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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fear Pharm 2020 * * 1/2 Stars


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


"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


"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


"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


"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

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Deep Blue Sea 3 2020 * * 1/2 Stars


"There's blood in the water". Uh-oh! Here come those pesky sharks. There's three bull ones and they don't look very happy. Said sharks terrorize a small island that appears like a tropical Venice in Deep Blue Sea 3 (my latest review). 

So yeah, "3" has some annoying characters, a nuance on the gore, and a somewhat sexy lead in LA girl Tania Raymonde. Deep Blue Sea 3 also has a low budget feel and some obvious CGI effects that are groomed and primed for the Syfy channel. Finally, "3" diverts from being strictly a shark attack flick and instead throws a little side drama in the mix. I'm not gonna recommend it but heck, there are points to be given.   

Anyhow, Deep Blue Sea 3 is indeed sick-making but it tries so hard to avoid being yet another shark-invested endeavor. In total verity, it's like an above-water version of The Abyss except that the dialogue is cheesy and pulled straight from a CBS TV series. 

Director John Pogue (he co-wrote 2002's Ghost Ship) provides "3" with a few shark pouncing payoffs that intertwine with a couple of persona non grata betrayals. They kinda add to the film's dare to be novel. Johnny boy is no James Cameron but at least he avoids being a flashy stepchild to sometimes hollow style monger Renny Harlin.  

Shot on a sort of leftover location from Waterworld and having pretty much nothing to do with the original Deep Blue Sea from 1999 (furthermore, I never knew Deep Blue Sea 2 even existed), "3" is an elevated B-movie that despite its drawbacks, tropes other bad B-movies. Sans the obvious nod to all things elasmobranch, "3" probably could've avoided being a sequel and just accrued to existing as its own entity. Therefore, I give it a sympathetic yet mixed review.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Tenet 2020 * * 1/2 Stars Tenet Original Movie Poster 27x40 Advance 2 Sided Robert  Pattinson Christopher Nolan: Posters & Prints


"Hasn't happened yet". Yeah it has. 2020's Tenet has finally hit movie theaters. Time to 'Mask Up', keep six feet, and avoid sitting next to seat-filling strangers.

So OK, you got a wooden John David Washington (Denzel's son) in the lead. You got miscued sound editing that's only hindered by a bludgeoning soundtrack. You got a 150-minute running time that flows at a somewhat decent clip. Finally, you got the obligatory Michael Caine cameo that always plays opposite the main persona. Yeah Tenet is the flick that director Christopher Nolan was probably born to make. The question is, were we born to see it?

Anyway, Tenet is an out of the box, scrambled spy thriller that might require multiple viewings. And that's even if you didn't enjoy it. Nolan working from his own clunky script, fashions his altered version of Back to the Future Part II except that everyone is occasionally walking and talking backwards.  

Action-packed yet overly mysterious and lacking in character background within the first hour, Tenet is Nolan at his most ambitious and/or most opaque. Too bad his storytelling sensibilities can't coincide with well, his stark ambition.  

As something about a secret agent who has to steal a case of plutonium which would adhere to the start of World War III, Tenet is an enigma wrapped inside a coffer wrapped inside a gimmickry bubble. The film is a human Zapruder because you have to rewind scenes in your head just to figure out what the heck is going on (hence the multiple viewings).

Christopher Nolan as a helmer, isn't in the business of entertaining you. He wants to educate you, like an MIT professor who's bent on getting a darn Field's Medal. It's his world, his rules, and we're just sitting in the middle while sucking on it for $10 bucks a pop. I'm going with a rating of 2 and a half stars until I see Tenet again, "tentatively". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Blood Quantum 2019 * * * Stars

Blood Quantum (2019) - IMDb


"Did you get bit?" Bit by a stumbling zombie that is. Zombies invade a random, early 80's Native Indian reservation in 2019's Blood Quantum (my latest review). These witchcraft-ed creatures even take the form of gutted fish and husky dogs.

Anyway, Blood Quantum certainly earns its title because there are buckets of red dye corn syrup flowing throughout. Shot in dark hues, built up slowly, and featuring a musical score that seems straight out of a John Carpenter flick, Blood Quantum feels cut from original cloth despite being yet another afterthought, corpse endeavor.

Now we all know that zombie movies have been done to death and completely brain fed (no puns intended). Blood Quantum concentrates a lot more on its downtrodden characters, family-oriented dramatic shifts, and layered plot. That makes it revivifying and Judgement Day recommendable. 

Cerebral, gory, grave, and briefly time-lined, Blood Quantum is for all intensive purposes, a thinking person's zombie vehicle. It's also like an art house, antithesis version of say, Zombieland and/or Shaun of the Dead. Sorry guys, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg ain't around for some apocalyptic comic relief. Oh and Simon Pegg's deadpan goofiness needn't apply here either.    

Directed by a dude that composes his own music (Canadian Jeff Barnaby), reminiscent of an undead Red Dawn, and filmed in Listuguj, Quebec, Blood Quantum involves betrayal, beheaded death, and the loss of everyday, law and order normalcy. 

Helmer Barnaby breathes some fresh air into "the walking dead" kaleidoscope in regards to Blood Quantum. With some rack focusing, some overhead shots, some cartoon imagery, and lots of drenched, blood-soaked likenesses, he's as confident as any filmmaker in the last ten years. He'd rather punch you in the cinematic mouth than play it safe. Bottom line: There will be "blood". Oh yes, there will be "blood". Rating: 3 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson