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Monday, May 27, 2024

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


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Wages of Fear 2024 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, May 19, 2024

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


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, May 13, 2024

Across the Tracks 1990 * * * 1/2 Stars


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Vision Quest 1985 * * * Stars


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Fall Guy 2024 * * * Stars


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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, May 4, 2024

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


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Mr. Mom 1983 * * * Stars


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

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

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

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

Written by Jesse Burleson