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film reel image

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Habit 2021 * Star


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


"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


"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


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