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Monday, November 27, 2023

Thanksgiving 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


Starring Patrick Dempsey, Addison Rae, and Milo Manheim, 2023's Thanksgiving is one of those movies where the genre steadily inserts itself into any day of festivity. I mean you've got Halloween for Halloween, Silent Night, Deadly Night for Christmas, April's Fool's Day for spring break, and Thanksgiving for well, Thanksgiving. Hey why not. Horror fans are always thirsty and they need their fix. Next year maybe we'll have a slasher flick about some psycho getting his kill on during Yule. Again why not.

So yeah, Thanksgiving is directed by Eli Roth, a guy who wants to make you sick, to gross you out (he probably did it to his buddies via childhood). Eli came on to the scene with 2002's Cabin Fever which did all those things but also messed you up mentally. With Thanksgiving he just goes for the basics, mechanical dispatching, shrill screams, and creative offings. Sans a shocking, opening Black Friday scene, the film is borderline schlock, cartoon-like in its brutality with enough fake blood and guts to power the sun. Um, Roth is not peaking here (as he did with "Fever"). He's almost on marginal holiday (pun intended).

Mounds of corn syrup ichor and discounted price rioting aside, Thanksgiving is about a murderer named "John Carver" (ha ha get it?) who terrorizes a small Massachusetts town by capping its denizens in a screw-loose revenge plot (you'll see). It's all so amusing and initially fun, as Roth's TikTok, teenage characters spew lots of F-bombs before getting picked off one by one. Just think a little Scream and a little John Carpenter circa 1978 and that's what you'll get with Thanksgiving. What fails this pic is how it reveals the antagonist at the end. I mean you don't think he would do any of the actual killing, you don't think he is capable of swiftly moving from point A to B to eliminate his victims, and you don't ultimately care because everything comes off as slightly trivial. "Turkey trotted".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 24, 2023

Albert Brooks: Defending My Life 2023 * * * Stars


Albert Brooks (whose real name is Albert Einstein) is a comedian/actor/director/screenwriter who has had a career spanning over 50 years. I mean everyone knows who Albert Brooks is. You might have seen him in Broadcast News or This Is 40 or Out of Sight or Drive (as have I). His brand of humor or egregiousness is as dry as the Sahara desert. His air is sardonic. Yeah, you either get it or you don't (and I do). Albert Brooks: Defending My Life is a documentary about Brooks, with the 76-year-old entertainer in diverting Greek chorus mode. It's like "Defending's" director (Rob Reiner) said, "Albert, I stopped by to shoot a flick about what makes you tick. Hope you don't mind". Entrancing.

Now does Albert Brooks: Defending My Life have rules? What rules, there are no rules. I mean you could watch this thing from the middle, beginning, or end and never be out of the loop. It maunders. And is "Defending" basically an 87-minute, rinse, repeat of Albert talking about his life experiences as he sits with helmer Reiner at some random restaurant table? Yeah but whatever. Their present day stuff is intercut with archive footage and interviews with people that aren't rent-a-celebs but actual celebs. Seems reasonable to me.

With "Defending", everybody talks about Albert Brooks like he's a genius comedian so yeah, this could feel like a vanity stunt. The key word meaning "could". Despite the wandering narrative, hasty coda, and loose structure, Albert Brooks: Defending My Life has a certain whimsical flavor to it, with Reiner not wanting to glorify Brooks but rather celebrate his legacy via some languid, living funeral (Albert is doing just fine by the way). 

Call it a cinematic guy's day out. Call it a "look at me", new-found gimmick. Call it affixed phooey. I call Albert Brooks: Defending My Life recommendable. I don't "defend" any retractor who doesn't feel the same way. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Apex Predators 2021 1/2 Star


How bad is 2021's Apex Predators? Um it's well, genocide bad. "Apex" is a shark movie and the only reason why I gave it a 1/2 star is because the title sounds on fleek. Apex Predators is Plan 9 from Outer Space muck and it's in the "tank". Natch.

"Apex" is the equivalent of a bunch of buddies winning a contest to make a film with free reign. I mean how was that made possible? The special effects (pertaining to shark attacks) are nil and an insult to the audience. Forget that whole Hitchcockian concept because you basically get nothing, nothing I tell you.

Apex Predators clocks in at 62 minutes (the closing credits are an extra 8). It's pretty pathetic. The end credits actually feature all of the troupers and well, they aren't worthy of that accolade. Heck, the acting in "Apex" resembles a porno flick or some community theater BS. It's the worst of the worst.

The story of Apex Predators is a student film copycat of Jaws (beach goers get killed by sharks and that threatens a grand opening of a resort). Ugh. The only resemblance "Apex" has with that 70s vehicle is that someone actually says the word in a dialogue reading. Weird camera angles (that shouldn't exist) and abysmal editing a Jaws remake does not make. I wanted to shake out the ineptitude of director Dustin Ferguson like you wouldn't believe.

Filmed with a lens that suggests a low budget Cinemax pic or something captured on a camcorder, Apex Predators dares you to hate it, it really does (and I did). Its soundtrack just adds to the carnage, a loop of hipster guitar strumming-s, bad hip-hop ditties, and lousy synths. As for helmer Dustin Ferguson, well he should never be allowed to be behind the camera again. I mean if he wants to shoot home movies of his family and such as a hobby, whatev. That's his business. His "Apex" is the "crest" of fresh, great white dung. Pee-ew.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, November 19, 2023

One Night Stand Murder 2023 * * * Stars


2023's One Night Stand Murder is a Lifetime movie that wants to stimulate the viewer, as opposed to laying on the schlock or camp or whatever Lifetime-r hack David DeCoteau is cooking up these days (remember The Wrong Cheerleader Coach and The Wrong Fiance?). At 85 minutes, "Murder" ditches the gore and the bore and goes slightly for the noir, as some of the film's shots advocate luxuriant, eerie beauty. Sometimes well, that's sufficient enough. 

Directed by Brittany Underwood, a woman who has made nine flicks in about two years (busy busy), One Night Stand Murder is a whodunit that would make any addition of the Clue board game feel like Romper Room. I mean forget about that whole "Colonel Mustard-did-it-with-a-knife-in-the-library thang", this is much more staggering stuff. "Murder" places enough red herrings and masked tip-offs to power a small country, maybe Guam perhaps. 

The plot of One Night Stand Murder is simple enough, it's how Underwood thinks in fleet cuts that gives it an extra boost. A woman (Casey Waller playing the gulled Alyssa) wakes up in some rich dude's apartment with no recollection of how she got there. Oh and that same rich dude (Fletcher Doyle) is murdered, laying sideways in his king-sized bed. Alyssa must figure out what happened and piece everything together before she herself gets framed for the crime. It's all set to Waspy LA neighborhoods, where basements are nil, the countertops are sterile, and lavish floors are aplenty. 

So yeah, sometimes the acting is a little cheesy and sometimes the actor's appearances are even a little cheesier (the detective character in "Murder" looks like a soap opera rent-a-cop and the lead in Waller gives off a sort of Raggedy Ann vibe). Oh well. One Night Murder entertains by branding its Lifetime roots in a more discerning manner. It's "Night" visioned. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Ryde 2017 * * Stars


2017's Ryde is a "ride" worth taking maybe once (and only once), to see how neo-noir and grisly sadism can push that almighty envelope. It's like 2004's Collateral and Taxi Driver combined forces, but forgot that ample character development and/or diegesis actually mattered. I mean what was director Brian Frank Visciglia thinking, that he could put out an 84-minute film about ride sharing services and it wouldn't come off as hollow as an empty toothpaste tube? "Oh you missed the turn". Um, that's not all Ryde misses.

Distributed by Gravitas Ventures and shot in what feels like a week or two in good old Los Angeles, Ryde chronicles Paul (played with foul glint by David Wachs) as a psychopath who poses as a rideshare driver. His purpose (or lack of purpose)? To get his kill on via passengers who come off as rude, weak, or I guess, vulnerable. That's it folks, that's your movie, a sort of stylized snippet that would rather beget violence for the sake of violence instead of actually giving the viewer something of merit to gnaw on. I mean you could put any known actor in the lead role instead Wachs, be it Ryan Gosling or Tom Cruise or even Bobby De Niro. The result would be the same because Ryde's script by three writers (you heard me) doesn't let the audience member in, it just leaves them cold and outlying, like a passed out passenger (pun intended).

All in all, if Ryde were to provide any impact, it would be its effective look of LA at night, all darkened and slick and gleamed and well, skin-deep. And then there's the Jaws effect, where you fear ever getting in the water again or in Ryde's case, ever getting into a car with an Uber driver who may or may not be an evil slaughterer. Other than that, Ryde just feels like an exercise in wayward manner, remorseless and without any accord. It could just easily be titled Ryde and Die.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, November 13, 2023

Sly 2023 * * * Stars


Sylvester Stallone is one of the most famous actors of all time. And if you've never seen any of his films you'd probably still know who he is. 2023's Sly, well it's an outspoken documentary about Stallone's life, told chronologically from his rough upbringing in New York's Hell's Kitchen to his rise via franchise, movie stardom. "The rejection was my encouragement". Indeed.

So yeah, did we need a docu about the legend known fictionally as John J? Maybe, maybe not. You watch these types of factual pics and wonder why ultra-celebrated people would do them. I mean Stallone obviously doesn't need the money and he's already cemented his place in the successes of Hollywood. Sly's director (Thom Zimny), well he doesn't care and he's game, filling the screen with archive footage, present day rawness, and parallels between Stallone's former and current viability. The opening scene in which Sylvester is looking out into his backyard, talking about regrets and speeding train metaphors is a real doozy. Uh, I say that in a good way.

Distributed by Netflix and edited crisply and routinely as most documentaries are, Sly lets you hear from Stallone himself, the way it should be. He speaks into the camera, exposed and candid and well, defending himself (when he doesn't really need to). Sly also includes interviews from people that are part of Sylvester's journey, like Henry Winkler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even Quentin Tarantino. I mean I could've done without insight from some undisclosed movie critic but hey, whatever. I'm doing the same thing right now.

Bottom line: Sly is biting, well-made technically, and a sort of companion piece to other swipe about lionized celebs (remember 2008's Tyson?). Some could see it as a pseudo vanity project for good old Sly but I digress. "Sir, do we get to win this time?" Yeah you do.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, November 10, 2023

A Christmas Heist 2023 * 1/2 Stars


Watching 2023's A Christmas Heist, you get a strange, goofy Reservoir Dogs vibe I suppose, what with all the bank robbery and flashback stuff. Suppose is the key word because that's where the contrasts end. I mean there is a heist and the whole flick is told in past memory but it's all so lazy and uninspired, not neo-noir violent or witty or fresh, just doltish and playing for time. "Ho ho ho" humdrum I tell you.

Made on a shoestring budget, with weird camera angles, needless whip pans, and maybe 2-3 drab set locations, A Christmas Heist procrastinates ever so profusely (even at 75 minutes of runtime). Um, why does this film fail so badly trying to mix crime, heartfelt drama, and the funny? Heck if I know. And why have the proceedings take place during the festive season when they could've taken place at any time (or anywhere)? Beats me. Oh yeah, the title is A Christmas Heist. That's it.

"Heist" stars Thom Hallum, Tom Zembrod, and Lauren Molina, unknown actors that clearly needed the work. Otherwise no A-lister would touch such a jejune, "only looks good on paper" script dropped by writer/director Brett Bentman (Meteor: First Impact, Bull Shark). The premise is simple: Paul Wexler (Hallum) decides to steal from a financial establishment on X-mas Eve dressed in a Santa suit. But hey, things go wrong (don't they always) and Paul is trapped in said establishment with three weirdos until the cops show up via the sealed protocol.

"Heist", well it almost evaporates as you view it, having no reason for being other than to cheese grate the audience member into investing in a new angle via the plethora of tinsel movies that overload all things streaming. Yup, the acting is pretty bad, the look is fete, student film-ish, and the feel is hem and haw claustrophobia. Basically A Christmas Heist "stole" over an hour of my time. Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Never Been Chris'd 2023 * 1/2 Stars


2023's Never Been Chris'd is possibly a play on words through the film Never Been Kissed. Cutesy and well, well-played sir. "Chris'd" is also one of those Hallmark pics where everything centers around Christmas as if it's a religion and not a holiday (when it should be both). I mean the town that this movie takes place in is like Mayberry tacked onto a yule postcard, with enough coincidences to one-up The O.C. and enough off-center, in cahoots townspeople to give The Truman Show a run for its money. Hey it's November, that's when the gaiety starts for me, and that's when I begin to take in a few silly season flicks. With Never Been Chris'd, I was kind of thrown for a loop. Um, did director Jeff Beesley secretly put tequila in the eggnog? Maybe.

Spiked drinks and satirical science fiction aside, Never Been Chris'd is a mess of all things tinsel, toneless and without a consistent mood. Is it a romantic comedy? For the first half in which the attractive main characters act awkward, spewing dialogue that no actual human being would ever say with materiality. And is "Chris'd" a mid to heavy drama? For the second half yeah, as these same main characters go avoidably dark side with their feelings about life choices, true love, careers, bond, etc. 

With "Chris'd", Janel Parrish, Tyler Hynes, and Samantha Kendrick star as two BFFs and a high school crush who reconnect via X-mas in Winnipeg, Canada (the film's supposed shooting location). Simple premise right? It could have been had these three personas not appeared so wishy-washy, rattled, alienated from their families, and borderline bipolar. Someone give these guys a jolly hug. They are caught in a patchy movie in which helmer Beesley would rather send you into downer, lovey-dovey, love triangle territory as opposed to straight away warm fuzzies. "Never" again for Never Been Chris'd

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Fearway 2023 * * 1/2 Stars


The Fearway is one of those movies where you anticipate with bated breath, how it's going to end. In other words, where is the story headed? Why do the main characters drive around in a circle (that's not a circle)? Who's this creepy dude they call the "Ferryman?" And why is Eileen Dietz (the demon face from The Exorcist) featured in a millisecond cameo? Questions, questions, questions and "Fearway" holds you hostage for 81 minutes whether you enjoy what's on screen or not. "It's just not possible". Oh but it is my friends, it is.

You see, that's what The Fearway is designed to do. It wants you to think about it long after the credits roll. That's why the pic concludes abruptly, making you feel cheated for investing your vigor in its dusty, B-movie fodder. I mean I'm not saying I wasn't mildly entertained but I wanted more than just a snippet, a pitying horror snapshot if you will. I wanted an extra twenty minutes maybe, a way for the helmer (Robert Gajic) to let me into his "white nights" in the desert or his stagnant, time continuum. Just help me out and uh, don't leave my hanging bro.

Filmed in the middle of nowhere with possibly 1-2 set locations (Lancaster, California being one of them), The Fearway makes you snicker a little with its giggling title and its main leads who bicker like an old, married couple even though they haven't even been engaged yet (it gets annoying real fast). You see Sarah and Michael (played by Justin Gordon and Shannon Dalonzo) are driving down the freeway, venturing to visit their parents in god knows where. The problem? Well they keep getting sidetracked in Blair Witch mode, ending up at the same place (a rundown restaurant) while being followed by a demonic dude driving a blackened PT Cruiser (I need to get me one of those). The acting is palatable but a little flimsy, Gajic's streamlined direction is solid enough, and the afterlife, twist coda is a nice touch. Sadly, "Fearway" just doesn't provide enough true resolve and/or cinematic buoyancy to garner a recommendation. "Fear" factored.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Five Nights at Freddy's 2023 * * * Stars


2023's Five Nights at Freddy's represents a new breed in horror. It's almost like a horror drama if you will. Sure people get killed and blood is shed but there's a complexity to "Freddy's", a sort of non-archetypal way in which it goes about its business. There's child abduction and family custody stuff and oh yeah, mechanical, puppet-like bots who like to get their Saw on. Emma Tammi directs by adapting "Freddy's" from a video game (of the same name). She also digs up the body of The Romantics "Talking in Your Sleep" for added effect. "And I know that I'm right 'cause I hear it in the night". Uh-huh.

Shot in Louisiana and ready-made for the spooky season (that would be Halloween), Five Nights at Freddy's takes its time with the audience, reveling in setups and slow burn spectacle as opposed to just laying down the gore (hence the PG-13 rating). I mean if you've seen the trailer you'd think that you would be getting a straight-up slasher pic or snuff contrivance. Wrong. "Freddy's" is like a grubby version of a dramatic sitcom with a little food chain carnage thrown in. Yup, I see a box-office drop from "Freddy's" awesome opening take (78 mil). And I also see some bloodthirsty fright fans turned off from future viewings. Oh well. There's enough eerie, humor exaggeration and glow dim, 80s palate to at least garner a slight recommendation. "Where fantasy and fun come to life". Indeed.

Starring Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, and Matthew Lillard (who again gets his Scream fix via a twist ending), Five Nights at Freddy's is about a rattled thirtysomething who takes on a security job at an abandoned pizza joint similar to the famed Chuck E. Cheese. There, he encounters things that go bump in his night shift and a whole lot more. The performances are decent, the animatronics are kind of creepy, and the scare factor is sadly only abundant if you've lived a sheltered, cinematic existence. I'll bite. I mean I've seen schlock like Hell Fest and this is much better. Taking "five".

Written by Jesse Burleson