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Friday, January 28, 2022

The Perfect Pairing 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


TV movie vet Don McBrearty directs 2022's The Perfect Pairing. And yeah, he dabbles in Christmas, mystery, and Valentine's Day stuff too. With "Pairing", McBrearty fashions a film that mixes the wintry LMN with the postcard-ed Hallmark Channel (of which it is a product of Hallmark). "Baby It's Cold Outside". Indeed.

The Perfect Pairing is like watching a holiday flick that's well, set in the second month between autumn and spring. Hey, the silly season may be over but you can still feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Every snowy frame is makeshift as Ontario, Canada masquerades beautifully for Upstate New York. "Pairing", well it wants you to kick those post-festivity blues right out the window with a little vino. 

The Perfect Pairing is a little schmaltzy, a tad cutesy, and about as predictable as Sunday brunch. But wait, all is not lost. You have the hooks of wineries and amnesia to give Hallmark some veritable heft. Oh and the two leads are amicably appealing (Eva Longoria lookalike Nazneen Contractor and Marlboro Man Brennan Elliott). 

"Pairing" follows the blueprint of Hallmark and Lifetime as if it were laid out on a floor plan. Girl meets guy. Wait, let me back up. Girl is a critic writer in the big city and her job makes her a little chilly (har har). Girl ventures out of the big city and gets stuck in a small town. Girl now meets guy. Guy is a good-looking dude who's a single dad. Girl finds her true self and falls in love with guy. Girl tries to save wine guy's business while ditching her old occupation. Finally, there's that smooch at the end (and I mean at the very end). All is right in the world again.

The Perfect Pairing is far from "perfect". I mean its running time is 82 minutes of fluff with its characters rambling on as if they need a self-help group or a life coach to latch onto. Still, "Pairing" is something to watch in the doldrums of January (for me NFL football is another option). Just think 2004's Sideways but with less technical plonk talk and G-rated remnants. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Deadly Ex Next Door 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"You don't trust me why should I trust you". Well aren't we a bit prickly. That quote and others like it seem to be the entire screenplay mindset of Deadly Ex Next Door. "Deadly Ex" is not a movie mind you it's a darn soap opera, or maybe a reality show that you could use some more Xanax on set. 

But wait, the acting is much better than in that daytime stuff. The cast of Deadly Ex Next Door really pour their heart out. I mean you wanna see people emote in a Lifetime thriller. And yup, you want trash with a little stash. 

Deadly Ex Next Door contains a cop persona that's straight out of an M. Night Shyamalan flick. The film also stars unknowns in the form of Tianna Nori, Jack Grinhaus, and Jean Paul Najm. Their yuppie characters are wishy-washy, chemically imbalanced, and well, downright bipolar. Tonally their scenes are all over the place. One moment someone could snap and have a hissy. One moment someone without tact could really tick the other person off. One moment someone could have the urge to use a blunt object on someone else. Why so serious?

"Deadly Ex" is about a couple who purchase a house on the lake. Six weeks later their neighbors move in and happen to be the woman's ex-fiance and his drama queen bride. Chaos ensues because these four lovebirds awkwardly can't get along (can you blame them cause the director obviously doesn't). 

On the storyline front, Deadly Ex Next Door has enough red herrings, exhaust, and twists to make Malcolm Crowe think he's not dead (har har). I mean only LMN could divvy out a diegesis that's this coincidental and fortuitous. And only Lifetime could produce such forced manipulation from such a sparse set location (I'm thinking the Pacific Northwest with intermittent aerial shots). This "ex-factor" is fair but a mixed one. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Surprise Visit 2022 * * * Stars


Idaho native Nick Lyon directs 2022's The Surprise Visit. A veteran of roughly 30 directorial credits, Lyon has done mostly shorts and TV movies. With "Visit", he gives the backwoods of Virginia, remote cabins, and dwelling mansions their swallowing due. His film is conventional until it turns dark as night. 

The Surprise Visit answers the question of what if Bennett Miller's cinematographer helm-ed a home invasion thriller that on the surface, feels like every other home invasion thriller in print. Look closer though because there are mitigating circumstances involved. 

The couple personas being invaded, don't actually live in the home because their rich mom lives there and she's out of town. Said couple is basically at the wrong place at the wrong time (ugh). The bad guy doing the invading is actually the dude whose father is the gardener of the house being broken into. Finally, the bad guy's girly pal is pregnant with his child so they need to get some moolah and hightail it to Mexico. Uh, did you get all that?

"Visit" reminded me of stuff like A Simple Plan, Breaking In, and Funny Games. It's not too bloody or too R rated but people sure do get hit over the head a lot. "No witnesses" seems to be a possible tagline and definite quote for the flick's 86-minute running time. When "Visit" ends in an upsetting and twisted manner, you'll probably get that whole "no witnesses" vibe in spades. It's all in the viewer interpretation (I mean isn't that usually the case?). 

The Surprise Visit stars Rob Riordan, Eric Roberts, and Serah Henesey. They give raw, disciplined performances in a movie designed to promote "bad things happening to good people". "Visit" is nasty and initially compact as it deals with themes of desperation, resentment, and despondency. It's not flashy, extravagant, or snuffed but it gets the job done. The fact that it's based on a true story won't matter whether you want to see it or not. Courtesy "visit". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 21, 2022

The Wrong Blind Date 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"Looks like you picked the wrong blind date". Ah, there's goes Vivica A. Fox again. She's Lifetime's side character muse and last scene heroine. She can't wait to say LMN's all-time favorite Mad Lib. Insert title of movie in blank. 

So yeah, The Wrong Blind Date is my second Lifetime review of this year. "Wrong" Lifetime flicks, well they seem more assembly-lined than the automobiles at General Motors. Usually it's the man that turns out to be the creep (and he's a creep within 10 minutes of running time). He may be a handsome dude but whatever. He's more crooked and side-swiped than Lombard Street.  

"Blind Date" stars Meredith Thomas as the de facto damsel in distress. You wanna like her in the lead but I don't know, she's a little spasmatic and altogether irksome. Equally irksome are her friends who try to begrudgingly coax her into the dating pool. Internet dating for a mature babe like Thomas? Well I guess that's a plot device that had to exist. Otherwise The Wrong Blind Date wouldn't exist. 

Anyway, The Wrong Blind Date is a small improvement from schlock-meister and "Wrong" Lifetime-r director David DeCoteau (it was hard for me to admit that). Davy turns the psychological screws a little bit better this time. Yeah his pics lack emotion and don't really have that damnable conflict or struggle. Still, DeCoteau moves the story along nicely and that's despite no man/woman courting process, personas that have labels on them (the bad guy, the astute daughter, the smothering girl pal), and obligatory Lifetime aerial shots (hello LA). 

The Wrong Blind Date kinda evaporates right after you see it. But at least you're not "blind" to what it's trying to accomplish. Guy meets girl. Guy hacks into girl's life with girl being oblivious to what's going on. Girl's daughter plays detective and has to do some digging into guy's past. Daughter's boyfriend is in the wrong place at the wrong time and should've never been involved. Vivica comes in to save the day with a hammer and sass (Go Fox! Go!). Oh Lifetime, you slay me! You really do. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 17, 2022

Amityville Uprising 2022 * * Stars


"Let's move". Roger that. People say it a lot in the pic I'm about to review. When zombies are around you might as well do just that, move. Zombies, acid rain, and a character named Childs. That's a nod to 1982's The Thing. I picked up on it.  

So yeah, 2022's Amityville Uprising is listed as part of The Amityville Horror franchise. Guess what, it has absolutely nothing to do with haunting-s or the Ronald DeFeo Jr. murders or whatever. "Uprising" is more like Assault on Precinct 13 with the walking dead forcefully attached. Zombies have been in other movies forever and along with the gore displayed in "Uprising", they've also been known to snap to it like banshees. 

Amityville Uprising stars unknown actors who are almost primed to make this film an SNL parody. If "Uprising" didn't have the Amityville tag or had better production values or a cast that weren't D-lister-s, it might've sparked my interest a little more. One moment "Uprising" christens itself as a passable, low budgeted indie. Other times it looks as though it was made as a student film by some arts and crafts people (ugh). 

Anywho, "Uprising" is unevenly shot, cut feverishly, and edited in a show-off manner. The special effects and first half of Amityville Uprising are bad I mean Holocaust bad. The zombies show up 45 minutes in and add at least a little street cred. I mean who wouldn't want to see a swooping corpse do the "spider walk" in the styling-s of The Exorcist. I'm up for anything. 

Clocking in at 85 minutes and featuring an annoying female character who constantly gives everybody crap for not being able to pay for a standard ticket, "Uprising" is part unintentional comedy, part cop buffoonery, and part B-movie horror swipe. It ends abruptly and unhappily, not knowing what it wants to be or what it really wants to say. Hey, at least the witchcraft-ed energy is still there. I got a mixed "rise" out of it. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 14, 2022

Killer Stepmom 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


Break out the marshmallows and call on Father Robinson. 2022's Killer Stepmom is so campy, offhand, and off the reservation, it threatens to become a listicle. "Stepmom" is akin to a lot of other Lifetime flicks that deal with the evil that stepparents do. But its ending is a little more satisfying considering that most of the adversaries in LMN's hitherto get away scot-free. In the words of F. Murray Abraham, "ain't life a mother". 

Killer Stepmom is a typical Lifetime-r that clocks in at 90 minutes (with ads you can fast-forward through). The acting is middling to decent with antagonist Susanna (played by Jillian Murray) looking as though she could pass as a high school-er (even though she's actually 37-years-old). Susanna is a homicidal progenitor that defines the term, "a twinkie in the city". Her and the daughter she's terrorizing could be sisters or well, freaking besties (no joke).

So for what it's worth, Killer Stepmom is entertaining enough to please any Lifetime movie fundi (like myself). Its tingling musical score by David Bateman makes "Stepmom" an even more keyed up piece of riffraff than it actually is.

Playing like a gender-reversed version of Domestic Disturbance (with Johnny Travolta and Vince Vaughn), "Stepmom" is about a teenager who witnesses her stepmom murder someone with a crowbar and cement (ugh). The problem is nobody believes her and that includes her dad (the most oblivious dad character ever), the po-po, and initially her mom. Oh and Susanna is pregnant with daddy-o's child. Does this all sound familiar? Well it should if you saw Domestic Disturbance (which I have many times). 

Killer Stepmom was released in January and directed by a Lifetime three-timer (Richard Switzer). "Stepmom's" plot is layered as the stepmom in question is a little more than just a psycho on the lam (Susanna launders money, puts people in the slammer, and is also a mysteriously trained pharmacist). It won't "kill" you to at least give Killer Stepmom one viewing. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Queenpins 2021 * * * Stars


In 2021's Queenpins, Vince Vaughn sort of reinvents himself as a comedic actor. You eliminate "The" from the title of his past flicks while having him sort of underplay his role and it's refreshing. Vaughn channels an overly serious postal inspector and well, he's a subdued hoot.

Queenpins is a streaming comedy, a farcical tale by which crime doesn't pay (or does it?). It's a lot of fun and why wouldn't it be. I mean the film derides illegal couponing. Two regular, female Joe-s (Kristen Bell as Connie, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as JoJo) create a million dollar coupon scam from their Phoenix, Arizona homes. They live large, live high on the hog, and become well, "gangster". The role of Connie is kinda perfect for a gal like Kristen Bell. You see her in commercials and other movies and she's always real kooky/happy. 

Queenpins doesn't take itself seriously because again, it's about couponing (duh). Two directors helm it and they move the proceedings along at a feisty, tasty clip. I always love vehicles where people try to illegally pursue the American dream. You don't want them to get caught but at the same time, you also kinda do. Queenpins is a little tongue-in-cheek, a lotta girl power, a little crackpot, and sprinkled with the driest of humor. What could've easily been $5 bin disposable just gets better as it barrels along. 

Oh and did I mention Paul Walter Hauser? Well he's in Queenpins too. He plays a loss prevention inspector (Ken Miller) who helps Vaughn's Simon Kilmurry try to nab Connie and JoJo. Just like in Richard Jewell, Hauser inhabits the dim bulb persona to perfection. Ken has a poop schedule (7:30 AM by alarm), an overzealous way of interrogating suspects, and that cheesy mustache. Like Bell, he's in cinematic, comfortable shoe territory. 

Queenpins might be the only flick ever made about discounted vouchers and the stuff that propels the TLC-driven reality. It "goes in style" from the female perspective. I'll take the "discount". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Nightshade 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"I want you to know that I love you very much". Uh-oh. Someone's housewife has gone a little cray cray in the City of Angels. She's the antagonist in a cop thriller a la the "voodoo that you do". 

So yeah, Nightshade is said cop thriller and my first write-up for 2022. Call it police procedural dread that's two years removed from Body Cam

Nightshade stars Lou Ferrigno Jr. and well, he's the son of Lou Ferrigno. Lou Ferrigno Jr. is not a bad actor but he seems miscast as a sleuth-hound with disturbing nightmare issues. He appears more like a model for Men's Health Magazine. Hey at least Ferrigno Jr. emotes more than his dad ever did (the occasional hulking out and green makeup don't really count as emoting). 

Anyhow, Nightshade is an 80s stoner pretense coveted by a director who has seen one too many movies by other directors (David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola, David Fincher, Alex Cox). With Nightshade, Landon Williams styles it up for the masses. Employed by the lens he uses and the ominous music by Benjamin Burney, Landon's film is acid trip noir while featuring enough Apocalypse Now fan shots to form a drinking game.

Dark and saturated while harboring a nanosecond cameo by Jason Patric and supporting work from Dina Meyer (she just gets sexier with age), Nightshade is about a detective (Ben Hays) whose trippy dreams and psychic leavings help him try to nab a brutal killer. 

Look for a twist you don't quite see coming and plenty of fuzz cliches (the frazzled partner battling demons, the angry captain, the token, odd buddy cop couple). In truth, Nightshade's outcome doesn't bode well and that might be its strongest asset (talk about a Karma Houdini). It is not the first great flick of 2022 but it is the first flick of 2022. Call it a "night". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Survivalist 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


The Survivalist came out in 2021 but it represents my first write-up of the new year. "Survivalist" is post-apocalyptic, gimcrack-ed, and well, it almost gets by on one shooting location (a dank farmhouse in what looks like the Midwest).

Anyhow, The Survivalist tops out at barely 90 minutes (with credits). With maybe someone like Liam Neeson in the lead, or better production values, or a stronger cast, it might've been something more. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Malkovich star but with mixed results. Meyers painfully overacts and Malkovich, well it feels like he's playing himself. 

So yeah, "Survivalist" is a film that piggybacks on the pandemic. Howbeit, it tells its story from a more down and dirty point of view. In the real world, toilet paper, ketchup, and coins were the shortages circa 2020. In the world of The Survivalist, bullets, guns, and venison are the things that need rationing. 

The Survivalist was filmed during COVID and released in October of last year. It contains annoying father and son flashbacks, pedestrian low budget shootouts (where's the blood?), and a hack, end of the world script. 

Now does "Survivalist" have some tense moments in fits and starts? Yup. Otherwise I would've panned it completely. And does "Survivalist" lay out a decent blueprint for a merited standoff flick? Sure it does. I just think it's strange that five antagonists can't take out one dude with limited ammo and two gunshots in him (I'm guessing they were in the arm and leg). 

Shot with cinematography that feels like one hue (I'm thinking beige) and containing acting by the supporting players that supplements the almighty B-movie, "Survivalist" is about a former Fed who tries to protect an immune women from a gang of ruffians (who want to use her and her breeding to save the planet). In truth, I didn't dislike The Survivalist. I just think it might be all too brief and too small-scale to be "extant". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Don't Look Up 2021 * * Stars


2021's Don't Look Up is so Adam McKay. I mean he's that director. He's the guy that makes you nervously wink wink at the corporate, the political, and the world in general. Now is McKay's Don't Look Up the wrong movie for these trying times? You bet. It's like reliving COVID all over again but with asteroids. And is Don't Look Up another reason for me to dislike the hunch of social media (which I already do)? Uh yeah.

Don't Look Up is for my taste, a black comedy. And it's probably the blackest one I can think of. It's like watching Armageddon but with less laughs and only the intermittence of special effects (which are actually done decently). The cast for Don't Look Up is vast and known (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance). The problem is that they come off as a little annoying, a little miscast, and just plain irksome. 

Speaking of irksome, all I gotta say is what's up with Adam McKay? His vision for Don't Look Up is well, a downer. He wants us the audience, to think that most humans are bad eggs and all we do when the Earth is about to implode is to act like smarmy smart alecks. He also wants to remind the public that death and destruction are just a Twitter post away. In real-life I know that's not how this would go down. If a comet was about to strike our fragile planet, I'm pretty sure we'd all be scared-straight. 

Don't Look Up is about two astronomers (DiCaprio as Randall Mindy and J-Law as Kate Dibiasky) who try to warn the public about a rock the size of Mt. Everest set to destroy Earth. That mysterious premise lasts about 30 minutes before Don't Look Up barrels on for another 2 hours. 

The outcome as opposed to Deep Impact and Armageddon (mentioned earlier) is not good. 99.9% of the world's population dies and you wonder, what's the point? All Adam McKay does is project satire for satire's sake. He's like a cinematic style monger who doesn't care if you accede to. Unlike the germane Vice and The Big Short, he "looks" the other way. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Top Ten Movie Picks of 2021

1. Tina * * * * Stars

-Tina is an exhilarating foray into a singer that screams like a boss and zigzags like an energizer bunny on pure stimulation.

2. Girl in the Basement * * * 1/2 Stars

-Girl in the Basement is like 2015's Room bucked up about ten notches. And if you're easily upset and/or wholly traumatized, you might wanna stay clear of "Basement's" tormented, 88-minute running time.

3. The Guilty * * * 1/2 Stars

-"Guilty" is one of this year's best. A lot of people contribute but it's a bruising character study for actor Jake Gyllenhaal, a one-man show if you will. As 911 operator Joe Baylor, Gyllenhaal lets us feel his nerve endings with every close-up by director Antoine Fuqua. Abraded tour de force, well that's an understatement. 

4. Crisis * * * 1/2 Stars

-Crisis is like a re-update of stuff akin to Traffic and 2005's Crash. And although it has a more direct-to-video feel than those two films, its tight editing, inching revelations, and dejected outcomes still demand your attention as a viewer.

5. Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James * * * 1/2 Stars

-Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James provides the audience with genuine, off the cuff interviews and grainy nostalgic archive footage. At 111 minutes, you get a chronological snapshot of James from his birth in Buffalo, NY till his ultimate demise via LA's Toluca Hills apartments.

6. The Birthday Cake * * * 1/2 Stars

-The Birthday Cake is the type of violent crime drama that gets under your skin and seeps into your bloodstream. For a little over an hour and a half, I had my "cake" and ate it too. 

7. Ghostbusters: Afterlife * * * 1/2 Stars

-"Afterlife" is a re-bunked sequel done with perspicacity. Gone is the thought of that unnecessary mishap that Melissa McCarthy gave us in 2016. Gone is the staunch overuse of slime a la 1989's Ghostbusters II. Added is a sense of nostalgia and a smack of fuzzy recollection.

8. The Card Counter * * * 1/2 Stars

-Accompanied by Robert Levon Been's anesthetized musical score and cinematography that puts the racked extravagance of a casino right in your backyard, The Card Counter gives Paul Schrader the gumption to provide more layers than your average wagered vehicle. You just knew the "odds" would be good. 

9. The Power of the Dog * * * Stars

-"Dog" is a pure, intimidatingly slighted Western piece. And its breadth and width need to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

10. Dune * * * Stars

-2021's Dune is pretty uncompromising. I mean why wouldn't it be. This 155-minute flick is very epic in scope. It's sometimes Kubrick-an and almost every wide-angle frame is like a portrait. 

Honorable Mention: Land, 13 Minutes, Voyagers, King Richard, The Marksman, American Dream

And the worst...

1. Habit * Star

-Habit is like a Gen X movie made with millennial-s (if that makes any sense). It's also over-stylized, over-directed, bible-thumped, full of itself, and pretty kitschy. It's as if rookie director Janell Shirtcliff dares you to hate it. Yeah I'm not joking here.

2. An Organized Killer * Star

-I never "want" to see 2021's An Organized Killer ever again. I'm dead serious. It's like a bad episode of The O.C. It's wine and cheese la-di-da. It's a potboiler gone to "pot". It's trashy soap opera incarnate. I hated it.

3. Survive the Game * 1/2 Stars

-"Game" has virtually no plot or no plot that is fully spelled out (look ma). And yup, co-star Bruce Willis is back in the saddle again, barely moving, collecting his million dollar paycheck, and begrudgingly getting out his lines (was there an earpiece involved? Maybe). 

4. Old * 1/2 Stars

-With Old, Shyamalan forgets his craft as he comes off like a dude that never helmed a flick before. The camerawork is the main culprit as M. Night shoots with sloppy angles and well, unnecessary whips and pans. 

5. Cosmic Sin * 1/2 Stars

-Cosmic Sin is poorly lit in a soft bulb sort of way. It also has action scenes that are choppily edited, actresses you feel sorry for (I'm talking about you Perrey Reeves), and a script that contains enough sci-fi mumbo jumbo to denounce any normal ritual. 

List compiled by Jesse Burleson