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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Heatwave 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Ledge 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Summer Days, Summer Nights 2018 * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, June 19, 2022

WarHunt 2022 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Hustle 2022 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, June 13, 2022

Your Boyfriend is Mine 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, June 10, 2022

Buried in Barstow 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Cruel Instruction 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Dazed and Confused 1993 * * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 2, 2022

X 2022 * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson