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Saturday, October 29, 2022

Barbarian 2022 * * Stars


Justin Long appears in yet another horror film. A breast-feeding video is shown on an old TV. Two people book the same B & B at the same time sans any explanation. That's what you get with 2022's Barbarian. The critics have spoken (and spoken kindly) but I digress. I think the whole thing is a touch overrated. Just saying.

So yeah, Barbarian is a pic full of placed red herrings, a sort of broken-down, blood-stained heap if you will. Directed by rookie Zach Cregger, Barbarian could have gone the straight and narrow as a reverse, home invasion thriller. Bully for that. The flick goes off on tangents and when good old Long shows up (about thirty minutes in), Barbarian actually turns into noir, the kind of noir that ends with well, loose ends.

Now would I give Barbarian a favorable rating? I can't because it doesn't know what it wants to be nor does it really have a suitable coda. And do the actors give sort of rote performances in a movie that feels like an overtaxed guessing game? Sadly yes. If I wanted to watch a complex version of The Descent and/or Don't Breathe (with that bleak Detroit setting) I would do so at my own leisure. There's a mixing of genres here that's not scary, not judicious, and the film's lone flashback is almost like filler compared to everything that came before it.  

Barbarian stars Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, and Justin Long (mentioned earlier). They're in a vehicle about a young woman who rents a home only to be terrorized by a demonized creature with severe mommy issues (ugh). In truth, Barbarian thinks it's too clever for its own good. It's as if its early Hitchcockian tendencies are able to make up for the acute lack of pacing. Sorry but no. It's too non-"primitive" for that. Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Student Body 2022 * * Stars


"Where do you think we are, Jurassic Park?" Ha ha. No you're at a high school trying to escape a mascot-masked killer with a sledgehammer. Sounds like a hoot. 

Anyway, a few underachieving students decide to get revenge against a malevolent math teacher (or is it the other way around) in 2022's Student Body. Said math teacher is Mr. Aunspach and he is played by Christian Camargo. Camargo is well cast because man he's got that gaunt, creep-o factor. 

"Body" eventually becomes a horror film but in the meantime, it's almost like a Kevin Williamson concoction except that everyone is a little more unpleasant and void of wit (Kevin was the dude that gave you Scream and Teaching Mrs. Tingle). Just imagine a poor man's Matthew Lillard or a poor man's Jamie Kennedy and you're on to something. 

Student Body with its 90s preppy slasher look, verges on blood-drenched camp. Its characters (except for maybe one) are unlikable and mean-spirited, like pre-millennial bullies with over the top dispositions. I suppose that's director Lee Ann Kurr's dotty vision, to have young people you hate get what's coming to them in bludgeoning fashion. Kurr thinks she is making a veritable camp classic but "Body" lacks that agog factor. I mean you're not really curious as to who lives or dies. 

"Body" stars Montse Hernandez, Camargo, Cheyenne Haynes, and Ausin Zajur (just to name a few). Kerr directs them conveniently, like pawns in some sort of overripe, R-rated version of the new Saved by the Bell. It's amusing to a fault if you've seen that 2020 Peacock series. 

Student Body is also mildly compounded, fashioning itself as a murderous whodunit that's not too hard to figure out (I did in the last twenty minutes). If there is ever a sequel (and there probably will be) they should call it "Body Double". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Walk 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"I deal with racist people all the time". That stinks. Can't we all just get along? 

Anyway 2022's The Walk has a title that doesn't clearly define what it's about. I do know that it's one of those "don't forget where you came from" Boston movies. No judgement here. I just think I've seen too many of them over the past twenty years. "Walk" also has some Bostonian accents, one beatdown clip, and mentions the term "Southie" a lot. Paging Sean Maguire, Sean Maguire. 

So yeah, The Walk is a film of many tones. It's all over the place. Talks about race, daughter protection, mob ties, and cop talk. It all feels like a TV miniseries wrapped up in 105 minutes. The screenplay is recycled, the interconnecting stories wander. You get an elongated version of Crash but it takes place on the other side of the country. Did I mention Terrence Howard is involved?

Mid-2000s films aside, did I like The Walk as a talky flick that was filmed entirely in New Orleans (masquerading as Beantown)? Somewhat. There were actually some scenes that left me with a lump in my throat. And did I gravitate towards "Walk" as a pic with wishy-washy characters who cater to the crux of altered stating? Not entirely. "Walk" suffers from being too effete. You don't ultimately know where everyone's head is at. 

Distributed by Vertical Entertainment and edited with unvaried continuity by Justin Williams (he's been around the block for the past ten years), The Walk meanders for a good hour and a half until things come to a head. It's a film about ethnic group relations circa 1974 in Boston, Mass. The actors involved (Malcolm McDowell, Jeremy Piven, Justin Chatwin) aren't bad but their personas feel dated in a vehicle that despite good intentions, is indeed dated (I'm not referring to "Walk's" "Me' Decade" setting). "Walk about".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Halloween Ends 2022 * * * Stars


Like the two previous installments in the new Halloween trilogy, I am also recommending Halloween Ends. Yup, I have David Gordon Green to mostly thank for that. I like the cinematic worlds David creates, the way he ties previous storylines together, and just the overall look of his flicks. He's a meat and potatoes filmmaker but he's a darn good meat and potatoes filmmaker. No camera tricks and some treats along the way (ha ha). 

With Halloween Ends, director Green creates another subplot, another spicy angle if you will. Otherwise "Ends" would be just another matinee slasher populated by brand new ways to off or be offed. The subplot just mentioned, is about a male character (Cory Cunningham played effectively by Rohan Campbell) who befriends Michael Myers, turns to the side of evil, and does some slaughtering himself. Trust me, there's some complexity to it, a sort of entanglement that matters until the windup of "Ends" doesn't fully matter at all. 

Halloween Ends is the first sequel I can remember where the main antagonist (in this case Myers) is almost in the backdrop or a virtual non-factor. I mean I've seen it before but it's been a long time ago (in a sequel galaxy far far away). Over and above, don't go into "Ends" thinking it's another requisite Halloween pic. Halloween Ends is more along the lines of being a knife-edge combo of Christine and some James Dean vehicle from '55 (it's that coming-of-age-stuff).

Look for The Shape to still get his murder on (there's less of them but he's always on the job), look for another solid performance by Jamie Lee Curtis (obviously), look for some tight editing by Tim Alverson, and look for plenty of fast cutting flashbacks by Davey Green (he's feeling it people). Halloween Ends is one out of the box "coda". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 16, 2022

TIn Cup 1996 * * * 1/2 Stars


1996's Tin Cup is not quite the antithesis of Caddyshack but it doesn't need farcical gags and broken record, one-liners to get the ball in the hole. And unlike the schmaltz you get in that other golf flick with Will Smith, Tin Cup paints its characters as either golf bums, snobbish PGA Tour pros, or Texas townies. The film is a comedy drama that floats freely and fancy-free, like empty bottles or cork.

Clocking in at well over two hours but not dragging in the least, "Cup" is directed by unconventional pastime monger, Ron Shelton. Like in Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, and Play It to the Bone, Shelton waxes profusely in regards to Tin Cup. In other words, he waxes philosophically, he waxes romantically, he waxes offhand, and he waxes ironically. A sports flick is like a quandary or a left-field journey to a director like Ron Shelton. Who cares who wins at anything as long as you conquer those inner afreets.

With wife beater, sweet swing, laissez-faire attitude, and tanned scruff in toto, "Cup's" star (Kevin Costner as Roy McAvoy) becomes Shelton's awoken and broken-down muse. Roy is a humbled slug, with enough buoyancy and chutzpah to beat any pro golfer slickster. In Tin Cup, Costner's McAvoy tries to win the heart of his sexy psychologist (Dr. Molly Griswold played by Rene Russo) while at the same time, trying to beat his PGA Tour nemesis (David Simms played by Don Johnson in playful, baddie mode) as a qualifier at the US Open.

Look for cameos of actual pro golfers (Phil Mickelson, Craig Stadler, John Cook, Johnny Miller), some innuendo and strong language (weak R-rated stuff), and an ending that suggests the undying and not the lowest score to par. Tin Cup makes my list of top five sports movies ever. "Fore!"

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Good Mourning 2022 * Star


How bad is 2022's Good Mourning? Um let me put it this way, how bad is anthrax? Bad, really bad. "Mourning" is a movie about actors and communal Hollyweird and those usually turn out to be disastrous. Yup, the legendary pseudonym Alan Smithee rears his ugly head once again. "Paging Eric Idle, Eric Idle".  

Good Mourning is a film that thinks it's witty and waggish but is somehow subjected to all things TMZ. I hate that tabloid poo-poo and I wanted to dis everyone involved. The acting is robotic and paused, the comedic payoffs land flat, and the closing outtakes in "Mourning" make The Cannonball Run look like Citizen Kane by comparison. Ouch.

Clocking in at a disjointed and cringey 93 minutes, "Mourning" has duff cameos (Dennis Rodman, Pete Davidson, Avril Lavigne, Tom Arnold) and a ganja factor that is at most, "half baked" (no pun intended). It's rare that I've thought about turning a flick off after ten minutes but nonetheless, I stayed till the end (hence the lousy review).  

The crux of Good Mourning is a boo-hoo of all things La La Land. A TV trouper named London (played by Colson Baker AKA Machine Gun Kelly) must decide on winning back his hot girlfriend or landing a huge role in a Batman movie. Baker wades through "Mourning" like a wounded dog with sagged eyes and some veritable foaming. Baker's performance is strikingly awful and he carries this pic like a 90-year-old grandma carrying a grand piano on her shoulders. That means not good. 

Filmed with a whiff of late 90s American Pie BS coupled with a punked-out version of Entourage, Good Mourning lets us know right away that filmmakers Colson Baker and Mod Sun should never be allowed to direct again. Heck, they were probably dazed at final cut. "Bottom of the morning". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 10, 2022

Who Invited Them 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


"Can we hit the reset button?" Uh no. Just get out of my residence and never come back again. Wait, why aren't you leaving? And what's with the smirk?

Anyway, a couple introduce their new home by having a party with some of their friends. Another couple crashes said party uninvited and unknown in their identity. Vexing. That's the rub of 2022's sometimes tantalizing but overly taunting, Who Invited Them

"Them" is a psychological tease of a film that occasionally revels in the conch of snobbery. It could be classified as horror but it's too new-fashioned for that. For 85 percent of the movie's 81-minute running time you're involved because rookie director Duncan Birmingham turns those screws. The way his camera moves and the way he sets up scenes in smoke-screen fashion, Duncan is an enlivened expert in the Hitchcockian. You kind of know where Who Invited Them is headed but at the same time, you kind of don't. That's the fun part.

"Them" stars Ryan Hansen, Melissa Tang, Timothy Granaderos, and Perry Mattfeld. They credibly play the two couples (or maybe couples) who through drink and drug, have a psychosomatic tug of war with each other. Through all the various subterfuges and gruesome flashbacks, Who Invited Them maintains its status as a talky flick that throws shades of creeping you out. Its setting of the Hollywood Hills shows us that these hills are "Hollyweird". 

What keeps Who Invited Them from greatness however, is how things wrap up. It eventually becomes part routine, home invasion slasher and part confusing ending (talk about a cinematic oxymoron). You'd think that after Birmingham's effectively off-kilter direction he'd settle in and deliver a more tighter final act. "Them" leaves you on the edge of interpretation and not in a good way. As a viewer I wouldn't have "invited" that. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 7, 2022

The Devil You Know 2022 * * * Stars


"I think you know more than you're letting on". So says a detective in 2022's The Devil You Know. Mostly a talky pic with shards of brief violence and hazard, "Devil" unfolds like the slowest of burns as well, pure fiction.

Taking place in I guess, the less glamorous parts of San Diego (Padres games are mentioned), The Devil You Know refers to possibly the brother of the protagonist played by Omar Epps (as Marcus Cowans). "Devil" is a perfect vehicle for a seasoned, veteran actor like Epps. All disheveled and slouched over with the usual mannerisms, Omar carries "Devil" steadily in the same way he carried certain parts of 1992's Juice. As they say, the tension is in the shoulders, like a dude that did some time.

The Devil You Know centers around the grizzled Cowans, an ex-con who gets embroiled in some murders that might have involved certain members of his household. Cowans wants to stay sober and wants to go straight, but a certain clue (which I won't reveal) leads him to snitch by leaving an anonymous tip. That's when "Devil" turns dark, verbose, and dangerous, a sort of bickering, family Christmas movie but without the comedy and the yuletide cheer. 

"Devil's" littered screenplay about homicides, criminal loyalty, and family secrets gets recycled a bit too much. And the film with its sometimes uphill pacing, gives off whiffs of a TV miniseries. Still, The Devil You Know is somehow enthralling and unputdownable, a kind of mild noir with dusky tones and forced scenes that crackle. The cast is decent and I dug the icy, controlled performance of Michael Ealy (as top cop Joe McDonald). The ending (in two parts) feels a little abrupt but it's shocking like a sledgehammer on the comedown. Basically this devil "gets its due". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Tigerland 2000 * * * 1/2 Stars


2000's Tigerland is a pseudo, ersatz war film set in 1971 but it doesn't bleed early, 70s nostalgia. It doesn't have time for that noise. It's rather gritty and dark and grainy, like abundant mud on your shoes. Tigerland is a character study and not some Call of Duty extract. It's mean-spirited, twinging, and prison-like. War is hell even before it's time to um, go to war. 

Clocking in at 101 minutes and feeling like an extended version of the first half via Full Metal Jacket, Tigerland is a tour de force for its late director, Joel Schumacher. Schumacher lets his camera freefall as he strips away the stench from his previous, nutrition-free blockbusters (those bad Batman flicks). He unwillingly cultivates a compact, boot camp indie filled with sterling touches and brute irony. "It ain't your army". Yeah but it's my movie to review. Natch.

So is Tigerland a behind the scenes blueprint for soldiers getting ready to travel 14 or so hours to get their heads blown off? In a way yes. But like I said in the first paragraph, it's still a character study, with star Colin Farrell acting his tail off as the crusader slash antihero bent on virtual pacifism. And does Tigerland feel like a stage play with heightened acting and bullets aplenty? Yeah but so what. The film takes Schumacher out of his cinematic comfort zone like a vegetarian living off of meat. Joel reinvented his shtick here in the new millennium, with his efforts being more mature and well, more gangly. 

As a flick about a bunch of recruits training in Louisiana to get ready to fight in The Vietnam War, Tigerland takes every authoritative persona and splices them into Sergeant Hartman types. It also reaches for themes of passive resistance. The results are stirring, numbing, and upsetting, like a battle that could never be won.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Endangered 2022 * * * 1/2 Stars


2022's Endangered is not so much a documentary as it is a painful reminder of what's been going on in the world via the last two years. Protests and violence and COVID oh my. Man it's been a bumpy ride. Watching Endangered is like witnessing a multi-vehicle car accident. I know I sound like a broken record but you just can't look away.

Endangered is the definition of a docu because it's factual, reported, and raw, with the camera always peeking in like some sort of spy or curious bystander. Did I mention the film does the split screen technique as well? Endangered's directors (Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing) are experts at what they do. The footage they capture is so in the moment, so undisguised. Channeling a little Steven Soderbergh but with real people instead of actors, you wonder in surreal amazement how they shot this thing (but they did cause it's there).

Endangered makes you feel sympathy for the media even though some of their shtick I find annoying (I shouldn't cause I'm a writer myself but whatever). Hey, as they say they're just doing their job. The flick follows four reporters from different parts of the planet who have received threats of inhumanity and persecution while on the beat.

With Endangered, helmers Grady and Ewing create 90 minutes of subdued, journalistic discipline that is quietly powerful. They get right up in their subject's grills but veer away from interviews and just go with hushed narration (it works). The fact that this pic was filmed at the height of the pandemic just makes it more neoteric to watch.

If you're a fan of documentaries (and I am) then Endangered will satisfy that particular, cinematic palate. The movie ends with a sort of metaphoric fog being lifted. Gosh, it's great to know that not everyone will forever be put "in harm's way".

Written by Jesse Burleson