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White supremacist Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell), after being raised on a doctrine of hate in a skinhead camp, has a change of heart when he finds love with a single mother (Danielle Macdonald).

Of course, putting a skinhead past behind you—especially when you’ve opted to tattoo your face with hate images—is not an easy thing. Writer-director Guy Nattiv, basing his film on Widner’s true story, does a nice job of showing that redemption sometimes comes at a high price.

Bell is great here as Widner, as is Macdonald as the woman who manages to love him even though he’s a complete asshole. The film feels like a distant cousin of the Edward Norton-starring American History X, although it doesn’t have the artistry of that movie. Still, the movie is a solid story, well-acted—and proof that Bell is a bigger talent than his resume shows.

The supporting cast includes Bill Camp as the leader of the skinhead camp, and Vera Farmiga as the leader’s nurturing yet classless and evil wife. Blink, and you’ll miss a quick appearance by Mary Stuart Masterson as Agent Jackie Marks. She acts like she’s in a different movie, but it’s fun to see her all the same.

Skin is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Dexter Fletcher, the director who helped take a shit on Freddie Mercury’s legacy with the dumpster fire that was last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody (he finished the job after Bryan Singer was fired), fares much better with Rocketman, this celebration of Elton John.

The movie tells Elton John’s story through musical numbers and fantasy sequences; as it turns out, it’s a good approach. Elton John is played by Taron Egerton (who starred alongside Elton John in the wonderfully weird Kingsman: The Golden Circle), and there will be no lip-synching here, thank you very much: Egerton confidently sings John’s tunes, including “Tiny Dancer,” the title track and, unfortunately, “I’m Still Standing.”

Jamie Bell plays John’s writing partner, Bernie Taupin, and the movie works as a nice testament to their contributions to rock’s legacy. Egerton goes full-blown rock star, as the film features some nice, artistically exaggerated re-creations of key moments in Elton John’s history. The results are a lot of fun, even through some slight miscasting (Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton John’s mom!).

Rocketman is not a perfect movie, but it’s a bold and interesting approach to a rock biopic that has more in common with Across the Universe than Bohemian Rhapsody.

Rocketman is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After a lot of bad buzz, Fantastic Four has finally hit the big screen, and it’s official: The summer movie season is officially dead. It has been punched in the neck.

The Marvel franchise has had a few misfires, including Ghost Rider and its sequel, the Amazing Spider-Man films, and, of course, the two previous Fantastic Four movies. (Actually, it’s three previous Fantastic Four movies, counting Roger Corman’s never-released effort.) Those films blew, but they had some sort of coherence. In contrast, director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is an epically discombobulated cinematic mess. It’s as if the people who wrote, directed and edited this thing never talked to each other about what they were doing.

Get ready for another origin story: This one goes all the way back to when Reed Richards was a little kid, making teleporters in his garage with his scrappy pal, Ben Grimm. The story then jumps ahead to a high school science fair, where Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) are being mischievous: Their teleporter causes a basketball backboard to blow up … so, naturally, Reed gets a full scholarship to the prestigious Baxter Institute.

Reed spends his school days working for Dr. Franklin Storm (a completely terrible Reg E. Cathey). Storm’s adopted daughter, Sue (a detached Kate Mara), assists Reed in making a bigger version of his science project, as does biological son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) after he crashes his car and is forced to help. Reed’s team also includes the rebellious Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). That last name should be a red flag, right?

When NASA and a gum-chewing Tim Blake Nelson try to take over their project, a drunken Reed and his boys (including Ben) decide to try out the teleporter thing, and they wind up in another dimension on Planet Zero (The Negative Zone in the comics). Everything is dull and grey, laid out as if somebody had intended to make a 3-D movie but pulled the plug and went 2-D when they realized the film was piss.

Things go wrong; Victor gets left on Planet Zero; and the Fantastic Four is born when everybody returns all fantastically screwed up. Sue, who stayed behind at the lab, still gets transformed, because she gets hit with blue light from the teleporter thing, proving my theory that a blue light bath from a teleporter thing often results in controllable invisibility.

So Sue is invisible sometimes; Johnny is the flammable Human Torch; Ben Grimm is the rock pile The Thing; and Reed is the stretchy guy. Mind you, very little action with these powers actually takes place. The film doesn’t even really allow the characters to acknowledge what has happened to them. It’s a leaden build-up to an even more-leaden, tacked-on finale.

Trank recently made a recent statement implying the studio hijacked the film, and the movie we are seeing is not really his. Given how disjointed this film feels, I’d be inclined to believe him, although his Chronicle was nothing to get all that excited about.

Apart from the terrible acting, the dung-heap dialogue and the plot problems, this movie possesses some of the worst special effects and makeup you will ever see in a modern, big-studio picture. For terrible makeup, look no further than Von Doom after he transforms on Planet Zero. He looks like a seventh-grader who tried to make a C-3PO costume out of melted silver Crayola crayons, and who then, while mushing the thing together, was introduced to low-grade methamphetamine.

Stan Lee doesn’t do a cameo in Fantastic Four. He shows up in almost all of these things. When Stan Lee doesn’t show up, you’ve been disavowed. This film deserves to be disavowed.

The Fantastic Four is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

James McAvoy delivers his best performance yet in this morally vacant take on the sick novel by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).

McAvoy stars as Bruce Robertson, a Scottish cop strung out on drugs who is hearing voices in his head, hallucinating and behaving very badly. At the center of the film is a murder mystery that provides a final twist which cements the movie’s nutball pedigree.

McAvoy essentially gets to do his own riff on the Bad Lieutenant (a role that served both Nicolas Cage and Harvey Keitel well); he is able to go completely gonzo. What makes his turn different is that the movie allows him to have some truly genuine, emotional moments mixed in with the mayhem. This results in a surprisingly balanced, well-modulated performance despite the subject matter.

The supporting cast includes Jamie Bell as a fellow cop with a small member, and Eddie Marsan as Bladesey, a tightly wound member of the force who is Robertson’s best friend while also being one of his saddest victims. Robertson’s prank phone calls to Bladesey’s wife, Bunty (Shirley Henderson), are hilariously vile, and clearly indicate that Robertson doesn’t value Bladesey’s friendship all that much.

Bruce Robertson is one of those unreliable narrators, like Ed Norton’s narrator in Fight Club, who make viewing a movie like this a blessed adventure. You’ll never really know what’s truly going on until those final credits roll.

Filth is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing