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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Challenger Disaster 2019 * Star

The Challenger Disaster Director: Nathan VonMinden
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * Star
Cast: Glenn Morshower, Dean Cain, Eric Hanson

"Do you want the space program to continue? Yes or no?" The question is, do I want the wearied, dialogue-driven film I'm reviewing to continue? That would be a confirmed nada. Man, this thing at 98 preaching minutes, still goes on and on and on.

Released in the same month as the actual Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (circa 1986) and feeling parodied and over-extensive to the nth degree, 2019's The Challenger Disaster seems like a fitting title. Fitting for the "disaster" part anyway. This is a drab and dry true story adaptation, with middling acting, a goofy conference call scene, alleged NASA negligence, and total fact-based injustice. Seven people died going up in that shuttle back in good old 86'. In regards to the misguided "Challenger", they truly deserved a better tribute.

Feeling like a TV movie (which it is), showing a blase time setting for the mid-80's, and containing spacey dialogue that's totally technobabble, The Challenger Disaster has its characters constantly bickering and acting a fool. Of note: It was interesting seeing C-list actor Dean Cain show up as a poodle-like lawyer in "Challenger". To be truthful, I haven't viewed this dude in anything since he cameo-d in a 2009 episode of Entourage. Oh yeah, there were those few stints as the dopey-eyed Rick in Beverly Hills, 90210 (via 1992). All I gotta say is ugh.

Image result for the challenger disaster 2019 movie scenesDirected by a guy known for shorts (Nathan VonMinden), containing rash, flashback editing, garnering some cheesy italics, and showing thespian clowns as a suitable solution for a cast, "Challenger" chronicles steadfast engineer Adam (played by Eric Hanson). Adam wants to stop the STS-51-L from achieving flight because of a vast temperature change in Cape Canaveral, Florida (30 degrees or colder). He fails and ends up suing the NASA company he works for.

All in all, The Challenger Disaster is a closed in, behind the scenes squabble that took place the day before the infamous shuttle explosion on Jan. 28, 1986 (33 years later and this is what Hollywood has come up with? Come on!). With its notion of human lives mattering less than salaried jobs and its labored, brought-by-committee ending, "Challenger" is sadly the equivalent to the badly reviewed Parkland flick concerning the JFK assassination (at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, that can't be good for 2013's Parkland). My rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Glass 2019 * 1/2 Stars

GlassDirector: M. Night Shyamalan
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy

"We almost got you bro". So says James McAvoy's Hedwig in 2019's Glass (my latest review). Glass the movie, well it didn't quite "get" me either. With an overwrought narrative, weird camera angles, a lack of terror/suspense, and some shoddy Spielbergian interludes, M. Night Shyamalan directs the film like a poker player with way too many hands. Sadly, he comes up with a metaphoric, busted straight.

Anyway, Glass is a mumbo jumbo sequel to Unbreakable and 2016's Split. It involves the characters from those flicks (David Dunn, Hedwig, Elijah Price) being locked in a mental hospital with a psychiatrist trying to prove that they aren't formidable superheroes.

Image result for glass movie scenesBruce Willis reprises his role as Dunn and sorta phones it in. Samuel L. Jackson and McAvoy are reliably solid as Price and Hedwig. As for the part of psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple, well Floridian Sarah Paulson comes off as awkward and incredibly annoying. It doesn't help that Shyamalan insists on shooting her in amateurish, close-up fashion. Oh and I almost forgot, M. Night also makes another look-at-me cameo in Glass. Like many of his other Hitchcock-wannabee cameos, it's pretty forgettable.

Harboring a paltry, $20 million dollar budget (it shows), feeling completely different than your typical superhero endeavor (I'm talking Marvel and DC Comics), and containing an obligatory Shyamalan spill ending that reeks of being run out, Glass again shows M. Night Shyamalan at his most pretentious and most la-di-da. This movie is multi-layered, pat, and hooey-ed, with every supporting player acting as if this is the first time they've ever been in front of a camera. While watching the prolix, dark-hued Glass, I felt underwhelmed, under embellished and at times bored. Yeah, Glass is a cinematic "bypass".

Image result for glass movie scenesBottom line: The Sixth Sense and Split are the only flicks I would consider to be Shyamalan masterpieces (Unbreakable upon multiple viewings, is serviceable). Glass unfortunately falls into The Happening territory (ugh). It's not completely "broken" but it sure seems "see through". My rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 18, 2019

Against the Clock 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Against the ClockDirector: Mark Polish
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mark Polish, Dianna Agron, Andy Garcia

"All signs point to the loss of brain function". So says Justin Bartha's character in 2019's Against the Clock (my latest review). Is he secretly talking about the raucous movie he's in? Possibly. Is he talking about the inapt sensory overload in the movie he's in? Definitely.

Anyway, "Clock's" scenario goes like this: A Central Intelligence Agent named Kelley Chandler gets injured during a mission and winds up comatose. His wife (Tess Chandler) goes to great lengths to try and save him from a vegetative death. Mark Polish plays Chandler with stuntman overkill, unintentional physical comedy, and almost no dialogue. Every sequence involves him basically running and falling and running and falling and running (lather rinse repeat). Polish also directed Against the Clock while writing the laddish script as well. All I gotta say is "C-list" ego trip alert! Natch.

Image result for against the clock 2019 movie scenesOnly released in the U. S., saddled without an MPAA rating, and harboring the feel of something made by a film school graduate who couldn't wait to show off his mad skills, "Clock" is abundant style over minimal substance. This flick is loud, seizure-d, and jittery, with a visual palate equivalent to a stoner's nightmare and editing that looks as though it was done by a couple of simians on Foxy Methoxy. While watching the massively cross-cutting Against the Clock, I was reminded of the late Tony Scott and some of his stuff from the mid-2000's (Domino, Man on Fire). Too bad Scott is Orson Welles compared to the headache-inducing and morbidly chi-chi Mark Polish.

"Clock", with its alternate title being Headlock, stars the likes of Andy Garcia and Justin Bartha (mentioned earlier). They are known actors who play "Clock's" dodgy CIA directors (Gerald Hotchkiss and Peter Hobbs). Bartha and Garcia unknowingly damage their reputations in this vehicle. They are decent but it doesn't help that every other supporting performance around them feels as wooden as Pinocchio's forehead. Bottom line: Against the Clock is the classic case of a Hollywood studio letting their director do whatever the heck he wants, when he wants. When "Clock's" story finally comes together after numerous scenes being discombobulated to the nth degree, "time has run out" on the viewer's patience. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 12, 2019

American Hangman 2019 * * * Stars

American HangmanDirector: Wilson Coneybeare
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Vincent Kartheiser, Joanne Boland

Boom bang boom! "Do I have your attention now?" OK, here we go:

A comatose, retired judge gets kidnapped, locked up in a basement, and put to trial for supposedly sentencing an innocent man to death. This so-called legal action involves only a defendant and a prosecutor while being broadcast live to millions of people. That's the gist of American Hangman, my latest review. "Hangman" starts out as a preposterous, Hostel-style torture flick only to submerge into a slow burn, mano-a-mano character study. I couldn't help but be reminded of star Donald Sutherland being in a similar predicament via 1989's Lock Up.

Image result for american hangman movie scenesNot released in theaters, rid of empathy, and taking place in a hub unknown to its audience (the setting kinda looked like Atlanta or I guess, Kansas City), American Hangman presents a fresh take on the tired, old adage of social media power. Just imagine Money Monster as a decently made form of Renaissance drama and that's what you get here. With "Hangman", newbie director Wilson Coneybeare creates more tension, more strain, more wallop, and more edge-of-your-seat suspense than Jodie Foster could ever muster. He also gets great, smoldering work from his leads in Sutherland and Vincent Kartheiser (they respectively play the aforementioned judge and the snide kidnapper).

So yeah, the supporting performances in "Hangman" are sadly a little wooden and out of place (how unnecessary is the dude who noshes on finger food and stupidly watches the mock trial at a bar?). And yes, the ending is quite a downer as it paints society, the police force, a smug attorney, and various news people as silently shooting themselves in the foot (no pun intended). Still, American Hangman is wholly original with an intricate script, a wake-up call to piss-take justice, and some well placed story-boarding. It ruggedly "hangs" on for a three star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Escape Room 2019 * * * Stars

Escape RoomDirector: Adam Robitel
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Taylor Russell, Deborah Ann Woll, Logan Miller

Six strangers are promised $10,000 if they can unknowingly win a life and death game. They have to exhaustively find their way out of a Minos Escape Room Facility in downtown Chicago (ah, yet another freaking movie that takes place in yet doesn't echo The Windy City). That's the rub of Escape Room, my latest review. In truth, I found "Escape" to be as disturbing or upsetting as any PG-13 endeavor I've ever seen. After viewing it, you might think twice about entering any sterile office building with I guess, one creepy employee and a butt load of surveillance.

Released in January yet better than your typical January "junk", Escape Room revitalizes the helplessly trapped, twenty-something genre. Bucked with a hint of originality, it has elements of stuff like The Game, The Belko Experiment, any Saw sequel, 1997's Cube, and even The Breakfast Club (go with me on this one). With "Escape", director Adam Robitel gives us a nifty little thriller that resembles the aforementioned but in good taste. He piles on the tension, effectively inserts flashbacks, avoids any bloodstained gore, and provides riotous set designs with mounds of verve. Credit also goes to the performance of Taylor Russell as Escape Room's reserved contestant named Zoey. Russell goes from timid physics student to gun-toting badass as the film readily wears on. It's a heck of a transformation.

So yeah, "Escape's" polar characters walk the fine line between being annoying bickers and nervous humorists. And yes, Escape Room's last act piles on twists, turns, and implausible revelations just for the heck of it (the whole diegesis might have been a hallucination or an experimental fugazi, seriously?). Still, this flick with its fringe booby traps, its inventive shocks, and its remorseless cantering keeps you enthralled for 75% of the running time. Yup, I'm down for joining this "Escape Club" (that's a reference to an English pop band from the 80's if you didn't already know). My rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 4, 2019

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2018

Image result for unsane movie poster1. Unsane * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Now I read somewhere that Steven Soderbergh had retired as a filmmaker. Yeah whatever. He just couldn't stay away could he. His Unsane is a motion picture that will keep you enthralled and sock in the throat at the same time." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 79%

Image result for searching movie poster2. Searching * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Searching is far and away one of the best Geek Squad movies of 2018. As something that makes mouse double-clicking, secretive livecasting, MapQuest seeking, and Facebook watching so eerie and intricate, Searching "searches" for greatness and nearly achieves it via the belated Age of the Internet." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 92%

Image result for kin movie poster3. Kin * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Kin is dirtied-up, lower class sci-fi, furnished with an earthy post-rock soundtrack and some 70's tunes by the likes of one Joni Mitchell (1974's "Help Me" never sounded so good). Kin is also a thinking man's form of science fiction, relying less on bloodshed and plot over plot and more on character-driven theatrics."
Rotten Tomatometer Score: 30%

Image result for Can you ever forgive me movie poster3. (tie) Can You Ever Forgive Me? * * * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "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." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 98%

Image result for Vice movie poster4. Vice * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Vice has out of the box film-making, an uber-skimmed narrative, and a need to sometimes feel like a political, bullet point presentation (don't worry, it's still all good). The pic also announces director Adam McKay as the hottest thing going in Hollywood. Heck, if you let him grab you by the lapels and sweep you into his radical vision (without conventional judgement), Adam's Vice might just "entice" you." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 63%
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5. Den of Thieves * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Thieves" is effectively dense, plausibly bold, and tough-talking. Its setting is Los Angeles without the sunshine, the city of angels without the glamour, the back-alley stuff. You can't totally identify it as informal William Friedkin or full on Michael Mann (Heat's Chicagoan director). You can however, deemed it as Michael Mann "manifested". Rotten Tomatometer Score: 41%

6. Mid90s * * * Stars
Image result for mid90s movie posterMy quote as a critic: "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." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 77%
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7. Isle of Dogs * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "As a film about a young boy searching for his dog (via an island where illness outbreak pups are banished to), "Isle" is a technical triumph. It has director Wes Anderson using his required trademarks to make eye-popping grandeur a complete understatement. This is Anderson's ode to fictional Japan, his form of made-up dystopia that he was born to put out." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 89%

8. BlacKkKlansman * * * Stars
Image result for blackkklansman movie posterMy quote as a critic: "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." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 95%
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9. Siberia * * * Stars
My quote as a critic: "Siberia's director is New York City native and Harvard graduate, Mathew Ross. His first flick titled Frank & Lola (which I have yet to see) supposedly is also of the racy, noir variety. With Siberia, Ross is manifest with his vision. He fills the screen with Siberian landscapes, various close-ups, soft-core sex scene realism, and cold, ominous background lighting. His calculated pacing along with Keanu's scruffy, roughed up stares into the camera, make Siberia work as crossfire fiction." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 11%

10: Ride * * * Stars
Image result for ride movie posterMy quote as a critic: "With Ride, rookie director Jeremy Ungar concocts a seething little flick that feels dangerous and visibly chancy from the opening frame. He careens with long takes and effectively uses the darkened, silhouetted streets of LA as his swallowing backdrop." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 33%

Honorable Mention: Tully, Ready Player One, White Boy Rick, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Game Night. These are all good films that didn't quite make the cut.

And the worst...

1. Occupation * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Along with cheap special effects, sloppy editing, some laughable slow-motion shots, and the tired adage of documentary-style footage, Occupation's school play acting is pure abomination with its stock characters appearing one-dimensional and childlike." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 38%

2. Tag * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "With the addition of an old school hip-hop soundtrack, some R-rated dialect, a messed up waterboarding scene, and some slo-mo, Jason Bourne-like fight sequences, Tag tries to mask how trivial and flimsy it really is. In truth, it's hard to make an efficacious movie about sneaking up on someone and simply tapping them on the shoulder. Maybe a horror version of blind man's bluff or Capture the Flag might have been a better option." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 57%

3. Gotti * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "Gotti is a skewed, timeline misfire. It features star John Travolta hamming it up, talking into the lens a la Ray Liotta, and sporting yet another fake hairpiece. As far as new releases go in 2018, Gotti tries way too hard to appeal to everyone's gangster sensibilities. Despite decent supporting work from an unrecognizable Kelly Preston (Travolta's actual spouse) and veteran character actor Pruitt Taylor Vance, Gotti is sadly pretty "spotty". Rotten Tomatometer Score: 0%

4. Proud Mary * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "After an opening credits sequence that's a homage to blaxploitation films everywhere, Proud Mary reeks in terms of familiarity and forced habitualness. It descends into becoming a totally stock mob thriller." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 28%

5. The Meg * 1/2 Stars
My quote as a critic: "The Meg feels like just another Jaws ripoff with updated special effects, less suspense, and a larger specimen of great white on the cocky prowl (yup, you're gonna need a much bigger boat). The characters that "Meg's" shark reeks havoc on are unappealing and ones you don't really want to root for to survive." Rotten Tomatometer Score: 45%

Written by Jesse Burleson