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Friday, February 23, 2018

Game Night 2018 * * * Stars

Game NightDirectors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler

Game Night is my latest review. It's not really a black comedy for it's too cheery for that. "Night" is more blackish, a light comedic romp.

The laughs in Game Night aren't of the belly variety but there's plenty of snorts and chuckles to garner my recommendation. No one truly seems in peril despite incidents of gunshots, kidnappings, and fistfights. Basically "Night" never lets you take it too seriously. It's wholly original buffoonery that just wants to have fun.

Jason Bateman is in the lead. He plays yet another sad sack everyman. Bateman channels this type of role in a lot of his farces. With his congenial looks and his breakneck style of delivering lines, Game Night seems like it gives him the best, most comfortable fit. Dare I say that "Night" is the exemplary Jason Bateman vehicle.

Image result for Game night movie scenesThe story of Game Night revolves around a married couple named Max and Annie (Bateman and Rachel McAdams). Having in common an incredibly cutthroat nature, they invite other couples over for charades, board games, and plenty of chips and salsa. One weekend, everyone changes it up a bit and goes over to the house of Max's brother (Brooks played by Kyle Chandler). Brooks decides to turn a normal "game night" into a real-life murder mystery. Just imagine a combo of violent abductions, slapstick encounters, and scavenger hunts.

Of note: I'm not sure why "Night" has been saddled with an R rating. It's not completely vehement, I don't remember hearing any F words, and there's not much in the way of sexual innuendo. I mean, a teenager wouldn't even flinch if they saw it.

Anyway, Game Night will resonate if you've seen stuff like Horrible Bosses or 1987's Adventures in Babysitting. It has mild twists and turns and some aerial shots that actually look like objects in the game of Monopoly. "Night" also has neat closing credits that are humorous and don't involve outtakes (that's a refreshing change).

A lot of the characters in "Night" spew movie references from material like The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense, Pulp Fiction, and Django Unchained. Normally, I find this adage tired and stock but surprisingly it adds to "Night's" peppy charm.

Image result for Game night movie scenesBottom line: Would I call Game Night a comedy classic? Probably not but I did enjoy it. Would I say that it's a good way to get to the theater and escape those late winter blues? Definitely. "Game on!" Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Looking Glass 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Looking GlassDirector: Tim Hunter
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas

Looking Glass is my latest write-up. It's a murder mystery with style to burn not to mention a surprisingly restrained performance by Nicolas Cage. "Glass" echoes the works of David Lynch, Nimrod Antal, and newbie helmer, Tom Ford. I can't quite recommend it but it does give you reason for avoiding residence at a seedy motel.

"Glass", with its stirring score by Mark Adler, its blase, villainous turn by Marc Blucas, and its Shining-style cinematography by Patrick Cady, revolves around a dude named Ray (Cage). Ray drinks, smokes, looks like a nervous Nellie, and becomes relentlessly curious throughout the entire, 104-minute film.

Image result for looking glass 2018 movie scenesRay loses his daughter in a devastating accident. He then takes his drug addict wife (Maggie played by Robin Tunney) and moves to a rundown lodge somewhere in desolate California. There, he becomes the sole owner. Said lodge is plagued by prostitution sex, lesbian encounters, and cold-blooded liquidation (involving pigs and humans no less). Ray observes a lot through a mirror in room ten (hence the title of Looking Glass). The whole pic is set against Grindhouse-style opening credits, Hitchockian residue, and fading, in-and-out characters.

Director Tim Hunter (1986's River's Edge) may be a seasoned veteran but he shoots "Glass" with too much enigma. He toys with his audience while deeming his flick as something where every single persona messes with Cage's Ray for no penetrable reason.

Image result for looking glass 2018 movie posterHis direction seems admirable and the performances are on par. However, Hunter's premise for the majority of the way, meanders. It never fully adds up until the audience has had enough of the pic's manipulative guessing game. Bottom line: Looking Glass may be striving for introspect and pungent, U Turn navel-gazing. Nevertheless, it "looks" like just another genre exercise in cactus desertion. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Winchester 2018 * * Stars

WinchesterDirectors: The Spierig Brothers
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jason Clarke, Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook

The setting is San Jose, CA in 1906. A widow named Sarah Winchester believes she's being haunted by ghosts in her swank, reconstructed mansion. Fearing that she is mentally ill, a doctor named Eric Pence is sent in to give her a psychiatric evaluation. Oh and there's a creepy kid relative that's sometimes being controlled by evil spirits. Oscar winner Helen Mirren plays the wealthy Sarah while Zero Dark Thirty's Jason Clarke plays the unissued Pence. That's the gist of Winchester, my latest review.

Image result for Winchester 2018 movie scenesWinchester has the excitement level of an episode of Ghost Adventures (ugh). It's not very lucid as a true story, it contains familiar fright tropes, and it's rather blase in the overall approach. Basically Winchester is ninety-nine minutes of humdrum horror fare. The Spierig Brothers (twins Peter and Michael) dig to try to recreate the dimmed corridors of something like 2001's The Others. They direct Winchester with fair haunted house lighting, a slight sense atmospheric dread, and a determined eye for setting up shots. Don't confuse them with the Coen brothers though. Their film although well cast, throbs with a held back, frivolous PG-13 rating. It never quite lifts off.

Winchester while old-fashioned in its ghostly look, relies heavily on weak jump scares (with tired, pouncing music) and systematic jolts. The pic sometimes comes off as funny rather than frightening. It doesn't help that lead Mirren chews scenery while constantly dressed in widowed, black cloak. Her jittery character is habitually scripted. She's more like a glaring horror parody than anything else.

Image result for Winchester 2018 movie scenesAll in all, Winchester is pretty vapid as its supernatural happenings scarcely go bump bump in the night. This vehicle probably could've benefited from a surprise ending made to revitalize the pulse of your average moviegoer. Where the greatest demonic possession flicks announce themselves as cinematic prime rib, Winchester is more like your average skirt steak at Ponderosa. The Exorcist it ain't. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Accident Man 2018 * * * Stars

Accident ManDirector: Jesse V. Johnson
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Scott Adkins, Ray Stevenson, Ashley Greene

Fixedly hollow yet effervescent in its hand-to-hand combat, 2018's Accident Man is my latest review. The Accident Man persona is played by Scott Adkins. Adkins, who's in nearly every frame, commands with an ample screen presence. He's pretty hands-on in the exhaustively stingy action sequences.

So OK, "Accident" is overly violent, overly twisted, overly demented, and has a direct-to-video title. Still, it distracts the viewer by being a tad tongue-in-cheek and containing some ruffian dialogue. Plus, it has an intricate story to tell. I might be going against my better judgment but I'm gonna surrender and recommend this thing anyway.

Accident Man has director Jesse V. Johnson shooting the film with mucked up freeze-frames. He's like an unbalanced Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie on steroids. As "Accident's" poster looking like Thor: Ragnarok resonates, bones are cracked, tons of people are killed, and slow-motion, martial artistry is a mainstay.

Image result for Accident man movie scenesA predominance of "Accident" is about the hitman being the inevitable hit. You've seen this before in other flicks. Johnson gives the British proceedings a mean-spirited, cynical feel. It may be off-putting at times but heck, it just works.

Accident Man's story involves one Mike Fallon (Adkins). He was bullied as a kid before he toughened up, mentored an older contract killer, and became a contract killer himself. Mike's method of offing someone involves making it look like an accident (hence the name of the movie).

When Fallon's pregnant ex-girlfriend gets murdered by someone in his own, hitmen-circled crew, he turns detective and eventually seeks vengeance. Adkins looks like Maroon 5's Adam Levine but don't worry. Looks can be deceiving. Scott is a confident badass, delivering his lines with consummate vigor while he barrels through "Accident" as if he were the only Caucasian in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 

Related imageAll in all, Accident Man is a glistening, draining thriller that may upset you. It has shots of head dismemberment, clips of double-crossing, a soundtrack mixed with RocknRolla ditties and synthesizer marks, and an off-the-grid likeness channeling Kill Bill. Yeah it's no "accident" that I kinda dug its hardcore groove. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 9, 2018

The 15:17 to Paris 2018 * * Stars

The 15:17 to ParisDirector: Clint Eastwood
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos

The 15:17 to Paris is Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort. It's also my latest review. In truth, I liked the pic's title. As for "Paris" itself, well it's meh when it could have been so much greater. I need more exuberance with stuff that possesses historical insight.

Released in February to almost minimal, media hype, "Paris" rounds out to a mere ninety-four minutes. Clint is legendary for doing one-time takes and having his films finish rather quickly. That might have got the best of him because The 15:17 to Paris feels unfinished and more akin to a snippet of an Eastwood film rather than a full cinematic entity. Clint was able to get away with a shortened running time via 2016's Sully. In regards to The 15:17 to Paris, the results are instead mixed.

Image result for the 15 17 to paris movie scenesNow to be honest, I've always been a fan of Eastwood's style of directing. He may be a meat and potatoes filmmaker but that's OK. He knows where to put the camera, his storytelling sensibilities are always intact, and his flicks have a streamlined numbness to them which I like. "Paris" possesses these things but lacks professional troupers in the leads and a tightened script (which Clint had no part in writing). The movie renders itself climatically mute and in a sense, underwhelming. The 15:17 to Paris starts out strong, meanders in the 2nd act, and then before you know it, it's over. Next to something like Mystic River or American Sniper, this is patchwork fodder by the man they call "Dirty" Harry.

Distributed by Warner Bros. and told chronologically with interrupting clips of a final, confrontational sequence, "Paris" tells the true account of three friends preventing terrorist activity on a train bound for Paris, France. The three friends in question, are Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos. These are the actual guys mind you and they play themselves in The 15:17 to Paris. Eastwood thinks he's doing something innovative here but it backfires. Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos aren't trained actors and it shows. Most of their scenes are full of improvisation and ad-libbed nuances. What's worse is that they fail to fully emote and show deadening emotion when needed.

Image result for the 15 17 to paris movie scenesIn conclusion, "Paris" while not recommendable, still kinda shows that Clint Eastwood has a sense of craft and cadence in his work. With whatever project he does next, he needs to better his faulty decisions and maybe take his time more. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Braven 2018 * * Stars

BravenDirector: Lin Oeding
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Jason Momoa, Garret Dillahunt, Stephen Lang

Braven (my latest write-up) is low on plot, low on horse sense, and short on serviceable editing. Its star (Jason Momoa) was in Justice League but this is not the vehicle that anoints him to A-list status.

As far as 2018's releases go, Braven feels like a mash-up of Assault on Precinct 13, Cliffhanger, and 1981's Death Hunt. It may be akin to those films as a dead heated, status quo. Nevertheless, I can't quite recommend Braven. Yes it has moments of survival that are relentless and inventive. Still, its residue is wholly stock. Braven sadly veers into direct-to-video territory.

Image result for braven 2018 movie scenesBraven is about one man protecting his family (grandfather, daughter, and wife). Its title comes from the name of the main character (Jason Momoa as Joe Braven). Momoa meets the physical demands of the role, looks like an out of place Adonis, and has a screen presence that is functional. His Joe is a brute, hard-working logger with I guess, a special set of skills (Liam Neeson was unavailable being in The Commuter and all).

Joe finds an immense stash of cocaine in his cabin. It has been left there by drug runners for safe keeping (one of said drug runners is Joe's insipid co-worker). They come to claim it and so begins a standoff between good and evil. Braven the movie relies heavily on merciless violence, beautified Canadian backdrops (impersonating the state of Washington), father/son conflicts, and bulletproof logistics. Protagonists and antagonists get shot at but never seem to die or feel any morbid pain. Axes, demise by fire, and mountainous falls take care of that.

Image result for braven 2018 movie scenesAll in all, Braven clocks in at ninety-four fast-paced minutes. Its action sequences veer between pedestrian and exhaustion-filled. Lin Oeding's spraying direction is standard fare. This is despite the reliable Stephen Lang, the damsel Jill Wagner, and the cold-blooded Garret Dillahunt being added to the cast. Bottom line: Braven as a gelid weather thriller, may give motion junkies their diverted, rental fix. In my mind though, it isn't really worth "braving". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Neighbor 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

The NeighborDirector: Aaron Harvey
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: William Fichtner, Jessica McNamee, Michael Rosenbaum

The Neighbor (my latest review) is a slow-moving, melancholy vehicle that features a comatose performance by William Fichtner (his inspiration for creating this persona seems unknown to me). As far as new releases go in 2018, "Neighbor" gets its Rear Window fix while dabbling in would-be, marital affairs. It isn't substandard but it fails to get my full recommendation.

Image result for The neighbor william fichtner movie scenesOn the surface, The Neighbor could be a drama/thriller that involves a number of John Q. Citizens. Look closer though because it's really about Fichtner's gardener slash at-home writer named Mike. Mike is a guy who according to his wife, might be going through a mid-life crisis. He talks slow, comes off like a wounded puppy dog, and goes through the motions as if he might've suffered a mild stroke some years ago.

Mike becomes obsessed with a guileless couple who lives next door to him. One of them is an attractive woman who's young enough to be his daughter. The other is an abusive, alcoholic husband who sells snazzy automobiles. Mikey gradually intervenes with their relationship until all heck breaks loose (sort of). The whole pic is set to a backdrop of jejune suburbia. There are scenes involving faded palm trees, domestic squabbles, badly advising best friends, and neighborhood barbecues.

Related imageDirector Aaron Harvey (he helmed 2011's Catch .44) shoots "Neighbor" almost like an art film that wishes it could've blossomed into "popcorn" territory. His stride is glacial as he lets every enclosed scene play out at a snail's pace. Yeah Harvey's flick builds up to a small amount of tension. However, The Neighbor's ending leaves you teetering too far on the edge of something. Character motivations aren't fully realized and the tempering nature of the antagonist (and the protagonist who may be his own antagonist) is rather ill-defined. Just call "Neighbor" "American beautified" or a more subdued version of 2007's Disturbia. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Tale of Two Coreys 2018 * * Stars

A Tale of Two CoreysDirector: Steven Huffaker
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Scott Bosely, Casey Leach

Do you remember Corey Feldman and Corey Haim? I do. They were young actors from the late 80's and early 90's. They became buddies and did at least seven films together. Being about the same age as both of them, I must have binged-watched License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream profusely.

Anyway, A Tale of Two Coreys is my latest write-up. In chronological order, it glosses over Feldman and Haim's twenty-plus-year friendship. With its 1986 chic look, its cheesy music soundtrack, and its even cheesier production values, "Coreys" is TV movie personified. Actually, it's a Lifetime movie and an underwhelming one at that.

Image result for a tale of two coreys movie scenesSpeaking of Lifetime movies, well they're a guilty pleasure of mine. They are conflicting and manipulative and they suck you right in. A Tale of Two Coreys does go to some dark places and it somewhat shocks you with what supposedly happened to these dudes (drug addiction, being from broken families, being sexually abused on movie sets, etc.).

However, where most Lifetime flicks clock in at two immense hours, "Coreys" registers at about ninety minutes (and that's with commercials). Although cutesy and dire at the same time, "Coreys" doesn't scratch enough surface nor does it give these BFF's a thorough testimonial.

As for the acting, well there's four troupers that play Feldman and Haim over various periods of time. With the exception of Justin Ellings who channels young Haimster, the other three don't resemble their mannerisms or personalities in any capacity. No one gives a lousy performance mind you. It's just that the casting by Dean E. Fronk and Donald Paul Pemrick (two veterans in their field) is kinda off.

Image result for a tale of two coreys movie scenesIn conclusion, The Tale of Two Coreys doesn't suffer with its straight-line storytelling and odious Hollywood insight. Also, you can say that director Steven Huffmaker tries to make you feel somewhat nostalgic (watch for a cameo involving Keith Coogan who was once a teen idol himself). Nevertheless, I just can't find it in my heart to recommend "Coreys". Might I suggest watching The Two Coreys reality show instead. It's the actual guys on screen. Yeah, it may have been scripted but to an extent, it's poser-free. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson