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Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Mountain Between Us 2017 * 1/2 Stars

The Mountain Between UsDirector: Hany Abu-Assad
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba

Two strangers named Dr. Ben Bass and Alex Martin (Kate Winslet and Idris Elba), find themselves alone on a mountain after their plane goes down in the middle of nowhere (the pilot had a stroke, ugh). They must try to pull through with limited food, blistering weather, and no sight of rescue. Oh yeah and a dog joins their plight but barely suffers one iota. That's the gist 2017's erred, The Mountain Between Us (my latest review).

So OK, sometimes a movie doesn't quite succeed with only two troupers commanding most of the scenes. "Mountain", which feels like a cinematic antiquity from the late 80's or early 90's, is sadly that movie.

Image result for the mountain between us movie scenesBetween a lovemaking sequence, a woman falling through frigid ice, a sappy ending, and a terrifying plane crash, The Mountain Between Us is a rinse, repeat cycle of ho hum Survivalism. The two main characters banter, walk aimlessly, and then build many a fire. Idris Elba's Ben must have one heck of a lighter because he blazes enough logs to equal the lethal destruction of Southern California.

"Mountain", with its scenic views of snowy, mountainous Vancouver (which substitutes for Idaho), is like a quasi-love story version of Alive and 2011's The Grey. The problem is that The Mountain Between Us isn't as clinching as the two films just mentioned. The screenplay by two writers (Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe) is filled with banalities. It recycles itself while sledgehammering the themes of death, dying, perseverance, and obliged romanticism.

Image result for the mountain between us movie scenesAs for Hany Abu-Assad's direction (he shot The Idol and 2013's Omar), well he keeps things tedious and repetitive. His "Mountain" includes almost no persona build-up, relentless snowflakes, and implausible death escapes. Winslet and Elba give decent performances but they have wandered into an unchanging, thriller miscalculation. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Greatest Showman 2017 * * Stars

Image result for the greatest showman movie posterDirector: Michael Gracey
Year: 2017
Rated PG
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams

The Greatest Showman is my latest assessment. It is touted as a musical. Therefore, how can I possibly recommend "Showman" if its best scenes don't involve the actors and/or actresses breaking into song.

Anyway, The Greatest Showman comes off like hasty rags to riches stuff. It tests your show tunes patience but it could never be mistaken as boring. "Showman" is meager and flashy and I guess, betters something like 2014's Into the Woods. In truth, Into the Woods didn't have an actual hint of a story. "Showman" in fits and starts, sort of does. 

Image result for the greatest showman movie scenesThroughout "Showman", I kept wondering what the late P. T. Barnum (the movie's subject and true-life inspiration) would have thought had he been alive to see it. He probably would've marveled at "Showman's" energy and playful, near period look. At the same time, P. T. would've scoffed at the lack of depth used to recreate his own life's account.

The Greatest Showman feels like a modern day take on Barnum's inception of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It has lavish dance numbers accompanied by contemporary melodies that pound you over the head with their Muzak-like senses.

Rookie director Michael Gracey thinks he's making an Academy Award winner with "Showman". The unfortunate validity is that his film lacks artistic merit and has an unintentional "popcorn" feel to it. Gracey fills The Greatest Showman with plenty of razzle-dazzle. His pace is feverish with roving camera movements and a few whip pans. Sure his "Showman" has a narrative but its narrative is arbitrarily slight and takes shortcuts. Gracey would rather have his flick "show" off musically, freakishly, and visually. That explains the running time of The Greatest Showman which is a less-than-monumental 105 minutes.

Related image"Showman", with its characters comprised of a bearded lady, a dwarf, and an acrobat, stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, and Michelle Williams. Jackman takes on the title role of P. T. Barnum. Jackman in a way, is almost perfectly cast. He's got the looks, he can dance, and he can act. The problem is that he's not much of a singer. As for Efron, well it feels like he took on his "Showman" role to shake off his image of appearing in lots of teenage sex comedies. Here's the problem: The Greatest Showman is not quite the vehicle to break Zac out of his raunchy, frat boy shell. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Stronger 2017 * * Stars

StrongerDirector: David Gordon Green
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating; * * Stars
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson

It's kind of eerie that Hollywood is so chomping at the bit to put out films about the Boston Marathon bombings. I mean jeez, it was only four darn years ago.

Take for instance, 2017's Stronger (my latest write-up). It's probably the umpteenth movie to take place in "Bahston" (the New Englander's pronunciation of Boston).

Stronger is about Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). Jeff attends the Boston Marathon to cheer on his on-again, off-again girlfriend (Erin Hurley played by Tatiana Maslany). As she nears the finish line, a bomb explodes near Jeff which causes him to lose his legs. During the remainder of the picture, Jeff tries to identify one of the bomber suspects. He also renders his battered body through rehabilitation and learns that he'll become a father.

Stronger strangely projects Bauman as the only one who ever suffered in the bombing tragedy. I don't think director David Gordon Green does this by design but it feels like the media is drawn only to Gyllenhaal's dramatis personae as opposed to any other denizen who lost a limb (and there were many).

Related imageSo OK, I loved 2016's Patriot's Day (another tragic, Beantown true story). I loved it so much that I considered it one of the best films of last year. As for Stronger, well I wouldn't include it for this year. With a box office take of $6 million against a budget of $30 million, audiences have spoken just as I have.

Stronger reminded me slightly of 1989's Born on the Fourth of July. What can I say, as a critic movies always seem to remind me of other movies. The basic blueprint is a true to life persona who becomes disabled and then has to deal with the aftermath of his misfortune. The problem with Stronger, is that it's not as compelling or epic as Tom Cruise's Oscar winner. I wanted to shed a tear but alas, there was no real emotional response.

Now don't get me wrong. Stronger has raw acting of the highest order by stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. And for the most part, the flick somewhat succeeds as a depressing, adhesive character study. Nonetheless, everything else in Stronger comes off like a snapshot or a melodramatic, R-rated TV vehicle. The movie lacks a feasible amount of character buildup and insight. And oh yeah, nothing on screen besides the lead performances, appears to be whole.

Added to that, Stronger fails to find a clear resolve. It gives us an abrupt, pat ending with obligatory credits about the real life Jeff along with actual images of him. Two hours seems like not enough time to tell the account of Stronger's legless subject. Heck, Stronger the movie is "light" as a feather.

In retrospect, I think there's an outside chance that Gyllenhaal and Maslany will get nominations at the Academy Awards (for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively). However, Stronger did come out in the month of September so that may hurt said chance.

Image result for stronger 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, I will always feel sad for the victims pertaining to what went down horrifically on April 15, 2013. But to be blunt, I think I'm gonna take a break from seeing films with a Boston-like setting. The accents, the Boston Red Sox baseball team, the pretentiousness of the city displayed on screen. It's all starting to get a little annoying. That's the "wicked" verity. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017 * * * Stars

Star Wars: The Last JediDirector: Rian Johnson
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher

An enraged Luke Skywalker, a ritzy Cantina revision, a few out of place comic bits, an occasional whipping camera movement from the guy who made Looper. That's some of the things you'll experience if you take in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (my latest review).

Earlier this year, director Denis Villeneuve attempted to expand on the world of the original Blade Runner circa 1982. Now, we have Rian Johnson undertaking the role of expanding the Star Wars universe. Guess what, Johnson does it better and with more consistency via Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

"Jedi", with its showcasing of returning stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (from the early installments) and its standout performance from Adam Driver (he's incredibly charismatic as Kylo Ren), closely resembles 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. Hold up though, that's where the slight comparisons end.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is unlike any film I've seen in the Star Wars canon. It doesn't adhere to the swashbuckling residue of Episodes "IV", "V", and "VI" nor does it lolly in the CGI overkill possessed by the prequels from 10-15 years ago. "Jedi" shows that Johnson doesn't want to be George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, or even the late Richard Marquand (Marquand shot Return of the Jedi). He gives the Star Wars charter a blooming makeover and yeah, he's all the better for it.

Image result for star wars the last jedi 2017 movie scenesYou can tell early on, that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the in-between movie or better yet, the 2nd act of a symphony. It plays just like what unfurled in "Empire". It has been rumored that Rian Johnson won't be directing "Episode IX". That's a shame because I wanted to know what the man had in store next. In 2019, I guess it's back to J.J. Abrams and the meat and potatoes movie making he rallied for in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

All in all, "Jedi" is happily rooted in complexities, cerebral nooks, sumptuous visuals, and some neat, kooky creatures (I loved the crystalline foxes and the Porgs). Johnson is a visionary filmmaker but he doesn't quite go over the top (that's a good thing). His flick lags a little bit in the middle until it goes full throttle in the last half. Watch for a mesmerizing, intergalactic battle in the Bolivian Salt Flats. Also, look out for some obligatory yet dazzling lightsaber battles that every Star Wars endeavor is contracted to have.

Related imageBottom line: Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, might be the first actual art film associated with the Star Wars franchise. It may seriously appeal more to adults than to the fanboys and kiddies. I could care less because I dug Johnson's solidified groove anyway. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Overdrive 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Director: Antonio Negret
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Ana de Armas, Gaia Weiss

Earlier this year, Scott Eastwood was in one of The Fast and the Furious flicks (The Fate of the Furious). He now appears in Overdrive (my latest review). Bottom line: Overdrive is strangely akin to a straight-to-video version of The Fast and the Furious.

So OK, it's crazy. When you see Scott Eastwood on screen, you'd swear it was his legendary dad circa 1960. In Overdrive, Scott dodges bullets, smirks, bungee jumps off a bridge, and drives intimidating Ferrari automobiles.

Anyway, the opening sequence in Overdrive involves a heist of a car that's tucked in the back of a semi-trailer truck. Said sequence is so outlandish and overwrought, it almost disregards the notion of basic physics. Heck, you wonder if someone got severely injured or even killed during filming.

Image result for overdrive 2017 movie scenesThe story of Overdrive incorporates two half brothers named Garret and Andrew Foster (played by Eastwood and Freddie Thorp). They steal top-end cars internationally and then flip them for major profit. When the Foster boys pilfer a Bugatti from an unrevealed, nasty crime boss, all chaos ensues with at least three groups of villains included (I stopped trying to identify all of Overdrive's antagonists within the first half hour). 

Overdrive, with its galloped car chases, its slick cars and its even slicker locales (be on the lookout for lots of aerial shots via the country of France), is dangerous and invariably intriguing. It's also far from uneventful and certainly doesn't shy away from violence (I was surprised by the restrained, PG-13 rating).

Image result for overdrive 2017 movie scenesMost scenes in Overdrive are of the double-crossing, smash mouth, and slam-bang variety. At times, the pic looks like it cost a lot of money to make. There are stunts that defy logic, hot babes, far-fetched criminality scenarios, and characters that constantly get themselves in and out of trouble.

Yeah Overdrive could probably qualify as a decent companion to a Fast and the Furious endeavor or even 2000's Gone in 60 Seconds. Just watch for a hike down in the acting department and a hike up in the cheesiness factor. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Detroit 2017 * * * Stars

DetroitDirector: Kathryn Bigelow
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith

Detroit is my latest review. It depicts Motown's 12th Street Riot from the summer of 1967. The movie also hones in on the Algiers Motel Incident where three denizens were beaten and killed by the city's finest.

So yeah, I may have been born and raised in Michigan. In spite of this, I'm just now learning of these true events in the form of two hours and twenty-three minutes. 2017's Detroit is quite the eye opener.

For much of the way, Detroit is a crippling film to watch. It feels like the poster child for police brutality, the poster child for racial rigidity, and the rightful epitome of near torture porn. You the viewer, never feel totally safe while taking in this vehicle (no pun intended to The Motor City).

Director Kathryn Bigelow gives Detroit a shaky cam feel and a slight, documentary style. With Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, and now this current release, Bigelow can aptly be called the female Paul Greengrass or maybe even the harder-edged version of Steven Soderbergh.

Image result for detroit 2017 movie scenesDetroit in fits and starts, almost veers completely into "popcorn" territory. Bigelow uninhibited, lets the violence spill onto the screen. The barbaric images rendered, are sensationalized, nearly for show, and nearly in the form of carnival antics. So OK, they might be pertinent to Detroit's mosaic storytelling. However, this still kept me from saddling the film with a four star rating.

Certain flaws aside, Detroit has an overwhelming sense of time and place which is a strong point. Kathryn Bigelow works well with a huge cast (John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith), a vast canvas, and an unsteady lens that is always peeking in. Heck, Detroit the movie feels like real life.

Bigelow also provides some archive footage on the side, some war zone residue, and a constant sense of danger to her proceedings. Detroit the city, is made to look like Iraq or a medium-sized village during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Talk about unsettling.

Image result for detroit 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, would I put the paranoia-laden Detroit in my top ten via 2017? Possibly. I'll know come January of next year. Detroit's rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson   

Friday, December 8, 2017

Kidnap 2017 * * * Stars

KidnapDirector: Luis Prieto
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Halle Berry, Lew Temple, Sage Correa

"You took the wrong kid". Darn right. You tell em' Halle Berry. Berry plays Karla Dyson, a divorced mom whose tyke gets snatched up from her at a local carnival. Dyson then grudgingly pursues the captors in 2017's Kidnap (my latest write-up).

Filmed nearly three years ago, this 95-minute pic was just released this summer. In Hollywood, shelving a movie for that amount of time is never a good sign. Here's the thing though: Kidnap is happily an exception to the rule. Heck, I kinda liked it.

Now granted, Kidnap is no masterpiece. It's not readily memorable nor does it make any sort of bold statement. Still, Berry's latest is tight and taut. It's the not-so-little B-movie that could. It's also a thriller that holds you in its grip right from the 10-minute mark to the end credits.

Image result for Kidnap movie scenes 2017Kidnap, which makes good use of Louisiana locales, slightly reminded me of Breakdown and Steven Spielberg's Duel. Breakdown had Kurt Russell trying to retrieve his abducted wife. Kidnap has Halle Berry trying to get back her abducted son. Both flicks take place over a similar period of time (1 day and 1 night), both flicks are undeniably nail-biting, and both flicks have virtually the same running time. Breakdown may be more explanatory with its storytelling. Also, Breakdown may be more involving with its characters. Regardless, Kidnap is a decent companion piece to Russell's 1997 foray into bumpkin darkness. It's worth a surrendered recommendation.

Kidnap's main hook, is that the whole film is literally one singular car chase. My man William Friedkin would be tuckered out just trying to shoot what's going on here. Kidnap's editing done by Avi Youabian (TV's The Walking Dead, The Call), is distinctive with induced attention to detail (I love the speedometer closeups). Vehicles loudly smash up against each other, people die (or appear to die), and cops as usual, are clueless.

Star Halle Berry gets put through the ringer in Kidnap. As the movie concludes, she appears as though she has aged twenty years. Kudos to the makeup department for giving Berry that look of going through hell and then coming out the other end exhausted. Her performance isn't award- worthy mind you (Berry's Karla talks to herself a lot and it's pretty annoying). However, she tries her darnedest to let the audience feel her nerve endings, her relentless fervor, and her body language which shows that she's solely hopped up on adrenaline.

Image result for Kidnap movie scenes 2017In conclusion, Halle Berry is basically the only trouper Kidnap focuses on. Everyone else is sort of faceless, nameless, and pushed to the side. Bottom line: Kidnap doesn't rely on buildup, elaborate plot
workings, or moments of silence. It's a rushed, genre exercise meant to take you on a wild ride and then quickly drop you off. I'll give it three stars as sustenance-free entertainment.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets 2017 * * Stars

Valerian and the City of a Thousand PlanetsDirector: Luc Besson
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is overstuffed, overlong, and overblown. It readily checks in as my latest review. Basically "Valerian" has enough vivid hues and elements of sci-fi gimmickry to fill a "thousand" movies. Sadly, it is also the most misguided and pretentious science fiction endeavor since 2015's Tomorrowland.

Listen, the two flicks aren't identical but they share the same aura of being clunky. In my review of Tomorrowland, I referred to George Clooney's latest as "the Tinkertoy" movie. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets could easily be called the cinematic equivalent of a Candy Land board game. Just imagine an alternate version of Avatar combined with a bad Star Wars prequel. Then have it take place hundreds of years in the future with a severe weirdness factor attached. That's what you get with "Valerian".

Image result for valerian and the city of a thousand planets movie scenesThe director of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Frenchman Luc Besson. Luc is no doubt a visionary filmmaker. With "Valerian" however, he tries too hard to secure his vision. He forgets that story-line, proper casting, and continuity matter just as much. Besson's visual style is apparently everything or I guess, the only thing. It's sumptuous yet purposeless. The effects just sit there, lying on a shelf. They are made to be seen but have no baring on "Valerian's" actual spiel.

Out of "Valerian's" unnecessary 137-minute running time, there's about an hour where you don't know what the heck is going on. It's pretty much plot-free material. And in between the splashy cinematography by Thierry Arbogast, you the viewer have to listen to truly painful dialogue exchanges between the actors.

In addition to trivial cameos by Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer, you get to hear co-star Cara Delevingne constantly growl and pout. Then in "Valerian", you get a dose of pop star Rihanna playing an exotic dancer who sounds like she's literally reading from cue cards. Finally, you're saddled with lead Dane DeHaan. He may have been solid in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but here he comes off like the poor man's Leonardo DiCaprio. Let's face it, Dane is a little too scrawny and dry to be a credible action hero.

Image result for valerian 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, "Valerian" at a budget of $180 million, might be the most futuristic vehicle ever made. And at the same time, it is virtually non-core (that's not a good thing). The best way to enjoy "Valerian" is to see it on the biggest screen possible or in 3D. Stay for gnarly images and try to ignore everything else. Bottom line: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is 45% soulless and 45% cheesy. The other 10% is when the film has its moments which are few and far between. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson