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Friday, March 31, 2017

CHiPs 2017 * 1/2 Stars

CHiPsDirector: Dax Shepard
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D'Onofrio

Cool cars, explosions, wire decapitations, men calling women d*cks and a-holes. Yeah it's all here in the stupefied reboot of CHiPs (my latest review).

Anyway, after seeing 2012's Hit and Run, I didn't think Hollywood had it in them to greenlight another Dax Shepard movie. I was mistaken. Here we are in the present where CHiPs has Shepard as writer, producer, director, possible stuntman, and star.

Dax Shepard, who might be the rude, cinematic stepchild of Hal Needham, plays Jon A. Baker. Baker is a guy who on a whim, makes the California Highway Patrol as a probationary officer. He loves to load up on Arby's, he pops tons of pills, and his disposition is altogether feminine. Baker joins the CHP in order to impress his snobby spouse who separated from him. In reality, this dimwitted buffoon wouldn't have a chance at being a real cop. Trust me. The big oaf can't even shoot straight.

With the addition of Shepard's wife (Kristin Bell) being featured in a small role and some in your face motorcycle chases, CHiPs might be the ultimate ego trip for Dax (as a kid I guess he was always a fan of things with a motor). My thinking is that Shepard could get by as a character actor but he should never be able to have full control over a film again.

So OK, you're curious to why I'm obviously panning CHiPs. Well it's unnecessary, assembly line junk. For one thing, CHiPs has literally nothing to do with the TV show it's based upon. The only similarities are the main character's names (Francis "Ponch" Poncherello and Jon Baker), the warm Cali setting, and the faint sounds of a modern day CHiPs theme playing in the background. In truth, if you were a fan of said show which ran from 1977-1983, CHiPs the movie will come off as a complete insult to your fandom. Sadly there were five people at the CHiPs screening I was at. I'm sure they all felt the same way.

Now according to its wiki page, CHiPs the TV show was categorized as a action crime dramedy. Shepard's movie on the other hand, is just another raunchy, R-rated claptrap that doesn't deserve the CHiPs name. Heck, it probably should've garnered a separate title altogether. Oh and you gotta wonder why Michael Pena, an actor who appeared in Academy Award stuff like Crash, Million Dollar Baby, and Babel, would agree to co-star alongside Shepard. He obviously didn't read the screenplay and owed Shep a favor.

Image result for CHiPs 2017 movie scenesSpeaking of Dax Shepard's script, well it's patchy, vexatious, and painfully unfunny. There's no genuine comic timing between the actors in CHiPs. Their jokes and/or quips have no meaningful payoffs. Shepard would rather his movie concentrate more on the aspects of homophobia, masturbation, colitis, tossing salad (don't ask), or chopper equipment than actual police work (or a story which CHiPs clearly doesn't have). Vincent D'Onofrio and Jessica McNamee play two of the many villains in CHiPs. But because this flick is so poorly edited, you clearly don't know what criminal activities they committed in order for everyone to wanna hunt them down.

All in all, CHiPs concludes with none other than the TV show's original star, Erik Estrada. He makes a small cameo in the back of an ambulance. He too talks about tossing salad (a slang term for eating one's anus) in his five minutes of screen time. Tragic. His co-star (Larry Wilcox) from back in the day, didn't appear in the movie version of CHiPs. Good move Larry. You're better for it. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Life 2017 * * * 1/2 Stars

LifeDirector: Daniel Espinosa
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds

Six members of the International Space Station, bring back with them what appears to be the first confirmation of living existence on Mars. They name it "Calvin" and attempt to call it that at every turn (I found this really annoying). "Calvin" after being awoken with electric shock therapy (not a good idea), turns on said members and is bent towards slaying them one by one. This leech-like creature can survive in any environment and its growth spurt is indeed rapid. As one biologist from the agog crew states, "it doesn't hate any human but it needs to kill to survive." How reassuring.

Anyway, that's the gist of 2017's Life, my latest review. Minus a happy ending (it's the antithesis to 2013's Gravity) and containing traumatizing ways in which space workers die, Life is a Twilight Zone nightmare and an effective one at that. It's the type of trepidation you tell your friends about after you leave the theater shaken like a Vesper Martini.

Related imageRyan Reynolds co-stars in Life. I've never been a huge fan of his so I was happily surprised when Ryan's character was the first one to perish in outer space (spoiler alert). I can always do without his smarmy personality. On the other end of the spectrum, there's Jake Gyllenhaal. Although I haven't seen every Gyllenhaal movie, the ones I have seen him in are all recommendable. Truth be told, he's one of the best actors in the business. Jake also co-stars in Life. Yeah, it's one of this year's best films.

So hey, Life is good. No I'm not talking about life itself, I'm talking about the darn movie. Critics have been calling it a retread of Alien. Allow me to retort. Life is an unsettling, sci-fi horror film that stands on its own. It doesn't need to be compared to Ridley Scott's 1979 megahit. Now granted, Ridley is gearing up for a resurgence in the Alien franchise titled, Alien: Covenant. Life, with its nasty life form looking a starfish from hell and then growing into a badass serpent, will aptly bide time with science fiction enthusiasts. Originally slated to be released in May, it makes sense that Life got moved back to this month. I mean why should there be a need to compete with "Covenant" and a legend like Scott.

Tentacle alien species and slight movie plagiarism aside, Life is directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa. Remember his 2012 release Safe House? I do and this is a heck of a lot better. Espinosa does a bang-up job with Life, creating an outer atmosphere in which fervent fear and mission failure are inevitable. The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, requires the crew members in Life to eventually lose all radio communication with planet Earth. I know it's a sci-fi thriller cliche but that notion is still very unsettling.

Getting back to director Espinosa. He opens the film via a single continuous shot for the ages, letting his camera follow troupers with the impulse of zero gravity lingering. He then infuses lots of actor close-ups during Life's brisk. 103-minute running time. Not going too overboard with the required, space probe gimmickry, Mr. Espinosa moves the proceedings along, giving Life ratcheting tension right from the 30-minute mark. With a modest budget of $58 million, Life doesn't lack originality (as mentioned earlier). Instead, it reinvents it adding panache to the sci-fi genre cesspool. Bottom line: Life is a real winner. Again, I'm talking about the dang movie. Natch. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mad Families 2017 * Star

Mad FamiliesDirector: Fred Wolf
Year: 2017
Rated NR
Rating: * Star
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Leah Remini, Naya Rivera

I met Clint Howard in South Bend, Indiana during a film festival. It was three years ago. He's a nice guy. Therefore, I wish I could go back in time to tell him not to appear in 2017's Mad Families (my latest review).

So OK, what do you get when you put Charlie Sheen, Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, Howard, Leah Remini, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Chris Mulkey in a quasi-movie together? Well, you get the weirdest casting combo since 2004's Wild Hogs. You also get one of the most annoying films this side of last year's Undrafted. I ranked Undrafted the worst piece of cinematic crap via 2016. It's only March but Mad Families might take 2017's Razzie prize come December.

Oh I almost forgot, Dennis Quaid is sadly featured in a cameo during the ninety minute running time of "Families" (seventy-five if you take out the commercials and end credits). He plays a park ranger who slurps rum and watches porn. I'm gonna have to watch him in Breaking Away just to get those images out of my head. Ugh.

Image result for mad families movie scenesAnyway, "Families" is about three families comprised of African Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians. They have similar last names and because of a computer error, they all book the same camp site on a hot Fourth of July weekend. These socially inept weirdos have a competition and whoever wins said competition, gets to stay and take in the leafy wilderness at Site 16. IMDb doesn't indicate where the proceedings were shot but hey, who cares. Oh and "Families" doesn't have an MPAA rating but I'll go with a hard PG-13. Again, who cares.

Cultural tensions, ratings, and sparkler holidays aside, Mad Families is a so-called comedy about race and it feels really dated. Characters bicker, fight aimlessly, tell jokes, and project themselves as total buffoons. I wanted to slap these hackneyed characters and the actors who play them. Are these troupers appearing in Mad Families strictly for the paycheck? Maybe. Are they embarrassing themselves regardless? Yup.

What's worse is that this flick's production company (Crackle), appears on screen via the lower right-hand corner throughout. I don't think I've ever seen that in a movie before. Pretty lame and tacky if you ask me. Bottom line: "Families" as an Internet release, should've never been made. David Spade co-wrote the script and you wish that he would just go back to being on the canceled sitcom, Rules of Engagement. Nevertheless, my rating is one star only because I don't give zero stars to anything. After all, making a film is hard work even if it sucks as much as this drivel.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Belko Experiment 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

The Belko ExperimentDirector: Greg McLean
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jim Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona

A Columbia setting, murder by tape dispenser, the hero being the same guy who got offed by John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane, kneel down executions during a Spanish version of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive". Yeah it's all present in 2016's The Belko Experiment (my latest review).

So OK, here's the gist: Eighty employees are working at Belko Industries (a fictional company). They become trapped in the facility's huge office building. The walls are sealed off, the air conditioning has been shut down, the security guards are replaced, and an unknown intercom voice instructs the workers to kill thirty of their own or sixty will die instead. I guess you can cross off Hawaiian shirt day or any staff promotions that week. Bummer.

Now I like horror films. I like thrillers. Heck, I like a little dark humor as well. "Belko" is a mixture of all three. Just imagine 1999's Office Space and The Maze Runner having a cinematic offspring. Now imagine that same offspring turning into a raving sicko. In truth, a truckload of people die in The Belko Experiment. And hey, it's all for the study of human behavior done by lucid, social scientists. To call this movie disturbing is like calling Donald Trump's approval rating unsatisfactory. Both statements are inherently true.

Image result for The belko experiment 2016 movie scenesAnyway, "Belko" is directed by Greg McLean. He's the same dude who did the serial killer flick, Wolf Creek. Greg has a clear vision in that he wants you to squirm one minute and laugh mildly the next. There are exploding heads, endless blood splattering, and death by axes, guns, and knives. Oh and the elevator music in between is a nice touch. That's right, elevator music.

In terms of casting for The Belko Experiment, well it reads like a list of veteran B actors who randomly show up in commercial movies from time to time. Yes I'm talking about Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, and Michael Rooker. Call me crazy but I think Greg McLean put Rooker in "Belko" just to remind everybody that he was in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And McGinley, well wasn't he in Office Space mentioned earlier? Just a random thought.

Image result for The belko experiment 2016 movie scenesAll in all, The Belko Experiment has almost no character development in its gory eighty-eight minutes. And within the first ten, you have to quickly get to know everyone and the peril they are about to go through. With its corporate thumb nailing, its dead bodies spread out like mouse droppings, and its cubical nature, "Belko" does contain a startling ending that reveals a bigger picture than the movie itself. And yes, this flick is fairly well done and will affect you somewhat psychologically. However, The Belko Experiment feels too demented and/or twisted to freely garner a recommendation. Call it bloody, B-movie mayhem. Call it a maverick, "experimental" model. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island 2017 * * Stars

Kong: Skull IslandDirector: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson

Kong: Skull Island is a big budget movie that likes to show off. It's got Richard M. Nixon bobble-heads, Sam Jackson making another silly speech, and John C. Reilly playing a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Being a die hard White Sox fan myself, my question is this: Did "Skull" really need to be made in the first place? No. But hey, all Hollywood execs have to corral a buck.

In Kong: Skull Island, King Kong as usual, beats his chest and roars. In Kong: Skull Island, King Kong the monster is the protagonist once again. In Kong: Skull Island, the story minus timeline constraints, involves a bunch of eager beavers venturing into forbidden Skull Island not knowing the dangers that await them. In Kong: Skull Island, the only thing missing is Kong scaling the Empire State Building. So OK, Kong: Skull Island at a cost of $185 million, is my latest review.

A large cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, and Brie Larson, gets lost in the shuffle via "Skull". And as the eighth film in the King Kong franchise, "Skull" also suffers from pacing that's a little off, a lack of cinematic freshness, and some real patchy editing.

Image result for kong: skull island 2017 movie scenesSo all right, what's left to admire during Kong: Skull Island's two-hour running time? Well it's the special effects and capable cinematography courtesy of Hawaii and Australia.

Now if you decide to view "Skull", you'll probably reminisce about Colonel Kurtz, Martin Sheen, mangoes, and good old "Charlie". Let me explain.

Call it a hunch but I think director Jordan Vogt-Roberts viewed 1979's Apocalypse Now before even making "Skull". I mean how else do you explain the presence of colored smoke grenades, patrol boats going upriver, rampant palm trees, slow motion sounds of helicopter rotor blades, and a similar movie poster depicting Earth's huge, tucked away sun. Yeah Kong: Skull Island bleeds nostalgia for Coppola's drawn-out vision of the Vietnam War. Too bad it's not nearly as epic. Sigh.

Image result for kong: skull island 2017 movie scenesWistful candor and fledgling choppers aside, "Skull" has decent visual effects shots and a scorched look. However, it possesses these traits in nothing but standard fashion. Peter Jackson did more twelve years ago with 2005's vaguely titled, King Kong. Of course Jackson's film is bloated at three hours long. And yes, it also contains the same structural miscues as Kong: Skull Island. Nevertheless, 2005's "Kong" is more eye candy than "Skull" will ever be.

With King Kong, Jackson inserted some real nasty CGI creatures in the form of giant bugs, "Scorpio-pedes", and "Piranhadon". Vogt-Roberts instead, goes the military route giving us an overly violent PG-13 flick that just gets by. Bottom line: I'm a sucker for 60's/70's rock tunes and "Skull" has that kind of a soundtrack (better yet, it's obsessed with said soundtrack). Also, King Kong is a character that in any one of his movies, will never just go away. Nonetheless, I can't quite give Kong: Skull Island a true recommendation. No need to rush out and visit this "island" any time soon. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I.T. 2016 * * * Stars

I.T.Director: John Moore
Year: 2016
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, James Frecheville, Anna Friel

I've seen Unlawful Entry. I've seen 1996's Fear. I.T. (my latest review) feels similar and in terms of being a guilty pleasure, I sort of liked it. Pierce Brosnan plays the protagonist for a change. He grits his teeth and rages. Based on his recent run of glitzy projects, Brosnan senses the need to be executive producer here as well. In other casting news, James Frecheville portrays I.T.'s twenty-something antagonist. He's real nasty and out of control. 

Now I.T. doesn't have an MPAA rating but I'll saddle it with a formidable R. It's shoddily violent with a few F words and a masturbation scene. As far as Internet releases go, this ode to gloss, sheen, and deadly hard drives, is formidably above the Mendoza line.

Anyway, I.T. gets the reward for being the slickest, most techy thriller I've viewed in many a moon. It's about an aviation tycoon developing an Uber-like app, an app made to get people in a plane to fly cross country. In regards to I.T.'s look, well it's so sterile and pristine, you could literally lick the surface off of any screen it's playing on.

Slickness and high-tech proficiency aside, I.T. doesn't feel like present day. It appears as if it takes place in the future (maybe twenty years ahead). The moral of its story is that you should never mess with a computer genius who works for you and wants to take out your underage daughter. He might be a sociopath, a hacker, or a lonely screw head. And if you rub him the wrong way, he may be bent on ruining your life.

Image result for i.t. 2016 movie scenes pierce brosnanWith I.T., there are sleek automobiles, a reincarnation of the song "Words" by Missing Persons, an environment mostly populated by the upper class, and Pierce using an Irish accent this time around. It makes sense. This dude is in fact, Irish. Also, I.T. contains a Baltimore, Md setting, co-stars that resemble notables (Brosnan's daughter and wife characters look like a young Ginnifer Goodwin and Annette Bening respectively), and a director who gets a bounce back period from dreck like A Good Day to Die Hard and Max Payne (that would be Ireland's own John Moore).

All in all, I.T. is far from epic. It produces an ending that is rote and variably abrupt. However, this flick is willful and tightly edited in a way that could satisfy any audience member looking for a rental time killer. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Running Wild 2017 * * Stars

Running WildDirector: Alex Ranarivelo
Year: 2017
Rated PG
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Sharon Stone, Tommy Flanagan, Jason Lewis

Martin Scorsese and Paul Verhoeven once saw talent in Sharon Stone. I still see it. Unfortunately, her fledgling acting career has dwindled down to almost nothing. Now, she's co-starring in little seen films made by unknown production companies. Yes I'm talking about 2017's Running Wild (my latest review).

"Wild's" diegesis goes like this: Stella Davis (played by Dorian Brown) becomes a widow after her rancher husband dies in a car crash. Stella's late hubby failed to inform her that he was six million dollars in debt. The improbable solution: Save her soon-to-be, foreclosed ranch by hiring convicts to restore wild horses that happened to wander onto the Davis property.

Image result for Running wild 2017 movie scenesAnywho, Running Wild's "running" time is 99 minutes. Most of these minutes are monetarily far-fetched. With beautiful scenery (courtesy of Napa Valley) and a feel-good ending, this is the type of cinematic fodder that caters to a certain group of people. For example, the Christian groups love their Left Behind and God's Not Dead movies. The wine connoisseurs, well they dig stuff like Sideways and Bottle Shock. "Wild" seems bent on satisfying the stallion enthusiast in all of us. Case in point: The title card at the end of this flick says, "For all of our horse loving friends". Nuff said.

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo (he competed in the third season of Project Greenlight) and filmed almost a year and a half ago, Running Wild's opening scene is undramatic and quickly edited (that would be the car crash segment mentioned earlier). If I had to classify "Wild", I'd say that it's a straightforward drama with a TV feel. It also contains middle-of-the-road acting, sweeping aerial shots of northern California, and plenty of high-tailed thoroughbreds.

Now "Wild" does have some solicitous moments with Ranarivelo's camera glowingly tracking and the Cali sun glistening. However, it all adds up to the equivalent of watching a filmstrip built on clamoring to the horse whisperers of the world. It's amusing and educational but not quite worth recommending. Bottom line: Running Wild is at best, a last-ditch family rental on a Saturday night. Call it "Graze of Heaven". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson