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[Netflix Digest] – Burning Sands & The Asian Connection

 

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Posted April 30, 2017 by

 
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A review digest for films you can watch right now on Netflix!

Burning Sands

Violence, brotherhood, a hazing walk the halls, and quads of Frederick Douglas’s University in Netflix Original film ‘Burning Sands’. It’s only a matter of time before Netflix needs a Netflix II, where their original content can live. Even searching for original productions is becoming difficult since it can’t be sorted by movie, comedy special, or tv series. Until then, we sort, sift and in the words of Disney’s Aladdin, we look for the diamonds in the rough! So, the question is – is Burning Sands a lump of rough coal or a diamond?

Burning Sands centers around a group of college freshman who become part of a fraternity. Lambda isn’t your typical fraternity though, it’s a prestigious, historically black frat steeped in tradition. Zurich, played by Trevor Jackson, is the defector leader of the new pledges and holds them together in the name of tradition. As the hazing grows more intense, however, Zurich and his friends find their bonds pushed to the limits…

The abusive nature of Lambda is aimed at building character and bonding the pledges. Every new ritual is intended to accentuate what the fraternity’s members must understand, a mantra that goes: “Brotherhood, scholarship, leadership, compassion!”

Burning Sands is a timely movie, particularly in the United States, where hazing rituals have been the subject of much discussion over the past decade. Burning Sands dives head-first into the topic, but skirts around a real in-depth commentary on the subject. This skirting isn’t a bad thing, depending on the kind of movie you want to watch, but it certainly makes Burning Sands a lot less memorable.

The lighting in Burning Sands perplexed me the most. The film progresses with consistent, standard light techniques then descends into a darkness that reminds me of Marvel’s Daredevil. At times the contrast of darkness with light is gorgeous, however more often than not the growing shadow feels overwrought. Intimate dialogue scenes play out as if the screen has been switched off, but the audio remains. Lighting is such a thankless position, since it’s only noteworthy when it’s off, but I don’t think it was a technical issue – rather an unfortunate creative choice by director Gerard McMurray.

As college fraternity movies go, Burning Sands defies the thriller tropes of something like ‘The Skulls’, or the usual comedy route typical to most frat movies. The film’s understated tone might come off a bit monotonous for most, and only towards the end of the film do we see the bond between these new brothers tested; the tone of the film serves its purpose of accentuating the climax.

Performances throughout the film are strong, but it’s Anissa Pierce who stands out. It’s no wonder the young actress will appear in CW’s Black Lightning show and Showtime’s Twin Peaks reboot. Pierce is fierce in a minor supporting role, one of the few female leads in the film.

Burning Sands is entertaining, which means it reaches the bare minimum of all movies. It’s not groundbreaking, but it does provide drama while raising some interesting questions about mob mentality, tradition, and hazing. Burning Sands, while not quite a diamond, is still something worth a look.

Ratings:

Direction 2.5
Writing 3
Performance 3.5
Sound & Music 3
Cinematography 2.5
Editing 3
Visual Effects 2

 

The Asian Connection

One-time action star Steven Seagal, and Michael Jai White unite (sort of) for gritty, action-adventure crime story ‘The Asian Connection’. The film was released last year, and landed in the direct-to-video/DVD realm, eventually winding up on Netflix. It’s on the leading streaming service where old-school video store patrons will find some great action. However, does that mean Asian Connection is a great one? Without hesitation, the answer is undoubtedly no. However, that doesn’t mean action movie fans shouldn’t watch it.

The Asian Connection stars John Edward Lee as Jack, a professional bank robber who heads to South East Asia to ‘lay low’. Unable to help himself, Jack robs a bank, taking money from Sirankiri, a mob boss played by former action star, Steven Seagal. Jack flees to Thailand where he’s captured by Niran, Sirankiri’s right-hand man. Niran blackmails Jack into robbing more banks or face the wrath of Sirankiri.

If Asian Connection had been released in the 90s, it would’ve been a theatrical release – likely in late August or in the January dump-month. However, Seagal and White aren’t marquee names like they once were, and action movies like this are not in high demand. So the film ends up lost in the streaming shuffle and ultimately, it can be reasoned, wholly forgotten.

There’s almost nothing remarkable about Asian Connection. It’s as if a portal opened and a mediocre 90s action movie fell through and wound up in our time. John Edward Lee reminds me of a failed 90s action star by the name of Jeff Speakman. Both Lee and Speakman lack any level of charisma. Being an actor, particularly a lead actor, requires a lot of charisma – adding fighting to the mix as an action star makes this astronomically harder. Lee, unfortunately, fails at acting and fighting. Though, to be fair, most of the action fails because of the lackluster direction.

Michael Jai White, the other name trying to sell this film, is also a former action star who phones in his five minutes of screentime. Neither Seagal nor White were lauded for their acting, but in their best movies, like Seagal’s ‘Marked For Death’ or White’s ‘Black Dynamite’, the material suits the skills of the actor. Seagal is hopeless to some extent, his idea of emotion is different degrees of squinting. White can hold his own in a drama (see ‘Why Did I Get Married’ or ‘Tyson’), but here he’s given absolutely nothing to work with. It’s a wonder why he’s in this movie at all, paycheck aside of course.

Action movie fans will need to add this to the watch list. The film is worth it if only to watch Seagal be an even worse version of himself. As Sirankiri, Seagal is so over-the-top he makes Marvel villains seem threatening… But viewers should be totally aware that what you get with the Asian Connection, is a complete disconnection from modern action movies.

Ratings:

Direction 2
Writing 1
Performance 2
Sound & Music 3
Cinematography 2.5
Editing 2
Visual Effects 2

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Ruben R. Diaz
@RMartian
Freelance Contributor

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