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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Wind River 2017 * * * Stars

Wind RiverDirector: Taylor Sheridan
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham

An FBI agent straight out of Las Vegas, hires a game tracker to help solve a rape and eventual murder. That's the essence of Wind River, my latest review. Elizabeth Olsen plays agent Jane Banner and Jeremy Renner plays Wildlife Service expert Cory Lambert. So OK, it has been over a month since I've given a favorable write-up. With "River", I figured I was due.

Image result for wind river movie scenesDistributed by the Weinstein Company and released at Sundance via January of this year, Wind River is filmed in Utah but its setting is Wyoming. So yeah, we get it. It's darn cold in Wyoming. And despite a few images of beautiful, mountainous scenery, "The Cowboy State" is a pretty dour place to live in as well. A wrongdoer in "River" quips, "there's nothing here but snow and silence!" Later on, the protagonist preaches, "you either survive or surrender". Finally, that same protagonist exclaims, "luck don't live out here". Here's an idea, why don't these characters just get up and get the heck out of Wyoming. Jeez.

Anyway, Wyoming is like a star in "River" and it's referenced to the point where obviousness becomes a dirty word. I mean, this isn't Devil's Tower Wyoming we're prattling about nor is it summertime Wyoming like in Brokeback Mountain. No I'm talking the Wind River Indian Reservation where blizzards come and go, temps drop to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, crime/drug use is a mainstay, and the police force is comprised of six people. To quote humorist Dorothy Parker I say, "what fresh hell is this?"

Now as a movie clocking in at just under two hours, Wind River is like Fargo on downers, Cliffhanger minus the popcorn heroics, or The Grey without crashing 747's. In hindsight, it's a brutal motion picture, cloaked in vulnerability, violence, false mercy, loud bullet-ridden gunfire, and naked depression.

Director Taylor Sheridan working from his own, figurative script (Sheridan penned 2015's Sicario), doesn't obsess with wide shots and cinematography that has the wilderness at his full disposal. He's more into his story which is well told even if the methodology is straightforward in the whodunit department.

Image result for wind river 2017 movie scenesTaylor carefully inserts a devastating flashback toward "River's" conclusion while getting superb performances from his leads (Renner and Olsen). He does go a little overboard adding a souped-up Mexican standoff and a death sequence by which the main malefactor perishes from sub-zero, temperature inhalation (it didn't even look like it was that cold out). But hey, with all the blood and white flakes and symbolism (you could even throw in a haunting violin soundtrack as well), it's just way too difficult for me not to recommend Wind River. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Blind 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

BlindDirector: Michael Mailer
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Demi Moore, Alec Baldwin, Dylan McDermott

2017's Blind is my latest review. Its opening scenes are intriguing. Then, Blind descends into yet another film in which the screenwriters become vague. Yes I'm talking about the details on how criminal characters are arrested, processed, and put through the almighty penal system. So OK, let's get all the puns out of the way shall we. There's basically no harm in "seeing" Blind. Natch.

Now in Blind, Robert Redford sings a song during the closing credits. That's right, Robert Redford. He's not one of Blind's producers, he doesn't star in Blind, and he's not behind the camera in any capacity. I mean how random is that?

Anyway, the story of Blind is as follows: Suzanne Dutchman (Demi Moore) and Mark Dutchman (Dylan McDermott) are a rich, married couple living in New York City. Mark, who's a crooked businessman, gets detained by police and thrown in jail. As Mark awaits trial, Suzanne also gets charged with knowing about her husband's illegal dealings. She's sentenced to community service and has to take care of a blind novelist named Bill Oakland (played by Alec Baldwin). Bill and Suzanne eventually have an affair all to the dismay of an angered Mark.

Blind, which proclaims that Brooklyn is the new Paris, is set to a backdrop similar to what Peter Glantz did when he directed 2014's The Longest Week. Some of Blind is tedious and some of it is professing. Ultimately, this askew dramatization gets mixed results from me.

Image result for blind 2017 movie scenesThe acting from the leads nevertheless, is pretty decent. Everything else around them, not so much. Baldwin and Moore have okay chemistry but McDermott is truly the standout. As a dude who cheats on his wife and cheats on the American public, no one does ruthless, cold, and cunning quite like Dylan McDermott. As for Baldwin, well he paints an admirable portrait channeling a persona who can't see five feet in front of him. However, he's no Al Pacino (see next paragraph). Alec Baldwin's way of playing a blind chap is to pick a spot on the wall and basically stare at it. Valiant try there Alec.

In conclusion, Blind at ninety-eight minutes, is caught somewhere between a hard drama, a direct-to-video trash exploit, and a catatonic love story. Directed by Michael Mailer with a screenplay by John Buffalo Mailer (Michael's younger brother), Blind is for the most part, kind of watchable. Still, Mailer's film is sort of uneven as it shifts its cinematic tones literally on a dime. Imagine watching something that feels like Scent of a Woman meets Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Then, add a TV movie feel to it. That's what you get with Blind. After watching it, I realized that Blind is a flick that doesn't really know what it wants to be. "Eyesight" isn't exactly 20/20. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Logan Lucky 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Logan LuckyDirector: Steven Soderbergh
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Channing Tatum, Seth MacFarlane, Adam Driver

Remember when a great actress gave a bad performance? I do. It was in 2013's Elysium with Jodie Foster projecting acting 101 as a humanoid, secretary of defense. In Logan Lucky (my latest review), Hilary Swank does the same thing. The multiple Oscar winner delivers her lines in a robotic manner playing Special Agent Sarah Grayson. Now was her screen time in "Lucky's" last twenty minutes completely necessary? I'm thinking no.

Anyway, Logan Lucky's story involves two brothers (played by Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan and Adam Driver as Clyde Logan) attempting to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tatum's character has a limp in his leg and Driver's character has one arm. They are almost broke, they are down on their luck, and they really need the money. Tatum and Driver on a quest to secure many garbage bags full of dough, are surrounding by a host of troupers. You have an unrecognizable Daniel Craig (safecracker), an unrecognizable Seth McFarlane (British businessman), an underdeveloped Katherine Waterson (love interest), and a goofy Dwight Yoakam (prison Warden). Everyone sort of fades in and out of "Lucky" making it the equivalent of a holed, cinematic blueprint.

Steven Soderbergh is the director of Logan Lucky and well, he can still do pretty much anything. His Out of Sight is different than his Solaris. His Traffic is dissimilar from his Full Frontal. Finally, his Erin Brockovich is much more disparate from his 1999 picture, The Limey.

Image result for Logan Lucky 2017 movie scenesOn a different note, Steven is also a director who hasn't made a film in four and a half years. Supposedly, Side Effects was gonna be his swan song. Now in present day, he comes back with "Lucky" which for all things southern, is a drawled crime caper. Yeah it all feels too little, too late.

Punch-drunk on the success of his Ocean's Trilogy, Soderbergh shoots "Lucky" in the same vein as his Magic Mike. You can spot similar degrees of sliding camerawork and relaxed story-boarding. He then projects Logan Lucky as an Ocean's Eleven for the hick nation. Jotting between the settings of North Carolina and West Virginia, "Lucky" is like a less complex and certainly less drawn-out version of "Eleven".

Logan Lucky's only hook mind you, is that it trades George Clooney and Brad Pitt for the middle class or the should I say, the rural working class. You get to see (and hear) toilet seat horseshoes, John Denver tunes, bobbing for pig's feet, and decorated cockroaches. At the same time, you leave "Lucky" wondering why it was even made or better yet, why Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement to make it. Heck, what was the point of it all really?

Image result for Logan Lucky 2017 movie scenesNow I'm not saying Logan Lucky is a bad film because while watching it, I realized that Soderbergh hasn't lost his touch. His direction is streamlined and assured. Added to that, his actors for the most part, deliver and he keeps the proceedings moving with a nifty, breezy soundtrack (courtesy of mainstay David Holmes). In the end though, it just feels like his "Lucky" is a design for a flick as opposed to an actual feature. I suppose that's why things are left open for a Logan Lucky sequel. Based on "Lucky's" mediocre, opening weekend at the box office ($8 million), I just don't think that's gonna happen. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 19, 2017

First Kill 2017 * 1/2 Stars

First Kill
Director: Steven C. Miller
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Bruce Willis, Gethin Anthony 

Will and Danny are father and son. Together, they leave the big city with Will's wife in tote. All three of them head to Will's hometown where Will and Danny plan to reconnect on a hunting trip. While on said trip, they witness some criminal behavior involving dirty cops and bank robbers. That's the crux of First Kill, my latest review. 

In "Kill", Hayden Christensen and Ty Shelton (this is his acting debut) respectively play Will and Danny. Their performances are much stronger than the movie they are in. Now "Kill" does have a couple of enthralling, opening scenes but it takes a while to really get going. All sense of intrigue and inching tension is sorely missing. Added to that, First Kill is a generic thriller whose production design gives off the vibe of sheer minimalism. Yep, this flick is hardly the "first" of its kind. 

Helmed by Steven C. Miller (a possible director pseudonym) and filmed entirely in the town of Granville, Ohio, "Kill" has pedestrian action sequences, a drawn-out approach (despite a short running time of 97 minutes), timeworn kidnap situations, and a severe level of predictability. You know who the bad guys are literally within the first half hour. 

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Speaking of bad guys, well Bruce Willis gives yet another phoned-in gig as First Kill's depraved, police chief (spoiler alert). He is mediocre when it comes to playing any type of heavy. In jest, Steven C. Miller and Brian A. Miller (I'm pretty sure they are brothers) continue to show off Bruce as their pseudo-celebrity muse. They give him monosyllabic dialogue and bring out the worst in his trouper acumen. Basically, the Millers fail to realize that Bruce is better off as the scruffy anti-hero.

In conclusion, a remake of Death Wish is being released in November of this year. Lets hope star Willis fairs better than with the inclusive conch that is "Kill". Bottom line: First Kill heralds Steven C. Miller as a filmmaker who is content on being a hack because his stuff never seems to make it to the dark end of a movie theater. He uses his locations (or location) sparingly, he furnishes plot twists and turns that are clearly foreseeable, and he doesn't supply a script that utilizes the plausibility of common law protocol. Heck, you might as well skip First Kill and just see something like "First" Blood instead. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Girls Trip 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Girls TripDirector: Malcolm D. Lee
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish

"Girl, you can't get no infection in your booty hole! It's a booty hole". That's just one of the quotes from 2017's Girls Trip (my latest review). In it, Tiffany Haddish plays the fool-mouthed Dina. Dina is truly an iconic character and probably the reason "Trip" has become such a big box office hit. Like Kathryn Hahn in last year's Bad Moms, Haddish proves that women can be just as perverse as any strapping male counterpart. There's no filter or the ability to maintain self-control in her front. Haddish just lets it rip, so to speak.

Now based on her spitfire performance involving dry humping, cussing, and psychotic malaise, you wonder if Tiffany is either a darn good actress or just playing herself. After seeing Haddish talk in interviews with Jimmy Kimmel and such, I'm gonna have to go with the latter.

Directed with pedestrian solace by Malcolm  D. Lee (The Best Man Holiday, Scary Movie 5) and distributed by Universal Pictures, Girls Trip is about four best friends who get together for a weekend in The Big Easy. Basically, "Trip" is like Bridesmaids, New Orleans style!

Image result for Girls trip 2017 movie scenesGirls Trip, with its behind closed doors girl talk and its unrealistic consumption of trouper alcohol intake, isn't as humorous as Bridesmaids. However, "Trip" is definitely more established than stuff like Rough Night and 2012's Bachelorette. It's the quintessential (gross) chick flick that only groups of tight-knit females would flock to. That means no dudes allowed. Ha!

Anyway, Girls Trip is a hit-or-miss farce that throws everything at you but the kitchen sink. Yup, it's pretty raunchy stuff. "Trip" gives the audience full frontal nudity, projectile urine, multiple penis references, and a scene in which a woman performs simulated fellatio using a banana and a grapefruit. Oh yeah, you can also throw in drug use, drug references, fierce sexual innuendo, and surprisingly violent cat-fights as well. So anyhow, you know the term ladylike? Well "Trip" leaves that locution happily by the wayside.

