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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Age of Adaline 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

The Age of AdalineDirector: Lee Toland Krieger
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Blake Lively, Harrison Ford, Michiel Huisman

In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Brad Pitt's title character ages in reverse. In 2015's The Age of Adaline (my latest review), Blake Lively's title character doesn't well, age at all. There's a resemblance between the two vehicles. Both of them have a gimmick ("Adaline" contains the concept of stasis while "Button" contains the concept of backward countenance), both of them are in a sense, whimsical, and both have an olden-like film score. But "Adaline" is Benjamin Button buttoned down. It contains a story that is discombobulated yet still reeks of obviousness. Pitt's 2008 Oscar nominee also had its share of obvious moments. But at a running time of nearly three hours, it stayed its course. The Age of Adaline (clocking in at about an hour and fifty minutes) turns idle while it slugs its way towards the second half. This isn't quite the fictional, Shaky Town treat if you know what I mean.

Now don't get me wrong, "Adaline" renders itself strong in certain areas. You have the perfect casting of Blake Lively, the cinematography channeling elegance to the nth degree, sights and sounds triggering echos from an old ballroom, and effective editing screaming "cut to action." You also sadly, get to experience crocodile trembling from Harrison Ford (overacting is another way of putting it), out of place narration masked as science lecture, and puzzle piece coincidences. The real star of this flick is the city of San Francisco (a locale that is used brilliantly here). Its breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge and hovering downtown however, don't do enough to garner my recommendation.

Directed by virtual unknown Lee Toland Krieger and set in present day (despite veritable flashbacks happening throughout), The Age of Adaline chronicles a woman of superior grace named Adaline Bowman (Lively). She's an archivist who works in a library and harbors a secret that only her daughter knows about (Flemming played by Ellen Burstyn). You see Adaline is about 107 years old yet looks as though she's in her late twenties. She's unaware of how this happened but we as the audience have a clue (based on the annoying narration that interrupts the film as though it's an unwanted party guest). A long time ago, this woman was in a brutal car accident. After surviving it, the aspect of aging was something her body refused to do. Lively's character then lives the next eight decades in a lie. She changes her identity, separates herself from her daughter (as mentioned earlier), alludes the FBI who question who she really is (and want to capture her as a specimen), and breaks some hearts along the way (a father fails to propose to her in the 1960's and his son subsequently falls in love with her circa 2014).

Now the storytelling from the onset of "Adaline", is of the highest order. However, as its running time dissipates, you start to get into "where is this all heading towards" territory. The film's contrivance carries things for so long until the plot finally runs out of steam. The big reveal comes and Adaline reluctantly gets into another car accident (spoiler alert). As this happens, she begins to age again and finally live a normal life (it would take me another paragraph to explain why so watch the movie and you'll get the gist of what I'm talking about).

Dramatic weirdness aside, some critics have noted that the main protagonist featured, is a standoffish principal, a lady who is sort of cold and reserved. They coined this notion as negative meaning that it sort of hurts the film in general. I agreed wholeheartedly until chatting with an audience member via a screening in Rosemont, Illinois. This person made a good point in saying that Adaline had to be this way. She needn't get too close to people or become attached because of her condition. Regardless, Blake Lively plays said centenarian magnificently. It's her look with old world hairstyles and outfits that seems perfected. It's her persona that stands tall with Forrest Gumpian flavor. Finally, it's the mannerisms she brings to the role that suggest that she is in fact, a stoic human being (who's lived a long life). With every eye glance, every head turn, and every mild voice alteration, Lively conveys old and wise. Talk about a revelation in genre acting.

Note to self: (Spoiler alert number two) I initially thought it was creepy when Adaline slept with her love interest being Ellis Jones (played by Michiel Huisman who looks like a cross between Shia Labeouf and Eric Bana). I mean she obviously looked young but you can't have hormones past the age of 100 right? Again, I was corrected by my knowledgeable audience member from the last paragraph. I was informed that Adaline had stasis issues. Her body was still stuck in the same equilibrium meaning that only time had passed, not the lacking of a sex drive.

In conclusion, The Age of Adaline doesn't succeed in getting the tear ducts flowing. It does however, provide the perfect platform to showcase Blake Lively's strengths as an actress. It gives Tarzana's chosen one the chance to let the screen love her and then let her love it right back. In the first hour of the proceedings, she peers into the camera as a blond, starry-eyed starlet. She then says softly, "let go". How can I. This for me, is modernized, Golden Age of Hollywood stuff. Dare I say that it could have been so much better.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Danny Collins 2015 * * Stars

Danny CollinsDirector: Dan Fogelman
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that moviegoers love Al Pacino. He's an appealing actor. He's a likable actor. Heck, he's simply a legend. He is however, heavily miscast playing an aging rocker in 2015's Danny Collins (the film I'm about to review). This is an uneven performance complete with a veritable level of patchiness. Al as demonstrated in "Collins", is not much of a singer. He also looks a little counterfeit playing the piano. At a running time of 106 minutes, you sense that Serpico is only in these proceedings for total name recognition. He ventures over to his softer side like he did in 2002's Simone but you kinda wish he'd just stick to being gangster. There are other actors more suitable to take his place here.

Written and directed by Dan Fogelman (his first stint behind the camera) and inspired by the life of known, folk singer Steve Tilston (I'm thinking what's on screen is somewhat fictional since the opening titles say "this is kind of a true story, sort of"), Danny Collins is the type of film that mildly begins while not having an actual ending. The screenplay is from the land of vapid. Fogelman (as mentioned in the last sentence) penned The Guilt Trip which I reviewed two years ago. In that write up, I talked about how his script was achingly thin and lacked bite. Ditto here for "Collins". This is 2015's Almost Famous as in almost, not quite. It's also Jerry Maguire minus the gerrymandering, a real disappointment to say the least.

The story commences at L.A.'s Greek Theatre. Danny Collins (played by Al "I wear the same outfits in the movies as I do in the public eye" Pacino) is set to go on and entertain a sold out show. He's a washed up singer, a guy who hasn't had a hit song in over forty years. But there he is, getting thousands of fans to spew the words to his signature hook, "Hey, Baby Doll" (just think a poor man's version of a Neil Diamond ditty). Now Danny seems to have a lot of money. He should be happy but he's not. He's got fancy cars, a mansion, a private jet, and plenty of senior citizens who'll pay to watch his tired concerts. He also drinks like a fish, does cocaine out of a cross (around his neck), and has a young fiance who cheats on him. Anyway, he decides that his life now needs a little dose of redemption. His inspiration: A letter written to him over four decades ago. The author: The late, great John Lennon. After reading said letter, Danny decides to forgo the rest of his tour and do two important things. He's gonna try to write some brand new songs (which we the audience don't exactly get a chance to hear) and fly to New Jersey to form a relationship with the son he never met (Tom Donnelly played by Bobby Cannavale). Throughout everything, you get to hear background music via John Lennon's greatest hits album, The John Lennon Collection. Lennon's songs are sledgehammered to remind you of Danny's promise to change his life and go straight. They seem however, to mask the fact that his written words to Danny aren't mentioned enough with their purpose being sort of ill-defined. This gives "Collins" an inconsistent tone as funny/despairing fodder.

Erraticness and unhealthy, rock star vices aside, I mentioned in the first paragraph that Pacino is out of place in the role of a second rate Frankie Valli. He's not the only one. Almost every co-star here is the victim of some sort of miscasting mishap. A fine actor in his own right, I really didn't buy Christopher Plummer as Frank Grubman (Danny's 85 year-old manager, uh huh). I also couldn't picture Jennifer Garner as a lower class housewife in Samantha Donnelly (Pacino's estranged son's spouse). Finally, I found Annette Bening to be underdeveloped and unnecessary playing Pacino's character's no-touch love interest. They have okay chemistry but I was kinda hoping their tryst wasn't such a nondescript tease. Honestly, the only actor that didn't strike me as being miscast was Bobby Cannavale. That's probably because he pretty much looked like he could be related to Pacino.

As for the screenplay which doesn't do the actors/actresses justice to begin with, I thought it was airy and lacking in research when it came to the intricacies of rock 'n' roll. Dan Fogelman would rather give his players cringe-inducing dialogue to occupy (almost every character interaction has this) than delve into the raucousness of musical stenography and has-been hedonism. Touting itself as an uneven mix of comedy and drama, Danny Collins provides us with zingers at the end of each scene that seem to flop in the wind.

