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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