film reel image

film reel image

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