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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Girls of Summer 2020 * * 1/2 Stars


"Are you guys still looking for a drummer?" So says the persona of Maren Taylor (Tori Titmas) in 2020's The Girls of Summer. "Summer" is a sort of musical drama and yup, it's my latest review.

Anyhow, The Girls of Summer is like a small scale version of A Star is Born. As something about a female musician who tries to make it big instead of tending to her father's farm, "Summer" is more a celebration of great country music performances as opposed to a true, feature-length film.

So OK, The Girls of Summer was nevertheless a surreal movie experience for me. Why? Because my hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan was featured as a locale. "Summer's" director (John D. Hancock) picks up right where he left off after 2015's The Looking Glass. An Indiana resident with a vast directorial resume, Hancock creates another solemn slice of Middle Americana.

That being said, the film is still choppily edited while it cuts a few corners. For instance, Taylor's father Frank (played by Jeff Puckett) is a man who is sadly addicted to drugs and alcohol. Why then, does his character arc seem so minimal and left on the cutting room floor? Same goes for Maren Taylor's romantic tryst with a former band member (Luke Thomas played by Nathan Hosner). Their courtship feels rushed, glossed over, and barely fleshed out.

Romance begot, I liked a lot of the live songs featured on The Girls of Summer and I dug the fact that the area I grew up in was promoted in spades. Still, "Summer" is a vehicle where the camera just peeks in giving the audience a bare bones of a plot.

John D. Hancock's similar The Looking Glass remains one of my favorite flicks from the last five years. Here, he opts for less dramatic heft, some head-scratching closing credits shots, and a blase ending. Bottom line: Hancock comes up a little short as he "bangs the drum" too softly.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Fear of Rain 2021 * * Stars


"Are you okay?" Me, I'm fine. But the lead in the flick I'm about to review is clearly not. She's in a sad state of affairs and boy it ain't fair. This girl is ill-fated and damned. She is popping pills, hurting herself, and having hallucinations like they're going out of style. Added to that, she has to worry about good old high school make-up work.  

Anyway, Fear of Rain is my latest write-up. It was released in February of this year and is distributed by Lionsgate. Directed by Florida native Castille Landon, "Rain" is the type of thriller that wanders aimlessly until things conveniently wrap up at the 90-minute-plus mark. The film is a character study about a teenager named Rain (of course). Rain has schizophrenia and while the pic sledgehammers that "beautiful mind" notion, the audience is left with a pretentious, stylistic mess. 

But hey, that doesn't mean the performances aren't raw, seething, and substantial. Fear of Rain stars Katherine Heigl, Harry Connick Jr., and Madison Iseman. There are some dramatic scenes that play out well between the three and "Rain" does have a few creepy moments. However, director Landon sidesteps her viewing public. She would rather divulge in weird camera angles, intertitles, grainy lightning, misplaced chimeras, and repetitive "voices in the head" stuff ("just kill yourself", "she's lying", "you're gonna die", blah blah blah). "Rain's" story doesn't really move along like it should. It just procrastinates without regard, indulging in phantasm platitudes.  

I said earlier that Fear of Rain is a character study. Well it also has elements that are too little, too late (like mystery, child abduction, and a twist or two). "Rain" lives and dies by its unintentional tagline of "a figment of your imagination or the real thing". Although well intended and researched, that material got old real fast.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Galentine's Day Nightmare 2021 * * * Stars


"Say goodnight Claire". In other words, someone wants to murder poor Claire in her sleep. Uh, psycho with grooming excellency alert!

So OK, we have a Valentine's Day Eve based on a girl's night out. A rookie director who knows how to twist and pull the audience. A Philadelphia setting where it's unseasonably warm. A Lifetime flick that's not helmed by the mainstays and barriers of David DeCoteau. Hey, it's time to take in 2021's Galentine's Day Nightmare.

Anyway, "Nightmare" is effective and labyrinth-ed in an old school sort of Lifetime way. This film harks back to the Lifetime pics I use to become addicted to in the 80s and 90s. Listen, we all know Lifetime movies have crazy, remorseless people in them that have no conscience, no couth, or even a shred of empathy. Galentine's Day Nightmare only reminds us that we crave this sort of thing as we nervously feel guilty about it all.

As something about a sly restaurant owner who tries to frame a one night stand for the murder of his working girl wife, Galentine's Day Nightmare gives invasion of privacy, manipulation, and pseudo identity theft the proper-ed treatment. Sliver's Zeke Hawkins while peeping in his own right, has nothing on "Nightmare's" nasty, alpha male villain (played by Drake lookalike and TV vet Anthony Grant).

The performances in "Nightmare" are raw and unassuming, the direction by Roxanne Boisvert is clean and tight, and the ending while a little deflating, lets us know that the bad guy really gets what's coming to him. Galentine's Day Nightmare is the reason why Lifetime vehicles will always be distance runners. They are cinematic train wrecks that not even the most snooty critic could look away from. Death, taxes, and Lifetime suck you ins are the only certainties we have. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Wrong Valentine 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


In 2021's The Wrong Valentine, the Valentine in question is a high school senior who goes psycho man crazy right off the bat. His name is David and he is played by Evan Adams. In other high school news, students from the late 70s called. They want David's wavy hairstyle and devil-may-care attitude back. Ha-ha. 

So yeah, "Valentine" is a "Wrong" Lifetime flick. It has Vivica A. Fox being well, Vivica A. Fox. It also has an overbearing parent persona, an overbearing best friend persona, an overbearing admissions recruiter persona, a Los Angeles setting, and good old director David DeCoteau. 

The Wrong Valentine verging on camp, contains a twisted twist towards the end that I didn't see coming. Don't worry though. You'll still get to hear Vivica spout that infamous "Wrong" Lifetime quip for the umpteenth time.  

Using the same aerial shots and probably the same high school shooting locations from other Lifetime pics, The Wrong Valentine chronicles teenager Emily (played by Mariah Robinson). Emily is in the history club, Emily's birthday happens to be on Valentine's Day, and Emily is being pursued by 18-year-old David (mentioned earlier). David wants to be Emily's friend but also has other intentions. He's got a screw loose and stalks her to the point where she can't even breathe. 

In fact, every character in "Valentine" watches Emily like she's under some sort of microscope. If I'm Emily I'm thinking that I might need some space. If people don't leave me the heck alone I might have to run away and join the circus (ugh). 

In retrospect, The Wrong Valentine is director DeCoteau going over the top. He gets mediocre acting from everyone involved but his revelation mentioned earlier does improve the film's icky intrigue. Here's the problem though: Every goof in "Valentine" seems to fear David yet nobody bothers to alert the authorities or the high school powers that be. Evan's David is not really intimidating mind you. He's more like that pretty boy jerk nose who would tick off the wrong jock and get his butt kick in any HS brawl. Happy Valentine's Day everybody! 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Killer Advice 2021 * 1/2 Stars


"You know maybe you should talk to someone". Not a bad idea. Just don't talk to someone who's been a nut job since the veritable age of 7. Killer Advice is about said nut job. Minus a musically cool opening credits sequence, it's one of the most misguided Lifetime movies ever made. 

"Advice" chronicles Beth (played by Kate Watson). Beth gets attacked by an unknown assailant in a parking garage. Mysteriously escaping without injuries, Beth feels rattled and decides to talk to a therapist. Here's the kicker: The therapist in question is not a real therapist. She offed the real therapist and is now a poser. She's a psychotic, middle-aged kook named Marsha (played by an overreaching and laughably over the top Meredith Thomas). Meredith's Marsha has no real motive for a being a murderer except for the fact that she's cray cray to the nth degree. It doesn't hold much weight here. 

Killer Advice is yet another Lifetime flick where the antagonist eventually escapes and goes on to terrorize someone else (spoiler). It's an annoying, convenient plot device and it needs to be put to pasture. "Advice" also has its characters regurgitating the same dialogue over and over again. "I'm proud of you". "Everything okay?" "It's fine". "How are you?" "I'm trying to help you". "You've been under a lot of stress". Jeez. It's as if the screenwriters didn't know what else to write down and decided to scribble what they could to fill a 90-minute running time (with commercials).

With some of the most wooden acting ever by a couple of cop personas and some of the most silly working environments in regards to the other personas (What do these denizens do for a living? What's up with the low-budgeted office space? And how come only two employees are present a majority of the time?), my "advice" is to avoid seeing Killer Advice. You might need some therapy of your own after a midday viewing.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Born a Champion 2021 * * * Stars


"Protect yourselves at all times". Ain't that the truth. That's especially inherent when drawing bloodied hands in the realm of white-knuckle jujitsu. 2021's Born a Champion delves into this system of unarmed combat training. The film feels a little direct-to-video but in these trying times, what doesn't.  

"Champion" is a violent sports drama. It is cut from original cloth and pigeonholed with a TV feel. It's not based on a novel or a magazine article but on a story concocted by its lead actor (Sean Patrick Flanery). As something about an American black belt fighter who seeks revenge on another fighter who almost ended his life, Born a Champion is akin to a jujitsu version of Rocky (or any of its sequels). The main character is even named Mickey and he's got a "cut" about his eye. Natch.

Born a Champion saddled with good intentions, does a lot of research in regards to the art of jujitsu fighting. And I'm sure star Sean Patrick Flanery had a lot to do with it. As grappling brawler and family man Mickey Kelley, Flanery completely disappears into the part. We're talking a change in voice, a change in weathered appearance, and a change in body type. Sean channels his inner Mickey Rourke here because he almost looks the way Rourke did in the late 80s (or early 90s). This is not the same guy I remembered from Powder, Suicide Kings, or 1999's Body Shots

The fight sequences in "Champion" are adequate, the locales are isolated, the direction by Frenchman Alex Ranariveto is standardized and scorching, and the acting is a little C-list had it not been for Flanery's disciplined transformation (and Dennis Quaid's reliable supporting performance). Bottom line: Born a Champion's diegesis unfolds steadily like a blanket. It is good enough to not "tap out" early. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Marksman 2021 * * * Stars


"I don't scare easy". Of course you don't. You're Liam freaking Neeson. You're the butt-kicking ruler of the AARP. Neeson looking like Sean Penn's older brother with scruff and mustache in tote, stars in 2021's The Marksman.

"Marksman" is another Neeson actioner where Neeson is the antihero, preserver, and everyman all rolled into one. As something about a rancher who tries to protect a kid illegal alien from a nasty cartel, "Marksman" is veritable Neeson comfort food. You want to see him in this role, you know he can carry the proceedings, you know he looks cool handling a firearm, and you know he'll deliver a certain level of badassery. At 68 years old, Liam Neeson makes the villains (who are decades younger than him) bow down with bruised envy. All I gotta say to them is "good luck". 

So yeah, The Marksman is also assembly line Neeson. And yup, the film feels improbable with a few plot devices that might have gone AWOL. Still, there's entertainment value to be had with "Marksman" being an old, comfortable show a la the man with "a particular set of skills". In truth, "Marksman" is a savage road trip flick with inching tension, snarling thugs, and roving danger right around the corner. And oh yeah, you never mess with a broken down, former Marine who loves his guns, his steaks, his late wife, and his swigged whisky. 

"Marksman's" director (Robert Lorenz of Trouble with the Curve fame) moves things at a fast, tasty clip. Along with the insertion of a paternal relationship, there are unwanted killings, well-staged gunfights, a house burning, and a car chase or two. Lorenz fashions The Marksman as a pseudo Western combined with a version of Gran Torino that doesn't take place in one city. Bottom line: You can "mark" The Marksman as a must-see. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Little Things 2021 * * * Stars


"How's the trunk space?" Creepy and hinting. The real question is how's 2021's The Little Things. I'd say it would take multiple viewings to give you my final answer. I do have an initial review though with some bells and whistles attached.

Anyway "Little Things" was released in theaters and on HBO Max. Taking place in the 90s (it could've easily been the 80s as well), this film is noir to a certainty level. There are nighttime scenes with soft lighting, characters with Philip Marlowe stares, and shards of an enigma. The Little Things may be initially pretentious but it sure seems oddly fascinating in the long run.

Starring three Oscar winners in Jared Leto, Denzel Washington, and Rami Malek, The Little Things is a borderline head-scratch-er that's almost too Hitchcockian for its own good. As far as persona appearances go, Washington looks a little comatose-d, Malek gives off a lucid vibe, and Leto channels his inner 1970s Roger Daltrey with a beard.  

"Little Things" is a David Fincher clone with residue from Law & Order and an episode of Twin Peaks. Added to that, it's Seven with lessened aftermath, 2007's Zodiac with similarly framed location shots, and Mulholland Drive without the glamour. Some critics have noted that "Little Things" is dated and well, it probably is. Whatever. You'll still think about it hours after the credits have gone up.

The Little Things is yet another crime drama about police officers trying to catch an allusive, LA serial killer. Darned if director John Lee Hancock doesn't try to avoid making things stock, assembly-lined, and ordinary. He films stuff low to ground with equaling close-ups, wide angles, and overheads. Hancock is also obsessed with using gleaming light that is either flashlight-ed, clean, or in the distance. His style is erect as his "Little Things" does a lot of well, "little things". Rating: 3 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson        

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Wrong Prince Charming 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


"Girl, who wouldn't fall for a prince?" You gotta love Vivica A. Fox. I seriously believe the woman films these Lifetime "Wrong" roles simultaneously. I mean how else is she able to star in 15 "Wrong" Lifetime-rs in the past three years.

Anyway, 2021's The Wrong Prince Charming is my latest write-up. And no, I'm not talking about Prince Nikolai, Prince William, or younger brother Prince Harry. "Prince Charming" is about a young realtor who along with her older colleague, meet a famed prince. They decide to invest millions of dollars with said prince only to find that the dude is an evil scam artist who doesn't really have an English accent (oops). To make matters worse, the realtor (Anna played by Christine Prosperi) gets romantically involved with Prince Edward (played by James Nitti). Business and pleasure just don't mix here people.

Shot on maybe two locations (a hotel and an office space) and featuring acting that's a tad stodgy, "Prince Charming" could've been much worse. This is David DeCoteau branching out a bit. He's the king of Lifetime "Wrongs" but he avoids the standard, boy-meets-girl plot devices and gives us something a little more archetypal. He gets points for that.

Yeah The Wrong Prince Charming is entertaining, unfolding, and involving. However, you have to suspend your disbelief. "Prince Charming" is a small scale Lifetime pic devoid of details and true, real-life situations. I mean it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Prince Edward is not really royalty (he's got no entourage, no portfolio, and just one slimy guy working with him). And it takes Anna more than half the flick's running time to come to that conclusion (all you gotta do is look closer on the Internet girl). Oh well, at least Vivica gets to be her responsible self while spouting her famous Lifetime sendoff ("I guess you picked the wrrrrongg prince charming"). Rating: 2.5 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Husband 2019 * * * 1/2 Stars


"Yeah he's seriously evil". Yup, Gumby-ed stepdads in movies can get that way. That's especially evident when cyanide, power of attorney, and life insurance policies are involved. "Seriously", you need to check out 2019's The Husband. It's frustrating, calculating, and "hubby" bubbled.

Featuring one of the great villains in the history of TV vehicles, a PSA on identity theft, and raw performances from everyone involved, "Husband" secures its place as one the best entries in the over-churning, Lifetime Network canon. 

Inspired by stuff like The Stepfather, 2001's Domestic Disturbance, or even an old school version of a Forensic Files episode, "Husband" is a suffocating thriller about a woman who marries a psycho that is set up by her daughter (oops). Talk about poor judgement by an astute eighteen-year-old who's on the college outs. 

"Husband" while risible, builds tension with every careful inch and makes every cinematic girl dad cliche its own. You have the teenager that eventually disapproves of mama bear's other half, the wife that's oblivious to the concept of evil, the cops who are on autopilot, and the accidental death of someone falling down the stairs. Somehow The Husband still manages to make it all feel fresh, re-inventive, and engaging. Add modern day social media as a plot device, a realtor hook, and a setting that's sterile and suburban and you've got something nastily special. My rating: A "consorted" 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson  

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Wrong Mr. Right 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


"Looks like you picked the wrong Mr. Right". You go Vivica! Vivica A. Fox gets to say her umpteenth "Wrong" Lifetime line in 2021's The Wrong Mr. Right. David DeCoteau is of course, the director and he churns out "Wrong" Lifetime flicks faster than Joey Chestnut at an eating contest. 

The Wrong Mr. Right was released in January of this year and features Eric Roberts in a cameo as a snide private investigator. DeCoteau uses Roberts and other Lifetime regulars in a film that has less plot holes while unfolding a little better than most "Wrong" vehicles. He starts "Mr. Right" from the middle as there's no courtship between the main characters or initial development with said characters. Just think a feasible yet less effective version of last year's The Wrong Stepfather (or The Stepfather from 2009).  

Watching "Mr. Right", you know that certain people are eventually going to get whacked by the antagonist (the question is who). You also know that those people will never get justice for being killed because the po-po don't seem to wanna investigate their disappearance.

Starring the beautiful Krista Allen, the miscast Anna Marie Dobbins (she seems a little old to be a college student), and the miscast Rib Hillis (he doesn't seem menacing enough to be the villain), The Wrong Mr. Right is just what it says it is. It's about a woman named Tracy (Allen) who has a new boyfriend named Paul (Hillis). Paul is shady and Tracy doesn't know it yet. It's up to Tracy's daughter Jessica (Dobbins) to inform her that Paul is a scammer or possibly something worse (like a murderer, duh).  

Here's the thing: I hate it when the bad guys don't get caught at the end of these "Wrong" Lifetime pics. I also hate it when they dispatch people on the side and are never arrested or brought in for questioning. Give me a better diegesis and I'll give you a rating that's not again mixed. "Righty-right".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, January 17, 2021

2067 2020 * * * Stars


"You may be humanity's only chance". Oh boy. That's a lot of unwanted pressure. When you get a "chance", seek out 2067. It's time continuum continued and yup, it's my latest review.

Anywho, 2067 is a flux-capacitor-ed, sci-fi-er that occasionally stimulates the brain and shatters the Atman. As something about a man who transports himself into the future to save Earth from its unbreathable air, 2067 is thinking man's science fiction for the ready-made anoraks. The film feels dutifully relevant and fathomable in these quote unquote, "trying times".

So OK, I've never seen a sci-fi endeavor quite like 2067. It announces itself as an unflinching character study and dystopian doppler within the first act. Sans any relentless action, souped-up laser guns, or gross bloodletting, 2067 is populated by raw performances, scenes of dramatic heft, numerous flashbacks, and a lead that looks like a cross between Andrew Garfield, DJ Qualls, and The Verve's Richard Ashcroft. 2067 is fiddly, fervid, and dialogue-driven, like a production-ed play I tell you.

Granted, 2067 has unknown actors, Syfy channel remnants, a recycled screenplay, and a low-budgeted feel (but not too low). Still, the intentions are good and plenty here. Bottom line: If you've taken in Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or 2013's Oblivion one too many times, then check out 2067 as an alternative watch. Heck, it might gain a fated following (no futuristic pun intended).

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Wrong Fiance 2021 * * Stars


The phrase "I'm calling the police" gets said a lot in The Wrong Fiance. And at the end of "Fiance", Vivica A. Fox gets to spout her infamous "wrong" Lifetime line as well. 

Anyway, The Wrong Fiance sans buildup, starts in the middle, and features an antagonist that is crazy man psycho right off the bat. Said antagonist even has another girl pal on the side whom he treats like dirt. This dude is masculine, robotic, haughty, and alpha in the worst way.

"Finance" also has its share of Lifetime cliches (that's the film's distributor). You got the stalker Lifetime scenes where the bad guy hides somewhere while sporting a dark-hooded sweatshirt. You got the best friend/co-worker who acts as a life coach or an overbearing girly buddy. Finally, you got the obligatory, villainous kills where the victims confront the baddie knowing that in mere seconds, they're gonna get whacked. 

Featuring a scene where the damsel flees the killer by going in another room instead of leaving her home and having a cop character who looks like the poor man's Chad Everett (it's the mustache I tell you), "Fiance" is about a woman named Abby (played by Lifetime regular Jessica Morris). Abby is sent out of town on a job assignment so that she can get away from her cuckoo ex-fiance Richard (played by another Lifetime reg in the form of Jason-Shane Scott). Little does Abby realize that Richard knows where she's at and plans on voyeuristic-ally toying with her for the next 60 minutes of running time (remember that hit song by Sting's band circa 1983?).

All in all, "Fiance's" director (David DeCoteau) sure likes to plan things out when it comes to these deja vu Lifetime flicks. He regurgitates the same outcomes, ploys, and themes from the past two years (we're talking over a dozen Lifetime-rs in that period of time). Not going out of his cinematic comfort zone while not trying anything new, Dave's in the "wrong" here and doesn't seem to wanna be "right".

Written by Jesse Burleson  

Monday, January 11, 2021

The War with Grandpa 2020 * 1/2 Stars


The War with Grandpa is my latest review. It features movie icons Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. Now is it a pseudo sequel to The Deer Hunter? Uh no. Is it stupid funny? Nope. Is it just stupid? Totally. 

Starring a cast of Oscar winners, Oscar nominees, and Emmy winners (De Niro, Walken, Uma Thurman, and Jane Seymour), "Grandpa" is a blind miscalculation as a comedy. It's obvious that everyone had fun making it whereas we as the audience didn't have a lot of fun watching it. Yup, De Niro's stirring turn in 2019's The Irishman seems like a lifetime away from this monstrosity.  

The War with Grandpa is directed by SpongeBob monger and Minnesota native Tim Hill. Feeling the need to create slapstick gags out of nowhere and just for the heck of it, Hill molds a puerile film that probably should've never been made ("Grandpa" was released three years after it was shot). 

Questions regarding certain scenes in "Grandpa": Why can't De Niro's character keep his pants on (he flashes his son-in-law twice)? Why can't De Niro's character just stay in the attic and fix it up (is it that hard to go downstairs and use the bathroom?)? Finally, why is De Niro's character's snotty grandson such a little punk? I mean if it wasn't for your granddaddy you wouldn't exist dude. 

The War with Grandpa has zero buildup and the barest bones of a plot (De Niro's character probably didn't need to move into his daughter's house in the first place). It's about an a 77-year-old man who inhabits his grandson's room with said grandson wanting it back because he thinks it's rightfully his. Chaos and pranks ensue with everyone involved acting mean-spirited, dumbfounded, aloof, and superficial. "Grandpa" is a "war" that's only won if people avoid viewing it. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Wrong Real Estate Agent 2021 * 1/2 Stars


"Just be careful". People say that a lot in the film I'm about to review. OK I get it. I said I get it!

Anyway, it isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless there's a single mother whose husband left her or died. It isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless Vivica A. Fox says that infamous line (you know which one I'm talking about). It isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless there's that annoying best friend who's always giving binding advice. Finally, it isn't a "Wrong" Lifetime movie unless the antagonist gets away with multiple kills while the police seem patently dumbfounded.

The Wrong Real Estate Agent is my latest write-up. It's about a mom and her daughter who buy a house not knowing that the dude that sold them said house is a complete whack job. The whack job in question reveals himself to be disturbed and jittery right off the bat. It's amazing that the sussed damsel played by Vivica A. Fox didn't pick up on that earlier on.

"Agent" is directed by Lifetime enthusiast and veritable Lifetime lifer, David DeCoteau. Feeling like an overripe whodunit for the first 45 minutes, The Wrong Real Estate Agent features three totally off male characters in the form of a spastic ex-boyfriend, a weirdo next door neighbor, and an arrogant handy man. Sadly in the Lifetime world, no one has the capacity to just be freaking normal. 

Creep-o's begot, The Wrong Real Estate Agent changes it up by having Fox not play the obligatory high school principal or the snippy detective. It's a stretch but she stands out from all the hammy acting by everyone else. Overall, "Agent" is pure, trashy camp and it's a blueprint for every other Lifetime vehicle. It ain't that fine of "a piece of real estate". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

American Dream 2021 * * * Stars


"Everyday I don't have my money, add on 20%". Jeez-o-Pete. That interest sounds rather dicey to me. Everyday I decide not to write a review, I cave. I feel 20% bored.

So yeah, I liked American Dream but its ending left me a little tongue-tipped, a little falsely prospected, and edgy. I didn't know how to interpret it and I salivated for about five more minutes of pledged screen time. 

American Dream's story feeling like an LA Lifetime movie gone rogue, goes like this: Two earnest construction workers who want to be property owners, decide to make money off a guaranteed, lucrative project. They go to a Russian Mob worker for a loan and when said loan doesn't work out, chaos and stalker threat ensues. 

With a low budget feel, a minimal cast, a scorched Los Angeles setting, Coinstar remnants, and some curt bloodletting, "Dream" is a nasty thriller that's mysteriously billed as a portioned drama. Uh huh. I didn't know dramas had sawed-off body parts, attempted hangings, attempted rapes, and knuckled crushing-s. 

What the heck. American Dream is dark, dangerous, fringed, and effectively unsafe. This is all despite some choppy editing, a certain callowness, and an LAPD that could care less about what's going on. 

Nick Stahl co-stars in "Dream" as Russki mobster and pseudo apologetic businessman, Yuri (that's a familiar black hat name). Fresh from rehab, absent from the acting scene, and getting his Bully on twenty years later, the slick-haired Stahl plays a scumbag ruffian like nobody's business.   

All in all, if you want to start 2021 off with a punch to the gut and some labored breathing, then American Dream will sock it to you Houdini-style. Janusz Kaminski's deft direction, Duncan Brantley's lurid script, and Robert Foster's numbing score here make this compact, B-movie trope recommendable. Teamwork makes the "dream" work. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 4, 2021

Christmas on Ice 2020 * * Stars


Christmas on Ice is my latest review. It was released in October of this year and is distributed by Lifetime Television. Directed by TV movie auteur John Stimpson, "Ice" is a different kind of holiday helping from Lifetime. Gone is the googly-eyed stature by the pseudo romantic leads. Gone is all the muss and fuss about what are the best Xmas cookies. Finally, gone is the overindulgence of Christmas decor that seems to make every yuletide Lifetime swipe seem like a pop-up postcard. Yes "Ice" is more a drama in which a skating rink must be saved before a mayor decides to close it down. It's all about the bottom-line here (what business isn't about that bottom-line).  

So OK, Christmas on Ice has some poignant moments but there's not much at stake. The ending feels a little anti-climatic with every resolution tied up neatly in a big bow (no pun intended). Added to that, the characters lives are bubbled, the plot about the little people VS the corporate suits seems imposed, and there's still that Lifetime cliche about a single father who lost his wife a few years ago. Oh well. At least you still get into the holiday spirit as you somewhat surrender to "Ice". I mean what goes better with Christmastime than outdoor skating in Worcester, MA (the film's snug shooting location).

Overall, Christmas on Ice is watchable but it suffers occasionally due to its main persona name Courtney (played by former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Abigail Klein). Klein channels Courtney as a somewhat standoffish young adult who's seamlessly bent on getting her way. She runs a skating rink that doesn't make any money yet she wonders why the powers that be are trying to take it away. Courtney also lives in a nice apartment, dresses accordingly, appears astute, and looks gorgeous. My questions for her are as follows: How does she pay her everyday bills? How does her rink stay open with its various expenses? Why won't she take a job that actually provides her with income? And what's with the sometimes snooty attitude Courtney? Next time try not to be so "Icy". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 1, 2021

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2020

1. Alone * * * 1/2 Stars

-Alone is one of this year's best. Feeling like Spielberg's Duel in which the antagonist actually talks, Alone's setting of lush, wet Oregon takes over as it becomes a swallowing co-star.

2. Rev * * * 1/2 Stars

-Rev is a glitz and glitter drama, a drug film with a twist, and an underground spectacle with a Mob feel. It begs the question of what if Gone in 60 Seconds or The Fast and the Furious were directed by Iranian Barbet Schroeder.

2. (tie) Heart of the Holidays * * * 1/2 Stars

-Heart of the Holidays 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.

3. The Way Back * * * 1/2 Stars

-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.

4. Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn * * * 1/2 Stars

-"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 (Al Sharpton, Yusuf's mother and brothers, former NYC Mayor David Dinkins). 

5. The Scheme * * * 1/2 Stars

-"Scheme's" director (Pat Kondelis) is well-versed in the telling of factual record. He shoots the docu with a raw and unfiltered feel. There are uncensored probes from everyone involved (Dawkins, his lawyer, his parents, various sports writers), slow-motion re-enactments, wiretapped conversations, and caught on camera deals. The film is packed with info so you have to pay attention as everything comes to a revelatory head at the end.

6. Capone * * * Stars

-As something about the final year of Al Capone's decrepit life, Capone is a nightmarish breadth of view and not your typical crime drama. Shot like a TV movie but lush and gaping in its tone, Capone doesn't care whether or not you embrace its fever dream vision.

7. Unhinged * * * Stars

-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).

8. Blood and Money * * * Stars

-As something about a war veteran (on a hunting trip) who accidentally kills a robber with a bag of money, "Blood" revels in Northern Maine locales and nameless (and almost faceless) villains. Somehow I found the whole survivalist modem here to be very darn fruitful.

9. The Host * * * Stars

-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.

10. Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth * * * Stars

-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.

Honorable Mention: Black Water: Abyss, Downhill, The Rhythm Section, Escape from Pretoria, Outback

And the worst...

1. Like a Boss * Star

-Like a Boss, with its genitalia jokes, its workplace drones, and its umpteenth filming location in Atlanta, Georgia, is like an 83-minute exercise in which comedic scenes flop and die. Director Miguel Arteta (he's mostly a TV guy) favors a lousy script for actresses who deserve a better one. He also favors outtake-style line deliveries as opposed to the funnier bits that were obviously left in the trailers.

2. Friendsgiving * 1/2 Stars

-Basically a bunch of pseudo friends who are their only friends, get together to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. They bicker, smug it up, and get their swerve on. That's the rub of the almost plot-less and imposed, Friendsgiving.

3. The Photograph * 1/2 Stars

-Picture 2016's Moonlight but without any solidity and that's what you get with The Photograph. And just for kicks and giggles, picture something Spike Lee would have done on holiday (during his Mo' Better Blues phase) and "Photograph" will shabbily fill in the blanks. Finally, imagine Tyler Perry running out of writing wriggle room and The Photograph will give you that tangent-ed perspective.

4. Proximity * 1/2 Stars

-Proximity wants to be profound and wink-y in a Spielbergian sort of way. Accompanied by a rookie, unknown director (Eric Demeusy) and a Lifetime movie setting of Los Angeles, it lands short on both counts. 

5. The Wrong Cheerleader Coach * 1/2 Stars

-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?

List compiled by Jesse Burleson