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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Outsider 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The OutsiderDirector: Timothy Woodward, Jr.
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Trace Adkins, Jon Foo, Sean Patrick Flanery

If John Wick, The Revenant, or 2002's Road to Perdition were made into sooty Western dramas, the result would be 2019's The Outsider. Yup, "Outsider" is a mean-spirited, retribution pic and it's my latest review.

Country singer Trace Adkins doing his best Jeff Bridges impersonation, stars in "Outsider". He plays a down at heel Marshal with slight morals. Trace is no Laurence Olivier but he's intimidatingly tall and possesses the perfect acting voice for a flick about the felonious Old West. Sean Patrick Flanery plays a felon tracker (in "Outsider") named Chris King. Flanery channels his inner Russell Crowe with gruff, chuff, and scruff in tote.

Image result for the outsider trace adkins movie scenesIn The Outsider, a railroad worker of oriental descent (Jon Foo as Jing Phang) seeks vengeance to any above the law lawman who murdered and abused his wife. "Outsider's" setting feels like the late 1800's, there's plenty of vests and spurs, almost everyone has a mean streak, and at least one character cockily twirls a gun (never seen that before, just kidding).

"Outsider" is rooted in close-ups, Dutch angles, feeble action set-ups, and adult motifs (there's an upsetting rape scene and plenty of roughed up sex involved). It's a jet black Western in cinematography and theme and I wish I had a better view of what was going on (maybe it was my old beat-up flat screen, who knows).

Image result for the outsider trace adkins movie scenesDimness, obscure, and ribald tropes aside, The Outsider has a few intense moments and great supporting work from its antagonist (Kaiwi Lyman as corrupt sheriff James Walker). Still, the film feels a little anti-climatic, a little jaded, and blase blase in its final approach. It's the type of gunfighter endeavor where guys like the late Gary Cooper, the late Charles Bronson, and the late John Wayne would view it and confidently say, "hold my beer". Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Curse of La Llorona 2019 * 1/2 Stars

The Curse of La LloronaDirector: Michael Chaves
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velasquez, Sean Patrick Thomas

The setting is 1973 Los Angeles. A social worker and her two kids are being terrorized by a dead woman in a vale. Said dead woman murdered her own children way back in 1673 Mexico. That's the layout of the silly, doltish, and bland, The Curse of La Llorona (my latest review).

Starring Linda Cardellini and produced by James Wan, "Llorona" is yet another horror endeavor that relies on obviousness and a plethora of jump scares. Heck, there's enough of these scares here to fill five movies. We're talking "boo" scary and that's not really scary. Despite being stylish, a la mode, and well cast, everything on screen is about as frightening and/or traumatizing as a dead ant.

Image result for the curse of la llorona movie scenesThe Curse of La Llorona is directed by future Conjuring helmer, Michael Chaves. His flick is littered with supernatural mumbo jumbo, cut and dried plotting, and some interesting camera slants (I haven't seen the Dutch angle in a while). Within "Llorona", he fails to give any audience member substantial nightmares as they exit the theater. Mikey probably should have consulted guys like William Friedkin, Sam Raimi, or John Carpenter before shooting.

And yeah, let's talk about "Llorona's" main antagonist. You know, La Llorona herself ("The Weeping Woman"). She is played by Marisol Ramirez and her actions are totally repetitive (especially during the pic's prolonged conclusion). She screams, she's sneaky, and she annoys the viewer with every tired jolt. The demon in The Exorcist makes her look like a shy, doting school teacher in comparison.

Image result for the curse of la llorona movie scenesAll in all, The Curse of La Llorona is unoriginal, formulaic, and far from a more superior 70's style of fright fest film-making (I miss the zoom shots and the elongated shots from back in the day). Yup, "Llorona" is the lather, rinse, repeat of trepidation fare. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Stuber 2019 * * 1/2 stars

StuberDirector: Michael Dowse
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais

"Please be a 5-star ride". Stuber (my latest review) doesn't get 5 stars but I guess 3 and a half will do. There's some tips included but it's not what you think (ha-ha).

So OK, I'm not saying every Uber Driver should see Stuber (that's a cliche). But if you are one of those glorified taxi operators for hire, then this flick might amuse you slightly. We're talking ridesharing, clean cars, front seat conversations, smartphone apps, and everywhere LA destinations. Heck, next year I see studios making a film about Lyft starring a dude named Cliff. Or something about DoorDash. Or freaking Instacart!

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Directed by Canadian Michael Dowse, containing scenes that catapult troupers from one set piece to the next, and heralding itself as that rare, R-rated comedy from Disney, Stuber is hit-or-miss on the hysterical with some poorly choreographed action sequences. Call it a stupid-funny version of 2004's Collateral. Call it "lethal deafen". Call it "Starsky and crutch". Yup, you can call it "blips" (which rhymes with TVs CHiPs). 

The gist of Stuber involves a frazzled Uber Driver named Stu Prasad (hence the movie's catchy title). Stu picks up a near-blind cop in one of his rides. Said cop (Victor Manning played by Dave Bautista) is on the trail of a cold-blooded killer who murdered his rookie partner. Chaos ensues when Stu and "Vic" battle bad guys all night long with "Vic's" Uber bill topping off at just under six large (ouch).

Image result for stuber movie scenesAll in all, Stuber is a messy action farce that could've used a more attentive script supervisor and a stunt coordinator who didn't fall asleep at the cursory wheel (no pun intended Steven Ritzi). I did however, find the actors likable (Bautista is more emotive than The Rock) and there are some extremely funny and crass moments. In the cinematic world, Stuber is perceivable without being the equivalent of a more posh UberXL. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Dead Water 2019 * * Stars

Dead WaterDirector: Chris Helton
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Judd Nelson, Brianne Davis

"Nothing but open water". Darn, if only my latest reviewed pic was as good as 2003's Open Water. Sigh

Anyway, a former Marine, his wife, and his best bud go on a boat trip only to be confronted by a pirate bent on robbing and killing them. That's just the surface with these wishy-washy characters (no pun intended). At ninety evaporating minutes, I give you the snaky and somewhat fizzled out, Dead Water.

Image result for Dead water movie scenes"Water", with its overhead vessel shots and its one continuous (and confusing) flashback, feels like a low quota thriller with C-list stars you don't "see" much of anymore (Judd Nelson, Casper Van Dien). Part Midnight Crossing I suppose and part 1989's Dead Calm, Dead Water has a couple of neat, puzzle piece twists even though you can see them coming a mile away.

Directed by an unknown rookie (Chris Helton), shot in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and featuring a military dog tag throwing scene straight from the annals of "Maverick", "Water" feels all too brief while giving us only a conventional level of torrid strain. Heck, the credit titles "and Judd Nelson" are featured three times within Dead Water. Twice during the movie and once on "Water's" regular poster. It seems fitting because it only reminds us that swindler Nelson was actually in the darn thing. He sleepwalks through his role like a bloodhound on extra strength NyQuil.

Image result for Dead water movie scenesThe other actors are otherwise decent with Russell Crowe lookalike Griff Furst playing the PTSD-laden Marine named David (mentioned earlier). All in all, Dead Water is not really noir, it's not really camp, and it's not in a word, budget extravagant. It's just the type of flick you watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon. "Water" is over before you know it and then that 2:30 nap comes around. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 26, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Once Upon a Time in HollywoodDirector: Quentin Tarantino
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

"That was the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life". Uh, not quite Leonardo DiCaprio but you'll always be one of my favorite stars in this lifetime or the next. DiCaprio and a host of well-known troupers (with amorphous cameos) litter the screen in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Anyway, "Hollywood" is a kaleidoscope of nostalgic images, a cinematic objet d'art if you will. It's the 9th film from legendary helmer Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino will never make anything as good as 1994's Pulp Fiction. He knows it and we know it. Basically, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood dutifully escorts that trend. "Hollywood" while harboring a whole lot of movie (within a movie), meanders in shape and overall form. Made to order as Q.T.'s powered final cut, it's probably one of the most scattered editorial efforts in his 27-year canon.

