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Friday, June 14, 2024

14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible 2021 * * * Stars

LONGS PEAK

2021 had The Alpinist but it also has another movie about mountaineers. Yeah I'm talking about 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible, a documentary about a dude (Nirmal Purja) whose chief goal in record time, is to climb the summits of the world's 14 highest peaks. We're talking stuff like K2 and Mount Everest, yeesh! Now do you think Purja and Marc Andre Leclerc ran into each other or crossed paths when all this was going down? Maybe, maybe not. Heck, they're both manful regardless, looking for that adrenaline like the adrenaline junkies they are. 

So OK, do I think "14 Peaks" feels rather predictable, staged, and only to be expected. Uh yeah, it kind of has to be. Otherwise the film would be titled "12 Peaks" or um, "Almost 14". And do I think the pic's subject (Purja) is rather cocksure and self-serving in the way he goes about his business? Of course. Again it kind of has to be this way. I mean confidence is key when you're standing almost 9,000 m above sea level with only an oxygen mask to keep you grinning. "If I can stay alive, I can do this". Yeah you tell 'em Nirmal.

Distributed by Netflix, featuring interviews from legendary climber Reinhold Messner, and shot primarily in Nepal, 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible takes its formalized mantra and churns out a rather streamlined and numbing docu about mountainous Mother Earth and its horrific beauty. Kudos goes out to Chris Alstrin, whose striking cinematography has every frame of the Himalayas looking like it could be captured onto a portrait. Kudos also goes out to Nainita Desai, whose pitch-perfect musical score signifies a sense of deafening danger coming right around the corner. Yeah with "14 Peaks", almost everything is possible, even if you know in advance that Purja is gonna eventually reach his ascending, "Waterloo". Natch.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, June 10, 2024

How to Rob a Bank 2024 * * * 1/2 Stars

BANK ON

"Everyone on the floor". So says the late bank robber Scott Scurlock, a dude who robbed a ton of financial establishments in Seattle, Washington via the early to mid 90s. Hey Scott, I never did hear about you but now I'm getting a full education. Prosthetic facial features, a 9mm handgun, the nickname of "Hollywood", a nearly non-violent disposition. Netflix, well you finally sparked my interest, finally.

With interviews that stick from people who were there (the FBI, bank tellers, the po-po) and archives of Scurlock that will surely haunt your vested psyche (Scott's ghostly presence lingers long after his 1996 suicide), 2024's How to Rob a Bank is a documentary that is entertaining enough to make you feel like you're watching pure fiction (when you're obviously not). I mean when the subject at hand was obviously inspired by the antics of Heat and 1991's Point Break, well you feel like Scott is Bodhi and Neil McCauley on their collective high horses. "How does he just slip away like that?" Heck if I know.

Crime pics and voices of the dead begot, How to Rob a Bank moves at breakneck speed and gets away with reenactments and animation that would make other docu flicks seem pretentious by comparison. I mean why did Scott decide to involve his bewildered friends who were non-criminals by trade? And why did Scottie boy give some of the money from his robberies to his other buds who were in financial straits? And why did Scurlock get kicked out of school when he was a semester short of graduating while eventually becoming a medical doctor? These are questions and they seem interpreted as Scurlock's own method of wallowing in his cesspool of enigma. I'll bite. How to Rob a Bank is still one of the best pieces of redolent prose to come out this year. "Bank" on it.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Bionic 2024 * * 1/2 Stars

BIONIC WOMEN

2024's Bionic is maybe the only film I've ever seen that had to do with bionics. I mean I've never viewed TV's The Bionic Woman so um, there you go. Bionic, well it's farsighted sci-fi, made with just enough futuristic gadgetry and prescience that it doesn't completely overwhelm you. The story, yeah it's about two sisters who have prosthetic legs, vying against each other to compete in the famed Paralympics. In order to keep their sponsors however, said sisters have to partake in a life of crime and some strong-arm tactics. "I want to enter the game". Yeah you do. 

So OK, Bionic is slick and glitzy, a flick that minus a few updated gags, probably could have been released in the late 90s. Nevertheless, it's a visionary work made by a director who obviously did some previous homework (Brazilian Afonso Poyart). A little Blade Runner here, a little Strange Days, a little splash of Neill Blomkamp, a smidgen of Gareth Edwards. I mean Poyart is obviously a fan of all things speculative fiction. So uh, what does he do to add to the furor? Well he combines sports with violence and meanie malefactors, kind of the same way 1991's Point Break did it with surfing, The Last Boy Scout did it with NFL football, and Drop Zone did it with skydiving. "Every victory demands sacrifice". Yeah it does.   

Aping of ultramodern cinema, shafts of light, and Johnny Utah-s aside, Bionic is worth at least one showing for its solid intentions of trying not to be just another crapper in the $3.99 bin a la Best Buy. Objectives begot, you just have to get past the occasional bad dubbing, the cartoon-like acting, the erratic editing, and the shallow characters who are as cold as perhaps the science fiction world is itself. By "artificial" means. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, June 3, 2024

Beverly Hills Cop II 1987 * * * Stars

SPEED COP

Beverly Hills Cop II is about as sequel as sequels can get. But hey, I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I mean if you liked Beverly Hills Cop circa 1984, you're probably gonna like "II" cause well, it's basically the same movie. Eddie Murphy's Axel Foley again goes back to Cali from his Detective gig in Detroit, wisecracking and gun-toting his way into solving another case. In the first Beverly Hills Cop, Axel investigates an art dealer turned drug dealer. In Beverly Hills Cop II, Foley investigates an arms dealer turned robbery architect. "Would you lighten up and take some risks". Exactly.  

So OK, would I rank Beverly Hills Cop over Beverly Hills Cop II? Probably but as a follow-up, "II" holds its own, following the same blueprint as the first film but adding a little more flash and panache. Whereas the first flick's director (Martin Brest) opted for a slower pace and more concentration on a juicier screenplay ("Disturbing the peace? I got thrown out of a window!"), the late Tony Scott takes over the reins in "II", providing the audience with his signature fast tempo, scorched look, and glaring close-ups. The violence is louder, the lighting is harder, and LA is much smoggier this time around. "Are you driving with your eyes open? Or are you, like, using the force". Oh Eddie you slay me, you really do.

All in all, Beverly Hills Cop II has all the familiar cast members back (Paul Reiser, Murphy, John Ashton, Judge Reinhold), slipping into their fuzz roles like old, comfortable shoes. And the soundtrack like with the first "Cop" is tops, bringing back righteous ditties by The Pointer Sisters and good old synth monger, Harold Faltermeyer. So yeah, I suppose the only reason to not dig Beverly Hills Cop II is to believe it's worse because the initial Beverly Hills Cop came first. Get over it cause despite "II's" need to revel in all things facsimile, this "Cop" still "rocks". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome 1985 * * 1/2 Stars

HALF DOME

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is about as visionary a film as you can get. I mean it may not make it to the revisited big screen but there it is, a third installment in the Mad Max franchise that revels in dusty landscapes and mucky, grubby caricatures, all bent on fulfilling their arid, dystopian requisites. "Thunderdome's" story, well it's a murky one, something about a place called "Bartertown", where Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson of course) has to show off his "mad" fighting skills in order to impress "Bartertown's" ruler (Aunty Entity played by Tina Turner) to get supplies for his future endeavors. "Two men enter, one man leaves". Yeah you go Tina!

So OK, where would I rank Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in the Mad Max canon? Probably in the middle I guess. Just like in the most recent Mad Max flick (Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga), director George Miller decides to venture into the world of storytelling. Um, that's not his strong suit mind you. Miller is the master of stunt work, the guy who can create "birds in flight" action sequences with almost no CGI. With "Thunderdome", he provides this action but probably needed a better editor, someone to sift out the droppings of the slogging second act, where Max is befriended by a bunch of grubby kids inhabiting an oasis called "Planet Erf" (what?). This second act, well it zaps Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome's momentum, preventing it from having any real, suspenseful heft by the time the final chase commences (and you know there's gonna be a final chase). "I can feel it, the dice are rolling". Are you sure about that bro? Are you?

All in all, "Thunderdome" is not a total loss. I mean see it for Tina Turner's molten screen presence and her hit ditty during the closing credits. See it for the always reliable Gibson, who despite being less "mad" this time around, fits the antihero role like a pair of worn out slippers. Finally, see it for George Miller's inspiration, all funked up for the punk crowd literally strung out, and on the outs. Like 1979's Alien is to Star Wars, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is to well, Star Wars. Just take out everything pristine and unspoiled in this sci-fi sphere. "Beyond" control.  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 27, 2024

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga 2024 * * 1/2 Stars

BETWEEN THUNDERDOME 

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a dusty, fiery saturation of a movie, by which you watch it on the big screen, admiring its sizable canvas. "Furiosa's" story, well it's a prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road, chronicling the character of Imperator Furiosa (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). So yeah, "Mad Max" the persona is not in "Furiosa" and well, why would he be. I mean you're still gonna get that post-apocalyptic flavor, in spades and up your steampunk-ed gut. "Ladies and gentlemen-s, start your engines". Oh fo sho. 

Now is Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga one long action reel like "Fury Road" back in good old 2015? Uh not quite. "Furiosa" is more plot-driven and that might be its downfall. With choppy editing and an even choppier narrative concerning Imperator Furiosa's origins/childhood, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a bit of a slog to sit through, giving the audience a little road rage action and respirator masks in fits and starts. Heck, it's all so rather anti-climatic and nomadic. I mean a bare-bones digesis might have suited things a little better. "Oh, what a day... what a lovely day!" If you say so brother. 

Gasoline-smelling War Rig chases and dystopian soap opera antics aside, the best reason to see "Furiosa" is George Miller's style of directing. Yup, movies like Waterworld, Death Race 2050, and even Doomsday wouldn't exist without stunt monger Miller, as he churns out funky, nasty worlds with funky, nasty characters all leather-clad and reeking of petrol. George Miller, well he adapts handily with these Mad Max pics, going from late 70s filmmaking to present day stuff, basically shooting the same flick over and over again but adding a little more CGI and some three-dimensional camerawork. It's just too bad his Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is surprisingly a downer when it could have easily blown the roof off any screaming Pursuit Special. "Saga" novel. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Wages of Fear 2024 * * * Stars

FEAR FACTORED 

There are many people who might not know the actors in 2024's The Wages of Fear (I happen to be one of them). Franck Gastambide, Alban Lenoir, Alka Matewa, and Ana Giradot. Heard of them? Yeah well me neither. Anyway they star in a burnished slow burner, the type of flick that takes its time before it really gets going. "You have just 24 hours to put out the fire". Ouch, better get going. 

"Fear", well it has good intentions and does its utmost to make them stick. I mean watching the opening credits I thought I was expecting something straight from the annals of Brian A. Miller, all oiled and empty and cheapened without ample cognition. Thank gosh I was wrong. The Wages of Fear is a more palatable vision of what Miller might've concocted some 8-10 years ago. No Bruce Willis, no Jason Patric, and no Thomas Jane this time around. Um, full steam ahead as they say. 

Filmed in Morocco, distributed by Netflix, and showing the audience the type of pic Guy Pearce and Jessica Chastain would've done had they been hard up for that almighty paycheck, "Fear" is about a bunch of mercenaries who drive across a desert to deliver nitroglycerin while eventually trying to prevent a life-threatening explosion from killing a small town.   

Yeah "Fear" is all slick and violent and dangerous, the way 10-year director Julien Leclercq intended. Heck, he commits to every shot, building tension and disorder in fits and starts. So OK, ignore the bad dubbing (it's obviously an overseas movie), ignore the wooden acting by the poor man's Will Forte (Sofiane Zermani), ignore the fake, CGI fire but hey, embrace The Wages of Fear's canvased cinematography of dusty Northern Africa. Trust me, just take a whiff at what I deem to be The Road Warrior meets 2015's Sicario. Maximum "wages".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Saint of Second Chances 2023 * * 1/2 Stars

FAIR CHANCE

There are many people who don't know Mike Veeck (myself included). Um, where's his wiki page? Yeah it's nonexistent. Mike is the son of the late Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck. You know, the guy who brought a little person to home plate, made his players wear shorts, and was the innovator of the explosive scoreboard. Their account is told through the swift and refreshing lens of 2023's The Saint of Second Chances

"Second Chances", well it's more about Mike than it is Bill. It really is. I mean I was caught off guard. Hey I'm not saying that's a bad thing but it makes the whole viewing experience kind of one-sided, an uneven torch passing if you will. Could it be that Bill Veeck has been dead since 1986 and his offspring just had to get in the limelight, to right the wrong from his Disco Demolition Night miscalculation?  Maybe. Mike has dabbled in the eclectic ownership of Minor League teams for over forty years, vowing to get back to the majors with Bill Murray and Daryl Strawberry support in tote. "It could not fail". Yeah you go get 'em Mikey.

Filmed with grainy archive footage and distributed by Netflix (there's a shocker), The Saint of Second Chances is disjointed in its approach, painting itself as less a documentary and more a ninety-three minute vindication, avoiding the notion of obviousness (that's not always a red flag). Mike Veeck's personal and professional life, well it's on full display here, whisking you from one set piece to the next as it gives the viewer meager time to breathe. Go with it if you're pastime junkie-d. I mean if you're a White Sox fan (I've lived in Chi-town for 21 years so yeah) then it's worth at least one watch. Split "second". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story 2004 * * 1/2 Stars

MICHELLE, MA BELLE

2004's Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story is one of those movies that had to inspire Lifelock or Experian (or maybe it was the other way around). "Identity Theft's" story, well it's a true one, taking place in Denver, Colorado where new homeowner Michelle Brown (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) gets her identity stolen after handing over credit card numbers and other stuff to kooky rental clerk Connie Volkos (played with cocksure and lazy eye discipline by Annabella Sciorra). "You cancelled all your cards right?" Uh yeah, of course I did. What do you think I am, stupid?

So OK, why does Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story become so lean and mean in the first two acts only to descend into being some PSA, message flick that eventually gets robbed of having any dramatic momentum or inching tightness? And why does "Identity Theft" end up being preachy when its protagonist Michelle could have served up Connie a dish that's as cold as the frozen tundra (I'm talking revenge here people)? And why oh why oh why, does Michelle's boyfriend (Justin played by Jason London) act like nothing is wrong and tells Michelle she needn't worry about cray cray Karen-s too much? Heck, you'd think he was the darn villain for crying out loud. Yeesh! 

Those are good questions and well, I'm not sure director Robert Dornhelm would be willing to answer them. I mean I could email the dude but nah, screw it.

Public Service Announcements, mundane partners, and retaliation aside, Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story is the equivalent to a horror pic sans gore, in which one person is so relentless in ruining another person's life that they actually want to become them too. Ugh. Too bad scenes of long-term guidance, not needed manipulation, and sappy self-righteousness forcefully get in the way. Not so grand "theft". Sigh. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 13, 2024

Across the Tracks 1990 * * * 1/2 Stars

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Projecting itself as a sort of Vision Quest for the track world, where Brad Pitt is a more agitated Louden Swain, Garon Grigsby is a more kinder Brian Shute, and Carrie Snoggress is the female version of Larry Swain, 1990's Across the Tracks is a heavy-handed drama set in the more seedy areas of good old Shaker Town (that would be Los Angeles, CA). "No you will never be better than me at anything". You tell 'em Brad. Hey watch the Brad run like the wind. Run Pitt-ster run!

Directed by an unknown (Sandy Tung) and featuring track and field, dolly shots that are just fancy enough to suffice, Across the Tracks has Joe Maloney (Pitt) and Billy Maloney (played by Rick Schroder) as brothers/middle distance runners who compete against each other via rival high schools. Joe is the good bro, the firstborn, the dude trying to keep the whole household together. Billy is the troublemaker, the black sheep if you will, a guy trying to turn his life around after he realizes he has mad skills in the half-mile. Both are very different from each other and their brotherly love (and loyalties) get blurred through the other's drug use, theft, and veritable peer pressure. "Then how come I'm running the race today Joe?" Ah the irony. 

Never released in theaters (or maybe it was) and distributed by California Pictures (makes sense), Across the Tracks doesn't overwhelm you from a sports aspect. Nah, it would rather concentrate on family emotions and coming-of-age, character-driven slants, making the film the most heightened, rough around the edges Afternoon Special that's not an actual Afternoon Special. Pitt and Schroder, well they give raw, disciplined performances and after this flick Brad Pitt ascended to A-list stardom while Rick Schroder became um, Costco boy. Oh well. The presence of these two on screen will still be forever frozen in time. "Across" this board.  

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Vision Quest 1985 * * * Stars

QUEST FOR FIRE

My latest review titled Vision Quest, is based on a novel of the same name. For every single-leg takedown there's a tender moment between a high school athlete and his older, would-be girlfriend. For every Spokane, Washington locale there's a song by Madonna and/or Journey that blasts through the small speakers of your shiny flat-screen. "Quest", well it was something of an enigma back in the middle of the "Greed decade", for reals. Containing no known stars, groggy landscapes, and a single, meaningless climatic dual meet, Vision Quest is the little flick that could. "It's gonna happen coach, it's bigger than both of us". Indeed.

Directed by Harold Becker, a guy known for helming anything but the funny (remember The Onion Field and Taps?), "Quest" gives us the story of Louden Swain (Matthew Modine), a top-notch wrestler who attempts to drop 20 pounds (and two weight classes) in order to go head-to-head with the best in the state, Brian Shute (played by butch-meister Frank Jasper). Swain also along with his father, takes in a striking, female drifter named Carla (Linda Fiorentino) who he tries to get with romantically possibly blurring the lines of his ultimate, grappling goal. 

Vision Quest, yeah it's 80s machismo and 80s coming-of-age, a real sweat-hog of a movie. You can smell the lather of the wrestling mats, you can feel the destitute of the main characters, and you can hear the ripe soundtrack that's almost bigger than the film itself (it sold 1 million copies, no joke). Helmer Becker, well he doesn't just give you a poster child vehicle for the sport of arm drags, pancakes, and fireman's carries. No-no no he adds some romantic drama as well, fashioning what might be the second installment in the imagined trilogy of 1983's All the Right Moves. Double "vision".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Fall Guy 2024 * * * Stars

NO MORE MISTER NICE GUY

2024's The Fall Guy is based on a TV series from the 80s which I've never seen (but only heard of). For every bone-crunching brawl moment there is tongue placed right in cheek. For every blazing pyrotechnic there's a Steadicam shot that would make Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu kind of jealous. "Fall Guy", well it's a lavish yet emotionless, hollow spectacle, an excuse to promote auditorium hearing loss and uh, blow stuff up. "You're a stuntman, nobody's gonna notice you". Uh-huh, whatever. It's all fun and games till someone gets hurt. 

Directed by a former stuntman himself (Wisconsin native David Leitch) and attached with a budget of at least $150 mil (sort of makes sense doesn't it?), The Fall Guy chronicles stunt performer Colt Seavers (played with dumbed-down coolness by the especial Ryan Gosling) as he comes out of retirement from a life-threatening injury. Guess what, there's more. Colt also tries to rekindle his junior high-like romance with his director (Emily Blunt as Jody Moreno) and take on some bad guys who have supposedly kidnapped his action star who he stunt doubles for (Tom Ryder played with a certain snide excess by Aaron-Taylor Johnson). 

The Fall Guy, yeah it's an ode to Old Hollywood and on-set quirky, cloak-and-dagger. It's also loud, dopey violent fun, a movie-within-a-movie that doesn't take itself seriously because well, if it did we wouldn't quite enjoy it as much. So yeah, just imagine if Jesse V. Johnson (action monger) went back in time to helm 1978's Hooper. Better yet, un-imagine director Leitch, deciding to channel his inner Hal Needham as he whisks you from one set piece to the next fashioning a bare bones plot, mordant dialogue, and some wandering editing. Yup, that's The Fall Guy for ya so hey, load up on the popcorn and avoid those energy drinks. You won't need em'.  Ride for this "fall". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, May 4, 2024

American Murder: The Family Next Door 2020 * * * Stars

FAMILY STYLED 

"I tortured him, I rejected him". Yeah but does that mean you have to perish at the age of 34.

Anyway, some people (like myself) don't remember the Watts family murders that made national attention back in 2018. Taking place in Frederick, Colorado amidst the mountainous mold of suburban Mayberry, you have oil field operator Christopher Watts killing his pregnant wife Shannan along with their two young daughters by way of smothering and/or strangulation. Ugh. The Watts account is told in a rather expedient and totally revamped method via 2020's American Murder: The Family Next Door

"American Murder", well it's a streamlined documentary that apes stuff like 48 Hours, Forensic Files, and Dateline. Why? Because it can I suppose and well, everyone's a sucker for enthralling legal shows of the gruesome crime order. The only difference though, is that American Murder: The Family Next Door schleps the TV feel for coarse language, restrained use of the interview, and a little texting, innuendo. It also projects its events as convenient, sort of pristine reenactments that allow the film to almost play out like raw fiction (even if it's obviously non-fiction). I mean it's like director Jenny Popplewell is psychic, using restored, matter of fact archive footage and exact two ticks that trump the baseline of effective timelines. "We're not promised tomorrow". True-dat. 

Now did I like "American Murder" for its slow-building craft, riffing off the annals of all things Howard Stringer and manifest, mystery screenlife? Of course I did. I mean everyone tries to look away from a car wreck but hey, we all want to see a mild-mannered man turned calculated slayer get what he deserves. And does American Murder: The Family Next Door feel like it's playing its own imitation game as it tries mightily not to offend good old Keith Morrison? I suppose. But hey as they say, one "door" closes and another one opens. Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Mr. Mom 1983 * * * Stars

MR. MISTER

1983's Mr. Mom is not so much a lit comedy as it is an ode to consumerism, public inhaling, and the crux of the one and only Reagan era. I mean I remember seeing this film profusely some forty years ago, playing on HBO and/or Cinemax at various times of the day. You have a story about a stay-at-home dad of three, and as a ten-year-old I thought, well that seems interesting, way out, and kind of controversial. "Got two pair, we've got plenty". Oh you slay me Michael Keaton, you really do.

Directed by Stan Dragoti (of Love at First Bite and She's Out of Control fame), co-starring Teri Garr, and mostly shot in a suburban setting where suburbanites actually make fun of themselves (I'm not kidding), Mr. Mom is part satire, part light drama, part Joel Schumacher squib, and in the main funny. 

So yeah, you watch the main character (Jack Butler played with pitch-perfect dryness by Keaton) try to do the housewife thing after getting laid off from his job as an auto engineer. Whether he's failing miserably doing the laundry, not knowing how and where to drop his kids off at school, getting obsessed with soap operas, heating up a grilled cheese with a steam iron, and/or screwing up the grocery list, Michael Keaton brings a certain zaniness to proceedings even if his behaviors are a tad send up-ish and well, parodied.

Seeing Mr. Mom in present day, one might think it's sort of dated and gives the middle finger to social order or woman's liberation. Whatever. I mean does it really matter at this point. What counts is how entertaining and droll the movie is, a rather soil-like, 80s bourgeois conch that feels like the cinematic equivalent of an adult, Saturday morning cartoon. Alpha "mom". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, April 26, 2024

Pacific Heights 1990 * * * 1/2 Stars

CARTER HASN'T LEFT THE BUILDING

Making you think twice before skipping the background check, forking over the room keys, and taking in a complete dirt ball who doesn't bother to pay rent, 1990's Pacific Heights is a dusky, thriller drama that relentlessly works as a veridical, living nightmare. "I don't think you'll have a problem". Really? Oh think again Batman, think again.

Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox and directed by the dude that made Midnight Cowboy and Marathon Man (the late John Schlesinger), Pacific Heights has antagonist Carter Hayes (played with pure remorselessness by Michael Keaton) sliming his way into occupying an apartment from pushover, renter couple Drake Goodman and Patty Palmer (the rattled Matthew Modine and the more tranquil Melanie Griffith). 

Yeah it's all pretty vexing as Carter makes Patty and Drake's lives a living purgatory. I mean we're talking cockroaches and loud hammering and drilling and creepy guests and harmful nail guns oh my! Oh and Carter hasn't given Patty or Drake one cent as he readily plans to swindle them yuppie-style. What a bag and in '90, who knew Keaton could flex and easily turn on the nasty. Even when he's not screen (which is surprisingly often), you just feel his guise anyway. "This is my business, and I'm very good at it". Um, settle down Batman, just settle down. 

Filmed mostly in San Francisco, CA, with tenebrous hues, a sense of hinged confinement, and a knack for giving its protagonist characters the worst of misfortune, Pacific Heights lets director Schlesinger turn up the damaging, psychological screws with a little noir, a little barbarity, and a whole lot of squalid exploitation. Hans Zimmer's forewarning musical score, a slight Brian De Palma mocking, and camera framing that's a little Fatal Attraction-esque just make the flick even more of an effective, retro watch. "Pacific high". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer 2024 * 1/2 Stars

NATURAL LOW

Netflix is at it again. With 2024's Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer, it's another comedy special, with another cocksure comedian I've never heard of, doing an hour or so of unfunny shtick on stage. Yeah good old Netflix really needs to chill (pun intended) with this material. Let these nearly droll comics do some dogged one-night stands at Zanies instead. For reals.

Anyway "Natural Born Killer" clocks in at 59 minutes, with Jimmy Carr telling joke after joke after joke, all with some sort of ill at ease, sexual connotation involved. Director Brian Klein, well he films Carr from different camera angles, using the occasional colored flood lighting and obvious spotlight lighting (obviously). 

Now did I laugh or chuckle? Not really. Carr seems enthusiastic, informative, and deadpan on all things naughty. But his delivery, accent, and Gumby-like appearance here come off as rather forced, cringey, and well, pretentious. Jimmy, why the need to pause after telling a pun to get laugh approval from your crowd? And why the need to not move your torso one iota during the entire duration of your performance? And um, what's with the wearing of the 3 piece suit dude? This is a comedy show not Huey Lewis and the News coming up to accept a freaking Grammy. Yeesh!

Fixed music awards and borderline crickets aside, Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer doesn't do Carr a whole lot of justice. Instead of "killing" the audience with his so-called, iconic abilities as a funnyman, Jimmy Carr appears more like the poor man's Ricky Gervais, hosting an X-Rated version of the Golden Globes and bombing like the empty half pints at an Irish pub. The audience participation in "Natural Born Killer", well that's just a sad, filthy little bonus. Natural born killer of the "mood" is more like it. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Against the Ice 2022 * * 1/2 Stars

ICE ICE MAYBE

2022's Against the Ice is one of those cold weather movies, where you watch it from the comfort of your own home with a covering and a cup of hot, steaming cocoa. "Ice's" story, well it takes place in Greenland circa 1910, a country I thought no one in the world inhabited. You've got two guys (Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen played unrecognizably by Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Joe Cole as Iver Iversen), two against nature, trying to find a cairn over a 2000-plus-mile trek via some frozen tundra. "You never think you can't make it". Uh-huh, sure.

So yeah, why does Against the Ice not get into your central nervous system and stay there, like say survival dramas a la The Grey, Adrift, and/or '93's Alive. That's a good question, and I think only "Ice's" helmer (Peter Flinth) knows the real answer (I don't plan on emailing him in the near future). 

I mean why do the Mikkelsen and Iversen characters have beards that don't change their appearance over the span of being stranded for 2-plus years? And why does it appear that they haven't lost any weight despite food rationing and whatnot? And um, how come these dudes never froze to death for not lighting a fire occasionally in an autonomous territory with an average winter temp of -4 degrees Fahrenheit? 

Yeah I get it, Against the Ice is based on true events but come on filmmakers, make said true events stick a little. Mentally Ejnar Mikkelson and Iver Iversen are spent. Physically they seem fine, well maybe they just need a trip to the spa (har har). 

Resort treatments and dippy behaviors aside, Flinth's deft direction, numbing camera movement, and icy atmospherics nearly cut through "Ice's" shortcomings of a couple of explorers that seem Herculean and well, immune to hypothermia and good old sepsis. Turn your brain off at the door and you'll at least be able to handle one viewing. Lean "against".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis 2022 * * * Stars

"A SHELTER FROM PIGS ON THE WING"

2022's Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis is not so much a documentary as it is an elongated wiki page entry, a solid, elongated wiki page entry. "Squaring the Circle", well it's about an art design group from London that created album covers for famous rock artists. I mean we're talking Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Paul McCartney and Wings, the list goes on and on. "All that work has stood the test of time". Oh fo sho.

Directed by a dude known for music videos (Anton Corbijn) and filmed slightly in monochrome (that's black and white photography), Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis is shot chronologically yet at the same time, doesn't have a middle, beginning, or end. I mean you could watch this thing from any point, absorbed by how two art helmers (Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell) came up with legendary album sleeves that mostly didn't have anything to do with the bands or their catchy tunes.

"Squaring the Circle", yeah it's fascinating stuff, an earthy docu that warms you internally like soup. Don't think of it as a movie but a sort of incessant showcase. Case in point: why is a cow on the cover of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother? Why was The Nice's Elegy shot in the middle of the desert with red footballs scattered? And why does Zep's Houses of the Holy have a bunch of albino children hanging out at Giant's Causeway.

Like the stirring illustrations of Hipgnosis, there's no real structure here for "Squaring the Circle". Take it as you will. It's filmed decently however, mixing archives with interviews from Powell and Thorgerson as well as rock gods like David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel, and Robert Plant (to name a few). But it also plays out like the title of Floyd's 2014 entry The Endless River, myriad, profusion-like, and without peroration. Vinyl obsessives won't care either way. Repeating "circle".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, April 14, 2024

What Jennifer Did 2024 * 1/2 Stars

DID BAD

Few documentaries plainly ape TV shows like Dateline and/or 48 hours but here we are with 2024's What Jennifer Did. I mean when the opening few scenes have someone saying "my name is so-and-so and I'm the lead investigator in the case of so-and-so", well it's clear that What Jennifer Did's filmmakers didn't want to come with any novelty. And when said lead investigator also says "I was awoken in the middle of the night just as I was about to fall asleep", well the normality of hackneyed gumshoes just rears its ugly head. "It doesn't make sense". Um, yeah it does. It makes perfect sense. 

So yeah, what exactly was it that Jennifer did? Well real-life Jennifer Pan was an accomplice to murdering her own parents in Markham, Ontario, spurned on by a crocodile-teared 911 call, a lovesick disposition, and lousy interviewing skills (she really should have had her lawyer present). Like I said, What Jennifer Did is like a mediocre version of Dateline, lacking the tension, integrity, and nerve-ending mystery that that show has been giving us as a thirty-plus year fixture on the almighty boob tube. What's worse is that "Jennifer's" director (Jenny Popplewell) laces her film with rather sham cinematography, sham-like confabs, and some cheesy reenactments of stuff like murder rap newscasts and/or interrogation clips (like we wouldn't notice). I mean it's almost as if the true story events in What Jennifer Did didn't actually go down (but hey, you knew they did). 

Distributed by Netflix (what isn't) and clocking in at 87 minutes (gee that feels like the runtime of a certain episode of a certain crime streamer), What Jennifer Did is not so much a docu as it is a declared-in-advance malfeasance caper with a muted conclusion. "Did" more harm than good? Oh you betcha. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Inventing David Geffen 2012 * * * 1/2 Stars

KING DAVID

2012's Inventing David Geffen is an epic documentary, a garish mosaic, a celebration of life for a guy who's well, still alive today. Geffen (the film's subject obviously) is the GOAT of entrepreneurs, the Forest Gump of spanning entertainment. I mean he's everywhere and as that 1994 vehicle told us, is good at all things entity. "I have no talent, except for being able to recognize it in others." In David's case, a net worth of $8 billion dollars says that's okay. 

Directed by the woman that made the excellent docu about Steven Spielberg (titled Spielberg, naturally) and distributed by Direct Cinema Limited, Inventing David Geffen probes the vast accomplishments of Geffen's foray into being a record executive, a producer of comedies, a talent agent, and a film company founder. 

Helmer Susan Lacy, well she gives "Inventing" the feeling of being rich, textured, non-biased, and objective. She thinks in cuts, and although Inventing David Geffen might be a little long-winded at 115 minutes, most of its editing goes down as smooth as cold ice tea on a summer's day. "The art of the deal was his stage". You rock on David! Rock on!

Consisting mostly of archive footage spanning decades and interviews from mainly David Geffen himself (he seems so laid-back and congenial with his audience), Inventing David Geffen provides positive vibes and a little light ribbing from Davie boy's long-standing buds (Neil Young, Tom Hanks, and Cher to name a few). 

Geffen, well he never graduated from college, never learned to play an instrument, and never took a class on the art of cinema. Whatever. The Eagles, Elton John, Tom Cruise, and Grammy winner Clive Davis would tell you it doesn't matter. They've gotten rich off his observant ideals. Inventing David Geffen basically ignores the idea of being denied the American dream and kicks it where the sun don't shine. "Pioneer" well-pointed. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Runaway 1984 * * * 1/2 Stars

RUN WILD

Giving you the feeling that there's the occasional Velveeta plastered on the screen, Runaway is a vehicle that may appear hokey and chi-chi to some but ahead of its time for others (like myself). Hey, just grab a beer, a Hot Pocket, and some ZA because it's movie night, microwaved 80s style. Runaway, well it has never been heralded as a cult classic but you know what, it should be. For reals.

Distributed by TriStar Pictures in its first year of operation (1984) and directed by ER monger Michael Crichton who saw the future although mildly dated, and ran with it, Runaway is about malfunctioning, threatening automatons, guided missile bullets with names attached, and spider-like robots who kill people by injecting them with acid (yikes). Did you get all that cause there's more. You have Kiss rocker Gene Simmons as the evil Dr. Charles Luther, acting recluse Cynthia Rhodes as Officer Karen Thompson, and Tom Selleck playing new-fashioned Sergeant Jack Ramsey. Their perfect casting and mano-a-mano interplay in Runaway gel emphatically. "Clean, simple, and neat." Not entirely mustache man but I like your style.

So yeah, Runaway hangs in a kind of kooky, sci-fi world where AI is almost more pertinent and/or favoring than the everyday plights of the living. And as you watch it, you sort of realize that the filmmakers take the flick more seriously than any perceptive audience member viewing it. Oh well. Runaway is entertaining as all get-out, with a sprightly pace, a foreboding vein, and a musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith that will surely haunt any sensitive person's dreams. Crichton, well he combines action and the ultramodern to create a rather starry-eyed version of crawler, cops and robbers. His Runaway may not be as avant-garde as say Blade Runner but what is. Effectively "riderless". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Arthur the King 2024 * * * Stars

SHAGGY DOG STORY

2024's Arthur the King is yet another told tale about a man and his dog (or would-be dog). In other words, it's star Mark Wahlberg doing what he said in a recent interview, which is only concentrating on family-friendly flicks, made probably for his own FAM. I mean some of his recent stuff I could do without (Me Time, The Family Plan, really?) but Arthur the King is a keeper, a tear-wringer that kind of wrings true (literally). "We keep going. That makes all the difference." Yeah you tell 'em Marky Mark. 

Now do I think "King's" non-fiction plot thread about adventure racing over 400 miles in cruddy terrain is plausible in terms of its character's superhuman actions? Not exactly but I guess it did happen. Maybe the truth was uh, you know, inclined (no pun intended). And did a Border Collie mutt really follow real-life Micheal Light (Mark Wahlberg) and his racing buds through the near-entirety over some long-arse trek? In my heart I can't be certain but as they say in Hollywood, "it's only a movie", give in to the hokiest of navigation and the sentimental goo. 

Made on a smaller budget but you wouldn't know it (the lush locales of the Dominican Republic go a long way on $19 million dollars) and shot MTV-style but you won't really mind it (I wanted to yell "extreme!!" at the screen, for reals), Arthur the King hits the ground running as it packs an emotional wallop (pun intended). 

Cinematic manipulation and tear duct exploiting aside, "King" is uplifting, on edge, and gladdening, shot and edited lightening-quick by Brit director Simon Cellan Jones (The One and Only, Some Voices). This film is part human drama, part American Flyers fluff, part Road Rules ruckus, and mostly down at heel canine. "King" of arms. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, April 1, 2024

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago 2016 * * * Stars

"OLD DAYS, GOOD TIMES I REMEMBER"

Letting you know there's a sort of bitterness between members of a certain rock band, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is an exhaustive and extensive documentary about those guys with guitars and horns that have managed to exist almost 50 years via the entertainment biz. Clocking in at nearly two hours, "Now More Than Ever" takes Chicago's Behind the Music stint and stretches it out like crosslinked rubber. We're talking Behind the Music on steroids here, with profundity in tone, newfangled insight, and raw plain-speaking. "We were able to pretty much do as we wanted". Heck, with hits like "Beginnings", "Just You 'n' Me", and "Make Me Smile", why not.  

Distributed by CNN (yes that CNN) and using sands in the hourglass clips as a sort of metaphor, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago goes the standard docu route in terms of its sequential structure. It's basically interview cut to archive cut to interview cut to archive cut to occasional hourglass. Lather, rinse, rinse, repeat. "Now More Than Ever's" director (Peter Pardini), well he may meander with his style as he milks the near-lifetime history of Chicago for 113 minutes, all the way down to its nub. Oh well. As the viewer you're sucked in anyway, and as a huge fan of the band whose early stuff was the legend of my childhood, all I got to say is, "can you dig it? (yes I can)." Natch.

Having a kind of chip on its shoulder in terms of the interviewees giving the knock back to former Chicago brethren like Peter Cetera, Danny Seraphine, and Bill Champlin (was this really necessary?), Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago is not a perfect, factual transmission by any means. However, it does provide that unfeigned fix and evocative diversion for uber-Chicago junkies like myself. Made "history". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Brian Simpson: Live from the Mothership 2024 * 1/2 Stars

GONE LIVE

Few stand-up specials feature a comic you've never heard of before but here we are with 2024's Brian Simpson: Live from the Mothership. I mean when the guy in question (Brian Simpson) doesn't have a wiki page except that he's listed as a 60-year-old jazz pianist when you google him, well you wonder how Netflix got a hold of his smoke. "That's pretty darn stressful". Yeah Brian, it is.

Anyhow, "Mothership" is seventy minutes of Brian waxing about everything from racism to men/women contrasts to COVID and then back to feminism, being short in height, and female bod parts. It's done sporadically as all comedians do, jumping from topic to topic like a tranquil moderator at a candid debate. "Mothership's" unseasoned director (Baron Vaughn), well he shoots Simpson in basically close-ups, wide-s, and medium long shots, giving the film a glossy, TV feel. No intro flashback scene, no aerial of the city where filming took place, no fluff, just basic stuff.  

So OK, you're probably wondering if I enjoyed the potty-mouthed filler that is Brian Simpson: Live from the Mothership. Well I didn't really, for the simple fact that it didn't make me chuckle, guffaw, or snort once. I mean maybe if I was in the throng of happy-go-lucky onlookers, with a few free drinks supplied, a provided laugh track, and some gummies, maybe. But the problem here is Simpson and his snarky delivery of jokes. He'd rather patronize his audience and be somewhat upset with them than check his self-conceit at the door and give up the funny. Heck, Chris Rock is the comedian he wished he could've been (or will be). Sure Simpson is intelligent, insightful, audible, a good storyteller, and a guy who can be coolheaded on stage. But so are get-up-and-go speakers at high schools, kickoff meetings, and/or business symposiums. Jump this "ship".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Count Me In 2021 * 1/2 Stars

COUNT ME OUT

Few documentaries feel more fan-made and/or vanity-stricken than 2021's Count Me In. I mean when a bunch of drummers (who are mostly unknown) talk about other famous drummers as if they're in the same league with them, it feels sort of non-self-effacing and well, vainglory-like. "Playing the drums is fun". Yeah we get it dude so um, give it a rest. Overexposure kills ya.

Anyway "Count" is a rinse, repeat of archive footage spliced with interviews, all told about rock and roll/jazz percussionists who fueled the industry and made their mark. We're talking about dudes like legends John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and Stewart Copeland (but no Neil Peart, what?).

Count Me In, well it carries a clean and streamlined look and is not that badly made (that's not really a pat on the back). However, it doesn't have a middle, beginning, or end, and it's edited to the point of tedium while culminating in an annoying, ending rhythm session that lasts for only a couple of minutes. "Count's" rookie director (Mark Lo), well there's no real appreciation for the cinematic form here, and he'd rather let a bunch of B-list drum mongers jibber-jabber with mild insight than tell an actual story.

So OK, it's one thing to have a bunch of people I've never heard of (Jess Bowen, Cindy Blackman, Clem Burke) wax about their idolism hi-hatters. It's another thing to not include the actual band mates of said drumming idols. I mean this causes Count Me In to lack a little credibility and uh, leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Heck, if I wanted to watch The Last Blockbuster again I'd watch The Last Blockbuster again, another flat film about has-been actors who bleed nostalgia for that punchline of a video store. "I can play my drums all day and all night and, I love it". Good for you. Just do it in the privacy of your own home. Foolish "beat".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Road House 2024 * * Stars

LOW ROAD

2024's Road House is mediocre, like 3-day leftovers mediocre. It's a re-imagining of a 1989 film (of the same title) yet it lacks the blue-printed camp and revealing acuity of that "Greed decade", current cult classic. Basically the new Road House is a prime example of why Hollywood just doesn't get it when it comes to remakes. "No one ever wins a fight". You hear that Tinseltown? Do ya?

'24's Road House yet again shows that if a bar is doing badly and patrons are acting afoul, it's time to call in a mysterious bouncer to clean up the mess. Thirty-five years ago this plot device was fresh, cultish, and novel. Now it seems dated, like just an excuse for star Jake Gyllenhaal (who takes over for the late Patrick Swayze) to get his brawl on and show off his ripped soma. Gyllenhaal's Dalton doesn't do much bouncing, and yet he receives five grand a week for his character to pretty much mug to the audience and wax philosophically. Swayze's Dalton, well he did it better by rocking the occasional tai chi and not constantly explaining how he was gonna injure his bad, taproom ruffians. "I know who you are". Well at least somebody does Jake.

So OK, Road House isn't an awful flick, just a desperate and badly judged one, with a diegesis that's all over the place and three-dimensional fight sequences that don't represent the feel of well, actual fighting. I mean why "House's" director (Doug Liman) decided to dig up the body of his Bourne Identity contrivance is anybody's guess. Um, was he bored or just felt the need to be hotdogging? Either way his modern Road House lacks the bone-crunching simplicity of helmer Rowdy Harrington's original, where you put the camera at a couple of different angles and let the fists of fury, carnage commence. Yup, skip this newborn Road House and convert back to that late 80s curds. Rule of this "road". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Leviathan 1989 * 1/2 Stars

DEAD SEA

Watching 1989's Leviathan, you get an Alien/The Thing vibe, what with all those clips of creature mutation, persona durance, and slimy monsters coming out of people's stomachs. It's not really fresh material I tell you, and all the special effects, make-up magic by Stan Winston isn't gonna hide that whole "been there, don't that" feel. "What are you saying, Doc?" I'm saying that Leviathan is a mediocre film, recycled and salvaged and I'm no Doc.

Made on a limited budget, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and included in a wave of '89 flicks that fashioned that whole sci-fi, horror shtick (The Abyss, DeepStar Six), Leviathan builds its scenes to a slower-than-though creep, so when horrific images and violent skirmishes do occur, the tension is almost deflated. 

So yeah, maybe it's the banal script by two writers (David Peoples, Jeb Stuart) that despite its mild use of deep sea, geological psychobabble, gives Leviathan's actors nothing to do or um, nothing to really bounce off of. Or maybe it's George P. Cosmatos's (Cobra, Tombstone) sloppy direction and defective use of lightning, providing Leviathan with a blurred smasher of the action and a bogus sense of sending you away with your knees knocking. Or maybe just maybe, it's the sight of star Peter Weller as Earth boffin Steven Beck, delivering his lines like he's drifting out of some PVS coma while careening on set. "See you topside". Yeah whatever Stevie.

Along with Weller and some stock, science fiction gadgetry, Leviathan co-stars Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Meg Foster, and Ernie Hudson. Yup, the only thing keeping their characters from putting you to sleep, is the musical score glue-holding their rhythms by the always reliable Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith's stuff here is foreboding, modern, and dreading, acting as the Pine-Sol to polish up Leviathan as cinematic poo poo. "Sinking whale". 

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Monday, March 18, 2024

Cat and Dog 2024 * 1/2 Stars

DEAD CAT BOUNCE

What I learned from 2024's Cat and Dog, is that its filmmakers need more of a purpose than just servicing their art form. I mean you can have all the split screens, slow-mos, and bisection of animation in the world and not find an audience. Cat and Dog, well it's too violent and offhandedly creepy for the kiddies. And well, it's too annoying and tiredly dated for the adults. "Something's fishy". Uh, you ain't kidding. 

So yeah, Cat and Dog is a pseudo comedy I suppose and/or a harmless, slapstick action caper. This vehicle doesn't have much of a tone and it's one of those flicks where the people involved had much more fun making it than the viewer has watching it. Yes there are talking animals but their dialogue is as cringey as it is awkward (enough with the "can I smell your butt?" stuff please). And yes there are talking humans too but they act like junior high dolts, parading around like they're in some goofy, Laugh-In skit. Basically if Cat and Dog would just shut up occasionally and not constantly wink at the audience, I would've enjoyed it a little more. "Ma'am, you're cat is fine". Uh, can't say the same for Cat and Dog

Starring the likes of Franck Dubosc and Reem Kherici and distributed by Top Film Distribution (oxymoron alert), Cat and Dog is about a cat and a dog who escape from their cages and go on a quest to find their owners. Cat and Dog also involves a jewel heist insinuated by said dog's owner to cash in on a ruby red diamond. So OK, do we care about anyone included? Not really. Do we give a hoot about the outcomes of Cat and Dog's bonehead personas? Uh nope. And despite the fact that there's a lot going on in this movie does it evaporate profusely as you watch it? That would be a yes. "Woof woof" for this "dog that won't hunt". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 15, 2024

David Foster: Off the Record 2019 * * 1/2 Stars

SET THIS RECORD STRAIGHT

2019's David Foster: Off the Record is an overwhelming documentary that appears like an elongated checklist for the GOAT of record producers (that would David Foster of course). I mean for every moment of acknowledging Dave's startling greatness and distance-running success, there's more, almost two hours more. "Off the Record", well it feels like a celebration of life for British Columbia's favorite music exec even though he's still very much alive. Just ask Peter Cetera, Celine Dion, Michael Buble, and Quincy Jones amongst others. 

Distributed by Bell Media and directed by docu vet Barry Avrich (Beyond Famous, Woman Who Act), David Foster: Off the Record chronicles Foster's career through his childhood to his collaborations with Natalie Cole and Chicago to his personal life with his daughters to his composing of Broadway musicals. Avrich, well he gives "Off the Record" a glossy look, mounds of archive footage, and crisped, timeline editing that bounces from present-day to of yore fodder. I mean David Foster: Off the Record doesn't feel so much like a documentary as it does a highlight reel for Foster that might be shown at some awards banquet via a big screen projector. Hey, I'm not saying that's a bad thing but the conspicuousness is surely there.

So OK, watching "Off the Record" you wonder if it actually needed to be made. I mean everyone knows who David Foster is. Heck, the dude has won 14 Grammy Awards and has helped countless artists sell millions and millions of units. So why? Why? Is it to remind everyone that everything Foster touches pop music-wise turns to gold? Or that he's an absolute beast behind the recording studio booth? Or that he has a cocky air about him and likes to spew a few F-bombs (something people already have recognized)? Probably on all counts. Bottom line: David Foster: Off the Record is well-made, exhausting, and worthy of garnering your awareness as a viewer. But it's also a little self-serving, a little vanity-stricken, and attention-grabbing, things that an easy-listening, ditty legend like Foster didn't need to project in the first place. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Principal 1987 * * * Stars

ROUGH DISSERTATION

1987's The Principal is like an updated version of '82's Class of 1984. You know, stuff in which an educator has to work in a rundown school where gangs and druggie students run afoul. The only difference is that the latter ditches the punk element, doesn't feature Michael J. Fox, and is a little less demented. Take heed though, The Principal is still a metaled, razor blade of a movie, rough around the edges, remorseless, unkind, and unwashed. "No more". Yeah you tell 'em headmaster Rick Latimer.

Now I know what you're thinking, I'm about to proclaim "Principal" to be a cinematic masterpiece. Not so fast as Lee Corso would say. The first two acts are solid before the last 15 minutes bogs down into a flag-waving ending, devoid of being heavy-handed and sort of morphed into a sudden, parodied way of wrapping things up. Great. You got rid of the head ruffian at your grubby institution and you get to ride off into the sunset with your beaming chopper. But hey, there's still much more work to be done. Much much more.

Distributed by TriStar Pictures and shot in a portent vapor via Oakland, CA, The Principal stars Jim Belushi (as Rick Latimer mentioned earlier), Louis Gossett Jr., and Rae Dawn Chong. They compliment each other and give raw performances in a flick that would rather depict 7 school periods in daylight purgatory than hold your hand as a viewer. "Principal's" director (South Dakota native Christopher Cain), well he isn't impressed by Saturday morning sitcoms, senior Brad Hamilton, or all things Aaron Spelling. Nah, he shoots for the atmospherics and the unease, showing that "Principal's" fictional school (Brandel High) can be the unequivocal star while looking like modern-day Beirut. Beatings, ganja selling, and attempted rape oh my! "Brave it through a little bit". Uh okay, if you say so. Remaining "principal" balanced.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 8, 2024

Full Circle 2023 * * * Stars

AT FULL TILT

There are a lot of people who might not know the names Trevor Kennison and Barry Corbet (initially I was one of those people). Trevor and Barry are plankers who suffered spinal injuries and were forced to alter their lifestyles for better or worse. Their account is told through the tenderhearted yet partial lens of 2023's Full Circle.

"Circle", well it's more about Kennison than Corbet. It just is. I'm not saying it ruins the documentary but it makes the whole viewing experience a bit uneven and/or inequitable. Could it be that mountaineer, author, and former filmmaker Barry Corbet passed away in 2004 while Trevor Kennison is still alive today, slicing through the fluffy powder as a paralyzed sit skier on the go-ahead? Possibly. The only clips of Corbet are old archives that appear like snippets in an otherwise 103-minute running time. "But nobody knows Barry Corbet's full story". Exactly.

Oh well. Let's just appreciate what Full Circle does often and well and that's show what an amazing ski jumper Kennison is. I mean "Circle" becomes less of a discussion and more of a highlight reel for Trevor, as he can't feel anything from the waist down yet can do backflips and aerials that most regular skiers wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. "Let's go!" Yeah you tell 'em Trev.

Distributed by Netflix and only intermittently showing how paraplegics are able to go to the bathroom, procreate, and reproduce with someone else (some of it is a little cringey), Full Circle concentrates mostly on the stupendous, building footage of a debilitated hotdogger who flies through the air POV-mode a la a dragonfly. So yeah, "Circle" may wander as a vehicle whose intentions go from sweeping, sentimental docu-style to full on, summit apotheosis. Whatever. The effect is still pure exhilaration. Grand "circle". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Tremors 1990 * * * Stars

AFTER SHOOK

I remember seeing 1990's Tremors on opening night back in the day. It was one of those few January-released films that the critics and audience members actually embraced. Star Kevin Bacon dons a cowboy head covering and a southern accent, with signature long hair and Jerry Springer slant in tote. Country music singer Reba McEntire, well she plays a gun-toting housewife with an itchy trigger finger, some restraint, and a fetish for the automatic. Michael Gross, well he goes unrecognizable sans the Family Ties days as another foot soldier bent on giving the slimy antagonists the heave-ho. "That's how they get you, they're under the ground". You don't say Kev. 

So yeah, Tremors is a southern-fried Creature Feature, made for the midnight movie circuit in broad daylight and saddled with a sort of sun-drenched, Warner Bros. 70s flavor. Clocking in at 96 minutes, Tremors is also cultish and fun, as its viscid violence and quicksand perishing are only taken seriously when they have to be. Hey, below the surface wormy monsters can creep you out on occasion. I'm not kidding. 

As something about a bunch of Nevada townies who are forced to fend off desert life forms that adhere to the sounds of people walking, running, and talking, Tremors makes you chuckle one minute and cringe the next. That's the point right, for it's a black comedy horror pic, cloaked with the tongue in cheek and the tongue bitten off. "That's one big mother." Um, you ain't kidding my brother.

Slimy soft bodies and humorous tragedy aside, Tremors has characters in it that are quirky, likable, Mayberry types and not just selfish, faceless dolts just waiting for the tentacle slaughter. How refreshing, how reassuring, and how trendsetting. That's why I feel Tremors was the first scary pic to be devilish without being veritably apprehensive. "Shake and quake". '

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 1, 2024

Lover, Stalker, Killer 2024 * * * 1/2 Stars

KILLER ZONE

Giving you the feeling that it's just better to be catfished than having an actual person put you through the courting wringer, 2024's Lover, Stalker, Killer is a chilling documentary about failed relationships, the devotion to that lingers, some creep up on stature, and some would-be murder. "Never get involved with crazy" as they say. Clocking in at 90 minutes with a twist near the end and a malefactor dose of Middle America Americana, "Killer" sucks you in with its timeline diegesis that unfolds (and unfurls) like pure fiction (even though it's totally non-fiction). "A match made in heaven". Um, are you sure about that big guy? I mean are you really?

Distributed by Netflix and directed by a guy who's had at least 25 years in the biz (Sam Hobkinson), Lover, Stalker, Killer is about a real-life dude (Dave Kroupa) who while trying online dating, meets a woman who ends up scaring him for life (that would be the deranged Shanna Golyar). Yup, Golyar fits the title of "Killer" to a tee because she was Dave's lover, she did stalk him, and she was convicted of offing his short-term, other girlfriend. "You don't really know who they are". Uh, true dat.

So yeah, "Killer" is unlike any docu I've ever seen. Why? Because it's not filmed in the standard way and doesn't pretend to be. Helmer Hobkinson, well he'd rather use the actual people involved and not many actors, choosing to have the true story events play out as reenactments sans the camera just peeking in. It's all so diverting, perplexed, and fresh, like some drawn-out episode of Paranormal Witness, Dateline, and/or Forensic Files. The exception? Well Lover, Stalker, Killer has better production values, an eerier musical score, more inching tension, and more voyeuristic direction than the former. "Killer instinctive".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Wheelman 2017 * * * Stars

FREEWHEELER 

The wheelman in 2017's Wheelman is named the anonymous "wheelman". He is portrayed by Frank Grillo in a role that he was probably born to play. Grillo's style of acting is to appear fervent, raw, and rattled, like a dude who lives his life the same as a New York minute. In almost every frame of Wheelman that runs 82 minutes, Frank Grillo is like Ryan O'Neal, Ryan Gosling, and Steve McQueen. You know, guys with nameless character names that took the whip, did some hooning, squealed out of the garage like a mother, and burned a whole lot of rubber. "You just drive the car". Uh, there's more to it than that pal. 

Shot in Boston, MA with maybe one or two camera setups and lots of close-ups, Wheelman is about a getaway driver who on a routine bank robbery gig, gets messed with by outside entities who try to thwart his mission of taking the money to the drop. Driving a stick shift and armed with a nasty chip on his shoulder plus an AK-47, Grillo makes Wheelman take shape like a one-man show. He talks nervously on his cell phone, evades various bad guys, flexes his machismo, and shows off his mad navigating skills via a shiny Beemer. "Sit back". Yeah you tell 'em Frankie. 

Assault rifles and New England locales aside, Wheelman is shot POV-style with aplomb for most of the way. Wheelman is also lean and mean, noir-like, and darkly pulpy, a nifty little thriller that excels more in terms of modus operandi and agitation than overall story. Grillo, well he makes it as watchable as it can be until Wheelman's complicated plot workings of innominate, hoodwink mob types and unknown caller voices kick in. Then the film misses greatness only to try and "reinvent itself". Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Mike Epps: Ready to Sell Out 2024 * * Stars

SELL SHORT

A lot of stand-up specials always seem so generic, like some "now you see it, now you don't" cash grab. 2024's Mike Epps: Ready to Sell Out, well it clocks in at 61 minutes with little intro, a small Phoenix, Arizona venue for shooting, and mostly marginal laughs. "I know you guys see me in the movies, but the money's gone". Like I said, cash grab.

But hey, I'm not saying Mike Epps (the comedian featured) isn't funny cause he can be, just not in "Sell Out". Take for instance his 2005 outing titled Mike Epps: Inappropriate Behavior. That was hilarious as Epps waxed profusely on Michael Jackson, the TV show Cops, Montel Williams, and Judge Joe Brown. With "Sell Out" he regresses, talking about the effects of cocaine, getting smacked around by your girlfriend, the Will Smith "slap", and straight up infidelity. The material here feels stale and attenuated, only viable for maybe half the film's running time (the other half appears like filler). "You all know darn well I don't come here". Really Mike, I wouldn't have guessed it.

Gift of gab regression and goofy talk show hosts aside, Mike Epps: Ready to Sell Out is filmed in the standard way by director Royale Watkins. You know, how every comedy special is ever filmed, every time. A close-up here, a long shot there, a lateral everywhere, all while Epps does his usual shtick of prowling the stage. To say Mike Epps is off his A game this time is like saying snow is frozen water. It's just a fact as he's on and off the screen faster than a speeding bullet. Maybe if the vehicle was formed like 1987's Eddie Murphy Raw it could be something of value. Like add a skit at the beginning with real actors or add some interviews later on from actual audience members. That way Mike Epps: Ready to Sell Out would do more than just be you know, "selling out". Natch.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Four Falls of Buffalo 2015 * * * Stars

FOUR EYED

Four Falls of Buffalo is a 30 for 30 documentary of anguish and lost yearning. For every moment of light at the end of the tunnel, there is the pain and disillusionment of the Buffalo Bills losing four Super Bowls in a row. "Four Falls", well it's a downer but at least it's straight-from-the-shoulder as the interviewees speak without argument. Former Bills QB Jim Kelly and former Bills wide receiver Don Beebe are the Greek choruses here. One looks a little downhearted, the other surprisingly cheerful.

Distributed by Disney+ and directed by Ken Rodgers (producer of Hard Knocks), Four Falls of Buffalo chronicles the Buffalo Bills teams of the 1990s and how they won so darn much but just couldn't lift that almighty, Lombardi Trophy. Rodgers gives the docu that distinct, NFL Films look (obviously) plus archive footage and sound offs from battered Bills brethren.

Watching "Four Falls", you kind of wonder why it was made. I mean why bring up the sad past of stuff like "wide right", the forgetting of one's helmet via Super Bowl XXVI, or getting 52 points put on you by those pesky Dallas Cowboys. Could it be a cry for help for bygone Bills players and lifelong, present Bills fans? Maybe. There's just so much somberness and affliction in the faces of dudes like former RB Thurman Thomas, former DE Bruce Smith, and former QB Kelly (mentioned earlier). They're obviously not celebrating anything over the course of "Four Falls" and its 102-minute, fly-by running time. Heck, it feels more like they're attending a repast after a funeral.

Gridiron grievances and America's Team aside, Four Falls of Buffalo is crispy edited, perfectly narrated by actor William Fichtner, sort of arcane, and anything but self-effacing. If you're a Bills fanatic it might turn you off, as the proceedings try to glorify 2nd place by polishing that last-gasp, cinematic poop. If you're a football enthusiast and don't root for the Bills (that would be me), then you might feel the opposite, bewitched by why an NFL team losing the big game over and over again heralds a partial quandary. Take these "falls".

Written by Jesse Burleson