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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Beneath the Leaves 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Beneath the LeavesDirector: Adam Marino
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Paul Sorvino, Doug Jones

"It's a cyclical pattern". So says the character of PI Erica Shotwell in Beneath the Leaves (my latest review). "Leaves", well it's quite the "sickening" movie.

In Beneath the Leaves, an ill-defined psychopath escapes from an elaborate prison fire. Twenty years after being incarcerated, he vows to carry out his mission to kill four boys (now grown men) he had once held captive. Said psychopath also has an obsession with lethal injection needles, drugged alcoholic beverages, and ripped out fingernails. Ouch, ouch, and double ouch!

Image result for beneath the leaves movie scenesStarring the likes of Paul Sorvino, Mira Sorvino, and Mira's husband Christopher Backus (talk about a Sorvino family affair), "Leaves" turned a little brown for me On Demand. I will say this though. Mira Sorvino sure is sexy and badass as a mirrored, Mariska Hargitay-style detective. At age 51, she's still a tall drink of water and a darn knockout.

Clocking in at 90 minutes flat and distributed by Eagle Films (various birds tend to show up metaphorically here), Beneath the Leaves is worth watching again even though I couldn't quite bring myself to recommend it. Basically, "Leaves" is part mystery thriller, part Law & Order: SVU episode on steroids, part torture porn, and part Sleepers for the modern day. Look for plenty of grisly killings, a rare Julian, California locale, and the most outlandish overacting since Rod Steiger played a frothing Mayor and Danny Aiello played a douche Captain in 1989's The January Man.

In conclusion, the director of "Leaves" (rookie Adam Marino) fashions a film that is sometimes haunting, sometimes discombobulating (the opening scene in relation to the rest of the flick is kind of head scratching), and sometimes veered into camp. With a weird mixture of barbarity and out of place humor, Beneath the Leaves may make you feel effectively icky but it's still sort of "beneath" me. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Isle 2018 * * 1/2 Stars

The IsleDirector: Matthew Butler-Hart
Year: 2018
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Alex Hassell, Conleth Hill, Tori Butler-Hart

2018's The Isle is my latest review. Set to be released in April of this year, it's a pseudo-horror pic that's distributed by DC Films (no relation to DC Comics). Added to that, "Isle" has a cast of virtual unknowns to go along with its sunless and soil-like, 1800's setting.

So OK, The Isle comes off as the ultimate cinematic tease in trepidation fare. And yes, the movie contains flashbacks that readily deflate any of the story's put-on scare factors. Still, "Isle" is gorgeously shot and has just enough earthy atmosphere and goad determinants to keep you involved as a viewer. I would compare it to something spectral I might have seen on the BBC network circa 1983.

Anyway, The Isle contains almost no gore, characters with contemporary European accents, and plenty of foreboding fog. In all honesty, if you like your mystery components to have more layman style than substance, then "Isle" will give you your stand-in fix. And if you like your ghostly persona to have softened, Evil Dead-style voices, then The Isle will satisfy your psyche of all things that go bump bump in the night.

Directed by Brit Matthew Butler-Hart, containing an effective yet repetitive musical score, and harboring lush cinematography by rookie Pete Wallington (he's done mostly shorts and TV docs), "Isle" is about three shipwreck survivors who stumble upon a haunted island off the west coast of Scotland. Said island has only four living people on it and an uncannily cryptic past. Before long, mild chaos ensues in the form of frazzled women inhabitants with spooky blue eyes. As Jack Nicholson said in The Shining, "you got a big surprise coming to you". I guess so.

All in all, helmer Matthew Butler-Hart gives The Isle a slow burn quality, a whimsical remnant, and a sense that something dreadful is coming. It's just a shame that despite all that buildup, his flick never quite takes off. Heck, Isle of Dogs might be a better vehicle containing the word "Isle" (natch). My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 15, 2019

Cold Pursuit 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Cold PursuitDirector: Hans Petter Moland
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman

2019's Cold Pursuit is my latest review. Released in February, it's a glacial weather film that embodies plenty of snowdrift and stars Liam Neeson. Yup, it's that time again. It's Neeson time.

So OK, "Pursuit's" ending seems to be an amusing glorification of death and dying. And yes, Cold Pursuit doesn't know whether it wants to be a black comedy, an exploitation conch, or a mordant B-movie. Still, "Pursuit" is much better than Neeson's last winter release titled The Commuter. I can assure you of that.

Cold Pursuit contains quick-stinted violence, a Lauren Dern character that fades out early, nominal plot buildup, and an accurate locale in Central Colorado. In truth, if you like your movie villains having cheesy one-word names ("Viking", "Avalanche", "Wingman"), then "Pursuit" is your cinematic baby. And if you like your flicks as frat boy drinking games when the bodies pile up (take a swig of whiskey every time someone dies and you'll be totally hammered), Cold Pursuit will help you get your veritable swerve on.

Image result for cold pursuit movie scenesDirected by Norwegian Hans Petter Moland and using title cards for every casual persona who bites the proverbial dust (I'm not kidding), "Pursuit" involves snowplow driver Nelson Coxman (a subdued Liam Neeson). When Coxman's son winds up dead from a heroin overdose, he has his doubts. Later on, Nelson finds out that his boy was killed by drug dealers prompting him to go into "half nelson" revenge mode (ha-ha).

Of note: Cold Pursuit doesn't really have many "special skilled" action sequences. It's just hit-men-style kills and there's lots of them. If you think you've gone in to see Neeson's Taken as a revved-up snow-blind version, you've bought the wrong ticket. And if you think Neeson plans on going Chuck Norris on everybody, you've been plainly mistaken. Oh and I almost forgot, Liam Neeson disappears halfway through "Pursuit" for about 20-25 minutes (as do a lot of the other underused characters at various points in time). It's almost like his name shouldn't have even been top billing on the poster.

Image result for cold pursuit movie scenesAll in all, Cold Pursuit has helmer Hans Petter Moland trying to one-up films like Wind River, Smokin' Aces, and 1996's Fargo. His direction is rather stylish, there are a few entertaining moments, and the script by Frank Baldwin (he's a rookie) provides a few juicy one-liners. Still, I gotta say Moland's nonchalant mixture of humor and savagery left me a little "cold". Yeah, I'm going with a rating of 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 11, 2019

What Men Want 2019 * * Stars

What Men WantDirector: Adam Shankman
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Tracey Morgan, Aldis Hodge

Directed by the guy who once was a judge on So You Think You Can Dance and produced by another guy who brought you Think Like a Man, 2019's What Men Want seems like a title that goes both ways. I'm a man and what I "want" to see is the beautiful and sexy Taraji P. Henson on screen. What I don't "want" is for her to show up in a lousy movie. Oops, too late. What Men Want is a remake and a gender-reversed version of What Woman Want from nineteen years ago. Too bad "Men" is less insightful, more mean-spirited, more stereotyped, and more potty-mouthed than the film it's trying to update.

Image result for what men want movie scenesHarboring a running time of just under two hours and co-starring the likes of an unrecognizable Brian Bosworth and Richard Roundtree (I couldn't make this up), What Men Want is about sports agents yet its raunchy script doesn't give us any real acuity as to what the heck these agents do. Along with that, "Men" is sadly just another R-rated comedy that offends, irks, and tries too hard for a laugh. Yeah I chuckled and snorted a couple of times but there's no way I could recommend this thing. Nay I say!

Helmed by Adam Shankman of Glee and Hairspray fame, and shot in predictable rom-com fashion with the addition of some extra racy sludge, "Men's" story involves Atlanta sports rep Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson). After being passed over for a promotion in her mostly male field, Davis drinks a potion from a psychic, hits her head at a night club, and ends up having the ability to read men's off-center thoughts. Of note: In 2000's What Woman Want, the thoughts of the ladies being voiced over sounded mostly heartfelt, complicated, and genuine. In What Men Want, the bad voice-overs of the men seem rather stupefied and awkward for awkward's sake. Hey, we dudes aren't as horrible, idiosyncratic, or loathsome as you think Tina Gordon ("Men's" unjustified and misinformed screenwriter).

Image result for what men want movie scenesBottom line: "Men's" lead in Taraji P. Henson, is a talented actress who either needs new representation or needs to be a little pickier about her projects. She better watch out because after stuff like What Men Want, Proud Mary, and No Good Deed, Henson might wind up becoming the next Gerard Butler. That's box office poison. My rating for What Men Want: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 8, 2019

Serenity 2019 * * * Stars

SerenityDirector: Steven Knight
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Diane Lane, Anne Hathaway

A fishing boat captain named Baker Dill, is visited by his frazzled ex-wife. She wants him to kill her current husband because the a-hole is harshly abusive to their astute son. That's the fugazi blueprint for 2019's Serenity (my latest review). In all truthfulness, I really got into Serenity. Yeah, it's a movie lover's movie if there ever was one.

Image result for serenity 2019 movie scenesShot in early 2017 yet released this past month, Serenity displays an obvious nod to film noir with co-lead Anne Hathaway casually sporting a fedora hat and informally walking in the rain.

Basically, Serenity is a steamy, neo-noir endeavor that's not what you think it is and not what you think it will ever be. With Serenity, director Steven Knight readily commits to every darted shot. Whether it's overhead camera angles, plenty of fast cutting, coarse 50's-style dialogue, or sweaty actor close-ups, Knight really gets you into his groove. Credit also goes out to Serenity's attractive cast and standout Matthew McConaughey as Baker Dill (mentioned earlier). Heck, you won't have to wait till March's The Beach Bum to see "full" McConaughey. Here, he's awesomely beast-like and a total badass as he smokes, knifes, and drinks his way through every scene.

Image result for serenity 2019 movie scenesIn retrospect, Serenity at times doesn't take itself too seriously and feels a little too trashy for its own good. Also, the film's Greek Chorus in Reid Miller (played by Molly's Game's Jeremy Strong) reeks of being a poor man's character from a watered-down David Lynch outing. Still, Serenity with its fantasy elements and big reveal early on (all the personas are non-existent and are rather part of a kid's video game), seems more daring and more gleefully off the reservation than most of the junk that comes out in January. Bottom line: Serenity containing tales of thrusting sex, Truman Show oddities, and big boy tuna catching, is a cinematic "amenity". Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Miss Bala 2019 * * * 1/2 Stars

Miss BalaDirector: Catherine Hardwicke
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Isamael Cruz Cordova

Gloria Meyer (played by the engaging Gina Rodriguez) goes to visit her best friend in Tijuana only to get embroiled in the Mexican cartel. She must play a cat and mouse game with the DEA (and said cartel) in order to survive a vacationed nightmare. That's the rub of Miss Bala, my latest review.

Yup, I am announcing "Bala" as the first great film of 2019. After seeing it, I'll probably think twice about crossing the almighty Border. Come to think of it, I might just avoid hitting any restroom at a swanky nightclub as well (you'll know what I mean after you watch "Bala's" buildup-free, first act).

Image result for miss bala 2019 movie scenesDistributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, harboring a scorched look, and containing visceral gunfights with minimal bloodshed (hence the borderline, PG-13 rating), Miss Bala is a trafficking movie and a slight case of Stockholm syndrome all rolled into one. "Bala's" director (Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight fame) creates a flick so dangerous, so well plotted, so willful, and so vulnerably unsafe, you won't be able to catch your breath. Kudos also goes out to the calculated editing by Terilyn A. Shropshire and the performance of Gina Rodriguez which contains seething screen presence. If Miss Bala does well at the box office, the perfectly cast Rodriguez might wind up being a bona fide star (heck, she's got my vote).

So yeah, Miss Bala's loathsome premise, against your will latitude, and abundance of bad cop corruption seems a little far-fetched. And yes, Anthony Mackie playing yet another hard-nosed authority figure feels a little tiresome and typecast (does Runner Runner, Triple 9, and Love the Coopers ring a bell?). Still, "Bala" has enough twists and turns and ratcheted tension for a dozen films (you won't believe what government job the Rodriguez character takes at the pic's conclusion).

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Bottom line: Miss Bala with its Mule-like elevation and its untidy crossfire, is truly one of the reasons I like to hit the good old Cineplex. I sometimes want to feel my stomach in my throat, roller coaster style! Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson