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Friday, March 30, 2018

Ready Player One 2018 * * * Stars

Ready Player OneDirector: Steven Spielberg
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

Ready Player One is my latest review. It has director Steven Spielberg channeling his inner Blade Runner, his inner dystopia suture, and his inner young adult. For instance, check out his lead actor (21-year-old Tye Sheridan). Tye kinda looks like Spielberg did back in the early to mid 1970's. Trippy.

Anyway, "Player" is Steven's take on virtual reality in slumming Columbus, Ohio (circa 2045). Although overwrought, over-plotting, and overlong at 140 minutes, Ready Player One still comes off as one of the best technical achievements of this year or any other year. Oh and by the way, Jobe Smith, aka "the lawnmower man" called. He wants his new and improved simulation headset back, stat!

Image result for ready player one 2018 movie scenes
Now Steven Spielberg's career in movies has spanned to almost 50 years. He has made bad films (Hook, The Post), boring films (Lincoln, Bridge of Spies), and stupendous masterpieces (E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark). "Player" while totally recommendable, gives you your money's worth yet falls somewhere in the middle.

In truth but not drowned disappointment, "Player" is not as invigorating, emotionally engaging, or majestic as Steve-O's finest work. Still, Ready Player One has an eye-popping look that's one for the ages. "Player" is a candy-coated fever dream, chocked full of pop culture references, blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments, 80's relics (Atari), 70's and 80's tunes, and elaborate movie references (you won't believe what Spielberg does to reenact Stanley Kubrick's, The Shining). Seeing this flick once is not enough for every scene has blotches of special effect nooks and crannies. Heck, once the DVD comes out, you'll be hitting the scan button like a mother.

Image result for ready player one 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, I mentioned earlier that Steven Spielberg has been directing for five decades. I'm not lying when I say that this is unlike anything he's ever done. To my dismay, I thought no A-list filmmaker could reinvent the science fiction wheel with cojones the size of Texas. Guess what, Stevie came in and proved me wrong. Bottom line: Ready Player One gets a three star rating from me. With its lushness, its forced razzle dazzle, and its yearning to be unabashedly avant-garde, I might be "ready" to see it again.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, March 26, 2018

Open Water 3: Cage Dive 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Open Water 3: Cage DiveDirector: Gerald Rascionato
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Joel Hogan, Josh Potthoff, Megan Peta Hill

Open Water 3: Cage Dive is my latest write-up. With its unmoved thrills kicking in after the fifty-minute-mark, "Cage Dive" contains incoherent/jittery found footage, an incorrigibly boring first half, some implausible coincidences, and some various Blair Witch Project overtones.

In all honesty, I got very perturbed watching "Cage Dive". I mean why does some Gen X in peril have to chronicle everything via a hand-held camera? There were times when I couldn't tell what the heck was going on with this worn out exercise in seizure cinema.

Anyway, the plot of Open Water 3: Cage Dive involves three Californians who venture to Australia to partake in a shark cage dive. When their boat is capsized by a random wave (in calm waters which makes no sense), they find themselves abandoned in the middle of the ocean. They bicker, lose their heads, and are left as procrastinating fish food for some hungry great whites.

Image result for open water 3 cage dive movie scenesBasically, "Cage Dive" has the same blueprint as the original Open Water film from 2003. The only difference is the occurrence of said wave, which looks and feels like the special effects department didn't want to take the effort to enhance or elaborate its destruction. The acting in Open Water 3: Cage Dive is decent and its closing shot is a little disturbing. However, "Cage Dive" fails to garner the gravity of tension and numbing fear demonstrated by its previous sequels (Open Water and Open Water 2: Adrift). 

In retrospect, Open Water 3: Cage Dive feels like the boring stepchild to the more harrowing, 47 Meters Down (released in 2017 as well). It's obviously low budget, it's patronizing in its audience perception, and it comes off as tired in its forgone genesis. You don't root for its characters and you constantly wonder why the sharks haven't eaten them right off the bat. Oh yeah, if they're dead early on then there'd be nothing to fill "Cage Dive's" poky running time of eighty minutes.

Image result for open water 3 cage dive movie scenesBottom line: Despite Open Water 3: Cage Dive being the only crappy installment in the Open Water series, the future of this franchise stills needs to be "closed" at this point. I mean what's next, getting stranded in the Dead Sea without perspicacity or the ability to float? Total nonsense. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Annihilation 2018 * * Stars

AnnihilationDirector: Alex Garland
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez

With some serious sci-fi mumbo jumbo, a look of sterile beauty, a good use of multidimensional space, and moments that are not for the squeamish, I give you 2018's Annihilation (my latest review). In truth, I think Annihilation is a lot of things as a movie. Sadly, entertaining is not one of them.

Annihilation's story involves four scientists and one paramedic. With machine guns, foot soldier gear, and flawed dispositions in tote, these five women venture into an area called "the shimmer" (if you've seen a Coldplay music video you'll know what I'm talking about). In "the shimmer", they eventually lose their memory, their sense of time, and they encounter nasty mutations of various animals.

Annihilation, which seems to ask more questions than an audience member can answer, feels preachy and contains a swift ending that has the emotional impact of a gnat. The film is frustrating and choppily edited, harboring a loud musical score, trite found footage clips, varied flashbacks, and shoddily acted flash-forwards.

Image result for annihilation movie scenes 2018Annihilation is like Aliens without prototype aliens, John Carpenter's The Thing with an all-female cast, and 2016's Arrival without its characters getting totally mutilated. If I had my druthers, I'd still watch the pics just mentioned as opposed to taking in another viewing of Annihilation.

Anyway, Annihilation's director is London-born, Alex Garland. Although wet behind the ears, he is indeed a visionary and a sort of mimeographed version of David Lynch. His camera is constantly roving with most of his scenes shot from ground level. As for his general direction, well it seems a little more assured than his script. Overall, Garland tries too hard to reinvent the science fiction wheel here. His Annihilation is artsy-fartsy and overwrought, with sumptuous visuals and odious violence that can't compensate for a continuity-free narrative.

Image result for annihilation movie scenes 2018The troupers in Annihilation are comprised of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Oscar Isaac. Their performances aren't necessarily phoned in mind you. It's just that they come off as blase more than anything else. Annihilation as antiseptic light showiness, may be headache-inducing but it still contains more of a pulse than Natalie, Jennifer, and Oscar can muster. Bottom line: Annihilation the word is defined as a "total defeat". Annihilation the flick? Well it's halfway there. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Midnighters 2017 * * Stars

MidnightersDirector: Julius Ramsay
Year: 2017
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Alex Essoe, Perla Haney-Jardine, Dylan McTee

A gloomy setting that projects light fog and early morning dew. A hooey story that unfolds like a blandly horrific stage play. A torture scene where some guy's fingers are driven through a chair with hammer and nails. Another torture scene where a girl's face is struck three times and all she does is put a tiny bandage on her forehead (huh?). It's all here in 2017's Midnighters (my latest review).

Taking place on New Year's Eve, reckoning itself as poor man's Kubrickian, and distributed by Eagle Films, Midnighters chronicles a couple whose marriage may be on the downslope. Half-drunk and possibly upset with each other, they accidentally drive over a man as he's walking down a desolate road. Being that they're in the middle of nowhere, the husband and wife take the dead body and then later on, try to cover everything up. Unknowns Ward Horton, Dylan McTee, and Alex Essoe round out the cast. Their acting is anywhere between overreaching to just plain middling.

Image result for midnighters 2017 movie scenesMidnighters has its director (Julius Ramsay) clearly being inspired by 1998's A Simple Plan. "Plan" is a mean and lean drama that leaves you shaken and disturbed. Its varied twists and turns are effective and well, "simple". Midnighters on the other hand, over-complicates itself. It may have "Plan's" similar musical score but it surprisingly harbors a lack of suspense. With its weird plot contrivances and its push for trying to be too clever, Midnighters goes AWOL as thriller-based cinema. It never quite distresses you like it should.

Julius Ramsay's direction is palatable so the biggest culprit for Midnighters has to be its shambolic screenplay (written by Ramsay's brother, Alston Ramsay). Alston creates a film experience where you don't have a clear idea of who the protagonists or the antagonists are. Obviously inexperienced at his craft, Alston seems to literally be making up stuff as he goes along. Oh and he insults the audience by thinking it's a victory for the heroine to escape with $50,000 (that's a nothing amount in today's world). 

Image result for midnighters 2017 movie scenesIn conclusion, I've reviewed two films recently with the words "midnight" in their titles. Guess what, Midnight Special and now Midnighters are both pretty lame. Thankfully we have 1978's Midnight Express to fall back on (ha-ha). Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bent 2018 * * * Stars

BentDirector: Bobby Moresco
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Karl Urban, Sofia Vergara, Andy Garcia

He looks like a young Benicio Del Toro. His character is portrayed as a mild vigilante. His character bites the ear off a nefarious bad guy. Finally, his rattled persona comes off as a present day Philip Marlowe type. So OK, I'm talking about Karl Urban and he stars in 2018's Bent (my latest review).

Urban, who's been absent from appearing in an actual movie theater these days, holds his own in Bent as tainted cop Danny Gallagher. Gallagher, with loaned gun and morality on his mind, comes back after serving three years in prison for showing up at a failed drug bust and accidentally killing a fellow peace officer. He gets out and tries to solve a murder mystery. Said murder involves a woman whose car blows up after she unknowingly turns the keys (ouch).

Image result for bent 2018 movie scenesAnyway, Bent has flashbacks, tough guy speak, a generous use of the word "scumbag", lots of people puffing cigarettes, and a winding narrative. You may need multiple viewings to get the full gist of it (I know I might).

Still, Bent is directed with intrigue and tantalizing valor by Bobby Moresco (he's the co-writer of 2005's Oscar-winning Crash). Moresco shoots Bent primarily with a daytime noir setting in steamy (and sometimes rainy) Louisiana. His film is part Hitchcockian, part Usual Suspects, and has a twisty, non-traditional ending that's well staged.

Image result for bent 2018 movie scenesSure his Bent contains wooden, cue card acting by co-star Sofia Vergara. And yes, his film gets its title from another co-star in Andy Garcia (Garcia says the word "bent" 5-6 times throughout and it's kinda annoying). Nevertheless, Moresco takes what could have been a direct-to-video turd and polishes it to pristine silver.

In truth, Bent reminded of John McTiernan circa 2003 (the military flick Basic is what I'm referring to). Bent, with its sense of alienation and its statue as glossed enigma, is anything but "straight-lined". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Hurricane Heist 2018 * * Stars

The Hurricane HeistDirector: Rob Cohen
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten

Obvious, green screen CGI laces every sequence. Symbolic, ghostly images embed themselves in the eye of the storm. Faceless actors spout bad one-liners. Those same actors trade dialogue with fake southern accents. Villains snarl, growl, and yell on cue. Death occurs by whizzing hubcaps. Welcome to The Hurricane Heist, my latest write-up.

Taking place in Alabama yet shot in Bulgaria (I'm not kidding), "Heist" tells the story of a plethora of thieves trying to rob the U.S. Treasury during a Category 5 hurricane. As the film concludes, said hurricane looks more like an F5 tornado as opposed to anything else .

The Hurricane Heist, which feels like it avoided direct-to-video territory simply because director Rob Cohen was attached, uses the line "harsh" in a pivotal clip and it's unintentionally laughable. Principally, "Heist" is a combination of Hard Rain with added 100 mph winds, Die Hard with bad weather, and 2014's Into the Storm minus any criminality.

Of note: There's a scene in "Heist" where two trucks are driving away from stormed destruction in side by side fashion. One truck containing the bad guys gets hurled a thousand feet in the air while the truck containing the good guys drives away unharmed. Oh Hollywood, you never disappoint.

Anyway, "Heist" actually gets off to a promising start. And although complex, it surrenders to sloppy editing, jerry-built concatenation, cluttered action set-ups, and a darkened look that suggests that the camera lens needed to be cleaned thoroughly. In truth, "Heist" is not the worst movie ever made. However, it fails to be cheeky enough to meet the merits of say, the midnight movie circuit or any kind of drive-in fodder.

Image result for the hurricane heist 2018 movie scenesAll in all, Rob Cohen was more proficient progressing his characters and their unhinged stunts via 2001's The Fast and the Furious. With The Hurricane Heist, he takes unknown troupers Toby Kebbell, Ryan Kwanten, and Ralph Ineson and keeps them from being anything but continually unknown. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Just Getting Started 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Just Getting StartedDirector: Ron Shelton
Year: 2017
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo

Just Getting Started (my latest review) is a loose and rather harmless action comedy by the reclusive Ron Shelton. Seeing that Shelton hasn't made a film in about fourteen years, "Started" shows that he isn't quite on his A game. Still, Just Getting Started isn't as bad as some critics have made it out to be. The pic feels like a future Christmas classic to be viewed by many old timers in Palm Springs, CA. Heck, I'll at least go with a mixed rating.

"Started" stars 80-year-old Morgan Freeman and 71-year-old Tommy Lee Jones. This is the first movie they've ever been in together and I'd be lying if I said it was an epic event. It's interesting watching Freeman and Jones bring the funny considering that their entire body of work is mostly dramas and thrillers. Just Getting Started portrays them as AARP ladies men, capable of getting with much younger women as they look like poster children for that little blue pill.

Image result for just getting started 2017 movie scenesThe story of "Started" involves one Duke Diver (now there's an original character name). Diver played by Morgan Freeman, is an ex-mob lawyer who's now in the Witness Protection Program. Duke moves out west where he's the manager of a swanky resort. Everybody there worships Diver until a formal FBI agent named Leo comes along and signs up for residency at said resort (Leo is played by a drawling Tommy Lee Jones). The two bicker and compete with each other in games of cards, golf, ping pong, and limbo. Eventually, this is all to win the love of an auditor name Suzie (the sexily-voiced Rene Russo).

Ron Shelton shoots Just Getting Started as if he'd been studying material like Caddyshack, 1986's Club Paradise, a sequel to Meatballs, or his own 90's classic, Tin Cup. In fact, he actually uses phrases from "Cup" to put in his sometimes charming yet lazy screenplay (in "Started" you'll hear the words "Romeo", "huevos", and "waggle" on occasion). Basically, "Started" is like a senior citizen farce for juveniles, a sledgehammering Xmas film with palm trees, and a non-periled mob flick all rolled into one. As probably the most laid-back vehicle in Shelton's 30-year career as a filmmaker, Just Getting Started looks as though a lot of people had fun making it.

Image result for just getting started 2017 movie scenesAll in all, I like Just Getting Started as a movie title and I dug the fact that director Ron Shelton included a cameo by Johnny Mathis (how random is that). Like most of Shelton's flicks, "Started" is sometimes metaphoric, sometimes sports-related, and filled with semi-wry dialogue exchanges. However, if you compare it to his best stuff (White Men Can't Jump, Bull Durham, Dark Blue, and Tin Cup mentioned earlier), it's sadly a step below. Still worth at least one viewing. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Death Wish 2018 * * * Stars

Death WishDirector: Eli Roth
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

2018's Death Wish is my latest write-up. It's not a horror film per se despite director Eli Roth at the helm. Yeah Roth occasionally dabbles in torture and stomach-churning gore with "Wish". Still, he crafts an exercise in style that shows sheer, off-genre maturity.

The action sequences in Death Wish are virtual perfection from a storyboard standpoint and the script by Joe Carnahan, well it's diverting and purely machismo. If you live in Chicago like I do (Chi-Town is "Wish's" urban setting), then this flick will give you a perturbed feeling as you exit the theater. With all the school shootings and club shootings that have happened in the U.S. recently, Death Wish may have garnered bad timing with its release. Nevertheless, I'm gonna recommend it because it pretty much eclipses the quality of the original Death Wish vehicle from 1974.

"Wish's" lead is none other than Bruce Willis. After phoning in performances via direct-to-video sludge like The Prince, Precious Cargo, and Acts of Violence, Bruce finally gets to shine here and does so. It feels like forever since he's been on screen at the local multiplex. Roth brings John McClane back from the dead and there can't be anything wrong with that.

Image result for Death wish 2018 movie scenesAnyway, the story of Death Wish involves Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis). Kersey has a loving wife and a daughter set to attend college. One night while Paul is performing surgery at his resident hospital, some robbers invade his home, kill said wife, and put said daughter in a coma. Because the cops don't dig deep enough into the investigation, Kersey becomes a vigilante and takes the law into his own hands. He vows to catch the scumbags that took his life from him and maybe help others from Chicago's vile criminals bent on ruining society.

In the original Death Wish, the late Charles Bronson played Paul Kersey. He was stone-faced, had a decent screen presence, and blew bad guys away on a dime. Bruce Willis with hoodie and itchy trigger finger in tote, steadily outdoes Bronson in the acting department. He shows added emotion and manages to flesh out his character more. Whereas Bronson came off as a second-tier Steve McQueen in '74's "Wish", Willis does his best work in years. As the king of grimacing while firing an automatic weapon, Bruce is back with a chrome dome noggin and a level of superior badassery.

In conclusion, the one thing the original Death Wish has over the new Death Wish is the jungle-style musical score by Herbie Hancock. Otherwise, this is Eli Roth successfully rebooting the Death Wish franchise with updating, social media outlets and splashy, B-movie residue. Sure his villains lack character development and Roth's overall premise is far-fetched. Nonetheless, Eli portrays the "Windy City" as hell on earth and that supplements his nastily violent vision. They say nothing in life is certain except "death" and taxes. Well you can add solid Death Wish remakes to that list. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 2, 2018

Hangman 2017 * 1/2 Stars

HangmanDirector: Johnny Martin
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Brittany Snow

With a couple of car chases, the occasional fast cutting, and some tepid gore, I give you 2017's Hangman (my latest review). In veracity, Hangman is the type of flick that David Fincher would watch and laugh his butt off in reverse envy.

Hangman's story involves just another sicko who murders people. Said murderer whose makeup seems laughable and trite, offs randoms according to the outline of a children's guessing game called Hangman (hence the name of the film).

Hangman, which could've been titled 11 PM (don't ask), is like every other serial killer movie ever made. Its ending has a jolt or two but it's not enough. Hangman is unoriginal, conventional, uninspiring, silly, and totally paint-by-numbers. Al Pacino stars and totes dyed hair, dyed goatee remnants, and a sleep-induced Louisiana accent.

Image result for Hangman 2017 movie scenesHangman at ninety-eight minutes, feels just like a mediocre Law & Order episode (with an R rating of course). It has the obligatory police captain who is angry at his or her subordinates. It also has the obligatory detective who can't seem to retire or is coming out of retirement for one last gig. Finally, Hangman has a journalist persona following investigators as they discover grisly bodies lined up for the slaughter. In the realm of the real world, this would never be allowed to happen.

In truth, I couldn't recommend Hangman unless I was paid to do so. Director Johnny Martin never seems to generate any tension or palatable intrigue throughout. With Hangman, Johnny boy fidgets relentlessly with image after image of darkened gruesomeness. It seems fitting considering that he can't seem to light a scene so that the viewer has a clear idea of what's going on.

Image result for Hangman 2017 movie scenesAll in all, Hangman has blase acting from its side characters, a tired locale in the form of Atlanta (which masquerades as the The Bayou State), and an image of a continued clock that reminds everyone of Pacino's past flop, 88 Minutes ("tic-tock, doc" ugh).

Bottom line: Hangman is probably one of the dopiest thrillers since 2004's Suspect Zero (that's the pic where Aaron Eckhart whines on occasion). As a Redbox time spacer, it just can't "hang". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson