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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Bandit 2022 * * * Stars


"I don't have any money". Really? After stealing from 59 or so financial establishments? Yeesh.

A weak sense of 80s time and place, hairstyles that don't match the decade, and an overload of the blithe doesn't keep you from enjoying 2022's Bandit. Josh Duhamel is in the lead and he's all cocksure and such as a bank robber getting his uh, rob on. Duhamel creates a character through layers and improvisation and duping and whatnot. He relishes it. In Bandit he plays Gilbert Galvan Jr or should I say, Robert Whiteman. Mel Gibson's in Bandit too. He rides with Duhamel as a sort of mobster sidekick named Tommy Kay. Their dialogue exchanges crackle, like a couple of HS buddies at lunch break, scheming and Janus-faced.

Now about Bandit the movie. Well it's a bank marauder pic with gang ties (duh). It is also based on a true story but comes off as more playful and less hard-hitting. The pace is swift, the cutting is volant, the editing is crisp. The music? Well it bodes really well with the rhythms of the actors. Again playful. Watching Bandit, you wouldn't even know it's based on true events. It almost plays like a pseudo comedy or a TV miniseries on say, Peacock. What can I say, I enjoyed it anyway.

So yeah, Bandit is obviously not the most original of heist flicks. I mean if you've seen stuff like Wisdom and/or The Old Man & the Gun you've seen this swipe. What makes Bandit recommending, is how fun-loving it winks toward the audience. It's not really dangerous, just jocular, with never a dull moment or anything lagging. The 126-minute running time just sort of flies by as director Allan Ungar engages in the almost non-violent, carefree way of pilfering via the Reagan Era. Disguises, quiet moments of cash-grabbing, deception, and that revelatory ending. It's all design by Duhamel. Him and this vehicle are quite the "steal".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 26, 2022

Babylon 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Babylon is a 189-minute flick in which the running time is what it is. Oh well. What's on screen doesn't drag. In fact, it hits you in the face or should I say, the groin. Basically what we have here is the equivalent of an actual film doing cocaine and getting high on its own supply. A muscle-man eating a live rat, sexual relations in public, drugs and drink, death on set, rattlesnake blood-sucking, an elephant defecating, people vomiting. I mean was 1920s and 30s Hollywood really all about this? I guess so according to helmer Damien Chazelle. Better stay out of his way people. 

Chazelle becomes a different director here than I remember. It's like he got bored, felt restless, and decided to channel his inner Paul Thomas Anderson and/or Martin Scorsese. Whip pans and zooms and mighty tracking shots and extreme fast cutting and movie-within-a-movie scenes oh my! Oh and I did mention there's a hundred or so actors in almost every frame? Yup, the scope, energy, and breadth are impressive but you want to say to Damian, "how about finding your own voice dude". You have a made a less tighter, less cohesive version of Boogie Nights and/or The Wolf of Wall Street. Um, thanks for the valiant effort. 

That's not to say that Babylon isn't worth recommending. I mean it's like watching a series of cinematic car accidents that you can't look away from. And yeah, you want to see the next one (and the next one). Chazelle's look in Babylon is all scorched and sprawling, with hazy malaise and saturated, beige hues. His actors (Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva) produce solid performances whether they are given time to breathe or forced to wade through mounds of turpitude. 

Now would I cut the last 7-10 minutes that are a montage of film histrionics shown to be self-indulgent and/or without necessity? Oh you betcha. And would I find a new editor and re-shoot Babylon so it doesn't feel so darn spasmodic? For sure. As a naughty love letter to the almighty Golden Age, Babylon could actually be called, Babylon "and on and on". Natch.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Violent Night 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Violent Night certainly earns its title. Not just from a Christmas standpoint (it's a RhymeZone version of that song), but from a "violent" standpoint as well. An Xmas star to the eye, a sledgehammer to the face, a bullet to the head, a nail through the chin. "Ho ho hurt" as in ouch!

So OK, you've probably heard that Violent Night is a combo of Die Hard and Home Alone. Guess what, it is and it's so obvious. I mean the filmmakers actually reference the flicks in a hint, hint sort of way. Walkie talkies (check), booby traps (check), Santa Claus getting his groove on as an antihero Bruce Willis on steroids (Czechoslovakia!).

The only differences with the two: "Night" is more savage than Die Hard but it doesn't take itself seriously whereas Die Hard rightfully does. As for Home Alone, well the bad guys actually lived in that one. Heck, the baddies in Violent Night bite the proverbial dust as if they were paperweights in a snuff and/or grindhouse production. It's brutally for brutality's sake, all sensationalized for the silly season.

Watching Violent Night, you wonder why it wasn't made twenty years ago. The diegesis is rather genius, a way to divert your attention from all things Frank Capra and Barbara Stanwyck. The actual Santa (played by a well cast David Harbour) is clearly an alcoholic and Christmas Eve is just another day at the office for him. When he enters a wealthy home to deliver presents, he stumbles upon some murderous thieves who have taken a family hostage for a cool 300 mil. Santa's solution to save said family is a "violent" one (duh). I mean how did Mr. Claus learn to fight like Jason Statham and/or Van Damme (yikes)?

Bottom line: Violent Night is an entertaining if not choppily made thriller with a whiff of camp. It's action scene then payoff then action scene then payoff. The way it's lit and with certain long shots signifying all things Noel, "Night" definitely feels like a Christmas movie whereas Die Hard doesn't (per a certain interview, I side with Willis on this issue). It's happy holidays here even though the blood is clearly flowing off the tinsel.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Deck the Heart 2021 * 1/2 Stars


How bad is 2021's Deck the Heart? Let me put it this way, how bad is a hurricane? Bad, catastrophic. "Deck" is a holiday movie but it doesn't feel enough like one. Perhaps it's the budget, perhaps it's the vexatious, drawn-out scenes of people conversing, perhaps it's the sometimes creepy non-Xmas music inserted during pivotal moments. Perhaps as to say, feasibly.

So yeah, Deck the Heart has its "heart" in the right place (ha-ha). I mean the film has good intentions. You know, celebrating Christmas, having it as a time of giving, celebrating family, blah blah blah. That's not the problem here. The problem is how it's made, all misguiding and "Don't Stand So Close to Me"-like. 

The romantic leads in "Deck" are good-looking people but the male looks like a middle-ager while the female looks like a college student who is cramming for her doctorate exams. Yeah, non-computing. When they kiss at the end (this occurs in all the Hallmark Xmas flicks), it almost looks criminal, like it was a dare or something. Yup, no mistletoe is gonna help this situation.

Taking place in Maine and showing snow one day and then showing no snow the next (uh-huh), Deck the Heart is about a NYC businessman who inherits his late grandfather's house. According to his grandfather's wishes, he must host Christmas there for his family. The rub: he decides to hire a party planner to do it with a budget of $12,000 (wha?? Could've fooled me based on the end results). 

Joe Kurak plays said businessman Chris Ackerman while Ashley Brinkman plays said party planner Meredith Block (or Merry because well, you know why). Chris and Merry eventually fall in love (duh) but their scenes together and their dialogue exchanges are about as stiff as a glass of Maker's Mark neat. It's not easy to watch. I mean did "Deck's" director (Candice T. Cain) tell them to walk and talk like zombies because it sure seemed that way to me. I've heard of actors trying to hit their marks but I've never seen it to be so axiomatic. Ugh. 

Like I said in the second paragraph, Deck the Heart has aspirations of what it wants to achieve. It wants you to feel those warm fuzzies while sipping the almighty eggnog. Too bad we've got a student film situation brewing here that appears like it was submitted at some festival in Podunk, Vermont. If helmer Cain knew where to put the camera, knew how to shoot a close-up, or knew how to squeeze performances out of everyone, Deck the Heart might've actually worked. What I saw on screen was way below the hard "deck". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Emily the Criminal 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


Emily the Criminal was released in the US in August of this year. It's frantic, dangerous, and confined, a project that reminded me of something that could've been helmed by the Safdie brothers (those crazy kids from Uncut Gems). "Criminal" also takes the subject of credit card swindling and makes it justifiable to the masses. Bad background check? Ah who cares, you're hired.

Anyhow, Emily the Criminal is kind of a less tweaked out, less violent version of "Gems" (mentioned in the last paragraph). This time the setting is LA and instead of Adam Sandler getting out of his acting comfort zone, we now have Aubrey Plaza getting out of hers. 

Plaza plays the Emily in Emily the Criminal and she ditches the comedic shtick while getting her groove on in the nerve-ending department. It's an amazing transformation as Aubrey acts with her whole body while giving the audience member some gangster screen presence. Yup, the weathered (yet sexy) Plaza is pretty much in every frame here. That's a good thing because when she is not, "Criminal" almost comes to a screeching halt. 

As something about a debt-ridden woman (Plaza as Emily Benetto) who gets involved in a credit card scam because she can't get a regular job as an artist, Emily the Criminal is a solidly paced thriller in which the camera is hard-pressed to keep up. Rookie director and close-up monger John Patton Ford can storyboard and his casting of Plaza is spot-on while still being against type. The problem I had with "Criminal" is something altogether different than the latter. It's cruxes are implausible and well, not likely.

The Benetto character breaks the law and although her life is somewhat threatened, she comes away unscathed. What no one you scammed is gonna come back and confront you? What no one is gonna identify you and arrest you a couple of days later? Head-scratching. Then there's the notion of what Emily Benetto becomes towards the end of the film (spoiler). She starts off as the antihero protagonist only to go virtual dark side. I mean it just doesn't seem credible what with everything that happened prior to the last act. "Criminally" overrated. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Beat Street 1984 * * * Stars


"It's like a heartbeat, beat street". Ah the opening credits to a pic I relentlessly saw on HBO. I then practiced my moves in front of a mirror, feeling groovy. 

Anyway for two or three years in the early 80s, break-dancing was a thing. Then it quickly burned out. 1984's Beat Street captures the style of breaking when it was at its pinnacle, all popping and locking and spinning and stuff. Heck, you could almost say this movie is frozen in time.

Beat Street is Saturday Night Fever sans the disco and hot pants. The setting is the same (NYC), there's a tragic death towards the end, and well, there's plenty of vibrant dancing. Beat Street has a little more as it almost feels like a talent show or musical minus everyone breaking out into song. I'm not saying that's a bad thing but the extended scenes of DJing, singing, and break battling sometimes deflate the dramatic momentum. And yeah, there's a few, solid dramatic nuggets to be had. 

More robust and more mature than those other hip-hop pics of the time (Breakin', Krush Groove, Rappin'), Beat Street has atmospheric direction by Stan Lathan and a use of locales that feels bitingly echt. I mean I've never felt like I was in the Bronx more than with this film. Lathan pumps you up on musical numbers and then provides quieter moments where the troupers can breathe and emote. One kinda outweighs the other but oh well. 

Like in "Fever" (mentioned earlier), Beat Street pushes the boomer self-reliance. In tinges, it looks at a graffiti artist, a young breaker, a DJ, and a slick manager trying to break out of their banal existence in a rundown, NYC borough neighborhood. The unknown actors (minus Rae Dawn Chong) do solid work in a flick that's a snapshot of pop culture that unfortunately blew away at the blink of an eye. Still, this "beat" manages to go on. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Menu 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


2022's The Menu is my latest write-up. It is well-edited, shrewd, and visually aesthetic, actually using food on rocks as a Michelin Star metaphor. "Menu" also features title cards of various course meals that list the items in a demented sort of way. I mean are we the viewers supposed to laugh or scoff? I'm going to go with scoff and Gordon Ramsay would probably do the same. 

Speaking of Ramsay, well The Menu is like a film version of his Hell's Kitchen except that the head chef is more quietly evil and the patrons involved, well they mostly die. Manipulative and spiteful, "Menu" is indeed a black comedy, the blackest of comedies (with some horror elements thrown in). Its victim characters are like Stockholm syndrome minions getting their exotic eat on as you the audience member keep guessing and guessing as to what's going to happen next. That's when The Menu is at its most effective.   

But then The Menu has to conclude and you realize that it's more stylish grizzle that's meant to upset and not compel. I mean yeah The Menu is directed with panache and the look of it is about as sterile as the Virgin Mary's latrine. But where's the moral center here? And minus "Menu's" final twist, why does everybody have to have their fates be so forlorn? Talk about a downer of a thriller that just leaves a sour taste in your mouth (pun intended). 

As a flick about a celebrity chef (Julian Slowik) who invites a bunch of rich wrongdoers to an island to feast on some first class cruisine (only to find that they're included in the meal), "Menu" has solid performances from a well-to-do cast (Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult). Fiennes is the standout and although we think of him as a fine actor, his Slowik here is so remorseless and uncouth it's hard to accept his actions as anything more than show. He's vile for the sake of being vile as is The Menu overall. This is "food" without much "soul".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Sr. 2022 * * * Stars


A lot of people know who Robert Downey Jr. is. Okay the whole world knows who he is. Bob is a movie star from those Marvel endeavors. The dude once commanded $75 million for one flick (remember Avengers: Endgame?). 

Sr. (my latest review) is not about Robert Downey Jr. I mean it kind of is but that's a moot point. It's mainly about his father Robert Downey Sr. Sr. is a guy who was not as much in the limelight, making low budget, independent films and appearing as an actor in stuff like Boogie Nights and/or To Live and Die in L.A. 

I've never seen a Robert Downey Sr.-directed pic but Sr. provides plenty of archive footage from his stuff via the late 60s and early 70s. Said archive footage counteracts with recent interviews that counteract with random scenes that are sort of playful cuts of the late subject (Sr. of course). It's like a movie within a movie within a documentary, shot in black & white while harboring a somber and evocative tone. 

Sr. is a docu that is told chronologically but feels non-linear at the same time. It's not perfect but there's a certain earthiness to it. I mean it feels more personal that most (of any type). You see Robert Downey Jr. in a way you've never seen him before (it's like he's a regular Joe). You also get to know his dad and what an out of the box filmmaker he was, all satiric and radical and whatnot. I've always thought of their relationship as opposite sides of the pickle. Jr. is well, blockbuster and his pops sort of a hidden, Woody Allen type. 

What's heartbreaking is that Sr. ends up following the last years of Robert Downey Sr.'s life. It was filmed over a period of three showing the gradual decline of Sr.'s health due to Parkinson's disease. Thankfully through Sr. we get to know this man and his visionary turns that stayed under the radar to most Hollywood annals. Senior day!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 5, 2022

Class of 1984 1982 * * 1/2 Stars


In 1982, audiences weren't ready for Class of 1984. I mean maybe they were but I know I wouldn't have been. Some say it's a cult film. I say not exactly but the title sure suggests it. "1984" shows high school in the most brutal and bleak way, all neon, perfumed, and punk like some sort of whacked out Greek mythology. Pushing the boundaries of adequate taste while pushing the unlicked envelope, Class of 1984 hasn't aged well in my most humbled opinion. If it was made last year it probably wouldn't have even gotten greenlit today.

That's not to say that "1984" wasn't ahead of its time (for that time). I mean just imagine The Warriors crossing paths with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Now imagine a horror version of those two flicks, a sort of remorseless, harshly violent conch of maddening teenage rebellion. Class of 1984 is a rough watch with an even rougher social commentary. The school depicted in '82 had metal detectors and no dress code (that's fresh). The actors were probably plucked off the street and told to do unspeakable things.

Shot in Toronto, Canada and sledgehammering the notion that high schooler inmates really do run the asylum, Class of 1984 stars a perfectly cast Perry King and a perfectly cast Timothy Van Patten. King plays music teacher Andrew Norris and Van Patten plays troubled student Peter Stegman. When Norris kicks Stegman out of class while rubbing him the wrong way in the process, Stegman and his gang of misfits savagely torment Norris and his pregnant wife (Merrie Lynn Ross as Diane Norris).

With scenes of attempted rape, vindictive assault, gangly beatings, and manipulative solicitation, Class of 1984 shows the mild-mannered man getting pushed to edge and becoming lex talionis. It's all a little too off-color to recommend.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, December 2, 2022

Slice 2018 * * 1/2 Stars


"It all started when the werewolf came back into town". I'm not talking about London folks, I'm talking about mile after magnificent mile (that would be Illinois). 

Mindless, campy, a film that lives in a sort of warped, Gotham fantasy-land. Ghosts are an actual ethnic group, the mayor persona is a perv, and Chance the Rapper is apparently in the form of someone changing their appearance during a full moon. Yeah I'm talking about 2018's Slice, a vehicle that's so neon and fluorescent it comes off as late 80s swipe that could only be featured at 4am on Cinemax. Alex Cox called and says he wants his repo status and science fiction smoke back.

Slice if you're game enough (or tipsy enough), is a beer and pizza movie (no pun intended). It doesn't take itself seriously and why should it, it's about pizzeria delivery guys getting offed and doofus cops trying to find the culprit. The soundtrack is 1980s synth, the look is urban Chuck E. Cheese (pun intended). Slice's tone is all over the place but at least its director (Austin Vessely) creates a quixotic world full of bended subjects. Za, punk, devilsh Karens, and municipality peacekeeping oh my!

Men wearing bad wigs, old television sets, a screenplay that's equal parts distressing and cringy, skewed character motivations, and actorly acting. That's Slice's go-ahead vision and it's a real doozy. But hey, it's edited surprisingly well, like a murder mystery that plays out in likely fashion. Austin Vessely's direction is standard and not flashy (that's only in the visual palate). He shoots low to the ground as his camera zooms forwards and backwards.

Bottom line: Slice is no midnight movie circuit winner but it's a "cut above" most cultish wanabees. I mean I've never seen a flick that had more fun at making fun of itself. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Bullies 1986 * * * Stars


"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


"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


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


"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, Mitchell'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


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


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 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


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


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


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


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


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


"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 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


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


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


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


"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


"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


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


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


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


"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


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


"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


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