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Friday, October 27, 2023

The Hero 2017 * * 1/2 Stars


2017's The Hero represents Sam Elliott appearing in a film nearly five decades after he began his career. You could say it's perfect casting with Elliott, who at 71 years old fits his aging, movie icon character like an ISOTONER glove. Yup, before Burt Reynolds did the same old shtick in The Last Movie Star and after Al Pacino got his sing on via '15's Danny Collins, there was Elliott looking weathered and languid, like he couldn't find his long-lost puppy. His persona (Lee Hayden) knows that his best days in the biz are behind him. We the viewer, well we feel the same woe.

A scorched look here, a dream sequence there, a jittery camera movement and famous mustache everywhere, The Hero is about Lee Hayden and how he deals with the tail end of his life and the tail end of well, the film industry. You see Elliott's Hayden is terminally ill and fancy-free, spending his days doing acting voice-overs, smoking ganja, drinking, waiting for an actual job, and ruing his relationship with his estranged daughter (Lucy Hayden played by Krysten Ritter). When Lee later on romances a young siren (Lauren Prepon as Charlotte Dylan) and gets invited to a ceremony to receive a life achievement award, he sees it as a last hurrah for himself, a sort of white-knuckle purging before the whole fated ship goes down. "I'm nothing without all of you". Maybe.

Death, robbing the cradle, and recreational drug use aside, "Hero" is mainly a character study brought to you by director Brett Haley in earthy, old Hollywood fashion. At 96 minutes, The Hero is also sort of arc-less and dolefully vibe-d, letting Elliott's Hayden wade through a bunch of fade-in, fade-out Holly-weird-s until the film's abrupt conclusion leaves you pondering more than perusing. Mixed "white hat". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

27: Gone Too Soon 2018 * 1/2 Stars


"It's a shock, we can't believe that it happened". But it did. The 27 Club has got quite the sample size. Six famous rock stars died at the young age of 27. We're talking Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. Now did I admire their avant-garde tuneage? Sure, who didn't. It's just a shame that we'll never know what these people would've progressed into. 

Fan-made yet never feeling like anyone involved were actual fans, 27: Gone Too Soon chronicles a handful of rock and roll icons through interviews and old hat archive footage, all without so much as a smidgen of  featuring their legendary ditties. I mean for about seventy minutes, "Gone" comes off as a prosaic, self-serious blague, anemic in appearance and apparently lacking funding, authorization, and/or permission from "the powers that be", rock world hierarchy. Um, can you blame them? I sure as heck can't.

Directed by a dude that's a former rock manager himself (Simon Napier-Bell) and featuring the production company of Premiere Picture (that's an oxymoron for sure), 27: Gone Too Soon is not so much a bad docu as it is a totally misguided one. The main problem, well it lies in the persons that Napier-Bell puts the questions to, all industry C-listers feeling like they know Janis and Jim and Kurt and whatnot more than they know themselves. It's all conferenced through condemnation and criticism, undercut with grainy muniments and toneless background music in rinse, rinse, repeat fashion. I mean would I get more contentment reading these rocker's standard wiki pages than feeding off the shoddy visual stimuli and tactless swipe that is 27: Gone Too Soon? Oh for sho. At least I wouldn't have to hear (and see) a bunch of wisenheimer voices attached to the words. "Gone" through the motions. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon 2023 * * * Stars


Martin Scorsese is one of the most revered and famous directors of all time. You'll never see him make a popcorn flick, you'll rarely get a straight plot from him, and occasionally he'll do black comedy (the most recent being The Wolf of Wall Street). What you will get most of the time is something epic, something that throbs with energy and greed and irony and extremity. Killers of the Flower Moon (his latest) is epic to a point. I mean any film with a runtime of three and a half hours has to be labeled epic. That's the baseline. "Can you find the wolves in this picture?" Yes and um, they're salivating.

But wait a minute, "Moon" is not great Scorsese but it is good. Heck, this is Marty's Gone with the Wind, his "Godfather". The breadth, width, and scope are impressive, the acting raw and reactionary, the camerawork whip pan-like (it is what it is and that's impressive). The storytelling? Well that's a different story (see what I did there). It's a little untidy and that's where I draw the line. The screenplay here by Martin and Eric Roth recycles itself, full of cupidity and hired hits and non-stifled characters that are sheltered. I get that protagonists in Marty's pics are sometimes bad people but this goes way beyond. Example: star Leonardo DiCaprio "kills" it as usual but you've got to wonder why anyone would fully root for his scrape.

Based on a book of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon casts DiCaprio and Robert De Niro as nephew and uncle involved in the murders of Native Americans via 1920s Osage County (that's in Oklahoma). Their scenes crackle and bruise, a sort of long-awaited reunion of when they together starred in 1993's This Boy's Life. Add a solid time setting, some cogent costume designs, and bright production values and you've got a newfangled Western that's as violent as it is morbidly repetitive. Hey, nobody is of the first water all the time. Scorsese almost succeeds brilliantly in shooting this "moon".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Fear the Night 2023 * * * Stars


2023's Fear the Night is an incredibly violent and remorseless thriller, a film that might be a fine addition to anyone's Halloween repertoire (it is October after all). At 92 minutes, the only thing that irked me was how "Night" ended, not lean and mean but willing to explain everything to the viewer in a clip via a police station. Uh why? Just let star Maggie Q sit there on the porch, all bloodied-up, scowling at the audience, and reveling in her superior badassery. I mean that would be a neat final frame.

Directed by Neil LaBute (a veteran helmer who too loves to exploit the butchery) and distributed by those guys at Quiver (remember Becky and The Fanatic?), "Night" is like a hybrid of stuff akin to Straw Dogs and Assault on Precinct 13. You know those movies where people are trapped in a building (or abode) and a bunch of ruffians are trying to get in to cause havoc. Said ruffians want something and they are willing to execute and penetrate without scruples. "You've got no idea who we are and all we want is inside that house". Indeed.

The opening act in Fear the Night is a little shaky (trite dialogue, annoying characters, stock setting, etc.). Then the flick kicks into high gear cause what counts is the action and mode of survival. Maggie Q (as Army veteran Tess) is the standout, all business and getting her kill on at will. I mean if you've seen other TV shows and pics with Maggie you know she's just playing herself here. It's not a stretch but spot-on casting is the word I would use. Add LaBute's claustrophobic eye for setting up a scene, some random title cards depicting the time of events, and antagonists that country bumpkin it to the nth degree (bows and arrows, ski masks, knives) and you've got a living nightmare that's a bachelorette party gone to pot. Burns "night".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Passenger 2023 * * * 1/2 Stars


2023's The Passenger is a disturbing little cabochon of a pic, a drama-thriller that almost masks as an akin hangout movie for sociopaths of the killing kind. For 94 well-adjusted minutes that feel earned, "Passenger" lets you into its small-town sphere, loosely populated by townies and grubby landscapes and melancholia and one greasy spoon diner. I mean who knew "Passenger's" shooting location (New Orleans, LA) would look like the Midwest in the deadened beginnings of autumn. I didn't.

Distributed by Blumhouse Productions (but doesn't feel like it) and directed by a dude who fashions his white trash antagonist as a big brother type bent on teaching living lessons (Maine native Carter Smith), The Passenger chronicles fast food worker Randolph Bradley (Johnny Berchtold). When Randy is in the middle of preparing for his shift, his fellow co-worker (Benson played by Kyle Gallner) murders everyone else at the fast food joint but spares him. Why? So they can drive around the same burgh while Benson gets his kill on again and gives Randall a sort of screw loose tour of This Is Your Life. Talk about one stalled getaway with the bad guy not giving heed to leaving his permanent populace. Yeesh. 

Resembling a sort of non-art house version of 1973's Badlands, "Passenger" is well-acted and crisply edited, full of trenchancy and revelations and moments that are sudden bursts of barbarity (or attempted barbarity). In truth, Smith's film feels fresh and dirtily lowdown at the same time. It could but just doesn't pander to normal yarns about serial murderers and their spurs. Into the bargain, The Passenger is that rare flick in which side characters fade in and out but actually have a purpose to "Passenger's" nefarious narrative. Yup, I think it's one of the best offerings of '23 (so far). "Rider" manifest. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Mill 2023 * * * Stars


The mill in 2023's The Mill is a form of manual labor for a businessman trapped in a workplace prison cell. If said businessman can't push said mill in a circle enough times, he fails to make his emblematic quota and dies. Yup, I couldn't make this up if I tried. I mean what sicko would put a dude through this torture when his wife is at home pregnant? Yeesh.

Anyway, The Mill is indeed a demented and often psychologically bruising thriller. Why? Because it takes hostile work environment to an almost figurative level (figuratively). "Mill's" director is Sean King O'Grady, a guy who obviously watched the first Saw from 2004 and Oldboy to fortify his surly, captor vision.

Providing lessened gore but fashioning enough black hat remorselessness to make your blood curdle, O'Grady may not be the most stylish of helmers when it comes to placing the camera but his dustbowl look and eye-in-the-sky villainy make The Mill the scarring trainwreck to end all trainwrecks.

It's only in the last act when the twist comes that "Mill" loses a little dramatic momentum and becomes rooted in visual reality as opposed to well, actual physical existence. I mean just because a flick does a one-eighty doesn't mean it keeps the viewer fully engaged. If that were the case then everything released in theaters would be all things surprise, surprise!

The Mill stars Lil Rel Howery as trapped employee Joe and Pat Healy as Joe's would-be corporation boss. Howery overacts a bit but has enough discipline and foaming enthusiasm to carry "Mill" with aplomb. As for Healy, well he shows up near the end, basically doing what he does best which is 25-plus years of solid character actor stuff. They are both in a pic that substitutes psychosomatic horror for generalized empathy. Edge "mill".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, October 9, 2023

One Day as a Lion 2023 * 1/2 Stars


2023's One Day as a Lion isn't the worst movie ever made but it certainly won't stay with you after the closing credits come up. 87 minutes roll by and you wonder why known actors like Scott Caan, Frank Grillo, and J.K. Simmons would appear in a crime drama so trivial, so eensy scaled. I mean there are literally scenes where there's no one around in broad daylight except a couple of the main characters. It's like small-town Mayberry without uh, the people of Mayberry. 

Getting back to the likes of Caan, Grillo, and Simmons. So did they do this film for a paycheck? Maybe but I'm not sure why. Did they read the script that is basically improvised with F-words instead of actual, biting dialogue? Probably not. And did they listen to their agents a little too closely before grudgingly appearing in "Lion?" That might be a yes. In that case they need to fire said agents and fire them stat!

What we have in One Day as a Lion is a trite Tarantino knock off, lacking Quentin's signature cultural references but full of cringey wide shots, weird camera angles, and line readings that wish they were catchy. And don't get me started on the mob types and crime lords that inhabit the C-movie swipe that is "Lion". They come off as dolts that are each other's only friends. I mean Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield would literally brush these dudes aside like the wind. 

Directed by Oklahoma native John Swab and filmed in "The Sooner State" (naturally), One Day as a Lion chronicles nice guy hit-man Jackie Powers (Caan). Powers must swiftly off a crime boss who owns a ranch (again naturally). He is doing this for money to get his son out of jail. When Jackie fails to get the kill, he fears that he'll get killed himself. Does or should the viewer care? Not really. And do "Lion's" plot threads turn into puzzling, loose dead ends? Sadly yes. Disorder of this "day". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, October 7, 2023

The Exorcist 1973 * * * 1/2 Stars


"There are no experts". Not at the moment Damien Karras but Father Merrin is on the way. Got to get those evil spirits out of a little teenage girl.

With a brilliant musical score and a sense of foreboding that is equal parts broad daylight and deadened night, 1973's The Exorcist changed the way an audience could perceive conventional horror. Just imagine what it was like in '73, seeing a young Linda Blair spewing green vomit and talking like a Hall of Fame potty mouth as her character is being possessed by the actual Devil (at least that's what I thought). "Exorcist" has a shock value that is off the charts. At about age 37, director William Friedkin had cojones the size of watermelons. Hey, it paid off.

Now is The Exorcist the greatest scary movie ever made? I think so. I saw it when I was barely 13 and it numbed me for days. And does "Exorcist" benefit from taking a risk with its scaring imagery and subject matter looking to offend certain religious groups? Oh heck yeah. Filmmakers have tried to imitate The Exorcist over the past five decades but they can't equal its grainy feel, its guilty tenor, and/or its early 70s swank. "This sow is mine". Indeed.

The Exorcist is shot with incredible extremity and atmospheric decadence by helmer Friedkin. I'll let his small slips in editing slide by. The images William conjures up didn't have CGI (it wasn't around back then) and that just makes him more blazing for it. Kudos to Friedkin's make-up artists for turning a young, head-spinning female into the afreet to end all afreets.

George Lucas lack of magic aside, "Exorcist" has one attribute that has always haunted me but in a good way. I mean why doesn't the controlling of a girl by a demon never make it past one's inner circle? You know the doctors, the relatives, and the priests. I mean how does the media never get a hold of what's going on here? Crazy. It's like the whole timeline of incidents gets kept out of the loop, like it's in cahoots. Whatever. That's probably the most brilliant thing about this film and I can't explain why. "The power of Christ compels you". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Creator 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


Watching 2023's The Creator, you just know it's a Gareth Edwards movie. Why? Because of the dusky tropical look, the vast canvas, and the abundance of military extras. Yeah he's a visionary but he nods to other filmmakers for inspiration too, like a cinematic DJ sampling the goods. I mean Edwards probably saw snippets of Elysium, Blade Runner, and anything Terrence Malick circa 1998. Otherwise The Creator would cease to exist, like a pinkish elephant.

But "Creator" does exist and the breadth and scope are impressive. Yup, as a viewer you just take in the visuals, with every frame without troupers a screen saver to be had. Just think the equivalent of a bunch of binary sunsets, except that it's not in a galaxy far, far away. The sci-fi gauntlet has been thrown down and Edwards seems to be the guy doing the proverbial throwing. "We are this close to winning the war". Uh, maybe.

Clocking in at 133 minutes and featuring battle sequences and explosions that feel rinse, rinse, repeat, The Creator chronicles Army sergeant Joshua Taylor (John David Washington). Taylor must hunt down and kill a form of AI (artificial intelligence) that resembles a small child. Joshua hesitates, teams up with said child for other purposes (like finding his supposedly dead wife), and becomes a traitor to the misinformed special forces. Washington has solid screen presence but I've never thought of him as much of an actor. I know it's broken record stuff but the dude is clearly no Denzel (that happens to be John David's daddy-o).

In retrospect, The Creator is a good-looking film that unfortunately has a clunky narrative, drowned in flashbacks, irksome side characters, and random subplots about the AI movement as PSA. Gareth Edwards has good intentions (does he really?) but seems bent on channeling his inner Christopher Nolan here. His flick doesn't have enough runtime to bait the disjointedness. "Non-prime mover".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Girl in the Closet 2023 * * * Stars


2023's Girl in the Closet has to be called Girl in the Closet because 2021's Girl in the Basement was already taken. If you watch the movie, the girl persona in question is definitely kept in the basement, with a couple of other victims, held against her will, and with almost no bare necessities. Why you ask? Because the antagonists are "monsters" (as one character says), in it for the money, and living off the benefit checks of these young teenagers who rarely see the outside world. "Closet" is based on true events. OK I'll bite. If there's any non-fiction to it all, well it's a pretty forlorn world we live in.

Shot in Atlanta, Georgia with pretty decent production values considering that the sparse set locations almost evanesce as you take in a viewing, Girl in the Closet is a disturbing film made more disturbing by the fact that its premised discernment has almost no filter. I blame Lifetime but at the same time I don't because "Closet" is effective at what it sets out to be in terms of commercialized fluff that is normally reserved for PBS. Human trafficking, kidnapping, torment, psychogenic damage, and malnourishment oh my!

So yeah, Girl in the Closet is a cinematic train wreck you could look away from but can't. Lifetime Television knows this and they push the proverbial envelope of good vs evil as far as they wanna take it. Just because a pic has a milder form of violence and the absence of coarse language doesn't mean it can't chill you to the bone. With performances from Tami Roman, Stevie Braggs Jr, and Willie Raysor that rise above the standard for TV movie swipe, Girl in the Closet reminds any Lifetime connoisseur that manipulation and low budget sterility can still render you moreish. "Closet" augers.

Written by Jesse Burleson