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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Hot Summer Nights 2017 * * 1/2 Stars

Hot Summer NightsDirector: Elijah Bynum
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe

Sheepish Daniel Middleton (played by Timothee Chalamet) loses his father and is forced to spend the summer with his aunt (who is rarely seen). While adapting to his new surroundings, Daniel befriends an alpha male drug dealer and tries to romance his vixen sister. Over time, Danny boy becomes an unforeseen ladies man and a veritable drug dealer himself. That's the gist of the glittering and mostly true storied, Hot Summer Nights. It's my latest review.

Hot Summer Nights is a flamboyant, sort of overly ambitious American drama showcasing Academy Award nominee Chalamet. As far as delayed releases go in 2018, "Nights" is cinematic Yankee Doodle Dandy, a pirated combination of Blow, Boogie Nights, and 2002's The Salton Sea.

Image result for hot summer nights movie scenesNote to the mystery director of "Nights", Mr. Elijah Bynum: Paul Thomas Anderson, the late Ted Demme, and Edgar Wright called. They want their freeze frames, zoom shots, match cuts, and whip pans back. Also, Martin Scorsese phoned in and says he wants everything back (including his own Panavision camera). Finally, what's up with all the gross imagery and childlike ilk in Hot Summer Nights? I'm talking french fries with way too much ketchup, a couple sloppily sharing a lollipop, and a young kid putting another person's gum in his mouth. Dude that's gross.

Anyway, "Nights" gives us mumbled prosaic acting, a nostalgic 80's soundtrack, a Henry Hill-style beating, a sun drenched Cape Cod setting (circa 1991), and some galling, out of place narration (by an unknown tyke who's not seen till the near end of the movie). Most of the characters in "Nights" are ill-defined and non-amicable with its coming-of-age story "coming" off as slight and loose. What we clearly have here is ballsy style over knowable substance.

Image result for hot summer nights movie scenesIn conclusion, Hot Summer Nights is Elijah Bynum's feature debut and he dauntlessly goes for broke. With enough cinematic tricks, cocksure, and energy to fill five movies, "Nights" projects Bynum as directorial show off and bona fide hot dog man. Bottom line: "Nights" is worth a look if you wanna see the latest filmmaker sampler on wheels. Ultimately though, it's mildly disappointing. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 27, 2018

Siberia 2018 * * * Stars

SiberiaDirector: Matthew Ross
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ana Ularu, Pasha D. Lychnikoff

Five production companies, one entertainment company, and one distributor had a hand in getting 2018's Siberia made. I'm no can-do Hollywood producer but I think it was worth it.

Anyway, Siberia is a slow-burning and slow-churning thriller. It's similar yet antithetical to last year's The Snowman. Siberia's thrills nestle in the mind's eye and not in beatings, chases, or elaborate stunts. As something about a diamond merchant whose diamond selling deal goes sour and off the reservation, Siberia is like chic, Russian film noir with star Keanu Reeves playing a detective-free, Philip Marlowe type.

Image result for Siberia movie scenesGranted, Siberia could've improved on its standoff, shootout ending. It feels abrupt while portraying the Reeves persona as a protagonist afterthought (you see Keanu fending off bad dudes with a mag 10 and you salivate for more). Plus, side player Molly Ringwald who's an 80's actress icon, barely shows up in two faded scenes. Nonetheless, Siberia mostly draws you in and leaves your Basic Instinct-like psyche absorbed and content. Time to pour out a little cinematic liquor (in this case I'm talking vodka).

Keanu Reeves as diamond trader Lucas Hill, sinks his teeth into a role that seems tailor made for him. Sans beating people up a la the styling of John Wick, Keanu relies on minimal talking, bleeding screen presence, and some gadgetry, physical hand movements. Keanu's Hill is in nearly every frame and you as the viewer, follow his every turn (and his many sexual trysts). Minus his work in Speed, Point Break, The Matrix, and Street Kings, this is probably my favorite performance from the guy whose name cordially means, "cool breeze over the mountains".

Image result for Siberia movie scenesSiberia's director is New York City native and Harvard graduate, Mathew Ross. His first flick titled Frank & Lola (which I have yet to see) supposedly is also of the racy, noir variety. With Siberia, Ross is manifest with his vision. He fills the screen with Siberian landscapes, various close-ups, soft-core sex scene realism, and cold, ominous background lighting. His calculated pacing along with Keanu's scruffy, roughed up stares into the camera, make Siberia work as crossfire fiction. In truth, this is not an action extravaganza or a headlong genre affair yet it sets you in motion. Would I recommend that you see Siberia with a refreshed open mind? As the Russians say, the answer would be a profound "da". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

211 2018 * * Stars

211Director: York Shackleton
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dwayne Cameron, Sophie Skelton

Nicolas Cage gets one of his prescribed, thespian rage moments. Countless firearms and ammo are featured as if Cage is remaking his past vehicle, Lord of War. A fictional town of Chesterford, MA sans its accents and receives more recognition and advertisement than Pepsi. Five or so bank robber personas nearly dismantle an entire SWAT team (whatever). A direct-to-video-style musical score is featured from a guy who's known for well, direct-to-video musical scores (Frederik Wiedmann). It's all present in 211, my latest review.

Image result for 211 movie scenesShot in Bulgaria (which I guess substitutes for Massachusetts), saddled with mostly unknown actors, oily slick in its approach, and featuring Nic Cage in more of a supporting role (despite his mug on 211's poster front and center), 211 chronicles two police officers and a ride-along getting caught in the middle of a deadly bank heist. Said ride-along must go with said officers or get expelled from high school for a battery incident. Talk about a weird and preposterous punishment.

Anyway, Nicolas Cage as patrolmen Mike Chandler, gives a decent if not mostly subdued performance. Sure he's doing 211 for the paycheck, sure his character is a little ill-defined and sure, Nic happily dons required hair piece in tote. Still, Cage is likable here as the compulsory, soon-to-be-retired cop with chalked up gray areas. His Chandler also happens to have a partner who's married to and has knocked up his estranged daughter (how goofy and convenient is that).

211, whose title is derived from the police code known as robbery, clocks in at an abrupt and paltry 86 minutes. It's violent and unforgiving yet vacant, a sort of patchwork version of Heat, Swordfish, and 2016's Patriots Day. Director York Shackleton (yup, that's his real name or his pseudonym) works with multiple plot lines, scrappy dialogue, endless characters, and bullet-ridden scenes of animalistic action. Too bad "Shack" decides to take shortcuts while dispelling thriller film rationale and wrapping up 211 rather quickly in a crooked bow (it was probably budget constraints or pure amateurism).

Image result for 211 movie scenesIn conclusion, I don't remember seeing 211 in theaters so if you're interested in taking in a viewing, Redbox or On Demand have your back. Bottom line: 211 provides plenty of nutrition-less savagery, bumbled police protocol, and scale-like acting. That's the cinematic "411". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 20, 2018

Acrimony 2018 * * * Stars

AcrimonyDirector: Tyler Perry
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Ajiona Alexus, Lyriq Bent

A working title of She's Living My Life. Title cards with descriptive words like "Deranged", "Sunder", "Acrimony", and "Bewail." A Fatal Attraction-style ending that leaves you elated and hurt inside. A messed up relationship story that is told over a couple of decades. A Taraji P. Henson persona that turns out to be a little cray cray. It's all here in Acrimony, my latest review.

Shot in Pittsburgh, PA, slick in its construction, told in chronological order (with a continued flashback), and featuring a detailed block of voice-over narration, Acrimony chronicles a woman who divorces her man and then sees him become rich while inhabiting the life that she thought she would have.

Image result for acrimony movie scenesHenson, as the distressed Melinda Gayle, gives a type-casting performance via a troubled, female spouse on scorn alert. Her hubby named Robert Gayle (played by Lyriq Bent), is a thwarted male pinata that gets put through the sex-free, marriage ringer.

As this flick becomes a hardcore, soap opera character study with singer Nina Simone belting out soft hits in the background, Acrimony makes you take husband and wife sides while bringing you down endless detours until it finally concludes.

Acrimony, which feels like director Tyler Perry is inhabiting his own, final cut cinematic cesspool, is a struggling tug of war drama. It's also depressingly bleak as Perry turns the screws on supposed infidelity, revenge murder, and saddened manipulation.

I was absorbed and gerrymandered all the way, seeing where Acrimony's tale would take me even knowing that the film might suffuse and reach an unsatisfactory dead end.

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Tyler Perry, with rage and a bone to pick with women who don't know they're going off the deep end, has flawed men on the loom and some real balls to put out a movie like this. I'm gonna recommend Acrimony for its Lifetime, TV method of keeping you plastered to the screen. Montell Williams would certainly wanna take a knee here. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 16, 2018

Skyscraper 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

SkyscraperDirector: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Ng Chin Han

Actors cheating death by doing stunts that would make the late Hal Needham jealous. CGI flames that come on like gangbusters but look kinda fake. Dwayne Johnson failing to equal his best performance (that would be 2013's Snitch) by coming off as the poor man's Bruce Willis. Johnson's daffy, acting style consisting of him readily talking to himself (ugh). Three foggily-defined villains that barely connect to each other. It's all here in 2018's Skyscraper, my latest write-up.

Taking place in Hong Kong, promoting the manly use of duct tape, and partially filmed in Vancouver (I can see the slight resemblance), Skyscraper tells the story of a one-legged security expert (Johnson as Will Sawyer) being framed for starting a blaze in the tallest building in the world (nicknamed "The Pearl"). As Skyscraper barrels at a lightening pace, you can see "Pearl's" copied architectural style and copied aerial shots from a certain 1974 vehicle (I'll get to that later).

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Skyscraper, which feels like it should've been rated R (this thing is a tad violent), is techy, loud, futuristic, and preposterous yet adds a certain amount of appeal. Mainly, it's a condensed, souped-up combination of The Towering Inferno and Die Hard. That's minus "Inferno" and Die Hard's feasible buildup, extensive character development, and non-middling plot.

Questions I asked myself during a screening of 2018's Skyscraper: Why didn't the fire department show up when this flick marched into its second act? And why do two main characters not stick to the ceiling when an elevator is barreling downward at Mach 1? And oh yeah, where the heck has actress Neve Campbell been for the last decade?

Anyway, Skyscraper is the definition of a high-octane, action endeavor. It's relentless and farcical, with plenty of jaw-dropping, "yeah right" moments. The good guys survive by the skin of their teeth and the bad guys perish in similar situations. Bottom line: If you're afraid of heights or surrender to vertigo, avoid seeing this 109-minute film at all costs.

Image result for Skyscraper 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, Skyscraper's director is Rawson Marshall Thurber. Normally he does comedies. Here, he distracts the thinking man's audience by blowing stuff up, piling on the tech-savvy gadgets, letting veritable bones crack, and paying homage to one Bruce Lee (check out the rooftop mirror fight scene in Skyscraper's last ten minutes). Thurber pulls out all the stops so get your earplugs ready. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp 2018 * * * Stars

Ant-Man and the WaspDirector: Peyton Reed
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas

Yup, there's a connection between Ant-Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Infinity War. All you gotta do is check out the short clip after the closing credits come up. Marvel Comics, you just couldn't resist could you.

Anyway, Ant-Man and the Wasp is overly plotted compared to first Ant-Man installment. Added to that, "Wasp" doesn't take itself as seriously, it's not a blueprint vehicle, and there's a little less at stake (Paul Rudd's Scott Lang isn't saving the world this time when he puts on that dwindling suit). Oh well. "Wasp" with its nod to the quantum realm gods, is a lot of fun and it turns your everyday superhero movie on its collective head. 2015's Ant-Man came off as an action comedy. Ant-Man and the Wasp is compulsory comedy with some jaunty action on the side.

Before production commenced on "Wasp", director Peyton Reed managed to get every single cast member from the first Ant-Man to sign on. This time around, their personas are fleshed out even more as a result. Examples would be Michael Pena's kooky, ex-con named Luis, Scott Lang's twinkling, cutesy daughter (Cassie played by Abby Ryder Fortson), and of course Evangeline Lilly as the butt-kicking companion dubbed Wasp.

Image result for ant man and the wasp movie scenes"Wasp", while totally worth the price of admission, sometimes revels too much in sci-fi mumbo jumbo, backstory convolution, and serpentine gadgetry. However, Peyton Reed still keeps things light and breezy with his whip pans, his techie-staged fistfights, and his collective wink wink to the audience.

Reed, who I'll always think of as the antithetical Joss Whedon and the dude that filmed 2006's The Break Up, stylizes "Wasp" as a fast-paced and whiz-bang affair. Heck, he even throws in a science lab as a diminished suitcase and a long-winded car chase via the streets of San Francisco (eat your darn heart out Steve McQueen).

Image result for ant man and the wasp movie scenesWith "Wasp", Peyton relies less on extravagance and morbid destruction and more on cartoonish hyperbole. He's quickly trying to distract you from his unexplained expansion of the Ant-Man universe (the shrinking technology of humans and objects needs backtracking and gets complicated here). His Ant-Man and the Wasp is a hot mess, with goofy humored quips at the end of each scene and a spine-tingling villain named Ghost (naturally). The original Ant-Man while less funny, is leaner and meaner with more grounded storytelling. Bottom line: I liked both flicks equally but I can't explain why. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 2, 2018

Tag 2018 * 1/2 Stars

TagDirector: Jeff Tomsic
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson

Tag is my latest review and a misconstrued spotlight for the city of Spokane, Washington. It's a film about the game of tag, its adjoining of lifelong friendship, and its silly tag along amendments. Heck, Tag might be the very first pic to ever dabble in the subject of said game.

Now would I rightly recommend Tag? No. Would I call its premise a little too lightweight? Yes. Would I deem Tag to be stupid funny and effectively doltish? In small moments. Finally, would I say that Tag is a rare genre trailblazer? Again no.

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Anyway, I knew Tag's chancy trailer would doom it from the start. Tag is based on true events via a story in The Wall Street Journal. I couldn't make this up. A group of middle age men have been playing the same game of tag for over thirty years and yup, they only do it in the month of May. Man that's goofy. Something tells me that these dudes are a little off. Also, it seems that they are starving for attention, are bent on scarring their families, and want a peek at fifteen minutes of fame. In hindsight, Tag is not heinous but it has shades of being a cinematic "red flag". You should never trust a movie in which its production company contains the words "broken" and "road".

Tag is directed by a TV helmer (Jeff Tomsic) and penned by two writers (Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen). It's a poor man's Hangover "makeover". Tag's recycled screenplay reeks of penis jokes, pot quips, bland improvisation, and homophobic innuendo. Basically it feels as though it was written about fifteen years ago. With the addition of an old school hip-hop soundtrack, some R-rated dialect, a messed up waterboarding scene, and some slo-mo, Jason Bourne-like fight sequences, Tag tries to mask how trivial and flimsy it really is. In truth, it's hard to make an efficacious movie about sneaking up on someone and simply tapping them on the shoulder. Maybe a horror version of blind man's bluff or Capture the Flag might have been a better option.

Image result for tag 2018 movie scenesIn conclusion, Tag stars Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, and Jeremy Renner. They are the five friends who partake in the pastime of tag and never know how to venture past pubescence. Helms and Johnson are basically playing the same sad sack characters as in all their other movies. And yes, Hannibal Buress is pretty much doing the same line reading shtick as he did when he co-starred in the Neighbors vehicles. As for Jon Hamm and Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner, well they need to scold their agents for recommending that they appear in something as asinine as Tag. Bottom line: If you must, see Tag once but don't get "tagged" along into seeing it again. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson