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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Inventing David Geffen 2012 * * * 1/2 Stars


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 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

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Legend of Billie Jean 1985 * * * Stars


The Legend of Billie Jean is a product of the "Greed decade", probably because it was made in 1985. It's in the techno soundtrack, the summer outfits, the mullet hairstyles, and that theme song by Pat Benatar that sticks in your craw. At 96 minutes, "Billie Jean" also combines the hero drama with a whiff of some depraved, Jerry Springer episode. "You like anything that's on the TV". Uh-huh.

Directed by Matthew Robbins, a dude that hasn't made anything since some music video over three decades ago, The Legend of Billie Jean is a movie cut from original cloth, void of any intentioned marketing by TriStar Pictures and nodding mildly to the story of Joan of Arc (1957's Saint Joan to be exact). 

Heck, I remember it like it was yesterday, seeing an advertisement for "Billie Jean" playing in some small, rundown theatre near my hometown in Michigan. Didn't care, didn't go and it was only when the flick showed up on cable that I began to watch it profusely. The Legend of Billie Jean, well it feels like a cult film even if it was never deemed a cult film (according to wiki). Initial box-office bomb (check). Never really accepted by the mainstream (check). B movie residue (check). Marginality (checkdown). What's left but um, audience participation. Uh, it's not that kind of a party up in here.

So yeah, the plot of "Billie Jean" is about a scooter. You heard me, a scooter. Some rich jerks steal it from a brother and sister via the trailer park neighborhood. When said sister (Helen Slater as Billie Jean) tries to collect money to have it repaired after it has been trashed, conflict and chaos ensue in the form of a shooting and/or fast getaway. 

Bottom line: The Legend of Billie Jean is entertaining, a movie of its time (remember when everybody dressed up like Madonna so the real one could have been an impersonator?), and the feature debut for one Christian Slater (no relation to Helen by the way). The vehicle predates social media, predates fifteen minutes of fame, and postdates the impoverished ways of sibling Bonnie and Clyde. "Legen... wait for it...dary."

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Players 2024 * * Stars


I'm not gonna lie, most romantic comedies feel dated (no pun intended). They just do. Take 2024's Players for instance. It appears like it's straight from the bin of the early-to-mid 2000s, when stars Kate Hudson, Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler, Katherine Heigl, and Matthew McConaughey ruled the roost. It's like the evolution of falling in love well, never evolved. "You're gonna go after her?" Not sure on that one honey. 

That's not to say that Players doesn't have a few entertaining moments cause it does. It's about a female sportswriter (Gina Rodriguez as Mack) who decides with her buds, to form a relationship via a guy she had a one-night stand with (Tom Ellis as Nick). Said buds (and Mack herself) do this NFL-style, with an amorous playbook hoping to rekindle the remnant love. The problem is that all the poop jokes, awkward dialogue exchanges, stealth stalking clips, and galling side characters keep getting in the way. I mean almost everyone in Players is in their 30s and they act like they're conveying junior high deportment. Ugh!

X's, O's, and callow besties aside, Players was shot in NYC almost three years ago and is distributed by Netflix (what isn't). And oh yeah, the film has a lead in Rodriquez that is adorable. Players also finds its footing in the last half as the nearly pauper, personas involved just shut up for a second and act human. What Players doesn't have however, is novelty or any kind of break with tradition. I mean when you can predict the ending about 40 minutes into a 105-minute runtime (girl gets guy but not the guy you think she gets), it's time to face "the ugly truth", stick to "what happens in Vegas", or look at "27 dresses" (if you're a girl of course). "Played out". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Best of Times 1986 * * * Stars


Yup, the Super Bowl has ended and I still just can't get enough football. What do I do? Well I decide to watch a hidden 80s nugget called The Best of Times. No not that top ten ditty from the band Styx, we're talking cinema here, Kurt Russell and Robin Williams as middle-aged dudes trying to get their gridiron on over a decade later. "Play the game again." Indeed. 

So yeah, The Best of Times was released in 1986 with little marketing and uh, little fanfare (no pun intended). It was a box office flop in its day, panned by critics who deemed it annoying and utterly predictable. Then there was the fact that "Times" came out in the doldrums of January with cheap-looking cinematography and an unwashed look. I mean it almost felt like I was viewing Tom Cruise's All the Right Moves on uppers (that's because there's a comedic element to it). Whatever. The Best of Times for me is compulsively watchable (I've seen it at least two dozen times). Maybe it's the nostalgia, maybe it's the wistfulness, maybe it's the fact that a sport with a spiraling pigskin will always be etched in my effigy. Who knows.

As a film chronicling two townies in Kern County, California who decide to replay a high school game they lost 13 years ago, "Times" plays as a sad sack, comedy drama about spousal relationships, getting the team back together, and blundering, underdog redemption. The whole thing culminates in an exciting, final football contest that's shot well by director Roger Spottiswoode (who would later go on to helm James Bond and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies). The humor is dry here, the characters are either moody or quirky buffoons (especially Williams as banker turned wide receiver Jack Dundee), and the field is morbidly turbid. If you're grieving the end of the NFL season and need to get that red zone fix, go on YouTube or order on Amazon. That's probably the only way to clap eyes on The Best of Times. All for the "best".

Written by Jesse Burleson   

Friday, February 9, 2024

99 Homes 2014 * * 1/2 Stars


2014's 99 Homes is directed by under the radar guy Ramin Bahrani. As a film about real estate and cataclysmic abode foreclosures, 99 Homes shows that Bahrani did his research, aided by two other writers to pen a rather minute script. "I didn't kick you out the bank did". Ouch.

Taking place in Orlando, Florida amidst the blue collar haze of sunny suburbia, 99 Homes starts off without a hitch, thrusting you into its world of evictions in broad daylight and emotionless brokers who carry them out. "Homes" also shows the pain the evicted families go through and how the cold courtrooms fail to fully listen to them plead their cases. In 99 Homes the world is a downtrodden rat race and um, no one's getting a medal.

"Homes" stars Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, and Laura Dern. All three give raw performances and they almost come off as anti-heroes or well, turned villains. Shannon plays Rick Carver, a real estate operator who evicts Dennis Nash (Garfield) and Nash's mother (Lynn Nash played by Dern) from their foreclosed pad awaiting a 30-day appeal. What does Dennis do? Well he goes to work for Carver, being his errand boy and assistant, literally turning into Carver while steadily getting his fam out of debt. 99 Homes, well it is edited briskly and cut feverishly, growing into an eye-opening array of all things "flip or flop". "When you work for me, you're mine". Oh boy.

Human sea changes aside, 99 Homes works as an intense, bruising character study about property owners and their business-like, bullet pointy presentations. As a narrative however, "Homes" feels a little unfinished, as if the line producers told helmer Bahrani that his shooting schedule was finished and he had maybe one day to wrap things up. The proof, well it's in the movie's hasty coda, a gun-toting standoff between Garfield's Nash and a disgruntled dude about to lose his one floor accommodation. Halfway "house".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 5, 2024

Wildcats 1986 * * * Stars


The NFL football season is about to wind up and since there's a week break between now and the big game (that would be the Super Bowl), I decided to revisit 1986's Wildcats. With Wildcats, you get a perfectly cast Goldie Hawn and glimpses of the first film roles of Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. "It's the sport of kings, better than diamond rings". Oh you know it.

So yeah, Wildcats is that 80s flick that never quite gained a comedy cult following. I mean just to be sure I checked its wiki page. Whatever. It has a following with me since I've seen it 50 or so times in the last 38 years via its release. The late Michael Ritchie directs and he never made his sports films go down easy (remember The Bad News Bears?). Ritchie likes his characters to be abhorrent and potty-mouthed, his tone to be racy, and his underdog story to be dejecting. He's like Ron Shelton without the glitz and glitter, driven to have victory come straight out of the impurity. 

As something about a female football coach (Hawn as Molly McGrath) who gets to fulfill her lifelong dream of heading a varsity team from the wrong side of Chicago, Wildcats has foul one-liners, conventionally-shot yet decently-edited gridiron scenes (which I'll let slide), and a moxie with a certain chip on its shoulder. There's also a side plot about McGrath maybe losing custody of her kids to her irksome husband (Frank Needham played by James Keach). 

All in all, the movie is harmless and entertaining yet you nervously laugh at its antics, wondering if your induced laughter is righto (and mine is). Now could Wildcats be made today? Maybe, maybe not. Certain stuff would be left on the cutting room floor, like the nudity locker room scene complete with helmets attached to the you know whats. And does Wildcats give you those feminist, right-wing vibes? Not really. Goldie Hawn's persona is just a darn good XS and OS girl, period. Top "cat". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, February 2, 2024

Circle 2015 * * 1/2 Stars


2015's Circle represented a new breed of horror almost ten years ago. Even seeing it now for the first time I was taken aback. Fifty people who are virtual strangers are held captive in God knows where, standing on platforms, unable to move, and being offed one by one by way of the other's vote. So yeah, if you like a Saw and/or The Menu wannabe that kind of holds back on the bloodshed, then Circle will at times creep you out with its remorselessness and uh, lack of fellowship with. "Stop, don't move. They can see us". Yeesh!

No actual flashback, one set location, and characters that bicker back and forth like in a Real Housewives reunion show, Circle is a rinse, repeat of mere mortals biting the dust by way of some lightning-like, electric beam. Ugh. I mean it happens a lot, going on and on until 3 are left. Heck, you never see the antagonist, just some dome acting as murderous Big Brother every few minutes or so. Man it must stink to get drugged and kidnapped in sunny LA (the film's concealed setting).

So OK, is Circle well-acted despite its cast of surly unknowns? I think so. A lot of dialogue-driven scenes crackle and are raw regardless of a script by two writers that sort of recycles itself. And does Circle unfortunately leave the viewer with a plot containing a few dangling loose ends? Oh fo sho. Why are the men and women (good and bad) getting killed in an order that comes off more as a conundrum than a solution? And what's with the ending that is murky and not left behind for enough interpretation? And uh, why are these people even being held as internees by some evil Oz behind the curtain in the first place? Questions, questions, questions. So much for coming full "circle".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The Greatest Night in Pop 2024 * * 1/2 Stars


2024's The Greatest Night in Pop represents the biggest stars in the music industry getting together to record the single, "We Are the World". You could say it was a surreal experience back in 1985, seeing Michael Jackson and Kenny Rogers and Huey Lewis and Diana Ross you know, just hanging out. If you're a sucker for nostalgia (and I am) and were born in the 70s (and I was), The Greatest Night in Pop will take you back, back to a simpler time. "But if you just believe there's no way we can fall". Indeed. 

Some archived moments here, some interviews there, Lionel Richie everywhere, The Greatest Night in Pop has the camera peeking in, capturing singing icons for the first time as normal people (with normal psyches). I don't know how "Pop's" director (Bao Nguyen) got this long-lost footage or why it was kept in the vault for so long but hats off to him. The first half of The Greatest Night in Pop is exhilarating, longing in how its timelines of LA in January lead up to everybody getting together to record a song benefiting African famine relief. I mean even if you remember what went down almost 40 years ago (and I do) and even if you've heard "We Are the World" 100 times (and I have), the annals in "Pop" still feel fresh and new, like visiting an old friend or uh, absent relative. 

So OK, what's the downside to viewing The Greatest Night in Pop (I waited for the last paragraph to throw down the downside)? It's simple really, the documentary is too long and well, runs out of wiggle room. I mean the singers come into the studio right after the American Music Awards to record. Great. Looks there's Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder and oh my, Tina Turner. Fabulous. Then "Pop" shows them taking 6 or so hours to complete their vocals, looking exasperated at 5 am, mumbling to each other, and feeling darn knackered. Um, that's not a movie, that's just docketed material for filler, not giving the audience member anything to really latch on to. Heck, you're simply better off watching the 52-minute making of "We Are the World" via YouTube. It's leaner, meaner, and makes the rock legends look more streets ahead. "Greatest" lower bound. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 27, 2024

The 35th Annual Notre Dame Student Film Festival, January 26-28th, 2024

I've been covering the Notre Dame Student Festival on and off since 2014. Here are some of the highlights from this year along with favorable ratings. 

After the Race * * * Stars

-It's about race dogs who after competing, find solace in a pooch retirement home that's run for non-profit. If you like furry, hounds in their golden years (most people do), then After the Race will make you feel somewhat misty-eyed and agog before cutting to its teeming, Alaskan landscape. A type of mores that I've never been accustomed to before. 

A Dash of Paper & A Pinch of Spice * * * Stars

-Two people that have different forms of OCD, establish a sort of romantic relationship as one helps the other out. A Dash of Paper & A Punch of Spice may be a short at just under four minutes but it gets to the point. The two characters don't say anything but they make tender magic, transmitting their obsessions through the melodious background music. 

Bajo El Sol * * * Stars

-Street vendors in Southern California chronicle their hard-working day, selling snow cones and other tasty treats. Bajo El Sol is hazily shot low to the ground, and although its look is sunny and earthy, its subjects seem to have futures that don't appear so bright. Real and well, unfeigned.

Three Hands * * * Stars

-It's about four women playing poker and having a cocky air, with one of them eventually trying to hustle the other. Three Hands is ambitious, suggestive filmmaking, with swift editing, a lurid script, great use of the overhead shot, a rhythmic techno soundtrack, and solid, epigrammatic acting. "Hands up!"

Island Zero * * * 1/2 Stars

-Low camera angles, peeking-in discussions amongst townspeople, and winsomely dense cinematography inhabit Island Zero, a 12-minute documentary about the erosion of a tiny piece of land via the Chesapeake Bay. The mayor of said land acts as narrator and a sort of Greek chorus, offering his two cents while the area around him eventually looks as though it might turn into the landscape of Waterworld. This year's best entry at the ND film fest. 

Confishion * * * Stars

-Confishion is a quirky, kind of darkly comedic short about a woman who accidently kills her friend's fish (said friend just happens to be a priest). Good use of a single zoom shot and good use of a single flashback, Confishion is fun and rather outre. As the viewer you nervously laugh at what goes down. "Clown fish". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 26, 2024

Calibre 2018 * * * Stars


"Go to the police? It will be considered murder". So says the character of Marcus in 2018's Calibre. He's probably right you know. I mean two strangers are dead and two other strangers who they came in contact with are alive. Bodies are moved, weapons are confiscated, no self-defense, crime scene is abandoned. Um, do the math.

Anyway movies like Calibre suck me in, they just do. We're talking swipe about ordinary people that unluckily commit an offense and find themselves tirelessly trying to get away with it. It's like a nightmare that well, you can't believe is happening. Calibre as a film combines the intense malfeasance aspect with beautiful cinematography a la the mountains of Scotland, UK. Its director (Matt Palmer) boasts a lot of tracking shots, medium shots, and wide-s via good old Jock country. Heck, he probably also saw A Simple Plan or even '72's Deliverance for some taut inspiration.

So yeah, here's the gist of Calibre: two childhood buds go on a hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands. Trip goes bad (har har) when one of them accidentally kills a human instead of a deer. Then said buds have to deal with the Mayberry townspeople when they get back to their hotel. These townies, well they're very prying blokes, asking questions and forming their own snarky, vigilante mob.

Animal stalking and boyhood besties aside, Calibre is a gnawing tort of a flick, intriguing, fiercely well-acted, and directed with a rather suppressed barbarity by Matt Palmer. I mean it mostly works until you realize that there are no law enforcement personas around. Nada, just these Scottish, denizen inmates who are clearly running the asylum (clearly). Improbable? Yeah, could be from a viewer standpoint. Advocated by this critic? Not entirely but I'm still recommending the thriller genre-recycled Calibre. "Livened ammunition".

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 22, 2024

Sixty Minutes 2024 * * * Stars


"I can't right now, I've got a fight". Yeah you do, with the opposing fighter and every other ruffian looking to come to blows. Somebody give this dude a time out. Stat!

Anyway, Sixty Minutes is an action movie in every sense of the word. I mean every character in it knows how to brawl, as if Chuck Norris arrived on set as some AARP advisor. "Minutes" is also a race-against-time flick, as shown in its simplistic title. You put the two genres together and you've got some rock 'em, sock 'em thriller that doesn't always concur with the timelines, but never leaves you unoccupied or veritably out in the wind. 

So yeah, Sixty Minutes was shot and takes place in Berlin, Germany yet no one speaks a lick of German or has any type of German accent. Incongruous but um, I'll let it slide. I mean few films have the urgency and/or bone-crushing voyeurism of "Minutes", a non-stop rinse, repeat of loud fistfights then payoff, then loud fistfights then payoff. Yeesh! Just imagine if directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie teamed up with martial arts guru Scott Adkins. In other words, what if 2017's Good Time and 2018's Accident Man had a cinematic tyke. That's what you'd get with Sixty Minutes. "This is bigger than you think". Indeed. 

Edited lightning-quick, with a fierce techno soundtrack and personas with nasty dispositions, Sixty Minutes is about an MMA fighter (Emilio Sakraya as Octavio Bergmann) who throws a fight in order to be with his daughter on her birthday. Here's the rub: he's got 1 hour to get to said daughter or he'll lose sole custody of her (ouch, pun intended). Meanwhile mobsters who bet on his rumpus, are out to get him at every turn. It's like James Bond gadget-free but without the notion of death involved.

Bottom line: Sixty Minutes is one of those films where the main persona is put in a nonviable situation with little hope in sight. Howbeit, every little plot element of incessant furor seems to work out in the end, for better or worse. "Minute made". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, January 19, 2024

Snowmageddon 2011 * * Stars


What I learned from 2011's Snowmageddon, is that a disaster movie can still be low-budgeted and have those cheesy, tangible Syfy special effects. I mean when something explodes in this flick, it looks like firecrackers going off or "Yo Yo" sparklers instead of an actual rumble. You sort of snicker even though overt devastation is truly at hand. 

Anyway here is the gist of Snowmageddon: a small, postcard-like Alaskan town becomes the target of natural disasters after one of its families receives a gifted snow globe on their doorstep. You see whatever happens inside the globe, happens in the town (wha??). We're talking avalanches, meteor-like hail, and large, geological fault lines. Ugh. I guess the household characters in Snowmageddon never saw 1984's Gremlins. I mean you never take home and/or open up a Xmas present that has an obvious admonition attached to it. 

So yeah, Snowmageddon takes itself real seriously even though it's hard for the audience member to do the same. But as mentioned in the first paragraph, it is indeed a disaster pic, carrying those disaster traits we've all grown familiar with. You know the concept of half the personas trying to stop the disaster and the other half just trying to survive. Then you've got the large cast, the weird climate changes, the fact that even good people die, the dreaded hate sink character, and the made-for-TV stuff. Um, somewhere Chief O'Hallorhan is quipping, "it's out of control, and it's coming your way". Oh fo sho. 

All in all, Snowmageddon isn't a bad movie in terms of the energy it brings. I mean it's earnest in its execution, piloting lots of action and jumpy suspense that never let up. The problem is that in all its earnestness, Snowmageddon's director (Sheldon Wilson) gets sloppy with the storyboarding and/or editing processes. In certain clips, the Alaska town featured has a ton of snow on the ground and a minute later, it looks like it's 50 degrees out (huh?). Then there's the notion of how the main characters never reveal how they got from point A to point B or how "this" led to "that" in terms of them being in peril. Helmer Wilson, well he cuts corners, not doing enough do justice with Snowmageddon's within reach cogency or meager, allocated spreadsheet. Mixed "snow job".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Night Swim 2024 * * 1/2 Stars


Mostly known for shorts, Bryce McGuire directs the pseudo Hitchcockian Night Swim. With "Swim", McGuire initially uses every camera angled frame to signal a little danger coming right around the corner. The pool (and you knew there was gonna be a pool) is the unequivocal star. "Marco, Polo". Uh-oh, you know what that means. 

Night Swim, well let's put it into perspective. It's like watching '82's Poltergeist but the lido and only the lido is the source of all the creepiness and chaos. Every scene has a wet n' wild, systematic jump scare to it. Every overhead shot of the deep and shallow end is neatly placed. Every dewy-eyed persona just has to go in the water (of course, otherwise there'd be no movie). Every pool drain (and human) seems to cough up a lot of black guck. Yuck!

"Swim", yeah it's kind of effective in its first and second act. We're talking a rinse, repeat cycle of all the antagonistic duppies constantly messing with the characters as opposed to just getting it over with and ending them. Very modus operandi if I do say so myself. 

And as mentioned in the first paragraph, Night Swim does have a little Hitchcockian flavor to it. Case in point: there is a cinematic twist near the end, a sort of mumbo jumbo take on possession, wishing wells, and all out, soul sacrifice. The problem is that it mostly seems far-fetched and almost contrived. I mean by the last half hour, "Swim's" plot about a roving family who buys a house with a cursed pool literally turns all wet (pun intended). A miscast Wyatt Russell as an aging, MLB player dad (really?), clips that are supposed to freak you out but turn funny, and a 70s, TV look doesn't make things any more palatable. Mixed "night vision". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Snowbound 2017 * 1/2 Stars


2017's Snowbound is definitely about the snow, what with all the overhead shots and caps of an icy, wintry wonderland. Too bad the film is also about being a lousy version of Saw, where people awaken in an unknown area and don't know how they got there. Oh and some evil dude is involving said people in a deadly game of survival. Snowbound's opening scene, well it's a revealing doozy. The main characters are naked, lying in frozen water vapor after being drugged and knocked out for the entire night. Director Olia Operina obviously didn't think things through however. I mean everyone would've been dead from some form of hypothermia, guaranteed. 

Distributed by Lighthouse Home Entertainment, having a coda that runs out of wiggle room, and containing a lot of pretentious, thriller mumbo jumbo, Snowbound establishes tension early on only to have it dissipate into momentum-free flashbacks and bad acting from a villain that's got a real hard on for voodoo dolls. Helmer Operina, well she puts her personas in a cabin via the middle of nowhere. They don't know each other from Adam and find a dead girl (also naked) upstairs. They must figure out who killed her and kill one of each other or they'll all be killed. Uh, was Tobin Bell in on the production meetings? 

In retrospect, Snowbound has a decent look but it's obviously low budgeted. I mean it's evident in the sparse set locations, the casting of unknown actors, and the lack of blood and butchery. Olia Operina could've taken these constraints and left you with your knees knocking but I digress. She isn't interested in creeping you out or baiting the suspense out of you. No Olia would rather take Snowbound and make it assertively avant garde and/or something art house. Um, only Stanley Kubrick was able to pull that off with Jack Nicholson sweetie. "Snow blind". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Trees Lounge 1996 * * 1/2 Stars


Brooklyn native Steve Buscemi made his directorial debut with 1996's Trees Lounge. And ever since, he has made a few more films as well as helming some episodes of TV shows (Love, The Sopranos, Oz). With "Lounge", Buscemi takes on the lead too, playing alcoholic and unemployed car mechanic Tommy Basilio. Steve's Tommy acts as a sort of Greek chorus but hey, the bar remains the star. "It's a good deal, it's a good deal for me!" Maybe Stevie, maybe.

Trees Lounge, well it's like watching '87's Barfly minus that flick's gritty one-liners, revealing irony, and overly soiled look. Nevertheless, almost every public face is aggressive, every barkeep agitated, every half-drunkard unintelligible. No one's future looks that bright and well, Buscemi uses "Lounge's" shooting locations (which appear to be NYC boroughs) as a way of swallowing his personas up whole. You can just smell the stale lager, the salty Beer Nuts, and the aroma of a rye shot of Wild Turkey. Believe that. 

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Steve Buscemi is the director/star of Trees Lounge but he also mysteriously invites a bunch of non-visible, known actors to fade in and out of his tied house vision. We're talking Carol Kane, Seymour Cassel, Samuel L. Jackson, Mimi Rogers, and Michael Imperioli (to name a few cause there's more). They're on and off the screen faster than a speeding bullet and you wonder, are they doing Buscemi a favor by filling the 95-minute running time with meaningless cameos or are they just his buds. Heck, I found the whole viewing experience here to be rather untypical and kind of disunited. 

All in all, Trees Lounge is well-directed and well-acted. It establishes the atmosphere of a shabby Cheers where everybody knows your name and well, where your worn out barstool is. The problem is that the flick intentionally wades in despondency, establishing itself as a strict character study about lushes that despite a few, witty/sarcastic moments, never goes anywhere. Departure "lounge". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Bitconned 2024 * * * Stars


2024's Bitconned is a fascinating documentary about three dudes who scammed the American public through cryptocurrency. How'd they do it? Well they did it through a fake company called Centra Tech. I mean I didn't know much about the concept of digital tokens but director Bryan Storkel gave me the tech-y lowdown. Obviously there are no judgments here.

Robert Farkas, Sohrab Sharma, and Ray Trapani are the real-life con men who after getting caught, seem to hate each other. I'm not surprised. Giving up your co-workers by ratting them out to lighten your sentence, can tick off certain people running a pseudo business. At 93 minutes, Bitconned appears like a vanity project for these boys to sort of heighten their criminal fame (especially in regards to one Ray Trapani). Whatever. I have this weird habit of nervously rooting for the bad guy like in the good old days (hint, hint). What's wrong with me?

So yeah, if flicks like Boiler Room, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Social Network were made into docus, they'd probably equal the plot line of the cocksure Bitconned. You know, a bunch of twentysomethings start up a commerce that's either legal or illegal. The goal? To make money don't you know, lots of it by living off the buying and selling of others or just sitting on their behinds in front of the almighty laptop. Prosecution, lawsuits, and greediness oh my! "Nowadays, you have to figure out some sort of way to finesse the system". Uh-huh. 

Jordan Belfort antics and Mark Zuckerberg innovations aside, Bitconned is sleekly made and modern-day infused, showing interviews from its subjects that almost feel scripted, like what's on screen is actual fiction as opposed to actual transmission. Hey I'm not complaining, I was entertained. Sometimes you have to be malefactors in denial to get the rights to your own movie. Champing at this "bit". 

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Boys in the Boat 2023 * * * Stars


Last year I saw George Clooney's The Tender Bar. Now in 2024, I caught a showing of his new flick, The Boys in the Boat. George as a director, well he longs for the past, the wistful lightness of being. I mean just look at his directorial resume. That's right, ninety percent of his stuff takes place before the 1980s. The Boys in the Boat has to do with the University of Washington rowing crew and their trek to the 1936 Summer Olympics. It's old-fashioned, blithesome stuff I tell you.

At a running time of just over two hours, The Boys in the Boat is an epic sports journey, where nobodies gradually become somebodies and well, become Gold Medalists. Watching "Boat", I realized that this pic might be Clooney's Hoosiers, his underdog story to end all underdog stories. It's in the layers of development with the athletes, the way they had to beat other crews to reach the ultimate echelon, and the fact that their school wasn't the richest or uh, the biggest. 

Now is "Boat's" outcome all kinda predictable and feel-good formulaic? Somewhat. And does it not quite reach the emotional heights that Gene Hackman's 1986 vehicle did? Yeah, you could say that. Oh well. The propelling oar scenes (and there are many of them) have enough tension and agog to cause your heart to skip a beat. "Everyone else tires and they just get stronger". Indeed. 

Starring the likes of Callum Turner, Joel Edgerton, and Jack Mulhern, The Boys in the Boat is authentic and attested, putting the viewer in a time machine via the blow-softening period of The Great Depression. Clooney, well I've always liked the look of his films. With "Boat", he knows where to put the camera, he effectively shoots low to the ground, his visual palate is sunlit and nicely glossy, and he never seems to have to pander to lack of refinement to get his point across (hence the PG-13 rating). Strong "stern".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, January 1, 2024

The Iron Claw 2023 * * * Stars


I've always thought of Zac Efron to be a very talented actor. He's charismatic, with a gleaming, devil-may-care attitude. With 2023's The Iron Claw, Efron shines as real-life wrestler Kevin Von Erich. He totally immerses himself in the role, with a blistering screen presence that's off the charts. "You feel that, you feel that, that's pressure". Oh yeah. 

Now is The Iron Claw the best film of 2023? No but it's certainly in the team photo. The pic is a slow-mounting drama that at certain moments, hits you like a ton of bricks (or a clothesline if you know what I mean). And does "Claw" provide the audience with a sterling sense of time and place? Oh you know it. The complete effect is staggering, a sort of vaulted escapism via the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s. Yup, there were times when I was getting some serious Reagan Era vibes. Radical!

The story of The Iron Claw is a true one, about the rise and fall of the wrestling Von Erich brothers, their mildly cold father, and the tragedies that seem to have accompanied their so-called, cursed family. "Claw" clocks in at 132 elongated minutes, with unassumingly brilliant editing by Matthew Hannam. Sure the flick has that "goes on and on and on" feel to it but there's stuff to appreciate. An earthy, gritty look, authenticity in the time period, raw acting, ripped character alteration, and violently blunt, grappling scenes. "Claw's" director (Sean Durkin), well he unintentionally goes into Bennett Miller territory here, offering the moviegoer a sort of expanded companion piece to 2014's Foxcatcher. 

Bottom line: The Iron Claw is powerfully realized and well, powerfully depressing. It doesn't have much of an arc, a kind of hard documentary with troupers inserted. Oh well. You'll leave the theater numb and distraught anyway so it's probably worth it. "Dragon's claw". 

Written by Jesse Burleson