film reel image

film reel image

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Bullies 1986 * * * Stars


"Matt you don't know them". Yeah you don't Matt. You done taking the wrong turn boy. Matt and his family move to a small town and open up a grocery store. Little do they know that another family is bent on tormenting them like all get out. 

Anyway I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1986. It was in my hometown via Southwest Michigan at the local theatre (Southtown Twin to be exact). The film was Bullies and it played for about a week. Then it was gone, sigh. Audiences around the country probably weren't ready for Bullies anyway. Unknown cast, no marketing, borderline NC-17 rating, vile subject matter. Yup, I thought I'd revisit this acrid switchblade of a movie.

Bullies certainly gets its title right. It's simple, brash, and to the point. It is about bullies with the last name of Cullen (a memorable last name indeed and a nice touch). According to the wiki of Bullies, the Cullens are a clan of sorts. Heck, I consider them a bunch of bags with a mountainous, redneck flavor. If you're in a Straw Dogs and/or Deliverance sort of mood, those Cullens sure were your tour guide back in good old '86. 

With a musical score that is 80s cheese and a Canadian director that has enough assertive gumption to stage confrontation (Paul Lynch of Prom Night fame), Bullies never harbored cult status nor did it gain access to the midnight movie circuit. Why? Well the flick has a certain ugliness to it, a sort of relentless coup de grace if you will. But hey, what'd you expect? The film is called Bullies and it does what it conveys. Lynch's vision can be tasteless, superfluous, and overly violent but it will affect you. Well-acted, carefully plotted, and reprisal-minded, I say "bully" for that. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Good Neighbor 2022 * * * Stars


"David we hit something". Did you now. It wasn't a squirrel or a possum?

So OK, in 2022's The Good Neighbor, the neighbor is anything but. He's got attachment issues, he's prying, he's latent, and in the end, he's just pure evil. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Robert and let's just call him the "bad" neighbor shall we. He's one of those actors that excels at giving a manipulative, calculating performance. Exhibit B would be Woody Allen's Match Point.

Anyway, The Good Neighbor is shot by German Stephan Rick. His direction is streamlined and aseptic yet forlorn, giving "Neighbor" the feeling of being somewhere between the greatest Lifetime movie ever and 1998's A Simple Plan. Rick keeps you guessing and guessing as he almost numbs you the viewer. "Neighbor" isn't flashy nor is it horrific (most of the murders show the aftermath). Until it runs out of steam however, the film turns enough psychological screws to undo a dresser. You can count on it. 

Taking place and filmed in Latvia, The Good Neighbor is about a couple of neighbors who go out for drinks, drive home, and commit a hit and run via a young woman on a bike. Yup, these movies tend to make my ears perk up. Yeah the events are tragic but you're completely involved, wondering how these two dudes are gonna try to cover up the pseudo crime. Witnesses (or non-witnesses) are offed, evidence is shellacked, and when it comes to the detectives, the house always wins (or does it?). 

"Neighbor" has casting that is spot-on, its editing for the most part, is crisp, and the Lativa setting provides a sort of sterling authenticity. If the flick didn't overplay its hand, add layers, and turn into a rather rote thriller, I would've praised it more. Oh well, "Neighbor" is worth renting at the "closest" Redbox. Natch.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Death Valley 2021 * * * Stars


Let's get this right out of the way shall we. 2021's Death Valley has nothing to do with that desert place in Cali. I mean the title sounds cool but it was filmed in freaking Canada. But anyway, "Valley" is almost shapeless and butchered in its first act until it turns into The Descent with foot soldier mercenaries added. Hey, who doesn't want to take in a little demon speak with some gun-toting action (I do I do).

Death Valley is directed by Mr Matthew Ninaber. Channeling his inner John Carpenter a la the later years, Ninaber creates some claustrophobia and tension despite his monsters looking almost like advanced Halloween ensembles. His "Valley" doesn't have a happy ending nor does it bleed to the sanguine. Sometimes movies of the quarantine nature (like this one) can be effective that way.

Shot in a Syfy channel sort of way with its actors saying, "we gotta get out of here" and/or "let's keep moving" (it is what it is), Death Valley is about some hired guns who are sent in to rescue a bioengineer held captive via a middle of nowhere bunker. At said bunker is a creature predator with bad hygiene, a coarse voice, and a case of the albino. Chaos ensues with some harrowing fight sequences, a twist villain, some nervous tongue-in-cheek, and paradoxical remnants. The troupers featured in "Valley" (Ethan Mitchell, Jeremy Ninaber, Kristen Kaster) are obviously C-list but they sell scenes a little better than anyone in a recent, Bruce Willis actioner (yikes).

All in all, the best way to view Death Valley is to accept it for what it is. "Valley" is a bloodstained B-movie trying hard to push on its B-movie tropes (the budget, the costume designs, and the shooting locales were probably nil). "Valley of salts".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Death Hunt 2022 * * * Stars


"Once you've hunted man, animals just don't cut it anymore". Yeesh. I'll probably just avoid hanging out in forests in the near future.

Distributed by Uncork'd Entertainment, featuring bad riflemen who couldn't shoot water in a pool, and not to be associated with that Lee Marvin thriller from 1981, 2022's Death Hunt is a B-movie entity that knows it's a B-movie. The filmmakers are basically saying, "enjoy it for what it is folks, we don't care either way". A little bit Surviving the Game, a little bit 2021's Apex, Death Hunt is all about tracking humans for sport. Morals are replaced by the rush of killing. Deer is replaced by a landowner and his chick. Sadistic for the sadists I tell you.

Death Hunt has unknown actors in it that mumble their lines (or maybe it was just the sound editing, ugh). "Hunt" also verges on camp because said lines take a front seat to the overripe. Oh well. This film delivers a certain level of suspense because it kills the male protagonist early and lets the female protagonist saddle up and get her Rambo on (spoiler). I mean it's kind of a novel plot device that has worked before. Ripley, believe it or not!

Death Hunt with its inconsistent action sequences and slight ode to the implausible, still keeps you entertained in a somewhat non-admitting fashion. I suppose it's the nasty charm of men with stogies in their mouths trying to off some mistress couple on a forestry island. Or maybe it's the musical score by Mitchell Gibbs that's eager to the nth degree. Said score doesn't always fit the rhythms of the scenes but boy does it try its darndest. Evoking a sort of 80s flavor, Mitchell's stuff secretly has good old Dutch smiling in the distance.

Flawed but full of squalid, bullet-ridden vigor, Death Hunt brings back the notion of shell-shocked, female badassery. This "dog will hunt", promise.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 17, 2022

A Christmas Story Christmas 2022 * * * Stars


If you haven't seen the holiday classic A Christmas Story, well you've probably been living in isolation somewhere, in a bunker sans a television set. If you have seen A Christmas Story (and I have in spades), then be pleasantly surprised because there's a sequel and you can watch it On Demand. 

2022's A Christmas Story Christmas is that sequel, a true companion piece that was made to be viewed back-to-back with the original from a mere forty years ago (give or take). All the characters are back (Ralphie, Flick, Randy, Scott Farkus to name a few) and pretty much all the same actors are present to play them. It's like taking a trip down memory lane I tell you. Fix up some steaming hot cocoa and enjoy!

A Christmas Story Christmas isn't some VOD pic that would be destined for the $3.99 bin at Best Buy. I mean this is the real deal. Director Clay Kaytis really thinks things through, being so faithful to the consistency of first flick you'd think the ghost of the late Bob Clark talked to him in his sleep. 

Kaytis progresses the narrative very nicely, setting the events decades after with a grown-up Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley having some goofy fun here) going back to his hometown in Indiana to celebrate Christmas with his own kids. I mean it's uncanny. The look is the same (soft and glowed lighting), the locales are similar (that's because they might be), the opening credits are familiar, and the music is 1983 spot-on. Heck, you could almost put A Christmas Story and this follow-up together to make one three-hour movie (why not?). Just add a title card that says well, "thirty years later". 

Same off-handed humor, same grossness with food (you'll see), same Bumpus hounds, same midwest exhaust. That's what you get with A Christmas Story Christmas. The only thing the film adds is its fascination with spirits (no not those spirits, the spirits of a liquid kind) and the fact that it actually borrows some of its slapstick from a certain National Lampoon endeavor. Nice touches all around. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Unhuman 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


There's something sort of inhuman about 2022's Unhuman. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the characters here who come off as so unlikable to the audience it's hard to root for them. They're poor man's Breakfast Club types aspiring to be Shaun of the Dead types. High school, well it sure has been bleak for them.

So yeah, Unhuman is a zombie movie with all these HS stereotypes (how'd you guess). You got the jock, the princess, the oppressed smart girl, the token, and the nerds. Their bus crashes during a field trip, they escape, and then they must band together to try and stop some revived corpses.

Director Marcus Dunstan pulls off all the stops with Unhuman. Less gory than most, he infuses split screens, wipes, slow-mo stuff, and Dutch angles to let the world know he's showing off. Hey, I give him a little credit because there's enough zombie fabric out there to power a small country. Gotta inject some new life (ha ha) into an already manifest genre.

Unhuman breaks itself down into three parts. It's an ambitious if overwrought viewing experience. The first part is the set up (mentioned in the second paragraph). The second part is the refreshing twist (told in one long flashback). The third part is the high school misfits getting their revenge on by fighting ugly (with fists of fury).

In retrospect, helmer Dunstan tries really hard to make you forget that Unhuman is just another pic about the Walking dead. His film is more a tongue in cheek conspiracy, a John Hughes hue, or a high school reprisal prank if you will. I give him points for that but the problem is his actors who are faceless, falsely witty, and only moderately plucky. They're in a movie that's not "unwatchable" but more of a slight, "human" stain.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Merry Swissmas 2022 * * Stars


Merry Swissmas is my latest review. Hey, the beginning of November marks the holidays for me so why not. Directed by John L'Ecuyer in yuletide postcard fashion, "Swissmas" follows the beats of most Lifetime silly season flicks like a manual. You've got the two leads who each lost a loved one a couple of years ago. You've got the female lead traveling from the big city to a faraway place and maybe staying there for a long time. You've got that big smooch at the end (it's compulsory people). Finally, you've got those endless Christmassy festivities leading up to the big day (that would be Xmas day of course). Let's pour out a little eggnog shall we.

So OK, Merry Swissmas has one big hook that keeps it from being in the snowy basement. It takes place in Switzerland (hence the title). The movie looks really good, like you've gone to Christmas heaven while floating on the Pearly Gates. You can smell the hot chocolate, you can feel the fire crackling, and you can hark the warmth of wearing a bad sweater. Notice I haven't gotten to why I can't recommend "Swissmas" yet. It's coming, just like the 25th which is over a month away. 

Merry Swissmas is about an architect who meets an older man while visiting her family in the Playground of Europe (Switzerland's nickname, I looked it up). Starring Jodie Sweetin and Tim Rozon, "Swissmas" has two actors whose characters are supposed to fall in love but who's kidding. Their chemistry is nil, like passing ships or a platonic combo, it's a strange courtship. Now I do believe Sweetin can act but her performance here felt off, all pauses and reacting like an unvarying read through. As for Rozon, well he just looks distinguished yet downtrodden. Wha?? Every scene between these two felt ill at ease. I mean c'mon guys, it's the most wonderful time of the year. Yeesh!

Minimal on plot, a pace that suggests watching ice melt (pun intended), and very little conflict until the hour mark (a little tiff between the lovebirds). Besides the winsome scenery, that's what you get while viewing Merry Swissmas. This "Swiss misses" the mark. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Out of the Blue 2022 * * Stars


2022's Out of the Blue is director Neil LaBute clearly on holiday. But hey, at least he's having fun on said holiday (isn't that the point). His love of other movies is evident (scenes of black-and-white stuff on an old TV), his title cards add to the cheese factor (and he knows this), and his twist at the end gives Out of the Blue a reason for being (I was waiting for that). I've seen other LaBute flicks and this doesn't appear like his normal shtick. I guess he got bored and decided to recycle old genre uses with quirks attached. 

Starring Jack Nicholson's boy (Ray Nicholson) and featuring enough long shots and wide shots to power the sun, Out of the Blue is neo-noir in broad daylight, all risible with softcore porn clips and inane dialogue that seems like it's read off of cue cards. I mean yeah, the film blurs the lines of "it's so bad, it's good" territory. 

So let's break it down all cinephiles shall we? If a movie was touched by the classical stylings of composer Pino Donaggio, it would be Out of the Blue. And if Brian De Palma and David Lynch decided to adopt an illegitimate baby, it'd be Out of the Blue. Finally, if Basic Instinct felt the need to cut the racier stuff just to appease the MPAA, Out of the Blue would suffice. Whoa, that's a lot to take in. 

Out of the Blue has nothing to do with that Debbie Gibson ditty (of course it doesn't). It's a vehicle that somewhat tries hard to back up its definition (that would be without warning, unexpectedly). It's about a released convict (Nicholson as Connor) who has an affair with an older woman (Diane Kruger as Marilyn). While doing the nasty Cinemax-style, Connor and Marilyn decide on how to kill Marilyn's hubby (who is only seen once). Bottom line: Out of the Blue would be more effective if it took itself more seriously and didn't unintentionally play for the overripe. "Blue Velveeta". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, November 7, 2022

My Nightmare Office Affair 2022 * 1/2 Stars


A screenplay that gets recycled constantly ("I just wanted to let you know how impressive your work is"). The nosy, best friend co-worker. The hitting of someone over the head with any object. We're getting into the Lifetime zone people and its latest helping is 2022's My Nightmare Office Affair.

"Affair" is Lifetime network at its most predictable with the same eventual outcome as a bettor covering the point spread via a Crimson Tide football game. Meh. Kaila York directs at a decent clip even though she's sadly channeling her inner David DeCoteau (another Lifetime lifer). Yup, My Nightmare Office Affair doesn't suck you in nor is it really compelling. It's basically patternless schlock for the schlock jocks (male or female).

Now is there any redeemable thing about "Affair" that I can compound here? Actually yes. The musical score by Kevin Blumenfeld is techno bliss (it really is). The problem is that it creates tension in your head that doesn't fully spill onto the screen.

And are the actors in My Nightmare Office Affair game for game's sake? They are but their character arcs are a little off. I mean you've got a project manager who works for a sort of pirate company whose office space is sparse, you've got a failed yoga instructor wife who probably doesn't need to work anyway, and you've got an Internet company boss who mysteriously kills her father and is somehow an expert with the assaulting of needles. Wha?? What's next, Vivica A. Fox showing up as a next door neighbor with a menthol in her mouth and 5-6 cats? Ugh.

My Nightmare Office Affair is about just what the title says. A young man has a fling with his female superior and when he tries to break it off, she goes cray cray (which I already knew about 10 minutes in). There's no love "affair" here.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 4, 2022

Whatever 1998 * * * Stars


I wasn't totally sure what the title meant in regards to 1998's Whatever. So yeah, I looked up its actual definition. The word has to do with lack of restriction so it makes more sense now. Whatever's characters as spotted wastoids seem like they are bound by nothing. 

Whatever is directed by Susan Skoog, a sort of recluse by today's standards (she has only done 2 films in the past 24 years). The flick might have drawn from Susan's own personal experiences growing up in the early 1980s but I could be wrong. Anyway her film is shot with a special lens I suppose making it look like it came out long before '98. Unwashed as a nearly two-hour teen drama, Whatever is a peek in snapshot, all hazy and punk and besmirched for the indie crowd. 

Coming out during the Larry Clark heyday with some added, Dazed and Confused flavor, Whatever is a character study, disjointed in its pacing but sometimes hard-hitting (and desolate) when it comes to pre-adult experiences. The movie centers around Anna Stockard (a perfectly cast Liza Weil). Anna wants to become an artist and get out of New Jersey but the allure of sex, drugs, booze, her shady inner circle, and even her mother keeps her grounded in slight, self-doubt. 

On reflection, Whatever's narrative seems a little fragmentary but its raw performances and left field, dry humor pull you through. And its sense of time and place is kind of slighted (the personas look more 90s than 80s) but hey, the soundtrack is killer, a mixture of Ramones, The Pretenders, and Rush (how random is that?). Flawed but nearly cultish, Whatever's message will always be clear: Being an angst-ridden teen is a tough job but remember, you got your whole life ahead of you. Just gotta keep livin' man. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Dashcam 2021 * Star


How bad is 2021's Dashcam? Let me put it this way, how bad is rabies? Nuff said. Dashcam is billed as a horror film but hold up, it's also one of those handheld, found footage movies. Ugh. Dated, tasteless, impudent, and not even scary, Dashcam has its director (Rob Savage) stuck in old hat land, floundering. 

Jittery as all get-out, Dashcam is distributed by Momentum Pictures. That's funny. This flick has uh, no momentum, no sense of the visual, and no continuity to speak of. The vehicle is edited so poorly, the scares (that you can't really see) come out of nowhere and they're jump scares that Savage can't even set up well (the dude needs lessons). Dashcam was obviously inspired by those Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity movies. What it lacks is any redeemable features or sense of plotting that those pics had in their heyday. 

Dashcam tops out at 80 minutes and the last 10 or so has its putrid lead (Annie Hardy, the poor man's Heather Donahue) doing improv rapping at the wheel of her car (and doing it badly). In truth, I've never hated a main character more and the fact that she survives the ordeal (otherwise there'd be no movie) just shows the misguided vision that helmer Savage insisted on. Watching Dashcam, you wonder if everyone involved wanted you to hate it. Probably. That's one messed up wink wink at the audience. 

Dashcam is about a livestreaming dolt (Hardy) who flies to London to see friends only to get terrorized by possessed demons with plenty of blood and other crap (pun intended) foaming everywhere. Dashcam gives new meaning to the term "handheld" because you literally can't comprehend what you're seeing. I mean the definition of a motion picture is a series of still photographs on film projected onto a screen using light in rapid succession. So OK, is Dashcam any of these things? I would say 99 percent nada. Make a swift "dash" to avoid Dashcam

Written by Jesse Burleson