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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ad Astra 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Ad AstraDirector: James Gray
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones Ruth Negga

Ad Astra is my latest review. It was released in September of 2019 with reshoots causing the film to go $20 million dollars over budget. James Gray directs "Astra" giving the audience a mixture of sci-fi Apocalypse Now, Mission to Mars, and 2014's Interstellar. Oh and you can even throw in a little 2001: A Space Odyssey because well, why not.

So OK, Ad Astra has known troupers in it that barely register (Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones). And yes, Brad Pitt as the lead gives a performance so inert and underplayed, his heart rate probably never rose above 60 (his character's rarely went over 80). Still, "Astra" has a tamed look of steely-eyed convention. It's 124 minutes of space-age, numbing beauty. Add Max Richter's Cliff Martinez-like musical score and some canvased cinematography and Ad Astra is well, total science fiction 101.

Image result for ad astra movie scenes"Astra" has shards of glacial violence, some NASA implausibility (Neptune and Jupiter aren't as far away as I thought), numerous Brad Pitt-ed close-ups, and some narration by Pitt that feels awkward at best (he's no Captain Willard mind you).

In truth, if you like your science fiction fantasies to be more pretentious family drama than action, then Ad Astra is your go-to vehicle. And if you like a flick that keeps you at a distance with a lonely, closed-in feel, then "Astra" will help you meet that particular "Waterloo".

All in all, Ad Astra is a movie about an astronaut named Roy McBride (Pitt) who goes to Neptune to find his father (Clifford McBride). Roy wants to bring said father back to earth and help him eliminate plans for an expedition that might destroy the universe.

Image result for ad astra movie scenesBottom line: "Astra" is an icy, slow burn journey of a film and because of its artsy-fartsy residue and languidness, I might not have the gumption to see it again. Or maybe just see it "ad" hoc. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

10 Minutes Gone 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

10 Minutes GoneDirector: Brian A. Miller
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Michael Chiklis, Bruce Willis, Meadow Williams

10 Minutes Gone is my latest review. It was released in late September and I'm thinking it was an Internet only affair. That's what you'll get from director, nutrition-less action helmer, and monumental slick-ster, Brian A. Miller.

So OK, "Gone" has empty, streamlined shootouts where no one really hits a target. And yes, the dialogue feels word for word with the script supervisor obviously not changing a thing. Still, Brian A. Miller as a filmmaker seems to be growing a little. His flick has a twist I didn't see coming and his plot is a little more intricate than in past efforts. "Miller time" isn't so bad (unfortunately compared to Miller's The Prince/Vice, that ain't saying much).

Image result for 10 minutes gone 2019 movie scenes10 Minutes Gone contains lots of hailed gunfire, some constant Michael Bay camera movements, numerous flashbacks, a character walking away from an explosion in slow-motion (never seen that before), and a wooden performance from Bruce Willis that shows he didn't have to move five feet within the first hour (did Brucie even know where his mark was?).

In truth, if you like a digestible heist thriller with some raw (effective) acting from The Shield's Michael Chiklis, then "Gone" is gonna do it for you. And if you like obsessive aerial shots of Cincinnati, Ohio ("Gone's" go-to locale), then 10 Minutes Gone will sort of make you wanna visit "The Nati" (I stress the words "sort of").

Using a movie poster that screams direct-to-video and distributed by four production companies (Lionsgate occupying two of them), "Gone" involves a bank robbery gone afoul with the protagonist robber getting hit over the head (he loses consciousness for ten minutes, hint hint). When said protagonist wakes up, he has to figure out who double-crossed him.

Image result for 10 minutes gone 2019 movie scenesBottom line: 10 Minutes Gone isn't hot garbage but it gives us another reason to believe Brian A. Miller's work will never hit an actual movie theater. He's stuck in one, gun-toting genre with his Bruce Willis muse, his counterspy app-ed film scores, and his novice choices for actors (Michael Chiklis excluded). Yup, 10 Minutes Gone is "reservoir dogged". It has "gone" to the place of a mixed review. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 4, 2019

Inside Man: Most Wanted 2019 * * * Stars

Inside Man: Most WantedDirector: Michael J. Bassett
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Rhea Seehorn, Aml Ameen, Roxanne McKee

An FBI agent from Harvard and a cocky hostage negotiator (Will Smith lookalike Aml Ameen) try to save some lives during a Nazi gold bank robbery in NYC. That's the gist of the slick and polished, Inside Man: Most Wanted.

"Most Wanted", with its script reading like episodes of Criminal Minds, Law & Order, and/or Scorpion, is fast-paced, mildly violent, twisty, and feinted from its opening frame. Everyone involved with this film really wants you to take it seriously. That's admirable from the standpoint of "Most Wanted" being sadly relegated to direct-to-video status (what'd you expect? It's 13 years later).

Image result for inside man most wanted movie scenesBrit helmer Michael J. Bassett signed on to direct "Most Wanted" with it being a long-delayed sequel to 2006's Inside Man. No one from the original flick was involved but Bassett keeps the mysterious heist dream alive. Just like in the first Inside Man, "Most Wanted" tells us that nothing is what it seems when it comes to hastily stealing from a Federal Reserve lender.

There's some cool explosions, a couple of ending flashbacks, a 1945 combat flashback, and characters saying the word "boom" (and "bam") on multiple occasions. Just to let you know that Inside Man: Most Wanted is an undisclosed follow-up, there's also a portrait of Denzel Washington on a classroom wall as well as a mugshot of Clive Owen in an FBI file.

Image result for inside man most wanted movie scenesIn retrospect, "Most Wanted" isn't high art but with its own "den of thieves", it tries to come real close. There's no Spike Lee this time around, no Jodie Foster, no Terrence Blanchard music, and no known stars involved (have you guys ever heard of actress Rhea Seehorn or actor Urs Rechn? Neither have I). Still, Inside Man: Most Wanted might be even more exciting and rousing than the first Inside Man installment. Sans a sizable film crew and a big budget, that's no "inside" joke. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Anna 2019 * * * Stars

AnnaDirector: Luc Besson
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Sasha Luss, Cillian Murphy, Helen Mirren

"Which room?" So says the fixed character of Anna Poliatova before going in for a mission-ed kill. Poliatova changes her downtrodden life by becoming a twenty-something KGB assassin in 2019's Anna (my latest review).

Anyway, Anna is a sleek and sterile thriller with a female, John Wick kick to it. It's also another round of Luc Besson, his silencers, his femme fatales, his whipped car chases, and his cinematic, French-y cuisine.

Image result for anna 2019 movie scenesSo OK, tell me how was this film overlooked? It made only $7.7 million in the US (and $28.4 million worldwide) but heck, after the lousiness that was 2014's Lucy, I kinda dug it.

I guess Anna's low box office take might have been attributed to its sparse marketing efforts, its Keanu competition, and its nearly unknown lead in Sasha Luss. Looking like a Russian version of Jennifer Lawrence and having only one other movie credit to her dossier (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), Luss meets the physicality requirements of Anna Poliatova as well as the sudden, volatile nature. Move over Jason Statham and Jet Li because the gun-toting Sasha Luss kicks some serious arse.

Anna's director, producer, writer, and maker of all things hit-girl, is Frenchman Luc Besson (mentioned earlier). Anna is Besson at his most Besson. It's also intricate, thinking man's Besson. Channeling his inner Rashomon while harboring a Mexican standoff and using his camera like a slithery serpentine on fire, Luc Besson makes Anna virtually recommendable.

Image result for anna 2019 movie scenes
In conclusion, I liked Anna's various twists and revelations (told through flashbacks), its supporting performances from Helen Mirren and Cillian Murphy, and its groovy, bone-crackling action which "kicks" in at about the 40-minute mark (no pun intended). Bottom line: Anna may be familiar in the realms of the existing, button woman genre. Still, it's no "Fata Mongana". My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Fanatic 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The FanaticDirector: Fred Durst
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja

"I just wanted an autograph". So says the sorry character of Moose when it comes to collecting memorabilia from B to C-list celebs. Moose with weirdo hairdo and even weirdo wardrobe in tote, stalks his favorite, brute action hero in 2019's The Fanatic (my latest review).

Anyway, "Fanatic" is brief (at 88 minutes) and somehow holds the viewer back from wanting a little more. It's a Holly-weird, personified thriller littered with over the top acting, over the top shallowness, out of place narration, and under the belt budget constraints.

Fred Durst (lead singer of Limp Bizkit) steps behind the camera for his third feature film. Yes he directs "Fanatic" well (I love the artwork) but his effort at times also feels rushed and kinda pasted together. Fred either based The Fanatic off his own experiences or watched 1996's The Fan and/or Big Fan one too many times. Nevertheless, he knows where to put the camera and knows that an isolated fan portrayal isn't quite playing with a full deck.

Image result for the fanatic movie scenes
In "Fanatic", Durst gets John "I don't show up in movie theaters anymore" Travolta to step in as the lead. As Moose, Johnny boy painfully throws himself into the role only to become a carbonated parody of Gil Renard and Paul Aufiero (played by Robert De Niro and Patton Oswalt respectively).

Travolta is decent as a hit-and-miss actor but he's a little miscast here (the dude is 65 years old, really?). In The Fanatic, he simply tries too hard with his quirky persona being a cross between Dustin Hoffman's Raymond Babbitt and Corey Haim's Lucas Blye. It's a bloated stretch to say the least.

Image result for the fanatic movie scenesAll in all, The Fanatic isn't quite as disastrous as it was perceived via the movie-going public (it only grossed about $3 grand and played in 52 theaters). In the future, I think Fred Durst will helm better flicks if he gets the casting right, the production values magnified, and avoids the notion of borderline, directorial hacking. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Score to Settle 2019 * * Stars

A Score to SettleDirector: Shawn Ku
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Benjamin Bratt, Noah Le Gros

"Time keeps marching on. Ain't nothing we can do about it". In 2019's A Score to Settle, "time" sure has weathered the face of paycheck player, twitch-meister, and hair evolution icon, Mr. Nicolas Cage. He looks about as hungover and damaged as I've ever seen him in an Internet-only, released vehicle.

Anyway, a mob enforcer (Frank Carver) forcefully tracks down his own employees after they caused him to be imprisoned for 19 years. He's got wishy washy vengeance on his mind, a need to collect Italian guns, and some do re mi to spend (that means money). That's the blueprint for "Score" and at 103 elongated minutes, it really "settles" in. I mean really.

Related imageA Score to Settle, with its all over the place character study masking as routine revenge thriller, deals with macho confrontations, romanticism, a couple of retribution kills, some blurred flashbacks, and some fanatical, father-son bonding. Salivating action junkies might not get what they're looking for with "Score".

Cage in the lead role as Carver (mentioned earlier), gives us the usual "cagey" ad lib-s and overall, kooky "Cage-ness". In a structurally dissident flick with no stinking rules (and no explanation of buying time), he's like a cross between his Roy Waller in Matchstick Men, his Frank Pierce from Bringing Out the Dead, and his Donald Kaufman from 2002's Adaptation.

At times Nic's persona is like a worn schizo who crashed and forgot to take his Ambien. The overacting (and mediocre acting for that matter) is evident and the income tax repayment film tour continues (Nicky boy seems to still be in real-life debt).

Image result for a score to settle movie scenesAll in all, five production companies, five distributors, four editors, and one unseasoned director (Shawn Ku) had a hand in making A Score to Settle (yeesh). I like the good intentions, the dare to be slow burn, and the enthusiasm but I'm going with a "score" of two stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hustlers 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

HustlersDirector: Lorene Scafaria
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles

"The game is rigged and it does not reward people who play by the rules". So says the persona of Ramona Vega in 2019's Hustlers (my latest review). Vega is played by Jennifer Lopez who finds a role she can really sink her teeth into. This is one of the best performances of J.Lo's career and it's marginally better than the unadorned movie she is in.

Anyway, Hustlers is like a female version of Goodfellas and 2015's Black Mass (mixed with cult classic Showgirls). The only difference is that no one gets whacked, Paul Verhoeven doesn't slick it up, Joe Eszterhas isn't the writer, and there's nothing at all mob related.

Image result for hustlers 2019 movie scenesThe director of Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria) shoots the film in time lines (2007-2015) and A to B state of affairs that cut corners. Not really gritty and harnessed with non-elaborate production values, one would have wondered the outcome of Hustlers had famed director Martin Scorsese or Scott Cooper gotten behind the directorial wheel.

Filmed in New York City, based on a true story, and featuring an almost unrecognizable Constance Wu (this ain't Crazy Rich Asians people), Hustlers is about strip club employees who decide to drug Wall Street workers and then use their Platinum credit cards to rob them blind (it's pretty scary if you think about it).

In hindsight, my biggest problem with Hustlers is why should we root for these true-life, women pickpockets and why should their true accounts even be told. Heck, they don't actually do any time (spoiler) and their naive, Wall Street victims don't really get a shred of justice.

Image result for hustlers 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Despite some ample performances from a game cast and some decent, magic Michaelene strip sequences,  Hustlers is just another cinematic rise and fall (and rise) requiem. It unfortunately gets "hustled" itself. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Booksmart 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

BooksmartDirector: Olivia Wilde
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams

"Don't knock it until you've tried it". So says the wide-eyed character of Molly Davidson when it comes to life and the kinky art of scissoring. Molly and a bunch of other eccentric hoodies cut loose on the last day of secondary education via 2019's Booksmart (my latest review).

Anyway, Booksmart is disordered, sometimes funny, slow mo-ed, and a hot mess script-wise. It's a mad-dog (but not mean), HS comedy populated by tonal shifts, exhausting improvisation, a tripped out animation sequence, and a nasty, balls to the wall hip-hop soundtrack (I gotta admit, that's my favorite part).

Image result for booksmart movie scenesOlivia Wilde (a familiar name who's never helmed a movie before) steps in behind the sun-drenched camera for her nifty little debut. Watching Booksmart, it's apparent that Wilde's swagger was influenced by Can't Hardly Wait, 2007's Superbad, Sixteen Candles, and William Shakespeare's 10 Things I Hate About You. Yeah she can direct if not bootleg. It's also apparent that Liv might have channeled her inner David O. Russell (and/or John Hughes) before shooting began (hey that's just pure speculation).

In Booksmart, Olivia Wilde gets good actors who are game (Beanie Feldstein, Skyler Gisondo, Kaitlyn Dever) and fosters enough spark and energy for ten Millennial farces. It's just unfortunate that her out of the box camerawork, flashy bravura, and promotion of DJ Shadow background raps can't mask the film's REM unevenness.

Image result for booksmart movie scenesAll in all, Booksmart is another pic that's Point Grey Pictures-like (that means it's R-rated teenager stuff). It might reveal the modern psyche of today's highschool-er but it's not the one I remember (do 15 to 18-year-old kids, sheltered parents, and suspect teachers actually come off like this?). If for sheer open mindedness or leveled curiosity, I might need a couple more viewings of Booksmart to get into Wilde's raw, possibly misunderstood groove. "Book" it. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Cold Blood 2019 * * * Stars

Cold BloodDirector: Frederic Petitjean
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jean Reno, Sarah Lind, Joe Anderson

Eight production companies, fourteen producers, and eight distributors had a hand in the making of 2019's Cold Blood. Hey, whatever gets the job done.

Anyway, Cold Blood is a carefully plotted and slow-building affair. It's like a combination of 2017's Wind River, Eye of the Beholder, and last year's Siberia (starring Keanu "whoa" Reeves). "Blood" is not an action-packed thriller or a grand ole shoot-'em-up per se. As something about a reclusive hit-man who takes in a total stranger only to find out that said stranger wants him dead, Cold Blood is indeed winter-esque. It's almost like you can see Dr. Yuri Zhivago or Victor Komarovsky coming around the corner.

Image result for cold blood 2019 movie scenesGranted, "Blood" could have had an ending that wasn't so underwhelming. It doesn't seem justifiable considering that Mr. hit-man was at times a good Samaritan. Nonetheless, Cold Blood (whose working title was Cold Blood Legacy) keeps you intrigued and entangled for most of the way. You're constantly glued to the screen wondering how it will all end.

Jean Reno as "Blood's" mellow contract killer Henry, exudes decent screen presence and a gruff-ed stare. His performance seems minimalistic but somehow right for this type of role. Jean's adversary in Sarah Lind (she plays Melody), is also effective and somewhat forthright. Lind's character is like Maggie Hayward, a femme fatale, and Beatrix Kiddo all rolled into one.

Image result for cold blood 2019 movie scenes"Blood's" director is rookie Frederic Petitjean. His thinking was yes, "there will be blood" (and there is). Petitjean creates an icy, bird's eye look and with budget constraints aside, knows where to put the camera. If only he remembered to put actors in his flick that talked like they were from upper Washington ("Blood" takes place in "The Evergreen State" but was filmed entirely in the Ukraine). Oh well. Cold Blood "warms" you up to its tight editing and its nippy, atmospheric chic. It's worth at least a three star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Killers Anonymous 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Killers AnonymousDirector: Martin Owen
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gary Oldman, Jessica Alba, Tommy Flanagan

"I just want you to know that I tried". That's probably the random thoughts of director Martin Owen in regards to 2019's Killers Anonymous (my latest review). Mr. Owen my man, you are a poised swaggerer. You probably "tried" way too hard.

Anyway, Killers Anonymous is about a support group for well, contract killers. Jessica Alba and Gary Oldman who have never shared the screen before, star in "Killers". Oldman looks like he'd be bored if he wasn't doing anything other than acting. Alba cloaked in lip scars, a bandanna, and tomboyish flair, barely registers in a cameo that she's probably too good for.

Image result for killers anonymous movie scenesAs for the rest of the cast of "Killers", well they are mostly cocky unknowns. Their characters bicker and brawl amidst each other with thick British accents and annoying, short fuses. Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, and Guy Ritchie made something similar to Killers Anonymous many many years ago. Martin Owen is trying to bring it all back. Owen should have listened to Johnny Mathis when Johnny exclaimed, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late to try again".

Distributed by Lionsgate, filmed in modern-day London, and giving off a sort of fantasy-like, neon look, "Killers" is all style and no peaked "smile". The filmmakers had a lot more fun making it than the audience who has to sit through it. "Killers" has a broken narrative, some weird (showoff) camera angles, some Kill Bill-ed splatter violence, some hacky flashbacks, and some twists and revelations that are put in just for the heck of it.

Image result for killers anonymous movie scenesBottom line: Hitman movies seem as dated as compact discs, a beer no one drinks anymore, jelly shoes, or Tab (which you can find randomly at a dozen stores). Killers Anonymous is just another cinematic runt in that littered litter. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Teacher 2019 * * * Stars

TeacherDirector: Adam Dick
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kevin Pollack, David Dastmalchian, Curtis Edward Jackson

A high school English teacher traumatized by being bullied himself, goes on a crusade to prevent other bullies from internally terrorizing his students. And oh yeah, the doting parents, would-be female dates, and blindsided administrators might be the enabling persecutors too (spoiler). That's the blueprint for 2019's complex, hard R-rated, and twisty, Teacher.

Teacher, with its plot detours aplenty and its unsafe, aggravation traces, is a well-acted, multiple character study. Yup, Teacher takes what feels like independent film-making and brings it to the dark dark side (and back again).

Image result for teacher 2019 movie scenes kevin pollakAs good as any film baited on a limited release and shot in Chicago, Illinois (must have been a suburb cause I really couldn't tell), Teacher is part deranged John Hughes flick, part 1999's American Beauty, part Taxi Driver, and part One Hour Photo.

Director Adam Dick (he's a rookie) shoots Teacher with a couple of flashbacks, a penchant for astute violence, and a feel for sterile, Suburbia chic. He borrows from the likes of Mark Romanek, Sam Mendes, and Miguel Arteta but it's still all good.

Dick also gets great performances from his well cast actors. David Dastmalchian and Kevin Pollack are excellent as the respective English teacher and father of one of the nasty bullies (mentioned in the first paragraph). Dastmalchian, with revenge and loneliness on his psyche, channels his inner Travis Bickle. Pollack, a veteran of such pics as The Usual Suspects and She's All That, remains pungent as his usual, smarmy self.

Image result for teacher 2019 movie scenes kevin pollakAll in all, Teacher doesn't quite tell you where it's headed, why its characters are so impervious, or how it will get there (that's a good thing because the whole disturbing shebang works). But its revelations about rich, dysfunctional upbringing, forced alcoholism, and high-schooling cover-ups will pull you through. Teacher "teaches" us to feel. Prepare to be forcefully agog-ed. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Art of Racing in the Rain 2019 * * * 1/2

The Art of Racing in the RainDirector: Simon Curtis
Year: 2019
Rated PG
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker

"This one, definitely this one". That's my take on The Art of Racing in the Rain. It's one of the most emotional and Forrest Gump-ed films of 2019. "Bible!" (that means facts).

Anyway, have you ever seen a drama where the dog gives the best performance and the dog's narrator gives the best speaking performance? And have you ever seen a drama where the concept of death feels a little more reassuring? "Racing" is that drama and at 109 tear-jerking minutes, it's my latest review.

Image result for the art of racing in the rain movie scenes"Racing", with Kevin Costner as the voice of the dog and Milo Ventimiglia as the dog's race car driver owner, feels like the kind of syrupy sweet endeavor where the syrup ain't too sugary. It's like Terms of Endearment and Wonder made a baby and called it Enzo (said dog's character's name).

"Racing" is feel-good fodder people, with a few dark turns (no pun intended), a story seen realistically through a whelp's eyes, and not a whole lot of actual racing. The casting of actors like Costner, Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, and Martin Donovan is perfect and the Golden Retriever for which the story is centered around, will make your heart melt (heck, the pup even looks like Kevin Costner).

"Racing's" director (Simon Curtis) shoots this flick from a 2008 novel for which it's based upon. It's original and communicable combining stock car racing, demise of loved ones, family squabbling, and "man's best friend" (we all know dogs love riding in cars). Curtis is the master manipulator when it comes to pulling the viewer's heartstrings. Whoever he hired to be Enzo's trainer should get an Academy Award nomination of his own (is there such a category?).

Image result for the art of racing in the rain movie scenesBottom line: You're not quite a human person if you can't enjoy a film like The Art of Racing in the Rain. According to "Racing", Enzo is more "person" than dog. Again "Bible!". My rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, August 19, 2019

47 Meters Down: Uncaged 2019 * * * Stars

47 Meters Down: Uncaged Director: Johannes Roberts
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Corinne Fox, Brianne Tju, John Corbett

Four spunky girls with curiosity and diving gear in tote, venture into some underwater caves only to be confronted by nasty great white sharks. Oh and they are trapped with their air supply literally dwindling down to nothing. That's the gist of the numbing, relentless, and unfaltering, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged.

"Uncaged", with its grainy, mid-70s waterlogged look and its stinging musical score courtesy of tomandandy (a musical duo from NYC), is a solid refresher of every Jaws re-imagining imaginable. Yup, it's a wet nightmare that gets you right in the central nervous system.

Image result for 47 meters down uncaged movie scenesAs good as any sequel in the last 5-10 years and made to actually horrify you, "Uncaged" ain't just another flick about fish with pectoral fins. The Meg, Deep Blue Sea, and the disastrous Shark Night take those trophies.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is distributed by Entertainment Studios and directed by 43-year-old Brit Johannes Roberts. The acting in "Uncaged" starts out as a little campy, a little high school, and a little amateurish. Then when the actresses have to emote and exhibit some rolled out fear, everyone seems to hit just the right notes (look for Sylvester Stallone's daughter Sistine Stallone in a girly girl supporting role).

Sly offspring and scream queens aside, helmer Roberts pounds the viewer over the head with non-stop vigor and shark jump scares that are better than the ordinary (I flew out of my seat twice). Because virtually every scene is filmed underwater, you can't always tell what's going on. Maybe that's the point.

Image result for 47 meters down uncaged movie scenes"Uncaged" is The Descent with threshers. It's 2019's Crawl with tiger shark drawl. It's that rare sequel that actually surpasses the original 47 Meters Down. Oh and you'll never hear The Carpenters ditty "We've Only Just Begin" the same way after you see this movie. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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!

Image result for stuber movie scenes
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