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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

My Best Friend the Baby Snatcher 2023 * * Stars


2023's My Best Friend the Baby Snatcher is a Lifetime flick in which the antagonist uses poisonous tea to get her kill on. "Baby Snatcher" is also a Lawrence brothers pic so you know that its savagery will certainly be in nasty taste. "Nothing else matters to me more than this baby". Uh-oh, pseudo momma bear is on the prowl.

Directed by Andrew Lawrence and starring his bro Matthew Lawrence (naturally), My Best Friend the Baby Snatcher is about two besties who get preggo at the same time. Here's the rub: one of them miscarries and then goes off the rails trying to take possession of the other's would-be tyke. In truth, it took me a while to figure what the heck was up with the gist of "Baby Snatcher". I mean I initially thought there was some sort of surrogate stuff going on here.

So yeah, helmer Andrew Lawrence is no spring chicken. He knows where to put the camera and can certainly give his viewers the veritable heebie-jeebies. Even so, his "Baby Snatcher" gets lost in a murky plot, where some kind of capable editing and/or story-boarding was needed. Sure his actors are game (Jennifer Taylor, Paul London, Lawrence) but they're lost in a fiddly "hand that doesn't really rock the cradle" (if you know what I mean).

OK, so why are the two couples friends even though they mildly bounce off each other like passing ships? And why does the bad mom character suffocate the good mom and then in the next clip she's alive while tied up in the basement (huh?)? And why does the bad mom go cray cray without a point A to point B nous? Finally, why are there flashbacks presented at odd times that fail to move the diegesis along? These are some of the questions I asked myself and concentrated more on them than caring if every Waspy suburbanite made it out alive. Fair-weather "friend".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Project Solitude 2009 * * Stars


2009's Project Solitude feels at times like it could be an art film or something a la the Lifetime network (probably because Eric Roberts stars and has been in so many of them). That's a screw loose combination and there were moments where a smidgen of it actually worked. "Solitude" is also one of those familiar slasher flick types where a bunch of people are in the middle of nowhere and get picked off by a would-be, whodunit killer. "All of us will get our hands dirty". Sigh, blah blah blah.

Project Solitude is directed by Rustam Branaman, a dude who probably thought he could get away with not hiring a good script supervisor, not hiring an expert on blood squibs, and not hiring an editor who could trim his film to create more tension. Scenes linger too long with the unlikable characters almost veering into camp. Murders that happen are blase, bloodless, and cut way too quickly. Finally, "Solitude" is so anti-climatic and predictable you feel like it almost ceases to exist. A "gotcha" final clip that suspends reality doesn't make things any more sapid. 

Filmed in Green Bay, Wisconsin of all places and making 96 minutes feel longer than it should, Project Solitude is about a professor (Roberts as John Sola) who brings a group of millennials out to the woods for a human experiment on survival and jurisdiction. He will pay them handsomely if they wade out the terms of said experiment. The problem is that everyone keeps getting offed by arrows and choking and other means of demise. Yeah Roberts gives a decent performance as you haphazardly try to see the wheels turning in his head. The other actors, well they come off as paperweight dolts in a world full of Blair Witch take off. Weak "project" management. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Love to Love You, Donna Summer 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


As a kid born in the 70s and growing up in the 80s, there wasn't a time where I didn't hear a Donna Summer jam blaring on the radio in my parents car. Summer was the "Queen of Disco", the bad mama jama, her songs innovative and bumping, her moves sexy, her singing voice easily recognizable. Love to Love You, Donna Summer is a documentary about Donna's life that was cut short at the age of 63. "Let's dance this last dance tonight". Indeed.

At a running time of 107 minutes, "Love to Love You" guides you on a trip of hypnotic archive footage, home videos, and lively Summer performances that pretty much encapsulate the entire film. Director Roger Ross Williams, well he thinks in cuts, whisking you from one grainy frame to the next. His storytelling pertaining to Summer's journey is chronological yet sporadic, his imagery dreamy yet way too present. Love to Love You, Donna Summer while stimulating, ends abruptly, teetering on the edge of the unknown (or mildly known). As Summer sang in 1978, "heaven knows it's not the way it could be". 

With "Love to Love You", the people being interviewed (Summer's husband, ex-husband, children, etc.) are people you never see. And with Summer being questioned herself, there's only snapshots of what she's thinking, it's all so ephemeral. Sure this docu is fun to look at and sure, who doesn't want to hear Summer kick the ballistics with tunes like "Last Dance", "Bad Girls", and "Hot Stuff". Nevertheless, Love to Love You, Donna Summer keeps the viewer at a weird sort of distance. It may tell you stuff about disco's pioneer that you didn't already know but at the same time, there's not enough Summer deets to burn both ends of the bass beat candle. I needed to "feel more love". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 22, 2023

White Men Can't Jump 2023 * Star


2023's White Men Can't Jump is bad, like 5-day-old head cheese bad. It's a remake of a 1992 film (of the same title) yet it doesn't get what made said film so much more superior and beloved. I mean when the only NBA player to make a cameo in "White Men" is the almost forgotten Blake Griffin, you know you're in trouble.

White Men Can't Jump yet again relies on the stale race relations aspect when it comes to b-ball. Thirty years ago it was kinda fresh. Now it seems dated, like we just can't move ahead. The plot of "White Men" is similar to '92's original in which two promising basketball players work out their differences in background to try to win some 3-on-3 tourney for lots of moolah. Sinqua Walls plays the poor man's Wesley Snipes while Jack Harlow plays the poor man's Woody Harrelson. Their characters are nails-on-a-chalkboard unlikable, their bond mawkish rather than hard-nosed, their dialogue readings mumbled and jumbled. Did I care if they won in the end? Uh, not really.

Topping out at 101 minutes and directed by the same guy who was responsible for the House Party remake (makes sense seeing that both are stinkers), White Men Can't Jump doesn't even get the title right because in '92 it was all about whether Woody could dunk or not. Now we have this uninspired, dog of a movie where there's no wit, charm, or actual epiphany moment to speak of. "White Men's" helmer (Calmatic) provides scenes with little payoff and his basketball hustling clips are almost pedestrian, like they were cut too quickly.

Watching White Men Can't Jump, you wish Ron Shelton could've came out of retirement to become a consultant on this thing. In the post-Cold War decade, he waxed philosophically and ironically, his ear for catchy discourse and his eye for authentic roundball leavings made the first "White Men" a solid box office hit. This new reboot, well it's just a veritable "airball".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Pregnancy Promise 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


"Best friends shouldn't have to make time for each other". Uh-oh, cray cray BFF alert. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lack of magnanimity in 2023's The Pregnancy Promise. Heck, it seems everyone in this Lifetime-r is a little rattled if not perturbed. Resentful dads, alcoholic moms, self-prophetic female teens, snobby cheerleaders, mayors oh my!

Rounding out at just under 90 minutes and feeling like the ultimate whodunit when it comes social media shaming and Mayberry mayhem, The Pregnancy Promise is about two besties who make a pact to get preggo at the same time. The problem? Well one of them wanted to wait for early adulthood and the other um, didn't. Birth control switcheroo in flashback form perhaps? Maybe. You'll just have to On Demand it to find out.  

Starring Macy Jacob, Amy Gamper, and Alexandra Swanbeck, "Promise" lives in a world where condoms obviously don't exist, high school-er(s) are abnormally catty, the courting process is futile, and "buns in the oven" just happen right out of thin air. Everything in "Promise", well it feels a little off-topic, swayed by plot mechanics, and convenient. Otherwise there'd be no movie legs to stand on. 

That's not to say that The Pregnancy Promise doesn't have some effective moments because it does. You just have to get past the unwitting of it all. I mean if you're into the crux of creepy manipulation and suburbia purgatory via the Lifetime network, you'll get a full helping here. Not only is "Promise" about what it's about (check the title) but it's also a kidnapping/extortion pic too. High school aerial shots, easily steered character types, middling to theatrical acting, concluding antagonist revealing, it's so Lifetime! I just wish the journey here wasn't so expedient to get through. Breaches of "promise". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Humbling 2014 * * Stars


In truth, I've always thought of Barry Levinson as a brilliant director. But in the last twenty years or so, he seems to have tapered off into experimental territory what with stuff like What Just Happened, Rock the Kasbah, and 2014's The Humbling (my latest review). Man I miss Levinson's 80s brand of enriched storytelling and heartened spectacle. With The Humbling however, he decides to give the viewer a diluted character study with leaden hues that could "humble" anyone behind the lens. 

"Humbling" stars Al Pacino as Simon, a washed-up actor who seems to have lost his way while in seclusion after a health-related incident via a Broadway play. What does Simon do in this spare time away from the biz? Well he gets involved with a bisexual female fan (Pegeen played by Greta Gerwig) and gets implicated in a spousal murder plot that he tries to avoid from the beginning. 

Pacino in bumbling, stumbling body language mode, gives a naturalistic performance as only Al can do. I mean you can't even tell he's acting with the camera kinda peeking in and moving like a jilted handheld. Pacino's Simon is a wannabe recluse. He looks weathered, haggard, and exhausted, with his big hair about to fly off his head like birds going south for the winter. 

Levinson sans a savvy editor, puts Pacino's Simon in every frame, his scenes jotting back and forth between disturbing fantasy and reality. Other well-known troupers (Kyra Sedgwick, Dianne Wiest, Charles Grodin) appear in and out of Simon's plight, their characters ill-defined and fading making The Humbling a stylish yet fragmentary experience to sit through. So yeah, I mentioned in the first paragraph that Barry Levinson was in a go-ahead phase. One wishes he would ditch this arthouse, folly swipe and just get back to basics. Crusty "humble" pie. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Missing 2023 * * Stars


I'm a fan of 2018's Searching. In fact, I put it in my top ten picks of that year. Searching is one of those screenlife flicks in which everything is basically shown through social media a la a computer monitor. Missing (my latest review) is a sequel to Searching and I stress the word sequel. I mean it's an eager if not lesser product (like most follow-ups). Not as razor-sharp and/or free-flowing as the latter, Missing feels almost dated and a desperate attempt at a one up. "The best thing you can do to help us is just wait by your phone". Uh nope. Otherwise there'd be no movie.

Missing is like watching Searching through a more convoluted lens. Yeah it's involving even though everything featured is Internet-related but it's too much, too late. I mean why does the film have countless, kooky twists and turns just for the sheer heck of it? And why does Missing run out of filmmaker wiggle room when the screenlife novelty (mentioned earlier) wears off? And oh yeah, why do the cops involved act as though they're moonlighting instead of holding down a full-time job? Ugh.

Running at a drawn-out 111 minutes and coming off as a arithmetic hitch for the audience instead of a tightened-up feature, Missing stars Nia Long, Storm Reid, and Tim Griffin. Long plays Grace Allen, a mom who disappears with her boyfriend on a trip to Columbia. It's up to daughter June (played by Reid) to find out what happened to Grace by way of good old technology. June is one smart cookie with that laptop and she uses different app platforms (email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to try to get the job done. By the end of Missing however, we the viewer feel exhausted instead of elated with the annoyance of copious mouse clicks somehow rearing their ugly heads. "Missing" a beat.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind 2019 * * Stars


I'm a huge Gordon Lightfoot fan but I didn't realize he passed nine days ago until I flipped on his documentary and then googled his name. The guy only had four top 10 hits but his career spanned almost sixty years (including touring). Gold Gord remains one of the greatest songwriters and vocalists to ever walk the face of the earth.

Now to said docu titled Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind. Yup, it's a mixed bag for me. The opening credits indicate that it was funded. Why say that? That just makes "Mind" feel like it's not a real film and just an obligation to Canada's version of folksy Bob Dylan. "The hero would be me". Not entirely guys in regards to the late Mr. Lightfoot.

So yeah, I sometimes align. I mean there are things I liked about Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind. Yeah I dug the archive footage interspersed with the present day stuff and I dug the fact that we get interviews from the man himself. And oh yeah, who doesn't want to hear old Gord carry a ditty with that smooth, distinctive voice. But where's the focus here? And what happened to the timelines? And why the heck is angry actor Alec Baldwin commenting on a FM radio legend? Huh?

"Mind" with its 90-minute run, feels pasted together and edited without really burning through the surface of Lightfoot's then eighty years on the planet. Sure we hear little stories about Gord's timeless tunes ("The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", "Early Morning Rain", "Sundown") but then the movie switches gears quickly and wanders, absent of any mold or chronological discern. Listen I don't mind hearing Canadian rockers Anne Murray, Rush, Randy Bachman, and Burton Cummings talk about Gordon and his unattended genius. But then there are other music people who I've never acquainted Gord with, chiming in randomly with their insights feeling too shadowy to give the dude his rightful due. "Carefree highway robbery".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 8, 2023

Inside 2023 * * * 1/2 Stars


2023's Inside is a thriller whose hook takes the viewer as far as it will go. The film ends with a sort of neutered interpretation but the journey here is dense, confined, and well, maddening. It gives new meaning to the term "homebody".

Evoking stuff akin to All Is Lost and 2019's 4x4, Inside is one of those "trapped" movies where the main character is stuck in a certain place or circumstance and must try to survive the environment while figuring out a way to escape. 

With Inside, it's all about Nemo played intensely by one-man show Willem Dafoe. Nemo is an art thief who breaks into a wealthy art collector's high-rise (to steal) only to have the security system shut down and said high-rise to be sealed up. Nemo is trapped for what feels like forever and Dafoe channels this hallucinatory frustration like a boss. 

Food supply? A little spread, crackers, a pet fish, and dog chow. Water Supply? Vodka and a sprinkler system (ugh). Entertainment? Surveillance videos of people going in and out of the building and the styling-s of "Macarena" (double ugh). Basically you want Nemo to get the heck out of there even though he was initially up to no good. Poor guy can't even cater to his dental work, interact with humans, and/or take a shower.

So yeah, there's not a whole lot of persona backstory to Inside and Dafoe's methods of holding out can be a little monotonous. No matter cause maybe that's the overall point. Inside is psychologically stealth and real time perceived, with Willem's physical acting and unseasoned Vasilis Katsoupis's deft direction really pulling you through. Just when you think Nemo might have a chance to early on see the outside world, Vasilis just ups the ante. His visual imagery makes the lavish apartment a co-star, his method of using a scene as cutaway is downright creepy, and his foreboding music inserts seem perfectly placed. This is a solid "inside" job. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, May 5, 2023

Coma 1978 * * * 1/2 Stars


"She never woke up". Chilling words from one clinician to another. Now time for organ recipients to eventually rejoice. If only they knew the deadly shenanigans going on.

Starring Michael Douglas, Rip Torn, and Genevieve Bujold, 1978's Coma represents the finish of the cold, antihero 70s film movement. It came out at the tail end where blockbusters were just getting started, disaster epics took a back seat, and cinematic downers left without the door hitting them on the way out. Hey, that doesn't mean I didn't embrace Coma, what with evil genius Michael Crichton (the late Michael Crichton) at the helm. He directs the pic like a political thriller except that we're not talking politics and Watergate here, just medical speak.

Feeling like the movie equivalent of rubbing alcohol and soaps as Smell-O-Vision, Coma is creepy and ominously effective, evoking a certain paranoia and conspiracy you can't look away from. The flick is about patients at a Boston hospital who mysteriously die post surgery and then their body parts are sold on the black market. Ugh. Something has to be done and that is why a disciplined doctor must get in harm's way to find the culprit to all this. Hey look there's a young Tom Selleck, babe Lois Chiles, and Ed Harris (with hair) in some of their earliest film roles.

Where the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith is everything (that's not a bad thing), anti-smoking laws didn't exist, and Crichton's medicine practice screenplay was ER before ER (you'll see), Coma is the epitome of "Me Decade" filmmaking. It's in the zoom shots, the wide shots, the grit, and the columned imagery inducing a yore-d, stoner fever dream. Despite the somewhat incomplete happy ending, you'll still leave Coma with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Too soon? Deep "unconsciousness".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Apocalypse of Ice 2020 * * Stars


"I love you." "I love you too". "We have to get out of here." "Are you okay?" Those dialogue exchanges are said a lot during the film I'm about to review. Heck, they could form a drinking game. Oh well, disaster flicks are that way sometimes. I mean what else are you supposed to say when death might be on the horizon.

Anyhow, 2020's Apocalypse of Ice piggybacks on The Day After Tomorrow. It's no secret. Otherwise warm cities freeze up, characters travel cross-country to seek refuge and reunite with other character family members, and hairline fractures abound in frozen waters. "Baby, it's cold outside". Indeed.

The word "apocalypse" in Apocalypse of Ice means the complete final destruction of the world. Okay, I'll go with that. Add shards via the dawn of COVID-19 and a big time polar vortex and you got a real, Syfy channel humdinger. The green screen is obvious and smells of overkill, the actors banter back and forth like they're reading lines from an NCIS script, and poor Tom Sizemore is stuck in some Arctic shack in God knows where. Poor Tom and not quite enough whiskey to take that edge off. Ugh.

So you're probably wondering, did I actually enjoy Apocalypse of Ice? In fits and starts. The acting by Ramiro Leal, Torrey Richardson, and Sizemore (mentioned earlier) isn't half bad and the pic's pace certainly doesn't deem it to be boring. And did I also think "Ice" was implausible, misguided, and well, geographically challenged. Absotively boss, absotively.

A car falls hundreds of feet off an icy cliff yet the passengers only get cuts and bruises plus no real damage to the vehicle (unless you count a flat tire). Personas walk through a blizzard and then the next minute they're in snow-free territory where the temp might be in the 50s (huh?). The women seem to mostly survive any carnage while the men are always getting injured (sexist much?). Finally, people arrive from point A to B within a few skids on the road. One minute they're on a deserted highway, the next minute they end up right in front of a morgue (um, what?). At least The Day After Tomorrow dared you to wink at its amplification and not completely roll your eyes. "Apocalypse" now at erst.

Written by Jesse Burleson