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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.

Image result for fantasy island 2020 movie scenesCampy, 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 scenesHelmer 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