Image result for once upon a time in hollywood movie scenesIn Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino uses every directorial trick in the book (and even some stuff borrowed from other filmmakers). Quentin's sense of time and place is luscious (Hollywood, CA circa 1969), he loves to film old TV sets (and grubby feet), he rocks some obscure music, his attention to detail is totally enterprising, and he gives us a balls-out surprise ending. It's just too bad "Hollywood" doesn't know what it wants to be or what it really wants to say. 161 minutes go by and there's a final act of gratuitous violence that Tarantino is quintessentially known for. Howbeit, said graphic violence doesn't quite bind together what feels like mostly a kooky comedy/drama.

Image result for once upon a time in hollywood movie scenesDistributed by Sony Pictures Releasing and containing some tacked on narration by Kurt "Snake Plissken" Russell, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood involves washed-up actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and the Charles Manson saga involving the real-life Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Tarantino intertwines their stories through flashbacks, lasting back and forth cuts, reworked history, and Tinseltown ins and outs. The actors take it sternly, the production designers do their job, and Tarantino knows where to put the camera a la every dewy-eyed frame. Still, "Hollywood" beats its own drum and provides the audience member with an uneven viewing experience. Might I suggest watching Robert Altman's The Player instead. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 22, 2019

Into the Ashes 2019 * * Stars

Into the AshesDirector: Aaron Harvey
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Frank Grillo, Luke Grimes, Robert Taylor

"We were a family and you tried to kill us". Into the Ashes (my latest review) is about family but not the kind you wanna get mixed up in. We're talking guns, dirty money, malefactors, and overall criminality. Need I say more?

So OK, the poster for "Ashes" looks similar to the ones for American Assassin, 2015's Extraction, and 2017's Extortion. Am I seeing a trend here? Is this what every Internet-released poster is gonna look like? Anyway, I figured Into the Ashes wouldn't see much time in theaters. There are no stars except Frank Grillo (who once sparred with Liam Neeson in The Grey), there's that familiar revenge element, and the giveaway production values are stark at best.

Image result for into the ashes 2019 movie scenesInto the Ashes is helmed by writer and director Aaron Harvey (The Neighbor, Catch .44). Whether its rack focusing, the occasional close-up, a key flashback, or a rendered dissolve, Harvey commits to every shot. His "Ashes" is a little noir, a little Hitchcockian, a little C-listed, and a little home cooking. Heck, the film opens with a 4-minute tracking sequence that's fairly decent. Just call it the poor man's Copacabana a la Marty Scorsese.

Into the Ashes is also muddled and for the most part, half-done. For instance, what kind of bad stuff was the protagonist involved in before he left a life of crime? What's the backstory on the bad guys the protagonist was hanging with while he was up to no good? Why do said bad guys disappear in "Ashes" from time to time? Why does the sheriff in "Ashes" think he's as cool as Jeff Bridges? And how does said protagonist (Luke Grimes as Nick Brenner) get shot two times in the back and still go on living (huh?).

Image result for into the ashes 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Into the Ashes as senseless titles go, looks like the greatest flick an incoming USC film student could ever come up with on the fly. It's worth a look despite having tired, laddish character behaviors, muttered dialogue by its actors, and plot holes the size of Denver. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Crawl 2019 * * * Stars

CrawlDirector: Alexandre Aja
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ami Metcalf

A giant hurricane hits South Florida and a young college swimmer drives there to save her downtrodden dad. Here's the problem: Said dad is trapped in the basement of his house and there's a bunch of evil alligators salivating down there. That's the gist of the white-knuckled yet predictable and farcical, Crawl.

Crawl, with its mounds of apprehension, its B-movie nastiness, its crunchy sound editing, and its heroine implausibility (only the game leads survive this feeding frenzy), is one of your more serviceable Jaws genre-d ripoffs. Better than Lake Placid, less gory than Piranha 3D (same director), more chilling than The Meg, and Citizen Kane compared to 2011's Shark Night, Crawl is an ideal summer movie even if the foreseen outcome is there for the taking.

Image result for crawl 2019 movie scenesCrawl is produced by Sam Raimi and directed by Alexandre Aja. It has an undeveloped script that shadows the action and gators that get the formidable CGI treatment (it's still all good). Despite your typical thriller flaws here, Aja knows how to build tension, knows how to release it, knows how to shoot low to the ground, and knows how to make you fearfully squirm.

In truth, Crawl is so wet, ratty, and slimy you can almost feel your feet itch from your waterlogged shoes. I wouldn't say "run" to see Crawl but its stomach-in-your-throat ardor is at least worth the price of admission.

Image result for crawl 2019 movie scenesCrawl stars Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario as the father and daughter in peril. They have palatable screen presence, they look like they could be related, and they give decent performances. However, their wounds throughout Crawl are about as non-fatal as Thomas M. Gifford after a fishing accident (Kaya's persona should have lost about three limbs by the 60-minute mark). Add Aja's whiz-bang camera movement with his crocs slithering like they were in a Activision video game and Crawl barely gets a 3 star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 12, 2019

Vault 2019 * 1/2 Stars

VaultDirector: Tom DeNucci
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Theo Rossi, Clive Standen, Don Johnson

Macho criminals who don't wear masks, don't think rationally, and don't get the controlled crime lingo, try to pull off the biggest heist in U.S. history ($30 million-plus kiddies). That's the blueprint for 2019's pseudo-stylish and hot-messed, Vault.

Vault, with its slight Scorsese influence, its Steven Soderbergh drawl, and its Providence, R.I. suture, is yet another crime drama that seems to disregard long-ago ingenuity. Part Black Mass, part Departed, part 2018's Gotti, part Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, part Goodfellas, and part Ocean's Eleven, Vault is the cinematic equivalent of a bastardized mutt who can't find his mommy.

Image result for vault 2019 movie scenesVault is based on true accounts, takes place mostly in Rhode Island, and is directed by a thirtysomething named Tom DeNucci (a Rhode Island native himself). DeNucci likes to show off with the camera a la triple split-screens, zooms, flashbacks, and the occasional freeze-frame.

What Tom's Vault lacks ultimately is flow, flux, or a sense of A to B. As you watch Vault, you say to yourself, "why should I care about these characters, what is their deal, and how the heck did they get here?" The monkey editing in Vault is slipshod, the Mob violence is pedestrian (it could be the budget), the end credits in Vault make you chuckle (because everything feels a little arbitrary), and the actors (Theo Rossi, Clive Standen) do what they can with a tough-talking, clunky script.

Known troupers like Don Johnson, William Forsythe, Burt Young, and Chazz Palminteri show up occasionally but they barely register. In truth, everyone in Vault comes off like parody versions of ruthless gangsters.

Image result for vault 2019 movie scenesDespite a decent sense of time and place (the mid-70's), a clear-cut reference to Richard Nixon, an interrogation twist ending, and some retro commercials on the tele, this "vault" is still an unsavory "depository". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 8, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home 2019 * * * 1/2 Stars

Spider Man: Far From HomeDirector: Jon Watts
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

"We have a job to do and you're coming with us". You as a viewer have a job to do and that's to see Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Anyway, have you ever viewed a Marvel Studio movie where the humor almost single-handedly trumps the armed conflict? You know, kid and adult personas constantly making goofy quips with tongue firmly planted in cheek? "Far From Home" is that movie and at 129 free-flowing minutes, it's my latest review.

"Far From Home", with its international flavor and its introduction of Jake Gyllenhaal to the Marvel universe, feels like one of the best good time, hangout flicks in the Spider-Man franchise canon. Yes it's live-action fodder but "Far From Home" also has the look of being sort of cartoonish. Trust me, I'm okay with that.

In terms of casting, well Brit Tom Holland is perfect as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He's likable as a non-cocky protagonist and actually looks like what I envisioned Spidey to look like. Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire are decent actors but Sony completely gets it right with Holland.

Taking place in Europe (starting with Venice) and paying tribute to one Tony Stark (spoiler), Spider-Man: Far From Home involves Holland's Peter Parker wanting to go on a class trip only to be hurled back into saving the world by antihero Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Image result for spider man far from home movie scenesLook for solid, Zack Snyder-style film-making from director Jon Watts (I dug Jon's use of three-dimensional space within a large canvas). Also, look for love story elements (Parker and MJ), recurring Marvel characters (Maria Hill, Harold "Happy" Hogan, Fury), and lots of nasty, firing drones. Finally, know that "Far From Home" takes a page out of the Ant-Man films in that it's almost comedic and not wholly action-packed. Endgame begot, this duck soup sequel just wants to have a good time. My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return 2019 * Star

A Haunting at Silver Falls: The ReturnDirector: Teo Konuralp
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * Star
Cast: Laura Flannery, James Cavlo, Harry Hains

"Just like Ghostbusters". No, not at all. Not just like Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters had a known cast, fresh comedic dialogue, production values, and box office sway. A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return (my latest review) is more akin to a fanboy, student film version of The Ring.

Anyhow, have you ever seen a movie where the budget constraints are so abundant the pseudo-Hitchcockian scenes are cut off at midpoint? And have you ever seen a flick where the musical score is the same two chords used in countless scare fests via the last twenty years? A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return is that movie and it's a sequel that needs to be "returned" to your local Redbox stat!

Image result for a haunting at silver falls 2019 movie scenes"Return", with its E-list stars, its community theater acting, its wink wink to all things VOD, and its massively cheapo special effects, is a continuation of 2013's A Haunting at Silver Falls. Devoid of any suitable jump scares, any jim-jams, and lacking anything resembling the conch of capable editing, "Return" is only frightening if you've never seen an actual horror film before. Yeah there's a couple of twin ghosts in "Return" that are clearly inspired by the siblings in The Shining. Still, they aren't nearly as creepy as those pale-edged girls from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 hit.

Shot in Oregon (which sort of looks like rural Europe) and directed by a cut corners rookie (Teo Konuralp), A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return has to do with a phantom aunt who uses the body of a ruthless convict to terrorize a bunch of young twentysomethings.

Image result for a haunting at silver falls 2019 movie scenesLook for characters saying the most cliched of fright night readings ("we've gotta get outta here" or "if we're gonna survive, it's now or never"). Also, know that "Return" is probably the most restrained, PG-13-style horror pic you'll ever take in. Its non-theatrical release can be put alongside any recent Amityville-franchised endeavor. Bottom line: "Return" is hardcore "downturn". My rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Kid 2019 * * * Stars

The KidDirector: Vincent D'Onofrio
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Chris Pratt

"No one has to die today". You tell em' Ethan Hawke. Hawke and Chris Pratt don felt hats and revise their Magnificent Seven days with 2019's The Kid.

Anyway, have you ever seen a western that stayed more faithful to the western action genre than this? You know, the costumes, the bar whiskey, the music, the small town sets, the egotistical demeanor, the dustiness? "Kid" is that western and at 100 (sometimes) trudging minutes, it's my latest review.

The Kid, with moments of lush cinematography, Days of Heaven remnants, and occasional shards of tomahawk violence, provides decent casting and the workings of something Clint Eastwood might have made right after shooting Pale Rider.

Image result for the kid movie scenes ethan hawke 2019Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Dane DeHaan (he plays "Kid's" lead in Billy the Kid), appears formidable as a grubby cowboy. However, he strains a bit in his line readings. It's Hawke and Pratt that shine as the legendary Pat Garrett and Grant Cutler respectively. With Colt revolvers in holsters, shower-less looks, and a searing manner, they come off as scruff-ed up badasses. You just wish the late Lee Van Cleef or Sam Elliott would show up to you know, sweeten the deal.

Taking place in Eastern New Mexico and directed by veteran actor Vincent D'Onofrio, The Kid chronicles a brother and sister who flee their violent uncle after shooting their equally violent father. Along their journey across the Southwestern United States, said brother and sister encounter never-ending conflict between Billy the Kid and Garrett (mentioned earlier).

Image result for the kid movie scenes ethan hawke 2019Look for some rack focusing, a couple of brief tracking shots, and boundless mood lighting courtesy of a keen-eyed D'Onofrio (this is only his second directorial effort). Minus some excessive plodding, some choppy editing, a vague title, and an all-too-familiar milieu, this "Kid" is still mature enough to be in any gun-swilling room. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Captive State 2019 * * Stars

Captive StateDirector: Rupert Wyatt
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Vera Farmiga

Aliens that we rarely get to glimpse and are almost in the background, institute martial law on the human race. That's the layout of the sporadic and spasmodic, Captive State (my latest review).

"State" is yet another PG-13 thriller that takes place in dystopian Chicago, Illinois (this Mud City really needs to take a break from the film biz). Its look is so grubby, so inky, and so sunless, you can barely tell what's going on. Not to promote the essence of Mop & Glo floor cleaner but Captive State sure could have used a cinematic coat of it. When the squishy E.T.'s show up unannounced, you really need to squint to get your view on.

Image result for captive state movie scenesCaptive State, which features an always reliable John Goodman in one of its leads, has a sense of urgency and can never be deemed as boring. The problem is this fast-paced vehicle lacks continuity with its rookie editor clearly on mock holiday (Andrew Groves has only been involved in shorts, TV movies, and TV series up until this point). Profuse characters of a serious nature fade in and out, scenes are storyboard-ed so quickly the viewer never gets a foothold, and Chicago locales like Soldier Field and Wicker Park feel a little too conspicuous to someone who lives there (like myself).

Oh well. At least the musical score by Rob Simonsen is disquieting, the Willis Tower is still standing, and scruffy co-star Alan Ruck goes full incognito (his days of playing Cameron Frye and T.S. are long gone). Bottom line: Captive State strives to be intelligent science fiction with a Matt Reeves and Neill Blomkamp flavor. Still, it gives your average conspiracy enthusiast no sound reason to latch on. "State" leaves the audience member adrift, lost, and held "captive" (ha-ha). Call it "district nein" as in "no". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men in Black: International 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Men in Black: International movie posterDirector: F. Gary Gray
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson

Men in Black: International is a ho-hum sequel and my latest review. Billed as gimmick-ed science fiction with overseas flavor (hence the salient title), "International" feels more like a cutesy kids comedy than anything else. Call it The Phantom Menace of the Men in Black franchise. Call it pubescent tongue-in-cheek. Call it "men without tact". And just like the neuralyzer used in "International", you'll forget about the film the moment you exit the theater (for the record, I feel the original Men in Black wasn't that great to begin with).

Image result for mib international movie scenesTessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth replace Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as the new Men in Black leads. They are strapping, good-looking people who can act but they are saddled with an elongated, cringe-worthy screenplay. Yup, with game Liam Neeson signing on in a nixed supporting role, everyone comes off as a little haphazard here.

In Men in Black: International, Thompson and Hemsworth's characters have to save the E.T.-surplussed world while trying to find a mole in the Men in Black organization (you as the viewer could spot it a mile away). At an almost two-hour running time, it's hard to take "International" seriously. There's the usual shiny gadgets (which I like), a little bit of the action, some wonted special effects, too much of the drollness, and sadly, a lot of the disposable.

Image result for mib international movie scenes
In conclusion, the biggest reason these Men in Black movies continue to get made is strictly a financial one (the four installments have garnered over a billion dollars worldwide). Based on the sparse amount of people at the screening I just attended, that trend might just end. Bottom line: If you must see Men in Black: International, head to a dollar movie theater, bring the kiddies (if you have any), take in the pseudo surround sound, and try to enjoy the Styrofoam popcorn. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Abduction 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

AbductionDirector: Ernie Barbarash
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Scott Adkins, Andy On, Lily Ji

"She's been abducted." Yeah she has. By albino, hooded aliens who have been around for centuries no less. Said aliens sure know how to fight (and brawl) Bruce Lee-style. They show up haphazardly in 2019's Abduction (my latest review).

So OK, everyone in Abduction mysteriously knows how to kick butt in the avenue of exotic martial arts. No explanation, no reasoning, no stock rationale, and no know-how. Just bone-crunching, fist fighting scenes in the vein of some B-movie, John Wick echo. Yup, for a film starring C-list action guru Scott Adkins and having him harbor a stutter, Abduction really wants you to take it seriously. I did until all the shoddiness and pseudo-cheesiness sort of crept in.

Image result for abduction movie scenes 2019Directed by Xmas Netflix-er Ernie Barbarash (he was also a co-producer on 2000's American Psycho) and plotted well from a VOD standpoint, Abduction is a preposterous mix of black magic, time travel remnants, purported violence, and sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Call it "big trouble in little Vietnam". Call it "the matrix rebooted". Call it a John Carpenter pic ruined and refurbished by a form of MTV sheen.

The gist of Abduction which involves two intertwining vignettes, has to do with SWAT guy Quinn (Adkins) and gangster Connor (played by Andy On). Quinn and Connor's loved ones get captured by creepy-looking figures who are bent on steadily destroying the human race. They speak with Evil Dead-style voices, they wear black capes, they stealth it up, and they give the Grim Reaper a run for his money a la the personality department.

Image result for abduction movie scenes 2019Bottom line: Abduction is sophisticated, eerie camp with a prototypical premise, standardized direction, and a knack for having some decently choreographed block blow sequences. Compared to more commercial releases however, the film just seems a little underwhelming. Abduction conveys random "ruction". Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Domino 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

DominoDirector: Brian De Palma
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Guy Pearce, Nicolas Bro

"It's rare to find this kind of talent". Brian De Palma would agree. He himself is pretty talented. After a seven-year hiatus in the movie biz, De Palma is back with 2019's Domino. It's my latest review.

Anyway, Domino gives us one of Brian De Palma's quintessential, over-dramatic film scores. He didn't write the music mind you but the notes are well known here. Italian Pino Donaggio is Domino's composer and if you've seen De Palma's Carrie, his Blowout, or his 1980 razor flick Dressed to Kill, you'll know it's the exact same dude. Every scene and even every tuneful moment is punctuated with pseudo-suspense, malaise, and uneasiness. For a film showcasing 78-year-old De Palma on straight-to-video holiday, Domino could have been a whole lot worse.

Image result for Domino 2019 movie scenesIn Domino, all the De Palma trademarks are slightly evident. The Hitchcock mentoring, the split-screens, the security cameras, the dire violence, the slow-motion build-ups. It's in there Prego-style. Now is it as elaborate or serpentine as what Brian De Palma was doing in the 1970's or 80's? Not quite. Is it still sort of fun to watch? Yeah, sure it is.

Shot in Denmark, Italy, and Spain (the European locales are more than adequate), Domino's story involves Copenhagen cop, Christian (played by Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Christian's partner gets killed by a member of ISIS and he seeks justice for the guy that did it. The only problem is that same guy is working as a double agent for a member of the CIA (Joe Martin played by an excellent Guy Pearce).

Image result for Domino 2019 movie scenesAll in all, Domino feels abrupt and unfinished at 89 minutes. Heck, I'm not even sure De Palma had any say over final cut (he should though because he's been around for over six decades). Still, Brian's cast is game and like an aging veteran who's a little past his prime, Alfred's faithful protege still has a few cinematic tricks up his sleeve. Domino "falls" but not too far. It gets a rating of 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Rocketman 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

RocketmanDirector: Dexter Flecher
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden

If Michael Gracey directed a musical a la the 1960's, 70's, 80's or early 90's, the result would be 2019's Rocketman (my latest review).

Taron Egerton gives a committed (and raw ) performance as Rocketman's main lead and legendary musical icon, Sir Elton John. The only problem is he does the actual singing of Elton's jams and well, he's pitch-y and not much of a singer. 

Image result for Rocketman movie scenesIn Rocketman, Elton John's life is chronicled from his distant childhood with his parents to his rise to stardom to his life-changing rehab stint in 1990. The film is rooted in fantasy, reality, trances, and scenes involving various characters breaking into song. I liked the actuality of the story but the fantasy elements and almost everything else zap Rocketman of having any sustained, dramatic momentum.  

Containing decent acting, a lot of splashy visuals, and a sort of combative narrative, Rocketman gets some of its timelines wrong just like in last year's Bohemian Rhapsody ("Don't Go Breaking My Heart" wasn't recorded before "Bennie and the Jets", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", and/or "Honky Cat"). Plus, the movie doesn't rely on being credibly artsy and succumbs to having a saturated, candy coated TV feel. 

Still, Egerton dons glittery garb and gives it his all (despite looking more like a young Ewan McGregor than Elton John). And there's excellent supporting work by an almost unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard (she plays Elton's aloof mom, Sheila Eileen). 

Image result for Rocketman movie scenesBottom line: I've been a fan of Elton John's music (and Bernie Taupin's lyrics) for pretty much my entire life. Their early stuff from the albums Tumbleweed Connection to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is my vivid, euphonious childhood.

Nimbly paced musically without giving the viewer ample time to breathe, Rocketman is a so-so tribute to Elton's long-lived life that could have done without the miscued, Greatest Showman treatment. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ma 2019 * * * Stars

MaDirector: Tate Taylor
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans

"This never happened, OK". But it did happen my friends and that's the unsettling part.

Anyway, have you the reader ever seen a horror version of a John Hughes flick? Or better yet, have you ever checked out 2002's One Hour Photo or the villainous prose of Unlawful Entry (minus any police protocol)? I have in regards to the latter and Ma (my latest review) resembles those attributes.

Image result for ma movie scenesMa, with its eager malaise and unpromising, small town feel, provides spot-on casting and the makings of something a la the midnight movie circuit. Octavia Spencer in Ma's lead role, gets her Kathy Bates on and becomes the badass, cinematic wretch terror fans have always yearned for. Ma's director (The Help's Tate Taylor) gives the film inching tension and envelope-pushing, R-rated fare. He gets almost everything right except the ending which seems implausible as to how much stabbing resilience (and fire immunity) a human being can take.

Taking place in I guess, Ohio (I got that from a car's license plate), cropping out at 100 minutes, and containing an 80's-style soundtrack (hence the John Hughes reference), Ma chronicles one Sue Ann (Spencer). Sue Ann traumatized by her past and a bit of a lone wolf, befriends some free spirit, high school kids who want her to buy beer for them. Next thing you know they're hanging out in Sue Ann's basement and having cringed, wild parties. Sue Ann's behavior turns a little kooky, said high school kids reject her, and she ends up making their lives a living hell.

Image result for ma movie scenesLook for some mild twists and a woman getting run over by another woman to the sounds of Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" (you'll never think of that song the same way again). Also, look for privacy-violated Facebook allocations, partial male genital nudity, and Scooby-Doo van musings. Bottom line: Ma is disturbingly upsetting, pseudo-Hitchcockian, and will give you the fresh, genre-ed creeps as you exit the theater. Somehow it all just works. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Poison Rose 2019 * * Stars

The Poison RoseDirectors: George Gallo, Luca Giliberto, Francesco Cinquemani
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: John Travolta, Morgan Freeman, Brendan Fraser

The Poison Rose is my latest review. Set to be released in May of this year, it's an uneventful, paperweight film noir that was directed by three people (the most notable being Midnight Run scribe, George Gallo). In addition to that, "Rose" has star John Travolta looking like The Most Interesting Man in the World. Yup, that's a shout-out to Dos Equis beer and bearded silver foxes everywhere.

Image result for the poison rose movie scenesSo OK, The Poison Rose cements the fact that Travolta doesn't really care whether his movies are great or not. Hey it's not that his performance is bad here. It's just that "Rose" is another excuse for John to delve into twangy stature and acting self-parody. With umpteenth Southern accent and umpteenth hairpiece in tote, Johnny boy obviously forgot that he once shined in Pulp Fiction. "I like to drink, I like to smoke, and I like to gamble". That's great John Travolta. Can you channel your inner cerebration and juggle upside down too? Just kidding.

Anyway, the gist of The Poison Rose goes like this: An alcoholic detective named Carson Phillips (played by Travolta in chimney-smoking, Philip Marlowe mode) travels to Galveston, Texas to solve a murder involving a star college quarterback. Said murder might have entailed the actions of Carson's long-lost daughter (which subsequently is played by Travolta's real-life offspring, Ella Bleu Travolta).

Image result for the poison rose movie scenesClocking in at just over an hour and a half, baiting atmospherics, and registering as the first time Morgan Freeman and Travolta ever shared the screen together, "Rose" has its tres directors using fade outs, wipes, and generic shootouts to move the clunky narrative along. Adjoined to that, The Poison Rose has a time setting of 1978 which feels incredibly inauthentic. Heck, it could have been 1988 or even the late 90's for all we know. Bottom line: "Rose" is an unintentional, spoofed and campy affair (even for a smoldering thriller). Sadly, it has "thorns" and lifeless stems in its side. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson