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On Blu-ray/DVD: INTO THE ASHES (2019) and COLD BLOOD (2019)

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INTO THE ASHES
(US - 2019)


The grim rural Alabama indie noir INTO THE ASHES seems to have all the ingredients for a compelling story that's heavy on the bleak hopelessness, but it just never quite manages to get its shit together and become the next BLUE RUIN or BAD TURN WORSE. Nick Brenner (YELLOWSTONE's Luke Grimes) lives a quiet life doing repairs for a local furniture company, but his past is about to come back and bite him in the ass in the form of Sloan (Frank Grillo). Just paroled after serving a several-year stretch because Nick hung him out to dry, Sloan wants revenge, and he doesn't care that Nick has cleaned up his act and built a new life--including buying a home with Sloan's money--with Tara (Marguerite Moreau). Sloan and two associates, Charlie (David Cade) and Bruce (Scott Peat), with the help of a sleazy private eye who learns the hard way that he shouldn't gouge Sloan for more money, end up at Nick's house while he's away for the weekend working on restoring a boat with his buddy Sal (James Badge Dale). When Nick returns, he's greeted by Sloan and his crew, who inform him that they killed Tara before shooting him twice in the back and leaving him for dead. He wakes up handcuffed to a hospital bed under the steely glare of Sheriff Frank (Robert Taylor, taking his LONGMIRE act for another spin), who also happens to be his father-in-law and always knew he was no good. Nick manages to escape from custody when Frank leaves him with his idiot deputy (Brady Smith), and teams up with Sal to go after Sloan, Charlie, and Bruce.





It shouldn't take much to make something like INTO THE ASHES function as an engrossing thriller, but writer/director Aaron Harvey (best known for the dismal 2011 Tarantino knockoff CATCH .44, one of Bruce Willis' earliest forays into the world of straight-to-VOD) keeps the pace at a lugubrious crawl, and repeatedly errs in having significant events take place offscreen, only to have the characters talk about them after. That includes a late-film POV switch from Nick to Frank, who arrives on the scene of a motel shootout, sending him on a search for his son-in-law. Harvey eventually shows what happened in a later flashback, but by that point it doesn't matter, since we know who was killed and whatever minimal momentum was building has been completely quashed by a director trying to be stylish. Grillo (among the team of producers, along with his buddy Joe Carnahan) is an effective bad guy, but he's absent for long stretches, a tell-tale sign that they only had him for a few days. Grimes is sufficiently glum and dour but he remains a blank slate throughout, and only Taylor manages to create a genuinely interesting character, which Harvey of course diminishes by giving him pretentious voiceovers referencing religious parables about Samson in reference to Nick. INTO THE ASHES would've been a lot better if it just told a straightforward story instead of incessantly stalling itself and fumbling around with Creative Writing 101-level subtext in an attempt to be "deep." (Unrated, 97 mins)



COLD BLOOD
(France/Ukraine - 2019)


A thriller so blandly by-the-numbers that it actually fades from your memory while you're watching it, COLD BLOOD could almost qualify as Luc Besson fan fiction on the part of debuting director Frederic Petitjean, right down to the hiring of cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, a frequent Besson collaborator going back to 1990's LA FEMME NIKITA. But the real Besson worship is evidenced by the presence of Jean Reno in what amounts to an alternate universe incarnation of his Leon character from Besson's 1994 favorite THE PROFESSIONAL, only here he's called Henry. The film opens in the snowy nowhere of the Pacific Northwest wilderness, where Melody (Sarah Lind) crashes her snowmobile. Bleeding and unconscious, she's found and nursed back to health by Henry, who lives in quiet solitude in a cabin on the lake. Flashbacks reveal Henry is actually a hit man in hiding after whacking a billionaire CEO (Jean-Luc Olivier) in NYC ten months earlier. The CEO was actually born in the nearest town in Washington state and chose to be buried there (of all the places for Henry to hide), which prompts irate local detective Kappa (BACKDRAFT 2's Joe Anderson) to investigate the murder himself. Other characters exist on the fringe, like an assassin (David Gyasi) hired by the CEO's sinister chief aide (Francois Guetary) and a "surprise" involving Melody that will only surprise you if COLD BLOOD is the first movie you've ever seen.





A French-Ukrainian co-production shot in Kiev, COLD BLOOD never quite looks or feels "American," starting with most of the Ukrainian supporting cast being unconvincingly dubbed. But there's also a ton of awkward, stilted dialogue like Kappa's wizened old partner Davies (Ihor Ciszkewycz) asking him why he transferred from NYC to the middle of nowhere and being told, in a way that suggests a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma that's covered in pretentious bullshit, "Maybe I wanted to get lost." Or a head-scratcher of an exchange that actually sounds like Petitjean fishing for a distribution deal, where Davies asks Kappa "They got Netflix in New York?" and Kappa glowers "You see the things I see in New York City, you won't need Netflix." Or a floridly overwritten scene between Kappa and the CEO's estranged, dementia-stricken ex-wife (DOWNTON ABBEY's Samantha Bond, also Miss Moneypenny in the Pierce Brosnan-era 007 films), who's prone to surprisingly verbose purple prose and mellifluous exposition dumps for someone who can't remember a damn thing. For his part, Reno is Reno. At first, it's nice to see him in lethal assassin mode again, but he looks tired and bored, and after watching COLD BLOOD, one could hardly blame him. (R, 91 mins)



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