaway
Year: 2014
Rated PG
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ed Harris, Dane Cook, Julie Bowen

Planes: Fire & Rescue (the animated film I'm about to review) is pretty much about talking planes. Don't worry though, you'll still get to see a host of talking cars as well. As expected, "Rescue" is clearly a spin-off, a sequel, and an influx of inspiration spawned from 2006's highly successful Cars. There were parts of it that I liked being the obvious yet clever mix of adult/kid humor, parts of it that I could have done without such as the uneven combination of hard rock and country songs in the soundtrack (for kids films, I'm OK with just some feasible background music), and parts of it that didn't quite add up to a whole ("Rescue's" short running time for instance, is a poultry 83 minutes). My mixed review is ultimately gonna stem from the fact that I wasn't able to see it in 3D. If I did though, I think I would have enjoyed it more (I saw it in the more traditional, 2D cropping style). The computer animation is lush and the way certain scenes are cut and angled, I'm thinking that what's on screen might have catered more to a 3D setting. Perhaps I could upgrade to a more positive review via a second viewing by wearing those goofy, plastic blue glasses. Only time will tell.

Directed by Roberts Gannaway (who subsequently does some of the voices in his films as well) and meshing effectively, the adage of a humanistic-laden background combined with the palate of an animated background (just like with 2013's Walking with Dinosaurs), Planes: Fire & Rescue follows one crop duster plane turned racing phenom in Dusty Crophopper (voiced by foul-mouthed comedian Dane Cook who's vocal delivery seems tailor made for the role). As "Rescue" opens with some high flying, eccentric-looking stunts, Dusty is glowing from being crowned the Wings Around the Globe race winner (the main event or plot point that occurred in Planes). However now, he can't gain speed or race like he wants to because his quote unquote "gear box" has become damaged. This provokes Dusty to take a break from the whole racing scene and train to become a firefighter. He is aided and put through the ringer sort of speak by a helicopter commander (and former TV star quiet as it's kept) named Blade Ranger (voiced by the venerable Ed Harris).

As mentioned earlier, "Rescue's" greatest strength lies in its ability to throw in a zinger or two. This keeps the adults happy (most kids can't go to the movies alone so the parents, aunts, and uncles have to accompany them) and garners a few chuckles along the way (with my nephew sitting beside me, I actually laughed out loud once or twice). The humor featured is cultural referenced, pun induced, and even celebrity based (a version of the actor Burt Reynolds is assigned to a talking boat and his name is "Boat" Reynolds, get it?). There's nothing racy or satirical about it so I was actually scratching my head trying to figure out why the MPAA board gave it a PG rating. Regardless, I remembered the following tidbits: 1. there's a bar where sleek cars and even sleeker planes go to called "Honkers" (ha ha). 2. a male car actually hits on a female car in said tavern and the female says, "I don't really like pick up trucks" (get it, pickup trucks). 3. an older car announces to everyone in context, "I have gas" (ha ha, knee-slapper). 4. some of the planes prefer to drink a "motorjito" (as opposed to a mojito). 5. and finally, a show playing on television in "Rescue" is entitled "CHoPPs" (or choppers which is a slang term for helicopters). It's the aerial version of CHiPs and if you were alive when that show aired, the theme song still rocks!

All and all, Planes: Fire & Rescue is short, brainless, contains an unsatisfying conclusion (does the main character go back to racing or frolic in the aspect of saving countless firestorm victims? We never really know for sure), and feels completely rushed to hinder to its quick-minded, closing credits. With neither a hint of another upcoming sequel or possibly a funny outtake sequence (all the computer-animated films seem to hightail this trend), "Rescue" feels undernourished and ultimately unfinished. In the future what's left, a computer generated, inspired farce called Trains (you know, a flick about talking locomotives who's personas don't creep you out like the ones in 2000's Thomas and the Magic Railroad)? Who knows for sure. Planes: Fire & Rescue isn't the least bit terrible as turn-the-brain-off entertainment. Editing wise though, it probably needed to be "rescued" from itself.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sex Tape 2014 * 1/2 Stars

Sex TapeDirector: Jake Kasdan
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry

The average ticket price of a nighttime showing via your local Cineplex, is about $10. If you decide to take in a viewing of Sex Tape, well you'll probably pay $10 too much. There are bad movies and then there are excruciatingly bad movies. This pile of horse dung falls into the latter category. It's a lame, irrelevant comedy that at 94 short minutes, actually comes off as boring. As an audience member, you get to experience a non-existent script, sloppy direction, tastelessness, capricious star cameos (by Rob Lowe and Jack Black), and the acting of Jason Segel. All I can say is that what's on screen is the worst film of the year (so far). Earlier in February, I initially gave Ride Along that prize and called that failed monstrosity a big fat "turkey." Sex Tape is much more than that. In fact, it's a flat out bomb. And I'm not just talking your typical bomb, this thing might as well be Hiroshima.

Every instance of dialogue is improvised to the point where it's high level awkwardness. And the acting in general, is just about as lousy as it gets. Finally, I'm pretty sure that this thing literally pays homage to the adult film industry. Case in point: listen for cheesy 80's synthesizer music that accompanies a lot of Sex Tape's most pivotal scenes (this flick is far from being a porno but sure seems bent on referencing one). As for the sex scenes which you knew would accompany something like this, well they look fake because everything's completely blocked. It's almost as if the actors have their clothes on throughout. And for the record, the main characters have sex in broad daylight where everyone can I guess, see them. Talk about tacky and I'm thinking, downright illegal.

Scripted by the woman who wrote The Back-up Plan (which starred Jennifer Lopez) and directed by a guy (Jake Kasdan, son of veteran director Lawrence Kasdan) who actually made something intelligent a while ago with 1998's Zero Effect, Sex Tape follows a happily married couple who's sex life because of their marriage, is beginning to wane a bit. They are too tired at the end of the day, they both have two kids, and they both like to concentrate on their careers (he's a disc jockey and she's a blogger who might sell her website for a huge profit). The couple, who don't reveal their last name, is played by Cameron Diaz (her character is Annie) and Jason Segel (his character is Jay). One night while the kids are away, they decide to have a little alone time. Their solution: spice things up a bit by making a sex tape using their iPad as a filming device. Here's the problem: after their three hour tryst has been filmed, Jay forgets to erase the material and somehow by osmosis, it gets sent out to everybody they know who also owns iPads (they were given as gifts by Jay and Annie for no apparent reason except to service the plot). We're talking Annie's work boss (played by Rob Lowe who actually looks like he's aging), Annie's parents, Jay and Annie's kids (ugh!), the mailman (double ugh!), Jay best friends (a couple played by Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper), and Jay's best friend's son (who somehow has Jay's cell phone number, creepy). The rest of the movie involves Jay and Annie trying to get every one's iPads back and I guess, destroying them.

As I bulked (and cringed) at the sight of Sex Tape, there were a ton of questions I pondered with each mitigating second. One of them involved the Diaz character yearning to make the quote unquote "sex tape" and then not wanting to view it afterwards. So okay, what's the point then? And what's up with the sexual escapades going viral to friends and family? How did this happen? All they did was videotape it right? So how did it get downloaded and sent out into the so called "clouds" (whatever that means)? The movie never tells us this because it thinks we don't notice these things. I did and you will too (unless you save yourself from purchasing a ticket, let's hope.). Then we have one of the kids in the film (Jay's best friend's child) who is mean-spirited and vindictive in such an unnecessary way. Sex Tape never gives us a reason or back story on why he would be so inclined to blackmail an adult for $25,000 (it gives us a reason on what he would use the money for but doesn't explain his disturbing personality). Basically, he wants to get paid and if he doesn't get said money, he'll post the three hour feature on YouPorn. I mean, with a kid this nasty, you'd think the amount would be a heck of a lot more (why not go for a mil next time, oh well). Oh and I almost forgot, why does the Diaz character care what her work boss thinks if he happens to see the video of her getting intimate with the hubby? He does cocaine, he has tats everywhere on his body, he drinks straight scotch, and he listens to Slayer. In what world would he be offended? I mean seriously! Finally, we have Segel getting more scantily clad in this flick than Diaz. Huh? He seems to have it in his contract that he has to appear totally naked or half-naked in just about everything he's in (see Forgetting Sarah Marshall and you'll know what I mean). Does he think he's actually in good shape or is he just making fun of his own appearance? It hardly matters because the chemistry between him and Diaz's Annie is totally non-existent. I would never believe in a million years they were actually dating, or projecting themselves as a full fledged couple, or even married (with two kids) for that matter.

That brings me to the casting which consists of miscast and underdeveloped (not to mention underutilized) roles. Basically, I've never thought of Jason Segel as a good lead actor. He was appealing in Knocked Up and way back in the day with Dead Man On Campus. Those were supporting parts though, and now studio heads believe that he is actually the right guy to star front and center. Wrong! And what about the Cordry character (Robby, Jay's token best friend that seems lifted from every other sex comedy/rom com)? I mean why does director Jake Kadsan hold him back? We all know how funny Rob Corddry was in What Happens in Vegas and Hot Tub Time Machine. Here he gets almost nothing to do script wise. The result is a waste of his considerable comedic talents if you ask me.

All in all, Sex Tape is a comedy that lacks depth, an overall point, and a large amount of brain cells (what's on screen has two of them and they're constantly fighting each other). I don't know what the rest of 2014 holds, but even at its worst, it won't equal the amount of stench going on here. During the filming of Diaz and Segel's three hour sexathon, the book entitled The Joy of Sex is frequently referenced (and used in context). Well guess what, there is absolutely no "joy" in what's lazily plastered on screen. That's the overall tale of this "tape."

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

Director: Matt Reeves
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell

There seemed to be a lot of audience participation going on during a screening I attended for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. One guy sat near the front and laughed at scenes that were not supposed to be funny. Another guy sitting near me, actually fell asleep for twenty minutes and preceded to snore loudly. Then there was someone who sat in the back and uttered things that made no sense throughout the film's most pivotal scenes. Myself, well I kept looking at my phone (I don't wear a watch so I kept checking the time) because a majority of "Dawn's" running time plodded along while recycling the same screenplay (which contains themes of authority, status, and governorship) over and over again.

Listen, even after eight movies in the Planet of the Apes franchise have ventured into theaters, humans and hunched over, furry creatures still just can't seem to get along. Oh and I almost forgot, their own kind for some reason, can't see eye to eye either. In this 2014 release containing a large dose of bland, straightforward storytelling undercut with battle scenes borrowed from Saving Private Ryan, the apes grovel and fight with each other till no end (the violence is of the gore-free, PG-13 variety but it still stings).

Containing at times, one of the most annoying musical scores in many a moon, featured as a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes with almost none of that film's returning cast members, and harboring sequences showing gun-toting apes riding wild horses (giddyup!), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reverts to scenes depicting the aftermath of ten years later. In San Francisco, a virus called ALZ-113 infected humans causing their way of life to almost come to an end. In present day, apes are on one side of said city and said (leftover) humans are on the other. The two sides, trying to refrain from starting an all out war, somehow meet to power up a hydroelectric dam set to better San Fran's power generation abilities. The humans, who live in a sort of dystopian future, form a group of leaders led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who believes in saving the human race while forgetting the apes, and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) who wants only peace and overall equality from the two sides. 

Now "Dawn" with its lush, dark direction by Mark Reeves (he shot 2008's Cloverfield) and its strong cast, still left me feeling uninterested. It's obviously well made but at times, lacks any adage of genuine thrills, suspense, or perilousness. Also, I miss the old movies in this franchise where the apes almost looked human and spoke perfect English. "Dawn'" and the previously released Rise of the Planet of the Apes (from 2011), feature apes that well, look almost exactly like apes. They communicate mostly with sign language and speak minimal dialogue (an example would be one of them spouting the line, "Apes! Together, strong!"). And now as a result, the novelty attached to what's on screen in general, is wearing thin with me. The old ones were tongue and cheek with a smidgen of dark humor. The new ones come off as a little boring and almost too serious.

The acting is decent enough even though some of the characters fade in and out of the proceedings. Gary Oldman's Dreyfus is a variation and it piggybacks on his RoboCop performance from February. Nobody wines and winces with his line readings quite like Gary Oldman. Then we have Keri Russell giving a deep, subtle performance as nurse Ellie, a strong woman who grieves the loss of her child from the previous epidemic. Her role is somewhat undeveloped but it's surely no fault of her own. Head ape Caesar is played by Andy Serkis and he's just fine donning the costume and nailing the operatic mannerisms. That leaves Mr. Jason Clarke outgunning everybody with an amazing screen presence and courtliness as a sympathetic figure in Malcolm. He was brooding and intense in 2012's Zero Dark Thirty and he sure does shine here as well.

In conclusion, a mixed review is as much praise as I can give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I liked the creative opening title sequence, the opening zoom out shot, and the first set of minutes that felt like they came out of the silent film era. But as successful and long running as these films are, I find myself watching the same one over and over again. Evolution says that we came from apes (Darwin to be exact). You'd think that our species and their species could I don't know, at least try to cohabitate. Some much for that. As expected, "Dawn" leaves the door open yet again for an inevitable sequel (or prequel or whatever). I have a couple of suggestions for working titles: Growing Tired of the Planet of the Apes and Have Had Quite Enough of the Planet of the Apes. Slammer!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Top Ten Favorite Films of All Time

So here it is, after watching movies for over 30 years, I have now have compiled for you, my absolute top 10 favorites. You'll notice that these selections are essentially from the 70's, 80's and 90's. Well, that's my era I guess (as well as just an honest, personal preference). Enjoy the list and I welcome all comments. Here we go:

1. Boogie Nights (1997) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 92%
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore
Quote: "Oh, that's Cosmo... he's Chinese."
My quote as a critic: "Showgirls meets Goodfellas meets Pulp Fiction meets Citizen Kane meets Nashville."

2. Aliens (1986) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 98%
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton
Quote: "Drake, we are LEAVING!"
My quote as a critic: "Aliens is the blueprint for what a sequel can accomplish. Its got everything you want in a movie period. Great characters, exceptional expansion on the story of a franchise, breathtaking action, and Sigourney Weaver hitting it out the park with a triumphant performance."


3. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 98%
Cast: Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Dee Wallace
Quote: "E.T. phone home."
My quote as a critic: "So let's face it, director Steven Spielberg can do no wrong. And in E.T., he does what he does best, he becomes cinema's great manipulator. Look out for the ending. If you don't tear up, you might as well not be human." Link: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial- AFI's top 100 ranking: 24

4. Pulp Fiction (1994) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 94%
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson
Quote: "That's how you're gonna beat em' Butch. They keep underestimating you." Link: Pulp Fiction- AFI's top 100 ranking: 94

5. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 91%
Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
Quote: "Get busy living or get busy dying." Link: The Shawshank Redemption- AFI's top 100 ranking: 72


6. The Towering Inferno (1974) * * * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 74%
Cast: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway
Quote: "It's out of control and it's coming your way."
My quote as a critic: "The Towering Inferno came out during a wave of other disaster flicks like Earthquake (1974), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and Airport (1970). Safe to say it's the best one of the bunch. It's truly one of the reasons I love watching movies as well as reviewing them."
Click the following link to see the on-site review: The Towering Inferno

7. Apocalypse Now (1979) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 99%
Cast: Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando
Quote: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning, smells like victory." Link: Apocalypse Now- AFI's top 100 ranking: 30


8. Days of Heaven (1978) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 94%
Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard
Quote: "You know how people are. You tell them something, they start talking."
My quote as a critic: "As a connoisseur of many types of films, I am confident when I say that Days of Heaven is one that touches greatness. It's a movie's movie and is film making in its most purest, not to mention most exposed form."
Click the following link to see the on-site review: Days of Heaven

9. Se7en (1995) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 79%
Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman
Quote: "What's in the booxxxx, what's in the booxxxx!"


10. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) * * * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 95%
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen
Quote: "I don't know I'm making this up as I go."  Link: Raiders of the Lost Ark-AFI's top 100 ranking: 66

Honorable Mention:

Rain Man (1988)
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 90%
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman
Quote: "I'm an excellent driver."

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 91%
Cast: Gunnar Hanson, Marilyn Burns
Quote: "What's that stench."
My quote as a critic:  "Brilliantly horrific, imitated but never duplicated, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre represents the purest form of terror known to any cinema buff. Thousands of countless ripoffs and average remakes have tried to capitalize on its success, but with minimal gore and a grainy, sadistic edge, the original 1974 "Chainsaw" is still untouchable."

Escape from New York (1981)
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 83%
Cast: Kurt Russell, Harry Dean Stanton
Quote: "Call me Snake."
My quote as a critic:  "Escape from New York benefits from being quirky, action packed, and full of great one-liners courtesy of Russell. Yes, the film's special effects are easily outdated, but it's not about the effects per se. It's about Carpenter's terrific direction. He does an adequate job of filming with hardly any light (the shots of light he does use are soft and gleaming which look eerie as can be) and his synthesizer soundtrack (which he composed by the way) is tops all around (the opening title music is awesome, no joke). And as in most of his films (including the one I'm reviewing), he is methodical in character build up and setting up scenes for monster payoffs."

A Simple Plan (1998)
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 90%
Cast: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton
Quote: "Do you ever feel evil."
My quote as a critic: "With tension that is calculated with every searing minute, A Simple Plan is a thriller to be reckoned with. No one is safe in this movie. With a few nasty twists and turns, you get some brilliant tooth and nail film making from Sam Raimi."  

Heat (1995)
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 86%
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino
Quote: "Told you I'm never going back."
My quote as a critic: "And finally there is the ending. Possibly the greatest film ending of all time.  Echoing the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt (1967), it's a standoff between good and evil for the ages at where else, the airport. I don't care if you are a grown man or not, you'll probably shed a tear or two. Heat is a movie for people who love movies. I consider it one of my all time faves."

List compiled by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Duds

Call them "bombs" or "turkeys" or whatever, I like to refer to them as "duds." I mean, these are some of the most awful films I've ever seen. We're talking about 22-24 hours of my life that I'll never get back. Anyway, here's the list and their ratings in no particular order (they're all wretched so there is no need to rank them):

Talk Radio (1988) * 1/2 Stars 
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 80% 
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Eric Bogosian, Leslie Hope
Quote: "There's nothing more boring than people who love you."
My quote as a critic: "As an avid listener of the medium of talk radio (mostly sports talk), I found this film to be a horribly misguided interpretation of the subject matter. In Talk Radio, we see a radio shock jock who is not anywhere near what a real one would act like. We also get callers that don't sound anything like actual callers on a real radio show."

Admission (2013) * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 38%
Cast: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd
Quote: "What's the secret of getting in? I can't tell you. You'll just have to find out for yourself."
My quote as a critic: "This is the most misguided, icky film of the year. Paul Rudd had to have been held at gunpoint to star in this disaster. The dialogue coming out of his mouth will make you cringe at an alarming rate."

Failure to Launch (2006) * Star
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 24%
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker
Quote: "The tall one just got fired from Kinko's."

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) * Star
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 42%
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson
Quote: "You see, the key to this game is being able to read people."

Ride Along (2014) * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 18%
Cast: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube
Quote: "Hey! You're white! You're white! You don't fight."
My quote as a critic: "With grating, inept dialogue, characters and situations that aren't believable or plausible, and good actors who play those characters and dent their reputations in the process, Ride Along is cinematic proof that Thanksgiving comes early in 2014. Translation: this movie is one big, giant turkey."
Click the following link to see the on-site review: Ride Along

Hard Rain (1997) * 1/2 Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 25%
Cast: Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman
Quote: "Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away. We won't kill you."
My quote as a critic: "Hard Rain is a robbery movie that takes place in a small town during a massive flood. The plot goes all over the place with unnecessary twists and turns. You really get the feeling that "Rain" just ran out of steam and the writers made up stuff up as it went along. You also really feel sorry for the actors especially Morgan Freeman."
Click the following link to see the on-site review: Hard Rain

Movie 43 (2013) * Star
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 4%
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Naomi Watts
Quote: "Excuse me, I'm gonna do some Batman-ing."
My quote as a critic: "Every single star in the world participated in this "turkey" with dressing. They knew it was going to be bad when they signed up. Watching it, I felt that there was a sick joke being played on the audience. Awful."

Ishtar (1987) * Star
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 26%
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty
Quote: "Either shoot me or lower your voice."

Howard the Duck (1986) * Star
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 14%
Cast: Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins
Quote: "That's it. No more Mr. Nice Duck."

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) * * Stars
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 0%
Cast: Lily Tomlin, Charles Grodin
Quote: "Look mom, Disco."
My quote as a critic: "The Incredible Shrinking Woman is a collision of dark, dramatic science fiction undercut with felonious comedic overtones (the font of the opening titles might have been used later on in the flick Wargames). You watch in disbelief as scenes that are suppose to be funny, actually make you queasy."
Click on the following link to see the on-site review: The Incredible Shrinking Woman

Piranha 3DD (2012) * Star
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 13%
Cast: Ving Rhames, Gary Busey,
Quote: "Welcome to rock bottom."
My quote as a critic: "A movie that's bad and knows it's bad. It doesn't care. Result: straight to video."

Shark Night 3D  (2011) 1/2 Star
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 17%
Cast: Dustin Milligan, Joel David Moore
Quote: "I'm not just gonna sit here and watch him die, man."
My quote as a critic: "Shark Night 3D is possibly the worst film ever made. And you know things are bad when Jaws: The Revenge is quality cinema compared to it."

List compiled by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bad Country 2014 * * * Stars

Bad CountryDirector: Chris Brinker
Year: 2014
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Amy Smart

Make no bones about it, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had an award for Best Picture a la straight to DVD, Bad Country would surely take the prize. Matt Dillon, who seems to love appearing in movies that hardly anyone bothers to see, gives a revealing and rather appealing performance as "Country's" revenge-minded lead role. With this turn, a stint in 2004's Employee of the Month, and the part of Patton Dubois in 2006's Nothing But the Truth, Dillon is for a better word, the Redbox king. To each his own I guess (for the record, I've got no problem paying $1.20 to rent a DVD at a Redbox kiosk, that's for sure).

With a working title labeled Whiskey Bay (I almost like that one better) and a promising director who died way too soon (the taskful Chris Brinker), Bad Country goes back to the early 80's with contract killer Jesse Weiland (Dillon) getting caught by an intense police detective named Bud Carter (the forever cool Willem Dafoe). Weiland gets busted on a handful of serious charges. He's looking at life in prison unless he can become an informant by giving up every name on a list of people he works with (other contract killers who inhabit a nasty, dutiful crime ring). Now Weiland is about as laid-back as anyone. He doesn't give a hoot about his well being. But he's got a wife/newborn on the outside and is willing to cooperate in order to avoid going to the perennial slammer.

Bad Country harks back to stuff like 1991's Rush, 1982's 48 Hrs, and even Matt Dillon's own earlier work, the critically acclaimed Drugstore Cowboy. Call it a narc flick, a broken down character study, a stylistic mob farce, and mustache abundant (almost every character seems to channel the facial hair of actor Sam Elliott for unabashed inspiration). What you don't want to call "Country" is something that lacks for trying. This thing wants to detour you from knowing that it probably got rejected from numerous theater screenings. Could the generic title be the culprit? I can't be sure. Does it matter at this point? Not really. The original release date was months ago so it's obvious that too much time has passed.

Image result for bad country movie scenesNevertheless, we get the pleasure of seeing a formed dynamic and an unlikely partnership between the characters played by Dafoe and Dillon. It's hard to believe it, but they have never been on screen together before the release of "Country". Here they've got great chemistry as opposites who are at large, the same. Watching them trade dialogue in various scenes made me think that they've been working side by side for years. Throw in Tom Berenger (where's he been) as ruthless crime boss Lutin and you've got a cast that makes this thing rise above the ordinary. Yeah, Bad Country does at certain intervals, feel like a full-on rental with carbon copy shootouts and accents used by its actors that don't sound like anybody who lives in Louisiana (the flick's setting and on-site location). But for most of the time, there is plenty of crackling dialogue, a sense of urgency, and smooth, conventional storytelling tactics that make you think otherwise.

In retrospect, "Country's" ending and its opening twenty minutes resonate with a lot of police protocol. You know, where if a felon (of any kind) is caught, they have a chance to make a deal, give up a name, and rat out someone higher up on the criminalised food chain. If you've seen anything law and order related, this is a premise that's as old as dirt. Thankfully, this little seen crime drama supplies enough energy, surmised wit, and tough guy machismo to garner my recommendation regardless of all its familiarity. Bottom line: Bad Country ain't so "bad".

Of note: Bad Country's setting is in 1983. You wouldn't know it though because its sense of time and place is sort of lacking in detail. Case in point: I didn't really figure out that the film wasn't in present day mode until a handful of scenes involved characters talking on payphones. Anyway, this insight is merely an oversight and shouldn't keep you from enjoying what's on screen.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Deliver Us from Evil 2014 * * Stars

Deliver Us from EvilDirector: Scott Derrickson
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn

Deliver Us from Evil is yet another horror film that's based on a true story (aren't they all). And if you pay really close attention to a couple of scenes, you'll notice that its star Eric Bana, looks a lot like Jason Miller's character from 1973's classic, The Exorcist (mainly when his face falls into a dark shadow). A subtle nod perhaps? Maybe. But what's the point? There have been at least twenty plus exorcism movies to venture into theaters since Linda Blair spewed green pea soup all over Max Von Sydow's light rimmed glasses. Basically "Deliver" is just another one in that stylistic, empty assembly line. What starts off promisingly as a campy mixture of cops and robbers and demons and such, becomes uneven while eventually running out of steam. Oh and I almost forgot, it's not really scary despite some grotesque images (a slaughtered cat nailed to a crucifix not to mention a man with flies coming out of his eyes, how lovely) and a few standardized jolts. No my drive home after the screening by which I almost hit a deer, now that's scary.

With a blink or you'll miss it moment referencing Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, two zooming shots that might make William Friedkin proud, and video monitoring scenes that had me conjuring up images from John Carpenter's Prince of DarknessDeliver Us from Evil begins with a desert war sequence in Iraq. Three soldiers go into an underground cavern and detect an evil presence in the form of bats. Three years later they come home from the war only to find themselves crazily possessed in modern day Brooklyn, New York. For reasons unknown, they pass the evil residue on to their wives and other loved ones. And it's up to a gruff, no-nonsense cop named Ralph Sarchie (played with a strained, forced NY accent by AWOL actor Eric Bana) to save the day. He is aided by his partner Butler (played by an unrecognizable Joel McHale who provides some comic relief in spades) and a Spanish priest named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez from 2005's Domino). As things progress, Sarchie because of his amazing hunches as a ranking officer, attains the gift of seeing and hearing things that no one else is capable of. That leads him to confront a demonic entity that looks to attack his wife and child.

"Deliver" is goofy, confusing, and generally fast paced. At times it can make you cringe one minute while laughing the next. But with a ton of build up concluding with an all too familiar exorcism (in a padded, police interrogation room of all places), this film is only worthy as a rental to go along with five leftover slices of pizza and a six pack. The lowest point: The dialogue containing exchanges so inept and trite, they could have been written on napkins. And finally, there's something that lingered with me as I viewed this sloshy hour and 58 minutes of running time. I was constantly reminded of the 1990 Lou Diamond Phillips vehicle entitled The First Power. It surely wasn't a masterpiece but at least it had the generosity of telling a straight story as opposed to this mess. "Deliver" simply jumps from one scene to another without warning. Disjointed and garbled? Oh you betcha.

Overall, Deliver Us from Evil throws at us a lot of subplots about demonic possession, the occult, and mind numbing references to the music of The Doors (I love The Doors just as much as anyone else but this became laughable, tired, and annoying really quick). If anything, it suffers from having too many ideas in roughly two hours. Because the filmmakers can't tie all these ideas together, well the result is to tack on a quick, tidy ending making your inevitable theater exit unsatisfying. Director Scott Derrickson I guess, seems awfully bent on making a lot more movies about quote unquote, "the evil that men do". Let's hope he finds his footing and "delivers" something better the next time around.

Written by Jesse Burleson