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Friday, April 28, 2017

The Circle 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

The CircleDirector: James Ponsoldt
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega

Tom Hanks is one of the world's biggest movie stars. When his name is attached to a project, it's an event. The box office numbers will be fairly ample and a certain amount of buzz will follow. In The Circle (my latest review), the buzz might have already came and went.

Hanks takes on a supporting role in "Circle". That's right, a supporting role. He fades in and out of the film and you wonder why he actually agreed to be in it. Tom might have thought "Circle's" script looked like Oscar gold on paper. Or better yet, he might have been doing director James Ponsoldt a solemn service. Either way, his appearance although aberrant, is not a career killer for him. Tom's career is already assured.

Image result for The circle 2017 movie scenesThe Circle, with its overextended foothold on the aspects of social media, is fascinating. I mean, it would have been really fascinating had it come out over thirty years ago. Now, with its story being just intriguing enough, it also feels like it contains a little too much hooey for my taste. "Circle" although inferior, makes The Truman Show seem like Romper Room in comparison. Furthermore, it makes better, paranoid thrillers like Snowden appear more akin to a Sunday stroll. The Circle clocking in at just under two hours, is the ultimate invasion of privacy flick. I was reminded of Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" with every bleeding second.

Containing a sterile look, featuring annoyingly inept side characters, and harboring an unclear ending (the protagonist's motivations are either revenge or plain-old betterment), "Circle" chronicles one Mae Holland (played with straight faced discipline by Emma Watson). Mae looking to better her human potential, takes a job at an Internet corporation called The Circle. She quickly moves up the corporate ladder, becoming The Circle's forgone messiah. Holland eventually gets in over her head, blurring the company lines of surveillance, seclusion, and personal freedom. Tom Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, the head and co-founder of The Circle. In truth, Hanks and Watson give performances that rise above the otherwise, overly serious material. Also, the late Bill Paxton does decent work as Vinnie Holland, Mae's heavily disabled father.

Image result for The circle 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, The Circle isn't a lousy movie but it doesn't come close to being of Hanksian proportions. It paints a bleak rendering of the future complete with marble-sized cameras, plenty of flying drones, and visibly overused text messages. You'll be absorbed by its level of paranoia, its eye in the sky platitudes. At the same time, you'll be turned off by "Circle's" lack of warmth and secret society buffoonery. Call it a larger version of cinematic coterie. Call it EDtv for the satirically challenged. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 21, 2017

Unforgettable 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

UnforgettableDirector: Denise Di Novi
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults

"I'm done with crazy." So quips the trouper of David Connover from 2017's Unforgettable (my latest review). Me, well I'm not done with kitschy, dramatic thrillers because I go back to them every chance I get. It's a sickness and a darkened room escape I tell you.

Taking place in Northern and Southern California, Unforgettable is slick, trashy, lacks artistic value, and provides guilty pleasure entertainment. If you've seen the trailer, you don't need to be a genius to figure out what's gonna happen over the next 100 minutes (Unforgettable's lively running time). Similar yet restrained compared to Obsessed, Swimfan, 1992's Unlawful Entry, The Perfect Guy, and 2015's The Boy Next Door, Unforgettable is sadly my kind of contrite, film scanning. Call it a cinematic love-hate relationship for the viewer. Call it a stock, agitation-filled train wreck that you can't look away from.

Image result for unforgettable 2017 movie scenesNow Unforgettable despite a minor twist and some decent performances, still comes off as predictable with a sort of hooey ending. Watching it, you feel one step ahead of everyone and the foreseeable actions they partake in. Oh well. Director Denise Di Novi does manage to create a little tension and for much of the way, Unforgettable masks itself as a nasty, manipulative ride. Heck, you'll never look at Facebook, online chatting, or a hair brush the same way again.

The story is as follows: Julia Banks (played by Rosario Dawson) and David Connover (played by a low key Geoff Stults), are about to be engaged. David also has a child with his ex-wife, Tessa (played by Katherine Heigl). Julia and David's engagement doesn't sit well with deranged, unstable Tessa. She literally lives right next to the future spouses and looks to make Julia's life a living hell. There are murders, a framing of a murder, legendary cat-fights, and gerrymandering of today's social media (cell phones, cell phone photos, and the aforementioned Facebook). Heigl's Tessa is everywhere, looking as though there are holograms made for her.

Image result for unforgettable 2017 movie scenesZuckerberg's creation and batsh*t craziness aside, if you've seen the movies mentioned earlier in this review, you'll know that Unforgettable is familiar stuff. The thing that helps it become almost recommendable is the acting of Dawson and Heigl. They rise above the material presented, throwing themselves into character and giving nerve ending turns. I'll give Heigl and Dawson a rating of three stars and every other element in Unforgettable two. My overall rating: 2 and a half stars. Unforgettable isn't entirely "forgettable" but compared to something like the superior Fatal Attraction (I almost forgot about that flick), it's second tier and not that "compatible". My advice for Dawson's Banks from the first half hour of Unforgettable was this: Get out of the inevitably bad situation woman! It's real simple.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Covenant 2017 * * Stars

The CovenantDirector: Robert Conway
Year: 2017
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Monica Engesser, Owen Conway, Clint James

Sarah Doyle (played by Monica Engesser), loses her daughter in a drowning accident and then her husband commits suicide. She later decides to move in with her brother (Richard Doyle played by Owen Conway) and gets possessed by a demon. Talk about having a bad luck streak. Anyway, that's the gist of The Covenant, my latest review.

Not to be confused with 2006's film harboring the same title, "Covenant" has some incestuous moments that reminded me of 1981's Amityville II: The Possession. In fact, director Robert Conway turns The Covenant into cinematic potluck ripping off movies like Paranormal Activity, The Exorcist (the concluding bedroom scene feels totally copied), The Conjuring, and the aforementioned "Possession". Technically, his direction isn't awful yet his flick is spoofed, trashy, and cheesy to a fault. He trades jump scares for ghastly images and quick, banal flashbacks. He then squanders detailed special effects for low budgeting. Bottom line: "Covenant's" tag-line reads, "EVIL HAS DESCENDED". It should have said, "EVIL HAS FAILED TO TRANSCEND". Natch.

Image result for the covenant 2017 movie scenesNow I haven't mentioned the level of acting in The Covenant and for good reason. I wanted to wait till later on in this review. Guess what, it's bad. It's so bad in fact that the casting agent might have pulled people off the street and propelled them straight into the unions. I mean, have you ever heard of Laura Durant, Clint James, or Maria Olsen before? Me neither. In all fairness, nobody comes off like Laurence Olivier in a usual horror film but this is a whole different arena. Everyone in "Covenant" reads their lines as if they are looking at cue cards or saying them in the rhythm of pentameter. With the exception of Owen Conway (mentioned earlier) at least trying to do something with his character (he occasionally reacts and rages), The Covenant comes off like a middling, film school project. It has standardized visuals and gives the impression that it's bound for entry in some seedy flick fest via Podunk, Iowa ("Podunk" is a term that represents any small, insignificant town).

In conclusion, if movies about demonic platitudes, evil spirits, and bloodied entities are new to you then you might get a kick out of "Covenant's" carefully common plotting. And if you've never seen a twist ending, never viewed a man trouper cutting his tongue out, or never beheld a woman trouper gouging her eyes with her own two hands, then The Covenant might give you the creeps. Otherwise, this is assembly line stuff, devoid of freshness and destined never to get a wide release in the states. My rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Blood, Sand and Gold 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Blood, Sand, and GoldDirector: Gaelan Connell
Year: 2017
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Aaron Costa Ganis, Monica West, Christopher Redman

Blood, Sand and Gold is my latest review. What, no sweat and tears? Anyway, "Sand" doesn't have a MPAA rating but I'll go with a standard R. There are a few F-words, a cold-blooded murder involving a tied up escort, and a couple of other nasty kills. Just think of Blood, Sand and Gold as Raiders of the Lost Ark meets National Treasure. Now take away any excitement or verve that those movies hastily possessed.

Blood, Sand and Gold is your typical, slick Redbox endeavor. It has lots of glossy locations (Canary Islands, Dubai, Belgium, and Hong Kong to name a few), a no-name cast, a familiar movie poster (similar to Extraction, Arsenal, or Sicario), and a rookie director in 27-year-old Gaelan Connell. Released only in New York City, "Sand" is a globetrotting affair that feels surprisingly grounded. It obviously has a budget but I doubt it will break even on said budget.

Image result for blood sand and gold 2017 movie scenesWith its minimal images of wealthy relics and its lack of insightful treasure speak, Blood, Sand and Gold still comes off like the cinematic poster child for modern day archaeology. It stars Monica West and Aaron Costa Ganis. West looks like a cross between Judy Greer and Tilda Swinton. Sadly, Ganis looks like the B-list version of Gerard Butler. Together, Ganis and West's characters (Jack Riordan and Mave Adams) travel the globe in search of priceless, 15th century artifacts needed for a salvage company. On their journey, they involve themselves in deeper territory as conspiracies about stolen treasures begin to surface.

In regards to the overall effect of Blood, Sand and Gold, watch for middling acting, ludicrous shootout sequences, and laughable fistfights that seem to be forced and used just for filler (that way "Sand" can safely say it's an action film). There's a car chase where a woman who's never shot a gun before, kills about three bad guys without missing once. There's also a scene in which an elderly dame (maybe in her 70's) turns all antagonistic and fires an AK-47. Finally, you have a romantic subplot between Riordan and Adams that lasts for about five minutes. It involves the French language and conversations about screwing on a table. Gag me.

As for the look of Blood, Sand and Gold, well it's not half bad. Cinematographer Chloe H. Walker provides mountainous landscapes, shots of gleaming deserts, and twinkling city skylines. However, the performances in "Sand" are so lackluster (the troupers either overact or seem wooden) that Walker's keen eye just becomes prepossessing, empty background. What a shame.

Image result for blood sand, and gold 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, Blood, Sand and Gold is filmmaking water mold. Gaelan Connell's direction on it lacks a sense of coherent locality. The actors go from country to country and with each frame, "Sand" feels like its solely edited on the fly (that can't be good). All in all, it's best to just skip Blood, Sand and Gold unless it's the last movie left on Earth. Then, you should only see it once. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Going in Style 2017 * * * Stars

Going in StyleDirector: Zach Braff
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin

Zach Braff has directed three movies. They are Garden State, Wish I Was Here, and Going in Style. "Style" (my latest review) is the best out of all of them. It's not as complicated, it's more commercial, and it's not quite as pretentious. Oh and Braff isn't in front of the camera this time. Now does that make Going in Style a better film overall? Not necessarily. This is completely different fodder from what Zach has helmed in the past. "Style" as a spring comedy slash crime mantra, just wants to have a good time.

Image result for Going in style movie scenes 2017Better than old timer foil like The Bucket List and Last Vegas, Going in Style has Braff channeling his inner Jon Turteltaub (minus the technological gadgets). There's the film score by Rob Simonsen that sounds like erratic spy music. There's also the fast cut editing and split screen shots detailing "Style's" pivotal bank robbery (and bank robbery planning). Lastly, there's the whole, we-get-it-you're-old plot element vested upon us. In jest, a lot of Going in Style feels like you're watching a comedic National Treasure complete with AARP interludes. Zach Braff casts three legendary actors (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin) and with a breezily tone, makes them all seem likable.

Distributed by Warner Bros. and shot around parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and summertime Manhattan, Going in Style is about three lifelong pals named Willie (Freeman), Joe (Caine), and Albert (Arkin). They are insolvent, over the age of 75, and have their pensions revoked after the company they worked for, becomes restructured. Their solution and inspiration: Pull off a bank heist of over a million dollars with the guys wearing Rat Pack masks and donning firearms with blanks (examples of the Rat Pack are Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Joey Bishop). Look for a test robbery featuring Freeman and Caine knocking off a lowly supermarket. Also, be on the lookout for a scene where the three senior citizens toke up on some potent ganja (you know, the urban definition for weed).

Image result for Going in style movie scenes 2017All in all, "Style" despite a small twist, comes off as predictable, a little too happy happy, and altogether trivial. Yup, not much feels at stake. However, it's jolly, entertaining, and chuckled in a PG-13 sort of way. "Style" is a remake of a 1979 film saddled with the same title. I've never seen that George Burns vehicle and I may never see it (unless I decide to order the Blu-ray on Amazon). No matter. This new version of Going in Style probably has a "style" all its own anyway. Oh and I almost forgot, watch for famed actors Matt Dillon, Ann Margret, and Christopher Lloyd in small, supporting roles. They add to "Style's" lighthearted fun. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson