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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Secret Life of A Student 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


"I'm your teacher. There is nothing more between us". There is "more" I need to say about the flick I'm about to review. How about another 200+ words. 

Anyway, Secret Life of A Student is my latest write-up. And its title, well it doesn't have much to do with the movie. "Secret Life" is about a female high school teacher who is getting it from all angles. Someone in a sleek car is trying to harass her, her student claims he had an affair with her therefore threatening her job, and social media deviants are posting stuff about her that is well, inappropriate. The high school teacher I'm talking about is Lauren Beeches and she is played by Canadian actress Rhonda Dent. Dent gives a solid performance in the lead role. There's a certain rawness and vulnerability to it. 

Secret Life of A Student is directed by sometimes producer Jason James. James fashions "Secret Life" as a slow burn where you anxiously wait for the big reveal. So OK, who is driving by Lauren's house and giving her the creeps? Why doesn't the dean of students believe that Lauren is an upstanding teacher who doesn't rob the cradle in her spare time? And who killed Lauren's bestie at the beginning act leaving Lauren to care for said bestie's young daughter? These questions get answered at the two-hour mark (with commercials added). "Secret Life", well it has the ability to leave the viewer tedium-bound and enthralled all at the same time.

Basically "Secret Life" is a Lifetime endeavor posing as veritable whodunit. The acting is sometimes hammy, the whiff of the film is sometimes campy, the red herrings are ready-made, and there's the final twist where the antagonist goes completely cray cray (the way she says "sweet baby angel" is borderline theatrical). I've seen better Lifetime-rs but I've also seen worse. A secret "life" less ordinary.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 23, 2021

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


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


"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


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


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


"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


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


"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