film reel image

film reel image

Monday, February 27, 2023

Zola 2020 * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 24, 2023

Meteor: First Impact 2022 * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Locksmith 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Who Killed Cooper Dunn? 2022 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Heatstroke 2008 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Your Place or Mine 2023 * * Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 9, 2023

God's Country 2022 * * * Stars


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Skinamarink 2022 * Star


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Memory: The Origins of Alien 2019 * * Stars


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

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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

You People 2023 * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson