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Friday, July 1, 2022

Love Triangle Nightmare 2022 * 1/2 Stars

LOVE BITES

Love Triangle Nightmare is directed by Roxanne Boisvert. Let me rephrase that. Love Triangle Nightmare is shoddily directed by Roxanne Boisvert. What we have here is a blueprinted Lifetime film with all the compulsory bells and whistles. And when I mean bells and whistles, I don't mean the attractive ones. 

Love Triangle Nightmare is not really about a love triangle. It's just not. I mean maybe in the first half hour. The title is misleading as it's more about a nutso doctor who must have a woman who is on the verge of divorce. One or two red herrings aside and a tawdry flashback, the doctor in question (Jake played by Jeff Teravainen) is pretty much the antagonist before "Triangle" hits its second act. He's also a real cheeseball, a borderline goof, and not nearly menacing enough. 

Hardly compelling and wrapped up rather quickly as if the studio gave helmer Boisvert time constraints, Love Triangle Nightmare revels in bad dialogue, soap opera-style acting, foreseen fluff, and plenty of stark coincidences (people seem to always run into each other hint, hint). Above all else, "Triangle" feels so small-scale even in the scope of the Lifetime Network. Oblivious to the viewer who knows better, it does just enough to get by (and obviously that's not enough). 

There have been thousands of Lifetime movies that have gone down the pike, thousands. After decades of this stuff you'd think the long-running grapevine would bring something more fresh and intricate than the patchwork that is Love Triangle Nightmare. Every scene and climatic moment seems cut ever so quickly as if to say, "we didn't have the budget or chutzpah to do something more, sorry". "Triangle" stars Teravainen (mentioned earlier), Glenda Braganza, and Tomas Chovanec. On screen they look totally befuddled as do we the audience. Obtuse "triangle". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Heatwave 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

HEAT INDEX

"You're acting paranoid". Oh yeah. You would be too if the cops were after you. Oh and how about a triple-digit temperature to go along with the fuzz.

Anyway 2022's Heatwave initially feels like a Lifetime endeavor until you realize it's not (Paramount Pictures, ding ding). The film has better production values than anything on the Lifetime Network and for once it was shot in a city and not some residential outlet. 

So is Heatwave a suspense drama that pulls the strings and keeps you enthralled? For most of the way yes. Does the flick run out of wiggle room trying to wrap things up? Unfortunately yeah. That is Heatwave's veritable, Achilles heel.

Heatwave as a vehicle of lofty business panache, has a great look. I mean it's almost on par with the big studio stuff. It's a little 1994's Disclosure here and a little Basic Instinct there. Mainly it verges on neo-noir, glossy and slick and filmed in what looks like Vancouver, British Columbia (I could be wrong but just an observation). 

Almost nil on violence and dense on mystery, Heatwave's story involves a businesswoman who while trying to climb up the corporate ladder, has an affair with her superior's wife. When said superior gets murdered, said businesswoman is the prime suspect. Oh and it's freaking hot outside (hence the film's title). 

Heatwave stars Kat Graham, Merritt Patterson, Cardi Wong, and Sebastian Roche. Have you actually heard of these guys? No? Well me neither but they give decent performances. It's just too bad Heatwave's director (Ernie Barbarash) piles on so many twists and flashbacks that it feels like he's doing it just for the one up. I mean Barbarash knows where to put the camera and can summon steamy atmosphere but hey, even the makers of Clue have their limits. In the end Heatwave bodes promise but turns up kind of "lukewarm". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Ledge 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

WOMAN ON A LEDGE

"I tried to be nice". Yeah right. The antagonist in 2022's The Ledge is anything but. He's a despicable human being named Josh and is played by Brit Ben Lamb. Never have I wanted to see a bad guy die more in a movie than in this one. I mean never. Talk about an unlikable prime mover.

Anyhow, The Ledge rounds out at 86 minutes and was released in February of this year. "Ledge" says it's a mystery thriller but whatever. This is more a minimal build-up snuff film, where director Howard J. Ford wants to promote gratuitous violence just for kicks-and-giggles. When people bite the dust in The Ledge, it's savagery of the Tarantino kind. The more unnatural the better.

The Ledge as a bad taste version of 1993's Cliffhanger, takes place in Italy (I think they mentioned that but I'm not totally sure). It's disturbing, sometimes compelling, obviously shot on a sound stage and well, implausible (those malefactors really know how to get from point A to point B in a jiffy).

"Ledge's" story is about a couple of female mountain climbers who encounter four men at the same climbing site. When one of the girly climbers dies by murder, the other one captures the event on video and has the same dudes hunting her down to get said video tape.

There's a "no witnesses left behind" vibe with "Ledge" and director Ford knows this. He's not interested in the viewer having any real sympathy (or empathy) for his model-like, millennial characters. He'd rather show you how many ways some poor soul could get his/her head crushed on a summit.

The performances in "Ledge" are decent. The suspense is kinda there for the taking. But what's up with Howard J. Ford trying to make The Ledge into a sensationalized, shock-for-schlock horror pic that almost deflates any dramatic momentum? I got into The Ledge shamelessly but almost "stepped back from it". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Summer Days, Summer Nights 2018 * * Stars

THE BOYS AND GIRLS OF SUMMER

2018's Summer Days, Summer Nights is directed by Edward Burns. Watching the film, you feel like it drew from Ed's experiences as a teen living on Long Island. On paper, "Summer Days" seems legit. You know with its block parties, its beaches, and its coming-of-age, summer love. On screen however, the results can seem mixed. This is even with the narrative of "Summer Days" kinda making you feel like you've spent a summer with these beach blanket, be bop characters.

So yeah, Summer Days, Summer Nights is about summer on Strong Island circa 1982. Past romantic flings arise, new ones come into focus, and plenty of brewsky-s are drunk. In the middle of all of it is co-star and Greek chorus Eddie Burns. He plays the dad of one of the lover boys cause well, that's what he does. Burns is a decent actor but his script for "Summer Days" needed to be a little tighter. I mean something more than a burned out 90210 episode.

Feeling like a PG rated version of Hot Summer Nights and/or '93's Dazed and Confused (talk about being restrained), Summer Days, Summer Nights is swiftly-paced but strangely uninteresting in its first two acts. As for its setting of sunny Reagan Era, the flick doesn't get its time and place right except for the 70s/80s soundtrack (which is quite good actually). Hairstyles and clothing suggest the 90s, cars suggest the 60s, and hey, no one says "radical" or "awesome".

Burns can certainly tell a story (or interconnecting stories) but this is a misguided attempt at inner nostalgia. His subjects involved aren't exactly the most likable people. Most of the young adults in "Summer Days" are wishy-washy, sort of conspicuous, a little soap opera, and hey, nothing of import really comes out of their mouths. At a rating of 2 stars, Summer Days, Summer Nights is nearly a summer "bummer".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 19, 2022

WarHunt 2022 * * * Stars

THIS MEANS WAR

"I'm going to get my boots a little dirty". Ah Mickey Rourke with an eyepatch, a cigar in his mouth, and a limp. I love it. I just love it. 

Distributed by Saban films and taking place during World War II, 2022's WarHunt is sort of refreshing even though we've seen shades of it before (Overlord and Cowboys & Aliens come to mind). WarHunt is that flick where you take an ordinary genre (war) and combine it with the supernatural. Agent Orange turns well, black (natch).

WarHunt co-stars Rourke (mentioned in the first paragraph). And even though he's barely in the movie, the dude still shows up as usual to kind of save the day. With most of the other actors being virtually unknown, Mickey was probably featured on the poster of WarHunt to give it some heightened notoriety. Either way you cut it, he's the coolest guy in the room (it's the speaking voice I tell you). 

WarHunt with its pale cinematography, its decent special effects, and its sometimes choppy editing, takes a while to get to where it's going. By the last twenty minutes or so, things thankfully come together in a vicinal way. There's building tension throughout as GIs are bewildered by dark-cloaked, evil forces. Their squad in question, was trying to retrieve some top-secret stuff. Too bad their guns were no match for remnants of The Grudge-like crew. 

Vehicles like WarHunt as doughboy shtick, intrigue me. They just do. WWII soldiers are not going into battle to fight those pesky Nazis, they end up fighting each other as well as some real nasty phantoms. The fact that this all went down over 70 years ago just makes the proceedings seem that more uncanny. Add some loud combat and a little flesh-eating (ugh) and you've got a real creepy concoction by long-time director Mauro Borrelli (Branches, Haunted Forest). This dog can "hunt". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Hustle 2022 * * * Stars

ALMOST A TRIPLE-DOUBLE

2022's Hustle premiered in June of this year. Its distributor is Netflix, a streaming service that has been losing its customers (hey I'm still on board). Hustle is a rather restrained basketball kernel but that doesn't mean it's not worth recommending. It's kinda like the NBA version of Trouble with the Curve and/or Million Dollar Arm (those are baseball flicks if you didn't know already).

Hustle stars Adam Sandler and with his 2019 vehicle Uncut Gems, Adam is obviously tearing away from his comedic shtick and continuously branching out as an actor. Could Hustle go down a darker turn with his b-ball scout character who has a past? It does in certain scenes but the tone is mostly held back. Does Sandler give a decent performance? Sure he does. There's no role researching here because the dude in real life is a huge NBA fan.

Featuring tons of NBA player/coach cameos (Trae Young, Seth Curry, Brad Stevens, Doc Rivers) and swiftly-paced dunks and layups, Hustle is obviously authentic and wily in its approach. I mean I don't know much about the sport but I could surely tell (LeBron James was a producer, nuff said).

Using social media as a platform (you kinda have to) and being a sort of product placement for the Philadelphia 76ers (remember the A's and Moneyball?), Hustle is about Stanley Sugermen (Sandler). Stanley is a veteran NBA talent spotter who struggles to get an unknown baller from Spain into the NBA draft. Standing in his way is an arrogant 76ers owner (Ben Foster's Vince Merrick whose persona sort of fades and is underdeveloped).

All in all, Hustle is no great shakes as hard-hitting drama with emotional hub (I mean it's billed as one so I went there). And yeah, it's a tad predictable (come on, you knew the angular Spaniard was gonna make it). Still, Hustle is entertaining, smoothly plotted, and in parts, uplifting. If you're an NBA fan or an aspiring player, you'll like it just enough. Hustle and "flowed".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, June 13, 2022

Your Boyfriend is Mine 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

OF MINE

A working class, young guy with a cutesy girlfriend, takes on a lucrative job as a house manager to a businesswoman. What we know about said businesswoman is that she's got a ton of moolah and is a bit cray cray. What we don't know is what she actually does for a living. Maybe she doesn't work at all and it's merely inheritance (oh the horror).

Released last month and filmed possibly in Atlanta, GA (just guessing), Your Boyfriend is Mine is another Lifetime vehicle where you know the antagonist is off within a good 10-15 minutes. And in classic Lifetime fashion, the protagonist is oblivious to all this and decides to just ride the situation out (otherwise there'd be no movie). 

Eli Jane plays manipulative well-to-doer Amanda Roberts while Jamie Roy plays house boy Ben Howard. Jane is pretty evil in her role as an attractive female who has weird methods of snagging a man (doesn't make sense but whatever). Roy however, needs a few more acting lessons cause it feels like he's well, acting (hey at least he looks the part). 

Their courtship (or pseudo courtship) is pretty strange, a sort of Kathy Bates Misery where only one leg gets damaged. At times, Your Boyfriend is Mine can be pretty upsetting and you truly want Jane's Roberts to get what's coming to her. Other times you wonder why this sort of trash is worth viewing considering that the whole state of affairs is like a PowerPoint presentation on lady paramountcy (money isn't everything and Amanda never comes off as normal in any capacity). 

With "Boyfriend", at least the villain actually gets caught and does time as opposed to getting away. And yeah, Lifetime provides some justice for once. Finally, the flick doesn't need a twist or two to get the job done. "Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend's back". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, June 10, 2022

Buried in Barstow 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

INHUME

"Are you in trouble?" The answer is usually yes. The question is, is 2022's Buried in Barstow actually a Lifetime Network movie? Yup and it appears more like something Miramax would have put out in the mid-90s. Unbeknownst to me, Lifetime sort of goes out of its comfort zone here.

Clocking in at 87 minutes (if you take away the commercials), "Barstow" is Lifetime's version of plot over plot over plot. You don't know quite where it's headed (most of the time) but Angie Harmon in the lead is one bad mama jama. Harmon gives a solid performance and almost makes you forget that she's even in a Lifetime flick. I mean maybe she didn't know the truth all along.

Buried in Barstow is about a woman named Hazel King (Harmon). King runs a diner with her daughter and many years ago, she used to be a hit woman for some Vegas mobsters (Barstow is a town 2-plus hours outside of Vegas, hint hint). "Barstow" revolves around Hazel's contract-killing past which comes back to haunt her. It's almost like David Cronenberg's A History of Violence went the TV movie route (for reals).

Buried in Barstow is directed by one Howard Deutch, you know the guy behind Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Great Outdoors. It's been awhile since I've seen Howard helm a film and he's gone down quite a different avenue these days. If you're looking for Eric Stoltz to take out the hot girl or John Candy to finish that "Old 96'er", look somewhere else.

Anyway, "Barstow" is violent, unevenly funny, twisty, and unforgiving but it also feels rather unfinished (that's because it is). The pic is clearly a setup for a sequel so it's difficult to readily probe what I just saw. I'll just go with a mixed review and well, "bury" the issue.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Cruel Instruction 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

CRUEL TO BE KIND

Two teenagers are sent away to a Utah institution. Why? Because one got expelled and the other is attending to avoid a stint in juvie. While at said institution, they are put through the ringer by an evil headmistress with questionable behavioral methods. That's the gist of Cruel Instruction

Released in March of this year, Cruel Instruction is a Lifetime Television movie that seems to hark back to the network's golden era (80s/90s). It's like a prison drama that doesn't take place in a prison (it's more of a residential treatment center). The young girl personas featured walk on eggshells throughout and almost need permission to breathe. You the viewer will harbor the same feeling even though "Instruction" feels the want to cut corners (in effective storyboard editing, character development, and overall diegesis).

Camryn Manheim and Kelcey Mawema star in "Instruction" as a Nurse Ratched type (Miss Connie) and a shy, misunderstood 15-year-old (Kayla Adams). Their performances are good and they undoubtedly anchor the film. But like a lot of goings-on in Cruel Instruction, their ending fates seem cryptic and all for naught. I mean did Connie eventually go to the slammer? And what the heck is Kayla going to do with her life after being thrown out of high school?

Cruel Instruction is longer in length than your typical Lifetime-r (maybe it was the commercials). Pretty much everyone in it (that includes the jugged love interest, the treatment center bully, the parents, the orderlies) fades in and out while being almost totally paradoxical. 

Sure Cruel Instruction lays out the blueprint of damaged youth. Sure the film's military school environment seems cold (and harsh) and sure, everyone's popping meds without seeing much daylight. But does "Instruction" actually push the envelope? Nah. It's disturbing in parts but fails to reach the heights of say something like When You Remember Me (a confinement TV vehicle from the beginning of The Good Decade starring Fred Savage). "Cruel instruction manual". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Dazed and Confused 1993 * * * * Stars

CAN YOU DIG IT?

"You just gotta keep livin' man". True dat. And it doesn't hurt to revisit 1993's Dazed and Confused all over again. In truth, I've probably seen the film close to 100 times. Heck, I remember the VHS tape being completely worn to the nub.

With a 70s soundtrack that is spot-on and in abundance (there's two volumes), Dazed and Confused is like a "Me Decade" documentary except that it has actors involved (and they do a fine job). 

Now does "Dazed" have an actual diegesis or story? Not really. It does not need one and that's the point. "Dazed" is a snapshot, a kaleidoscope, a mosaic. Just throw a bunch of high school kids into the last day of school circa 1976 and let the cameras roll. 

Dazed and Confused is directed with keen insight and ruffian giddiness by one Richard Linklater. Linklater was obviously inspired by the flick American Graffiti with a little Robert Altman on the side. Actually Linklater's "Dazed" is probably smoother in structure than the stuff just mentioned. That doesn't take away from what George Lucas and Altman did many years before (hey, they were the blueprints).  

Linklater was in his teenage years when '76 rolled around. Watching "Dazed", you feel like he was right there, acting as a reporter and/or taking notes. Dazed and Confused has high school rituals, the usual high school cliques, and the almighty ganja (well of course). The characters are memorable and uninhibited, with their blinked storylines fleshed out at a mere running time of 102 minutes. 

A lot of well-known troupers participated in Dazed and Confused. I mean it's like the 90s version of The Outsiders. We're talking Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, and Cole Hauser. We know they're well-known because they are still working steadily today (especially Matthew and Ben). What's even more fascinating however, is that you the viewer always wonder what happened to their actual personas from "Dazed" (in a hypothetical sense). There's a lingering in the end as a lead-in to their question-marked adulthood-s. 

With a brilliant closing credit sequence (set to Foghat's "Slow Ride") and a carefree sense of prominent teenage subversion, Dazed and Confused will always be Linklater's best pic next to 2001's Tape. "Alright, alright, alright". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 2, 2022

X 2022 * * Stars

X FACTORED 

"Hollywood here we come". Uh not quite. More like somewhere outside of sultry Houston, Texas. That's where the events in 2022's X (my latest review) happen. "Get the cameras rolling, get the action going". Indeed.

Not really scary and not avant-garde in a perverted sort of way, X takes place in the late 1970s and is filmed like a "Me Decade" movie. We're talking long shots, wide shots, zoom ins, zoom outs, crosses, and a bit of the grainy. I mean if you're gonna make a flick set in 1979, you might as well have the audience be taken aback.

Ti West (X's veteran helmer) knows where to put the camera and can think in cuts. Oh and the classic rock soundtrack is decent. It's not West's direction that's the culprit, it's his victim characters who try to be witty and likable but end up being rather uncouth. Then there's the antagonists played by two senior citizens who were probably in their 90s. You'd have to believe that this husband and wife team could dispatch people like Jason Voorhees, be able to snap to it, and still have a little nookie on the side (which they do). This whole premise in X is quite misguided and that nookie image is something I'll probably never be able to shake (ugh).

Distributed by A24 and actually filmed in Queenstown, New Zealand (I didn't pick up on that), X is about a group of young filmmakers who set out to make a pornographic pic only to be hunted down by a couple of kooky killers who live near their shooting location. Masked locales begot, you can basically call X Super 8 for the adult film industry or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the AARP crowd. Its movie within a movie stature is neither innovative nor original enough. "X out".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 30, 2022

Top Gun: Maverick 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

"WATCH THE BIRDIE!"

"I have the need, the need for speed!" So do moviegoers. That's why so many are gonna flock to 2022's Top Gun: Maverick. Wanting to see the sequel to the original Top Gun amidst its many delays, I was one of them. May seemed like the perfect month to get my Mach 10 on. 

More stunt-packed than the first Top Gun and probably more tech-savvy, "Maverick" at times readily lets you know it's a follow-up with fan-made propensities and fan service directed at Tom Cruise's legendary persona (Lt. Pete Mitchell). At the same timetable, Top Gun: Maverick also announces that it's cinematic spectacle and not much else. See it on the biggest screen possible but be forewarned, you won't be quoting any of its lines any time soon. 

Tom Cruise stars in "Maverick" (duh). As Lt. Mitchell, Cruise acts and talks differently than he did in '86. I don't know if it's old age or wisdom but Mitchell is now the consummate professional. Back then he didn't say much. He just acted cocky and kicked butt in the air. I mean in Top Gun: Maverick I thought he said he wasn't fit to be an instructor. Could've fooled me. 

"Maverick" flies by even at a running time of 137 minutes (no pun intended). And director Joseph Kosinski can stage action while providing a stellar attention to detail (love those gadget zoom and POV shots). But if you're looking for nostalgia and dramatic heft a la Tony Scott's sun-soaked vision, don't look here. What's worse, you don't know who the enemies are that the pilots are fighting in "Maverick". The aerial, high-flying stuff is just for show and for well, "whoa". 

Top Gun: Maverick is its own movie but it shouldn't force you to forget what transpired effectively 36 years ago. The original Top Gun was (and is) a pop culture artifact, a time capsule put forth, and nearly the first of its kind. "Maverick" lacks Top Gun's revered characters, its devil-may-care banter, and its two iconic endings. The late "Mother" Goose would abide. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Bull Shark 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

NEEDED A BIGGER BOAT

"What your dealing with is a shark". Summer bummer. Sharks don't swim in fresh water but in 2022's Bull Shark, they do. Well of course they do. Otherwise there'd be no movie.

Bull Shark runs an hour and twenty minutes and that's with commercials. Yeah it's compact and passed over as they come. I mean if you blink a couple of times you might miss the darn thing. I'm not just talking about the film's runtime, I'm talking about the key shark attacks which edit out ever so quickly.

So OK, I can't recommend Bull Shark even if I tried. But I can say that it surprised me. I mean I thought it would be a B-movie with a bunch of dumb teenagers getting in a boat and being slaughtered by a big-boned marine fish. Bite my tongue. Bull Shark is more a drama than a shark flick or anything else. Director Brett Bentman tries his utmost to make the viewer forget that cut-rate inkling.

Bull Shark as a film, succeeds on land but fails miserably at sea (I mean lake). Its story about an alcoholic, Texas game warden who with his family falling apart, tries to dispatch a hungry shark is not half-bad. It's really not.

Bentman's pic from a dramatic standpoint, is well-plotted, tension-building, and nearly atmospheric in its approach. The problem arises when Bull Shark has other scenes involving people in water, people in boats, and shark kills in general. Is the shark (or sharks) in Bull Shark fake? Heck yeah they are. All you gotta do is look at the fins. When local denizens get offed by the shark are the ambushes a product of a quick-cut, editing faux pas? Oh you betcha. It's almost laughable.

All in all, I liked Bentman's direction in Bull Shark (mostly the overhead shots) and I kinda dug the cinematography (Texas almost looked like my home state of Michigan). If only Bull Shark had the gumption to have a special effects supervisor on board or even a budget for special effects. For me this is mixed, cock and "bull".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Ambulance 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

CAN'T QUITE RESUSCITATE

2022's Ambulance represents a rare low budget for the bombastic Michael Bay ($40 million give or take). Don't you worry my young Padawan, Bay still knows how to blows stuff up, still uses enough stunt cars for the Daytona, and still supplies enough ammunition to put Texas to shame. $40 mil my stinking butt.

So yeah, Ambulance is a film about two brother, bank robbers who use an ambulance (with hostages and an unlimited supply of gas) as a getaway vehicle. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as bank thief and ADHD stalwart Danny Sharp. Jake has always been an intense actor even if you don't know to root for his character or not. In the case of the bloated, slipshod, and exhausting Ambulance, it's a proposed coin flip.

Ambulance is obviously an action movie and by Michael Bay standards, one that's reaches a good 15-25 minutes past the two-hour mark (that's baseline for the Bay-meister). Is it boring? Only if you don't have a pulse. Um it's Michael Bay so how could it be. Just the same, Ambulance could've benefited from having a more capable editor (or editors) and armed conflict clips that were a little more joined-up. I mean not everybody can be Michael Mann or William Friedkin (Bay clearly attempted to ape off these guys here).  

With Ambulance, Bay is in his element and you always wonder if that's a good thing. He seems to shoot whatever pops into his brain without pandering to the storyboards and/or thinking it over. Look for his usual trademarks via the sweeping shots, the unusual fast cutting, the salient slow-mo stuff and of course, the unavoidable explosions. Michael Bay is definitely not a lazy filmmaker but he is a sloppy one. His Ambulance has some tense moments but it's the cinematic equivalent of throwing paint at a wall. Better call 911. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words 2016 * * * * Stars

DANCIN' FOOL

"I'm famous but most people don't even know what I do". So says Frank Zappa, a musical enigma, a maybe genius, and the doo-wop rock-and-roller from the 60s/70s. Hey I know what you did Frank. In my late twenties your tunes took charge on my CD player like clockwork (boy did I wear out that Apostrophe (') album).  

With tons of interviews from Zappa himself and well-restored archive footage from three decades plus, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words is a documentary without convention and it's all the better for it. Yeah it's told chronologically but the flick submits to newfangled free-form. After all, the late Frank Zappa had a little jazz in him (and jazz fusion/pop as well).

Zappa died in 1993 leaving a wall of sound legacy and a catalog of over 100 studio albums (I'm not kidding). "His Own Words" comes out twenty-three years later, putting Frank in almost every frame while avoiding the remnants of him being self-serving, grandstanding, and vanity-stricken. "His Own Words" contains more than fifty percent of its clips involving sound outs with Zappa and his tyranny for political and euphonious oppression. The guy had a supposed IQ of 172 and well, I could listen to him talk all day long.  

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words is helmed by Thorsten Schutte. Schutte directs without rules as he lets Zappa let 'er rip by literally shutting down his interviewers. Thorsten's film floats by on a curvilinear gimmick, the gimmick that allows its subject (Frank of course) to gnaw on scenery and be a rather haughty specimen. "His Own Words" is probably my new favorite docu because you hear from the proverbial horse's mouth as opposed to everyone around him. I mean only Zappa can do Zappa. Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Stolen by Their Father 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars

STOLEN MOMENTS

"I think we need to do what we can". Oh fo sho. That means getting a woman's daughters back from her despicable ex who's a wife beater and a jerk face manipulator. That also means traveling thousands of miles on a 14-hour flight (multiple times).

Anyway 2022's Stolen by Their Father is my latest review. It's based on a true account or should I say, a righted memoir. "Stolen" is also cut from the cloth of Lifetime. 

Stolen by Their Father isn't Lifetime schlock or camp, it's rather about as old school as the long-running network can get. I mean even "Stolen's" grainy look harks back to the times of yesteryear, when Lifetime's 90s, glory days would abide. 

"Stolen's" globetrotting story takes the female protagonist from Anchorage, Alaska to Greece. Greece is where her two girls were kidnapped to. 

Stolen by Their Father is frustrating, enthralling, despairing, and high-flown without being flashy. Watching it, you sense a Midnight Express situation going on except that there's child carrying off as opposed to prison time for selling hash.  

"Stolen's" cast is solid especially the performance of one Sarah Drew (she plays the discomposed mother in Lizbeth Meredith). Without mugging to the camera and/or predominantly overacting, Drew dives into her role with a straight-faced discipline. I mean you can feel her nerve endings with every echt utterance. 

Drew's character also has a past of her own as she was abducted by her birth mother (from her father) at a young age. Stolen by Their Father uses those flashbacks, crisp editing, and a beginning flash-forward to lucid effect. 

With the absence of stuff like modish knock offs, double-crossing, and trash-lit mayhem, "Stolen" is still one of the most effective Lifetime flicks ever made. It rather "gives back" to the viewer in a truly prevalent way.

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Secret Lives of Housewives 2022 * * * Stars

SECRET IDENTITY 

2022's Secret Lives of Housewives premiered in May of this year. "Housewives" is a Lifetime flick, populated by domestic conflict and a Lifetime legend in the sexy Jessica Morris. I don't get why "Housewives" got its title however considering how it ended and that it's a murder mystery. I mean there are husbands and angst-y teenagers involved too.

Secret Lives of Housewives doesn't pander to typical Lifetime schlock because it doesn't reveal who is cray cray and out of sorts from the get-go. I mean there are whispers but hey, it's not like everyone has a sign on their forehead saying, "I'm the killer with the wrench in the garage" (hint, hint). 

Filmed in Atlanta, GA (aren't most movies these days?) and featuring another child character who is mentally creepy (Langston Davis played by Charlie Hitt), "Housewives" is a whodunit with plenty of possible dun did its. It begs the question of what if a Lifetime pic had its "knives out" or garnered a "clue" (more hints). 

Helmed by Dave Thomas (not the Wendy's guy), Secret Lives of Housewives is well directed considering that the budget was probably nil and the set locations were sparse (with the added distant views of "Hotlanta" and the typical Lifetime, high school aerials). Thomas knows where to put the camera and well, I liked his use of overhead shots.

"Housewives" chronicles a young man who gets murdered because he's having an emotional affair with an older woman (Kendra Davis played by Jessica Morris). It's up to two detectives and Kendra herself to figure out who committed said murder. Look for plenty of spy cameras included, a few flashbacks, and a sort of twisty ending involving a family cover-up and/or snow job. Secret Lives of Housewives is not a "desperate" attempt to emote Lifetime as Hitchcockian fare. It's feasible. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 16, 2022

Sheryl 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

HOODED CROW

2022's Sheryl had its first screening in March of this year. It's a documentary about Sheryl Crow, a musician out of a small Missouri town who managed to sell over 50 million albums worldwide. If your a Sheryl Crow fan (I dug her 90s stuff), then this is a harmless docu clocking in at 94 minutes. "If It Makes You Happy" well you might as well see it. Natch.  

Sheryl portrays Sheryl Crow as self-made, persevered, and female empowered. I also like that she was a huge music fan at a very early age (like myself). Heck, it's not everyday that a background singer for Michael Jackson goes on to make such a huge dent in the world of folk and country rock. Man during that Bad tour Crow had some really spritz-y hair. 

Sheryl is a standard documentary but to its credit, it's pretty speedy and unhesitating in its approach. There's the usual archive footage, interviews from colleagues, friends, and family (I never knew Crow was buds with Laura Dern), and the voice of Sheryl Crow herself. My only question is why wasn't Kid Rock and Eric Clapton mentioned? I mean she was close acquaintances with those guys too.  

Distributed by Showtime Networks and chronicling Crow's bouts with depression and/or breast cancer, Sheryl has good intentions but at the same time, is a little self-indulgent. Yes Sheryl Crow can sing and play but she hasn't had a bonafide hit in over twenty years (her last LP sold a little over 49,000 copies). Could Sheryl be a ploy to jump-start Sheryl Crow's already recluse career that seems anachronistic with today's musical world? Possibly. Is Sheryl perhaps a postmark to the end of one's metier that has seen at least 7 Top twenty Hits and five platinum albums? Maybe. Sheryl isn't a bad documentary but you have to wonder, was "the first cut the deepest?" Sigh. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 13, 2022

Lord of the Streets 2022 * 1/2 Stars

MEAN STREETS

If David Ayer decided to direct a film that didn't really involve law enforcement and/or dirty pool fuzz, then Lord of the Streets would be that film. If 1990's Lionheart was made today and involved a more heighten style of bone-crunching violence, then Lord of the Streets would fit right in. If a cockeyed version of Rocky took place in the seedy underbelly of dirtied-up LA, then Lord of the Streets would suffice. "You gotta fight". Indeed you do.

Lord of the Streets stars Anthony "Treach" Criss. "Treach" is a rapper for Naughty By Nature and this is the first flick I've ever seen him in. Criss gives a sympathetic performance in an otherwise pretentiously thuggish pic that has mostly mediocre acting. "Treach" plays Jason Dyson, a former MMA fighter who has to recruit an inmate to fight for him and get him out of a life-threatening debt. We're talking bare-knuckle brawling where the term "ride or die" is solely evident. 

Fashioned in a cinematic fantasy-land where the cops tread very lightly and the villain (Kane played by "Rampage" Jackson) has more power than established Michael Corleone (oh brother), "Streets" is low budget, hip-hopped, and veritably silly. 

"Treach's" acting isn't the problem here, it's director Jared Cohn's ego trip as producer, writer, and helmer of "Streets". Albeit, Lord of the Streets is unsympathetic, non-empathetic, and with its ghetto bird rap soundtrack, a bloodied mess that can't quite take itself seriously. When people are shot and killed in "Streets", they're remembered so much as a light jab. 

In retrospect, Lord of the Streets could have benefited from some more focused editing, a little solace from its myrmidon characters, and a sense of justification for extirpating at will (you'll see if you watch the movie). I don't plan on taking it to these "streets" with a second viewing. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Dangerous Methods 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

STRIP METHOD

A Hollywood assistant becomes the assistant to a whacked out actor who I'm thinking, is schizophrenic. That's the rub to 2022's Dangerous Methods. Pay attention to the word methods, or should I say Method (as in acting).

Released this month and featuring title cards as if it were The Shining (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.), Dangerous Methods reveals from the beginning that the lead (Christopher Showerman as Desmond Gage) is loony tunes right off the bat. The assistant to him (if you can call her that) doesn't do much except fawn over him and his A-list status. She must really need the job. I mean anyone else with half a frame of reference would have left the situation on day one. 

But wait, there'd be no movie. And you the viewer wouldn't be plodded along hopelessly wondering where the heck "Methods" is going. Director Humberto Rosa wants to build tension but doesn't seem to reach it. The actors are game but their milk-and-water scenes are kind of stuck in neutral. 

On the flip side, why would the Hollywood industry even attempt to keep an unstable trouper like Gage on the payroll (he almost strangled someone on set for gosh sake)? And why would Gage's assistant (Lacy Johnson played by Rachele Brooke Smith) be so befuddled as to be seduced by him? I mean is Lifetime (the film's distributor) trying to say that Hollywood is "Hollyweird? It certainly appears so. "Freaking actors".  

All in all, I didn't hate Dangerous Methods but I thought it was rather restrained for what it could've been. The unhappy ending amps things up a bit but at the same time, it also felt like a dangling loose end. The fates of everyone involved (the assistant, the assistant's father, the cuckoo thespian) seemed arbitrary at best. Dangerous Methods isn't quite "The Most Dangerous Game". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Memory 2022 * * * Stars

BEAR IN MIND

2022's Memory was put into theaters in April of this year. It represents that rare Liam Neeson release that's not in the doldrums of winter. If you're a Neeson fan (and I mostly am), then you won't mind anything that goes down in Memory. Heck, you'll "remember" it when it's over (har har).

Memory runs almost two hours and Neeson as usual, has a special set of skills (duh). His character also has early onset dementia (hence the title). In February's Blacklight, Liam had OCD. Hey, why not keep that status quo rolling.

So OK, Memory is coincidental and well, Guy Pearce co-stars in it (do you recall Memento? Too soon?). Memory also has Martin Campbell at the helm. Campbell likes things dark, ominous, loud, and visceral. Every bone crunch by Neeson and every heightened, bloodied shootout is courtesy of Mr. Campbell (I mean he did direct Edge of Darkness). 

Memory is the ultimate antihero flick and that includes not only Neeson but the law enforcement cohorts he comes into contact with. It doesn't matter whether it's the bad guys or a conscience-filled hitman or the FBI. Everybody dispatches somebody in Memory and they do it with almost a smidgen of comedic shock value. 

Distributed by Open Road Films and using police car insignia-s, fire truck insignia-s, and regular signage to let us know that it takes place in a certain city (we get it, El Paso, Texas is where things went down), Memory is about a professional assassin named Alex Lewis (Neeson). When Lewis refuses to do a job where he has to kill a teenager owned by human traffickers, he becomes a finish off target himself. 

Memory is no masterpiece but it has a little more lex talionis and coil going on than your typical Neeson action-er. It's a "reminder" that AARP Bryan Mills can still churn out this stuff well into his 70's. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Outfit 2022 * * * Stars

NICE LIVERY

Chicago and the Mob, it's like peas and carrots and bat and ball. That's the Windy City way (natch). The Outfit (my latest review) has two meanings obviously. One of "Outfit's" characters is a tailor (get it?) and its title derives from the Chicago Mafia (otherwise known as the Chicago Outfit). "You know exactly what it is that we do". Ah, so much for that good old Mob oath.

Coming off as a one location stage play masked as organized crime-d drama, The Outfit is 1950s "golden age" interspersed with some gentlemanly gunplay, some wound stitching, and a Mexican standoff or two. Yup, the clothing shop featured in The Outfit has a lot more going on in it than just focused cutting.

Brit Mark Rylance stars in "Outfit" as habituated lead Leonard Burling. Just like in his Oscar-winning turn via Bridge of Spies, Rylance's Leonard is the smartest guy in the room and the one thinking three steps ahead. As subtle as Mark comfortably is, this is nearly a master class in acting for him. His Leonard Burling appears as a non-threatening, sort of more harmless version of Keyser Soze. "And like that, he's gone". Indeed.

The Outfit is directed by rookie Graham Moore. He's a Chi-town native so you better recognize. Moore's film is darkly lit, it stays put (just one sound stage where almost no daylight seeps in), and the actors hit their marks as if they're performing at a packed playhouse in Upstate New York.

Harboring a decent sense of time and place despite limited locales, "Outfit" doesn't apologize for being a talky flick because it's otherwise enhanced with snarky dialogue and the occasional mild violence. Add a musical score straight out of a Brian De Palma pic and a few twists and you got an old-fashioned, old-world cinematic experience. "Outfitted".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Moonfall 2022 * 1/2 Stars

MOON "DOG"

How bad is 2022's Moonfall? Massively bad. Vastly bad. Moonfall is billed as a disaster flick. The disaster part I can understand.

Moonfall makes me not wanna trust its director anymore (that would be Roland Emmerich). Gone are his storytelling high points in regards to The Day After Tomorrow and/or Independence Day. Gone is his penchant for continuity and inserting eye candy images that aren't merely for show. Gone is his sense for providing actual entertainment for the sci-fi crowd. I mean why can't Moonfall just be about some astronauts trying to save Earth from the moon hurtling towards it on a collision course? Is that such a chore?

Moonfall suffers from a bloated running time of 130 minutes. The science fiction mumbo jumbo is off the charts, the subplots are aplenty, and the annoyance of British actor John Bradley rears its ugly head (is he Kevin Smith's jerk face twin?).

Moonfall is a special effects extravaganza with zero build-up and laissez-faire inconsistency. The destruction of Earth is so random, so without any subjugation. The moon must be in a bad mood and have a knack for being real naughty. There's no impetus as to why cities like NYC and LA are being turned into rubble. And what's up with the enormous amount of green screen being churned to the hilt? Obviousness should never be in the dictionary of an epic disaster monger like Emmerich. He's discernibly cutting corners even when his film is a half hour longer than it should be.

Moonfall stars Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, and Bradley (mentioned earlier). They appear in a movie that is so scatterbrained and so riffed with dartboard-ed, spaceflight ideals, the result is something that lacks any conch of suspense or amusement. Add an inconsistent musical score, an almost meaningless cameo by Donald Sutherland (was he bored?), and characters that are cliches of the disaster genre ("we gotta go now", ugh) and you got one of the worst offerings of this year. "Fall" out.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

TALENT AGENT

"It's grotesque, I'll give you $20,000 for it". That's such a Nic Cage moment in a movie about Nic Cage starring um, Nicolas Cage. Oh and there's a couple of scenes where Cage sees his Wild at Heart persona as a sort of kooky hallucination. Oh man, that hair.

Anyway, Nicolas Cage appears in 2022's The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a rather dry action/comedy in which Cage plays himself (apparently in the same exact way he plays all his other characters). Cage's performance is good because well, it's no stretch. There's the overacting, the crescendo yells, and the massive craziness. This "cage" as usual, has been opened up and let loose.

Self-parodies and self-deprecation-s begot, "Talent" gives the audience those cultural references that any Nic Cage fan could salivate over (like myself). There's that famous line, "why couldn't you put the bunny back in the box?" (from Con Air of course). Then there's that "not the bees!" quip from The Wicker Man. Finally, there's a clip from Guarding Tess that Nic watches solemnly from a TV set in a hotel room. You think taking in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent would be the ultimate Nic Cage experience but it doesn't quite reach that plateau. It's almost underwhelming espy if you put it next to his best flicks (Con Air mentioned earlier, The Cotton Club, Face/Off, Leaving Las Vegas).

Like I said in the second paragraph, "Talent" is billed as an action/comedy. Well there's not a whole lot of laughs and the action scenes aren't really that bracing (you'd think with the R rating there'd be a little more something something). If anything, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a gimmickry vehicle in the Cage canon, a possible out of the box attempt to jump-start Nicky boy's iffy career (he's made some questionable stuff in the last couple of decades). Would I recommend "Talent?" Probably not. Hey at least it wasn't "unbearable" after one showing.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Batman 2022 * * * Stars

"I'M THE BATMAN"

Why so serious? I say why not. 2022's The Batman is just that, serious. You want a Batman flick that makes 1989's version seem like a long-lost takeoff? You'll get that with The Batman. You want a Batman pic that makes all that Joel Schumacher stuff seem like cartoon schlock? Uh Prego, it's in there.

Even darker than those Nolan films from 2005-2012, The Batman is a PG-13 endeavor that pushes its "Parents Strongly Cautioned" tone to the brink. A little David Fincher here, a little Bruce Wayne as Rick Deckard there, a little song, a little noir dance. The Batman is a moxie crime thriller with a stupendous action finale and a substantially brooding, musical score. It's unlike any Batman vehicle you've ever seen or will ever see again.

Robert Pattinson stars in The Batman as you know, Bruce Wayne/Batman. He doesn't smile once and always looks like he lost his dog in a freak accident. I like that. Pattinson has immense screen presence and is a superhero who's all business. I'd rank him along Christian Bale and Micheal Keaton as the best Batman-s in the bunch.

The Batman cascades almost three hours with a couple of subplots and less set locations than the norm. Thankfully the runtime doesn't drag as much as you think. It's also nearly a small-scale Batman conch that's as dark in its grain as it is in its look. Albeit, the sun actually shines a couple of times. Otherwise you can almost taste the tasteless raindrops on your tongue. Steamy, smoky, and wet.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and directed with a steadily, copycat vision by Matt Reeves (I'll let it slide), The Batman has Riddler (Paul Dano being Paul Dano), Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz coming into her own), Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), and of course, Pattinson. Their characters inhabit Gotham City as if it's the chronic underbelly of totalitarian society. "Pow!" "boff!" kapow!" "whack!".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Choose or Die 2022 * * * Stars

CHOOSE FUNCTION

A young woman decides to play an 80s video game not knowing that said video game could result in someone getting killed. That's the gist of Choose or Die, a sort of fitting title for a movie about vehement, processing data manipulation. 

Released this month through way of the internet (makes sense), Choose or Die is relegated to the type of film I've seen before (Unfriended: Dark Web comes to mind). Here's the thing: Choose or Die although in the same model, doesn't adhere to all that Skype stuff. It feels less grainy and more straight-laced. I mean we don't always need something where everybody is constantly in Zoom meeting mode. 

Iola Evans plays computer wiz Kayla while Asa Butterfield plays her partner in crime, Issac. They are platonic friends who come together to try to investigate the evilness of a computer playdown capable of extracting someone's tongue (that happens early on, ugh). 

Choose or Die has some pretty creepy moments in the slight vein of anything via the Japanese horror franchise (Ju-On). It also feels neo-noir with some neon hues to boot. Rookie director Toby Meakins (he has only previously done shorts) fashions a fresh genre entry that seems to have been sledgehammered about five years ago. He dirties up the atmosphere and lets his actors inhabit a sort of banal, downtrodden existence. Added to that, there's also a cameo by legend Robert Englund only I don't think we ever see him. Hey at least we're still reminded of the Greed decade again ("It even has his name written in it, Fred Krueger mom"). 

Choose or Die ends in a way in which the old adage of film tells us we can interpret things any way we want. That's what makes this medium so darn fascinating. Does the female protagonist go to the dark side after taking control of the video game and its penchant for causing harm? Possibly. Is Choose or Die so far-fetched that it feels more like a hallucination instead of a veracious reality? Maybe. You as the viewer can "choose".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Sins in the Suburbs 2022 * * Stars

SINS OFFERING

"I'm your new neighbor". Uh-oh, sketch alert. A new neighbor who has already murdered and won't bat an eye as to doing it again. Oh and said neighbor is a hopeless romantic who loves his choke holds. Ugh. 

So yeah, 2022's Sins in the Suburbs is a TV Lifetime-r that seems to think a creepy, foreboding musical score, a blase suburbanite setting, and a patchy, flashback cut ending might give it some shine. Phooey. Those things a great film doesn't always make. "Sins" as Rear Window facade, could've been "deadlier seven" times over.

Sins in the Suburbs stars Brandon Santana as early-indication-psycho Tyler and Monique Sypkens as damsel Heather. Playing neighbors who happen to live across from each other and are somewhat attracted to each other, Santana and Sypkens have bad eye contact in their scenes. They seem to look at spots on the wall as they banter and that's not a plus in the acting department. Hey at least one of them is a struggling artist and the other is a photographer so their characters have that in common. 

Directed by Sam Fichtner who has done one other Lifetime endeavor (Framed by My Husband), "Sins" only baits you into thinking it's compelling when it's merely small-scale Lifetime riffraff. The lead antagonist is not menacing enough and the lead protagonist faces danger in such a nonchalant way. Heck, we don't know a lot about the bad guy (Santana) except that he moves from town to town, does heinous things with no design (like killing), and is an out of work photog. Tyler is like a poor man's version of the world's evilest drifter.

At a running time of a little over 90 minutes with adequate pacing (and ads), Sins in the Suburbs evaporates right after you see it. Thou "art" not rattled (har har). Just because you take a picture doesn't always mean it will last longer. Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Pursuit 2022 * Star

TRIVIAL PURSUIT

"First time?" Yup. I suppose there's a first time for everything. That includes seeing a film like 2022's Pursuit. I don't plan on viewing it ever again, especially since I didn't know simians were actually allowed in the editing room.  

So yeah, how does one write about something like Pursuit? I suppose I could try but it's not gonna be pretty. There's kidnapping scenes involved, bad cop-age, drug cartel stuff, and computer hacking but uh, where's the freaking story? And why wasn't the storyboard artist fired during production? Oh wait, that never happened.

Pursuit is a violent, torturous, and fiddly mess that's actually listed as mystery/adventure. Added to that, it's a 97-minute pic that includes more characters and plot devices than Cloud Atlas (I'm not kidding). Who really are the bad guys? How the heck do they straddle from point A to B? How can you possibly wrap things up? And why does supporting player Emile Hirsch talk like he's having a mild stroke? Misguided method acting I suppose. 

Pursuit is directed by veteran Brian Skiba. His flick has little continuity as he films prating scenes undercut with badly choreographed shootouts and faux foot chases (Swayze and Reeves did it better). You wanna see everything in slo-mo with bullets taking far too long to reach their targets? You'll get it here. You want automatic weapons that are supposed to fire at an alarming rate but have a different trigger modem altogether? Prego. Finally, do you want another clip where a douchey antagonist walks away from a huge, in the distance explosion? I didn't think so. Been there, seen that. 

In jest, Pursuit is not really a movie it's an experience (and a disgraceful one I might add). Long-time actors John Cusack, Andrew Stevens, and William Katt co-star but I suppose they didn't know what they signed up for (maybe monetary). "Cold pursuit". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Naked Singularity 2021 * * Stars

THE NAKED TRUTH

"My client pleads not guilty". So says the lawyer who later holds a samurai sword like he's FN-2187 with a lightsaber. I'll get to that later. 

Anyway 2021's Naked Singularity is directed by rookie Chase Palmer. Rookie mistake. Chase loves his out of place musical score, his penchant for butchering the cinematic form, and his close-ups in spades. As for the title, well I suppose it sounds cool but it has nothing to do with the crux of the movie. Taking place in NYC, "Naked" gives us the best performance of Brit John Boyega. Considering that I don't think he's much of an actor, that's not saying a whole lot. 

Naked Singularity has a decent cast with Boyega, Bill Skarsgard, and Tim Blake Nelson being the standouts. Their scenes between each other crackle with John Boyega's character being the one that needs the tough love pep talks. After all, he's the ransacked counsel who's otherwise yielding. 

Holding one's hand aside, Naked Singularity is about a public defender (Boyega as Casi) who decides to change sides from attorney to drug deal raider in order to supplement his weak income. "Naked" is part comedy, part court drama, part SVU conch, and part neo-noir constituent. What a freaking mess. It probably needed a script supervisor, an editor, and a storyboard artist to replace those that were already on the job.

But hey, it could be worse (could it?). "Naked's" Big Apple look is palatable and the acting is tolerable considering that everyone fades in and out like darkness and light. But why does Naked Singularity have plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon? And why does "Naked" strive but fail to be the film The Lincoln Lawyer already was? That question wasn't asked and answered when the end credits rolled. "Singular" unipolar. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, April 11, 2022

Hideout 2021 * * Stars

HIDE-AWAY

Hideout as a sort of goth thriller turned splatter fest, is my latest review. Its cast consists of mostly unknowns who could've easily been plucked by the CW Network (or the now defunct WB). Only supporting player Audrey Kovar has veritable acting chops here. Everyone else is acting badly or well, overacting. I mean I never thought I'd see the second coming of Jack Torrance's rude stepchild (Kyle Torrance, ha). 

Anyway, Hideout is the debut feature of one Kris Roselli (he's done mostly shorts). Roselli loves his close-ups, his weird camera angles, and his yearn for the OTT. Watching Hideout, I realized I'd seen the same swipe about three months ago. Oh yeah that was 2021's A House on the Bayou (sigh).

With Hideout, Kris Roselli borrows from the best (or some of the best). A little Jordan Peele here, a little Sam Raimi there, and some of The Shining just for kicks. Roselli is obviously a fan but gee, couldn't he have had a voice of his own?

Hideout does have a few creepy moments however. It just takes a while (at 114 minutes) to get to where it's actually going. The characters (and they are quite the characters) are wishy-washy, high-strung, and well, miserably unlikable. You want them to GET OUT of the house like Father Delaney but they don't seem to want to do so. I guess that'd have to be the case otherwise there'd be no movie to stand on. 

With a musical score that's equal parts foreboding/scattershot and special, gruesome effects that are um, "special" (that's not a compliment), Hideout is about four criminals who end up "hiding out" at a house inhabited by I guess, satanic cultists with black eyes (uh-oh, more voodoo that you do). It's low budget, it's B-movie, it's camp. Hideout sadly "dries out". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 9, 2022

The Bubble 2022 * 1/2 Stars

ON THE BUBBLE

"At least we tried to make a movie". Tried and failed. That's a roast. 

Anyway, 2022's The Bubble is probably one of the most misguided films I've ever seen. And it's also a career low for director Judd Apatow. Apatow's movies are normally thirty minutes too long, they have too much improvised dialogue, and the editing in Judd's work is usually a mess. "Bubble" represents the worst of those Apatow attributes. Added to that, Apatow thinks we the audience want to watch a COVID-19-type movie when we're already still living through it. Bad judgement call Judd. Just bad.

The Bubble is in jest, a satire or a spoof or Apatow's piggybacking on last year's Don't Look Up. Either you cut it, the flick is a turkey with the mushiest dressing. The cast is well known with people like Leslie Mann, David Duchovny, Kate McKinnon, John Cena, and John Lithgow attached. Most of their characters are people you learn to hate throughout. Only Duchovny as hard working actor Dustin Mulray practices any fruitful art of self-effacing (and that's a good thing). 

Apatow's "Bubble" feels like it's four hours long. After the first hour, you can't believe you've got another one left. The whole film is about a bunch of actors and actresses stuck inside a Pandemic bubbled hotel in hopes of completing the fictional pic, Cliff Beasts 6 (yes there were five others before it). 

The Bubble as Alan Smithee schlock, is basically a bunch of scenes where the "Hollyweird" bicker, fight, get under each other's skin, and sarcastically deface the shooting process. It's all so darn flippant and yup, none of it is funny, witty, or narrative coherent. Netflix may rule the earth in terms of erecting the already abundant, streaming empire. With The Bubble, their good luck might have finally "burst".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Adam Project 2022 * * * Stars

FROM ADAM

"Time travel exists". Yeah and so does The Adam Project, a 2022 release. You want a sci-fi pic with dry humor and spit-fire dialogue intertwined with exhilarating action payoffs? Look no further cause "Adam Project" projects that. 

The Adam Project is the epitome of a PG-13 movie for the mature kid in all of us. It was more violent than I thought so as they say, "Parents Strongly Cautioned". The film feels Spielbergian in spots, J.J. Abrams in others. Add the middle child of Back to the Future and Star Wars and "Adam Project" while dated, still manages to be fun and whizzing.

Not a huge Ryan Reynolds fan, I almost changed my mind here. He's the lead and "Adam Project" might be the perfect vehicle to cater to Ryan's fast-talking style of delivering his lines. Reynolds probably saw the script, knew he'd be kicking some serious arse, and decidedly said to himself, "let's let er rip".

"Adam Project" is a time traveling movie and those kinds of things make me think in spades. One little quip or run-in with yourself or others, could ultimately alter time ahead. I used to think movement through portals of space would be awesome with all kinds of possibilities. Now the whole concept makes me take heed. Slippery slippery slope.

Distributed by Netflix with a strong cast and action set pieces that put you right in the character's grills, The Adam Project chronicles one Adam Reed (Reynolds). Reed is a time pilot and quite the swashbuckler. While trying to get to 2018, Reed lands in 2022 from 2050. There he meets his 12-year-old self and they team up to try and save the future. 

Director Shawn Levy (Free Guy, Date Night) wants to bring back those fuzzy matinee thrills. He edits in cuts as to give The Adam Project a mixture of time travel argot dispersed with all things rock 'em, sock 'em. He's also a good storyteller who's not afraid to occasionally throw up that cinematic, "Project" Hail Mary. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Collection 2021 * * * Stars

DEBT SERVICE

"You close every time". No I'm not talking about stock brokers, I'm talking about debt collectors. You know those cretins on the landline looking to take ya. 

Anyway, 2021's Collection is just what it says it is. It's the ultimate debt collector movie or Boiler Room for payment pursuers. Filmed in Alabama of all places, Collection is the type of flick where almost everybody is desperate, swine-y, and foaming. Uh, you can feel it.

Collection starts off like something Paul Schrader would have directed right after he made The Card Counter (even though he didn't direct it). The grain here is self-destructive, calculated, and frosty. The characters that Collection puts in a confined space, are non-heroes, maybe anti-heroes, and lost souls.

Collection stars Alex Pettyfer (Brandon) and Mike Vogel (Ross). Pettyfer's Brandon is a dude that does bad things but somehow has a conscience. Vogel's Ross is a dude that does bad things and well, that's that. He's got "f u" written all over him. Pettyfer and Vogel are quite good as two buds who run a debt collection agency that isn't exactly admissible. Their scenes (with them or with other people) crackle. Their performances while long overdue, are rather nerve-ending (har har).

Minus a sort of murky romance between Brandon and a woman his cohorts are collecting millions from (where's the full courtship?), Collection intrigued me and that's what I'm looking for. Minus some glossed over plot details about Ross and Brandon's outer circle of outliers (that poor protege named Sean), Collection again intrigued me and that's what I'm looking for. 

Collection is a cold, nasty drama thriller that's compact (and possibly too compact but whatever). It gives the middle finger to anyone who's on the other end of that TELE (and I mean literally). With Collection, I dug the retro music soundtrack, the pace that's equal parts glacial and prompt, and the flashforward clip that's used to decent effect. "Collect called". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 1, 2022

No Exit 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars

EXIT ROUTE

"Honestly what are we doing here?" Last time I checked the flick No Exit was on Hulu. No Exit can be classified as horror but it's more psychological horror than just plain old blood and guts. Early on it's sorta like a whodunit started with a card game named well, I won't say (insert dirty word here ___ ).

No Exit is relentless, I mean it goes on and on (I'm not saying that's a bad thing). Getting off to a harrowing start, "Exit" begins with the lead (Havana Rose Liu as Darby) escaping a rehab clinic to go see her mom who is possibly dying of a brain aneurysm. On the way, Darby gets stranded due to a blizzard and tries to rescue a young girl being tied up in a van. 

Rose's acting here is raw and reactor-y. I mean it's in the eyes, the hand movements, and the facial quips. She anchors a film with a main cast of about 6 six people. Remember The Hateful Eight (I did but without great enthusiasm)? Well "Exit" is a modern day version of The Hateful Eight except that it justifies its shorter running time and come on, it's just better.   

Rose's Darby is not exactly the most put together person (she's a snippy recovering addict) but when it comes to saving someone's life, she's all heart and knows how to really snap to it. Call her the antihero who steals a car like a champ and can readily stay alive (at least till the very end which is a little murky). 

No Exit provides layers of tension that exhaust you (you'll forgive the overindulgence). "Exit's" director (Damien Power) is a second-timer to watch. Tarantino and Drew Goddard laid the groundwork for neo-noir-s with strangers stuck on the lam. Power "powers" it through with No Exit

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

GONE GIRL

Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez is a 2022 release. It's true to its long title or at least it is most of the way. Fred Savage played an evil dude in No One Would Tell. Now with "Shed", it's his brother's turn.

So yeah, "Shed" while Forensic Files tested, ends on a Lifetime lite note (that's because it is Lifetime). I mean closing titles shouldn't explain the outcome of the antagonist without showing him at least getting arrested or surrounded. It just feels like a pretense.

Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez is not as disturbing as last year's Girl in the Basement but it will do. "Shed" is based on a true story but why do the end credits say that it is a work of fiction? Huh? What?

The director of "Shed" is also an actress in Jessica Harmon. Her film is disturbing but what's up with the main villain (Ben Savage as Nathan Kibby). Savage does a decent job but is there just in his character's motive? I mean is Nathan a conspiracy theorist? Yup. Is he whacked out of his mind? Uh yeah. Is there a true reason for him holding a girl against her will for months? Not really. The audience is invested but that's just baseline for millions of Lifetime-rs looking to get led up the garden path.

Filmed in British Columbia because it's probably cheaper (I looked it up), Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez is about a 14-year-old teen who gets seized and temporarily held in a soundproof abode via the backyard. There she must try to stay alive because the whole free world is out looking for her.

A little Stockholm Syndrome here and a little psychotic manipulation there. "Shed" may not push the envelope like some abduction thrillers but at least it features enough isolated moments to suffice (tasers and tracking collars oh my). "Shed" a tear.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Lost City 2022 * * * Stars

ALL IS NOT LOST

2022's The Lost City is just plain fun. Escapists and popcorn munchers are welcome. It's one of those action-adventure vehicles where the protagonists supply the sarcastic quips in the face of swashbuckling danger. "Jungles eat people like us". Need I say more.

Directed with jungly cinematography by those Nee brothers (Aaron and Adam), "City" is like the goofy cousin of a certain '84 Robert Zemeckis flick and any Indiana Jones endeavor. It's a riff but a good riff that's not to be taken as serious. There's supposed hidden treasure, chases, snakes featured, and for added effect, leeches too.

The Lost City stars Sandra Bullock as a novelist who gets kidnapped when one of her stories reveals the location of fortune in an ancient burgh (sound familiar?). The role of writer Loretta Sage is perfect for a bumbling, physical comic like Bullock. It's like her agent said, "oh yeah, this is a no-brainer".

"City" also has Brad Pitt in it as a Navy Seal (Jack Trainer) sent to rescue Sage from the already rich baddies. When he exits, well it's almost a buzzkill. Piggybacking on his intimidating persona via Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt just reminds us again that he's a legend. His bone-crunching action sequences in "City" give the film a shot in the arm that doesn't quite sustain for the rest of the running time (1 hour-plus). Sure "City" is motion full tilt but finishes with less cowbell. 

In thinking back, "City's" look could almost pass as boost animation. The dialogue is improvised, the characters are dispassionate (yet funny), and because of the breezy tone (intertwined with PG-13 violence), The Lost City is a true to type, moviegoer's movie. It's basically one of the reasons we hit the cineplex on a Friday at 7-ish. Call it "Advancing" the Stone.  

Written by Jesse Burleson