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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

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


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


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

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Uncharted 2022 * * * Stars


Ruben Fleischer directs 2022's Uncharted. He's a dude whose movies fly along at a lightning clip. Uncharted like many adventure flicks since the inception of adventure flicks, whisks you from one set piece to the next. It's arduous stuff so be careful as to how fast you chew your popcorn. 

Inspired by a video game, Uncharted amused me and lightened my cinematic load. I mean it begs the question of how many times characters act tongue-in-cheek in the midst of possibly getting killed (there's tons of quips and cracks from the leads). Thankfully the film is PG-13 so not much of said killing actually happens (unless you're Antonio Banderas, ugh). 

Uncharted stars Tom Holland, Banderas, and Mark Wahlberg. Coming out about two months after Spider-Man: No Way Home, Uncharted is obviously a ploy to capitalize on the inauguration of Holland as a movie star (and that's what he is, a star). As for Wahlberg, well he plays a fortune hunter named Victor Sullivan. Wahlberg just loves to channel the buddy buddy role. He may be miscast but this casting for him is just pleasing enough. 

So yeah, if you haven't yet seen a James Bond flick or The Goonies or Indiana Jones stuff or National Treasure, then Uncharted will provide a fix palatable to those hallmarked escapades. If you have seen the pics just mentioned, then Uncharted will feel a little more underwhelming but still a lot of fun (and we all know Holland coming off like a professional tag participant, is the quintessential king of fun). 

Uncharted is about a treasure pursuer (Victor Sullivan) who recruits Nathan Drake (Holland) in hopes of recovering a stash of gold left by the late Ferdinand Magellan (if you're in the lurch, he's the guy that sailed around the world). 

Fleischer shoots Uncharted panoramically (and three-dimensionally), with well-choreographed action sequences that are virtually bloodless and saucy locales like Spain and the Philippines. The look of Uncharted is elaborate and bright, like a postcard sent from the boroughs of Disneyland. I'm sure there's an Uncharted sequel in the works but sequels seem like dated concepts unless it's Marvel. Sigh. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Day to Die 2022 * 1/2 Stars


Kevin Dillon plays the lead in 2022's A Day to Die. As Connor Connolly, he has to deliver 2 mil to some drug lords so they don't off his pregnant wife. His crew of awkward mercenaries are there to help him save said wife. Watch for "Die's" loud soundtrack that has rap/country tunes I've never heard before (and will never hear again).

It's good seeing Kevin in a film, in anything again actually. He's a hoot and it's almost like he's channeling his inner Johnny "Drama" via an action thriller. Too bad "Die" is like a David Ayer film without the full, nasty edge. "Hey brother, I need your help". I hear you brother and I wish I could assist you.

So yeah, A Day to Die is a relentless shoot-'em-up that takes place in Mississippi, has hints of an LA County setting, and has cars in it that have Ohio license plates. Talk about a locale problem that director Wes Miller obviously failed to recognize (why does every slick, video-on-demand-er have the helmer name Miller attached to it?).

"Die" is shoddy but you gotta admire its energy and earnestness for the tongue-in-cheek (trust me though, it doesn't have any). The exploding, action scenes (and there are many of them) are edited on the fly and don't have a clear mapping of point A to B. And come on, when is it okay for the so-called protagonists to kill cops and somehow get away with it? Last time I checked that was a capital felony.

A Day to Die also has Bruce Willis and Leon attached to it (Leon plays himself as usual and I think it's ultimately the voice that gives it away). Willis harbors the inevitable baddie Alston (all the personas in "Die" have one-word names). Willis emotes a little bit better this time but he still feels the need to say his lines one syllable at a time. The only real difference between this performance and so many other recent ones, is that Brucey now has some facial hair attached. Oh and I almost forgot, he probably did his scenes in one day (daylight and then some nighttime).

A shaky cam here, a twist there, some slanted camera angles, people saying "white boy" a lot, some fake CGI fire, and a dude walking away from an explosion (never seen that one before). That's "Die" for better or worse. Basically Wes Miller does his ego best as writer, producer, and director (there's even a side character with Wes's last name). His "Die" is kinda freaking stupid. Call it Expendables for dummies and not so good "day".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars


"Fly up! Fly up!" Of course. Otherwise the plane is gonna crash, a Boeing 737 MAX.

But the MAX did crash and another one within the span of five months. Their stories are technically-driven and mightily one-sided in the 89-minute documentary, Downfall: The Case Against Boeing. I say one-sided but not like it's a bad thing. Director Rory Kennedy fashions "Downfall" as a consoling cry for help and she could very well be the next Michael Moore (except that we never see her). 

"Downfall" is one of the best films of the year so far. Why? Because it's intelligent and informative while tastefully attacking its airplane corporation subject (for most of the way). It's also tragic for the lives lost in the real-life plane prangs that killed I believe, over 300 people. Of note: anyone associated with Boeing who's on the outside, might want to avoid watching this thing. They very well could have a conniption fit (I know I would).  

"Downfall's" aviation stuff (through interviews) is in abundance and will probably be over your head (I know nothing about airfoils so I'm included). I wouldn't say "Downfall" is completely rousing but it kept my interest throughout. I still hate getting on an aircraft and I'll probably get on one again but there is pause (there's always pause). 

Departures begot, Rory Kennedy's docu can be a bit preachy and its narrative is somewhat jumbled. Oh well. There's so much to take in via a short running time and you'll probably have to pay attention anyway. Downfall: The Case Against Boeing has strong archive footage that is obviously the product of enhanced restoration. There's reenactments of the events too and that's kinda the way to present said events. I mean it wouldn't be very fastidious to show what actually went down (no pun intended and I mean it).

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is a clean and faired documentary that makes you ask questions in your head. It could be conspiracy, it could be hearsay, it could be witch-huntress, and it could be speculation. The film presents one half of those proverbial coins. I thought that would be its "downfall" but it's not. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 18, 2022

Downeast 2021 * * Stars


"Big boys get in big trouble". Just ask Tommy DeVito. Oh wait, same first name just different movie.

Anyway, do we really need another conch about organized crime? Oh well why not. APS films is there to keep that gravy train rolling. Their latest is 2021's Downeast. Yeah yeah yeah, everybody in Downeast talks tough, looks menacing, and loves to scowl. Yup, they're proud of it. Talk about a small time underbelly in the most obvious, possible way.

Downeast stars unknowns that have been in many films in the past. You just don't know their C-list personas from Adam. Downeast is also East Coast to the nth degree. The lead is Greg Finley (he plays the brutish Tommy). Finley couldn't look any more like Tom Brady if he tried (yeah I think it's the height and the bone structure).

Downeast is helmed by Joe Raffa. Not uncommon to the Hollywood industry, he's also an actor too. Raffa chooses the state of Maine as his earnest setting. Contrary to popular demand, Joe doesn't enlarge on lobsters, coastlines, and well, blueberries. Downeast is rather Raffa's Mean Streets for The Pine Tree State.

Downeast is on the down-low, the downsized, and the down-and-dirty. As they say, "stay out of my place, I know your face". The bad guys here (or the goons) aren't millionaires or dudes that wear suits. They just run a bar/boxing ring, run the town (that's a stretch), and don't necessarily kill, just inflict the fear of killing. One of the henchmen characters looks creepy but parodies his role more than anything else (that would be Brennan played by ginger-haired Joss Giennie-Smith). I mean who does he think he is, The Nordic Man?

All in all, Downeast with its numerous flashbacks, its machismo, and its cold violence may think it's putting Maine on the map as a cinematic, Mob hotspot. Nah. It's too conventional, too stock, and too blase for that. Don't let Downeast's novel, mise en scene dupe you.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Weekend Away 2022 * * * Stars


"This is a nightmare". Ya think? I mean how does a girls trip go so wrong, so out of sorts? Welcome to 2022's The Weekend Away. Its film setting of coastal Croatia looks so darn snazzy.

"Weekend" is a thriller with a high resting heart rate. And yup, it just gets higher as it goes along. It's a whodunit, populated by lots of who dun did its. You'll be hooked but at the same time you'll probably say, "come on now, easy boss".

In The Weekend Away, the lead is played by thirtysomething Leighton Meester. Meester is salt of the earth and the veritable anchor here. Looking a little weathered and distraught throughout, Leighton gives a natural, forceful performance. Heck, I've never seen her in this light before (I mean a while ago she was decent in The Roommate).

"Weekend" while almost too anfractuous for its own good, is about a woman named Beth (Meester). Beth comes to a foreign country to see her bestie only to have said bestie vanish and eventually become murdered. Beth while a possible suspect in her own right, must figure out who's responsible for dispatching her girly gal pal (Kate played by the fetching Christina Wolfe). 

The Weekend Away is a doozy. Call it death on the Split. It's also an enthralling doozy if I might say so myself. It answers the question of what if the gender-affixed Lifetime Network and Netflix joined alliances to suck you in dry (Netflix is ultimately the real distributor here). 

"Weekend", with its flashbacks done at regular intervals, its Sliver laud, and its perfectly reared running time, is a series of red herrings. Let's just say it's one giant red herring. Added to that, there are enough twists and turns to make Chubby Checker proud. And that ending, well it's totally flippant. It made me throw my hands up in the air. Sadly I'm too worn out to give it "away".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Fresh 2022 * * * Stars


No it's not 1994 and Samuel L. Jackson is not headlining. It's present day and 2022's horror flick Fresh is what's on the table (no pun intended). Fresh is directed by a rookie in Mimi Cave (she's done mostly shorts and music videos). This is an audacious and voyeuristic debut by Cave who turns the screws of terror for at least most of the way. "Come on, give me a smile". I wish I could but I'm feeling a little queasy.

Fresh starts off sort of like a Lifetime movie with better production values. I stress the words "starts off". Then the 30-minute mark hits, the opening credits come up (they're so 70s), and you know you're no longer getting something that could be shown on network television. I mean would Lifetime feature a Hannibal Lecter type who cooks female body parts and serves them as if he were a chef at a five-star restaurant? I didn't think so either. 

The baddie in Fresh is Steve played by Sebastian Stan. Steve is one sick puppy who along with channeling is inner Hannibal the Cannibal, comes off a little like Patrick Bateman without the suits. He loves his Peter Cetera ditty-s (you'll never hear "Restless Heart" the same way again) and his tunes by Animotion (same deal for "Obsession"). Stan along with the movie he's in, seems so retro and avant-garde at the same time. Steve's torture, luxury abode is the star or should I say, the "starkiller". Natch.

So yeah, it's weird. Fresh is vulgar and upsetting but it only ventures that way until the third act. The film could've upped the ante even further if it had a little more guts (again no pun intended). The second act is the high point as it reminded me of stuff like Tusk and last year's Girl in the Basement (that's a good thing). A woman named Noa (played very effectively by Daisy Edgar-Jones) is being held against her will by Steve only to have her buttocks be surgically removed (ugh). 

Eventually Fresh turns into a another damsel in distress slasher with hints of earlier Stockholm Syndrome. Cave revels in gross, coarse imagery (which has to do with ground up body scraps and regular food), interesting camerawork (love the arc shots), and 80s/90s offcut. Fresh is recommendable even if it's almost "freshly dated". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Tender Bar 2021 * * * Stars


It has been about 7 years since I've last seen a movie directed by George Clooney. The Tender Bar is George's latest and if you grew up in the 70s/80s (I did), then "Tender" bleeds nostalgia like a 2-inch staph wound. It's in the tunes (Steely Dan, Pablo Cruise, King Harvest), the setting (Yale University and some musty tavern in Long Island), and the subject (a dude has aspirations of becoming a writer). As a writer like myself (and I like to think that I am), The Tender Bar struck a chord with me. Why do you think I started penning this review with ciggies and coffee on hand. 

The Tender Bar tells its narrative chronologically from 1973 till I suppose, the mid 1980s. It's coming-of-age personified and more persona arc-driven than plot-driven. The performances are darn good especially from Ben Affleck (barkeep and uncle Charlie Maguire) and Ty Sheridan (real-life novelist and Charlie's nephew, JR Moehringer). I'm an actual uncle (4 times over) and again "Tender" struck a chord with me. Just not in the same ray of light as some of these East Coat denizens did. 

The Tender Bar is the kind of film that could feel like a comfortable shoe for good old George Clooney. I mean this is Confessions of a Dangerous Mind without the spy and CIA mediums. Clooney has never been the most focused storyteller but shot for shot, he always brings a lightness and breeziness to the proceedings. He can direct from a keen, ocular standpoint and well, thank gosh his stuff is good enough to not float away. 

Watching a George Clooney flick, you feel as if you've been transported to all things past tense. Like life, people you meet tend to fade in and out and sometimes dangle like dropped loose ends. That's Clooney's vision as a filmmaker for better or worse. His characters although sometimes whimsically detached, complete that vision. 

"Tender" follows JR and Charlie and their bond as blood. Everyone else falls by the wayside including the famous d-bag father who was never around, JR's rattled mother, JR's would-be girlfriend, and the elder who is flatulent (Christopher Lloyd as well, grandpa). I liked The Tender Bar but would I put a "bid" on it as a masterpiece? Not quite. It feels somewhat unfinished even though its true story adaptation has already been finished.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Run & Gun 2022 * * Stars


Richard Kind co-stars in 2022's Run & Gun. It's weird seeing him play a baddie but he's decent at it. Too bad "Gun's" script doesn't do him a whole lot of justice. The dialogue between Kind and the other actors is rather banal, cutely unimaginative, and somehow written by a teenager who had one too many energy drinks. "Sorry what was that in the background?" Noise. Annoying movie noise and not much else. 

So OK, what is Run & Gun about? I guess it's a crime thriller or a pseudo Western or some black comedy with sun-drenched hues. There's a cool blue corvette featured, a lot of standoffs and bloody shootings, and a setting that looked like Arizona (I was there three months ago so maybe). 

What "Gun" doesn't have is a cinematic identity. It doesn't know what it wants to be or even cares for that matter (at least the poster looks cool). Director Christopher Borrelli fashions Run & Gun as a Joe Carnahan knock-around without the concluding, gotcha frames. Minus those gotcha moments, I didn't come into this flick wanting to see another Copshop.

Yeah yeah Kind is a good trouper. He's known. Everyone else in "Gun" is unknown. I mean Run & Gun is like a B-movie with a c-minus list cast. The lead is Ben Milliken and he plays Ray. Ray is a criminal looking to go straight until some hitmen get a hold of him and want him to do one last job. 

Milliken is not much of an actor (he's more of an over-actor). Ben's Ray gets beaten around, shot at, and dragged by a car multiple times. You scratch your head as to how he could ever survive the video game carnage here. I mean who does he think he is, Harrison Ford? Milliken is more like the poor man's version of Richard Chamberlain (except for maybe one or two pics, Chamberlain might be the poor man himself). Ben and the movie around him are trivial and monotonous unless you wanna see stuff blow up with little linkage. There's not a lot of "fun" in this gun.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"Are you okay? No". Makes sense. You've just been hounded by a dude with a contorted mask, a quick first step, and a chainsaw. Said dude has killed just about everybody and you're about the only one left. Yeesh.

Anywho, 2022's Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a sequel to 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "Massacre" doesn't feel like it's part of the 9-flick franchise. I'm not saying it's awful but who thought it was a fresh idea to make this new installment a Michael Myers movie with social media quirks and a little bit of House of Wax thrown in. I mean is Netflix that hard up to reinvent (or change) the wheel?

Reboots and follow-ups begot, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has few main characters in it and they are barely established. All we know is that they're just four people who happen to want to fix up some property in Harlow, Texas (the spot where the killings took place in the original from 48 years ago). You have the token African American, the token hottie damsel in distress, and two sisters (one of which looks like a young Winona Ryder). These people aren't bad actors but their personalities are meh. They are the equivalent of petrified rocks.

"Massacre" is what you expect. It's bloody, overkill-ed, and well, horrific. Is it scary? Kind of towards the last half hour (that's when Leatherface finally yields his tool). Is it well-directed by the unseasoned David Blue Garcia? To a point. Except for some familiar tracking shots by cinematographer Ricardo Diaz, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has very little connection to what made '74's version so effectively limited and so psychologically disturbing.

"Massacre" is not a horror film per se, it's more of a slasher pic (there is a difference). There's no torture or will holding, just kills (and lots of them). Added to that, there's too many people around and it doesn't feel like the victims are in the middle of nowhere. That's not as foreboding. A modern-day take (such as this one) on the Texas Chainsaw fondue might give fright fans their cinematic, heroin fix. Not me mind you. I'm just a purist who's still stuck in the glorious graininess of 1974 (so sue me).

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Small City 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


2021's Small City is directed by two people (Georgie Curren, Adriano Vilanova). Small City's title? Well I don't know about that. The film takes place in London, UK, home to almost 9 million people. I suppose "City" has to do with the London underbelly. You know, the areas that are sketch. Anyway, this flick is more like an expert student film dropped into a festival as opposed to a full-length feature. It's like a long short at 74 minutes (if that makes any sense).

Small City has unknown actors in it (at least they're unknown to me). They mumble their lines with thick accents and appear well, thuggish and ruggish. The hero in "City" (or you could say anti-hero) is Ozzy played by newcomer Eddie Thompson. Thompson looks a little like Daniel Kaluuya and at times, almost equals Kaluuya's smoldering screen presence. Yeah I didn't always know what he was saying but hey, he managed to carry Small City amicably.

Guy Ritchie rock n' rollers aside, Small City is about a small-time hood who flees the life while trying to help a young girl escape some human traffickers. The vehicle is undercut with spurts of bloody violence, tough-talking (garbled tough-talking), and grainy gleam. Yup there are times when "City" can be dark and dangerous (intermittently dark and dangerous).

"City" is well shot by Curren and Vilanova. It harbors a sort of bleached-out Michael Mann look a la 2004's Collateral. Also, "City" kinda reminded me of something the Safdie brothers would have done if they slowed things down a bit. Alas, if Small City wasn't so vague in its plotting and characterizations I would've applauded it even more. At well under an hour and a half, you don't quite get the full backstory of what the deal is with all the ruffians involved. The 2-3 interpretative endings in "City" don't soften the blow any further. Not "small" city, just "small-scaled".

Written by Jesse Burleson