Image result for girls trip movie scenesAll in all, Girls Trip clocks in at just over two hours. Improvised with a clunky script while using the Essence Music Festival as a taunt, product placement, the film meanders and wanders without so much as a meaningful account. The last quarter of "Trip" is where things start to settle down. A mild drama arises with an actual story of friendship, infidelity, and relationships coming about. Still, Girls Trip is billed as a nasty comedy for most of the way. And while it does have a couple of outrageous moments, "Trip" tries almost too hard for a laugh as it fiercely coerces some dramatization with the funny. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Dinner 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

The DinnerDirector: Oren Moverman
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney

Steve Coogan and Richard Gere play Paul and Stan Lohman. They are brothers who have a strained relationship. Paul is a teacher who suffers from mental health issues. Stan is a congressman who is trying to get re-elected. Together, they bring their wives for a supper date at a swanky restaurant. That's the essence of The Dinner, my latest review.

Distributed by Front Row Filmed Entertainment and saddled with an ending that leaves your mind sitting on the edge of a cliff, The Dinner involves these men discussing how to cover up a murder that their sons were a part of. Heck, the Lohman family name is at stake. Title cards show stuff like "Cheese Course", "Appetizer", and "Main Course". Waiters spew off unrelenting descriptions of eccentric food items. Characters grovel with verbal eruptions between slurps of fine wine. Don't be fooled though. This flick is rarely about an actual dinner.

Drunk on it's own pretentiousness and its own darkly-lit, stylistic nature, The Dinner gets lost in flashbacks, meditations on the Battle of Gettysburg, and rambling plot tangents.  With a screenplay by director Oren Moverman that constantly recycles itself, The Dinner doesn't quite find its footing till the sledgehammering third act. By then, it exhausts and doesn't feel like something I would truly recommend. This is all despite volcanic, timed, and raw performances by Gere, Coogan, and Laura Linney (she plays Paul's Macbeth-type wife).

Image result for the dinner 2017 movie scenesNow the one thing that came to me early on in The Dinner, was that this is the first time I've seen Richard Gere and Linney in a vehicle together since Primal Fear (for the record, I've never viewed 2002's The Mothman Prophecies). For myself, the reunion was surreal but mildly bittersweet.

Bottom line: The Dinner is a cinematic meal that digests hard and almost cleanses your palate. Its running time is a total of two straight hours. Jotting between a couple of main narratives, it all feels like an adroit Woody Allen film coupled with a touch of Nicolas Jarecki and a grain of morose and violent, family dis-functionality. Adrift and dour, The Dinner sans progression and takes its sweet time to tell an actual story. 120 minutes could've been trimmed by at least thirty. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 4, 2017

Phoenix Forgotten 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Phoenix ForgottenDirector: Justin Barber
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez

Every since The Blair Witch Project made its debut back in 1999, a host of other, found footage films have followed. Ten years later, Paranormal Activity reinvigorated the found footage juggernaut, giving us a micro-budget, horror flick that managed to frighten you in the daytime and make almost $200 million dollars.  

It's now present day and I've grown so tired of this genre. Years ago the material was fresher. Now the found footage stuff has gone by way of a cinematic, rinse, repeat cycle. Annoying, unknown actors spew improvised dialogue while thinking they are cooler than they actually are. The protagonist is always holding a shaky cam and filming even though danger is constantly around the corner. Finally, there's always a young kid character who sees and hears things that no one else does. Yeah these movies make a modest profit but that doesn't make them admirable affairs. Found footage films are now in a word, "dumbfounded".

Image result for phoenix forgotten movie scenesAnyway, Phoenix Forgotten is my latest review. Yes it is a found footage endeavor but it's much better than stuff like Nightlight, Unfriended, and the disastrous, last two Paranormal Activity sequels. The acting in "Forgotten" is actually decent, the troupers are a tad more likable, and the film's calculated backstory provides a little more tension. Now could I possibly bring myself to recommend Phoenix Forgotten which oddly, is produced by legend incarnate, Ridley Scott? Not quite. Still, "Forgotten" makes found footage fodder more tolerable to watch than in years past.

Director Justin Barber (not to be confused with pop star Justin Bieber) shoots most of "Forgotten" in the style of a guideline documentary. He then has the last half hour veer into complete, retrievable tape territory. Basically, he lets the audience know that his flick is The Blair Witch Project meets aggregate alien abduction. Yeah there are a few fretful moments but as a whole, Phoenix Forgotten fails to drum up the nasty fear and breakneck restlessness that "Blair Witch" projected in 99'. Added to that, Barber's non-visionary ending is abrupt and "Forgotten's" running time barely registers at a squeaky, hour and twenty minutes. It's all harmless but mildly disappointing in the nicest way possible.

Image result for phoenix forgotten movie scenesThe story of Phoenix Forgotten which I guess is partly true, involves the disappearance of three high school kids who set out to find the source of a UFO phenomenon called the "Phoenix Lights". This all happened in March of 1997. "Forgotten's" main plot point has the sister of one of the vanishing kids shooting a documentary twenty years later. She's bent on finding out what happened to her brother and she's convinced that he's still alive. Phoenix Forgotten documents said plot point with avid creativity and mounting anxiety. Then nothing comes to fruition. "Forgotten's" key intrigue for sixty involving minutes goes on the back burner. The final twenty is unceremonious found footage in which Phoenix Forgotten literally goes full Blair Witch.

Bottom line: Justin Barber in his feature, directorial debut does a so-so job but it's clear that his efforts have rabid continuity problems. "Forgotten" gets a strong yet mixed review from me. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Black Butterfly 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Black ButterflyDirector: Brian Goodman
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Piper Perabo

Paul Lopez is a grizzled mountaineer who lives all by himself. He was once a successful wordsmith of books and screenplays. Now, Paul has severe writer's block, he drinks like a fish, and he's trying to sell his house because he's too broke to live there.

Lopez meets a drifter named Jack after seeing him at a diner and then picking him up along the road. He takes Jack in out of unexplained kindness with Jack giving off the notion of maybe being a cold-blooded killer. Jack eventually kidnaps poor Paul in his own abode. He then forces Paul to get off his butt and start writing again. Possibly, Paul could pen a story that resembles his own, weird encounter with Jack. Jack for lack of a better word, is a ticking time bomb who gradually frightens and perplexes. That's the gist of Black Butterfly, my latest review.

"Butterfly" stars Antonio Banderas as the downtrodden Paul and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the ruthless Jack. These are two actors who rarely appear in widely released films these days. This automatically gives Black Butterfly the vibe of feeling like a 90-minute rental (which in the U.S. it most certainly is). Oh well. Banderas and Rhys Meyers give decent performances anyway and "Butterfly" despite its initial, slow burn approach, never leaves you bored or disinterested.

Image result for Black butterfly 2017 movie scenesDirector Brian Goodman (What Doesn't Kill You) creates a fair amount of tension, a solid sense of foreboding, and an ounce of claustrophobia that could leave any viewer of Black Butterfly feeling mildly discontented. What he doesn't do is up the ante on production values and protocol plausibility that could have helped "Butterfly" coerce its way into more movie theaters.

Vaguely resembling stuff like Misery or 1992's Basic Instinct, "Butterfly" might have benefited from having a more stirring musical score or a heightened level of eeriness which those films clearly possess. Also, Black Butterfly doesn't give us enough scenic views of beautiful Campaegli, Italy (which poses as central Colorado). That's a serious cinematography omission if you ask me.

Overall, "Butterfly" may not qualify as a masterpiece or a thriller that I would wholeheartedly recommend. However, I've never seen anything like it script-wise within the past ten years. As mentioned earlier, "Butterfly" has its main character dealing with writer's block. I too get writer's block occasionally and this flick resonated with me as a severed, frustration module.

Image result for black butterfly movie scenesBlack Butterfly's highlight is that it contains not one but two surprise endings. The first one dealing with a blown FBI cover, literally pulls the rug out from underneath you. The second ending which feels like it might have been replicated before, almost comes off as patterned hooey. I can just picture the meeting after final cut with "Butterfly's" screenwriters (Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley) giving each other high fives in bemused enlightenment.

Bottom line: Black Butterfly makes its case for originality and tricked, gotcha gold that's played just for the heck of it. Its title derives from a tattoo that Jonathan's Jack supposedly received in prison. In retrospect, Black Butterfly is also a Redbox endeavor that barely "flies" above the cinematic Mendoza Line. My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson