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Friday, November 30, 2018

Can You Ever Forgive Me? 2018 * * * 1/2 Stars

Can You Ever Forgive Me?Director: Marielle Heller
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is my latest write-up. After attending an 11 am screening, I now "forgive" star Melissa McCarthy for her past string of lousy, jarring films.

So yeah, Can You Ever Forgive Me? again has a McCarthy-like style of acting (her persona here is mostly unlikable). Still, this is an effectual, involving, and concerning drama. It's surely one of 2018's best.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is well cast with a somber, piano-driven soundtrack and an attested view of winter in 1990's Manhattan. The flick avoids flimflam and unfolds with a mild-mannered amount of sledgehammer intensity. If you are any kind of writer (like I am), Can You Ever Forgive Me? will intrigue you. And if you like your movies as cinematic hot chocolate on a cold, frigid day, Can You Ever Forgive Me? will make you perk right up.

Image result for can you ever forgive me movie scenesBased on a true story and directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), Can You Ever Forgive Me? is not a vehicle I would compare anything to. I will say however that there's a scene between Jane Curtin and Melissa McCarthy that rivals the office segment between Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack via 1982's Tootsie. It's the neutered version but effective nonetheless.

The rub of Can You Ever Forgive Me? involves one Lee Israel (played by a stripped-down and raw Melissa McCarthy). Cynicism meets "McCarthyism" as Lee struggles to maintain her status as a once promising author. Downtrodden, broke, and unable to get through her writer's block, Israel begins to forge letters from deceased famous people for major profit. Aided by her platonic buddy in Mr. Jack Hock (the scene-pilfering Richard E. Grant), Lee eventually gets caught by the feds and readily pays for her wrongdoings.

Image result for can you ever forgive me movie scenesAll in all, I'm hoping McCarthy and Grant get well-deserved nominations at the Academy Awards (for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor respectively). Also, I'm wishing the cinematography of Brandon Trost will get recognized as well. Granted, I know Can You Ever Forgive Me? is supposed to be just a morphed and disciplined character study. Still, Trost gives the pic an earthy, dim lit look. Sidney Lumet's untimely, 80's canon is the comparison that comes to mind. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, November 26, 2018

Creed II 2018 * * Stars

Creed IIDirector: Steven Caple Jr.
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

Ivan Drago has an offspring. He snarls, bulges, and fights like bull. Ivan's son Viktor wants a piece of Adonis Creed because Creed just became the non-lavished WBC World Heavyweight Champion. On a side note, about thirty years ago Ivan killed Apollo Creed (the father of Adonis) in a Las Vegas exhibition bout. There's some sentimentality here, some wonted unrealistic fight sequences, some minimal build-up, and a mask of predictability (you're a step ahead of all the characters about twenty minutes in). That's the flax of the inevitably modernized Creed II. It's my latest review.

Related imageStarring creaky Sylvester Stallone, megastar Michael B. Jordan, and alley-like returnee Dolph Lundgren, Creed II is the eighth installment in the juggernaut Rocky film series. Stallone is reliable and likable just like in the first Creed and Lundgren is surprisingly good as stone-faced Captain Drago (he emotes a little more this time with molten screen presence). As far as Rocky follow-ups go, "II" is earnest and zealous but it feels as though the filmmakers are trying to milk the Rocky storyline to its proverbial bone. These movies tend to make money so I guess the cash cow keep a cometh.

Anyway, Creed II has a story arc that resembles Rocky's II, III, and IV. And because Balboa is no longer wearing the groves and Max Kellerman is now doing some annoying boxer commentating (Kellerman is no Stu Nahan), "II" lacks the power, heightened sincerity, and invigorating nature of those earlier Rocky pics. Oh and what's with the limp musical score of Creed II that's hastily provided by Ludwig Goransson. You listen and ask yourself, "where the heck is 76-year-old Bill Conti when you need him" (where are county fair rock gods Survivor as well. Natch).

Image result for creed 2 movie scenesAll in all, Creed II is directed by Cleveland, Ohio native Steven Caple Jr. Caple avoids adding too many stentorian fight sequences and instead opts for a dragged out situation drama that goes off into non-sparring tangents. He doesn't want "II" to be a popcorn-like, Tommy Gunn Rocky so I'll give him that much. Bottom line: There are hundreds of sequels that are worse than Creed II. That doesn't mean I'm gonna recommend it. "I must break it." Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Widows 2018 * * Stars

WidowsDirector: Steve McQueen
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriquez, Daniel Kaluuya

These ain't Four Brothers, they're four sisters. They're four women who have to take care of their husband's debt after said husbands die in a botched robbery. They plan a lucrative score to appease a nasty crime boss who wants $2 million dollars from them. That's the rub of 2018's Widows, my latest review. It's part soap opera, part heist piece, and all mob filler.

Question: What flick has well known troupers like Jacki Weaver (she's in one and a half scenes), Jon Bernthal (he's in half a scene), Liam Neeson, and Robert Duvall barely registering as full blown personas? Answer: Widows does and despite its readable twist early on, the pic feels solely edited on the chopping block.

Image result for widows 2018 movie scenesAnyway, Widows is like an Ocean's Eleven movie minus the fun but with more of the brutality. And if you live in the city of Chicago like I do (Widow's main locale), Widow's cankerous violence (remember Death Wish?) and remorseless nature will surely leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. One scene in particular reminded me of 2014's police shooting of Chicagoan Laquan McDonald. Man I tell you that can't be good.

Registering at 129 minutes with too many miscast actors and enough subplots to power a small country, Widows is polarizing and ideological to the nth degree. Its only sequence of real excitement involves ladies in hockey masks with desperation on their minds and cocked firearms in tote. Almost everything else in Widows has to do with false hope and mean-spirited malaise.

Image result for widows movie scenes daniel kaluuyaSteve McQueen helms Widows after a five-year hiatus from 12 Years a Slave. His unsympathetic direction is off-kilter as he gives us weird GoPro shots and lets the camera pan away when people are having middling confrontations (who does he think he is, Taxi Driver Scorsese?). All in all, Widows may rattle the squeamish and make you feel unsafe in a heated theater. Still, it's a miscalculation for almost everyone else involved. My rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

BlacKkKlansman 2018 * * * Stars

BlacKkKlansmanDirector: Spike Lee
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier

Yup, I'm a fan of Spike Lee. Ever since I saw 1995's Clockers, he has been appointment movie time for me. Spike shoots films that other helmers would be hard pressed to touch. His work is involving, absorbing, compulsively watchable, and messy. In truth, I expect that familiar Terence Blanchard film score whenever a quote unquote, "Spike Lee Joint" is released. I also expect the obligatory Spike Lee cameo even though I can kinda do without it. Finally, I expected and got Isiah Whitlock Jr. giving us his patented catchphrase. You know, he's the actor that always says "sheee-t".

Image result for blackkklansman 2018 movie scenesIn BlacKkKlansman (my latest review), Lee opens the proceedings with a clip from Gone with the Wind (I'm not kidding). The director then chronicles the true story of one Ron Stallworth. Stallworth was the first African-American detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Also in the early 70's, Ron managed to infiltrate and uncover central Colorado's infamous Ku Klux Klan. On a side note, the character of Stallworth is played effectively by John David Washington (he happens to be Denzel Washington's son). When you watch John David move through BlacKkKlansman with big head of hair and strut in tote, you're reminded of his dad via Spike Lee's He Got Game from twenty years ago.

Like with most Spike Lee endeavors, there is controversy, race-related humor, and plot over plot mechanics. BlacKkKlansman is controversial with its uncomfortable racial epithets yet it's about as straightforward and non-violent a story as Lee has ever concocted (except for maybe 2006's Inside Man). Spike doesn't push the envelope here and at 135 minutes, he only scratches the surface of what unpleasantness BlacKkKlansman could've become.

Image result for blackkklansman 2018 movie scenesOh well. The actors pull you through (especially Topher Grace as a quirky David Duke and the chameleon-like Adam Driver), Spike's go-to cinematic tricks are intact, and BlacKkKlansman's message of hate and racism is relevant today as it was in 1970. How do I know this? Well all you gotta do is check out the ending news footage Lee provides in the form of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It ups the ante on an otherwise behaviorally tamed flick early on. My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

Bohemian RhapsodyDirector: Bryan Singer
Year: 2018
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Rami Malek, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello

Just for the record, I'm a big fan of Queen. Ever since childhood, their out-of-the-box music has always been in my DNA. From the years 1970 to 1985, the story of rock's most eccentric band is chronicled in Bohemian Rhapsody (my latest review). Actually, it's mostly about Queen's flamboyant and over-biting lead singer, Freddie Mercury. On a side note, the character of Brian May (Queen's lead guitarist) looks like a cross between REO Speedwagon's early Kevin Cronin and Howard Stern. Epic fail for the costume department.

Like with Lizard King Jim Morrison in 1991's The Doors, Mercury's frontman persona is in nearly every frame. The only difference is that "Rhapsody" is sadly rated PG-13 whereas "Doors" merits a hard R. I'm not gonna lie. I have reservations about that and I want some realism darn it.

Image result for bohemian rhapsody movie scenesAnyway, the best reason to see Bohemian Rhapsody is for the lead performance portrayal of "ready" Freddie (played by a totally committed Rami Malek). It's staggering stuff as Malek literally disappears into the role. Is it an impersonation? Yes, but it's the gold standard of rock n' roller impersonations. When he's on stage carousing at Wembley Stadium with mustache and half-microphone stand in tote, Malek makes his Freddie Mercury a totally commanding presence. "It comes to you as to us all. We're just waiting for the hammer to fall". Indeed.

"Rhapsody", with a swiftly paced running time of 133 minutes and some choppy editing, is like a popcorn flick that happens to be a straightforward, rock biopic. The movie also has a splashy look and mounds of energy. I especially enjoyed the final sequence in which Queen performs a badass set of 20-plus minutes at the widely-watched, Live Aid concert. It's accurate, well filmed, extravagant, and ultra cool. I also dug Queen's songs of course but I would've liked to see them perform "You're My Best Friend". That ditty is pure nostalgia for me.

Image result for bohemian rhapsody movie scenesThe only reasons I'm giving Bohemian Rhapsody a mixed review are the fact that it's not particularly deep and lacks a sense of readied rawness. It's almost like a TV movie that the Academy would wince at (sans Malek's favorable acting). Added to that, director Bryan Singer who's not known for tackling this kind of VH1 rock genre, gets the timelines wrong in terms of Queen's successful discography ("We Will Rock You" came out in 77' not 1980, Freddie Mercury didn't get his AIDS diagnosis till 1987 as opposed to 1985, and the band claims they hadn't played for years prior to Live Aid despite putting out an album just 15 months earlier). Honestly, I would've liked to see what scorched residue Oliver Stone would have produced had he been behind the camera here. Bottom line: Bohemian Rhapsody is placidly entertaining yet sort of "easy come, easy go". My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 2, 2018

Mid90s 2018 * * * Stars

Mid90sDirector: Jonah Hill
Year: 2018
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Gio Galicia

"F*ck, sh*t, that was dope". The lowdown flick I'm about to review teeters on the edge of greatness so yeah, it's kinda dope. Did I mention the proceedings are also filmed with a Super 16 millimeter camera that feels like it's peering in on pimple-faced adolescence?

Anyway, Mid90s is an uninhibited coming-of-age endeavor that doesn't feel the need to push its cultured envelope. It highlights non-actors acting and portrays 1990's Los Angeles as the land of smutty, surfin sewage. With scenes that sometimes have a documentary feel, Mid90s features 13-year-old Sunny Suljic giving a fervent performance in the lead role. Mid90s also has Lucas Hedges going from playing a timid, nice guy character in other movies to playing a total d bag character this time around.

Image result for Mid90s movie scenesAs far as fall releases go in 2018, Mid90s is a mere snapshot of a certain time and place. It's a film that puts a small smile on your face yet at the same time, feels kinda unfinished. Don't worry all you skateboard fanatics, malted 40 oz drinkers, and Tony Hawk wannabes, I'm still gonna recommend Mid90s. Really I am.

So OK, Mid90s chronicles newly-christened teenager Stevie (Suljic). Stevie gets bullied daily by his brother Ian (Hedges) and fails to connect with his aloof mom (Katherine Waterston as Dabney). Bored and looking to find his place in the world, Stevie befriends a group of poorly yet talented skaters and forms a bond with them. Said skaters nickname Stevie boy "Sunburn". They take him to parties where he relentlessly smokes weed, hooks up with older females, and gets drunk. When I was in my teens I was still watching cartoons and munching on my favorite Post cereal. Sigh.

Now Mid90s is a neutered, West Coast version of Kids coupled with personas straight out of Saturday Night Fever (everyone involved is looking for a way out of their existence even though their futures aren't too bright to begin with). Directed by two-time-Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill, Mid90s has an assured vision as Hill creates atmospheric LA in ghetto bird fashion. He's like a more contentious version of Larry Clark.

Image result for mid90s movie scenesAll in all, I loved the improvised dialogue in Mid90s which makes it one of the rawest indies ever made. I also liked Hill's elongated shots of the skateboard artists weaving down a turning lane with the camera being firmly placed in the distance. Bottom line: Mid90s with its enthralling soundtrack lounging between The Mamas & the Papas, old school rap, and grunge, gets a tripling 3 stars. I can't wait to see what lived-in, personalized vehicle Jonah Hill tries to concoct next.

Written by Jesse Burleson