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film reel image

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Dumb Money 2023 * * Stars


2023's Dumb Money isn't a "dumb" movie, just a neutered one when you compare it to stuff like The Social Network, Snowden, The Big Short, and Steve Jobs. You know, those "based on a true story" films where some smart guy (or guys) goes on trial for making a whole lot of moolah and/or exposing others by being a whistleblower. "Money" grunges it up a bit, plays it a little less self-serious, and adds explicit rap music in the background. Unintentionally, it comes off as a less gripping version of the stuff just mentioned. 

Now I don't know much about stocks but Dumb Money sure explains them to me. Whether it's archive news footage, title cards, or interviews, "Money" never fails to let the viewer know about everything Wall Street. The flick, well it almost comes off as a forced wiki entry, relentlessly filling the 104-minute runtime assuming that the audience member is sort of "dumb" themselves. Again I think this was done not on purpose, trying to give some sort of shares history lesson. "If he's in I'm in".  For reals. 

With its events taking place just two years ago, during COVID, and with emphatic social media remnants, Dumb Money is about Keith Gill, a regular Joe who puts his savings in GameStop stock. When he's on the verge of becoming rich, chaos and furor ensues. Paul Dano plays Gill and plays him well. It's in the restraining and the long face. And Seth Rogen does solid work as rival investor Gabe Plotkin. Every other character in "Money", well they're galling and unlikable, their dialogue readings profanity-laden while lacking substance. When Dano's Gill gives a final monologue reading during Dumb Money's conclusion, you've already had enough of almost every layabout millennial involved that profited off of Keith's mindful tips. Token "shekels".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, September 25, 2023

Facing Monsters 2021 * * * Stars


In 2021's Facing Monsters, the title probably refers to the big-arse waves that inhabit the coast of Western Australia. I mean what else would we be talking about? Ogres? Yup, these breakers could swallow you whole, ascend you way deep down, and maybe injure (or kill) you. But hey, hardcore surfers don't really care. They're unmindful and borderline cray cray. They're addicted to that rush, that biting of the white cap hand that feeds them.

Facing Monsters is a documentary that doesn't quite feel like one. That's not a bad thing mind you. Sure there's archive footage here and there but absent are stuffy interviews, an overuse of title cards, and unbiased assertions. The subjects speak when they wanna speak, so natural, so off-cue, and not exacted. What actually counts is the visual palate presented by "Facing's" director (Bentley Dean). Whether he's using overhead shots, long shots, wetted close-ups, or clips following wave rider Kerby Brown barreling through the pipe, Dean's effect is indescribable (and indescribable is good). "It's where I feel most alive". Indeed.

"Facing" follows Brown and his search for the perfect wave (or the wave as Holy Grail so they say). His only brother (Courtney Brown) watches over him with hawked nuance, using a jet ski to help Kerby ditch the paddle out and catch the sweltering break.

With Bentley Dean's streamlined look and Tim Count's eerily beautiful, musical score, Facing Monsters presents a soundly numbing, viewer experience. Sometimes it's repetitive (you see the same type of billow over and over), sometimes it's suicide mission-ed, and sometimes it's foreseeable (I guess K. Brown had to get injured in the end). Oh well. As a docu that puts a rad surf monger in harm's way for no other reason than the notion of waterlogged dependence, Facing Monsters is certainly no "endless bummer".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 22, 2023

Blame 2021 * * * 1/2 Stars


"Be careful on your way up there". Up there is rural Wisconsin. Say "cheese!"

Anyway 2021's Blame is an interesting thriller. I applaud it for its craft though because it evades the viewer from what it actually is. You initially think it's horror fare but nope, it's not assertive enough for that. People get killed but the motive is fallacious. How refreshing if you're tired of the same old same old.

Blame takes place in Illinois and Wisconsin (mentioned earlier). The snow is falling, the blizzard is imminent, and you just wish the five characters in peril knew how to use GPS (what the??). Blame provides flashbacks upon flashbacks as if the ghost of Rashomon walked in. Oh well. That's Blame's hook and it's probably the best way the flick could succeed.

Blame is about a few buddies who attempt to drive to a Wisconsin ski refuge only to get stuck on the road and find shelter in a remote building. You just know conflict and chaos are about to flex. The five personas aren't the most likable people in the world but their performances are intense and effectively panicky. It's the typical five with a mixture of girls and guys with at least two of them dating. The actors are unknowns but they could easily pass as modern day cast members of One Tree Hill.

Blame is directed by the unseasoned B. J. Rayniak. Could have fooled me. BJ strongly puts Blame's pieces together in fits and starts. Some of it stalls but keep watching. The ending is justified as it could lead to someone harboring manslaughter charges and/or obstruction of justice.

Blame's outcome can be deflating if you're a horror geek obsessed with discovering the next Billy Loomis. Bite your tongue. Blame is more intricate than that stuff so check it out. If it's not to your liking, just refer to the lyrics of Collective Soul. "Lay that blame on me".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

97 Minutes 2023 * * * Stars


In 2023's 97 Minutes, the title refers to the amount of time a 767 plane has before it runs out of fuel. How random. But hey, that's just scratching the surface because there's much more to "97's" ode to unlawful seizes, much much more. 

97 Minutes is a hijack movie, an air disaster flick, a suicide mission vehicle complete with all the trimmings (that includes sneering terrorists, faulty operating limitations, and nuclear bombs in the belly). Co-starring the resurrected Alec Baldwin and Jo Martin, the film obviously looks like it was made on a restricted budget, shooting most of its scenes on two set locations (one of which probably wasn't even an actual plane). No matter, I dug "97". Why? Because despite its slight improbability and early on, muted character developments, the thing has brains (and some brawn). I mean somewhere Capt. Joe Patroni is well, smiling, gleefully. 

Earning most of its hour and a half runtime with raveled plot workings and twist and turns that resemble any actual, disastrous 767 at mid-flight, 97 Minutes is its own entity, not trying to be commercialized like Air Force One or arty like United 93 (not that those films were bad cause they weren't). "97" is well, the thinking man's flying bird thriller, only exhibiting brute force when it has to and telling its story from an impassioned, Cold War-like point of view. 

"97's" strongest asset has to be star Jonathan Rhys Meyers, an actor who has an uncanny way of carrying a close-packed pic with searing screen presence and a raw, physical dedication to his role. Meyers plays Alex, an undercover Interpol agent whose antihero vibes and two-faced lures give the audience member the feeling of being held in a cinematic vice grip. He basically helps 97 Minutes "soar" even higher (pun intended). 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Retirement Plan 2023 * * Stars


Uncaged? Um, not quite. More like caged lite. Yeah I'm talking about Nicolas Cage's newest vehicle, The Retirement Plan. Sure Cage's Matt kicks some serious arse (he's been doing it since the late 90s) but here in the acting department he shows a little restraint (unlike his F-bombing side character and evil antagonist, Jackie Earle Haley). All of Cage's overreached flailing and thunderous dialogue readings are replaced by fists of fury and itchy trigger fingers.

The Retirement Plan involves Matt as a former hit-man who is living out his days on a beach in the Cayman Islands. When his daughter and granddaughter (who he never sees) seek him out after being hunted by criminal thugs in Miami, Matt goes into protection mode, killing over a dozen baddies while sipping gin and tonics and beer on the side.

So OK, any movie with Nicolas Cage is an event, it just is. Whether he is trying to cop a paycheck, trying to parody himself, or just loving his craft, Cage polishes that almighty, cinematic turd while relishing the whole undertaking of it. In The Retirement Plan he looks like the long-lost father of Con Air's Cameron Poe, all disheveled and scruffy and in need of some serious cleansing. I mean someone get this guy a razor or a Just for Men kit! Yeesh!

BIC-s and "put the bunny back in the boxes" aside, The Retirement Plan is an uneven viewing experience and nutrition-less, lushly locale-d caper. Why? Because director Tim Brown doesn't think in cuts, just mundane, tongue-in-cheek sequences where the endless amount of villains act brainless and can't shoot worth a lick. A sudden burst of violence here, a not needed twist there, and not enough Cage in action mode everywhere (isn't he supposed to be the lead?). Co-starring the likes of Haley (mentioned earlier), Ernie Hudson, Rick Fox, and Ron Perlman, The Retirement Plan feels so similar to Cage's The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent you could put both flicks side by side in a double feature. Uh, that's not a compliment.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fear 2023 * 1/2 Stars


"Let's promise to be completely honest with one another". OK. I "honestly" didn't like the flick I'm about to review. Hate, well that's too strong of a word.

Not to be confused with that Mark Wahlberg vehicle from 1996, 2023's Fear has an erroneous title. Why? Because if a film is called Fear it's supposed um, scare you. I wasn't scared and while I was watching Fear, I couldn't tell who was doing the so-called frightening (or for what benefit). In fact, there weren't any real jump scares in Fear. I mean maybe there were but I didn't uh, jump.

So yeah, Fear is one of those retreat horror films, where a bunch of annoying, stereotypical characters spend the weekend at a creepy abode in the middle of nowhere. I bet you can guess what happens next. No? Well they get terrorized by an unknown entity who specializes in all things that "go bump bump in the night".

Fear feels so familiar I tell you, especially if you've seen The Evil Dead, The Shining, or even The Ring. Hallucinations and blood and killing and claustrophobia and isolation. I mean all the ingredients are there. With Fear however, it merely appears like a rerun, where you don't care about the fates of anyone involved and the plotted angle of facing your worst dreads never gets established as a tone. The scene where all the personas are sitting by a campfire and explaining what ultimately gives them trepidation, well give me something other than, "my biggest fear is losing you." Uh, really?

Starring Terrence J, Joseph Sikora, King Bach, and rapper T. I. ("Baskin Robbins don't play" ha ha), Fear is modern, murky-looking, and trivially stylized all at the same time. It's just another fright fest that I "fear" will eventually be relegated to the $3.99 Best Buy bin. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, September 10, 2023

St. Helens 1981 * * Stars


Watching 1981's St. Helens, you realize that the filmmakers decided to get this thing going right after the actual incident of an eruption in Southwest Washington happened just four months ago. A little eager in Tinseltown are we? I mean back then the phrase "too soon" could've been used (considering said eruption was the most disastrous volcanic spew in U.S. history). Whatever. Forty-plus years later, "Helens" is almost an incidental thang at this point, a flick to ponder on a rainy day via YouTube. "But if she goes, I want to be there". Indeed. 

With what looks like archive footage of the real 1980 venting of Mount St. Helens and starring Art Carney, David Huffman, and Cassie Yates, "Helens" puts forth almost 90 minutes of build-up, establishing lots of characters, various subplots (some of the romantic kind), similar locales, and inching tension leading up to the inevitable (if you're my age and haven't been living in a bubble, you'll probably remember what went down). 

Sure the music by progressive rock band Goblin is eerie beauty and sure, the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin is authentic enough. But HBO television might've rolled this thing out in a rushed attempt, asking the audience to painfully relive an event that killed 57 people and destroyed a hundred square miles left to wasteland.

That's not all. I mean where's the continuity here in regards to "Helens?" And why is everyone involved so mean, pent-up, and rattled? And what's with the Chuck Norris-like action clip (about 25 minutes in)? St. Helens has intentions (how could it not) but it could've hit the stratosphere had it not been so TV-movie harnessed (which it so is) and jumbled from a narrative slant. It's almost like a half-pie, edited version of The Towering Inferno. Sadly I wasn't quite "blow-ed away". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Strays 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


Watching 2023's Strays, you ask yourself what should I scoff at and what should I nervously laugh at without feeling guilty about it. That's a tall order and yeah, Strays is one raunchy comedy. Dogs eating stuff from each other's upchuck, the abundance of feces, those same dogs humping couches and whatnot, the biting of a male's private parts by a pint-size pooch, rear-end sniffing. Shall I go on? 

With pups being voiced by the likes of Jamie Foxx, Will Ferrell, and Isla Fisher, Strays likes to push the envelope, seeing how far the viewer will go without reaching for a convenient vomit bag. The theater I was in had more groans than light chuckles. The dog characters spewed more F-bombs than Martin Scorsese fare circa the 2010s. Dennis Quaid gets no billing in a weird, creeped out cameo (no comment). "You can learn how beautiful it can be when you're off the leash". Wha??

So let's not hedge shall we. I mean did I mistakenly like Strays? To a point. With the end of  August being that release dump month, an R-rated movie about canines that talk like actual humans would make anyone's ears perk up (not to mention the fact that the special effect of hand animation here is conveyed quite well). 

And do I think Strays unfortunately wears out its gimmick of squirrely mutts being potty-mouthed for a good 93 minutes? Yup and that's the rub. When every word of dialogue uttered is virtually part of the seven dirty ones, it tends to eventually get mundane and less funny. Thank the Almighty that Strays has a decent story mixing the bawdy with the sentimental (the comedic version of savory and sweet). Otherwise this flick would be an exercise strictly rooted in cinematic transgression, showing the behavior of man's best friend as a wool-coated circus freak. To lead "astray".   

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Table for Five 1983 * * * Stars


If you grew up in the early 80s and had HBO, you probably caught a showing of 1983's Table for Five. If you didn't, there's always a chance to YouTube this epitome of a family drama that plays out innately and avoids the fall in, TV feel.

So yeah, Table for Five is a talky film but there's a lot of globetrotting cinematography that compels it to rise above the norm. I mean never have I seen something cinematic-ally, that had grand production values to compliment all things dialogue-driven. The sense of time and place as well as the locales are in abundance here, with director Robert Lieberman placing his actors in scenic foregrounds and letting them naturally emote. Egyptian pyramids and the Colosseum and the Ruins of Athens, Greece oh my!

Vista views aside, Table for Five is also a rough around the edges character study starring Jon Voight, Richard Crenna, and some unknown child troupers. With almost perfect casting, elegant tenor, and empathy for its otherwise WASPY subjects, "Five" has the usual helping of domestic back and forth until it takes a darker turn (which I won't reveal).

The standout performance in "Five" obviously goes to Voight, who relishes his disciplined role as former golf pro and estranged dad, J. P. Tannen. Table for Five's story involves Tannen taking his kids (who he rarely sees) on a Mediterranean cruise to reconnect with them. "Five" is well, edited effectively as its events have a very sequential feel to them.

So OK, what can I say about Jon except that he anchors "Five" (no pun intended). His persona is equal parts confident, likable, slightly fused, and flawed. You watch him in other stuff like Deliverance, Heat, Runaway Train, and the aforementioned and you just can't tell it's the same dude. Voight and Table for Five are both able to be veritably protean. "Life table".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Black Demon 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


2023's The Black Demon is directed by the relatively unknown Adrian Grunberg (Rambo: Last Blood, Get the Gringo). Probably aware of the million or so Jaws remakes existing, Grunberg decides to provide a new hook with "Demon". That's right, "Demon's" shark makes you hallucinate, gives you a guilt trip, and targets you as if it had a human brain. "This time... it's personal". Actually yeah, it is.

Taking place in Mexico via an oil rig in the middle of nowhere, The Black Demon starts with a strong opening act, letting the audience know that townspeople can be just as cold as those pesky marine fish (a hint of 1972's Deliverance I suppose). "Demon" also provides plenty of shark speak and um, shark psychobabble. Whatever Matt Hooper said back forty-plus years ago, well that was just technical stuff and not really numinous.

The Black Demon stars unknowns Venus Ariel and Fernanda Urrejola and veteran actor Josh Lucas. Lucas knowing that he's starring in a B-movie and maybe being accused of pay-checking it, decides to run with his role as oil company inspector Paul Sturges. Battling a big-arse megalodon along with a few of his own inner demons (pun intended), Josh's Sturges is the antihero family man with flaws and secrets that are steadily exposed. His performance here is raw and unvarnished. I mean no one does angered, spit-fire dialogue quite like my man Lucas.

All things considered, The Black Demon has its moments but in the end it can't escape being another shark vehicle, looking to one up all the others only to thrive into fish food rinse, recurrence. It certainly doesn't help that the filmmakers clearly were on a budget, what with all the megalodon attacks not fully showing the mortal carnage (lots of cutaway shots instead). Yeah it's mostly murky mise-en-scenes, harboring a little suspense but never making you think it could actually be Spielbergian (cause it's clearly not). Hey at least the darn apex predator looks as big as ever. "Black and tan".

Written by Jesse Burleson