All in all, this is a film with dangling loose ends, a sort of VH1's Where Are They Now? without a true emotional tug. It tries to succeed with some good intentions and I like the fact that (spoiler alert) it takes the viewer down a darker pathway via the notion of Pacino's character's son being stricken with a blood disease. However, the bulk of it is ultimately featherweight material at best. In the future, I'm looking forward to something better (musically) like The Who documentary, Lambert & Stamp. Nevertheless, here's my overall rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Longest Ride 2015 * * * Stars

The Longest RideDirector: George Tillman Jr.
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda

I don't read much and I've only seen three flicks adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels (A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle, and the one I'm currently reviewing). From what I've gathered, I know that any film he's attached to usually takes place in North Carolina. I also know that every movie poster baring his name looks the same (hunky man puts his hands on beautiful woman's face with his eyes somberly gazing at her). And I figure that every Sparks plot point involves young, syrupy love with romance touted as cotton candy confection. So does that qualify me to review 2015's The Longest Ride? Sure, why not. It's my job you know, to write about cinema. And surprisingly, this one is a "ride" worth getting on at least once.

I faithfully announce this vehicle as a long-winded, yet well-intentioned romantic drama. Its star is Scott Eastwood and you're probably wondering why I nodded towards him right off the bat. Well, he's the 29 year-old son of legendary actor Clint Eastwood. And with every profile turn, every aw-shucks smirk, and every story eyed resemblance, you swear it was Clint circa 1956. He's got the looks, he's got the screen presence, but the acting still needs a little work. Does he have the chops to become a full-blooded movie star? Oh for sure. It's just a hunch but I'm thinking he'll get there soon enough.

Directed by George Tillman Jr. (Notorious, Men of Honor) and written by the same guy who was actually responsible for the script of a Miami Vice episode (Craig Bolotin), "Ride" has a title that doesn't really involve bull riding (as the trailer wholeheartedly suggests). It's much more than that. From what I got out of it, "the longest ride" refers to the journey of a person's life. You know, the joys, the trials and tribulations, the labor of it all. This is a film where its characters are good people, attractive people, and have good fortunes coming their way. It all ties into the ending. I won't reveal anything but the last ten minutes might make you feel jealous and mushy all at the same time. Pure saccharine gold if I do say so myself.

The story begins by chronicling two opposites in Luke Collins (Eastwood) and Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson). He's a bull rider who's trying to become the best in the world. She's a student at Wake Forest University and I guess, is either vowing to become a successful art dealer or just a well renowned artist in general. They meet at a rodeo, are attracted to each other, make assorted googly eyes towards one another, and eventually go on a date. But wait, how can they fall in love when she has to go away to New York City in a month? And what about Luke? He continues to participate in a violent sport where you've gotta hang on to a bucking bull for 8 seconds. He causes Sophia and his mother (Kate Collins played by Lolita Davidovich) to worry as his health deteriorates. This creates a conflict and hinders their relationship almost kaput. So in an act of kismet, they are driving along a country road when they see a car accident and a older man (Ira Levinson played by Alan Alda. He is somehow also connected to the art world, wink wink) who is near death. Luke and Sophia save him from the burning wreck along with his collection of letters to his wife (these letters are in the front seat of his car). While recovering in a hospital, Ira tells stories to Sophia about how he fell in love with said wife over 50 years ago. He subliminally tries to help her relationship with her cowboy by doing this.

The Longest Ride then veers into something I wasn't expecting. It becomes a combination of two love stories, one told in present day and one told in flashbacks. The film kind of has an overbearing level of coincidence. It also contains a broken, arduous narrative as you anxiously wait to see how these two stories are fully connected. The sequences (shot with accurate period detail) from the past however, happened to be the best parts. Young Ira played by Jack Huston and wife Ruth (played by Oona Chaplin) inject "Ride" with a level of deepened maturity that sort of outplays the romantic interludes of Luke and Sophia. There are some genuine moments here. I didn't need any handkerchiefs but during the screening I was at, I might have been in the minority.

Now despite some strengths in The Longest Ride, the gleaming Carolina sunshine and picturesque landscapes can't mask a flaw or two. For starters, this thing registers as yet another romantic drama where the female lead (Robertson) looks a little too young to subject herself to risque PG-13 love scenes (I'm sorry but it just came off as sort of creepy to me). There's also the aspect in Sparks movies (including this one) where young couples fight over the most trivial things. It's forced manipulation and in one scene, there is a tiff over whether paintings of squiggly lines are art or not. Oy vey! Finally, we have Alan Alda's Ira who seems different in personality and mannerisms than his self of over half a century ago. Huston plays the man as humble, good-natured, and solemn. Alda although a fine actor in his own right, shrugs off Ira as grumpy, cantankerous, and destitute. Maybe it's the old age aspect of his character. Who knows.

All and all, I'd say The Longest Ride serves as an admirable date night selection. If you can get past some of the earlier, cheesy dialogue and minor missteps in structure, there's something more palatable beneath the surface. Oh and watch out for the bull riding scenes at various intervals. They are intense, mightily violent, and extremely well filmed. My rating: A harmless 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wild Card 2015 * * Stars

Wild CardDirector: Simon West
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Hope Davis

Towards the last half of 2015's Wild Card (my latest review), Jason Statham's character wins $500,000 playing blackjack at a random Las Vegas casino. I'm not a card player but I've consulted with someone who's dabbled in the sort. From what I've gathered, there's no way a pit boss would ever allow someone to rack up that much money without having them thrown out (or at least investigated). I mean doesn't the house usually win at thousand dollar tables? And isn't counting cards suppose to be illegal? Ah, it is a movie of course and a bitter plot attempt to let a muddled hero walk off into the sunset. To borrow from a British term (Statham's a Brit), this is slight rubbish I tell you.

Anyway, if you take away The Italian Job, The Expendables, and the new Fast and the Furious installment, Jason Statham hasn't really set the world on fire as a box office juggernaut. And remember, he didn't star in the films just mentioned, he was just a supporting member of the cast. When he's in the lead role, it's either direct-to-video time or his cinematic redundancies barely breaking even. Listen, the guy's not that bad of an actor and he's pretty solid in many a fight scene. It's just that he lacks the charisma of a Liam Neeson, or a Pierce Brosnan, or a Harrison Ford, or whatever. His arrogance besets him not to mention the fact that he's also a little bland. And no matter how many necks he breaks or how many bone crunches he causes, it's just hard to root for the guy, plain and simple.

Take his latest movie for instance, the uneven, messy Wild Card. Watching it, you get all kinds of different tones. This thing could be about gambling. It could be a mentoring movie. Heck, it might even be an action blowout. Who knows for sure. There are three blood-drenched fight scenes that you wait for between moments of overacting, talkiness, and incoherency. The plot for what it's worth, has Statham playing Nick Wild. You don't know exactly what he does for a living. I mean, he claims early on that he's not an attorney or a private investigator. My reasoning is that he's one bad dude who helps out people in need. Two examples of this would be his catering to a woman who gets beaten up and raped within an inch of her life. Another instance involves him protecting an out-of-town schlep (young millionaire) as he gambles and takes in the Sin City scenery (for the first time). Throughout the proceedings, it's evident that Nick is keeping busy but he obviously doesn't like Vegas. He wants to get out but needs money, a boatload of it. That's the gist of "Card". It could possibly register as another flick announcing Statham taking on the title of Steven Seagal, Jr. And I'm not talking Wild Card having similarities to Under Siege. This is more like something structured in the vein of 1996's The Glimmer Man (bummer).

What's on screen is mostly distracting, lush Vegas backdrop. It is directed by the man who made one of my favorite guilty pleasures of all time, Con Air. You wouldn't know it though because he loses anything hyper kinetic and slows scenes down producing a mild, noir effect. He also caters to Statham by showcasing his obligatory, slow motion kicks and chops in the violently loud confrontations. That brings me to this notion: I haven't seen many of his movies but I've always wondered if Shirebrook's bald, butt kicker has certain types of stipulations etched into his contract. Just a thought.

In addition to obedient direction and contract woes, Wild Card has a lot of cameos from high profile actors. However, they seem so fleeting, so irrelevant. Jason Alexander shows up for literally a minute of screen time playing Statham's character's co-worker, Anne Heche is almost unrecognizable playing a waitress, Sofia Vergara does the whole damsel in distress thing and it's blink-or-you'll-miss-it stuff, and Hope Davis looks bewildered playing a card dealer. Are these actors/actresses friends of director Simon West? Are they gaga over Jason Statham and owe him a favor? Or are they just desperate to be in a movie (in general)? Only Stanley Tucci gets to play something memorable as a quietly creepy mafia boss. His role is sadly the lone exception.

All in all, I actually read in "Card's" wiki page that it was almost directed by Brian De Palma. That would have been interesting. We're talking the possibility of sweeping camera shots, tracking shots, and some split-screen stuff. I'm not saying De Palma totally revels in these techniques but I'm just going by his relegated style. Nevertheless, I'm gonna go with a negative but fair, two star rating via the finished product here. Movie-wise, Wild Card is a "card" that you should probably avoid turning over.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nightlight 2015 * Star

NightlightDirectors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Shelby Young, Chloe Bridges, Carter Jenkins

2015's Nightlight was directed by two people. It is possibly the lamest horror film ever made. You watch in disbelief and wonder how worse it could have been had only one person been behind the camera. Blatant characteristics of 2007's Paranormal Activity and 1999's The Blair Witch Project come to mind when taking in a viewing. But imagine those landmark vehicles with almost no scares, shallow and meaningless characters, mediocre acting from the leads, and countless scenes of tedium. Eighty four minutes seems too long to facilitate a movie like the one I'm about to review. It's a "light" that needs to be completely turned off.

The hook with this limited, March release (shot almost entirely in Utah) isn't one of the found footage variety. The idea here is for everything on screen to be seen through the eyes of a flashlight (masquerading as a failed, hand-held gag). The flickering contraption on display, is mostly used by the supposed, female heroine. There's no indication that a camera is built inside of it. However, we as an audience are supposed to accept that the events unfolding are the result of what said flashlight takes in as long as it doesn't go out. Did the filmmakers assume that this concept was highly innovative or groundbreaking? Gosh I hope not. And for the record, you'd think the main protagonist would provide enough fresh, Energizer batteries if he or she was venturing into the desolate, dark woods (during the dead of night). Anyway, here's a question for Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (the two guys responsible for this Blair Witch version of sloppy seconds): Why can't something be filmed like a regular f***ing movie these days? Enough is enough already. Jeez!

Starring six actors/actresses I've never heard of, tacking on a connecting plot point of a friend's suicide via the first and last sequence, and distributed by the same company associated with the Hunger Games flicks (Lionsgate), Nightlight follows attractive, female pushover slash unlikely horror victor, Robin (played by Shelby Young). She partakes in a flashlight game in a forest preserve. This preserve is an area where supposedly, no one gets out alive. As Robin and her silly friends play a kooky game of gleaming hide and seek, demonic entities are in their midst. Cliched victims are killed one by one and their annoying personas (as established early on) are completely intolerable at best.

Now as faintly mentioned earlier, Nightlight doesn't chill you to the bone, or fill you with a level of discomfort, or pile on palatable fear (with a micro budget) like The Blair Witch Project did over 15 years ago. It's too vacuous for that. And where "Blair Witch" gave the audience clues of terror such as stick figures hanging from trees and blood soaked articles of clothing (not to mention removed teeth and hair), "Night" gives even more clues that are hard to visualize while not adding much credibility to the narrative. It's pretty frustrating.

The filmmakers also decide to revel in countless acts of buildup. They aren't being original and what's worse, they don't up the ante when it comes to scaring you silly. You wait with baited breath for something harrowing to happen but it never does. Like in Paranormal Activity, the camera in "Night" pans left and then pans right. Only in that effective, lowbrow hit, you jump out of your seat because a frightening image that you didn't see coming, lays upon you. Here, a snaggletoothed wolf is seen, a way-too-distant image of a ghost appears, and one of the characters stands comatose with blood on her hands. You think some ominous, one note sounds of horror music (pouncing in) does this thing a solid. Well you'd be wrong. Honestly, the jolts assembled are systematic and they aren't even actual jolts if you think about it. Did I feel terrified? Not in the slightest. Did I feel bored? Yup!

In conclusion, with dialogue that sounds like snobbishly gabbing high schoolers in the cool clique and scenes where cast members (in peril) don screams that seem totally phoned in, Nightlight is currently the bottom of the barrel as far as 2015 goes. I'd rather suffer through a root canal as opposed to seeing it again.

Of note: These are the actors, actresses, and directors involved in the making of "Night": Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Shelby Young, Chloe Bridges, Carter Jenkins, and Taylor Murphy. Listen to their names. It sounds as though they are aliases or pseudonyms. Maybe they were too embarrassed to be involved in the project and didn't want their true identity associated with it. To be sure, I checked IMDb just out of sheer curiosity. I was wrong. But think about it, the fact that I initially believed this to be true goes to show you how bad Nightlight really is. Oh I almost forgot, James Miller is the sound effects editor (that's probably his birth name but it still kind of makes you wonder).

Written by Jesse Burleson