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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Director: Martin McDonagh
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Filmed in North Carolina but taking place in Missouri (Missouri has mountains too), The Show Me State still "shows off" in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (my latest review).

"Billboards" stings like a mother and is probably the most violent, in-your-face black comedy since 2000's Nurse Betty. In "Betty", Chris Rock rips the scalp off some schlepped car salesman. In "Billboards", Frances McDormand mutilates the finger of her dentist with his own drill. Restraint? Uh, I don't think so.

What "Billboards" has is shock value direction by Martin McDonagh, sharp, coarse writing, characters with nasty dispositions, and strong acting by everyone involved. What this film doesn't have is a true resolve, or a sense of relevance, or I guess, an actual ending. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a flick that sort of sits there. It's cinematically drunk on style, timed savagery, and derisive dialogue deliveries. I wanted to recommended it but alas, I just couldn't.

Image result for three billboards outside ebbing missouri movie scenesThe storytelling in "Billboards" is one of the straightforward and unmissable variety. It's about the perturbed Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand). Mildred's daughter Angela, was raped and murdered seven months ago. Mad at the police for not following through with the investigation, Hayes rents three billboards outside her hometown (the fictional Ebbing, Missouri). These billboards signify her infused anger and frustration with said police. One of them reads, "Raped while dying". Another one reads, "And still no arrests". Mildred's uncouth behavior ticks off certain townspeople along with Ebbing's dying Sheriff (Bill Willoughby played by Woody Harrelson).

Anyway, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has scenes of arson and clips of subtle, racial insinuations. It also features a tracking shot in which a cop beats an ad agency worker and then throws him out of a window. Personas in "Billboards" threaten each other, blood flows freely, and every Mayberry- like transplant seems to collide through a set of almost implausible coincidences (Ebbing is a small place I guess).

Image result for three billboards outside ebbing missouri movie scenesAs far as blackened satires go, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri makes you laugh one minute and then makes you squirm the next. It's startlingly entertaining but feels incomplete and irreproachably partial (even at a running time of 115 minutes). My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lady Bird 2017 * * * 1/2 Stars

Lady BirdDirector: Greta Gerwig
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts

Lady Bird is my latest write-up. As you might have already discovered, it has nothing to do with the 36th President's late wife.

So yeah, "Bird's" ending left my mind up in the air as well as on the edge of something. Still, this is a near-perfect film. It's definitely one of 2017's best.

Lady Bird gives people like writer Diablo Cody and director Kelly Fremon Craig a run for their money. It has the blueprint of a familiar teen drama but so what. "Bird" shoots from the hip and dives much deeper than stuff like Juno and The Edge of Seventeen.

Image result for lady bird 2017 movie scenesEvery sequence in "Bird" feels raw, unflinching, and just plain genuine. Every actor nuance is blessed with unassuming clout. With whip-smart dialogue, grainy locales, and keen direction by actor turned director Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird puts coming-of-age candor through the almighty ringer. All the characters (including the lead) are fully realized and no one harks a false note. Did I mention that Sacramento, California is this flick's unheralded star? It's true. So true.

"Bird's" story involves one Christine McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan). Christine is a high school senior. She insists on being called "Lady Bird" and the pic never quite tells us why. She lives in Sacramento but wants to get out. Being from a lower-class family and having a love-hate relationship with her overbearing mother (Marion McPherson played by Laurie Metcalf), Christine dreams of attending college in New York. That way she'll make a ton of money and eventually thumb her mom's nose in it (in an unconditional, loving way of course).

In retrospect, I'm hoping that Ronan and Metcalf get well-deserved nominations at the Academy Awards (for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively). Also, I'm rooting for Gerwig's truth to life screenplay to get some recognition as well.

Image result for lady bird 2017 movie scenesOverall, Lady Bird has the makings of a tender, persona study. It also contains a seething, coffee shop soundtrack and unfeigned acting of the highest order. With this film, the "bird" is undoubtedly the word! Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 24, 2017

Wonder 2017 * * * Stars

WonderDirector: Stephen Chbosky
Year: 2017
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay

Wonder is my latest review. It is for the most part, a "wonderful" movie. Now granted, Wonder is not quite Academy Award-worthy. However, if you like your dramas syrupy sweet and filled with plenty of cinematic saccharine, then Wonder will give you your fix.

Wonder is distributed by Lionsgate and is based on a 2015 novel. It's what I like to call, a manipulative tearjerker. Every scene is displayed for maximum effect as you the viewer, loosen up the weepy ducts and reach for that big box of Kleenex.

Wonder's story involves one August "Auggie" Pullman (played by an unrecognizable Jacob Tremblay). "Auggie" was born with a facial deformity and has been home-schooled for most of his young life. After reaching fifth grade, his parental units decide to enroll him in private school so he can experience more human interaction while making new friends.

Image result for wonder 2017 julia roberts movie scenesNow does all this sound a little familiar? Well it should. Wonder sort of resembles 1985's Mask (starring Eric Stoltz). In fact, if you look at Wonder from an extent, it almost feels like a combination of Mask and a distant cousin of Forrest Gump (the early years).

