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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Baby Driver 2017 * * Stars

Baby DriverDirector: Edgar Wright
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James

What if 2011's Drive was less dark, a little less cerebral, and contained a more stoic blueprint on what it's like to function as a getaway wheel-man. Well the result would be Baby Driver, my latest review.

Co-starring Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey, "Driver" involves a pretty boy named Miles (his nickname is "Baby" and he's played by Ansel Elgort). Miles for reasons unknown, is a driver for hardened criminals who love taking down many robbery scores. When Miles was a kid, his parents died in a car accident. He survived said accident but was left with a condition called tinnitus (the hearing of sound with no external sound present). Now, he uses music to drown everything out as he barrels past cop cars like NASCAR's Richard Petty on angel dust.

Image result for Baby driver 2017 movie scenesShot mostly on location in Atlanta, GA, "Driver" is obviously a car chase flick (duh). Steve McQueen's Bullitt used San Francisco as its go-to locale whereas Baby Driver gives the ATL some real top billing. I suppose Elgort channels his inner McQueen because at times, he hardly has any lines. On the flip side, the late Steve McQueen was always known as "The King of Cool". Ansel Elgort is better suited to be the dude you wanna play ping pong with. Not the same thing.

Anyway, critics have been salivating over this "vehicle" since it premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival (in March of 2017). I wanted to be part of that group but in truth, I found "Driver" to be a bit overrated. Three to four automobile chases between moments of tedium. Underdeveloped characters using spit-fire dialogue as a vice. A required love story with cutesy overtones. A musical soundtrack that overwhelms every scene as if director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is re-shooting Guardians of the Galaxy. Baby Driver has all this and unfortunately, it doesn't feel very groundbreaking or memorable. The ending involving the obligatory one last job, is perfunctory, violent, and reads like a street sign signaling a screenwriter's "No Outlet". Heck, no one wants to see the protagonist go to jail for being at the wrong place at the wrong time (spoiler). What a downer.

Image result for Baby driver 2017 movie scenesIn jest, if you wanna see more visceral car chases, you could probably just watch one of the Fast & Furious movies or even catch the final sequence in 2014's Nightcrawler (that's not even an actual car chase movie to begin with). And if you choose to view "Driver", you'll realize that Wright is fast-paced in his acumen but he's no William Friedkin (just revert back to To Live and Die in L.A., enough said). Bottom line: Baby Driver might be the Rotten Tomatoes king of the moment (98% and pending). But for me, this whimsical fender bender with its cool hot rods, its queasy moving picture title, and its "La La" effervescence, doesn't quite reach "2nd gear". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 25, 2017

47 Meters Down 2017 * * * Stars

47 Meters DownDirector: Johannes Roberts
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine

There's a scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss is fending off a great white from a shark-proof cage. 47 Meters Down (my latest review) takes that same scene and stretches it out for almost ninety minutes. The difference with "47" is that the waters are much darker, the shark appearances are a given, the cage is at the bottom of the ocean, and there are multiple sharks. Oh and "47's" ending is one of false hope and implausible triumph. If you've seen 2005's The Descent, you'll know what I'm talking about.

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Truth be told, there have been countless ripoffs and imitators since Jaws hit theaters over forty years ago. 47 Meters Down isn't quite a masterpiece but it's probably the best Jaws mimic of all time. "47" is heads and tails above stuff like Deep Blue Sea, Shark Night, and The Shallows (you can even throw in the Jaws sequels too).

Yeah there are times when this film is systematic. Nasty sharks and a mangled, human body seem to come in on cue (it's for shock value and negates a level of obviousness). Also, the cage in "47" is lowered and brought up with its rope line snapping twice (come in). Finally, Matthew Modine (he plays Captain Taylor) gives the two girls trapped below, instructions on how to survive. It's monotone, not very dramatic, and it feels as if his lines are being fed to him by the director (Brit Johannes Roberts).

Image result for 47 meters down movie scenesDespite these shortcomings, I'm still recommending 47 Meters Down. Its modern soundtrack (scored for the MTV Generation) pounces in during the scary moments and the film contains a healthy level of primal fear and primeval instinct. The strongest aspect of "47" is star Mandy Moore. She plays Lisa, a woman who gets dumped by her boyfriend and then ventures to Mexico with her sister (Kate played by Claire Holt). They decide to go cage diving with sharks and get more than they bargained for. Moore's performance is unassuming, raw, and contains a heightened measure of trepidation. You can't even tell that she's acting (and for the record, I thought Mandy retired from appearing in movies altogether).

