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film reel image

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Sr. 2022 * * * Stars


A lot of people know who Robert Downey Jr. is. Okay the whole world knows who he is. Bob is a movie star from those Marvel endeavors. The dude once commanded $75 million for one flick (remember Avengers: Endgame?). 

Sr. (my latest review) is not about Robert Downey Jr. I mean it kind of is but that's a moot point. It's mainly about his father Robert Downey Sr. Sr. is a guy who was not as much in the limelight, making low budget, independent films and appearing as an actor in stuff like Boogie Nights and/or To Live and Die in L.A. 

I've never seen a Robert Downey Sr.-directed pic but Sr. provides plenty of archive footage from his stuff via the late 60s and early 70s. Said archive footage counteracts with recent interviews that counteract with random scenes that are sort of playful cuts of the late subject (Sr. of course). It's like a movie within a movie within a documentary, shot in black & white while harboring a somber and evocative tone. 

Sr. is a docu that is told chronologically but feels non-linear at the same time. It's not perfect but there's a certain earthiness to it. I mean it feels more personal that most (of any type). You see Robert Downey Jr. in a way you've never seen him before (it's like he's a regular Joe). You also get to know his dad and what an out of the box filmmaker he was, all satiric and radical and whatnot. I've always thought of their relationship as opposite sides of the pickle. Jr. is well, blockbuster and his pops sort of a hidden, Woody Allen type. 

What's heartbreaking is that Sr. ends up following the last years of Robert Downey Sr.'s life. It was filmed over a period of three showing the gradual decline of Sr.'s health due to Parkinson's disease. Thankfully through Sr. we get to know this man and his visionary turns that stayed under the radar to most Hollywood annals. Senior day!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 5, 2022

Class of 1984 1982 * * 1/2 Stars


In 1982, audiences weren't ready for Class of 1984. I mean maybe they were but I know I wouldn't have been. Some say it's a cult film. I say not exactly but the title sure suggests it. "1984" shows high school in the most brutal and bleak way, all neon, perfumed, and punk like some sort of whacked out Greek mythology. Pushing the boundaries of adequate taste while pushing the unlicked envelope, Class of 1984 hasn't aged well in my most humbled opinion. If it was made last year it probably wouldn't have even gotten greenlit today.

That's not to say that "1984" wasn't ahead of its time (for that time). I mean just imagine The Warriors crossing paths with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Now imagine a horror version of those two flicks, a sort of remorseless, harshly violent conch of maddening teenage rebellion. Class of 1984 is a rough watch with an even rougher social commentary. The school depicted in '82 had metal detectors and no dress code (that's fresh). The actors were probably plucked off the street and told to do unspeakable things.

Shot in Toronto, Canada and sledgehammering the notion that high schooler inmates really do run the asylum, Class of 1984 stars a perfectly cast Perry King and a perfectly cast Timothy Van Patten. King plays music teacher Andrew Norris and Van Patten plays troubled student Peter Stegman. When Norris kicks Stegman out of class while rubbing him the wrong way in the process, Stegman and his gang of misfits savagely torment Norris and his pregnant wife (Merrie Lynn Ross as Diane Norris).

With scenes of attempted rape, vindictive assault, gangly beatings, and manipulative solicitation, Class of 1984 shows the mild-mannered man getting pushed to edge and becoming lex talionis. It's all a little too off-color to recommend.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, December 2, 2022

Slice 2018 * * 1/2 Stars


"It all started when the werewolf came back into town". I'm not talking about London folks, I'm talking about mile after magnificent mile (that would be Illinois). 

Mindless, campy, a film that lives in a sort of warped, Gotham fantasy-land. Ghosts are an actual ethnic group, the mayor persona is a perv, and Chance the Rapper is apparently in the form of someone changing their appearance during a full moon. Yeah I'm talking about 2018's Slice, a vehicle that's so neon and fluorescent it comes off as late 80s swipe that could only be featured at 4am on Cinemax. Alex Cox called and says he wants his repo status and science fiction smoke back.

Slice if you're game enough (or tipsy enough), is a beer and pizza movie (no pun intended). It doesn't take itself seriously and why should it, it's about pizzeria delivery guys getting offed and doofus cops trying to find the culprit. The soundtrack is 1980s synth, the look is urban Chuck E. Cheese (pun intended). Slice's tone is all over the place but at least its director (Austin Vessely) creates a quixotic world full of bended subjects. Za, punk, devilsh Karens, and municipality peacekeeping oh my!

Men wearing bad wigs, old television sets, a screenplay that's equal parts distressing and cringy, skewed character motivations, and actorly acting. That's Slice's go-ahead vision and it's a real doozy. But hey, it's edited surprisingly well, like a murder mystery that plays out in likely fashion. Austin Vessely's direction is standard and not flashy (that's only in the visual palate). He shoots low to the ground as his camera zooms forwards and backwards.

Bottom line: Slice is no midnight movie circuit winner but it's a "cut above" most cultish wanabees. I mean I've never seen a flick that had more fun at making fun of itself. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Bullies 1986 * * * Stars


"Matt you don't know them". Yeah you don't Matt. You done taking the wrong turn boy. Matt and his family move to a small town and open up a grocery store. Little do they know that another family is bent on tormenting them like all get out. 

Anyway I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1986. It was in my hometown via Southwest Michigan at the local theatre (Southtown Twin to be exact). The film was Bullies and it played for about a week. Then it was gone, sigh. Audiences around the country probably weren't ready for Bullies anyway. Unknown cast, no marketing, borderline NC-17 rating, vile subject matter. Yup, I thought I'd revisit this acrid switchblade of a movie.

Bullies certainly gets its title right. It's simple, brash, and to the point. It is about bullies with the last name of Cullen (a memorable last name indeed and a nice touch). According to the wiki of Bullies, the Cullens are a clan of sorts. Heck, I consider them a bunch of bags with a mountainous, redneck flavor. If you're in a Straw Dogs and/or Deliverance sort of mood, those Cullens sure were your tour guide back in good old '86. 

With a musical score that is 80s cheese and a Canadian director that has enough assertive gumption to stage confrontation (Paul Lynch of Prom Night fame), Bullies never harbored cult status nor did it gain access to the midnight movie circuit. Why? Well the flick has a certain ugliness to it, a sort of relentless coup de grace if you will. But hey, what'd you expect? The film is called Bullies and it does what it conveys. Lynch's vision can be tasteless, superfluous, and overly violent but it will affect you. Well-acted, carefully plotted, and reprisal-minded, I say "bully" for that. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Good Neighbor 2022 * * * Stars


"David we hit something". Did you now. It wasn't a squirrel or a possum?

So OK, in 2022's The Good Neighbor, the neighbor is anything but. He's got attachment issues, he's prying, he's latent, and in the end, he's just pure evil. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Robert and let's just call him the "bad" neighbor shall we. He's one of those actors that excels at giving a manipulative, calculating performance. Exhibit B would be Woody Allen's Match Point.

Anyway, The Good Neighbor is shot by German Stephan Rick. His direction is streamlined and aseptic yet forlorn, giving "Neighbor" the feeling of being somewhere between the greatest Lifetime movie ever and 1998's A Simple Plan. Rick keeps you guessing and guessing as he almost numbs you the viewer. "Neighbor" isn't flashy nor is it horrific (most of the murders show the aftermath). Until it runs out of steam however, the film turns enough psychological screws to undo a dresser. You can count on it. 

Taking place and filmed in Latvia, The Good Neighbor is about a couple of neighbors who go out for drinks, drive home, and commit a hit and run via a young woman on a bike. Yup, these movies tend to make my ears perk up. Yeah the events are tragic but you're completely involved, wondering how these two dudes are gonna try to cover up the pseudo crime. Witnesses (or non-witnesses) are offed, evidence is shellacked, and when it comes to the detectives, the house always wins (or does it?). 

"Neighbor" has casting that is spot-on, its editing for the most part, is crisp, and the Lativa setting provides a sort of sterling authenticity. If the flick didn't overplay its hand, add layers, and turn into a rather rote thriller, I would've praised it more. Oh well, "Neighbor" is worth renting at the "closest" Redbox. Natch.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Death Valley 2021 * * * Stars


Let's get this right out of the way shall we. 2021's Death Valley has nothing to do with that desert place in Cali. I mean the title sounds cool but it was filmed in freaking Canada. But anyway, "Valley" is almost shapeless and butchered in its first act until it turns into The Descent with foot soldier mercenaries added. Hey, who doesn't want to take in a little demon speak with some gun-toting action (I do I do).

Death Valley is directed by Mr Matthew Ninaber. Channeling his inner John Carpenter a la the later years, Ninaber creates some claustrophobia and tension despite his monsters looking almost like advanced Halloween ensembles. His "Valley" doesn't have a happy ending nor does it bleed to the sanguine. Sometimes movies of the quarantine nature (like this one) can be effective that way.

Shot in a Syfy channel sort of way with its actors saying, "we gotta get out of here" and/or "let's keep moving" (it is what it is), Death Valley is about some hired guns who are sent in to rescue a bioengineer held captive via a middle of nowhere bunker. At said bunker is a creature predator with bad hygiene, a coarse voice, and a case of the albino. Chaos ensues with some harrowing fight sequences, a twist villain, some nervous tongue-in-cheek, and paradoxical remnants. The troupers featured in "Valley" (Ethan Mitchell, Jeremy Ninaber, Kristen Kaster) are obviously C-list but they sell scenes a little better than anyone in a recent, Bruce Willis actioner (yikes).

All in all, the best way to view Death Valley is to accept it for what it is. "Valley" is a bloodstained B-movie trying hard to push on its B-movie tropes (the budget, the costume designs, and the shooting locales were probably nil). "Valley of salts".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Death Hunt 2022 * * * Stars


"Once you've hunted man, animals just don't cut it anymore". Yeesh. I'll probably just avoid hanging out in forests in the near future.

Distributed by Uncork'd Entertainment, featuring bad riflemen who couldn't shoot water in a pool, and not to be associated with that Lee Marvin thriller from 1981, 2022's Death Hunt is a B-movie entity that knows it's a B-movie. The filmmakers are basically saying, "enjoy it for what it is folks, we don't care either way". A little bit Surviving the Game, a little bit 2021's Apex, Death Hunt is all about tracking humans for sport. Morals are replaced by the rush of killing. Deer is replaced by a landowner and his chick. Sadistic for the sadists I tell you.

Death Hunt has unknown actors in it that mumble their lines (or maybe it was just the sound editing, ugh). "Hunt" also verges on camp because said lines take a front seat to the overripe. Oh well. This film delivers a certain level of suspense because it kills the male protagonist early and lets the female protagonist saddle up and get her Rambo on (spoiler). I mean it's kind of a novel plot device that has worked before. Ripley, believe it or not!

Death Hunt with its inconsistent action sequences and slight ode to the implausible, still keeps you entertained in a somewhat non-admitting fashion. I suppose it's the nasty charm of men with stogies in their mouths trying to off some mistress couple on a forestry island. Or maybe it's the musical score by Mitchell Gibbs that's eager to the nth degree. Said score doesn't always fit the rhythms of the scenes but boy does it try its darndest. Evoking a sort of 80s flavor, Gibb's stuff secretly has good old Dutch smiling in the distance.

Flawed but full of squalid, bullet-ridden vigor, Death Hunt brings back the notion of shell-shocked, female badassery. This "dog will hunt", promise.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 17, 2022

A Christmas Story Christmas 2022 * * * Stars


If you haven't seen the holiday classic A Christmas Story, well you've probably been living in isolation somewhere, in a bunker sans a television set. If you have seen A Christmas Story (and I have in spades), then be pleasantly surprised because there's a sequel and you can watch it On Demand. 

2022's A Christmas Story Christmas is that sequel, a true companion piece that was made to be viewed back-to-back with the original from a mere forty years ago (give or take). All the characters are back (Ralphie, Flick, Randy, Scott Farkus to name a few) and pretty much all the same actors are present to play them. It's like taking a trip down memory lane I tell you. Fix up some steaming hot cocoa and enjoy!

A Christmas Story Christmas isn't some VOD pic that would be destined for the $3.99 bin at Best Buy. I mean this is the real deal. Director Clay Kaytis really thinks things through, being so faithful to the consistency of first flick you'd think the ghost of the late Bob Clark talked to him in his sleep. 

Kaytis progresses the narrative very nicely, setting the events decades after with a grown-up Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley having some goofy fun here) going back to his hometown in Indiana to celebrate Christmas with his own kids. I mean it's uncanny. The look is the same (soft and glowed lighting), the locales are similar (that's because they might be), the opening credits are familiar, and the music is 1983 spot-on. Heck, you could almost put A Christmas Story and this follow-up together to make one three-hour movie (why not?). Just add a title card that says well, "thirty years later". 

Same off-handed humor, same grossness with food (you'll see), same Bumpus hounds, same midwest exhaust. That's what you get with A Christmas Story Christmas. The only thing the film adds is its fascination with spirits (no not those spirits, the spirits of a liquid kind) and the fact that it actually borrows some of its slapstick from a certain National Lampoon endeavor. Nice touches all around. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Unhuman 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


There's something sort of inhuman about 2022's Unhuman. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the characters here who come off as so unlikable to the audience it's hard to root for them. They're poor man's Breakfast Club types aspiring to be Shaun of the Dead types. High school, well it sure has been bleak for them.

So yeah, Unhuman is a zombie movie with all these HS stereotypes (how'd you guess). You got the jock, the princess, the oppressed smart girl, the token, and the nerds. Their bus crashes during a field trip, they escape, and then they must band together to try and stop some revived corpses.

Director Marcus Dunstan pulls off all the stops with Unhuman. Less gory than most, he infuses split screens, wipes, slow-mo stuff, and Dutch angles to let the world know he's showing off. Hey, I give him a little credit because there's enough zombie fabric out there to power a small country. Gotta inject some new life (ha ha) into an already manifest genre.

Unhuman breaks itself down into three parts. It's an ambitious if overwrought viewing experience. The first part is the set up (mentioned in the second paragraph). The second part is the refreshing twist (told in one long flashback). The third part is the high school misfits getting their revenge on by fighting ugly (with fists of fury).

In retrospect, helmer Dunstan tries really hard to make you forget that Unhuman is just another pic about the Walking dead. His film is more a tongue in cheek conspiracy, a John Hughes hue, or a high school reprisal prank if you will. I give him points for that but the problem is his actors who are faceless, falsely witty, and only moderately plucky. They're in a movie that's not "unwatchable" but more of a slight, "human" stain.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Merry Swissmas 2022 * * Stars


Merry Swissmas is my latest review. Hey, the beginning of November marks the holidays for me so why not. Directed by John L'Ecuyer in yuletide postcard fashion, "Swissmas" follows the beats of most Lifetime silly season flicks like a manual. You've got the two leads who each lost a loved one a couple of years ago. You've got the female lead traveling from the big city to a faraway place and maybe staying there for a long time. You've got that big smooch at the end (it's compulsory people). Finally, you've got those endless Christmassy festivities leading up to the big day (that would be Xmas day of course). Let's pour out a little eggnog shall we.

So OK, Merry Swissmas has one big hook that keeps it from being in the snowy basement. It takes place in Switzerland (hence the title). The movie looks really good, like you've gone to Christmas heaven while floating on the Pearly Gates. You can smell the hot chocolate, you can feel the fire crackling, and you can hark the warmth of wearing a bad sweater. Notice I haven't gotten to why I can't recommend "Swissmas" yet. It's coming, just like the 25th which is over a month away. 

Merry Swissmas is about an architect who meets an older man while visiting her family in the Playground of Europe (Switzerland's nickname, I looked it up). Starring Jodie Sweetin and Tim Rozon, "Swissmas" has two actors whose characters are supposed to fall in love but who's kidding. Their chemistry is nil, like passing ships or a platonic combo, it's a strange courtship. Now I do believe Sweetin can act but her performance here felt off, all pauses and reacting like an unvarying read through. As for Rozon, well he just looks distinguished yet downtrodden. Wha?? Every scene between these two felt ill at ease. I mean c'mon guys, it's the most wonderful time of the year. Yeesh!

Minimal on plot, a pace that suggests watching ice melt (pun intended), and very little conflict until the hour mark (a little tiff between the lovebirds). Besides the winsome scenery, that's what you get while viewing Merry Swissmas. This "Swiss misses" the mark. 

Written by Jesse Burleson