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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Proud Mary 2018 * 1/2 Stars

Proud MaryDirector: Babak Najafi
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Danny Glover

A hitwoman decides to leave a life of killing after joining an organized crime family in Boston, MA. Said hitwoman also attempts to look after a young kid who's being terrorized by the nasty thugs he works for. That's the gist of Proud Mary, my latest review. After an opening credits sequence that's a homage to blaxploitation films everywhere, "Mary" reeks in terms of familiarity and forced habitualness. It descends into becoming a totally stock mob thriller.

"Mary's" got cool cars but it has risible one-liners. It's got eccentric guns but it takes itself way too earnestly. Finally, "Mary" is violent but its violence doesn't completely sting. All the carnage and duality feels half-assed at best. Heck, there's no visual poetry or ferocity as birds in flight. Bottom line: Proud Mary ain't no downtown Foxy Brown.

Image result for proud mary movie scenesProud Mary's lead is Taraji P. Henson. She's visibly beautiful, she's a terrific actress, she's bad in black, and she has that apparent Pam Grier screen presence. However, Taraji is not an action star. "Mary's" director (Babak Najafi) knew this early on and that's why he films Proud Mary's fighting sequences so shoddily, so sloppily, and without clarity. When Henson's Mary Goodwin takes out 10-15 guys in "Mary's" final act, you don't believe it's possible and furthermore, you believe the stunt double did all the work.

Henson, an Oscar-nominated trouper and someone coming off a cinematic hit a la Hidden Figures, needs to have a long talk with her agent concerning "Mary". She needs to decide whether or not to bring down the anvil and fire this person.

Image result for proud mary movie scenesAll in all, Proud Mary has chintzy dialogue, two or more main characters that fade in and out, a barely resonant Neil McDonough, a tedious midsection, and Tina Turner's 1971 hit song being played as an obvious ploy. As a mediocre version of a female John Wick, a neutered version of this year's Accident Man, and a flick that borrows its plot line from 1994's The Professional, "Mary" sadly earns its January release date. This disposable movie is nothing to be "proud" of. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Spinning Man 2018 * * * Stars

Spinning ManDirector: Simon Kaijser
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Guy Pearce, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver

In 2001, I saw Christopher Nolan's Memento and that's when I discovered Aussie actor Guy Pearce. In Spinning Man (my latest review), Pearce sort of reprises his role from seventeen years ago as a guy who well, has a really foggy memory (unfortunately Guy's got no tattoos this time, sigh).

Pearce's character also drinks casually, has affairs with college girls, goes totally walkabout, and merits himself a worldly philosophizer. "Spinning", with its compact and conventional film-making by Simon Kaijser, saddles Guy with a regimented and unassumingly underplayed performance. You could call his Spinning Man Memento lite for it's less dangerous, non-tetchy, and far less foreboding.

Anyway, "Spinning" chronicles a college professor named Evan Birch (Pearce). When one of Birch's students goes missing, he becomes the prime suspect in her eventual murder. Evan while mild-mannered and readily insouciant, has to deal with a nosy detective on his heels (Robert Malloy played by Pierce Brosnan), the loss of his tenured job, and a pessimistic, ball-breaking wife (Ellen Birch played by Minnie Driver).

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Did he or did he not kill this young girl and hide her battered body? That's the question with Evan and it's told in willful, inch by inch fashion via "Spinning".

Spinning Man, which could've had a rating of PG-13, feels like a restrained Law & Order episode told from the point of view of the would-be criminal as opposed to Lt. Olivia Benson. With "Spinning", Kaijser's direction has just the right amount of flash, Brosnan and Pearce have scenes that slightly crackle, rural LA looks credible, and "Spinning's" ending sort of turned the tables on me.

Critics have called Spinning Man formulaic, incoherently twisty, purposeless, and forgettable. I on the other hand, dug its intrigue and its cat and mouse tenor. In truth, "Spinning" may be a safe thriller that rides the kiddie hill of apprehension. Still, it has moments that put it ahead of drivel like Secret in Their Eyes and 2017's diluted pic, The Snowman.

Image result for spinning man 2018 movie scenesBottom line: Spinning Man with minimal violence, decent scripting, and binding flash-forward in tote, keeps its head on a cinematic "swivel". I'm not sure "Spinning" got a theatrical release so the best way to see it is On Demand. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Traffik 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

TraffikDirector: Deon Taylor
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Roselyn Sanchez

Traffik is my latest write-up. As borderline, B movie mayhem and a relative form of trashy exploitation, Traffik starts off as a Straw Dogs/Deliverance tribute only to take a detour that's much more disturbing. I can't quite recommend it for it readily blurs the lines of bad taste. However, Traffik is effective enough that it might make you think twice about vacationing in Northern California.

Featuring a level of blatant vileness, not screened for critics, and starting off with some idle acting, Traffik hits us with a misleading trailer (it ain't about some cutesy couple on a tender, botched rendezvous). Traffik also has an interesting choice of closing credit dailies in which everything seems to be filmed upside down or inherently sideways.

Image result for traffik 2018 movie scenesTraffik chronicles journalist Brea who is played with frantic intensity by Paula Patton. Brea travels outside Sacramento with her boyfriend John (Omar Epps). They are on route to a romantic getaway, complete with a snazzy house in the mountains and an exotic pool to boot. When they collide with some biker ruffians who run a human trafficking ring, all hell breaks loose.

A twist here and there, some faceless characters, a winding car chase, multiple murders, and a police force that happens to be in on the villainous eventuality (spoiler). Traffik has all this as it ratchets up a relentless adage of anxiety and upsetting malaise.

Director Deon Taylor knows and protracts that he's basing his movie on true events. Unfortunately, he doesn't honor them in a deft manner. Deon would rather sensationalize Traffik with gore, race-related mantras, and visible, grindhouse overtones. He gives you a reason to think Traffik came out at the wrong time and he gives you another reason to think Traffik probably shouldn't have been made in the first place. Give me Jonathan Mostow, Florent Emilio Siri, or John Dahl at the helm and I might've upped my rating (we're talking a higher level of thriller sophistication with these veteran filmmakers).

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In conclusion, Traffik while giving off that coarse Saw vibe, did effect my shamefaced psyche and kept me on the edge of my seat for the last hour. It's messy, smash-mouth "congestion" so I'll go with 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Molly's Game 2017 * * * Stars

Molly's GameDirector: Aaron Sorkin
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

In Molly's Game (my latest review), we get a film based on a book and a true story. We also get a portrayal of a semi-protagonist who's in way over her head. Finally, we get the biggest amount of wayward chit-chat ever put on celluloid. Yup, this is Aaron Sorkin's sphere and we're just passing through it.

Sorkin penned "Game's" screenplay so you know the actors words will be juicy and expository to the nth degree. You also know that Sorkin's work will have hints of cynicism and cruelness. Finally, you know that Aaron Sorkin will be making yet another cameo appearance. With "Game", he plays an underground poker player that's just hanging out.

Anyway, Molly's Game has a similar arc to The Social Network (which is also written by Sorkin). And although "Game" isn't quite as invigorating, weighty, or compelling as "Network", it's still worth recommending.

Image result for molly's game movie scenesEdited tightly (even at 140 minutes), completely dialogue-driven, and containing ferocious performances from the likes of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, Molly's Game is about a former skier turned illegal Hollywood poker game runner.

"Game" dodges between flashbacks and present day scenes involving Molly Bloom (Chastain) and her quest to avoid jail time. In the vein of card shark tactics, buy-ins, rakes, and Russian mafia inquests, you can safely call Molly's Game 1998's Rounders on steroids (ha-ha).

In total veracity, I dug the intelligence and sophistication of a flick like "Game". This is Aaron Sorkin's first foray behind the camera and yes, he can direct as well as write. Sorkin shoots Molly's Game with a fast cutting style, a slow-motion know-how, and a rags to riches to rags residue. It's as if he were Martin Scorsese's unequivocal proxy. Firstly, Sorkin's a steamrolling director, sledgehammering character study interludes while filling the screen with countless details (his script feels like it's 5000 words long).

Image result for molly's game movie scenesNow despite not fully hitting its stride thematically and climatically, "Game" is nevertheless Aaron Sorkin in his highest comfort zone. This is him getting free rein to do whatever he wants. Basically this is Sorkin pushing the talky envelope. Sure his Molly's Game is overlong, over-explanatory, and narrative-binged (Chastain is like Ray Liotta talking twice as much as he did in Goodfellas). Regardless, this motion picture feels worldly-wised and more cultivated than your average, dumbed-down blockbuster. "Game" while no "royal flush", still checks in as the thinking person's moonlight drama. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Borg vs McEnroe 2017 * * * Stars

Borg vs McEnroeDirector: Janus Metz Pedersen
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Sverrir Gudnason, Stellan Skarsgard

In Borg vs McEnroe (my latest review), Shia LeBeouf's John McEnroe utters, "you cannot be serious" and "you guys are the absolute pits of the world". This actually happened a year later, not during the 1980 Wimbledon semifinal (which is briefly depicted in "vs"). Oh well. We all get a kick out of seeing John McEnroe throw a tantrum on the tennis court. The filmmakers I suppose, added his famous outburst in just for effect.

Anyway, "vs" is slow-moving yet intricate. It also lacks excitement but feels saddened and absorbing. Borg vs McEnroe is equal to 2017's Battle of the Sexes, better than 2004's cutesy Wimbledon, and less syrupy than 1979's Players. If I had to rank it in the small throng of tennis movies, it would be near the top.

Based on a true story, predictable if you know tennis, and relatively accurate in terms of baseline recreation, "vs" chronicles the events leading up to John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg's famous clash at the 1980 Wimbledon final. Borg and McEnroe met 14 times in their careers with a record of 7-7 between the two of them. Borg vs McEnroe the movie pushes all that aside to handily focus on said final. Torrid behind the scenes stuff, wooden rackets, public cigarette smoking, headbands, mulled grass courts, and bad sportsmanship. It's all there vividly in "vs".

In truth, "vs" is a decent flick. Janus Metz Pedersen's direction is solid as he creates something that is R-rated and at times, pressure cooked. He does well with various flashbacks and numerous overhead shots of the sweaty tennis action. The way he uses camera angles to film groundstrokes and volleys is like nothing I've ever seen before.

Pedersen's "vs" is also a master thesis in the character development of one Bjorn Borg (played by Sverrir Gudnason who looks like Borg and gets his mannerisms just right). As for the McEnroe persona channeled by Shia LeBeouf, well it's not fully drawn-out and for good reason. LeBeof gives a decent performance but doesn't look like John McEnroe, strut like John McEnroe, or completely act like John McEnroe (too many obvious F-bombs and no East Coast accent). The producers probably knew this and didn't want to fluctuate and/or elaborate on Johnny Mac's hard-ass back-story.

Image result for borg vs mcenroe movie scenesAll in all, it's hard to make a compelling film when you know the outcome. Also, Borg vs McEnroe's pace is somewhat glacial with some muted scenes feeling like pseudo PowerPoint presentations. Still, "vs" is edited well (check out Borg's superstitions/rituals with his Donnay sticks and his overall body routine) and has an effectively saturated look. As independent fodder made carefully with a little skill and craft, Borg vs McEnroe secures "match point" and gets my harnessed recommendation. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Isle of Dogs 2018 * * * Stars

Isle of DogsDirector: Wes Anderson
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray

Isle of Dogs (my latest review) is the best form of animation. Stop-motion animation that is. As a film about a young boy searching for his dog (via an island where illness outbreak pups are banished to), "Isle" is a technical triumph. It has director Wes Anderson using his required trademarks to make eye-popping grandeur a complete understatement. This is Anderson's ode to fictional Japan, his form of made-up dystopia that he was born to put out.

Image result for isle of dogs movie scenesIn Isle of Dogs, Wes gives us a rinse, repeat cycle of wide-angle clips, close-ups, various title cards, random flashbacks, and whip pans. Sure his narrative is a little choppy, his storytelling way overzealous, and his plot points too aplenty for a flick rounding out to 101 minutes. Still, "Isle" is a midnight stoner's dream, a feast of lushly framed scenes so detailed and itemized that you can't help but demand a second viewing.

For instance, check out a sequence where an animated chef is making sushi with a poisonous wasabi. Also, check out a depiction of a garbage bag filled with dumpster diving food. Finally, look for a sequence where a doctor persona is performing a blow-by-blow kidney transplant. Anderson is wise here to give us his signature camera shots from up above. It wouldn't work any other way.

Image result for isle of dogs movie scenesAll in all, the characters in Isle of Dogs are voiced by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber and Cranston handle the majority of the dialogue while everyone else sort of fades in and out. In truth, my favorite Wes Anderson film of all time has always been Rushmore. "Isle", with its beautified dirtiness, its form of deafening taiko drumming, its tongue-in-cheek squeak, and its V for Vendetta banality, comes in at a close second. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Quiet Place 2018 * * * Stars

A Quiet PlaceDirector: John Krasinski
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe

Actors giving seething performances with the bare minimum of dialogue. A lacquered, low budget setting with cornfields and contemporary homes that looks like rural Pennsylvania (I could be wrong). Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" being played on headphones via iTunes (cool). Mortifying creatures with cartoon chompers who are nimble and really snap to it. It's all here in A Quiet Place, my latest review.

Image result for a quiet place movie scenes"Place" is post-apocalyptic, refreshing silent film eclectic, Quiet Earth resonant, and atmospheric. Hitchcock would wince for it's a less gory version of The Descent coupled with a less humorous version of 1990's Tremors coupled with a less religious version of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs.

The pic tells the story of a family who must use sign language to avoid being killed by blind, extraterrestrial varmints who prey by way of audible sounds. Said family could've used rifles for self defense. However, they don't seem to figure that out till "Place's" ninety-minute running time has eclipsed one hour (spoiler).

Anyway, you remove the whole rifle aspect and A Quiet Place is disturbing, depressing, and readily effective even if it's almost unbearable to watch. John Krasinski is behind the camera and also stars alongside his real-life spouse (Emily Blunt).

In truth, I've never known Krasinski to be a horror flick helmer and I never knew he was a filmmaker in general. Nevertheless, his art-house direction is pinpoint, rachet-minded, and calculated. He builds a sense of dread and morbid torment right from "Place's" startling, opening scene.

Image result for a quiet place movie scenesYeah John's premise doesn't always wring true. Sometimes the spider-like creatures show up when there's no sound, sometimes they hold back when there is sound (huh?), and sometimes they're not as quick when trying to off certain protagonists (a pregnant woman for example). Still, A Quiet Place is worth "visiting" for its fingernail biting statue, its way of keeping you in its character's shoes as you exit the theater, and its mark of unsettling constitution. See it if you want your blood to curdle. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Unsane 2018 * * * 1/2 Stars

UnsaneDirector: Steven Soderbergh
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah

When I think of maverick directors, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and Steven Soderbergh always come to mind. 2018's Unsane (my latest review) has Soderbergh shooting his entire film with an iPhone 7 Plus. That's right, an iPhone. Some would call this careless but Stevie boy never misses a beat. The dude can pretty much do anything for he is a total guerrilla.

Now I read somewhere that Soderbergh had retired as a filmmaker. Yeah whatever. He just couldn't stay away could he. His Unsane is a motion picture that will keep you enthralled and sock in the throat at the same time.

Unsane is a trademark or better yet a benchmark of all things Steven Soderbergh (minus any sighting of Channing Tatum). It's occasionally flashy yet somber. It's effective without harboring a huge budget. Its got a look that is equal parts dark, hazy, and fading. Its got a mild-mannered Matt Damon (in a cameo no less). Finally, it has one of those striking soundtrack scores courtesy of Thomas Newman.

Unsane while released under the radar, is an excellent side companion to Soderbergh's 2013 masterpiece, Side Effects (another foray into female psychiatric illness). Note to Steven: Please don't think about retiring again. You're a revolutionary and a cinematic badass.

Anyway, Unsane is about a thirty-something woman who involuntarily checks herself into a mental institution. She gets tricked I suppose or straight-up bamboozled. To make matters worse, she has a supposed stalker from two years ago who works at the same darn institution. There's more to the story so I'm not gonna give it away. All I'm gonna say is that Unsane starts out as an incensed drama only to turn into an upsetting and interminable thriller.

Image result for unsane movie scenesSteven Soderbergh goes for broke as he makes his audience have feelings of nil hope, misunderstood rage, and gnawing chimera. His Unsane is a violent incubus, directed with numerous close-ups, low camera angles, and featuring powerful performances by its leads (Joshua Leonard and Claire Foy). Soderbergh, relegated to small scale trim while pushing the independent envelope, doesn't want you to awaken from his sprawling nightmare on screen. He has fashioned one of the best films of this year. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson