Movie Reviews 2019

Silver Lake
Under the Silver Lake (R)
For those that remember the crazy storyline of the 1984 Brian de Palma movie Body Double with Melanie Griffith, here’s a similar wacky story (think LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms AND Peyote combined) to keep you guessing and shaking your head as sultry women and odd men do crazy L.A. things throughout. At least there’s no shaky-cam!

Don’t even bother reading the description of this “Hard R” movie as it really makes no difference. The tightest (real) synopsis I can give is that a young man meets a woman for only a few hours and then begins looking for her all over Los Angeles after she almost immediately disappears without a trace and is assumed dead.

If the Cohen Brothers, David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino did movie reviews they’d say something along the lines of, “Wow, that movie is whacked!”

It’s not awful. Dare I say, it’s actually pretty entertaining. But it’s eccentric as hell. As an L.A. chick would say, “Like, TOTALLY eccentric.”

Rent it if you saw Body Double and really liked it at the time.
- Wait for Rental
Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary (R)
The great Stephen King horror novel is once again turned into a movie. It follows the storyline of the 1989 original film adaptation, but with some changes. None of them for the better. If you’re a horror movie fan and you live in the Western world, you’ve seen the original. Although not a stellar movie, the original was still scary. At least back when it was released.

Due to the current obsessive belief that little children are to be (over)protected like rare orchids on the brink of extinction, the writers, feeling the pressures of today’s world, decided the speeding tractor-trailer should run over the ten-year-old sister instead of the three-year-old brother, because . . . as a society, once you get a few more years on you we care so much less about you. Or something like that. But this switcheroo decision causes problems.

Since three-year-olds are terrible actors (more on Amy Seimetz in a minute) the little boy actor is in just a few short scenes. Like the cat on the set, there’s only so much you can do with non-actors. With only six main characters in the movie (including the cat) we’re only left with two that can act (John Lithgow and Jason Clarke) once you put the daughter in a coffin. That can’t be overstated. If you bury the tiny tyke instead (as the book did) the moviegoer doesn’t loose a believable onscreen actor.

Amy Seimetz plays the mother and she’s not believable in any of her scenes. She’s just mechanically reading her lines as typed on the page. First-take stuff. She’s been in a ton of movies so I assume she just phoned it in for this one.

Once the daughter comes back from the dead and has more screen-time (thank goodness - fewer scenes for the cat to hiss at the camera and Amy Seimetz to phone it in) they take the story in a totally different and silly direction that is not only less scary and thought provoking than King’s novel, but beyond ridiculous.

This is an example suitable for framing: Skip the movie versions of this tail and read King’s Pet Sematary instead.

* Twin boys were used for this role as is usually the case with tiny actors in Hollywood TV and Films. (If you have identical twin babies, Hollywood is interested!) There are strict rules about the number of hours you can work tots, even babies. Since either tot can have a cranky day and neither can act, you need two that look alike for a chance to get anything done.
- Avoid!
Head Hunter 1
Head Hunter (NR)
A distraught father back in medieval times goes out head hunting for trolls and monsters roaming his land after his daughter is murdered. This is a low budget movie (filmed in “PaleVision”) that doesn’t even bother showing us the battles. Instead we just see the heads of the losers that this warrior brings back to his wooden hut as trophies. He forces their still bloody heads onto thick wooden spikes he has on the interior wall. Much like hunters do with their deer heads sans the taxidermy step.

As we all know, even with a drafty hut, a dripping wall of recently beheaded putrid skulls will not only draw a houseful of flies, followed by cute little maggots, but the smell would quickly drive out even the most medieval of humans.

This hermit has a wooden window shutter that opens and slams all day and all night even if nary a long hair on his head nor the wee branches around him move one bit from any wind. “Slam. Squeak, slam. Squeak, slam.” So easy to fix. Perhaps his childhood friends called him Procrastinating Paxton but we’re not privy to his past. But you’ll sure wonder why anyone would put up with such a blatant nuisance. Only a lazy scriptwriter would allow such a plot device to continue for more than a day.

This warrior (we’ll go ahead and call him Paxton going forward) deploys steel bear traps around his medieval hut. He must have a time machine in a hidden shed because steel traps were invented over 100 years after the end of the medieval era. If he really was the first man on earth to build one we should call him Patent Pending Paxton.

Paxton also manages to concoct a magic mud ointment that when applied, hurts like the devil but repairs severe wounds that would normally be fatal. He needs to slather it on like sunscreen after quite a few head hunting battles, often barely trudging home to his hut before he bleeds to death. Perhaps it’s armchair quarterbacking, but that’s something you should probably carry with you instead of leaving it at home when you run off to battles.

At the 45 minute mark things really go off the rails. It’s then that the movie turns into a B-horror movie along the lines of the Re-Animator films. Sure, that goo heals deep wounds, “But wait!” as the TV ads would tout, “There’s more!”

Any boxer or wrestler (or people over ten) will laugh out loud at the difference in mass between portly, powerful Paxton and his re-animated enemy. It’s beyond silly.

The whole movie ends up as a big fat nothing-burger.
- Avoid!
Never Grow Old
Never Grow Old (R)
John Cusack is always convincing, even in this deeply flawed, dark movie.

It’s 1849 and we’re introduced to an Irish undertaker, his pretty French wife and their two young playful children all living in a Little House on the Prairie type of spread just east of California (just over “those” mountains). It’s a muddy little town and times are tough.

This is especially painful because this God-fearing, Christian town (population of 50 according to the number attending the mandatory church service) has also abolished liquor, gambling and closed the whore house. So business is down, as the preacher admits.

In the end we’re left watching a sad little isolated town in the West with a wimpy sheriff and trio of bad guys riding into town. Seems like the same old story, right? But wait, here we get interesting twists on that theme. A mass murdering Christian preacher! Huh? Yep! And when the body count rises, it’s good to be an Irish undertaker. His hidden box of coins starts filling up nicely. Now you’ve got a story.

Unfortunately, as this western moves along the problems start to mount (no pun intended).

This is another Fantasy Film where they meld today’s idealism into past history in the hopes that no one will notice. Done enough times, no one will. Unlike the Westerns of old (even the Clint Eastwood westerns or the Gun Smoke and Bonanza TV shows) this is not the least bit historically accurate. We see these 1800 era women routinely talking down to men, a prostitute in a brothel shooting a paying customer in cold blood and even a pregnant woman in this podunk town just east of California threatening to leave her husband (she’s already packing a suitcase) to “head back east” with their two small children (a six-month journey through Indian country) - written as if she’s walking out of her 2019 suburban home to drive off in her minivan to her mother’s house across town. C’mon man. In real life the husband would just laugh and reach for a whisky or saunter out to the front porch to sit and smoke a cigar. This Hollywood revisionist nonsense is hilarious.

The 1849 podunk town conversation would really go something like this: “Well, I reckon you’ll be raped and scalped by the end of the week. If not you’ll surely freeze to death on the way East when the snows arrive in two months, so you oughta leave the kids here. You gonna hunt for food along the way? Never been hunting in your life, so that should be entertaining.”

Only thing missing was her red, white & blue cape and gold shield. But that movie was playing in the theater next-door. You can’t throw Roseanne Barr threats into a 1800’s period piece.

It’s also another in an endless line of Hollywood movies where multiple well-armed people simply can’t pull the trigger, and they suffer mightily because of it.

Note: Everybody in farm houses and log cabins in the 1800s were well armed and not at all reluctant to shoot their guns. As much as Hollywood would like you to believe otherwise, there was no anti-gun sentiment in the 1800s.

And as any gun owner knows, you can’t shoot a large caliber revolver in a small cave and expect to hear for a week.

Again, John Cusack can act and he makes a hell of a villain here. But if you stayed awake for at least a handful of history classes in high school (or you’ve seen more than three episodes of The History Channel) you’ll be wondering how we politically corrected our way totally off the tracks when it comes to telling a tale of the Old West.
- Wait for Rental
Iceman
Iceman (NR)
This story is based (as loosely as any story - ever) on Ötzi, the “Iceman” that was discovered frozen in the Alps in 1991. Turns out he died 5,300 years ago but was amazingly preserved in the ice. So what was his life like way back then? Sounds like a great idea for a movie!

“This is his story,” is how the film begins.

It’s similar to Quest for Fire except Iceman can be like watching paint dry at times. With the right editor the story could be told in 30 minutes. Like Quest for Fire, there are no subtitles for the limited Copper Age caveman chatter. And you’ve never seen a drama based on more conjecture than this one.

Their wild guess is that at one point while away hunting in the frozen wilderness, his little village was wiped out by other tribal bad guys. Every man woman and child, except for a constantly crying newborn. Talk about bad luck! This is 5,200 years before cars and an additional 50 years before child car seats. So off on foot he goes towing a goat and carrying a newborn that cries a lot.

I’d be searching for the highest cliff to jump off, but this guy had the original human Rambo gene, so he marches off for vengeance - carrying a crying baby. He’s also angry that they stole his mysterious wooden box.

There are parallels of the double-secret, stolen mysterious briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Every time that wooden box is opened the viewer is left with a bad viewing angle and wonders why everybody is in awe of what’s inside. Except in this movie we do eventually see what’s in that crazy box.

Overall it’s an unsatisfying adventure.

Search “Ötzion” and Wikipedia will give you more insight (entertainment) on the discovery and lengthy research of this guy’s body. It also reveals the fact that getting an arrow (or bullet) in the shoulder will usually kill you, even with today’s medical attention. Just because Hollywood has used the shoulder wound plot device since the Gunsmoke days, typically a shot in the shoulder is curtains.
- Avoid!
Cold Pursuit
Cold Pursuit (R)
Liam Neeson is taking care of business again after his son is killed by a drug kingpin. He doesn’t mention his “special skills” on this ride because this movie is a direct copy of a Norwegian film titled In Order of Disappearance. That was a good movie too.

Note that the American version features a lot of dark humor. If you know that up front, whether it works for you or not, it will help you enjoy it.

Liam plays a snow plow driver in Denver. Once he starts hunting down the bad guys one by one, in the biggest snow plow you’ve ever seen, he’s able to get around and do it as if the town is only 2 square miles - regardless of the weather. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular. It’s Denver! OMG amounts of snow and majestic mountains.

For the P.C. crowd out there, this movie will rub you the wrong way so steer clear. Curry loving Indians and Indians who wore feathers in the past are both roasted. Blacks too. Filthy rich white people who ski too! Notice not every group is roasted. There ARE groups that no one dares touch.

The beating and killing is satisfyingly ruthless, which is why 95% of the audience is planted in the seats to watch a Liam Neeson film. Or old Charles Bronson films. You know if this is for you or not.
- Wait for Rental
Hole in the Ground
The Hole in the Ground (R)
Here’s another in a long line of body snatcher themed stories. Is it really her son or not? They do have a massive meteor crater sized hole in the woods near their house, except it’s creepier. And her son knows it’s there. And now he’s a bit . . . off.

Add to that the creepy neighbor lady who spills the beans, but she’s insane. Or is she? Now the mother has the seeds of doubt about the boy’s authenticity. And like any mother, she resists connecting the ugly dots as long as possible. You rarely hear a mother tell the news crew, “Yeah, I can believe my son strangled 14 women over 5 years.”

It’s an engaging if slow paced movie. But pretty darn effective.

The thick Irish accents may be tricky at times without the English subtitles enabled.
- Wait for Rental
MS-13
We All Die Young (R)
Jean-Claude Van Damme is back again in another action packed movie. This time it’s the MS-13 gangs from Central America that play the bad guys. And in this one, Van Damme has no lines because he conveniently lost his voicebox in the war in Afghanistan. He also has a drug problem which puts him in the MS-13’s neighborhood. A neighborhood we are shown over and over to be within sight of the White House.

So while people are beat up in the struggling neighborhood we are beat over the head with the repeated image of this neighborhood within site of the White House.

It’s a raw movie with Van Damme only sporadically in the story. Think “Death Wish” from 1974, if Charles Bronson was only in the beginning, middle and end. All the adults can act. The MS-13 gang tats look legit (all over their faces and necks). One Spanish kid (lead) can act too, but his younger brother can’t. It hurts the story.

In the last act when gunfire breaks out, people at a wedding run around the backyard like chickens for 10 minutes. No kidding. Around and around and around the yard, just like chickens. For 10 minutes.

So in the end what we have here is a heavy handed movie about the MS-13, opiate addiction, homeless veterans and the proximity of it all near the White House. Must EVERY non-independent movie made today have a P.C. thread to it?

If you start watching it on TV you’ll want to see it through to the end. And that’s where you should watch it. On TV.
- Wait for HBO
Changeover
The Changeover (NR)
What we have here is a creepy little independent film from New Zealand that’s just quirky enough to make you feel like you haven’t seen this story before. Not easy to pull off in the horror genre.

It’s not scary in a way that makes you jump in your seat. Instead it’s pure evil because it involves a man putting a terrible spell on a little boy in a horrible yet simple, painless way that you know immediately is wrong. His older sister knows something is wrong at the same time the audience sees it. Boom - too late. It’s over. Simple. Painless. Awful. You don’t why it’s awful but you just know that it is. And you’ll feel it in your stomach, just as his sister does. Her little brother doesn’t feel a thing . . . yet.

The ensuing puzzle is well acted and although there is a silly scene in the middle with a set of car keys, it’s a professionally directed movie with a wacky road to its conclusion.

This one went straight to rental.
- Rent it
Alita
Alita: Battle Angel (PG13)
Mention the name James Cameron and you think of movies like The Terminator and Avatar in 3D. For nearly twenty years Cameron has wanted to make this Alita movie but he had to wait for the movie tech to catch up with the story. We’ve come a long way since those Roger Rabbit live actor/cartoon mixed movies became a thing. Alas, once the tech caught up, Cameron was too busy with the Avatar trilogy to tackle it.

So he let Robert Rodriguez direct it instead (with Cameron as producer). Rodriguez has directed such films as Planet Terror, Sin City, From Dust to Dawn etc. This would be considered one of his least eccentric films and certainly his highest budget.

It’s available in 3D but unless you’re drinking that Kool-Aid for kids 3D nonsense, save your money and see it in 2D. 3D is unnecessary for this film.

You do however need to keep in mind that this entire story is based on a Japanese comic book series. Doing so will help with your adult-sized suspension of belief. That and the knowledge that this takes place hundreds of years from now. Just look how far we’ve come tech-wise since the 70’s!

Now that we’ve tackled the tech end of it, the storyline goes like this:
Dr. Ido finds a human head in a massive rubbish heap located in Iron City below the floating, wealthy sky-city of Zalem. Apparently her head was dropped down from Zalem among all the other discarded trash. That makes her a trashy girl. (I couldn’t resist). Dr. Ido just happens to be a specialist in the art of melding human flesh to robotics. So after reassembling her severed head with the intact brain (don’t ask) to a cool robotic body, he names her Alita.

It seems a large percentage of the human population, at least on the ground in Iron City, are missing a lot of limbs. Why that is is never covered. Perhaps if I had read a stack of Alita manga comics for a couple weeks beforehand I would know the “obvious” answer. (Not happening).

Either way, it doesn’t hurt the story that so many people have artificial limbs. The tech is so good, and the new prosthetics so darn cool, you’d hardly qualify for a handicap sticker on your plates.

But it turns out that trashy Alita (sorry) has some real talent in the whoop-ass department. Think War-Department-Talent by way of long extinct forbidden tech. So she’s every biker gang’s dream girl. Interestingly enough, a biker kid does indeed take to her. There are some nice scenes between them as well as a couple corny ones.

Then there’s a futuristic version of the “other futuristic” Rollerball game - if Terminators (or Transformers) played Rollerball. They call it “Motorball” here to avoid visits from grinning lawyers, but let’s not kid ourselves. I was glad they didn’t overdo the robots-fighting-robots-playing-Rollerball aspect for too long, but it works well enough here. The superstar winner of that sport gets to live in luxury in the sky-city of Zalem. There’s also that crime element in Iron City that needs to be cleaned up. So plenty here for the writers to play with.

All in all it’s a fun two-hour ride that sure exploits the latest tech in moviemaking. We can’t be more than ten years away from human movie stars looking at unemployment. Who needs to pay Tom Cruise 70 million to do a movie if human-realistic animated characters can be created for far less?

No one’s more excited about that idea than the ugly Harvey Weinstein’s of the world.
- See it on the Big Screen
Dont Come Back From Moon
Don’t Come Back from the Moon (NR)
The photo above pretty much sums up the movie. Where do I even begin?

The premise is that the father figures leave town and never come back. I’m surprised the actors stuck around.

At the 20 minute mark the cameraman has finally consumed enough beer that he has become totally wasted and can no longer hold the camera still. At times he’s so drunk he can’t even keep the subject in the frame. Disastrous shaking.

In one scene a kid tries to catch an elusive pigeon that’s flying around in an abandoned house. I was thinking to myself that the actor would likely have an easier time capturing a wild bird than catching that darting camera filming the scenes.

The director also incorporates long MTV style montage shots to fill the monotonous time.

The Moon metaphor used in the story is weak.

Though the movie is set in today’s world, the kids watch an old black and white TV at home all day. In the U.S.? That’s just silly.

This movie is an empty box of crackers.
- AVOID!
The Bouncer
The Bouncer (R)
John-Claude Van Damme.

He’s back in a French film with English subtitles. Here he plays a bouncer with seemingly no past. After accidentally causing a serious injury to an important club client (something I’m sure bouncers all over the world deal with all-too often) this incident lands him into deep trouble with the local police. By digging into his past they are able to turn him into a snitch, reappoint him as a bouncer in a strip club and tell him to root out a counterfeiting operation that’s going on behind the scenes.

A slow burn to be sure. But don’t let the idea of subtitles push you away from this dark, gritty tale. The dialog is sparse. You’re not supposed to talk a lot in shady underworld circles. Your waking hours are mostly running on a need to know basis. But Van Damme is perfect for the role and there’s enough steady tension, subdued throbbing techno music and underworld action to keep you thoroughly interested throughout.

One final note. For all the budding screenwriters out there, let’s be very clear. Hotel maids don’t leave their master room keys on their unattended service carts in the hallways. C’mon man!
- Wait for Rental
Rust Creek
Rust Creek (R)
A story about an 18-year-old girl headed to job interview who apparently has never seen a movie thriller or TV show in her life. She doesn’t know what lye is when told “it’s lye” or what a meth lab in the woods might look like. Sheltered would be an understatement. We know she wasn’t home-schooled so that’s not the excuse.

And like any millennial, she’s never seen a paper road map in her life but conveniently finds one in the glove box in 2019 after her GPS fails her. Uh-huh.

So with little knowledge about such things she runs away from two backwater thugs (think Deliverance-Town) into the woods and struggles as you might expect. Having zero knowledge about how damn noisy helicopters are doesn’t help matters as she yells up at a distant one as if the crew could possibly hear a cry for help below the trees a mile away. I can only hope that scene is far fetched.

Lucky for her a “woodsy hermit” (think meth lab guy, not Ted Kaczynski) comes to her aid and the cat and mouse game begins between the woodsy hermit and the Deliverance-Town hillbillies.

If you start watching it you’ll be compelled to finish it. It’s that kind of movie. But do it from your comfy sofa.
- Wait for Rental
End of 2019 Movies.