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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back 2016 * * Stars

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackDirector: Edward Zwick
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge

If you factor in adjustment for ticket price inflation, 2012's Jack Reacher is one of Tom Cruise's worst box office outings. I still gave it a favorable rating. Am I surprised however, that Paramount Pictures actually green-lit a sequel for an October release? Oh you betcha. Out is director Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation). In is director Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond). Cruise is the producer so hey, he must be playing favorites again.

Anyway, the first "Reacher" film had its moments despite a tolerable reception. It stuck in my mind as a slick thriller, a flick notable for its nasty hand-to-hand combat sequences. McQuarrie knew how to frame Cruise in said sequences. With Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (my latest review), Zwick has it pan out more sloppily, kind of like Christopher Nolan in most of his films (pick any one of them). Edward Zwick is good with gunfire and historical epics. Unfortunately, he's the wrong guy to showcase Tom Cruise in bone-cracking, kick butt mode. Oh and Zwick tries to recreate New Orleans in "Never Go Back's" climatic moments. The whole thing was shot in Pennsylvania making The Big Easy look more like a theme park instead of an actual location.

At well over two hours, the first Jack Reacher is twelve minutes longer than "Never Go Back". But heck, it moves more swiftly, has more threatening one-liners from Cruise, and doesn't include the sappy, sentimentality factor (Jack now might have a daughter that he never knew of). I mean it's just a better movie. For instance, I liked it more in 2012 when Tommy boy quipped, "I mean to beat you to death and drink blood from a boot." In 2016, his Jack occasionally just says, "I don't like being followed". Bummer.

Bottom line: As I viewed Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, I thought to myself, Jack Reacher "never go" forward. With this ho-hum sequel, Reacher's franchise can't possibly continue in years to come can it? I mean we're not talking James Bond here are we?

Image result for jack reacher never go back movie scenesUnnecessary sequels and pulpiness aside, Tom Cruise for what it's worth, is still decent in the lead role. Its been said that he's miscast because of his height (the Jack Reacher from the books is six feet, five inches). Whatever. In my mind he fits the part like a comfortable shoe. He's admirable. Around him though, "Never Go Back" isn't as much. There's no Robert Duvall from the first outing to keep him company. There's a lack of good villains like Werner Herzog and Jai Courtney (both from the original "Reacher") to get his blood pumping. No the bad guys from Jack Reacher: Never Go Back are unknown actors, pawns who think they can hang with good old "Maverick".

In retrospect, "Never Go Back" has some excitement in the form of chases by car or by foot. And Cobie Smolders as Cruise's female co-star, has some bite in her performance. Nevertheless, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back still lacks the mystery, the suspense, the intrigue, and the effectively hardcore fist fights from the first Jack Reacher (the producers should've stopped right there). It instead thrives on a convoluted plot, a saccharine ending, an annoying, teenage sidekick (Samantha played by Danika Yarosh), and an incorrigibly faux wink wink to the follow-up gods. "Never" a recommendation from me. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Darkness 2016 * 1/2 Stars

The DarknessDirector: Greg McLean
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Jennifer Morrison

"I see dead people". In regards to The Darkness (my latest review), I "see" a real shoddy ghost flick with virtually nothing that will leave your knees knocking.

"Darkness" stars the interconnected Kevin Bacon. I remember when he referred to his bicycle movie Quicksilver, as the absolute lowest point of his career. Kevin might wanna retract that statement here and now.

The Darkness with a budget of $4 million, is a Poltergeist I and II wannabe, a feeble account of the supernatural. Its director is Wolf Creek's Greg McLean. In between moments of not being able to hold his camera steady, McLean also sets up sequences in which things go bump in the night. It's all for show and not even for effect. He actually tries to frighten his audience by having stuff about demons explained on YouTube (coupled with some standard, background music). Talk about a desperate attempt.

There's also the over familiar conclusion of "Darkness". Kevin Bacon's character (Peter Taylor) says, "hey you know we can beat this together". Me, well I wanted to "beat" the DVD for The Darkness with a hammer before returning it to Redbox. Thankfully, I retrained myself.

Anyway, along with feeling sorry for Bacon in the lead, you also have to contend with his character's son. He's the obligatory youngster with special powers (of the clairvoyant kind) and he's played by J.J. Abrams mini-me, David Mazouz. Little Cole Sear from The Sixth Sense. Little Danny Torrance from The Shining. Little Carol Anne from Poltergeist. Little Emily Callaway from Hide and Seek. Most of these fright fest tykes are for the most part, memorable. Mazouz's Michael from "Darkness", is not. He's more akin to a younger version of Justin Bartha's Brian from Gigli. Whoops.

Image result for the darkness 2016 movie scenesFeaturing no jump scares of any kind, distributed by Universal Pictures, and filmed almost two years before its release, The Darkness chronicles a young autistic boy named Michael Taylor (Mazouz). The movie begins with Michael getting lost in the Grand Canyon and stumbling upon some rocks that he brings home. These rocks belong to demonic entities who take the form of snakes, coyotes, and wolves. Chaos ensues at the Taylor home with the family slowly coming apart at the seams. Look out for mediocre acting, dreadful dialogue, and stock special effects. Cast members like Radha Mitchell, Paul Reiser, and Ming-Na Wen obviously don't realize that they're featured in one of this year's most banal endeavors. I wanted to throw popcorn at them through the screen. Then I wanted to hurl Raisinets at these clowns later on.

In conclusion, "Darkness" is a lifeless, de facto horror concoction. The best scene in it is the opening one and it's more comedic than anything else (that can't be good). If you wanna experience an effective nightmare starring Kevin Bacon, well you better check out 1999's Stir of Echoes instead. Heck, even the way six degrees Kevin dies in Friday the 13th (with an arrow to the thyroid), is ten times more terrifying than anything in The Darkness. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Accountant 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

The Accountant  Director: Gavin O'Connor
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal

In The Accountant (my latest review), Ben Affleck's Christian Wolfe is being pursued by Treasury agent Raymond King (played by J. K. Simmons). As the film concludes, there's an FBI news conference in which it appears that Wolfe's autistic money handler has been captured. Cut to the next scene and Wolfe is driving away in his truck with his trailer full of guns, money, passports, and artwork attached to it. Huh? Also, there's the side character of Wolfe's brother (Jon Bernthal as "Bax"). He's quiet as a church mouse in his younger years only to emerge as an adult hitman who spouts soliloquies and won't shut up. Yup, "Accountant" will leave you scratching your head as you walk out of the theater. A couple of critics have said that this film doesn't "add" up. Knee slapper. I'm gonna go the more original route and say that The Accountant is a "taxing" affair (taxing is the informal definition for murderous).

Image result for The accountant movie scenesAnyway, if you haven't already heard, "Accountant's" trailer is a tad misleading. This vehicle doesn't entirely delve into the art of managing economic entities. It's more a progressive actioner, a slightly violent shoot-'em-up. Ben Affleck in the lead, mumbles his lines, puffs on his fingers, and separates his food when he's not supplying his penchant for shooting people in the head. His Wolfe becomes the butt kicking antihero, the dude who cooks the books for some sinister, criminal organizations and then inversely shoots to kill. In jest, you kinda wonder if Affleck asked his best bud Matt Damon on how to channel his own, inner Jason Bourne. I sure did.

In terms of direction, well Gavin O'Connor (Warrior) creates a sleek look for The Accountant. What can I say, Atlanta, GA substitutes well for Plainfield, Illinois. This flick is also edited nicely despite a plot that contains a few dangling loose ends. O'Connor's strong points are the flashbacks he provides. They involve Christian Wolfe's childhood (Wolfe nervously works on puzzles, has conniption fits, and learns advanced martial arts) and one flashback in particular pertaining to the J. K. Simmons trouper (talk about an intense life or death moment). Finally, "Accountant" has a twist at the end that I didn't see coming. However, it doesn't really give the viewer much closure on everything that had previously happened. To quote a song from The Hollies, "he ain't heavy, he's my brother". That'll give you a hint.

Image result for The accountant movie scenesAll in all, The Accountant is sophisticated yet bemused filmmaking from a director who at one time, made a juicy, more straightforward crime drama with 2008's Pride and Glory. With "Accountant", I've seen a lot worse movies in October and I've seen a lot better ones too. As a spy thriller for the socially inexpert, it will pass the time. As a serious Oscar contender come January, it's more debit than credit. Rating: A mixed 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Cell 2016 * * * Stars

CellDirector: Tod Williams
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman

Imagine this: You talk on your cellphone and as a result, you become a programmed killer. You're full of rage, you bang your head against the wall, you moan with your mouth gaped wide open (in a comatose state), and you pummel any JQ citizen into submission. That's the gist of Cell (my latest review). John Cusack stars and because his Clay Riddell was on a payphone instead, he turns out to be the protagonistic hero. Lloyd Dobler, we hardly knew ya!

Anyway, it's always interesting seeing Cusack in a film not related to being a romantic comedy or drama. Such is the case with Cell. In this sort of wireless server version of World War Z, he teams up with his 1408 co-star in Samuel L. Jackson. Their two characters tote guns, befriend each other, and wander a bleak landscape with other non-possessed humans. Safe to say, Sammy and John make a decent on-screen pairing.

Now Cell with its shaky cam direction by Tod Williams, reminded me of a grainy creature feature. It also felt like all things apocalyptic and coldly ominous. So yeah, its ending may be a little abrupt and confusing. And yeah, Cell's opening credits are cheap, cheesy, and sort of hackneyed. Oh well. There are some terrifying moments here coupled with some added philosophical assessments to boot. Hey let's be real, studios and producers seem to be running out of ideas for movies about zombies with zombie-like premises. Cell despite all this, still answers the call (ha-ha). Yup, I guess I'm gonna recommend it.

Image result for Cell 2016 movie scenesBased on a novel by Stephen King and helped by six production companies (you'll know what I mean when you pop the DVD in and it takes forever to get to the film's beginning), Cell is B movie glory, a flick only slightly bogged down by a non-zippy second half. Director Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) does more than what's required for your typical rental. He provides Cell with plenty of old school zoom ins and zoom outs making things atmospheric, ambient, and full-on kooky. There are times when Cell feels like it's almost parodying most undead movies. Other times it's terrifying enough to have you never wanna pick up your BlackBerry again. Critics have loathed Cell ever since it came out calling it amateurish, clunky, and inept. I digress. Don't knock this film until you've seen it. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Deepwater Horizon 2016 * * Stars

Deepwater HorizonDirector: Peter Berg
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson

I admire Peter Berg's passion for being the dude that honors real-life heroes. It labored in his box office hit Lone Survivor but with Deepwater Horizon (my latest review), it just feels like hackwork.

Berg is the art film director's version of Michael Bay. He's the guy who made Very Bad Things and "Horizonis a "very" humdrum movie. This $156 million dollar release is based on true events and depicts the biggest oil spill in U.S. history (circa 2010). There's lots of nasty fire, flying nuts and bolts, broken bones, plenty of crew member speak, and mud covering the trouper's faces. Oh yeah, it's hot as heck on that oil rig. Pay attention though because as a viewer, it's hard to tell what's going on via "Horizon's" stilted camerawork and darkened cinematography.

Now for kicks and giggles, I read somewhere that a critic referred to this vehicle as "a poor man's Towering Inferno". Makes sense. "Inferno" has more compelling characters, doesn't come with a disjointed and clunky script, has more suspense, doesn't have its actors mumble their lines as if they have cotton in their mouths, and has a climax for the ages ("Horizon" not so much). Plus, The Towering Inferno (1974) is longer in length with stupendous editing. Talk about a cinematic oxymoron.

In regards to Deepwater Horizon, well Peter Berg shortens his film to 107 minutes. By explaining everything that happened to certain drillers in the closing credits, it feels as though he's trying to get this thing over with to get to his December release (see sixth paragraph).

So OK, "Horizon" is a BP subjection, a moviegoer's guide to drilling rig mumbo jumbo. It's also a rushed tribute that thinly honors the eleven people that died in one of the world's biggest man-made disasters. Disappointing is the word I thought of as I left the theater.

Image result for deepwater horizon movie scenes
Anyway, Deepwater Horizon has odd Louisiana accents from big name actors (Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich), horrific images that have become Peter Berg's staple since Lone Survivor (mentioned earlier), and special effects that are technically efficient yet chaotic and messy. It's disaster porn but not in an eye candy sort of way. You sense that Berg wants to project things to be more realistic, more mechanical in nature. He's a filmmaker mired in being up to date and he makes his proceedings feel military even if it's about grubby, dirty oil riggers. Here's the problem though: He can't seem to wring any emotional response from me (I know I'm not alone on this). Let's hope that his next real-life salute being Patriots Day, fills that void. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson