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Friday, April 29, 2022

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


"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


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


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


"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


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


"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


"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