Watch for a clip where Moore's Lisa has her leg bloodied and caught under the cage. She's running out of oxygen and has to find a way to bring the extra oxygen tank to her. This sequence and a couple of other sequences, are equal parts manifest and terrifying. As an audience member, your heart will be racing. My rating for 47 Meters Down: A "biting" 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rough Night 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Rough NightDirector: Lucia Aniello
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell

Jess (played by Scarlett Johansson who was better than I thought she'd be) is getting married soon. Her friends from college decide to plan a debauchery getaway for her in Miami, Florida. They party hard on their first night in the Magic City by hitting a club, snorting some cocaine, and getting real drunk. They then head back to their vacation home. While at said home, the five women hire a stripper and accidentally kill him. Oops!

That's the gist of Rough Night, my latest review. Modeling the female version of movies like The Hangover, Very Bad Things, and Weekend at Bernie's, "Night" has a few laughs and even trudges slightly into black comedy territory. My reason for a mixed rating however, is simple: Rough Night isn't as dark or risk-taking as "Things" and it isn't as funny as "Hangover". As for "Bernie's", well "Night" only hints at the mocking of a dead body during a couple of scenes in the trailer. Those scenes were obviously left on the cutting room floor.

Image result for Rough night movie scenesDistributed by Columbia Pictures and clocking in at just over 100 minutes, Rough Night is standard yet shoddily directed by Lucia Aniello (this is her feature film debut). She provides "Night" with the usual shtick for a hard, R-rated endeavor. There's some drug references (and drug use), some heavy sexual innuendo, and some vulgar, unladylike language. Some of the material sticks and some of it awkwardly bounces off.

As for Aniello's group of actresses (Zoe Kravitz, Jillian Bell, and Kate McKinnon to name three), well they're stiff at first but then gel together with variably decent chemistry. This is despite some real odd casting choices in the form of Johansson (mentioned earlier) as a woman running for state senate and Demi Moore as one half of a neighboring, swinging couple.

Strangely, the most humorous sequences in Rough Night involve Jess's fiance named Peter (played by Paul W. Downs). He thinks she doesn't want to marry him anymore so he quickly drives straight from Washington D.C. to Miami in a diaper (just revert back to that astronaut story with Lisa Nowak in 2007). This is all done to win Jess back (talk about bad miscommunication).

Image result for Rough night movie scenesIn conclusion, if I had to decipher the biggest flaw in "Night", it would be the ending. I won't give anything away but it feels as though the screenwriters ran out of ideas, threw in a regimented twist, and abruptly copped out on real-life culminations (the five friends could never fully get away with what they did). Talk about borderline hackwork. Overall, Rough Night gets two and a half stars from this critic. It could serve as a harmless rental when it eventually comes out on DVD.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Mummy 2017 * * Stars

The MummyDirector: Alex Kurtzman
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson

Here is what might have went down during a meeting between some people involved with 2017's The Mummy:

Alex Kurtzman (director): Guys, I appreciate the opportunity to direct a reboot of The Mummy franchise. I've only made one film and it was a little-known drama but trust me, I'm ready to go the fantasy/thriller route.

Production head for Perfect World Pictures: That's the spirit Alex. We are with you 100%.

Chris Morgan (producer): Wait. I'm not 100% on board with this thing. Those Mummy movies with Brendan Fraser weren't that great to begin with.

Kurtzman: True, but I have Mr. Tom Cruise as my lead. He'll guarantee a box office hit. We'll put him through the ringer. He'll get his butt beat to a pulp and then he'll get right back up again. Of course we'll have to add a little bloody makeup to his face.

Production head for Perfect World Pictures: Cruise is dope.

Morgan: I disagree. He was a box office champ maybe 15 years ago. I mean isn't he a bit long in the tooth? And let's face it, won't he be labeled as miscast here? Cruise has never really done anything like this before. This ain't Top Gun the mummy version people.

Kurtzman: He's Cruise and he's still a reliable movie star. As for his appearance, well he doesn't look 54 since he's been dyeing his hair.

Production head for Perfect World Pictures: That should help since his female romantic interest is about 20 years younger than he is.

Kurtzman: Oh and Tommy boy saw 1932's The Mummy as a kid. He was inspired by it and showed interest in coming on board.

Morgan: I don't know guys. This might come back to bite us on the butt.

Production head for Perfect World Pictures: Chris, it's all good. We have $125 million in special effects and the PG-13 crowd will have their eyes popping out of their heads. Oh yeah, and we're gonna make sure Cruise is running for his life like usual. Plus, Russell Crowe is on board as an Uber-villain. Alex, make sure we have Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe getting down and dirty in a fight scene.

Image result for the mummy 2017 movie scenesKurtzman: You know it. I'll also be sure to add an epic, Cruise-like plane crash as well. Cruise is gangster doing his own stunts.

Morgan: What about the script? I heard we're using three writers. Isn't that a bad omen in Hollywood?

Kurtzman: We'll be fine. Cruise's screen presence is decent even though his acting has been paperweight ever since Magnolia. And wait till you see the CGI we're throwing down. I'm talking camel spiders, rats, and crotchety zombies. A summer 2017 release will certainly help.

