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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Evil Twin 2021 * * * Stars


In 2021's The Evil Twin, the twin sister characters are played by one person. Emily and Charlotte are portrayed by Canadian native Emily Piggford. It's an impressive performance and for the life of me, I still can't figure out how the filmmakers pull that stuff off. I suppose it's blocking, stand-ins, tireless rehearsals, or mysterious tricks of the cinematic trade.

So yeah, "Evil Twin" is a Lifetime movie where the two sister personas are so dissimilar from each other you wouldn't even know they came from the same blood. I mean their looks are identical (obviously) but their psyches are completely unalike. Normally I'd call this premise dubious and convenient but hey, the film wouldn't exist without it. 

Distributed by Lifetime television and taking place in a Mayberry town where everybody knows everybody, The Evil Twin chronicles antique store worker Emily (Piggford). After being in a strained relationship with her intense boyfriend, Emily decides to move back to her hometown to start anew. There, she encounters a twin sister she has never met (Charlotte). Charlotte is ugly on the inside while being conniving and without remorse. Instead of embracing long-lost sisterhood with Emily, Charlotte decides to make things worse for her. That includes murdering people on the side, stirring the gossip turd, and even cutting her hair the same way as Emily. Can't we all just get along!

All in all, The Evil Twin is a Lifetime pic that uses its veritable twin hook to really catch you off guard. It's the mano-a-mano of good vs evil. It's also a character study a la the notion of polar facing. Emily Piggford's way of deciphering the mannerisms of the two sisters is well, a big feat. Every scene has to be just right and despite "Evil Twin" being a little too coincidental for its own good, the flick doesn't cheat the audience in the way it all goes down. "Twin" win-win. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Obsessed with the Babysitter 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


"You're practically inviting creeps to barge in". No kidding. The creep in Obsessed with the Babysitter (my latest review) is really something else. He's voyeuristic and well, sadistic. He looks like a simp but don't let that fool you, he fights like Van Damme. The creep-o I'm talking about is Adrian Cartwright and he is played by Canadian Simon Haycock. Haycock looks a lot like Cary Elwes did in the 1990s (again, creep-o alert).

Anyway, Obsessed with the Babysitter is just what it says it is (rich man preys on his hired babysitter who is a Step Up-type dancer). However, the way the film goes about itself you'd think it could've benefited from a more sophisticated title. "Obsessed" with its sterile look and evil eye elegance, takes itself real seriously. It's still trashy though and still a bit camp. The Lifetime Movie Network wouldn't want it any other way.

Now is "Obsessed" better than most Lifetime endeavors? Somewhat. Does it belong in the upper echelon of the Lifetime canon? Uh no. There's a bit of logic missing here with some of the characters. For instance, how are two of the main ones able to fall from a 2 story house without breaking any bones or sustaining any type of injury? And why is the boyfriend of the babysitter persona not an accomplished dancer himself? I mean he's just as good if not better than her. Finally, how does the babysitter (Elaine played by Kristen Vaganos) not know that the antagonist has installed spying cameras in her apartment? I mean you could see the darn things from a mile away (pure bullocks).

Bottom line: Obsessed with the Babysitter has a plot that unfolds effectively like a blanket. And the script involving psychology and child repression crackles a little more than with most Lifetime outings. Still, I'm going with a mixed review. Minus the suck-you-in factor, it's nothing to "obsess" over.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Penthouse 2021 * * Stars


"What did you actually see?" I saw The Penthouse and you know what, I probably don't plan on seeing it again. At least not through my "rear window". Natch. 

Anyway, 2021's "Penthouse" is my latest write-up. For once, the title actually fits what's going on in the movie. "Penthouse" is about a platonic married couple who purchase an 11th floor penthouse with great vistas. They also spy on a pseudo neighbor who lives on a boat and might be a cold-blooded killer (come on, you just know he is). 

The Penthouse is not a violent thriller but a slow-burner and a low budget churner. Not a lot happens at least not what we the audience, can see. Suggesting something Hitchcockian, using flighty camera angles, and feeling like an art house version of a Lifetime pic, "Penthouse" has acting that's mediocre, suspense that's wonted, and direction that's well, standard. Despite all this, the viewer could easily get sucked in waiting for the final outcome (I did cause I'm just easily deceived).

So yeah, The Penthouse has an ending that's as laughable, unceremonious, and anti-climatic as I can remember. If the film's director (Massimiliano Cerchi) needed a few more takes to get what he wanted, he probably should have used them. The music pounces in at all the wrong moments, a dog escapes by itself on a boat, and the interplay between the lead characters feels like junior high kids making art with a camcorder. 

Bottom line: The Penthouse has one decent performance that comes from entitled antagonist Michael Pare (he plays scruffy scammer Charles). And the flick does have a few tense moments where the "violence of the mind" is present and ever thought over. Most of the time though, "Penthouse" is more a cinematic "outhouse" than a luxurious fit. A mixed "view" to a kill. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother's Hunt for Justice 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


"I'm beginning to think there's a cover-up". Oh Lifetime Movie Network, you slay me! You really do.

Anyway, in The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother's Hunt for Justice, the killer in question is never really established. I mean I had an idea (or ideas) but the film sort of left me dangling like a loose end. 

"Long Island" stars veteran actress and Philly native, Kim Delaney. She looks a little different than what I remember as she sans her brunette locks for long, sort of unwashed blond ones. Delaney plays an alcoholic, chain smoker of a mother named Mari Gilbert. Her performance is disciplined and raw and she's probably the best thing going for a Lifetime lifetime-r like "Long Island". 

Based on true events, directed by Stanley M. Brooks, and feeling like an episode of Law & Order minus the title cards (the bad guy even looked kinda like Vincent D'Onofrio), The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother's Hunt for Justice chronicles middle-aged Mari Gilbert (Delaney). After her sex worker daughter goes missing and winds up dead, Mari vows to find out who murdered said daughter. The suspect could possibly be a serial killer from the Long Island area (or some crooked rozzer on a power trip, who knows). 

"Long Island" with its estimable intentions, is not as shocking, compelling, or frenzied as most Lifetime endeavors. It's a movie of rare restraint, populated by blurred characters who fade in and out and are not always fully defined. The flick is edited in a cross-cutting manner like most crime dramas and I sort of liked that. However, "Long Island" feels a little unfinished as its outcome is only explained in detail following a series of paragraphed, closing credits. It's malfeasance spectacle that although flowing and steadfast, doesn't quite do the viewer "justice". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

QT8: The First Eight 2019 * * * Stars


In QT8: The First Eight, The "QT" refers to Quentin Tarantino while the "8" refers to his first eight films. Now I do believe Tarantino is a solid filmmaker but I would never consider him the greatest of all time. His one-two punch of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown however, shows that at one point he has touched "greatness".

"QT8" is a Tarantino documentary that chronicles all his directorial efforts from Reservoir Dogs to The Hateful Eight (and even a sneak peak of Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood). The interviews from the people he has worked with (Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth) have no filter and the docu at times, feels kinda pasted together. Oh well. QT8: The First Eight is insightful and detailed at an elongated running time of 104 minutes. The only film of Quentin's that feels a little left out is Kill Bill Vol. 2.

"QT8" reminded me of another filmmaker documentary involving Richard Linklater (21 Years: Richard Linklater). Both flicks feature animation and an omission of the directors themselves and that aspect annoyed me. Still, I give the edge to "QT8".

With QT8: The First Eight, there's a lot of stuff I learned about Tarantino that I didn't know before. I mean I knew he was a lover of movies but I didn't know he would invite his cast members to sit down and watch a movie just for kicks. I also didn't know that he at first wanted Micheal Madsen to play the John Travolta role in Pulp Fiction. Finally, I couldn't believe that Tarantino was a huge fan of the TV show Moesha. I mean how random is that?

All in all, I plan on recommending "QT8" despite the fact that it feels like a living funeral tribute when the dude is obviously alive and well. And oh yeah, the Harvey Weinstein stuff should've probably been left out. Whatev. As Mr. Pink said, "I didn't create the situation, I'm just dealing with it!" Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 4, 2021

An Organized Killer 2021 * Star


"What do you want, money?" OK, I'll bite. I never "want" to see 2021's An Organized Killer ever again. I'm dead serious. It's like a bad episode of The O.C. It's wine and cheese la-di-da. It's a potboiler gone to "pot". It's trashy soap opera incarnate. I hated it.

Shot in Dallas, Texas (but it could've been SoCal or Florida for all we know), "Organized" features some good-looking actors only to have them appear doltish, slight, and oblivious. The viewer is one step ahead of the film's insensible plot contrivances as the eyes roll threefold.

The helmer for An Organized Killer (Arizona's filmmaker of the year Brian Skiba) is a veteran of thirty-three credits a la the almighty IMDb. He should know better than to not skim on being predictable, snobbish, and/or feeble. His direction is off-kilter and his poor editor (Michael Kuge) has almost nothing to bounce off of. Skiba's "Organized" gives the middle finger to what made Lifetime fare such an intriguing guilty pleasure. A studio head from LMN would see this swipe and ask questions till the darn sun came down. 

The problem with An Organized Killer along with its stiff acting, is that there's no point to all of it. The antagonists are evil for the sake of being evil and they have no motive except to make other people's lives miserable. As something about a divorcee who takes in a psychotic roommate with an equally scheming, hunky sidekick, "Organized" turns up the camp with its marshmallows being as stale as apartment mold. 

The movie title of my panning review is of course, An Organized Killer. The USA title is The Single Mom Conspiracy. Neither of them seem fitting in a flick that literally evaporates as you see it. How about calling "Organized" Incest for an Inquest. Yup, you can just "kill" me now. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Shark Season 2020 * Star


"There's a shark!" So says a persona in 2020's Shark Season. And yes, she screams the line just like a young girl did in Jaws. "Season" is like Spielberg's juggernaut for the Lifetime ripoff crowd. Better yet, it's akin to a bad version of the Blake Lively vehicle, The Shallows

Anyhow, Shark Season is pretty low budget but to its credit, the sharks look kinda real. But let's get back to how bad "Season" really is. Director Jared Cohn challenges the audience to play a drinking game. We're talking whenever he features an overhead shot of twentysomething victims in kayaks or those same twentysomethings spouting, "what do we do?" It's cinematic procrastination and after a viewing of Shark Season, you may be three sheets to the wind. 

"Season" has its actors either overacting with cringe-worthy dialogue or underacting with the use of cue cards. It can be hard to watch and you wonder if the killer shark is bored as heck buying time in his or her hypothetical trailer. "Season" also suffers from a lack of suspense at least until the last ten minutes. Helmer Cohn would rather stew with his knowledge of Coast Guard lowdown or high tide hit on than build any.  

Shark Season is about a man and two women being trapped on a sinking island (or islands) as a great white shark awaits to feast on them. Added to that, the active duty workers trying to save the three dolts could care less with their cold protocols. Finally, "Season's" production values are so off that there's even some shots where the kayakers are so close to land they could probably smell it and seek shelter.

"Season's" US title is actually Deep Blue Nightmare. Either way you cut it, "Season" is a nightmare to sit through. You don't necessarily side with the shark but you don't really root for the irksome leads either. One star "fish food". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, March 29, 2021

Nobody 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


In 2021's Nobody, the "nobody" in question is actually a somebody. I mean how is this dude able to acquire a special set of skills so quickly? Ben Odenkirk plays said nobody in the form of Hutch Mansell. Ben has never ventured into action star mode but if you squint long enough, he kinda looks like 70s Clint Eastwood or Kevin Costner a la 3 Days to Kill.

So yeah, Nobody is light on story and heavy on action. It's inventive yet violently sloppy. Co-stars RZA and Christopher Lloyd (yes that 82-year-old Christopher Lloyd) join in on the shoot-em'-up fun. They supplement Hutch's need to break out of his cautious, non-combative lifestyle.

Containing some tongue-n-cheek humor, featuring clips where villains bite the slow-mo dust to old school ballad music, and directed by the guy known for the gimmicky Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller), Nobody chronicles husband and father Hutch Mansell (mentioned earlier). After a couple of thieves break into Hutch's home, Hutch decides to track the thieves down and eventually get embroiled with some Russian mobsters.

Mansell's solution mind you, is a savage one. He vows to kick some butt and take some names. Before he beats up some riled-up ruffians, Hutch actually says, "I hope these guys like hospital food". Yikes!

If I had to compare Nobody with anything, I'd have to say that it reminded me a little of the John Wick films. Here's the thing: Odenkirk is an affable action hero but he lacks the vulnerability and fragile nature of John Wick himself (Keanu "Cool Breeze" Reeves). Reeves looked like he wasn't in the best shape to fight but he prevailed like a Mack Truck anyway. Added to that, the "Wick" flicks are longer in length and become more defining in scope.

Bottom line: If Nobody had come out before John Wick, it might have had a lesser been there, done that feel. Despite some kinetic editing and veritable fists of fury, Nobody "doesn't do it better".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Deadly Excursion: Kidnapped from the Beach 2021 * 1/2 Stars


"It's finally over". That's what I said to myself after watching Deadly Excursion: Kidnapped from the Beach. "Kidnapped" is a sequel to 2019's Deadly Excursion. I haven't seen the first film and I didn't like this camp fest either. Curiously though, I plan on going back to where it all started with these toolbox characters. 

Deadly Excursion: Kidnapped from the Beach was released in January 2021 (with its premiere in Cleveland, OH. Wha?). It's a Lifetime Flick but it sure doesn't feel like one. "Kidnapped" is more like a bad Miami Vice episode with its villains putting on a pseudo macho front. Somewhere in the afterlife the late Tony Montana is also laughing his caboose off. 

Deadly Excursion: Kidnapped from the Beach has shoddy production values even for a supposed Lifetime-er (if you look close there's some real fake CGI going on). There's also the worst overacting I've ever seen by Lifetime veteran Corin Nemec. Nemec's David McCarthy gets knocked out on multiple occasions and becomes pierced by a bullet. Surprisingly, the dude gets right back up even though he should be at a hospital getting checked for possible brain damage. 

The casting in "Kidnapped", well it's pretty bad. The mother and daughter leads look like they could be sisters. The father and son antagonists appear like they could be brothers. Finally, there's a henchman named Eduardo who looks like Billy Crystal with five pounds of wrinkle cream added. 

Deadly Excursion: Kidnapped from the Beach is well, pretty explanatory. It's about a wife, a husband, and their daughter being taken by a crime lord who wants to extort $200,000 from them. Look for most of the proceedings to take place on a beach in Florida (shocker). Also look for some bad, evasive running on screen from star Samaire Armstrong (she's certainly no Joan Benoit).  

Before "Kidnapped" concludes, a final scene suggests that the gateway is open to yet another sequel. Here's a proposed title: Deadly Excursion: "Dead" On Arrival. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, March 22, 2021

Phobias 2021 * 1/2 Stars


"Let's get you hooked up". No thanks. I'd rather eat liver and onions.

Anyway 2021's Phobias is my latest review. It features singer Macy Gray, Leonardo Nam, and Alexis Knapp. Now does Phobias have anything to do with actual phobias? Not the simple ones mind you (fear of heights, fear of spiders, fear of snakes). Was Phobias more fun to imagine than it was to watch? Uh-huh. And is Phobias one of the worst outings of this year? It's only March but yeah.

Terror-filled but not really scary and visionary but totally fitful, Phobias makes you stand up and say, "I could probably shoot this thing better and I'm not even a director". Helmers Camilla Belle and Maritte Lee Go thought they could take Saw and 1995's Strange Days and mesh them together. They thought wrong because Phobias for all its grim ambition and held-against-one's-will stature, is a plodding mess.

Belle and Lee Go fashion Phobias as a horror film that feels too elaborate for its own good. There are flashback scenes that go on too long. There are supposed payoffs that never happen. There's hate crime elements that are probably wrong for this present time. Finally, there's an abrupt ending that feels rushed and pasted on. I studied the running time of Phobias (85 minutes) wondering how the heck the filmmakers were gonna wrap this thing up. Yeah the bad guy dies eventually but do we really give a rat's butt? Uh no.

Phobias is confusing, poorly edited, and disjointed to the nth degree. In order to figure out what was going on, I actually needed to look at the flick's wiki entry (patients at a government testing facility are examined to provide an answer to weaponizing fear). Bottom line: Minus a trippy opening credit sequence, my biggest "phobia" is having to sit through Phobias again. "Fear factor" crapshoot.

Written by Jesse Burleson