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Monday, May 30, 2022

Top Gun: Maverick 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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