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film reel image

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Shattered 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Shattered is well, shattering (the title is trite but it kinda fits). It's a feature that never lets up and well, doesn't want to. Call it Misery with airbrush millennials. Call it 2015's Knock Knock without the Keanu overreaching and cringy threesomes. Finally call 911 and have the sirens blaring. Oh wait, that doesn't happen till the very end (a film cliche).

Shattered is about identity theft coupled with murder, manipulation, and torture. Ugh. No one wants that noise. A rich guy named Chris Decker (played by Cameron Monaghan) gets put through the ringer by a psychotic female bent on stealing his entire life savings. Chris should've never stuck his you know what in crazy, should've never invited crazy into his home, and should have never told crazy, "I love you". He did though to fuel the diegesis. Hence, there's a movie (yay).

Slick, tech savvy, and directed with modern-day panache by TV vet Luis Prieto, Shattered doesn't get its footing till the 40-minute mark. Yeah I was worried until things finally got dicey (in a good way). Prieto fashions Shattered as kind of rote but somehow he gets by. I mean thriller enthusiasts (like myself) just salivate when a flick involves that old adage of anyone being held against their will by a chiquita who is off the reservation. We want said chiquita to get what's coming to her even if her makeup and bruised ego get a little desheveled (that's an understatement).  

Shattered co-stars John Malkovich and Frank Grillo whose roles could probably be played in their sleep (you won't mind). As for the main antagonist (Lilly Krug as Sky), well she's a nasty femme fatale with a mean streak and a knack for using her spread-eagle as a taut, lethal weapon. Mercy. She left me in "tatters".

Written by Jesse Burleson  

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Day Shift 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


Jamie Foxx acts like well, Jamie Foxx. Dave Franco acts like well, Dave Franco. Their comedic foil has its moments in 2022's Day Shift. "Shift" is indeed a comedy, a comedy about hunting vampires. Just think Men in Black but nix the aliens. Just think Blade but in its most goofy form. Heck, Jamie Foxx's character (Bud Jablonski) would probably tell the overly-serious Eric Brooks to lighten up a bit. 

So yeah, Day Shift is a film that lives in an unconcerned fantasy land, where blood-drinking creatures roam sunny LA and almost everyone is oblivious to them. "Shift" is also directed by a rookie in J.J. Perry. Perry a stunt coordinator by trade, uses plenty of doubles here. You can tell. The action sequences in "Shift" move at a hasty clip but grow repetitive after a while. Reminiscent of all things self-defense, they have that been there, done that feel to them. 

Now would I recommend Day Shift? Maybe if it would've come out in say, 2002. Do I feel that the talented Jamie Foxx is probably above this sort of material? A little bit. I mean the guy won an Oscar and was nominated for another. Finally, do I think Day Shift is a fresh entry in the vampire pantheon genre? No but it's harmless. You could somewhat enjoy it with your cronies in a beer-and-pizza sort of way. 

Day Shift's plot is a little vague in regards to the antagonist's motivations. I mean they could've offed Bud numerous times but somehow it's delayed. The flick has a deeper palate when it dives into Bud's yearn to collect vampire teeth in order to pay for his daughter's private school tuition and braces. 

Pater responsibilities aside, "Shift" has a slick and sun-drenched look, coupled with the driest of humor that probably wasn't intentional (but there it is). Considering all the vampire pics that came before Day Shift, I was sort of looking for something a little more "shifty". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, August 22, 2022

Fall 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars


2022's Fall is a three-dimensional, panoramic jaw-dropper. Watching it, you want to leave the theater or just close your eyes but you can't. Like a car accident, Fall makes you unable to look away from the acrophobic havoc that's forced upon you. A panic attack in full I had. 

Fall clocks in at 107 minutes and those ends justify the means. It's just right. Director Scott Mann ups the ante here, creating new tale of survival circumstances where your fingernails are pretty much gnawed to the nub. I mean Mann had to build some hurdles to facilitate Fall's average running time. Otherwise it would be just two girls trapped on top of a radio tower, waiting to bite it. 

So is the dialogue in Fall a little cheesy (especially in the early goings)? Yep. It's sort of Lifetime-like with the addition of Snapchats and Instagram-s and what not (ugh). Is the editing in Fall a tad choppy? Yes but it doesn't matter. You'll feel way too twitchy to give a rat's butt. Finally, do Fall's characters nonchalantly act in peril when stuff really gets real? Early on yeah. Heck, I could've done without a rendition of Warrant's "Cherry Pie" in the stylings of acapella.

Fall stars Grace Caroline Currey as Becky and Virginia Gardner as Hunter. After the death of Becky's husband, her and Hunter decided to climb a 2000 foot, TV satellite structure in the middle of nowhere (it sure looked like Arizona to me). Because said structure is old and crusty, parts of it break off and Becks and Hunter are confined to the top with pretty much no chance of getting down. 

So OK, we've seen movies like Fall before. You know with sharks and water and SUVs and hotel rooms. It's about the isolation, the captivity, the limited resources, the adrenaline-packed will to live on. With Fall, the proceedings however have never been this potent, this heady. The visuals? Well they're just an added plus. Yeah it's CGI but whatev, it's the good kind. Helmer Scott Mann provides Fall with a sense of vertigo (duh), a sense of the axonometric, and a dusty palate that's widescreen heaven. If you have a fear of heights (and I do), then Fall will just perpetuate that fear and do it in spades. "Ride for a fall". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Black Phone 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


2021's The Black Phone is an almost neutered fright fest. At 102 nippy minutes, "Phone" combines horror with the supernatural in an uneven if not wholly avant-garde fashion. Could "Phone" have been a little scarier? I mean yeah. There are some tense moments but those moments come from the concept of 70s, school boy bullying. And does The Black Phone have a decent sense of time and place? You darn tootin. The film is late, "'Me' decade" Colorado chic, all grainy and ill-lit colored with Sweet's "Fox on the Run" grooving in the background.

Based on a short story circa 2004 and directed by the guy who helmed the first Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson), "Phone" is mean-spirited and wayward, the way it kind of was with teenagers over forty years ago. 

So let's break it all down shall we? If a Stephen King tale was made into something so compact, so compressed, it would be The Black Phone. If Super 8 had John Wayne Gacy sickos attached instead of extraterrestrial life forms, then "Phone" would suffice. Finally, if the late Jonathan Demme decided to go on substitute holiday and make something on the fly, then "Phone" would be his go-to. 

The Black Phone with its landline as proverbial star presence, is about what it says it is (naturally). Said landline helps a captive teen communicate with the past victims of a deranged killer. The teen in question is played by Mason Thames (as Finney) and his character is being held in a basement by a masked psycho named The Grabber (played by Ethan Hawke). 

A jolt here, a whip pan there, a ghostly image or two. That's what you get with The Black Phone. It's restrained stuff and its biggest bit of the unobtrusive is Ethan Hawke getting very little screen time or little rearing to his persona. He snarls and poses but whatever. The producers would rather fade away from him and back to "black". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

4x4 2019 * * 1/2 Stars


"Hello, welcome aboard". Uh-huh, whatever. Welcome to a nightmare of tinted windows, HAL on the Bluetooth, and soundproof interiors. 

So yeah, 2019's 4x4 refers to an SUV, a four wheeler that would give any Plymouth Fury a run for its money. 4x4's main character (Ciro played by Peter Lanzani) gets trapped in the SUV after committing a swift B & E. Bummer. The owner of said SUV (Dr. Enrique Ferrari played by Dady Brieva) keeps Ciro in the car for days through some sort of annoying orchestration. Yup, we've got an Oldboy situation going on. 

4x4 is a ruthless thriller that stretches its forecast at least for most of the way. Featuring Spanish subtitles and sparse dialogue, its first hour is pure simplicity and that's the highlight. Director Mariano Cohn uses one set location, one luxury conveyance, and one actor to create the shakes while nearly chilling you to the bone. Watching 4x4, I was actually scared as heck to get in my own car and shut the door. Like Jaws and the fear of water, 4x4 is Jaws with vinyl leather seating. Yeesh. 

Lanzani in the lead role is literally unfeigned. He demonstrates amazing acting from a physical standpoint. Whether he's dying of thirst, dying of hunger, dying of cold, or dying of heat, you feel his twinge. I mean the dude is still a human being even though he's a yegg. It's only when 4x4 deviates from his bind and becomes a hostage pic that it loses its proverbial steam. Gone is the mystery, gone is the nasty gimmick, gone is most of the dramatic momentum. If 4x4 was trimmed down to an hour and ten minutes (the running time is 90), then it would've been a compact transmission of the highest order (pun intended, haha). In this case, less would have been more. Over the "cornering limit". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, August 14, 2022

To Live and Die in L.A. 1985 * * * 1/2 Stars


"If you can't come up with the front money, you're not for real". Oh but 1985's To Live and Die in L.A. is for real, real authentic. That's how director William Friedkin wanted it. Just check out the counterfeiting scene in the film's first act. Nuff said. 

"L.A." is probably the first R-rated movie I ever went to see at the theater. It was the fiery red trailer that garnered interest. Ugh. As an 11-year-old that got my dad to accompany me, it was an awkward moment to say the least. Oh well. I've gone on to appreciate Friedkin's distant vision of detectives and malefactors in the City of Angels. To most people, Los Angeles is palm trees and sunshine and Hollywood. To William Friedkin, it's the dark end of the street, the seedy borough, the turista.  

Now is To Live and Die in L.A. a buddy cop movie? For sure. The flick is somewhat sandwiched between 48 Hrs. and Lethal Weapon. Is "L.A." a good buddy cop movie? Again for sure. Yeah the actors were unknown (at the time), yeah their characters were aloof, and yeah, To Live and Die in L.A. is anything but tongue in cheek. Still, "L.A." succeeds as a big studio pic with an independent feel. As I stated in the first paragraph, that's how Billy Friedkin wanted it. 

Friedkin directs To Live and Die in L.A. with a certain rawness and a dirtied up proficiency. According to the film's documentary, his stars (William Peterson, John Pankow, Willem Dafoe) didn't need to hit their marks and didn't need to memorize the script (improvisation was called for). Rapt. "L.A." is an action-packed, non-probity nightmare. It may evoke the 80s with its neon hues but the tone is bleak what with the cops playing dirty pool against the expert, ersatz slugs. 

Look for the greatest car chase ever filmed for its time (Pankow and Peterson's personas evading the bad guys by driving down a one-way street), some windup revelations, and Wang Chung's sick, 1980s soundtrack. To Live and Die in L.A. is well, "the place to be". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Art of Passion 2022 * * Stars


"Whatever you feel inside, let it come to life". Sounds like something van Gogh would say. Or wouldn't say.

Anyway 2022's The Art of Passion is pretty cut-and-dried. I'm serious. As something from the Lifetime TV network, I was surprised. There's no real mystery or intrigue (when there should have been). There's no big reveal or twist (when I thought there would be). "Passion" is one big red herring but what's the point? Said red herring never leads to squat.

Well at least The Art of Passion gets its title right. The film is in fact about art (there's an accomplished painter character involved) and passion (said painter and an ER doctor do the horizontal hokey pokey). The love scenes in "Passion" that are accompanied by out of place, techno drivel, are almost filler. I mean it's like the screenwriters ran out of stuff to pen and decided to just insert the softest of core porn. Heck, call the whole thing "fifty shades of meh".

The Art of Passion is about a doctor (Hope Williams played by Dakota Johnson lookalike Katie Reese) who gets terrorized by an abusive husband whose wife Hope is trying to protect. Meanwhile Hope is trying to get her groove back by getting busy with hunk James Sosa (played by Italian actor Victor Alfieri). The whole crux of "Passion" involves Hope running from said hubby (while losing her phone in the process) and doing the nasty with painter boy. It's all rinse, rinse, repeat stuff and then it ends without babble.

"Passion" has sterile production values, workaday editing, and the token, best friend persona who's always giving advice and can't stay out of everyone's beeswax. It's not an awful flick but did it have to be so anti-knife-edge and shamefully blase? It did. Lifetime seems to have gone on holiday here. Not enough "amour fou".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, August 8, 2022

Shark Bait 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Shark Bait has a generic title. I mean anything a shark goes after is bait (duh). Look closer though. "Bait" tries really hard to freshen up the shark movie patheon. The shark in question is rarely seen in close-ups so yeah, why give another moviegoer a reason to put a label on this genre (fake marine fish with toothlike scales and dorsal fins).

Shark Bait is well, about a nasty great white. What else would they be thinking of? Said great white hunts a few drunk idiots who steal a couple of jet skis and venture out to sea. So OK, the characters in "Bait" are unlikable dolts who are cliches of any millennial stuck in peril. To "Bait's" credit though, we actually feel something for these people when they are being diced up. Maybe it's the pacing, maybe it's the jim-jams, maybe it's the nerves secreted. Somehow the whole thing works in a sort of B-movie conch.

Shot in Malta (near Sicily) and favoring itself as a more commercialized version of 2003's Open Water, Shark Bait is all too familiar but steadfast in its approach. "Bait's" director (James Nunn) elevates the material while making you forget that stuff like Apex Predators and 2020's Shark Season ever existed (that's a good thing). Whether he's hitting the audience with overhead shots, underwater shtick, bloodless kills, or various wipes, Nunn is the proverbial polisher of the turd that is the modern-day shark pic. It's like the guy who's the assistant to the assistant but doesn't mind the grunt work and wants to move up the veritable, cinematic food chain.

In retrospect, Shark Bait builds tension throughout and better recycles every piece of crud that came after 1975's Jaws (the GOAT of predatory thrillers as they say). If I'm up for a rental that's rawness doesn't scream hoary, I'll take this "bait" any time.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, August 5, 2022

Sons 2 the Grave 2022 * 1/2 Stars


A promising, cocky young basketball star headed for the pros, can't escape the gray areas of his downtrodden neighborhood. Who's he gonna play for in the NBA? We don't know. Why does he still associate with the stench of the hood? He point shaves I guess. Why does he still hang out at his digs via the wrong side of NYC's tracks? You tell me. Call all of it the gist of 2022's Sons 2 the Grave. As Danny Glover's Richard Murtaugh would say, "that's pretty thin".

Sons 2 the Grave feels like an unintentional Afterschool Special when it should be a hard-hitting drama. You can tell. "Grave's" helmer (Lynne Stoltz) handles the material with almost too much care, teetering on the edge of being dangerous but ultimately fluttering when it really counts. Lynne's direction is standard here and the atmospherics, well they should have been a little more unwashed. 

Sons 2 the Grave has Stoltz as writer, director, and producer. You can't really call "Grave" a vanity project because well, she is a full-blown rookie and had to cut some teeth. Lynne's film despite its mobbed up subject matter, is virtually anticlimatic and almost glossed over. You have to wonder what would have become of "Grave" had Spike Lee, Mario Van Peebles, or the reclusive Ernest Dickerson got a hold of the deets. 

Sons 2 the Grave stars Trevor Jackson, Maria Howell, and Brad James. Their performances aren't lousy but they come off as pigeonhole personas that you see in almost every crime drama. Ditto for the side characters as well. Probably on the dole, probably drifting, and probably high school idlers, they act a fool and make "Grave" a misguided attempt at telling an urban tale. Bottom line: If you plan on seeing Sons 2 the Grave, don't tell anyone (like I did). Just take it to the "grave". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Hunting Souls 2022 * * Stars


"This is not real, this is not real". Oh but it is. Things that go bump in the night are real to the poor mortals that have to deal with them.

Anyway if you've ever wanted to see a movie rivaling the first Paranormal Activity (sans the found footage and improvisation), then 2022's Hunting Souls is that movie. Yup, a demon or supernatural entity is going after someone (in this case a little girl). Added to that, the outside of the house in "Souls" looks different but the interior, well it's almost identical to the abode that Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat inhabited.

Now is Hunting Souls as good and as low budget-friendly as Paranormal Activity? Uh no, not by a long shot. "Souls" has a few taut moments but it's not really scary, probably because we've seen too much of this fodder in the past. I will say that you could almost play a drinking game every time you hear (or see) the words "you can't save her". Or not. You may be three sheets to the wind before the 97-minute running time of "Souls" subsides.

The director of "Souls" (Diego Silva Acevedo) is a full-feature rookie. He wants to creep you out but ultimately can't. I mean he inserts a few Hitchcockian moments (the actual evil spirit doesn't show up for a while) and his actors while unknown, are pretty much committed. Too bad his film veers almost into SNL parody territory, what with its cheap special effects, choppy editing, cringed comic relief, and weak costuming.

I mean let's look at that demon in question. It tries hard to be menacing but appears like a cut-rate version of the ones from The Descent or some 80s Amityville endeavor. Along with a typical surprise ending and some strained, horror psychobabble, Hunting Souls sadly doesn't do its job. It is a dog that can't quite (or won't) "hunt".

Written by Jesse Burleson