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Monday, July 13, 2020

Proximity 2020 * 1/2 Stars

ProximityDirector: Eric Demeusy
Year: 2020
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ryan Masson, Highdee Kuan, Shaw Jones

"Did you have an encounter with an extraterrestrial being?" Me personally, not a chance. But a bug-eyed character and his lady friend do with bells on in Proximity (my latest review). The extraterrestrials in Proximity look, talk, and flex sort of like the ones in 2002's Signs. They're just a little more friendlier, smaller, and for the most part, more readily tolerant.

So yeah, in Proximity you have low budget effects coupled with paperweight acting and synth, 80's-style tunes that feel out of place. The film although eager and astute, is a vast shift in tones as its over-seriousness gets punctuated by a pouncing musical score that John Williams would reject on the spot.

Movie Review - Proximity (2020)For all things Area 51, Proximity's Roy Neary story involves a scientist named Isaac (played by DJ Qualls and Keir Dullea lookalike Ryan Masson). Isaac gets abducted by aliens and instead of dealing with his own inner self, he downloads his abduction footage hoping to get media attention and legit, notarized documentation. Issac searches for the truth but he also wants every snooty news outlet to know about his eerie plight (get ready to be scrutinized dude).

With a running time close to two hours (when 90 or 100 minutes would have been enough) and edited by three people (that explains the flax continuity), Proximity is stock and unintentionally cheesy sci-fi that feels too little, too late. Bordering on being exaggerated and uncomfortably tongue-in-cheek, it's like 2011's Super 8 but with older millennials and laser guns involved.

Movie Review - Proximity (2020)Proximity wants to be profound and wink-y in a Spielbergian sort of way. Accompanied by a rookie, unknown director (Eric Demeusy) and a Lifetime movie setting of Los Angeles, it lands short on both counts. Verdict: Don't be in close "proximity" to renting this ode to all tools Martian. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 10, 2020

Downhill 2020 * * * Stars

Downhill Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto

"There's only one thing I have to worry about right now, one obligation and that's going down". So says the punching bag, sad sack persona of Pete Staunton. Staunton is played by Will Ferrell who keeps the funny shtick to a standstill in 2020's Downhill (my latest review). Oh and Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Staunton's grating wife Billie. Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus really get out of their comedic comfort zones to give startlingly raw performances. Elaine Benes and Ricky Bobby, we hardly knew ya!

Anyway, Downhill is not a comedy or even a black comedy as some people might have suggested. Just call it American Beauty minus the dark side with a slight lane of awkwardness. Yup, if you've ever had reservations about getting hitched, Downhill might halt and force you to keep those reservations.

Downhill (2020) • Movie Reviews • Visual ParablesSo OK, Downhill is a remake of a 2014 Swedish film titled Force Majeure. I haven't seen "Majeure" so I'm basing my write-up here on something viewed with fresh eyes. Yeah, yeah, yeah I'm aware. As voiced by other critics, the original did it so much better.

Now would I recommend the independently felt Downhill? I thought I already did. It's a revealing snapshot of two people getting through a crappy marriage by using an avalanche and slalom skiing as coaxed metaphors. Would I call it entertaining in a Brady Bunch vacation sort of way? Uh no. Downhill is demoralizing, snippy, and a little cold (no pun intended). It uses frustrating drama as a backdrop to beautiful mountain scenery via the Austrian tourism industry.

Downhill' Review: Ferrell, Louis-Dreyfus Redo a Swedish Art ...With lush, snow-blind direction by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash and some Enigma-style music by German Volker Bertelmann, Downhill becomes eighty-six transitory minutes of numbing character inquiry. It's a "slippery slope" that despite having a sometimes pedestrian script, gets a rating of three stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 6, 2020

Becky 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

BeckyDirectors: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Joel McHale

2020's Becky is my latest review. It's lead role Becky (played by 14-year-old Lulu Wilson), might be just as evil and savage as the bad guys she's up against. This little vigilante with weapon in hand, has a severe case of unmerciful badassery.

Helmed by two people (Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion) and featuring a scene where a detached eyeball is sawed off on a kitchen counter, Becky is a snuff slash exploitation flick where apparently bloodier is better. With fire elements and crackling, outdoor cinematography, Becky feels reminiscent of stuff like 2018's Mandy and You're Next.

The film although candidly stylish, revels in prolonged, unnecessary gore. Heck, if you view Becky and are of the squeamish, just know that it's red dye corn syrup and not the real thing (ha).

Becky movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger EbertAlong with Lulu Wilson, Becky stars bungling funnyman Kevin James. James plays main villain and prison escapee, Dominick. With grisly beard and numerous tats, it's refreshing seeing him venture so far out of character. James and the rest of the cast are solid but their performances get drowned out in a movie that's too violent and remorseless for its own good. Their personas are like cardboard sloths just waiting for the hard-hearted slaughter.

Released by way of Internet on June 5th and shot exclusively in Ontario, Canada, Becky is about a girl named well, Becky. Visiting a lake house with her father, her father's fiance, and her father's fiance's kid, Becky must fend off a gang of criminals who commit a home invasion looking for a key (yeah I didn't know what the key was for either).

Review: A teenage girl goes up against neo-Nazis in violent ...Bottom line: Becky is well directed and taut with various zoom shots, rack focusing, flashbacks, and the occasional jittery camerawork. However, there's no one to really root for, no protagonist really wins, and the daft film leaves the viewer wondering what the point of it all was. There will be blood though. Oh yes, there will be blood. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Force of Nature 2020 * 1/2 Stars

Force of NatureDirector: Micheal Polish
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Mel Gibson, Kate Bosworth

"Your dad doesn't want to leave, I can't force him". Hey, I'm not gonna "force" you to see 2020's Force of Nature. Heck, for the purposes of panning it, I won't even beg.

So yeah, in Force of Nature there's the occasional burst of gunfire where the villains can't hit water in the ocean. Then there's those same villains who love to say stuff like "don't move or I'll blow your head off", "drop it", or "slowly". Finally, there's an accented Mel Gibson as a retired cop, a miscast Emile Hirsch as a current cop, and a Category 5 hurricane featured that doesn't do a whole lot of damage (just some wind, some flailing palm trees, the traditional eye of the storm, and some stinging rain).

Force of Nature' Review – VarietyAnyway, "Force's" confined story involves a group of robbers who are bent on stealing $55 million in paintings from a Puerto Rico apartment complex. It's up to a cliched, demoted officer, a cranky geezer on dialysis, and a ravaging tiger (yeah you heard me) to try and stop them.

Obviously low budgeted enough to forgo some actual, storm chaser special effects and containing a film score by Kubilay Uner that feels like second-rate Michael Kamen, Force of Nature is laddish, B-movie slop. It's like watching a self-serious, Die Hard ripoff coupled with a direct-to-video version of 2018's The Hurricane Heist (which could have been a direct-to-video endeavor itself).

Force of Nature (2020) - IMDbAlong with having some brief and feeble action-style payoffs, "Force's" script comes off as dopey and a little red-blooded at the same time. It makes solid actors Hirsch and Gibson appear as though they didn't bother to read it or console with their agents. Aside from collecting the proverbial paycheck and staying relevant, you wonder why they even got involved. Yup, "Force" is a "dead horse". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Outback 2019 * * * Stars

OutbackDirector: Mike Green
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kym Cramp, Brendan Donoghue

"Crikey, blimey". "No worries, mate, she'll be right". 2019's Outback is my latest review. Shot on location in Sydney, Australia, it's a flick about a man and his annoying girlfriend who get lost in "the Land Down Under's" far off interior. Without food, sound judgement, water, or a sense of where they left their car, the couple drink their own urine and encounter some really poisonous varmints.

So yeah, I've seen perilous stuff like this before. I've just never seen it done without hand-held gimmicks or the pitfalls of pretentiousness. Just imagine 2002's Gerry but with a less arty approach and that's what you get with Outback. Also imagine Open Water but without I guess, water.

Outback (2019) reviews and overview - MOVIES and MANIAOutback's cinematography by Tim Nagle is panoramic and deft and the "why so serious?" musical score is all together pouncing. Rookie Mike Green's direction is stalling yet on the level. You ultimately wish Paul Hogan would just show up and help these torn lovebirds find their way back to civilization. You also wish an Aboriginal would come along and propel you to think your way through.

Outback is effective, hallucinatory, dour, well-acted, and has a slight sense of desolate agoraphobia. As a two-person show and a supposed true account, you roll your eyes at the characters for making such bad decisions but you also feel sorry for their unpalatable (and nasty) state of being.

Outback does have a happy ending but not a complete and fulfilling happy ending. The fact that one of these vacationers survived as long as they did with cell service after a few days, is beyond my comprehension. Alas, it's only a movie.

Outback' Is a Survival Thriller Based on an Urban Legend [Trailer ...So OK, Outback is no masterpiece but as something that gives you a feeling of being demoralized and left out on the lurch, it gets the job done. Outback as Aussie swallowing beauty, doesn't "crack". Rating: 3 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Captive Nanny 2020 * * * Stars

The Captive NannyDirector: Amy S. Weber
Year: 2020
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Karynn Moore, Austin Highsmith, Michael Aaron Milligan

"I think they're gonna kill me". Oh yeah, that's reassuring. I guess I'll check au pair off my career list.

Anyway, 2020's The Captive Nanny is my latest review. And in the tradition of the entity in The Amityville Horror yelling "get out!", I felt compelled to say the same thing to the pushover childminder in "Captive". Heck, she needn't be in that reconnaissance house for more than a half hour (hint, hint).

The Captive Nanny (2020)Clocking in at a running time of 100 minutes (with brief commercials) and billed as a thriller with a touch of the "violence of the mind", The Captive Nanny's layered plot goes like this: A young woman who can't adopt and ends up splitting from her boyfriend, decides to take a job as a live-in nanny with a creepy family bent on watching her every move. When said family loses said woman's trust, they confine her to her room and hold her against her will.

The performances in "Captive" are solid with Karynn Moore playing nanny Chloe and Austin Highsmith and Michael Aaron Milligan playing psychotic parents Emily and Michael. Highsmith is the standout and she slowly slides off rails channeling snide villainy, mild rage, and tortured manipulation.

Watching The Captive Nanny, you eventually want her to suffer because she's also a cuckoo stalker. You want Highsmith's Emily to get what's coming to her and its defeating that Moore's Chloe doesn't have the gumption to at least fight back or break a darn window.

The Captive Nanny (TV Movie 2020) - Photo Gallery - IMDb"Captive", with all its Flowers in the Attic leavings and its ode to all things invasion of privacy, is one of your more effective Lifetime movie endeavors. It's frustrating, upsetting, gnawing, and bends the spectrum of TV-made, psychological terror. Observing The Captive Nanny in all its crippled sterility, you feel as if you are also "under lock and key". Rating: 3 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, June 19, 2020

2 Minutes of Fame 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

2 Minutes of FameDirector: Leslie Small
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jay Pharoah, Katt Williams, Keke Palmer

"I'm not doing whatever I want, I'm following my dream". So says the character of Deandre McDonald when it comes to making people guffaw and completely bust a gut. McDonald with no money, no job, a best friend manager, and a family back in Alabama, ventures to LA to make it as a touring comedian. He rips his home state while becoming a YouTube monger in 2 Minutes of Fame (my latest review).

Anyway, "Fame" at a running time of ninety-seven minutes, showcases star Jay Pharoah as the biggest scene chewer this side of 1990's Jim Carrey. With impressions ranging anywhere from Jay-Z to Eddie Murphy to Tracy Morgan to Denzel, Pharoah is likable if not a little hit-or-miss playing lead McDonald (mentioned in the first paragraph).

2 Minutes of Fame (2020) - IMDbYeah Jay could have been funnier, 2 Minutes of Fame could have been a little more over the top, and Mike Epps could have killed it if someone offered him a slight cameo in the foreground. What's on screen is basically lightweight, R-rated fare and something an aspiring student of stand-up might get insight to. Yup, just imagine watching Last Comic Standing as a pseudo, potty-mouthed version. Then imagine a translucent fever dream that David Chappelle would have concocted right before he became a household name. 

2 Minutes of Fame' Review - Lights Camera JacksonDirected by Leslie Small, featuring Katt Williams in a unique supporting role, and profusely made to subjugate today's Internet age, "Fame" is kinda stupid funny and reminded me of small scale comedies like Half Baked and 2006's Grandma's Boy. The film doesn't push any cruel envelope nor does it advanced the audacity of a career that Jay Pharoah might seek to have. Jay is basically playing himself here and with a direct-to-video feel, he doesn't exhibit enough padding to heighten his desired, star-making platform. Verdict: This "Fame" ain't no obscurity but it's no "grande dame" either. Rating: 2 and a half stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, June 15, 2020

The King of Staten Island 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

The King of Staten IslandDirector: Judd Apatow
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr

2020's The King of Staten Island is my latest write-up. And no, I'm not talking about Staten Island residents like Gene Simmons, Vernon Reid, and Method Man. "Staten" is about a twentysomething who lives with his mom and doesn't really have a career or direction in his life. It also doesn't help that his firefighter father died when he was seven leaving him distraught with low self-esteem, a pot-smoking habit, and ADHD.

Semi-autobiographical in its approach and blunt to the nth degree, The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow at his most Apatow (yup, he's the director). Judd without the ability to yell "cut", gives us his usual trademarks. We're talking long-winded scenes, longer than normal running times for comedy/dramas, and improvisation to the max. "Staten" with a wandering and bloated eye, feels like the film Apatow was born to make. No one probably refused him final cut and I'm sure that made big Judd real happy.

The King of Staten Island' | Anatomy of a Scene - The New York TimesStarring the likes of Marisa Tomei, Steve Buscemi, and Pete Davidson (he plays the troubled lead in Scott Carlin), "Staten" follows the Apatow badge in which an unknown trouper gets a chance to break out as a main character in a big studio flick. Seth Rogen did it in Knocked Up while Amy Schumer did it in Trainwreck. Davidson does it raw here in "Staten" as a sort of life-imitating-art suitor. He's perfectly cast but you don't quite root for him because his life courses of action and paths aren't fully defined (the romanticized yet pat ending is proof of that).

The Funny Note The King Of Staten Island Actress Got For Her Sex ...Much like the journey Davidson's Scott takes, The King of Staten Island as a film feels jumbled and a little haphazard as well. I liked the authenticity of Staten Island's culture depicted and most of the actors in peaking in, slice-of-life mode, are ones you gravitate to. Still, "Staten" proves that Apatow can push the envelope but only in a drifting manner. Funny at times, depressing, and kinda touching, The King of Staten Island is no "court jester" but it's no "crowned head" either. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Psycho Yoga Instructor 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

Psycho Yoga InstructorDirector: Brian Herzlinger
Year: 2020
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ashley Wood, Lily Rains, Panos Viahos

2020's Psycho Yoga Instructor is my latest review. And yeah I'm wondering, what's up with all these constant, unadorned Lifetime movie titles? Couldn't they have named it something more out of the box like Warriors Breath?

Released on demand just three days ago and at war with who the helmer is (Brian Herzlinger or pseudonym Thomas Sullivan), Psycho Yoga Instructor is adequately slick but not entertaining enough to rival its similar correlative, Psycho Escort. At a random moment, I chuckled to myself silently and said, "what's next, Psycho Indoor Spin Coach?"

Psycho Yoga Instructor' Review: Lifetime thriller fails in vain ...Starring unknown actresses Ashley Wood and Lily Rains and featuring a goof of an antagonist in Panos Viahos (he plays Canada Dry-like journeyman and said psycho Dominic), Psycho Yoga Instructor is about a Hindu guru who becomes obsessed with one of his students while trying to nastily break up her flimsy marriage.

Clocking in at a running time of about 90 minutes (without commercials) and featuring yoga poses where personal space is severely invaded, Psycho Yoga Instructor burns largo and fails to provoke any real fear despite harboring a relatively creepy ending ("today is your first step in your growth of what you're meant to be"). Actor Viahos however, did get one thing right. He digs so deep into his role you believe he's Mr. yoga extraordinaire himself ("big inhale, hand and knees halfway left, beautiful long spine").

Psycho Yoga Instructor': Meet the cast of Lifetime's thriller ...All in all, Psycho Yoga Instructor is fairly well directed despite a little camp and some interludes of cheesy dreamlike sequences (rub-a-dub-dub in the tub). And the characters although unlikable and humdrum, do have somewhat decent portrayals by everyone involved. Bottom line: Opened to a sequel which will probably never happen, Psycho Yoga Instructor is no "downward dog" but it's no combo thriller masterpiece either. "Asana" everyone! Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 7, 2020

2 Graves in the Desert 2020 * 1/2 Stars

2 Graves in the DesertDirector: Benjamin Goalabre
Year: 2020
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Michael Madsen, William Baldwin, Cassie Howarth

"You tired?" I was for sure, especially at the halfway point of watching 2020's 2 Graves in the Desert (my latest review). If I had to view "Graves" again, I'd probably opt to attend a trying insurance seminar or maybe even a lecture on fine quilting.

So yeah, in 2 Graves in the Desert there's virtually no thrills even though it is billed as a thriller (talk about false advertising). What's on screen is basically sadistic, bloody, and for eighty-four minutes, almost pointless. And yes, it doesn't help that the soundtrack of "Graves" is that annoying and cliched, direct-to-video spy music.

Michael Madsen and William Baldwin star in trailer for kidnapping ...Anyhow, 2 Graves in the Desert involves a man and a woman who wake up to become trapped in the back of a truck. We as the audience don't quite know why because "Graves" has what feels like the bare bones of a plot (something about being nobbled for drugs and quote, unquote, "the formula").

Cassie Howarth and Ivan Gonzalez play the cramped hostages while Michael Madsen and William Baldwin play the bestial kidnappers (Billy Baldwin looks so much like brother Alec now I thought it was Alec).

"Graves" primarily consisting of back and forth discourse in a confined space, focuses less on the star power of Madsen and Baldwin and more on unknowns Howarth and Gonzalez. That gives 2 Graves in the Desert a claustrophobic feel but it also makes the film tedious and a bit of a chore to sit through.

Michael Madsen and William Baldwin star in trailer for kidnapping ...With a couple of flashbacks, some stylized direction from Benjamin Goalabre (a rookie helmer who thinks he's being innovative), callous beatings, and references to the flick Titanic (whah?), "Graves" is sadly the antipode of being entertained. With the potential to be something more diverting, 2 Graves in the Desert would rather dig its own cinematic "barrow". Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson