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Sunday, July 30, 2023

What Just Happened 2008 * * Stars


"I'll take the movie away from you and recut it myself". Ouch. Is that what Warner Bros. said right before they decided to put out Sphere? Maybe.

Anyway, Barry Levinson helms 2008's What Just Happened and it feels like he did a project between projects, like on a weekend holiday. Normally a brilliant director with a sense of the bygone days, Levinson is almost sloppy here, with off-center camera angles, random title cards, fading characters, and underwhelming, satirical platitudes. I mean you might be better off watching an episode of Entourage, Tropic Thunder, or The Player instead.

That's not to say that "Happened's" premise doesn't make you curious enough to see it, what with all that movie-within-a-movie stuff going on. I mean if you're gonna present something about Hollywood ribbing itself and others, it totally makes sense to have Robert De Niro play a manic regisseur. That's some cool, down-to-earth casting. The problem is that Levinson doesn't really push the envelope only to have De Niro mumble his lines while shifting from one situation to the next like some bewildered footman.

So yeah, What Just Happened makes a little sense as a title because you watch it and say, "what was the overall point to all this" and "what was I supposed to take away from the throes of La La Land that I didn't already know". Basically "Happened" is about the day-to-day life of a dimming producer (Bob De Niro as Ben) and his struggles to get certain bad movies made. A Sean Penn cameo here, a Bruce Willis cameo there, executives acting shallow, and Michael Wincott playing a weirdo, British filmmaker. The whole effect presented is blase, a mere snapshot, and something that can't really qualify as a full-length feature (even at 104 minutes). "Happen"stance? I think not.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Tyson 2008 * * * Stars


Mike Tyson was one of the greatest (and most famous) heavyweight boxers of all time. Um, if you don't know the name, you've probably been living quietly under a rock (or in an igloo). 2008's Tyson is about Mike Tyson's life in the ring and out, clocking in at a well-rounded 90 minutes (no pun intended). "If I have any anger, if it's directed at anyone it's directed at myself". Well said there "Kid Dynamite". 

So yeah, Tyson as a documentary doesn't really bring anything fresh or new from a structural standpoint. Heck, it almost feels like a Mike Tyson wiki page entry in which the bullet points are interchangeable. Oh well. What redeems Tyson is its style permeated by helmer James Toback, a close personal friend of Mike and a maverick that seems to like his camera peeking in instead of the other way around. Toback effectively crosscuts between archive footage and his tattooed subject spilling the beans. He also uses split screens and zoom shots, piggybacking on the ending to his 2000 pic, Black & White. Yup, his distinctive fingerprints are well, all over this thing. 

Modus operandi aside, Mike Tyson for the most part is all front and center here, mumbling and bumbling and at times, appearing a little inchoate. He's the only one being interviewed and he chews scenery like a bloodhound eyeing a sirloin. Hey I'm not saying Tyson's account isn't pesky because it sometimes is. The thing that ultimately resonates is his honesty and emotion and his flat out rawness. I mean towards the end he even looks into the camera, talking like he's Ray Liotta via the courtroom scene in Goodfellas. Yes Tyson has flaws as a docu but by the time the closing credits roll up, it's far removed from being a "sucker punch".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One 2023 * * * Stars


Tom Cruise brought the movie industry back from the doldrums of COVID. He just did. Last summer came Top Gun: Maverick and this summer we have Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One. Now did I salivate for "Part Two" after the closing credits for "Part One" appeared? Kind of. Not in a Return of the Jedi sort of way after Empire Strikes Back but yeah, kind of. And does Cruise still do his own stunts while being adverse to good old CGI? Yeah but for some reason he's just not as confident this time around. I mean it's as plain as a pikestaff.

Anyway "Dead Reckoning" is the seventh installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Script-wise, it's as clunky as a piece of metal jewelry (cruciform keys, hint, hint). Bodies in motion-wise, it's not the strongest account, probably held back by the limitations brought on by the pandemic (it was filmed in the middle of 2020). Sure there's death-defying shtick but you've gotta wade through circumlocutory dialogue just to get to said shtick. There's also about twenty minutes that could've been cut ("Dead Reckoning" clocks in at 163), an off-kilter attempt to add humor, a reluctance to trim the amount of characters that fade in and out, and fight scenes that seem sloppy, like they're bad dailies from John Wick. Heck, no wonder Tom Cruise got so angry at everybody on set ("I don't ever wanna see it again!!! Ever!!").

But hey, Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One really redeems itself in the last half hour. Cruise control baby! Just think brawling on top of a runaway train that travels like it's on the Autobahn, Cruise's Ethan Hunt going off a cliff on a motorcycle (of course), and some serious bridge detonation. In the end Tommy boy could probably make ten or more of these things. That I "reckon".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Fog 1980 * 1/2 Stars


1980's The Fog is nowhere to be found in the upper echelon of John Carpenter's canon. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. All you gotta do is watch the documentary (The Making of The Fog, duh). In it, Carpenter explains that a rough cut of his film wasn't up to snuff, wasn't um scary. He had to jazz it up with you know, more scares. You can tell the distress. "Fog" is sort of patchwork stuff from one of my all-time favorite directors. He would later go on to victory with three solid outings (Escape from New York, Starman, and Big Trouble in Little China).

So OK, The Fog with its brief running time doesn't really frighten you, doesn't shatter you. I suppose its one true attribute is that it might have been the inspiration for 1982's creepier, Creepshow (just ask Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, and Adrienne Barbeau). The evil element of The Fog is ghosts that come out of a glowing mist that sweeps Northern California. Sigh. These ghosts are faceless and shapeless and almost cookie-cutter. I suppose they're characters in the flick but what they lack is obviously character development. They don't talk but they do in fact kill and well, they're rarely seen (once in the first act and once in the final act).

What's disappointing about The Fog is that its sinister premise is there for the taking. I mean it's the most John Carpenter that has ever been John Carpenter-ed. His trademarks are all over this thing. You get the eerie, brilliant score (by Johnny boy), the synth jump scares, and Carpenter's signature, gleaming blues hues. For some reason however, it all just doesn't interlock in a nightmarish sort of way. Added to that, John's buddies from '78s Halloween just aren't likable this time around (Jamie Lee Curtis, especially Nancy Loomis, and Charles Cyphers). They come off as paperweight denizens just trying to avoid the hours of darkness slaughter.

Getting back to The Fog's docu, Carpenter quotes the camera by saying, "so we sat down and realized we have to go back to work on this". Good intentions on the second effort John but after viewing The Fog, I was left a little "benumbed".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael 2018 * * * Stars


Opinionated, pioneering, against the grain. Those are words I would use to describe the late Pauline Kael. Kael was (and still is) one of the most famous movie critics ever (behind Roger Ebert of course). What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is a documentary about Pauline's life that is not necessarily life celebrating but a manifest interpretation presented to the viewer (aren't most films that way?). Do we as moviegoers love or hate this woman? Do helmers and actors feel the same? Why the heck did she pan films that her other associates deemed masterpieces (West Side Story, Laurence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey)? And how did she become the Elvis of flick write-ups (that means that everyone knows who she is)?

Questions, questions, questions, and "The Art" tries its best to answer them avoiding being a one-sided, Pauline Kael wiki page. I can dig it, even though this docu still tells its story sequentially and well, routinely.

Now I speak routinely because "The Art" jots from film to film via Kael's almost censorious thoughts. It's rinse, repeat stuff consisting of archive footage (Pauline lived from 1919 to 2001), Kael's voice from the sepulcher, and interviews about her that are not always of praise. I'm not saying all of this is procedural but you always seem to know what's forthcoming as an audience member.

Normal documentary praxis aside, the one thing that truly elevates What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is the presence of legendary directors who are in that cinematic team photo. You know the John Boormans, the Tarantinos, and the Francis Ford Coppolas. They speak of Pauline like she's a filmmaker herself, like she's in their fraternity. Some of it is out of anger, some of it is plaudits, some of it is spite. All of it is well, diverting. I mean who knew a movie critic could so blatantly alter someone's career. "State of this art".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Trespassers 2018 * * * Stars


"Don't answer the door". Hey, you heard him, don't freaking answer!

Released in 2018 and distributed by IFC Midnight, Trespassers is a home invasion thriller that secretes itself in sanguinary mystery. We don't know much about the couples being invaded (except that two of them swung), we don't know a whole lot about the antagonists doing the invading (or their motivations), and the cameo by actress Fairuza Balk is well, a loose end red herring. What we do know is that almost everybody is in some way, no saint. There are no victims in this ode to "purging" (hint, hint).

Trespassers is directed by the unseasoned Orson Oblowitz, a guy who commits to every shot that is timed to some music of the 80s synth flavor. His film might be the first home invasion endeavor that attempts to be Hitchcockian, what with all the MacGuffin-s, plot twists, and building tension. I mean this is "more than meets the eye" stuff, clouded in a black comedy-less version of Very Bad Things. I dug the first two acts until the last one felt the need to um, keep digging.

Trespassers stars Balk (mentioned earlier), Angela Trimbur, Janel Parrish, Jonathan Howard, and Zach Avery. Heard of most of these actors? Me neither but I liked their smarmy characters for some reason. Yes they come off as stereotypical, horror thriller tropes but hey, they're more defined here, like naive, thirty-something upgrades cruisin for a brusin. Coke, sex, liquor, and paranoiac fear oh my!

Nookie and illegal stimulants aside, as something about four people who rent an abode in the Mojave desert only to have their weekend tarnished by the addition of masked ruffians, Trespassers could've been more tightly wound had it not descended into rote violence and flummoxed plot threads. Oh well. See it anyway, "entering without permission."

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

65 2023 * 1/2 Stars


65 is a sci-fi thriller that star Adam Driver really takes seriously. If only we could as such. I mean it's Adam Driver and he's obviously committed, what with screen presence and cred up the wazoo. So then why do we snicker when he fires off a laser gun that looks like a prop from Toys "R" Us? And what's up with his character surviving carnage that would off any other would-be pilot? Oh brother.

Only revealed because of the film's title cards and not giving any valid reason other than to call it 65, 65 takes place um, 65 million years ago via planet Earth. Driver plays Mills, a flyboy who crash-lands there after asteroids hit his spaceship. Mills must pull through, fending off pesky dinosaurs (obviously) while protecting a young girl who doesn't speak English. 65's runtime is 93 minutes and well, you wish the flick lasted a little longer. I mean that way it would come off as at least ad rem. 

Raptors and "Newt" wannabes aside, 65 suffers from containing little narrative, little build-up, clunky dialogue, and a sense of cinematic, science fiction deja vu. Yup, I might have to blame directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods for this whole, nutrition-less ode to high-tech weaponry (they've done some stinkers in the past). 

Sure 65 looks great (for a $45 million dollar budget), sure there are a few violently tense moments, and sure, Louisiana's locale masquerades nicely as the Triassic period. But why does it feel like you're watching a demo tape of Aliens that unbeknownst to Beck and Woods, really cuts some corners? And why would Driver do all this slimy, physical acting only to have the viewer think of his persona's plight as laughably trivial? Might have to have a sit-down with current agent. There's no "love affair" with this 65

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed 2023 * * * 1/2 Stars


Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed is a devastating documentary about a guy who perished in the middle of a time that most people relished to live in (shout-out to the "Greed Decade"). I mean just when you thought you could forget about the actor that is Rock, well here is his dead soma dug up and brought back to heightened life by director Stephen Kijak.

Hudson was quote unquote, "the Tom Cruise of his day", with movie star looks, a 6' 5" frame, a way with the ladies, and a solid screen presence. Howbeit, there were hints about his sexuality throughout his steady career until the truth finally came to fruition. Rock Hudson died of AIDS via 1985, becoming one of the first celebrities to bring awareness to this awful disease. Helmer Kijak lays bare his orientation through interviews for much of the pic's running time. Maybe it's overkill, maybe it's not. Whatev. I mean how else was "Heaven's" demised conclusion gonna fully play out.

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed feels like Rock's slow-burning, wiki page entry until it doesn't. Containing archive footage over 50 years or so while omitting the faces of those probed, "Heaven" drags a little until it finds its footing while unfolding like a skulking sledgehammer. Yup, I was eventually knocked over.

The musical score by Laura Karpmen is tops, the editing by Claire Didier reveals a darker palate from the get-go, and lines delivered by Rock Hudson in his flicks effectively intertwine with "Heaven's" chronological storytelling. HBO films, well it doesn't pander to the normal, clean style here which seems to be a regular accompaniment. Refrain cinematic looker-on-s. This is a docu that decides to conjure up sad memories of a Tinseltown legend that acted along stars Doris Day, James Dean, and Kirk Douglas. I'll "allow" it.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, July 6, 2023

My Bodyguard 1980 * * 1/2 Stars


Filmed in 1979 and released in 1980, My Bodyguard is an absolute snapshot of 70s, high school oddments. I mean you can smell the gym socks, picture in your head the long greasy hair, and envision some teen lighting up a square in a public domain. My Bodyguard is also about the bullying and that wayward behavior that so inhabited the tail end of "have a nice day". Chicago is the backdrop, Dave Grusin does the Afterschool Special-type music, and look there's the late John Houseman in a nanosecond cameo. "They're just some kids from school, they wanna kill me". Ouch.

Anyway, My Bodyguard stars Matt Dillon and Chris Makepeace, actors that have faces so synonymous with late seventies/early eighties swipe. I mean it made sense for director Tony Bill to cast them what with Dillon fresh from Over the Edge and Makepeace coming off of Meatballs fame. They are the perfect foil cause let's be real, back then no one could channel an oppressive creep quite like Matt Dillon and no one could channel sunny awkwardness quite like Chris Makepeace. It's just a shame that My Bodyguard at 96 minutes only probes their strong-arm, back and forth in broad strokes. Let me explain.

As a film about a boy (Makepeace as Clifford) who hires a high school classmate (Adam Baldwin as Linderman) as his bodyguard because he is being targeted by a slickster bully (Dillon as Moody), My Bodyguard feels patchy and somewhat fragmentary. Yes there are some poignant moments, yes the acting is sufficient, and yes, there is a bit of irony (another defender comes into the mix). But the movie lacks depth when the subject of "Me Decade" persecution was so germane and so there for the taking. I mean I wanted more bullying (I know, weird statement), I wanted to know more about the friendship between bodyguard and the protected, and I wanted to know what the heck was up with the Ruth Gordon character (don't ask, just know that she's the grandmother of the protected). That would have made "my" day.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny 2023 * * * Stars


Let's get this right out of the way shall we, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the fourth best entry in the franchise's 42-year canon. That basically means it's better than "Crystal Skull" (basically). "Dial's" running time is almost two and a half hours but it doesn't feel like it. And there's plenty of loud, bone-crunching stuff even though you can't fully see who's shooting and/or punching who.

Now am I going to recommend Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny? I am but for reasons other than that rip-roaring, caper medium. Yup, "Dial" feels just like an Indiana Jones pic until it well, doesn't. The incorporation of time travel and everyone's favorite archaeologist, yeah I can dig it.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny takes place in 1969 with an opening flashback via World War II. James Mangold takes over the reins as director from Steven Spielberg. Yeah I'm not going to lie, Mangold is a solid storyteller and the way "Dial" unfolds in its last act is truly awesome and invigorating. As for the look of the film, well it too is solid, all glistening and shiny and CGI'd to the hilt.

What Mangold lacks however, is Spielberg's aptness for staging action sequences, you know the attention to detail, the editing, the spine-chilling progression (revert back to first paragraph). Heck, "Dial" isn't really action adventure, it's more like a revealing family dramatization coupled with elongated chase concatenations. It's as if James Mangold couldn't let Ford v Ferrari go.

Oh well. "Dial" is overall, fast-faced and mostly entertaining (if you can suspend a little aerodynamic disbelief). "Raiders" had the ark, "Temple of Doom" had the stones, "Last Crusade" had the Holy Grail, and "Crystal Skull" had the gulp, alien skull (ugh). Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has the pursuit of an Archimedes Dial (there's always a pursuit).

With star Harrison Ford at an all-time curmudgeon level (what'd you expect, he's 80) and co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge dutifully on board (she plays goddaughter Helena Shaw), "Dial" is a summer movie that's an open mind alternative to DC and Marvel fodder (that would be Spidey and The Flash). Manifest "destiny".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, July 2, 2023

My Husband's Worst Mistake 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


As a guy who watches a lot of Lifetime network flicks, I have never seen one try to be out of the box as much as 2023's My Husband's Worst Mistake. It's wine club Sauvignon Blanc. It's cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater. It's serpentine in fire mode. It's "hey I wish Vivica A. Fox could pop in to see what's the dillio?" Heck, I'll give stab points for the whole darn treatment.

Anyway, "Mistake" runs 85 minutes with enough coincidences and passing ship characters to make a murderous version of The O. C. look like Romper Room. Check this: husband has an affair with wife of lawyer. Wife of lawyer confesses and dies accidentally falling down the stairs. Husband who had affair confesses to his own wife who throws him out of the house. Lawyer seeks revenge on real estate hubby by getting his kill on and trying to romance pissed off spouse (of real estate dude). Did you get all that? Could you keep up? It's okay if you didn't. For a minute my head was spinning. I felt like I was watching some cinematic multiple choice.

So yeah, My Husband's Worst Mistake has intentions but tries so hard to bait them, you're left viewing a lot of unintentional garble coupled with an abrupt ending that had to fill that standard, Lifetime running time. "Mistake" also stars actors (Matt Wells, Sarah Cleveland, Scott Gibson) who are so stiffly swayed by the plot mechanics you'd think they were pawns in a mosaic about the art of serendipity. Yeesh!

To put it mildly, My Husband's Worst Mistake is not a bad film, just a glut experiment in reinventing the wheel of a channel that specializes in manipulation, conniving, and stone-faced men up to no good. I'd give the thing a higher review if every waning moment wasn't so fortuitous. Own "worst" enemy.

Written by Jesse Burleson