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Sunday, May 30, 2021

A House on Fire 2021 * 1/2 Stars


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


"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 (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


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


"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

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Cosmic Sin 2021 * 1/2 Stars


"It takes a monster to kill a monster". Guess what. It takes a miracle to believe that 2021's Cosmic Sin would be viable, sci-fi fare. By the way, Neil Blomkamp called and says he wants his lauded integrity back.

So yeah, "Sin" was released in March of this year (its title in India is actually Worthless Rip-Off). It's a direct-to-video flick that also poses as something you'd see on well, the Syfy channel. Cosmic Sin tries to be part Blade Runner, part Ghosts of Mars, part Elysium, and part Aliens. Sadly with its characters bickering back and forth like the Bickersons, "Sin" feels more like 2000's veritable bomb, Supernova.

Cosmic Sin is poorly lit in a soft bulb sort of way. It also has action scenes that are choppily edited, actresses you feel sorry for (I'm talking about you Perrey Reeves), and a script that contains enough sci-fi mumbo jumbo to denounce any normal ritual. Bruce Willis stars in "Sin" and you know what that means. Aside from unloading a rifle, projecting his last shred of screen presence, and looking like Iron Man without full headgear, Brucie appears like he's in a coma with no chance of reverse stupor.

Taking place in the year 2524 (that's random) and directed by Australian Edward Drake, Cosmic Sin is basically about Gen. James Ford (Bruce Willis) trying to stop a fleet of aliens that I guess look like humans. Willis doesn't do or say much but hey, he's Bruce "I used to be a beast" Willis. He probably got paid by the line (or any catatonic facial expression).

Bottom line: Any way you cut it, I probably should've avoided watching Cosmic Sin. Its intentions are good considering but come on, it's more like "cosmic" debris (no pun intended for the late Frank Zappa). Forgive me for I have "sinned".

Written by Jesse Burleson