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Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Gentlemen 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The GentlemenDirector: Guy Ritchie
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant

2019's The Gentlemen is my latest review. And no, it doesn't include Sting, Alan Ford, Jason Statham, or Vinnie Jones in its cast (I kinda wish it did). "Gentlemen" is about a once poverty-stricken American who sells off his marijuana enterprise only to get a bunch of criminal blokes who want to steal it from him profit free.

Image result for the gentlemen movie scenesReleased in London via December of last year and featuring a persona named Dry Eye (that's so Ritchie), "Gentlemen" has director Guy Ritchie in held back, gangster reserved mode. It's not as violent as I thought it would be nor is it as fresh (or nasty). Yup, "Gentlemen" is a bona fide, Ritchie retread. Too bad it lacks the snap, crackle, and pop of his earlier stuff (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).

Starring the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant (who are all quite good), The Gentlemen has plenty of jump cuts, actors with thick British accents, spit-fire dialogue, numerous flashbacks, a sloppy narrative, and plenty of good old Ritchie speak ("f**k off then", "double bubble", "c*nt", "bullocks", "on the tele"). "Gentlemen" also contains too many characters that fade in and out and shoot-'em-up scenes that build dramatic momentum only to come to a screeching halt.

Image result for the gentlemen movie scenesFor me, Guy Ritchie has enough cinematic trickery up his sleeve and enough spent energy for five filmmakers. He's like the United Kingdom's version of Quentin Tarantino and/or Marty Scorsese. Pity that he's not much a storyteller because The Gentlemen is a little ponderous, a little shilly-shally, and all over the map. When the end credits for "Gentlemen" come up you hear the song "That's Entertainment" by The Jam. That's funny because the word entertainment and the bulk of The Gentlemen don't quite gel. Rating: 2 and a half stars for well, the empty style points and the lush UK interiors.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The 31st Annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival - Jan. 24th, 25th, and the 26th, 2020

Image result for 31st annual notre dame student film festivalGreetings from snowy Notre Dame, Indiana. This is my sixth time covering this glorious film festival. All in all, there were twelve films shown with running times ranging from four to fourteen minutes. The documentaries were the best part (that's just a personal preference for me). Here are some of the strongest highlights coupled with ratings and reviews:

Tape Wizard * * * Stars
Collaborator: Kilian Vidourak
-Tape Wizard is a short documentary that makes you say, "what the!" but in a good way. It's about a dude (Randall Taylor) who's stuck in the 80's and makes melodic music via a tape recorder. I was fascinated by how broad-based Taylor was and I wanted the proceedings to go on just a little longer.

Image result for 2020 notre dame student film festivalSandbranch * * * Stars
Collaborators: Kelli Smith, Bella Martinez
-Flint, Michigan eat your heart out! Sandbranch is a docu about an area outside of Dallas, Texas that doesn't have clean water. The people living there inhabit a doleful existence yet they are still unchanging and upbeat. Sometimes unfocused yet elevated by the camera peaking in, Sandbranch has loose, effective interviews that keep things real.

Anima * * * Stars
Collaborators: Brian Hames, Joey Warner, Emily Ragan
-Anima is a mind-bending, sci-fi short that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's not The Matrix seeing that it's about boyfriend/girlfriend infidelity. I loved the techy synth music and I enjoyed the cinematic hook that occurs during the closing credits. Heck, Anima would make famed director Alex Garland proud.

Image result for 2020 notre dame student film festivalNotre Drinking * * * Stars
Collaborator: Nicole Mannion
-Dug the title but I felt a little uncomfortable watching Notre Drinking. It's about the binging habits of ND students and it puts a sore eye on their revealing plight. Still well done and still recommendable though. Of note: I hope the parents of said students don't see this short. And I hope these students don't extend the notion of alcoholism to be their self-fulfilling prophecy.

Regular Poor Asian * * * 1/2 Stars
Collaborator: Kenny Xu
-This is the best entry in the 2020, ND film festival. Taking place in NYC, it's a fast-paced, fast-cutting docu that discusses the Asian American role in the career world. I loved the archive footage used from older flicks (A Christmas Story) and I reveled in the offbeat humor. The director of Regular Poor Asian is a born filmmaker. I certainly hope he continues to further his Hollywood dreams.

Image result for 2020 notre dame student film festivalSmash (and Grab 'N Go) * * * Stars
Collaborator: Ted Nagy
-Making good use of a flashback and having a quirky narrative told out of chronological order, Smash (and Grab 'N Go) is a swift, lively way to end an ND flick fest. Just think 1994's The Chase but without the getaway car sex scene (ha). Of note: Look for a pseudo cameo at the end from ND football coach Brian Kelly. Or was it actually Brian Kelly? I couldn't tell.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Like a Boss 2020 * Star

Like a BossDirector: Miguel Arteta
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek

"Business and friendship don't always mix". Comedies and January release dates don't always mix either. My latest review is 2020's Like a Boss and it came out last week. Whoever had a hand in making it needs to be "demoted" or drummed out.

Anyway, have you ever taken in a raunchy chick flick that sort of evaporates as you view it? And have you ever seen an R-rated farce that's dirty yet fails to really push the envelope? Like a Boss is both of these things and it makes stuff like Girls Trip and Bridesmaids feel like Oscar winners in comparison.

Image result for like a boss movie scenesLike a Boss, with its genitalia jokes, its workplace drones, and its umpteenth filming location in Atlanta, Georgia, is like an 83-minute exercise in which comedic scenes flop and die. Director Miguel Arteta (he's mostly a TV guy) favors a lousy script for actresses who deserve a better one. He also favors outtake-style line deliveries as opposed to the funnier bits that were obviously left in the trailers.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures, harboring a look of feminine pastel purgatory, and featuring an overreaching co-star in Salma Hayek, Like a Boss is about female besties Mel and Mia (played by Rose Byrne and always-in-character Tiffany Haddish). They run a cosmetics company that's about to go under until they invest with a nasty magnate who wants to steal all their good ideas.

In truth, the screenplay for Like a Boss is its biggest culprit. Rambling on about friendship and roaring career women, it feels arbitrarily dated, totally unfunny, trite, and completely fanciful. It brings out the worst in the actors even if they brought their A game or Meryl Streep for moral support.

Image result for like a boss movie scenesBottom line: Thanksgiving has come early this year in the form of Like a Boss. It's truly a turkey. Better yet, it's a turkey with cheap mascara and silver ball bearings attached to it. Dug the title though. Rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 17, 2020

1917 2019 * * * Stars

1917Director: Sam Mendes
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Benedict Cumberbatch

It was September of 1999. I was sitting in a South Bend, IN movie theater watching the domestic dysfunction that is American Beauty. Its director (Sam Mendes) won an Oscar that year and I was thinking to myself, "this guy might have something". Cut to twenty years later and Mendes is back with the on the mark yet sometimes tedious, 1917 (my latest review).

Sam's 1917 has to do with World War I (hence the title). Two British soldiers named Tom Blake and Will Schofield (played wonderfully by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) have to deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. Said message is for the Devonshire Regiment to call off a planned attack that could save the lives of 1600 men.

Image result for 1917 movie scenesReflecting on 1917, I was reminded of two filming techniques done in two different movies by the same director. The movies in question are The Revenant and Birdman and they are helmed by Mexico City's own Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Mendes takes a page out of Inarritu's gifted, how-did-they-film-that playbook. He shoots 1917 in almost one continuous take and his camerawork is surrounding, provocative, and completely encircling. The camera is rather a stalker that stalks in panoramic fashion, every single movement by the actors. It's an impressive feat if not a gimmick and you wonder if 1917 would be totally conventional had it not been for Sam's audacious trickery.

Wonderment and impeccable dramatic timing aside, 1917 isn't brutally rabid like other war pics. It's also shot low to the ground with its WWI trenches immersing as staunch main characters. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is lush, wide lens-ed, and wholly canvassed. Finally, 1917's ending is the best part because it's a culmination and a journey evoking real vehemence. Will 1917 win some Academy Awards next month? I thinking yeah. Out of ten nominations it sure as heck better. Rating: 3 stars.

Image result for 1917 movie scenesOf note: Check out the final credits in which you realize that the paternal grandfather of Sam Mendes (Alfred Mendes) actually served in the First World Wars. That is in a word, inspiring.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 13, 2020

Underwater 2020 * * Stars

UnderwaterDirector: William Eubank
Year: 2020
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Vincent Cassel

"You're descending seven miles to the bottom of the ocean". Sounds like a hoot. That's a quote from my first review of 2020 titled Underwater. Kristen Stewart stars in Underwater as the short-haired, athletic heroine named Norah Price. Aside from looking like a female Roy Batty, Kristen has screen presence and is embroiled in "underwear". Sadly, her line readings are a little garbled.

Anyway, Underwater is draggy even with a running time of ninety-five minutes. Yup, it's not fully epic despite having shades of 2005's The Descent. In fact, Underwater resembles a lot of flicks such as Leviathan, The Abyss, DeepStar Six, Alien, Life, and (gulp) Event Horizon. Here's the problem: Underwater came after all that stuff so that deems it a little last-ditch. What a shame.

Image result for underwater 2020 movie scenesNow has Hollywood run out of ideas in the regurgitated, sci-fi realm? Oh yeah. And is Underwater the outline of true life form leftovers? Almost.

The director of Underwater is Massachusetts native and former HD technician, William Eubank. His vision of Underwater is murky cinematography, choppy editing (no pun intended), pouncing jump scares, not a whole lot of critter striking, and not a whole lot of character development.

Underwater has virtually no buildup as we the audience watch the film from perhaps the middle or second act. Besides some cringe-worthy comic relief from goofball (and Hudson wannabe) T.J. Miller, the personas are virtually non-indelible. They are slack passengers just waiting for the parasitic slaughter.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox and containing a decent musical score by Marco Beltrami (Free Solo, A Quiet Place), Underwater is about heinously morphed creatures who terrorize some research crew members far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Image result for underwater 2020 movie scenesLook for a backhanded ending (which I liked) and some science fiction dialogue that reeks of vessel deja vu (that I didn't like). Underwater was released in January and was shot almost three years ago. That's some bad cinematic juju if you ask me. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 2019 * * * Stars

Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerDirector: J. J. Abrams
Year: 2019
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill

It was the fall of 1977. I was only three when my dad took me to see the original Star Wars (A New Hope). I may have fell asleep during the opening crawl but it still remains my earliest childhood memory. Now forty-two years later, J. J. Abrams has come to wrap up the Star Wars saga via Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The Jedi are still battling the Sith, Rey and Kylo Ren are still confronting each other with badass lightsabers, and Poe and Finn are still on rescue mission mode.

Reflecting on the first three Star Wars films (episodes IV, V, and VI), "Rise" resembles them somewhat even if it lacks their fabled, magical dust. Abrams returning to direct the final installment, doesn't get all artsy and cerebral like Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi. He fashions "Rise" as rather a fast-clipped, popcorn pic. At 142 minutes, it's long but far from being boring.

Image result for star wars: the rise of skywalker movie scenesThere are critics who say that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is confusing, poorly edited, and lacking in continuity. This critic followed the flick just fine. Abrams packs every frame with action to the gills, some friendly Resistance ribbing, and some whizzing set pieces. His CGI is effective without being overdone yet his tying up of all things "galaxy far, far away" is a little brusque. Oh well. It's not easy trying to finalize nine movies over the past four decades.

Let me put it this way: J. J. Abrams improves greatly on his foray into Star Wars lore sans the meat and potatoes vehicle, The Force Awakens. He keeps it old school in the heirloom-ed, space opera universe. Look for a Harrison Ford-Han Solo cameo, the return of Emperor Palpatine, and the return of good old Lando Calrissian. Bottom line: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker rarely feels retreaded or riskless nor does it bring back any annoying characters (I'm glad I didn't have to see Jar Jar Binks). It's exciting, knife-edge, and aerodynamic in its approach. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Overcomer 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

OvercomerDirector: Alex Kendrick
Year: 2019
Rated PG
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Alex Kendrick, Priscilla Shirer, Aryn Wright-Thompson

John Harrison is an enthusiastic, high school basketball coach. Small town abode aside, he is hyped for his upcoming season with all his top-notch players coming back. After John loses his team due to the student athlete's parents losing their jobs, he is forced to coach cross country with one participant who has asthma. That's just the blueprint of 2019's emotional and steered, Overcomer. Yup, it's my latest review.

Overcomer starts out kinda familiar with its Disney-like candor, its God's Not Dead residue, and its ode to all things John Lee Hancock (remember 2009's The Blind Side?). It's also akin to watching Kevin Costner's McFarland, USA with bells on (a film I conceded yet recommended).

Image result for overcomer movie scenesOvercomer however, becomes a no offense-d Christian drama and gets rather preachy towards the end (no pun intended). Hey, I believe in god but I also know when I'm being bible thumped and slightly bamboozled. There are some hardcore tearjerker moments here (and some divinity) but I came to watch a movie, not a perplexed sermon.

Overcomer, with its director, star, and writer in charge (Alex Kendrick), was filmed in Columbus, Georgia. This flick has a twist and some sledgehammering Christianity that keeps it from being just a regular sports pic (a dying father gets to coach his estranged daughter to a state championship victory via some long-distance running competition).

Yeah you tear up occasionally and you respect Overcomer's languid, PG rating. You also feel that you're no longer watching a drama and just taking in a forced infomercial (I didn't want that to happen).

Image result for overcomer movie scenes
So OK, I'm not hating on Overcomer. I'm just not looking to be cinematic-ally manipulated. On occasion, the poignant moments in Overcomer resonate if you can get through the sappy and lingering discourse. My rating: A strong but not recommendable, 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson