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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