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film reel image

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Silent Predators 1999 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 28, 2023

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

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

For Better, For Worse * * * Stars

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

Win Win * * * * Stars

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

It's Draining * * * Stars

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

Waiting For Buffalo * * * 1/2 Stars

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

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

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

Silent Steel * * * Stars

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

Lily * * * 1/2 Stars

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

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Dog Gone 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

In Search of the Last Action Heroes 2019 * * Stars


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Plane 2023 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 16, 2023

First Class Fear 2021 * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 13, 2023

White Water Summer 1987 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Gully 2019 * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Collide 2022 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, January 1, 2023

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2022

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

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

2. Fall * * * 1/2 Stars

-Fall is a three-dimensional, panoramic jaw-dropper. Watching it, you want to leave the theater or just close your eyes but you can't.

3. Endangered * * * 1/2 Stars

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

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

-One of the most effective Lifetime flicks ever made.

5. Elvis * * * 1/2 Stars

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

6. No Exit * * * 1/2 Stars

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

7. I Want You Back * * * Stars

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

8. The Devil You Know * * * Stars

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

9. The Weekend Away * * * Stars

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

10. A Christmas Story Christmas * * * Stars

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

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

And the worst....

1. Good Mourning * Star

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

2. Pursuit * Star

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

3. Moonfall * 1/2 Stars

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

4. The Bubble * 1/2 Stars

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

5. Sons 2 the Grave * 1/2 Stars

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

List compiled by Jesse Burleson