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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

Monday, September 25, 2023

Facing Monsters 2021 * * * Stars


In 2021's Facing Monsters, the title probably refers to the big-arse waves that inhabit the coast of Western Australia. I mean what else would we be talking about? Ogres? Yup, these breakers could swallow you whole, ascend you way deep down, and maybe injure (or kill) you. But hey, hardcore surfers don't really care. They're unmindful and borderline cray cray. They're addicted to that rush, that biting of the white cap hand that feeds them.

Facing Monsters is a documentary that doesn't quite feel like one. That's not a bad thing mind you. Sure there's archive footage here and there but absent are stuffy interviews, an overuse of title cards, and unbiased assertions. The subjects speak when they wanna speak, so natural, so off-cue, and not exacted. What actually counts is the visual palate presented by "Facing's" director (Bentley Dean). Whether he's using overhead shots, long shots, wetted close-ups, or clips following wave rider Kerby Brown barreling through the pipe, Dean's effect is indescribable (and indescribable is good). "It's where I feel most alive". Indeed.

"Facing" follows Brown and his search for the perfect wave (or the wave as Holy Grail so they say). His only brother (Courtney Brown) watches over him with hawked nuance, using a jet ski to help Kerby ditch the paddle out and catch the sweltering break.

With Bentley Dean's streamlined look and Tim Count's eerily beautiful, musical score, Facing Monsters presents a soundly numbing, viewer experience. Sometimes it's repetitive (you see the same type of billow over and over), sometimes it's suicide mission-ed, and sometimes it's foreseeable (I guess K. Brown had to get injured in the end). Oh well. As a docu that puts a rad surf monger in harm's way for no other reason than the notion of waterlogged dependence, Facing Monsters is certainly no "endless bummer".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 22, 2023

Blame 2021 * * * 1/2 Stars


"Be careful on your way up there". Up there is rural Wisconsin. Say "cheese!"

Anyway 2021's Blame is an interesting thriller. I applaud it for its craft though because it evades the viewer from what it actually is. You initially think it's horror fare but nope, it's not assertive enough for that. People get killed but the motive is fallacious. How refreshing if you're tired of the same old same old.

Blame takes place in Illinois and Wisconsin (mentioned earlier). The snow is falling, the blizzard is imminent, and you just wish the five characters in peril knew how to use GPS (what the??). Blame provides flashbacks upon flashbacks as if the ghost of Rashomon walked in. Oh well. That's Blame's hook and it's probably the best way the flick could succeed.

Blame is about a few buddies who attempt to drive to a Wisconsin ski refuge only to get stuck on the road and find shelter in a remote building. You just know conflict and chaos are about to flex. The five personas aren't the most likable people in the world but their performances are intense and effectively panicky. It's the typical five with a mixture of girls and guys with at least two of them dating. The actors are unknowns but they could easily pass as modern day cast members of One Tree Hill.

Blame is directed by the unseasoned B. J. Rayniak. Could have fooled me. BJ strongly puts Blame's pieces together in fits and starts. Some of it stalls but keep watching. The ending is justified as it could lead to someone harboring manslaughter charges and/or obstruction of justice.

Blame's outcome can be deflating if you're a horror geek obsessed with discovering the next Billy Loomis. Bite your tongue. Blame is more intricate than that stuff so check it out. If it's not to your liking, just refer to the lyrics of Collective Soul. "Lay that blame on me".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

97 Minutes 2023 * * * Stars


In 2023's 97 Minutes, the title refers to the amount of time a 767 plane has before it runs out of fuel. How random. But hey, that's just scratching the surface because there's much more to "97's" ode to unlawful seizes, much much more. 

97 Minutes is a hijack movie, an air disaster flick, a suicide mission vehicle complete with all the trimmings (that includes sneering terrorists, faulty operating limitations, and nuclear bombs in the belly). Co-starring the resurrected Alec Baldwin and Jo Martin, the film obviously looks like it was made on a restricted budget, shooting most of its scenes on two set locations (one of which probably wasn't even an actual plane). No matter, I dug "97". Why? Because despite its slight improbability and early on, muted character developments, the thing has brains (and some brawn). I mean somewhere Capt. Joe Patroni is well, smiling, gleefully. 

Earning most of its hour and a half runtime with raveled plot workings and twist and turns that resemble any actual, disastrous 767 at mid-flight, 97 Minutes is its own entity, not trying to be commercialized like Air Force One or arty like United 93 (not that those films were bad cause they weren't). "97" is well, the thinking man's flying bird thriller, only exhibiting brute force when it has to and telling its story from an impassioned, Cold War-like point of view. 

"97's" strongest asset has to be star Jonathan Rhys Meyers, an actor who has an uncanny way of carrying a close-packed pic with searing screen presence and a raw, physical dedication to his role. Meyers plays Alex, an undercover Interpol agent whose antihero vibes and two-faced lures give the audience member the feeling of being held in a cinematic vice grip. He basically helps 97 Minutes "soar" even higher (pun intended). 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Retirement Plan 2023 * * Stars


Uncaged? Um, not quite. More like caged lite. Yeah I'm talking about Nicolas Cage's newest vehicle, The Retirement Plan. Sure Cage's Matt kicks some serious arse (he's been doing it since the late 90s) but here in the acting department he shows a little restraint (unlike his F-bombing side character and evil antagonist, Jackie Earle Haley). All of Cage's overreached flailing and thunderous dialogue readings are replaced by fists of fury and itchy trigger fingers.

The Retirement Plan involves Matt as a former hit-man who is living out his days on a beach in the Cayman Islands. When his daughter and granddaughter (who he never sees) seek him out after being hunted by criminal thugs in Miami, Matt goes into protection mode, killing over a dozen baddies while sipping gin and tonics and beer on the side.

So OK, any movie with Nicolas Cage is an event, it just is. Whether he is trying to cop a paycheck, trying to parody himself, or just loving his craft, Cage polishes that almighty, cinematic turd while relishing the whole undertaking of it. In The Retirement Plan he looks like the long-lost father of Con Air's Cameron Poe, all disheveled and scruffy and in need of some serious cleansing. I mean someone get this guy a razor or a Just for Men kit! Yeesh!

BIC-s and "put the bunny back in the boxes" aside, The Retirement Plan is an uneven viewing experience and nutrition-less, lushly locale-d caper. Why? Because director Tim Brown doesn't think in cuts, just mundane, tongue-in-cheek sequences where the endless amount of villains act brainless and can't shoot worth a lick. A sudden burst of violence here, a not needed twist there, and not enough Cage in action mode everywhere (isn't he supposed to be the lead?). Co-starring the likes of Haley (mentioned earlier), Ernie Hudson, Rick Fox, and Ron Perlman, The Retirement Plan feels so similar to Cage's The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent you could put both flicks side by side in a double feature. Uh, that's not a compliment.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fear 2023 * 1/2 Stars


"Let's promise to be completely honest with one another". OK. I "honestly" didn't like the flick I'm about to review. Hate, well that's too strong of a word.

Not to be confused with that Mark Wahlberg vehicle from 1996, 2023's Fear has an erroneous title. Why? Because if a film is called Fear it's supposed um, scare you. I wasn't scared and while I was watching Fear, I couldn't tell who was doing the so-called frightening (or for what benefit). In fact, there weren't any real jump scares in Fear. I mean maybe there were but I didn't uh, jump.

So yeah, Fear is one of those retreat horror films, where a bunch of annoying, stereotypical characters spend the weekend at a creepy abode in the middle of nowhere. I bet you can guess what happens next. No? Well they get terrorized by an unknown entity who specializes in all things that "go bump bump in the night".

Fear feels so familiar I tell you, especially if you've seen The Evil Dead, The Shining, or even The Ring. Hallucinations and blood and killing and claustrophobia and isolation. I mean all the ingredients are there. With Fear however, it merely appears like a rerun, where you don't care about the fates of anyone involved and the plotted angle of facing your worst dreads never gets established as a tone. The scene where all the personas are sitting by a campfire and explaining what ultimately gives them trepidation, well give me something other than, "my biggest fear is losing you." Uh, really?

Starring Terrence J, Joseph Sikora, King Bach, and rapper T. I. ("Baskin Robbins don't play" ha ha), Fear is modern, murky-looking, and trivially stylized all at the same time. It's just another fright fest that I "fear" will eventually be relegated to the $3.99 Best Buy bin. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 10, 2023

St. Helens 1981 * * Stars


Watching 1981's St. Helens, you realize that the filmmakers decided to get this thing going right after the actual incident of an eruption in Southwest Washington happened just four months ago. A little eager in Tinseltown are we? I mean back then the phrase "too soon" could've been used (considering said eruption was the most disastrous volcanic spew in U.S. history). Whatever. Forty-plus years later, "Helens" is almost an incidental thang at this point, a flick to ponder on a rainy day via YouTube. "But if she goes, I want to be there". Indeed. 

With what looks like archive footage of the real 1980 venting of Mount St. Helens and starring Art Carney, David Huffman, and Cassie Yates, "Helens" puts forth almost 90 minutes of build-up, establishing lots of characters, various subplots (some of the romantic kind), similar locales, and inching tension leading up to the inevitable (if you're my age and haven't been living in a bubble, you'll probably remember what went down). 

Sure the music by progressive rock band Goblin is eerie beauty and sure, the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin is authentic enough. But HBO television might've rolled this thing out in a rushed attempt, asking the audience to painfully relive an event that killed 57 people and destroyed a hundred square miles left to wasteland.

That's not all. I mean where's the continuity here in regards to "Helens?" And why is everyone involved so mean, pent-up, and rattled? And what's with the Chuck Norris-like action clip (about 25 minutes in)? St. Helens has intentions (how could it not) but it could've hit the stratosphere had it not been so TV-movie harnessed (which it so is) and jumbled from a narrative slant. It's almost like a half-pie, edited version of The Towering Inferno. Sadly I wasn't quite "blow-ed away". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Strays 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


Watching 2023's Strays, you ask yourself what should I scoff at and what should I nervously laugh at without feeling guilty about it. That's a tall order and yeah, Strays is one raunchy comedy. Dogs eating stuff from each other's upchuck, the abundance of feces, those same dogs humping couches and whatnot, the biting of a male's private parts by a pint-size pooch, rear-end sniffing. Shall I go on? 

With pups being voiced by the likes of Jamie Foxx, Will Ferrell, and Isla Fisher, Strays likes to push the envelope, seeing how far the viewer will go without reaching for a convenient vomit bag. The theater I was in had more groans than light chuckles. The dog characters spewed more F-bombs than Martin Scorsese fare circa the 2010s. Dennis Quaid gets no billing in a weird, creeped out cameo (no comment). "You can learn how beautiful it can be when you're off the leash". Wha??

So let's not hedge shall we. I mean did I mistakenly like Strays? To a point. With the end of  August being that release dump month, an R-rated movie about canines that talk like actual humans would make anyone's ears perk up (not to mention the fact that the special effect of hand animation here is conveyed quite well). 

And do I think Strays unfortunately wears out its gimmick of squirrely mutts being potty-mouthed for a good 93 minutes? Yup and that's the rub. When every word of dialogue uttered is virtually part of the seven dirty ones, it tends to eventually get mundane and less funny. Thank the Almighty that Strays has a decent story mixing the bawdy with the sentimental (the comedic version of savory and sweet). Otherwise this flick would be an exercise strictly rooted in cinematic transgression, showing the behavior of man's best friend as a wool-coated circus freak. To lead "astray".   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Table for Five 1983 * * * Stars


If you grew up in the early 80s and had HBO, you probably caught a showing of 1983's Table for Five. If you didn't, there's always a chance to YouTube this epitome of a family drama that plays out innately and avoids the fall in, TV feel.

So yeah, Table for Five is a talky film but there's a lot of globetrotting cinematography that compels it to rise above the norm. I mean never have I seen something cinematic-ally, that had grand production values to compliment all things dialogue-driven. The sense of time and place as well as the locales are in abundance here, with director Robert Lieberman placing his actors in scenic foregrounds and letting them naturally emote. Egyptian pyramids and the Colosseum and the Ruins of Athens, Greece oh my!

Vista views aside, Table for Five is also a rough around the edges character study starring Jon Voight, Richard Crenna, and some unknown child troupers. With almost perfect casting, elegant tenor, and empathy for its otherwise WASPY subjects, "Five" has the usual helping of domestic back and forth until it takes a darker turn (which I won't reveal).

The standout performance in "Five" obviously goes to Voight, who relishes his disciplined role as former golf pro and estranged dad, J. P. Tannen. Table for Five's story involves Tannen taking his kids (who he rarely sees) on a Mediterranean cruise to reconnect with them. "Five" is well, edited effectively as its events have a very sequential feel to them.

So OK, what can I say about Jon except that he anchors "Five" (no pun intended). His persona is equal parts confident, likable, slightly fused, and flawed. You watch him in other stuff like Deliverance, Heat, Runaway Train, and the aforementioned and you just can't tell it's the same dude. Voight and Table for Five are both able to be veritably protean. "Life table".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Black Demon 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


2023's The Black Demon is directed by the relatively unknown Adrian Grunberg (Rambo: Last Blood, Get the Gringo). Probably aware of the million or so Jaws remakes existing, Grunberg decides to provide a new hook with "Demon". That's right, "Demon's" shark makes you hallucinate, gives you a guilt trip, and targets you as if it had a human brain. "This time... it's personal". Actually yeah, it is.

Taking place in Mexico via an oil rig in the middle of nowhere, The Black Demon starts with a strong opening act, letting the audience know that townspeople can be just as cold as those pesky marine fish (a hint of 1972's Deliverance I suppose). "Demon" also provides plenty of shark speak and um, shark psychobabble. Whatever Matt Hooper said back forty-plus years ago, well that was just technical stuff and not really numinous.

The Black Demon stars unknowns Venus Ariel and Fernanda Urrejola and veteran actor Josh Lucas. Lucas knowing that he's starring in a B-movie and maybe being accused of pay-checking it, decides to run with his role as oil company inspector Paul Sturges. Battling a big-arse megalodon along with a few of his own inner demons (pun intended), Josh's Sturges is the antihero family man with flaws and secrets that are steadily exposed. His performance here is raw and unvarnished. I mean no one does angered, spit-fire dialogue quite like my man Lucas.

All things considered, The Black Demon has its moments but in the end it can't escape being another shark vehicle, looking to one up all the others only to thrive into fish food rinse, recurrence. It certainly doesn't help that the filmmakers clearly were on a budget, what with all the megalodon attacks not fully showing the mortal carnage (lots of cutaway shots instead). Yeah it's mostly murky mise-en-scenes, harboring a little suspense but never making you think it could actually be Spielbergian (cause it's clearly not). Hey at least the darn apex predator looks as big as ever. "Black and tan".

Written by Jesse Burleson