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Monday, May 30, 2016

Term Life 2016 * * * Stars

Term Life
Director: Peter Billingsley
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Hailee Steinfeld, Jonathan Banks

A father/daughter, Hollywood ending preceded by killings, shootings, chases, and slight torture oh my! Could it be Vince Vaughn starring in another farce? Heck no. He's trying to revive his career with the help of Ralphie from A Christmas Story!

Anyway, despite the fugly manner in which Vaughn runs from the bad guys or the sort of drab narration he spouts out, his Term Life is still a movie that I'm going to recommend. It's a crime drama so my initial thought was why were he and director Peter Billingsley attached to it in the first place. Granted, Mr. Sunshine has been churning out bad comedies so I guess he wanted to get serious this time. He plays thief Nick Barrow and to a degree, he kinda pulls the character off. Billingsley, well he has only helmed one other film being 2009's dreadful, Couples Retreat. With "Term", he thankfully comes off as more experienced. He's aggressive behind the camera, capturing every little criminalistic detail and staging a gunfight or two with ample precision. His Term Life plays like a B movie but it's better than most. It tries really hard to make you think there's something greater beneath the surface.

Now in spite of featuring irrelevant cameos by notable actors (did Taraji P. Henson, Annabeth Gish, Jon Favreau, and Mike Epps owe Peter B. a favor?), "Term" still insures that you'll be focused on its breakneck storyline. In the film, Hailee Steinfeld reprises her role as the resentful daughter from 2014's 3 Days to Kill. Don't worry though. Her performance and Term Life itself, are much better than "Kill's" hindered discombobulation.

With 1973 giving us Paper moon, 2012 giving us Erased, and now 2016 giving us the harmless yet relatively entertaining Term Life, the father/daughter movie brigade is continuing if not prevailing. The title of "Term" (which I thought meant a lengthy prison sentence) has to do with Vince Vaughn's Barrow taking out a life insurance policy for his daughter (Steinfeld as Cate Barrow). You see Nick Barrow is being hunted down by hit men, corrupt cops, and the mob. Why you ask? Because as a thief, he sold his heist to the wrong people and the job went sour. Cate is also in trouble. They can get to her just as fast as they can get to him. Together, father and little one hide out incognito to try and figure out why their well being is in danger. They also try to figure out who later on, set them up (for murder). Watch for the antagonistic Bill Paxton playing a dirty detective named Keenan. He channels the role in virtually the same vein as when he played the despicable Earl in 2 Guns. Also, look out for an extensive use of Georgia locales plus Vince Vaughn's almost unrecognizable hairstyle. Paul McCartney called and says he wants his mop top back (ha ha).

In conclusion, with an adjusted gross of about $21,256, it's safe to say that "Termwon't be the comeback vehicle Vince Vaughn was hoping for. I as a critic, also feel like this isn't a turning point in his career. I do however, give him credit for trying to recreate the dramatic roles he inhabited some twenty odd years ago (examples would be Domestic Disturbance, Return to Paradise, and A Cool, Dry Place). Bottom line: At 90-100 minutes, I've seen much worse from Vaughn and various, clown directors who try to better limited release dreck. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Nice Guys 2016 * * Stars

The Nice GuysDirector: Shane Black
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice

Shane Black scripted two of my favorite buddy cop films in 1987's Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. With The Nice Guys (my latest review), he directs and sadly his direction is much better than his writing.

"Guys" playing like an art house version of "Boy Scout", is a mixture of clunky dialogue and bone-crunching payoffs. Whereas that 1991 film had a fair amount of nasty wit, The Nice Guys seems to be all look and no feel. Billed as an action comedy, "Guys" is patchy kitsch and contains two actors (Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling) that completely strain for comedic timing. Sure its setting of 1977 Los Angeles is light film noir and variably flawless. However, that's about all the movie has going for it. These "nice guys" don't finish last but they come real close.

Shot beautifully in a darkened haze, "Guys" unfortunately is sloppily edited, contains songs that came out after 1977 ("Boogie Wonderland", "September", "Boogie Oogie Oogie", etc.), and unjustly features 70's relic Gil Gerard in the opening credits (was he in the movie cause I just couldn't tell). Basically this picture is not the best way to get your Me Decade fix. Boogie Nights, a film that also dealt in the pornographic industry and City of Angels backdrops, is truly a better option.

Now the story of "Guys" which is based on true events that happened to a real-life Marine in the late 90's, has little reason to occur almost 40 years ago. With the exception of skin flick interludes and visions of old school movie projectors, it could have taken place in any time period.

The main character is Private Detective Holland March (played by Ryan Gosling). Gosling's March smokes and drinks so heavily, he teeters close to having liver and/or lung cancer some twenty years down the line (I'm not kidding). March gets paid to find people and now he's on the lookout for a missing girl named Amelia Kuntner (played by Margaret Qualley). Somehow someway, Amelia is connected to a dead porn actress named Misty Mountains (great name). On hand to help March in his quest, is Enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). Whereas March's job is to find missing persons, Healy's job is to beat people up. Matt Bomer (Magic Mike) plays a murderous villain named John Boy and Kim Basinger makes a cameo as Amelia's two-faced mother. With heighten sound effects editing, "Guys" is loud, violent, and the in-jokes are few and far between. I had to rely on the random chuckles of the audience to see what was funny or not.

In conclusion, I remember seeing the trailer for The Nice Guys in February. I automatically thought that the casting of Crowe and Gosling was interesting and sort of out of the box. After seeing the finished project, I realize it doesn't really work. At times it felt like they were in separate movies altogether. Crowe looks a little bloated while Gosling tries too hard to be funny. In truth, Ryan Gosling stumbles around "Guys" and the whole time I was kind of hoping he would turn to his forte which is the dark side (remember Ryan in Drive?). Some much for that. The one bright acting spot in "Guys": Australian actress Angourie Rice (she plays March's daughter). She has that "it factor". I mean I'm not saying she's Meryl Streep but the girl could be a big movie star someday. Rice is like a charismatic, Reese Witherspoon mini me. She's all coiled up with energy and some serious, glowing enchantment.

Bottom line: The Nice Guys with its locations looking more like sumptuous movie sets than actual, recreations of L.A.'s Hollywoodland, litters its script with the name "Amelia" and the words "find Amelia". It does this so many times you could make a drinking game out of the entire, two-hour running time. As for the procreated bearing, well Philippe Rousselot's cinematography for "Guys" is the high point until it evaporates due to the flick's manic choppiness. During the final act of The Nice Guys, Gosling's March quips, "I think I'm invincible... I don't think I can die". This movie, well I think its staying power isn't invincible and I think its box office take will die a little. Soon. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 20, 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising 2016 * * Stars

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne

If you've read most of my reviews, you'll know that I set the bar very high for comedies. That's why I pan most of them. Also, if you've read most of my write-ups you'll know that I'm not a huge fan of sequels. Again that's why I pan them as well. With Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, I was hoping all of this would change. Fat chance on that. "Rising's" just not as funny as the original Neighbors. In fact, the only way you could find it funny is if you've never seen the first film, never viewed "Rising's" red band trailer (which includes all the humorous scenes and other guffawed sequences that were left on the cutting room floor), or never took in a gross-out flick in your entire lifetime (I'd say that's a pretty low demographic). What Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising does is make you feel nostalgic for the first Neighbors installment and that was only two years ago. What a pity.

Now in "Rising's" defense, it does bring back all of its likable cast members (Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, etc.). It also creates a decent segway from what transpired in 2014. Lastly, there are in jest, a couple of real laugh-out-loud moments. Bottom line though: Director Nicholas Stoller's execution is not as thought-out this time around, the character development in "Rising" is a little weaker, the actors saddled with a thinner script, don't really bringing their A game (especially Ike Barinholtz as the goofy Jimmy), and the whole feel of the flick is less than over the top (despite some truly vulgar moments). Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising huh. "Neighbors 2: Sorority Dipping" is more like it.

Filmed almost entirely in Atlanta, GA (of course), containing a cameo featuring Kelsey Grammer (really?), referencing 420 (a mainstay), rehashing the in-joke of airbags, and giving a ton of screen time to Zac Efron's abs (was there ever any doubt it would happen?), Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising kinda picks up where the original left off (2-3 years later I'm thinking). The house that the Radner's (played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) so vehemently wanted to keep is now up for sale. They want to move to the suburbs but need to wait thirty days because said house is being subjected to a 30-day escrow. Here's the problem: A sorority headed by Kappa Nu leader Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), has moved in next door. They party hard and make a sh*t ton of noise. Plus, they are more boisterous and stubbornly than the dudes from the Delta Psi fraternity circa '14. Regardless, what we have here is the same premise as the original only now it's gender-reversed. With the help of lost boy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), the Radner's are hellbent on getting rid of Kappa Nu. This way they can close the deal on their old home and move on to greener pastures (Byrne's character is having another child so they need larger digs).

In "Rising", the ending does provide a patronizing, moral center. But hey, look for a scene where the young college girls throw their bloody tampons at Rogen's character's window (and even at his face, yuk). Also, look for sequences involving visible, fake testicles hanging out (double yuk), a baby's hand sticking out of a woman's womb (triple yuk), and Rose Byrne's Kelly vomiting towards her husband's face (during sex, quadruple yuk). It's all showy and gaudy but not totally funny and way too familiar.

In conclusion, I saw 2014's Neighbors twice at the theater. I still laughed three times as much the first time compared to viewing Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising just 4 hours ago. That's all that needs to be said. Rating: A mixed two stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 13, 2016

Money Monster 2016 * * Stars

Money MonsterDirector: Jodie Foster
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell

With last year's Secret in Their Eyes and this year's Money Monster (my latest review), Julia Roberts has managed to truly become a nettlesome screen presence. Yes we all know she won an Oscar. But scene after scene of her talking in George Clooney's earpiece (he plays a boob tube host, she plays his executive producer) literally feels like nails on a chalkboard. She's part of the problem, not the solution. Oh I almost forgot, her Secret in Their Eyes and "Monster" also translate into all things USA Network (that means they feel made for TV). Hmm, that can't be good.

Anyway, Money Monster with its reminisce of The Truman Show (reality television) and 2002's Phone Booth (similar running times along with the whole hostage diegesis thing), is directed by famed actress Jodie Foster. She has made four films of which I haven't seen the other three. Whereas "Truman Show" and "Booth" had a sizable amount of suspense and absorbing moments, "Monster" fails to generate any real tension. Hey, it's not all Foster's fault. She moves things along at a decent clip and the editing by Matt Chesse (World War Z, Machine Gun Preacher) allows the film to sort of earn its minimal twists and turns. No the complications here arise from the silly overacting of the antagonist (Jack O'Connell as Kyle Budwell), the silly overacting of his pregnant girlfriend (played by Emily Meade), the injection of out of place humor, the extras in "Monster" that seem expressionless, and of course, Roberts. In all honesty, this is a thriller and I should have left the theater shaken. Instead, my fingernails were intact, my resting heart rate perceived to be like 60, and I just felt a little meh. Result: A mediocre flick that feels slightly dated.

Taking place in New York City and presented by TriStar Pictures, Money Monster chronicles television personality, Lee Gates (Clooney). He anchors a show called well, "Money Monster". During one of Lee's live broadcasts, a poverty-ridden, disgruntled investor (Kyle Budwell) infiltrates the set and puts a gun to Lee's head (talk about a weak security detail). He wants answers and demands that the cameras keep rolling. He then puts an explosive belt (or vest) on Gates and tells him that if he lets go of the trigger, Gates will blow up along with everyone else in the building. You see Gates gave Budwell some bad investment tips a while ago. Budwell lost all his savings on the advice of a broadcast where Gates told his audience to put all their dough into IBIS stocks (it's a fictional company I guess). Watch for a couple of segments where the 55-year-old Clooney dances to some rap music at the beginning of his show (I gotta admit, it's pretty cringe-inducing). Also, look out for amusing references to YouTube and a screenplay (by three writers) littered with almost nothing but the F word.

In conclusion, you know that Food Network host that constantly says the approving phrase, "that's money" (in case you've been living in a cave, it's Guy Fieri). Well in terms of 2016's Money Monster, "money" it surely ain't. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mother's Day 2016 * * Stars

Mother's Day
Director: Garry Marshall
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts

I love my mom more than anything else in the world. But come on, do we really a need two-hour movie about May's most popular holiday? Director Garry Marshall sure thinks so. I mean, he has to complete his almighty trilogy of all things festive. With 2010's Valentine's Day, 2011's New Year's Eve, and now Mother's Day (my latest review), Marshall has become the second-tier version of a mawkish Robert Altman. Lately, he has been juggling multiple storylines, huge casts, and lots of defunct coincidences. His films are clearly the equivalent of birthday cake. They are nutrition-free, they are full of sugary sweet moments, they are fluffy, and they are kinda confetti-like. Channeling his weird side at age 81, Garry Marshall has sort of lost touch. He hasn't been as sharp as when he did Pretty Woman and/or Frankie and Johnny (and that was a long time ago). Regardless, his Mother's Day is pretty much harmless if you can get past the sight of a womb parade float, Jason Sudeikis singing "The Humpty Dance" (to a bunch of pre-teen girls), and Jennifer Aniston walking around near some young tykes in nothing but a towel. Would I recommend taking your mother to see "Day"? It wouldn't be a crime but you have been warned.

Taking place in Atlanta, GA (what flick doesn't take place in "Hotlanta" these days) and co-starring Marshall's "lucky charm" of an actor (Hector Elizondo), "Day" feels like a Garry Marshall endeavor literally a couple minutes in. You can easily tell by the first musical score note and the compulsory opening credits. The story follows five to six different people as they iron out their relationship conflicts a couple days before the second Sunday in May. Sandy Newhouse (played by Jennifer Aniston) is a divorced mother of two. She shares custody of her two kids with Henry (Timothy Olyphant). Henry just got remarried to a twentysomething named Tiny (Shay Mitchell). Obviously, Sandy is a little miffed by the condition. Then there's Jesse (Kate Hudson). She is married to a doctor (Russell played by Aasif Mandvi) but is reluctant to introduce him to her parents because they are a bit racially challenged. You also have restaurant worker Kristin (Tomorrowland's Britt Robertson). She has a child and is unmarried. She holds back on tying the knot because she never knew who her real mother was (boo-hoo). Finally, we have Miranda Collins (Julia Roberts). She's a successful writer and I guess, sells stuff on a fictional home shopping network. She has a daughter but gave her up for adoption years ago. I think you can guess how Kristin and Miranda's dots will connect.

Now everyone in Mother's Day seems to conveniently run into each other. Aniston overacts, Sudeikis (as mentioned earlier) is manipulatively closed off, and Larry Miller (a Marshall regular) makes a thankless cameo. It's almost fictitious the way the trouper's paths cross. They are mercilessly connected by a ridiculous amount of kismet. In verity, I felt like I was watching an episode of The O.C. The only difference being that the events were less tidy and much less entertaining.

With haphazard acting (minus the Julia Roberts performance which feels like a slight revelation), a few laughs, and background music deeming Mother's Day to be less than dramatic, Garry Marshall is clearly on holiday here (no pun intended). The adult situations involving the main characters, are resolved quickly and predictably. Added to that, the outtakes at the end are a tired combination of bonus scenes and bloopers. Is Marshall gonna keep making movies about kaleidoscopic, celebration fare? I can't stop him. However, if Independence Day, Columbus Day, Sweetest Day, or Yom Kippur make their plights to the silver screen, I sure won't be buying a ticket. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Elvis & Nixon 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

Elvis & NixonDirector: Liza Johnson
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettyfer

There is only one word I can use to describe 2016's Elvis & Nixon: Fascinating. I remember as a kid, seeing a picture of two exceedingly prominent people and wondering how the heck "Tricky Dicky" and "the King" found a way to get together. Now I sort of have an idea. That is, if what took place is of the non-fiction variety.

