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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