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film reel image

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