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Thursday, September 23, 2021

My Husband's Secret Brother 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

BLOOD BROTHERS

My Husband's Secret Brother refers to a half-brother who works at an auto repair shop. He avoids his other half-brother cause well, the dude is a psychopath. Said psychopath is Kevin and he is played by Joey Lawrence. Lawrence's Kevin yields a needle and kills like a hit-man (he's so darn professional about it). He also appears like an oily son of a gun with what looks like painted-on facial hair.  

Appearances begot, "Secret Brother" is a Lifetime thriller that gets invaded by the Lawrence brothers (Matthew, Joey, and Andrew). Matthew and Joey co-star while Andrew directs. And yeah, all three of them are executive producers. 

Now is My Husband's Secret Brother an ego trip by those Lawrence broheims? It could be but the flick is not half bad. And is "Secret Brother" better than the other Lawrence outing titled Money Plane? It is but both films are still in bad taste (bad meaning nasty fun). Case in point: Joey Lawrence's Kevin goes to a lady's condo and drowns her in her Jacuzzi. He then goes over to her piano and plays a tune with his O.J.-style murder gloves on. Joey, we hardly knew ya! 

All in all, My Husband's Secret Brother is sloppily directed by Andrew Lawrence with some off-kilter camerawork and some cringe-worthy dialogue. But hey, Lawrence is certainly ambitious and doesn't come off as the world's worst storyteller. 

His "Secret Brother" about a woman who marries a plastic surgeon bent on doing whatever it takes to claim her inheritance, has enough twists and turns to make Keyser Soze do the doo-wop. The film also gives you the standard Lifetime quirks. You got the po-po who are never around when someone gets offed. You got the sparse set locations and clear depletion of extras. Finally, you got the antagonist who announces himself to be the bad guy about 10-15 minutes in. Yup, My Husband's Secret Brother has a definite whiff of Lifetime fare. It's no "secret".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 20, 2021

Copshop 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

THIS COP ALMOST ROCKS

"I'm gonna kill you". That's the understatement of the year when it comes to 2021's Copshop. There's a lot of bullets that fly all over the place in Copshop. A lot of them miss, a few graze, and a few hit. Just ask an entire police station and a couple of prostyle killers. Oh wait, you can't.  

Anyway, Copshop is about a con man who voluntarily gets locked up only to find out that he shares the prison barracks with the actual assassin who wants to kill him. 

Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo star. One looks like Ian Anderson in the early days and the other looks like Antonio Banderas via 1995's Desperado. Both have enough sweaty testosterone and chutzpah to solve the energy crisis. And both seem to get right back up like energizer bunnies after getting shot. 

Released in September of this year, feeling like Assault on Precinct 13 with steroids, and harboring opening title credits straight from the 1970s, Copshop feels like something Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter would combine forces on. Sadly you're better off watching their individual movies just by themselves. 

Granted Copshop isn't a bad film, it's just an uneven one. Intertwined between violent shootouts and feisty one-liners is otherwise annoying dialogue and characters who try to be too darn witty. Copshop's plot, well it's its own Mexican standoff. There's too many directions, too many points, and lots of personas chiming in. 

Oh well. At least you get director Joe Carnahan's standard ending that's abrupt, gotcha-inducing, and thought-provoking. Carnahan is truly a style monger and his flick The Grey is a favorite of mine. But sometimes he comes off like a Tarantino clone who ignored the Academy and just went for schlock. Unfortunate.  

Bottom line: Copshop might be the film Joe was born to make but it's more like he might have been "born" yesterday. "Chopped" shop.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 17, 2021

Prey 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

FALLEN PREY

In 2021's Prey, the "prey" refers to some dudes who are being tormented by a soundless, female sharp shooter. Said sharp shooter is obviously distraught and traumatized. We know she lost her kid to a careless hunter and that's about it (that's I guess enough for her to go loco).

So OK, Prey is a brief Netflix thriller that I'm thinking was filmed in the backwoods of Germany (the mountainous scenery gave it away). It stars unknown troupers whose voices for the most part, might have been occasionally dubbed. The actors are not from the camp of Laurence Olivier and well, they come off as sort of unlikable millennial-s. Instead of talking to each other calmly and working out their dire situation, these five guys would rather bicker, wine, and be snide.

Prey is an exercise in style on hollow point. Director Thomas Sieben knows what he's doing behind the camera and with the help of Michael Kamm's musical score, there is fitful tension to be built. If only Prey had a more detailed plot and a tighter reason for being, it could've been something. Instead you have a B-movie with standardized violence, unmapped characters, and a conclusion that contains a loose end or two.

I wanted to know more about the woman assassin who doesn't talk and just dutifully shoots to kill. I also wanted to know why at one point she sees three of the men in her sights and doesn't off them immediately. Why? Finally, I wanted to know why the five blokes she was hunting had such an erotic same sex nature about them. I gotta admit it was very Top Gun-ish.

In retrospect, Sieben's film is well-made from a technical standpoint and his use of random flashbacks is moderately telling. But Prey would rather revel in its flowing modus operandi then flesh out any cinematic meaning. It's just not "predatory" enough.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 13, 2021

Val 2021 * * * Stars

ICEMAN COMETH

In 2021's Val, "Val" refers to chameleon-like actor Val Kilmer. Val killed it in movies like Top Gun, The Doors, and Heat. In Val he's so in love with holding a camera you wonder why he hasn't become a director himself. This documentary perhaps is the closest thing to him doing that (even though Val was ultimately helmed by filmmakers Ting Poo and Leo Scott).

So yeah, Val is a docu that spans the career of Val Kilmer through archived footage and present day footage. Unable to talk because of his bout with throat cancer, Val is narrated by Kilmer's son Jack (also an actor). What's neat is that Jack sounds just like his pops did in the 1990s. And Kilmer for my money, had one of the greatest acting voices of all time (next to Russell Crowe and Al Pacino).

Val is fascinating, dissipated, and sort of surreal. Is it a four star affair? Not quite. Is it the movie Kid 90 wished it could've been? Oh absolutely. Kid 90 was about the life of Soleil Moon Frye. You know the girl from Punky Brewster. Where Val succeeds Kid 90 is that it's more profound and has more of an anchor (perhaps because Kilmer reached higher bouts of stardom). Kilmer is an interesting and pretty eclectic dude. In the world of acting, he might have been difficult on set but the guy is all passion and heart.

In truth, Val might come off to some viewers as a little pretentious, a little vanity-stricken, and self-serving. And at 109 minutes, the flick tends to go on and on until ending abruptly (kind of like an Oliver Stone pic hint, hint). Still, Val is well-made from a technical standpoint and paints Kilmer as a sympathetic figure who still deserves to hug a little spotlight. In the words of Val Kilmer's Jim Morrison, "this is the strangest life I've ever known". No matter. It's been a good life Val so keep on truckin' bro.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Party from Hell 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

HELL IN A HANDBASKET

"I love party games". Uh-oh. Someone's gone a little cray cray. That someone is Molly Cole and she is played by New Jersey native Jackie Moore. Moore is a decent actress who does a lot of mugging with her eyes. Man, dem some creepy eyes. 

Jackie Moore co-stars as the manipulative and unscrupulous villain in 2021's Party from Hell. "Party" is a nasty Lifetime flick that borders on sterile exploitation with enough camp value to pitch a tent. It's the type of film where Lifetime studio execs salivate with a green-light and become hot and bothered at the same time. 

So yeah, Party from Hell is Lifetime network fare that checks all the merited boxes. You got the unseen cop characters who are never around when someone gets murdered (check). You got the protagonist (Denise Allen played by April Martucci) who is oblivious to all the evil shenanigans that's going on (check). You got the cliche ending where the antagonist gets away scot-free (check). You got the hammy acting (check). Finally, you got the low production values and sparse locations (Czechoslovakia!). Jared Cohn directed Party from Hell but you just know that the hand of David DeCoteau did a little bit of the guiding. 

Released in the US via this month and featuring Eric Roberts in a small role as a rich investor (Roberts and Vivica A. Fox sure have been getting their Lifetime on), Party from Hell is about a wife and mother who hires a party planner only to have said party planner try to ruin her life.  

Bottom line: If you like your Lifetime movies free of integrity and cogency, then "Party" will be consistent viewing in that arena. If you're a snooty critic like myself, then you'll be stuck in stranded "purgatory" trying to come up with a recommendation. Party "pooper". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James 2021 * * * 1/2 Stars

SUPER FREAKY

Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James is my latest write-up. It's a documentary that projects like an artist's wiki page. No matter. You still slide on its slurp-y groove. "Sound and Fury" is long overdue for it's the first time we've seen a docu about James since 1998's E! True Hollywood Story. Rick James died in 2004 from cardiac failure (among other things). He was only 56 years old. 

So yeah, "Sound and Fury" tells the story of a singer-songwriter whose image and funked sound are forever frozen in time. Director Sacha Jenkins knows this and fashions James as a flawed human being with a touch of volatile genius and a sense of braided smut. "Give me that stuff that funky that sweet that funky stuff". Indeed. 

Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James provides the audience with genuine, off the cuff interviews and grainy nostalgic archive footage. At 111 minutes, you get a chronological snapshot of James from his birth in Buffalo, NY till his ultimate demise via LA's Toluca Hills apartments. The editing by Nicholas Pacchiano is lightning-quick while the overall experience of "Sound and Fury" gives you feelings of being agog and wistful. If only helmer Jenkins would've done away with the whole animation aspect (man I hate that stuff in on record flicks). 

All in all, "Sound and Fury" is the second best of its kind for this year (Tina about Tina Turner is a tad better). The docu omits Rick's relationship with Linda Blair but it also gave me insight into things I didn't know about James. I mean the dude actually hated hip-hop, he was a draft dodger, and he even used to jam with Neil Young and The Band (crazy). Dave Chappelle parodies him while Sacha Jenkins salutes him. Overall rating: 3.5 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Danger in the Spotlight 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

DANGER ZONE

"Everything's gonna be fine". The Lifetime network never goes that route. That's like saying that the Leaning Tower of Pisa doesn't lean. Natch. 

Anyway, Danger in the Spotlight is my latest write-up. It's gonzo film-making with an even more gonzo ending (and that's saying a lot for a certain long-running cable endeavor). What's on screen has so much promise till "Danger" pulls a 180 "WTF" just for the heck of it. I mean seriously. 

So OK, Danger in the Spotlight for the most part is a Lifetime drama thriller that is generally well-crafted. It has an original premise about a recovering alcoholic who commits a hit-and-run leaving a famous ballet dancer paralyzed (so you think). 

Jessica Morris (as Martha) plays said alcoholic and her screen presence is palatable. I mean Morris is a babe, she's a Lifetime lifetime-r, and well, she's pretty darn sexy. But to paint her as a kind of pseudo villain in the end is just bunk. It renders "Danger" sort of icky and a little misguided. 

Danger in the Spotlight leads you down a path where you almost know where things are headed. Thanks to its eerie vibe, its multiple flashbacks, its red herrings, and its solid musical score by Tomas Peire, the film is still generally watchable. But jeez, that conclusion lacks credibility and overall plausibility. I guess pigs really do fly (ugh).

I mean you'd have to believe that someone would forgive someone else for trying to kill them so they could get their daughter back in a custody battle. You'd also have to believe that that same someone would commit a murder and help dispose of a dead body for the same darn reason. Lifetime network, I give you credit for going for shock value and thinking outside of the box on this one. But even M. Night Shyamalan has his limitations. Unclear and present "danger".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Habit 2021 * Star

BAD HABIT

"Good day sir, so kind". Me, well I'm not gonna be so kind to 2021's Habit (my latest review). Habit is like a Gen X movie made with millennial-s (if that makes any sense). It's also over-stylized, over-directed, bible-thumped, full of itself, and pretty kitschy. It's as if rookie director Janell Shirtcliff dares you to hate it. Yeah I'm not joking here.

So OK, Habit's plot is so murky I had to look it up on the flick's IMDb page. It's about a heroin addict who gets involved in a bad drug deal and poses as a nun to keep out of trouble (huh?). Habit paints helmer Shirtcliff as the poor man's Darren Aronofsky and/or the poor man's Terry Gilliam. The imagery here is striking and ornamented but the overall result is a hollow mess.

Produced by over 20 people and clocking in at 81 minutes (that's with credits), Habit is a cinematic acid trip, the worst kind of trip. There's nutrition-less flash cuts, bad filler low camera angles, and even a couple of freeze frames (ugh). Yeah that's fine and dandy if you knew what was going on, you actually cared what was going on, and the troupers didn't come off as so darn irksome.

Honestly I'd like to know what went down at the meeting when Habit was formally green-lighted. Did the studio execs think it might turn into a cult film? Maybe. Did they owe the filmmakers a favor or were strong-armed? Probably.

Actors/actresses featured in Habit are Bella Thorne, Gavin Rossdale, Josie Ho, and Ione Skye. Throughout the proceedings they think they are being witty but they come off as total dolts. The dialogue given to them by Libby Mintz and Shirtcliff is so rife with annoyance it suggests an inner circle sitcom a la the Disney Channel (with profanities added). Um, please make a "habit" of never watching movies like Habit ever again.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Take Back 2021 * * Stars

TAKEN IN

"Don't you remember me?" Ah when someone says that, it's never really a welcoming sign.

Anyway 2021's Take Back is my latest write-up. By definition, the words take back refer to reclaiming possession of something. In the film Take Back, a married couple is trying to reclaim possession of their daughter who is being kidnapped by sex traffickers. Take Back is a shade watchable but it doesn't equal the intensity of the similar Traffik from three years ago. That flick involving the forced labor of women was pretty darn upsetting.

Movie comparisons aside, Take Back is an action/thriller that has a little bit of both. It's a somewhat dangerous pic in which no one really feels safe throughout. There's plenty of hand-to-hand combat, a few remorseless killings, a couple of shootouts, and one proposed ego trip by Mr. Russell Jones (he acts as co-producer, extra, production designer, and art director).

Yeah Take Back moves at decent clip and yeah, the acting is sort of amicable. But as Roger Murtaugh once said in an 80s action relic, the overall outline here is uh, "pretty thin".

Take Back has a lot of brooding characters (with Mickey Rourke acting like well, Mickey Rourke) and everyone pretty much appears mean-spirited and nasty. But the filmmakers obviously didn't do enough research with the concept of captivity in cinema. The script by rookie Zach Zerries is pretty vague as it presents some holes in the so-called trafficking mythos. I mean not that I condone torment but those scenes are so quickly cut you don't know exactly what's going on.

Bottom line: I don't want a "take back" so I'm going with a mixed review. Check out 2018's Traffik (mentioned earlier) if you haven't already. It just goes deeper down the rabbit hole of coercing and abduction. Furthermore, it does so without the inching folly.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Designed for Death 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

KISS OF DEATH

Designed for Death (my latest review) refers to an interior designer who hears voices in her head and hallucinates. She designs a handsome dude's house and then decides she wants to become the ultimate homewrecker (no pun intended). Said designer's name is Ava and she is played with discipline by 28-year-old Kelcie Stranahan. Stranahan is quite pretty and can act but "Death's" script causes her to go way too far over the top. Kelcie's Ava, Mrs. Mott, and Joan Crawford could have become real-life besties (ugh). 

Best buds begot, Designed for Death is a Lifetime thriller that has a real hard-on for style, dazed imagery, and voyeurism. It's as if the director wanted you to forget that the flick was Lifetime fare and more a cinematic acid trip. Everything from the opening credits sequence to the heightened flashbacks to the fast-cut editing shows that an inner Oliver Stone was channeled. I was wondering, did the two opposite list filmmakers hang out at a screening for U Turn?  

So yeah, I could've recommended "Death" but a few things kept gnawing at me. I mean there's actors featured here with bad actor voices, annoying next door neighbor characters that might be a little cray cray themselves, an ending that feels a little misguided, and an obsession with the antagonist (and the protagonist) hitting everybody over the head with some sort of mass. Oh and there's also enough long shots of sunny LA to make your eyes roll. I'm curious if the helmer was just using these shots as filler. Maybe. Possibly.

Bottom line: Designed for Death is not "designed" to be taken seriously (when it thinks it is). It's also out of the box film-making that you don't normally get with everyday Lifetime swipe. Oh whatever, I'll just call the whole thing a wash. "Designed" by committee (yup, I'm the committee).  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Midnight in the Switchgrass 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

AFTER MIDNIGHT

"It'll be dark soon." So says a subdued murderer in Midnight in the Switchgrass (my latest review). "Switchgrass" is Florida Panhandle noir with a little deep-fried twang. Its plot may be conventional (law enforcement officials track down a serial killer) but there's some style to boot.

Bruce Willis and Megan Fox are on the front of the poster for "Switchgrass." Willis, well you wouldn't even know he was in the movie unless you saw said poster. Brucie has about 7-10 lines (which I'm guessing comes out to be about $100,000 per line). With a little nudge, he just manages to get those lines out. 

As for Fox, well except for creating an interesting persona in 2012's This Is 40, Megan ain't much of an actress. Midnight in the Switchgrass isn't an awful film but it shows that Willis and Fox should probably never appear on screen together ever again.

"Switchgrass" is a flick that caters more to the deep performances by Emile Hirsch (he plays an FDLE agent) and Lukas Haas (he plays a sluggish psychopath). I guess they weren't sexy enough choices to headline the poster like Willis and Fox. Haas, who usually doesn't carry an entire film, does decent work here as menace Peter. It's strange seeing him in this type of role considering that he mostly panders to cameos and bit parts.

Midnight in the Switchgrass is directed by Randall Emmett. Emmett is normally a producer so this represents his first time behind the camera. Randall revels in stark images, flashbacks, weaving character arcs, and overhead shots. You can tell he doesn't want to be the bearer of direct-to-video gifts (which he kind of is). Sadly Emmett wants "Switchgrass" to be art but it's faux art. Oh well, I'll give him points for trying. Lipstick on a pig is better than no lipstick at all. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Death She Wrote 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

THAT'S ALL SHE WROTE

"I'm just a huge fan". Uh-oh, creep-o alert. The huge fan is Mary Malone and she is played pretty effectively by Paula Brancati. Paula's Malone is a real spazz. I mean you dislike her just by eye alone. 

Brancati and Samora Smallwood (as Lila DeMarco) star in 2021's Death She Wrote. Death She Wrote is I suppose a nod to the TV show Murder, She Wrote. Be that as it may, the flick is more like 1990's Misery than anything else. 

Death She Wrote is a Lifetime movie that at first, gets a few things wrong. It's about a famous author who hires a kooky fangirl to be her personal assistant. Here's the wrong part: Mary Malone is cray cray right off the bat and should have never been booked the job in the first place. It's way too obvious putting Death She Wrote on complete autopilot for the first hour. The other wrong part is the Lila DeMarco character who is completely oblivious to Malone's kookiness. And do writers and/or novelists really need personal assistants? I'm a writer (last time I checked) and I don't need anyone holding my darn hand. Again autopilot. 

Death She Wrote despite its annoying audience self-evidence, does sneak up on you in the second and third act. The Malone persona is proof of that as she becomes the millennial version of Annie Wilkes. Mary Malone wants to be Lila DeMarco, wants to keep Lila sedated in her house, and ultimately wants to off Lila. Malone is a social media hacker and a guileful smother-er. In other words she's a real piece of work. 

Bottom line: Death She Wrote has some tense moments and for the most part, builds quite nicely. But the crazy Malone shows her true colors so early you want to throw popcorn at everyone who is unaware of her "look at me" chemical imbalance. Heck, I almost "wrote" this film off. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson  

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Lethal Love Triangle 2021 * * * Stars

LEGS OF A TRIANGLE 

"Someone is out there and someone just killed my best friend". Wow that stinks. Unfortunately in the world of Lifetime these are regular occurrences, like breathing.  

Anyway in Lethal Love Triangle, the "triangle" is two female students and a self-assured, would-be male killer. Cole (played by Lifetime-r Jacob Taylor) is the research subject that just got released from prison for a crime he says he didn't commit. The dude is so mellow and dulcet, his resting heart rate is probably not even above thirty.  

So yeah, "Lethal" is a Lifetime thriller-slash-drama that might be the first to ever venture into neo-noir territory. Most of its scenes occur via nighttime with soft gleaming and a little danger always lurking around the corner. 

Director Daniel West (a first-timer but not in the writing department) creates a slow burn whodunit with a couple of red herrings, some intricacies, and some rack focusing. His Lethal Love Triangle doesn't always ratchet up the tension but alas, it's full of inky and unease-d atmospherics.

Taking place in I guess Massachusetts and garnering funding from Dawn's Light (when the movie is anything but), "Lethal" moves slowly and languidly until a doozy of a twist occurs at the end (the twist is sound and of the 180 kind).

Lethal Love Triangle, well it reminded me of two studio flicks. From a psychological standpoint, you got remnants of 2000's Gossip. On the serial killer front, "Lethal" gave off a sort of vibe a la Jon Avnet's 88 Minutes (a movie Al Pacino might have been coerced into doing).

With a bevy of Lifetime network pics, there's sometimes a lot of sleaze and camp involved. Lethal Love Triangle eases up on the two and comes off as a tad more cultured. You might not "love" it but you won't hate it either. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 6, 2021

Burning Little Lies 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

BURN BABY BURN!

"Life marches on". You mean Lifetime "marches" on. The network has compiled 2000 titles and its assembly line is an oiled machine.

Anyway in 2021's Burning Little Lies, the "burning" has to do with houses going up in flames. And yup, the flames in "Lies" are fake CGI to the hilt. 

So OK, Burning Little Lies is a Lifetime thriller whose thrills are barely in fits and starts. Most of the time the film plays solely just for camp. "Lies" is not cinematic art mind you. It's trashy yet mild soap opera incarnate. After the director yelled cut, I could just see the actors say, "oh yeah I nailed that line, love that!"

Burning Little Lies is helmed by veteran TV guy John Murlowski. John keeps things pretty hacked up until the big twist comes about an hour in. I got to admit, I didn't pick up on this surprise revelation so kudos to Murlowski. He gives the audience a maxed out red herring until the actual antagonist shows his squeaky clean face. The initial nice guy character in "Lies", well he turns out to be a real pisser. 

Shot in what looks like the Hollywood Hills and distributed by a non-US company (huh?), Burning Little Lies is about a young woman who has googly eyes for a hunky firefighter. But hey, the firefighter may or may not be trying to ruin her life (look closer, hint hint). Any conflict in "Lies" arises from attempted accidental murder, insurance money collection, catty half-sibling slang, and you guessed it, internal combustion. 

Sometimes "Lies" almost makes out like an unintentional comedy (the melodramatic acting and uneven musical score are assurances of that). Other times the flick feels a little too flamboyant and/or theatrical for its own good. Don't "lie" Lifetime. You wanted it that way!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Old 2021 * 1/2 Stars

PAST ONE'S PRIME

In 2021's Old, the "old" refers to vacationers aging like mad via a remote beach in the Dominican Republic (where Old was shot). It's a creepy premise that Old fumbles profusely. Yup, this film could've been so much more (more meaning compelling). 

So yeah, Old is a thriller that takes the cheap route on a budget of $18 million. With ripen timelines all askew, you never see the stranded characters really age except for 2-3 children. That's because they are replaced by older-looking troupers every half hour or so (the makeup department was obviously on holiday). 

Old is directed by twist monger and Spielbergian ripper, M. Night Shyamalan. Ever since he found success with The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has been able to make his brand of movie for the past 20 years. Most of his stuff has been misses while little of his stuff has been hits (I for sure dug Split). M. Night peaked at The Sixth Sense and that's what you call an early peak.

With Old, Shyamalan forgets his craft as he comes off like a dude that never helmed a flick before. The camerawork is the main culprit as M. Night shoots with sloppy angles and well, unnecessary whips and pans. The rhythms of the actors suffer due to this and the daft script makes them seem pretty unlikable. What's left is the surprise ending and Shyamalan sadly has that printed in every contract. 

Old's gotcha conclusion is interesting but it also leaves a couple questions unanswered. I suppose that's why Shyamalan ends Old more than once because he's not confident the audience knows where things are fully headed. Bottom line: Old is a hack job for M. Night Shyamalan who once was hailed as the next Hitchcock. When he makes yet another cameo in Old, you realize this guy is just "long in the tooth". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Envy: Seven Deadly Sins 2021 * * * Stars

SOLID SPITE

"She wants to be you!" Who doesn't want to be a successful businesswoman with a bomb house, a straight arrow husband, and a gift from God daughter.

Anyway in Envy: Seven Deadly Sins, the "envy" is perpetrated by a half-sister named Keisha. Keisha has had it rough growing up and now wants a taste of the good life. "Envy" portrays her as not necessarily crazy but as a person who does bad things and is misunderstood. Lifetime deviates from the normal unhinged path here and I must say, it's kinda refreshing.

So yeah, Envy: Seven Deadly Sins is a Lifetime flick that doesn't adhere to the campy and trashy. It would rather lend a sympathetic ear to the viewer by including an ending that provides resolution and forgiveness. "Envy" is not an LA story but an Atlanta one. The Georgia-based locale doesn't feel like window dressing but more a character in the story. "Hotlanta" becomes well, "sins" city.

Released in April of this year, containing religious undertones, and building its diegesis in one's own good time, Envy: Seven Deadly Sins chronicles downtrodden hairdresser Keisha (played by 26-year-old Serayah). Keisha is bent on finding the father she never knew as well as the half-sister she never thought she had. When she does finally track them down, Keisha enters their lives and tries to destroy their well-off mojo. Keisha doesn't want her victims to bite the dust mind you. She just wants to be them and flavor their upper class happiness.

Sure "Envy" is choppily edited and like most Lifetime pics, the characters are a little wishy-washy in their actions. But hey, Envy: Seven Deadly Sins is more sophisticated than most Lifetime fare. It's a movie with a conscience, devoid of murder and all that over the top, overripe stuff. I "envy" any type of genre entry that tries to change that game. Erred green-eyed monster.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Dead in the Water 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

DEAD ZONE

"There's someone watching us". I'm watching Dead in the Water right now and I'm about to review it. It's Lifetime so time to break the cork out!

Anyway in 2021's Dead in the Water, the "dead" refers to a nasty brother who drowns after bullying his sister. That scene comes to in a series of flashbacks throughout. One of said flashbacks nearly gave me the creeps. You'll know if you take in a viewing.

So OK, Dead in the Water is a mystery half-thriller that struggles to find its footing. You don't know what it's about or how it's about until an hour in. The good-looking actors do their best with an uneven script as their tones shift on a dime. Oh and Dead in the Water's setting is forestry luridness that never quite gives you its location (it sure looked like Oregon to me).

Directed, written, and produced by one woman (Simi Valley's own Nanea Miyata), Dead in the Water chronicles a photog named Tara (played by Catherine Lidstone). Tara gets dumped by her rocker boyfriend and decides to pertain in a weekend getaway with bestie Amy (Angela Guiner). From there, chaos and conflict ensues when the two cross paths with a scruffy drifter named Lucas (played by Tyler Hoechlin lookalike Peter Porte).

Dead in the Water looks good even if you don't get its initial gist. That's thanks to lush cinematography by Nathan Haugaard that appears like something Sam Mendes would have done circa twenty years ago. Director Miyata is also committed as she gets all Hitchcockian on us. Nanea uses interesting camera angles, slow burn minatory, and stylish whims to get the audience going. Her film eventually takes the easy way out by descending into a plot about a psycho obsessing and stalking a young female. No freshness winding up here just "dead" load.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 23, 2021

Held 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

HELD UNTRUE

"You will not leave the house again". Alright-y. Sounds like a hoot. Those are the words spoken by an evil voice in 2020's Held. The house in question is really state of the art. Still, I'd avoid hanging out there the minute I entered. The female lead in Held (Jill Awbrey) didn't heed that advice.

Anyway, Held is about a married couple on the outs who become trapped in a rental space via the middle of nowhere. Oh and it gets better. They have a tracking device implanted in them that shocks them if they try anything funny.

Released in April of this year, directed by two dudes (Travis Cluff, Cliff Lofing), and containing acting that's kinda subpar, Held is pretty creepy from the get-go. We don't know why these spouses are being forced against their will and we don't know why the antagonist knows so much about their personal lives. As for Held's look, well it's sterile and clean as Cluff and Lofing shoot the film with a sense of pristine voyeurism. There's spy cameras in the house, a crawl space, and a secret room with a 60s vibe (just look at the darn television set).

Now is Held effective in its first and partially second act? Oh for sure. I was a little perturbed by it. Is the twist that comes near the end of Held the icing on the cake? Uh not quite.

Held's gotcha conclusion (which you can kinda see coming) takes away some of the dramatic momentum. You want hubby and consort to be trapped in their abode Oldboy-style but that doesn't really come to fruition. Held turns into just another rote thriller where the female heroine escapes by killing a couple of scumbags in self-defense. In truth, I was only "held" in suspense for the flick's first hour (of a 95-minute running time). When I figured out what was really going on with this warped form of marriage counseling, I just "checked out".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 19, 2021

Out of Death 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

DEATH HUNT

Out of Death is my latest review. It's a crime thriller that tries so hard for you to like it. It really does. "Death" is 95 minutes long but it feels like two hours. I mean it's all over the place. It's ambitious, it has fairly good intentions, but it's flawed to the nth degree. To recommend Out of Death would be the equivalent of giving it a pass. Uh, I don't give passes.

So OK, "Death" is I guess a Western or a pseudo Western if you will. It's about a woman hiker who witnesses a murder by a member of a corrupt police force. Bruce Willis co-stars as Jack Harris, a retired cop who helps said witness expose the baddie po-po. Willis is of course comatose but the movie sort of rises above him. I mean I've seen much worse Willis outings in my day ("Death" is a welcome surprise compared to cow dung like Vice and Precious Cargo).

Like I said earlier, Out of Death is ambitious but boy is it eye-rolling. Rookie director Mike Burns doesn't know when to quit. Accompanied by show off editing from R. J. Cooper, Burns uses title cards with chapters attached as if he were Quentin Tarantino. Come on dude, just shoot like a normal bloke! Mike also imposes fake CGI raindrops, weird camera angles, a recycled screenplay, and co-written music that seems to come in at every waking moment. Heck, "Death's" unrestrained score doesn't always fit the scenes. It shifts more in tone than Tony Stewart shifts gears at a freaking NASCAR race.

The acting in Out of Death is I guess palatable but sometimes you see the troupers almost forgetting their lines and pausing. What the??? And what's with Willis filming all his clips in one day (I read that on the flick's wiki page). I guess that's what stardom means. Bottom line: Out of Death is watchable but you have to keep your integrity as a viewer. Don't exactly yield to it. "Death" knell all but.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Showbiz Kids 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars

"SHOW ME" STATE

Showbiz Kids is my latest review. It's a documentary without an arc. It has no beginning, no middle, and no clear-cut end. Still, I must say that every child actor and their parents needs to give it a look-see. It might prevent Hollyweird from taking another one down.   

So OK, "Showbiz" is a docu that doesn't need flash or overindulgence to get its point across. It's just a self-effacing portrait of troupers recalling what it was like to work in the film industry via a fairly young age. Evan Rachel Wood, Milla Jovovich, and Wil Wheaton put their two cents in. Oh and Todd Bridges gets thrown into the mix cause well, you just knew he'd be included. 

Showbiz Kids gives us the usual interviews and the usual archive footage. But by hook or crook, it still hits you pretty hard. At 95 minutes "Showbiz" with its "call backs" as subsequent metaphor, just gets darker and darker (and darker). The rabbit hole here is uh, a real pisser. 

The director of Showbiz Kids is none other than Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure). Winter skimps on the usual documentary style as he goes for talk show moments from stars a la "where are they now?" Alex doesn't want these laddies or lassies to recall the good times of being on screen. He rather wants them to warn and heed the dangers of being a child star cooked by the cold stodgy-s of sunny LA. 

So yeah, I'm a film buff, I love movies, and I when I write reviews, I tell it like it is. But I have sympathy for what these people have gone through with fame, haggled money, and such. Yeah I've seen some of their flicks and I've disliked some of their stuff but I've only viewed it from the outside. For that I am sorry. These "kids are alright" in my book. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Last Blockbuster 2020 * Star

BLOCKHEAD

"They should just stay open, call themselves something else." Uh no. Video stores are obsolete for a reason. People would rather hit the old Redbox, surf YouTube, go to a theater post-Covid, or stream something. I mean that's the norm now unless you've been in a coma for ten years.

So yeah, The Last Blockbuster is a documentary about the last Blockbuster video store in Bend, Oregon. And um, the manager is still trying to keep it open (that's not something to brag about). I say why. Why keep a store afloat with a name that is almost a running joke at this point. People chuckle when the designation Blockbuster Video is mentioned these days. We've all moved on but said manager obviously hasn't. She's stuck in a time warp circa 1999.

Released in December 2020 and featuring some goofy narration by Lauren Lapkus, The Last Blockbuster is a badly eccentric docu that gives a Bend family fifteen minutes of fame for trying to keep relevant the already bygone, Blockbuster name.

There are interviews by actors and CEO-s that tell us the history of Blockbuster Video and why it has found a place in nostalgia. Gimme a break. Were they paid to "bend" the truth (no pun intended)? I could give a rat's butt what Kevin Smith, Ione Skye, and Adam Brody have to say. I mean I would've completely forgotten about Blockbuster had this silly flick not found its way onto Netflix (which subsequently ran Blockbuster Video business into the ground).

All in all, The Last Blockbuster with its too little, too late irrelevance, should've probably never been made. Captain Marvel's trailer only fueled that limp fire. Added to that, The Last Blockbuster is pretentious stuff that at the same time, doesn't even bother to take itself seriously. It's not even worth a "rental". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Seven Deadly Sins: Lust 2021 * * Stars

SINS CITY

"It's gonna take us to the next level right?" The flick I'm about to review is not next level stuff. It's more a slow burn where scenes look like they're straight out of a GQ mail-order catalog.

Anyway, in Seven Deadly Sins: Lust, the "lust" is generated by Tiffanie (played by Keri Hilson). Tiffanie has lust for her fiance's best friend Trey (Allstate man lookalike Durrell 'Tank' Babbs). Trey and Tiff fool around right before the wedding which is to occur the next day. That's the blueprint for "Sins". It's a little Tyler Perry and a repressed version of 2014's Addicted. You could cut the tension but the knife is no great shakes.

So yeah, Seven Deadly Sins: Lust is a Lifetime movie. But hey, it's a Lifetime movie that doesn't really suck you in (isn't that why we watch this long-running network?).

Sure the film's Atlanta setting looks good, sure the storytelling plays out well, and sure the acting by everyone is I guess, adequate. But where's the real escalation and/or conflict? I wanted more. I wanted the groom and Trey to really duke it out and Trey to more clearly carry forth his waited revenge (that's why Trey and Tiffanie almost consummated their googly-eyed relationship in the first place).

"Sins" has a small twist and keeps the viewer somewhat occupied until its patched-up conclusion. But the proceedings never really take off from a dramatic standpoint. Furthermore, you wonder why Tiffanie and the husband-to-be (Damon played by Tobias Truvillion) are even getting married in the first place. Their affinity is not based on love, sex, or understanding. It's more of a convenient business relationship with disposable income attached. I didn't have popcorn on hand but if I did, I would have thrown it at the screen. The real "sin" here is falseness.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Ice Road 2021 * * Stars

CUTS LITTLE ICE

"Told you this wasn't gonna be easy". That's a line from 2021's The Ice Road. Yup, suicide missions with trucks are never easy. You could honestly go under the crackling verglas at any moment. 

So yeah, "Ice Road" is about a forlorn ice driver who leads a crew over a frozen ocean to rescue some trapped miners in northern Canada. Liam Neeson stars and that extends his record of films that take place in the winter months and/or are released in the winter months. What can I say, Neeson just digs that frigid air. He also likes to appear haggard and 5 o'clocked as he gives us that Neeson, obligatory badass moment (a dude falls smack-down to the ground with one punch). 

Released in June of this year, distributed by Netflix, and featuring a brief screen appearance by Laurence Fishburne, The Ice Road is basically rawhide Neeson-ed personified. Yeah there's action but the polar discord aspect overtakes everything. Liam Neeson is the do-gooder, the scruffy dude with nothing to lose, the Irishman, and the Everyman. If you seen a lot of his movies (and I have), you're pretty much getting type-casting 101.  

But wait, "Ice Road's" director (Kill the Irishman's Jonathan Hensleigh) is the culprit here, not Neeson. Badly borrowing chase clips from The Fast and the Furious and The Road Warrior, he lets his scenes go on far too long. Yeah the flick does its ice trucking research and there's a few conflicting moments. However, things just never shift into second gear (that's a blatant rig reference). It also doesn't help that Max Aruj's musical score is over-dramatic and straight from the land of direct-to-video. I mean why be so serious and so slog-y at the same time. You could've had "ice" instead of 108 minutes of "vanilla". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Stalker 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

GAME HUNTER

"Thanks for the ride, you kids have fun". You know I've never had a Lyft or Curb driver say that to me as I was getting out of their vehicle. I'd think they'd be a little off if they did. 

Anyway, a ride-share driver decides to ruin the life of a nice guy rider because he won't be the driver's best bud. That's the initial gist of 2020's Stalker (my latest review). After seeing Stalker, I wouldn't be surprised if a viewer avoided getting into Ubers, moving to LA, or giving a random their cell phone number. Heck, it all felt too real to me. 

Released on the Internet in June of this year, Stalker is initially pretty familiar stuff. I mean if you've seen Taxi Driver, 2018's Ride, The Cable Guy, or Nightcrawler you're getting what I'm throwing at you. I'm talking flicks where weirdo psychos drive around uncontrolled in cars or just wanna hang out cause they're freaking lonely. 

Stalker's director (Tyler Savage) pits Los Angeles at its most dark, most DTA-d, and least tinseled. His film is like his last name and it starts blase until things render creepier with each passing minute. 

Now would Stalker be able to be made 20-30 years ago? Probably not. The film sledgehammers social media and stealing one's identity as a villainous property. And is Stalker the type of pic that trades justness and solace for an unhappy and upsetting ending? You bet. 

Debit card fraud and Snapchats begot, Stalker gives you a doozy of a concluding twist that almost makes it a trifling exercise. Aside from showing the evil that men (and women) do, Stalker is just peripheral remorselessness. It's a fairly well-made thriller that eventually leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. That's why I'm only giving it a "2.5 star rating". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart 2020 * * * * Stars

STAYING ALIVE!

"In many ways they were chameleons of pop". That is a reference to the Bee Gees. Yup, it's no wonder these three bros lasted over 40 years in the music biz.

With some timeless pop tunes and interviews from the band and peers alike, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is one scorcher of a documentary that rather builds to euphoria. Along with Tina (reviewed in April 2021), "Broken Heart" ranks as one of my favorites of that genre. HBO Max, well you done struck again. 

The Bee Gees were essentially the sounds of my childhood. My mom and dad wore those Gibb brothers 8-tracks down to the nub. At a running time of 111 minutes, "Broken Heart" is done with HBO Films being its cinematic, grand wizard. That means the story of the Bee Gees is told cleanly, spontaneously, and with mounds of energy. The docu literally plops onto the screen and says, "look at me". 

Disco Demolition begot, what separates The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart from other docs is its swift method of no BS. "Broken Heart" gets straight to the point with monster archive footage, insightful probes, and stout editing. 

You get to see the Bee Gees involvement with the late Robert Stigwood (Saturday Night Fever soundtrack baby!). You find out that Eric Clapton had influence on their forwarding career (who knew?). You get some stuff from younger brother Andy Gibb. Finally, you get insight into how the trio of lads transitioned from Beatles-style tuneage to disco. Heck, in all my years reviewing documentaries, I've never seen one such as "Broken Heart" that felt so invigorating, so whimsical. 

Oh and the interviews are tops as well. What a cool breath of fresh air to hear Noel Gallagher, Chris Martin, Nick Jonas, and Justin Timberlake tell us how much they like to anatomize these Australian musical distance runners. In retrospect, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is far from "broken". In fact, it's put together quite nicely. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

My Husband's Killer Girlfriend 2021 * * * Stars

KILLING IT

"Your daughter is in great hands". Oh boy oh boy, cray cray femme alert. It's been thirty years and over 1000 pics. Lifetime wouldn't have it any other way. 

So yeah, 2021's My Husband's Killer Girlfriend is my latest write-up. It's about a nanny who frames a woman for leaving her small daughter unattended. And yup, the pseudo nanny just happens to be the lady friend of the woman's ex-hubby. Basically it takes about twenty minutes (and a misplaced edit) before you realize that My Husband's Killer Girlfriend means just what it means. 

"Killer Girlfriend" sans modern times, goes back to basics for all those Lifetime network addicts (like myself). A plot hole here, a campy moment there, some conniving, some frustration, and some all out antagonism. Finally the malefactor character doesn't get away and finally there's a little justice for the victim (or I guess victims). My Husband's Killer Girlfriend is what you call old school hard knocks in the Lifetime network canon. Hey, after watching plenty of Lifetime flicks a la hack man David DeCoteau, you got no complaints here. 

"Killer Girlfriend's" lead is played by Canadian-born Cindy Busby. The other actors are ready and game but you know she's the gamiest. Busby's Leah goes all Richard Kimble trying to accumulate evidence so the po-po can capture psycho nanny Valerie (a well cast Chelsey Reist). Heck, even Leah goes a little nutso herself. She's a mama bear with a chip and a gun and has to do whatever it takes to protect her cub.

All in all, My Husband's Killer Girlfriend is a little far-fetched and well, off-center. No matter. It's also more intricate with more complexity and savagery than most 90-minute Lifetime-rs. Watch for the ultimate, double-female slap scene at a swank restaurant. Oh Lifetime, you almost never disappoint. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Lethal Love Letter 2021 * * Stars

POISON-PEN

Lethal Love Letter (my latest review) refers to a letter from a terminally ill wife to her husband's ex-girlfriend. I mean how unusual is that? And why would the letter tell said ex-girlfriend to get back together with said husband? Huh? What? Really?

Anyway, "Lethal" has a solid foundation for a good Lifetime network dweller. The problem is that you don't feel any kind of danger for the personas as victims. Lethal Love Letter is like the Romper Room version of a Lifetime thrill ride when it could be so much more. Sure the background music is ominous and people get quasi-murdered but it's just filler as far as I'm concerned.

So yeah, you wanna see "Lethal's" bad guy (played by Rick Malambri) appear more like a JCPenney catalog model than an actual villain? Nah, I didn't think so. And do you want to invest in a flick where the protagonist's job involves working on a homemade blog called Squirrel? Uh no.

Released in June of this year, touted as a mystery whodunit, and featuring a viable running time of 92 minutes, Lethal Love Letter is about a single businesswoman (Amelia) being harassed by an unknown dolt bent on trying to ruin her life. Amelia gets evil texts and emails along with bouts of home invasion throughout. As the viewer, you eventually figure out who is stalking her about 45 minutes in. Oh and what a bland, dry, and non-threatening stalker he is. 

With editing that is choppy, characters who are wishy-washy with big shifts in tone, and a final confrontation that feels like theater play acting, Lethal Love Letter is a straight-up, mixed review for me. Heck, there was never a moment that grabbed my lapels or made me think bad thoughts. Lethal Love Letter as a cinematic lethal "weapon?" I think not.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Belushi 2020 * * 1/2 Stars

TOGA! TOGA!

"No one could ever learn how to do what Belushi does and no one ever will man". That's a quote from 2020's Belushi (my latest review). Even nearly 40 years after his passing, John Belushi is still remembered as a comic legend. Heck, in 2004 he got himself a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "We're on a mission from God". Indeed.

So yeah, Belushi is a docu about the shortened life of well, John Adam Belushi. Its 108-minute running time reads like a chronological wiki page, a very polished wiki page that kinda omits some stuff. Belushi spans from John's high school days in Wheaton, Illinois to his eventual death from a drug overdose circa 1982. I always thought of John Belushi as a physical comedian, a thin-aired character humorist, and a lovable goof. He appeared in legendary films like Animal House, 1941, and The Blues Brothers.

John's death at age 33 involved drug intoxication by way of a speedball shot. Belushi doesn't delve into the aftermath of John's demise and drops the fact that someone got indicted for murder after giving him said speedball (the late Cathy Smith). The docu just sort of ends truncated. Forgive me but I wanted a little more as opposed to a pseudo patch job.

Belushi's director (R. J. Cutler) uses unique archive footage along with certain fades and wipes. What he doesn't include is the faces of John's buds like Dan Aykroyd and Carrie Fisher being visually interviewed (why?). Belushi also incorporates animation and that just irks me. I mean why do documentaries need cartoons to explain certain parts in people's lives? It's just trite and a put off.

Bottom line: I'm gonna give Belushi a mixed review but it's worth seeing at least once. I viewed it on Showtime and like John's famous line in Animal House, "it don't cost nothing".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Perfect Wedding 2021 * * * Stars

"VOW" AND DECLARE

"There's so much you don't know about me". So quips a cray cray girl pal in 2021's The Perfect Wedding. Talk about the understatement of the year. 

So yeah, "Wedding" gives the Lifetime Network some needed "life" support. As something about a fiancee whose nuptials are called off because she has been set up by a jealous bestie, "Wedding" is a film that wants to overshadow its TV feel, a feel of which it can't escape. 

The Perfect Wedding has all the usual Lifetime perils. You got the murders (one by lethal injection), the fawning female obsessiveness, and the soap opera conniving. Hey, there's always a few people with screws loose in a Lifetime lifetime-r.  

The Perfect Wedding is also like a conspiracy thriller, a sort of whodunit or who-dun-did-it. It's a flick in which a traumatizing incident happens and then the protagonist has to pick up the pieces in order to get things back to normal. Tenika Davis in the lead as Lindsay, gives a seething performance that sort of separates her from everybody else. She plays detective in "Wedding" as she sifts through the events with a Snake Eyes precision. 

Bottom line: "Wedding" with its Philadelphia setting and sleuth-hound relentlessness, really wants you to take it seriously. The acting (or overacting) is standard here but hey, it's more about the story than anything else. No side character in The Perfect Wedding feels completely wasted (and there are a few of them). There's no plot detail that feels unhinged. Finally, "Wedding" moves at a decent clip as everything unfolds without too much exertion. 

"Wedding's" ending is criminality snare. It feels abrupt and non-climactic but it seems amicable considering everything damaged that came before it. I mean let's face it, in a world of over 2000 past Lifetime pics nothing ever really comes out to be "perfect". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Evil Stepmom 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

BAD MAMA

"Poor Gabi, couldn't accept her new family". Um, can you blame her? When people with hidden agendas are involved, it's a slippery slope. 

Anyway, 2021's Evil Stepmom is one of the weirdest, campiest, and most manipulative films in the Lifetime Network canon. As something about a fake mother and daughter who worm their way into a rich family (that lost its mom to a brain aneurysm). "Stepmom" has a little at stake despite holding back on the devious murders (for all the temptation, there aren't any). 

"Stepmom" revels in numerous long shots of the rich family's overly big mansion (you could play a drinking game every time they are shown). Also, the actors have extended expressions on their faces and you salivate for them to just say something (which they eventually do). The rich father is Tim and he is played with reactionary sentiment by Randy Thomas. Tim's youngest is Gabrielle and she is played with a Firstborn quality in Julia Lalonde. 

As usual with any Lifetime endeavor, Evil Stepmom has the antagonists getting away scot-free with most of the characters (including the middle-aged dad) being oblivious to the wily shenanigans that's going on. Without the Internet, smartphone pics, background checks, wide open silver foxes, and dating sites, "Stepmom's" inching conundrum would cease to exist. 

"Stepmom's" hook is soccer dads who don't get too technical in their coaching. "Stepmom's" twist is a pseudo pregnancy which is clearly a trap. "Stepmom's" locales are clearly recycled (overhead shot of a high school is featured hint, hint). Finally, Evil Stepmom would rather stick to the outlined, Lifetime coda structure than punch you in the gut (like Girl in the Basement and/or The Husband did). I'm going with a mixed review which means it's worth at least one viewing. Just don't use your "evil eye". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Hunted 2020 * * Stars

HUNT DOWN

"I make movies". So says the unknown antagonist with camera in tote via 2020's Hunted. He is referred to as "The Guy" and is played by Frenchman Arieh Worthalter. Worthalter goes all out in Hunted while being believably sick. He's like the Terminator with human insides and he just keeps coming. Yup, this dog will defiantly "hunt".

In Hunted, the "hunted" refers to a woman named Eve (played by scream queen enthusiast Lucie Debay). Eve gets put through the ringer when all the girl wanted to do was get a drink at a bar. Heck, a couple mojitos later and she's the prey of a bearded perv and his sheepish lackey. They lead Eve into their car, she initially escapes, and then is pursued relentlessly in the woods.

So yeah, Hunted is a snuff film within a grindhouse within a snuff film. The actors are obviously committed, director Vincent Paronnaud (nice name) likes to style it up, and the film although tasteless, could never be considered as jejune.

Still, we've seen this setup before (remember last year's Let it Snow or the more accomplished Alone?). And despite the film using wolves and Mother Nature as metaphors, Hunted just grows laborious and strained by the hour mark. I mean who are these people? And why is this alpha dude such a remorseless whack job? And why did the victimized girl's boyfriend stop texting or calling?

Basically Hunted has no real backstory, no character background, and the flick becomes a 90-minute snapshot of wildlife crudity. I kinda liked the synth-y musical score, I like battle royals, and I've always been a sucker for certain types of genre tropes. Hunted however, misses the mark as cinematic browbeat. Just imagine Terrence Malick trying his hand at horror and that's what you'll get with Hunted.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 30, 2021

A House on Fire 2021 * 1/2 Stars

BURNOUT 

A House on Fire (my latest review) refers to an actual house gone a blazing. Who started it? I don't quite know. Same goes for the movie in general. I don't know what to make of "Fire". It just lingers, it's an experiment, and we the audience are frustrated by it. 

So yeah, A House on Fire is like a Forensic Files episode stretched to ninety minutes. However, there's no interviews, no creepy narrator voice, and we don't see anything magnified under a microscope. DNA stuff? Well it never comes to fruition. 

You wanna see Stephanie March give a raw performance in "Fire?" Well you'll get it and it's all good. You want to see a bunch of jumbled scenes that reek of discombobulation? Well you'll get that too and it's not all good. 

"Fire" has no center, no reason to bounce off of. I can't imagine what the Lifetime execs thought during the first screening. I mean how can you green-light a film that goes off on tangents while veering so far from the cinematic, beaten path? Heck, you can't root for the husband and wife characters because they are both a little off in their Dr. Phil resolves. 

Released in March of this year, harboring interrogation flashbacks, and filmed in Manitoba, Canada (hey it's cheaper from a budget standpoint), A House on Fire is about a married doctor couple who are dysfunctional to the nth degree. They are in the amidst of a divorce, their house catches on fire, and they are both questioned after two of their children are burned to death. 

What's the overall motif of "Fire?" Um, I'm not sure. Both parents are messed up and both of these guardian weirdos need a swift kick in the behind. A House on Fire as a pic, needs to be on "house arrest". Call the "where are they now" cast of Leave It to Beaver for reinforcements.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Tracking a Killer 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

RUNNER RUNNER

"I didn't kill her, she was my best friend". Dang, I hate when that happens in a Lifetime flick. Actually I like when that happens. Now I can "kill" an hour and a half of my afternoon as opposed to taking a nap.

Anyway in 2021's Tracking a Killer, the "tracking" is a reference to women high school track stars who run the 100-yard dash. They are competitive, they can be catty, they don't dart realistically, and they love to violently hit people with their track sneaks. I mean at least one of them does.

So OK, Tracking a Killer is a Lifetime-r that's uneven, averagely acted, pie in the skied, and lopsidedly scripted. Just imagine enough planted whodunits to equal Clue and Knives Out and that's what you get with "Killer".

Shot in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, directed by an unseasoned Richard Switzer, and revealing a twist that sort of knocked me for a loop, Tracking a Killer is about a runner named Haley (an impressive debut from first-timer Jane Dillon). Haley is accused of murdering her track-and-field teammate and it's up to her mom and a friendly attorney who wants to get with said mom, to prove her innocence.

Look for a couple of head trauma murders (Lifetime wouldn't have it any other way), some wooden performances by the detective characters, and the accused wearing a faulty ankle bracelet that allows her to take it off and do whatever she pleases (talk about a desperate and hopeless plot ploy).

Bottom line: "Killer" is no masterpiece but it keeps the viewer guessing and throbbing at least until the 75-minute mark. Minus some overacting, some propped track shoes that don't look like real track shoes, and editing that reeks of emplacement, Tracking a Killer gets an okay "track record" from me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Mauritanian 2021 * * Stars

THE MAURITANIAN FINDS ITS WAY TO THE SCREEN TWO DECADES AFTER SEPTEMBER 11 ATTACKS

The Mauritanian (my latest review) refers to a suspected 9/11 terrorist who spends over a decade in prison without ever being charged with a crime. Frenchman Tahar Rahim plays "Mauritanian's" lead in Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Rahim is not a bad actor by any means but his performance here feels a little off. He mugs and shrugs to the camera but there doesn't seem to be a lot of fear in his eyes.

So yeah, The Mauritanian as a movie feels a little off as well. It's capably directed, it's good to see Jodie Foster in something again, and some of "Mauritanian's" scenes crackle from time to time. But there's not a lot of drama and/or spectacle with The Mauritanian appearing like the film equivalent of a wiki page entry (the ending credits have the need to explain everything). Added to that, "Mauritanian" harbors a TV feel and its subject although unforgettable, comes off as aptly dated after twenty years.

Fashioning itself as a talky pic, directed by Scot Kevin Macdonald, and somewhat reeking of obviousness, The Mauritanian is about a man who was thought to be one of the chief engineers of tragic 9/11. While being imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, two defense lawyers jump through hoops to try to pursue his freedom. What 2013's Parkland is to Oliver Stone's JFK, The Mauritanian is to Midnight Express and The Hurricane. The latter films in that last sentence are for a better word, superior.

In retrospect, The Mauritanian goes through the motions with its chronological storytelling about as facile to follow as paint-by-numbers. Yeah "Mauritanian" is based on a true story but its tribute is a tad limp. If not for a few emotive moments courtesy of veteran actress Jodie Foster and some hallucinatory torture clips, the film would've never bothered to haphazardly take off.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Desperate Widows 2021 * * Stars

WIDOWMAKER 

"It's more like a prison than a farm". Ouch. Does that mean I can't ride the horsey-s?

Anyway, the best Lifetime films brim with conflict, deception, and "had to" murder. They can be B-movie-style, locale challenged, or campy but still effective. Desperate Widows (my latest write-up) is sadly the most disappointing of Lifetime fare. It trades actual uncertainty and suspense for tedious, detailed buildup. And about the title, it's weak. These women personas are not really desperate. They just need well, someone to talk to or be around.

The story of "Widows" involves a woman named Paige (played by Justine Eyre). After her husband's unexpected death, Paige decides to take her daughter and move to a commune for moms (a Mommune is what they call it). Paige discovers that the commune may also be part of a human trafficking ring. For reasons only the director would know, Desperate Widows doesn't really concentrate on the human trafficking element (it just feels like filler towards the end). If it did, the viewer would have a more compelling watching experience. 

"Widows" has acting in it that comes off as mediocre and laughably reactionary. There's also an opening flash-forward scene that feels like a loose dead end. Finally, there's Lifetime vet Allison McAtee being underused and underdeveloped as commune owner Dianne. I mean she's the baddie here but we never quite know enough about her to dissuade her evilness. 

Girl in the Basement which could chill you to the bone, is my pick for best Lifetime flick so far this year. It's the type of movie that "Widows" wished it could've been. With characters that fade in and out, a narrative that has a weak arc, and an incapability to fear for anyone involved, Desperate Widows is only worthwhile if you're "desperate" to watch something at 4 am when infomercials rule the roost.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Those Who Wish Me Dead 2021 * * * Stars

"WISHFUL" THINKING

"Give them something else to worry about". Uh yeah, a blaze moving like a freight train will do it.

Anyway, in 2021's Those Who Wish Me Dead, Angelina Jolie plays a smoke jumper who doesn't do a lot of smoke jumping. I mean Jolie as Hannah Faber is a little miscast here. She growls and gets through it but it feels like she landed the role because she's well, uber-famous.

So yeah, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a street brawler action-er that combines wildfires and no man's land with hitmen shootouts. It's tense, it's unforgiving, and the professional killer characters are the real stars. They are calculated, they are business-like, and one of them keeps getting up like he has extra lives in a darn video game.

Directed by the guy that made Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) and taking place in Montana (it was actually filmed in New Mexico), Those Who Wish Me Dead has probably the coolest title in the history of movies. I mean that and To Live and Die in L. A.

"Dead" for all its post-COVID liveliness, is about firefighter Hannah Faber (Jolie). Faber has to protect a teenage murder witness from two relentless assassins. The whole flick is set to the backdrop of the forestry wilderness along with a fire that was actually started by the assassins themselves (that's one big distraction). Innocent people get murdered, there's a little mano-a-mano, and you get to see Tyler Perry make a blinked cameo (he plays a subdued mob boss).

Bottom line: Those Who Wish Me Dead is balls-out, intimidating, and sloppily action-packed. I'm gonna recommend it despite its smidgen of concluding implausibility (how could a humongous forest fire stop completely overnight?). If you weren't alive when 1993's Cliffhanger came out, then "Dead" might be a formidable alternative. Heck, see both movies if you "wish".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Kid 90 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

THIS "KID" DOESN'T QUITE ROCK

In 2021's Kid 90, the "kid" I guess is child actress Soleil Moon Frye. Frye was on a hit TV series titled Punky Brewster. I haven't heard from Soleil in quite some time and now she's resurfacing as a reflective 44-year-old. I also didn't realize that Frye was once involved in a romantic tryst with bad boy Charlie Sheen (who knew).

So yeah, Kid 90 is a documentary where people mumble, indulge, and pander. It's heavy on archive footage, heavy on zigzagging, heavy on F-bombs, and slight on narrative. Said footage is fascinatingly grainy yet gimmicky and plodding. Actors like David Arquette, Brian Austin Green, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Stephen Dorff show up to do present-day interviews about their relationship with Frye. It seems Soleil had a lot of Hollywood buddies despite being off the A-list since well, '88.

Showing 90s footage of teenage actors partying and revealing that 8 people associated with Moon Frye died at incredibly young ages (20-30 give or take), Kid 90 chronicles Soleil and her circle of friends through video, voice messages, pictures, and revealing diary notes. It's obvious that Soleil got permission from almost everyone involved. Otherwise there'd be no movie.

Kid 90 has Soleil Moon Frye's commitment and the stunted footage she accumulates over time is quite impressive. But hey, where's the story here? And where's the focus? And what are we the audience suppose to feel about Soleil?

Are we suppose to make out sympathy for her even though she's worth about $5 million? It depends on your views I guess. And is her plight about wanting the viewer to see something of yore suppose to make a statement? I'm not sure.

Kid 90 is not a vanity project per se. It just feels unnecessary and moot considering that Moon Frye never broke out of her Penelope shell. Mixed review "kiddo".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Deceived by My Mother-In-Law 2021 * 1/2 Stars

"SENT FROM DOWN BELOW"

"Now we're family, all of us". Um, you forgot to add the words dysfunctional and/or imbalanced in that sentence. 

Anyway, a mother-in-law who's not who she says she is, moves in with a mentally unstable woman and her protective daughter. From there conflict, murder, trickery, and chaos ensues. That's the gist of 2021's Deceived by My Mother-In-Law. The mother-in-law in question (Maggie played by Dey Young), doesn't really have a reason for being up to no good. We as the audience never quite know her motives or her hidden agendas. Maggie is also ugly on the inside and unlikable to the point where her rancid personality could be just for show. 

So yeah, "Mother-In-Law" is directed by Lifetime lifetime-r David DeCoteau. Aside from being in the biz for a good 40 years, this is his 20th or so Lifetime flick in the past four (I'm not kidding). DeCoteau loves having Rib Hillis co-star, he loves having the antagonist get away scot-free, he loves using the phrase "Wrong" in his titles, and he loves his re-gifted shooting locations. I'm not saying the guy's a hack but wait, maybe I am. 

Deceived by My Mother-In-Law as suck-you-in swipe, further shows that Lifetime films have been on the decline for the past decade. I mean Lifetime use to enthrall you while letting you revel in its nasty, guilty pleasures. Now with DeCoteau at the helm as Lifetime's veritable Sasikumar, you get a product that's workmanlike, mechanical, and well, nutrition-less (and that's despite a bearable plot twist early on). 

The acting in "Mother-In-Law" is below the Mendoza Line, the editing has enough chop to form a tsunami, and the script about divorce lawyers, shrinks, PIs, and halfway houses has enough banalities to power a small country. Yup, I was "deceived" into thinking anything here could work. Rating: 1.5 stars. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 7, 2021

Every Breath You Take 2021 * * Stars

LAST-GASP

"Family is all there is and you have a great one". That's a quote from 2021's Every Breath You Take. Whenever someone says something like that in a movie, you know they're being way too nice. They should have a label on their chest that says, "I'm the bad guy and I've got a hidden agenda".

Anyway, Casey Affleck stars in "Breath" and he gives his usual, Affleck-like performance (raw, drained, and acute). He's not the bad guy per se, he's just having a stifling bad week. His daughter won't talk to him, his wife makes him feel guilty constantly, he's buried in his notepad, and his psychiatrist license is about to be revoked. Hey, someone get this dude a beer stat. Or maybe a stiff drink at 80 proof.

Every Breath You Take for better or worse (I'll go with worse), is a choppy thriller with a dubious title. Put it this way, I'd rather listen to The Police's hit single circa 1983 than see "Breath" again. Sure "Breath" is atmospheric and sure it has an obsession with overhead shots of characters driving along scenic roads. But where's the "wow" moment after 105 chewed over minutes? I didn't see it and the abrupt, mano a mano ending didn't help things either.

A psychotic brother messes with the family of a shrink whose patient was his dead sister. That's the blueprinted plot of "Breath" and that's great. Do we as the audience care? Not really. Said brother is basically cray cray and has no real incitement for being cray cray. In fact, he's not really the brother but the boyfriend. "Breath's" director (Vaughn Stein) offers this twist and at the same time, he veers right into amateur hour. He needs to "breathe" deep and lament with whatever project he decides to do next. Hey, you could try comedy next time Vaughn. Rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Daddy's Perfect Little Girl 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

WHO'S NOT YOUR DADDY

"There's something very wrong with that little girl". Uh huh. We're talking being surrounded by a SWAT team with rifles wrong. 

Anyway, 2021's Daddy's Perfect Little Girl is my latest review. It's title, well it couldn't be more of an oxymoron if it tried. Daddy's Perfect Little Girl is about a young preteen who becomes jealous of her adoptive father's new girlfriend and her basketball-playing son. The girl in question (Ella played by Hattie Kragten) resorts to murder, manipulation, and all out attention grabbing to drive the diegesis of the movie. You know Ella is a little off literally within the two-minute mark. She's what you call a "brat-a-tat-tat" or a daddy nightmare albatross.

"Perfect" is a character study that's sledgehammered for a good two hours (with commercials). It's Lifetime poster child (no pun intended) with Kragten diving into the role of Ella as if the world was her egocentric oyster. Her dad's persona is completely oblivious, her neighbor is a mean-spirited goof, her Schwinn Elm bike gets a lot of mileage, and her best friend Kinsley (Ajanae Stephenson) acts as a Greek chorus to give Ella up for her wrongdoings. Ella doesn't need fatherly advice mind you. She needs to be put in an institution stat (which happens in the end, sort of).

Daddy's Perfect Little Girl minus its binding production values, is a sort of gender-reversed version of 1993's The Good Son (remember that Macaulay Culkin thriller?). It gets the job done from a narrative standpoint (barely) and yeah, Kragten is committed to her part. You as the viewer, feel no commiseration for Ella and I suppose that's the point. Still, why does "Perfect" project camp when it could exercise a little more depth. I figured it's Lifetime's fault for not fleshing out the anemic script more. Yup, not so "perfect".  

Written by Jesse Burleson