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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Breakthrough 2019 * * * Stars

BreakthroughDirector: Roxann Dawson
Year: 2019
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Marcel Ruiz

"Boys, get off the ice. It's not safe!" Yeah you tell em' concerned citizen and snooping neighbor. Truer words were ever spoken in the semi-cheesy, TV-esque film I'm about to review.

Anyway, an adopted teenage boy (John Smith) falls through a frozen lake and is deemed practically lifeless by various doctors. His mother unable to menially let go (Joyce Smith), prays for John to make an almost impossible recovery. That's the rub of 2019's Breakthrough, my latest write-up.

Image result for breakthrough movie scenesIn the vein of stuff like God's Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, and 2000's Left Behind, Breakthrough is indeed a welled up Christian movie. Watching for 116 minutes, I was waiting for Kirk Cameron, David A.R. White, and Brad Johnson to show up you know, just for kicks and giggles.

Set in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, coming off as sort of preachy (no pun intended), and co-produced by NBA superstar Stephen Curry (I'm not kidding), Breakthrough might be a little manipulative, a little syrupy sweet, a little exacted, and a little embellished. Oh well. This flick based on harrowing true events, still manages to catch you off guard and pack a controlled, emotional wallop.

Kudos goes out to Breakthrough's mannered editing by Maysie Hoy (The Single Moms Club, Spare Parts) and its raw performances from Chrissy Metz and Marcel Ruiz (they play John and Joyce Smith respectively). I could've done without the flick's Muzak soundtrack, stock side characters, and slight Bible-thumping but I'll give them a pass.

Image result for breakthrough 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Bring plenty of tissues, a secured masculinity, and a thick handkerchief to see Breakthrough. Yup, you might need them. And do you want a change of scenery from Avengers: Endgame mania or held-over, Captain Marvel madness? Well this might be your ticket to a solid family night at the Cineplex. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

An Affair to Die For 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

An Affair to Die ForDirector: Victor Garcia
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Claire Forlani, Titus Welliver, Jake Abel

"Enjoy my wife". Sure, a 27-year-old male, a lavish suite, and a subtle, brunette cougar. Ooh that sounds like loads of sexy fun (uh, not really).

Anyway, An Affair to Die For is my latest review. Its film score is suspenseful, we get it (just look at the conch of never-ending subtitles). Also, there's a lot of door knocking, sudden raging, S&M flanking, and obvious cell phone ringing. Again we get it. No need to make a darn stink about it.

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"Affair" while authentic, still could've eased up on the just-for-the-heck-of-it twists and turns. It's about two married people who have a six-month affair and pay dearly for it. They find themselves trapped in a hotel room, hateful eight ed, and watched through relentless amounts of nonviable surveillance. Bloody, manipulative, trashy, closed-in, and macho, An Affair to Die For is rain-free film noir crossed with a snobbish Saw movie (pick any one of them). I give it points for being daring but I kept saying to myself, "oh brother" and "come on dude, really?"

"Affair" is directed by Spaniard Victor Garcia (The Damned, Hellraiser: Revelations). His casting of leads Claire Forlani, Jake Abel, and Titus Welliver is decent. Added to that, his voyeurism as cat-and-mouse game auteur keeps you pinned throughout "Affair's" elongated, 82-minute running mark. It's just too bad that Garcia tries too hard to make you feel sympathy for a bunch of bad, horn-dogged denizens.

Containing a mini knife as a metaphor, a resort bag carrier as a Greek chorus, a steamy yet infertile Colorado setting, and a Paul Verhoeven-like, back lighting fest, An Affair to Die For is shrewd, mixed fare. It's like the stock, direct-to-video version of 2016's Nocturnal Animals. Not that "Animals" was really that good in the first place. Rating: An enthusiastic yet overly earnest, 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 19, 2019

Pet Graveyard 2019 * * Stars

Pet GraveyardDirector: Rebecca Matthews
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Rita Siddiqui, Romulus Stoicescu, David Cotter

"After three minutes, wake us up". Uh yeah, after 100 minutes of the flick I'm about to review, I was awake but turned off the DVD player and moved along quickly.

Anyway, four people who have lost loved ones, decide to kill themselves. They want to visit said loved ones and then somehow return from the dead. Too bad you can't cheat eternal rest because the cheaply concocted Grim Reaper is hastily waiting for them. That's the blueprint for 2019's Pet Graveyard, my latest write-up. In all sincerity, "Graveyard" feels like one of the best student films ever made. Sadly, that's just not a compliment.

Image result for Pet graveyard 2019 movie rebecca matthewsDirected by a rookie (Rebecca Matthews) and having very little to do with graveyards, Stephen King, or pets (there is that one skinless cat with glowing red eyes), Pet Graveyard's title and poster image sort of rips off Pet Sematary. Yup, you have to wonder if there was some kind of mini lawsuit involved.

Organically, "Graveyard" is a low budget endeavor in the vein of those late, Amityville Horror movies and Saturday the 14th. It's also the type of far-fetched, trepidation fare where the filmmakers suspend disbelief and overall logic (you need more than just a bogus oxygen mask and a pep talk to revive a lifeless twenty-something). Director Matthews doesn't come off as the spokesperson for novelty here. Viewing "Graveyard", it looks as though she saw any Final Destination or 1990's Flatliners one too many times.

Image result for Pet graveyard 2019 movie rebecca matthewsBottom line: Pet Graveyard is decently plotted, has Evil Dead-style voices (I kind of like that), some unique opening title cards, and acting that could have been worse (considering the blase blase script by Suzy Spade). But with minimal jump scares, minimal locations or set pieces, and a musical score that basically consists of one chord ("ominous" came up in the subtitles), Pet Graveyard needs to be "buried" in the abundant, direct-to-video "world". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, April 15, 2019

Crypto 2019 * * Stars

CryptoDirector: John Stalberg, Jr.
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Beau Knapp, Kurt Russell, Alexis Bledel

"When I see things like this, I get pretty worried". When I the critic see a movie like the one I'm about to review, I wrack my brain a little. No joke.

Anyway, a financial banker named Martin Duran, Jr., uncovers corruption and theft via the Russian mafia in his New York hometown (I think it was Upstate Albany they were talking about). Beau Knapp plays Duran, Jr. with a disciplined screen presence, a sneering look, and one of the most baleful voices in the history of acting. Yup, that's the essence of 2019's Crypto, my latest write-up. Oh and don't adjust your eyes, the movie poster for Crypto is not the same one as 1999's Simpatico. Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, and Kurt Russell do kind of look alike though.

Image result for crypto 2019 movie scenesDistributed by Grindstone Entertainment Group and co-starring another Hemsworth (that would be first-born Luke), Crypto is a great title for a vehicle that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. Weird sound editing, fuzzy characters that fade in and out, random dispatches, arbitrary overhead shots with cars, and a self-serious film score only enhance that notion.

Structurally, Crypto is a techno thriller without the high-tech, a muted drama without the "Dramamine", a crime conundrum without a defining crime. Novel director John Stalberg Jr. fashions Crypto as Boiler Room meets 1984's Country. Heck, you could even throw in 1987's Wall Street meets The Astronaut Farmer if you wanna get creative.

Image result for crypto movie scenesBottom line: Crypto has a slight amount of suspense, a minuscule budget that shows (despite the lead wearing $10,000 suits), and a zest for the form of cash known as Bitcoin. Why legend Kurt Russell decided to sign on to this ode to coded, Slavic secrets is anybody's guess. Yeah I'm gonna say nae to this "tale from the Crypt-o". Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

We Die Young 2019 * * * Stars

We Die YoungDirector: Lior Geller
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, David Castaneda, Elijah Rodriguez

"Yo Lucas, I'm gangster". Oh yeah, you tell em' big boy and young, naive thug. The movie I'm about to review is about as gangster as gangster can get.

Anyway, a teenage minor and his younger brother get mixed up with an evil drug lord. It's up to a mute war veteran to pack heat and help them get out of a sad life of crime. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays said veteran with a weathered look, some genuine facial tics, and a massive amount of brute screen presence. Sans those previous Tostitos commercials and stints of direct-to-video gamuts, The Mussels from Brussels gives us one of the best performances of his career. Yup, that's the gist of We Die Young, my latest review. 

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Set in a bad part of Washington, D.C., tackling the notion of post-traumatic stress disorder, and released in the USA by way of Internet, "Young" has a scorched look and a bloody residue that litters the screen. Yeah it's a devastating drama, riddled with jittery camerawork, raw performances, and a couple of slight Mexican standoffs. No one is safe in this flick and you know what, no one should be.

Fundamentally, We Die Young has numerous face tats, blazing guns, remorseless kills, claustrophobic coatings, and plenty of habitual drug use. Director Lior Geller creates a Capital of the World version of City of God. Added to that, Lior also wants to give the audience the ten-years-after version of 2008's Street Kings.

Related imageBottom line: D.C. may be a place where monuments shine, tourism harks, and the President occasionally goes to twiddle his thumbs via the annals of The White House. With We Die Young, the District of Columbia feels more like Beirut on an off day. The municipality comes off as a hidden, veritable hellhole. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 5, 2019

Pet Sematary 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

Pet SemataryDirectors: Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz

"Sometimes dead is better". Sure, I'll concur on that one. "They don't come back the same". Yup, they sure don't. "Those woods belong to something else". Uh, you think? "Maybe just some crazy folk tale". Uh, I doubt that.

In the actual town of Ludlow, Maine, a doctor, his stay-at-home wife, his feline, and his two kids move into a large house located near a woodsy area. Beyond said woods is an ancient burial ground. Basically anything that's buried there will come back to life and be downright evil. That's the gist of 2019's Pet Sematary, my latest review. In total veracity, I've only seen brief snippets from the 1989 film that came before this second reworking. Therefore with aging eyes and virginal heart, I'm judging the new "Sematary" as a biased, stand-alone vehicle.

Image result for pet sematary movie scenes 2019Based on a novel by Stephen King (like you didn't already know), running at 100 minutes, and directed by a couple of unknowns (Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch), Pet Sematary will only scare the wits out of you if you've never seen a snuff flick before. This is fodder that has a look of something from the Lifetime channel, the CW, or the 27-year-old Syfy network. This is hairball cats, You're Next masks, and crackling wood without the 70's horror graininess. This is hallucinatory imagery and voiceover that comes off as amusing and not completely frightening.

With the conventional "Sematary", directors Widmyer and Kolsch revel in zoom shots, mild shock value twists, masterful pacing, solid casting (Jason Clarke, Jete Laurence, and John Lithgow are standouts), and neutered gore. Their movie is effectively harmless but it doesn't upset you like other Stephen King adaptations. If I wanna truly be given the creeps I'll see The Mist, The Shining, Misery, or Creepshow instead. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson