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Saturday, April 29, 2023

A View to Kill For 2023 * * Stars


2023's A View to Kill For might contain the most Gothic-looking set location in the history of Lifetime TV. It's a mansion with stairs to it that seem endless. Said set location is obviously the star and yes, there is a vista out back (hence the title). Heck, you wonder if the Addams Family undoubtedly hung there back in the day.

Starring Tiffany Montgomery, Samuel Whitten, and Brittany Goodwin, "Kill For" is the ultimate WASP endeavor, populated by snooty, upper-class denizens constantly being at each other's throats. In truth, it's like the members of Falcon Crest and The Stepford Wives decided to get together and make colluding magic. "I would be very careful and watch what you say around here". Okay easy sister.

Attached to a production company called Almost Never Films Inc. (what??) and feeling it was inspired by the board game Clue (what the heck happened to the creepy housekeeper?), A View to Kill For is about a woman and her family who are left millions and a big-arse abode after her rich daddy dies.

Murder and B & E chaos ensue because everyone is out to make the family in question miserable. The villain (or villains), well it's a long list of suspects. It could be the snotty next door neighbor. It could be the realtor that sold the mansion. It could be the fiance of the dead father. Finally, it could even be the overly friendly husband (I don't know why I sensed that).

In the end we the viewer (no pun intended) finally know who the antagonist is. It's almost deflating and the result is the filmmakers running out of ideas while showcasing the bad guy (or in this case, bad girl) as a plot device scapegoat being ill-defined as a Hedra Carlson type. What's worse, we see said antagonist doing every evil act through tired flashbacks towards "Kill For's" coda. Talk about patent and amateurish. "View askew".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A Sister's Revenge 2013 * * * 1/2 Stars


2013's A Sister's Revenge is one of the most effective Lifetime flicks ever made. Sans the usual LA locales, it's a conniving, layer upon layer thriller in which director Curtis James Crawford carefully pulls out all the stops. 

Starring Brooke Burns, Ken Proulx, and Peter Gray, "Sister" gives us one of the great antagonists of TV ready-made-s and juggles different plot points with some serious aplomb. There's the searing flashbacks, the opening, inserted hit-and-run scene, the relentless lex talionis, and the Forensic Files-style third act. Yup, what we have here is a real doozy, a Lifetime-r that combines style and substance over just style. "You know what you can do, you can suffer". Ouch.

In terms of characters, well A Sister's Revenge puts them in a pristine, Philly restaurateur setting and lets them get their wasp on. I mean it's not enough for an evil woman to blackmail a guy after roofing and sleeping with him. You have to further go after his family, do a B and E on his plush digs, mess with his fiscal matters, and blot his reputation in the eatery biz. That's "Revenge's" inching, sticking point and it makes the film almost feel like Fatal Attraction as a three-part series. Cockroaches are just substituted for hard-boiled bunnies. Ugh. 

As a Lifetime pic about a married restaurant owner who has a brief tryst with a co-worker while living to regret it, "Revenge" has actors that are well cast with their performances being expounded and/or perfect for the throes of this long running cable channel. But wait, there's more. A Sister's Revenge also provides helmer Crawford with set locations that range from the unspoiled to the mark of convention. One doesn't substitute for the other and that makes "Revenge" feel like a veristic, budgeted affair. "Big payback". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Cocaine Bear 2023 * * Stars


"What is that?" Uh it's a bear, with a sneer and enough burly heft to make you turn white (pun intended).

Anyhow, 2023's Cocaine Bear has a title that is pretty self-explanatory, like combining two things a la The Hurricane Heist. It's about a black bear that just happens to ingest one of the world's most famous stimulants and it's based on true events. Oh and in a drug fueled haze said bear goes on a killing spree. Stretch the truth much? I mean come on man, you can only see Cocaine Bear and say to yourself, "it's just a movie". That's the one way to compound what's going on.

So yeah, as I watched Cocaine Bear I realized that its director/actress (Elizabeth Banks) was trying to make a cult film here. It's obvious. A cult film as defined, is a pic that gains a fan base over the years through exploitation. In the case of Cocaine Bear it's heavy mammals who get euphoric on the almighty powder.

Now do I think Elizabeth's flick will gain that earned, cultish status? I'm not seeing it because Cocaine Bear isn't over the top enough or agreeable to make an indelible impression. And do I believe Cocaine Bear is worth at least one viewing based on the notion of sheer novelty? Sure why not. But hey, how's The Hurricane Heist (mentioned earlier) doing after half a decade on that wannabe, following shelf? Nil, crickets, no clap back.

Taking place in Georgia circa 1985 and only feeling like an 80s movie because of the tunes (I rolled my eyes a little when Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" came on), Cocaine Bear could have pushed the envelope as a horror thriller but decides to not flex and just bore you initially. Until the last twenty minutes you have to sit through languid, interconnecting stories, annoying characters, quixotic situations, and scant, grisly shots of the bear in question. It's only when the late Ray Liotta shows up in a supporting role via the last act as a weathered kingpin, that the proceedings have any sort of snap to them. "Cocaine blues". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Infidelity Can Be Fatal 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


I'm not gonna lie, I'm always a sucker for a Lifetime movie. It's that sterile, cut-rate suck-you-in factor that I'm looking for. Infidelity Can Be Fatal, well it's a hit-or-miss checklist of all things Uncorked. There's no murderous psycho to deal with, no wow factor twist, and no real conniving manipulation. There is however, that annoying best bud, sheer set locations, and some deep, sultry sexy stuff that with the music inserted, is almost kinda daft.

"Fatal" is directed by Danny J. Boyle. No not the guy who helmed Slumdog Millionaire, that's Danny without the J. Boyle's film is about a female private investigator who is hired to follow her client's wife only to get followed herself while getting romantically involved with said client. Um, did you get all that?

Infidelity Can Be Fatal weaves different plot lines as if Alfred Hitchcock himself was "rear windowing" the potboiler affairs. Every scene feels like a clue, every camera angle a mild POV, every persona a red-herring suspect. "Fatal" is involving for most of the way but there are times when it's also sort of blandly confusing. When the end credits roll up you wonder why "Fatal" didn't jump off the screen like it should. I mean it's like a whodunit that you keep asking to yourself, "who dun what?"

"Fatal" stars Lanie McAuley, Matthew MacCaull, Carly Fawcett, and Sasha Piltsin. Heard of these guys? Well me neither. Their acting is anywhere from overly dramatic to reactive to middling. Their characters range from obvious thriller tags to overt stereotypes. In terms of Lifetime thespianism, yeah that's par for the course.

Bottom line: Infidelity Can Be Fatal isn't as trashy and nutrition-less as something a la David DeCoteau but it's also not as razor-sharp as stuff like 2019's The Husband and/or A Sister's Revenge. In this case "infidelity can be mixed".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Jocks 1986 * * 1/2 Stars


I gotta admit, most tennis movies are bad. Heck, I could do without seeing Wimbledon and/or '79's Players again. 1986's Jocks, well it's so bad it's amusing, like you could really enjoy it in a beer and microwave pizza sort of way. The late Steve Carver directs and this is a dude that made a couple of Chuck Norris flicks. Um, Jocks was an interesting, diverting choice for good old Steve-O. 

That's not to say that Jocks doesn't provide a few laughs because it does. I mean it is a comedy after all about the rackets and the balls. The film follows a bunch of misfit, college tennis brutes who must hurdle their team to a championship or lose their scholarships the following year. Ugh. 

Shot in LA and Las Vegas while reveling in the utmost of 80s sludge, Jocks has a humorous streak that is offhanded, juvenile, and almost puerile. You either get the mischief or you don't. In truth, this pic has a certain, cultish way of sneaking up on you (yes I've seen Jocks multiple times). It's the ultimate video vault wannabe, made to be watched on a VHS player with a snicker for the innuendo and a severe buzz on. 

Movie watching inebriation aside, the tennis matches featured on Jocks are about as realistic as the pseudo hair on Donald Trump's head. Obviously no consultant was on set what with all the swinging volleys, bad serving technique, and disjointed editing. Jocks also has a doozy of cast composed of virtual unknowns, Richard Roundtree, Christoper Lee, Mariska Hargitay (of Law & Order fame), and "Ogre". Basically Jocks is like the poor stepchild of Revenge of the Nerds and/or Animal House. A ghost of a plot, a meager script, ball bearing production values but could require multiple viewings. Ironically "Jocular". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Bodyguard Seduction 2022 * * Stars


2022's Bodyguard Seduction is a strange movie even by Lifetime standards. Lifetime-rs take note. I found it somewhat amusing and lead Jessica Morris, well I adore her. She's kind of an uber babe. But come on, what's up with her persona here, a sort of unlikable sex kitten and changeable tycoon who despite being in peril, always acts like she's in the mood (if you know what I mean). Heck, Jessica's Charley Huxton is so standoffish and otherwise aroused you'd think she was the actual villain (when she isn't). Again strange. 

Anyhow, "Seduction" has enough twists and turns to form a dozen soft pretzels. And that's even when you know who the antagonist is about 45 minutes in. The film also has enough red herrings to form a board game. I mean is the bodyguard in question bent on harming Huxton? Is said bodyguard's friend up for doing the same? Are Huxton's fellow co-workers looking to make her life miserable? Does Huxton know people are trying to kill her even though her brain is filled with the concupiscent? And does "Seduction's" setting need a crap load of LA/Hollywood aerial shots to let everyone know where odds and ends go down? Apparently so. 

As a Lifetime flick about a rich, female designer who falls for her bodyguard who may or may not be involved in her planned demise, Bodyguard Seduction baits us with steamy, PG-rated naughty scenes, obvious black lingerie, and characters who are at each other's throats just for the heck of it. "Seduction" is well, campy and teasingly trashy, almost begging the viewer to sit with its comely actors to try to serene them down. Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston, well they would sort of balk at this ode to romantic minders. Seduction of the Minotaur.   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys 2014 * * 1/2 Stars


"They only go after fish okay". Uh, not exactly. The eel-like vertebrates go after humans too while consuming their insides in 2014's Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys

Watching "Blood Lake", you realize it's a horror thriller that piles on different ways in which denizens die from slimy, slippery funnel suckers. Question: will the dug up bodies of actors Shannon Doherty, A Christmas Story's Zack Ward, and Christopher Lloyd survive all this sensationalized bloodletting? Answer: you'll just have to wait and see. 

Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys has a plot element that involves a wildlife sheriff butting heads with the mayor of a small town. Said mayor wants to keep the future meal tourists coming while said sheriff doesn't. If this all sounds familiar well I'll give you a prize cause Jaws had that same shtick going on back in '75. The only difference is that "Blood Lake" shows all the carnage in spades while Spielberg's hit movie most of the time keeps everything in check. I mean there's nothing Hitchcockian going on with the former.

Now did I establish Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys to be relentless, provokingly gory, and somewhat entertaining? I did to a point. I mean I found it alarmingly creepy that the lampreys could strike someone even if they weren't in water and just sucking on scarce, h2o fumes. 

And did I find "Blood Lake" to also be silly, choppily made, badly acted, and poorly locale-d? Yup, that's the unfortunate rub. Along with the characters constantly saying lamprey (which is an amusing word in itself), the film takes place in Michigan yet was shot in Cali (wha?). Note to filmmakers: I'm from Michigan and the Wolverine State may have basements but doesn't contain palm trees nor does it have big-arse mountains. Mixed "lake" effect.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 9, 2023

On a Wing and a Prayer 2023 * 1/2 Stars


2023's On a Wing and a Prayer is bad, like sitting through a root canal bad. It's based on actuality yet makes the actual personas look like dolts in a cheesy, Southern-fried TV movie setting. Heck, I was waiting for good ol' Todd Chrisley to pop out of prison and say hi to everybody.

On a Wing and a Prayer is not that Dennis Quaid flick from 2004 (Flight of the Phoenix). Oh no that would be a compliment because "Phoenix" actually got released in theaters. "Prayer" more or less has humdrum production values, laughable title cards (person has zero flight experience, huh?), and varying inconsistencies (plane is in bad weather, a second later it's out of it, what?). Yeah, the whole experience of watching On a Wing and a Prayer is pretty flighty (pun intended).

Taking place in Florida with director Sean McNamara having some strange obsession with country music (great, just what I need), "Prayer" chronicles Doug White (Quaid mentioned earlier), his bible-thumping wife Terri (Heather Graham), and their two daughters. On a flight back to Louisiana, curmudgeon Doug is forced to land the plane and save his family after the pilot suddenly dies in midair. Ugh. White is one stuffy bloke even though all on Fla. soil are trying to save his crusty butt. I mean you could play a drinking game every time he defensively quips, "what do you need me to do?"

Shots and chasers aside, On a Wing and a Prayer is so silly in its execution. I mean it's like a God's Not Dead version of Airport 1975 (if that makes any sense). Apparently according to "Prayer", everyone within one degree of separation of Quaid's White dies of heart failure (take that Kevin Bacon). Added to that, what's up with all the ill-defined characters as pseudo air traffic controllers trying to bring White to the ground safely? They obviously don't know how to do their jobs otherwise they wouldn't have to constantly pass the baton to someone else (and someone else and someone else). If what's on screen here is based on a real true story then I'm Abe Lincoln. "Wing" ding.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Air 2023 * * * Stars


Unless you've been living under a rock and/or been in a coma since birth, you probably know who Michael Jordan is. In 2023's Air, Jordan the character is never seen in face-to-face form and utters I believe one word. In a weird sort of way, I guess this inclusion kinda adds to the film's mystique. I mean who knew MJ was such a reticent dude early on. 

So for all intensive purposes, Air is a completely dialogue-driven sports flick that only shows pro/college basketball footage in archived form. Director Ben Affleck, well this is his Moneyball, his All the Presidents Men for hoops. The only difference is that no one's lives are in danger except in the case that they may lose their jobs. Ugh.

Persona metier security aside, Air is a sucker-for-nostalgia drama that has Affleck going back to his 2010s roots. Lots of forward tracking shots, a grain-like sense of time and place, an abundance of "Greed decade" ditty-s, VHS tapes. Yeah Ben puts your psyche right in the realm of 1984, like you're rocking the parachute pants and saying, "Where's the Beef". He's a helmer that can tell a true story without pandering to audience nitpicking.

Clocking in at 112 minutes and distributed by Amazon studios, Air is about Nike's relentless pursuing of NBA legend Michael Jordan in order for him to wear their revolutionary, custom designed shoe. Air stars Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck himself, and Viola Davis. Affleck shuffles the actors performances wonderfully and talky scenes crackle on a dime. Yeah the kicks speak screenplay gets a little recycled and yeah, the outcome is pretty predictable (because it kinda has to be). Still, Air is entertaining enough and just reminds the mortals how powerful the Jordan name is twenty-plus years after retirement. "Air" traveled.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something 2020 * * * 1/2 Stars


Sometimes it's a little unfocused, most of the time it's not. Sometimes there's present-day footage, most of the time it's archive footage. Sometimes there's a little over-padding in 93 minutes, most of the time you probably won't care either way. Yeah I'm talking about Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something, a documentary that acts just the way Chapin did in real life, exhaustively trying to do a lot in such a short period of time. 

Now I was 6-years-old when Harry Chapin passed (July 16, 1981 in a car accident). Obviously I didn't know much about him but over time I realized he was the guy that sang "Cat's in the Cradle". Through "Do Something" and other excerpts from stuff like good old VH1, I learned more and more about the wistful, Chapin mystique. He wasn't just a musician mind you, he was also a filmmaker, an activist, the insight behind USA for Africa, and a philanthropist. Watching Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something, you realize Harry knew he wasn't going to live a long life (a premonition perhaps?). In his thirty-eight years on earth, he still had the gumption to put out 11 albums and perform in thousands of concerts. Not too shabby. 

"Do Something" is a lot of docu for an hour and a half. It's not necessarily its downfall but its strength. The film doesn't really have a beginning, middle, or end. I mean you can turn it on, watch it from any point, and kind of feel like you're getting something, something that the late Chapin would be smiling down on. 

Added to that, "Do Something" is not flashy nor is it over-directed by rookie Rick Korn. You've got clips from the 70s and prior to and then you've got the present-time stuff. That's about it, no animation (ugh), no reenactments, no reckonings, no BS. How refreshing. What's more refreshing is how the people being interviewed were actually part of Chapin's life and not you know, other folk (critics, pundits, writers, blah blah blah). Billy Joel and Pat Benatar chime in but most importantly, it's Harry Chapin's family that gets to give voice to. "Harry, keep the change!" 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 1, 2023

John Wick: Chapter 4 2023 * * * Stars


"Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back". So says Keanu Reeves and he's definitely back for a 4th time in 2023's John Wick: Chapter 4. This "wick", well it still burns brightly even though it might signal the coda end to this immensely popular franchise (hint, hint).

Anyway, bearded hitman Wick now has upwards of a $40 million dollar bounty on his head. That's because he offed the Elder of the High Table (oops). Yup, if you've seen the previous John Wick installments, you know what's coming. Reeves gets his kill on with vested suit and a certain level of badassery in tote. "Whoa" is he.

So yeah, Keanu doesn't say much in "Chapter 4" but the screen presence is still off the charts. I mean he'll always be the Canadian Harrison Ford to me. The dude, well he's a physical actor by trade, all bruised and battered and one tough SOB. It's almost laughably implausible that the Wick-meister survives massive falls and two stair tumbling-s. Ouch.

Mr. "Cool Breeze" aside, the more you watch all the John Wick flicks, the more you realize it's not about revenge anymore. With "Chapter 4", you're seeing mainly Japanese cinema at this point, with samurai sword fighting and Kurosawa stuff and all that slice and dice jazz. I mean we're talking birds in flight violence, bone-crunching poetry, and nunchucks ("don't forget the nunchucks"). Like cinematic, habanero hot sauce, it just hurts so good. 

John Wick: Chapter 4's director is Chad Stahelski (duh). He has only done four pics and they're all Wicks. Besides introducing a few new characters (two of which being a sightless assassin and a bloodthirsty canine), Stahelski fashions John Wick as a guy who has to fight because there's nothing else he knows how to do. It's almost fascinating and goofy at the same time. I mean does Wick eat? Doesn't seem like it. Does Wick sleep? Probably not. Does Wick use the bathroom? They might attack him while he's in there. Finally, does Wick take time to read a book or sip hot cocoa at Starbucks? Get real people. "Chapter 4" is all about Reeves kicking butt and it has just enough action takes for the fly-by, 169-minute running time. I'll pay $10.50 for that noise.  

Written by Jesse Burleson