Fresh On Demand: ‘ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE,’ ‘OPENING NIGHT’ and ‘BURDEN’

Jared McMillan // Film Critic

There are many releases that hit the theaters every week. However, with the advent of streaming media, there are a lot more alternatives without leaving the house, whether Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes, etc. Here are some current titles available in the latest Fresh on Demand.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE
Not rated, 94 minutes.
Director: Mark Cullen
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Goodman, Jason MomoaEmily RobinsonFamke Janssen and Thomas Middleditch

Probably the biggest title to hit VOD services, just in terms of the ensemble cast, ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE stars Bruce Willis as a private detective trying to keep his head above water. Steve Ford (Willis) has caused himself a lot of trouble. He stole a car back for a friend from a gangster named Spider (Jason Momoa), who exacts his revenge by stealing his stuff, including the dog. Also, he is trying to catch a graffiti vandal for a client named Lou the Jew (Adam Goldberg), while evading a couple of Samoan brothers who had hired him to find their missing sister; he found her and slept with her. Just a zany few days for ol’ Steve!

The narrative is further developed through voiceover of his employee, John (Thomas Middleditch of SILICON VALLEY), as he keeps a voice log of their cases. Normally, when a movie has this style of narration, it involves the main character. But John is hardly in the film, so it leads to one of many questions of necessity, ultimately culminating in a giant mess. Why have that structure when it does nothing but lead to an open ending? What’s the need for gratuitous sex? These subplots don’t add to much either, as it’s just throwing out different scenarios to account for lack of character development.

Worst of all, ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE isn’t as funny as it tries to be, which is a shame. Everybody is pretty much this flatlined malaise in character and just wastes everyone’s talent, including John Goodman, who is Steve’s best friend and a washed-up surfer stuck in constant self-pity. Once the third act kicks in, there just any isn’t anticipation, except for it to end. Willis does make the most of it, and it’s good to see him return to form. If only it were a better movie.

Grade: D-

OPENING NIGHT
Not rated, 90 minutes.
Director: Isaac Rentz
Cast: Topher Grace, Alona Tal, Anne HecheLauren LapkusTaye DiggsPaul Scheer and Rob Riggle

It’s opening night of a new Broadway musical called “One Hit Wonderland,” which is about a singer struggling with being a one-hit wonder and goes through a Christmas Carol-like realization, with a songbook of nothing but reimagined songs known for being one-hit wonders. Stage manager Nick (Topher Grace) is trying to hold everything together, from an overbearing producer (Rob Riggle), a self-centered star (JC Chasez as JC Chasez), a concussed co-lead (Anne Heche), a chorus out-of-control (led by Taye Diggs), and mounting tension between he and his ex, Chloe (Alona Tal).

While Nick is trying to keep the ship straight, he is also dealing with old wounds regarding his failed attempts at stardom, caused by a disastrous bout of stage fright. As the show goes on, events cause him to come to a realization about himself, as well as his relationship with Chloe. Soon, what’s happening on stage bleeds into backstage, as the teleplay mirrors Nick’s doubts. Even the actors start singing one-hit wonders. Can Nick pull it off, or will he succumb to his self-destruction?

It sounds sort of dire, but it’s really just a conflict of man vs. self at the heart of OPENING NIGHT, which is a nice surprise as a whole. It doesn’t pull punches on its humor, leading to some raunchy sequences, and there are some nice musical moments throughout, but doesn’t linger long enough to take the audience out of it. At under 90 mins. in run time, the movie keeps everything at a fast pace, but that does lead to a lot of missteps with keeping characters one note (i.e. Malcolm is the raunchy gay guy, Brooke is the jaded former star, etc.). That being said, it’s still entertaining and good for a quick rent.

Grade: C+

BURDEN
Not rated, 88 minutes.
Director: Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan
Cast: Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci and Roger Ebert

For the documentary lovers out there, be sure to check out BURDEN, which is a fascinating look at Chris Burden, the controversial artist from the 70s known for nailing himself to a Volkswagen Beetle, and “Shoot”, which is a piece that had someone shooting Burden in the arm. It launched him into the pop culture zeitgeist for that time period, but was it more because of his genius or his perceived insanity?

The film mainly tracks his career trajectory, which is a slight disappointment considering the mystique that surrounds Burden. However, just the scope of his work is something to behold. It’s rare to see that kind of performance art with such a distinct vision that it’s hard to pinpoint. With his celebrity came criticism, as there were those who perceived him to be a sadist, causing him to go from performance art to sculpture work; it also caused him to burn a lot of his relationships to the ground.

BURDEN is one of the best docs this year, as it is told through mainly old footage/interviews, with several of his former compatriots adding brushstrokes. There is also the underlying narrative of “Is performance art really art? Is Chris Burden really an artist?” As it moves along his career to the 2000s, his acclaim shifts from questionable to undeniable, with pieces such as “Metropolis II” and “Urban Light” becoming mainstays at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as symbols to the city, as well as Burden’s genius.

Grade: A-

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