So yeah, Mask is more accomplished than Wonder. It has more heightened performances (from the likes of Stoltz, Cher, and Sam Elliott), stronger production values in terms of scope, and a deeper characterization of its scarred subject (Roy L. "Rocky" Dennis).

Still, Wonder is highly recommendable. It's a small, little film with a big, bleeding heart. I liked the unexpectedly good casting of Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as "Auggie's" sympathetic (and supportive) parents. I also liked the way director Stephen Chbosky includes fantasy elements (hello Chewbacca), separate narratives involving the flick's adolescent co-stars ("Auggie's" best friend, his sister, and his sister's best friend), and an unforced interpretation of bullying. This gives Wonder a level of originality and earnestness not seen in most kid pics.

Image result for wonder movie scenes 2017 julia robertsBottom line: Wonder doesn't always elaborate on what makes "Auggie" tick, or how he became so smart, or how he got those birthing marks on his face. Oh well. This vehicle somehow works anyway and every kid and/or parent should see it. In my brief review of 1982's E.T., I remarked, "if you don't elicit an emotional response while viewing this film, you might as well not be human". Well that same statement applies to Wonder. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice League 2017 * * * Stars

Justice LeagueDirector: Zack Snyder
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams

"I had a dream. It was the end of the world". So quips Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne, the main corroborator in Justice League (my latest review).

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg join forces to try and stop Steppenwolf and his evil band of Parademons (aliens that look like insects). That's the gist of "League", a flick possibly made for the younger, more zealot, comic crowd.

Image result for justice league 2017 movie scenesLook, I don't pretend to know a lot about films of the DC publisher nature. And to be truthful, I'm not the biggest fan of said films. You know what though, I sorta dug 2017's Justice League. Rooted in comic relief, saturated in scorched, cartoon violence, and containing an all-star selection of established superheroes, "League" is just plain fun.

Justice League at a budget of roughly $300 million, is supposedly one of the most expensive movies ever made. It makes sense. Every shot is littered with special effects and there's also a host of high-profile actors that just had to get paid by Warner Bros. (Affleck, Jeremy Irons, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, and Diane Lane to name a few).

"League's" director is Zack Snyder. I liked his latest and Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice but for different reasons. "Dawn of Justice" is dark, with broodiness, a plot over plot stature, and the emergence of Ben Affleck as a credible Batman. Justice League on the other hand, is goofy, not as epic, and not quite as self-serious.

Image result for justice league 2017 movie scenesSnyder, who had a little help from Joss Whedon (Joss contributed some re-shoots towards post-production), provides "League" with a more solid use of three dimensional space. There's also some tighter editing and some tighter storytelling than in his previous endeavors. "League" is trimmed down to a swift two hours. It weaves all the superhuman's stories until everyone comes together for a merrymaking, elaborate battle. Bottom line: If you liked this summer's Spider-Man: Homecoming, you'll probably embrace the jocular Justice League as well. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Daddy's Home 2 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Daddy's Home 2Director: Sean Anders
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, Mel Gibson

Daddy's Home 2 is my latest review. It's a follow-up to 2015's surprise hit, Daddy's Home. The first outing wasn't great to begin with. Guess what, "2" is even worse.

Remember when Chevy Chase got into all kinds of shenanigans during National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? Well Will Ferrell does the same exact shtick in Daddy's Home 2. Ferrell's gifts as a physical comedian are evident. The difference is that Chase's movie was done with a bit more craft. Heck, it had an actual story mind you.

"2", with its clips of kids getting drunk on eggnog, a nativity scene being destroyed, Xmas lights getting caught in a snowblower, and captain "Sully" Sullenger making a small cameo, is a yuletide cash grab just like A Bad Moms Christmas (released ten days earlier). The films are eerily similar with Daddy's Home 2 being the gender-flipped version of "Christmas". With A Bad Moms Christmas, the males are reduced to forgotten caricatures as they harbor minimal dialogue and fade into the background. With "2", the females don't have much to do either in terms of the overall plot. They are merely around for decoration (ha-ha, get it?).

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Listen, "2" may be PG-13 (as opposed to A Bad Moms Christmas having a hard R) and it may be more slapstick in nature. Don't be fooled though. These flicks are mirror images of each other. They are both using the holidays as a hook to capitalize on the success of the originals. Yup, Daddy's Home 2 isn't a "home" worth saving.

"2's" director (Sean Anders) sans production values and trouper, conflict coherency in favor of sloppy editing, too many characters (stepdads, stepmoms, grandpas, stepchildren, etc.), and perennial, movie star wattage. His "2" isn't an actual motion picture. It's more of a series of set-ups, designed to get the viewer to chuckle occasionally. Almost every scene in Daddy's Home 2 is manipulated (or inserted) onto the screen without a true reason for being. Oh and by the way, Ferrell's pseudo-clumsiness here is definitely not rooted in reality.

In the realm of casting, Anders brings in John Lithgow and Mel Gibson to play the weirdo dads to Mark Wahlberg and Ferrell. Gibson, who has always been a favorite of mine, has obviously not been forgiven by Hollywood yet. In his heyday, he would've never agreed to star in something as shambolic as Daddy's Home 2.

Image result for daddy's home 2 movie scenesAll in all, the final sequence in "2" involves everyone snowed in at a movie theater on Xmas day. As the whole cast belts out "Do They Know It's Christmas?", I realized that I need to picket the resurrection of every sequel from hear on out. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 10, 2017

Happy Death Day 2017 * * Stars

Happy Death DayDirector: Christopher Landon
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine

A snobby, college babe named Tree (played fiercely by Jessica Rothe) relives the same day over and over again by getting murdered via a fellow student. Tree's mission then becomes to find her killer and at the same time, try to be a better, overall person in the process. That's the rub of Happy Death Day, my latest review.

So OK, I gotta hand it to "Day". Despite having a tiny budget, unknown actors, and being minuscule in scope, this film has grossed over $78 million worldwide. That's pretty impressive. Yeah you probably won't deem it unforgettable the moment you leave the theater (I know I didn't). However, there are worse ways to spend five to ten bucks on a cold, November afternoon (or are there?).

Now if you've read the reviews, caught the opening Universal Pictures logo repeating itself, or have already seen Happy Death Day all the way through, you'll know that it apes 1993's Groundhog Day (obviousness reeks havoc as Bill Murray's name is attached in a wink wink ending). You can also throw in Edge of Tomorrow, facets of a 90's teen comedy, and Wes Craven's Scream for "Day's" manifest inspiration.

All in all, "Day" is nifty, campy, and devoid of being too grave. It's also restrained as a so-so horror film (hence the PG-13 rating). With minimal gore, side characters that range from dopey to spiteful, a bland gimmick of die/repeat, and some slight humor, Happy Death Day never feels scary or amusing enough (that honor would go to John Carpenter's Halloween).

Sure there's a whodunit element that keeps you guessing and director Christopher B. Landon profusely adds layers to his plot. Nevertheless, I can't quite go with a recommendation. Landon never times his scenes with Tree's 9-plus lives to make complete sense. His troupers around her find their marks but not every "Groundhog Day" effect feels totally in sync. Oh and I almost forgot, the editing in "Day" is swift and painless yet you don't know why Tree is going through the skewed, time continuum in the first place. Bewildered was my first and foremost thought.

Image result for happy death day movie scenesTypically, low budget scare fests find a way to be successful financially. With Happy Death Day, I get why fright fans salivated for an October release but I don't understand all the monetary love here. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Bad Moms Christmas 2017 * 1/2 Stars

A Bad Moms ChristmasDirectors: Scott Moore, Jon Lucas
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn

Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. Well you can add Donald Trump tweets and inferior movie sequels to what Benjamin Franklin preached about back in 1879.

A Bad Moms Christmas is in fact, a sequel. It is my latest review and yeah, it's pretty darn inferior. "Christmas", which I don't think was screened for critics, is a half-baked continuation of last year's Bad Moms. Heck, it doesn't even feel like it has much of a connection to the first film.

A Bad Moms Christmas is like a cash grab for the holidays, a vehicle that is more akin to a raunchy version of Love the Coopers ( or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) than to being a legitimate, Bad Moms part deuce.

Image result for a bad moms christmas 2017  movie scenesIt annoyed me that "Christmas" is yet another holiday film that takes place in Chicago (even though it was shot in Atlanta). It also annoyed me that A Bad Moms Christmas is another holiday flick in which chaos ensues when overbearing parents arrive on the scene. I am aware that the similar-themed, Daddy's Home 2 is coming out next week. In truth, I think I'll now avoid that movie like the plague.

Anyway, with "Christmas" the main characters (played by Kathryn Hahn, Mila Kunis, and Kristen Bell) are not that "bad" this time around. Yeah they get drunk at a mall, grind on Santa, and steal a Christmas tree from Lady Foot Locker. But hey, that's only about seven minutes of screen time. Their actions just aren't as rebellious, wayward, or unladylike as in the first outing.

Most of the script in A Bad Moms Christmas feels lazy. The screenwriter's idea of generating laughs is to add potty-mouthed F-bombs and a sequence where male genitalia is being waxed (ha-ha what a knee slapper). The production of "Christmas" feels rushed and slapdash as well. The snow outside looks fake, the sets try hard to appear like a poster child for a JCPenney Xmas catalog, and directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (yes there are two of them) have a real hard-on for slow motion shots with some tired, R&B music in the background.

All in all, A Bad Moms Christmas does offer a few heartfelt moments between the focal moms and their own, weirdo moms (played by Susan Sarandon, Christine Baranski, and Cheryl Hines). Unfortunately, "Christmas" also has a stupid cameo by Kenny G along with a shaming dance montage at the closing credits (Kenny G is in that too and he dry humps his saxophone, how cute).

Image result for a bad moms christmas movie scenesDuring the first half hour of "Christmas", Kathryn Hahn's Carla quips, "let's put the ass back in Christmas". Well A Bad Moms Christmas definitely achieves that notion. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson