film reel image

film reel image

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hustlers 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

HustlersDirector: Lorene Scafaria
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles

"The game is rigged and it does not reward people who play by the rules". So says the persona of Ramona Vega in 2019's Hustlers (my latest review). Vega is played by Jennifer Lopez who finds a role she can really sink her teeth into. This is one of the best performances of J.Lo's career and it's marginally better than the unadorned movie she is in.

Anyway, Hustlers is like a female version of Goodfellas and 2015's Black Mass (mixed with cult classic Showgirls). The only difference is that no one gets whacked, Paul Verhoeven doesn't slick it up, Joe Eszterhas isn't the writer, and there's nothing at all mob related.

Image result for hustlers 2019 movie scenesThe director of Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria) shoots the film in time lines (2007-2015) and A to B state of affairs that cut corners. Not really gritty and harnessed with non-elaborate production values, one would have wondered the outcome of Hustlers had famed director Martin Scorsese or Scott Cooper gotten behind the directorial wheel.

Filmed in New York City, based on a true story, and featuring an almost unrecognizable Constance Wu (this ain't Crazy Rich Asians people), Hustlers is about strip club employees who decide to drug Wall Street workers and then use their Platinum credit cards to rob them blind (it's pretty scary if you think about it).

In hindsight, my biggest problem with Hustlers is why should we root for these true-life, women pickpockets and why should their true accounts even be told. Heck, they don't actually do any time (spoiler) and their naive, Wall Street victims don't really get a shred of justice.

Image result for hustlers 2019 movie scenesBottom line: Despite some ample performances from a game cast and some decent, magic Michaelene strip sequences,  Hustlers is just another cinematic rise and fall (and rise) requiem. It unfortunately gets "hustled" itself. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Booksmart 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

BooksmartDirector: Olivia Wilde
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams

"Don't knock it until you've tried it". So says the wide-eyed character of Molly Davidson when it comes to life and the kinky art of scissoring. Molly and a bunch of other eccentric hoodies cut loose on the last day of secondary education via 2019's Booksmart (my latest review).

Anyway, Booksmart is disordered, sometimes funny, slow mo-ed, and a hot mess script-wise. It's a mad-dog (but not mean), HS comedy populated by tonal shifts, exhausting improvisation, a tripped out animation sequence, and a nasty, balls to the wall hip-hop soundtrack (I gotta admit, that's my favorite part).

Image result for booksmart movie scenesOlivia Wilde (a familiar name who's never helmed a movie before) steps in behind the sun-drenched camera for her nifty little debut. Watching Booksmart, it's apparent that Wilde's swagger was influenced by Can't Hardly Wait, 2007's Superbad, Sixteen Candles, and William Shakespeare's 10 Things I Hate About You. Yeah she can direct if not bootleg. It's also apparent that Liv might have channeled her inner David O. Russell (and/or John Hughes) before shooting began (hey that's just pure speculation).

In Booksmart, Olivia Wilde gets good actors who are game (Beanie Feldstein, Skyler Gisondo, Kaitlyn Dever) and fosters enough spark and energy for ten Millennial farces. It's just unfortunate that her out of the box camerawork, flashy bravura, and promotion of DJ Shadow background raps can't mask the film's REM unevenness.

Image result for booksmart movie scenesAll in all, Booksmart is another pic that's Point Grey Pictures-like (that means it's R-rated teenager stuff). It might reveal the modern psyche of today's highschool-er but it's not the one I remember (do 15 to 18-year-old kids, sheltered parents, and suspect teachers actually come off like this?). If for sheer open mindedness or leveled curiosity, I might need a couple more viewings of Booksmart to get into Wilde's raw, possibly misunderstood groove. "Book" it. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Cold Blood 2019 * * * Stars

Cold BloodDirector: Frederic Petitjean
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jean Reno, Sarah Lind, Joe Anderson

Eight production companies, fourteen producers, and eight distributors had a hand in the making of 2019's Cold Blood. Hey, whatever gets the job done.

Anyway, Cold Blood is a carefully plotted and slow-building affair. It's like a combination of 2017's Wind River, Eye of the Beholder, and last year's Siberia (starring Keanu "whoa" Reeves). "Blood" is not an action-packed thriller or a grand ole shoot-'em-up per se. As something about a reclusive hit-man who takes in a total stranger only to find out that said stranger wants him dead, Cold Blood is indeed winter-esque. It's almost like you can see Dr. Yuri Zhivago or Victor Komarovsky coming around the corner.

Image result for cold blood 2019 movie scenesGranted, "Blood" could have had an ending that wasn't so underwhelming. It doesn't seem justifiable considering that Mr. hit-man was at times a good Samaritan. Nonetheless, Cold Blood (whose working title was Cold Blood Legacy) keeps you intrigued and entangled for most of the way. You're constantly glued to the screen wondering how it will all end.

Jean Reno as "Blood's" mellow contract killer Henry, exudes decent screen presence and a gruff-ed stare. His performance seems minimalistic but somehow right for this type of role. Jean's adversary in Sarah Lind (she plays Melody), is also effective and somewhat forthright. Lind's character is like Maggie Hayward, a femme fatale, and Beatrix Kiddo all rolled into one.

Image result for cold blood 2019 movie scenes"Blood's" director is rookie Frederic Petitjean. His thinking was yes, "there will be blood" (and there is). Petitjean creates an icy, bird's eye look and with budget constraints aside, knows where to put the camera. If only he remembered to put actors in his flick that talked like they were from upper Washington ("Blood" takes place in "The Evergreen State" but was filmed entirely in the Ukraine). Oh well. Cold Blood "warms" you up to its tight editing and its nippy, atmospheric chic. It's worth at least a three star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Killers Anonymous 2019 * 1/2 Stars

Killers AnonymousDirector: Martin Owen
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Gary Oldman, Jessica Alba, Tommy Flanagan

"I just want you to know that I tried". That's probably the random thoughts of director Martin Owen in regards to 2019's Killers Anonymous (my latest review). Mr. Owen my man, you are a poised swaggerer. You probably "tried" way too hard.

Anyway, Killers Anonymous is about a support group for well, contract killers. Jessica Alba and Gary Oldman who have never shared the screen before, star in "Killers". Oldman looks like he'd be bored if he wasn't doing anything other than acting. Alba cloaked in lip scars, a bandanna, and tomboyish flair, barely registers in a cameo that she's probably too good for.

Image result for killers anonymous movie scenesAs for the rest of the cast of "Killers", well they are mostly cocky unknowns. Their characters bicker and brawl amidst each other with thick British accents and annoying, short fuses. Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, and Guy Ritchie made something similar to Killers Anonymous many many years ago. Martin Owen is trying to bring it all back. Owen should have listened to Johnny Mathis when Johnny exclaimed, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late to try again".

Distributed by Lionsgate, filmed in modern-day London, and giving off a sort of fantasy-like, neon look, "Killers" is all style and no peaked "smile". The filmmakers had a lot more fun making it than the audience who has to sit through it. "Killers" has a broken narrative, some weird (showoff) camera angles, some Kill Bill-ed splatter violence, some hacky flashbacks, and some twists and revelations that are put in just for the heck of it.

Image result for killers anonymous movie scenesBottom line: Hitman movies seem as dated as compact discs, a beer no one drinks anymore, jelly shoes, or Tab (which you can find randomly at a dozen stores). Killers Anonymous is just another cinematic runt in that littered litter. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson