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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Date with Deception 2023 * * Stars


Leena Pendharker directs A Date with Deception and wants you to really know how thought out her movie is. With enough flashbacks to make The Usual Suspects look like Romper Room by comparison, "Deception" fashions these flashbacks in regular and quick cuts and almost makes them appear like filler. I mean you could have just settled down and shot the whole darn thing from the beginning.

And that's the problem. A Date with Deception is about a woman who goes to prison for a crime she didn't commit with said woman trying to get revenge on her ex-husband who put her there. What no first act, no false arrest, and no trial? What no anguish of going to the slammer and getting harassed by fellow inmates while ex-hubby chills in swank abode? What no judge denying parole and throwing down that almighty gavel?

Yup, A Date with Deception bypasses the agog. It basically starts with a flash-forward three years later and then time travels back like all get-out (revert to first paragraph). Hey, I'm not saying director Pendharker doesn't know where to put the camera and can't set up a scene. It's just that her film presents a severe lack of suspense. No one really appears like they're ever in danger, the stock characters make weird decisions, and the set locations are rather nebulous. Same office space, same parking garage, same luxurious digs, different natural setting. What? Really?

"Deception" stars Kia Dorsey, Hannah Jane McMurray, and Rib Hillis. The acting overall is pretty middle-of-the-road with only Hillis (as antagonist Elias) providing any kind of trashy spark. Rib Hillis, well no one plays a Lifetime flick slimeball quite like the Rib-meister. It's in the sneer, the debonair wardrobe, the way he hams it up like all Easter Sunday, and the way he harshly maneuvers the ladies. When he's off-screen, A Date with Deception is nothing more than a stylish "wheeze".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Reggie 2023 * * * 1/2 Stars


"Reggie is a guy that can carry a whole ball club". That would be Reggie Martinez Jackson, Hall of Famer and scalding, home run hitter. Jackson won 5 World Series titles, was a 14-time All-Star, and played for 4 different MLB teams. Oh and he also had a bit part in 1988's The Naked Gun. "I must kill... the Queen". Oh Reg, you slay me, you really do.

With tons of interviews from Jackson's family, his major league colleagues, and major league players he currently mentors, 2023's Reggie is more than just about baseball. It's inching dramatis personae. There's racial oppression and monetary slavery involved and that all started from the beginning of this dude's storied career (1967-1987).

In truth, I found Reggie to be a documentary that's a little off the cuff but effectively raw. I mean when you hear Reggie Jackson speak it almost feels like he didn't even know the cameras were rolling. It's as if he were talking to one or two people in the room, not a mass audience.

Reggie is directed by Alex Stapleton, a woman who intersperses Jackson's likeness with his archived highlights of massive long balls and clutch performances. The whole effect is chronological and exhilarating, with Alex's subjects (mainly Jackson) being mildly angry and rightfully so (revert back to second paragraph).

Bottom line: Reggie is candid, resenting, and opinionated. A little self-serving? Perhaps. A little bit of a platform for a guy who hasn't swung a bat in decades? Sort of. Oh well. They say as a human you are the only one who can represent yourself and well, Jackson does it better and with more bravado than most. I mean he wasn't a producer on this and always gives off that love or hate feel but Stapleton renders the former slugger well on both counts. "Mr. October" shines here in March.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 24, 2023

In the Spider's Web 2007 * * Stars


A bunch of backpackers and a tour guide, go hiking in India only to run into a weirdo quack and his tribe who have a love for all things fanged and venom-ed. That's the layout gist of 2007's In the Spider's Web.

So yeah, I have a fear of spiders. So why did I decide to watch a flick about them? Well to enhance that fear cause that's what I do. In "Web", there are arachnids that are the real thing and ones that are CGI. They are the best thing going for this otherwise scatterbrained, convolution of a movie.

Anyway, In the Spider's Web takes the spider genre and mixes it with a little Indiana Jones, the occult, and something Eli Roth would have made with a lower budget. The characters scream like all get-out, they rib each other instead of actually acting in peril, and the great Lance Henriksen (who is underused) is creepy cool as surgeon and eight-legged fancy man, Dr. Lecorpus. "In a web of evil, they never saw it coming". Uh, yeah.

Now could "Web" have been better as fodder for horror thrillers that tap into your deepest phobias? You betcha. The film is choppily edited and storyboard-ed without all the proper nuts and bolts provided. I mean scenes go on for too long, you never know how the personas got from point A to point B, and the spiders themselves are sort of wishy-washy with their biting intentions. And does In the Spider's Web give you a clear idea of what it's about from an aim standpoint? Not really. You think it has to do with creepy-crawlies and supernatural mumbo jumbo but in the end it actually borrows from 1978's Coma, you know the pic in which human organs are sold on the black-market to the highest bidder? Wha?? "Web" flat-footed.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

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

 Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Desperate Hour 2021 * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Virgin High 1991 * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Lavalantula 2015 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 5, 2023

House Party 2023 * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 2, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson