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The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of this year’s better directorial debuts. Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz deliver a real winner with a terrific cast. It’s a strange and funny Southern odyssey with a whole lot of peanut butter, moonshine, epiphanies and—last but not least—wrestling.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, is basically a prisoner in a retirement home, abandoned by his family. Zak has aspirations to be a wrestler—and he breaks out one night on his quest, wearing nothing but underwear. He comes across Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a troubled but goodhearted fisherman who creates a situation for himself after which he must hit the road. The two form a bond and start heading south toward Florida, where Zak’s wrestling school awaits.

LaBeouf, who continues to shine after his career hit a bump, is at his best here opposite Gottsagen, an actor who actually has Down syndrome—and mighty good comic timing. They make a great pair before becoming a great trio when Eleanor (Dakota Johnson, doing a lot to make us forgive the whole Fifty Shades thing), Zak’s caretaker, hunts them down. She takes pity (well, Zak throws her keys in the ocean) and eventually boards the raft toward the wrestling school. It all comes to a wonderfully weird conclusion in what amounts to a great adventure.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is now available via online sources.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Writer-director Drew Goddard, who hadn’t directed a film since The Cabin in the Woods in 2012, assembles an all-star cast for a nutty film—that’s sometimes a little too cute for its own good.

The star of this movie is the El Royale, a fictional hotel based on Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva hotel, once owned by Frank Sinatra. Bad Times at the El Royale features fine art direction, from its aged lobby straddling two states, to its creepy tunnels behind the rooms set up for criminal voyeurs.

Jeff Bridges plays a mysterious priest who checks into the resort along with a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm) and a hippie (Dakota Johnson). After the messed-up manager (Lewis Pullman) checks them in, each visitor has his or her own story in his or her own room.

Goddard shows flourishes of brilliance, mixing thrills, mystery, humor and lots of blood into the intertwined plots, giving the film a Tarantino-like feel. (I know that’s a cliché these days, but it’s true.) The film is set in 1969 and pays homage to the time through its soundtrack, set design and subplot involving a Manson-like cult leader (Chris Hemsworth).

At nearly 2 1/2 hours, the film is a bit much; a half-hour could easily be excised. However, the stuff that works makes Bad Times at the El Royale a worthwhile movie.

Bad Times at the El Royale is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I went to see Fifty Shades Freed—the third, supposedly final and treacherously terrible entry in the Fifty Shades franchise—on a Sunday morning, hoping to keep a low profile. I was the only single guy sitting in the dark theater, along with couples of varying ages, primed for groping and sloppy in-theater fellatio. (Hey, we all know what happens at these damn Fifty Shades screenings!)

So … this is the one in which Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) get married, creating an eternal bond for their patented strain of lovemaking that involves whips, handcuffs and shitty dialogue.

When I sat down to take in this fart to the face, I was thinking, “Say, you know what I want with my miserable, dick-killing soft-core porn? Give me some car chases and kidnapping drama!” And that is what I got … but I wasn’t really thinking that. I was thinking something along the lines of, “Help me. I want to go home. I want to go home now.”

I didn’t see Fifty Shades Darker, the Empire Strikes Back of the Fifty Shades trilogy. As I recall, I had a hangnail when it came out, and my physician told me that staring at Dornan’s naked ass and constantly changing facial hair would exacerbate it, so I took a pass. I did see the first one, Fifty Shades of Grey, an experience that had an adverse, lasting effect on my thyroid and circulatory system.

In that second chapter, some character named Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) was apparently stirring up crap. He returns in this movie, all cardboard-cutout-angry at Anastasia for whatever she did in part two. (Whatever that was, I’m sure it consisted of her droning in whiny, bored tones.) He follows her around, at one point orchestrating a car chase between Anastasia’s brand-new Audi and a Dodge Durango. Who do you think won that race?

While there is supposed to be a plot, Fifty Shades Freed is really just an assemblage of asinine, soul-decimating moments. Here’s a quick of just a few of the things Fifty Shades Freed totally ruined for me: Seattle, Audis, Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” (Dornan sits down at a piano to sing this in a true WTF? moment), David Bowie’s “Young Americans” (I heard it playing while Anastasia and Christian were eating steak), steak, butt plugs (I’m kind of OK with having this one ruined for me), Dodge Durangoes, Aspen, women, men, Mickey Mouse (he’s on my watch face, which I was constantly checking), Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (they are Dakota Johnson’s parents, and I’m holding them personally responsible), the color red, sexy architects, sonograms and the English language.

The movie is set in Seattle. This fact made wish Mount Rainier would erupt. This franchise is selling a gazillion dollars in tickets; surely, they could’ve spent an extra hundred million on a volcanic-eruption sequence in which Christian and Anastasia get buried in molten lava while playing with vibrators in their torture room. (A sequel set in the future could’ve had archaeologists making an especially lascivious, Pompeii-like discovery of their preserved and naughtily posed bodies.)

The movie is directed by James Foley, who helmed such classics as At Close Range and, for Christ’s sake, Glengary Glen Ross. Let’s put this in perspective: This guy directed the Alec Baldwin’s “Brass Balls” speech, and now he’s directing Seattle-based butt-plug mayhem. (He also directed Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl,” so the seeds of suck were planted in the late 1980s. The bastard has come full circle.)

Anastasia and Christian have a safe word—“Red!”—when things get out of hand in their little bondage-palace nightmare. From now on, I will have a movie safe word—I think it shall be “Jaws!”—and I will repeat this aloud when I want a movie to stop. As for Fifty Shades Freed? “Jaws! … Jaws! … Jaws! … oh, God, Jaws! … Jaws!

Fifty Shades Freed is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Johnny Depp breaks his shit slump with a riveting performance as James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston crime lord who acted as an informant to the FBI while killing people and destroying lives.

Depp goes under some heavy makeup—including some disgusting teeth—to play the infamous brother of William “Billy” Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and pal of FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). The movie examines the strange dynamic that occurred between one of the worst criminals in Boston history, his high-ranking brother and his meat-headed FBI friend. All three are very good in a film that, alas, feels like it was supposed to be a lot longer. I suspect there’s a four-hour cut of this movie somewhere in director Scott Cooper’s basement.

Depp is scary-good, yet his work feels strangely abbreviated; he feels like more of a supporting player. Edgerton’s Connolly feels a more well-rounded; this continues a fine year for the actor after The Gift. Peter Sarsgaard, Kevin Bacon and Dakota Johnson are all good in supporting roles.

As mobster movies go, this is good, but it should’ve been great. If anything, it’s good to see Depp truly digging into something rather than acting like a goofball for a paycheck.

Black Mass is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I’ve seen a lot of people reading Fifty Shades of Grey in recent years.

I’ve seen them reading it at airports, in front yards while kids are at play, while driving cars on the freeway, at church with the book cleverly tucked in a hymnal, while violently kickboxing and, most notably, in public lavatories while jovially humming. (It’s very unsettling, that jovial humming.)

Everybody, everywhere, has been reading that crazy book in which the girl gets all bondage-like with the rich guy who has major, major mommy issues.

The Fifty Shades phenomenon has been impossible to avoid, and that virus has now spread to movie screens. While I managed to avoid the book as if it were an ill-tempered grizzly bear infected with ebola, I have a job to do, so off to the Red Room of Pain I go.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a mousy college student who is so innocent that she doesn’t know what a butt plug is, despite the fact that she has a porn-star name. Subbing for a sick roommate, she goes to Seattle to do an interview for a student newspaper with billionaire-business-guy-douchebag Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Grey’s offices are immaculate and adorned with supermodels. The place is also riddled with fancy pencils that have “GREY” stenciled on them, so that when Anastasia erotically sticks one in her mouth, its sort of like she’s sucking on Grey’s dick.

Shortly after the interview, Grey starts stalking Anastasia at the hardware store where she works, but that’s OK, because he has billions of dollars and looks like the result of a night of passionate lovemaking between Ryan Phillippe and Eric Bana. Let’s face it: If Grey looked like Zach Galifianakis and only had a quarter in his pocket, he’d go straight to jail for such behavior.

His psychotic courtship eventually leads to Anastasia becoming his prospective bondage slave. He offers her a formal contract that, if she signs it, will allow him to become the Dominant, with her as the Submissive, in a kinky sex relationship that will involve spanking, humiliation, nipple clips and eating toast in bed.

The sex scenes eventually happen—and, if anything, they provide some good, hearty laughs. While the screenplay doesn’t explain much, Grey’s sexual proclivities and needs to abuse his mate have something to do with his being a crack baby. I guess we are supposed to feel sorry for him while he’s torturing his girlfriend, because his mom was a stupid crack whore. Fair enough.

When people aren’t having sex in this movie, they are talking in a somber, slow, irritatingly elongated manner. Everybody in this movie is a mopey, sodden sop. I love Seattle, but watching how the residents behave and communicate in this movie made me want to never visit the city again, even if the Mariners make the playoffs.

Back to the subject of Grey’s dick: Dornan signed a “No Dick Whatsoever … Sorry!” clause, so he never whips it out. There’s plenty of Dornan ass, and Dornan chest, and even Dornan chin scar, but no Dornan dick. Those of you dying to see some massive Dornan dick will have to score a real-life date with the guy, because there is no Dornan dick to be found in this flick. The guy could be a eunuch for all we know.

The movie sort of just ends after 125 minutes. Those of you who get intensely, emotionally involved in the plight of Anastasia and Christian will have to wait, Empire Strikes Back-style, for the sequel. Frantic negotiations have no doubt commenced with Dornan to get him to show his dick.

I saw Fifty Shades of Grey at a late-night showing on Valentine’s Day. I suspect there might’ve been some tug jobs and finger-banging going on in the theater; after all, it was the sweetheart holiday and, well, I heard grunting and snorting. If there were various acts of covert sex commencing around me, I’m sure they were 1,000 times more erotic and genuine than the hilarious antics occurring onscreen.

Fifty Shades of Grey is regrettably playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews