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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Honest Thief 2020 * * 1/2 Stars


"No one knows who I am". I do. You're Liam Neeson, one of my acting heroes. You love to talk intensely on the phone, you love to move like a 40-year-old, you love to evade the po-po, and you love to punch people in the chest (natch).

Anyhow, Neeson stars in 2020's Honest Thief (my latest review). "Thief" was released in October and was filmed just outside of Boston (that would be Worcester, MA). In truth, Honest Thief is never boring and moves at a relentless clip. There are car chases, wrongful murders, and an underused Robert Patrick (that stinks). 

Featuring Neeson, a miscast Kate Walsh, and a nasty antagonist in Jai Courtney (doesn't he always play the creep-o?), "Thief" runs a scatterbrained 99 minutes. There are too many side characters, too many revelations, and one annoying dog (don't ask). Neeson's 2015 vehicle Run All Night is similar in scope to "Thief". If only the latter measured up. 

So yeah, Honest Thief is too self-serious with its personas feeling the need to completely explain themselves. Second-time director Mark Williams needed a better editor to sift through this intention-ed mess. Added to that, Jai Courtney (mentioned earlier) plays a psychotic FBI dude who goes off the rails rather quickly. You wonder why the feds would even bother to let this sicko be in the field in the first place.  

Honest Thief is about a bank robber named Tom Dolan (Neeson). He confesses to the FBI in order to get a reduced sentence. Tom is doing this because he wants to come clean to his loving girlfriend. Here's the kicker: A couple of the FBI agents are dirty and want to collect the bank robber's money amassed over the past few years. We're talking $9 million in cash. 

"Thief" is worth a rental but know this: It's basically Neeson reheated leftovers. Liam at 68 can still carry a thriller but you'd like him to carry one that's more "honest". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Candy Cane Christmas 2020 * 1/2 Stars


"Find a way to make this Christmas magical". Okay sure. If only I could "find a way" to avoid penning a bad write-up for Lifetime's latest tinseled helping. 

Anyway, an unappealing flower shop owner and a pushover veterinarian run into each other excessively during the holidays. This is amidst the dilemma of securing a longtime Christmas tradition. For some odd and/or forced reason, these passing ships believe they are meant to be together. That's the blueprinted gist of 2020's cringe-y, Candy Cane Christmas.  

Filmed in Ottawa, Canada, harboring romance for dummies, and distributed in assembly line fashion by Lifetime Television, "Candy Cane" is misguided, distressed, and designing. It has officially caused me to take a break from reviewing these types of manipulative, yuletide endeavors. Every moment in this sweet-toothed flick prolongs the viewer until the inevitable rears its futile head. The obligatory kiss comes at the end and even the mistletoe eventually becomes a little wilted. 

"Candy Cane" is directed by sometimes thriller and horror helmer, Adrian Langley. Using spare locations, a vapid script, unknown troupers, and a little counterfeit snow, he shoots the film in a slow burn, awkward manner. The main characters are on chain of events autopilot as they share a bunch of pseudo, cutesy moments before actually canoodling. 

To make matters worse, said main characters have to deal with their head case friends who act as sort of relationship therapists. In your mind, you want to slap them silly. "Why? She seems so sweet". "Just give her a chance Eric". "Don't you think it's time". "Would it be so terrible to have someone interested?" "Sounds like you need a distraction". Gimme a freaking break. If I want romantic advice I'll throw a bunch of money at a professional and plop myself on a couch instead. Ugh.      

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 21, 2020

Echo Boomers 2020 * * Stars


"I didn't see anything". I did earlier today when I felt giddy and decided to hit the almighty Redbox. I saw Echo Boomers. It's a dated robbery flick directed by a rookie and it's overt style that sometimes begets substance. 2010's The Town while more epic in scope, did this stuff better ten years earlier. 

Anyway, "Echo" is my latest write-up. Using fast cutting flashbacks and title cards in cursive, "Echo" was released in November while being filmed almost two years ago (January 2019). Echo Boomers' helmer (Seth Savoy) commits to every shot as if his life depended on it. Channeling Joe Carnahan and a little D. J. Caruso, he fashions a vehicle that is briskly editied, hyperkinetic, snide, and unintentionally hollow. 

Echo Boomers takes place in Chicago yet you can tell it was sometimes filmed elsewhere (some Second City exteriors, Salt Lake City, and neighboring Los Angeles). I live in Chi-town and yup, that always seems to annoy the heck out of me. 

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger's son Patrick (who might even be a better actor than his father), featuring Michael Shannon as the always reliable co-star, and running a fast-paced ninety-four minutes, "Echo" contains mostly unlikable characters who you don't feel much sympathy for. Even Patrick Schwarzenegger's persona as the antihero protagonist, has unclear reservations by the time "Echo" concludes. 

Echo Boomers is based on a true story (I'm thinking it's the bare bones of a true story). It's about some arrogant millennials who break in, amass mass destruction, and steal from the wealthiest families in The Windy City. They do this because they can't get jobs and feel cheated by their place in the US economy. That's funny, boo-hoo-ish, and forced. I know plenty of adults between the ages of 22 and 38 and they seem to be doing just fine. Pure bullocks perhaps? You decide.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Too Close for Christmas 2020 * 1/2 Stars


"Are you okay?" That seems to get asked a lot in the Lifetime film I'm about to review. Yes I'm okay, we're okay, things are okay, it's okay. Geesh!

So yeah, in Too Close for Christmas there's plenty of holiday cheer, schmaltzy remnants, roasted chestnuts, and characters that are so into the festive season they might as well be from the North Pole. The budget for "Too Close" was probably in the $1-$1.5 million dollar range. That's $900,000 for decorative sets and ornaments alone.

Anyway, the blase story of Too Close for Christmas involves a romantic interlude between Hayley (played by Jessica Lowndes) and Paul (played by Chad Michael Murray). They reconnect five days before Jesus' birthday with Paul being responsible for ending Hayley's last relationship over a year ago. Spoiler alert: Hayley's adopted sister and Paul's brother are married and about to have a kid. Hayley and Pauly even thinking about hooking up seems oddly wrong to me.  

Clocking in at eighty-eight minutes and showcasing the actor's hairstyles because they needn't be bothered to wear winter hats in snowy weather, "Too Close" is a bit of a slog and predictable as gifting credit card bills in the month of January. Come on, you just know Hayley and Paul are going to end up together (but why?). And yeah, there's always that big delayed smooch that comes at the very end. 

Too Close for Christmas has its actors looking straight out of a GQ catalog while its actresses appear to always be in makeup (even as they get out of bed). Murray with his stilted line deliveries, his manipulative grin, and his George Clooney head tilt seems to come off as mostly annoying here. He's a capable trouper but he's in a flick that's "too close for un-comfort".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Rental 2020 * * 1/2 Stars


"It can never happen again". Yeah but it surely did. I "rented" The Rental. It's a nether thriller by James Franco's brother Dave and yeah, I never knew the dude was even a director. Not great but not too bad for his first go-around.  

Anyhow, 2020's "Rental" is my latest review. It was released in July of this year and was shot in the lush cities of Bandon and Portland, Oregon. In truth, Dave Franco knows where to put the camera in regards to The Rental. He creates a flick that is somewhat Hitchcockian, somewhat Brian De Palma, cloaked in frankness, and darkly atmospheric in its tack. 

Watching "Rental", you might think twice about spending time in a seaside home for a weekend. That's especially if someone is secretly filming you making dampened whoopee in a shower (yikes).

Starring Jeremy Allen White from Showtime's Shameless, featuring a disarming closing credits hook, and running a slight eighty-eight minutes, The Rental possesses two unlikable characters that are nonchalant about the concept of infidelity. One of said characters is even cheating on his wife with his brother's would-be girlfriend. Talk about cutting it close (ha-ha).

So yeah, "Rental" is all about sardonic friction from the word go. The problem is that its antagonist is unknown, speechless, robotic, and without any clear motive. Who is this Mr. Clean-style killer? What is his stone-faced deal? And why does he feel the need to off some la-di-da millennials along with his D-bag associate?

The Rental chronicles two couples who rent a home and are terrorized by a veritable, invasion of privacy wacko. This wacko also runs like a deer and seems palled on because he doesn't have anything else to do. Me, well if I'm in the lurch I write reviews just like this mixed one. "Rent"-a-cop-out. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Heart of the Holidays 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars


"Welcome home". Me, well I "welcome" the holidays 24/7. That's even if it's in the monstrosity that is 2020.

Anyway, Heart of the Holidays is a whimsical, luxuriate, and lighthearted romantic drama. It's also my latest review. As something about a woman who reconnects with an old boyfriend in her hometown via Upstate New York, "Heart" has the most appealing of female leads while packing a small wallop in emotional, yuletide convention. You can smell the bark of the tree, the Christmas cookies baking, the hot chocolate churning, and the Christmassy candles a blazing. "It's the most wonderful time of the year". Indeed.

Granted, Heart of the Holidays gets a little too soppy at the end and its setting of Upstate Crawleigh is purely fictional (I guess it's supposedly located somewhere near Buffalo). Still, "Heart" has likable characters, unforced flash, plenty of holiday pluck, and slow-burning chemistry between its dewy-eyed stars (Vanessa Lengies and Corey Sevier who's also the director). "Heart" minus any adulterated innuendo or suggested dialogue, is like watching a G-rated tinsel version of 2002's Sweet Home Alabama

Look for exterior overheads of New York City coupled with interior scenes filmed in Ontario, Canada (it's merely a Hallmark thing which is okay by me). Also know that Heart of the Holidays is cutesy like other Hallmark flicks but much more full-grown in its approach. Sevier's direction here is cozy, unforced, and tranquil as he gets every garnishing shot just right. 

The personas in "Heart" are good-natured denizens who deserve to have good things coming to them. Added to that, "Heart's" setting is pure, pop-up Christmas card with mellow panache and tones of soft, background lighting. Basically, the late Nora Ephron, the late Garry Marshall, and Nancy Meyers would be proud. I "heart" for Heart of the Holidays

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Christmas Unwrapped 2020 * * * Stars


"Don't you believe in a Christmas miracle?" I believe! I believe! Especially when the tree goes up in Rockefeller Center. It's 75 feet, it glistens brightly, and it shows up a few times in Christmas Unwrapped (my latest review).

Anyway, "Unwrapped" makes sense as a title because it has a reporter trying to "unwrap" the true motives of a millionaire. Said reporter also gets soft on said millionaire because you can't have a Lifetime Xmas flick without that sickly sweet notion. 

Filmed in Ottawa, Canada (but NYC seems to show up) and more mature while less cutesy than your typical holiday levy, Christmas Unwrapped really gets your yuletide juices flowing. Its lavish set design, Love Actually actuality, Frank Capra corn, and Christmassy tunage defeats any inner "Scrooge" you might have. 

Not overly sentimental, featuring a female lead that comes off as a little reserved, and projecting the ultimate holiday setting (New York City in late December), "Unwrapped" is dramatically corporate. Its thought-out script and reality vs fantasy story really hammer that notion home. 

Directed by Bosede Williams, harboring a cast of the obligatory good-looking people, and containing an actual villain (the never aging Cheryl Ladd), Christmas Unwrapped is exoticism meets the good tidings version of 27 Dresses

"Unwrapped" is about a news writer named Charity Jones (played by Beyonce lookalike Amber Stevens West). Jones investigates a rich dude named Erik Gallagher (played by Jay Hernandez lookalike Marco Grazzini). Gallagher is adopted and loves to give millions of dollars of gifts to children in his community. The kicker is that all of the gifts he obtains come from Santa himself (I guess he's best buds with St. Nick). 

Charity and Erik eventually get together and get that big smooch at the end. Don't worry though, there's much more profundity to Christmas Unwrapped than that. Rating: 3 stars.   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 7, 2020

Mank 2020 * * 1/2 Stars


"We're expecting great things". I was too, especially since I just finished watching a David Fincher film. Fincher is diverse, dark, and talented. He's a director that has been known to touch greatness (just watch 2007's Zodiac and you'll know what I mean). 

Anyhow 2020's Mank is my latest review. It was released in November by Netflix and is filmed in black and white. Truth be told, Fincher gives us one heck of a gimmick here. Watching Mank is surreal because it feels like you're literally taking in a flick from the 1940s. The lighting, the set design, the sound editing, and even the opening credits really bring you aback. 

Starring Gary Oldman and featuring a stirring musical score from a couple of Fincher veterans (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross), Mank runs a languid 131 minutes. Minus the solid performances and a bit of the whimsical, I felt like I was taking in a less entertaining version of The Aviator

So yeah, Mank is filled with flashbacks while being choppily edited and/or all over the place. David Fincher who's normally a supreme storyteller, loses a little bit of his focus here. There's a lot of scenes where the concept of point a to b almost doesn't exist. Added to that, Mank is dialogue-driven and it is dialogue-driven in the most recyclable way.  

Mank chronicles screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Herman co-wrote the infamous Citizen Kane but that sort of takes a backdrop. Mank is more about Mankiewicz the man and less about his involvement with "Kane". 

Mankiewicz was an alcoholic who died young at the age of 55. Oldman channels him brilliantly but where's the stuff where Mankiewicz is doing some actual writing. Fincher sees him more as a drunken depressive who's witty, opinionated, and off the cuff. I liked Mank's technical prowess and old worldliness but I'm going with a mixed rating.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, December 4, 2020

Deliver by Christmas 2020 * * 1/2 Stars


"It's complicated". The holidays always are. Then the January credit card bills come. Ugh. Don't worry though because Hallmark is here to make you feel cheery and warm once again. Ho ho ho!

Anyway Deliver by Christmas is my latest review. It was released in October of 2020 and was filmed during the summer of 2020. Could've fooled me. Talk about every scene looking like an effective, Yuletide pop-up card. 

Directed by Terry Ingram (an Xmas TV guy) and starring a dude who normally plays brooding types (Eion Bailey who might be above the material here), "Deliver" delivers plenty of saccharine-filled and/or sugary moments. After all, there were plenty of frosted Christmas cookies involved in the ornate making of Deliver by Christmas

So yeah, "Deliver" has some pedestrian line "deliveries" along with a frustrating premise that seems to prolong the inevitable. Heck, you gotta wonder if Deliver by Christmas could've even gotten made if cell phone technology didn't exist. You also gotta wonder how two people take so long to connect the dots of their kismet in a town where everybody knows everybody.  

"Deliver" is about a man and a woman named Josh and Molly (played by Bailey and the ravishing Alvina August). They meet randomly, text each other about baking tips, tint, and eventually get together in the days leading up to I guess, Christmas Eve. 

Josh is a widower, Molly is single and available, and there's some quasi chemistry involved between these nice-looking people. They kiss at the end and it looks a little staged and incumbent. Oh well. "Deliver" is a Hallmark flick and no matter how cheesy and how safe in terms of plot, the film's elaborate Christmassy look and December timing gets you in the holiday spirit. I'd take it over crap like 2004's Surviving Christmas any day.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth 2020 * * * Stars


"Craig comes from a line of shock jocks". I've never heard of the guy until now. "Craig" refers to radio personality and New Yorker Craig Carton. He is featured in a documentary that probes his early life till his present day actuality in 2020. Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth is said documentary and yup, it's my latest review.

Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth is about well, a loudmouth, a kind of controversial Howard Stern for the sports world. It's a straightforward docu that is of course, HBO ready. There are plenty of interviews, tight editing, flashbacks, decent NYC cinematography, and a sort of involuntary sympathy for its subject.

"Loudmouth" chronicles Craig Carton as he goes from being a successful broadcasting co-host to being a prison inmate at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg (that's in Pennsylvania). Carton who was a compulsive gambler, was convicted of securities fraud and wire fraud. As the film concludes, he is a free man after serving just one year of a 3-year sentence.

Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth is directed by two people (Marin Dunn, Marie McGovern). They do an adequate job considering that they might have not had control over final cut (their documentary is a mere 76 minutes long).

Dunn and McGovern's only misstep is allowing Carton to be featured too much, as if he were the financier, producer, and director himself. Carton seems like an okay dude who deserves a little redemption. However, Craig kind of uses his screen time in "Loudmouth" as a rudimentary platform or declaration. It's sort of off-putting but it doesn't deflate what is already a report worth revealing.

Bottom line: Every gambling addict might benefit from sitting down and watching "Loudmouth". This "downfall" via Craig's plight could only turn into a "rise".

Written by Jesse Burleson