Production head for Perfect World Pictures: Oh I forgot to tell you guys that Jake Johnson is being added to the cast. He is Cruise's comic foil and sidekick. Jake is excited.

Kurtzman: He was funny in Let's Be Cops.

Morgan: I think he's a little bland. I saw his Drinking Buddies and that film really stunk up the joint. What if he's labeled as miscast too?

Production head for Perfect World Pictures: Chris, you sure are in a negative frame of mind. We're solid bro. Trust me.

Morgan: Fine. So what is this new Mummy reboot gonna replicate? Are we going for a tongue-in-cheek Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Kurtzman: Exactly.

Production head for Perfect World Pictures: Yup.

Chris Morgan: Sh*t. Okay, here we go. Let's make a freaking movie.

Rating: 2 stars.

Of note: My write-up for The Mummy is inspired by a review of Four Christmases via the late Roger Ebert. Check it out online. It's pretty funny.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Aftermath 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

AftermathDirector: Elliott Lester
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scott McNairy, Maggie Grace

Aftermath seems like a decent title for my latest review. It readily shows the quote unquote "aftermath" of two people dealing with a plane crash in a discontented winter. It starts off as absorbing. Then, it folds like a misconstrued hand at a poker game. Aftermath is movie "sitz bath".

Distributed by Lionsgate Premiere and based on a true account via a mid-air collision, Aftermath puts everything out there at a budget of $10 million. Perhaps if said budget were a little higher, director Elliott Lester would have detailed the wreckage more like Robert Zemeckis did in Flight or Clint Eastwood did in Sully. Regardless, he interrupts Aftermath to show a few 747's gliding distantly in the sky. It's probably Lester's only play and the obviousness is there to remind us.

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Anyway, Aftermath's intrigue dons plot holes and puts the main characters in the forefront. The result is concise yet almost too concise. On the bright side, this conch does have a distinctive thread for a limited release film. The story involves a grizzled-up construction  worker who's about to be a grandfather. He then loses his wife and pregnant daughter in a plane accident. The air traffic controller assigned, had a mishap at work and that's what caused it all (271 people dead, ouch). Gradually, their sad narratives intertwine until they collide in two abrupt, sort of inessential conclusions. The second conclusion while surprising, hastily involves the air traffic controller's son.

Aftermath does have a few moments that are shattering. It's a manipulative dramatization, brought on by cynicism, unhappy resolves, and self-hatred. Lester relies heavily on a slow burn approach and does what he can. However, his flick while vaguely admirable, dissolves into paint-by-numbers material teetering on the edge of DVD premiere territory (which it almost is). The work from his two lead actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Scott McNairy) almost deems Aftermath to be recommendable.

Image result for aftermath 2017 movie scenesHarboring a silvery beard and a solemn look, Schwarzenegger pretty much tells the world he's done being an action hero. His range as a dramatic trouper has always been suspect but here he manages to offer a heartfelt and seething performance. As the tormented grandfather named Roman Melnik, he gives us his best turn since Total Recall. McNairy who was a bright spot in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, matches him as well. He blurs the lines of sanity and loneliness as the embattled air traffic controller named Jake Bonanos. They try hard but Aftermath with its lot of scheming disenchantment and its junctures fitting too nicely, doesn't quite do them a solid. Overall, a mixed review from me. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, June 9, 2017

Amityville Exorcism 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Amityville ExorcismDirector: Mark Polonia
Year: 2017
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Marie DeLorenzo, Jeff Kirkendall, James Carolus

So yeah, director Mark Polonia has now lent his name to a low budget horror pic with fake, CGI flies. His latest being Amityville Exorcism, qualifies as one of 2017's most amateur offerings. Polonia is anxious here. He's always cutting away from telling his story. He'd rather show random images of ghastly figures, he'd rather channel rock gods White Zombie, and he'd rather get his Nine Inch Nails video fix. It's all so confusing, atmospheric-free, and totally hackneyed.

Anyway, "Exorcism" (my latest review) is the 18th installment in the Amityville franchise. I haven't seen most of these films but I know for a fact that Amityville Exorcism is so far gone from being tied to 1979's original (titled The Amityville Horror). You don't even get a glimpse of "Horror's" famed house on 112 Ocean Lane (in Long Island, NY). I mean yeah it's featured on the movie poster but that's about it (I'm thinking the filmmakers and producers had no pull and no reliable permits).

Image result for amityville exorcism movie scenesMade with troupers who obviously won the Hollywood lottery, green-lit with the tone of blackmailing, featuring an implausible binge drinking scene, and giving off a whiff of a rejected student film, "Exorcism" has a plot element that's as old as dirt. A young woman gets possessed and a priest must thrust the demons out of her. There's horrid acting, an opening credits sequence that feels like an 80's porno, some over-stylized direction, and a vibe of unintentional buffoonery. As far as the scare factor goes, well you'd have to be under some serious narcotics to get that effect (for the record, I don't endorse this).

In terms of originality, man Amityville Exorcism copies off movies good and bad. It's like a slack version of The Evil Dead with its roving camera movement, its evil cheesy soundtrack, and its demonic speak. It's also like 1981's Saturday the 14th with its creatures looking like their donning tacky Halloween costumes. Finally, "Exorcism" kinda rips off the final scene in The Exorcist. That was an actual masterpiece with a sense of foreboding. This is clearly not.

All in all, some might say that there's always room for another Amityville flick. After witnessing "Exorcism" with its straight to DVD release, its director who might have fell asleep at film school, and its neophyte cast who may never see their SAG pensions, I say go for it... NOT! Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson   

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Horse Dancer 2017 * * Stars

The Horse DancerDirector: Joel Paul Reisig
Year: 2017
Rated G
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Richard Karn, Jason London, Sophie Bolen

Samantha Wick (played by 17-year-old Sophie Bolen) is a talented and young, American gymnast. She's also standoffish with a defensive personality. After getting cut from the U.S. Olympic team, her ailing grandmother pays for her to go to a horseback riding camp. When said campsite falls into financial turmoil, Samantha uses her notoriety and equestrian vaulting skills to attract more students and save the entire program.

That's the gist of The Horse Dancer, my latest review. Shot on location at Black River Farm & Ranch (in Cromwell, Michigan), it definitely has production values to boot. On the flip side, "Dancer" is also creepily childlike. And within its first forty-five minutes, you might see shades of the worst screen offering via 2017.

With G rating and nearly two-hour running time intact, The Horse Dancer at times plays off like an inexpert student film. It contains novice, wooden acting by almost everyone involved and a Muzak soundtrack that may make you cringe indelibly. I suppose without troupers Jason London (Dazed and Confused) and Richard Karn (of TVs Home Improvement) in supporting roles, this flick wouldn't even have the chance to get green-lighted.

Image result for The horse dancer jason londonHelmer Joel Paul Reisig does improve on "Dancer's" second half by settling in and giving it a more dramatic feel. And his direction although all over the place, still comes off as enthusiastic and somewhat authentic. Unfortunately, it's all too little, too late. And it can't compensate for what I mentioned in the last two paragraphs. Not by a long shot.

Parents who are able to sit through most G-rated films, might find The Horse Dancer to be a little tasking with its cramped dialogue exchanges and its overly lily-white nature. As for the kiddies, well they may embrace it depending on their non-animated attention spans and their tolerance for a mostly unlikable main character (her antagonistic counselor rival is no prize either). Overall, a mixed review from me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Everything, Everything 2017 * * Stars

Everything, EverythingDirector: Stella Meghie
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose

Everything, Everything is my latest review. Based on a novel, this vehicle comes to us in the tradition of stuff like Crystal Heart and 1976's TV drama, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

"Everything" is sometimes sappy and a little cringe-worthy in terms of its boy-meets-girl confrontations. There are lots of hand waves, googly eyes, and uncomfortable silences to boot. On the bright side, the leads are attractive, appealing, and somewhat innocent. And with a running time of 97 minutes, Everything, Everything is also a decent movie in terms of its look. Cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo gives us gleaming shots of Mexico and British Columbia. They masquerade for parts of Southern California and Eco-friendly Hawaii (heck, I couldn't even tell the difference).

Image result for everything everything movie scenes 2017Distributed by Warner Bros. and veering into Bille Woodruff territory, "Everything" chronicles eighteen-year-old Maddy Whittier (played by Amandla Stenberg). Maddy suffers from severe combined immunodeficiency (or does she). Whittier can't leave her house because any exposure to germs, viruses, or unfiltered air could result in death. While in permanent home confinement, Maddy spots her next door neighbor named Olly Bright (played by Nick Robinson). They form an inching relationship and eventually fall in love. This is all in spite of Maddy's deafening condition and the overbearing nature of her doctor mother (Pauline Whittier played by Anika Noni Rose).

While Crystal Heart and "Bubble" (both mentioned earlier) adhere to conventional methods of storytelling and nostalgic 70s/80s feel, Everything, Everything tries almost too hard to wow the audience member. Director Stella Meghie (this is her second feature film) deviates from normal plot threads. She uses dream sequences, fantasy elements, improbable character situations, and overly cutesy moments (between Maddy and Olly) to keep her film moving. This equates to a weird, less than compelling, and often uneven viewing experience. Meghie has the tools to someday be more experienced in her dramatic craft. Here, she doesn't quite reach tearjerker status. Based on the type of material presented, that's what I was going for. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson