film reel image

film reel image

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Fastball 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars


The director of 2016's Fastball is NYC native Jonathan Hock. He's obviously a baseball fan (as am I). With Fastball, Hock is like a telling physics teacher, guiding you through the ins and outs of how a speedy pitch reaches a certain speed. His Fastball is educational and technical without putting you in the forty winks. Time to bring on that stinking cheese!

Fastball with ads, is a docu clocking in at 87 minutes (no puns I swear). Its editing is lightning quick with a clean pace that whizzes by (like I said, no puns). Some documentaries have a self-serving, pretentious vibe but not this one. Fastball features interviews from baseball player legends that are genuine. Their observations of dudes with nasty, high heat are Bible (and that means truth).

With Kevin Costner narrating (why not) and archive footage that is not normally seen (compared to the abundance a la NFL Films), Fastball is a pic that basically fawns about who threw the fastest MLB pitch ever. Vast talks arise in the form of Derek Jeter, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Johnny Bench, and Bryce Harper. You just wish Pete Rose with his normally heightened insight, would be in the mix too.

Supposedly hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports (you have the blink of an eye to get it right). With Fastball, you get a clear intuition as to why. Hock is not the most focused of filmmakers but that doesn't mean you're not fascinated or pushed back by what's on screen. In no particular order, he shows you why pitchers like Goose Gossage, Walter Johnson, Aroldis Chapman, and Nolan Ryan were virtually impossible to hit off of. The heightened musical soundtrack in their critical moments just adds to the pain (a good pain at 90-plus MPH). Fastball is well, "ballin".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Invisible Lies 2021 * * Stars


2021's Invisible Lies is an experimental model. It may be streaming on Peacock but it probably belongs in some international film festival out in Iowa. Frank E. Jackson Jr (the director of "Lies") basically shoots the flick in three ways. We're talking 360 pivot shots, follow shots, and alternating close-ups (that are really close up). There's also a non-linear narrative but hey, don't be fooled by what you're actually seeing. 

Invisible Lies has Jackson Jr as writer, producer, helmer, and star. With almost no production values in the tank, "Lies" is probably not an ego trip for Frank but rather a way of cutting corners by him doing everything himself. Now did Jackson Jr act as the sound editor too? Maybe. If that's the case then he should have hired someone instead. The sound editing in Invisible Lies is something horrible to behold. I mean the characters are either talking too loud or their voices are being drowned out by the melodic soundtrack. There's just no consistency and even some bad background noise might've been picked up by the boom mics. 

Coming off as a sort of student film version of Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, "Lies" is about an African-American lawyer who falls for a Caucasian woman despite his offhanded views of interracial relationships. Frank E. Jackson Jr plays lawyer Malcolm White Jr while Kristin Lauria plays Amber Lake, Malcolm's curious source of fondness. 

The acting in Invisible Lies isn't awful but it still has a little whiff of community theatre. Howbeit, some of the scenes actually crackle as long as the actors settle in and hit their marks. The biggest snag I had with "Lies" is that it's disjointed and blatantly unfinished despite its self-serving, non-sequential gimmick (mentioned in the first paragraph). Bottom line: I can't recommend Invisible Lies and its half-done tease of 71 minutes. If I did I'd be "lying" to myself.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Gasoline Alley 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


Sometimes the script is a little corny and sometimes the music doesn't always fit the cuts but make no bones about it, 2022's Gasoline Alley is at certain points, compelling. That's thanks to a disciplined performance by one Devon Sawa. Here's a working actor who knows he's been relegated to B-movies and non-theatrical releases till the end of time. What does Devon do? Well he trudges along, brooding and world-weary like a Philip Marlowe type (except that his persona Jimmy Jayne is a prime murder suspect and not a real PI). Sawa carries Gasoline Alley because well, he's in pretty much every frame. The other characters are tough-talking and sardonic but seem to fade in and out like wipes. 

That being said, let's talk about the tone of Gasoline Alley, a film that shows another dark corner of otherwise sunny LA. "Alley" is directed by Edward Drake, a guy who commits to every shot with most of his drawn-out scenes being rather underlit. I suppose that's the overall point. "Alley" is noir, so much so that the flick almost announces it as if it had personalized name tags. Gleaming and steamy with even a little twang, Gasoline Alley looks like something Paul Schrader would have done right after Hardcore. Heck, you could even compare "Alley" to 2005's Sin City minus the over-sensationalized violence and color processing.  

Now did I like Gasoline Alley with its plot about a tattoo artist being implicated in a triple murder? Sometimes yeah. I mean it got better as it went along with Sawa being the sort of snarling antihero with a rather large chip on his shoulder. And did I like the fact that Bruce Willis and Luke Wilson played good cop, bad cop detectives hot on the trail of Devon's Jimmy? Not really. Luke Wilson talked too much and tried to be cool while Willis didn't talk enough and only showed up in the film's final twist to give his character relevance (hint, hint). 

Gasoline Alley with its drinking and smoking and hardboiled ambiguity, is decent enough to stream. Even so, its surprisingly restrained manner and one-note-ness kept me from truly recommending it. The pic needed a little more "fuel" poured on its fire. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Cannonball Run 1981 * * * Stars


1981's The Cannonball Run is an opening "Greed decade" movie, a beer and pizza endeavor that was shown more times on HBO than The Simpsons was probably shown on FXX. As something about a bunch of drivers competing in an illegal race from Connecticut to California, "Cannonball" is fun, almost too much fun. It's simple. Just throw in a cluster of big name, Hollywood heavyweights and let them wink to the audience until their eyes dry up.

So yeah, I've seen The Cannonball Run maybe 100 times (mostly as a preteen). As I watched it in 2022, the film is anything but self-serious. The stars of "Cannonball" (and there are many of them) are living off the cinematic hog. They know they're not making an Oscar winner here but darn it if it's not a chance for guys like Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Peter Fonda, and Sammy Davis Jr to hang out and shoot the proverbial you know what. Heck, there are lots of action comedies where the audience doesn't have as much merrymaking as the actors but The Cannonball Run isn't one of them (thank the almighty for that).

"Cannonball" is directed by the late Hal Needham. He intersects madcap arcs but the plot is kinda nil. Watching the flick, you realize that Needham was a stuntman first and a director second. No matter. It feels in the early 80s that Hal created a whole new genre annexed, what with all the free-falling car gags, improvised dialogue, pioneering outtakes, and goofy, devil-may-care personifications.

The Cannonball Run was probably greenlit on pure star wattage. It gives the middle finger to the authorities as its characters take on cross-country road racing like it's an actual, titular thing. Unaffectedly, I found "Cannonball" amusing and boldly insouciant, the same way I found Needham's Stroker Ace and Hooper to be. Just grab the Blu-ray, pop open a sixer, and enjoy the jaunty madness that is The Cannonball Run. "Dun dun dunnn!!"

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Gold 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


2022's Gold is quite the departure for one Zac Efron. You'll see. As a drifter named Virgil in Australia's Outback, Efron gives a truly transformative performance. He's weathered, he breathes heavily, and he doesn't even look like well, Zac Efron. It's almost like the guy is channeling his inner Jared Leto.  

Gold is um, about gold. You know, that chemical element that's worth a lot of moolah. Efron's Virgil (or "man one") finds it in the middle of nowhere and must protect it until his buddy comes back with an excavator. We're talking a few days with Virgil trying to survive via almost no livable resources. 

Shot in the Land Down Under with eight distributors attached, Gold as a movie is a slow burn but not as slow as one might think. Director Anthony Hayes (normally an actor) gives Gold a bleached-out look with lucid tones and flattened wide shots. I suppose the flick is post-apocalyptic and "Mad Max"-ish but it could go the other way. Ultimately it kinda reminded me of 2002's Gerry but with a little more down and dirtiness. 

Now is Gold effectively atmospheric as a thriller? I mean it has to be with those white, sandy and salty hues. Does Gold have a point in its plotting of relentless hold out? I suppose the point would be greed and possibly nothing else. And is Gold the type of film that has you scratching your head at the end trying to figure out what all the fuss is about? I didn't want to believe it but yeah. 

Gold's main attribute is really its one-man show of abrabed acting by Zac Efron. He's one aloof bloke. After 97 minutes his character is so brittle-looking he could disintegrate with the poke of a stick (or "struck" with a stick if you are into puns and I am). Rolled out "gold". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Deep Hatred 2022 * 1/2 Stars


"This place is messing with my mind". I'm not surprised. Most places in terror flicks promote that shtick.

Anyway 2022's Deep Hatred has a pretty creepy opening scene. My jaw kinda dropped. I mean a guy is beaten to death with a hammer, hooded, and then thrown into a lake. "Hatred" never maintains that intensity or mystery throughout the next 70 minutes or so. Added to that, the opening clip just mentioned seems like a confusing prelude for what's to come.

Deep Hatred for me is just another cursory horror film, a sort of dog and pony show that you've seen countless times in the past. Two couples return to a family home that is haunted and moldy (ha ha). There's a jump scare or two, some blood, some possession, some spooky stick figures, no cell signal in the middle of nowhere, and no one can leave said home. Basically you have to imagine a boring, anemic version of The Blair Witch Project.

"Hatred" is directed by two people (Daniela Carvalho, Ale McHaddo). Did they need two people? Uh no. These guys fashion an almost PG-13 rated scarefest that omits any real tension or strain, a real tease if you will. Carvalho and McHaddo try to make up for their shortcomings with a surprise ending done in flashbacks. Sigh. Said ending is more of an inserted gimmick that doesn't answer for everything sluggish that came before it.

Endings and surprise twists begot, the unknown actors involved (Sara Drust, Jeremy Sless, Evan Judson) strain with the recycled, napkin screenplay too. You can only say, "we gotta get out of here" or "I'm getting out of here" so many times. All in all, Deep Hatred is an interesting title for what I just saw. I kinda "hated" it and I didn't find it "deep" either.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones 2019 * * Stars


"His reputation wasn't very good". Whatev. That's the words of someone talking about Brian Jones, the original founder of the Rolling Stones. I'm not the hugest Stones fan but I've dug their music for a majority of my lifetime. 1966's "Paint it Black" (a famous Rolling Stones ditty) had the distinctive sound of Jones playing that good old sitar.

Strange in its approach not by look or feel, Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones is a documentary that says everything in the title. It's about well, you know. Annexed, "Life and Death" doesn't involve members of the Rolling Stones nor does it feature their legendary music. The film feels more like an outside entity that decided to roll its bones out fifty years after Brian's mysterious passing. Jones was always kinda "under their thumb".

Brian Jones died in 1969 at age 27 (he is a member of the urban legend, 27 club). Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones tells its story chronologically with decent archive footage (via pictures added) and plenty of long-winded interviews.

What's almost laughable about this docu is that the people confabbing are ones you've never heard of until 2019. They don't talk particularly fondly about Jones and worse, they act as if they were in his head or walking in his shoes. Jones has been gone for over five decades and well, he obviously wasn't present to defend himself. At least the dude got posthumously inducted with his fellow bandmates into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (circa 1989).

As I mentioned in the second paragraph, Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones doesn't let you hear anything from anyone in the Stones. Besides showing them on screen from time to time, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts are nowhere to be found. "Life and Death" may be well-made, conspiracy theory-d, and eerie but introverted in its tack. It gets "no real satisfaction" from me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Crow Valley 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"We're gonna get out of here". Ah you hear those words in a thriller a lot. And unless you've never seen one from that genre, they usually come from the leading light.

Anyway I'm talking about 2022's Crow Valley, a film so compact and condensed it could fly away. I mean we hardly know anything about the characters if it weren't for the immense flashbacks. And yeah, "Valley" feels almost unfinished if not for the flick's hints of moral ambiguity.

So is Crow Valley an ego trip for writer, director, and star Josh Conn? It appears that way but the dude seems to be decent at his craft. And does "Valley" have a solid look considering the budget was probably nil? Sure why not. I mean Australia is well, Australia.

Crow Valley is familiar material, so familiar that you salivate for it to push the envelope a little more (the running time is a paltry 77 minutes). Echoing stuff like Misery and 2005's Hard Candy, "Valley" is about a mountain biker (Josh Conn as Benny) who gets involved in a hit and run. The kicker is that the girl who commits the hit and run (Nicole Freeman as Greta), holds the biker captive in a random's house. Torture, conflict, and chaos ensue because Benny committed his own hit and run in the past. Call it revenge, call it tit for tat, call Greta in the end loony tunes (that's because she is).

All in all, Crow Valley is so earnest to get to where it's going we never absorb the viewing experience enough. Added to that, whatever violent acts are shown seem shoddily edited as if the forecast wouldn't allow for more carnage. "Valley" almost feels like a short. In film a short is roughly 40 minutes so we're not far off here. Finally, where the heck is Crow Valley anyway? Oh wait it is fictional, just a small lake and some trees. Crow Valley isn't a dud but it comes real close to eating "crow".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Princess 2022 * 1/2 Stars


"Not exactly ladylike behavior". No kidding. A lady that kills people demonstrating some serious Van Dammage.

Anyway, 2022's The Princess is directed by Le-Van Kiet. Le-Van obviously wanted to bypass any dramatic elements and go straight for the action-packed jugular. How annoying. "Princess" is basically action scene then payoff, action scene then payoff, action scene then payoff. It's like one long reel possibly shown at dailies.

So OK, The Princess is about a martial arts-loving princess who refuses to wed an evil suitor who's bent on taking her father's throne. It's basically the type of pic Ridley Scott would do on a dare. Joey King plays The Princess while Dominic Cooper plays said suitor Julius. Cooper as usual channels a creep (it's in his comfort zone) and King is reduced to a female Scott Adkins with constant fist fight sequences that never seem to let up. The whole time I watched The Princess I was wondering if King was auditioning to appear in the next Expendables flick. Exhausting and humdrum I tell you.

The Princess is modern-day schlock spliced with medieval times. Oh brother. I mean what made director Kiet think that this genre mesh would be anything a critic would recommend (not this one I assure you). The film is also nearly a spoof, with unintentional humor and side characters that are heinous just for kicks-and-giggles. The worst part is that "Princess" has a plot that is so vague, a sort of excuse for people to brawl and show off their mad, judo skills.

All in all, I kinda wish The Princess had a more Flowers in the Attic vibe to it. Sigh for that. Personas grapple and then grapple again, not establishing any original set piece or true setup. Watching "Princess" is like viewing a 10-minute YouTube video on the art of self-defense. Heck, I lost interest. I had time to leave the room and "tinkle".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Ice Road Killer 2022 * * Stars


"Is there someplace we can drop you off?" Uh how about never picking this person up in the first place. Free riders, ugh. 

With the state of Virginia looking like the Arctic and all the personas freezing their butts off, 2022's Ice Road Killer represents a different kind of Lifetime movie. I mean we're not in sunny LA and well, it's freaking bitter outside. "Killer" is kind of like the Lifetime Television version of Joyride from twenty years back. No CB radios this time, just cell phones with evil texts and fiendish sneers.

So yeah, Ice Road Killer is about a mother and daughter who pick up a hitchhiker only to find out that said hitchhiker is being hunted down by a psycho in a Mack truck. "Killer" with its almost downtrodden slant and non-emended, peril encounters stars Sarah Allen, Erica Anderson, and Micheal Swatton. These actors are game but their performances are almost spastic and overwrought. I mean nearly laughable. 

Ice Road Killer sort of deviates from the Lifetime path and in the Lifetime language, the film is wholly original with some intricate plotting. However, despite an ominous musical score (that tries real hard), "Killer" suffers from a vapid script with its characters constantly trying to explain things to one another. This is all done while the so-called killer is rarely seen and probably twiddling his thumbs (probably). 

With Ice Road Killer, director Max McGuire (a TV movie veteran) fails to mount much tension when it literally could've been there for the taking. And that's even when he dupes that famous scene from The Shining (Jack Torrance yielding an ax to a door). McGuire wants us the audience to take "Killer" seriously and his flick is indeed, overly serious. But the viewer looking for that draining and exhausting cinematic experience is still left out in the "cold". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, July 4, 2022

Elvis 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars


2022's Elvis is a cinematic fever dream, a film that has enough splashy fancies for a dozen or so other ones. Its director is one Baz Luhrmann, a sort of second cousin to early 90s Oliver Stone. Baz whizzes you from one set piece to the next. While you try to catch your breath, you'll realize that the dude never met a hallucinatory image he did not like. "Elvis has left the building". Indeed and left the viewer dizzy and spent. 

Elvis clocks in at 159 minutes and there's maybe one or two scenes where things slow to a creep (c'mon, you knew I was kidding). Baz's editing team gives the audience a swift grain with split screens, tons of close-ups, and fiery, cherry red hues. The fast-cutting here will make you "shake, rattle and roll". 

So is the storytelling in Elvis a little glossed over considering the pic has two-plus hours to play with? Sometimes yeah. Will you mind? I don't think so. You take away Luhrmann's punch-drunk style and Disneyland look and you probably get a vehicle that would relegate itself to the A&E network (sadly that's not the same thing). 

Elvis stars Austin Butler as Elvis Presley and Tom Hanks as Col. Tom Parker (that's Presley's snide manager if you didn't already know). They both give revelatory performances in a flick that spans well, Presley's entire life (roughly all 42 years of it). What's unique about Elvis is that it's not just about the man and his music but about the guy who created him as well. I like that angle. Hey, it worked for 1991's The Doors because that film wasn't about the band but more about its mythical lead singer (Jim Morrison). 

With an indented sense of time and place (mostly 1950s, 60s, and 70s) and a high-powered, closing musical number (featuring the actual King of Rock 'n Roll himself), Elvis is one of the best movies of this year (so far). "Thank you, thank you very much". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 1, 2022

Love Triangle Nightmare 2022 * 1/2 Stars


Love Triangle Nightmare is directed by Roxanne Boisvert. Let me rephrase that. Love Triangle Nightmare is shoddily directed by Roxanne Boisvert. What we have here is a blueprinted Lifetime film with all the compulsory bells and whistles. And when I mean bells and whistles, I don't mean the attractive ones. 

Love Triangle Nightmare is not really about a love triangle. It's just not. I mean maybe in the first half hour. The title is misleading as it's more about a nutso doctor who must have a woman who is on the verge of divorce. One or two red herrings aside and a tawdry flashback, the doctor in question (Jake played by Jeff Teravainen) is pretty much the antagonist before "Triangle" hits its second act. He's also a real cheeseball, a borderline goof, and not nearly menacing enough. 

Hardly compelling and wrapped up rather quickly as if the studio gave helmer Boisvert time constraints, Love Triangle Nightmare revels in bad dialogue, soap opera-style acting, foreseen fluff, and plenty of stark coincidences (people seem to always run into each other hint, hint). Above all else, "Triangle" feels so small-scale even in the scope of the Lifetime Network. Oblivious to the viewer who knows better, it does just enough to get by (and obviously that's not enough). 

There have been thousands of Lifetime movies that have gone down the pike, thousands. After decades of this stuff you'd think the long-running grapevine would bring something more fresh and intricate than the patchwork that is Love Triangle Nightmare. Every scene and climatic moment seems cut ever so quickly as if to say, "we didn't have the budget or chutzpah to do something more, sorry". "Triangle" stars Teravainen (mentioned earlier), Glenda Braganza, and Tomas Chovanec. On screen they look totally befuddled as do we the audience. Obtuse "triangle". 

Written by Jesse Burleson