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Monday, October 29, 2018

A Star Is Born 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

A Star Is BornDirector: Bradley Cooper
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot

A famous, alcoholic country singer befriends an aspiring pop singer. They fall in love, perform on stage together, and eventually marry. There's a rock concert ambience feel going on here as well as a tainted romance. Oh and did I mention there's also an unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay doing supporting work? That's the gist of 2018's A Star Is Born, a sun-drenched uber-biopic that clocks in at a dragged out 135 minutes.

Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as crooner Jackson Maine and muse Ally Campana, "Star" is a remake of a remake of a remake. Cooper channels his inner Kris Kristofferson while Gaga proves she can decently act and react (she's an even better singer though, trust me). As far as musical dramas go, "Star" ain't bad but it feels too much like a downer (don't let the blithe trailer fool you). To be honest, I'd rather smile a little while watching Almost Famous again.

Image result for a star is born movie scenesAnyway, A Star Is Born is a kaleidoscope of pills, booze, rocking tunes, Solid Gold remnants, and show business fortitude. It's somber but not as heavy as I thought it would be because Cooper's Maine is a milder, pacifist drunk (unlike sleep-deprived Nicolas Cage via 1995's Leaving Las Vegas).

Oh I almost forgot, Bradley Cooper helms "Star" as well? His direction is claustrophobic yet largely canvassed at the same time. He loves his close-ups, his jittery camera movements, and his lighting technique which is very Last Waltz-esque. Coop also likes his widescreens too and his concert sequences are surprisingly deft for a rookie director.

What ultimately fails A Star Is Born, is its script by three writers (Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters). Outside of the live music, the searing guitar solos, and the cheering crowds, the film never quite takes off. It's like an earnest work of dramatic hooey, a slight of hand vanity project from Cooper, and a seen it before, rise and fall requiem. The actors spew improvised dialogue with conversations between a boozed-up rocker, his brother, his wife, and his wife's manager seeming repetitive as ever. Yup, it just goes on and on.

Image result for a star is born movie scenesBased on other critic reviews and audiences going "gaga" with the box office take, the Academy might make "Star" its darling and give it some award nominations. I'm going to retort and saddle A Star Is Born with a mixed rating of two and a half "stars".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale * * 1/2 Stars

Bad Times at the El RoyaleDirector: Drew Goddard
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm

A few strangers check into an uninhabited hotel that sits on the border of California and Nevada. Within time, chaos ensues between said strangers in the form of stabbings, shootings, privacy invasions, and kin kidnappings. There's a kind of Twin Peaks fantasy flavor going on here. Oh and did I mention there's also a shirtless cult murderer involved? That's the overlong blueprint of the decently acted yet look-at-me personified, Bad Times at the El Royale. Yup, it's my latest review.

Image result for bad times at the el royale movie scenesStarring the likes of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, and the slinky-strutting Chris Hemsworth, "Bad Times" equaled "mixed" times for me at the theater. I will say this though. The film gave me a new appreciation for The Mamas & the Papas ditty "Twelve Thirty" and of course, Deep Purple's "Hush".

Bad Times at the El Royale with a running time of 142 minutes, could've been trimmed down by at least a half hour. It's a fire and brimstone flick that gives the year 1970 a reason to reach its equivocated "Waterloo". Basically, "Bad Times" is part Hateful Eight, part 1985's Clue, part Death Proof, and part Pulp Fiction (look for numerous title cards, some graphic violence, 1960's restaurant signage, and skewed timelines).

Image result for bad times at the el royale movie scenesDirector Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) becomes an effective modus operandi behind the camera. He fashions "Bad Times" as scorched noir, with a 60's/70's Rat Pack look, a forced confrontational pull, and a scintillating jukebox soundtrack comprised of timeless oldies. It's a shame however that Drew's storytelling skills and screenplay are too thinly stretched out to encapsulate such a prolonged production.

Bottom line: Bad Times at the El Royale is the ultimate exercise in style over substance or Tarantino mimicking over natural distinctiveness. It's a "Royale" with cheese that doesn't quite melt all its flavors. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Halloween 2018 * * * Stars

HalloweenDirector: David Gordon Green
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton

After forty years in a mental institution, evil-eyed Michael Myers escapes to reek havoc on the fragile inhabitants of Haddonfield, Illinois. With plenty of armed weaponry and PTSD in tote, badass survivalist Laurie Strode (a weathered Jamie Lee Curtis) vows to kill Myers while keeping him from showing off his neato butcher knife. That's the crux of 2018's Halloween, my latest review. Trick-or-treat all you fanboys, Samhain enthusiasts, and tattooed worshipers of masked Micheal!

Image result for halloween 2018 movie scenesAnyhow, Halloween is the 11th film in a series that dates back all the way to John Carpenter's pioneering installment via 1978. It announces itself as the only sequel and denounces every other story angle from all the money-grabbing sequels that came before it. Gone is the campy feel from Halloween's 4, 5, and 6. Gone is the scuzzy and vile stature from Rob Zombie's carnival vision. Gone is every element from Season of the Witch (naturally). Added is the gore and squeamish factor from 1981's Halloween II (plus a little humor courtesy of actor turned scribe, Danny McBribe).

In truth, this new Halloween is lean, mean, and impracticable, with streamlined direction from ill-defined genre director David Gordon Green. Granted, Green is not as stylish, innovative, or tension-ridden as Carpenter nor does he have Johnny boy's fiendish way with the characters (almost everyone involved is either underdeveloped or obvious denizens just waiting for the slaughter). Still, Halloween '18 is uber-memorable. It gets the "bloody" job done while being one of the more sophisticated entries in the Halloween film franchise.

Image result for halloween 2018 movie scenesAs the equivalent of meat and potatoes film-making for the horror-salivating millennials, Halloween is like J.J. Abrams helming The Force Awakens or Christopher Nolan cleaning up the cartoonish Batman chapters. No need to reinvent the wheel here and no need to dumb-down teen slasher mechanics. Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun DUN!!! Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

First Man 2018 * * Stars

First ManDirector: Damien Chazelle
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler

The true account of asocial astronaut Neil Armstrong and NASA's tireless efforts to make him the first dude to set foot on the moon, is depicted in 2018's straightforward and somber, First Man (my latest review).

Question: What overlong flick would under-utilize known actors like Patrick Fugit, Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Lucas Haas, and Ethan Embry? Answer: First Man would and does it in spades.

Image result for first man 2018 movie scenesAnyway, First Man is not the "first" film to tackle the notions of Space Race, lauded craters, and/or extravehicular activity. Apollo 13, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, and The Right Stuff came before it and therein lies the problem. First Man may be educational and helmed by a guy who just won an Oscar (La La Land's Damien Chazelle). However, it feels dated and almost would've been better off as a History Channel documentary or a filmstrip via my napping days in junior high school.

Projecting at 141 aseptic minutes with a bleakness and an audience detachment equivalent to its aloof, leading man (an always droopy-eyed Ryan Gosling), First Man goes through the motions with its bullet point presentation masquerading as simplified narrative. The movie has little sense of awe and because most Americans know what went down on July 20,1969, almost has no sense of elaborated surprise.

Image result for first man movie scenesSans some terrific sound mixing by veteran Mary H. Ellis, the only thing that saves First Man from tumbling into a regional black hole (no pun intended), is the rattled performance of Clair Foy (she plays Armstrong's wife) and Damien Chazelle's solid if not unconventional direction. Chazelle's obsession with close-ups, his aeronautic attention to detail, and his need to put you in the seat of his loud and visceral cockpit, kinda serve him well here. If only the rest of First Man wasn't so filled with underdeveloped side characters, a sophomoric film score, and pretentiousness the size of Jupiter. My rating: An "unmanned" two stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 12, 2018

Hell Fest 2018 * 1/2 Stars

Hell FestDirector: Gregory Plotkin
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Amy Forsyth

Two PDA-locked couples and one would-be couple happily flock to an elaborate haunted house carnival on Halloween night. Little do they know that a psychotic killer is lurking in said carnival's shadows. Regrettably, the uncharismatic butcher has no motive, no cool walking motion, and no reason for existing. That's the rub of Hell Fest, a slasher flick that borrows heavily from stuff like Halloween, 1981's The Funhouse, and Scream. Sure "Fest" has the novelty of a haunted house setting and yeah, it has a wistful Tony Todd cameo along with a couple of nasty, copycat kills. Sadly, that doesn't render the film any more innovative and/or tongue-in-cheek.

Image result for hell fest movie scenes 2018On a side note, I'm a Michigan native and the city of Niles certainly makes haunted abodes and movie locale train stations its go-to attractions. I attended a "Fest" screening in the Four Flags city hoping it would enhance my darkened, cinematic experience. Bottom line: Would I ever see Hell Fest again with its mediocre, twentysomething acting, its antagonist whistling "Pop Goes the Weasel", and its blase ending that doesn't quite compute? Uh "hell" no.

Anyway, "Fest" feels like the production company worked so hard on its colorful set design and its demented, Candy Land look. The problem is that this ode to sledgehammered, haunted house porn just isn't scary enough. When you figure out that the carnival is a non-creepy affair and the only foreboding thing in it is the rude stepchild of Michael Myers and Scream's masked face psycho, you wonder why Hell Fest was even made in the first place. "Fest" is re-fried and retried trepidation, with minimal build-up in its 89 minutes and cartoonish characters that make all the wrong decisions in excess horror fare (remember the dorks from that chainsaw GEICO commercial via a couple months back?).

Image result for hell fest movie scenes 2018Helmed by a unknown director (Gregory Plotkin) and penned by three writers, Hell Fest makes you yearn for something more grainier, more ruefully R-rated, and truly more bona fide (the personas in "Fest" wander off by themselves when a knife-wielding slayer is just around the corner. Never seen that before). In truth, the evaporating Hell Fest should be out of theaters in short order very soon. Its risque title comes off as a tad unjustified. I'm more looking forward to Jamie Lee Curtis getting her revenge on come October 19th. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 5, 2018

Searching 2018 * * * 1/2 Stars

SearchingDirector: Aneesh Chaganty
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La

"I didn't know her. I didn't know my daughter". Me, well I "know" that Searching is far and away one of the best Geek Squad movies of 2018. As something that makes mouse double-clicking, secretive livecasting, MapQuest seeking, and Facebook watching so eerie and intricate, Searching "searches" for greatness and nearly achieves it via the belated Age of the Internet. Man if only there was a little more human to human interaction between the pawned characters. Sigh.

Related imageAnyway, Searching chronicles widower and doting father, David Kim (played by Harold & Kumar vet John Cho). David discovers that his 16-year-old daughter has gone missing. With the help of detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) and the use of said daughter's left behind computer, Kim plays detective himself as he contacts her friends and acquaintances while looking for clues to her whereabouts.

So OK, Unfriended is what happens when every confined scene is enhanced through the inkling of someone looking at their upgraded laptop. Oops, I did it again. Wrong pic. I'm talking about Searching (ha-ha), a classy PG-13 thriller in which lead Cho gives a raw, seething performance. Searching is also an exercise in effortless storytelling and triumphant editing due to the flick's re-imagining of a reheated gimmick (every moment is seen through the eyes of bludgeoning, social media and Unfriended, I mean Searching is all the better for it).

Image result for searching 2018 movie scenesRookie director Aneesh Chaganty (he has only done "shorts" and "video shorts" up until this point) provides meat hook tension, thought out technobabble, and twists and turns you don't see coming. And while Searching may not be completely compelling, it still provides shattering moments that relinquish the factors of gore, suggestive language, and teenage horror remnants. It's a smart, game-guessing refresher that would've qualified as a second-tier Murder, She Wrote had it not been for its superior whiff of World Wide Web/Blair Witch advances. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson