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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer 2024 * 1/2 Stars


Netflix is at it again. With 2024's Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer, it's another comedy special, with another cocksure comedian I've never heard of, doing an hour or so of unfunny shtick on stage. Yeah good old Netflix really needs to chill (pun intended) with this material. Let these nearly droll comics do some dogged one-night stands at Zanies instead. For reals.

Anyway "Natural Born Killer" clocks in at 59 minutes, with Jimmy Carr telling joke after joke after joke, all with some sort of ill at ease, sexual connotation involved. Director Brian Klein, well he films Carr from different camera angles, using the occasional colored flood lighting and obvious spotlight lighting (obviously). 

Now did I laugh or chuckle? Not really. Carr seems enthusiastic, informative, and deadpan on all things naughty. But his delivery, accent, and Gumby-like appearance here come off as rather forced, cringey, and well, pretentious. Jimmy, why the need to pause after telling a pun to get laugh approval from your crowd? And why the need to not move your torso one iota during the entire duration of your performance? And um, what's with the wearing of the 3 piece suit dude? This is a comedy show not Huey Lewis and the News coming up to accept a freaking Grammy. Yeesh!

Fixed music awards and borderline crickets aside, Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer doesn't do Carr a whole lot of justice. Instead of "killing" the audience with his so-called, iconic abilities as a funnyman, Jimmy Carr appears more like the poor man's Ricky Gervais, hosting an X-Rated version of the Golden Globes and bombing like the empty half pints at an Irish pub. The audience participation in "Natural Born Killer", well that's just a sad, filthy little bonus. Natural born killer of the "mood" is more like it. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Against the Ice 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


2022's Against the Ice is one of those cold weather movies, where you watch it from the comfort of your own home with a covering and a cup of hot, steaming cocoa. "Ice's" story, well it takes place in Greenland circa 1910, a country I thought no one in the world inhabited. You've got two guys (Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen played unrecognizably by Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Joe Cole as Iver Iversen), two against nature, trying to find a cairn over a 2000-plus-mile trek via some frozen tundra. "You never think you can't make it". Uh-huh, sure.

So yeah, why does Against the Ice not get into your central nervous system and stay there, like say survival dramas a la The Grey, Adrift, and/or '93's Alive. That's a good question, and I think only "Ice's" helmer (Peter Flinth) knows the real answer (I don't plan on emailing him in the near future). 

I mean why do the Mikkelsen and Iversen characters have beards that don't change their appearance over the span of being stranded for 2-plus years? And why does it appear that they haven't lost any weight despite food rationing and whatnot? And um, how come these dudes never froze to death for not lighting a fire occasionally in an autonomous territory with an average winter temp of -4 degrees Fahrenheit? 

Yeah I get it, Against the Ice is based on true events but come on filmmakers, make said true events stick a little. Mentally Ejnar Mikkelson and Iver Iversen are spent. Physically they seem fine, well maybe they just need a trip to the spa (har har). 

Resort treatments and dippy behaviors aside, Flinth's deft direction, numbing camera movement, and icy atmospherics nearly cut through "Ice's" shortcomings of a couple of explorers that seem Herculean and well, immune to hypothermia and good old sepsis. Turn your brain off at the door and you'll at least be able to handle one viewing. Lean "against".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis is not so much a documentary as it is an elongated wiki page entry, a solid, elongated wiki page entry. "Squaring the Circle", well it's about an art design group from London that created album covers for famous rock artists. I mean we're talking Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Paul McCartney and Wings, the list goes on and on. "All that work has stood the test of time". Oh fo sho.

Directed by a dude known for music videos (Anton Corbijn) and filmed slightly in monochrome (that's black and white photography), Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis is shot chronologically yet at the same time, doesn't have a middle, beginning, or end. I mean you could watch this thing from any point, absorbed by how two art helmers (Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell) came up with legendary album sleeves that mostly didn't have anything to do with the bands or their catchy tunes.

"Squaring the Circle", yeah it's fascinating stuff, an earthy docu that warms you internally like soup. Don't think of it as a movie but a sort of incessant showcase. Case in point: why is a cow on the cover of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother? Why was The Nice's Elegy shot in the middle of the desert with red footballs scattered? And why does Zep's Houses of the Holy have a bunch of albino children hanging out at Giant's Causeway.

Like the stirring illustrations of Hipgnosis, there's no real structure here for "Squaring the Circle". Take it as you will. It's filmed decently however, mixing archives with interviews from Powell and Thorgerson as well as rock gods like David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel, and Robert Plant (to name a few). But it also plays out like the title of Floyd's 2014 entry The Endless River, myriad, profusion-like, and without peroration. Vinyl obsessives won't care either way. Repeating "circle".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 14, 2024

What Jennifer Did 2024 * 1/2 Stars


Few documentaries plainly ape TV shows like Dateline and/or 48 hours but here we are with 2024's What Jennifer Did. I mean when the opening few scenes have someone saying "my name is so-and-so and I'm the lead investigator in the case of so-and-so", well it's clear that What Jennifer Did's filmmakers didn't want to come with any novelty. And when said lead investigator also says "I was awoken in the middle of the night just as I was about to fall asleep", well the normality of hackneyed gumshoes just rears its ugly head. "It doesn't make sense". Um, yeah it does. It makes perfect sense. 

So yeah, what exactly was it that Jennifer did? Well real-life Jennifer Pan was an accomplice to murdering her own parents in Markham, Ontario, spurned on by a crocodile-teared 911 call, a lovesick disposition, and lousy interviewing skills (she really should have had her lawyer present). Like I said, What Jennifer Did is like a mediocre version of Dateline, lacking the tension, integrity, and nerve-ending mystery that that show has been giving us as a thirty-plus year fixture on the almighty boob tube. What's worse is that "Jennifer's" director (Jenny Popplewell) laces her film with rather sham cinematography, sham-like confabs, and some cheesy reenactments of stuff like murder rap newscasts and/or interrogation clips (like we wouldn't notice). I mean it's almost as if the true story events in What Jennifer Did didn't actually go down (but hey, you knew they did). 

Distributed by Netflix (what isn't) and clocking in at 87 minutes (gee that feels like the runtime of a certain episode of a certain crime streamer), What Jennifer Did is not so much a docu as it is a declared-in-advance malfeasance caper with a muted conclusion. "Did" more harm than good? Oh you betcha. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Inventing David Geffen 2012 * * * 1/2 Stars


2012's Inventing David Geffen is an epic documentary, a garish mosaic, a celebration of life for a guy who's well, still alive today. Geffen (the film's subject obviously) is the GOAT of entrepreneurs, the Forest Gump of spanning entertainment. I mean he's everywhere and as that 1994 vehicle told us, is good at all things entity. "I have no talent, except for being able to recognize it in others." In David's case, a net worth of $8 billion dollars says that's okay. 

Directed by the woman that made the excellent docu about Steven Spielberg (titled Spielberg, naturally) and distributed by Direct Cinema Limited, Inventing David Geffen probes the vast accomplishments of Geffen's foray into being a record executive, a producer of comedies, a talent agent, and a film company founder. 

Helmer Susan Lacy, well she gives "Inventing" the feeling of being rich, textured, non-biased, and objective. She thinks in cuts, and although Inventing David Geffen might be a little long-winded at 115 minutes, most of its editing goes down as smooth as cold ice tea on a summer's day. "The art of the deal was his stage". You rock on David! Rock on!

Consisting mostly of archive footage spanning decades and interviews from mainly David Geffen himself (he seems so laid-back and congenial with his audience), Inventing David Geffen provides positive vibes and a little light ribbing from Davie boy's long-standing buds (Neil Young, Tom Hanks, and Cher to name a few). 

Geffen, well he never graduated from college, never learned to play an instrument, and never took a class on the art of cinema. Whatever. The Eagles, Elton John, Tom Cruise, and Grammy winner Clive Davis would tell you it doesn't matter. They've gotten rich off his observant ideals. Inventing David Geffen basically ignores the idea of being denied the American dream and kicks it where the sun don't shine. "Pioneer" well-pointed. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Runaway 1984 * * * 1/2 Stars


Giving you the feeling that there's the occasional Velveeta plastered on the screen, Runaway is a vehicle that may appear hokey and chi-chi to some but ahead of its time for others (like myself). Hey, just grab a beer, a Hot Pocket, and some ZA because it's movie night, microwaved 80s style. Runaway, well it has never been heralded as a cult classic but you know what, it should be. For reals.

Distributed by TriStar Pictures in its first year of operation (1984) and directed by ER monger Michael Crichton who saw the future although mildly dated, and ran with it, Runaway is about malfunctioning, threatening automatons, guided missile bullets with names attached, and spider-like robots who kill people by injecting them with acid (yikes). Did you get all that cause there's more. You have Kiss rocker Gene Simmons as the evil Dr. Charles Luther, acting recluse Cynthia Rhodes as Officer Karen Thompson, and Tom Selleck playing new-fashioned Sergeant Jack Ramsey. Their perfect casting and mano-a-mano interplay in Runaway gel emphatically. "Clean, simple, and neat." Not entirely mustache man but I like your style.

So yeah, Runaway hangs in a kind of kooky, sci-fi world where AI is almost more pertinent and/or favoring than the everyday plights of the living. And as you watch it, you sort of realize that the filmmakers take the flick more seriously than any perceptive audience member viewing it. Oh well. Runaway is entertaining as all get-out, with a sprightly pace, a foreboding vein, and a musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith that will surely haunt any sensitive person's dreams. Crichton, well he combines action and the ultramodern to create a rather starry-eyed version of crawler, cops and robbers. His Runaway may not be as avant-garde as say Blade Runner but what is. Effectively "riderless". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Arthur the King 2024 * * * Stars


2024's Arthur the King is yet another told tale about a man and his dog (or would-be dog). In other words, it's star Mark Wahlberg doing what he said in a recent interview, which is only concentrating on family-friendly flicks, made probably for his own FAM. I mean some of his recent stuff I could do without (Me Time, The Family Plan, really?) but Arthur the King is a keeper, a tear-wringer that kind of wrings true (literally). "We keep going. That makes all the difference." Yeah you tell 'em Marky Mark. 

Now do I think "King's" non-fiction plot thread about adventure racing over 400 miles in cruddy terrain is plausible in terms of its character's superhuman actions? Not exactly but I guess it did happen. Maybe the truth was uh, you know, inclined (no pun intended). And did a Border Collie mutt really follow real-life Micheal Light (Mark Wahlberg) and his racing buds through the near-entirety over some long-arse trek? In my heart I can't be certain but as they say in Hollywood, "it's only a movie", give in to the hokiest of navigation and the sentimental goo. 

Made on a smaller budget but you wouldn't know it (the lush locales of the Dominican Republic go a long way on $19 million dollars) and shot MTV-style but you won't really mind it (I wanted to yell "extreme!!" at the screen, for reals), Arthur the King hits the ground running as it packs an emotional wallop (pun intended). 

Cinematic manipulation and tear duct exploiting aside, "King" is uplifting, on edge, and gladdening, shot and edited lightening-quick by Brit director Simon Cellan Jones (The One and Only, Some Voices). This film is part human drama, part American Flyers fluff, part Road Rules ruckus, and mostly down at heel canine. "King" of arms. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, April 1, 2024

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago 2016 * * * Stars


Letting you know there's a sort of bitterness between members of a certain rock band, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is an exhaustive and extensive documentary about those guys with guitars and horns that have managed to exist almost 50 years via the entertainment biz. Clocking in at nearly two hours, "Now More Than Ever" takes Chicago's Behind the Music stint and stretches it out like crosslinked rubber. We're talking Behind the Music on steroids here, with profundity in tone, newfangled insight, and raw plain-speaking. "We were able to pretty much do as we wanted". Heck, with hits like "Beginnings", "Just You 'n' Me", and "Make Me Smile", why not.  

Distributed by CNN (yes that CNN) and using sands in the hourglass clips as a sort of metaphor, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago goes the standard docu route in terms of its sequential structure. It's basically interview cut to archive cut to interview cut to archive cut to occasional hourglass. Lather, rinse, rinse, repeat. "Now More Than Ever's" director (Peter Pardini), well he may meander with his style as he milks the near-lifetime history of Chicago for 113 minutes, all the way down to its nub. Oh well. As the viewer you're sucked in anyway, and as a huge fan of the band whose early stuff was the legend of my childhood, all I got to say is, "can you dig it? (yes I can)." Natch.

Having a kind of chip on its shoulder in terms of the interviewees giving the knock back to former Chicago brethren like Peter Cetera, Danny Seraphine, and Bill Champlin (was this really necessary?), Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is not a perfect, factual transmission by any means. However, it does provide that unfeigned fix and evocative diversion for uber-Chicago junkies like myself. Made "history". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Brian Simpson: Live from the Mothership 2024 * 1/2 Stars


Few stand-up specials feature a comic you've never heard of before but here we are with 2024's Brian Simpson: Live from the Mothership. I mean when the guy in question (Brian Simpson) doesn't have a wiki page except that he's listed as a 60-year-old jazz pianist when you google him, well you wonder how Netflix got a hold of his smoke. "That's pretty darn stressful". Yeah Brian, it is.

Anyhow, "Mothership" is seventy minutes of Brian waxing about everything from racism to men/women contrasts to COVID and then back to feminism, being short in height, and female bod parts. It's done sporadically as all comedians do, jumping from topic to topic like a tranquil moderator at a candid debate. "Mothership's" unseasoned director (Baron Vaughn), well he shoots Simpson in basically close-ups, wide-s, and medium long shots, giving the film a glossy, TV feel. No intro flashback scene, no aerial of the city where filming took place, no fluff, just basic stuff.  

So OK, you're probably wondering if I enjoyed the potty-mouthed filler that is Brian Simpson: Live from the Mothership. Well I didn't really, for the simple fact that it didn't make me chuckle, guffaw, or snort once. I mean maybe if I was in the throng of happy-go-lucky onlookers, with a few free drinks supplied, a provided laugh track, and some gummies, maybe. But the problem here is Simpson and his snarky delivery of jokes. He'd rather patronize his audience and be somewhat upset with them than check his self-conceit at the door and give up the funny. Heck, Chris Rock is the comedian he wished he could've been (or will be). Sure Simpson is intelligent, insightful, audible, a good storyteller, and a guy who can be coolheaded on stage. But so are get-up-and-go speakers at high schools, kickoff meetings, and/or business symposiums. Jump this "ship".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Count Me In 2021 * 1/2 Stars


Few documentaries feel more fan-made and/or vanity-stricken than 2021's Count Me In. I mean when a bunch of drummers (who are mostly unknown) talk about other famous drummers as if they're in the same league with them, it feels sort of non-self-effacing and well, vainglory-like. "Playing the drums is fun". Yeah we get it dude so um, give it a rest. Overexposure kills ya.

Anyway "Count" is a rinse, repeat of archive footage spliced with interviews, all told about rock and roll/jazz percussionists who fueled the industry and made their mark. We're talking about dudes like legends John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and Stewart Copeland (but no Neil Peart, what?).

Count Me In, well it carries a clean and streamlined look and is not that badly made (that's not really a pat on the back). However, it doesn't have a middle, beginning, or end, and it's edited to the point of tedium while culminating in an annoying, ending rhythm session that lasts for only a couple of minutes. "Count's" rookie director (Mark Lo), well there's no real appreciation for the cinematic form here, and he'd rather let a bunch of B-list drum mongers jibber-jabber with mild insight than tell an actual story.

So OK, it's one thing to have a bunch of people I've never heard of (Jess Bowen, Cindy Blackman, Clem Burke) wax about their idolism hi-hatters. It's another thing to not include the actual band mates of said drumming idols. I mean this causes Count Me In to lack a little credibility and uh, leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Heck, if I wanted to watch The Last Blockbuster again I'd watch The Last Blockbuster again, another flat film about has-been actors who bleed nostalgia for that punchline of a video store. "I can play my drums all day and all night and, I love it". Good for you. Just do it in the privacy of your own home. Foolish "beat".

Written by Jesse Burleson