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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Battle of the Sexes 2017 * * * Stars

Battle of the SexesDirectors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman

In the past, movies about the sport of tennis have ranged from mediocre to bad to ridiculously stupid. I'm talking 2004's Wimbledon, 1979's Players, and 1986's Jocks. Thankfully, Battle of the Sexes (my latest review) is better than the aforementioned.

Based handily on a true story, "Sexes" depicts the events leading up to the famous 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Battle of the Sexes also illustrates the match itself. Wooden rackets, short shorts, an audience of 90 million worldwide, a Houston Astrodome venue, it's all there.

In retrospect, "Sexes" is a good film but it doesn't quite achieve greatness. It lacks excitement simply because Billie Jean's routing of Riggs was sort of lopsided. All you gotta do is look at the wiki page and know who won beforehand. I was pumped to see this movie based on its meaty trailer with Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" blaring in the background. In the end though, anti-climatic and blase are some of the words I'd use to deduct points from my rating for Battle of the Sexes. I will endorse this flick but it only wins half the "battle".

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The positives for "Sexes" are obviously the acting of the cast and the direction of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine). Emma Stone and Steve Carell are excellent in the leads. They dive into their roles as King and Riggs with veritable aplomb. You also have sturdy supporting work in Sarah Silverman. She goes unrecognizable with the part of Gladys Heldman, the founder of World Tennis Magazine. As for the portrayel of Marilyn Barnett (Billie Jean's hairdresser and secret lover), Andrea Riseborough is all aces (ha-ha) giving a warm and subtle performance. I can't predict the future but I'm hoping that all four of these actors get nods from the Academy come awards time. It's only September so yeah, that may hurt their chances.

In regards to Dayton and Faris (mentioned earlier), well they shoot Battle of the Sexes in flask, dream-like state. Their look is grainy and they use plenty of rack focusing. Basically "Sexes" almost achieves the feeling that you're watching something that was actually made in the 70's. The tennis scenes look authentic, the period detail is adequate, the awareness of time and place works, and there's a sense that you're always peering in on any trouper and their woman's lib/male chauvinist situation.

Image result for Battle of the sexes 2017 movie scenesOverall, "Sexes" is not entirely about a tennis teeming. It's more a character study and/or a backstory via the lives of Riggs and King in 73'. The outcome of their three sets featuring drop shots, volleys, and lobs, might have changed woman's tennis for the better. But hey, where's the fire here. A positive assessment for me but a muted result at best. Of note: I usually recommend movies that have historical gravity anyway. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Recall 2017 * 1/2 Stars

The RecallDirector: Mauro Borrelli
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Wesley Snipes, RJ Mitte, Laura Bilgeri

Five friends leave L.A. to hit the wilderness for a fun, relaxing vacation. Little do they know that Earth is the subject of an alien abduction and a target of mass destruction. That's the essence of The Recall, my latest review.

Damaging the reputation of Canadian productions to a fault, "Recall" contains an Uber-twist and readily shortcuts its overall premise. It pastes some of its out of place scenes right from the get-go. One involves an unconnected, storm discovery at an Alaskan weather station. The other has to do with unknown astronauts getting their ears blown out in outer space. These clips vaguely connect to the overall plot and I do mean vaguely. A 1990 offering with a similar title (Total Recall), is ten times more exciting.

Of all people, The Recall is produced by and co-stars Wesley Snipes. You wonder if Snipes was better off staying in prison for failing to file tax returns as opposed to appearing in the swipe that is "Recall". It's good to see that he's trying to be relevant again but his raspy, Snipes-like demeanor feels like it's coming from another flick altogether.

Image result for The recall 2017 movie scenesWesley gives a decent performance in The Recall as a renegade, extraterrestrial hunter. However, he is the only compelling thing in it. "Recall" is one of the cheesiest, most low budget offerings to ever enter the science fiction, horror canon. In jest, it's the equivalent of Predator, Cabin Fever, The 5th Wave, The Forgotten, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind committing a solitary gang bang. The cinematic toddler emerges and you could truly call it illegitimate. Hollywood may be germane but with "Recall", it reeks of assembly line fodder.

All in all, it takes a good forty-five minutes for The Recall to get going. Added to that, the actors are all good-looking yet stereotypical with the ET taking element appearing customary and fairly outdated. There are times when you actually laugh at this movie calling it a special effects parody (the alien species look like red, tacky jellyfish). Other times, you roll your eyes at how "Recall's" twenty-something characters can be so run-of-the-mill and so wonted. Bottom line: With The Recall, Redbox fails anew for trying to be a credible way to rent something. No need to "recall" this thing after you see it. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

American Assassin 2017 * * Stars

Director: Michael Cuesta
American AssassinYear: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan

Punches are thrown, bullets are unloaded, a murky plot conforms, and bloodletting is a mainstay in 2017's American Assassin (my latest review).

The story of "Assassin" chronicles Mitch Rapp (played by Dylan O'Brien). After Mitch loses his parents and his girlfriend gets murdered on a beach in Ibiza, Spain, he decides to go after the maligned terrorists who committed said murder. Rapp first goes out on his own to acquire vengeance until he is swallowed up by U.S. Special Forces. They eventually recruit him and he gets trained by an icy black ops dude in Stan Hurley (played by Michael Keaton).

Now with American Assassin, we've seen this all before. The techno thriller, the slick thriller, the CIA thriller, the locale thriller. "Assassin" has these attributes and has them with bells on. You watch this film hoping that it's not routine. In the end though, American Assassin is The Gunman, The November Man, The Bourne Identity, Paranoia, The Recruit, and 3 Days to Kill all thrown into a high-powered blender.

Sure there's a brisk pace to all of it, the violence invariably spills onto the screen, and a cool nuclear explosion straight out of Deep Impact arises. But "Assassin" has action sequences that have fits and starts. With every director close-up and every deafening bone crack, there's never a true sense of excitement or rooting involvement.

Image result for American assassin 2017 movie scenesAnyway, American Assassin is taken from a novel but it doesn't appear as such. Instead, this flick is overly commercial, has a loud, "popcorn" feel to it, and has a real preposterous indignation from the get-go. The Age of Innocence (1993), The English Patient (1996), and The Firm (1993) are all movies that are based on books. "Assassin" doesn't quite harbor that same vibe if you know what I mean.

As for the actors in American Assassin, well some are miscast (Sanaa Lathan as a Deputy Director), some have the physicality but you don't really root for them (Dylan O'Brien), and some come off as standard in the villain department (yes I'm talking about Taylor Kitsch). The one guy who rises above "Assassin's" regimented material is Micheal Keaton.

Heck, it seems like a lifetime ago when Keaton took on comedic roles. Now he has officially morphed into the quintessential bad-ass. With a closed-off persona, a lack of empathy, and a ruthlessly provoked nature, he's the best reason to see "Assassin". In one concluding scene, Michael's Stan bites the ear off a bad guy and then spits it right back at him. Billy "Blaze", we hardly knew ya.

Image result for American assassin movie scenesIn conclusion, American Assassin is directed by Michael Cuesta. He created a wonderful character study with Jeremy Renner in 2014's Kill the Messenger. Cuesta needs to get back to that kind of textured filmmaking because "Assassin" comes really close to "shooting" itself in the foot. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Home Again 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Home AgainDirector: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Candice Bergen

"Home again, home again, jiggety-jig". Oops, wrong movie. I'm just talking about Home Again, the 2017 vehicle starring the justly adorable, Reese Witherspoon. In truth, if you like a romantic farce mixed with the ins and outs of making it in Hollyweird, then "Again" is the flick for you.

Home Again's blithe story is as follows: Witherspoon stars as Alice Kinney. She's a 40-year-old mother of two and has been recently separated from her record producer husband (Austen played by Michael Sheen). Kinney, the daughter of a famous movie director, moves back to Los Angeles to live in her father's old house. One night, Alice goes out on the town and ends up partying with three aspiring filmmakers who are much younger than her. They all stagger back to her abode and she reluctantly plays the cougar role. She hooks up with one of them in 27-year-old Harry (played by Pico Alexander). All three gents find themselves living with Alice because they are broke and are waiting for their big, Hollywood break.

Image result for Home again movie scenesSo OK, I'm not gonna beat around the bush. Home Again feels like a been there, done that version of Something's Gotta Give. You could also throw in elements of 2009's It's Complicated. It all makes sense. "Again's" helm-er is Hallie Meyers-Shyer and she is the daughter of Nancy Meyers.

Nancy as most of you know, is responsible for Something's Gotta Give and that was a big box office hit. Meyer-Shyer is an admirable director but heck, she doesn't want to be her own person here. She'd rather emulate her mother who happens to be one of Home Again's multiple producers. The result is a sort of lightweight, situation comedy whose screenplay doesn't always ring true. I mean, is Micheal Sheen's estranged husband really that bad of a guy? And does Pico Alexander's Harry really deserve to be put out by Alice just because he missed one supper date? At times, "Again's" pseudo love story kind of comes to fruition. During other times, it feels a little unfinished and hoax-like. Take for instance Home Again's cutesy ending. It left me teetering on the edge of something. Of what I'm not quite sure.

Now Home Again and Something's Gotta Give have the same background music and the same happy happy stature. Basically, they are the cinematic equivalent of nurtured buttermilk. Both films also have scenes where people are always smiling, always laughing, and always having relaxing family dinners. I mean even when a character gets punched in the face (towards "Again's" third act), there's still a sense that everything is gonna be okay.

In conclusion, Something's Gotta Give excels in its emotional sequences between Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Home Again doesn't quite reach that feat. Reese Witherspoon sort of resembles the Keaton trouper but she is not given enough script material to shine. Remember when Diane Keaton got nominated for an Oscar with "Give"? Well Witherspoon is definitely not gonna get to that plateau this time around. Bottom line: There are some feel-good moments within "Again" but it's still a two and a half star rating for me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Security 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

SecurityDirector: Alain Desrochers
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Gabriella Wright, Ben Kingsley

I might be one of the few people who prefers 2005's Assault on Precinct 13 over John Carpenter's original from 1976. Security which is my latest write-up, heavily reminded me of 2005's "Assault" (and slightly reminded me of 2004's Dawn of the Dead). The only difference is that the happenings take place in a mall as opposed to a police station. Also, the target hit isn't Laurence Fishburne's menacing Bishop. Instead, it's a bratty little girl named Jamie (played by an actress who vaguely resembles Curly Sue).

Image result for security 2017 movie scenesAnyway, Security does have a few moments that could qualify it as a ruthless, loud, and relentlessly violent thriller. However, this film is tense yet disposable at the same time. You have thunder and lightning coming in on cue to add to Security's recycled agitation. Then, you get Rio Bravo being aped multiple times which robs Security of its unmentioned originality. Finally, there's an annoying character named Vance (Liam McIntyre). His opening, head-of-mall-guard monologue almost keeps Security from sustaining any sense of dramatic thrust.

At 88 undermining minutes, Security might evaporate in your mind right after you see it. Yeah it's good to have Antonio Banderas and Ben Kingsley go head to head as a Marine Captain and a nasty contract killer. But hey, you wonder why they agreed to a screenplay that has some really idiomatic expressions (some of the mall-speak in Security is very difficult to listen to).

Image result for security 2017 movie scenesIn retrospect, director Alain Desrochers (he mostly helms TV series stuff) pulls off bullet-ridden shootouts and some nifty hand-to-hand combat sequences despite the fact that you can't quite view every detail. Hold up though. With minimal gore and a direct-to-video release in the states, Security's budget ($15 million) is half of what Jean-Francois Richet's was in 05'. It shows. In jest, Security lacks the epic tranquility and theatrical stamina of Assault on Precinct 13. Added to that, the acting around its leads (Kingsley and Banderas overshadow the C-list cast) is less than persuasive and not very memorable. Overall, a mixed review from me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Layover 2017 * 1/2 Stars

The LayoverDirector: William H. Macy
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kate Upton, Alexandra Daddario, Matt Barr

Meg (Kate Upton) and Kate (Alexandra Daddario) are best friends who live together. Meg is really bad at selling beauty products and Kate is a high school teacher who might be forced to resign. When their lives become screwed up, they decide to relax and take a trip to Florida. On their plane ride to the Sunshine State, Meg and Kate encounter a pending hurricane and are diverted to St. Louis, MO. While stuck in St. Louis, they compete hard for a hunky guy (Matt Barr as Ryan) and fracture each other's friendship in the process. That's the central theme of The Layover, my latest review.

By definition, a film director controls a movie's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfillment of that vision. William H. Macy, a shining TV actor who kills it on Shameless, is "Layover's" antonym director. As you watch The Layover, you wonder if Macy lost a bet or had pressure from the suits at Vertical Entertainment to put out an assembly line, R-rated comedy product. In jest, "Layover" has almost no cinematic innovation, a loose plot, and virtually zero character development. It runs 88 minutes, is playing in only a handful of theaters, and has been mostly demoted to release by way of the Internet. Granted, these are all bad signs. Believe that.

Image result for the layover movie scenesNow it's hard for me to accept that William H. Macy actually filmed The Layover. Sadly, he did and he makes a lot of mistakes in his second directorial effort. The first is casting Kate Upton in one of the lead roles and then relegating known troupers like Kal Penn and Rob Corddry to two-minute cameos. Listen, I think Upton is pretty to look at and she gets props for having the same birthplace as me (St. Joseph, MI). But let's be real shall we. She's not ready to carry a movie yet and her acting is borderline inept. It's mind-boggling to think that Macy would truly approve of some of her dialogue takes. When Kate's Meg is trying to say something sincere or trying to appear unladylike, it's cringe-worthy as heck.

Another mistake Macy makes is the general way in which he presents The Layover itself. There are plenty of slapstick moments, road trip instances, a ridiculous sex scene straight from the annals of Macy's own Shameless, some bathroom humor, and the usual, sexual innuendo. These elements feel like pawns to simply keep the narrative going. Overall, the brand of funny here feels forced and familiar and that's something William H. Macy never exhibits when brilliantly playing a sleazeball on America's television set.

Finally, Macy makes the big miscalculation of approving a film soundtrack that could take Muzak to a whole new level. With the exception of Human League's 1981 ditty "Do You Want Me", every song in The Layover could easily be featured on a Kidz Bop compilation album. Basically, we're talking about tunes that can make your ears bleed.

Image result for The layover 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, William H. Macy's direction is uniformly standard. With minimal sway, Bill almost holds back on the R-rated fare and tries to wrap up "Layover" in the same sort of fashion as Kate Upton's other flick, The Other Woman (small spoiler). Here's the problem: The Other Woman with its notion of girl-minded revenge and guy player mentality, wasn't that great to begin with. Bottom line: The Layover gets a one and a half star rating from me. As a moviegoer, you really need to "delay" yourself from seeing it.

Written by Jesse Burleson