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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The 28th Annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival- Jan. 26th, 27th, and the 28th, 2017

Notre Dame Student Film Festival 2017Greetings from Browning Cinema in Notre Dame, Indiana. This is my fourth time covering this celebrated film festival. All in all, there were 13 short films with running times ranging anywhere between two and twenty-three minutes. One of them even had my name as its title (Jesse clocking in at 7:58). As with most ND's film festivals, a lot of the material is comprised of R-rated angst and R-rated comedy. This year, every short minus the documentaries, went to mostly darker places. Anyway, here are the highlights along with star ratings:

Prayer Associate * * * Stars
Collaborators: Ryan Taylor, Ben Vasquez
Image result for notre dame student film festival 2017-Prayer Associate is the quintessential way to start off an ND flick fest. It's a silent short with shifting tones in music and dire humor. "Associate" is about Woody, a guy working for the Department of Prayer Relations. He goes looking for love but should've just answered his prayer request in a more professional manner. The characters of God and the Devil show up and a bit of irony arises towards Prayer Associate's solemn conclusion. The proceedings were filmed partly on Eddy Street Commons near Notre Dame's campus.

Peace at the Pipeline * * * Stars
Collaborators: Erin Lattimer, Ryan Leen
-Peace at the Pipeline is a loose docu about some native Americans protesting the placement of an extended pipeline in desolate North Dakota. There are off the cuff interviews, interviewee soliloquies, and vast, scenic views of the Peace Garden State. I'm a sucker for documentaries and there is rarely one I don't like. With "Peace", I just wanted more. At barely over ten minutes, it still sort of ended abruptly.

Debajo de los arboles (Beneath the Trees) * * * 1/2 Stars
Collaborator: Crystal Avila
Image result for notre dame student film festival 2017-Did I mention that Donald Trump really needs to see this? Anyway, Debajo de los arboles is a personal and thoughtful documentary about an illegal immigrant who hid beneath some trees (in Yuma, Arizona many years ago) to avoid getting deported back to Mexico. The subject of "airboles" is an older man, a man whose memory is slowly leaving, a man who owns a 50-year-old camera, and a man who carries ancient memories around in the form of pictures. His presence and demeanor demand your full attention. After a Saturday night screening, I met the stars and director of "airboles". And yes, I got my picture taken with them too. What a treat.

Filtrado * * * 1/2 Stars
Collaborators: Rosie Biehl, John Salazar
-A real humanitarian does real humanitarian work supplying Guatemalan kids with clean water for their health and survival. That's the gist of Filtrado, the best of the bunch at this year's festival. Filtrado is a real tribute to directors Rosie Biehl and John Salazar. They traveled halfway around the world and ended up making such an insightful and intelligent docu. We Americans will never look at our faucets the same way again.

Jesse * * * Stars
Image result for notre dame student film festival 2017Collaborators: Alex Mansour, Jessica Wilson
-Jesse has the finest acting of any of the short films at this year's festival. There's a well done, contemporary opening credit sequence here, a fantastic, brooding musical score from Alex Mansour, and a backdrop of snow-covered skies (that's an added bonus). Jesse is about a young girl who simply doesn't want to believe that her brother has died.

Improv on the Riz * * * Stars
Collaborators: Micaela Powers, Craig Schmier
-Improv on the Riz is similar to last year's Spark of Madness. The only difference is that it has to do with improv comedy as opposed to stand-up comedy. Plus, the culture is Navajo-based and the improv shows are within the confines of sunny Arizona. Most of the interview discussions are interesting and revelatory. The only female comedian present, does most of the talking (she seems to be the comedic group's voice and risible spokesperson, ha).

Take Two * * * Stars
Collaborators: Mariel Cuellar, Meagan Snodell
-Dark, unsettling, claustrophobic, and creepy, Take Two has to do with I guess, schizophrenia. It makes you ponder the question of what would happen if said schizophrenic forgot to take her prescribed medication. The female lead in "Two", conveys a realistic aptitude of fear. It's a sufficient, dialogue-free performance.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Gold 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

GoldDirector: Stephen Gaghan
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard

A mediocre businessman and rattled, treasure prospector finds out that there might be gold buried deep in the jungles of Borneo (the largest island in Asia). That's the gist of 2016's Gold, my latest review.

Based loosely on true events (and I do mean loosely), Gold changes the names and places to protect the you know what (ha ha). It's a two hour film that gives you a story told once too often. It's rags to riches then back to rags again. It's also the rise and fall of the untrustworthy American dream. Are parts of Gold entertaining? Yup. Are parts of it fully compelling or invigorating? Eh, a little.

Anyway, Gold stars Matthew McConaughey in the titled character of Kenny Wells. Did he know he wasn't making an Academy Award winner here? Probably not. Regardless, McConaughey is fully committed to his part. Strutting like Les Grossman from his own Tropic Thunder and looking like Albert Finney when Albert played Ebenezer Scrooge, McConaughey dons false teeth, a receding hairline, an over dramatic sense of being, and forty pounds of extra weight. He then proceeds to chew scenery as if he were a canine staring down five T-bone steaks. Matthew's Wells chain smokes and drinks hard liquor in almost every scene in Gold. It's enough to get lung cancer and then have that cancer get cancer. No joke.

As for the rest of the cast, well Edgar Ramirez plays Michael Acosta. Acosta is a geologist and the veritable "straight man" to Kenny Wells. Ramirez seems to be in a lot more movies these days. I almost forgot about him completely after he appeared in 2005's Domino. Lastly, the gleaming Bryce Dallas Howard channels Kenny's longtime girlfriend Kay. She supports him and goes along with his plight before it gets out of hand. Howard comes off as a side trouper but still supplies plenty of eye candy. I dug her retro hair style. Believe that.

Image result for gold 2016 movie scenesNow Gold is set in the late 1980's yet it appears like it could have went down in the mid-70's. Heck, it's still a decent looking film all around. Indonesia appears lush from a helicopter (you could almost imagine Indiana Jones hiding in the background), Nevada is dusty and seedy, and New York is well, New York. Gold's music is by Daniel Pemberton. It sounds similar to something along the lines of trip hop master David Holmes (Holmes scored Ocean's Eleven and Out of Sight). Finally, the choppy editing by Douglas Crise gives Gold the distinction of having slight plot holes. Likewise, Gold supplies you with the feeling that it takes place over a decade when in fact, the happenings pretty much occur within a year's time (1988 to be exact).

All in all, Gold is hardly authentic (get it). It's a movie that might have made more of an impact had it come out fifteen years ago (that's just pure speculation). Nevertheless, it's emulation Scorsese and me-too Paul Thomas Anderson. It also contains remnants of 2009's Middle Men, Johnny Depp's Blow, and last year's War Dogs. If this appeals to you, then it might be worth a look. Still, it sure seems like an odd choice for director Stephen Gaghan. He won a screenplay Oscar for Traffic and got nominated for one with the critically acclaimed Syriana. His Gold is a tad too animated and/or satiric to be taken seriously. Bottom line: It feels like Gaghan might be a little above this material. Overall rating: 2 and a half stars.

Of note: During the last quarter of Gold, Matthew McConaughey's Wells has his picture shown on the front page of a newspaper. The headline actually reads, "Fool's Good". A subtle nod to McConaughey's nastily panned film of the same name? Perhaps. Either way, it's kinda funny.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hidden Figures 2016 * * * Stars

Hidden FiguresDirector: Theodore Melfi
Year: 2016
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst

Wow, it seems like forever since I've viewed a PG-rated film that wasn't cloaked in animation.

That film in question, is Hidden Figures (my latest review). As a true events story based on female African-Americans working at NASA, it's something that any one of any age, could like. You could definitely take the family to it. You could see it on IMAX. And oh yeah, you could show "Hidden" in classrooms if you were a history teacher.

A late 2016 release geared up for Oscar, Hidden Figures is a movie that shows some Disney flair but is actually distributed by 20th Century Fox. There were times when I was reminded of The Right Stuff (scenes of John Glen's Friendship 7 spaceflight are presented) and yes, there were times when I felt like I was watching a women's version of Remember the Titans.

The outcome of "Hidden" may be a little predictable, a little too happy happy, and a little too obvious in the ways things work themselves out. There's also a romantic subplot featured that kind of feels underdeveloped. Oh well. That doesn't mean you can't embrace "Hidden's" infectious, feel good nature.

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Director Theodore Melfi (2014's St. Vincent) gives Hidden Figures a pristine look, capturing the early 1960's segregation and dwindling, racial discrimination in lower Virginia. He also captures effectively, a few space travel sequences via the well known Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, FL. There is conflict in this film but it doesn't overwhelm you. The stakes are just high enough with the olden style tunes of Pharrell Williams happily playing in the background.

As for the performances, well they are admirable and the characters the actors inhabit, are variably likable. Taraji P. Henson is all aces playing brilliant mathematician Katherine Johnson. She gets tapped to calculate the numbers needed to send a U.S. man into space. Octavia Spencer plays real-life Dorothy Vaughan, a supervisor at Langley Research Center. Janelle Monae channels Mary Jackson, a successful engineer who also works at Langley. Finally, Kevin Costner takes on the role of Al Harrison, the fictional director of NASA's Space Task Group. Based on the amount of ticket receipts that Hidden Figures has already brought in ($84 million), it's good to see Costner finally getting his box office sea legs back. "Hidden" is heads and tails above his other fare like Black or White and Criminal.

Image result for hidden figures 2016 movie scenesIn conclusion, I read a fellow critic's review on another website I write for. He deciphered what the title of Hidden Figures means. My similar take is this: Hidden Figures translates into the math equations done by Katherine Johnson that no one knows about. All anyone saw on TV in 1962, was how John Glen successful orbited the Earth three times. My other take is as follows: "Hidden" has to do the oppressed females themselves. They were hidden mind you. They were (and some still are) educated, brilliant, and astute. Because of the color of their skin, it was tough for them to forge ahead in the narrow-minded South. Now do I think Hidden Figures is Academy Award worthy? Somewhat. There are hints that the proceedings feel all too perfect, saccharine-like, and pat. Do I think "Hidden" is entertaining, breezy, and worthy of feeling? Yes of course. Heck, we'll all know the outcome on Feb. 26. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Death Race 2050 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Death Race 2050Director: G. J. Echternkamp
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller

"Drive drive, kill kill, drive drive". That's a song lyric and/or spoken line from Death Race 2050 (my latest review). Split screens, a game of "chicken", Malcolm McDowell surrounded by topless women wearing a topless toupee, virtual reality as an audience medium, video game likeness. "Race 2050" has it all. Sadly, it's an elevated form of cinematic torture, pure torture.

First off, I wonder what Sylvester Stallone might think of this uninspired, post-dated sequel to 1975's drive-in sensation, Death Race 2000. Currently, it's a straight-to-video release so I'm sure he might have been too busy to check it out.

Image result for death race 2050 movie scenesAnyway, the producer of "Race 2050" is 90-year-old Roger Corman. The days of his Boxcar Bertha are long gone. Now, he really needs to check himself. This film is truly bad camp and frankly, I don't get how it could have any appeal whatsoever. Death Race 2050 starts off 2017 in a lousy way. Call it the nonchalant face of death and destruction. Heck, deem it the bastardized lovechild of The Running Man, the bloodied up version of The Cannonball Run, The Road Warrior for the radically inept, or the more violent, trenchant mirror of something like 1971's 200 Motels. This is hyper satire but not entertainment folks. That's unless you're under the influence of some heavy drugs (I don't endorse that notion just so you know).

Now the characters in Death Race 2050, are remorseless, unfeeling, and brainwashed. They arrive in their automobiles with the B movie techniques of rear projection and bluescreen totally evident. Their acting is hammy and shoddy. The soundtrack to "Race 2050" is I guess, annoying heavy metal rock. Finally, the cars featured (the title has "race" in it so go figure) are pointed and atypical. Within "Race 2050's" plot workings, heads are severed, torsos are cut in half, and blood spattering is cartoon-like. It's all fun and games till someone gets hurt. Oh yeah, everyone gets hurt and dies without so much as a whimper (or empathy for that matter).

Silly, over of the top, and taking place in the year 2050 (duh), Death Race 2050 makes you long for something more akin to 2008's remake of Death Race 2000 simply titled, Death Race. That film wasn't really good to begin with. However, it at least took itself seriously enough to be made for somewhat compelling viewing. "Race 2050'" tries to be compelling in its last half. It even throws around the terms "Resistance" and "rebels". Futile attempt (ha ha). Don't the producers know that this is something already taken from the Star Wars franchise? Natch.

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Lack of originality and kookiness aside, "Race 2050's" cast is comprised of Malcolm McDowell playing the same, sadistic monitor that he channeled in last year's 31. And look for Drop Zone's Yancy Butler in a small yet overacted role (it's sad that "Zone" is the last flick I remember her being in). As for the special effects, well they are cheesy and caricaturish and you know what, I think the filmmakers wanted it that way. Ugh.

All in all, the story concerning Death Race 2050, is about planet Earth being post-apocalyptic and overpopulated. America has renamed its 50 states (Arkansas is now called "Walmartinique") and in order to control said population, drivers compete in an annual "Death Race". Basically, they drive across country while killing everyday denizens with their slickly automobiles (they hastily score points too, double ugh). The main trouper is Frankenstein played by New Zealand-born Manu Bennett. He's like Mel Gibson with a big fat frog in his throat. You know what, I'm just gonna refrain from going on and on. Here's my overall rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Live by Night 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

Live by NightDirector: Ben Affleck
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson

Ah yes, another holdover from last year. So OK, would I put it in my top ten? Oh absotively boss, absotively! Here goes nothing:

What I've adapted from Live by Night (my latest review), is that Ben Affleck has yet to oversee a bad movie. His direction here is lush and unwittingly glossy. Heck, I've never known a filmmaker to make Tampa Bay look so darn profuse. The cinematography, set design, period detail, and costume design concerning "Night", are all of the highest order. The goon characters love their fedoras and the women characters love their Cloches.

"Night's" setting is 1920's Boston and late 1920's South Florida. A frenzied car chase here, a speedy robbery there. Yeah, this is Affleck's The Cotton Club (minus the dancing), his Public Enemies, his Road to Perdition. It's the Good Ol' Days coupled with the good old boys. Yup, it's a slam-bang, action style event.

Image result for live by night movie movie scenesAnyway, Ben Affleck narrates along with playing Joe Coughlin, a World War I veteran. He's a small time crook who doesn't want to exist as a gangster but ends up being one anyway. Like Affleck's own trouper in The Town, he's a nice guy criminal who eventually wants to leave the bad guy life. He's not about the kills and he's not about the forgone anguish.

Affleck has cast himself in the lead in three of the four films he has helmed. Between Argo, "Night", and "Town", Live by Night is his finest work lighting both ends of the candle. At 129 minutes, "Night" is not overlong by most gangster flick standards. However, it could have used a little tighter editing. Nevertheless, its stride is frantic with Affleck's camera flying all over the place (it truly whips and follows). Bullet-ridden, bloody, and despairing are words I would use in my hasty description.

Live by Night is rampantly based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. The Drop, Mystic River, and Gone Baby Gone are other movies adapted from Lehane's writing. In terms of the music, well the score by Harry Gregson-Williams gives Live by Night a sense of foreboding throughout. The cast including Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, an unrecognizable Sienna Miller, and Zoe Saldana, harbor great supporting work throughout as well. Lastly, the concluding, gruesome shootout scene in "Night" is its ultimate pinnacle. I didn't pick up on the irony firsthand. Regardless, it sealed my heralded recommendation.

Image result for live by night movie movie scenesAll in all, I've liked every single movie that Ben Affleck has ever directed. With 2016's Live by Night, he's now batting 1000. This film "lives" and breathes freely. Hot dawg! Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 16, 2017

Patriots Day 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

Patriots DayDirector: Peter Berg
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J. K. Simmons

Just recently, I posted my top ten movie picks for 2016. I don't plan on augmenting them but if I did, Mark Wahlberg's latest would defiantly make the top five. So OK, I will now give you my observations for Patriots Day, one of this year's best.

"Day" is directed by Peter Berg. He has done everything from sports dramas to black comedies to hero-ed tributes. Patriots Day is by far his best work. It's the culmination of his ever changing career as a filmmaker. You want a story told based on actual events? Go with Berg and "Day". You want interviews from denizens who lived through said events? Peter Berg is the man. You want cinema that's militarily overwrought? Peter Berg for mayor. Finally, do you want the notion of harmless, unsteady camerawork included? Peter Berg is all over it. Remember when I said that I hoped Patriots Day would fill the void left by Berg's disappointing, Deepwater Horizon? Trust me, it did. Boy did it ever.  

Anyhow, one thing you have to know about "Day", is that it's not a movie merely starring Mr. Mark Wahlberg (his trouper supposedly didn't exist). Yeah he's probably the biggest known headliner and yeah, his name is at the top of the poster. Still, Patriots Day is not that kind of thriller. The more realistic players are the heightened city of Boston, the real-life people that the film honors, and well, the flick's disciplined attention to particulars. "Day" is told chronologically, with title cards listing various characters, various Massachusetts locales, and time allocated after the infamous Boston Marathon bombings ("Day's" main intrigue). It's the info you never knew even though the happenings were all over the media circa 2013.

As a movie, I would've thrown out "Day's" last ten minutes which feel like a separate documentary about the bombing victims. As a paean to said victims however, it seems totally justified. The Boston Marathon bombings signified the truest threat of U.S. terrorism since 9/11. Even though they occurred only three years prior, Patriots Day doesn't give you the feeling that it's too soon for a movie to come out about the whole thing. Heck, Berg as always, has had the utmost sympathy for tragic, true-life happenings anyway.

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Salutes and testimonials aside, "Day's" cast is adequate with well known veterans like John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J, K. Simmons, and Michelle Monaghan inhabiting all 133 minutes. The music which I feel is everything, is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It's all tops. It's seething and numbing and gives Patriots Day a supremely hard edge to it. Getting back to Peter Berg, well his direction is gritty, intrepid, and balls out. The strongest part of "Day" is when the young bombers are trying to escape. They murder, steal cars, kidnap, and finally have a standoff with police in the Boston suburb of Watertown. This standoff is violent and bloody with guns blazing and explosives erupting. I guess it could offend the people who lived through this experience because it turns "Day" into a sort of Michael Mann action film. Oh well. I found it tension-filled. My heart was racing and my stomach was in my throat. Overall, Patriots Day is powerful and graphic. It's not just a movie, it's an experience. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sleepless 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

SleeplessDirector: Baran bo Oda
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney

Undercover cop steals cocaine from a kingpin high up on the drug food chain. Said kingpin kidnaps undercover cop's son and holds him for ransom until large amounts of blow are returned. Undercover cop is then followed and tormented by internal affairs plus every other criminal ruffian with a gun. So OK, that's the gist of Sleepless. It's my first review of 2017.

One thing I know about Sleepless, is that it will never leave you bored. This is probably one of the fastest paced thrillers I've ever seen in any genre. In between trying to take a breath, you the moviegoer get to experience endless fistfights, stabbings, and delectable shootouts. Sleepless (I'm not sure what the title means) is gritty, nasty, perpetually violent, and unforgiving. Yeah entertainment value exits here but there's very little character buildup. At 95 exhausting minutes, Sleepless is kinda more "soulless" than symbolic.

As a critic, I wanna rewind for a second. The movie poster for Sleepless has just one dude in frame. The movie poster for Training Day has Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke on it. Both posters however, look similar. Both lead actors have their heads turned to the right, both lead actors have their badges around their necks, and both leads carry the same intimidatingly badass look. It's just too bad Sleepless doesn't invigorate or compel you like Training Day once did back in 2001. That ship has sailed. Heck, that dog won't hunt.

Sleepless, which unfortunately got dumped into the month of January, is like a clone of a written or directed David Ayer project. The only difference is that Ayer's scripting is a little more grandiloquent and you know what, he was the pioneer of the dirty cop thriller (movement) to begin with. For kicks and giggles, this film is set in Las Vegas (I don't think I've ever seen a police drama take place in the Entertainment Capital of the World) and has a sleazy B movie feel to it. With no known Academy Award value attached, you could basically call Sleepless B movie fare with just a bigger budget ($30 million to boot).

Image result for sleepless 2016 jamie foxx movie scenesDirected by Switzerland-born Baran bo Odar (he helmed 2014's Who Am I), Sleepless consists of countless actor/actress closeups, layers upon layers of twist villains, and innumerable aerial shots of Sin City. I found the aerial stuff sort of amusing since the whole movie takes place in just one Vegas casino. Sleepless also has a few extras and/or side troupers whose screen time is almost laughable. Examples are a spa receptionist, a bathroom attendant, and a rental security guard. Were they there for comic relief? Who knows. The filmmakers obviously gave these people scale pay and you know what, it seemed like they were happy just to be in the unions. Ugh.

In terms of casting, well lead Jamie Foxx grumbles, co-star Michelle Monaghan rages, co-star Dermot Mulroney looks forlorn, and "with" cast member Gabrielle Union channels the pissed off, ex-wife. Overall, I went into Sleepless with low expectations. I then came out thinking it wasn't that horrible. Nevertheless, it still gets a sympathetic mixed review. Give me Street Kings, Bad Lieutenant, Unlawful Entry, or Training Day (mentioned earlier) as an alternative viewing experience. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2016

Image result for snowden movie poster1. Snowden * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Overall, Snowden is heads and tails above Oliver's box office bomb Alexander, his weak sequel in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and his conventional World Trade Center from a decade ago. It feels like the flick he was born to make." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 61%
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2. The Edge of Seventeen * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Now make no mistake about it, The Edge of Seventeen is not some cutesy high school flick that is deemed appropriate for young teenagers. No this is a darker affair with various sweet moments kind of buried beneath the R-rated raunch and the R-rated angst. The writing is nevertheless crisp, the casting is almost spot-on, and there are some adequate character revelations." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 94%
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3. Sully * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Sully starts out mid-plot, starts out as non-linear, and feels a little draggy (no pun intended). It then turns to aviation while switching into high gear. So far it is one of this year's best films, a harrowing technical achievement, a fascinating recreation of events in the weakest of our economic times." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 85%

Image result for fences 2016 movie poster4. Fences * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Fences is a talky picture, made somewhat for the stage with its extended group scenes and singular moments of standoff violence. Don't shy away though. This is still powerful stuff, with timed acting of the highest order." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 94%
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5. Elvis & Nixon * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Director Liza Johnson (2011's Return) and three screenwriters fashion something whimsical, something special, and something kind of offbeat with Elvis & Nixon. Nothing in frame seems to be taken too seriously." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 76%

6. Don't Breathe * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Don't Breathe is bloodily violent and stomach-turning but not in a demon sort of way. Instead, it absorbs you as if you've been in the theater for 2-plus hours. It's a little movie made on a tiny budget (under $10 million) but it nestles in your brain and has a big chip on its shoulder. If you're a fan of suspense and like simple agog, genre pleasures, "Breathe" is the ticket." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 87%
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7. 10 Cloverfield Lane * * * 1/2 Stars  My quote as a critic: "10 Cloverfield Lane with its bedazzling score, its claustrophobic setting eliminating plenty of storyline holes, and its 1950's bunker overtones, is an effectual, nerve-shredding thriller. It evokes Hitchcock, The Twilight Zone, and doesn't need extra images of monsters to invigorate you, the viewer." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 90%

Image result for war dogs movie poster8. War Dogs * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "War Dogs is a step above most cinema endeavors that have hit theaters in the "dog" days of August. Just call director Todd Phillips the surprising lovechild of 90's Scorsese and Andrew Niccol. The only difference is that he is not quite as self-serious." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 60%

9. Hell or High Water * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Hell or High Water is familiar stuff. Heck, if you've seen Public EnemiesBanditsPoint Break, or even 1986's Wisdom, you know what you're getting into. Oh well. Director David Mackenzie (SpreadStarred Up) does an admirable job to boot. He creates a world in which "High Water" feels like the type of flick the Coen brothers would have made years ago. It's bullets and blood undercut with a little darkness, a little tongue in cheek humor, and shades of a modern-day Western." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 98%

9. (tie) The Confirmation * * * Stars  My quote as a critic: "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." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 91%

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10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is sumptuous, gritty, unwashed, and beautiful. It's like cinematic, Empire perfume for it truly stinks pretty. Granted, this isn't a Star Wars endeavor that will bring out the kid in you. This is more attuned to the adult or young adult for that matter." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 85%

Honorable mention: Manchester by the Sea, Bad Moms, Eddie the Eagle, Hacksaw Ridge, Hail, Caesar!, Nerve, The TakeThese are good films that didn't quite make the cut.

And the worst...

1. Undrafted * Star
My quote as a critic: "Undrafted is about a crass, intramural team trying to win a meaningless, seven inning game. Supposedly, it is based on a true story involving the director's brother (John Mazzello). Real-life Johnny boy failed to make the Major League Baseball draft. If this is an admiral tribute to him, well then you can just call me the veritable Cal Ripken Jr." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 17%

2. Precious Cargo * Star
My quote as a critic: "Precious Cargo has villains in it that don't shoot straight, a typecast Bruce 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." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 0%

3. Exposed * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "When its best performance is given by a washed-up, recluse rapper (Big Daddy Kane), you know the proceedings are in trouble. When its opening sequence takes forever and sets a bad precedent for what lies ahead, you know the proceedings are in trouble. And finally, when its director doesn't want to reveal his (or her) actual name, you know the proceedings are in trouble. Exposed can easily be renamed, Excruciating." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 5%

4. The Darkness * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "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." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 4%

5. The Boss * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Edited in a slipshod manner by Craig Alpert (he chopped Ride Along and The Sitter), taking place in Chicago with a lazy, pedestrian-like use of its locales, and containing a scene in which the leads pet each other's breasts for three minutes straight (excruciating), "Boss" is not even offensively funny. It's just plain offensive." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 22%

5. (tie) Blair Witch * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "So OK, Blair Witch (my latest review) is the direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project. It is made for more money, it is indisputably made to be more modern, and it is more tech-savvy. No matter. 2016's "Witch" lacks the intensity, extremity, and psychological warfare that made 1999's "Project" such a worldwide financial success. It takes the worn out path, reveling in systematic jump scares that are drawn up out of thin air. Translation: "Witch" is sadly, half hitch." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 35%

Written by Jesse Burleson