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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Honest Thief 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

HONEST THIEF IS MILDLY "BLUNT"

"No one knows who I am". I do. You're Liam Neeson, one of my acting heroes. You love to talk intensely on the phone, you love to move like a 40-year-old, you love to evade the po-po, and you love to punch people in the chest (natch).

Anyhow, Neeson stars in 2020's Honest Thief (my latest review). "Thief" was released in October and was filmed just outside of Boston (that would be Worcester, MA). In truth, Honest Thief is never boring and moves at a relentless clip. There are car chases, wrongful murders, and an underused Robert Patrick (that stinks). 

Featuring Neeson, a miscast Kate Walsh, and a nasty antagonist in Jai Courtney (doesn't he always play the creep-o?), "Thief" runs a scatterbrained 99 minutes. There are too many side characters, too many revelations, and one annoying dog (don't ask). Neeson's 2015 vehicle Run All Night is similar in scope to "Thief". If only the latter measured up. 

So yeah, Honest Thief is too self-serious with its personas feeling the need to completely explain themselves. Second-time director Mark Williams needed a better editor to sift through this intention-ed mess. Added to that, Jai Courtney (mentioned earlier) plays a psychotic FBI dude who goes off the rails rather quickly. You wonder why the feds would even bother to let this sicko be in the field in the first place.  

Honest Thief is about a bank robber named Tom Dolan (Neeson). He confesses to the FBI in order to get a reduced sentence. Tom is doing this because he wants to come clean to his loving girlfriend. Here's the kicker: A couple of the FBI agents are dirty and want to collect the bank robber's money amassed over the past few years. We're talking $9 million in cash. 

"Thief" is worth a rental but know this: It's basically Neeson reheated leftovers. Liam at 68 can still carry a thriller but you'd like him to carry one that's more "honest". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Candy Cane Christmas 2020 * 1/2 Stars

CANDY CANE CHRISTMAS WILL GIVE YOU A CAVITY

"Find a way to make this Christmas magical". Okay sure. If only I could "find a way" to avoid penning a bad write-up for Lifetime's latest tinseled helping. 

Anyway, an unappealing flower shop owner and a pushover veterinarian run into each other excessively during the holidays. This is amidst the dilemma of securing a longtime Christmas tradition. For some odd and/or forced reason, these passing ships believe they are meant to be together. That's the blueprinted gist of 2020's cringe-y, Candy Cane Christmas.  

Filmed in Ottawa, Canada, harboring romance for dummies, and distributed in assembly line fashion by Lifetime Television, "Candy Cane" is misguided, distressed, and designing. It has officially caused me to take a break from reviewing these types of manipulative, yuletide endeavors. Every moment in this sweet-toothed flick prolongs the viewer until the inevitable rears its futile head. The obligatory kiss comes at the end and even the mistletoe eventually becomes a little wilted. 

"Candy Cane" is directed by sometimes thriller and horror helmer, Adrian Langley. Using spare locations, a vapid script, unknown troupers, and a little counterfeit snow, he shoots the film in a slow burn, awkward manner. The main characters are on chain of events autopilot as they share a bunch of pseudo, cutesy moments before actually canoodling. 

To make matters worse, said main characters have to deal with their head case friends who act as sort of relationship therapists. In your mind, you want to slap them silly. "Why? She seems so sweet". "Just give her a chance Eric". "Don't you think it's time". "Would it be so terrible to have someone interested?" "Sounds like you need a distraction". Gimme a freaking break. If I want romantic advice I'll throw a bunch of money at a professional and plop myself on a couch instead. Ugh.      

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 21, 2020

Echo Boomers 2020 * * Stars

"HERE COMES THE BOOM"

"I didn't see anything". I did earlier today when I felt giddy and decided to hit the almighty Redbox. I saw Echo Boomers. It's a dated robbery flick directed by a rookie and it's overt style that sometimes begets substance. 2010's The Town while more epic in scope, did this stuff better ten years earlier. 

Anyway, "Echo" is my latest write-up. Using fast cutting flashbacks and title cards in cursive, "Echo" was released in November while being filmed almost two years ago (January 2019). Echo Boomers' helmer (Seth Savoy) commits to every shot as if his life depended on it. Channeling Joe Carnahan and a little D. J. Caruso, he fashions a vehicle that is briskly editied, hyperkinetic, snide, and unintentionally hollow. 

Echo Boomers takes place in Chicago yet you can tell it was sometimes filmed elsewhere (some Second City exteriors, Salt Lake City, and neighboring Los Angeles). I live in Chi-town and yup, that always seems to annoy the heck out of me. 

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger's son Patrick (who might even be a better actor than his father), featuring Michael Shannon as the always reliable co-star, and running a fast-paced ninety-four minutes, "Echo" contains mostly unlikable characters who you don't feel much sympathy for. Even Patrick Schwarzenegger's persona as the antihero protagonist, has unclear reservations by the time "Echo" concludes. 

Echo Boomers is based on a true story (I'm thinking it's the bare bones of a true story). It's about some arrogant millennials who break in, amass mass destruction, and steal from the wealthiest families in The Windy City. They do this because they can't get jobs and feel cheated by their place in the US economy. That's funny, boo-hoo-ish, and forced. I know plenty of adults between the ages of 22 and 38 and they seem to be doing just fine. Pure bullocks perhaps? You decide.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Too Close for Christmas 2020 * 1/2 Stars

I'D RATHER SLURP WARM EGGNOG 

"Are you okay?" That seems to get asked a lot in the Lifetime film I'm about to review. Yes I'm okay, we're okay, things are okay, it's okay. Geesh!

So yeah, in Too Close for Christmas there's plenty of holiday cheer, schmaltzy remnants, roasted chestnuts, and characters that are so into the festive season they might as well be from the North Pole. The budget for "Too Close" was probably in the $1-$1.5 million dollar range. That's $900,000 for decorative sets and ornaments alone.

Anyway, the blase story of Too Close for Christmas involves a romantic interlude between Hayley (played by Jessica Lowndes) and Paul (played by Chad Michael Murray). They reconnect five days before Jesus' birthday with Paul being responsible for ending Hayley's last relationship over a year ago. Spoiler alert: Hayley's adopted sister and Paul's brother are married and about to have a kid. Hayley and Pauly even thinking about hooking up seems oddly wrong to me.  

Clocking in at eighty-eight minutes and showcasing the actor's hairstyles because they needn't be bothered to wear winter hats in snowy weather, "Too Close" is a bit of a slog and predictable as gifting credit card bills in the month of January. Come on, you just know Hayley and Paul are going to end up together (but why?). And yeah, there's always that big delayed smooch that comes at the very end. 

Too Close for Christmas has its actors looking straight out of a GQ catalog while its actresses appear to always be in makeup (even as they get out of bed). Murray with his stilted line deliveries, his manipulative grin, and his George Clooney head tilt seems to come off as mostly annoying here. He's a capable trouper but he's in a flick that's "too close for un-comfort".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Rental 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

IT'S MEDIUM RENT

"It can never happen again". Yeah but it surely did. I "rented" The Rental. It's a nether thriller by James Franco's brother Dave and yeah, I never knew the dude was even a director. Not great but not too bad for his first go-around.  

Anyhow, 2020's "Rental" is my latest review. It was released in July of this year and was shot in the lush cities of Bandon and Portland, Oregon. In truth, Dave Franco knows where to put the camera in regards to The Rental. He creates a flick that is somewhat Hitchcockian, somewhat Brian De Palma, cloaked in frankness, and darkly atmospheric in its tack. 

Watching "Rental", you might think twice about spending time in a seaside home for a weekend. That's especially if someone is secretly filming you making dampened whoopee in a shower (yikes).

Starring Jeremy Allen White from Showtime's Shameless, featuring a disarming closing credits hook, and running a slight eighty-eight minutes, The Rental possesses two unlikable characters that are nonchalant about the concept of infidelity. One of said characters is even cheating on his wife with his brother's would-be girlfriend. Talk about cutting it close (ha-ha).

So yeah, "Rental" is all about sardonic friction from the word go. The problem is that its antagonist is unknown, speechless, robotic, and without any clear motive. Who is this Mr. Clean-style killer? What is his stone-faced deal? And why does he feel the need to off some la-di-da millennials along with his D-bag associate?

The Rental chronicles two couples who rent a home and are terrorized by a veritable, invasion of privacy wacko. This wacko also runs like a deer and seems palled on because he doesn't have anything else to do. Me, well if I'm in the lurch I write reviews just like this mixed one. "Rent"-a-cop-out. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Heart of the Holidays 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars

HEARTS BEAT STRONG

"Welcome home". Me, well I "welcome" the holidays 24/7. That's even if it's in the monstrosity that is 2020.

Anyway, Heart of the Holidays is a whimsical, luxuriate, and lighthearted romantic drama. It's also my latest review. As something about a woman who reconnects with an old boyfriend in her hometown via Upstate New York, "Heart" has the most appealing of female leads while packing a small wallop in emotional, yuletide convention. You can smell the bark of the tree, the Christmas cookies baking, the hot chocolate churning, and the Christmassy candles a blazing. "It's the most wonderful time of the year". Indeed.

Granted, Heart of the Holidays gets a little too soppy at the end and its setting of Upstate Crawleigh is purely fictional (I guess it's supposedly located somewhere near Buffalo). Still, "Heart" has likable characters, unforced flash, plenty of holiday pluck, and slow-burning chemistry between its dewy-eyed stars (Vanessa Lengies and Corey Sevier who's also the director). "Heart" minus any adulterated innuendo or suggested dialogue, is like watching a G-rated tinsel version of 2002's Sweet Home Alabama

Look for exterior overheads of New York City coupled with interior scenes filmed in Ontario, Canada (it's merely a Hallmark thing which is okay by me). Also know that Heart of the Holidays is cutesy like other Hallmark flicks but much more full-grown in its approach. Sevier's direction here is cozy, unforced, and tranquil as he gets every garnishing shot just right. 

The personas in "Heart" are good-natured denizens who deserve to have good things coming to them. Added to that, "Heart's" setting is pure, pop-up Christmas card with mellow panache and tones of soft, background lighting. Basically, the late Nora Ephron, the late Garry Marshall, and Nancy Meyers would be proud. I "heart" for Heart of the Holidays

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 12, 2020

My Top 10 Holiday Movies of All Time (2020 Reissue)

1. Scrooge 1951 * * * * Stars
    Director: Brian Desmond Hurst
    Rated G
    Cast: Alastair Sim, Jack Warner,
    Kathleen Harrison

The Alpha and Omega of holiday films with Alastair Sim fitting the role of grumpy miser Scrooge like a smooth Isotoner glove. This is the purest and most nostalgic entry of Dicken's classic tale that I can remember. This timeless story was remade countless times but never reached the emotional heights that director Brian Desmond Hurst's 1951 classic did.


2. Catch Me If You Can 2002 * * * * Stars
    Director: Steven Spielberg
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks

Not necessarily a movie made about Christmas but its key scenes take place during that yule tide holiday. Leonardo DiCaprio, as bank forger Frank Abagnale, is in top form. Spielberg's direction is perfect. Overall, this is compulsively watchable stuff.

3. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
    1987 * * * 1/2 Stars
    Director: John Hughes
    Rated R
    Cast: John Candy, Steve Martin

Even though Thanksgiving has come and gone, it doesn't matter. This is still top notch holiday fare with two brilliant comedic actors giving the performances of their lives. Part dramedy, part road trip movie, and totally quotable, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles will make you laugh throughout. It will also leave you with a lump in your throat at the end.

4. Nothing Like the Holidays 2008 * * * Stars
    Director: Alfredo De Villa
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Debra Messing, Freddy Rodriguez,
    Jay Hernandez

Ever since 2009, I make it a habit to watch this film at least three to four times in the month of December. It was shot about 10 miles from where I live, and it's a fine mixture of ensemble comedy and dramatic grievances involving a tight knit Puerto Rican family. They all get together for a bitingly cold Christmas break in Chicago's Humboldt park neighborhood. Very likable cast with every character having their own feasible back story. It's one of those flicks where if you live in Chicago, you say "oh yeah I've been there, I've driven down that street." Very authentic take on the Windy City locales.

5. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 1989
    * * * Stars
    Director: Jeremiah Chechik
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo

Chevy Chase as bumbling family man Clark W. Griswold, gave his last credible performance in National Lampoon's take on nutty holiday cheer. A lot of gags are taken to the extreme and the scene where he puts Christmas lights on every single inch of his house, is something only his character would ever think of doing. Revolting cousin Eddie (Randy Quiad) shows up halfway in to add to the silliness. All and all, a sloppily made comedy that I initially thought had worn out its welcome. With every subsequent viewing, I changed my mind. A classic!

6. Scrooged 1988 * * * Stars
    Director: Richard Donner
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen

Highly dark and satirical take on Charles Dicken's legendary tale. This time it's set in the 1980's with funnyman Bill Murray giving a quintessential "Bill Murray" type performance. Funny, cynical, with great one liners. Certain scenes however, might be too intense for younger viewers to take. Overall, if you like Murray's smarmy style of delivering dialogue, Scrooged will not disappoint.

7. A Christmas Story 1983 * * * Stars
    Director: Bob Clark
    Rated PG
    Cast: Peter Billingsly, Darren McGavin,
    Melinda Dillon

This is a silly, little comedy that turned into a Christmas cult classic. Peter Billingsly plays Ralphie, a impressionable young boy who only wants a BB gun for his under-the-tree present. A Christmas Story is told from his point of view. With memorable lines and some quirky characters, it's an addictive film you can watch relentlessly. Case in point: on TBS, this thing is shown 24 hours a day on the 24th and 25th of December.

8. A Christmas Carol 1938 * * * Stars
    Director: Edwin L. Marin
    Rating: Passed
    Cast: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart

Came before the Alastair Sim version but for some reason, is not as credible in terms of acting, directing, and conviction of the story. Still, it's entertaining enough in a lightweight sort of way. There is actually a color version of this film that is sometimes shown on network television. Overall, good fluff but the ending is short and by the book. It's not as invigorating as 1951's  masterpiece.


9. Just the Way You Are 1984 * * * Stars
    Director: Edouard Molinaro
    Rated PG
    Cast: Kristy McNichol, Kaki Hunter

The main reason why I put this film on the list is that it just reminds me of Christmas in general. It doesn't really involve the holidays, but it was on cable in the 80's and I must have watched it with my parents about a million times. Yes, it involves snow and skiing (in the French Alps), but mainly it's a love story about a woman with a handicapped leg who goes overseas to hide it and find Mr. Right. Honestly, nothing much goes on in this thing. However, it now reminds me of a certain time and place (December of 1985) so I'll just throw it in.


Image result for prancer movie poster10. Prancer 1989 * * * Stars
      Director: John D. Hancock
      Rated G
      Cast: Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman

Prancer was filmed about 20 minutes from where I grew up. It's mildly entertaining and it's significant because every time I pass through Three Oaks, MI, I wonder how many of the townspeople own a DVD copy of it. Made over twenty years ago, the small Midwest town just mentioned, hasn't changed a bit. And even if you know that Santa Claus is a hoax, you'll still go along with this fable about a young girl's fascination with a wounded reindeer.

Written by Jesse Burleson


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Christmas Unwrapped 2020 * * * Stars

IT'S A WRAP!

"Don't you believe in a Christmas miracle?" I believe! I believe! Especially when the tree goes up in Rockefeller Center. It's 75 feet, it glistens brightly, and it shows up a few times in Christmas Unwrapped (my latest review).

Anyway, "Unwrapped" makes sense as a title because it has a reporter trying to "unwrap" the true motives of a millionaire. Said reporter also gets soft on said millionaire because you can't have a Lifetime Xmas flick without that sickly sweet notion. 

Filmed in Ottawa, Canada (but NYC seems to show up) and more mature while less cutesy than your typical holiday levy, Christmas Unwrapped really gets your yuletide juices flowing. Its lavish set design, Love Actually actuality, Frank Capra corn, and Christmassy tunage defeats any inner "Scrooge" you might have. 

Not overly sentimental, featuring a female lead that comes off as a little reserved, and projecting the ultimate holiday setting (New York City in late December), "Unwrapped" is dramatically corporate. Its thought-out script and reality vs fantasy story really hammer that notion home. 

Directed by Bosede Williams, harboring a cast of the obligatory good-looking people, and containing an actual villain (the never aging Cheryl Ladd), Christmas Unwrapped is exoticism meets the good tidings version of 27 Dresses

"Unwrapped" is about a news writer named Charity Jones (played by Beyonce lookalike Amber Stevens West). Jones investigates a rich dude named Erik Gallagher (played by Jay Hernandez lookalike Marco Grazzini). Gallagher is adopted and loves to give millions of dollars of gifts to children in his community. The kicker is that all of the gifts he obtains come from Santa himself (I guess he's best buds with St. Nick). 

Charity and Erik eventually get together and get that big smooch at the end. Don't worry though, there's much more profundity to Christmas Unwrapped than that. Rating: 3 stars.   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 7, 2020

Mank 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

DAVID FINCHER'S MANK IS "ROSE BUDDED"

"We're expecting great things". I was too, especially since I just finished watching a David Fincher film. Fincher is diverse, dark, and talented. He's a director that has been known to touch greatness (just watch 2007's Zodiac and you'll know what I mean). 

Anyhow 2020's Mank is my latest review. It was released in November by Netflix and is filmed in black and white. Truth be told, Fincher gives us one heck of a gimmick here. Watching Mank is surreal because it feels like you're literally taking in a flick from the 1940s. The lighting, the set design, the sound editing, and even the opening credits really bring you aback. 

Starring Gary Oldman and featuring a stirring musical score from a couple of Fincher veterans (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross), Mank runs a languid 131 minutes. Minus the solid performances and a bit of the whimsical, I felt like I was taking in a less entertaining version of The Aviator

So yeah, Mank is filled with flashbacks while being choppily edited and/or all over the place. David Fincher who's normally a supreme storyteller, loses a little bit of his focus here. There's a lot of scenes where the concept of point a to b almost doesn't exist. Added to that, Mank is dialogue-driven and it is dialogue-driven in the most recyclable way.  

Mank chronicles screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Herman co-wrote the infamous Citizen Kane but that sort of takes a backdrop. Mank is more about Mankiewicz the man and less about his involvement with "Kane". 

Mankiewicz was an alcoholic who died young at the age of 55. Oldman channels him brilliantly but where's the stuff where Mankiewicz is doing some actual writing. Fincher sees him more as a drunken depressive who's witty, opinionated, and off the cuff. I liked Mank's technical prowess and old worldliness but I'm going with a mixed rating.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, December 4, 2020

Deliver by Christmas 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

DELIVER BY CHRISTMAS IS "DECORATIVE" FARE

"It's complicated". The holidays always are. Then the January credit card bills come. Ugh. Don't worry though because Hallmark is here to make you feel cheery and warm once again. Ho ho ho!

Anyway Deliver by Christmas is my latest review. It was released in October of 2020 and was filmed during the summer of 2020. Could've fooled me. Talk about every scene looking like an effective, Yuletide pop-up card. 

Directed by Terry Ingram (an Xmas TV guy) and starring a dude who normally plays brooding types (Eion Bailey who might be above the material here), "Deliver" delivers plenty of saccharine-filled and/or sugary moments. After all, there were plenty of frosted Christmas cookies involved in the ornate making of Deliver by Christmas

So yeah, "Deliver" has some pedestrian line "deliveries" along with a frustrating premise that seems to prolong the inevitable. Heck, you gotta wonder if Deliver by Christmas could've even gotten made if cell phone technology didn't exist. You also gotta wonder how two people take so long to connect the dots of their kismet in a town where everybody knows everybody.  

"Deliver" is about a man and a woman named Josh and Molly (played by Bailey and the ravishing Alvina August). They meet randomly, text each other about baking tips, tint, and eventually get together in the days leading up to I guess, Christmas Eve. 

Josh is a widower, Molly is single and available, and there's some quasi chemistry involved between these nice-looking people. They kiss at the end and it looks a little staged and incumbent. Oh well. "Deliver" is a Hallmark flick and no matter how cheesy and how safe in terms of plot, the film's elaborate Christmassy look and December timing gets you in the holiday spirit. I'd take it over crap like 2004's Surviving Christmas any day.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth 2020 * * * Stars

DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A SHOCK JOCK WHO COULD NOT SHAKE THE ALLURE OF BLACKJACK

"Craig comes from a line of shock jocks". I've never heard of the guy until now. "Craig" refers to radio personality and New Yorker Craig Carton. He is featured in a documentary that probes his early life till his present day actuality in 2020. Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth is said documentary and yup, it's my latest review.

Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth is about well, a loudmouth, a kind of controversial Howard Stern for the sports world. It's a straightforward docu that is of course, HBO ready. There are plenty of interviews, tight editing, flashbacks, decent NYC cinematography, and a sort of involuntary sympathy for its subject.

"Loudmouth" chronicles Craig Carton as he goes from being a successful broadcasting co-host to being a prison inmate at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg (that's in Pennsylvania). Carton who was a compulsive gambler, was convicted of securities fraud and wire fraud. As the film concludes, he is a free man after serving just one year of a 3-year sentence.

Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth is directed by two people (Marin Dunn, Marie McGovern). They do an adequate job considering that they might have not had control over final cut (their documentary is a mere 76 minutes long).

Dunn and McGovern's only misstep is allowing Carton to be featured too much, as if he were the financier, producer, and director himself. Carton seems like an okay dude who deserves a little redemption. However, Craig kind of uses his screen time in "Loudmouth" as a rudimentary platform or declaration. It's sort of off-putting but it doesn't deflate what is already a report worth revealing.

Bottom line: Every gambling addict might benefit from sitting down and watching "Loudmouth". This "downfall" via Craig's plight could only turn into a "rise".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Paydirt 2020 * 1/2 Stars

I WOULD NOT "PAY" TO SEE PAYDIRT AGAIN

"I got you". Yup, and I got to see a crime thriller that barely finds the 80-minute mark. Why am I not surprised.

Anyway a chrome domed, criminal mastermind gets out of jail. After checking in with his parole officer, he gathers his old crew to find buried money that was left over from an unsuccessful DEA run in. That's the layout of the scorched, strewed, and dopey Paydirt (my latest review).

Paydirt, with its Brian A. Miller-style shootouts, its twists that feel too built-in, and its "beam me up, Scotty" locales between California and Mexico, is yet another flick where the characters talk tough while acting like complete morons. 

Part Guy Ritchie, part Smokin' Aces, and part Ocean's Eleven (all the bad parts mind you), the film has a nifty title and a decent amount of screen presence from star Luke Goss. Other than that, Paydirt can't really "hit" anything.

Paydirt is directed by an actual restaurateur (Christian Sesma) and features co-star Val Kilmer having his lines dubbed due to his current bout with throat cancer (get well Val). Sesma gives Paydirt the usual direct-to-video look coupled with binding flashbacks and freeze-frame title cards. 

Sesma's script (if that's what you wanna call it) causes his lofty actors to childishly banter. They come off like tooled eighth graders. The phrase "game-time" is said numerous times in Paydirt and while it doesn't receive drinking game status, it's still pretty annoying. 

I said earlier that Paydirt has the elements of stuff akin to directors Ritchie, Joe Carnahan, and Steven Soderbergh. The problem is that Christian Sesma riffs on them without having a true voice of his own. As an ego tripper via writer, producer, and helmer, his film-making style is shine on shine without "paying" it forward. There's no "reward" here from watching Paydirt.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Silencing 2020 * * Stars

THE SILENCING DOES NOT MAKE ENOUGH "NOISE"

"She was hunted". Uh-oh. That can't be good. Hunting is for other stuff which I don't condone, like killing a wild animal for sport or misbehaving like those dudes in 1994's Surviving the Game

Anyway, 2020's The Silencing is my latest review. And yeah, I'm not quite sure what the title of this movie actually entails. I mean there's no silencers involved and well, people get loud and angry. Oh I forgot, there's a scene where a muted persona willingly writes her name in the dirt. 

Released in July of this year, filmed in the dark-clouded wilderness of Canada, and featuring an ending that does a 180 just for kicks and giggles, "Silencing" is helmed by second-time director Robin Pront. Pront divvying a twist or two with a few whip pans, thinks he's channeling his inner Jonathan Demme. In reality, he's just well, channeling. 

Starring an almost unrecognizable Nikolaj Coster Waldau (in looks and in accent), glorifying spears as murder weapons, and distributed by the busy bee organization that is Saban Films, The Silencing has its characters getting stabbed and shot yet miraculously recovering as they walk around unscathed. I mean it makes sense while being senseless. Otherwise the flick might cease to continue. 

So yeah, "Silencing" kept me involved for at least some of its 90-minute running time. Still, it's over-familiar with stuff like Wind River, Blood and Money, Cold Blood, and 2019's Daughter of the Wolf already making the rounds. 

The Silencing is about a wildlife sanctuary owner who tries to track a killer bent on preying on young girls. Said owner is an alcoholic, he's got a closed-off personality, and he takes the law into his own hands without so much as a mild indictment. As an avid movie watcher, it's been there and done that for me. "Tranquilly" mixed results.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Wrong Cheerleader Coach 2020 * 1/2 Stars

THE WRONG CHEERLEADER COACH NEEDED A BETTER "CHEER"

It isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless you've got mainstays Corin Nemec and Vivica A. Fox. It isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless there's the same overhead shots featuring good old Southern California. It isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless people get murdered like forgotten cardboard cutouts. Finally, it isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless the antagonist gets away with multiple kills, has a snippy temper, and snaps like a twig. 

Anyway, 2020's The Wrong Cheerleader Coach is you guessed it, another "Wrong" Lifetime endeavor. It's about a single father and his daughter being terrorized by an assistant cheerleader instructor who's bent on getting with said father. The kooky coach like other kooks in the "Wrong" Lifetime canon, likes to spy on her victims wearing sweats and a dark hoodie. She also has a knack for evading the po-po and going on to find another family to cause some shenanigans. 

The Wrong Cheerleader Coach is directed by "Wrong" Lifetime regular David DeCoteau. It features a cameo by Tara Reid that has her reading off cue cards along with some of the worst Lifetime acting ever put on celluloid. Helmer DeCoteau also has a motif fixation with eyeglasses as every character is either wearing them or constantly fumbling with them. All I gotta say is contact lenses anyone?

LensCrafters begot, The Wrong Cheerleader Coach is obviously camp and the shooting locations like most Lifetime pics, are typically committed to 3-4 (a high school, a parent's home, a hospital, and a work site). The girls playing the cheerleader personas obviously have never done the craft considering that their routines are pseudo and lazy. Finally, why does every Lifetime vehicle involve a family who lost a loved one that died just recently? Find another angle guys. The Wrong Cheerleader Coach might be amusingly watchable but it will never be recommendable. Not even if I "coached" it up. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Unhinged 2020 * * * Stars

IN UNHINGED, RUSSELL CROWE IS DYNAMITE. HECK, YOU COULD EVEN PUT MEL GIBSON IN THE LEAD TOO FOR KICKS

"What's this guy's problem?" I'll tell you. He's a sicko with a 4x4 pickup and he is played by Russell "I just put on fifty pounds" Crowe. Crowe's character doesn't have a name. Yeah well neither did the sadistic, faceless truck driver in Spielberg's Duel

Anyway, Unhinged is my latest review. It features Crowe as the psycho to end all psychos in a flick that makes you readily question honking your horn. As a guy who is full of motorist frustration and a whole lot more, Crowe comes at you like the Terminator with a rather vile chip on his shoulder. The opening scene where he kills his family with a hammer while burning their house to the ground is early proof of that. 

Released on August 21st of this year with a hasty running time of 90 minutes (that's being generous), Unhinged is depressing, merciless, desperate, and savage. It's probably the wrong movie for 2020 but I saw it anyway. Directed by a guy looking to upset the viewer while making no apologies (German Derrick Borte), Unhinged is just as much a thriller as it is a snuff horror film. If it didn't have the power to make me effectively squirm and question my morals, I would have totally written it off (no pun intended). 

Featuring some brisk, streamlined car chases and filmed almost entirely in New Orleans, LA (a popular shooting location these days), Unhinged blurs the lines of good taste even for an R rated endeavor. It's about a mother and son who get into a road rage incident with a mentally unstable brute (Crowe in full on beast mode). Unhinged while farcical in its approach, is still pure evidence that even in broad daylight no ordinary denizen is safe. Off the "hinges" and Mendoza Line recommendable. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Vanished 2020 * * * Stars

THE VANISHED DOES NOT "DISSIPATE" 

"We should be out there searching". I was. I hit the local Redbox because I had a need to write and wanted to check out a wilderness thriller. 

Anyway, 2020's The Vanished is my latest write-up. Don't try to confuse it with that movie from the nineties starring Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland. "Vanished" rather features Anne Heche and journeyman actor Thomas Jane. As a flustered married couple who appear to be on the outs, these kooky spouses do strong work here.  

Released on DVD in October, reigning in some Kubrickian overhead shots, and filmed mostly on a camping site (Alabama perhaps?), The Vanished is deftly directed by Peter Facinelli. Weaving many characters, a few plot lines, and a few whodunits, Facinelli fashions what looks like a modern day version of 1998's A Simple Plan. Sam Raimi well, he would be mildly dazzled.

Along with Heche and Jane, "Vanished" also stars a subdued Jason Patric and Facinelli himself. They appear in a film that keeps you guessing until the very end (even though it's not too hard to follow). The Vanished while all too high-flown for its own good, contains a doozy of a conclusion and enough twists and turns to occupy Lombard Street. The movie as a near two-hour mark, registers as its own, reared red herring. 

With an original title of Hour of Lead and distributed by Saban Films, "Vanished" is just what it aspires to be. It's a flick about a husband and wife who try to find their daughter who was abducted on an RV family vacay. People get murdered in the process, everyone's a person of interest, and it all takes place during the Thanksgiving holiday (which is readily approaching). I'm gonna recommend The Vanished despite its yearn to project broad, "look at me" film-making. It's a decent rental and an up to snuff "vanishing" act.   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Dark and the Wicked 2020 * * Stars

THE DARK AND THE WICKED IS COBBLED WITH BOTH

"Told you all not to come". Uh-oh, I'll bite. Those words while derivative, are never reassuring. 

Anyhow, 2020's The Dark and the Wicked is my latest write-up. It is well-acted and well cast as it stars unknowns Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. Things don't bode well for their characters when you think they might. Alas, "Wicked" is a rinse, repeat of all things that "go bump in the night". It concludes in a sort of confounding dead end.

The Dark and the Wicked is a mixed bag for me because it chooses terror-filled ilk over mucho substance. Call it sticky "wicked". Using weekday title cards a la The Shining, harboring low camera angles, and containing a look similar to 2018's Hereditary, "Wicked" creeps you out occasionally but you'll constantly wonder where it's all headed. Every jump scare, every ghastly image, every delusional grab, and every demonic coy sort of recycles itself into slugged continuum.

Distributed by RLJE films, shot in one location via Granbury, Texas, and directed by a guy known for horror fare (Bryan Bertino), The Dark and the Wicked is about a brother and sister who try to fight off an evil entity that has inhabited their grubby farmhouse. They could "get the heck out" Amityville Horror-style but their father is dying and they can't move the comatose old-timer. 

Now does The Dark and the Wicked send you away with your knees knocking? At times yes. Does it run out of wiggle room with all of its fiddling and blood-curdling excess? Sadly it does. "Wicked" takes ninety trawling minutes to revel in the hallucinatory, the unsettling, and the stylistic. Rather than tell a cohesive story that seems to start in the middle, director Bertino opts to just tease the audience with the macabre. He doesn't know when to quit. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The House in Between 2020 * * Stars

THE HOUSE IN BETWEEN DOES NOT QUITE CHANNEL ITS INNER "CHANGELING"

"Do you believe in ghosts?" Yup. Sure I do. And that's why I sleep with a light or two on in my cozy abode. 

In 2020's The House in Between (my latest review), said house is well-constructed from an architectural standpoint. "Between's" darkened movie poster shows you this right off the bat. The house was gutted when the new homeowner came in and it is located in Florence, Mississippi.

So yeah, The House in Between is a haunted house documentary that at times, feels hoary and dated. Otherwise heightened by eerie background music from Joseph Miller (Pink, Athena), "Between" suggests timeworn stuff like 2007's Paranormal Activity, a less scary version of Paranormal Witness, and TV's Ghost Adventures.

"Between" has directors Steve Gonsalves and Kendall Whelpton filming (and interviewing) various spook experts. We're talking investigators, EVP mongers, contractors, electricians, and even psychics. They try to uncover why baseballs roll inexplicably down stairs, lights turn on and off, and doors shut when no one is around. Oh and there might be a dead body in the backyard that was buried there over one hundred years ago. 

At 81 minutes, The House in Between gets a little more dramatis personae as it barrels along. Other times it drags, flashes, and sort of oversells. And unless you suspend your disbelief, it could almost feel like the ghostly events might have been staged (I get that vibe a lot with various shows of the "unknown"). 

All in all, "Between" involves real-life people and supposedly true to life circumstances. There's hints of a solace note here. Unfortunately we as the audience member have seen this movie before (no pun intended). The House in Between has some tense moments where you'd be better off watching it during the daytime. However, it fails to not fully "get your ghost". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Stripped: Los Angeles 2020 * * Stars

STRIPPED: LOS ANGELES IS AN ALL-TOO-BRIEF "LA STORY"

"I'm going to be a stripper". So says performer Della Dane with pet Chihuahua in tote via Stripped: Los Angeles. As proclaimed in Pretty Woman, "welcome to Hollywood, what's your dream?" 

Anyway, Stripped: Los Angeles is my latest write-up. It was released by way of Internet in the fall of 2020. Its director (Manhattan native Marc Ostrick) shoots the film in mostly slow-motion with a sort of enclosed framing. Despite numerous interviews with close-ups, it's almost like viewing a mature audiences TikTok video.

So OK, "Stripped" is somewhat explicit but not "off the chain" explicit. It's a documentary mind you and it's about the lives of five women who happen to be the top private dancers in LA. They're content, they make money, and you don't really here from anyone else in their existence except them. 

Stripped: Los Angeles uses title cards to give insight into other stuff these women do besides strip. A couple of them make porn on the side, one is into art, one of them looks into bodybuilding, another plays music in a band, most of them smoke the ganja, and almost all of them have a love for animals (cats and dogs). 

"Stripped" runs fleeting at 80 minutes as it becomes a mere snapshot instead of a full-length feature. It's well filmed from a technical aspect but almost yarn-free in its narrative aspirations. Besides the present day footage, there's no real beginning, middle, or end. 

These women have pasts (as we all do) and there's a level of sympathy for them that goes along with their networking success. Still, Stripped: Los Angeles "strips" them of making their plight into something much more farsighted. If you've seen the occasional nudity, the occasional drug use, loads of tats, and the occasional pole dancing, you ain't seen much. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Friendsgiving 2020 * 1/2 Stars

FRIENDSGIVING IS A REAL "TURKEY"

The setting is palm-treed November. The place is clearly near Los Angeles. The tone is obvious and bawdy. Basically a bunch of pseudo friends who are their only friends, get together to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. They bicker, smug it up, and get their swerve on. That's the rub of the almost plot-less and imposed, Friendsgiving.

Starring a bunch of known troupers, shot in 2018, and produced by Ben Stiller, Friendsgiving is yet another unfunny comedy that probably came out twenty years too late. Just imagine a more inappropriate version of The Family Stone, Love the Coopers, or The Wilde Wedding and you're making headway. Add a touch of 2013's The Big Wedding and This Is Where I Leave You and your ode to grumbling, brood endeavors is complete.

Friendsgiving is directed by rookie Nicol Paone. Unwilling to give her editor some sage advice, she lets the film wander with talky scenes that mostly flop or die. A baby sucks on the nipples of a male. A mother gets drunk and takes shrooms. That same mother makes out with a same sex house guest as her daughter walks in. Another guest talks through the entire movie with recent Botox injections. Heck, I kept wondering if Friendsgiving even had a point to all of its insouciant shenanigans.

The stunning Malin Akerman, Kat Dennings, Jane Seymour, and Aisha Tyler round out Friendsgiving's eager cast. They try their best to be witty and funny but they should've known that the script didn't look good on paper. These ladies while plucky, unintentionally annoy the audience threefold.

All in all, Friendsgiving is a 95-minute, chi-chi marathon in which a bunch of good-looking weirdos try their hardest to avoid being unlikable. I like stuffing and yams but Friendsgiving has too much of both (yams meaning "yammering"). There's nothing to be "thankful" for here.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Cut Throat City 2020 * 1/2 Stars

CUT THROAT CITY IS NOT WORTH VISITING

"First they flood us, then they pushing us out". Yup, sadly it's time for a little "ride or die".

Anyway, four downtrodden buddies who are low on moolah, decide to pull off a series of robberies right after the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Not thinking and out of desperation, they do it with middling masks, automatic weapons, and miscued attitude. That's the rub of the disjointed and tough-talking, Cut Throat City.

So yeah, "City" is yet another flick that makes New Orleans look and appear like modern-day Beirut. Black and Blue gave us grubby and unwashed last year while Cut Throat City does it again this year. You can taste the dirt, feel the anguish, sense the danger, and literally smell the grime. Heck, the downtown hubs of The Crescent City are nowhere to be found. Just the outside gray areas are shown.

Cut Throat City, which features a big name cast for the ages, feels as scatterbrained as any action drama I've seen in the past decade. Director RZA while knowing what to do behind the lens, just needed a more capable editor, a better storyboard specialist, and a more logical script supervisor to aide him.

Characters played by T.I., Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Isaiah Washington, and Terrence Howard fade in and out while spouting numerous soliloquies. Added to that, the viewer gets the feeling that every single actor while game, is trying to showboat for the camera.

With "City", there's no clear fruition and one to really root for (good or bad). It's a bloated and misguided  heist pic, populated by violent confrontations, bumping cars, and shifty cops. Tacked on are a confusing ending, a poor man's whiff of 2018's Den of Thieves, and the overuse of urban stereotypes that don't help much. Someone should have yelled "cut" at the hour mark. Rating: 1.5 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Tremors: Shrieker Island 2020 * * Stars

TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND IS "STRANDED" AS A SEQUEL

"Dead ahead". So says the persona of Burt Gummer in Tremors: Shrieker Island. "Shrieker" is a sort of cinematic tribute album to the Gummer character (watch for the end credits). Played by Michael Gross, Burt is featured in every single film in the Tremors canon.

Anyway, Tremors: Shrieker Island is my latest write-up. It was released in October of this year and represents the sixth Tremors sequel with the original coming out roughly thirty years ago. 

"Shrieker" is directed by Don Michael Paul, a guy known for doing retreads (Jarhead 2, Kindergarten Cop 2, Sniper: Ghost Shooter). He fashions Tremors: Shrieker Island as fast cut, direct-to-video swipe. Minus Gross being loyal to the series, that's exactly what you get. 

So yeah, Tremors: Shrieker Island is the only installment I've seen other than the original Tremors. That being said, I can't help but to compare the two. 

1990's Tremors was loved by critics, gained a cult following, was fun, and came off like a nasty, B movie creature feature for the drive-in crowd. "Shrieker" is not as fun. Actually, it's slow in spots while feeling low budgeted and tongue-in-cheek strained. You don't see a lot of worm-like critters come from out of the ground. That was the novelty that made the original Tremors so unpleasantly effective. You also don't get much suspense or a sense of being in peril. 

In truth, I wanted to see a Tremors flick where some denizens were trapped in a deserted, southern-fried town and were at the mercy of some slimy, disgusting monsters. What can I say, I'm a purest. With "Shrieker", it's mostly military with a hunting party trying to off a bunch of Graboids for sport. I could care less about viewing that Alien vs. Predator redux coupled with shards of Kong: Skull Island

Bottom line: Tremors: Shrieker Island is so far gone from resembling the initial Tremors. In fact, there's not enough "degrees of separation" between it and Kevin Bacon to suffice. Natch!   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Owners 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

THE OWNERS FINDS ITSELF IN "ESCROW"

"Very well, if that's what you want". What I "wanted" was to see 2020's unforeseen The Owners. What can I say, it really got me enthused. Then it got me thinking it was a little contrived.

Anywho, "Owners" is something else (I'm not sure if that's always a good thing). It starts out as a despairing home invasion thriller only to become a psychological horror flick and a damaging one at that. Sans any civil characters, its diegesis involves four desperate thieves who decide to break into an old English abode. They get more than they bargain for when the keepers of said abode are even more messed up than the four offenders robbing them.   

The Owners is well cast with equally young and elderly actors. They effectively blur the lines between restraint, sheer madness, and sheer lack of self-control. The real star however, is probably the London Victorian mansion where "Owners" was filmed. It comes off as drab, cold, and dusty, a sort of never-ending labyrinth where cockroaches and silverfish love to hang out at. 

So yeah, The Owners is directed by Frenchman Julius Berg. A veteran of TV, this is his first feature film and it's a fervent, mixed mess. Using one location (when one location was probably all that was needed), Berg pushes the twisty envelope by giving us something adjacent to a Twilight Zone episode that might have been helmed by Eli Roth. Heck, you could even compare "Owners" to stuff like Don't Breathe, Straw Dogs, Saw, or The Shining

Bottom line: "Owners" is violent, blood-soaked, frustrating, and belligerently creepy (look for the closing credits which are done in reverse). As an ode to all things horror mumbo jumbo, it leaves you scratching your head as to how much more nastily polished it could've been. To each their "own". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Black Water: Abyss 2020 * * * Stars

BLACK WATER: ABYSS IS NO "WATERLOGGED" THRILLER

"See you at the bottom". Bottom of a cave that is. That's where a killer crocodile is waiting for five guileless friends in Black Water: Abyss (my latest review). The croc is big, it's not too fake-looking, it's stealth, and it has a wicked first step.

Anyway, Black Water: Abyss earns its title cause the water is indeed black and the abyss, well it's almost bottomless. Shot in I'm thinking Australia (it's the accents and the surroundings) and almost Hitchcockian in the fact that we don't see the croc fully until the last twenty minutes, "Abyss" is far from being prototypical but it still packs a small wallop. Heck, because of movies like this the only body of water I'm treading in these days is a pool. 

Not overly gory, not overly claustrophobic, and containing a psychological twist involving three of the protagonists, "Abyss" starts out as prodding until the crocodile VS human action gets heightened in the film's tension-filled coda. It's like The Descent meets Crawl meets Aliens with "Abyss" being the fiscally restricted, compact version of those three flicks.

Directed by Andrew Traucki, featuring a well-padded film score by Michael Lira, and heralded as a sequel to 2007's Black Water (I didn't initially know that "Abyss" was a sequel), Black Water: Abyss gives the viewer enough reason to stay out of any loch and even more reason to avoid spelunking (that's the exploration of caves). 

Yeah the characters seem to have an endless supply of juice to keep their flashlights going. Yeah the croc-attacking jolts could be a little more startling and yeah, there's no sane reason why said characters would possibly want to enter a hazardous cavern (well there'd be no pic otherwise). Still, Black Water: Abyss somehow works as a low-budgeted, horror B movie made with limited production values that have admirable intentions. Cheers mate! Rating: 3 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind 2020 * * * Stars

DOCUMENTARY ABOUT NATALIE WOOD IS ARCHIVED TO THE MAX

"Natalie was gone". Yes since November 1981. But we as an audience have the luxury of seeing her in fifty or so films that will never go away. Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind is a documentary about her rather short life (43 years). She earned three Academy Award nominations and appeared in some of the most iconic flicks ever made (Rebel Without a Cause, Miracle on 34th Street, West Side Story). "I believe, I believe, I believe". Indeed. 

So yeah, I've seen other stuff chronicling Wood. Those segments were shorter in length and delved more into her mysterious, eerie death. "What Remains" runs 100 minutes and sort of veers more towards the celebration of Natalie's time on earth. We even get Wood's daughter Natasha anchoring the docu with a compassionate love in regards to her late mother. 

"What Remains" while rather uneven and scattered in its approach, is still recommendable. Why? Because documentaries suck you in and HBO knows how to put out a professional project. There is plenty of archived footage, interviews from Natalie Wood's friends and family, and momentary insight into how her drowning demise still haunts the public today. Wood had a fear of dark water as well as going under in dark water. I share that sentiment and I share it threefold. 

In retrospect, Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind captures the cryptic legacy of Wood but it doesn't always know what it wants to be. Is it a platform for past husband Robert Wagner to let the world know he didn't have anything to do with her passing? Perhaps. Is it a panoramic view of Wood's personal life and her drive to not let the Hollywood system control her choice in film roles? Maybe. Is it strictly about her impressive filmography that spans the years 1943 to 1983? Probably. Director Laurent Bouzereau doesn't fully steer the viewer in the proper directions but it doesn't really matter. Wood's movie star face and immense screen presence cut through everything. The song "remains" the same. Rating: 3 stars.   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Scheme 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars

THE SCHEME LAYS ITS PLANS NICELY

"Who are the good guys here?" Obviously the filmmakers who bring to life the underbellies of NCAA basketball in The Scheme. "Scheme" is a fervent documentary that contains plenty of adult language in the form of F-bombs. It gives being tactful and reserved the middle finger and yup, it's my latest review. 

The Scheme is well, about a scheme. A pseudo scheme if you will. It's a yarn where only the sufferers and bystanders were interviewed (not the b-ball coaches, the US attorney, or the FBI). This docu, which is rather blunt in the way in which it tells its story, chronicles basketball insider Christian Dawkins. He was investigated (and convicted) for being involved with the paying of standout prospects to play hoops at the highest college level.  

The Scheme, which gets its hands tied only to tell one side of the tale, is a cleanly, streamlined flick that only the highly production-valued HBO could come up with. I've always fancied documentaries, I'm a sucker for controversy, and I'm originally from Michigan. "Scheme" is about a Michigan dude and Dawkins came from one of the most successful basketball meccas in the entire state (Saginaw High School). 

"Scheme's" director (Pat Kondelis) is well-versed in the telling of factual record. He shoots the docu with a raw and unfiltered feel. There are uncensored probes from everyone involved (Dawkins, his lawyer, his parents, various sports writers), slow-motion re-enactments, wiretapped conversations, and caught on camera deals. The film is packed with info so you have to pay attention as everything comes to a revelatory head at the end. 

All in all, you don't see a ton of basketball playing footage in The Scheme. You just take in a lot of behind the scenes stuff. It's fascinating and monetarily layered, like Moneyball gone dark. Rating: 3.5 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Ana 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

SEASONED ANDY GARCIA EXCELS IN OTHERWISE MIXED ANA

In 2020's Ana (my latest review), Ana the persona is not an assassin mind you (that's Anna). She is an earnest yet annoying, teenage hustler played by Dafne Keen. Ana is also a semi-abandoned youngster who is on the verge of being relegated to social services. 

So yeah, Ana is a road trip movie, a downtrodden farce, and a grave comedy/drama (with very little comedy). The film feels like something you don't see much of anymore, a kind of undo characterization from the 1980s (which I've lived through). 

Ana has veteran TV director Charles McDougall using Puerto Rico as his focal, unequivocal ode. Shot completely on the Caribbean island, you view the culture, you get the unrest, and you take in the breezy locales via every frame. Heck, it almost appears like the camera is longing as it literally peeks in.

The highlight of Ana is the turn of Cuban-American native Andy Garcia. Not being in anything lately that's headlining, Garcia's role as sad sack, car salesmen Rafael Rodriquez is sort of tailor-made for him. It's a sympathetic performance and one that proves Andrew still has some ripe acting chops.  

As Ana barrels along with its overextended running time of 105 minutes (when 90 would've sufficed), Garcia's Rodriquez takes care of Ana because her mother is in jail and she has no where else to go. They travel to the other side of the island to see Ana's estranged father. They also try to find a way to make money in order to pay off Rafael's life-threatening gambling debt. 

All in all, Ana suffers from being a little draggy, a little exasperating, and rather sloppily edited. However, the happy, turn-the-tables ending and Garcia's character's painful plight make the flick worthwhile viewing (at least for the first hour). Ana "banana". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Alone 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars

ALONE IS FAR FROM BEING "UNATTENDED"

"I think I'm being followed". Uh oh. I'm pretty sure I know what those words mean. 

Anyway, Jessica (played by Jules Willcox) is a widow who loads her stuff in a U-Haul and heads to an unknown destination. Along the way, she gradually gets tormented and kidnapped by a nameless psycho (played by Texan Marc Menchaca). That's the blueprinted rub of 2020's Alone. With ample enthusiasm and the need to write at 5 in the morning, it's my latest review.

So yeah, we've seen films like Alone before and its title, well it's not too thought out. Still, Alone is one of this year's best. Feeling like Spielberg's Duel in which the antagonist actually talks, Alone's setting of lush, wet Oregon takes over as it becomes a swallowing co-star.

The performances in Alone are as it seems, nerve-ending and calculated. Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca share different sides of an acting coin. They exhibit decent vs. evil and damaged vs. non-empathetic. Menchaca reminded me of a mustached Jason Sudeikis while Willcox gave off a heroine, Winona Ryder type vibe. They are pretty much in every frame and carry Alone with superior aplomb.

Directed by John Hyams (son of veteran helmer Peter Hyams) and nifty and compact in its 98-minute running time, Alone keeps you on your toes with devised, inching tension. It's a thriller mind you and it's done with careful skill despite feeling a little familiar (pale, cold-blooded killer stalks vulnerable female). Hyams using rack focusing, low angles, and teeming overhead shots, actually outdoes his pops here. Confidently committing to every shot, he is aided by rich, forestry cinematography from the seasoned Federico Verardi.

Alone ends like other violent, heady rides but it doesn't cheat the audience. Every nuanced plot point, every grubby mano-a-mano, and every sense of foreboding shake up is assured. I hope I'm not "alone" in these inferences.

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fear Pharm 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

FEAR PHARM IS SOMETIMES "SCARY"

2020's Fear Pharm is my latest write-up (not sure what the "Pharm" means). Its TV production values, sometimes lame acting, and "bag" characters almost veer the pic into terror parody. "Pharm" does not end well for its protagonists who are just following the protocol of people making bad decisions in a horror film. They get captured, bullied, and hostilely tortured in which their skin is totally peeled right off. Ugh. 

Anyway, Fear Pharm gets a mixed review from me for it feels outmoded and a little dated. Paying homage to the likes of Rob Zombie, Gregory Plotkin, and Tobe Hooper, "Pharm" echoes stuff like House of 1000 Corpses, Hell Fest, and that silly GEICO commercial from a few years back (you know, the one with the chainsaws and the running cars). 

Distributed by Indican Pictures (a private entertainment company), containing thirty minutes of buildup that almost made me lose interest, and directed by rookie Dante Yore (he's mostly a cinematographer), "Pharm" is about four millennial personas who flock to a corn maze attraction on Halloween night. There, they are hunted down by some callous ruffians who look like hideous extras from a carnival rock music video. Said maze which feels endless, is the panic hook and game co-star of Fear Pharm. It's a kind of labyrinth where it's obvious early on that no one is getting out alive. 

Containing a few tense moments, capable roving direction from Yore, and a cessation in which the sadistic entity wins (I'm always affected by that as a moviegoer), Fear Pharm is ample if not nutrition-less viewing for genre, fright fans looking for another fiendish helping. Me, well I wanted "Pharm" to be grainier, less familiar, and less lampooned but let's face it, this ain't the cinematic 70's anymore. This is what we're left with.   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 25, 2020

Let It Snow 2020 * 1/2 Stars

"LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW". I'D RATHER NOT

"I hope you enjoy your stay". Me, well I didn't "enjoy" 2020's Let It Snow. In fact, I denounced it. I rolled my eyes and sighed when its director (Stanislav Kapralov) decided to do a pretentious, "after the credits" ending. Mr. Kapralov, having your protagonist yell at the top of her lungs two or three times isn't psychologically terrifying, it's just freaking annoying.

Anyway, a couple named Mia and Max (played decently by Ivanna Sakhno and Alex Hafner), spend Christmas time venturing to a high elevation, Georgian ski resort. There, they attempt to snowboard at a forbidden ridge where a revenge-minded killer is waiting for them. Said killer dressed in black ski gear and yielding an ax, spends most of the movie messing with the two lovebirds (and goading them) instead of readily getting down to business. The whole endeavor as rinse, repeat hypothermia, feels like a pointless exercise in aloof methodology.

So yeah, "Snow" is not The Shining nor is it The Grey nor is it 1993's Alive. It's just meh. It's another cold weather flick in which the characters survive longer in sub-zero temperatures than any human being has a right to. Oh and yeah, the film spans five days in which almost no water or food is consumed. Me, well I'd be dead and frostbitten in two.  

Distributed by Black Sheep Films (that makes sense), harboring derivative flashbacks, and devoid of being in any way scary, Let It Snow is stylish and steely yet ho-hum. Helmer Kapralov is sadly, a veritable, cinematic hot dog man. He commits to every shot although purposeless and the cinematography by Yevgeny Usanov is gleaming enough to accrue at least one viewing. All for naught. It's just too bad "Snow's" fustian storyline and stock outcome fail to horrify you. Misguided "snow" job. Rating: 1 and a half stars.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars

DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE SHOOTING DEATH OF A YOUTH MIRRORS THE DIVIDED TRAGEDY OF GEORGE FLOYD 

"Yusuf! Yusuf! Yusuf! Yusuf!" That refers to fallen teenager and innocent bystander, Yusuf Hawkins. Objectors and marchers yell his name in the docu, Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn. Yup, it's my latest review. 

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn is just what it says it is. There was indeed a racial "storm" over New York City's most populous division circa August of 1989. This documentary, which feels as relevant today as it did when the actual events went down over thirty years ago, chronicles the untimely death of Hawkins. He was a black 16-year-old who was gunned down by some youths in a mostly white neighborhood via Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  

The aftermath of Yusuf's demise involved many protests and marches in which the famous Reverend Al Sharpton was involved. What's even more eerie is that the racial tension sparked by Yusuf's shooting came just months after Spike Lee released his ode to The Borough of Homes and Churches in Do the Right Thing

"Storm Over Brooklyn" sans a sort of one-sided view, is a very well-made documentary that seems to have been released at the perfect time (or imperfect time). Growing up in Michigan in 1989, I was unaware of these events but now everything for me has come full circle. It's like this film predicted the future. Sadly, it seems almost nothing in this country has changed more than three decades later. 

"Storm Over Brooklyn's" director (Muta Ali Muhammad) shoots the docu with careful style, attention to detail, and some verve. He inserts neighborhood overhead shots, grainy archive footage, and interviews by the denizens that lived through the incident (Sharpton, Yusuf's mother and brothers, former NYC Mayor David Dinkins). Chronologically told and effectively intercut with the veil of present day, Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn is one of 2020's best offerings. "We will be back and that's is a fact". Rating: 3 and a half stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Go-Go's 2020 * * * Stars

THE GO-GO'S BAND DOCUMENTARY DOES NOT TAKE A "VACATION"

"Oh my god. This is gonna be huge". Yup, it's gonna be "Double-Platinum" huge. The Go-Go's (my latest review) is about a band that was the cat's pajamas, well at least during the early 80's. "Go-Go's" is a documentary with said band consisting of five no-BS women. They were the first all-female new wavers to play their own instruments, sing their own songs, write their own songs, and top the Billboard album charts. "We Got the Beat" indeed.

So yeah, I've seen The Go-Go's on a docu before. It was an episode of VH1's Behind the Music circa the year 2000. 2020's The Go-Go's is a little longer in length, a little more subdued, and provides about thirty minutes more in terms of insight. "Go-Go's" even shows the girls jamming in present day while writing some new material.

The Go-Go's while chronologically time-lined in its approach, effectively revels in zoomed-in archive footage, uninhibited interviews from the band members (along with managers and rock critics), and punk rock attributes that were their initial identity. The storytelling may be a little straightforward and clean but that doesn't mean your not drawn to Belinda Carlisle and her four other, tough love besties.  

Not a shameless ploy but fair, the question at the end of the film is this: Should The Go-Go's be included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Sure, why not. Nirvana got in and like The Go-Go's, they only put out about three to four albums. 

Bottom line: The Go-Go's similar in journey and duration to The Mamas and the Papas, are relevant today despite not having a hit record since 1984. Otherwise there wouldn't be a ninety-minute flick green-lighted that talks about their tumultuous experiences. See The Go-Go's on Showtime with interviewee F-bombs attached. Go-Go's drummer Gina Schock waives any kind of ladylike filter. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Big Ugly 2020 * * Stars

THE BIG UGLY COULD HAVE "LOOKED BETTER"

"You're looking for answers". Aren't we all. Me, I'm looking to watch a movie. I'm looking to take in something where lock, stock meets the greasy underbellies of a Waffle House. And yup, Vinnie "antihero" Jones and his scowl better be there.

Anyway, The Big Ugly is my latest review. Released by way of Internet in July of this year, "Ugly" is a shambled, southern-fried noir that's produced by almost everyone starring in it (Jones, Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell). Billed as a straight action spectacle, The Big Ugly is anything but.

So yeah, "Ugly" was shot in Kentucky, wanted to be shot in Ohio, and takes place in the Appalachians of the Mountain State. Either way you slice it, you're getting your full onslaught of baddie shenanigans and double crosses in Middle America. Characters get beaten, drunk, and/or plugged, 70's pop tunes show up in various scenes, women are objective cogs, and a cocktail called bourbon and milk is dutifully introduced (or at least it was to me). "Ugly" indeed.

Filmed about two years ago and featuring a closing credits montage set to Exile's "Kiss You All Over" (this gag felt more warranted in 1993's Dazed and Confused), "Ugly's" story hinges around a London mob outfit that gets involved with some West Virginia oilmen in hopes of getting rich via some dirty laundering money. When a girlfriend of one of the mob bosses gets murdered unexpectedly, revenge is carried out and all heck breaks loose.

With some shoddy editing, some recycled machismo line readings, and some out of place narration, "Ugly's" all over the place account doesn't really help move things along. By the end of "Ugly", the dramatis personae involved are meant to feel more important than the viewer that is watching them. Bottom line: A mixed review for The Big Ugly was "big easy".

Written by Jesse Burleson