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On Blu-ray/DVD/VOD: MONEY PLANE (2020) and WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2020)

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MONEY PLANE
(US - 2020)


From the folks at Quiver Distribution, the company that gave us THE FANATIC, comes the pre-fab cult heist flick MONEY PLANE, which would've been much more entertaining as a viral fake trailer instead of the actual terrible movie it's selling. Feeling drawn-out even at a mere 82 minutes, MONEY PLANE manages to corral the kind of slumming cast that Uwe Boll would put together if he was still in the game. But the guilty party here is director/co-writer Andrew Lawrence, the least-known of the Lawrence brothers, though he does provide Joey and Matthew with supporting roles. MONEY PLANE seemingly wants to be the SNAKES ON A PLANE of heist movies by letting you know that it's on the joke, but it fumbles so badly that it has a character exclaim "Whoa!" and it's not the one played by Joey Lawrence. After a botched attempt to steal a $40 million painting from an art museum only to find that it's already gone when they get there, man-bunned professional thief Jack Reese (Adam Copeland, aka WWE's "Edge") and his crew realize they've been set up. The mastermind? Self-aggrandizing crime lord Darius Emmanuel Grouch III, aka "The Rumble" (Kelsey Grammer), a cigar-sucking, art collecting asshole who bought a huge debt belonging to recovering gambling addict Reese and now expects him to work it off (cue The Rumble growling "I own you"). The job? Reese and his crew--Isabella (Katrina Norman), Trey (Patrick Lamont Jr), and Iggy (Andrew Lawrence)--are going to steal $1 billion in cryptocurrency and $40 million cash from the "Money Plane," an illegal "casino in the sky" that caters to rich criminals and is untouchable since it only flies in international airspace. The stakes? If Reese doesn't play ball, The Rumble will have his wife (Denise Richards) and daughter (Emma Gordon) killed.





Anything goes on the Money Plane (The Rumble: "You can even bet on a man fuckin' an alligator!"), and the clientele includes the world's highest-paid assassins and international weapons dealers, so Reese fits right in going incognito as a notorious human trafficker. But he manages to break away and commandeer the cockpit (he's also an experienced pilot) as Isabella and Trey are left to hack the database while Iggy does tech support on the ground. Overseen by the coldly lethal Concierge (Joey Lawrence), things start off easy on the Money Plane with Texas Hold 'Em but soon graduate to the kinds of games more akin to HOSTEL, like bets being placed a man vs. a cobra, or how long some poor guy can stay alive in a piranha tank (you can imagine how those turn out), and Trey is forced to go against J.R. Crockett (Matthew Lawrence), the Money Plane's "undefeated Russian Roulette champ" (wouldn't his being "undefeated" already be understood?). Copeland, who looks like he's in a perpetual state of shock, is a dull hero who spends most of the film confined to the pilot's seat. Thomas Jane shows up for a day's work as Harry, Reese's pipe-smoking Air Force buddy who gets a bunch of exposition that never ends up coming into play ("Remind me again why you made me your daughter's godfather!"), and there's no way Richards was on the set for more than an afternoon. But it's a scenery-chewing Grammer that's the main selling point here, dropping bon mots like "How about I just blow your brains out and I'll create my own damn Pollock?" and barking "Bring me my money!" every time he appears. Like Samuel L. Jackson bellowing"I have had it with these motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' plane!," watching a shouty Frasier Crane drop F-bombs and take out his own henchmen in a fit of rage is the stuff of a great YouTube clip, but if you drink every time he says "money plane," you'll be passed out before you even get the chance to see him hoist an assault rifle and declare "It's Rumble time!" He quite obviously knows this is dog shit and is just amusing himself, but it also seems like he and Jane (working that prop pipe like John Cusack with a vape pen) are the only ones in on the joke. (Unrated, 82 mins)



WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS
(Italy - 2020)


At the age of 80, Nobel Prize-winning South African novelist and essayist J.M. Coetzee tries his hand at screenwriting with WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS, based on his 1980 novel. The book--also turned into an opera in 2005 by Philip Glass--was conceived as a period apartheid allegory, set in a non-specified military outpost manned by officers of "The Empire," forever on guard for an attack by desert nomads--derisively termed "barbarians"--that never comes. Coetzee cited Dino Buzzati's 1940 novel The Tartar Steppe as a major influence, itself made into the 1976 film THE DESERT OF THE TARTARS by Italian director Valerio Zurlini. If you've seen the Zurlini film, the idea of the perpetual wait for a threat that looks increasingly existential and absurd with each passing year will certainly be familiar. And where Coetzee repurposed the idea for apartheid with his novel, he does so once again for the film with allusions to more present-day political concerns. Directed by Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra (his 2015 film EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT was a Best Foreign Film Oscar-nominee), WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS opens at a small town-turned-Empire outpost run by an unnamed magistrate (Mark Rylance), who's been left in charge for years and has found it's become a comfortably cushy assignment. The nomads roaming far out in the desert keep to themselves and the few that do make it near the walled-off outpost and attempt petty theft are generally given a night in jail and sent back on their way with no harm. The magistrate has developed a peaceful rapport with the locals and everybody gets along fine until the sadistic Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) arrives for an "inspection," which involves "enhanced interrogation" of an uncle and nephew accused of trying to steal some sheep, resulting in the uncle being killed and the nephew nearly beaten to death. Deciding he still hasn't quite made his point, Joll commandeers a small group of officers and forces the nephew to guide them back to their camp, where Joll instigates an attack that results in more brutality and death.


    


One of the survivors (Gaya Bayarsaikhan) is brought back, bloodied and blinded by a heated fork that Joll repeatedly prodded near her eyes until she lost most of her sight. When Joll leaves the outpost, the magistrate is left to clean up the mess, nursing the girl back to health and returning her to her people. It's an arduous journey and when he arrives back at the outpost, Joll has returned, and with him is psychotic protege Officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson), both waiting to charge him with treason and abandoning his duties. The magistrate is thrown in jail with the other "barbarians" they've rounded up as they prepare for an attack from the nomads that wouldn't have happened had Joll not gleefully goaded them into it. WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS plays the heavy hand at times--you almost expect a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST moment where Rylance's dour magistrate will observe "I wonder who the real barbarians are"--and for the most part, it moves at the pace of Merchant-Ivory. But it's a slow-burner that's beautifully shot by the great and ageless Chris Menges (who won Oscars for his work on THE KILLING FIELDS and THE MISSION) and has a trio of excellent performances by Rylance, Pattinson, and especially Depp in his best work in quite a while. It's also among his least-mannered characterizations, a welcome surprise considering his wardrobe and quirky sunglasses make him look like he took a wrong turn on his way to a steampunk convention.



Coetzee takes some liberties with his own work, drastically toning down the magistrate's rather healthy sexual appetite on the page and making him generally chaste for the screen, though it's implied that he's a regular with an area prostitute (Isabella Nefar) and he spends enough time tending to and washing the blinded woman's bloodied, battered feet that this may end up at the top of Quentin Tarantino's Best of 2020 list. The Italian-made WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2019, but US distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films sat on it for a nearly a year--no doubt due in part to the pandemic, but possibly because of Depp's very public personal dramas. But then in June 2020, multiple women accused Guerra of sexual harassment and rape in incidents dating back to 2013. Given the potential for negative publicity and toxic blowback, it's little wonder that WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS is being given an ignominious DTV burial after nearly a year in limbo, but it's a quaint throwback to the kind of old-school desert epics they used to make, and worth a look for patient fans of the three stars. (Unrated, 114 mins)



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