film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Envy: Seven Deadly Sins 2021 * * * Stars


"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


"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


"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


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


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


"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


"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


"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


"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