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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Paydirt 2020 * 1/2 Stars


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


"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


"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


"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