Movie Reviews 2019

Crawl
Crawl (R)
A college swimmer (Kaya Scodelario) drives into Florida and easily bypasses a roadblock keeping everyone out after evacuation warnings for a hurricane coming ashore - like now. I’ve never lived in Florida but I think skirting a roadblock right in front of the police is unlikely. But it’s the least unlikely thing in this mess of a thriller/horror movie.

Kaya Scodelario has a long string of horrible films behind her. Not a Jessica Alba endless list of terrible movies, but it looks like she’s putting in the effort to catch up to Alba’s world record of Longest Filmography of Films that Suck. How on earth the reviewers gave this movie a pass is beyond me.

Eventually, with her little dog in tow she finds her dad injured in the crawl space below his Florida home. This crawl space also features a huge water overflow pipe running to it that resembles the huge culvert pipes under city streets. Big, like the one Sean Connery climbed out of in Diamonds Are Forever after shorting out the robot welding machine. This Florida one even has an expansive Hollywood set attached to it for Kaya to fiddle around in that’s much larger than the house above it. (See photo above)

Anyway, as the trailers give away, the culvert lets some nasty alligators into their crawl space. Big ones like you rarely see outside of theaters. One of them makes the ground shake as he marches forward toward her. That’s not scary. That’s stupid.

Alligators are predators. No matter how big, they don’t stomp their feet as they walk around. They’re stealthy. Elephants and giraffes are stealthy too. Even with their monstrous weight, you wouldn’t hear them coming up behind you. It’s unlikely meat eating dinosaurs stomped around either. It’s silly on all levels.

Then the storm surge arrives and the crawl space they are trapped in starts filling with water. We know she’s a swimmer. Above average for sure. But humans can’t even out-swim a box jelly fish much less an alligator.

And then there’s the bites.

First hers: Note to budding directors. Nobody covers their mouth or bites on their fist to keep themselves quiet when in peril. Either you keep your mouth shut or you whimper/scream. The hand does nothing.

The Gator: Apparently from the scenes here, a monster alligator can quickly bite you into pieces fit for the Safeway meat case, or . . . they can just gently grip you with their Chihuahua-strength jaws where you can then just kick them off your arm or leg, and oddly your appendage won’t come off in their mouth!

I wasn’t aware of that. Good to know.

This father/daughter team is mauled more than once (the father even has a compound fractured leg going on). But no matter, with the sea water flowing like a river around them they don’t bleed out and look none the worse for wear in most shots. Hell, even with an arm chewed completely off, people are pretty darn chipper in that house. Must be the adrenalin.

At least in this movie she’s actually horrified by the crawl space spiderwebs and the spiders that live in them. That’s the only thing they got right.

I call this a thriller/horror movie as there is little to be surprised/scared about. The gore (for everyone except the father/daughter superheroes) is gnarly-graphic in a Jaws fashion. And some of the storm shots are cool. So if that stuff entices you, this delivers on those themes.
- Wait for HBO
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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (PG-13)
Scary Stories is a period piece set in 1969 when drive-in theaters and Walkie-talkies were in their heyday, kids were drafted off to Vietnam and younger kids liked to “hang out” all night in a way that would be called “free range kids” today. You know, the good ol’ days.

Except these kids are more brazen than they would really be without a Hollywood script driving them. They break into an old, abandoned, real life haunted house on Halloween night (using crude lock-picking skills that would never work on anything but handcuffs) and then brush large, sticky spiderwebs away with their bare hands - and then walk right through them.

Only one of the kids was the least bit fazed by these massive spiderwebs. That’s the least believable part of the movie. And that includes a cornfield scarecrow coming to life. It’s a little known fact that when early cavemen accidentally walked though a spiderweb they would run for up to a mile to stand under a waterfall to wash themselves off.

Anyway, back to the review. The acting is solid, the director is competent and the story would be fine if it was a weekly TV show starring these kids. The problem with the movie is that it’s not scary. And that’s the kiss of death for a horror movie. There’s no other reason to attend.
- Avoid!
Tresspassers
Trespassers (R)
Two couples rent a weekend Mojave desert, multi-million dollar secluded home fit for a king, even down to the built-in high-end German Miele appliances. Unfortunately these aren’t the well behaved folks that even an Airbnb renter would accept in their home. There’s also the unexpected guests on the horizon, and these guests are of the opinion that it’s machete night at the million dollar party house.

Both couples have colossal issues with their relationships, both as couples and as friends. It’s a party you would immediately excuse yourself from to be literally anywhere else. But since it’s a movie, we’re stuck in the house with them.

Hawaii born actress Janel Parrish plays “Estelle” (pictured above, with miles of wasteland between her ears). Estelle has an abusive boyfriend who is off the charts annoying to everyone around him. She accepts his constant verbal and physical abuse, as far too many women do, and it’s painful as hell to watch. As if that’s not enough, her character is so unlikable and dumb that everyone watching the movie, as well as anyone stuck in a house of death with her, would pray that the killers would silence her next.

90 to 109 is considered an average IQ range. An IQ < 20 = “Profound Mental Retardation.” Though none of these folks were by any means bright, by the time I was forced to study this Estelle character at length, scene after painful scene, I suspect Estelle’s IQ score to be a 5. Only because she can feed herself. I’ve never seen a dumber character portrayed onscreen in my life. She was so despicable and annoying I was tempted to stop watching the movie and hovered my finger over the Stop button on the remote more than once. Furthermore, I’m not one to talk to the screen during movies but when Estelle’s turn came to face the killers I felt like saying, “Give me the machete! I’ll do it!”

The other issue with the movie is that the killers don’t show up until the last act. You KNOW they are coming. It’s the whole premise of the film. Unfortunately, spending 57 uncomfortable minutes cooped up with these socially inept victims is the most horrifying part of the ordeal.
- Avoid!
Anna
Anna 8
Anna (R)
Another in the long line of female agents that are easy on the eyes but hard on their foes.

Some would cite the Tomb Raider computer game (with toon Lara Croft) as the spark for such themes, but that software hit was released in 1996. That’s five years after the waif killer in heels French film La Femme Nikita hit theaters and video stores in 1991. The film was written and directed by Luc Besson and later remade scene by scene into the American version called Point of No Return starring Bridget Fonda in 1993. So you could point to Luc Besson as literally inventing the genre we see so prominently in theaters and TV for the last couple of decades.

Continuing his passion, he also wrote & directed The Fifth Element and Lucy. Anna is his latest delivery to the silver screen.

It’s not as smart as Red Sparrow but as these stories go, it works. The guy knows how to write this narrow alley of moviemaking, which goes like this - Girl gets into trouble with the cops and is given an ultimatum. Join the Russian world of spies or die.

Yeah, we’ve seen it before. But we all saw Taken, and still lined up for the sequels with the same plot. (Luc Besson co-wrote Taken too. I know, crazy right?)

Although maybe one too many flashbacks going on in this one, some all too predictable, they were effective enough in making the story more interesting for the viewer. And of course in 2019 we have the requisite lesbian scenes to appease the LGBTXYZ gang of protesters. The men, strangely enough, don’t kiss in this one. There goes any chance for an Oscar nomination.

Most of the audience is probably planted in their seats to watch model turned actress Sasha Luss take charge of the weaponry and mayhem. Believing a Victoria Secret Model could take out a restaurant full of professional bodyguards using her hand-to-hand combat skills is right up there with belief in Jurassic period dinosaur parks. Your mileage may vary. But I’ve been entertained watching clothes tumble around in a laundromat. And if they ever made glass front dishwashers I’d never leave the house.

Killer-assassin-believability aside, Sasha Luss proves she really can act, so we can expect more films from her in the near term.

If there is a reason to wait for rental, it’s this . . . Like peanut butter goes great with jelly, thick Russian accents go great with subtitles.
- See it on the Big Screen
ANNABELLE
Annabelle: Comes Home (R)
Will the horror film stereotypes never end? I’ve watched the Olympics for most of my life. Yeah, women sometimes stubble and fall when they run, but it’s rare. And if I see one more onscreen character who needs an asthma inhaler to get through the day I’m going to scream, even if the movie isn’t actually scary.

As I’ve said many times before in my reviews over the years, cell phones are a plague for today’s horror writers as it’s too easy to call in the cavalry (or capture images of the impossible but scary stuff chasing you) if you have the latest tech in your pocket. If you want to purge cell phones from your script you need to set the story back at least a few decades. As they do here. I wish they had added the usual superimposed subtitle, “1972” or whatever date on the screen during the first scene to leave no doubt of the period for the viewers. Overseas moviegoers are the biggest consumers of Hollywood movies today, and they might not make that connection from the early 70’s American music and Dating Game Show on the console color TV. A tiny percentage of the American target audience of horror movies has any idea what the Dating Game Show even was, much less when it aired.

The vintage car we see (the only car we see) could be driven by collectors today. With so many antiques in this kooky family American home, only North Americans would be able to nail the date of when this story actually takes place.

But without modern tech in their pockets, our terrified victims are pretty much on their own in this story.

It’s the familiar horror movie babysitter story where the parents drive away and the pretty babysitter has no idea that hell awaits her, and THIS time it’s not the ornery kid. The parents who own this particular house are friendly neighborhood demonologists who hunt down, collect and isolate evil objects . . . in their basement, of course. Of the creepy objects, none is more important than the scary looking doll that’s locked in a glass case with a big sign that practically screams, “Don’t Open This Glass Case!”

As with the other 83 horror babysitter movies you’ve seen written by lazy, overpaid Hollywood writers, a friend and boyfriend happen to show up too even though that’s not what the babysitter (or the parents) wanted.

If I was in charge: “If you want more than a nickel for your story, write me something original!”

If you think that “Don’t Open This” note will keep out a teenager you haven’t seen many horror movies and probably don’t remember being a teenager. The case doesn’t stay locked very long. I will admit in THIS story the teenager at least has a valid reason to snoop around a room of spiritual objects.

There is tension in spades. Like 80 minutes of tension. It’s the payoffs that are largely missing. Like an adult repeatedly showing his closed hand to a child saying, “Guess what I have for you?” Only to open their hand and say, “Oh, nothing . . .”

Everyone prefers a payoff over a tease. The setup was great and the potential was there for this R-rated story. And it’s a shame because the finale after the scares is exceptionally well done in a typical Hollywood way. Asian movies (whether horror, action or drama) typically end with everyone dead, including the hero. Especially the hero.

But because this movie is all loud German Shepherd barks with a puny Pekinese bite, it’s only suitable for rental.
- Wait for Rental
Assimilate
Assimilate (NR)
Body Snatchers 2.0, the 2019 version. And that’s a good thing. If the Body Snatcher theme interests you, then you’ve been waiting for this.

Most horror movies shy away from cell phone use in the storyline simply because cell phones make it too easy for helpless people to call in the cavalry. But here, this straight-to-video movie not only embraces it but makes smartphones and uploading videos to the internet the focus of the story. I must admit, it’s a refreshing twist.

A couple high school guys decide to wear tiny cameras on their shirts (under their collars no less . . . and everyone immediately notices their tiny cameras, which is funny) to record the daily adventures of their boring podunk town that no one would want to live in. Then they post the boring footage online to see how it goes, just like real kids today. And their life is about as boring (normal) as you’d expect.

Then people in the town start acting “off” as we’ve seen in movies before and only these two guys (and of course their school love interest) seem to notice.

This low-budget independent film has no star power but they can really act. The shoestring cost special effects and camerawork are well done as well. I’m not saying the kids always make the sanest of choices when facing peril, and all the door hinges in the movie could use a spritz of WD-40. But isn’t that what horror movies are all about?

Unlike most of the cheap scary movies we sit though, they actually came up with a smart way to end it. So stay with it until the credits start.
- Wait for Rental
Poison Rose
The Poison Rose (R)
This straight-to-video throwback detective story stars John Travolta, Morgan Freeman, Brendan Fraser and Robert Patrick (the bad Terminator in Terminator II).

You basically have a small Texas town with corruption aplenty and the seasoned actors take sides to try to see who can outsmart the other half after an apparent murder takes place on a football field.

They do what they can with the script but it’s not a spellbinding whodunnit. A few clicks down from an episode of Murder She Wrote.

There was a time when cigarette companies subsidized the movie industry and every actor smoked. Then a reversal happened and smoking was frowned upon in the movies and on TV. Now it’s back with a vengeance, especially in this period piece set in 1978. It’s odd to see so much smoking outside of Europe.

John Travolta & Kelly Preston’s real life daughter is in this movie. She has her mother’s beautiful face, voice and mannerisms. That’s sure a plus. On the flip-side she can’t act.

Missteps:
The streets are always wet as if it just rained but Travolta has a convertible with the top perpetually down, even when parked overnight. I know directors like the sheen and lighting of wet streets at night, but then lose the convertibles.

Travolta has a six shot revolver and routinely get 8+ shots out of it in every gun battle. Math may not be the director’s strong suit.

The music is overbearing but since it’s supposed to be a 70s theme, perhaps that was intentional.

A lot of big actors in this. If you have Netflix and are struggling to find something to watch, this won’t be the worst movie you’ll see in 30 days. That’s the only endorsement I can give it.
- Wait for Rental
Wick 3
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (R)
If you saw the other two John Wick movies then you’ll see this one too. That’s just the way it is. We love/hate genres and are attracted accordingly. You know if this film is for you or not. And it delivers - just like the other two did.

Breaking down the fight scenes:
There’s too much Kung Fu fighting here for my taste, but with the new Chinese market in play it makes sense. The Chinese have always loved their “fight one at a time” Kung Fu fighting.

The gunplay is cool but there’s a lot of wasted ammo on guys that are already incapacitated. How many times do you really need to shoot a non-comic book guy in the head? Every time I saw Wick struggle to reload in time I wondered if he had the flu back when he was a kid in Fight Training and missed his “Ammo Conservation” classes.

If you twist someone’s arm enough that audible shredding of tendons is heard, the foe can’t use that arm anymore. Since they continue to use their snapped limbs and no one is wearing a Marvel costume we have to assume the foes here to be of the cartoon family. That takes away from the movie.

The use of horses as a weapon was well done. The use of attack dogs (via Halle Barry’s character) is OK but it clearly shows the shortcomings of dogs as weapons in a firefight situation. Once engaged on a target they just instinctively hold on and shake their prey to keep them immobilized. Meanwhile Wick and Halle take out waves of targets in the room every few seconds. A CGI set of dogs that can attack multiple shooters in sequence (like their assassin owner) has to be on the Hollywood drawing board.

You can’t clank motorcycles together at speed like you can with cars. The physics just isn’t the same. It’s hard enough to pull that off with cars!

You can’t walk in a blistering desert, in a business suit, over numerous distant dunes, over 24 hours - without water - and live. Not even a sunburn! C’mon man.

I know they have to up the ante with each film, especially when going up against the Marvel juggernaut. But the Marvel characters wear masks and capes. I just wish the John Wick franchise would keep that in mind.
- See it on the Big Screen
Teen Spirit
Teen Spirit (PG-13)
It’s an underhand softball toss of a movie. A young-audience, friendly tale about a farm girl named Violet (Elle Fanning) living on the Isle of Man with dreams of becoming a singer. When auditions for a national singing competition (think Idol or The Voice) comes to her podunk island, she wants in. But she needs help. Enter “manager” (Zlatko Burić).

In real life he’s an aging Croatian actor with a thick accent. Between the two stars I don’t know which one of them has dirtier hair. If you see the movie you’ll understand exactly what I’m saying.

Here Mr. Burić mostly plays the comedy relief and a bit of a singing coach in a smattering of scenes. But there’s much less actual vocal coaching going on here than in any single episode of The Voice. More on that later. Unlike the 264 previous high school movies over the past decade, these school kids pick on each other in more realistic ways. Meaning, not very much and with little real malice. That’s refreshing. Overall it would be a fun enough ride to see how she places in the final contest.

The problem is that they portray the contest as if a high school was putting it on. It’s a national TV show for god’s sake. They’re a business, with a lot riding on the viewership numbers each week. They live and die based on compelling TV. Ratings! That’s where this movie really comes up short.

With network TV (in this case shown in multiple European countries) there’s too much on the line to goof around. None of these singing competition shows allow room for error. In reality, the young impressionable contestants are sequestered. There are no wild drinking parties at the hotel bar that would incapacitate one of the finalists. It’s not an Aerosmith documentary. These types of talent shows depend on the contestants being on top of their game and the producers of these shows want to control the story as much as possible.

And no show would allow non-union amateur bar bands (friends from back home) to play live on national TV as the entire backing band for an Idol finalist. They’d choke! It’s not a “band” contest show. The producers would (and do) leave as little to chance as possible. Audiences want polished professional performances, especially at the finale.

When you sign up to perform on these national talent shows you have to sign a contract with The Network. NBC and their partner record company “own” you while you are on the show and they own the rights to your performed music as well. There is zero poaching of talent by competing record companies who send menacing security straight out of the Secret Service Academy to your room to escort you to another room where competing labels try to twist your arm to sign a contract with them first. Silly! And it insults our intelligence. The Network keeps your focus on the prize. Only if you lose the contest are you legally released and able to do things on your own afterward.

They missed the specifics so badly it was hard to take any of it seriously. But as a small town girl wants to hit the big time story, it’s OK in a made-for-television kind of way.
- Wait for Rental
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 tale 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 hut-full 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 medieval 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 sassy Roseanne Barr quips 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 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 distant 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 covering her area 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.