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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

The Murder of Nicole Brown SimpsonDirector: Daniel Ferrands
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mena Suvari, Nick Stahl, Agnes Bruckner

"I've made a terrible mistake". So did NFL football legend O. J. Simpson. Or did he? That question and some others get thinly dissected in 2020's accurately locale-d, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.

Now is "Nicole Brown" the equivalent of a R-rated, late night cable movie? At times, it kind of feels like it. Does that mean it's not worth checking out at least once? No, not at all.

Anyway, "Nicole Brown" is told in short timelines and gets decent performances despite a little miscasting (Mena Suvari as Nicole Brown Simpson, Nick Stahl, Agnes Bruckner). For reasons brought up over 25 years later, the film is about the possible, alternate telling of Nicole Brown Simpson's untimely death circa June of 1994.

The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson' Review | Hollywood ReporterAccording to "Nicole Brown", O. J. might not have done it. It could have been real-life serial killer Glen Edward Rogers. My question is where was the Kato Kaelin character in this flick? I mean wasn't he a darn witness?

Full of tension, paranoia, campy remnants, and a loathly final bloodshed scene (set to some melodic piano music), The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson is quite effective until it drags its final conclusion over a salient collage of archive footage. It almost feels like a band-aid for the movie's unbelievably short running time of 82 minutes.

The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson movie is as gross as you'd ...Bottom line: The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson does for the O. J. Simpson murder case what the Charles Manson murders did for last year's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It's a possible fiction fabrication, a possible siding for O. J. (for the record, I believe "the Juice" had some involvement), and something only ready-made Tinseltown could come up with. Hey, I'm telling it straight. "Nicole Brown" is not as bad as some IMDb viewers have made it out to be. Look for multiple, white Ford Bronco cameos (it's an indelible image). Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hunter's Moon 2020 * * * Stars

Hunter's MoonDirector: Michael Caissie
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Thomas Jane, Jay Mohr, Katrina Bowden

"You've gotta be kidding me". I wish I was my fellow Redbox viewer.

Anyway, a family of five metros who move into a remote home, get terrorized by some young ruffians bent on fiscally robbing the place. Oh and there are some gigantic werewolves and a dirty cop hanging around too. That's the thin blueprint of 2020's, off the rails Hunter's Moon. At a running time of 80 minutes that don't feel too short, it's my latest review.

Produced at the executive level by LA Lakers president Jeanie Buss (huh?), shot almost three years ago in October 2017, and channeling a little Sam Raimi (minus the legendary Dutch angle), "Moon" is a smorgasbord splicing of movie genres and the kind of pic that resurrects actor Jay Mohr (I sort of forgot about that dude).

Image result for hunter's moon movie 2020 scenes"Moon" is Straw Dogs-like, it's small-town, it's overly game guessed, and it's truly a nasty creature feature. Call it an "American werewolf in Cali" (or Kentucky which is the flick's other shooting location). Heck, you can even call on The Howling or Sliver Bullet to add to the mix.

Hunter's Moon has rookie director Michael Caissie using flashbacks, a low budgeted Hitchcock effect, and actor Thomas Jane in his umpteenth role as a brute authority figure. Along with not showing the wolves for an extended period of time, Caissie throws in twists and turns for the heck of it. Yup, he makes you wanna watch the pic again just to put the darn puzzle pieces together (don't worry, it's not that hard).

I liked the originality (and novelty) of Hunter's Moon, I was blindsided by most of it, and I liked the sort of fragmented, Twilight Zone residue. When "Moon's" ending hits you, you realize that it's a better film than it really is. Rating; 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 20, 2020

International Falls 2020 * * * Stars

International FallsDirector: Amber McGinnis
Year: 2019
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Rachel Harris, Rob Huebel, Kevin Nealon

"You ever seen Fargo?" Yes, and I've also seen A Simple Plan and 2019's International Falls (my latest review). Granted, "Falls" is not cynical or thrill-seeking like Fargo. Yeah there's those quirky Minnesota accents and the snow is falling but hey, there's no gratuitous violence, no Steve Buscemi, and no real black comedy (even though the film is about a struggling comedian).

Anyway, International Falls is a double character study and a lonely spectacle about infidelity. It's a depressing tale of two burnout people who can't escape their own doom and gloom. The actors involved (Rachel Harris and Rob Huebel) do solid and revealing work. Their scenes are enclosed, divulged, and done in one-on-one fashion.

Image result for international falls 2019 movie scenesAs far as last year's releases go, "Falls" unveils and takes some real dark turns. Yeah it's about amateur stand-up but that's just the surface. At a running time of 93 minutes, "Falls" feels akin to 2001's Tape. Just think intimate and daunting conversations that take place in your typical hotel room (without the concepts of HD video and real time).

Yup, I'm gonna give International Falls a favorable rating and yes, I'm the first critic to feature it as a user on IMDb.

Shot with exteriors in International Falls, Minnesota (naturally), released in a dozen film festivals, and billed as a farce (which it really isn't), "Falls" chronicles lowly funnyman, vulgar language-r, and Xanax monger, Tim (Huebel). Tim during his comedic tour stop at an International Falls hotel, befriends a sad sack housewife who wants to pursue the same career that he already has (and doesn't really want). The two confide in each other, parley, make love, and then one of them eventually commits suicide (spoiler).

Sad, downtrodden, and not without a muted happy ending (one of the two personas actually elicits a few laughs), International Falls "falls" into the recommend category. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Becoming 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

BecomingDirector: Omar Naim
Year: 2020
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Toby Kebbell, Jason Patric, Penelope Mitchell

"You're in danger". I believe I believe! That's the gut reaction I got from watching 2020's sullen and downtrodden, Becoming. Now is it the greatest motion picture in the world? Uh, not even close. Do you feel unsafe, glum, or unhappy while watching it? Uh yes but that doesn't make it totally recommendable. Finally, is it a low budget crux for any horror fanatic bent on having a fun beer and pizza movie night? Sort of.

Image result for becoming 2020 Penelope Mitchell movie scenesAnyway, Becoming contains a kooky, Dennis Hopper-like Jason Patric, a sexy and charismatic Penelope Mitchell, a creep-o persona in Jeff Daniel Phillips, and a transforming Brit in Toby Kebbell. The film is about an Everyman who slowly gets possessed by an evil entity while going on a never-ending road trip with his young fiance.

Tension-building, ludicrous, and featuring the cops showing up at the very end (what a massive cliche), Becoming just goes off the rails despite a loose running time of 98 minutes. Shot in just one city (even though it's a cross-country affair), Becoming also reminded me of Kubrick's The Shining but with multiple, cheap hotels instead of just one big one (that would be the infamous Overlook in snowy Colorado).

Image result for becoming 2020 Penelope Mitchell movie scenesDirected by a guy who hails from the capital of Jordan (Omar Naim), containing a rote flashback or two, and featuring a rather disturbing, opening scene, Becoming is a flick that suffers from severe, demon mumbo jumbo. It's mostly build-up and that build-up works for roughly the first hour. After that, Becoming just "becomes" a little tiring in its fallen angel approach. The tension builds inch by inch but you just lose interest in the characters. You finally run out of steam as a stay-at-home viewer (no true, theatrical release on Becoming at this time). Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Postcard Killings 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

The Postcard KillingsDirector: Danis Tanovic
Year: 2020
Rated NR
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Famke Janssen, Naomi Battrick

"Someone mutilated our daughter, find him". Me, well I "found" The Postcard Killings to be incredibly involving at least in the first and second act. Then, the film becomes a little off-kilter, a little TV-ed, and a little over-explained. "Someone find" me a Law & Order episode or an SVU stint that doesn't take 104 minutes to conclude.

Anyway, 2020's "Postcard" contains a smoldering Jeffrey Dean Morgan, a very sexy Naomi Battrick, a smoking Joachim Krol (literally), and a game Famke Janssen. It's about a NYC detective who tries to avenge the death of his daughter who was vacationing in London, England.

Image result for the postcard killings movie scenesGrisly, daunting, atmospheric, and projecting the notion of nothing is what it seems, The Postcard Killings kept me absorbed if not to eventually turn into a cinematic buzz kill. Just imagine a psudeo, European version of Se7en and/or 1991's Silence of the Lambs. Heck, I can just hear Brad Pitt saying, "California get your people out of here." I can also hear Anthony Hopkins quip, "you look like a rube".

Directed by Yugoslavia native Danis Tanovic, containing some effective flashbacks, and harboring a weak title (talk about obviousness), "Postcard" is shot in cutting, MTV-style within the countries of Sweden, Norway, and the UK.

The Postcard Killings is done with panache even if it feels a little too conventional (check the plot point from the second paragraph). Jeffery Dean Morgan with gray scruff in tote, plays detective Jacob Kanon. Morgan channels Kanon with a mixture of overreaching sadness, revenge magnitude, and an excess of a dude bent on finding tiring justice.

Image result for the postcard killings movie scenesJeff is perfect for the role but I wish he didn't resort to appearing in something that would never see the light of day in an actual movie theater. I guess if he was a bigger star it might have helped his cause. Let us as an audience change that. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Final Kill 2020 * 1/2 Stars

Final KillDirector: Justin Lee
Year: 2020
Rated NR
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ed Morrone, Billy Zane, Edward Finlay

"That's it for story time". 2020's Final Kill (my latest review) has a "story" but a weird and silly way in which it goes about it. I'm wondering why Billy Zane would appear in "Kill", I'm wondering why Danny Trejo would be in one scene for thirty seconds, and I'm wondering why Dr. Drew Pinksy would make such a random cameo (the dude's not even an actor).

Anyway, "Kill" at a running time of 80 minutes, is a so-called action film with more annoying dialogue than action. It's like the type of B-movie schlock that Bruce Willis would appear in regularly (apparently he wasn't available). It's also the type of patchwork flick that Adam Stephen Kelly would do on holiday (remember Kill Kane?)

Image result for fInal kill 2020 ed morrone movie scenesNow does Final Kill literally fail to take itself seriously? Oh you betcha. And does its gnawing of bad, tongue-in-cheek labor and strained line readings get to you? Oh for sure.

The director of "Kill" is Mr. Justin Lee. His filming of shootouts is shoddy, his notion of wrapping everything up quickly is evident, his twists and turns are archaic for the viewer, and his use of chance flashbacks is obligatory to the nth degree.

Distributed by Cinedigm (they like to get involved in little-seen endeavors) and garnered without a rating (I would have gone with a weak R), First Kill is about a protection specialist who takes on one last job. He must protect a husband and wife who have stolen 8 million dollars from a well known crime outfit.

Ed Morrone plays said protection specialist and his performance is like nails on a chalkboard. He's not a bad actor but he clearly doesn't think the audience knows how irksome he truly is.

Image result for fInal kill 2020 ed morrone movie scenesBottom line: First Kill clearly didn't need to be made (but sadly it was). Once is the "final" time I will ever see it. Look for a low budget feel despite some gleaming shots of palm-treed Costa Rica (I sure hope it was Costa Rica). Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Way Back 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars

The Way BackDirector: Gavin O'Connor
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins

Jack Cunningham (played by art imitating life suitor Ben Affleck) is a former high school star basketball player turned construction worker. Jack is also a weary alcoholic who eventually takes a job as the head b-ball coach at his former Alma mater. That's the initial rub of 2020's non-sobering and dark turned, The Way Back. It's my latest review.

Yup, I am announcing The Way Back as one of this year's best films (so far). After seeing it earlier today, I realized that not every basketball movie is completely about basketball. As Lester Burnham's desk sign painfully says, "Look Closer".

Image result for the way back 2020 movie scenesAffleck's performance as "Way Back's" lead role is probably in his top three of all time (behind O'Bannion from Dazed and Confused and Jim Young from Boiler Room). Ben's work here is raw and unflinching, a sort of flask exorcising of his own personal demons (the real-life Affleck has supposedly dealt with alcoholism for most of his adult life).

Directed by the guy responsible for The Accountant (Gavin O'Connor), shot mainly in grainy close-ups, and featuring dreary, Southern California as anything but paradise, "Way Back" is the type of film you'd get if you threw Leaving Las Vegas, 2012's Flight, and The Bad News Bears into a cinematic blender.

Gavin O'Connor fashions The Way Back as a revealing character study with just a little shred of James Naismith thrown in. His style as a filmmaker is clean and streamlined, with a twist here, a detour there, and an admission you don't quite see coming.

Image result for the way back 2020 movie scenes
Some sports flicks are predictable (Glory Road, The Fighter), some sports flicks are bland (Remember the Titans, Cinderella Man), and some sports flicks are just plain awful (The Replacements, The Waterboy). The Way Back is not in any of these categories and that's why I dug it. It's a secretive PSA for any middle aged man who can't seem to lay off the sauce. "Way Back" is also O'Connor's directorial, redemption story set to the shadowy and most dirtied-up boroughs of LA. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Night Clerk 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

The Night ClerkDirector: Michael Cristofer
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Helen Hunt, John Leguizamo

"That's a very complicated question". The Night Clerk (my latest review) is not that "complicated" of a movie. I mean not if you rewatch the ending over and over. At a running time of an hour and a half, "Night Clerk" probably could have concluded in say, fifteen minutes. As Sergeant Roger Murtaugh would quip, "pretty thin, huh?"

Anyway, 2020's The Night Clerk contains a capable cast including a weathered Helen Hunt, a weathered Jonathon Schaech, Spielberg and Jeremy Allen White lookalike Tye Sheridan, and the always likable John Leguizamo. The film is about a kooky hotel clerk who gets embroiled in the murder of woman who happens to be staying at said hotel.

Image result for the night clerk movie scenesStylistic, Hitchcockian, nocturnal, and of the noir variety, "Night Clerk" contains the most surveillance cameras in it this side of 1993's Sliver. Heck, after seeing this flick you might think twice about checking in to the nearest Red Roof Inn (ha).

Directed by a dude known for winning a Pulitzer Prize (Michael Cristofer), containing quick cut flashbacks, and distributed by Saban Films, The Night Clerk comes off as a voyeuristic persona study for its game lead in Tye Sheridan (he plays a lodge front desk guy named Bart Bromley).

Sheridan's performance is a tad annoying (and frustrating) but he plays the part with total, nuanced discipline. He digs pretty deep and his shtick projects as the type of role Robin Williams would have took on right after appearing in One Hour Photo (you gotta love those weirdo techy people).

Image result for the night clerk movie scenesAll in all, The Night Clerk is slow in spots and at first, feels too tangled for its own good. Take another look at it (like I did) and you might not have to revert back to its quote from the first paragraph of my review ("that's a very complicated question"). Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Disturbing the Peace 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

Disturbing the PeaceDirector: York Alec Shackleton
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Guy Pearce, Kelly Kelly, Michael Sirow

2020's Disturbing the Peace is my latest review. And no, it has nothing to do with loud noise complaints, Matthew McConaughey playing bongos naked, or a hardcore party going on.

Released in January of this year, echoing a Hells Angels sentiment, and written by an actual federal agent, "Peace" is helmed by the guy who made 2018's mediocre 211 (Mr. York Alec Shackleton). Shackleton picks up right where 211 left off. Bank robberies, lots of hailed strafing, endless shootouts, and racked machismo abound.

Image result for disturbing the peace 2020 movie scenesStarring the likes of Memento's Guy Pearce (doing an OK Southern accent) and featuring direct-to-video auteur Devon Sawa, Disturbing the Peace is like an all over the place, B-movie Western. It can also be called Heat (or Den of Thieves) for the pseudo, Mayberry crowd.

So yeah, I was enthralled with "Peace's" fast-paced, empty slickness. And yes, there were a lot of beautiful, badass actresses involved (Barbie Blank, Kelly Greyson). Still, Disturbing the Peace can't masked its weird camera angles, its community theater acting from the supporting cast, and its overly vacant direction. Shackleton needs to graduate from the doldrums of triviality before he can venture into Michael Mann territory.

With a working title of Gunfighter and distributed by six companies (Momentum Pictures being one of them), "Peace" has to do with a biker gang who wants to reek havoc on a small, fictitious town in Texas. They want to rob a municipal bank and steal from an armored vehicle that happens to carry a crap load of money.

Image result for disturbing the peace 2020 movie scenesAll in all, Disturbing the Peace is never unvaried and it gives new meaning to the term, "death in broad daylight". I just wish director Shackleton didn't feel the need to rehash the bullet-ridden tropes of "raging Cage-ing" 211. Mentioned earlier, that flick wasn't really great to begin with. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Fantasy Island 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

Fantasy IslandDirector: Jeff Wadlow
Year: 2020
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Maggie Q., Lucy Hale, Michael Pena

"Da plane! Da plane!". That's the famous quote from the 70's television series Fantasy Island. Now over forty years later, we have Fantasy Island the movie. Fantasy Island the movie is like the PG-13 rated horror version of the TV show. I also got a sort of tingling, Twilight Zone/Flatliners vibe as I watched it.

2020's Fantasy Island contains actors you thought were kinda out of the business at this point (Maggie Q., Michael Rooker, Kim Coates). Fantasy Island also makes these actors seem goofy while they play down to their forgone potential. The film is about five linked people who visit a fictitious island only to have their fantasies turn into wretched nightmares.

Campy, creepy, stupidly humored, tone confused, and lushly story boarded (at least until the final act), Fantasy Island entered theaters this month with little hype, little marketing, and a kind of dated approach. It's eerie fun for most of the way though and it's a long shot but the midnight movie circuit might be calling Fantasy Island in years to come.

Directed by a guy known for action and/or horror flicks (Jeff Wadlow) and garnering a running time of 109 minutes, Fantasy Island is kinda wishy-washy about what it really wants to be. For my money, it's outmoded tripe for anyone nostalgic about the late Ricardo Montalban (or the late Herve Villechaize). It's also B-movie tripe for anyone who dug the revised movie versions of Charlie's Angels, CHiPs, and/or Baywatch.

Image result for fantasy island 2020 movie scenes
Helmer Wadlow fashions Fantasy Island as a fast-paced mutt of a film with twists and turns thrown in just for the heck of it. He likes to pull the rug out from underneath you but it feels like it's strictly for show.

"Dear Mr. Fantasy", I liked various moments of savage buffoonery in Fantasy Island but I'm giving it a rating of 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Host 2020 * * * Stars

Director: Andy Newbery
The Host
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Mike Buckingham, Maryam Hassouni, Dougie Poynter

"We can choose any road, even on the wrong path". I "chose" to see 2020's The Host. No not the horror thriller from years ago that was directed by Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho. This is The Host from this year. And there are no real monsters this time, just human ones.

Anyway, The Host is a little noir, a little dramatic thriller, and a little torture porn all rolled into one. The unknown actors in it (at least they were unknown to me) gave it their all. They are dropped in to "Host's" slickness and unsafe fortitude. 

Image result for the host 2020 movie scenesAs far as releases go circa this new decade, "Host" intrigued me throughout. You think it's one type of movie until it eventually turns into something resembling Eli Roth's Hostel or Saw. At a running time of 102 minutes, "Host's" twists and turns run rabid until the flick's plot gives the viewer almost no wiggle room to work with. Oh well. I needed some escapism and yup, The Host gave it to me.

Now would I say that The Host is a ludicrous mashup of different motion picture genres? Yes I would. Would I recommend it to my worldwide viewership? Sure why not. 

Shot in London (with an authentic cast of mostly East Asian descent) and directed by a TV guy named Andy Newbery, "Host" chronicles banker and compulsive gambler, Robert Atkinson (played by Mike Beckingham). In order to settle a mob-related debt, Atkinson must fly over to Amsterdam to deliver an illegal briefcase full of heroin drug money. That's all I'm going to say because The Host eventually goes rogue and well, the main protagonist doesn't quite make it (that's rare and ballsy in today's cinema).  

Image result for the host 2020 movie scenesBottom line: The Host is dark and dangerous. It's the sort of film where you get dizzy on its labyrinth of toxicity (look for various, metaphoric shots in "Host" where a creepy spiral staircase is involved). Rating: 3 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) 2020 * * * Stars

Birds of PreyDirector: Cathy Yan
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor

It was the summer of 2016. I was sitting in a theater viewing the DC Comics pic, Suicide Squad. Sadly, it was out of sorts, disjointed, and feverishly edited. I didn't quite dig it like I dug its trailer. Cut to four years later and "Squad's" follow-up (Birds of Prey) is a well-tuned improvement. Its title character named Harley Quinn, becomes "the mighty Quinn" (Ha).

Anyway, Birds of Prey has to do with Harley (Margot Robbie), Harley's recovery from her Joker breakup, her love of fried egg sandwiches, and her dodging from thugs led by a criminal mind known as Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Robbie and McGregor are the acting standouts here. They are a nasty hoot playing respectively, the antihero protagonist and the snobbishly villain bully.

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Reflecting on Birds of Prey, I was reminded of the female version of Suicide Squad. Joining forces with Harley Quinn are the "crossbow killer" (Huntress), a Gotham City Police Detective (Renee Montoya), a vigilante (Black Canary), and a pickpocket (Cassandra Cain). They are all girly girl badasses and they put on a superior action showcase in "Prey's" last fifteen minutes.

Prey's Director (Cathy Yan) shoots hyperkinetic fight scenes and car chases spiked with a deranged, carnival feel. Her look of the film is cinematic cotton candy, rainbow snow cones, and sweet, dirty perfume. Yan also likes to occasionally freeze a frame and use a telestrator to outline a character's face. Finally, she tells "Prey's" story to a somewhat Rashomon effect. That means there are flashbacks and various interpretations of "Prey's" slightly messy plot mechanics.

Image result for birds of prey movie scenesLike most DC flicks, Birds of Prey isn't epic or crucial but boy is it a lot of fun (yup, there might be a sequel). "Prey" is demented, fantasyland stuff and with every violent bone crack and every dry humored quip, you get a mucky wink wink from everyone involved. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

John Henry 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

John HenryDirector: Will Forbes
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Terry Crews, Chris Bridges

John Henry (played with solid screen presence by Terry Crews) is a reserved man living in ghetto-bird Compton, California. When two immigrants flee the clutches of a street gang and wind up on his doorstep, John tries to protect them in any way he can (you gotta love the power of a good old sledgehammer). That's the gist of 2020's bloodstained and callous, John Henry. At a running time of 91 small-scale minutes that teeter into art film territory, it's my latest review.

Distributed by Saban Films, referencing The Human Centipede, and shot almost two years ago in palm treed LA, John Henry comes off as a sort of B-movie with a torrid, grindhouse effect. It's also like watching a lowly commercialized version of Menace II Society (or Baby Boy) mixed with a little Taxi Driver ("I'm God's lonely man").

Image result for john henry 2020 movie scenes"John Henry has rookie director Will Forbes using various camera angles (and POV shots) with an over-stylized flavor. He's ambitious, he's a bit of a show-off, and he commits his whole, mannered shtick to the background sounds of basement tape rap songs (which I kinda liked).

Will's editor (Joe Rosenbloom of 2018's Monster Party) fashions John Henry as choppy, random, and askew. Characters you think are dead wind up alive, various shootouts seemed squeamish yet ill-choreographed, and I didn't quite comprehend the use of VHS recorded flashbacks circa 1994.

Image result for john henry 2020 movie scenes"Oh well. John Henry has some decent casting (I liked the villain named Hell with part of his face cut off) and despite its shortcomings, possesses an effective way of making the viewer feel unsafe. "Henry" is overly violent, overly mean-spirited, slang-ed in dialogue, and bruised to the gills. I just wish helmer Forbes had tried to settle down and tell his story more systematically. "Oh Henry!" Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Gentlemen 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

The GentlemenDirector: Guy Ritchie
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant

2019's The Gentlemen is my latest review. And no, it doesn't include Sting, Alan Ford, Jason Statham, or Vinnie Jones in its cast (I kinda wish it did). "Gentlemen" is about a once poverty-stricken American who sells off his marijuana enterprise only to get a bunch of criminal blokes who want to steal it from him profit free.

Image result for the gentlemen movie scenesReleased in London via December of last year and featuring a persona named Dry Eye (that's so Ritchie), "Gentlemen" has director Guy Ritchie in held back, gangster reserved mode. It's not as violent as I thought it would be nor is it as fresh (or nasty). Yup, "Gentlemen" is a bona fide, Ritchie retread. Too bad it lacks the snap, crackle, and pop of his earlier stuff (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).

Starring the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant (who are all quite good), The Gentlemen has plenty of jump cuts, actors with thick British accents, spit-fire dialogue, numerous flashbacks, a sloppy narrative, and plenty of good old Ritchie speak ("f**k off then", "double bubble", "c*nt", "bullocks", "on the tele"). "Gentlemen" also contains too many characters that fade in and out and shoot-'em-up scenes that build dramatic momentum only to come to a screeching halt.

Image result for the gentlemen movie scenesFor me, Guy Ritchie has enough cinematic trickery up his sleeve and enough spent energy for five filmmakers. He's like the United Kingdom's version of Quentin Tarantino and/or Marty Scorsese. Pity that he's not much a storyteller because The Gentlemen is a little ponderous, a little shilly-shally, and all over the map. When the end credits for "Gentlemen" come up you hear the song "That's Entertainment" by The Jam. That's funny because the word entertainment and the bulk of The Gentlemen don't quite gel. Rating: 2 and a half stars for well, the empty style points and the lush UK interiors.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The 31st Annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival - Jan. 24th, 25th, and the 26th, 2020

Image result for 31st annual notre dame student film festivalGreetings from snowy Notre Dame, Indiana. This is my sixth time covering this glorious film festival. All in all, there were twelve films shown with running times ranging from four to fourteen minutes. The documentaries were the best part (that's just a personal preference for me). Here are some of the strongest highlights coupled with ratings and reviews:

Tape Wizard * * * Stars
Collaborator: Kilian Vidourak
-Tape Wizard is a short documentary that makes you say, "what the!" but in a good way. It's about a dude (Randall Taylor) who's stuck in the 80's and makes melodic music via a tape recorder. I was fascinated by how broad-based Taylor was and I wanted the proceedings to go on just a little longer.

Image result for 2020 notre dame student film festivalSandbranch * * * Stars
Collaborators: Kelli Smith, Bella Martinez
-Flint, Michigan eat your heart out! Sandbranch is a docu about an area outside of Dallas, Texas that doesn't have clean water. The people living there inhabit a doleful existence yet they are still unchanging and upbeat. Sometimes unfocused yet elevated by the camera peaking in, Sandbranch has loose, effective interviews that keep things real.

Anima * * * Stars
Collaborators: Brian Hames, Joey Warner, Emily Ragan
-Anima is a mind-bending, sci-fi short that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's not The Matrix seeing that it's about boyfriend/girlfriend infidelity. I loved the techy synth music and I enjoyed the cinematic hook that occurs during the closing credits. Heck, Anima would make famed director Alex Garland proud.

Image result for 2020 notre dame student film festivalNotre Drinking * * * Stars
Collaborator: Nicole Mannion
-Dug the title but I felt a little uncomfortable watching Notre Drinking. It's about the binging habits of ND students and it puts a sore eye on their revealing plight. Still well done and still recommendable though. Of note: I hope the parents of said students don't see this short. And I hope these students don't extend the notion of alcoholism to be their self-fulfilling prophecy.

Regular Poor Asian * * * 1/2 Stars
Collaborator: Kenny Xu
-This is the best entry in the 2020, ND film festival. Taking place in NYC, it's a fast-paced, fast-cutting docu that discusses the Asian American role in the career world. I loved the archive footage used from older flicks (A Christmas Story) and I reveled in the offbeat humor. The director of Regular Poor Asian is a born filmmaker. I certainly hope he continues to further his Hollywood dreams.

Image result for 2020 notre dame student film festivalSmash (and Grab 'N Go) * * * Stars
Collaborator: Ted Nagy
-Making good use of a flashback and having a quirky narrative told out of chronological order, Smash (and Grab 'N Go) is a swift, lively way to end an ND flick fest. Just think 1994's The Chase but without the getaway car sex scene (ha). Of note: Look for a pseudo cameo at the end from ND football coach Brian Kelly. Or was it actually Brian Kelly? I couldn't tell.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Like a Boss 2020 * Star

Like a BossDirector: Miguel Arteta
Year: 2020
Rated R
Rating: * Star
Cast: Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek

"Business and friendship don't always mix". Comedies and January release dates don't always mix either. My latest review is 2020's Like a Boss and it came out last week. Whoever had a hand in making it needs to be "demoted" or drummed out.

Anyway, have you ever taken in a raunchy chick flick that sort of evaporates as you view it? And have you ever seen an R-rated farce that's dirty yet fails to really push the envelope? Like a Boss is both of these things and it makes stuff like Girls Trip and Bridesmaids feel like Oscar winners in comparison.

Image result for like a boss movie scenesLike a Boss, with its genitalia jokes, its workplace drones, and its umpteenth filming location in Atlanta, Georgia, is like an 83-minute exercise in which comedic scenes flop and die. Director Miguel Arteta (he's mostly a TV guy) favors a lousy script for actresses who deserve a better one. He also favors outtake-style line deliveries as opposed to the funnier bits that were obviously left in the trailers.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures, harboring a look of feminine pastel purgatory, and featuring an overreaching co-star in Salma Hayek, Like a Boss is about female besties Mel and Mia (played by Rose Byrne and always-in-character Tiffany Haddish). They run a cosmetics company that's about to go under until they invest with a nasty magnate who wants to steal all their good ideas.

In truth, the screenplay for Like a Boss is its biggest culprit. Rambling on about friendship and roaring career women, it feels arbitrarily dated, totally unfunny, trite, and completely fanciful. It brings out the worst in the actors even if they brought their A game or Meryl Streep for moral support.

Image result for like a boss movie scenesBottom line: Thanksgiving has come early this year in the form of Like a Boss. It's truly a turkey. Better yet, it's a turkey with cheap mascara and silver ball bearings attached to it. Dug the title though. Rating: 1 star.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 17, 2020

1917 2019 * * * Stars

1917Director: Sam Mendes
Year: 2019
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Benedict Cumberbatch

It was September of 1999. I was sitting in a South Bend, IN movie theater watching the domestic dysfunction that is American Beauty. Its director (Sam Mendes) won an Oscar that year and I was thinking to myself, "this guy might have something". Cut to twenty years later and Mendes is back with the on the mark yet sometimes tedious, 1917 (my latest review).

Sam's 1917 has to do with World War I (hence the title). Two British soldiers named Tom Blake and Will Schofield (played wonderfully by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) have to deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. Said message is for the Devonshire Regiment to call off a planned attack that could save the lives of 1600 men.

Image result for 1917 movie scenesReflecting on 1917, I was reminded of two filming techniques done in two different movies by the same director. The movies in question are The Revenant and Birdman and they are helmed by Mexico City's own Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Mendes takes a page out of Inarritu's gifted, how-did-they-film-that playbook. He shoots 1917 in almost one continuous take and his camerawork is surrounding, provocative, and completely encircling. The camera is rather a stalker that stalks in panoramic fashion, every single movement by the actors. It's an impressive feat if not a gimmick and you wonder if 1917 would be totally conventional had it not been for Sam's audacious trickery.

Wonderment and impeccable dramatic timing aside, 1917 isn't brutally rabid like other war pics. It's also shot low to the ground with its WWI trenches immersing as staunch main characters. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is lush, wide lens-ed, and wholly canvassed. Finally, 1917's ending is the best part because it's a culmination and a journey evoking real vehemence. Will 1917 win some Academy Awards next month? I thinking yeah. Out of ten nominations it sure as heck better. Rating: 3 stars.

Image result for 1917 movie scenesOf note: Check out the final credits in which you realize that the paternal grandfather of Sam Mendes (Alfred Mendes) actually served in the First World Wars. That is in a word, inspiring.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 13, 2020

Underwater 2020 * * Stars

UnderwaterDirector: William Eubank
Year: 2020
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Vincent Cassel

"You're descending seven miles to the bottom of the ocean". Sounds like a hoot. That's a quote from my first review of 2020 titled Underwater. Kristen Stewart stars in Underwater as the short-haired, athletic heroine named Norah Price. Aside from looking like a female Roy Batty, Kristen has screen presence and is embroiled in "underwear". Sadly, her line readings are a little garbled.

Anyway, Underwater is draggy even with a running time of ninety-five minutes. Yup, it's not fully epic despite having shades of 2005's The Descent. In fact, Underwater resembles a lot of flicks such as Leviathan, The Abyss, DeepStar Six, Alien, Life, and (gulp) Event Horizon. Here's the problem: Underwater came after all that stuff so that deems it a little last-ditch. What a shame.

Image result for underwater 2020 movie scenesNow has Hollywood run out of ideas in the regurgitated, sci-fi realm? Oh yeah. And is Underwater the outline of true life form leftovers? Almost.

The director of Underwater is Massachusetts native and former HD technician, William Eubank. His vision of Underwater is murky cinematography, choppy editing (no pun intended), pouncing jump scares, not a whole lot of critter striking, and not a whole lot of character development.

Underwater has virtually no buildup as we the audience watch the film from perhaps the middle or second act. Besides some cringe-worthy comic relief from goofball (and Hudson wannabe) T.J. Miller, the personas are virtually non-indelible. They are slack passengers just waiting for the parasitic slaughter.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox and containing a decent musical score by Marco Beltrami (Free Solo, A Quiet Place), Underwater is about heinously morphed creatures who terrorize some research crew members far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Image result for underwater 2020 movie scenesLook for a backhanded ending (which I liked) and some science fiction dialogue that reeks of vessel deja vu (that I didn't like). Underwater was released in January and was shot almost three years ago. That's some bad cinematic juju if you ask me. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson