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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story 2018 * * * Stars

Solo: A Star Wars StoryDirector: Ron Howard
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke

Solo: A Star Wars Story is not as epic as the first three Star Wars films nor does it contain their legendary amount of build-up. There are no lightsaber fights or battles to defeat the Empire. Plus, there's no sightings of Darth Vader, the Death Star, C-3PO, or R2-D2 this time around. Oh well. "Solo" omits these attributes and still feels like a formidable Star Wars movie anyway. In fact, "Solo" is probably the most entertaining and invigorating "Wars" installment since 1983's Return of the Jedi.

During the production of "Solo", Ron Howard took over for directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street). Lord and Miller were fired over creative differences and it doesn't help that they are essentially comedic helmers.

Image result for solo a star wars story movie scenes"Solo" while totally recommendable, doesn't quite feel like a Ron Howard project. However, the 135-minute film shows that Ronnie can hang with past Star Wars filmmakers like George Lucas, Richard Marquand, Irvin Kershner, and Gareth Edwards.

Howard gives Solo: A Star Wars Story an incredibly brisk pace. Saddled with a trademark Lawrence Kasdan script, he adds relentless movement, some nifty hand-to-hand combat sequences, and some nasty, freakish creatures. His look for "Solo" tends to be a little foggy at times but he makes up for it. Ron uses three dimensional space well and stages intergalactic warfare with veritable aplomb. Oh and I almost forgot, "Solo's" editing in certain match cuts by Pietro Scalia, is smooth as silk.

In terms of casting, "Solo" contains Star Wars universe newcomers (Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover) and Ron Howard regulars (Paul Bettany, Woody Harrelson, Clint Howard). Alden Ehrenreich in the lead as young Han, doesn't look, act, or completely strut like Harrison Ford. Still, he's likable and his performance while snarky, is enjoyably quick-witted.

Image result for solo a star wars story movie scenesIn retrospect, "Solo" under Howard's watch, isn't entirely about Han Solo despite the main character being in nearly every frame. Added to that, "Solo" is a little more than a personage showcase vehicle and a Chewbacca introduction. "Solo" in all truthfulness, is a fleeting sci-fi romp with robbery elements, a sense of mild danger, a familiar narrative concerning the Rebel Alliance, and some tongue-in-cheek humor. It will please younger viewers of the Star Wars pics because it doesn't take itself too seriously and just wants to have some popcorn-esque fun. As for the older supporters of the Star Wars franchise, well there might be some nitpicking going on. You know what, those fanboy purists just need to lighten up. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tully 2018 * * * Stars

TullyDirector: Jason Reitman
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston

2018's Tully is the type of movie studios just don't make anymore. I'm glad Denver and Delilah Productions stepped in and reconsidered. As something about an exhausted mother who hires and forms a friendship with her night nanny, Tully projects as an in-your-face drama with mild shades of kookiness. On the surface, it's about nannies. Look closer though because the flick may be about mental illness and hallucinatory weariness as well.

Admittedly, Tully does have a final fifteen minutes that contain a few dangling plot threads. You might need to a second viewing just to put the pieces together. Also, the whole film places its good-hearted main character in the median of otherwise shallow, side characters. Regardless, Tully is a tribute to hard-working, struggling moms everywhere. There's endless detail here when it comes to a woman raising two small children and one budding newborn.

Image result for tully movie 2018 movie scenesTully stars Charlize Theron as mama Marlo and Mackenzie Davis as caretaker Tully. Theron and Davis have great chemistry on screen and their performances for the most part, are exceptional. Theron channels Marlo with unassuming, nerve-ending intensity while Davis plays it calm, cool, and spiritual in a tailor made supporting role. I know it's only May but the Academy should now take note of these two.

Marlo and Tully are apart in age but they form a special bond. They are like two best buds in the middle of the pitted, outside world. Tully the movie takes a detour when you realize that Tully the persona may instead turn out to be Marlo's actual, imaginary friend (small spoiler). Trust me, when the closing credits come up, you the audience member will be hard-pressed to get that notion out of your head. 

Image result for tully movie 2018 movie scenesDirector Jason Reitman is at the helm of Tully. He's the king of taking humdrum, everyday human situations and giving them some added bite. Jason also provides third act twists too. He shoots, fast cuts, and edits Tully partly like his 2009 pic Up in the Air and his Young Adult from seven years ago. George Clooney and frequent flyer miles withstanding, Jason seems to have a fascination with glowing women, pregnancy, and comprehensive breastfeeding. To each his own.

Bottom line: Tully is insightful, initially heartbreaking, and contains a very sharp script by Reitman's partner in crime, Diablo Cody. Jason Reitman once again "rights" the cinematic ship in novel fashion. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, May 19, 2018

10x 10 2018 * * * Stars

10x 10Director: Suzi Ewing
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Luke Evans, Kelly Reilly, Noel Clarke

10x 10 is an unrated, tersely compact thriller. As something about a man who confines a woman to a soundproof cell only to find out that she killed his wife, "10" has a torture porn setting without the actual torture porn. Granted, the film could've stretched its running time past a mere 87 minutes for added absorption. Plus, there's a cliched clip of the authorities showing up conveniently after the final confrontation goes down. Nevertheless, 10x 10 leaves you torn and nomadic on which gender to root for. It serves up its transient premise in creepy and effective fashion.

Image result for 10x 10 movie scenes"10" stars Luke Evans as the wealthy kidnapper and Kelly Reilly as the one being kidnapped. Evans is a tad wooden as Lewis when he is mourning his dead spouse through past home videos and random news footage. Reilly outmatches him as Cathy. She channels a sense of raw fear and raw distress as a would-be, bible-thumping criminal. Cathy and Lewis go at each other mano-a-mano and bloodied cat and mouse. They give 10x 10 the feel of being a violent, ungovernable, and unsettling affair.

Image result for 10x 10 movie scenesDirector Suzi Ewing (she helms mostly shorts) makes "10" atmospheric and woodsy in a Hostel/Human Centipede sort of way. She even uses a few long shots when the main damsel in distress is letting out shrill screams. Don't be fooled though. Ewing's narrative is wholly original and not really in the realm of horror fare. 10x 10 in totality, is more psychologically intentioned as opposed to psychotically intentioned. With a minuscule cast, minimal locations, and personas that have a high threshold for pain (and appetite for that matter), it's a low budget character study that's almost "ten"fold. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Breaking In 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Breaking InDirector: James McTeigue
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral

Breaking In is my latest review. As far as 2018 releases go, "Breaking" is equivalent to a home invasion version of Cliffhanger and a less violent model via 2005's Hostage. When I walked into the theater, I paid six dollars for "Breaking's" B-movie quirkiness and B-movie escapism. I didn't witness a cinematic game changer but I got exactly six dollars worth. Fair trade.

Breaking In is about dimwitted yet likable criminals (especially Eddie played by Billy Burke) and a relentless, purposeful mom. Gabrielle Union plays said mom in the form of realtor Shaun Russell. Russell's estranged father unexpectedly dies and now she has to take her two kids to his Wisconsin mansion. There, she attempts to get the tech-savvy mansion ready for sale as well as settling her father's estate. What Russell and her children don't know, is that some evil robbers plan to break into the abode and steal $4 million dollars from a hidden safe. From there on, all chaos ensues in congenial, cat and mouse form.

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Breaking In at eighty-eight minutes, feels like two, exhausting hours and that's even without a lot of character buildup. "Breaking's" director is James McTeigue and he's the same guy who made the intricate and complicated V for Vendetta.

As you watch Breaking In, you wonder why McTeigue would agree to direct such galvanizing schlock like this. What you don't wonder is that he obviously had nothing to do with "Breaking's" editing which feels sloppy and without standard continuity. Heck, you know things are shaky when certain characters beam themselves from point A to point B (how did big, bad Duncan get on that roof so fast?).

Scenes in "Breaking" barely flow from one frame to the next and at certain vignettes, it feels like the screenwriters are making stuff up as they go along. For instance, there's a moment where one antagonist stabs another antagonist as he is holding a large bag of dough. Cut to five minutes later and that same antagonist is telling a young victim, "I'm not gonna hurt you, I just want to know where the money is". Huh? In another instance, the young child of Union's Russell grabs a gun off the floor and shoots a bad guy. In the next shot of so, that same bad guy is holding that same gun and he is not wounded in any way. Double huh. Finally, there is mention of the robbers having only ninety minutes to get the safe open until an alarm goes off and the police show up. Trust me, it feels like they ran out of time hours ago due to a large amount of bizarre procrastination. As for the faceless fuzz, well of course in movie land they arrive after all the carnage and mayhem has already been exposed. Oy vey!

Image result for breaking in 2018 movie scenesAll in all, Breaking In at times, can be a nasty, pocket-sized thriller featuring a stealth heroine in Gabrielle Union. Surprisingly, it has some suspenseful moments and for the most part, it somewhat keeps your Panic Room psyche glued to the screen. The problem is I can't quite recommend "Breaking". You can only polish a turd so much until all the Pledge in "The Badger State" has completely run out. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 11, 2018

Life of the Party 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Life of the PartyDirector: Ben Falcone
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Gillian Jacobs

"I'll see you around the quad". So quips Melissa McCarthy in Life of the Party, a gender role reversal version of 1986's Back to School. As a flick about a woman who gets divorced by her other half and then decides to get her degree at the same college as her daughter, "Party" is less risque and far less momentous than "School".

Still, the film provides a few laugh-out-loud moments and that's not what I expect from something with a PG-13 rating (I'm more of an R-rated guy when it comes to comedies). To be frank, Life of the Party is no masterpiece but it's a heck of a lot better than stuff like McCarthy's 2016 vehicle The Boss and Identity Thief.

Image result for Life of the Party movie scenesMelissa McCarthy produces, stars, and co-writes "Party". As mid-life crisis student Deanna "Dee Rock" Miles, McCarthy does her same old shtick via a female version of Vince Vaughn and the late Chris Farley. This time however, she's a little more likable due to the fact that "Dee Rock" wholly loves her child and her ex-hubby's such a verbose a-hole. In truth, you kinda feel for Melissa's character and despite her obligatory use of grating dialogue and over-improvisation, you as the viewer almost completely let it slide.

All in all, Life of the Party has McCarthy's Deanna doing shots, bedding a guy half her age, exaggerating in physical comedy, taking I guess one class, and somehow graduating at the exact same time as her twentysomething daughter (Maddie Miles played by Molly Gordon). Yeah "Party's" premise is far-fetched, improbable, just for effect, and totally for show. It cuts considerable cinematic corners and it knows it.

Image result for Life of the Party movie scenesOh well, no need to nitpick when it comes to single-use laugh fests. There's amusing, supporting work here from Matt Walsh and Maya Rudolph (they play Deanna's ex and BFF respectfully). Also, I like the tender dynamic between Deanna and wide-eyed Maddie. Finally, Life of the Party might be the best spot of directing ever by McCarthy's highfalutin husband, Ben Falcone (Lord help us). Bottom line: Despite my mild dislike for Plainfield's favorite girl, I'm gonna go with a strong two and a half star rating. Party Hardy McCarthy!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I Feel Pretty 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

I Feel PrettyDirectors: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Rory Scovel

"Just thought I'd give you a sneak peak". So quips Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty, a syrupy, sort of lightweight NYC comedy that projects as a clear star vehicle for Schumer. As something about a woman who hits her head and then awakens to see that she's hotter than she really is, "Pretty" contains few laughs and has a tone that's somewhat facile. However, it's a film that promotes the heartfelt message of true beauty being on the inside.

Schumer produces and stars in I Feel Pretty. In the part of insecure and full-figured Renee Bennett, Amy is perfectly cast and appears less haughty than she was in Trainwreck. Having seen her in other movies, it's obvious she put on some considerable weight here. Her Renee needed severe dedication and a certain amount of character diving. Schumer accomplishes both of these feats with assumable aplomb.

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So yeah, "Pretty" is serviceable and there's ample commitment by Schumer. However, the pic tends to hold back a bit. Containing a PG-13 rating when a hard R could've let everyone roam a little freer, I Feel Pretty is like 2001's Shallow Hal without a visible gimmick (maybe there were budget constraints).

When Schumer's Renee looks in the mirror, she sees a sexy blond but for us the moviegoer, it's all left up to the imagination. We don't get that image in something like "Hal". You know, the scene where Jack Black is glimpsing Gwyneth Paltrow sans stout suit.

Aw heck, "Pretty" is a little frustrating anyway and the script by directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, well it makes the audience emerge smarter than the two-dimensional characters and their unwary motivations (Shumer's love interest played by Rory Scovel is the lone exception).

Image result for i feel pretty movie scenesIn hindsight, Amy Schumer is credible and staunch, Kohn and Sliverstein's direction is solidly apt, and Michelle Williams is shockingly creepy in a supporting role. However, I Feel Pretty "feels" patchwork-like, devoid of risk, and kind of heedful. I'm gonna go with a mixed review. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Super Troopers 2 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Super Troopers 2Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Paul Soter, Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffeman

Super Troopers 2 is my latest write-up. "2" is unfair to Canadians, mean-spirited, infantile, a little raunchy, and virtually plot-free. As a follow-up to 2001's cult film Super Troopers, "2" is comedy of the straightforward and hit-or-miss kind. Broken Lizard's writing is not as abstractly funny this time around, Super Troopers 2 isn't as quotable as the beloved original, and Marisa Coughlan has virtually no screen time. Still, there are a few guffaws to be had despite the boundlessness of thought up gags.

"2", with its various references to the first pic and its fair, continuing story arc, has the bungling officers from the Vermont Highway Patrol now working in Canada. They were fired and as a form of absolution, they attempt to provide law enforcement for a French Canadian whistle-stop that's moving to U.S. jurisdiction.

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Acting standouts include Kevin Heffeman (he portrays Officer Farva, the essential ingredient to any Super Troopers outing), Hayes MacArthur, and Rob Lowe. Lowe, with hockey player background, snide persona, and front teeth gone AWOL, hilariously plays the mayor of a small border town in France-infused Quebec.

Look for scenes involving attempted testicle shaving, attempted groin area sawing, a cameo by Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), co-ed strip clubbing, and electric shock therapy of the practical joke kind. Stupid funny and 420 obviousness are words I would use to describe this flick.

Image result for super troopers 2 2018 movie scenesWhen it comes to contemptible slapstick, the Broken Lizard troupe is akin to the guys who brought you the defunct Little Britain and the dudes that made Monty Python your go-to in the 70's. You either get the flaunted humor or you don't.

Bottom line: In my fifteen years of film critiquing, I've seen much worse sequels than Super Troopers 2. Heck, "2" is worth checking out with popcorn and "liter" of cola in hand. Natch! Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson