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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Bullies 1986 * * * Stars

WOOLY BULLY

"Matt you don't know them". Yeah you don't Matt. You done taking the wrong turn boy. Matt and his family move to a small town and open up a grocery store. Little do they know that another family is bent on tormenting them like all get out. 

Anyway I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1986. It was in my hometown via Southwest Michigan at the local theatre (Southtown Twin to be exact). The film was Bullies and it played for about a week. Then it was gone, sigh. Audiences around the country probably weren't ready for Bullies anyway. Unknown cast, no marketing, borderline NC-17 rating, vile subject matter. Yup, I thought I'd revisit this acrid switchblade of a movie.

Bullies certainly gets its title right. It's simple, brash, and to the point. It is about bullies with the last name of Cullen (a memorable last name indeed and a nice touch). According to the wiki of Bullies, the Cullens are a clan of sorts. Heck, I consider them a bunch of bags with a mountainous, redneck flavor. If you're in a Straw Dogs and/or Deliverance sort of mood, those Cullens sure were your tour guide back in good old '86. 

With a musical score that is 80s cheese and a Canadian director that has enough assertive gumption to stage confrontation (Paul Lynch of Prom Night fame), Bullies never harbored cult status nor did it gain access to the midnight movie circuit. Why? Well the flick has a certain ugliness to it, a sort of relentless coup de grace if you will. But hey, what'd you expect? The film is called Bullies and it does what it conveys. Lynch's vision can be tasteless, superfluous, and overly violent but it will affect you. Well-acted, carefully plotted, and reprisal-minded, I say "bully" for that. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Good Neighbor 2022 * * * Stars

WON'T YOU WATCH, THIS NEIGHBOR?

"David we hit something". Did you now. It wasn't a squirrel or a possum?

So OK, in 2022's The Good Neighbor, the neighbor is anything but. He's got attachment issues, he's prying, he's latent, and in the end, he's just pure evil. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Robert and let's just call him the "bad" neighbor shall we. He's one of those actors that excels at giving a manipulative, calculating performance. Exhibit B would be Woody Allen's Match Point.

Anyway, The Good Neighbor is shot by German Stephan Rick. His direction is streamlined and aseptic yet forlorn, giving "Neighbor" the feeling of being somewhere between the greatest Lifetime movie ever and 1998's A Simple Plan. Rick keeps you guessing and guessing as he almost numbs you the viewer. "Neighbor" isn't flashy nor is it horrific (most of the murders show the aftermath). Until it runs out of steam however, the film turns enough psychological screws to undo a dresser. You can count on it. 

Taking place and filmed in Latvia, The Good Neighbor is about a couple of neighbors who go out for drinks, drive home, and commit a hit and run via a young woman on a bike. Yup, these movies tend to make my ears perk up. Yeah the events are tragic but you're completely involved, wondering how these two dudes are gonna try to cover up the pseudo crime. Witnesses (or non-witnesses) are offed, evidence is shellacked, and when it comes to the detectives, the house always wins (or does it?). 

"Neighbor" has casting that is spot-on, its editing for the most part, is crisp, and the Lativa setting provides a sort of sterling authenticity. If the flick didn't overplay its hand, add layers, and turn into a rather rote thriller, I would've praised it more. Oh well, "Neighbor" is worth renting at the "closest" Redbox. Natch.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Death Valley 2021 * * * Stars

DEATH PROOFED

Let's get this right out of the way shall we. 2021's Death Valley has nothing to do with that desert place in Cali. I mean the title sounds cool but it was filmed in freaking Canada. But anyway, "Valley" is almost shapeless and butchered in its first act until it turns into The Descent with foot soldier mercenaries added. Hey, who doesn't want to take in a little demon speak with some gun-toting action (I do I do).

Death Valley is directed by Mr Matthew Ninaber. Channeling his inner John Carpenter a la the later years, Ninaber creates some claustrophobia and tension despite his monsters looking almost like advanced Halloween ensembles. His "Valley" doesn't have a happy ending nor does it bleed to the sanguine. Sometimes movies of the quarantine nature (like this one) can be effective that way.

Shot in a Syfy channel sort of way with its actors saying, "we gotta get out of here" and/or "let's keep moving" (it is what it is), Death Valley is about some hired guns who are sent in to rescue a bioengineer held captive via a middle of nowhere bunker. At said bunker is a creature predator with bad hygiene, a coarse voice, and a case of the albino. Chaos ensues with some harrowing fight sequences, a twist villain, some nervous tongue-in-cheek, and paradoxical remnants. The troupers featured in "Valley" (Ethan Mitchell, Jeremy Ninaber, Kristen Kaster) are obviously C-list but they sell scenes a little better than anyone in a recent, Bruce Willis actioner (yikes).

All in all, the best way to view Death Valley is to accept it for what it is. "Valley" is a bloodstained B-movie trying hard to push on its B-movie tropes (the budget, the costume designs, and the shooting locales were probably nil). "Valley of salts".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Death Hunt 2022 * * * Stars

I'M GIVING CHASE TO

"Once you've hunted man, animals just don't cut it anymore". Yeesh. I'll probably just avoid hanging out in forests in the near future.

Distributed by Uncork'd Entertainment, featuring bad riflemen who couldn't shoot water in a pool, and not to be associated with that Lee Marvin thriller from 1981, 2022's Death Hunt is a B-movie entity that knows it's a B-movie. The filmmakers are basically saying, "enjoy it for what it is folks, we don't care either way". A little bit Surviving the Game, a little bit 2021's Apex, Death Hunt is all about tracking humans for sport. Morals are replaced by the rush of killing. Deer is replaced by a landowner and his chick. Sadistic for the sadists I tell you.

Death Hunt has unknown actors in it that mumble their lines (or maybe it was just the sound editing, ugh). "Hunt" also verges on camp because said lines take a front seat to the overripe. Oh well. This film delivers a certain level of suspense because it kills the male protagonist early and lets the female protagonist saddle up and get her Rambo on (spoiler). I mean it's kind of a novel plot device that has worked before. Ripley, believe it or not!

Death Hunt with its inconsistent action sequences and slight ode to the implausible, still keeps you entertained in a somewhat non-admitting fashion. I suppose it's the nasty charm of men with stogies in their mouths trying to off some mistress couple on a forestry island. Or maybe it's the musical score by Mitchell Gibbs that's eager to the nth degree. Said score doesn't always fit the rhythms of the scenes but boy does it try its darndest. Evoking a sort of 80s flavor, Gibb's stuff secretly has good old Dutch smiling in the distance.

Flawed but full of squalid, bullet-ridden vigor, Death Hunt brings back the notion of shell-shocked, female badassery. This "dog will hunt", promise.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 17, 2022

A Christmas Story Christmas 2022 * * * Stars

"IT'S A MAJOR AWARD!"

If you haven't seen the holiday classic A Christmas Story, well you've probably been living in isolation somewhere, in a bunker sans a television set. If you have seen A Christmas Story (and I have in spades), then be pleasantly surprised because there's a sequel and you can watch it On Demand. 

2022's A Christmas Story Christmas is that sequel, a true companion piece that was made to be viewed back-to-back with the original from a mere forty years ago (give or take). All the characters are back (Ralphie, Flick, Randy, Scott Farkus to name a few) and pretty much all the same actors are present to play them. It's like taking a trip down memory lane I tell you. Fix up some steaming hot cocoa and enjoy!

A Christmas Story Christmas isn't some VOD pic that would be destined for the $3.99 bin at Best Buy. I mean this is the real deal. Director Clay Kaytis really thinks things through, being so faithful to the consistency of first flick you'd think the ghost of the late Bob Clark talked to him in his sleep. 

Kaytis progresses the narrative very nicely, setting the events decades after with a grown-up Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley having some goofy fun here) going back to his hometown in Indiana to celebrate Christmas with his own kids. I mean it's uncanny. The look is the same (soft and glowed lighting), the locales are similar (that's because they might be), the opening credits are familiar, and the music is 1983 spot-on. Heck, you could almost put A Christmas Story and this follow-up together to make one three-hour movie (why not?). Just add a title card that says well, "thirty years later". 

Same off-handed humor, same grossness with food (you'll see), same Bumpus hounds, same midwest exhaust. That's what you get with A Christmas Story Christmas. The only thing the film adds is its fascination with spirits (no not those spirits, the spirits of a liquid kind) and the fact that it actually borrows some of its slapstick from a certain National Lampoon endeavor. Nice touches all around. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Unhuman 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

HUMAN SENSING

There's something sort of inhuman about 2022's Unhuman. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the characters here who come off as so unlikable to the audience it's hard to root for them. They're poor man's Breakfast Club types aspiring to be Shaun of the Dead types. High school, well it sure has been bleak for them.

So yeah, Unhuman is a zombie movie with all these HS stereotypes (how'd you guess). You got the jock, the princess, the oppressed smart girl, the token, and the nerds. Their bus crashes during a field trip, they escape, and then they must band together to try and stop some revived corpses.

Director Marcus Dunstan pulls off all the stops with Unhuman. Less gory than most, he infuses split screens, wipes, slow-mo stuff, and Dutch angles to let the world know he's showing off. Hey, I give him a little credit because there's enough zombie fabric out there to power a small country. Gotta inject some new life (ha ha) into an already manifest genre.

Unhuman breaks itself down into three parts. It's an ambitious if overwrought viewing experience. The first part is the set up (mentioned in the second paragraph). The second part is the refreshing twist (told in one long flashback). The third part is the high school misfits getting their revenge on by fighting ugly (with fists of fury).

In retrospect, helmer Dunstan tries really hard to make you forget that Unhuman is just another pic about the Walking dead. His film is more a tongue in cheek conspiracy, a John Hughes hue, or a high school reprisal prank if you will. I give him points for that but the problem is his actors who are faceless, falsely witty, and only moderately plucky. They're in a movie that's not "unwatchable" but more of a slight, "human" stain.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Merry Swissmas 2022 * * Stars

MERRY THOUGHTS

Merry Swissmas is my latest review. Hey, the beginning of November marks the holidays for me so why not. Directed by John L'Ecuyer in yuletide postcard fashion, "Swissmas" follows the beats of most Lifetime silly season flicks like a manual. You've got the two leads who each lost a loved one a couple of years ago. You've got the female lead traveling from the big city to a faraway place and maybe staying there for a long time. You've got that big smooch at the end (it's compulsory people). Finally, you've got those endless Christmassy festivities leading up to the big day (that would be Xmas day of course). Let's pour out a little eggnog shall we.

So OK, Merry Swissmas has one big hook that keeps it from being in the snowy basement. It takes place in Switzerland (hence the title). The movie looks really good, like you've gone to Christmas heaven while floating on the Pearly Gates. You can smell the hot chocolate, you can feel the fire crackling, and you can hark the warmth of wearing a bad sweater. Notice I haven't gotten to why I can't recommend "Swissmas" yet. It's coming, just like the 25th which is over a month away. 

Merry Swissmas is about an architect who meets an older man while visiting her family in the Playground of Europe (Switzerland's nickname, I looked it up). Starring Jodie Sweetin and Tim Rozon, "Swissmas" has two actors whose characters are supposed to fall in love but who's kidding. Their chemistry is nil, like passing ships or a platonic combo, it's a strange courtship. Now I do believe Sweetin can act but her performance here felt off, all pauses and reacting like an unvarying read through. As for Rozon, well he just looks distinguished yet downtrodden. Wha?? Every scene between these two felt ill at ease. I mean c'mon guys, it's the most wonderful time of the year. Yeesh!

Minimal on plot, a pace that suggests watching ice melt (pun intended), and very little conflict until the hour mark (a little tiff between the lovebirds). Besides the winsome scenery, that's what you get while viewing Merry Swissmas. This "Swiss misses" the mark. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Out of the Blue 2022 * * Stars

BLUE'S CLUES

2022's Out of the Blue is director Neil LaBute clearly on holiday. But hey, at least he's having fun on said holiday (isn't that the point). His love of other movies is evident (scenes of black-and-white stuff on an old TV), his title cards add to the cheese factor (and he knows this), and his twist at the end gives Out of the Blue a reason for being (I was waiting for that). I've seen other LaBute flicks and this doesn't appear like his normal shtick. I guess he got bored and decided to recycle old genre uses with quirks attached. 

Starring Jack Nicholson's boy (Ray Nicholson) and featuring enough long shots and wide shots to power the sun, Out of the Blue is neo-noir in broad daylight, all risible with softcore porn clips and inane dialogue that seems like it's read off of cue cards. I mean yeah, the film blurs the lines of "it's so bad, it's good" territory. 

So let's break it down all cinephiles shall we? If a movie was touched by the classical stylings of composer Pino Donaggio, it would be Out of the Blue. And if Brian De Palma and David Lynch decided to adopt an illegitimate baby, it'd be Out of the Blue. Finally, if Basic Instinct felt the need to cut the racier stuff just to appease the MPAA, Out of the Blue would suffice. Whoa, that's a lot to take in. 

Out of the Blue has nothing to do with that Debbie Gibson ditty (of course it doesn't). It's a vehicle that somewhat tries hard to back up its definition (that would be without warning, unexpectedly). It's about a released convict (Nicholson as Connor) who has an affair with an older woman (Diane Kruger as Marilyn). While doing the nasty Cinemax-style, Connor and Marilyn decide on how to kill Marilyn's hubby (who is only seen once). Bottom line: Out of the Blue would be more effective if it took itself more seriously and didn't unintentionally play for the overripe. "Blue Velveeta". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, November 7, 2022

My Nightmare Office Affair 2022 * 1/2 Stars

OFFICE BLOCK

A screenplay that gets recycled constantly ("I just wanted to let you know how impressive your work is"). The nosy, best friend co-worker. The hitting of someone over the head with any object. We're getting into the Lifetime zone people and its latest helping is 2022's My Nightmare Office Affair.

"Affair" is Lifetime network at its most predictable with the same eventual outcome as a bettor covering the point spread via a Crimson Tide football game. Meh. Kaila York directs at a decent clip even though she's sadly channeling her inner David DeCoteau (another Lifetime lifer). Yup, My Nightmare Office Affair doesn't suck you in nor is it really compelling. It's basically patternless schlock for the schlock jocks (male or female).

Now is there any redeemable thing about "Affair" that I can compound here? Actually yes. The musical score by Kevin Blumenfeld is techno bliss (it really is). The problem is that it creates tension in your head that doesn't fully spill onto the screen.

And are the actors in My Nightmare Office Affair game for game's sake? They are but their character arcs are a little off. I mean you've got a project manager who works for a sort of pirate company whose office space is sparse, you've got a failed yoga instructor wife who probably doesn't need to work anyway, and you've got an Internet company boss who mysteriously kills her father and is somehow an expert with the assaulting of needles. Wha?? What's next, Vivica A. Fox showing up as a next door neighbor with a menthol in her mouth and 5-6 cats? Ugh.

My Nightmare Office Affair is about just what the title says. A young man has a fling with his female superior and when he tries to break it off, she goes cray cray (which I already knew about 10 minutes in). There's no love "affair" here.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 4, 2022

Whatever 1998 * * * Stars

JERSEY GIRL

I wasn't totally sure what the title meant in regards to 1998's Whatever. So yeah, I looked up its actual definition. The word has to do with lack of restriction so it makes more sense now. Whatever's characters as spotted wastoids seem like they are bound by nothing. 

Whatever is directed by Susan Skoog, a sort of recluse by today's standards (she has only done 2 films in the past 24 years). The flick might have drawn from Susan's own personal experiences growing up in the early 1980s but I could be wrong. Anyway her film is shot with a special lens I suppose making it look like it came out long before '98. Unwashed as a nearly two-hour teen drama, Whatever is a peek in snapshot, all hazy and punk and besmirched for the indie crowd. 

Coming out during the Larry Clark heyday with some added, Dazed and Confused flavor, Whatever is a character study, disjointed in its pacing but sometimes hard-hitting (and desolate) when it comes to pre-adult experiences. The movie centers around Anna Stockard (a perfectly cast Liza Weil). Anna wants to become an artist and get out of New Jersey but the allure of sex, drugs, booze, her shady inner circle, and even her mother keeps her grounded in slight, self-doubt. 

On reflection, Whatever's narrative seems a little fragmentary but its raw performances and left field, dry humor pull you through. And its sense of time and place is kind of slighted (the personas look more 90s than 80s) but hey, the soundtrack is killer, a mixture of Ramones, The Pretenders, and Rush (how random is that?). Flawed but nearly cultish, Whatever's message will always be clear: Being an angst-ridden teen is a tough job but remember, you got your whole life ahead of you. Just gotta keep livin' man. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Dashcam 2021 * Star

SLAP DASH

How bad is 2021's Dashcam? Let me put it this way, how bad is rabies? Nuff said. Dashcam is billed as a horror film but hold up, it's also one of those handheld, found footage movies. Ugh. Dated, tasteless, impudent, and not even scary, Dashcam has its director (Rob Savage) stuck in old hat land, floundering. 

Jittery as all get-out, Dashcam is distributed by Momentum Pictures. That's funny. This flick has uh, no momentum, no sense of the visual, and no continuity to speak of. The vehicle is edited so poorly, the scares (that you can't really see) come out of nowhere and they're jump scares that Savage can't even set up well (the dude needs lessons). Dashcam was obviously inspired by those Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity movies. What it lacks is any redeemable features or sense of plotting that those pics had in their heyday. 

Dashcam tops out at 80 minutes and the last 10 or so has its putrid lead (Annie Hardy, the poor man's Heather Donahue) doing improv rapping at the wheel of her car (and doing it badly). In truth, I've never hated a main character more and the fact that she survives the ordeal (otherwise there'd be no movie) just shows the misguided vision that helmer Savage insisted on. Watching Dashcam, you wonder if everyone involved wanted you to hate it. Probably. That's one messed up wink wink at the audience. 

Dashcam is about a livestreaming dolt (Hardy) who flies to London to see friends only to get terrorized by possessed demons with plenty of blood and other crap (pun intended) foaming everywhere. Dashcam gives new meaning to the term "handheld" because you literally can't comprehend what you're seeing. I mean the definition of a motion picture is a series of still photographs on film projected onto a screen using light in rapid succession. So OK, is Dashcam any of these things? I would say 99 percent nada. Make a swift "dash" to avoid Dashcam

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Barbarian 2022 * * Stars

SAVAGE STATE

Justin Long appears in yet another horror film. A breast-feeding video is shown on an old TV. Two people book the same B & B at the same time sans any explanation. That's what you get with 2022's Barbarian. The critics have spoken (and spoken kindly) but I digress. I think the whole thing is a touch overrated. Just saying.

So yeah, Barbarian is a pic full of placed red herrings, a sort of broken-down, blood-stained heap if you will. Directed by rookie Zach Cregger, Barbarian could have gone the straight and narrow as a reverse, home invasion thriller. Bully for that. The flick goes off on tangents and when good old Long shows up (about thirty minutes in), Barbarian actually turns into noir, the kind of noir that ends with well, loose ends.

Now would I give Barbarian a favorable rating? I can't because it doesn't know what it wants to be nor does it really have a suitable coda. And do the actors give sort of rote performances in a movie that feels like an overtaxed guessing game? Sadly yes. If I wanted to watch a complex version of The Descent and/or Don't Breathe (with that bleak Detroit setting) I would do so at my own leisure. There's a mixing of genres here that's not scary, not judicious, and the film's lone flashback is almost like filler compared to everything that came before it.  

Barbarian stars Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, and Justin Long (mentioned earlier). They're in a vehicle about a young woman who rents a home only to be terrorized by a demonized creature with severe mommy issues (ugh). In truth, Barbarian thinks it's too clever for its own good. It's as if its early Hitchcockian tendencies are able to make up for the acute lack of pacing. Sorry but no. It's too non-"primitive" for that. Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Student Body 2022 * * Stars

BODY TALK

"Where do you think we are, Jurassic Park?" Ha ha. No you're at a high school trying to escape a mascot-masked killer with a sledgehammer. Sounds like a hoot. 

Anyway, a few underachieving students decide to get revenge against a malevolent math teacher (or is it the other way around) in 2022's Student Body. Said math teacher is Mr. Aunspach and he is played by Christian Camargo. Camargo is well cast because man he's got that gaunt, creep-o factor. 

"Body" eventually becomes a horror film but in the meantime, it's almost like a Kevin Williamson concoction except that everyone is a little more unpleasant and void of wit (Kevin was the dude that gave you Scream and Teaching Mrs. Tingle). Just imagine a poor man's Matthew Lillard or a poor man's Jamie Kennedy and you're on to something. 

Student Body with its 90s preppy slasher look, verges on blood-drenched camp. Its characters (except for maybe one) are unlikable and mean-spirited, like pre-millennial bullies with over the top dispositions. I suppose that's director Lee Ann Kurr's dotty vision, to have young people you hate get what's coming to them in bludgeoning fashion. Kurr thinks she is making a veritable camp classic but "Body" lacks that agog factor. I mean you're not really curious as to who lives or dies. 

"Body" stars Montse Hernandez, Camargo, Cheyenne Haynes, and Ausin Zajur (just to name a few). Kerr directs them conveniently, like pawns in some sort of overripe, R-rated version of the new Saved by the Bell. It's amusing to a fault if you've seen that 2020 Peacock series. 

Student Body is also mildly compounded, fashioning itself as a murderous whodunit that's not too hard to figure out (I did in the last twenty minutes). If there is ever a sequel (and there probably will be) they should call it "Body Double". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Walk 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

"I'M WALKING HERE"

"I deal with racist people all the time". That stinks. Can't we all just get along? 

Anyway 2022's The Walk has a title that doesn't clearly define what it's about. I do know that it's one of those "don't forget where you came from" Boston movies. No judgement here. I just think I've seen too many of them over the past twenty years. "Walk" also has some Bostonian accents, one beatdown clip, and mentions the term "Southie" a lot. Paging Sean Maguire, Sean Maguire. 

So yeah, The Walk is a film of many tones. It's all over the place. Talks about race, daughter protection, mob ties, and cop talk. It all feels like a TV miniseries wrapped up in 105 minutes. The screenplay is recycled, the interconnecting stories wander. You get an elongated version of Crash but it takes place on the other side of the country. Did I mention Terrence Howard is involved?

Mid-2000s films aside, did I like The Walk as a talky flick that was filmed entirely in New Orleans (masquerading as Beantown)? Somewhat. There were actually some scenes that left me with a lump in my throat. And did I gravitate towards "Walk" as a pic with wishy-washy characters who cater to the crux of altered stating? Not entirely. "Walk" suffers from being too effete. You don't ultimately know where everyone's head is at. 

Distributed by Vertical Entertainment and edited with unvaried continuity by Justin Williams (he's been around the block for the past ten years), The Walk meanders for a good hour and a half until things come to a head. It's a film about ethnic group relations circa 1974 in Boston, Mass. The actors involved (Malcolm McDowell, Jeremy Piven, Justin Chatwin) aren't bad but their personas feel dated in a vehicle that despite good intentions, is indeed dated (I'm not referring to "Walk's" "Me' Decade" setting). "Walk about".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Halloween Ends 2022 * * * Stars

I'M YOUR BOOGIE MAN THAT'S WHAT I AM

Like the two previous installments in the new Halloween trilogy, I am also recommending Halloween Ends. Yup, I have David Gordon Green to mostly thank for that. I like the cinematic worlds David creates, the way he ties previous storylines together, and just the overall look of his flicks. He's a meat and potatoes filmmaker but he's a darn good meat and potatoes filmmaker. No camera tricks and some treats along the way (ha ha). 

With Halloween Ends, director Green creates another subplot, another spicy angle if you will. Otherwise "Ends" would be just another matinee slasher populated by brand new ways to off or be offed. The subplot just mentioned, is about a male character (Cory Cunningham played effectively by Rohan Campbell) who befriends Michael Myers, turns to the side of evil, and does some slaughtering himself. Trust me, there's some complexity to it, a sort of entanglement that matters until the windup of "Ends" doesn't fully matter at all. 

Halloween Ends is the first sequel I can remember where the main antagonist (in this case Myers) is almost in the backdrop or a virtual non-factor. I mean I've seen it before but it's been a long time ago (in a sequel galaxy far far away). Over and above, don't go into "Ends" thinking it's another requisite Halloween pic. Halloween Ends is more along the lines of being a knife-edge combo of Christine and some James Dean vehicle from '55 (it's that coming-of-age-stuff).

Look for The Shape to still get his murder on (there's less of them but he's always on the job), look for another solid performance by Jamie Lee Curtis (obviously), look for some tight editing by Tim Alverson, and look for plenty of fast cutting flashbacks by Davey Green (he's feeling it people). Halloween Ends is one out of the box "coda". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 16, 2022

TIn Cup 1996 * * * 1/2 Stars

YOU DA MAN!

1996's Tin Cup is not quite the antithesis of Caddyshack but it doesn't need farcical gags and broken record, one-liners to get the ball in the hole. And unlike the schmaltz you get in that other golf flick with Will Smith, Tin Cup paints its characters as either golf bums, snobbish PGA Tour pros, or Texas townies. The film is a comedy drama that floats freely and fancy-free, like empty bottles or cork.

Clocking in at well over two hours but not dragging in the least, "Cup" is directed by unconventional pastime monger, Ron Shelton. Like in Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, and Play It to the Bone, Shelton waxes profusely in regards to Tin Cup. In other words, he waxes philosophically, he waxes romantically, he waxes offhand, and he waxes ironically. A sports flick is like a quandary or a left-field journey to a director like Ron Shelton. Who cares who wins at anything as long as you conquer those inner afreets.

With wife beater, sweet swing, laissez-faire attitude, and tanned scruff in toto, "Cup's" star (Kevin Costner as Roy McAvoy) becomes Shelton's awoken and broken-down muse. Roy is a humbled slug, with enough buoyancy and chutzpah to beat any pro golfer slickster. In Tin Cup, Costner's McAvoy tries to win the heart of his sexy psychologist (Dr. Molly Griswold played by Rene Russo) while at the same time, trying to beat his PGA Tour nemesis (David Simms played by Don Johnson in playful, baddie mode) as a qualifier at the US Open.

Look for cameos of actual pro golfers (Phil Mickelson, Craig Stadler, John Cook, Johnny Miller), some innuendo and strong language (weak R-rated stuff), and an ending that suggests the undying and not the lowest score to par. Tin Cup makes my list of top five sports movies ever. "Fore!"

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Good Mourning 2022 * Star

BLUE MORNING

How bad is 2022's Good Mourning? Um let me put it this way, how bad is anthrax? Bad, really bad. "Mourning" is a movie about actors and communal Hollyweird and those usually turn out to be disastrous. Yup, the legendary pseudonym Alan Smithee rears his ugly head once again. "Paging Eric Idle, Eric Idle".  

Good Mourning is a film that thinks it's witty and waggish but is somehow subjected to all things TMZ. I hate that tabloid poo-poo and I wanted to dis everyone involved. The acting is robotic and paused, the comedic payoffs land flat, and the closing outtakes in "Mourning" make The Cannonball Run look like Citizen Kane by comparison. Ouch.

Clocking in at a disjointed and cringey 93 minutes, "Mourning" has duff cameos (Dennis Rodman, Pete Davidson, Avril Lavigne, Tom Arnold) and a ganja factor that is at most, "half baked" (no pun intended). It's rare that I've thought about turning a flick off after ten minutes but nonetheless, I stayed till the end (hence the lousy review).  

The crux of Good Mourning is a boo-hoo of all things La La Land. A TV trouper named London (played by Colson Baker AKA Machine Gun Kelly) must decide on winning back his hot girlfriend or landing a huge role in a Batman movie. Baker wades through "Mourning" like a wounded dog with sagged eyes and some veritable foaming. Baker's performance is strikingly awful and he carries this pic like a 90-year-old grandma carrying a grand piano on her shoulders. That means not good. 

Filmed with a whiff of late 90s American Pie BS coupled with a punked-out version of Entourage, Good Mourning lets us know right away that filmmakers Colson Baker and Mod Sun should never be allowed to direct again. Heck, they were probably dazed at final cut. "Bottom of the morning". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 10, 2022

Who Invited Them 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

PARTY MONSTER

"Can we hit the reset button?" Uh no. Just get out of my residence and never come back again. Wait, why aren't you leaving? And what's with the smirk?

Anyway, a couple introduce their new home by having a party with some of their friends. Another couple crashes said party uninvited and unknown in their identity. Vexing. That's the rub of 2022's sometimes tantalizing but overly taunting, Who Invited Them

"Them" is a psychological tease of a film that occasionally revels in the conch of snobbery. It could be classified as horror but it's too new-fashioned for that. For 85 percent of the movie's 81-minute running time you're involved because rookie director Duncan Birmingham turns those screws. The way his camera moves and the way he sets up scenes in smoke-screen fashion, Duncan is an enlivened expert in the Hitchcockian. You kind of know where Who Invited Them is headed but at the same time, you kind of don't. That's the fun part.

"Them" stars Ryan Hansen, Melissa Tang, Timothy Granaderos, and Perry Mattfeld. They credibly play the two couples (or maybe couples) who through drink and drug, have a psychosomatic tug of war with each other. Through all the various subterfuges and gruesome flashbacks, Who Invited Them maintains its status as a talky flick that throws shades of creeping you out. Its setting of the Hollywood Hills shows us that these hills are "Hollyweird". 

What keeps Who Invited Them from greatness however, is how things wrap up. It eventually becomes part routine, home invasion slasher and part confusing ending (talk about a cinematic oxymoron). You'd think that after Birmingham's effectively off-kilter direction he'd settle in and deliver a more tighter final act. "Them" leaves you on the edge of interpretation and not in a good way. As a viewer I wouldn't have "invited" that. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 7, 2022

The Devil You Know 2022 * * * Stars

RUNNING WITH THIS DEVIL

"I think you know more than you're letting on". So says a detective in 2022's The Devil You Know. Mostly a talky pic with shards of brief violence and hazard, "Devil" unfolds like the slowest of burns as well, pure fiction.

Taking place in I guess, the less glamorous parts of San Diego (Padres games are mentioned), The Devil You Know refers to possibly the brother of the protagonist played by Omar Epps (as Marcus Cowans). "Devil" is a perfect vehicle for a seasoned, veteran actor like Epps. All disheveled and slouched over with the usual mannerisms, Omar carries "Devil" steadily in the same way he carried certain parts of 1992's Juice. As they say, the tension is in the shoulders, like a dude that did some time.

The Devil You Know centers around the grizzled Cowans, an ex-con who gets embroiled in some murders that might have involved certain members of his household. Cowans wants to stay sober and wants to go straight, but a certain clue (which I won't reveal) leads him to snitch by leaving an anonymous tip. That's when "Devil" turns dark, verbose, and dangerous, a sort of bickering, family Christmas movie but without the comedy and the yuletide cheer. 

"Devil's" littered screenplay about homicides, criminal loyalty, and family secrets gets recycled a bit too much. And the film with its sometimes uphill pacing, gives off whiffs of a TV miniseries. Still, The Devil You Know is somehow enthralling and unputdownable, a kind of mild noir with dusky tones and forced scenes that crackle. The cast is decent and I dug the icy, controlled performance of Michael Ealy (as top cop Joe McDonald). The ending (in two parts) feels a little abrupt but it's shocking like a sledgehammer on the comedown. Basically this devil "gets its due". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Tigerland 2000 * * * 1/2 Stars

PROMISED LAND

2000's Tigerland is a pseudo, ersatz war film set in 1971 but it doesn't bleed early, 70s nostalgia. It doesn't have time for that noise. It's rather gritty and dark and grainy, like abundant mud on your shoes. Tigerland is a character study and not some Call of Duty extract. It's mean-spirited, twinging, and prison-like. War is hell even before it's time to um, go to war. 

Clocking in at 101 minutes and feeling like an extended version of the first half via Full Metal Jacket, Tigerland is a tour de force for its late director, Joel Schumacher. Schumacher lets his camera freefall as he strips away the stench from his previous, nutrition-free blockbusters (those bad Batman flicks). He unwillingly cultivates a compact, boot camp indie filled with sterling touches and brute irony. "It ain't your army". Yeah but it's my movie to review. Natch.

So is Tigerland a behind the scenes blueprint for soldiers getting ready to travel 14 or so hours to get their heads blown off? In a way yes. But like I said in the first paragraph, it's still a character study, with star Colin Farrell acting his tail off as the crusader slash antihero bent on virtual pacifism. And does Tigerland feel like a stage play with heightened acting and bullets aplenty? Yeah but so what. The film takes Schumacher out of his cinematic comfort zone like a vegetarian living off of meat. Joel reinvented his shtick here in the new millennium, with his efforts being more mature and well, more gangly. 

As a flick about a bunch of recruits training in Louisiana to get ready to fight in The Vietnam War, Tigerland takes every authoritative persona and splices them into Sergeant Hartman types. It also reaches for themes of passive resistance. The results are stirring, numbing, and upsetting, like a battle that could never be won.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Endangered 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars

DANGER ZONE

2022's Endangered is not so much a documentary as it is a painful reminder of what's been going on in the world via the last two years. Protests and violence and COVID oh my. Man it's been a bumpy ride. Watching Endangered is like witnessing a multi-vehicle car accident. I know I sound like a broken record but you just can't look away.

Endangered is the definition of a docu because it's factual, reported, and raw, with the camera always peeking in like some sort of spy or curious bystander. Did I mention the film does the split screen technique as well? Endangered's directors (Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing) are experts at what they do. The footage they capture is so in the moment, so undisguised. Channeling a little Steven Soderbergh but with real people instead of actors, you wonder in surreal amazement how they shot this thing (but they did cause it's there).

Endangered makes you feel sympathy for the media even though some of their shtick I find annoying (I shouldn't cause I'm a writer myself but whatever). Hey, as they say they're just doing their job. The flick follows four reporters from different parts of the planet who have received threats of inhumanity and persecution while on the beat.

With Endangered, helmers Grady and Ewing create 90 minutes of subdued, journalistic discipline that is quietly powerful. They get right up in their subject's grills but veer away from interviews and just go with hushed narration (it works). The fact that this pic was filmed at the height of the pandemic just makes it more neoteric to watch.

If you're a fan of documentaries (and I am) then Endangered will satisfy that particular, cinematic palate. The movie ends with a sort of metaphoric fog being lifted. Gosh, it's great to know that not everyone will forever be put "in harm's way".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Stowaway 2022 * * * Stars

BOAT TRIP

2022's Stowaway has a pretty fitting title. Actually there are two people who stow away in the film (at least for the first act). Watching Stowaway with great ardor, I sort of harked back to home invasion stuff like Survive the Night, Don't Breathe, and/or Breaking In. The only difference is that we're talking about a big fat yacht (with flair) and not some remote dwelling. 

For most of the way, Stowaway carries the viewer along with aplomb. The set-up here is well established, you get a solid beat on the main character (Ruby Rose as the rebellious Bella Denton), and the tension throughout is a moderate to slow burn. It's only in the last 15 minutes or so that Stowaway bogs down a little and becomes sort of rote and predictable. Frank Grillo (as patent baddie Meeser) just had to play Frank Grillo again.

Shot in quaint Mississippi with all its overhead and aerial glory, Stowaway's outline is too good to be true. It's about a downtrodden woman (Bella) who inherits a large sailboat from her late father. While sleeping on said boat with a random, Bella encounters some calculated marauders who are looking for millions of dollars in gold and don't plan on leaving any witnesses behind. 

Sometimes music is everything in a flick and well, Stowaway is pretty close in that respect. Try watching it without the sound, I mean don't. The soundtrack here by BC Smith is tops, a sort of steel-drummed, lucid suite that evokes early 2000s Cliff Martinez (and that's a good thing). Along with this soundtrack, some dark and dangerous direction by Declan Whitebloom (he's mostly a music video guy), and actors that are game enough, Stowaway bleeds atmospherics as it fashions itself as a nippy, compact thriller. Don't "hide" from it, just see it. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Escape the Field 2022 * * Stars

CUT AND RUN

"This doesn't make any sense. How did we get here?" That's basically the depth of the dialogue from the pic I'm writing to you about. We're talking three scribblers here with thriller, script cliches running rampant.

Anyway I haven't seen Shane West in a movie for like 20 years. He's almost unrecognizable (it's probably the beard). In Escape the Field (my latest review) Shane plays a tough bloke named Ryan. Ryan has been I guess possessed and now has demonized, red eyes. He's not really scary but hey, he can still fight, sneer, and intimidate like Van Damme.

So yeah, Escape the Field has a presupposition that's there for the taking. Six people who don't know each other, wake up in a cornfield not knowing how they got there. These guys need to survive (and flee) said cornfield by solving puzzles, sticking together, and gathering clues. Basically we're talking elements of The Maze Runner, 1997's Cube, and Escape Room (with the addition of rotted maize).

Now is "Field's" privy antagonism the work of a psycho nut, a mole, or impractical, government testing? I'll go with the latter based on other films I've seen from this genre. And do the filmmakers of Escape the Field give any insight as to why some strangers are being put through the ringer via an area that would've made Malachai Boardman salivate? Nope.

"Field's" helmer (Emerson Moore) can direct as his various overhead, low angle, and aerial shots are a little disturbing. Moore's story gains traction too as you the viewer sit on pins and needles wanting to know how Escape the Field ends. Here's the problem though: "Field" doesn't actually windup or have a thread to its life-and-death quandary. The vehicle just sits there, giving you a tease of bloodless kills and aimless style. Field "untested".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Menace II Society 1993 * * * 1/2 Stars

HIGH SOCIETY

1993's Menace II Society is not so much a violent drama as it is a war film set in the street gang areas of southern LA. The young criminals and hustlers featured are like foot soldiers and Watts is well, like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia all rolled into one. Watching "Society", you feel as unsafe and parlous as its personas do. There's no two ways about it.

Edited a tad choppy in order to squeeze everything in the movie's 97-minute running time, Menace II Society was a breakthrough success for its filmmakers at the time (Allen and Albert Hughes). The Hughes brothers obviously saw Boyz n the Hood and said, "hold my beer, I can top that". "Society" is Boyz n the Hood 2.0 with a little Goodfellas sprinkled in. You catch the gunfire, you hear the sirens, you smell the blood, you sense a ghetto bird is always flying over.

Menace II Society has a sunless tone even when it's light out. It's a barbaric kaleidoscope of drugs and money and cross-cut gangbanging. The flick is seen through the eyes of its misguided chorus in lead character "Caine" (played by Tyrin Turner is some good, wide-eyed casting). "Society" follows "Caine" and his buds as they drink the OE, smoke some ganga, steal cars, and murder in one summer via the pauperized boroughs of hazy Southland. It's kill or be killed, live by the sword, die by the sword stuff and the Hughes brothers want you to feel it.

In Menace II Society, Allen and Albert Hughes commit to every shot with their favorite being the tracking shot. As their camera glides through various residences in the hood, it's like a veritable house of horrors. You know the surroundings are bleak and everyone involved may not live very much longer. For these two dudes, Menace II Society is an attested, directorial coup de maitre. Pretty much nothing in this pic is "society's" fault.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 19, 2022

Clean 2021 * * * Stars

STEAM CLEAN

"The trash man wasn't always a trash man". Yup, you know what that means. The trash man has a special set of skills (duh). He will find you and uh, you know the rest. 

Anyway 2021's Clean is anything but. I mean it's down and dirty and biting and stylish, taking place in a town that I didn't think was so um, down and dirty (Utica, New York). Clean stars Adrien Brody and his character's name is actually "Clean". Bearing arms and other stuff, he's a little John Wick and a little Travis Bickle, the vigilante who likes to get his wrench on. Let's just call him Adrien "Brooding" shall we. 

Clean is about Clean (Brody), a hushed, garbage truck driver who while trying to live a normal life, gets sidetracked by the need to protect his neighbors from drug dealers and loathsome thugs. Clean's solution is a savage one (it kind of has to be). I mean why beat around the bush. Why not off the surplus population of baddies via the shady areas of Utica. It's shoddy enough that they sort of run things. 

At a running time of 94 minutes, Clean's plot however, is a tad murky. I mean most of the antagonist's personas aren't quite fleshed out and Brody's Clean has a flashback past that doesn't really tell the whole story (unless you glance at the film's wiki page). Oh well. What pulls you through are Brody's hefty screen presence, the parching musical score (also done by Adrien), and Paul Solet's atmospheric direction full of gray hues, leaden overhead shots, and bleak destitution. 

Clean starts out as a slow-moving drama only to unfold like a sledgehammer of one-man army violence and bloody reprisal. It almost verges on snuff. Unearthly. As a viewer I was nearly "taken to the cleaners". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 16, 2022

Unplugging 2022 * * Stars

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

You don't see much of Eva Longoria anymore and it's weird to view character actor Matt Walsh in a lead role. But here they are, playing a head-scratching married couple in 2022's Unplugging. Unplugging is a lightweight comedy whose tones are ambitious yet skewed. There are times when the film sort of turns into heavy-handed drama (I stress the words sort of). There are other times when Unplugging's setting suggests that it might become horror fare (I stress the word might). All of what's on screen is uneven but hey, the producers needed to expand more on a premise that feels airy and trivial (too much cell phone usage and bad cell reception are the dated topics).

So yeah, there's a reason why a flick like Unplugging was never gonna be released in theaters. I'm not talking about the COVID situation here, I'm talking about what Unplugging is well, about. I mean did we really need a movie about two spouses who take a weekend sabbatical because today's modern technology is getting in the way of their union? Not really. It doesn't carry enough weight, well maybe if Unplugging was in the form of a third quarter Super Bowl commercial.

Longoria and Walsh (as Unplugging's couple in Dan and Jeanine) are game in their performances because why not. They're probably glad to be working actors while collecting that almighty paycheck. If they were A-lister-s they wouldn't even touch this thing with a stick let alone be okay with the film's generic title. I give kudos to them and their commitment because otherwise Unplugging would be so nugatory it might just float away.

Look for Unplugging's road trip remnants, its mild slapstick antics, its drones (wha??), and its yokel characters encountered in the middle of nowhere (because cinema just has to have them). Unplugging is not as awful as I thought it would be but aside from projecting itself as a harmless time-waster, it's still mediocrity "unplugged".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

End of the Road 2022 * 1/2 Stars

IT'S UNNATURAL

2022's End of the Road is about a woman and her family who go on a road trip only to get caught in the crosshairs of a killer who wants his dirty moolah. Regrettably, "Road" suffers from a clear lack of suspense and malaise. It's as if Netflix decided to skip watching dailies, recycle other genre pics, and just churn out another unenthused thriller.

"Road's" co-star Ludacris acts like well, Ludacris (that means dialogue transformed into flowing, rap limericks). Another co-star in Beau Bridges, piggybacks off his brother's character in Hell or High Water while not making himself the most credible, oldtimer villain (spoiler). Only lead Queen Latifah provides enough raw and flinching capability for an audience member to take notice. Sadly her performance in End of the Road is kind of wasted to be honest.

So yeah, "Road" builds a little tension only to deflate it by playing the race card or providing comic relief or giving Latiah's momma bear Brenda almost nothing to bounce off of. The film is misguided and surprisingly idle, a sort of lukewarm version of Joyride, Breakdown, and 1971's Duel.

With "Road", we get the desert, we get the one car chase, we get the hotel room scenes, and we get the kidnapping sequence. What we don't get is a sense of foreboding because "Road's" director (Millicent Shelton) skims the surface only to bypass road trek madness and veer right into Johnson family vacation territory. If Brenda and her cubs are in any kind of danger, they certainly seem borderline rattled about the whole situation.

End of the Road provides an implausible twist and an ending that appears like an unintentional ploy to not root for its protagonist characters. Instead of fessing up and seeking legal, endorsing ramifications, they'd just assume to take the money and run. "Hoo-hoo-hoo".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, September 10, 2022

McEnroe 2022 * * * Stars

"YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!"

If you don't know anything about John McEnroe, well you've probably been living under a rock. If you do know something about "Johnny Mac" (and I do), well 2022's McEnroe isn't gonna reinvent the wheel in terms of insight via the tennis great. Yeah we know he got mad and irate on the court. Yeah we know about his rivalry with Bjorn Borg and his friendship with the late Vitas Gerulaitis. Yeah we know that he plays a mean guitar and is a lifelong New Yorker. Now let's see how the whole shebang is handed out shall we.

So yeah, McEnroe is almost like a bullet point presentation that's chronological and la-di-da in its approach. The actual John McEnroe would never admit to it but his whole presence here verges on self-serving (no pun intended). But wait, I digress. McEnroe is expertly filmed by Barney Douglas and that's from a look and interview standpoint. Douglas goes for the 70s grain approach, showing rough cut archive footage that feels like you've entered a freaking time machine. McEnroe bleeds nostalgia when tennis was at its peak. It's all about the headbands, the wooden rackets, the rock 'n' roller, tennis line of action. John McEnroe was truly um, John McEn-fro. Natch.

McEnroe's hook is that it paints John as a regular Joe, a sort of mere mortal who still puts his pants on one leg at a time. I mean why else would a film crew follow him in present day, roaming the outskirts of New York City in the middle of the night. Uncanny. McEnroe also gives us probes of John McEnroe's inner circle that are candid and raw. The camera sort of peeks in when it knows it shouldn't. I can dig it. Overall, McEnroe is a documentary of a tennis legend that's an exercise in well worn style. It's worth recommending even though we've seen this net corded rodeo before.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Psycho Swim Instructor 2022 * * Stars

FREESTYLE

2022's Psycho Swim Instructor is about as low budget a thriller as I've seen on Lifetime Television. I mean you can literally count the shooting locations on one hand (rehab center, indoor pool, house, other house, outdoor pool). Hey I'm not saying it's a bad thing but boy is it noticeable. These locations feel soundstage-free as the producers probably paid the actual tenants to use said locations.

So yeah, Psycho Swim Instructor is pretty unambiguous. I mean it is about a cray cray swim instructor and in terms of movie titles, that's how Lifetime rolls. Except for one scene where a family member's body is completely gotten rid of by the use of hydrochloric acid (there's a new one), "Swim" is formulaic as water is wet (ha ha). It's as if "Swim's" director (veteran Doug Campbell) watched a bunch of past Lifetimer-s, took some memos, and proceeded to shoot the flick on a weekend. The only obligatory thing missing from Psycho Swim Instructor is that annoying best bud who's always in the ear of the vulnerable protagonist. I'm actually okay with that omission.

Psycho Swim Instructor checks all the Lifetime movie boxes. It's par for the course. You have the shocking opening sequence that the filmmakers come back to in the last twenty minutes (check). You have the remorseless nature of the baddie that's established in the first five (check). You have the dad character who is oblivious to the sneaky wrongdoings of the female who's mentally screwed (check). You have the happy ending that bypasses all the legal ramifications (check it). Finally, you have that LA, suburbanite setting with a couple of aerial shots of actual downtown (check yo self).

Minus a thumping amount of in the cards stuff, "Swim" is well-plotted, not too campy, and goes down easy if your mission is to kill 85 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. But if it's freshness dating you're looking for in 2022, Psycho Swim Instructor is more or less a weak "pedagogue".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Bullet Train 2022 * * Stars

BULLET WOUNDED

"Every job I do, somebody dies". So says Brad Pitt's latest star persona with glasses and bucket hat in toto.

Brad Pitt seems to have found a new career niche for himself. He's now an action star or a brooding butt-kicker. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Lost City, he was likable and curiously intimidating. In 2022's Bullet Train (my latest review), he's surprisingly annoying. Sigh.

A little Guy Ritchie here, a little Tarantino there, a little bit of Smokin' Aces. That's the vibe I got from viewing Bullet Train. Director David Leitch borrows from the best as he fast-cuts, hard cuts, and whip pans his way into oblivion. But hold up, there's more. "Train" is more unfocused than the stuff just mentioned. I mean it's a gory, violent, and unfunny mess. Heck, there's a whole lot of movie going on in the Pokemon-looking throes of the overextended Bullet Train. Sometimes too much is not always a good thang.

Now did I enjoy the bone-cracking fight sequences in "Train?" I did but the problem was the screeching halts in between comprised of deficient dialogue and badly dead-panned, dry humor. And did I think Bullet Train needed a better editor to condense its manifold running time of 126 minutes? Oh you betcha. "Train" has enough subplots, put-ons, and flashbacks to power a small country. There's just too many "bullet" points and you don't see Pitt's Ladybug for extended periods of time.

As something about some hired guns on a moving train headed to God knows where, Bullet Train would be tighter and more effective if it just learned to not blether and get down to business. It tries to be ultracool, ultramodern, and ultra violent but would rather give audiences a scatty, cinematic copyedit. We're talking a bronze "bullet" here instead of a silver one.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Alone with You 2021 * * * Stars

HOME ALONE

"People are fascinating" Uh yeah. People are also cray cray or maybe tormented by an afreet. 

So OK, 2021's Alone with You makes you feel "alone" while you watch it. No joke. As something about a woman who waits for her would-be girlfriend only to be trapped in her haunted abode, "Alone" is distant and dreamlike and cold and cutoff. The fact that the acting in "Alone" is pretty much a one-person show just enhances the experience. Kudos to Emily Bennett. The only other characters you see in "Alone" are on FaceTime screens, through pink elephants, or in flashbacks.  

Alone with You is something Terrence Malick might've been drawn to right after his historical, war phase. How transfixing. The pic could be about schizophrenia or some sort of evil entity that settles in a female's narrow apartment. You don't quite know throughout yet "Alone" never fails to be unsettling and/or keyed up. I mean this vehicle had a couple of jump scares that just knocked me into next week. Call it a Black Swan "swan song" if you will.

Alone with You's directors (star Emily Bennett, Justin Brooks) bring psychological horror and psychological ruse to the table. They revel in cutaways, bloodied imagery, quiet grandeur, and inching, mind manipulation. What you are seeing is either the aftermath of liquidation, the afterlife of suicide, or both. You as the viewer interpret what you want and that's the beauty of this medium we have with reels and strips. 

All in all, with "Alone" Bennett and Brooks could terrify you multiple times but don't. It's in reserve. Most of their scenes are either on edge, red herrings or something of the Hitchcockian flavor. I was teased one minute and then felt chills down my leg the other. I hope I'm not "alone" in this inference.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Shattered 2022 * * * Stars

SHA OOBIE, SHATTERED

2022's Shattered is well, shattering (the title is trite but it kinda fits). It's a feature that never lets up and well, doesn't want to. Call it Misery with airbrush millennials. Call it 2015's Knock Knock without the Keanu overreaching and cringy threesomes. Finally call 911 and have the sirens blaring. Oh wait, that doesn't happen till the very end (a film cliche).

Shattered is about identity theft coupled with murder, manipulation, and torture. Ugh. No one wants that noise. A rich guy named Chris Decker (played by Cameron Monaghan) gets put through the ringer by a psychotic female bent on stealing his entire life savings. Chris should've never stuck his you know what in crazy, should've never invited crazy into his home, and should have never told crazy, "I love you". He did though to fuel the diegesis. Hence, there's a movie (yay).

Slick, tech savvy, and directed with modern-day panache by TV vet Luis Prieto, Shattered doesn't get its footing till the 40-minute mark. Yeah I was worried until things finally got dicey (in a good way). Prieto fashions Shattered as kind of rote but somehow he gets by. I mean thriller enthusiasts (like myself) just salivate when a flick involves that old adage of anyone being held against their will by a chiquita who is off the reservation. We want said chiquita to get what's coming to her even if her makeup and bruised ego get a little desheveled (that's an understatement).  

Shattered co-stars John Malkovich and Frank Grillo whose roles could probably be played in their sleep (you won't mind). As for the main antagonist (Lilly Krug as Sky), well she's a nasty femme fatale with a mean streak and a knack for using her spread-eagle as a taut, lethal weapon. Mercy. She left me in "tatters".

Written by Jesse Burleson  

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Day Shift 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

DAY IN DAY OUT

Jamie Foxx acts like well, Jamie Foxx. Dave Franco acts like well, Dave Franco. Their comedic foil has its moments in 2022's Day Shift. "Shift" is indeed a comedy, a comedy about hunting vampires. Just think Men in Black but nix the aliens. Just think Blade but in its most goofy form. Heck, Jamie Foxx's character (Bud Jablonski) would probably tell the overly-serious Eric Brooks to lighten up a bit. 

So yeah, Day Shift is a film that lives in an unconcerned fantasy land, where blood-drinking creatures roam sunny LA and almost everyone is oblivious to them. "Shift" is also directed by a rookie in J.J. Perry. Perry a stunt coordinator by trade, uses plenty of doubles here. You can tell. The action sequences in "Shift" move at a hasty clip but grow repetitive after a while. Reminiscent of all things self-defense, they have that been there, done that feel to them. 

Now would I recommend Day Shift? Maybe if it would've come out in say, 2002. Do I feel that the talented Jamie Foxx is probably above this sort of material? A little bit. I mean the guy won an Oscar and was nominated for another. Finally, do I think Day Shift is a fresh entry in the vampire pantheon genre? No but it's harmless. You could somewhat enjoy it with your cronies in a beer-and-pizza sort of way. 

Day Shift's plot is a little vague in regards to the antagonist's motivations. I mean they could've offed Bud numerous times but somehow it's delayed. The flick has a deeper palate when it dives into Bud's yearn to collect vampire teeth in order to pay for his daughter's private school tuition and braces. 

Pater responsibilities aside, "Shift" has a slick and sun-drenched look, coupled with the driest of humor that probably wasn't intentional (but there it is). Considering all the vampire pics that came before Day Shift, I was sort of looking for something a little more "shifty". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, August 22, 2022

Fall 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars

TAKE THIS PLUNGE

2022's Fall is a three-dimensional, panoramic jaw-dropper. Watching it, you want to leave the theater or just close your eyes but you can't. Like a car accident, Fall makes you unable to look away from the acrophobic havoc that's forced upon you. A panic attack in full I had. 

Fall clocks in at 107 minutes and those ends justify the means. It's just right. Director Scott Mann ups the ante here, creating new tale of survival circumstances where your fingernails are pretty much gnawed to the nub. I mean Mann had to build some hurdles to facilitate Fall's average running time. Otherwise it would be just two girls trapped on top of a radio tower, waiting to bite it. 

So is the dialogue in Fall a little cheesy (especially in the early goings)? Yep. It's sort of Lifetime-like with the addition of Snapchats and Instagram-s and what not (ugh). Is the editing in Fall a tad choppy? Yes but it doesn't matter. You'll feel way too twitchy to give a rat's butt. Finally, do Fall's characters nonchalantly act in peril when stuff really gets real? Early on yeah. Heck, I could've done without a rendition of Warrant's "Cherry Pie" in the stylings of acapella.

Fall stars Grace Caroline Currey as Becky and Virginia Gardner as Hunter. After the death of Becky's husband, her and Hunter decided to climb a 2000 foot, TV satellite structure in the middle of nowhere (it sure looked like Arizona to me). Because said structure is old and crusty, parts of it break off and Becks and Hunter are confined to the top with pretty much no chance of getting down. 

So OK, we've seen movies like Fall before. You know with sharks and water and SUVs and hotel rooms. It's about the isolation, the captivity, the limited resources, the adrenaline-packed will to live on. With Fall, the proceedings however have never been this potent, this heady. The visuals? Well they're just an added plus. Yeah it's CGI but whatev, it's the good kind. Helmer Scott Mann provides Fall with a sense of vertigo (duh), a sense of the axonometric, and a dusty palate that's widescreen heaven. If you have a fear of heights (and I do), then Fall will just perpetuate that fear and do it in spades. "Ride for a fall". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Black Phone 2021 * * 1/2 Stars

DIAL M FOR "MEH"

2021's The Black Phone is an almost neutered fright fest. At 102 nippy minutes, "Phone" combines horror with the supernatural in an uneven if not wholly avant-garde fashion. Could "Phone" have been a little scarier? I mean yeah. There are some tense moments but those moments come from the concept of 70s, school boy bullying. And does The Black Phone have a decent sense of time and place? You darn tootin. The film is late, "'Me' decade" Colorado chic, all grainy and ill-lit colored with Sweet's "Fox on the Run" grooving in the background.

Based on a short story circa 2004 and directed by the guy who helmed the first Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson), "Phone" is mean-spirited and wayward, the way it kind of was with teenagers over forty years ago. 

So let's break it all down shall we? If a Stephen King tale was made into something so compact, so compressed, it would be The Black Phone. If Super 8 had John Wayne Gacy sickos attached instead of extraterrestrial life forms, then "Phone" would suffice. Finally, if the late Jonathan Demme decided to go on substitute holiday and make something on the fly, then "Phone" would be his go-to. 

The Black Phone with its landline as proverbial star presence, is about what it says it is (naturally). Said landline helps a captive teen communicate with the past victims of a deranged killer. The teen in question is played by Mason Thames (as Finney) and his character is being held in a basement by a masked psycho named The Grabber (played by Ethan Hawke). 

A jolt here, a whip pan there, a ghostly image or two. That's what you get with The Black Phone. It's restrained stuff and its biggest bit of the unobtrusive is Ethan Hawke getting very little screen time or little rearing to his persona. He snarls and poses but whatever. The producers would rather fade away from him and back to "black". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

4x4 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

HALF-SHAFT

"Hello, welcome aboard". Uh-huh, whatever. Welcome to a nightmare of tinted windows, HAL on the Bluetooth, and soundproof interiors. 

So yeah, 2019's 4x4 refers to an SUV, a four wheeler that would give any Plymouth Fury a run for its money. 4x4's main character (Ciro played by Peter Lanzani) gets trapped in the SUV after committing a swift B & E. Bummer. The owner of said SUV (Dr. Enrique Ferrari played by Dady Brieva) keeps Ciro in the car for days through some sort of annoying orchestration. Yup, we've got an Oldboy situation going on. 

4x4 is a ruthless thriller that stretches its forecast at least for most of the way. Featuring Spanish subtitles and sparse dialogue, its first hour is pure simplicity and that's the highlight. Director Mariano Cohn uses one set location, one luxury conveyance, and one actor to create the shakes while nearly chilling you to the bone. Watching 4x4, I was actually scared as heck to get in my own car and shut the door. Like Jaws and the fear of water, 4x4 is Jaws with vinyl leather seating. Yeesh. 

Lanzani in the lead role is literally unfeigned. He demonstrates amazing acting from a physical standpoint. Whether he's dying of thirst, dying of hunger, dying of cold, or dying of heat, you feel his twinge. I mean the dude is still a human being even though he's a yegg. It's only when 4x4 deviates from his bind and becomes a hostage pic that it loses its proverbial steam. Gone is the mystery, gone is the nasty gimmick, gone is most of the dramatic momentum. If 4x4 was trimmed down to an hour and ten minutes (the running time is 90), then it would've been a compact transmission of the highest order (pun intended, haha). In this case, less would have been more. Over the "cornering limit". 

Written by Jesse Burleson