CVIndependent

Mon06262017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Bob Grimm

The Cars franchise gets a nice boost with Cars 3, a much, much better movie than Cars 2, and a slightly better movie than the first Cars.

If you are keeping score—and, really, you shouldn’t be, for there are far more pressing matters in your life—Cars 3 is still one of the more mediocre offerings from Pixar/Disney. Still, a mediocre Pixar film is better than most animated movies.

Jettisoning the stupid spy-movie bullshit that made the last installment convoluted and useless, the folks at Pixar chose to take an earthier, more-emotional route with this one, and it works, for the most part. They also found a way to get the voice of the late Paul Newman into the mix, and hearing his beautiful growl again definitely warms the heart.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is getting on in years, and he’s facing fierce competition from newer-model cars like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a highly trained, superior-strength vehicle that is beating him on the racetrack. After a calamitous accident that renders his beautiful red sheen primer grey, McQueen is faced with either retirement—or a new training regime followed by a comeback, Rocky III-style.

McQueen chooses the comeback, and finds himself in a training facility owned by greedy businessman Sterling (Nathan Fillion), and being trained by Apollo Creed, I mean, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Race simulators, treadmills and drip racks replace good-old-fashioned racing around in Radiator Springs, which cramps Lightning’s style, so he hits the road and finds himself under the tutelage of Smokey (Chris Cooper). Smokey helped train the late Doc Hudson (Newman), McQueen’s mentor. He’s sort of the Mickey from Rocky of this movie.

Does the film get a little boring at times? Sure; I would’ve glanced at my watch had I been wearing one, but director Brian Fee and crew manage to keep everything pretty much on track in this outing, right up until a sweet finale that gives the franchise its first true emotional punch.

The movie plays around with the notions of retirement and rites of passage to the next generation—pretty heady stuff for a G-rated animated movie. Give the screenwriters credit for finally coming up with a story for Lightning McQueen that caters to adults as well as kids. Also, thanks to cameos, jargon and plenty of racing sequences, the movie should please NASCAR fans.

Another thing that makes this installment unique is that a good chunk of it takes place at night, on quiet highway roads. Yes, Cars 3 provides a good sense of what it’s like to be driving around at night when nobody’s around. The Pixar artists prove, yet again, that they can create precise vibes with their creative pixels. Sequences in which Lightning races through a dark forest and battles a pumped-up school bus in a dirt-track race are standouts.

Mater the tow truck, the Jar Jar Binks of the Cars franchise, only gets a few small scenes. He was the star of the last installment, which meant too much Larry the Cable Guy for those of us who can’t stand Larry the Cable Guy. Since I am the president of the Larry the Cable Gay Hater Fan Club, a club that exists only in the recesses of my own mind, I express gratitude to Disney and Pixar for relegating Mater to supporting status.

Cars 3 is pretty good, but nothing beats the Cars ride at Disneyland in sunny Anaheim. I just rode it multiple times a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a blast. Disneyland … the Happiest Place on Earth! I know that sounds like a commercial, but, hey, this movie is basically a decent commercial for the ride.

Where the Cars franchise goes from here is anybody’s guess. I would love it if Pixar leaves well enough alone and makes this the final chapter. Go out on a positive note, Lightning McQueen.

Cars 3 is now showing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

One of the better films of the 1990s finally gets a sequel as Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and the boys swing back into action.

After being gone two decades following the heist after which he skipped town with all of the money, screwing over his gang mates, Mark finally returns home—and the circumstances are grim. Best friend Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) remains pissed; Spud (Ewen Bremner) is an absolute suicidal mess; and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is fresh out of prison—after an escape—and looking for some payback.

Director Danny Boyle also returns, and he’s put together a film that, while not nearly as good as the original, is a sequel worthy of the original. It’s fun to see these characters again, and interesting to see where the years have taken them. (Basically, not very far.)

Heroin addiction, a big part of the original, is more of an afterthought in this one, although Spud’s ongoing addiction is dealt with, and two of the main characters relapse for at least one scene. The movie deals mostly with Mark’s efforts to repair friendships, and Begbie’s still-psychopathic behavior.

In America, this film barely played cinemas, although it did have success overseas.

Special Features: You get a commentary from Danny Boyle and a sitdown Q&A with Boyle and the cast.

I don’t hate The Mummy because it’s a terrible movie; it’s not. I hate it because it could have, and should have, been good.

Actually, hate is a strong word; I just don’t like it. Opportunities abound for some real fun here, and they are all squandered.

Tom Cruise is fully committed for a gonzo performance as Nick Morton, a soldier moonlighting as a tomb raider in Iraq. After stumbling upon the tomb of an ancient nasty named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), he winds up on a plane with the mummy, some soldiers and a mysterious woman named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis).

The plane crashes, and then the weirdness begins, with Nick surviving the crash—because he’s possessed by Ahmanet. Post-crash, Ahmanet starts sucking face with cops and dead guys, turning them into a zombie army as she marches on London. Along the way, Nick meets Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) in a subplot so freaking unnecessary that it’s maddening.

Jekyll is here, because he’s part of Universal’s new “Dark Universe” scheme, an attempt to Marvel-size classic Universal monsters into some sort of connected, ongoing series. What a seriously stupid mistake this is: Nothing connects these monsters other than their original gothic origins, so trying to make them modern stand-ins for Iron Man and The Hulk is a joke. Take it from me: Dr. Henry Jekyll is no Nick Fury.

Cruise is stuck laboring in this convoluted yet sometimes-almost-entertaining mess. The film starts with a blast as Nick and his sidekick, Chris (Jake Johnson), uncover the tomb and then run into trouble on that plane. The subsequent plane crash is thrilling, scary stuff, and the attempt to turn Jake Johnson into something akin to Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London has potential.

Alas, the movie cheeses out, and becomes more concerned with being the start of a franchise than being an achievement unto itself. Director Alex Kurtzman plays it safe with the scares—scares that have potential, but reek of PG-13 confinement. Had he gone for something more in the spirit of the Evil Dead series by increasing the scares, gore and raunchy laughs, this could’ve been a lot more fun. What we wind up with is a film that is afraid of itself—and so unfocused that you’ll check out in the second half.

Too bad. Ahmanet makes for a compelling monster; I prefer her Mummy to the one running around in those hackneyed Brendan Fraser efforts. Wallis is equally good as a woman with a few secrets, and Johnson is funny when he’s allowed to be.

Cruise is Cruise … and if you are a fan, that’s a good thing. He holds his own for most of the flick, but the script lets him down with a finale that is terrible. It’s as if Kurtzman and his screenwriters had something nice and bleak, and then they had to re-shoot to make something happier. The final moments feel tacked on.

Seriously … Universal wants this to be a universe like those created by Marvel and DC? Maybe the sympathetic vampires of Twilight have studio execs thinking audiences will accept Dracula as a hero? I doubt it. First off … Dracula will always be nasty, and many movie goers frown upon bloodsuckers, even the Twilight ones. Johnny Depp is supposed to play the Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem is signed on for Frankenstein’s Monster. What … are they going to join hands and solve crimes together? Universal needs to pull the plug on this plan now, and simply make good, standalone monster movies. Kurtzman has made a messy film, but he’s not totally to blame: This is a movie in service of a franchise idea, and it feels like it’s being forced down our throats.

Abandon the Dark Universe, and, please, no more of that Russell Crowe Jekyll-and-Hyde act. It’s nonsense.

The Mummy is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Writer-director Trey Edward Shults, who made a splendid debut with last year’s family drama Krisha, goes for a family drama of the post-apocalyptic kind with It Comes at Night, a thriller falsely billed as a horror movie.

Paul (Joel Edgerton), a man living in a remote house with his wife and kid (Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.), will go to every extreme to protect his family from a plague that has claimed the majority of Earth’s population. If somebody gets sick in his home, the ill person receives a bullet to the head and a postmortem visit to the fire pit. With that possibility always at hand, he allows a new couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough, grandchild of Elvis) and their child to move in after they earn his trust with some livestock. Things go well for a short amount of time … before paranoia kicks in, and the fire pit looms.

Edgerton is magnificent here, as is the rest of the cast. The marketing makes this look like some sort of zombie movie, but it’s more drama than horror—although the film is quite dark. Shults is a true talent who doesn’t play by the rules, and he’s only going to get better.

If you are looking for zombie fun, watch The Walking Dead. This one is about families behaving badly. It aims to mess with your head—and succeeds.

It Comes at Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

The DC Universe gets the blast of fun it sorely needed with Wonder Woman, a film that gets it right in almost every way—including a performance from Gal Gadot that makes it seem like the role is her birthright.

Gadot lights up the screen and commands the camera on the same level as Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr. She simply is Wonder Woman; I can’t picture another actress even attempting to play the character. She owns it. It’s hers. Game over.

There’s always a faction of fans who bitch about superhero-origin stories, who want films to jump straight to the hardcore action, but I love a good origin story done well. The movie starts with young Amazonian princess Diana running around her island paradise, practicing her fight moves and yearning to be trained as a warrior. After butting heads with her sister, Antiope (Robin Wright, rightfully cast as an Amazonian badass), Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, yet another piece of great casting), relents, and allows Antiope to train her niece—as long as Antiope doesn’t tell Diana about the true powers Diana possesses. For those who don’t know the Wonder Woman back-story (I was a little rusty on it myself), it’s a sweet piece of mythology and mystery, and director Patty Jenkins (who made the Charlize Theron Oscar vehicle Monster) perfectly paces all the revelations.

Diana eventually winds up in Europe during World War I along with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a wartime spy who crash-lands on her island. Diana is convinced that the German military leader who Steve is fighting (Danny Huston) is the war god Aries, and she intends to take him out. This all leads to miraculously cool scenes of Wonder Woman leading soldiers on the battlefield against the Germans, and it’s nothing short of exhilarating.

Gadot has the best superhero smile since Reeve flashed his pearly whites in the original Superman (1978). When Reeve smiled, he drove home the fact that he was the sweetest, best darned guy running around on planet Earth (you know, back when Superman was generally happy rather than constantly moping about). Gadot has that same kind of smile superpower.

It says a lot that Gadot and Jenkins make you feel good in a movie with a lot of violence and villainy. Huston is a super-creep, and his evil sidekick, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), likes making poisonous gas—and there are moments when her evil-doings are flat-out terrifying. Yet no matter how dark the film gets, it remains an overall upbeat experience.

However, the film is not perfect. There are some occasional terrible CGI special effects, although there are enough stellar effects to balance things out. Still, maybe this movie needed a few more months in post-production, because the shoddy moments are glaringly obvious. They don’t come close to spoiling the movie, but they keep it short of excellent.

Pine is a total charmer as the confused spy who winds up romancing a goddess—a love story handled in a way that is surprisingly convincing and quite adorable.

Perhaps some of the joy in this movie will make it into November’s Justice League, or future Superman movies. (Hey, Batman can mope … that’s his lot in life.) Wonder Woman gives the DC superhero crew a new lease on life, and offers the summer movie season the adrenaline boost it needed after the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie stunk up the place.

After all these years, and all sorts of failed attempts, Wonder Woman has finally gotten her chance to rule on the silver screen. Gadot takes that chance and soars. May she have many more adventures as fun as this one.

Wonder Woman is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

In The Survivalist, Martin McCann plays a character—simply listed as Survivalist in the credits—who is living on a small piece of land in a post-apocalyptic world where food has grown scarce. It’s a lonely existence, but he has a crop to get by, and it’s all for him.

That is, until a mysterious woman (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter (Mia Goth) show up looking to barter for food. He refuses their offer of pumpkin seeds, but the Survivalist accepts the offer of sleeping with the daughter … and then things get a little complicated.

Writer-director Stephen Fingleton has made a film that is relentlessly dark, and has almost nothing good to say about human beings. (Hey, the human race needs a good smack-down sometimes … am I right?)

McCann is highly memorable as a nervous man who yearns for companionship yet trusts no one. Fouere provides the right amount of nastiness as somebody who has been hardened by the apocalypse. Goth plays the film’s most sympathetic character, yet even she is a schemer with nefarious intentions. The darkness plays out until the bitter end.

This is a film that aims to bum you out—and succeeds. I say this as a compliment.

The Survivalist is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

In the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a bunch of pirates run around and act like dicks while being pursued by ghosts, all while trying not to sink.

Actually … that’s basically the plot of all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Therefore, it’s depressingly no surprise that the new one, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, rehashes the same plot with Johnny “The Whore” Depp doing his whole drunken Keith Richards pirate routine again as Jack Sparrow.

Actually, his Keith Richards routine has devolved into something more akin to Dudley Moore’s routine in Arthur 2: On the Rocks: The original was somewhat funny, but the gag got tired really quickly.

So it goes with Depp’s meandering, mumbling, tipsy performance as Jack Sparrow, the feared pirate with whom everybody seems to have some sort of problem. Depp’s laboring with a joke that stopped being funny four movies ago.

This time out, a new legion of undead sailors is after Jack, because he has a compass that can lead them back to the land of the living, or some bullshit like that. The band of dead sailors is led by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), some dude who was trying to rid the world of pirates when he was alive, but wound up a cursed ghost under the sea due to a young Sparrow’s clever trick.

Young Sparrow is depicted in a flashback that has Depp becoming the latest star to be de-aged by CGI. This movie trick is leading to some genuinely creepy-looking stuff. I liked it when they did it to Kurt Russell in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, but this time out, it just looks weird.

Bardem’s Salazar looks kind of cool in this film. He’s sort of half-blown up, and he always looks like his hair is flowing in water, even when he’s above ground. There, I said something relatively positive about this crap.

As for the plot, there’s also some nonsense involving Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) trying to un-curse his dead father, Will (Orlando Bloom), yet another undead pirate. He must do something with the compass that Sparrow possesses to bring Will back. If he succeeds, that means Orlando Bloom will be back in full swing for more Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which had me rooting for the compass to be burned in a “Please, No More Orlando Bloom Movies!” bonfire.

If that plot doesn’t give you enough déjà vu, Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa, the monkey-toting dude who was dead in the first movie, but is now resurrected. Like that of Depp, Rush’s pirate routine got tired after the first movie.

The best part of the film belongs to Paul McCartney, who makes a cameo as Uncle Jack, Jack Sparrow’s imprisoned relative. McCartney delivers a few good lines with the sort of deft comic timing he displayed more than 50 years ago in A Hard Days Night and Help! It’s too bad this wasn’t his movie, because he’s far more interesting than Depp’s played-out, gimmicky bits. Also, kudos to him for singing The Beatles’ “Maggie Mae” in his jail cell. Nice touch. There, I’ve said two good things about this piece of crap.

If you must, stay for the credits, because there’s an after-credits scene that sets up further adventures—even though Disney keeps saying each Pirates film is the last one. My recommendation: Don’t stay for the credits, and instead get your ass out of the theater as soon as possible. Actually, just stay home and don’t watch this insulting cash machine at all.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Netflix’s original film War Machine is all screwy. Brad Pitt plays Gen. Glen McMahon (clearly based on real-life General Stanley McChrystal), put in charge of the war in Afghanistan during the Obama administration.

McMahon is just Pitt’s Inglourious Basterds character without a mustache—but this time, Pitt never seems relaxed in the part. Instead, he seems lost in a movie that doesn’t really know where it’s going. It’s military satire, and then it’s a serious depiction of men at war, and then it’s a straight-up comedy, and then it’s a political intrigue movie, and so on.

Writer/director David Michod tries to wrangle this mess with the ultimate movie crutch—the voiceover, provided by a character based on the real journalist who wrote the article and later the book on which the film is based. The late Michael Hastings (depicted here as a character called Sean Cullen and played by Scoot McNairy) wrote the Rolling Stone article that eventually inspired the book, The Operators. It also brought down McChrystal, depicted here as a bit of a nut—but a lovely, friendly nut who cared about his men, but wanted to win, win, win.

While trying to win, he leaked classified info and messed with the president. The film also tries to be a condemnation of American activity overseas, with a not-so-nice depiction of Obama, played here by a mediocre Obama impersonator (Reggie Brown).

A strong cast including Anthony Michael Hall, Will Poulter, Alan Ruck and Meg Tilly can’t save this schizoid film.

War Machine is now streaming on Netflix.

Ridley Scott’s third Alien film is an entertaining mashup of the overreaching-but-cool sensibilities of Prometheus and the old-school dread and “Ick!” factor that made the original Alien one of the best horror and science-fiction films of the 20th century.

Alien: Covenant continues the ruminations about the origins of man birthed in Prometheus while injecting a few more Xenomorphs into the mix. It will please fans of the first two films of the franchise who want the shit scared out of them, while also appeasing those who enjoyed the brainy (if somewhat confusing and inconsistent) ways of Prometheus.

While Scott leaned harder on the horror elements here, his budget is $30 million-plus less than what he had for Prometheus. That film constituted one of cinema’s all-time-great usages of 3-D technology, with flawless special effects. Covenant totally abandons 3-D (money saved), and features some CGI in the opening minutes that looks like something you would see in a low-budget Syfy channel offering.

The film more than makes up for that shoddy computer work once the crew members of the Covenant—a stricken colony ship in danger of not reaching its destination—sets down to scout out a new planet as an alternate, closer option. The expedition is led by a new commander (Billy Crudup) after the original captain passed away (in an eyebrow-raising cameo).

Things look encouraging at first: There is fresh water, breathable air and even wheat fields, on the plus side. After a quick search for a transmission they received drawing them to the planet, they discover the horseshoe ship piloted by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David the android (Michael Fassbender) at the end of Prometheus. After this discovery, the minus side begins to get a lot of check marks.

They are on the Engineer planet, the origin of Earth’s creation, and the place where they created the bio weapon meant to destroy us. David has been surviving on the planet for more than a decade, but where’s Elizabeth? Where are the Engineers? Only David knows, and David, as you might remember from Prometheus, is a bit dickish.

The film allows for another mind-bending performance by Fassbender: Not only is he playing David, but also Walter, the upgraded android from the new expedition. The two androids are essentially the devil and Jesus in this movie, and they share an interesting flute tutorial that suggests androids can have sexual/incest impulses. Fassbender, as with Prometheus, is the main reason to see Covenant.

That is, he’s the main reason to see Covenant besides the triumphant return of the Xenomorphs. The face-huggers and chest-bursters return, along with some new bad bastards including the back-burster and the face-burster. When they grow up (quite rapidly), they become all forms of H.R. Giger’s inspired creepy madness. Unlike Cameron’s Aliens, these Xenomorphs aren’t interested in cocooning. They are more interested in stuff like popping heads off and doing that claw-between-the-legs move that Veronica Cartwright endured in the original Alien’s most-horrifying moment.

Beyond Crudup and Danny McBride as ship-pilot Tennessee, nobody else in the cast really distinguishes themselves beyond being fodder for the aliens. Katherine Waterston is OK as the film’s main protagonist, Daniels, but her role ultimately feels like a greatest-hits compilation of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Rapace’s Shaw.

Where does this rank in the Alien franchise? I’d say fourth, behind Alien, Aliens and Prometheus, and just above the unfairly maligned Alien 3. It’s a good time for Ridley Scott and Xenomorph fans, and it continues the existential offerings of Prometheus. Had they taken the time to work a little harder on those early effects, and fleshed out the cast members a little better, it could’ve surpassed Prometheus.

Scott is promising at least two more films leading up to the events of his original Alien, while apparently putting the kibosh on the Aliens sequel that was in the works for director Neil Blomkamp. That’s the one that would’ve brought back Ripley, Hicks (Michael Biehn) and Newt.

Dammit! That would’ve been cool.

Alien: Covenant is playing at theaters across the valley.

Some 26 years ago, ABC did a very, very bad thing: The network cancelled Twin Peaks after just two seasons, without telling David Lynch the season finale would be a series finale. This resulted in the most unholy of cliffhangers.

That cliffhanger that would last 26 years.

Thanks to Showtime, Twin Peaks fans finally get some relief with the return of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), the Black Lodge and Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz).

As of this writing, I’ve seen the first four hours of what will be 18, all directed and co-written by Lynch. The first two hours play like the latter-day Lynch films (Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway), and have more in common with the dark, horrific Peaks movie Fire Walk With Me than the comparatively bright original TV show.

Episodes 3 and 4 take on a funny, goofier tone at times, reminiscent of the odd humor that propelled the original series. Even with the laughs (chief among them a moment involving cell phones and a run of casino jackpots), the new Peaks is a dark and sinister place—a fascinatingly brilliant, dark and sinister place.

There’s no sense in me going too far into the plot. Those who remember the show know that it ended with Dale Cooper stuck in the Black Lodge, with his evil doppelganger released upon the Earth, possessed by Killer Bob. Well, this series provides the long-awaited answer regarding Dale Cooper’s fate. MacLachlan is afforded all kinds of opportunities to go crazy as an actor.

The Showtime show is as good as the ABC show was when Lynch was directing it. Lynch directed all the episodes we will see this year—and as a die-hard Peaks fan, I can’t believe I got to write those words just now. I’m in heaven.

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