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Monday, May 16, 2022

Sheryl 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

HOODED CROW

2022's Sheryl had its first screening in March of this year. It's a documentary about Sheryl Crow, a musician out of a small Missouri town who managed to sell over 50 million albums worldwide. If your a Sheryl Crow fan (I dug her 90s stuff), then this is a harmless docu clocking in at 94 minutes. "If It Makes You Happy" well you might as well see it. Natch.  

Sheryl portrays Sheryl Crow as self-made, persevered, and female empowered. I also like that she was a huge music fan at a very early age (like myself). Heck, it's not everyday that a background singer for Michael Jackson goes on to make such a huge dent in the world of folk and country rock. Man during that Bad tour Crow had some really spritz-y hair. 

Sheryl is a standard documentary but to its credit, it's pretty speedy and unhesitating in its approach. There's the usual archive footage, interviews from colleagues, friends, and family (I never knew Crow was buds with Laura Dern), and the voice of Sheryl Crow herself. My only question is why wasn't Kid Rock and Eric Clapton mentioned? I mean she was close acquaintances with those guys too.  

Distributed by Showtime Networks and chronicling Crow's bouts with depression and/or breast cancer, Sheryl has good intentions but at the same time, is a little self-indulgent. Yes Sheryl Crow can sing and play but she hasn't had a bonafide hit in over twenty years (her last LP sold a little over 49,000 copies). Could Sheryl be a ploy to jump-start Sheryl Crow's already recluse career that seems anachronistic with today's musical world? Possibly. Is Sheryl perhaps a postmark to the end of one's metier that has seen at least 7 Top twenty Hits and five platinum albums? Maybe. Sheryl isn't a bad documentary but you have to wonder, was "the first cut the deepest?" Sigh. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 13, 2022

Lord of the Streets 2022 * 1/2 Stars

MEAN STREETS

If David Ayer decided to direct a film that didn't really involve law enforcement and/or dirty pool fuzz, then Lord of the Streets would be that film. If 1990's Lionheart was made today and involved a more heighten style of bone-crunching violence, then Lord of the Streets would fit right in. If a cockeyed version of Rocky took place in the seedy underbelly of dirtied-up LA, then Lord of the Streets would suffice. "You gotta fight". Indeed you do.

Lord of the Streets stars Anthony "Treach" Criss. "Treach" is a rapper for Naughty By Nature and this is the first flick I've ever seen him in. Criss gives a sympathetic performance in an otherwise pretentiously thuggish pic that has mostly mediocre acting. "Treach" plays Jason Dyson, a former MMA fighter who has to recruit an inmate to fight for him and get him out of a life-threatening debt. We're talking bare-knuckle brawling where the term "ride or die" is solely evident. 

Fashioned in a cinematic fantasy-land where the cops tread very lightly and the villain (Kane played by "Rampage" Jackson) has more power than established Michael Corleone (oh brother), "Streets" is low budget, hip-hopped, and veritably silly. 

"Treach's" acting isn't the problem here, it's director Jared Cohn's ego trip as producer, writer, and helmer of "Streets". Albeit, Lord of the Streets is unsympathetic, non-empathetic, and with its ghetto bird rap soundtrack, a bloodied mess that can't quite take itself seriously. When people are shot and killed in "Streets", they're remembered so much as a light jab. 

In retrospect, Lord of the Streets could have benefited from some more focused editing, a little solace from its myrmidon characters, and a sense of justification for extirpating at will (you'll see if you watch the movie). I don't plan on taking it to these "streets" with a second viewing. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Dangerous Methods 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

STRIP METHOD

A Hollywood assistant becomes the assistant to a whacked out actor who I'm thinking, is schizophrenic. That's the rub to 2022's Dangerous Methods. Pay attention to the word methods, or should I say Method (as in acting).

Released this month and featuring title cards as if it were The Shining (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.), Dangerous Methods reveals from the beginning that the lead (Christopher Showerman as Desmond Gage) is loony tunes right off the bat. The assistant to him (if you can call her that) doesn't do much except fawn over him and his A-list status. She must really need the job. I mean anyone else with half a frame of reference would have left the situation on day one. 

But wait, there'd be no movie. And you the viewer wouldn't be plodded along hopelessly wondering where the heck "Methods" is going. Director Humberto Rosa wants to build tension but doesn't seem to reach it. The actors are game but their milk-and-water scenes are kind of stuck in neutral. 

On the flip side, why would the Hollywood industry even attempt to keep an unstable trouper like Gage on the payroll (he almost strangled someone on set for gosh sake)? And why would Gage's assistant (Lacy Johnson played by Rachele Brooke Smith) be so befuddled as to be seduced by him? I mean is Lifetime (the film's distributor) trying to say that Hollywood is "Hollyweird? It certainly appears so. "Freaking actors".  

All in all, I didn't hate Dangerous Methods but I thought it was rather restrained for what it could've been. The unhappy ending amps things up a bit but at the same time, it also felt like a dangling loose end. The fates of everyone involved (the assistant, the assistant's father, the cuckoo thespian) seemed arbitrary at best. Dangerous Methods isn't quite "The Most Dangerous Game". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Memory 2022 * * * Stars

BEAR IN MIND

2022's Memory was put into theaters in April of this year. It represents that rare Liam Neeson release that's not in the doldrums of winter. If you're a Neeson fan (and I mostly am), then you won't mind anything that goes down in Memory. Heck, you'll "remember" it when it's over (har har).

Memory runs almost two hours and Neeson as usual, has a special set of skills (duh). His character also has early onset dementia (hence the title). In February's Blacklight, Liam had OCD. Hey, why not keep that status quo rolling.

So OK, Memory is coincidental and well, Guy Pearce co-stars in it (do you recall Memento? Too soon?). Memory also has Martin Campbell at the helm. Campbell likes things dark, ominous, loud, and visceral. Every bone crunch by Neeson and every heightened, bloodied shootout is courtesy of Mr. Campbell (I mean he did direct Edge of Darkness). 

Memory is the ultimate antihero flick and that includes not only Neeson but the law enforcement cohorts he comes into contact with. It doesn't matter whether it's the bad guys or a conscience-filled hitman or the FBI. Everybody dispatches somebody in Memory and they do it with almost a smidgen of comedic shock value. 

Distributed by Open Road Films and using police car insignia-s, fire truck insignia-s, and regular signage to let us know that it takes place in a certain city (we get it, El Paso, Texas is where things went down), Memory is about a professional assassin named Alex Lewis (Neeson). When Lewis refuses to do a job where he has to kill a teenager owned by human traffickers, he becomes a finish off target himself. 

Memory is no masterpiece but it has a little more lex talionis and coil going on than your typical Neeson action-er. It's a "reminder" that AARP Bryan Mills can still churn out this stuff well into his 70's. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Outfit 2022 * * * Stars

NICE LIVERY

Chicago and the Mob, it's like peas and carrots and bat and ball. That's the Windy City way (natch). The Outfit (my latest review) has two meanings obviously. One of "Outfit's" characters is a tailor (get it?) and its title derives from the Chicago Mafia (otherwise known as the Chicago Outfit). "You know exactly what it is that we do". Ah, so much for that good old Mob oath.

Coming off as a one location stage play masked as organized crime-d drama, The Outfit is 1950s "golden age" interspersed with some gentlemanly gunplay, some wound stitching, and a Mexican standoff or two. Yup, the clothing shop featured in The Outfit has a lot more going on in it than just focused cutting.

Brit Mark Rylance stars in "Outfit" as habituated lead Leonard Burling. Just like in his Oscar-winning turn via Bridge of Spies, Rylance's Leonard is the smartest guy in the room and the one thinking three steps ahead. As subtle as Mark comfortably is, this is nearly a master class in acting for him. His Leonard Burling appears as a non-threatening, sort of more harmless version of Keyser Soze. "And like that, he's gone". Indeed.

The Outfit is directed by rookie Graham Moore. He's a Chi-town native so you better recognize. Moore's film is darkly lit, it stays put (just one sound stage where almost no daylight seeps in), and the actors hit their marks as if they're performing at a packed playhouse in Upstate New York.

Harboring a decent sense of time and place despite limited locales, "Outfit" doesn't apologize for being a talky flick because it's otherwise enhanced with snarky dialogue and the occasional mild violence. Add a musical score straight out of a Brian De Palma pic and a few twists and you got an old-fashioned, old-world cinematic experience. "Outfitted".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Moonfall 2022 * 1/2 Stars

MOON "DOG"

How bad is 2022's Moonfall? Massively bad. Vastly bad. Moonfall is billed as a disaster flick. The disaster part I can understand.

Moonfall makes me not wanna trust its director anymore (that would be Roland Emmerich). Gone are his storytelling high points in regards to The Day After Tomorrow and/or Independence Day. Gone is his penchant for continuity and inserting eye candy images that aren't merely for show. Gone is his sense for providing actual entertainment for the sci-fi crowd. I mean why can't Moonfall just be about some astronauts trying to save Earth from the moon hurtling towards it on a collision course? Is that such a chore?

Moonfall suffers from a bloated running time of 130 minutes. The science fiction mumbo jumbo is off the charts, the subplots are aplenty, and the annoyance of British actor John Bradley rears its ugly head (is he Kevin Smith's jerk face twin?).

Moonfall is a special effects extravaganza with zero build-up and laissez-faire inconsistency. The destruction of Earth is so random, so without any subjugation. The moon must be in a bad mood and have a knack for being real naughty. There's no impetus as to why cities like NYC and LA are being turned into rubble. And what's up with the enormous amount of green screen being churned to the hilt? Obviousness should never be in the dictionary of an epic disaster monger like Emmerich. He's discernibly cutting corners even when his film is a half hour longer than it should be.

Moonfall stars Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and Bradley (mentioned earlier). They appear in a movie that is so scatterbrained and so riffed with dartboard-ed, spaceflight ideals, the result is something that lacks any conch of suspense or amusement. Add an inconsistent musical score, an almost meaningless cameo by Donald Sutherland (was he bored?), and characters that are cliches of the disaster genre ("we gotta go now", ugh) and you got one of the worst offerings of this year. "Fall" out.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

TALENT AGENT

"It's grotesque, I'll give you $20,000 for it". That's such a Nic Cage moment in a movie about Nic Cage starring um, Nicolas Cage. Oh and there's a couple of scenes where Cage sees his Wild at Heart persona as a sort of kooky hallucination. Oh man, that hair.

Anyway, Nicolas Cage appears in 2022's The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a rather dry action/comedy in which Cage plays himself (apparently in the same exact way he plays all his other characters). Cage's performance is good because well, it's no stretch. There's the overacting, the crescendo yells, and the massive craziness. This "cage" as usual, has been opened up and let loose.

Self-parodies and self-deprecation-s begot, "Talent" gives the audience those cultural references that any Nic Cage fan could salivate over (like myself). There's that famous line, "why couldn't you put the bunny back in the box?" (from Con Air of course). Then there's that "not the bees!" quip from The Wicker Man. Finally, there's a clip from Guarding Tess that Nic watches solemnly from a TV set in a hotel room. You think taking in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent would be the ultimate Nic Cage experience but it doesn't quite reach that plateau. It's almost underwhelming espy if you put it next to his best flicks (Con Air mentioned earlier, The Cotton Club, Face/Off, Leaving Las Vegas).

Like I said in the second paragraph, "Talent" is billed as an action/comedy. Well there's not a whole lot of laughs and the action scenes aren't really that bracing (you'd think with the R rating there'd be a little more something something). If anything, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a gimmickry vehicle in the Cage canon, a possible out of the box attempt to jump-start Nicky boy's iffy career (he's made some questionable stuff in the last couple of decades). Would I recommend "Talent?" Probably not. Hey at least it wasn't "unbearable" after one showing.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Batman 2022 * * * Stars

"I'M THE BATMAN"

Why so serious? I say why not. 2022's The Batman is just that, serious. You want a Batman flick that makes 1989's version seem like a long-lost takeoff? You'll get that with The Batman. You want a Batman pic that makes all that Joel Schumacher stuff seem like cartoon schlock? Uh Prego, it's in there.

Even darker than those Nolan films from 2005-2012, The Batman is a PG-13 endeavor that pushes its "Parents Strongly Cautioned" tone to the brink. A little David Fincher here, a little Bruce Wayne as Rick Deckard there, a little song, a little noir dance. The Batman is a moxie crime thriller with a stupendous action finale and a substantially brooding, musical score. It's unlike any Batman vehicle you've ever seen or will ever see again.

Robert Pattinson stars in The Batman as you know, Bruce Wayne/Batman. He doesn't smile once and always looks like he lost his dog in a freak accident. I like that. Pattinson has immense screen presence and is a superhero who's all business. I'd rank him along Christian Bale and Micheal Keaton as the best Batman-s in the bunch.

The Batman cascades almost three hours with a couple of subplots and less set locations than the norm. Thankfully the runtime doesn't drag as much as you think. It's also nearly a small-scale Batman conch that's as dark in its grain as it is in its look. Albeit, the sun actually shines a couple of times. Otherwise you can almost taste the tasteless raindrops on your tongue. Steamy, smoky, and wet.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and directed with a steadily, copycat vision by Matt Reeves (I'll let it slide), The Batman has Riddler (Paul Dano being Paul Dano), Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz coming into her own), Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), and of course, Pattinson. Their characters inhabit Gotham City as if it's the chronic underbelly of totalitarian society. "Pow!" "boff!" kapow!" "whack!".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Choose or Die 2022 * * * Stars

CHOOSE FUNCTION

A young woman decides to play an 80s video game not knowing that said video game could result in someone getting killed. That's the gist of Choose or Die, a sort of fitting title for a movie about vehement, processing data manipulation. 

Released this month through way of the internet (makes sense), Choose or Die is relegated to the type of film I've seen before (Unfriended: Dark Web comes to mind). Here's the thing: Choose or Die although in the same model, doesn't adhere to all that Skype stuff. It feels less grainy and more straight-laced. I mean we don't always need something where everybody is constantly in Zoom meeting mode. 

Iola Evans plays computer wiz Kayla while Asa Butterfield plays her partner in crime, Issac. They are platonic friends who come together to try to investigate the evilness of a computer playdown capable of extracting someone's tongue (that happens early on, ugh). 

Choose or Die has some pretty creepy moments in the slight vein of anything via the Japanese horror franchise (Ju-On). It also feels neo-noir with some neon hues to boot. Rookie director Toby Meakins (he has only previously done shorts) fashions a fresh genre entry that seems to have been sledgehammered about five years ago. He dirties up the atmosphere and lets his actors inhabit a sort of banal, downtrodden existence. Added to that, there's also a cameo by legend Robert Englund only I don't think we ever see him. Hey at least we're still reminded of the Greed decade again ("It even has his name written in it, Fred Krueger mom"). 

Choose or Die ends in a way in which the old adage of film tells us we can interpret things any way we want. That's what makes this medium so darn fascinating. Does the female protagonist go to the dark side after taking control of the video game and its penchant for causing harm? Possibly. Is Choose or Die so far-fetched that it feels more like a hallucination instead of a veracious reality? Maybe. You as the viewer can "choose".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Sins in the Suburbs 2022 * * Stars

SINS OFFERING

"I'm your new neighbor". Uh-oh, sketch alert. A new neighbor who has already murdered and won't bat an eye as to doing it again. Oh and said neighbor is a hopeless romantic who loves his choke holds. Ugh. 

So yeah, 2022's Sins in the Suburbs is a TV Lifetime-r that seems to think a creepy, foreboding musical score, a blase suburbanite setting, and a patchy, flashback cut ending might give it some shine. Phooey. Those things a great film doesn't always make. "Sins" as Rear Window facade, could've been "deadlier seven" times over.

Sins in the Suburbs stars Brandon Santana as early-indication-psycho Tyler and Monique Sypkens as damsel Heather. Playing neighbors who happen to live across from each other and are somewhat attracted to each other, Santana and Sypkens have bad eye contact in their scenes. They seem to look at spots on the wall as they banter and that's not a plus in the acting department. Hey at least one of them is a struggling artist and the other is a photographer so their characters have that in common. 

Directed by Sam Fichtner who has done one other Lifetime endeavor (Framed by My Husband), "Sins" only baits you into thinking it's compelling when it's merely small-scale Lifetime riffraff. The lead antagonist is not menacing enough and the lead protagonist faces danger in such a nonchalant way. Heck, we don't know a lot about the bad guy (Santana) except that he moves from town to town, does heinous things with no design (like killing), and is an out of work photog. Tyler is like a poor man's version of the world's evilest drifter.

At a running time of a little over 90 minutes with adequate pacing (and ads), Sins in the Suburbs evaporates right after you see it. Thou "art" not rattled (har har). Just because you take a picture doesn't always mean it will last longer. Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson