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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Girls of Summer 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

"RADIO ON BABY"

"Are you guys still looking for a drummer?" So says the persona of Maren Taylor (Tori Titmas) in 2020's The Girls of Summer. "Summer" is a sort of musical drama and yup, it's my latest review.

Anyhow, The Girls of Summer is like a small scale version of A Star is Born. As something about a female musician who tries to make it big instead of tending to her father's farm, "Summer" is more a celebration of great country music performances as opposed to a true, feature-length film.

So OK, The Girls of Summer was nevertheless a surreal movie experience for me. Why? Because my hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan was featured as a locale. "Summer's" director (John D. Hancock) picks up right where he left off after 2015's The Looking Glass. An Indiana resident with a vast directorial resume, Hancock creates another solemn slice of Middle Americana.

That being said, the film is still choppily edited while it cuts a few corners. For instance, Taylor's father Frank (played by Jeff Puckett) is a man who is sadly addicted to drugs and alcohol. Why then, does his character arc seem so minimal and left on the cutting room floor? Same goes for Maren Taylor's romantic tryst with a former band member (Luke Thomas played by Nathan Hosner). Their courtship feels rushed, glossed over, and barely fleshed out.

Romance begot, I liked a lot of the live songs featured on The Girls of Summer and I dug the fact that the area I grew up in was promoted in spades. Still, "Summer" is a vehicle where the camera just peeks in giving the audience a bare bones of a plot.

John D. Hancock's similar The Looking Glass remains one of my favorite flicks from the last five years. Here, he opts for less dramatic heft, some head-scratching closing credits shots, and a blase ending. Bottom line: Hancock comes up a little short as he "bangs the drum" too softly.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Fear of Rain 2021 * * Stars

FALLING RAIN

"Are you okay?" Me, I'm fine. But the lead in the flick I'm about to review is clearly not. She's in a sad state of affairs and boy it ain't fair. This girl is ill-fated and damned. She is popping pills, hurting herself, and having hallucinations like they're going out of style. Added to that, she has to worry about good old high school make-up work.  

Anyway, Fear of Rain is my latest write-up. It was released in February of this year and is distributed by Lionsgate. Directed by Florida native Castille Landon, "Rain" is the type of thriller that wanders aimlessly until things conveniently wrap up at the 90-minute-plus mark. The film is a character study about a teenager named Rain (of course). Rain has schizophrenia and while the pic sledgehammers that "beautiful mind" notion, the audience is left with a pretentious, stylistic mess. 

But hey, that doesn't mean the performances aren't raw, seething, and substantial. Fear of Rain stars Katherine Heigl, Harry Connick Jr., and Madison Iseman. There are some dramatic scenes that play out well between the three and "Rain" does have a few creepy moments. However, director Landon sidesteps her viewing public. She would rather divulge in weird camera angles, intertitles, grainy lightning, misplaced chimeras, and repetitive "voices in the head" stuff ("just kill yourself", "she's lying", "you're gonna die", blah blah blah). "Rain's" story doesn't really move along like it should. It just procrastinates without regard, indulging in phantasm platitudes.  

I said earlier that Fear of Rain is a character study. Well it also has elements that are too little, too late (like mystery, child abduction, and a twist or two). "Rain" lives and dies by its unintentional tagline of "a figment of your imagination or the real thing". Although well intended and researched, that material got old real fast.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Galentine's Day Nightmare 2021 * * * Stars

BOX OF CHOCOLATES ANYONE?

"Say goodnight Claire". In other words, someone wants to murder poor Claire in her sleep. Uh, psycho with grooming excellency alert!

So OK, we have a Valentine's Day Eve based on a girl's night out. A rookie director who knows how to twist and pull the audience. A Philadelphia setting where it's unseasonably warm. A Lifetime flick that's not helmed by the mainstays and barriers of David DeCoteau. Hey, it's time to take in 2021's Galentine's Day Nightmare.

Anyway, "Nightmare" is effective and labyrinth-ed in an old school sort of Lifetime way. This film harks back to the Lifetime pics I use to become addicted to in the 80s and 90s. Listen, we all know Lifetime movies have crazy, remorseless people in them that have no conscience, no couth, or even a shred of empathy. Galentine's Day Nightmare only reminds us that we crave this sort of thing as we nervously feel guilty about it all.

As something about a sly restaurant owner who tries to frame a one night stand for the murder of his working girl wife, Galentine's Day Nightmare gives invasion of privacy, manipulation, and pseudo identity theft the proper-ed treatment. Sliver's Zeke Hawkins while peeping in his own right, has nothing on "Nightmare's" nasty, alpha male villain (played by Drake lookalike and TV vet Anthony Grant).

The performances in "Nightmare" are raw and unassuming, the direction by Roxanne Boisvert is clean and tight, and the ending while a little deflating, lets us know that the bad guy really gets what's coming to him. Galentine's Day Nightmare is the reason why Lifetime vehicles will always be distance runners. They are cinematic train wrecks that not even the most snooty critic could look away from. Death, taxes, and Lifetime suck you ins are the only certainties we have. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Wrong Valentine 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

CUPID HAS HIS HANDS FULL

In 2021's The Wrong Valentine, the Valentine in question is a high school senior who goes psycho man crazy right off the bat. His name is David and he is played by Evan Adams. In other high school news, students from the late 70s called. They want David's wavy hairstyle and devil-may-care attitude back. Ha-ha. 

So yeah, "Valentine" is a "Wrong" Lifetime flick. It has Vivica A. Fox being well, Vivica A. Fox. It also has an overbearing parent persona, an overbearing best friend persona, an overbearing admissions recruiter persona, a Los Angeles setting, and good old director David DeCoteau. 

The Wrong Valentine verging on camp, contains a twisted twist towards the end that I didn't see coming. Don't worry though. You'll still get to hear Vivica spout that infamous "Wrong" Lifetime quip for the umpteenth time.  

Using the same aerial shots and probably the same high school shooting locations from other Lifetime pics, The Wrong Valentine chronicles teenager Emily (played by Mariah Robinson). Emily is in the history club, Emily's birthday happens to be on Valentine's Day, and Emily is being pursued by 18-year-old David (mentioned earlier). David wants to be Emily's friend but also has other intentions. He's got a screw loose and stalks her to the point where she can't even breathe. 

In fact, every character in "Valentine" watches Emily like she's under some sort of microscope. If I'm Emily I'm thinking that I might need some space. If people don't leave me the heck alone I might have to run away and join the circus (ugh). 

In retrospect, The Wrong Valentine is director DeCoteau going over the top. He gets mediocre acting from everyone involved but his revelation mentioned earlier does improve the film's icky intrigue. Here's the problem though: Every goof in "Valentine" seems to fear David yet nobody bothers to alert the authorities or the high school powers that be. Evan's David is not really intimidating mind you. He's more like that pretty boy jerk nose who would tick off the wrong jock and get his butt kick in any HS brawl. Happy Valentine's Day everybody! 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Killer Advice 2021 * 1/2 Stars

YOU'RE "KILLING" ME

"You know maybe you should talk to someone". Not a bad idea. Just don't talk to someone who's been a nut job since the veritable age of 7. Killer Advice is about said nut job. Minus a musically cool opening credits sequence, it's one of the most misguided Lifetime movies ever made. 

"Advice" chronicles Beth (played by Kate Watson). Beth gets attacked by an unknown assailant in a parking garage. Mysteriously escaping without injuries, Beth feels rattled and decides to talk to a therapist. Here's the kicker: The therapist in question is not a real therapist. She offed the real therapist and is now a poser. She's a psychotic, middle-aged kook named Marsha (played by an overreaching and laughably over the top Meredith Thomas). Meredith's Marsha has no real motive for a being a murderer except for the fact that she's cray cray to the nth degree. It doesn't hold much weight here. 

Killer Advice is yet another Lifetime flick where the antagonist eventually escapes and goes on to terrorize someone else (spoiler). It's an annoying, convenient plot device and it needs to be put to pasture. "Advice" also has its characters regurgitating the same dialogue over and over again. "I'm proud of you". "Everything okay?" "It's fine". "How are you?" "I'm trying to help you". "You've been under a lot of stress". Jeez. It's as if the screenwriters didn't know what else to write down and decided to scribble what they could to fill a 90-minute running time (with commercials).

With some of the most wooden acting ever by a couple of cop personas and some of the most silly working environments in regards to the other personas (What do these denizens do for a living? What's up with the low-budgeted office space? And how come only two employees are present a majority of the time?), my "advice" is to avoid seeing Killer Advice. You might need some therapy of your own after a midday viewing.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Born a Champion 2021 * * * Stars

THE GOOD "FIGHT"

"Protect yourselves at all times". Ain't that the truth. That's especially inherent when drawing bloodied hands in the realm of white-knuckle jujitsu. 2021's Born a Champion delves into this system of unarmed combat training. The film feels a little direct-to-video but in these trying times, what doesn't.  

"Champion" is a violent sports drama. It is cut from original cloth and pigeonholed with a TV feel. It's not based on a novel or a magazine article but on a story concocted by its lead actor (Sean Patrick Flanery). As something about an American black belt fighter who seeks revenge on another fighter who almost ended his life, Born a Champion is akin to a jujitsu version of Rocky (or any of its sequels). The main character is even named Mickey and he's got a "cut" about his eye. Natch.

Born a Champion saddled with good intentions, does a lot of research in regards to the art of jujitsu fighting. And I'm sure star Sean Patrick Flanery had a lot to do with it. As grappling brawler and family man Mickey Kelley, Flanery completely disappears into the part. We're talking a change in voice, a change in weathered appearance, and a change in body type. Sean channels his inner Mickey Rourke here because he almost looks the way Rourke did in the late 80s (or early 90s). This is not the same guy I remembered from Powder, Suicide Kings, or 1999's Body Shots

The fight sequences in "Champion" are adequate, the locales are isolated, the direction by Frenchman Alex Ranariveto is standardized and scorching, and the acting is a little C-list had it not been for Flanery's disciplined transformation (and Dennis Quaid's reliable supporting performance). Bottom line: Born a Champion's diegesis unfolds steadily like a blanket. It is good enough to not "tap out" early. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Marksman 2021 * * * Stars

"MARK UP"

"I don't scare easy". Of course you don't. You're Liam freaking Neeson. You're the butt-kicking ruler of the AARP. Neeson looking like Sean Penn's older brother with scruff and mustache in tote, stars in 2021's The Marksman.

"Marksman" is another Neeson actioner where Neeson is the antihero, preserver, and everyman all rolled into one. As something about a rancher who tries to protect a kid illegal alien from a nasty cartel, "Marksman" is veritable Neeson comfort food. You want to see him in this role, you know he can carry the proceedings, you know he looks cool handling a firearm, and you know he'll deliver a certain level of badassery. At 68 years old, Liam Neeson makes the villains (who are decades younger than him) bow down with bruised envy. All I gotta say to them is "good luck". 

So yeah, The Marksman is also assembly line Neeson. And yup, the film feels improbable with a few plot devices that might have gone AWOL. Still, there's entertainment value to be had with "Marksman" being an old, comfortable show a la the man with "a particular set of skills". In truth, "Marksman" is a savage road trip flick with inching tension, snarling thugs, and roving danger right around the corner. And oh yeah, you never mess with a broken down, former Marine who loves his guns, his steaks, his late wife, and his swigged whisky. 

"Marksman's" director (Robert Lorenz of Trouble with the Curve fame) moves things at a fast, tasty clip. Along with the insertion of a paternal relationship, there are unwanted killings, well-staged gunfights, a house burning, and a car chase or two. Lorenz fashions The Marksman as a pseudo Western combined with a version of Gran Torino that doesn't take place in one city. Bottom line: You can "mark" The Marksman as a must-see. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Little Things 2021 * * * Stars

THE LITTLE THINGS DOES NOT SWEAT THE "SMALL" STUFF

"How's the trunk space?" Creepy and hinting. The real question is how's 2021's The Little Things. I'd say it would take multiple viewings to give you my final answer. I do have an initial review though with some bells and whistles attached.

Anyway "Little Things" was released in theaters and on HBO Max. Taking place in the 90s (it could've easily been the 80s as well), this film is noir to a certainty level. There are nighttime scenes with soft lighting, characters with Philip Marlowe stares, and shards of an enigma. The Little Things may be initially pretentious but it sure seems oddly fascinating in the long run.

Starring three Oscar winners in Jared Leto, Denzel Washington, and Rami Malek, The Little Things is a borderline head-scratch-er that's almost too Hitchcockian for its own good. As far as persona appearances go, Washington looks a little comatose-d, Malek gives off a lucid vibe, and Leto channels his inner 1970s Roger Daltrey with a beard.  

"Little Things" is a David Fincher clone with residue from Law & Order and an episode of Twin Peaks. Added to that, it's Seven with lessened aftermath, 2007's Zodiac with similarly framed location shots, and Mulholland Drive without the glamour. Some critics have noted that "Little Things" is dated and well, it probably is. Whatever. You'll still think about it hours after the credits have gone up.

The Little Things is yet another crime drama about police officers trying to catch an allusive, LA serial killer. Darned if director John Lee Hancock doesn't try to avoid making things stock, assembly-lined, and ordinary. He films stuff low to ground with equaling close-ups, wide angles, and overheads. Hancock is also obsessed with using gleaming light that is either flashlight-ed, clean, or in the distance. His style is erect as his "Little Things" does a lot of well, "little things". Rating: 3 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson        

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Wrong Prince Charming 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

"CHARMED" I'M SURE

"Girl, who wouldn't fall for a prince?" You gotta love Vivica A. Fox. I seriously believe the woman films these Lifetime "Wrong" roles simultaneously. I mean how else is she able to star in 15 "Wrong" Lifetime-rs in the past three years.

Anyway, 2021's The Wrong Prince Charming is my latest write-up. And no, I'm not talking about Prince Nikolai, Prince William, or younger brother Prince Harry. "Prince Charming" is about a young realtor who along with her older colleague, meet a famed prince. They decide to invest millions of dollars with said prince only to find that the dude is an evil scam artist who doesn't really have an English accent (oops). To make matters worse, the realtor (Anna played by Christine Prosperi) gets romantically involved with Prince Edward (played by James Nitti). Business and pleasure just don't mix here people.

Shot on maybe two locations (a hotel and an office space) and featuring acting that's a tad stodgy, "Prince Charming" could've been much worse. This is David DeCoteau branching out a bit. He's the king of Lifetime "Wrongs" but he avoids the standard, boy-meets-girl plot devices and gives us something a little more archetypal. He gets points for that.

Yeah The Wrong Prince Charming is entertaining, unfolding, and involving. However, you have to suspend your disbelief. "Prince Charming" is a small scale Lifetime pic devoid of details and true, real-life situations. I mean it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Prince Edward is not really royalty (he's got no entourage, no portfolio, and just one slimy guy working with him). And it takes Anna more than half the flick's running time to come to that conclusion (all you gotta do is look closer on the Internet girl). Oh well, at least Vivica gets to be her responsible self while spouting her famous Lifetime sendoff ("I guess you picked the wrrrrongg prince charming"). Rating: 2.5 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Husband 2019 * * * 1/2 Stars

FOR WORSE BUT BETTER

"Yeah he's seriously evil". Yup, Gumby-ed stepdads in movies can get that way. That's especially evident when cyanide, power of attorney, and life insurance policies are involved. "Seriously", you need to check out 2019's The Husband. It's frustrating, calculating, and "hubby" bubbled.

Featuring one of the great villains in the history of TV vehicles, a PSA on identity theft, and raw performances from everyone involved, "Husband" secures its place as one the best entries in the over-churning, Lifetime Network canon. 

Inspired by stuff like The Stepfather, 2001's Domestic Disturbance, or even an old school version of a Forensic Files episode, "Husband" is a suffocating thriller about a woman who marries a psycho that is set up by her daughter (oops). Talk about poor judgement by an astute eighteen-year-old who's on the college outs. 

"Husband" while risible, builds tension with every careful inch and makes every cinematic girl dad cliche its own. You have the teenager that eventually disapproves of mama bear's other half, the wife that's oblivious to the concept of evil, the cops who are on autopilot, and the accidental death of someone falling down the stairs. Somehow The Husband still manages to make it all feel fresh, re-inventive, and engaging. Add modern day social media as a plot device, a realtor hook, and a setting that's sterile and suburban and you've got something nastily special. My rating: A "consorted" 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson