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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

There's Something Wrong with the Children 2023 * * Stars


"Where did the kids go?" That's a good question. Or not. We all know the answer and usually it's not the best of outcomes. 

Anyway, Roxanne Benjamin directs 2023's There's Something Wrong with the Children. The title of her project, well it's pretty much self-explanatory. Benjamin obviously a buffed researcher, leans towards 80s cinema, a little bit of Cabin Fever, M. Night's The Visit, and the pilot days of Sam Raimi to get across her scarified vision. Yup, we've seen this movie before (pun intended). 

So yeah, "Children" has a few tense moments but a cliched script and some weak, schizoid acting keep you the viewer from fully embracing this shanty nightmare. I mean helmer Benjamin supplies plenty of low-key lighting, jumpy scares, and Dutch angles but it's all for style's sake. If we don't care about the faceless characters, don't fear their plight, or want to shake the bejesus out of them, what's left?

Shot in New Orleans, distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment, and using opening credit titles and a synth score that evoke leavings from the Greed decade, There's Something Wrong with the Children is about a couple of kids who get possessed by demons after taking a trip to the woods. Their parents and the couple with them get their drink on (throughout), the young tykes act afoul and become bewitched creep-o-s, and the whole flick concludes violently, amidst a Tartarean, middle of nowhere setting. 

Bottom line: will "Children" send you straight away with your knees knocking? Not really, I mean maybe if you've never seen a horror pic before or hate wilderness, weekend trips. And does There's Something Wrong with the Children actually have an ending? Um, no. It's all rinse, repeat because divine spirits, well they never die and keep coming back like terminators. "Child development". 

 Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Desperate Hour 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


Phillip Noyce directs 2021's The Desperate Hour and his motivation here is to have the audience member fear what they don't see as opposed to the alternative. It's quite the dodge and it makes "Hour" look almost too Hitchcockian for its own good. I mean eventually I wanted to see stuff. 

That's not to say that The Desperate Hour doesn't create a little tension because it does, like dust quickly accumulating on a laptop. Filmed in scenic Ontario, Canada, "Hour" has to do with a HS school shooting and a mother who can't get to her son who's stuck at said school. What comes about makes The Desperate Hour the ultimate cell phone flick, with calls and video feeds and texts and all kinds of other bits and bobs. If this thing was shot in the 80s (when there were no cells), well it would probably cease to exist. 

Naomi Watts plays mother Amy Carr and it's basically a one-woman show for her. In "Hour" (for about an hour), we see Watts running through an endless forest trying to get to her son's terrorized, center of learning. It's an impressive performance that cuts through everything else, raw and timed and unstudied. I mean you can't tell she's really acting. 

But while watching "Hour", I also thought how does Naomi's Amy still have juice left in her portable? And how the heck does she have a perfect signal in what looks like the middle of nowhere? And what's up with the forest giving those unending, Blair Witch vibes? And um, how does she not eventually pass out doing a full-on, 5K? Yeesh. Helmer Noyce films these proceedings at a lingering clip, giving the viewer a gimmick-ed shot of the proverbial "violence of the mind". If only his effect was more compelling and less exhausting. "Last gasp". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Virgin High 1991 * 1/2 Stars


I remember seeing 1991's Virgin High about two years after it was released. I also remember being somewhat amused by it. A doofus character named Zoomer, a late 80s neon look, the use of the word "poon", unrealistic carnal relations, a sense of goofball, juvenile innuendo. Virgin High is the type of movie that was destined to be shown on Cinemax at 4 AM. Was it a tad disposable at the time? Not fully.  

Now over three decades later I decided to take in a viewing of "High" to decide whether or not I had the same feeling watching it as I did in my young adult years. I didn't. Virgin High isn't completely awful but it doesn't hold up in virtually any capacity. The film is not over the top enough to be camp. It's not raunchy enough to provoke chuckles. Finally, Virgin High isn't memorable enough to be some bonking-crazed cult pic. Watching "High" feels like you're seeing Saturday the 14th as a sex comedy, all cheap-looking sets, cheap-looking wardrobe designs, and cheesy background organ music. The movie knows it's mediocre, what with all the flimsy shenanigans and wannabe, offhanded humor going on. 

As a flick about a dude and his buddies who try to infiltrate a Catholic boarding school to score, Virgin High gives us all those heightened, high school/adult stereotypes. You've got the overprotecting parents, you've got the prude, you've got the aroused nerds, you've got the testosterone bully, you've got the mindful nuns, and you've got the unpleasant female persona (you know the term I'm talking about). They all ham it up and the actors that play them, well you don't hear much from any of these people today. Oh wait Leslie Mann makes a cameo as "Squiggle" Girl. Hey, at least she escaped this mild monstrosity of cinematic penance.   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Lavalantula 2015 * * * Stars


2015's Lavalantula says it all in its title even though it's like a tongue twister. There's giant-arse tarantulas, mini eruptions, and well, piping lava. In fact, the giant Arachnids come out of the hot molten and um, really snap to it like sloshed cheetahs. Obviously this thing caught a whiff and piggybacked on the whole Sharknado concept (look for the brief Ian Ziering cameo).

Anyway you can always tell when a film is making fun of itself. You can also tell when a film doesn't take itself too seriously and knows it's cheesier than fried Wisconsin curds. Lavalantula is guilty on both counts, a sort of movie-within-a-movie, horror inkling that thumbs its nose at Hollywood (or um, Hollyweird cause that town deserves a beatdown LOL). I mean the lead is actually a fading action star who takes on the tarantulas in what feels like art imitating life. Heck, the producers knew what they were doing when they dug up the bodies of one Steve Guttenberg and wifey Nia Peeples. Genius.

Co-starring some of Guttenberg's Police Academy buds (Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook), Lavalantula sans build-up or any elaborate backstory via its characters. It is what it is because the special effects thankfully ain't no slouch. Within the 7-minute mark, the lit chaos spills onto the screen (and I'm talking literally). I mean what counts here I guess is the disaster factor, a kind of ham it up version of '97's Volcano on steroids. 

There are one-liners and overacting and quips and spiders breathing fire like husky dragons. One minute you're nervously laughing at the absurdity of it all. The next minute you're cringing at how violent the proceedings are and panting like the arachnophobe you might be. Bottom line: Lavalantula is just gooey, gory fun in a vodka-and-pizza slice sort of way. "Web proxy". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Her Affair to Die For 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


"You've done enough". You can say that again. Being a potential homewrecker, a lousy roomie, and a murderous millennial is quite enough. Meghan Carrasquillo, well she channels all these things as Alyssa Winters in 2023's Her Affair to Die For.

Clocking in at the standard running time (90 minutes give or take) and filmed in what looks like Atlanta, GA (Hollywood's mainstay playground), Her Affair to Die For is plot over plot over plot. It's like the Lifetime network wanted to ditch the schlock and make you bask in its ripening. I applaud the effort. Too bad "Affair" starts with a bang and ends with a whimper, concluding with a weak, Fatal Attraction-like cessation where you say, "um, that's it?" "No prize?" "No true corollary?"

That's not to say that Her Affair to Die For doesn't have decent performances and/or intrigue that masks its predictability because it does. It really does. TV director Tamar Halpern makes the most of sparse set locations and creation of physical space that sort of dissolves as you take in a watch. No matter. There's a lot more going on in "Affair" than Vivica A. Fox popping in at the magic moment and saying one of her "you picked the wrong" lines. No Fox here and no camp when it comes to Her Affair to Die For, just Lifetime getting back to basics.

In "Affair", there's the husband character who's up for a promotion but doesn't make enough time for his college daughter and wife (check). There's the antagonist female who crushes on said husband and will off anyone in her path in order for them to be together (check it). There's the cops who are never around until the very end when a home invasion goes down (check the technique). Finally, there's that opening flashback scene that gets regurgitated about an hour in to let the audience know how cray cray the villain really is (quadruple jump checkers!). Bottom line: Her Affair to Die For has all its mythos points fitting like duplicate keys in keyholes. It's recommendable for at least most of the way.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 5, 2023

House Party 2023 * 1/2 Stars


2023's House Party is bad, like 5-day-old Chinese food bad. It's one of those movies that doesn't have a purpose, except for maybe to profit from and/or update the workings of a certain archetype from 1990 (of the same title). I mean not even the smug presence of quote unquote, "GOAT" LeBron James can save this ode to overnight levees. Oh wait, LeBron's acting track record wasn't all that good to begin with.

"House" relies on a hook that um, re-quips the plot from the first film (no pun intended). A couple of so-called club promoters/house cleaners decide to throw a get-together at LeBron's mansion without him knowing about it. You see these two also-rans are in debt so why not make money off of a bunch of partygoers looking to get their groove on at some swanky abode. Chaos doesn't really ensue here, just a couple of breakables, a beatdown by a koala (don't ask), and the stealing of an NBA Championship ring.

At a running time of 100 minutes, House Party is a bit of a slog to sit through. Not much really happens and the film's R-rated high jinks are about as exciting as well, a 3-day paint job. Jokes flop and die, plenty of ganja is smoked (duh), and the cameos with the exception of rapper Kid Cudi, are like boxy fill-ins that could've wound up in any other vehicle. I mean famous dudes like Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Odell Beckham Jr., and Tristan Thompson show up to say like one line. They probably were on set for minutes and got paid handsomely. Ugh.

Overall, "House" lacks the quick-witted nature, the ghetto charm, and well, the originality of '90's original House Party (which was the first of its kind). Honestly I don't know what this flick is. It's not a true stoner caper, it's certainly not comedy (I laughed maybe once), and it's definitely not de rigueur. This "house", well doesn't win.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse 1991 * * * Stars


If you're gonna do a documentary about a film, it might as well be a great one. The film I'm talking about is 1979's Apocalypse Now and it happens to be one of my faves of all time. In 1991, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse became the first of its kind and we haven't seen many since. It's like the blueprint of a movie within a movie in which no one has ever attempted to really replicate its modus operandi.

"Hearts of Darkness" is a docu that is somewhat unfocused just as Apocalypse Now is unfocused. There's still brilliance and enrapture to be had. Francis Ford Coppola has never been the most concentrated storyteller but his imagery, tone, and scoped camerawork are the stuff of legend. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse splices together interviews, archive footage, soothing narration, cross cutting, and rushed editing in order to fulfill its 96-minute running time. It lets you get inside director Coppola's head like creepers.

So why chronicle the making of something that clocked in at 30 on the AFI list? I say why not. I mean Apocalypse Now had a troubled production. Star Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack (in his 30s), sets were destroyed, script changes were abundant, Marlon Brando showed up obese, and the flick took over a year to shoot (no joke). All this info for searing cataloging is there for the taking. "The horror!" The horror!" Indeed.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse is haunting and grainy and dense. It's also an alternative and antithesis to viewing the bloated Apocalypse Now Redux (a 202-minute recut that I thought ruined the flow of the original). Three helmers had a hand in making "Hearts of Darkness" (one of them was Coppola's wife). The pic felt like a bruised journey as opposed to a cinematic celebration of completion. I still dug it though.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 27, 2023

Zola 2020 * 1/2 Stars


A waitress from Detroit finds a new friend, goes to Tampa, thinks she's doing some stripping, and ends up being involved in a small prostitution ring. That's the rub of 2020's Zola, a disjointed vehicle that's aimlessness comes from the fact it's based on a Twitter thread. Wha? You heard me, a Twitter thread. Man reading those things can be a totally head-scratching experience. 

So yeah, Zola kind of reminded me of Oscar winner Moonlight. It's in the look and well, the overall landscape (Florida, USA). That's where the comparisons end because "reminded" can be a darn, broad term these days. I mean Zola had a chance to be good but its director (Janicza Bravo) decided rather to be faithful and stay on script. Why? To honor this almighty social media post? I'm not buying it. 

Zola is not a movie mind you but a series of scenes posing as a movie. Bravo commits to every shot but what's the point if every one of them is in the form of some overused cinematic gimmick or technique. When a tense moment arises or a stirring nugget gets established, Zola deflects. Its aspect of impetus gets lost on the viewer. A character constantly talking into the camera, the freezing of a frame, some random narration, a dream sequence. In the end it all appears arbitrary when it comes to Zola. For reals.    

Like I said in the last paragraph, Janicza Bravo commits. Guess what, so do her troupers (Taylor Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun) and um, maybe they commit a little too much. In Zola, it all appears like some sort of strange method acting where everyone portrays vexing, urban stereotypes. I mean how can you recommend a flick when the whole cast is channeling their inner B-Rad G? I couldn't and won't. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 24, 2023

Meteor: First Impact 2022 * 1/2 Stars


A scientist who gets fired from his job, must try to save the planet from a slew of meteor attacks. That's the blueprint for Meteor: First Impact, a bad flick only made worse when it descends from the latter into hostage banality. Thom Hallum plays boffin William Zito. He's kinda like the poor man's Gerard Butler (ouch).

Watching "First Impact", you realize that it's low-budgeted and paltry in ways that you don't think are possible. Call it a disaster flick if you want but the special effects here are almost pointless, especially when there's no extras to run from the ruination. The scenes of destruction and mayhem are just pseudo CGI, splashed onto the screen however separated from the actual footage.

So yeah, Meteor: First Impact is a so-called thriller that doesn't hide its self-evidence. Look there's a meteorite hurling for Nevada yet appearing like a marshmallow burning over an open campfire. Ugh. Added to that, the actors featured (Hallum, Roscoe Nash, Kristin Keith) bicker back and forth and seem compelled to yell incessantly when no one else is in the room. I mean it's like Tourette's gone wild.

Lots of tiffing aside, "First Impact" is kind of about the end of the world but it features roughly only 8 characters. Wha?? Really? Where's the National Guard here? What's the president up to? Where are the helpless sufferers? And how come there's very little media coverage? Heck, it just feels like there's only a handful of denizens inhabiting the earth in Meteor: First Impact. Odd and well, ill-considered.

In the end I blame "First Impact's" director (Brett Bentman) because he's well, the director and makes all these decisions. Other bad ones include the way he poorly transitions to flashbacks, the way he shuffles around his fading cast members, and the way he shoddily shoots action set-ups. "Adverse impact".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Locksmith 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


"Do you have anything you're really good at?" Uh, don't answer that question, especially if you have to use the word "pick" (or do, hint hint).  

So yeah, 2023's The Locksmith is indeed about a locksmith, the type that uses his skills to do lawbreaker things. It's also one of those "one last job" flicks where the unconventional risk might be worth the reward (or maybe not). Ryan Phillippe plays Miller Graham, an expert at his lock craft who unfortunately goes to prison, later gets out, and tries to reconnect with his family. 

Anyway I watched The Locksmith trying to gauge what it reminded me of. A little early Michael Mann perhaps? A smidgen of 2011's Drive (without the uh, driving)? The Job (har har)? After a half hour or so I felt a 70s/80s drama thriller vibe, you know the kind that avoids the bells and whistles, ditches the dollies, and just locks in (no pun intended). I also got a subtle noir ambience, with people chain-smoking and darkness and distant camera angles and well, low-key lighting. "You find her before they find you". Indeed. 

Filmed in New Mexico, all dust-bowled up with dirty cop characters hanging in a small town with their small-time mob brethren, The Locksmith stars Phillippe (mentioned earlier), Kate Bosworth, Jeffrey Nording, and Ving Rhames. They are well cast and their scenes sometimes crackle in B-vehicle swipe, aided by nervousness, precariousness, and a sense of moral ambiguity. 

In The Locksmith, there are 92 minutes of shootouts, double-crosses, and crooked fuzz coercion, all supplied like proper keyholes via rookie director Nicolas Harvard (pun intended). I mean the pic plays out sans complexity even though its plot details are complex (if that makes any sense). The Locksmith is congenial enough for at least one watch. "Key performance indicator". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Who Killed Cooper Dunn? 2022 * * * Stars


Who Killed Cooper Dunn? is not a question, it's a movie (in the form of a question). Other people die in "Cooper", there's plenty of F-bombs being thrown around, drugs are inhaled, and a disco ball just happens to be in the middle of a forest. It's a pitching tent nightmare that seems well, dream-shared.

Starring unknown actors who are initially unlikable, exhibiting some sort of arrogant, male bonding from a Richard Linklater vehicle, Who Killed Cooper Dunn? finds its dramatic footing the further it goes along. The film is about some dudes on a camping trip, waking up to find that one of their brethren is dead (that would be Cooper Dunn, duh). How they deal with the situation turns "Cooper" into a disquieting thriller, the kind of bickering, cover-up genre piece that always seems to suck me in. 

In "Cooper", unseasoned director Nino Aldi stages flashbacks and flash forwards, never revealing too much to the audience member. Added to that, he sets up scenes like in a stage play, with his characters gnawing back and forth with each other a la the would-be accused in some whodunit slasher. 

Now is Who Killed Cooper Dunn? a messy viewing experience? Yup. Is it a layered one however? For sure and that's its saving grace. "Cooper" harbors elements of stuff like A Simple Plan, Bully, and even Scream (that's a broad range). Oh and I almost forgot, I thought it was kind of amusing that one of the personas in "Cooper" was named Dawson. I mean the flick does take place near a few creeks (har har). 

Who Killed Cooper Dunn? has a gotcha, 180 twist and a cast composed of Nino Aldi, Carlena Britch, Mike Foy, and Paul Elia. Some of the time I was put out by their dialogue readings. Other times a lot poignant, fear speak came out of their mouths so they get a pass. Endorsed "query". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Heatstroke 2008 * * 1/2 Stars


"What's the problem?" Um, wouldn't you like to know. In 2008's Heatstroke, that's a loaded question. There are a lot of "problems" and a you-know-what ain't one of them.

So yeah, I initially thought Heatstroke was about humans running for their lives when our planet reached 1000 degrees or so Fahrenheit. Not quite my young Padawan-s. This film is more action-adventure, where you put the hungry foot soldier on an island in the South Pacific and have them take on some pesky aliens. The music for Heatstroke is done in stirring and urgent fashion by Mike Verta. Heck, it almost feels like you're watching a neutered version of the 80s vehicle Predator. I stress the word "almost".

Heatstroke is one of those Sci-Fi Channel Network flicks that goes a little heavy on the gore yet reeks of CGI obviousness. I mean it is what it is with the actors selling scenes the best they can until another round of risible green screen steadily rears. Look there's star D. B. Sweeney appearing like a soccer dad who can still throw down like Van Damme. Look there's co-star Francesca Buller trying to reason with an evil life form before she takes a fang to the chin. And look there's co-star Danica McKellar still giving me those Wonder Years flashbacks with that cutesy face of hers.

Now did I like Heatstroke? I did in fits and starts. The film is not all episodic horror cause sometimes it settles down to tell a story amidst the mayhem. And did I think Heatstroke was well-acted? Sure. The cast of these special ops Commandos had their tongues firmly planted in-cheek, not overly serious with guns pointed and blazing.

Bottom line: if Heatstroke wasn't so anti-climactic in its windup (I'm thinking budget constraints) and the video game extraterrestrials weren't so fugazi, I would have praised it a little more. Turn down the "heat".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Your Place or Mine 2023 * * Stars


2023's Your Place or Mine makes sense as a title. The two leads are in two different places (LA and NYC). Bicoastal is the word I would use.

Anyway, I remember when the phrase "your place or mine" meant something different, like having sexy time. Not the case here. Two people (a man and a woman) swap houses so one can take care of the other's kid and the other can get a college degree. Man "Place's" pitch meeting between studio heads must have been a real doozy. "Heedless in Seattle". Yup, Netflix just never stops Netflix-ing.

So yeah, Your Place or Mine is the ultimate rom-com. Just watch the closing scene which might be the parody to end all rom-com-s. There's the kiss, the airport setting, the obligatory music, and you know, the predictability. Sorry to give everything away but I never miss an opportunity to be a cinematic Nostradamus.

Now I don't think "Place" is a bad movie but for most of the way I had this sinking feeling that I was stuck in the early 2000s, wearing cargo pants and figuring out how to join Myspace. I mean this film feels dated, with stars Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher performing like they're in their 20s (when in actuality they're in their 40s). Hey there's no hating here I just thought Your Place or Mine would've been better off being made two decades ago, when the girly friend sidekick was a thang and the music of Nickelback was relevant. "Sick bro".

In Your Place or Mine, the ditty-s of The Cars is a product placement, Kutcher acts like Kutcher, Witherspoon acts like Witherspoon, and Steve Zahn (a side character) acts like well, Steve Zahn. They didn't get the memo or got lost in some time continuum. Ouch. Minus a few dramatic moments and some split screen stuff, Your Place or Mine fails to know its "place". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 9, 2023

God's Country 2022 * * * Stars


A fraught college professor from New Orleans moves to a small town out in lower Montana. There she becomes irked by some townies who feel the need to claim their Podunk turf. That's the blueprint for 2022's God's Country, a slow burn drama that is listed as a thriller. Hey I get it. There is confrontation and a shooting or two but "Country" takes its time, bemused by suspect character motivations, lawlessness, and tranquil mystery. In truth, you watch it ultimately trying to figure out where things are headed.  

Bare questions aside, God's Country rides on the deft direction of Julian Higgins, the wintry cinematography by Andrew Wheeler, and the calculated performance of one Thandiwe Newton (she portrays Professor Sandra Guidry). Higgins commits to every shot as he somewhat catches the viewer off guard. I mean it's what you don't see in "Country" that feels more numbing than what you could've seen. I was besotted with it all. As for Newton, well she underplays and does it well, her persona an enigma, possibly a rootless instigator. Thandiwe's eyes are well, an acting tool. Heck, she always seems to appear downcast, like the girl lost her dog in a messy car accident. 

Now do I feel compelled to recommend God's Country? I do and I will. The film's look is beautifully unsettled, desolate and cold with canvased wide shots of good old Big Sky. And would I say "Country" is perfect in its overall framework? I wouldn't go that far. There's a mild Straw Dogs approach here where things could've been left well enough alone. Oh well. God's Country needs to corral its 102-minute running time. It's a movie after all and to omit a forced "eye for an eye" SITU would just leave things floating in the wind. Honest to "god". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Skinamarink 2022 * Star


How bad is 2022's Skinamarink? Let me put it this way, how bad is SARS? I'm thinking pretty bad. When you watch Skinamarink, you wonder how anyone let alone a studio head could greenlight this thing. I mean did they lose a bet to the film's directors (Kyle Edward Ball, Kyle Ball)? Probably. I can't see any other way.

So yeah, Skinamarink might be the most frustrating movie I've ever seen. Why? Because it has intentions yet is miscalculated to the nth degree. The Balls made Skinamarink and forgot that someone might actually see their creation that looks as if it was made in the late 60s or early 70s. The flick is so grainy you'd think an assistant accidentally poured sawdust in the lens. Basically Skinamarink is a 100-minute gimmick that is not meant to entertain but to impart to. Count me out after one viewing.

Contrivances aside, Skinamarink's premise is there for the taking. It's about two kids who wake up to find a family member missing with all the doors and windows gone from their house. Rather than go the straight-forward route with a stout thriller, the Balls decide to do an arthouse version of Paranormal Activity instead. Why? Why?!!

The whole thing is a shaggy-dog story and a mind-numbing bore, all slow burned, disjointed, and prepped for the snooty crowd. Um, you know this pic is bad when the stuff on the TV in Skinamarink is more interesting than what's actually projected onto the viewer. I mean at least you know what's going on with those kooky cartoons.

In Skinamarink, there are actors who are never seen, dialogue exchanges that never occur (with characters only having random thoughts), subtitles for something in English (wha??), scenes that are cut feverishly with no connection from point A to B, and a title that has no attested meaning. Yup, it all adds up to bunk. "Skin don't gotta have it".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Memory: The Origins of Alien 2019 * * Stars


The opening scene has a sort of WTF moment and then we're off. Yeah I'm talking about Memory: The Origins of Alien, a documentary that's not about the making of Alien but well, its genesis. This thing goes way back, feeling more like something that was made for the History Channel and not AMC (which presents it). Topping out at 95 minutes (which is probably 30 minutes too long), "Memory" is not meant to entertain but inform. It gives us the lowdown but in an almost overly technical and pretentious way.

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe and omitting any insight from Alien's actual helmer (Sir Ridley Scott), Memory: The Origins of Alien is at least shot well matching interviews with images and edits with cuts. The drag is that almost everyone you hear from are people you've never heard of, analyzing '79's Alien like the Second Coming's coming. Easy tigers!

Authors and critics are comparing this thing to everything from Kramer vs. Kramer to M*A*S*H to Five Easy Pieces (it's a 70s thing I guess). Guys, it's a flick about a creature who goes after some unlucky crew members on a spacecraft and well, it's a solid outing. Nothing more, nothing less. Film is supposed to have you make up your own mind while interpreting the outcomes in your own manner. I'm not discounting the knowledge of these unknown experts but I just don't need everything explained to me. Ugh.

Anyhow, Philippe is a solid filmmaker from a visual and narrative standpoint. His archive footage intrigued me because it's not just footage from Alien but other stuff via the occult. I just wish he would've concentrated more on the making of Alien, the optical palate Scott created, or the casting and natural performances, not all the sledgehammering psychobabble. 

Is this a docu about Alien's writer (Dan O'Bannon)? Somewhat yes. Is it mythos friendly? Yeah. Does "Memory" feel inconsistent with that early dream sequence (mentioned in the first paragraph)? Sadly yes. Overall, I was left cold and distant after viewing Memory: The Origins of Alien and not in a profound way, like I felt watching the actual feature.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

You People 2023 * 1/2 Stars


A Caucasian guy and an African American woman (I decided to choose my words carefully) get together with little courtship. They then decide to get married and in the process, have to deal with their parents who plainly have been living under a rock when it comes to culture clashing. That's the gist of You People, an unfunny comedy that probably should have never been made. Well unless you want to see Eddie Murphy in something (considering he rarely shows up in movies these days).  

You People is purely dated and Netflix needs to be careful of another downhill slide. I mean did we really need another film about the same race relations (black and white)? Uh no. People are people, skin color is irrelevant, open-mindedness is a mainstay, and You People obviously didn't get that memo. Note to "People's" filmmakers and producers: this isn't the early 2000s, you can't carry a two-hour flick on a stunt, and there's no need to remake Guess Who. It happened already so let's move on. 

You People stars a weathered Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy (mentioned earlier). They play future son-in-law Ezra Cohen and future father-in-law Akbar Mohammed. "People" basically involves them being in conflict along with other members of each other's families. Every scene feels awkward, improvised, flopped, and nauseating. Hill basically plays himself here (which has been getting old real fast) and Murphy underplays again robbing himself of his gifted comedic talents via those 80s blockbusters. 

"People's" director (Kenya Barris) channels his inner Judd Apataw and sadly he decides to channel really bad Apataw. The cliched script is thrown out the window, the actors ramble along infernally, everyone reeks of obviousness, and the pic concludes in a nice neat bow, devoid of anything an astute viewer could gravitate to. How dare "you". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Silent Predators 1999 * * * Stars


"We're dealing with something very different". Uh yeah. Big-arse rattlesnakes that kill with one bite. They terrorize a California burgh in 1999's Silent Predators.

Watching "Predators", you realize that it's a restricted budget trope that tried like heck to make it to the big screen (hey, at least you can still get it on DVD). Howbeit, star Harry Hamlin and some other B-listers confidently wink to the audience. They're in something that could easily be called Snakes on the Plains (not plane), Jaws with venom, or Arachnophobia without all those eight legged freaks.

Silent Predators is a horror thriller that lays out the blueprint for most horror thrillers. You have the small town terrorized by deadly brutes. You have the mayor who wants to keep things quiet and not shut said town down. You have the Everyman who won't die and is there to save the day. Finally, you have the opening scene kill that is revisited about 45 minutes in. Notice I haven't said that these are bad things. Whatever Silent Predators pseudo pirates, it rewards itself. Hiss hiss rattle rattle!

"Predators" starts out with one or two snakes before you get the whole kit and caboodle. And guess what, they look real, somewhat Hitchcockian in how they appear, and non-CGI'd (how refreshing). In truth, this film is a series of snake attacks that are fodder for producing solid payoffs. Not overly gory, these payoffs are all more hair-raising than the next.

As for the script to Predators, well it was penned by five people (one of which is John Carpenter). It has just the right amount of chutzpah, wit, and reptile speak. I mean there's not too much technobabble here cause what counts is the suspense. Along with Noel Nosseck's atmospheric direction and Michael Tavera's stirring musical score, Silent Predators is a rise above creature feature with a sophisticated, TV feel. "Silent heat".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 28, 2023

The 34th Annual Notre Dame Student Festival, January 27-29th, 2023

I've been covering the Notre Dame Student Festival on and off since 2014. Here are some of the highlights from this year along with favorable ratings:

For Better, For Worse * * * Stars

-This is a film noir about infidelity, murder, and the almighty ladies man. For Better, For Worse thinks in cuts, lots of close-ups, and rack focusing. There's also a pseudo twist at the end. Impressive for what fatalism can achieve in just over 7 minutes.

Win Win * * * * Stars

-For me, the best entry in this year's ND festival. Everything splashes onto the screen. Lightning quick editing with NBA star/real estate developer Pat Connaughton bringing a cocky air about him and a beguiling confidence to the proceedings. Who says there's no life after basketball (when you're still actually playing basketball). 

It's Draining * * * Stars

-Lots of even-keeled narration, a solid silent performance, and some jump cuts inhabit this short about a girl who I guess has mental health issues. It's Draining is the equivalent of a cinematic haiku. It's over before you know it but the 4-minute song playing all the way through translates nicely with the rhythms of the actors. 

Waiting For Buffalo * * * 1/2 Stars

-You could watch this docu about bison from beginning, middle, or end. It just sort of floats with beautiful cinematography, somber tones, and shots that look like slow burn portraits. Mutedly epic stuff. 

I Might Be Crazy But I Ain't Dumb * * * Stars

-Guy co-stars in The Dukes of Hazzard and uses his fame to build a souvenir shop in Virginia. If you're a fan of "Dukes" (and I am), then this documentary will make you feel nostalgic and just plain wistful. The archive footage from the actual TV show splices well with the present day stuff. "G-G-G!"

Silent Steel * * * Stars

-Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" glosses over clips of a Michigan dude making animalistic, metal sculptures. I dug it, especially the seething screen presence of sculpture Ivan who probably didn't even know he was being filmed (but you know he was aware). Indelible imagery. 

Lily * * * 1/2 Stars

-Clean storytelling and crisp triaging highlight this documentary short about a young girl's battle with epilepsy. Who knew medicinal mushrooms were the answer to improving her condition. And who knew Lily's ten-minute running time would be so radiantly hopeful and heartfelt at the same time. I did as well as the rest of the audience.

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Dog Gone 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


2023's Dog Gone has a pretty fitting title. I mean that's what the movie is about. A dog is um, gone, missing, arrivederci!

Anyway I remember when I lost my canine pet at age 8. It was a rough experience yet I never went the lengths that the characters in this movie do. Just call Dog Gone the ultimate "dog search" pic. Animal shelter lookouts and worldwide publications and Twitter oh my! This film is based on a true story and it is told in a light and breezy way, all spruced up for the "gather-around-the-couch-and-chairs family" crowd.

So yeah, Dog Gone is not too schmaltzy and it doesn't quite wring out the tear ducts like say, The Art of Racing in the Rain (another vehicle about pooches). It does however get the job done for all things PG-rated. There's a few tense moments, there's predictability (come on, you know the outcome), and the actors play up to the feathery material (Rob Lowe, Johnny Berchtold, and Kimberly Williams Paisley star). 

Taking place in the Appalachian trail (yet shot in Atlanta) and directed by a guy known for commercialized fluff (Stephen Herek), Dog Gone is well-plotted with its dog persona (named Gonker) giving the standard, hound performance. Basically Dog Gone has no reservations about what it really is. Just call it the equivalent of a Netflix, Afterschool Special with all the necessary trimmings. 

Now am I inclined to recommend Dog Gone? Sure. I mean any avid dog lover would deem it passable. And did I unfortunately find one of the characters a little off-putting? I did, sorry. Fielding Marshall (played by Johnny Berchtold mentioned earlier) is the dude who loses Gonkers and is on a stout mission to bring him back. What Fielding lacks is a sense of direction and respect for his parents who take him (and Gonkers) in rent-free after he graduates college. Fielding is defensive, a little selfish, and aloof towards many and it's only after he gets sick that we the viewer feel any real sympathy for him. It's a glaring miscalculation and it keeps Dog Gone from being something a bit more compelling. 

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

In Search of the Last Action Heroes 2019 * * Stars


It may be explained chronologically but 2019's In Search of the Last Action Heroes is not really a documentary. In fact, it's not really an actual film for that matter. There's no beginning, middle, or end. There's no shape or coming to fruition moment. There's no adjusting in the editing. Basically in "Search" we have a cinematic, human flotation device. It just drifts along for what feels like 5 hours.

But hey, don't worry. In Search of the Last Action Heroes is not 5 hours long for it comes out to 2 hours and change. Yeesh still. The producers probably told "Search's" director (Oliver Harper) he could do whatever he wanted hence an elongated, interview palooza mixed with tons of jump cuts to archived, action flick clips from the Post-Cold War and Greed decades. Everything in frame is rinse, rinse, repeat concluding with outtakes that are well, Cannonball Run style (enough already). Yup, In Search of the Last Action Heroes is definitely in "search" of something. For what I'm not totally sure.

That's not to say that I wasn't somewhat fascinated by all the info about films like Lethal Weapon and First Blood and The Matrix and even Revenge of the Ninja (I almost forgot about that Sho Kosugi nugget). I mean "Search" is literally 140 minutes of assertions by critics, a few notable directors, some C-list actors, and people in the industry I've never really heard of. With nothing for the viewer to really jounce off of, they relentlessly explain how these pics from the 80s/90s bent the cosmic shift of anything relating to that genre. Is it all kind of fan-made? Obviously. Do I still like these affray vehicles with stuff blowing up and macho dudes getting their shootout on? Sure. I just know that In Search of the Last Action Heroes has a "search" engine that sadly loses fuel midway through. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Plane 2023 * * * Stars


It doesn't feature Liam Neeson, it came out in the doldrums of January, and um, it's actually pretty good. Yeah I'm talking about 2023's Plane, a conventional thriller sans stock, where convention and old hat are sometimes needed. Bullets fly, fists pound, chokeholds are issued, and well, there is flight (duh). Plane is action and drama and B-movie trope-d, all spritzed-up nicely for the more distinguished, bargain basement crowd. 

Starring Gerard Butler, a fine actor who sadly has made a few stinkers (I blame his agent), Plane gives Gerard the opportunity to flex, to give a raw performance from a physical and mental standpoint. Here he plays Brodie Torrance, a pilot trying to save the lives of his passengers when his aircraft goes down in a criminal part of the Philippines (hence the film's lucid title). Butler is all masculine, empathetic, and determined, matched scene for scene by Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a dude on his plane being extradited via homicide chargers.

Directed by Frenchman Jean-Francois Richet, Plane has almost perfect casting, crisp editing, and an in-your-face style where Richet literally puts the camera right up in everyone's grills. You feel every bone crunch, every gunshot, and every virtual smackdown. Technically, Plane is solid even though it feels a little 2000s-ish. The combat scenes are Bourne-like, loud, and jumpy. The flying sequences are streamlined and rather axonometric. 

Now does Plane have a few plot holes? Sure it does. What 107-minute flick doesn't. And does Plane have characters whose arcs sort of taper off? Yup. By the windup, you don't know what happened to the rest of the bad guys, the dopey airline owner, and antihero, homicide boy. Still, Richet knows how to "ratchet" up tension, put bodies in motion, and pull at the almighty ticker. Just think of his Plane as Die Hard on a bird (or um, Die Hard 2). 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 16, 2023

First Class Fear 2021 * 1/2 Stars


A teenager with good grades and a future scholarship on the way, gets tormented by her classmates. Oh and her life is being threatened too. That's the gist of the lukewarm whodunit, First Class Fear.

So yeah, I always get frustrated when almost every character in a movie looks the same. I mean you can't tell who's who. Such is the case with First Class Fear. Maybe it's because almost everyone in "Fear" is female. Maybe it's the fact that they're all wearing private school uniforms. Maybe it's that they all talk the same as if they're guest hosts on The Real. Frustrating.

Anyway, First Class Fear is a Lifetime flick that if it wasn't associated with Lifetime TV, would probably be a sort of Mean Girls on steroids. I mean this is really catty stuff. You got gossiping and rumor spreading and social media destroying oh my! All I got to say is "hiss hiss yowl".

So OK, the actresses in First Class Fear (Liz Fenning, Aria Sirvaitis, Christy Tate) are a tad mediocre despite this catfight infrastructure. I mean they are cast well but come on, how hard is it to feature upstanding girls on screen going to a filthy rich academy. Just tell them to look at the cue cards and let 'er rip I guess.

It also doesn't help that "Fear" is choppily edited with a screenplay that recycles itself to the point of tedium. I mean you can only have so many nasty, teenage brushes and/or mother/daughter quarrels before the writers run out of wiggle room.

All in all, there's a severe lack of suspense here permeated by veteran director Jose Montesinos. Because of his impolitic approach to the material, his use of a less than credible, twist villain, and his failure to sell "Fear" as Lifetime when it could've worked better as satire, his First Class Fear is more like "Coach" fear. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 13, 2023

White Water Summer 1987 * * * Stars


"Do your best". So says Kevin Bacon's Vic in 1987's White Water Summer. Vic does meditation, hates radios, and gets his groove on by being a ticking time bomb. White Water Summer the movie? Well it does its "best" to be a hidden, 80s gem. 

Anyway I remember seeing "Summer" on TV a lot during my teen years. It was like the first film I ever viewed that couldn't find a wide release in theaters. Strange. Back then direct-to-video didn't really exist so White Water Summer was kind of the pioneer of it all. Four or five actors, plenty of wildlife scenery, some unforced violence, a big-arse knife, and alpha dog conflict. "Summer" strays from most pics of the "Greed decade" as it ditches the neon hues and all things "radical" and goes straight for the Swiss Family Robinson jugular. 

White Water Summer with its locales of Quebec, New Zealand, and Northern California, doesn't push its cinematography too much. There's no need. I mean there is just enough lush background to give its characters a chance to emote and chop logic. With one F-word, some uneasy innuendo, and plenty of other suggestive language inserts, "Summer" is a hard-hitting teen drama, a hard PG, and a study of rattled, authoritarian presumptions. The film's load is only lightened when co-star Sean Astin shows up to talk smack in a few flash-forward sequences. 

With a perfectly cast Astin and a perfectly cast (and edgy) Kevin Bacon, White Water Summer is about a wilderness guide who takes four boys into the mountains via some sort of Mother Earth survival camp. "Summer" minus the occasional dodging of badlands cheese, is wholly original, mano a mano ironic, and entertaining enough for repeat viewings. Just sit back, relax, and ogle as Bruce Hornsby's soundtrack pumps in the background. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Gully 2019 * 1/2 Stars


"I'm already dead". Yeah and so is the 2019 film Gully, dead on arrival. The Hughes Brothers called and guess what, they said they want their OE back. 

Anyhow the definition of gully is a ravine formed by the action of water. So OK, what the heck does Gully's title have to do with three young thugs acting a fool in rundown LA? Um, nothing really. Gully is basically Menace II Society for dummies, Boyz n the Hood without the heart, and Juice with um, rank juice. 84 minutes is the running time and there's no sense of tenor, no sense of tone. Like the ghetto birds featured in Gully, those minutes just fly by.  

Gully's director (Nabil Elderkin) has basically done music videos his entire career. Here he uses numerous flashbacks, overheads, random narration, and palm tree-d shots of Los Angeles to establish his thin, tangled narrative. It's all cut so sporadically, not giving the viewer any sort of footing or anyone to root for let alone feel any sympathy. Basically Elderkin feels the need to shoot another song integration where we have to figure out the story amidst the scorch. Dude, you can only be a showy, hot dog man for so long. 

Gully stars unknowns Kevin Harrison Jr, Jacob Latimore, and Charlie Plummer. There are also bit parts from known actors like John Corbett, Robin Givens, and Terrence Howard. No one is exactly likable, all talking roughneck, committing violent, malefactor acts, and having questionable, principled behavior. I mean it doesn't really matter when all these characters just fade in and out right? And when the film ends abruptly like a dangled loose end, will anyone involved resonate? Nope. We never eventually get accustomed to woe is me hooligans on the come-down. "Defile" is a more fitting title than Gully

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Collide 2022 * * * Stars


2022's Collide is a compact little thriller with dark hues and fiery red cinematography. It's one of those fine dining restaurant flicks and well, I liked it better than The Menu. Sure it's a little coincidental, sure the timelines are off, and sure, there's the occasional overacting involved. But Collide has a brutish sense of urgency and it's fiendish to the nth degree. Swallowed LA can be that way sometimes.

Collide is a movie about interconnecting (and "colliding") stories. And it's slickster Steven Soderbergh to boot (just watch the riffing). The camerawork full of zooms, close-ups, and jittery motions looked obvious but I got past it. The point here was to wait in bated breath as things came to a head. A bomb under a table, a drug deal gone afoul, a restaurant manager skimming the till, a rattled husband contemplating suicide. Bon appetit my fellow audience member!

Clocking in at 90 minutes and directed by a dude I've never heard of before (Mukunda Michael Dewil), Collide is about 6 or so strangers whose lives connect badly over a night in a Los Angeles eatery. The actors involved (Ryan Phillippe, Jim Gaffigan, Kat Graham) dig deep and they profoundly show their dark side (come on guys, everyone's got one). The film uses sparse set locations and the whole thing feels like a ticking time clock to parlous inevitability. Like in The Menu (mentioned earlier), every immoral denizen is pretty much destined to die.

Now does Collide set the world on fire with its premise of wounded souls "crashing" into each other? I guess but it's more stylish and swift than anything else. And does helmer Dewil excel at connecting the dots through continuity and the baseness that men (and women) do? Not really but he keeps you riveted and on edge anyway. "Meet head on".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

You Don't Nomi 2019 * * 1/2 Stars


Cut feverishly yet disjointed. Informative yet adrift. Scorching in its archived look yet distant. Revealing yet risible. Yeah I'm talking about You Don't Nomi, a documentary chronicling 1995's Showgirls. I'm not kidding, Showgirls people, a film that's almost a bad pun for the overall discussion about the art form.

So OK, I saw Showgirls in the theater during my college years. I mean I was curious mainly because of the NC-17 rating. Did I like it? Not really. The writing was bad, Elizabeth Berkley had spaz moments in her acting, and the mean-spirited nature of the flick was something that stuck with me. Now apparently and unbeknownst to me, Showgirls is a cult film. Wha?? I'm not saying that it's the worst movie ever made but even cult films eventually get good reviews. Showgirls still sits with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 27%. And um, the audience score ain't much better.

You Don't Nomi is basically 90 minutes of critics, writers, randoms, and the director himself analyzing Showgirls and making sure its turd is more polished than it needs to be. You see a lot of past footage from the movies of Paul Verhoeven (the director of Showgirls). What you don't see are the people being interviewed and you can still tell they are getting high on their own, probing supply. I almost chuckled. The over-analyzing here is endless and while it appears smart and intuitive, it almost feels like heightened hot air, rising and falling.

Now I'm not saying You Don't Nomi isn't a well-made docu because it is. Heck, most of them are. It's edited fairly well and has enough swag to avoid being boring. But here's the rub: if you've never seen Showgirls you'll find "Nomi" to be fascinating and then you'll probably end up renting the thing On Demand. If you have seen Showgirls (and I did on opening night), then it will come off more as an annals lesson or an education about the vehicle that can only be taken as laughably self-serious. "I do know that".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Top Ten Movie Picks of 2022

1. Downfall: The Case Against Boeing * * * 1/2 Stars

-"Downfall" is a clean and faired documentary that makes you ask questions in your head.

2. Fall * * * 1/2 Stars

-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.

3. Endangered * * * 1/2 Stars

-With Endangered, helmers Grady and Ewing create 90 minutes of subdued, journalistic discipline that is quietly powerful.

4. Stolen by Their Father * * * 1/2 Stars

-One of the most effective Lifetime flicks ever made.

5. Elvis * * * 1/2 Stars

-"Elvis has left the building". Indeed and left the viewer dizzy and spent.

6. No Exit * * * 1/2 Stars

-No Exit is relentless. I mean it goes on and on (I'm not saying that's a bad thing).

7. I Want You Back * * * Stars

-I Want You Back is a different kind of romantic comedy. Basically it has a little more going on upstairs.

8. The Devil You Know * * * Stars

-The Devil You Know is a kind of mild noir with dusky tones and forced scenes that crackle.

9. The Weekend Away * * * Stars

-"Weekend" is a thriller with a high resting heart rate. And yup, it just gets higher as it goes along.

10. A Christmas Story Christmas * * * Stars

-A Christmas Story Christmas is a true companion piece that was made to be viewed back-to-back with the original from a mere forty years ago. 

Honorable Mention: Babylon, Sr., The Good Neighbor, McEnroe, Bandit, The Surprise Visit, The Batman, Blacklight, The Lost City, WarHunt 

And the worst....

1. Good Mourning * Star

-Good Mourning is a film that thinks it's witty and waggish but is somehow subjected to all things TMZ. 

2. Pursuit * Star

-Pursuit is directed by veteran Brian Skiba. His flick has little continuity as he films prating scenes undercut with badly choreographed shootouts and faux foot chases.

3. Moonfall * 1/2 Stars

-Moonfall is a special effects extravaganza with zero build-up and laissez-faire inconsistency.

4. The Bubble * 1/2 Stars

-The Bubble is probably one of the most misguided films I've ever seen. And it's also a career low for director Judd Apatow. 

5. Sons 2 the Grave * 1/2 Stars

-"Grave" feels like an unintentional Afterschool Special when it should be a hard-hitting drama. You can tell.

List compiled by Jesse Burleson