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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Shallows 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

The ShallowsDirector: Jaume Collet-Serra
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Blake Lively, Brett Cullen, Oscar Jaenada

Jaume Collet-Serra is a capable director when it comes to keeping an audience involved and beguiled. I enjoyed two of his movies starring badass muse, Liam Neeson (Run All Night and 2014's Non-Stop). Now using lots of close-ups and plenty of slow motion shots, he wistfully reboots Jaws for the umpteenth time. Jaume sprinkles upon us, a little bit of Spielberg's monster hit, a little bit of Cast Away, a little bit of Open Water (2003), and a little bit of "The Raft" segment from 1987's Creepshow 2. The result is The Shallows, a conventional yet predictable flick that's stronger than most Peter Benchley sequels and a hundred times better than the critically panned Shark Night (I would hope so).

With a spike in real-life great white attacks being posted all over social media these days, "Shallows" comes off as sort of relevant if not psychic. All I gotta say is dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun dun dun dun (ha-ha).

Filmed in Australia (which stands in as Mexico), distributed by Columbia Pictures, and clocking in at a paltry running time of 87 minutes, The Shallows is very small scale. With only 4 actors/actresses plus Sully the Seagull, it relegates as a one-woman show. The cinematography by Flavio Marinez Lebiano (he shot 2011's Unknown) is bright and gleaming despite the film's first act which feels like fodder for the tired, MTV generation. And of course there's nods to 1975's Jaws (as mentioned earlier). You have lead Blake Lively pointing a gun at a big ass shark saying, "f*ck you" (Roy Scheider says, "smile you son of a bitch") plus an obligatory cage match reminiscent of what Richard Dreyfuss went through 40+ years ago.

In jest, "Shallows" isn't epic, won't blow your mind, and won't reinvent the "don't go into the water" wheel. It will however, somewhat channel your faith in the survival of the human spirit. The simple concept is there for the taking: One surfer girl, one monstrous "sea dog", mano a mano, and only 200 yards from shore. Heck, I'd pony up 5-10 dollars to see this thing at the local cineplex. Wait, I already did.

Anyway, the story is as follows: Texas-born Nancy (played by Lively) is a medical student who loves to get on her board and carve up some bodacious waves. In the wake of her mother's death, she decides to go to a secluded beach where her mom once surfed after finding out she was pregnant with Nancy. Nance gets a ride to said beach from a local named Carlos (Oscar Jaenada). When she asks him what the name of the place is, he simply says it's "paradise". Nancy then runs into two other locals, surfs a few ripples with them, and after taking a breather, decides to go out for one more ride. Big Mistake. A great white shark is lurking in the water and it intends on attacking and killing Nancy if she doesn't get to land first. Serra films some excellent, initial surfing sequences whether it be the stunt people doing some tube riding or just barreling down the point break. And as for the ocean water featured in The Shallows, well it's beautiful in its midnight blue state and boy is it darn clear.

Now performance-wise, I think Blake Lively does a decent job in "Shallows". Her Nancy gets put through the wringer whether it be her tearing some flesh on corral, getting stung by a jellyfish, or initially getting wounded by the shark thus spurring the notion of gangrene setting in. Nancy is obviously a goodhearted person and Lively channels the character well. Her virtuous voice and wholesome looks are a plus not to mention her ability to naturally convey fear, hope, and pain. Now do I think Lively can carry a movie all by herself? Yes, but only if it doesn't surpass an hour and a half.

As for Jaume Collet-Serra's streamlined direction, well he keeps things moving despite a slight level of implausibility. For instance, Nancy stands on a small rock to try and avoid getting eaten by the shark. Huh? You'd think said shark would be able to just easily rise up and snatch her. On the other end of the spectrum, Serra effectively implores tactics to help Lively's persona fend for her life. You have the use of her necklaces and earrings to repair a wound, the timing of her stop watch to see how fast the menacing shark swims from point a to point b, and documentation on a helmet camera so that someone can call for help and save the stranded Nancy.

In truth, the only thing I wish Jaume would stop doing in his films, is to use visible texts, visible skypes, and visible emojis as plot devices in order to tell his story. It all seems tired by now and rather cliched. Oh and did I mention his ending to "Shallows" (spoiler)? Well it's pretty unjust in scope. You're telling me that a giant shark is gonna bite the dust after running into a couple of steel rods. Ten minutes earlier, that same shark was lit on fire and still galloped ferociously towards Lively's Nancy. Like I said unjust.

Overall, The Shallows is passable entertainment that you'll probably forget about the minute the end credits roll. No matter. After seeing the disaster (ha-ha) that was Independence Day: Resurgence, I sort of needed this change of scenery. Rating: A "waving" 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence 2016 * 1/2 Stars

Independence Day: Resurgence Director: Roland Emmerich
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman

In Independence Day: Resurgence (my latest review), twenty years has passed. Guess what, the aliens are still ticked off and looking for some sweet revenge. Now does that concept have to be so complicated? The five dudes hired to pen the script for "Resurgence" sure think so. This sequel to 1996's original Independence Day will give you a headache. Gone is the first film's feel of a popcorn flick, gone is Roland Emmerich's ability to shoot coherent action sequences this time around, gone is ID4's Will Smith (that might have been a good decision on Will's part), and gone from the first film is well, the fun. Independence Day: Resurgence has too many sci-fi ideals, too many characters, and way too many subplots (a mothership drilling a hole in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is one of several). Sure the CGI in the first outing seemed a little dated but at least it got the job done. Oh yeah, did I mention that the editing is sloppy too.

Personally, I think Independence Day should of had a sequel come out ten years ago. With the passing of two decades, too much time has gone by. "Resurgence" almost feels like it has no true connection or transition from 1996's original. Most of the troupers from the first installment are gone and their absence is never fully explained (Margaret Colin, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Adam Baldwin, and of course The Fresh Prince). The actors/actresses that do stay on board aren't exactly fleshed out as characters. Bill Pullman's ex-President (Thomas J. Whitmore) is now a bearded whack job, Vivica A. Fox's Jasmine went from a stripper to being a doctor (nice), Brent Spiner's Dr. Okun is in a coma, and Jeff Goldblum's David Levinson is off somewhere in Central Africa. What happened earlier to these people is a mystery that we the audience, have to figure out. And how mind you did the 2016 of Independence Day: Resurgence turn into the world of Blade Runner? The 2016 we presently live in doesn't look all technical and ultra-modern. We don't have roving space vehicles, two hour trips to the moon, a Starship Troopers-like environment, and thousands of laser guns. Just saying.

As for the special effects, well in "Resurgence" they aren't bad. In the first Independence Day however, simplicity and attention to detail payed off much better. You don't see hardly any landmarks being blown up this time (previously it was The White House, the Empire State Building, the Capital Records Building, and the U.S. Bank Tower). I mean yeah a random city (or two) bites the dust but it happens so quickly. Nothing has time to completely resonate in the mind's eye. Buildup is also absent in "Resurgence" because in the first flick, you waited nervously to see what was going to happen to our world, you know the destruction and humorous paranoia of it all. With Independence Day: Resurgence, there's no anticipation of life termination and no one seems to be in that much danger because disaster sequences are cut so sparingly. They come off as remote and off-key.

In terms of "Resurgence's" Star Wars-like dogfights which carry over from 1996, well Emmerich feels the need to make them too chaotic. You don't know which protagonist is shooting at which antagonist, what spaceship is flying where, and what extraterrestrial species is the head honcho or not. And when an important character dies (like Madam President Sela Ward (spoiler)), we don't know how or if it actually happened. Finally, did I mention the geography in "Resurgence"? Oh yeah, most of the actresses, actors, and side extras globetrot all over the country and/or planet Earth (the Moon too). You lose track of where they are at any given moment. Presidents, the First Daughter, pilots, scientists, and lieutenants go from point a to point b so quickly you'd think they beamed themselves up like in Star Trek. Basically, this thing is a mess.

Bottom line: Independence Day: Resurgence is 25 minutes shorter than the original Independence Day. It still manages to be less entertaining, polarizing, a little slower, and much more convoluted. If you think you're entering the theater to see a summer blockbuster, think again. Highly ambitious, highly elaborate, and highly budgeted ($165 million) doesn't always mean better. And by the way, do you remember the original Independence Day when Jeff Goldblum uttered the words, "don't say oops"? Funny. The last word of that quote is what I said immediately after leaving "Resurgence's" 4:30 showtime. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Of note: My favorite line in the original Independence Day involved a woman welcoming the aliens on top of a skyscraper by saying, "oh gosh, I hope they bring back Elvis". That got a laugh from me. Sadly, the hilarity in "Resurgence" is attempted again by unknown actors and it just doesn't feel the same. Bummer.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Standoff 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

StandoffDirector: Adam Alleca
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Thomas Jane, Laurence Fishburne, Ella Ballentine

Standoff (my latest review) kinda reminded me of last year's The Hateful Eight. It's not a Western per se but like "Eight", there's a sense of claustrophobia and a real cat and mouse way about everything. In truth, I liked Standoff better because it only needed eighty minutes to tell its story (whereas Tarantino's film needed almost three, bloated hours to get the job done). Now does that mean I'm garnering a recommendation? Not quite. Standoff's script disappoints because it isn't nearly tight enough. The two lead actors (Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne) get saddled with overworked dialogue and ham it up to no end. Yeah I liked the concept of this flick with its wound up tension and reminisce of a one act play. But here's the thing: I just couldn't listen to two testosterone-filled meatheads yell at each other for one more minute. Example of an exchange between these guys: "I gotta a cellphone as*hole." "I know dipsh*t, I'm looking at it." My eyes couldn't stop rolling.

Containing one brutal torture scene (you'll never look at a hammer the same way again), filmed on location in Ontario, Canada (it felt like Georgia to me), and featuring a likable child actress in Ella Ballentine, Standoff is violent, unmerciful, and darkly confined. It's like Cujo without the snarling dog or 1990's Misery without good old Kathy Bates. First timer Adam Alleca directs in a clean and skillful manner. He starts things off with a bang by showcasing murders at a cemetery (how convenient). Then he lets everything eventually boil down to a slight creep. There are flashbacks, Larry Fishburne channeling his inner Samuel L. Jackson (with his Zodiac-style mask on you'd swear it was Jules Winnfield himself), blood spattering that looks like paintball wars gone wild, and hate begets hate banter between a couple of sweaty actors. In less than an hour and a half, everything mentioned evaporates as you watch it along with Standoff's scorched scenery and mild cowboy feel. This flick basically "stands" upright but it could have "delivered" a little better. Natch.

Anyway, the story is as follows: Bird (Ballentine) is a young girl who is quiet, mild-mannered, and loves to take pictures. Within the film's first ten minutes, she has camera in tote and is about to visit the graves of her parents who both died in a car accident. As she walks into the middle of an ongoing funeral, a contract killer (Laurence Fishburne as Sade) offs a priest and two other patrons who happen to be there. Bird sees Sade's face, snaps a photo of him, and flees to an old house owned by a fallen soldier named Carter (Thomas Jane). Sade ventures to said house and has to kill Bird because she is a witness. Carter keeping an eye on Sade with a shotgun, vows to protect Bird and won't let sicko Sade go upstairs to finish the job. (I mean gosh, this is a 9-11 year-old we're talking about). Therein lies the film's title. Add a couple of backstories about Carter losing his own kid and Sade having terminal prostate cancer and wallah, you have a nasty thriller oozing regret, despondency, and desperation.

All in all, I think Standoff as an uber Western, is far from being lackluster. I mean it keeps you somewhat enthralled and on the edge of your seat. Added to that, the music by Austin Wintory includes a whiff of calculated menace to go along with Standoff's obsession with the color red (red is associated with danger so that makes sense). I just wish the film's screenplay didn't cause two veteran troupers to completely over reach. Sometimes less is more as opposed to more being more. Now if I had to give out an acting prize, I'd go with the obvious non-veteran in young Ella Ballentine. As Bird, she exudes a level of sensitivity and empathy. Her relationship with Jane's Carter and her ability to look calm and contingent in the face of death, is the heart of Standoff.

Bottom line: This is a non-theatrical release with production values that are above the norm in the direct-to-video category. Standoff as fodder for walking off into the 2016 sunset, could easily pass for a Saturday night rental (don't forget the beer, antipasto salad, and the pizza). Rating: A strong 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Confirmation 2016 * * * Stars

The ConfirmationDirector: Bob Nelson
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Maria Bello

It feels like a lifetime since I've seen Clive Owen in a movie. I thought he retired from acting. No matter. He shines like nobody's business in 2016's The Confirmation, a sort of cinematic slice of grated Americana (even though it was filmed in Canada). While watching this thing, you kinda wish it was all shot in black and white. Either way, I was easily enthralled.

Owen plays Walt, an alcoholic trying to abstain from his intrusive habit. He goes through withdrawal, avoids temptation when he sees nothing but wussy wine coolers in his ex-wife's refrigerator, and turns his head when he drives up to various taverns. He knows that if he gets intoxicated, he'll never get to hang out with his son Anthony again (played wonderfully by Midnight Special's Jaeden Lieberher). Speaking of his son, well Anthony's first Confirmation and/or Communion is coming up. This vehicle chronicles him and daddy-o spending a weekend together leading up to those events.

Clive Owen stripping himself down, shucks a cocky air and dives deep into character. His Walt in a sense, is a good person on the inside but at the same time, a down on his luck kind of guy. He's getting evicted from his house, his car won't start, and the tools he uses for his odd jobs in carpentry, have all been stolen. At a running time of 90 minutes, Walter and Anthony try to track down the thief of said tools and bond quietly in the process.

Bottom line: The Confirmation despite being a little too dogged and small scale, is still a winner much of the way. With facile chemistry between the leads, it's more entertaining and less arty than most independent flicks.

Containing a hoot of a supportive performance from Patton Oswalt, an almost unrecognizable Matthew Modine, and a setting complacent to the state of Washington (at least that's what the license plates revealed), "Confirmation" reminded me of 2000's Wonder Boys, last year's Grandma, and an Alexander Payne film (it seems logical being that director Bob Nelson wrote Payne's Oscar-nominated Nebraska). What's on screen is character-driven and whimsical with a certain aroma of sadness. In essence, it's like a road trip movie confined to a medium-sized town in which various, peculiar people fade in and out. And since The Confirmation is billed as a comedy, the humor is there but it's invariably dry and off-kilter. You have to pay really close attention in order to catch any truthful zingers (if you do laugh, it distracts you from what is otherwise a depressing yet rewarding experience).

Rookie director Bob Nelson keeps the atmospherics damp and overcast but lets his camera mainly capture the forgotten love between father and son. He also wants you the viewer, to fixate on whether or not Walt can get his act together and get his misunderstood life back on track. Nelson edits in chunks as "Confirmation" goes back and forth between coming-of-age eradication (Anthony can't decide what to say at Confession, can't decide if he should go to church, and thinks he's not being true to his Catholic faith) and chronic alcoholism tutorials (when Walt can't get his hands on a stiff drink, he talks to himself and has weird stomach pains).

Lastly, despite some rough edges to go along with a questionable PG-13 rating, The Confirmation still has a twangy, feel good soundtrack, decent camerawork echoing all things Payne, and a sense of being stately offbeat (that's a good thing, trust me). Rating: A "confirmed" 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, June 10, 2016

Precious Cargo 2016 * Star

Precious CargoDirector: Max Adams
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Claire Forlani

Mark-Paul Gosselaar thinks he's hitting his stride in an action drama. And when he blasts golf balls from the sand in Precious Cargo (my latest review), his swing is decent with everything else kind of going to pot. In truth, all I see is the dude from Saved by the Bell and/or Dead Man on Campus. It's the Ryan Reynolds syndrome guys and that can't be good. Bruce Willis, well he now delivers all of his lines sitting down or on a cellphone. Talk about collecting a paycheck without any manual labor. Pathetic. Gosselaar and Brucie barely meet while starring in "Cargo". Yup, it's one of the worst films of 2016.

Precious Cargo with its glossy look and nonsensical boat chases, has an interesting opening scene straight out of 2008's Street Kings. Then it's all downhill from there. The first five minutes are goofy, campy, and bloody. You get to see 'Zack' Morris showing off his gun-toting, badass side. But oops, the opening credits emerge and you know you're in for some bad, B movie rubbish courtesy of Max Adams (he wrote last year's Heist which is heads and tails above this). "Cargo" has villains in it that don't shoot straight, a typecast Willis who gives yet another ho-hum performance (he seems to play the heavy a lot these days), and tongue-in-cheek interludes that are truly out of sync. Added to that, the acting is beyond poor with shootouts that are stupidly violent. Director Adams harbors lots of gunplay intertwined with location shots of various hotels in sultry, Gulfport, Mississippi (who knew Gulfport looked so much like Miami, FL). It's all look-at-me, amateur filmmaking of the unholiest order.

Bottom line: Anyone included in this thing was either desperate for cash, thought that they were making something feasible, or were tired of being washed up (that mostly includes romantic interest Claire Forlani). I could have watched The Conjuring 2 this weekend but instead chose to get in touch with my On Demand side. What a bad investment.

With one of the worst, paint by number scripts ever written (the dialogue includes a heavy demoralization of women and cringe-worthy penis jokes) and only one star-making turn by a dog named Grace (really?), Precious Cargo chronicles a thief aptly named Jack (played by Gosselaar). Jack somehow gets sucked into doing another robbery job with the help of his ex-girlfriend, Karen (the troupers don't have last names, I'm not kidding). Karen is being hunted down by a token crime boss named Eddie (Willis). They are trying to steal I guess, diamonds that Eddie wants but doesn't deserve. It's all hogwash claptrap with everyone trying to act either tough, funny, or overzealous. I wish I was the producer so I could fire all the screenwriters involved (there were two of them but who's counting). When a henchman character calls a beautiful woman character "d*ck breath", that's where I draw the line.

In conclusion, a lot of people die in "Cargo" but the cops are never around. It's weird. In this movie it appears that no type of authoritative agency even exists. Add tired, horrid closing outtakes and you have another straight-to-video casualty on tap (this flick was released in Italy, Portugal, and the UK but was it put out in theaters? That remains to be seen). In jest, Precious Cargo just needs to be sent back. Natch! Rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, June 3, 2016

Misconduct 2016 * * Stars

Director: Shintaro Shimosawa
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel

As a minimal bright spot, Josh Duhamel holds his own with a couple of acting heavyweights in 2016's Misconduct (my latest review). Speaking of said heavyweights, well Sir Anthony Hopkins and Al "hoo-ah" Pacino share very little screen time here. This is pretty much Duhamel's show. I mean Al and Tony are decent but they basically just pick up their paychecks. Heck, Hopkins could've been in Maniac Cop 4 and not even known the difference (ha-ha).

The story goes like this: Duhamel plays a low-level attorney named Ben Cahill. Upon receiving some illegal information from an ex-girlfriend (Malin Akerman as Emily Hynes), he decides he's gonna file a civil suit against a billionaire, pharmaceutical executive named Arthur Denning (Hopkins). Cahill gets the OK from his firm partner in Charles Abrams (Pacino). Straight-ahead plot contrivances aside, in the flick's opening act, there's a kidnapping scenario involving Denning's mistress that doesn't at all fit into Misconduct's storyline. There's also a couple of scenes (spoiler) in which Duhamel's Cahill kills two people and doesn't even get charged with a crime. Only in Hollywood folks, only in Hollywood.

Anyway, Misconduct is shot by first time director Shintaro Shimosawa. He keeps the atmospherics dark and fashions a streamlined, trashy soap opera with two accustomed, twist endings (remember Pacino in The Recruit?) that translate into 106 minutes. In a Basic Instinct sort of way, he follows his actors/actresses with lots of dolly shots, he lets his proceedings obtain a mild level of paranoia, and he films everything to the backdrop of an almost invisible New Orleans (so that's where all the happenings took place). People get murdered, stabbed, and beat up while various plot holes flow aplenty. Misconduct is a guilty watch but to a certain degree, it's a battered "miscalculation".

More things to observe in this Lionsgate release: Anthony Hopkins plays a rich guy for the umpteenth time. His character is full of irony, has a sh*t ton of money, and has a hot girlfriend. Al Pacino's character has a weird accent, runs a lawyer firm, and owns a pen worth $68,000 (I'm not kidding). Cast member Glen Powell like in this year's Everybody Wants Some!!, talks too fast, talks to much, and is feverishly annoying. Cast member Alive Eve like in this year's Criminal (she plays Cahill's dull wife), doesn't talk enough and looks as though she's been drugged. Finally, Korean actor Lee Byung-han plays a hitman called The Accountant, a sort of fitting name in a motion picture about moola settlements.

Bottom line: If you've seen Fracture (Anthony Hopkins stars in that one too) or 1993's The Firm, you'll sort of roll your eyes while viewing Misconduct. It's not nearly as credible as those films so you can chalk it up to barely being disposable entertainment. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson