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Friday, December 29, 2023

Migration 2023 * * * Stars


"I don't want to miss out on life because you're afraid to leave this pond". You tell 'em mother Pam. Got to fly with the angels or in this case, fly with the other birdies. 

So OK, a family of four mallards decide to take a chance and go south for the winter. This is something they've never done before as they are afraid to leave their commonplace comfort zone. That's the rub to 2023's Migration and well, its title says it all. What, you think "Transhumance" would've sounded better? Hooey. 

Anyway, Migration is a road trip flick, a Tom and Jerry-like slapstick-er, a merited animated fluff-er, and a slight, black comedy farce brought to you by those guys from the always reliable Illumination. Starring the voices of Elizabeth Banks, Carol Kane, and Keegan-Michael Kay, Migration might be a little too intense for the 4-6-year-old-s or the easily flustered (hence the PG-rating over the G). I mean there's an evil character named "the chef" who wants to slice up duckling personas and have them for din-din (ouch). Oh well. Adults and teenagers won't be bored by Migration's tolerant storytelling, its haphazard editing, and its tight running time (83 minutes). "I want us to get out and see the world". Indeed. 

Feverishly directed by Frenchman Benjamin Renner and distributed by Universal Pictures, Migration won't reinvent the wheel in terms of electronic imagery but it's still goofy, balls-out fun for anyone hitting the theaters during the silly season. Disjointed but still supplied with a sort of wound up energy, Migration also gives helmer Renner the chance to provide animation with a solid sense of three-dimensional space and jungle-like, following tracking shots. Add a hazy, sunny look, likable duck types, mild absurdness, and lovable high jinks via the journey from New England to Jamaica and you've got something recommendable. "Paradise diaspora". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Ferrari 2023 * * * 1/2 Stars


2023's Ferrari is a movie of violent pulchritude. For every moment of scenic beauty there is a bruising acting showcase between two personas and vehicle racing sequences that demonstrate all things speed kills. It's rather cold and calculated, as only director Michael Mann would require it to be. "If you get into one of my cars, you get in it to win". Indeed.

Distributed by Neon and only chronicling a snapshot of Enzo Ferrari's 90 years of existence circa 1957, Ferrari has Enzo trying to rescue his sports car manufacturer from bankruptcy while dealing with the anger of his deceived wife and hushed questions from his illegitimate son. Oh and there's automobiles too, fast ones that are loud enough to make your ears rattle and have you faintly smelling the propellant. Mann, well he doesn't push the effects here but he doesn't let up either. His head-to-head clips feel material, fully rooted in actuality.

Fleeting plot workings and sleek hoopties aside, Ferrari gets brilliant performances from Adam Driver (no pun intended) as Enzo Ferrari and Penelope Cruz as spouse Laura Ferrari. They immerse themselves into character completely, emoting fervently while swallowing each frame like some F5 tornado hovering over The Sunflower State.

Mann's slick and streamlined direction just props them up even more as he confidently comes back from an 8-year hiatus (remember 2015's Blackhat? Me neither). Heck, there isn't a rack focus, a diluted wide, or a jilted camera movement that Mikey didn't want to throw back into the cinematic ring. His Ferrari has a superior sense of time and place coupled with scrupulous set designs and richly textured, Italian locales. The film is also old-world art, a dismayed downer masking as a slight triumph. It works as a biopic, a period piece, and/or a domestic drama, burning straight through the heart of Enzo's tainted legacy despite having a rather cursory diegesis. "Fuel injected."

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, December 23, 2023

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2023

1. Ferrari * * * 1/2 Stars

-A return to form for director Michael Mann as he creates old-world art with his bruising biopic about Enzo Ferrari. 

1. (tie) The Passenger * * * 1/2 Stars

-A well-acted and crisply edited thriller, like a non-art house version of 1973's Badlands.

2. Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed * * * 1/2 Stars

-A documentary about an acting icon that unfolds like a skulking sledgehammer.

3. Inside * * * 1/2 Stars

-A psychologically stealth and real time perceived vehicle, made effective by Wilem Dafoe's physical acting and Vasilis Katsoupis's deft direction.

4. Mercy * * * Stars

-A B-flick that's as mean as a snake. It doesn't hold your hand as a viewer.

5. Plane * * * Stars

-Another Gerard Butler actioner that spritzed-up nicely for the more distinguished, bargain basement crowd.

6. Hidden Exposure * * * Stars

-Combines a little bit of 2010's Black Swan and Woody Allen's Match Point to give you something dangerous right around the corner.

6. (tie) The Iron Claw * * * Stars

-A slow mounting drama about pro wrestling that hits you like a brick (or a clothesline if you know what I mean). 

7. River Wild * * * Stars

-A more indie-like version of the original The River Wild from 29 years back. Dense and atmospheric stuff. 

8. Air * * * Stars

-This is Ben Affleck's Moneyball or his All the President's Men for hoops. 

9. Girl in the Closet * * * Stars

-A Lifetime drama about human trafficking that has no filter. Effectual yet disturbing. 

10. Fear the Night * * * Stars

-A violent and remorseless ride that has Maggie Q scowling at the audience while getting her kill on.

Honorable Mention: Nightmare School Moms, Retribution, 97 Minutes, The Mill

And the worst....

1. White Men Can't Jump * Star

-Rotten remake of the '92 classic. It just doesn't get what made that film much more superior.

2. House Party * 1/2 Stars

-Updates the 1990 original and as a result, fails to possess a reason for being.

3. You People * 1/2 Stars

-An unfunny comedy that should've never been made. What were you thinking Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy?

4. On a Wing and a Prayer * 1/2 Stars

-Imagine watching the lovechild of God's Not Dead and Airport 1975. On second thought, don't.

5. A Christmas Heist * 1/2 Stars

-Ho ho ho humdrum. 

List compiled by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Airline Disaster 2010 * * * Stars


Check this: a guy who's a pilot leaves his family at home to fly an aircraft that gets hijacked by a bunch of Mohawk ruffians. Then some other bad dudes (and their bad chicks) kidnap said pilot's family as an insurance policy. Finally, madam President rolls in to save the day and she just happens to be said pilot's sister. Did you get all that? Good. Now go on YouTube and watch the outcome. Just don't watch on a flight from wherever to wherever.  

Anyway, the title of the film I'm about to review is run-of-the-mill and not worthy of what literally flies off the screen (pun intended). 2010's Airline Disaster, well it does involve an airline and yeah, there are a few disasters along the way. But hey, that's just the quick rundown. "Look closer" as Lester Burnham would say.

"Airline" is a skyjack flick, a hostage pic, and mostly all things Murdock ("climb baby, climb"). Starring Meredith Baxter, Scott Valentine, and former stuntman Geoff Meed, the vehicle also looks low budgeted and locale challenged, probably shot on sound stages as opposed to actual settings. Oh well. In truth, I actually enjoyed Arline Disaster. Why you ask? Because it has screw-loose zeal and tension that never seem to let up. "Seat backs and tray tables must be placed in their upright and locked positions." Veritably. 

Distributed by 101 Films and featuring plot over plot workings to make it look like Air Force One as a miniseries, Airline Disaster effectively inserts nasty villains, a lack of solace with its characters, lightning-quick editing, and enough action-packed leavings to power the sun. All of what's been just mentioned, well it distracts you from the fact that "Airline" is indeed a campy B-movie with special effects that are lifted straight from the Syfy channel. "Airline's" director (John Willis III), well he's the real hero here, the polisher of all things excreta. John knows where to put the camera, knows how to film bodies in motion, and does his darndest to make use of such a nil allotment. What's saddening is that this is the only movie he's ever helmed. "Disaster" artist. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 17, 2023

JFK 1991 * * * 1/2 Stars


1991's JFK is a historical epic of massive aggregate. I mean there's a lot of movie in this movie, told through the hallucinatory lens of one Oliver Stone. Sure it's over three hours long but there's never a dull moment, just shaky certitude and some probable hearsay. "Back and to the left, back and to the left". Uh-uh.

Distributed by Warner Bros. and hauntingly scored by the GOAT of musical composers (my man John Williams), JFK is not necessarily about John F. Kennedy. I mean it kind of is but it's more so about the investigation into his assassination brought by real life district attorney Jim Garrison (played with straight-faced discipline by Kevin Costner).

JFK, well it's Oliver Stone in his heyday, providing the viewer with staggered editing, tons of scorching flashbacks, and grainy, accumulated archive footage that's anywhere from the late 50s to the end of the "Swinging Sixties". Back thirty-plus years ago, Stone was never about shooting a flick for the present day. He bled nostalgia, providing a sense of time and place that's impeccable and a shadowy set design for the ages. As Ian Anderson once quipped, "oh, we won't give in, let's go living in the past". Indeed.

Remembrance and expansion of conscience images aside, JFK gives Stone the chance to do what he does best, squeeze great performances from actors that have never been solely Oscar types. Hey look there's Kevin Bacon killing it as broken witness Willie O'Keefe. Look there's the late John Candy killing it as well as slobbery attorney Dean Andrews Jr. And oh yeah, Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill Murray's bro) channels a solid Jack Ruby (Kennedy demise enthusiasts totally know who Jack is).

Bottom line: whether you believe Stone's delirium vision of JFK or think it's just pure propaganda, what's on screen is compelling either way because of Oliver's knack for forcefully digging up American tragedies. His balls-out approach and total fearlessness here make him one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. "Let justice be done though the heaven's fall". Groovy man.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

A Christmas Vintage 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


Ohio native Lexi Giovagnoli directs A Christmas Vintage. And oh yeah, she has shot a couple of other Yuletide flicks as well (A Merry Single Christmas, Christmas Lovers Anonymous). With "Vintage", Giovagnoli puts Christmastime more in the background and less in the forefront. I mean you do see some of those ugly sweaters, you do see a few holiday decorations for set design, and yup, there is a tree lighting, ceremony scene near the hour mark. But hey, it's mostly about the wine here (hence the title).

A Christmas Vintage, well it's like watching Sideways or Bottle Shock or any other vehicle about that almighty fermented juice. You just have to eliminate the adulterous shenanigans and tomfoolery from the equation. Everyone is an expert, everyone speaks of their "Cab" in a slightly snobbery tone, and everyone gets excited when free berries are awarded to their property (that's wine speak folks). Look for "Vintage's" shooting location (Hermann, Missouri) to substitute for Holy Grail country in Napa. "Wine is wine". Uh, not quite there big guy.

Starring Karlee Eldridge, Ignacyo Matynia, and Corbin Timbrook, A Christmas Vintage presents a couple of questions to the viewer looking to cozy up to the tube with their favorite glass of Pinot Noir. So OK, why is the male lead such a moody SOB (this seems to happen a lot in these Hallmark-style movies)? Why is the female lead so compulsively easy on the eyes (hubba hubba)? And um, why is it so awkward when you think that they might actually get together? Ah yes, the plot requires them to, predictably and with that pseudo smooch attached at the end.

Bottom line: "Vintage" has a great look with darkly-lit hues and earthy, winter tones. It's also decently acted and works rather finely as a family drama about letting a daughter be free to be the winemaker that she knew she could be. As a romantic comedy however, it feels a little strained, like the pounds of grapes it done used up. Mixed "epoch".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, December 10, 2023

A Christmas Carol 1984 * * * Stars


George C. Scott is a legendary actor who left us over twenty years ago. In 1984's A Christmas Carol, Scott gives a naturalistic, underplaying performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. Yeah it's in the lamb chop facial hair, the moderate plumpness, and the gruff, sort of coarse vocal delivery. He's perfectly cast as is everybody else, updating then closely, the 1951 version of Charles Dickens's classic novel. "God bless us everyone". For sho.

Now is "Christmas Carol" a perfect film to hark in the holidays, all amended to make George C. Scott look like the new Alastair Sim? No but it comes close. This flick is richly textured, dark, and genuinely scripted, giving enough streamlining as the mid-80s would solely allow. And is A Christmas Carol just another redrafting of the ten or so offerings that came before it (remember Albert Finney, Sim, and Reginald Owen?)? Yeah but so what. There are some nice touches, some new songs, troupers that look like the characters that you envision in your head, dusky hues, and a hazy, white light look that's ready-made for the almighty silly season. If it's five degrees outside and you happen to be brewing some hot cocoa, '84's smoke is the way to go. 

The story of "Christmas Carol" is the same don't you know. An old curmudgeon gets visited by three ghosts on December 24th bent on getting him to change his ways and embrace the heartwarming swipe that is Xmas. A Christmas Carol clocking in at 100 minutes, well it does the whole deal in style, with scenes that are drawn-out but still faithful to what Dickens probably conceived. Sure the pic is mournful, dejected, and less giddy than its predecessors but I digress. Considering the contemporary production values, the barren looks on the actor's faces, and director Clive Donner's fascination with the fronts of caskets, I figured it was the right avenue to pursue. "Ho ho homebound." 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Christmas in Scotland 2023 * * * Stars


"Christmas is a time to be with those you love". Hear hear! Me just loves the holidays.

Anyhow, 2023's Christmas in Scotland is a deepened spectacle as opposed to some lovey-dovey, Christmassy helping where the leads make googly eyes at each other and the best buds chime in to give bad, impassioned advice. True story: I initially thought "Scotland" was a Hallmark flick, I did. I mean look at the poster (pan right) and get a whiff of the plot (girl goes to a faraway place to fall in love and resurrect the day of festivities spirit via a small Scottish burgh). Bully for that. Christmas in Scotland swaps the saccharine sweet for the savory and yes, it's all the better for it. "Well what are you waiting around for, you have work to do". Yes sir!

Admittedly, "Scotland" is not a perfect vehicle for those binge watchers looking to kick those Yuletide blues. I mean the male romantic interest (Dominic Watters as Alex Glenrothie) is creepily troubled and moody whereas the female interest (Jill Winternitz as Emma McKenzie) is warm, laid back, and appealing. Basically they make an off-center, forced pairing. And uh, don't go into Christmas in Scotland looking to see some postcard, ornate tinsel fest because you ain't getting it. Like the Scottish foods of neeps and tatties, it ain't all that.

What Christmas in Scotland does provide is a slow burn drama with shards of lightheartedness and shards of conflict begetting conflict. That's conflict over family history concerning an affluent heir, conflict over not moving on from relative demise and celebrating Noel, and conflict over turning a Scottish town into Leavenworth, Washington (google it and you'll see what I mean). The film along with being exactly locale-d (it was actually shot in the Kingdom itself), packs a small, emotional wallop. Merrily Christmas "carded".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, December 4, 2023

Green Room 2015 * * Stars


"I can't die here". I don't blame ya, especially when the grimy juice from the floor is below your feet.

Anyway, after performing a show and witnessing a murder, a punk rock band is confined to a small room by a bunch of skinheads bent on eventually eliminating them. That's the rub to 2015's Green Room, a barely creepy, horror thriller in which its dark hues prevent you from seeing what the heck is going on. I mean how did this guy get all bloodied up? And who got attacked by the killer dog? And um, who's fighting to the death?

Watching Green Room, you figure it could've worked had it had that Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe. Not! Instead we get a weak whiff of Assault on Precinct 13, all cat and mouse-like where it doesn't feel like anything is really at stake. Suspense? Lacking. Foreboding logic? Not really there. Tight and succinct editing? I wish. Down-and-dirty and grubby tone? Well at least Green Room has that going for it.

Taking place in Oregon and feeling like it's from a different decade (I didn't know punk rock was still a thing), Green Room stars Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart. These actors are game but the screenplay by Green Room's director (Jeremy Saulnier) is littered with inconsistencies and unclear motives. I mean we know who the protagonists and the antagonists are. We just don't know what they're trying to convey or why it's so difficult for them to get their words out. It's like jibber-jabber told in monosyllabic fashion (if that makes any sense).

Vexing dialogue exchanges aside, the trailer for Green Room gives you the feeling that you're in for a spine-tingling ride. Sigh. The execution for this film is unfortunately sloppy when it could've sent you away with your knees knocking. "Room and bored".

Written by Jesse Burleson

My Top 10 Holiday Movies of All Time (2023 Reissue)

1. Scrooge 1951 * * * * Stars
    Director: Brian Desmond Hurst
    Rated G
    Cast: Alastair Sim, Jack Warner,
    Kathleen Harrison

The Alpha and Omega of holiday films with Alastair Sim fitting the role of grumpy miser Scrooge like a smooth Isotoner glove. This is the purest and most nostalgic entry of Dicken's classic tale that I can remember. This timeless story was remade countless times but never reached the emotional heights that director Brian Desmond Hurst's 1951 classic did.

2. Catch Me If You Can 2002 * * * * Stars
    Director: Steven Spielberg
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks

Not necessarily a movie made about Christmas but its key scenes take place during that yule tide holiday. Leonardo DiCaprio, as bank forger Frank Abagnale, is in top form. Spielberg's direction is perfect. Overall, this is compulsively watchable stuff.

3. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
    1987 * * * 1/2 Stars
    Director: John Hughes
    Rated R
    Cast: John Candy, Steve Martin

Even though Thanksgiving has come and gone, it doesn't matter. This is still top notch holiday fare with two brilliant comedic actors giving the performances of their lives. Part dramedy, part road trip movie, and totally quotable, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles will make you laugh throughout. It will also leave you with a lump in your throat at the end.

4. Nothing Like the Holidays 2008 * * * Stars
    Director: Alfredo De Villa
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Debra Messing, Freddy Rodriguez,
    Jay Hernandez

Ever since 2009, I make it a habit to watch this film at least three to four times in the month of December. It was shot about 10 miles from where I live, and it's a fine mixture of ensemble comedy and dramatic grievances involving a tight knit Puerto Rican family. They all get together for a bitingly cold Christmas break in Chicago's Humboldt park neighborhood. Very likable cast with every character having their own feasible back story. It's one of those flicks where if you live in Chicago, you say "oh yeah I've been there, I've driven down that street." Very authentic take on the Windy City locales.

5. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 1989
    * * * Stars
    Director: Jeremiah Chechik
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo

Chevy Chase as bumbling family man Clark W. Griswold, gave his last credible performance in National Lampoon's take on nutty holiday cheer. A lot of gags are taken to the extreme and the scene where he puts Christmas lights on every single inch of his house, is something only his character would ever think of doing. Revolting cousin Eddie (Randy Quiad) shows up halfway in to add to the silliness. All and all, a sloppily made comedy that I initially thought had worn out its welcome. With every subsequent viewing, I changed my mind. A classic!

6. Scrooged 1988 * * * Stars
    Director: Richard Donner
    Rated PG-13
    Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen

Highly dark and satirical take on Charles Dicken's legendary tale. This time it's set in the 1980's with funnyman Bill Murray giving a quintessential "Bill Murray" type performance. Funny, cynical, with great one liners. Certain scenes however, might be too intense for younger viewers to take. Overall, if you like Murray's smarmy style of delivering dialogue, Scrooged will not disappoint.

7. A Christmas Story 1983 * * * Stars
    Director: Bob Clark
    Rated PG
    Cast: Peter Billingsly, Darren McGavin,
    Melinda Dillon

This is a silly, little comedy that turned into a Christmas cult classic. Peter Billingsly plays Ralphie, a impressionable young boy who only wants a BB gun for his under-the-tree present. A Christmas Story is told from his point of view. With memorable lines and some quirky characters, it's an addictive film you can watch relentlessly. Case in point: on TBS, this thing is shown 24 hours a day on the 24th and 25th of December.

8. A Christmas Carol 1938 * * * Stars
    Director: Edwin L. Marin
    Rating: Passed
    Cast: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart

Came before the Alastair Sim version but for some reason, is not as credible in terms of acting, directing, and conviction of the story. Still, it's entertaining enough in a lightweight sort of way. There is actually a color version of this film that is sometimes shown on network television. Overall, good fluff but the ending is short and by the book. It's not as invigorating as 1951's  masterpiece.

9. Just the Way You Are 1984 * * * Stars
    Director: Edouard Molinaro
    Rated PG
    Cast: Kristy McNichol, Kaki Hunter

The main reason why I put this film on the list is that it just reminds me of Christmas in general. It doesn't really involve the holidays, but it was on cable in the 80's and I must have watched it with my parents about a million times. Yes, it involves snow and skiing (in the French Alps), but mainly it's a love story about a woman with a handicapped leg who goes overseas to hide it and find Mr. Right. Honestly, nothing much goes on in this thing. However, it now reminds me of a certain time and place (December of 1985) so I'll just throw it in.

Image result for prancer movie poster10. Prancer 1989 * * * Stars
      Director: John D. Hancock
      Rated G
      Cast: Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman

Prancer was filmed about 20 minutes from where I grew up. It's mildly entertaining and it's significant because every time I pass through Three Oaks, MI, I wonder how many of the townspeople own a DVD copy of it. Made over twenty years ago, the small Midwest town just mentioned, hasn't changed a bit. And even if you know that Santa Claus is a hoax, you'll still go along with this fable about a young girl's fascination with a wounded reindeer.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, December 1, 2023

Waiting... 2005 * * Stars


If you're gonna make a film about servers at some Chili's-style restaurant, you have to exaggerate the high jinks, you just have to. Otherwise everything on screen would be boring and well, unambiguous. Such is the case with 2005's Waiting..., a raunchy R-rated comedy in which waiters make whoopee in work bathrooms, do drugs on their breaks, play full-frontal nudity games with their co-workers, have mad parties after each day at work, and mess with their customer's food (ugh). I worked as a server back in the day and let me tell you none of this stuff went down, at least not on my watch. If it did I probably would've quit or been scarred for life. Just sayin'.

That's not to say that Waiting... doesn't provide a couple of guffaws because it does. I mean if you're all about the ostentatious-ness how can it not. The problem is that the flick at times is more gross than funny, trying to one-up every farcical gag as if it's a carnival act at some foodie freakshow. A cook puts the dandruff from his hair onto a patron's steak, a woman flashes her private area to her work buds and then kicks them in their rears (??), four teenagers are smoking cigs at a table while a guy in his twenties is trying to hook up with them, the fabled 10-second rule (you know what I'm talking about). This stuff, well it may seem amusing on paper but when it's shown on screen, it flutters, like some undercooked piece of veal (pun intended). "I hope you enjoyed everything, I know I did". Uh, not quite there big guy.

With Waiting..., the fictional, casual dinging restaurant (appropriately named ShenaniganZ) is the star, a sort of prop to loosely bind together the poor editing choices, lack of continuity, nowt diegesis, and un-redeeming characters that you would never associate with in real life. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, and Justin Long, Waiting... is borderline watchable but know that you'll feel peccant if you ask for "seconds". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, November 27, 2023

Thanksgiving 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


Starring Patrick Dempsey, Addison Rae, and Milo Manheim, 2023's Thanksgiving is one of those movies where the genre steadily inserts itself into any day of festivity. I mean you've got Halloween for Halloween, Silent Night, Deadly Night for Christmas, April's Fool's Day for spring break, and Thanksgiving for well, Thanksgiving. Hey why not. Horror fans are always thirsty and they need their fix. Next year maybe we'll have a slasher flick about some psycho getting his kill on during Yule. Again why not.

So yeah, Thanksgiving is directed by Eli Roth, a guy who wants to make you sick, to gross you out (he probably did it to his buddies via childhood). Eli came on to the scene with 2002's Cabin Fever which did all those things but also messed you up mentally. With Thanksgiving he just goes for the basics, mechanical dispatching, shrill screams, and creative offings. Sans a shocking, opening Black Friday scene, the film is borderline schlock, cartoon-like in its brutality with enough fake blood and guts to power the sun. Um, Roth is not peaking here (as he did with "Fever"). He's almost on marginal holiday (pun intended).

Mounds of corn syrup ichor and discounted price rioting aside, Thanksgiving is about a murderer named "John Carver" (ha ha get it?) who terrorizes a small Massachusetts town by capping its denizens in a screw-loose revenge plot (you'll see). It's all so amusing and initially fun, as Roth's TikTok, teenage characters spew lots of F-bombs before getting picked off one by one. Just think a little Scream and a little John Carpenter circa 1978 and that's what you'll get with Thanksgiving. What fails this pic is how it reveals the antagonist at the end. I mean you don't think he would do any of the actual killing, you don't think he is capable of swiftly moving from point A to B to eliminate his victims, and you don't ultimately care because everything comes off as slightly trivial. "Turkey trotted".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 24, 2023

Albert Brooks: Defending My Life 2023 * * * Stars


Albert Brooks (whose real name is Albert Einstein) is a comedian/actor/director/screenwriter who has had a career spanning over 50 years. I mean everyone knows who Albert Brooks is. You might have seen him in Broadcast News or This Is 40 or Out of Sight or Drive (as have I). His brand of humor or egregiousness is as dry as the Sahara desert. His air is sardonic. Yeah, you either get it or you don't (and I do). Albert Brooks: Defending My Life is a documentary about Brooks, with the 76-year-old entertainer in diverting Greek chorus mode. It's like "Defending's" director (Rob Reiner) said, "Albert, I stopped by to shoot a flick about what makes you tick. Hope you don't mind". Entrancing.

Now does Albert Brooks: Defending My Life have rules? What rules, there are no rules. I mean you could watch this thing from the middle, beginning, or end and never be out of the loop. It maunders. And is "Defending" basically an 87-minute, rinse, repeat of Albert talking about his life experiences as he sits with helmer Reiner at some random restaurant table? Yeah but whatever. Their present day stuff is intercut with archive footage and interviews with people that aren't rent-a-celebs but actual celebs. Seems reasonable to me.

With "Defending", everybody talks about Albert Brooks like he's a genius comedian so yeah, this could feel like a vanity stunt. The key word meaning "could". Despite the wandering narrative, hasty coda, and loose structure, Albert Brooks: Defending My Life has a certain whimsical flavor to it, with Reiner not wanting to glorify Brooks but rather celebrate his legacy via some languid, living funeral (Albert is doing just fine by the way). 

Call it a cinematic guy's day out. Call it a "look at me", new-found gimmick. Call it affixed phooey. I call Albert Brooks: Defending My Life recommendable. I don't "defend" any retractor who doesn't feel the same way. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Apex Predators 2021 1/2 Star


How bad is 2021's Apex Predators? Um it's well, genocide bad. "Apex" is a shark movie and the only reason why I gave it a 1/2 star is because the title sounds on fleek. Apex Predators is Plan 9 from Outer Space muck and it's in the "tank". Natch.

"Apex" is the equivalent of a bunch of buddies winning a contest to make a film with free reign. I mean how was that made possible? The special effects (pertaining to shark attacks) are nil and an insult to the audience. Forget that whole Hitchcockian concept because you basically get nothing, nothing I tell you.

Apex Predators clocks in at 62 minutes (the closing credits are an extra 8). It's pretty pathetic. The end credits actually feature all of the troupers and well, they aren't worthy of that accolade. Heck, the acting in "Apex" resembles a porno flick or some community theater BS. It's the worst of the worst.

The story of Apex Predators is a student film copycat of Jaws (beach goers get killed by sharks and that threatens a grand opening of a resort). Ugh. The only resemblance "Apex" has with that 70s vehicle is that someone actually says the word in a dialogue reading. Weird camera angles (that shouldn't exist) and abysmal editing a Jaws remake does not make. I wanted to shake out the ineptitude of director Dustin Ferguson like you wouldn't believe.

Filmed with a lens that suggests a low budget Cinemax pic or something captured on a camcorder, Apex Predators dares you to hate it, it really does (and I did). Its soundtrack just adds to the carnage, a loop of hipster guitar strumming-s, bad hip-hop ditties, and lousy synths. As for helmer Dustin Ferguson, well he should never be allowed to be behind the camera again. I mean if he wants to shoot home movies of his family and such as a hobby, whatev. That's his business. His "Apex" is the "crest" of fresh, great white dung. Pee-ew.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 19, 2023

One Night Stand Murder 2023 * * * Stars


2023's One Night Stand Murder is a Lifetime movie that wants to stimulate the viewer, as opposed to laying on the schlock or camp or whatever Lifetime-r hack David DeCoteau is cooking up these days (remember The Wrong Cheerleader Coach and The Wrong Fiance?). At 85 minutes, "Murder" ditches the gore and the bore and goes slightly for the noir, as some of the film's shots advocate luxuriant, eerie beauty. Sometimes well, that's sufficient enough. 

Directed by Brittany Underwood, a woman who has made nine flicks in about two years (busy busy), One Night Stand Murder is a whodunit that would make any addition of the Clue board game feel like Romper Room. I mean forget about that whole "Colonel Mustard-did-it-with-a-knife-in-the-library thang", this is much more staggering stuff. "Murder" places enough red herrings and masked tip-offs to power a small country, maybe Guam perhaps. 

The plot of One Night Stand Murder is simple enough, it's how Underwood thinks in fleet cuts that gives it an extra boost. A woman (Casey Waller playing the gulled Alyssa) wakes up in some rich dude's apartment with no recollection of how she got there. Oh and that same rich dude (Fletcher Doyle) is murdered, laying sideways in his king-sized bed. Alyssa must figure out what happened and piece everything together before she herself gets framed for the crime. It's all set to Waspy LA neighborhoods, where basements are nil, the countertops are sterile, and lavish floors are aplenty. 

So yeah, sometimes the acting is a little cheesy and sometimes the actor's appearances are even a little cheesier (the detective character in "Murder" looks like a soap opera rent-a-cop and the lead in Waller gives off a sort of Raggedy Ann vibe). Oh well. One Night Murder entertains by branding its Lifetime roots in a more discerning manner. It's "Night" visioned. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Ryde 2017 * * Stars


2017's Ryde is a "ride" worth taking maybe once (and only once), to see how neo-noir and grisly sadism can push that almighty envelope. It's like 2004's Collateral and Taxi Driver combined forces, but forgot that ample character development and/or diegesis actually mattered. I mean what was director Brian Frank Visciglia thinking, that he could put out an 84-minute film about ride sharing services and it wouldn't come off as hollow as an empty toothpaste tube? "Oh you missed the turn". Um, that's not all Ryde misses.

Distributed by Gravitas Ventures and shot in what feels like a week or two in good old Los Angeles, Ryde chronicles Paul (played with foul glint by David Wachs) as a psychopath who poses as a rideshare driver. His purpose (or lack of purpose)? To get his kill on via passengers who come off as rude, weak, or I guess, vulnerable. That's it folks, that's your movie, a sort of stylized snippet that would rather beget violence for the sake of violence instead of actually giving the viewer something of merit to gnaw on. I mean you could put any known actor in the lead role instead Wachs, be it Ryan Gosling or Tom Cruise or even Bobby De Niro. The result would be the same because Ryde's script by three writers (you heard me) doesn't let the audience member in, it just leaves them cold and outlying, like a passed out passenger (pun intended).

All in all, if Ryde were to provide any impact, it would be its effective look of LA at night, all darkened and slick and gleamed and well, skin-deep. And then there's the Jaws effect, where you fear ever getting in the water again or in Ryde's case, ever getting into a car with an Uber driver who may or may not be an evil slaughterer. Other than that, Ryde just feels like an exercise in wayward manner, remorseless and without any accord. It could just easily be titled Ryde and Die.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, November 13, 2023

Sly 2023 * * * Stars


Sylvester Stallone is one of the most famous actors of all time. And if you've never seen any of his films you'd probably still know who he is. 2023's Sly, well it's an outspoken documentary about Stallone's life, told chronologically from his rough upbringing in New York's Hell's Kitchen to his rise via franchise, movie stardom. "The rejection was my encouragement". Indeed.

So yeah, did we need a docu about the legend known fictionally as John J? Maybe, maybe not. You watch these types of factual pics and wonder why ultra-celebrated people would do them. I mean Stallone obviously doesn't need the money and he's already cemented his place in the successes of Hollywood. Sly's director (Thom Zimny), well he doesn't care and he's game, filling the screen with archive footage, present day rawness, and parallels between Stallone's former and current viability. The opening scene in which Sylvester is looking out into his backyard, talking about regrets and speeding train metaphors is a real doozy. Uh, I say that in a good way.

Distributed by Netflix and edited crisply and routinely as most documentaries are, Sly lets you hear from Stallone himself, the way it should be. He speaks into the camera, exposed and candid and well, defending himself (when he doesn't really need to). Sly also includes interviews from people that are part of Sylvester's journey, like Henry Winkler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even Quentin Tarantino. I mean I could've done without insight from some undisclosed movie critic but hey, whatever. I'm doing the same thing right now.

Bottom line: Sly is biting, well-made technically, and a sort of companion piece to other swipe about lionized celebs (remember 2008's Tyson?). Some could see it as a pseudo vanity project for good old Sly but I digress. "Sir, do we get to win this time?" Yeah you do.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 10, 2023

A Christmas Heist 2023 * 1/2 Stars


Watching 2023's A Christmas Heist, you get a strange, goofy Reservoir Dogs vibe I suppose, what with all the bank robbery and flashback stuff. Suppose is the key word because that's where the contrasts end. I mean there is a heist and the whole flick is told in past memory but it's all so lazy and uninspired, not neo-noir violent or witty or fresh, just doltish and playing for time. "Ho ho ho" humdrum I tell you.

Made on a shoestring budget, with weird camera angles, needless whip pans, and maybe 2-3 drab set locations, A Christmas Heist procrastinates ever so profusely (even at 75 minutes of runtime). Um, why does this film fail so badly trying to mix crime, heartfelt drama, and the funny? Heck if I know. And why have the proceedings take place during the festive season when they could've taken place at any time (or anywhere)? Beats me. Oh yeah, the title is A Christmas Heist. That's it.

"Heist" stars Thom Hallum, Tom Zembrod, and Lauren Molina, unknown actors that clearly needed the work. Otherwise no A-lister would touch such a jejune, "only looks good on paper" script dropped by writer/director Brett Bentman (Meteor: First Impact, Bull Shark). The premise is simple: Paul Wexler (Hallum) decides to steal from a financial establishment on X-mas Eve dressed in a Santa suit. But hey, things go wrong (don't they always) and Paul is trapped in said establishment with three weirdos until the cops show up via the sealed protocol.

"Heist", well it almost evaporates as you view it, having no reason for being other than to cheese grate the audience member into investing in a new angle via the plethora of tinsel movies that overload all things streaming. Yup, the acting is pretty bad, the look is fete, student film-ish, and the feel is hem and haw claustrophobia. Basically A Christmas Heist "stole" over an hour of my time. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Never Been Chris'd 2023 * 1/2 Stars


2023's Never Been Chris'd is possibly a play on words through the film Never Been Kissed. Cutesy and well, well-played sir. "Chris'd" is also one of those Hallmark pics where everything centers around Christmas as if it's a religion and not a holiday (when it should be both). I mean the town that this movie takes place in is like Mayberry tacked onto a yule postcard, with enough coincidences to one-up The O.C. and enough off-center, in cahoots townspeople to give The Truman Show a run for its money. Hey it's November, that's when the gaiety starts for me, and that's when I begin to take in a few silly season flicks. With Never Been Chris'd, I was kind of thrown for a loop. Um, did director Jeff Beesley secretly put tequila in the eggnog? Maybe.

Spiked drinks and satirical science fiction aside, Never Been Chris'd is a mess of all things tinsel, toneless and without a consistent mood. Is it a romantic comedy? For the first half in which the attractive main characters act awkward, spewing dialogue that no actual human being would ever say with materiality. And is "Chris'd" a mid to heavy drama? For the second half yeah, as these same main characters go avoidably dark side with their feelings about life choices, true love, careers, bond, etc. 

With "Chris'd", Janel Parrish, Tyler Hynes, and Samantha Kendrick star as two BFFs and a high school crush who reconnect via X-mas in Winnipeg, Canada (the film's supposed shooting location). Simple premise right? It could have been had these three personas not appeared so wishy-washy, rattled, alienated from their families, and borderline bipolar. Someone give these guys a jolly hug. They are caught in a patchy movie in which helmer Beesley would rather send you into downer, lovey-dovey, love triangle territory as opposed to straight away warm fuzzies. "Never" again for Never Been Chris'd

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Fearway 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


The Fearway is one of those movies where you anticipate with bated breath, how it's going to end. In other words, where is the story headed? Why do the main characters drive around in a circle (that's not a circle)? Who's this creepy dude they call the "Ferryman?" And why is Eileen Dietz (the demon face from The Exorcist) featured in a millisecond cameo? Questions, questions, questions and "Fearway" holds you hostage for 81 minutes whether you enjoy what's on screen or not. "It's just not possible". Oh but it is my friends, it is.

You see, that's what The Fearway is designed to do. It wants you to think about it long after the credits roll. That's why the pic concludes abruptly, making you feel cheated for investing your vigor in its dusty, B-movie fodder. I mean I'm not saying I wasn't mildly entertained but I wanted more than just a snippet, a pitying horror snapshot if you will. I wanted an extra twenty minutes maybe, a way for the helmer (Robert Gajic) to let me into his "white nights" in the desert or his stagnant, time continuum. Just help me out and uh, don't leave my hanging bro.

Filmed in the middle of nowhere with possibly 1-2 set locations (Lancaster, California being one of them), The Fearway makes you snicker a little with its giggling title and its main leads who bicker like an old, married couple even though they haven't even been engaged yet (it gets annoying real fast). You see Sarah and Michael (played by Justin Gordon and Shannon Dalonzo) are driving down the freeway, venturing to visit their parents in god knows where. The problem? Well they keep getting sidetracked in Blair Witch mode, ending up at the same place (a rundown restaurant) while being followed by a demonic dude driving a blackened PT Cruiser (I need to get me one of those). The acting is palatable but a little flimsy, Gajic's streamlined direction is solid enough, and the afterlife, twist coda is a nice touch. Sadly, "Fearway" just doesn't provide enough true resolve and/or cinematic buoyancy to garner a recommendation. "Fear" factored.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Five Nights at Freddy's 2023 * * * Stars


2023's Five Nights at Freddy's represents a new breed in horror. It's almost like a horror drama if you will. Sure people get killed and blood is shed but there's a complexity to "Freddy's", a sort of non-archetypal way in which it goes about its business. There's child abduction and family custody stuff and oh yeah, mechanical, puppet-like bots who like to get their Saw on. Emma Tammi directs by adapting "Freddy's" from a video game (of the same name). She also digs up the body of The Romantics "Talking in Your Sleep" for added effect. "And I know that I'm right 'cause I hear it in the night". Uh-huh.

Shot in Louisiana and ready-made for the spooky season (that would be Halloween), Five Nights at Freddy's takes its time with the audience, reveling in setups and slow burn spectacle as opposed to just laying down the gore (hence the PG-13 rating). I mean if you've seen the trailer you'd think that you would be getting a straight-up slasher pic or snuff contrivance. Wrong. "Freddy's" is like a grubby version of a dramatic sitcom with a little food chain carnage thrown in. Yup, I see a box-office drop from "Freddy's" awesome opening take (78 mil). And I also see some bloodthirsty fright fans turned off from future viewings. Oh well. There's enough eerie, humor exaggeration and glow dim, 80s palate to at least garner a slight recommendation. "Where fantasy and fun come to life". Indeed.

Starring Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, and Matthew Lillard (who again gets his Scream fix via a twist ending), Five Nights at Freddy's is about a rattled thirtysomething who takes on a security job at an abandoned pizza joint similar to the famed Chuck E. Cheese. There, he encounters things that go bump in his night shift and a whole lot more. The performances are decent, the animatronics are kind of creepy, and the scare factor is sadly only abundant if you've lived a sheltered, cinematic existence. I'll bite. I mean I've seen schlock like Hell Fest and this is much better. Taking "five".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Hero 2017 * * 1/2 Stars


2017's The Hero represents Sam Elliott appearing in a film nearly five decades after he began his career. You could say it's perfect casting with Elliott, who at 71 years old fits his aging, movie icon character like an ISOTONER glove. Yup, before Burt Reynolds did the same old shtick in The Last Movie Star and after Al Pacino got his sing on via '15's Danny Collins, there was Elliott looking weathered and languid, like he couldn't find his long-lost puppy. His persona (Lee Hayden) knows that his best days in the biz are behind him. We the viewer, well we feel the same woe.

A scorched look here, a dream sequence there, a jittery camera movement and famous mustache everywhere, The Hero is about Lee Hayden and how he deals with the tail end of his life and the tail end of well, the film industry. You see Elliott's Hayden is terminally ill and fancy-free, spending his days doing acting voice-overs, smoking ganja, drinking, waiting for an actual job, and ruing his relationship with his estranged daughter (Lucy Hayden played by Krysten Ritter). When Lee later on romances a young siren (Lauren Prepon as Charlotte Dylan) and gets invited to a ceremony to receive a life achievement award, he sees it as a last hurrah for himself, a sort of white-knuckle purging before the whole fated ship goes down. "I'm nothing without all of you". Maybe.

Death, robbing the cradle, and recreational drug use aside, "Hero" is mainly a character study brought to you by director Brett Haley in earthy, old Hollywood fashion. At 96 minutes, The Hero is also sort of arc-less and dolefully vibe-d, letting Elliott's Hayden wade through a bunch of fade-in, fade-out Holly-weird-s until the film's abrupt conclusion leaves you pondering more than perusing. Mixed "white hat". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

27: Gone Too Soon 2018 * 1/2 Stars


"It's a shock, we can't believe that it happened". But it did. The 27 Club has got quite the sample size. Six famous rock stars died at the young age of 27. We're talking Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. Now did I admire their avant-garde tuneage? Sure, who didn't. It's just a shame that we'll never know what these people would've progressed into. 

Fan-made yet never feeling like anyone involved were actual fans, 27: Gone Too Soon chronicles a handful of rock and roll icons through interviews and old hat archive footage, all without so much as a smidgen of  featuring their legendary ditties. I mean for about seventy minutes, "Gone" comes off as a prosaic, self-serious blague, anemic in appearance and apparently lacking funding, authorization, and/or permission from "the powers that be", rock world hierarchy. Um, can you blame them? I sure as heck can't.

Directed by a dude that's a former rock manager himself (Simon Napier-Bell) and featuring the production company of Premiere Picture (that's an oxymoron for sure), 27: Gone Too Soon is not so much a bad docu as it is a totally misguided one. The main problem, well it lies in the persons that Napier-Bell puts the questions to, all industry C-listers feeling like they know Janis and Jim and Kurt and whatnot more than they know themselves. It's all conferenced through condemnation and criticism, undercut with grainy muniments and toneless background music in rinse, rinse, repeat fashion. I mean would I get more contentment reading these rocker's standard wiki pages than feeding off the shoddy visual stimuli and tactless swipe that is 27: Gone Too Soon? Oh for sho. At least I wouldn't have to hear (and see) a bunch of wisenheimer voices attached to the words. "Gone" through the motions. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon 2023 * * * Stars


Martin Scorsese is one of the most revered and famous directors of all time. You'll never see him make a popcorn flick, you'll rarely get a straight plot from him, and occasionally he'll do black comedy (the most recent being The Wolf of Wall Street). What you will get most of the time is something epic, something that throbs with energy and greed and irony and extremity. Killers of the Flower Moon (his latest) is epic to a point. I mean any film with a runtime of three and a half hours has to be labeled epic. That's the baseline. "Can you find the wolves in this picture?" Yes and um, they're salivating.

But wait a minute, "Moon" is not great Scorsese but it is good. Heck, this is Marty's Gone with the Wind, his "Godfather". The breadth, width, and scope are impressive, the acting raw and reactionary, the camerawork whip pan-like (it is what it is and that's impressive). The storytelling? Well that's a different story (see what I did there). It's a little untidy and that's where I draw the line. The screenplay here by Martin and Eric Roth recycles itself, full of cupidity and hired hits and non-stifled characters that are sheltered. I get that protagonists in Marty's pics are sometimes bad people but this goes way beyond. Example: star Leonardo DiCaprio "kills" it as usual but you've got to wonder why anyone would fully root for his scrape.

Based on a book of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon casts DiCaprio and Robert De Niro as nephew and uncle involved in the murders of Native Americans via 1920s Osage County (that's in Oklahoma). Their scenes crackle and bruise, a sort of long-awaited reunion of when they together starred in 1993's This Boy's Life. Add a solid time setting, some cogent costume designs, and bright production values and you've got a newfangled Western that's as violent as it is morbidly repetitive. Hey, nobody is of the first water all the time. Scorsese almost succeeds brilliantly in shooting this "moon".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Fear the Night 2023 * * * Stars


2023's Fear the Night is an incredibly violent and remorseless thriller, a film that might be a fine addition to anyone's Halloween repertoire (it is October after all). At 92 minutes, the only thing that irked me was how "Night" ended, not lean and mean but willing to explain everything to the viewer in a clip via a police station. Uh why? Just let star Maggie Q sit there on the porch, all bloodied-up, scowling at the audience, and reveling in her superior badassery. I mean that would be a neat final frame.

Directed by Neil LaBute (a veteran helmer who too loves to exploit the butchery) and distributed by those guys at Quiver (remember Becky and The Fanatic?), "Night" is like a hybrid of stuff akin to Straw Dogs and Assault on Precinct 13. You know those movies where people are trapped in a building (or abode) and a bunch of ruffians are trying to get in to cause havoc. Said ruffians want something and they are willing to execute and penetrate without scruples. "You've got no idea who we are and all we want is inside that house". Indeed.

The opening act in Fear the Night is a little shaky (trite dialogue, annoying characters, stock setting, etc.). Then the flick kicks into high gear cause what counts is the action and mode of survival. Maggie Q (as Army veteran Tess) is the standout, all business and getting her kill on at will. I mean if you've seen other TV shows and pics with Maggie you know she's just playing herself here. It's not a stretch but spot-on casting is the word I would use. Add LaBute's claustrophobic eye for setting up a scene, some random title cards depicting the time of events, and antagonists that country bumpkin it to the nth degree (bows and arrows, ski masks, knives) and you've got a living nightmare that's a bachelorette party gone to pot. Burns "night".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Passenger 2023 * * * 1/2 Stars


2023's The Passenger is a disturbing little cabochon of a pic, a drama-thriller that almost masks as an akin hangout movie for sociopaths of the killing kind. For 94 well-adjusted minutes that feel earned, "Passenger" lets you into its small-town sphere, loosely populated by townies and grubby landscapes and melancholia and one greasy spoon diner. I mean who knew "Passenger's" shooting location (New Orleans, LA) would look like the Midwest in the deadened beginnings of autumn. I didn't.

Distributed by Blumhouse Productions (but doesn't feel like it) and directed by a dude who fashions his white trash antagonist as a big brother type bent on teaching living lessons (Maine native Carter Smith), The Passenger chronicles fast food worker Randolph Bradley (Johnny Berchtold). When Randy is in the middle of preparing for his shift, his fellow co-worker (Benson played by Kyle Gallner) murders everyone else at the fast food joint but spares him. Why? So they can drive around the same burgh while Benson gets his kill on again and gives Randall a sort of screw loose tour of This Is Your Life. Talk about one stalled getaway with the bad guy not giving heed to leaving his permanent populace. Yeesh. 

Resembling a sort of non-art house version of 1973's Badlands, "Passenger" is well-acted and crisply edited, full of trenchancy and revelations and moments that are sudden bursts of barbarity (or attempted barbarity). In truth, Smith's film feels fresh and dirtily lowdown at the same time. It could but just doesn't pander to normal yarns about serial murderers and their spurs. Into the bargain, The Passenger is that rare flick in which side characters fade in and out but actually have a purpose to "Passenger's" nefarious narrative. Yup, I think it's one of the best offerings of '23 (so far). "Rider" manifest. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Mill 2023 * * * Stars


The mill in 2023's The Mill is a form of manual labor for a businessman trapped in a workplace prison cell. If said businessman can't push said mill in a circle enough times, he fails to make his emblematic quota and dies. Yup, I couldn't make this up if I tried. I mean what sicko would put a dude through this torture when his wife is at home pregnant? Yeesh.

Anyway, The Mill is indeed a demented and often psychologically bruising thriller. Why? Because it takes hostile work environment to an almost figurative level (figuratively). "Mill's" director is Sean King O'Grady, a guy who obviously watched the first Saw from 2004 and Oldboy to fortify his surly, captor vision.

Providing lessened gore but fashioning enough black hat remorselessness to make your blood curdle, O'Grady may not be the most stylish of helmers when it comes to placing the camera but his dustbowl look and eye-in-the-sky villainy make The Mill the scarring trainwreck to end all trainwrecks.

It's only in the last act when the twist comes that "Mill" loses a little dramatic momentum and becomes rooted in visual reality as opposed to well, actual physical existence. I mean just because a flick does a one-eighty doesn't mean it keeps the viewer fully engaged. If that were the case then everything released in theaters would be all things surprise, surprise!

The Mill stars Lil Rel Howery as trapped employee Joe and Pat Healy as Joe's would-be corporation boss. Howery overacts a bit but has enough discipline and foaming enthusiasm to carry "Mill" with aplomb. As for Healy, well he shows up near the end, basically doing what he does best which is 25-plus years of solid character actor stuff. They are both in a pic that substitutes psychosomatic horror for generalized empathy. Edge "mill".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 9, 2023

One Day as a Lion 2023 * 1/2 Stars


2023's One Day as a Lion isn't the worst movie ever made but it certainly won't stay with you after the closing credits come up. 87 minutes roll by and you wonder why known actors like Scott Caan, Frank Grillo, and J.K. Simmons would appear in a crime drama so trivial, so eensy scaled. I mean there are literally scenes where there's no one around in broad daylight except a couple of the main characters. It's like small-town Mayberry without uh, the people of Mayberry. 

Getting back to the likes of Caan, Grillo, and Simmons. So did they do this film for a paycheck? Maybe but I'm not sure why. Did they read the script that is basically improvised with F-words instead of actual, biting dialogue? Probably not. And did they listen to their agents a little too closely before grudgingly appearing in "Lion?" That might be a yes. In that case they need to fire said agents and fire them stat!

What we have in One Day as a Lion is a trite Tarantino knock off, lacking Quentin's signature cultural references but full of cringey wide shots, weird camera angles, and line readings that wish they were catchy. And don't get me started on the mob types and crime lords that inhabit the C-movie swipe that is "Lion". They come off as dolts that are each other's only friends. I mean Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield would literally brush these dudes aside like the wind. 

Directed by Oklahoma native John Swab and filmed in "The Sooner State" (naturally), One Day as a Lion chronicles nice guy hit-man Jackie Powers (Caan). Powers must swiftly off a crime boss who owns a ranch (again naturally). He is doing this for money to get his son out of jail. When Jackie fails to get the kill, he fears that he'll get killed himself. Does or should the viewer care? Not really. And do "Lion's" plot threads turn into puzzling, loose dead ends? Sadly yes. Disorder of this "day". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 7, 2023

The Exorcist 1973 * * * 1/2 Stars


"There are no experts". Not at the moment Damien Karras but Father Merrin is on the way. Got to get those evil spirits out of a little teenage girl.

With a brilliant musical score and a sense of foreboding that is equal parts broad daylight and deadened night, 1973's The Exorcist changed the way an audience could perceive conventional horror. Just imagine what it was like in '73, seeing a young Linda Blair spewing green vomit and talking like a Hall of Fame potty mouth as her character is being possessed by the actual Devil (at least that's what I thought). "Exorcist" has a shock value that is off the charts. At about age 37, director William Friedkin had cojones the size of watermelons. Hey, it paid off.

Now is The Exorcist the greatest scary movie ever made? I think so. I saw it when I was barely 13 and it numbed me for days. And does "Exorcist" benefit from taking a risk with its scaring imagery and subject matter looking to offend certain religious groups? Oh heck yeah. Filmmakers have tried to imitate The Exorcist over the past five decades but they can't equal its grainy feel, its guilty tenor, and/or its early 70s swank. "This sow is mine". Indeed.

The Exorcist is shot with incredible extremity and atmospheric decadence by helmer Friedkin. I'll let his small slips in editing slide by. The images William conjures up didn't have CGI (it wasn't around back then) and that just makes him more blazing for it. Kudos to Friedkin's make-up artists for turning a young, head-spinning female into the afreet to end all afreets.

George Lucas lack of magic aside, "Exorcist" has one attribute that has always haunted me but in a good way. I mean why doesn't the controlling of a girl by a demon never make it past one's inner circle? You know the doctors, the relatives, and the priests. I mean how does the media never get a hold of what's going on here? Crazy. It's like the whole timeline of incidents gets kept out of the loop, like it's in cahoots. Whatever. That's probably the most brilliant thing about this film and I can't explain why. "The power of Christ compels you". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Creator 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


Watching 2023's The Creator, you just know it's a Gareth Edwards movie. Why? Because of the dusky tropical look, the vast canvas, and the abundance of military extras. Yeah he's a visionary but he nods to other filmmakers for inspiration too, like a cinematic DJ sampling the goods. I mean Edwards probably saw snippets of Elysium, Blade Runner, and anything Terrence Malick circa 1998. Otherwise The Creator would cease to exist, like a pinkish elephant.

But "Creator" does exist and the breadth and scope are impressive. Yup, as a viewer you just take in the visuals, with every frame without troupers a screen saver to be had. Just think the equivalent of a bunch of binary sunsets, except that it's not in a galaxy far, far away. The sci-fi gauntlet has been thrown down and Edwards seems to be the guy doing the proverbial throwing. "We are this close to winning the war". Uh, maybe.

Clocking in at 133 minutes and featuring battle sequences and explosions that feel rinse, rinse, repeat, The Creator chronicles Army sergeant Joshua Taylor (John David Washington). Taylor must hunt down and kill a form of AI (artificial intelligence) that resembles a small child. Joshua hesitates, teams up with said child for other purposes (like finding his supposedly dead wife), and becomes a traitor to the misinformed special forces. Washington has solid screen presence but I've never thought of him as much of an actor. I know it's broken record stuff but the dude is clearly no Denzel (that happens to be John David's daddy-o).

In retrospect, The Creator is a good-looking film that unfortunately has a clunky narrative, drowned in flashbacks, irksome side characters, and random subplots about the AI movement as PSA. Gareth Edwards has good intentions (does he really?) but seems bent on channeling his inner Christopher Nolan here. His flick doesn't have enough runtime to bait the disjointedness. "Non-prime mover".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Girl in the Closet 2023 * * * Stars


2023's Girl in the Closet has to be called Girl in the Closet because 2021's Girl in the Basement was already taken. If you watch the movie, the girl persona in question is definitely kept in the basement, with a couple of other victims, held against her will, and with almost no bare necessities. Why you ask? Because the antagonists are "monsters" (as one character says), in it for the money, and living off the benefit checks of these young teenagers who rarely see the outside world. "Closet" is based on true events. OK I'll bite. If there's any non-fiction to it all, well it's a pretty forlorn world we live in.

Shot in Atlanta, Georgia with pretty decent production values considering that the sparse set locations almost evanesce as you take in a viewing, Girl in the Closet is a disturbing film made more disturbing by the fact that its premised discernment has almost no filter. I blame Lifetime but at the same time I don't because "Closet" is effective at what it sets out to be in terms of commercialized fluff that is normally reserved for PBS. Human trafficking, kidnapping, torment, psychogenic damage, and malnourishment oh my!

So yeah, Girl in the Closet is a cinematic train wreck you could look away from but can't. Lifetime Television knows this and they push the proverbial envelope of good vs evil as far as they wanna take it. Just because a pic has a milder form of violence and the absence of coarse language doesn't mean it can't chill you to the bone. With performances from Tami Roman, Stevie Braggs Jr, and Willie Raysor that rise above the standard for TV movie swipe, Girl in the Closet reminds any Lifetime connoisseur that manipulation and low budget sterility can still render you moreish. "Closet" augers.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Dumb Money 2023 * * Stars


2023's Dumb Money isn't a "dumb" movie, just a neutered one when you compare it to stuff like The Social Network, Snowden, The Big Short, and Steve Jobs. You know, those "based on a true story" films where some smart guy (or guys) goes on trial for making a whole lot of moolah and/or exposing others by being a whistleblower. "Money" grunges it up a bit, plays it a little less self-serious, and adds explicit rap music in the background. Unintentionally, it comes off as a less gripping version of the stuff just mentioned. 

Now I don't know much about stocks but Dumb Money sure explains them to me. Whether it's archive news footage, title cards, or interviews, "Money" never fails to let the viewer know about everything Wall Street. The flick, well it almost comes off as a forced wiki entry, relentlessly filling the 104-minute runtime assuming that the audience member is sort of "dumb" themselves. Again I think this was done not on purpose, trying to give some sort of shares history lesson. "If he's in I'm in".  For reals. 

With its events taking place just two years ago, during COVID, and with emphatic social media remnants, Dumb Money is about Keith Gill, a regular Joe who puts his savings in GameStop stock. When he's on the verge of becoming rich, chaos and furor ensues. Paul Dano plays Gill and plays him well. It's in the restraining and the long face. And Seth Rogen does solid work as rival investor Gabe Plotkin. Every other character in "Money", well they're galling and unlikable, their dialogue readings profanity-laden while lacking substance. When Dano's Gill gives a final monologue reading during Dumb Money's conclusion, you've already had enough of almost every layabout millennial involved that profited off of Keith's mindful tips. Token "shekels".  

Written by Jesse Burleson