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Thursday, September 23, 2021

My Husband's Secret Brother 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

BLOOD BROTHERS

My Husband's Secret Brother refers to a half-brother who works at an auto repair shop. He avoids his other half-brother cause well, the dude is a psychopath. Said psychopath is Kevin and he is played by Joey Lawrence. Lawrence's Kevin yields a needle and kills like a hit-man (he's so darn professional about it). He also appears like an oily son of a gun with what looks like painted-on facial hair.  

Appearances begot, "Secret Brother" is a Lifetime thriller that gets invaded by the Lawrence brothers (Matthew, Joey, and Andrew). Matthew and Joey co-star while Andrew directs. And yeah, all three of them are executive producers. 

Now is My Husband's Secret Brother an ego trip by those Lawrence broheims? It could be but the flick is not half bad. And is "Secret Brother" better than the other Lawrence outing titled Money Plane? It is but both films are still in bad taste (bad meaning nasty fun). Case in point: Joey Lawrence's Kevin goes to a lady's condo and drowns her in her Jacuzzi. He then goes over to her piano and plays a tune with his O.J.-style murder gloves on. Joey, we hardly knew ya! 

All in all, My Husband's Secret Brother is sloppily directed by Andrew Lawrence with some off-kilter camerawork and some cringe-worthy dialogue. But hey, Lawrence is certainly ambitious and doesn't come off as the world's worst storyteller. 

His "Secret Brother" about a woman who marries a plastic surgeon bent on doing whatever it takes to claim her inheritance, has enough twists and turns to make Keyser Soze do the doo-wop. The film also gives you the standard Lifetime quirks. You got the po-po who are never around when someone gets offed. You got the sparse set locations and clear depletion of extras. Finally, you got the antagonist who announces himself to be the bad guy about 10-15 minutes in. Yup, My Husband's Secret Brother has a definite whiff of Lifetime fare. It's no "secret".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 20, 2021

Copshop 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

THIS COP ALMOST ROCKS

"I'm gonna kill you". That's the understatement of the year when it comes to 2021's Copshop. There's a lot of bullets that fly all over the place in Copshop. A lot of them miss, a few graze, and a few hit. Just ask an entire police station and a couple of prostyle killers. Oh wait, you can't.  

Anyway, Copshop is about a con man who voluntarily gets locked up only to find out that he shares the prison barracks with the actual assassin who wants to kill him. 

Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo star. One looks like Ian Anderson in the early days and the other looks like Antonio Banderas via 1995's Desperado. Both have enough sweaty testosterone and chutzpah to solve the energy crisis. And both seem to get right back up like energizer bunnies after getting shot. 

Released in September of this year, feeling like Assault on Precinct 13 with steroids, and harboring opening title credits straight from the 1970s, Copshop feels like something Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter would combine forces on. Sadly you're better off watching their individual movies just by themselves. 

Granted Copshop isn't a bad film, it's just an uneven one. Intertwined between violent shootouts and feisty one-liners is otherwise annoying dialogue and characters who try to be too darn witty. Copshop's plot, well it's its own Mexican standoff. There's too many directions, too many points, and lots of personas chiming in. 

Oh well. At least you get director Joe Carnahan's standard ending that's abrupt, gotcha-inducing, and thought-provoking. Carnahan is truly a style monger and his flick The Grey is a favorite of mine. But sometimes he comes off like a Tarantino clone who ignored the Academy and just went for schlock. Unfortunate.  

Bottom line: Copshop might be the film Joe was born to make but it's more like he might have been "born" yesterday. "Chopped" shop.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 17, 2021

Prey 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

FALLEN PREY

In 2021's Prey, the "prey" refers to some dudes who are being tormented by a soundless, female sharp shooter. Said sharp shooter is obviously distraught and traumatized. We know she lost her kid to a careless hunter and that's about it (that's I guess enough for her to go loco).

So OK, Prey is a brief Netflix thriller that I'm thinking was filmed in the backwoods of Germany (the mountainous scenery gave it away). It stars unknown troupers whose voices for the most part, might have been occasionally dubbed. The actors are not from the camp of Laurence Olivier and well, they come off as sort of unlikable millennial-s. Instead of talking to each other calmly and working out their dire situation, these five guys would rather bicker, wine, and be snide.

Prey is an exercise in style on hollow point. Director Thomas Sieben knows what he's doing behind the camera and with the help of Michael Kamm's musical score, there is fitful tension to be built. If only Prey had a more detailed plot and a tighter reason for being, it could've been something. Instead you have a B-movie with standardized violence, unmapped characters, and a conclusion that contains a loose end or two.

I wanted to know more about the woman assassin who doesn't talk and just dutifully shoots to kill. I also wanted to know why at one point she sees three of the men in her sights and doesn't off them immediately. Why? Finally, I wanted to know why the five blokes she was hunting had such an erotic same sex nature about them. I gotta admit it was very Top Gun-ish.

In retrospect, Sieben's film is well-made from a technical standpoint and his use of random flashbacks is moderately telling. But Prey would rather revel in its flowing modus operandi then flesh out any cinematic meaning. It's just not "predatory" enough.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 13, 2021

Val 2021 * * * Stars

ICEMAN COMETH

In 2021's Val, "Val" refers to chameleon-like actor Val Kilmer. Val killed it in movies like Top Gun, The Doors, and Heat. In Val he's so in love with holding a camera you wonder why he hasn't become a director himself. This documentary perhaps is the closest thing to him doing that (even though Val was ultimately helmed by filmmakers Ting Poo and Leo Scott).

So yeah, Val is a docu that spans the career of Val Kilmer through archived footage and present day footage. Unable to talk because of his bout with throat cancer, Val is narrated by Kilmer's son Jack (also an actor). What's neat is that Jack sounds just like his pops did in the 1990s. And Kilmer for my money, had one of the greatest acting voices of all time (next to Russell Crowe and Al Pacino).

Val is fascinating, dissipated, and sort of surreal. Is it a four star affair? Not quite. Is it the movie Kid 90 wished it could've been? Oh absolutely. Kid 90 was about the life of Soleil Moon Frye. You know the girl from Punky Brewster. Where Val succeeds Kid 90 is that it's more profound and has more of an anchor (perhaps because Kilmer reached higher bouts of stardom). Kilmer is an interesting and pretty eclectic dude. In the world of acting, he might have been difficult on set but the guy is all passion and heart.

In truth, Val might come off to some viewers as a little pretentious, a little vanity-stricken, and self-serving. And at 109 minutes, the flick tends to go on and on until ending abruptly (kind of like an Oliver Stone pic hint, hint). Still, Val is well-made from a technical standpoint and paints Kilmer as a sympathetic figure who still deserves to hug a little spotlight. In the words of Val Kilmer's Jim Morrison, "this is the strangest life I've ever known". No matter. It's been a good life Val so keep on truckin' bro.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Party from Hell 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

HELL IN A HANDBASKET

"I love party games". Uh-oh. Someone's gone a little cray cray. That someone is Molly Cole and she is played by New Jersey native Jackie Moore. Moore is a decent actress who does a lot of mugging with her eyes. Man, dem some creepy eyes. 

Jackie Moore co-stars as the manipulative and unscrupulous villain in 2021's Party from Hell. "Party" is a nasty Lifetime flick that borders on sterile exploitation with enough camp value to pitch a tent. It's the type of film where Lifetime studio execs salivate with a green-light and become hot and bothered at the same time. 

So yeah, Party from Hell is Lifetime network fare that checks all the merited boxes. You got the unseen cop characters who are never around when someone gets murdered (check). You got the protagonist (Denise Allen played by April Martucci) who is oblivious to all the evil shenanigans that's going on (check). You got the cliche ending where the antagonist gets away scot-free (check). You got the hammy acting (check). Finally, you got the low production values and sparse locations (Czechoslovakia!). Jared Cohn directed Party from Hell but you just know that the hand of David DeCoteau did a little bit of the guiding. 

Released in the US via this month and featuring Eric Roberts in a small role as a rich investor (Roberts and Vivica A. Fox sure have been getting their Lifetime on), Party from Hell is about a wife and mother who hires a party planner only to have said party planner try to ruin her life.  

Bottom line: If you like your Lifetime movies free of integrity and cogency, then "Party" will be consistent viewing in that arena. If you're a snooty critic like myself, then you'll be stuck in stranded "purgatory" trying to come up with a recommendation. Party "pooper". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James 2021 * * * 1/2 Stars

SUPER FREAKY

Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James is my latest write-up. It's a documentary that projects like an artist's wiki page. No matter. You still slide on its slurp-y groove. "Sound and Fury" is long overdue for it's the first time we've seen a docu about James since 1998's E! True Hollywood Story. Rick James died in 2004 from cardiac failure (among other things). He was only 56 years old. 

So yeah, "Sound and Fury" tells the story of a singer-songwriter whose image and funked sound are forever frozen in time. Director Sacha Jenkins knows this and fashions James as a flawed human being with a touch of volatile genius and a sense of braided smut. "Give me that stuff that funky that sweet that funky stuff". Indeed. 

Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James provides the audience with genuine, off the cuff interviews and grainy nostalgic archive footage. At 111 minutes, you get a chronological snapshot of James from his birth in Buffalo, NY till his ultimate demise via LA's Toluca Hills apartments. The editing by Nicholas Pacchiano is lightning-quick while the overall experience of "Sound and Fury" gives you feelings of being agog and wistful. If only helmer Jenkins would've done away with the whole animation aspect (man I hate that stuff in on record flicks). 

All in all, "Sound and Fury" is the second best of its kind for this year (Tina about Tina Turner is a tad better). The docu omits Rick's relationship with Linda Blair but it also gave me insight into things I didn't know about James. I mean the dude actually hated hip-hop, he was a draft dodger, and he even used to jam with Neil Young and The Band (crazy). Dave Chappelle parodies him while Sacha Jenkins salutes him. Overall rating: 3.5 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Danger in the Spotlight 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

DANGER ZONE

"Everything's gonna be fine". The Lifetime network never goes that route. That's like saying that the Leaning Tower of Pisa doesn't lean. Natch. 

Anyway, Danger in the Spotlight is my latest write-up. It's gonzo film-making with an even more gonzo ending (and that's saying a lot for a certain long-running cable endeavor). What's on screen has so much promise till "Danger" pulls a 180 "WTF" just for the heck of it. I mean seriously. 

So OK, Danger in the Spotlight for the most part is a Lifetime drama thriller that is generally well-crafted. It has an original premise about a recovering alcoholic who commits a hit-and-run leaving a famous ballet dancer paralyzed (so you think). 

Jessica Morris (as Martha) plays said alcoholic and her screen presence is palatable. I mean Morris is a babe, she's a Lifetime lifetime-r, and well, she's pretty darn sexy. But to paint her as a kind of pseudo villain in the end is just bunk. It renders "Danger" sort of icky and a little misguided. 

Danger in the Spotlight leads you down a path where you almost know where things are headed. Thanks to its eerie vibe, its multiple flashbacks, its red herrings, and its solid musical score by Tomas Peire, the film is still generally watchable. But jeez, that conclusion lacks credibility and overall plausibility. I guess pigs really do fly (ugh).

I mean you'd have to believe that someone would forgive someone else for trying to kill them so they could get their daughter back in a custody battle. You'd also have to believe that that same someone would commit a murder and help dispose of a dead body for the same darn reason. Lifetime network, I give you credit for going for shock value and thinking outside of the box on this one. But even M. Night Shyamalan has his limitations. Unclear and present "danger".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Habit 2021 * Star

BAD HABIT

"Good day sir, so kind". Me, well I'm not gonna be so kind to 2021's Habit (my latest review). Habit is like a Gen X movie made with millennial-s (if that makes any sense). It's also over-stylized, over-directed, bible-thumped, full of itself, and pretty kitschy. It's as if rookie director Janell Shirtcliff dares you to hate it. Yeah I'm not joking here.

So OK, Habit's plot is so murky I had to look it up on the flick's IMDb page. It's about a heroin addict who gets involved in a bad drug deal and poses as a nun to keep out of trouble (huh?). Habit paints helmer Shirtcliff as the poor man's Darren Aronofsky and/or the poor man's Terry Gilliam. The imagery here is striking and ornamented but the overall result is a hollow mess.

Produced by over 20 people and clocking in at 81 minutes (that's with credits), Habit is a cinematic acid trip, the worst kind of trip. There's nutrition-less flash cuts, bad filler low camera angles, and even a couple of freeze frames (ugh). Yeah that's fine and dandy if you knew what was going on, you actually cared what was going on, and the troupers didn't come off as so darn irksome.

Honestly I'd like to know what went down at the meeting when Habit was formally green-lighted. Did the studio execs think it might turn into a cult film? Maybe. Did they owe the filmmakers a favor or were strong-armed? Probably.

Actors/actresses featured in Habit are Bella Thorne, Gavin Rossdale, Josie Ho, and Ione Skye. Throughout the proceedings they think they are being witty but they come off as total dolts. The dialogue given to them by Libby Mintz and Shirtcliff is so rife with annoyance it suggests an inner circle sitcom a la the Disney Channel (with profanities added). Um, please make a "habit" of never watching movies like Habit ever again.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Take Back 2021 * * Stars

TAKEN IN

"Don't you remember me?" Ah when someone says that, it's never really a welcoming sign.

Anyway 2021's Take Back is my latest write-up. By definition, the words take back refer to reclaiming possession of something. In the film Take Back, a married couple is trying to reclaim possession of their daughter who is being kidnapped by sex traffickers. Take Back is a shade watchable but it doesn't equal the intensity of the similar Traffik from three years ago. That flick involving the forced labor of women was pretty darn upsetting.

Movie comparisons aside, Take Back is an action/thriller that has a little bit of both. It's a somewhat dangerous pic in which no one really feels safe throughout. There's plenty of hand-to-hand combat, a few remorseless killings, a couple of shootouts, and one proposed ego trip by Mr. Russell Jones (he acts as co-producer, extra, production designer, and art director).

Yeah Take Back moves at decent clip and yeah, the acting is sort of amicable. But as Roger Murtaugh once said in an 80s action relic, the overall outline here is uh, "pretty thin".

Take Back has a lot of brooding characters (with Mickey Rourke acting like well, Mickey Rourke) and everyone pretty much appears mean-spirited and nasty. But the filmmakers obviously didn't do enough research with the concept of captivity in cinema. The script by rookie Zach Zerries is pretty vague as it presents some holes in the so-called trafficking mythos. I mean not that I condone torment but those scenes are so quickly cut you don't know exactly what's going on.

Bottom line: I don't want a "take back" so I'm going with a mixed review. Check out 2018's Traffik (mentioned earlier) if you haven't already. It just goes deeper down the rabbit hole of coercing and abduction. Furthermore, it does so without the inching folly.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Designed for Death 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

KISS OF DEATH

Designed for Death (my latest review) refers to an interior designer who hears voices in her head and hallucinates. She designs a handsome dude's house and then decides she wants to become the ultimate homewrecker (no pun intended). Said designer's name is Ava and she is played with discipline by 28-year-old Kelcie Stranahan. Stranahan is quite pretty and can act but "Death's" script causes her to go way too far over the top. Kelcie's Ava, Mrs. Mott, and Joan Crawford could have become real-life besties (ugh). 

Best buds begot, Designed for Death is a Lifetime thriller that has a real hard-on for style, dazed imagery, and voyeurism. It's as if the director wanted you to forget that the flick was Lifetime fare and more a cinematic acid trip. Everything from the opening credits sequence to the heightened flashbacks to the fast-cut editing shows that an inner Oliver Stone was channeled. I was wondering, did the two opposite list filmmakers hang out at a screening for U Turn?  

So yeah, I could've recommended "Death" but a few things kept gnawing at me. I mean there's actors featured here with bad actor voices, annoying next door neighbor characters that might be a little cray cray themselves, an ending that feels a little misguided, and an obsession with the antagonist (and the protagonist) hitting everybody over the head with some sort of mass. Oh and there's also enough long shots of sunny LA to make your eyes roll. I'm curious if the helmer was just using these shots as filler. Maybe. Possibly.

Bottom line: Designed for Death is not "designed" to be taken seriously (when it thinks it is). It's also out of the box film-making that you don't normally get with everyday Lifetime swipe. Oh whatever, I'll just call the whole thing a wash. "Designed" by committee (yup, I'm the committee).  

Written by Jesse Burleson