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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Bandit 2022 * * * Stars


"I don't have any money". Really? After stealing from 59 or so financial establishments? Yeesh.

A weak sense of 80s time and place, hairstyles that don't match the decade, and an overload of the blithe doesn't keep you from enjoying 2022's Bandit. Josh Duhamel is in the lead and he's all cocksure and such as a bank robber getting his uh, rob on. Duhamel creates a character through layers and improvisation and duping and whatnot. He relishes it. In Bandit he plays Gilbert Galvan Jr or should I say, Robert Whiteman. Mel Gibson's in Bandit too. He rides with Duhamel as a sort of mobster sidekick named Tommy Kay. Their dialogue exchanges crackle, like a couple of HS buddies at lunch break, scheming and Janus-faced.

Now about Bandit the movie. Well it's a bank marauder pic with gang ties (duh). It is also based on a true story but comes off as more playful and less hard-hitting. The pace is swift, the cutting is volant, the editing is crisp. The music? Well it bodes really well with the rhythms of the actors. Again playful. Watching Bandit, you wouldn't even know it's based on true events. It almost plays like a pseudo comedy or a TV miniseries on say, Peacock. What can I say, I enjoyed it anyway.

So yeah, Bandit is obviously not the most original of heist flicks. I mean if you've seen stuff like Wisdom and/or The Old Man & the Gun you've seen this swipe. What makes Bandit recommending, is how fun-loving it winks toward the audience. It's not really dangerous, just jocular, with never a dull moment or anything lagging. The 126-minute running time just sort of flies by as director Allan Ungar engages in the almost non-violent, carefree way of pilfering via the Reagan Era. Disguises, quiet moments of cash-grabbing, deception, and that revelatory ending. It's all design by Duhamel. Him and this vehicle are quite the "steal".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 26, 2022

Babylon 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Babylon is a 189-minute flick in which the running time is what it is. Oh well. What's on screen doesn't drag. In fact, it hits you in the face or should I say, the groin. Basically what we have here is the equivalent of an actual film doing cocaine and getting high on its own supply. A muscle-man eating a live rat, sexual relations in public, drugs and drink, death on set, rattlesnake blood-sucking, an elephant defecating, people vomiting. I mean was 1920s and 30s Hollywood really all about this? I guess so according to helmer Damien Chazelle. Better stay out of his way people. 

Chazelle becomes a different director here than I remember. It's like he got bored, felt restless, and decided to channel his inner Paul Thomas Anderson and/or Martin Scorsese. Whip pans and zooms and mighty tracking shots and extreme fast cutting and movie-within-a-movie scenes oh my! Oh and I did mention there's a hundred or so actors in almost every frame? Yup, the scope, energy, and breadth are impressive but you want to say to Damian, "how about finding your own voice dude". You have a made a less tighter, less cohesive version of Boogie Nights and/or The Wolf of Wall Street. Um, thanks for the valiant effort. 

That's not to say that Babylon isn't worth recommending. I mean it's like watching a series of cinematic car accidents that you can't look away from. And yeah, you want to see the next one (and the next one). Chazelle's look in Babylon is all scorched and sprawling, with hazy malaise and saturated, beige hues. His actors (Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva) produce solid performances whether they are given time to breathe or forced to wade through mounds of turpitude. 

Now would I cut the last 7-10 minutes that are a montage of film histrionics shown to be self-indulgent and/or without necessity? Oh you betcha. And would I find a new editor and re-shoot Babylon so it doesn't feel so darn spasmodic? For sure. As a naughty love letter to the almighty Golden Age, Babylon could actually be called, Babylon "and on and on". Natch.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Violent Night 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Violent Night certainly earns its title. Not just from a Christmas standpoint (it's a RhymeZone version of that song), but from a "violent" standpoint as well. An Xmas star to the eye, a sledgehammer to the face, a bullet to the head, a nail through the chin. "Ho ho hurt" as in ouch!

So OK, you've probably heard that Violent Night is a combo of Die Hard and Home Alone. Guess what, it is and it's so obvious. I mean the filmmakers actually reference the flicks in a hint, hint sort of way. Walkie talkies (check), booby traps (check), Santa Claus getting his groove on as an antihero Bruce Willis on steroids (Czechoslovakia!).

The only differences with the two: "Night" is more savage than Die Hard but it doesn't take itself seriously whereas Die Hard rightfully does. As for Home Alone, well the bad guys actually lived in that one. Heck, the baddies in Violent Night bite the proverbial dust as if they were paperweights in a snuff and/or grindhouse production. It's brutally for brutality's sake, all sensationalized for the silly season.

Watching Violent Night, you wonder why it wasn't made twenty years ago. The diegesis is rather genius, a way to divert your attention from all things Frank Capra and Barbara Stanwyck. The actual Santa (played by a well cast David Harbour) is clearly an alcoholic and Christmas Eve is just another day at the office for him. When he enters a wealthy home to deliver presents, he stumbles upon some murderous thieves who have taken a family hostage for a cool 300 mil. Santa's solution to save said family is a "violent" one (duh). I mean how did Mr. Claus learn to fight like Jason Statham and/or Van Damme (yikes)?

Bottom line: Violent Night is an entertaining if not choppily made thriller with a whiff of camp. It's action scene then payoff then action scene then payoff. The way it's lit and with certain long shots signifying all things Noel, "Night" definitely feels like a Christmas movie whereas Die Hard doesn't (per a certain interview, I side with Willis on this issue). It's happy holidays here even though the blood is clearly flowing off the tinsel.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Deck the Heart 2021 * 1/2 Stars


How bad is 2021's Deck the Heart? Let me put it this way, how bad is a hurricane? Bad, catastrophic. "Deck" is a holiday movie but it doesn't feel enough like one. Perhaps it's the budget, perhaps it's the vexatious, drawn-out scenes of people conversing, perhaps it's the sometimes creepy non-Xmas music inserted during pivotal moments. Perhaps as to say, feasibly.

So yeah, Deck the Heart has its "heart" in the right place (ha-ha). I mean the film has good intentions. You know, celebrating Christmas, having it as a time of giving, celebrating family, blah blah blah. That's not the problem here. The problem is how it's made, all misguiding and "Don't Stand So Close to Me"-like. 

The romantic leads in "Deck" are good-looking people but the male looks like a middle-ager while the female looks like a college student who is cramming for her doctorate exams. Yeah, non-computing. When they kiss at the end (this occurs in all the Hallmark Xmas flicks), it almost looks criminal, like it was a dare or something. Yup, no mistletoe is gonna help this situation.

Taking place in Maine and showing snow one day and then showing no snow the next (uh-huh), Deck the Heart is about a NYC businessman who inherits his late grandfather's house. According to his grandfather's wishes, he must host Christmas there for his family. The rub: he decides to hire a party planner to do it with a budget of $12,000 (wha?? Could've fooled me based on the end results). 

Joe Kurak plays said businessman Chris Ackerman while Ashley Brinkman plays said party planner Meredith Block (or Merry because well, you know why). Chris and Merry eventually fall in love (duh) but their scenes together and their dialogue exchanges are about as stiff as a glass of Maker's Mark neat. It's not easy to watch. I mean did "Deck's" director (Candice T. Cain) tell them to walk and talk like zombies because it sure seemed that way to me. I've heard of actors trying to hit their marks but I've never seen it to be so axiomatic. Ugh. 

Like I said in the second paragraph, Deck the Heart has aspirations of what it wants to achieve. It wants you to feel those warm fuzzies while sipping the almighty eggnog. Too bad we've got a student film situation brewing here that appears like it was submitted at some festival in Podunk, Vermont. If helmer Cain knew where to put the camera, knew how to shoot a close-up, or knew how to squeeze performances out of everyone, Deck the Heart might've actually worked. What I saw on screen was way below the hard "deck". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Emily the Criminal 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


Emily the Criminal was released in the US in August of this year. It's frantic, dangerous, and confined, a project that reminded me of something that could've been helmed by the Safdie brothers (those crazy kids from Uncut Gems). "Criminal" also takes the subject of credit card swindling and makes it justifiable to the masses. Bad background check? Ah who cares, you're hired.

Anyhow, Emily the Criminal is kind of a less tweaked out, less violent version of "Gems" (mentioned in the last paragraph). This time the setting is LA and instead of Adam Sandler getting out of his acting comfort zone, we now have Aubrey Plaza getting out of hers. 

Plaza plays the Emily in Emily the Criminal and she ditches the comedic shtick while getting her groove on in the nerve-ending department. It's an amazing transformation as Aubrey acts with her whole body while giving the audience member some gangster screen presence. Yup, the weathered (yet sexy) Plaza is pretty much in every frame here. That's a good thing because when she is not, "Criminal" almost comes to a screeching halt. 

As something about a debt-ridden woman (Plaza as Emily Benetto) who gets involved in a credit card scam because she can't get a regular job as an artist, Emily the Criminal is a solidly paced thriller in which the camera is hard-pressed to keep up. Rookie director and close-up monger John Patton Ford can storyboard and his casting of Plaza is spot-on while still being against type. The problem I had with "Criminal" is something altogether different than the latter. It's cruxes are implausible and well, not likely.

The Benetto character breaks the law and although her life is somewhat threatened, she comes away unscathed. What no one you scammed is gonna come back and confront you? What no one is gonna identify you and arrest you a couple of days later? Head-scratching. Then there's the notion of what Emily Benetto becomes towards the end of the film (spoiler). She starts off as the antihero protagonist only to go virtual dark side. I mean it just doesn't seem credible what with everything that happened prior to the last act. "Criminally" overrated. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Beat Street 1984 * * * Stars


"It's like a heartbeat, beat street". Ah the opening credits to a pic I relentlessly saw on HBO. I then practiced my moves in front of a mirror, feeling groovy. 

Anyway for two or three years in the early 80s, break-dancing was a thing. Then it quickly burned out. 1984's Beat Street captures the style of breaking when it was at its pinnacle, all popping and locking and spinning and stuff. Heck, you could almost say this movie is frozen in time.

Beat Street is Saturday Night Fever sans the disco and hot pants. The setting is the same (NYC), there's a tragic death towards the end, and well, there's plenty of vibrant dancing. Beat Street has a little more as it almost feels like a talent show or musical minus everyone breaking out into song. I'm not saying that's a bad thing but the extended scenes of DJing, singing, and break battling sometimes deflate the dramatic momentum. And yeah, there's a few, solid dramatic nuggets to be had. 

More robust and more mature than those other hip-hop pics of the time (Breakin', Krush Groove, Rappin'), Beat Street has atmospheric direction by Stan Lathan and a use of locales that feels bitingly echt. I mean I've never felt like I was in the Bronx more than with this film. Lathan pumps you up on musical numbers and then provides quieter moments where the troupers can breathe and emote. One kinda outweighs the other but oh well. 

Like in "Fever" (mentioned earlier), Beat Street pushes the boomer self-reliance. In tinges, it looks at a graffiti artist, a young breaker, a DJ, and a slick manager trying to break out of their banal existence in a rundown, NYC borough neighborhood. The unknown actors (minus Rae Dawn Chong) do solid work in a flick that's a snapshot of pop culture that unfortunately blew away at the blink of an eye. Still, this "beat" manages to go on. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Menu 2022 * * 1/2 Stars


2022's The Menu is my latest write-up. It is well-edited, shrewd, and visually aesthetic, actually using food on rocks as a Michelin Star metaphor. "Menu" also features title cards of various course meals that list the items in a demented sort of way. I mean are we the viewers supposed to laugh or scoff? I'm going to go with scoff and Gordon Ramsay would probably do the same. 

Speaking of Ramsay, well The Menu is like a film version of his Hell's Kitchen except that the head chef is more quietly evil and the patrons involved, well they mostly die. Manipulative and spiteful, "Menu" is indeed a black comedy, the blackest of comedies (with some horror elements thrown in). Its victim characters are like Stockholm syndrome minions getting their exotic eat on as you the audience member keep guessing and guessing as to what's going to happen next. That's when The Menu is at its most effective.   

But then The Menu has to conclude and you realize that it's more stylish grizzle that's meant to upset and not compel. I mean yeah The Menu is directed with panache and the look of it is about as sterile as the Virgin Mary's latrine. But where's the moral center here? And minus "Menu's" final twist, why does everybody have to have their fates be so forlorn? Talk about a downer of a thriller that just leaves a sour taste in your mouth (pun intended). 

As a flick about a celebrity chef (Julian Slowik) who invites a bunch of rich wrongdoers to an island to feast on some first class cruisine (only to find that they're included in the meal), "Menu" has solid performances from a well-to-do cast (Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult). Fiennes is the standout and although we think of him as a fine actor, his Slowik here is so remorseless and uncouth it's hard to accept his actions as anything more than show. He's vile for the sake of being vile as is The Menu overall. This is "food" without much "soul".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Sr. 2022 * * * Stars


A lot of people know who Robert Downey Jr. is. Okay the whole world knows who he is. Bob is a movie star from those Marvel endeavors. The dude once commanded $75 million for one flick (remember Avengers: Endgame?). 

Sr. (my latest review) is not about Robert Downey Jr. I mean it kind of is but that's a moot point. It's mainly about his father Robert Downey Sr. Sr. is a guy who was not as much in the limelight, making low budget, independent films and appearing as an actor in stuff like Boogie Nights and/or To Live and Die in L.A. 

I've never seen a Robert Downey Sr.-directed pic but Sr. provides plenty of archive footage from his stuff via the late 60s and early 70s. Said archive footage counteracts with recent interviews that counteract with random scenes that are sort of playful cuts of the late subject (Sr. of course). It's like a movie within a movie within a documentary, shot in black & white while harboring a somber and evocative tone. 

Sr. is a docu that is told chronologically but feels non-linear at the same time. It's not perfect but there's a certain earthiness to it. I mean it feels more personal that most (of any type). You see Robert Downey Jr. in a way you've never seen him before (it's like he's a regular Joe). You also get to know his dad and what an out of the box filmmaker he was, all satiric and radical and whatnot. I've always thought of their relationship as opposite sides of the pickle. Jr. is well, blockbuster and his pops sort of a hidden, Woody Allen type. 

What's heartbreaking is that Sr. ends up following the last years of Robert Downey Sr.'s life. It was filmed over a period of three showing the gradual decline of Sr.'s health due to Parkinson's disease. Thankfully through Sr. we get to know this man and his visionary turns that stayed under the radar to most Hollywood annals. Senior day!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 5, 2022

Class of 1984 1982 * * 1/2 Stars


In 1982, audiences weren't ready for Class of 1984. I mean maybe they were but I know I wouldn't have been. Some say it's a cult film. I say not exactly but the title sure suggests it. "1984" shows high school in the most brutal and bleak way, all neon, perfumed, and punk like some sort of whacked out Greek mythology. Pushing the boundaries of adequate taste while pushing the unlicked envelope, Class of 1984 hasn't aged well in my most humbled opinion. If it was made last year it probably wouldn't have even gotten greenlit today.

That's not to say that "1984" wasn't ahead of its time (for that time). I mean just imagine The Warriors crossing paths with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Now imagine a horror version of those two flicks, a sort of remorseless, harshly violent conch of maddening teenage rebellion. Class of 1984 is a rough watch with an even rougher social commentary. The school depicted in '82 had metal detectors and no dress code (that's fresh). The actors were probably plucked off the street and told to do unspeakable things.

Shot in Toronto, Canada and sledgehammering the notion that high schooler inmates really do run the asylum, Class of 1984 stars a perfectly cast Perry King and a perfectly cast Timothy Van Patten. King plays music teacher Andrew Norris and Van Patten plays troubled student Peter Stegman. When Norris kicks Stegman out of class while rubbing him the wrong way in the process, Stegman and his gang of misfits savagely torment Norris and his pregnant wife (Merrie Lynn Ross as Diane Norris).

With scenes of attempted rape, vindictive assault, gangly beatings, and manipulative solicitation, Class of 1984 shows the mild-mannered man getting pushed to edge and becoming lex talionis. It's all a little too off-color to recommend.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, December 2, 2022

Slice 2018 * * 1/2 Stars


"It all started when the werewolf came back into town". I'm not talking about London folks, I'm talking about mile after magnificent mile (that would be Illinois). 

Mindless, campy, a film that lives in a sort of warped, Gotham fantasy-land. Ghosts are an actual ethnic group, the mayor persona is a perv, and Chance the Rapper is apparently in the form of someone changing their appearance during a full moon. Yeah I'm talking about 2018's Slice, a vehicle that's so neon and fluorescent it comes off as late 80s swipe that could only be featured at 4am on Cinemax. Alex Cox called and says he wants his repo status and science fiction smoke back.

Slice if you're game enough (or tipsy enough), is a beer and pizza movie (no pun intended). It doesn't take itself seriously and why should it, it's about pizzeria delivery guys getting offed and doofus cops trying to find the culprit. The soundtrack is 1980s synth, the look is urban Chuck E. Cheese (pun intended). Slice's tone is all over the place but at least its director (Austin Vessely) creates a quixotic world full of bended subjects. Za, punk, devilsh Karens, and municipality peacekeeping oh my!

Men wearing bad wigs, old television sets, a screenplay that's equal parts distressing and cringy, skewed character motivations, and actorly acting. That's Slice's go-ahead vision and it's a real doozy. But hey, it's edited surprisingly well, like a murder mystery that plays out in likely fashion. Austin Vessely's direction is standard and not flashy (that's only in the visual palate). He shoots low to the ground as his camera zooms forwards and backwards.

Bottom line: Slice is no midnight movie circuit winner but it's a "cut above" most cultish wanabees. I mean I've never seen a flick that had more fun at making fun of itself. 

Written by Jesse Burleson