CVIndependent

Fri10232020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Holy hell, The Last Thing He Wanted is a bad movie. I mean, it’s bad. Like, really, really, really, really, really bad.

Anne Hathaway trudges through this adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel, a movie that casts her as an ’80s reporter who MUST KNOW THE TRUTH. Fed up with boring stories involving Reagan’s re-election campaign, she winds up going all over the world, simultaneously trying to help her crazy daddy (Willem Dafoe, whose character is supposed to be sickly … but, man, he’s never looked better in a movie) and, I think, trying to blow the lid of the Contra scandal. I say “I think,” because, honestly, I have no fucking idea what was going on in this stupid movie.

Ben Affleck shows up as a creepy diplomat who eats pie and eventually goes to bed with Hathaway’s character, because, well, I don’t know why that happens, either.

Hathaway is reduced to extensive phone-acting scenes, during which she is really concerned or very upset or totally angry and, gosh darn it, she’s on the phone when it’s happening.

If you can figure out what’s going on in this movie, you have my respect. Wait … actually, if you can follow this movie, you might be as messed up as this movie is. Yeah … if you like this movie, don’t talk to me. We won’t connect on any social or intellectual level. We are from different worlds, you and me.

The Last Thing He Wanted is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The real-life horrors the DuPont company inflicted upon Parkersburg, W.Va., get a strong cinematic treatment from director Todd Haynes with Dark Waters, an earnest legal drama that skips lengthy courtroom sequences in favor of in-depth looks at those affected—on all sides of the case.

Mark Ruffalo headlines the movie as Rob Bilott, a corporate attorney visited at his posh office one day by Wilbur (Bill Camp), a friend of his family. Wilbur, a lifelong farmer, shows up grumbling like a crazy person, screaming about dead cows and chemicals. Rob dismisses this agricultural Quint from Jaws, gets back to his meeting, and goes about his mostly comfortable day.

However, the encounter with Wilbur eats at Rob; he decides to investigate further and eventually winds up on Wilbur’s farm—where close to 200 cows have perished due to ailments like enlarged organs and tumors.

Wilbur thinks this is happening because of something in the water in the stream. Wilbur is right.

DuPont has been dumping toxic chemicals near Wilbur’s farm for years—ever since the company brought Teflon to the American public decades earlier—and Bilott is very familiar with the company. He’s even friends with Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber), a company lawyer. They have cordial discussions about Wilbur and his cows at first, but those discussions escalate into a lawsuit, followed by larger class-action suits, as the people of Parkersburg become aware of the chemical plague that has been infecting their drinking water.

The film works well, in part because it avoids typical courtroom-drama stereotypes. Ruffalo’s Bilott is a well-meaning but flawed guy, and he’s a little slow on the uptake at first. He’s also a bundle of nerves prone to medical emergencies, because he can’t take the pressure. Tom, his boss (played by a strong Tim Robbins), is alternately supportive and demanding—not the typical top-dog-lawyer monster who often resides in these movies. These characters actually have depth.

Ruffalo, who has been making big money as Bruce Banner/Hulk in the Marvel movies, was a solid actor before he went green—and he remains one. He has a WTF? face in this film that says it all, as he encounters one atrocity after another.

Even though much of what really happened in Parkersburg is now part of the public record, Haynes manages to make the movie somewhat of a mystery, with slow reveals as Bilott digs deeper and gets closer to the truth. There are moments that seem innocuous and standard—but are revealed later on to be pivotal.

I’ve known a few cow farmers in my time, and Camp gets all the elements right—but this farmer has the added unfortunate element of raging disgust with a corporation that is slowly killing him and his family. Wilbur’s encounter with a family cow losing its mind is heartbreaking. Anne Hathaway adds extra dramatic heft as Rob’s wife, Sarah, who is trying to keep normalcy in family as her husband goes off on a crusade that seems to be never-ending. She has some of the film’s more intense moments as she plays equal parts supportive and get-your-shit-together enforcer.

Dark Waters will make you think about a lot of things we take for granted—like non-stick surfaces in our cookware, and swimming holes … and where does the water come from? This case was a blight on DuPont, a big company with a lot of problems, another one of them captured memorably in 2014’s Foxcatcher (which also starred Ruffalo).

One of the more shocking true details this film reveals is that most humans have traces of chemicals—like the those that polluted Parkersburg’s waters—in their blood. That’s an eye-opener, as is the movie as a whole. Dark Waters is a stark reminder that there are money-making entities out there that don’t give a rat’s ass about your well-being. That truth is scarier than anything you’ll find in a horror movie.

Dark Waters is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis gloriously upstage two kaiju monsters in Colossal, a science-fiction monster mash that features numerous twists—and a psychological/emotional river that runs mighty deep.

Hathaway outdoes herself as Gloria, a New York City writer who gets kicked out of the apartment of her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) because she is constantly partying and being somewhat “unmanageable.” She winds up in her hometown, sleeping on an inflatable mattress, where she bumps into Oscar (Sudeikis), a childhood friend.

Oscar, an overly sweet and generous guy at first glance, immediately tries to help out Gloria. He gives her a job at his bar and showers her with furniture for her sparse home. This seems to be the setup for a strange romantic comedy—with science fiction/horror as the background.

Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, however, has something much different in mind.

Gloria awakens one morning after a night of drinking to discover that a giant, lizard-like creature is attacking Seoul, South Korea. After examining some YouTube videos and news reports, she realizes the monster seems to be mimicking her mostly drunk body movements. Yes, the monster is the manifestation of her self-loathing, out-of-control, alcoholic ways, and it’s taking lives in Korea. She feels more than a little bit guilty about this.

Things get weirder when an equally large monster robot shows up next to Gloria’s monster—and appears to be the manifestation of Oscar’s anxieties. Oscar is far more into the notion of having a monster under his control and starts playfully taunting Gloria. The monsters wrestle it out, and their battles become more intense as Oscar and Gloria begin to have ever-bigger problems in their newly reborn friendship.

While the movie has plenty of fun with giant monsters beating each other up, it has even more fun with the mystery that is Gloria and Oscar. It becomes an introspective film, and even a scary look at messed-up relationships—more specifically, severely messed up dudes and their manipulative ways.

Sudeikis is on fire, delivering easily the best performance of his post-Saturday Night Live career. Oscar is as clever and charming; many of his actions seem to be propelled by good-natured ribbing or tomfoolery. As the film goes on, however, Sudeikis and Vigalondo slyly reveal more and more about Oscar’s psyche. It turns into one of the more interesting, intricate character studies in a movie so far this year.

Then there is Hathaway, one of the more wonderful actresses to ever occupy the big screen. There’s been a strange Hathaway backlash since her incredible, Oscar-winning turn in Les Miserables. (Some of that blame is due to her straining attempt at hosting the Oscars while co-host James Franco mentally checked out mid-ceremony.) Colossal immediately re-establishes her as an actress to be reckoned with. She’s everything in this movie: hilarious, heartbreaking, sympathetic and sometimes full-blown crazy. Sure, the manifestation of her problems is killing helicopter pilots in Korea, but we can’t help but root for her. Many of us probably have buddies like Gloria—minus the kaiju shadow, of course.

Together, Hathaway and Sudeikis create fireworks that overshadow their clashing monsters. They prove that human beings going at each other’s throats can be more terrifying than King Kong vs. Godzilla.

By the time it plays out, you’ve seen what will surely stand as one of the year’s more clever, adventurous and experimental films. You’ve also seen the next step in Sudeikis’ career, as he proves he can be a true dramatic force. As for Hathaway, you’re seeing more of the same—an actress in full command of her every moment onscreen in a movie.

What a wonderful, weird, gonzo idea for a film. Colossal goes into the category of movies with Being John Malkovich, Barton Fink and Mulholland Dr. It’s bizarre—but it will have you thinking about it long after you’ve seen it.

Colossal is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It opens Friday, April 28, at Mary Pickford Is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100).

Published in Reviews

Upon revisiting Interstellar on Blu-ray, I would like to make the following observation: Matt Damon kicks mortal ass in this movie.

Yes, I know, most of the hubbub involving this film focuses on the Matthew McConaughey performance, and whether or not the science ideas hold up. For me, the most startling aspect of this flick is when Damon shows up deep in the picture and fucks things up, old-school.

I didn’t necessarily buy what director Christopher Nolan and his cronies were trying to postulate about wormholes and space travel. However, I did thoroughly enjoy Interstellar thanks to the work of the special-effects crew, the performances and, yes, Matt Damon playing a total douchebag.

I had completely forgotten Damon was in Interstellar when I watched it the first time, so when he showed up as a scientist who was waking up from what he thought would be his final nap, I was blindsided. This time out, I was prepared and able to focus on his work from the very beginning. Damon is a rock star.

Did you know Steven Spielberg was originally set to direct his movie? If he had, it would’ve probably had a John Williams score and a whole other vibe. Instead, Nolan made a good movie that makes you think—a good movie that makes you think Matt Damon kicks ass!

Special Features: There’s a nearly hour long documentary about the science of the film narrated by McConaughey. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Time will tell us that Les Misérables—being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, Friday, March 22—was a far more deserving movie than Argo for Best Picture. As far as movie musicals go, I can’t think of one that has ever amazed me more—and I’m a big movie-musical fan. I rank this one alongside My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Grease as one of cinema’s all-time-best musicals. I personally put it at No. 1, even with Russell Crowe’s painful singing.

Director Tom Hooper, criminally snubbed for a Best Director Oscar nomination, had his stars sing live on set. They wore earpieces and microphones, which were later removed in post-production, with a music track playing along as they sang their hearts out.

The results are absolutely amazing. Anne Hathaway got her much-deserved Oscar after doing “I Dreamed a Dream” in a long, uninterrupted take. Whenever I watch her doing this, my eyes open so wide that I have no forehead left.

Hugh Jackman, you should have an Oscar on your mantle. Daniel Day-Lewis did a nice job as Lincoln, but Jackman did something nobody has really done before. As for Crowe, I’m sort of OK with how bad he sounds. It makes his nasty character, the determined lawman Javert, more pathetic and isolated.

Watching this movie is goose-bump city. It will always stand as one of cinema history’s greatest movie-making achievements.

Special Features: Hooper provides a commentary, and you get some behind-the-scenes docs, including a great one about how they recorded the live music. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

This review comes to you from a man who loves a good musical—and is a diehard fan of Les Misérables. Haters of movie musicals everywhere, I beseech you: Give this one a chance! Lovers of this musical ... unite! The movie is a blast!

Les Misérables, based on the Victor Hugo novel set in 19th-century France, has always been the epitome of a big musical done right. When I saw it on Broadway, I remember thinking something along the lines of, "There's no way in hell anybody could ever put this on the big screen in a respectable fashion." To mount a worthy production, one would need a big budget, and one would need big stars with box-office allure who can sing like no other. I'm happy to report that director Tom Hooper didn't just find stars who can sing; those stars make you freaking cry when they are singing. They are that good.

Hooper (The King's Speech) gathered his glorious cast, and then he went and made things even more complicated: The actors and actresses in this muscular musical sing live on set. There are no comfy sound booths with fancy mineral water. What you see and hear in this movie is the product of live takes.

It's absolutely remarkable. The performance by Hugh Jackman, in the central role of notorious bread-stealer Jean Valjean, is more than Oscar-worthy; his work here requires an Oscar. His physical presence is appropriately commanding, and his voice is miraculous. This is a role that could turn to schmaltz in the wrong hands, but rest assured that what you're seeing is one of musical cinema history's greatest, most-uncompromising performances.

Shockingly, his is not the best performance in the movie. That honor goes to Anne Hathaway as Fantine, the betrayed factory worker turned prostitute who's desperately trying to care for daughter Cosette (played by the sweetly voiced Isabelle Allen as a child). Hathaway delivers "I Dreamed a Dream" in one devastatingly beautiful take that will drop many a jaw into many a lap.

Some will point to Russell Crowe's Javert as the film's weak link, and in some ways, it is. Crowe's voice doesn't compare to the likes of Jackman and Hathaway, but his diminished vocals help make his Javert more pathetic.

Javert, the dogged lawman who destroys his life by unrelentingly pursuing the fugitive Valjean, has long been a literary loser, and Crowe brings a marked sadness to him. The fact that his voice isn't so grand just makes his Javert lonelier and bleaker. I was expecting something more booming, but this interpretation is growing on me.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are appropriately disgusting as innkeepers Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Amanda Seyfried, after the failure of Mamma Mia!, gets to put her capable voice to a better test as the grown Cosette, while Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) gives a breakthrough performance as her suitor, Marius.

The coveted role of Éponine (for which Taylor Swift was once rumored) has gone to Samantha Barks, who was featured in the acclaimed Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary. Hooper made the right choice; her rendition of "A Little Fall of Rain" qualifies as the best I've heard.

Hooper does more than put a bunch of great actors and voices in play. His staging of the musical is superbly accomplished. When Daniel Huttlestone emerges from a huge elephant statue and delivers "Paris/Look Down" from the back of a moving horse carriage, it's pure movie magic. The costuming, art direction and sets are all impeccable.

Those familiar with the show know that a good chunk of it takes place on a pile of furniture. Hooper does great things with the infamous last stand in the street.

By the time Cosette and Valjean have their last meeting, you have seen so many moments of grandeur that it's hard to keep track. The decision to have the actors sing live was a risky one, but it pays off in a big way.

Am I fawning? You bet I am. It's such a wonderful thing to see something that delivers more than what you were expecting. Nothing hurts a film critic more than a long-awaited movie that falls short. (I'm looking at you, Hobbit!) If either Hathaway or Jackman go home Oscar-less, that would be a shame.

Les Misérables is so much more than a worthy adaptation of a long cherished musical. It's a masterful game-changer when it comes to movie musicals. I could go on and on about how great it is, but words of praise can't possibly do it justice. See it.

Les Misérables is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews