Bullets whiz, whistle and rip with a darkly comic ferocity in Free Fire, the latest from super-talented English director Ben Wheatley.
Wheatley has quietly been establishing himself as a solid indie director of action and horror, with obscure gems like Sightseers, High-Rise and A Field in England, along with one of the better installments in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death. With Free Fire, Wheatley gets to employ his action-directing prowess—while showing he can handle sharp dialogue and great acting.
He’s working with his biggest cast yet, which includes an Oscar winner in Brie Larson, as well as Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley. The film is co-produced by Martin Scorsese; the setup sounds like the sort of movie he should be making.
That setup: Two groups come together in a deserted Boston warehouse sometime in 1978. Things go awry, and the whole movie becomes one elongated shootout in which everybody is taking bullets; the losers will easily outnumber the winners.
The movie is a blast, thanks in large part to Wheatley’s staging of the event, and the actors (especially Hammer) taking it to great heights. There’s some mystery involved in the payoff, but it’s secondary to the action, which is appropriately disorienting at times. I couldn’t always tell who was shooting whom, but this works for the movie.
Throw in an extremely well-placed John Denver song, and you have what amounts to a solid, eccentric step in the evolution of Wheatley—a white-hot director who is just getting started.
Free Fire is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 and (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).
In The Fate of the Furious—easily the dumbest title in the Furious franchise, even dumber than Tokyo Drift—you get to see the most disgusting, stomach-churning moment in cinema so far this year.
That would be Charlize Theron planting a big, sloppy kiss on Vin Diesel, the visual of which creates a “girl from Monster meets the Pillsbury Doughboy on steroids” nightmare. Five years ago, I made a list of five things I never wanted to see, and that came in at No. 3, right under “Donald Trump as President” and “Spiders in My Scrambled Eggs Being Served to Me by a Man With Weeping Hand Sores.”
Somewhere along the way, the Furious franchise went completely bonkers and became less about cars racing around and more about dudes, with upper arms the size of a bull’s torso, who think hair on the top of their heads is total bullshit. It also went off on some sort of international-spy-team tangent. That worked to a hilarious degree in Furious 7, but in The Fate of the Furious, the trajectory becomes ridiculous without much fun: It’s just dumb and plodding. The big thing here is that Dominic Toretto (Diesel) has gone rogue and turned on his family, which has something to do with a cyber villain named Cipher (Theron) and her crazy dreadlock extensions.
The film opens with Dominic and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) having a good old time in Cuba, where we last saw them. Dominic gets into a car race that involves his vehicle catching fire, and him speaking in a growling, marble-mouthed manner. Post-race, he’s approached by Cipher, who is wearing a stunning outfit involving denim shorts. Dominic takes a look at something on her cell phone, mumbles and groans a bit—and the international intrigue begins.
Cipher is after nuclear launch codes and electromagnetic pulse contraptions, and Dominic becomes her pit bull. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham) are eventually employed by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to get with Dominic and see what’s going on in that big, Barry Bonds-sized head of his.
The portions of the film that involve Johnson and Statham are good—good enough to inspire thoughts of a spinoff film in which their characters join up and solve crimes while fighting Batman, Sylvester Stallone, Godzilla, etc. However, a very real chance at something like that apparently got squashed because Diesel screamed, “Mine, mine, mine, all mine!” and put the kibosh on it.
The biggest problem is that the film takes itself too seriously, with heavy doses of drama being ladled into the mix. The movie even makes way for Vin Diesel to have his Denzel Washington-in-Glory tear moment—that moment in which a single, solitary tear rolls down his cheek while the actor does his best to remain stone-faced.
The whole premise of Dominic going rogue has zero dramatic tension; I’ll simply say that there’s little mystery behind his “traitorous” actions. Also—and this goes without saying—he mopes a lot.
Theron is a great actress, but her supposed computer-genius Cipher is a character who mostly stands in a room barking out commands while everybody else does the legwork. Yes, there’s a scene or two in which she types really fast on a keyboard, but the notion that she is a cyber-terrorist goddess gets lost somewhere in those crazy dreadlocks.
The Furious franchise will go on, obviously. Hopefully, producer Diesel will remember what makes the whole thing fun and shift the emphasis from him squirting tears back to cars going, “Vroom, vroom!” and jumping between skyscrapers and over the Grand Canyon.
And, hey, let’s keep these things around 90 minutes in the future. This one clocks in at 156 minutes. That’s almost an entire other movie too long.
The Fate of the Furious is playing in theaters across the valley.
Adam Sandler’s third movie with Netflix is the very definition of overindulgence. There’s a decent movie in here from director Steven Brill, who worked with Sandler previously on Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds and The Do-Over—but Sandy Wexler is a mess obscured by too many subplots.
Sandler stars as the title character, a talent manager trying to find new clients in the 1990s. After working with low-level comedians and daredevils, Sandy finds Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson), an amusement-park performer with a stunning voice. Sandy takes charge of her career, and sends her on a superstar trajectory. Of course, Sandler creates one of his weirdo characterizations, with a goofy voice and strange mannerisms.
While some of the 1990s jokes involving Fruitopia, Arsenio Hall and the Atkins Diet are funny, Sandler and Brill take the movie off into a strange, unlikely romance realm that destroys all of the fun.
The movie is supremely overstuffed at 130 minutes, with one subplot too many involving Terry Crews as a flamboyant wrestler. His entire arc could’ve been left on the cutting-room floor.
Kevin James has a fairly funny supporting role as a ventriloquist who carries on regular conversations through his dummies, and Nick Swardson scores some laughs as a daredevil reminiscent of Super Dave Osborne and Evil Knievel. Hudson is good in her role, even when the character inexplicably falls for Sandy.
At 90 minutes and without the love story, this one might’ve been decent. As it stands, it’s another miss for Sandler.
Sandy Wexler is currently streaming on Netflix.
I recently bitched about the Beauty and the Beast remake being unnecessary. However, the movie was enjoyable and sweet on some levels. Then came the Ghost in the Shell remake; while it was a letdown, it looked good and had decent performances.
Now comes another remake, Going in Style—and there are no redeeming qualities: It’s a total disaster.
The original “old guys rob a bank wearing rubber noses” comedy from back in 1979 starred George Burns and Art Carney. The original was directed by Martin Brest, the guy who would go on to direct Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run and, uh oh, Gigli. Martin Brest … where are you? Yes, Gigli sucked an awful lot, but you had a decent batting average until then. You haven’t done anything since bombing with Gigli, but that film didn’t kill Ben Affleck’s career, so why did it knock you off?
Back on point … this Going in Style remake loses all of the charm of that fun and slightly dark Burns vehicle. Instead, the film is super heavy on schmaltz, and it asks a lot of beloved actors to basically embarrass themselves for 90-plus minutes.
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin replace Burns, Carney and Lee Strasberg in the updated story, and that setup probably looked pretty good on paper. Unfortunately, they handed the film to Zach Braff, the guy from Scrubs, to direct. Braff does so with all the subtlety and nuance of an M80 going off in a candlelight-yoga class.
The comedic moments demand that you laugh … yet you don’t. The touching moments grab you by the collar and scream, “Cry for me!” … yet you don’t. The heist itself insists that it is clever; it’s actually rather rote and mundane. The payoff involves a little girl doing something totally wrong, and it feels weird.
Michael Caine replaces Burns as Joe, the brains of the group. Joe, during a visit to a bank to complain about his upcoming foreclosure, witnesses a bank robbery. So, naturally, when he and his pals’ pensions go away, he decides to rob a bank.
After some gentle persuading of Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin), off they go to rob a bank. The big twist here is that they wear Rat Pack masks instead of the rubber-nose glasses from the original. Yes, that’s the biggest twist the film has to offer.
The heist itself just sort of happens. Braff shows some of the planning and execution in flashbacks, but the technique doesn’t reveal as anything ingenious. The whole beauty of Going in Style 1979 was that three old men simply robbed a bank—rather sloppily. Trying to make them seasoned, crafty pros in this one is a major misstep.
Ann-Margret is around to sleep with Albert (the grumpy one) and make him feel young again. That’s Ann-Margret’s job these days: She gets the “sleep with the old guy” roles, like she had in Grumpy Old Men. The way her character aggressively pursues Albert while she’s on the clock in the produce aisle should have gotten her character fired. It’s hard watching a great, fun actress being reduced to a stereotype—that stereotype being the older lady who tries to grab your junk by the avocados.
All of the dark, twisted fun has been taken out of the premise, and replaced by mawkish sentimentality. Caine, Freeman, Arkin and Ann-Margret are lost in a screenplay that doesn’t have any inventiveness; the film simply tries to get by on their star power. It’s not befitting of their legendary statuses.
The movie is a real bummer—a blue paint bomb in a bag full of money. The year 2017 is shaping up as the Year of the Unnecessary Remakes … and so far, this is the most unnecessary of them all.
Going in Style is playing at theaters across the valley.
The Void is a throwback to John Carpenter/Clive Barker horror films that’s completely insane, horribly acted—and a whole lot of fun for anybody who likes their horror served up with a side of cheese.
A brash policeman (Aaron Poole) picks up a stranger on the side of the road and takes him to a sparsely populated hospital (shades of Halloween 2). While there, a possessed nurse (shades of Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness) murders a patient, then promptly turns into a messed-up monster (shades of Carpenter’s The Thing) while the hospital is besieged by a zombie-like throng of people dressed in white cloaks (shades of Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13). Shortly thereafter, the head doctor dies, but comes back, promptly skins himself and unleashes a world down below filled with mutants (shades of Barker’s Hellraiser).
That’s just some of the homages, and they all come together … to make little or no sense. Still, the style of the movie, which features schlocky special effects and both over- and under-acting, makes the whole mess work, in an effective horror-revival sort of way. If you hate horror films full of blood and puss in which skinless doctors are bellowing devilish incantations, this one isn’t for you. However, if you are a fan of the recent Stranger Things and the Carpenter fare of old, this one will satisfy you.
The Void is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.
The 1995 film Ghost in the Shell was a groundbreaking, subversive piece of Japanese anime—and now it’s gotten a live-action redo, with Scarlett Johansson sporting a form-fitting flesh suit, and the addition of a bunch of plot enhancers aimed at making the story more humanistic and straightforward.
The results are always good to look at—but the puffed up plot and safe PG-13 rating keep the film from succeeding. It’s largely a boring, misguided affair.
Johansson can’t be faulted for the film’s failures. She could’ve been a solid choice to play Major, a human brain inside a synthetic cyborg’s body who is policing the streets of a futuristic dystopia that makes the Blade Runner landscapes look like modern-day Lincoln, Neb., in comparison. As she has proven in Lucy and as the Black Widow, Johansson is a capable action hero. She also fares well as somebody placed in an artificial body, as she did in Under the Skin. Most importantly, she can play a robot without seeming robotic. She gives Major some decent dimensions.
Unfortunately, Major has a new plotline that involves her past life, a mystery that overwhelms the action and turns the film into a bit of a melodramatic exercise. There are themes from the original anime and subsequent TV series that are expanded upon—perhaps too much—and it all slows the film down.
While the original had a hard-nosed, gritty crime-noir edge to it, in the new film, director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) goes for something softer and a little whiny. He also has a problem injecting humor; the movie is devoid of even the mildest of chuckles.
As far as set designs go, Ghost in the Shell is a visual winner, although it’s a bit derivative. Instead of Blade Runner’s geisha billboards, you get gigantic geisha holograms acting as skyscraper-tall advertisements. There are action scenes that do the original anime justice, and pay homage to films like The Matrix. None of it feels altogether original, but it does look good.
While the plot only mildly resembles that of the original, there are moments from the anime film that are re-created here. They include Major’s liquid birth scene; her diving off a skyscraper; the moment when Major tears herself apart while attacking a tank (although it’s far less gory here thanks to that PG-13 rating); and a scene in which Major battles a bad guy in a lake.
Michael Pitt shows up late in the film as Kuze, an altered version of a character from the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. He essentially replaces the Puppet Master from the original movie as an entity able to hack into other cyborgs and intelligence systems. Pitt, always an eccentric actor, embraces the opportunity to look and act really weird, which he does nicely. He turns Kuze into an interesting, tortured being. He’s one of the stronger elements in the film.
Legendary Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano plays Aramaki, a prominent character in the original who here is given a new spin. Kitano has a scene in which Aramaki dispatches enemy forces while using his briefcase as a shield, and it might be the best action moment in the movie.
There is no doubt that this was being set up as a franchise, but the continuation of the saga seems doubtful anytime soon. Ghost in the Shell cost a lot of money, and it was supposed to be a domestic blockbuster, but it’s getting beat at the box office by a cartoon baby voiced by Alec Baldwin.
The better bet would be to make further animated stories, and continue the saga of Major that way. No live actors are required.
Ghost in the Shell is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.
Dave Chappelle returned to the spotlight a few months back when he hosted Saturday Night Live—and reminded us all that he’s one of the greatest comics working today. His monologue was a thing of beauty.
With his two new standup specials currently streaming on Netflix, Chappelle proves he is actually one of the best comics to ever pick up a microphone: These are two solid gigs packed with nasty, hard hitting, brilliant humor.
The two specials have similar feels, so you are safe watching them back to back and treating them as one. Chappelle shames the likes of Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson in ways they truly deserve, while his takes on marriage and some of his own wild public moments are side-splittingly hilarious.
These shows represent a man at the top of his craft. Chappelle joins the ranks of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks and Louis C.K. in the Standup Hall of Fame.
Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas and Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin are now streaming on Netflix.
Life, the new sci-fi/horror film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, is an inconsistent but overall sturdy genre pic that looks great and ultimately delivers the goods, despite a few slow patches—and a couple of remarkably dumb moments.
Credit director Daniel Espinosa for setting a grim tone and sticking with it through the very end. Too many big-budget films wimp out with their vision; Life does not.
Gyllenhaal and Reynolds play astronauts pulling a long haul on the International Space Station. Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan is actually about to break the record for consecutive days in space, and generally prefers life among the stars to life back on our miserable planet.
The crew is awaiting a space capsule containing samples from Mars, and these samples will lead to an amazing discovery: life beyond our planet. Ship scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a cell, wakes it up and marvels at its ability to grow at a rapid pace. He eventually finds himself also marveling at the little guy’s ability to grab on to his glove and mulch the hand within it.
We quickly learn that life on Mars was probably a total shit show, because this nasty glob (a distant cousin of Steve McQueen’s The Blob) kills everything in its path. The expedition goes from a triumphant discovery to ultra-protective mode in a matter of seconds—because if this thing gets to Earth, the Blue Planet will become lifeless virtually overnight.
The movie hums along nicely for a while as the organism picks off crewmembers in rather grisly fashion. Some of those death scenes will impress those of you who like your movie deaths yucky; Life does good things with weightlessness and blood-splattering. The momentum gets interrupted by one genuinely dumb death scene that makes no sense, and a few talky scenes that go on a little too long. While these scenes don’t derail the film, they do take it down a couple of notches. Without these legitimate flaws, Espinosa was on his way to a very good sci-fi offering instead of a passably good one.
Gyllenhaal, playing what is essentially the male lead, is his usual reliable self, giving his character a few quirks to make him original. Reynolds gives the movie a few laughs, and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation) is good as the ship’s voice of reason.
While the film borrows from other genre standbys like Alien and Event Horizon, the central monster has plenty of standout, original qualities, and its method of killing people from the inside is terrifying. There were definitely enough original moments to distinguish the film as more than an Alien rip-off. (I’ve seen a few complaints branding the film as such.)
The movie gets high marks for its technical achievements, including some nice camerawork and solid editing. The musical score gets a little sleepy at times, and a bit distracting at others. It’s not bad, but when you are noticing the score too much during dialogue scenes, something is a little off.
If you are thinking this is Deadpool in Space, don’t go. Reynolds, although very good in the film, has a supporting role. This is Gyllenhaal’s film, so if you are looking for Donnie Darko in Space or Jarhead in Space, you should be OK.
The movie leaves itself open to a sequel, but it’s doubtful that will happen: Life is not making the big bucks, and the setup would call for a film with an enormous budget.
Life is entertaining, but it probably won’t stick around in your mind for long.
Life is playing at theaters across the valley.
Writer-director Sean Byrne follows up his very good horror debut, The Loved Ones, with The Devil’s Candy, a piece of heavy-metal nastiness.
Jesse (an unrecognizable Ethan Embry), a starving artist, and his wife, Astrid (Shiri Appleby), are moving into a new house, bought for a dirt-cheap price, with daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). However, they soon find out that the couple who lived there before died in some sort of accident.
After moving in, a super-creepy guy (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a former inhabitant of the house, shows up on the doorstep looking to move back in. Naturally, Jesse says no—and, of course, creepy guy doesn’t give up.
Byrne sets his story to heavy-metal music, with Jesse’s family being devout followers of Metallica; Vance’s creepy guy also needs to play metal at night on his guitar to drown out the voice of the devil. If devil movies give you enjoyable heebie-jeebies (like, for instance, last year’s The Witch), you will probably find plenty to like in this one.
Byrne is proving to be quite capable of cinematic freak-outs, and he has able partners in Embry and Vince. Place Mr. Byrne along the names of Ti West, Robert Eggers and Ted Geoghegan when making a list of current horror directors to watch.
The Devil’s Candy is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.
Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s wonderful animated musical from 1991, is the latest feature to get placed on the Disney Live Redo of a Beloved Animated Movie Assembly Line, with a big-budget effort starring Emma Watson as the iconic Belle, and Ewan McGregor as a CGI candelabra.
You may be asking yourself, “Is this absolutely necessary?”
The answer: No. No, it is not.
Then, you may ask yourself, “OK, if it isn’t necessary, is it at least an enjoyable pastime, for I like enjoyable pastimes? They help distract me from all of this trivial shit in my head.”
The answer: Why, yes, it is an enjoyable movie, even if it is completely unnecessary.
The movie isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of the original like, say, Gus Van Sant’s time-wasting Psycho effort. However, it does follow a lot of the same plot points and incorporates enough of the musical numbers to give you a sense of déjà vu.
Thankfully, Watson makes it worthwhile—Hermione makes for a strong Belle. Since director Bill Condon retains the music from the original animated movie, Watson is asked to sing, and it’s pretty evident that Auto-Tune is her friend. She has a Kanye West thing going.
As the Beast, Dan Stevens gives a decent-enough performance through motion-capture. The original intent was to have Stevens wearing prosthetics only, but he probably looked like Mr. Snuffleupagus in the dailies, so they called upon the help of beloved computers. The CGI creation blends in nicely with his human side.
The cast and crew labor to make musical numbers like “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” pop with the creative energy of the animated version, but they don’t quite reach those heights. They are nicely rendered, for sure, but not on the masterpiece level that was the ’91 film. As for the romance between Belle and the Beast, it has a nice emotional payoff. In a way, the movie is a sweet tribute to the animated movie, rather than being a movie that truly stands on its own.
Where does Beauty and the Beast stack up with the other recent re-dos of animated Disney classics? I would put it well above Pete’s Dragon, but below Cinderella and The Jungle Book, which were more solid efforts and felt a little more original.
There are worse things to do in cinemas right now than watch a good-enough retake on a Disney movie starring one of your favorite members of the Potter universe and that guy from Downton Abbey. Beauty and the Beast is nice, yet ultimately disposable, fluff. Let’s face it: Disney has the money to throw away on ventures such as this, and given the box office takes, this train is going to keep on rolling.
If you like Disney redo fluff, there’s more coming. The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, Peter Pan and Mulan are just a few of the remakes in the pipeline. Actually, pretty much everything they’ve done up until now is being remade. Universal has a Little Mermaid movie on the way, yet Disney still has plans to release their own live version of their animated gem. Winnie the Pooh and Cruella (the villain from 101 Dalmatians) are all current projects.
In short, with this juggernaut, Star Wars and Marvel all under the same dome, Disney is so big, they will be governing the planet soon. Stay tuned for Disney Health Care, a Disney Missile Defense System, and Mickey Mouse for president.
Oh, wait … that last one has sort of happened already.
Beauty and the Beast is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.