With a grainy yet sunny look, background tunes by Otis Redding plus CCR, and period detail of the highest order, "&" is small-scale but it's so far one of the best films of this year. It is not in any way, a serious drama or even a pastiche. No Elvis & Nixon is played as a straight comedy with Elvis Presley as an eccentric goofball and Richard Milhous Nixon as a guy who's hard on the outside and soft on the inside. The humor in "&" is sort of dry, sort of coaxing, and all the while deadpanned. And by the time the 37th U.S. President and Tennessee's badass Rock n Roller meet (within the flick's final half hour), you're slapped with a slight sense of delirium. You as an audience member, occasionally laugh and are always smiling. I mean, at least I was.

Taking place about four years before I was born, Elvis & Nixon harks back to December 21st, 1970. According to the proceedings, Elvis may have been a singing icon but he sure wasn't as important as California's big man in the Oval Office. Presley traveled to Washington, D.C., unannounced and with an entourage of like two people. He had to try his butt off to get to see Nixon. With his funky glasses, his spreadeagle capes, and his silvery collection of firearms in tote, the man who loves peanut butter and banana sandwiches didn't have anything on debriefing methods or the almighty Secret Service. Anyway, the story goes like this: Elvis Aaron Presley (played by Michael Shannon) is bored. The film begins with him lounging at his Memphis estate, watching the news (on four to five screens) and longing to be a celebrity ambassador to the U.S's anti-drug campaign. At four in the morning, he decides to board a plane to Los Angeles. There, he picks up his good friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and the two fly to our nation's capital. Presley's agenda: Go to the White House, drop off a letter to President Richard Nixon (played by Kevin Spacey), and hopefully get a chance meeting of five minutes. Elvis happily wants Nixon to swear him in as an undercover agent via the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Said meeting between the most famous people in America is a hoot (spoiler). While noshing on M&M's, drinking Dr. Pepper, and taking a lot more time than expected, Elvis eventually gives Richard a WWII pistol and shows him a few karate moves (ha-ha). The whole sequence is pretty surreal and uncanny.

In terms of the performances, well Elvis & Nixon has three that are near-perfect. Michael Shannon may not look or even talk like Tupelo's favorite son. However, he gets a pass for being a great actor anyway. Plus, he delivers his lines in a manner that just makes him flat-out likable. As for Kevin Spacey, well he obviously doesn't resemble the resigning Republican with the crinkly nose. No matter. The camera turns one way, the lighting is just right, and "Verbal" Kint absolutely absolves himself in this role. The voice, the mannerisms, the head tilted down. It's all perfect. Finally, there's Alex Pettyfer. Ever since he starred in Magic Mike, I figured the dude would go on to be a big movie star. I haven't seen him in anything lately but here, he does excellent supporting work as Presley's reserved aide (the real-life Schilling).

In conclusion, the iconic photograph of Nixon and Presley is considered one of the most indelible images in the history of American culture. It's mind-boggling that it took forty-six years to finally bring the subject to the silver screen. Director Liza Johnson (2011's Return) and three screenwriters fashion something whimsical, something special, and something kind of offbeat with "&". Nothing in frame seems to be taken too seriously. And watching the interaction between the title characters along with their journey to meet one another, is mildly exhilarating in a time capsule sort of way. You feel like you're being placed in the early 70's while just observing an ordinary, Monday afternoon. Now another motion picture about the lava lamp decade is about to hit theaters in three weeks (Russell Crowe's latest, The Nice Guys). I sure hope it's as good as Elvis & Nixon. "Thank ya, thank ya very much". Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson