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On Blu-ray/DVD: A SCORE TO SETTLE (2019), PASOLINI (2019) and JACOB'S LADDER (2019)

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A SCORE TO SETTLE
(US/Canada/UK - 2019)



Nicolas Cage got some of his best reviews in years with 2018's instant cult classic MANDY, but for every MANDY or MOM AND DAD or Richard Stanley's upcoming and much-anticipated THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE, there's a LOOKING GLASS, a HUMANITY BUREAU, a 211, a BETWEEN WORLDS or another utterly generic Redbox-ready clunker to effectively quash any comeback momentum he might accidentally have going. A SCORE TO SETTLE can be lumped in with a dozen other already-forgotten Cage paycheck gigs (raise your hand if you remember him dabbling in faithsploitation with the LEFT BEHIND reboot), a haplessly hokey revenge thriller with a really dumb Shyamalanian twist that anyone should be able to call less than ten minutes into the movie. Cage is Frank Carver, aka "Frankie Triggers," a low-level mob flunky who's spent nearly 20 years in prison after being set-up to take the fall on a hit that was ordered by his boss Max (Dave Kenneth MacKinnon) and carried out by his buddies Jimmy (Mohamed Karim) and Tank (Ian Tracey). Frank is getting a compassionate early release due to a terminal illness--a rare condition known as fatal insomnia that will, in time, cause his motor functions to dramatically diminish and his body to eventually shut down. He uses the time to reconnect with his estranged son Joey (Noah Le Gros, the lookalike son of veteran character actor James Le Gros) while indulging in a lavish lifestyle thanks to the recovery of a stash of Max's money that he left buried in a secret location prior to his incarceration. Widower Frank also treats himself to some fun with high-class prostitute Simone (Karolina Wydra), all the while plotting his revenge on those responsible for his two lost decades, especially once he learns that the presumed-dead Max may have faked his own death years earlier.





Directed and co-written by Shawn Ku, whose little-seen 2010 debut BEAUTIFUL BOY found some acclaim but only led to a Lifetime movie and the Crackle series SEQUESTERED, A SCORE TO SETTLE lugubriously dawdles for a good hour by setting itself up as a maudlin, manipulative man-weepie complete with some really terrible acoustic ballads, just in case you weren't sufficiently getting the feels. Once Ku drops the obvious twist about 2/3 of the way through, things finally pick up a little as Nic gets uncaged and does all sorts of crazy shit for his YouTube highlight reel: dramatically chewing on some jerky while he's interrogating Tank before blowing his head off, shooting another guy in the dick, busting out some seemingly improv impressions of Kurtwood Smith in ROBOCOP and later capping off a threat to a pimp with a Montgomery Burns "Excellent!" and, finally, coming up with several different ways to yell "BEEF?!" in the climactic showdown. The latter is truly a sight to behold, but until then, Cage (one of 22 credited producers) is just sleepily going through the motions, with one eye on the clock and the other presumably on the stack of bills he has to pay, bringing no life whatsoever to a series of awkwardly-played scenes with both Le Gros and Wydra. This is the sort of movie that has a reasonably well-known actor who gets a special "and" credit and is only seen sporadically throughout and has little to do with the plot, thus ensuring that he'll be of some "surprise!" importance later on. Also with Benjamin Bratt as one of Frank's old gangster pals who went straight, became a restaurateur, and keeps trying to talk Frank out of his plans for revenge, A SCORE TO SETTLE is the kind of by-the-numbers throwaway that's typified the bulk of Cage's output in recent years, only lately they've been looking a lot cheaper and much less polished. (R, 104 mins)


PASOLINI
(France/Italy/Belgium - 2014; US release 2019)


Belatedly given a stealth summer 2019 arthouse run in the US by Kino Lorber five years after it played everywhere else in the world, Abel Ferrara's PASOLINI is a frustrating chronicle of the last day and a half in the life of controversial Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was murdered on November 2, 1975. Masterfully portrayed by Willem Dafoe--whose Oscar-nominated performance as Vincent Van Gogh in AT ETERNITY'S GATE is likely the reason this tough sell finally found a US distributor--Pasolini is introduced giving an interview as he works on post-production of his most notorious film, 1976's posthumously-released SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM. We observe Pasolini go about his day: giving interviews, working on a novel, having lunch with his loving mother (Adriana Asti), his loyal assistant (Giada Colagrande), and his close friend, actress Laura Betti (Maria de Medeiros), and later meeting frequent star and former lover Ninetto Davoli (JOHN WICK 2's Riccardo Scamarcio) for dinner. Pasolini's day is capped off with a fateful night of cruising where he picks up 17-year-old street hustler Pino Pelosi (Damiano Tamilia), drives to the beach, has sex with him, and is then beaten to death by the young man and several of his cohorts who were waiting nearby. Pelosi drove over Pasolini's mutilated corpse and would eventually be arrested several days later when he was caught riding around in the filmmaker's stolen car. Pelosi confessed to the murder and was convicted, though he recanted it nearly 30 years later.





Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975)
Pasolini was an openly gay communist and outspoken cultural figure who made many political enemies, and there were numerous conspiracy theories surrounding his murder, including a possible Mafia hit or an ill-fated meeting with an extortionist after several cans of SALO footage were stolen. Ferrara (KING OF NEW YORK, BAD LIEUTENANT) doesn't go into any of that, and doesn't offer much help for anyone who's not already really up to speed on their Pasolini knowledge. It's less a narrative piece and more of a kaleidoscopic series of snapshots of random, mundane events of a day like any other, except that it turns out to be its subject's last. But with almost nothing in the way of exposition or an establishing of time or place (there's fleeting mention of the incendiary political scene in Italy at the time), there isn't much of a hook here aside from Dafoe's uncanny resemblance to Pasolini. It almost seems like Ferrara realizes this, as roughly half of the film's already brief 84-minute running time consists of scenes from Pasolini's novel as well as the script for his never-filmed intended follow-up to SALO playing out as they might have been. The novel sequences feature Roberto Zibetti as a politically ambitious, closeted bourgeois cipher serving as a Pasolini surrogate, while the scenes from the unmade screenplay have Scamarcio's Davoli as the young sidekick to an eccentric old man named Epifanio, played in an admittedly clever bit of stunt casting by the aged, white-haired Ninetto Davoli, who still has that beaming smile and Chaplin-esque screen presence he displayed in several Pasolini films decades ago. Only in the harrowing finale depicting Pasolini's brutal murder does PASOLINI start to generate any kind of dramatic momentum. Dafoe is a four-time Oscar-nominee and one of our great actors, and it's impossible for him to be uninteresting--though it is odd that his Pasolini and those interacting with him speak English while all scenes not involving Dafoe are in Italian or French. But his inspired casting isn't very well-served by a director who doesn't seem sure about what he's even trying to do with the project. (Unrated, 84 mins)


JACOB'S LADDER
(US - 2019)



No one was demanding a remake of Adrian Lyne's disturbing Tim Robbins-starring mindfuck from 1990, and considering it spent three years on the shelf before debuting on DISH Network en route to VOD, no one was in a hurry to release it either. Financially-strapped LD Entertainment intended on opening it wide in theaters in February 2019 before abruptly yanking it from the release schedule and selling it to the lowly Vertical Entertainment. Even as modern-era remakes go, JACOB'S LADDER sets new standards for the perfunctory. It obviously can't replicate the kick-in-the-balls twist ending of the 1990 original, but its solution is just an ambivalent shrug. It wastes a good performance by Michael Ealy as Jacob Singer, an Iraq War vet and trauma surgeon at a VA hospital in Atlanta. He suffers from PTSD but is coping, is happily married to Samantha (Nikki Beharie), and they've recently had a baby boy. Jacob believes his brother Isaac (Jesse Williams) is dead--a casualty of the same war--but he runs into a stranger (Joseph Sikora) from Isaac's unit who informs him that his brother is alive and in Atlanta. The brothers are reunited, with Isaac dealing with paralyzing PTSD, hooked on a drug designed to control it, and still holding a grudge against Jacob since Samantha was his girlfriend first. These soap opera elements do nothing to enhance the JACOB'S LADDER experience, forcing director David M. Rosenthal (who previously worked with Ealy on THE PERFECT GUY) to resort to simply recycling all of the same shock elements from the first film as Isaac, and eventually Jacob, have hallucinatory visions of various monstrous creatures after using the experimental PTSD drug known as "The Ladder." Ealy, also one of the producers, busts his ass to make this work, especially near the end, but he's giving this pointless remake more than he can possibly get from it in return. Put it this way: JACOB's LADDER '19 is written by the guy who wrote the PET SEMATARY remake and the upcoming GRUDGE remake, and it's got a story credit for the guy who wrote the WHEN A STRANGER CALLS remake and the HITCHER remake. C'mon, man. (R, 89 mins)



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