Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

I cried like a damn baby while watching After the Wedding. So, there you go.

After the Wedding has the distinction of having the lion’s share of its dialogue delivered by Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup; that’s a solid pedigree. This remake of a 2006 Swedish/Danish film has a soap-opera plot for sure—but you won’t care when it gets a little melodramatic.

Williams does so much with facial expressions in this movie—it’s otherworldly. As Isabel, a woman visiting New York in an effort to raise funds for her charity, she shows the power of simple expressions. She also reminds us that she’s a master at blowing the roof off the house if the script calls for it.

As Theresa—the businesswoman who might find herself cutting a big check for Isabel and her overseas orphanage—Moore doesn’t just match Williams’ power; she blows the shit out of the acting meter, if such a thing exists. (It doesn’t.) Moore is stunning in the role, whether her character is quietly closing a deal or getting super-drunk at lunch. Moore is also good when the script calls for volume.

This is one of those movies where I really can’t tell you much about it. Yes, it has a wedding in it, as the title implies. Grace (Abby Quinn), daughter of Theresa and Oscar (Crudup), a famous artist, is getting married to lame-guy Frank (Will Chase). Circumstances call for Isabel to attend the wedding, and … well, lots of things happen after the wedding, as the title implies.

The movie gets progressively nutty, going off the tracks and into the land of “this only happens in the movies” … yet I couldn’t help but be deeply moved by what transpires, silly as it was. Again, credit Williams, Moore and Crudup for that.

The film bends logic, has plot holes and includes a mystery that seems rather implausible. And, yet … I wept watching this thing. I’m not saying you will weep. You might watch this movie, and say aloud, “Grimm, you are a stupid wuss!” Well, I accept your wuss remark, and I stand proudly by the fact that this movie made me cry like a kid who had his Etch A Sketch taken away. I realize that the toy reference is a bit dated. I was a child of the ’70s. Piss off.

Sorry … after a good cry, I can be a little cranky. I watched this on a home screener, and I am literally writing this while the tears are still drying on my stupid, fat face. My dog is looking at me all like, “Come on, dude. You have to have bigger balls than that. You are a wuss. Give me food.”

Come Oscar time, I’m not too sure After the Wedding will get any attention. While the performances are as good as anything on screens so far this year, the script is straight out of Days of Our Lives. And, yet, cry, I did. Have I told you that this movie made me cry?

OK, I’m almost to the end of my review, and I think I’ve done a damn fine job of not revealing too much about the plot. This is the part where I will talk about the fine camerawork to pad the word count: The camerawork is really good in this movie. Actually, I’m not just saying that to eat up words, even though that is actually what I’m doing. The camerawork really is top notch.

All right, so this is the final paragraph, and I do realize that most of this wasn’t really a review. Go see After the Wedding if you want to cry, or you simply want some extra fuel to make fun of me with in the event that it doesn’t make you cry. Go ahead. Call me names. I’ve had a good cry, and I’m feeling mighty vulnerable.

After the Wedding is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

If you thought 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a bit over the top—and you liked that aspect of it—you’ll be happy to know that things were just getting started with Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, The Secret Service.

Sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle pulls out all of the stops, goes into severe overkill mode, and then somehow holds together nicely; it delivers a fun time for those who like their movies a little nasty. It’s over-long at 141 minutes, and a pug dies—but the action snaps with expert precision, and the cast kicks ass.

That cast includes Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the young recruit of Harry Hart (Colin Firth) from the first film. The Kingsman—an underground, sharply dressed spy agency in England—remains in operation after the death of Harry, who took a bullet to the head in the first chapter. Eggsy has settled down with a royal girlfriend (Hanna Alstrom), and has segued comfortably into the life of a secret agent.

As it often goes when you are just starting to enjoy your job, things start sucking badly as missiles destroy Kingsman headquarters and strongholds, leaving behind only Eggsy and techy Merlin (Mark Strong). Eggsy and Merlin wind up in America, where they meet the Statesman—secret allies doing a similar spying service for the U.S. The task force includes Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Champ (Jeff Bridges).

The two organizations join to battle Poppy (Julianne Moore, gloriously crazy here), a rich drug dealer who can afford to build a compound that looks a lot like Disneyland’s Radiator Springs in the middle of a jungle. She’s also wields enough power to kidnap Elton John, who is a very colorful hostage in her music hall.

Poppy has hatched an evil scheme to poison all of her drugs. When she calls the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) and demands that he pay a price for the antidote, POTUS proves to be 10 times meaner than Poppy. (An evil, selfish, conniving president? That’s just crazy!)

Does it sound like there’s a lot going on in this movie? Well, there is, and it’s probably enough to command two films; Vaughn should’ve practiced a little more restraint. This is a good, fun movie—but it could’ve been great. It still achieves greatness in some of its sequences, including a ski-slope fight that goes to dizzying extremes; just about every fight scene in the film is a decent pulse-racer.

If you’ve seen the commercials, you know that Colin Firth returns for this movie. I won’t give away the nature of his return, but I will say it’s good to have him back. Speaking as a fan of the first movie, I can accept the ridiculous plot twist that puts Firth back in the character. He’s an important part of this franchise.

Like its predecessor, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is very violent, super-profane and steeped in dark humor. This is a movie in which men wind up in meat grinders and are cooked into hamburgers for other men to consume under duress. It takes a director with chops to pull this sort of stuff off and even make it funny. Vaughn is up to the task.

While Bridges, Tatum and Berry do fine with their smallish roles, Moore basically steals the movie by portraying one of the year’s greatest, most-memorable villains. Poppy is a sick hoot, and her penchant for cooking manburgers and terrorizing Elton John make her a unique kind of evil. Moore is no stranger to getting laughs, and she gets a lot of them in this movie.

If you liked the first movie, you will like this one just fine, so go see it for a nice blast of sick action as autumn kicks off. Also … if this movie is any indication, you should be very careful to never, ever piss off Elton John.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Heavy action is back in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2, a satisfying—albeit super-dark—conclusion to the saga of Katniss Everdeen.

This whole Hunger Games thing could’ve been a super-drag without the presence of one Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. There are moments in this film, and throughout the saga, that suffer a bit from subpar writing—yet Lawrence makes any dialogue sparkle, no matter how mundane it may be. She is an actress who slices through the screen and smacks your face with her every gaze and word.

This film picks up exactly where the last one left off, with Katniss getting her neck tended to after a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) tried to choke her out. Peeta is in a bad place thanks to evildoer President Snow (Donald Sutherland); he’s as unreliable as a friend who dropped some very bad acid. He’s prone to spells during which he wants to kill Katniss, which makes things difficult as she leads Peeta and a squad of rebels on a mission to wipe out Snow for good.

Peeta is on the mission despite his altered state thanks to rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who wants the squad to film him and Katniss for propaganda purposes. Katniss is instructed not to engage with the enemy and simply to film videos to inspire the rebel troops—but we all know circumstances will call for her to raise the bow and arrow.

Part 1 was a more laid-back affair, while this chapter amps up the action, especially in the second half. There’s an underground sequence during which Katniss and friends must battle mutants that look a little like the cave creatures from The Descent. It’s during this sequence that returning director Francis Lawrence lets us know that Part 2 will easily be the darkest and nastiest film in the franchise. It pushes the PG-13 rating to its very limit.

In addition to a surprisingly high body count, Part 2 hits hard with its “Don’t trust the government!” message. While we already knew President Snow was quite the scumbag, this film adds another surprising villain to the mix. (Yes, all of you readers of the book knew what was going to happen, but my ignorant, non-HG reading ass got taken by surprise when I saw which way things were going.)

This includes the last screen performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who didn’t quite finish his planned scenes as Plutarch Heavensbee, but did enough for editors to put something convincing together. Plutarch actually makes his exit via a letter to Katniss in a surprisingly poignant move. Hoffman, in his few scenes, commands the screen like no other. It’s lousy that he isn’t with us anymore.

The most improved Hunger Games franchise performance award goes to Sutherland, who took Snow from a preening goofball in the first chapter to someone deliciously villainous by the final film. Like Hoffman, Sutherland only has a few scenes, but they are powerful. Snow’s last two encounters with Katniss are bone-chilling.

Hutcherson does good work as a twitchy Peeta, while Liam Hemsworth is bit humdrum as Gale Hawthorne, the other man after Katniss’ affections. The Hawthorne character winds up being, more or less, useless and disposable by the final chapter. Jena Malone has a couple of good scenes as crotchety Johanna Mason; during one of them, she sports an impressive bald head courtesy of special effects. (She apparently used a stunt head.) Her character’s hair seems to grow back awfully fast, though.

So that’s it for now with The Hunger Games, although I’m sure somebody’s working hard to come up with a way to continue the franchise, just as they did with the Harry Potter universe and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can’t keep a multi-billion dollar franchise down.

I ultimately wound up liking The Hunger Games phenomenon after a crap start, but I am happy to see Lawrence totally free to do other things, like David O. Russell’s soon-to-be-released Joy. She’s only 25, and she’s just getting started.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 is playing at theaters across the valley, in various formats.

Published in Reviews

Director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners) takes a blowtorch to Hollywood with Maps to the Stars, a scabrous, scary and darkly funny satire about movie stars, their agents and their crazy kids.

Not since David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. has Hollywood gotten such a severe—and entertaining—skewering. The two films have more than Hollywood satire in common; they also both stand as decent horror/mysteries.

Julianne Moore continues her roll of greatness as Havana Segrand, an aging actress with serious mommy issues. Havana is actually trying to land a role playing her own mother, a cult-film star who died in a fire, when she hires the mysterious, newly arrived Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) to be her assistant.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, a spoiled child actor, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), is almost 90 days into sobriety, constantly sipping on sports drinks and plotting his next move. He’s visiting dying girls at the hospital (but getting the disease wrong) and still making youth-oriented films. Unfortunately, younger, cuter child actors are starting to get all the good lines.

Meanwhile, Benjie’s dad, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is treating Havana with a combination of tough, new-age mental and physical therapy to get at the roots of her self-esteem issues. Benjie’s mom, Christina (Olivia Williams), frets over his roles and image concerns, and she harbors a lot of secrets.

As in Predestination, many of these characters are interlocked in strange, and even sick ways. To talk about it any more would be to give too much away.

Maps works in two ways: You can watch it as a straightforward narrative that makes complete sense, or you can watch it as if it were all a dream—in which case, it also makes perfect sense. It’s a great puzzle movie in which all of the pieces fit together nicely. Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner deserve a lot of credit for putting together a story that works in parallel ways.

Contributing to the dreamscape quality is cinematography by Peter Suschitzky, who did the same with Cronenberg’s last film, Cosmopolis. That film had Robert Pattinson being driven around Manhattan in a stretch limo, while this film has Pattinson playing a limo-driver in L.A. It appears that Pattinson is the go-to actor of choice when Cronenberg needs somebody to spend the majority of a character’s time in a limo.

Moore, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this role last year, approaches Havana as a spoiled brat. She gives her voice just the right amount of whining to make her annoying enough to hate, but still fun to watch. Havana is a Hollywood monster—a pompous, messed-up diva whose every action and emotion is self-directed. Her little song and dance after hearing about a tragic drowning sums up her character perfectly.

It’s great to see Cusack doing some fine work here rather than slumming in Hot Tub Time Machine 2, a piece of crap he managed to avoid. Cusack’s career is all over the place as of late, but this is a nice return to form.

Bird looks like a young Justin Timberlake and gives us a character that reminds of spoiled brat Justin Bieber.

Cronenberg and Wagner take some fun, nasty little shots at Hollywood practices like name-dropping, sleeping with somebody for a part and even trying to kill co-stars. They pull no punches—and they’ve probably brought a few Hollywood types to tears.

Maps to the Stars is available on demand and via online sources such as iTunes and starting on Friday, Feb. 27. It also opens on Friday, Feb. 27, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease steals the mind of a very smart woman in Still Alice, a movie that is sure to garner Julianne Moore her first Academy Award.

In this film—which was one of the most talked-about features at this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival—Moore plays Alice, a professor at Columbia University who leads an organized life of lectures, dinner parties and runs in the park. After starting to forget words here and there, and losing her place in lectures, Alice gets lost during a routine jog and can’t find her way home. She begins to realize that these aren’t normal memory-loss problems for a 50-year-old woman.

At first, Alice thinks she has a brain tumor. But memory tests suggest to her neurologist (Stephen Kunken) that something else could be causing her difficulties. A series of brain scans reveals the ugly truth: Alice has Alzheimer’s.

Alice, husband John (Alec Baldwin) and her children are horrified to discover their matriarch, a brilliant woman, will rapidly lose her memory, her sense of self and her ability to recognize her own children. Making matters worse, she has a rare strain of Alzheimer’s that is familial, meaning there’s a good chance she has passed the possibility of the disease to her three children: Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart).

This is not a fun movie to watch, but it is a remarkable film: Moore and the entire cast take this way above your average disease-of-the-week movie. Moore is one of our very best actresses, and she makes Alice into a palpable representation of this horrible disease.

The script, based on a novel by Lisa Genova and written by co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, avoids most of the melodrama that tends to mar films about illness. They present a very real family going through total devastation—all while handling the process with dignity, class and love for Alice. It’s very moving.

The much-maligned and highly underrated Kristen Stewart may be the supporting cast standout as the youngest daughter, who is trying to make it as an actress. Alice wants her to attend college, but Lydia steadfastly refuses—and the argument becomes very awkward when Alice becomes ill. Stewart is spot-on in her portrayal of a young woman determined to follow her dreams, yet driven by the need to help her mother.

Baldwin takes a very quiet approach to the role of John, turning in a subtle performance that reminds us that he’s a great dramatic actor. John still feels the need to protect and provide for his family, even if that takes him away from Alice for a new opportunity. It creates one of the film’s central conflicts; John’s decisions create a subject for debate among those who see the movie. Moore and Baldwin have great scenes together, especially the one in which Alice reveals her illness to her children. Baldwin’s reactions to her wife’s progressive memory loss are painful to watch.

Moore gives us a deep, fully realized, multi-dimensional performance that never feels trite. Alice is a woman who prides herself on her encyclopedic knowledge base for teaching, and exhibits nothing but grace as that knowledge is rapidly stripped away. Credit Moore for making every step of Alice’s tribulations seem honest and credible.

Moore should get her first Academy Award with her fifth nomination, and she very much deserves it. There were some great performances this year (especially Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl and Reese Witherspoon for Wild), but Moore outshines the class. It’s Oscar time for Moore.

Still Aliceis now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

In 2007, neuroscientist and writer Lisa Genova released her novel Still Alice; it would find a home on The New York Times best-seller list for more than 40 weeks.

That book has been adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, and the Palm Springs International Film Festival honored her with the Desert Palm Achievement Award for her performance. I caught a screening of Still Alice as part of the PSIFF on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 7, at the Palm Springs Regal 9.

The film begins at a conference at UCLA, where Dr. Alice Howland (Moore), a Columbia University professor of linguistics, is due to give a speech. She takes the podium sounding confident and knowledgeable—until she stumbles on a word that she can’t seem to remember.

After she arrives home in New York, her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), is nowhere to be found. She later decides to take a run through the campus of Columbia University—when she discovers she doesn’t know where she is. When she’s at home cooking a holiday dinner, she struggles to remember a bread-pudding recipe.

Because of all these problems, she nervously meets with a neurologist (Stephen Kunken). Shortly after, it’s revealed to Alice and John that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The news is a crushing blow to Alice, who struggles to maintain her position at Columbia. She attempts to retain her memory through the use of her iPhone; she also has bullet points typed out for her courses. However, these steps don’t necessarily work.

Alice isn’t the only one directly affected by the diagnosis: It’s explained that the disease is genetically passed on, and therefore, her children could be at risk for the disease. Her pregnant daughter, Anna (Kate Bosworth), and her son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), both get tested, while her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) explains that she doesn’t care to know.

Alice later decides to pose as a woman who wants to put one of her elderly parents into a home for people with Alzheimer’s, and gets a glimpse of patients struggling with the disease.

While there have been films made about Alzheimer’s disease before, Still Alice is unique in that it’s told mostly from the perspective of the character with the disease. We see Alice struggling to maintain her composure while her husband and children watch her slip away; the audience gets a taste of what it feels like to lose one’s memory.

Moore is masterful; she’s rightfully earning Oscar buzz for her acting here. Stewart (Twilight) offers a surprisingly good performance as the outcast who fights her mother on going to college, because she’s determined to make it as an actor.

Still Alice is a compelling film that tells its story without any added drama or plot twists. The emotional hardships Alice and her family go through are real and heartbreaking enough.

The film opens in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, Jan. 16, and will later open in a wider release.

Published in Reviews

Things take a darker, more underground and perhaps more understated turn in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. While the film is a step backward from the rousing Catching Fire, it’s still a sturdy installment.

After being rescued at the end of Catching Fire—shortly after destroying the Hunger Games for good—Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken underground to join the rebellion. Rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the reluctant Katniss as a propaganda tool to inspire the masses against the Capitol and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Katniss is getting a little grouchy at this point, exacerbated by the fact that Snow has imprisoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and is using him as a propaganda tool. Televised interviews with Peeta and Caesar (Stanley Tucci, playing my least-favorite character in the series) suggest that Peeta wants the resistance to lay down their arms and accept the Capitol. He’s being labeled a traitor.

In exchange for help rescuing Peeta, Katniss agrees to assist with the resistance and be their “Mockingjay.” In the film’s best sequence, Katniss is asked to perform in a staged, studio production of what’s supposed to be a rousing, call-to-arms propaganda piece. Alas, Katniss can’t act.

It’s decided that a more realistic approach would do, so Katniss goes above ground, where a couple of decent action sequences ensue. A TV crew is embedded with her, and they capture Katniss in real action alongside District 12 friend and semi-love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, awarded more screen time in this installment).

Mockingjay—Part 1 is the result of taking the final novel in the popular Suzanne Collins series and splitting it in half; after all, more movies equal more dollars. However, I didn’t feel like the material was being stretched out in a detrimental way—like, say, what’s happening with the Hobbit movies. This film has plenty moving it forward, and I like where it ends.

There’s a cliffhanger, for sure, but it’s a cliffhanger with just a one-year wait. In my day, we used to wait more than THREE YEARS for the answer to a nasty movie cliffhanger. My junior high school grades suffered due to the malaise brought on by The Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger. I think it truly damaged me, and may be why I hate parties and am not married.

Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, now a part of the underground movement, isn’t allowed to drink anymore, so he’s grumpier than Katniss. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has also gone underground, where she is no longer adorned with extravagant wigs, gowns and makeup. It’s actually a pleasure to really see Banks, who takes the character to new places without her powdered face.

Moore is a welcome presence, as she often is in movies. Sutherland has really progressed with the Snow character; I didn’t like him all that much in the first movie. (Actually, I didn’t enjoy much of anything in the first installment.) In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman is strong as Plutarch, the double-agent architect of the Hunger Games now helping the resistance. Hoffman completed filming before his passing, so we will see him in Mockingjay—Part 2 as well.

Lawrence doesn’t get to strut her action-heroine stuff as much in this installment (although she does shoot down a plane with an arrow). She’s required to emote more in this one, and a couple of her moments are actually a little overwrought. I’ll blame director Francis Lawrence for the film’s more awkward moments, because I don’t want to blame Jennifer Lawrence for anything. She’s just so damned delightful!

Diehard fans: You already know how Mockingjay will end, so buck up and calm down. I heard people actually crying in the audience, because they were pissed with the cliffhanger ending. Just go read the book again, or practice a little thing called patience. It’s all going to be finished up in next year. Everything is going to be OK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Liam Neeson is again a thinking-older-man action hero in Non-Stop—which is essentially Taken on a plane. This time, though, it’s an airplane being kidnapped as opposed to an overacting, obviously-not-a-teenager Maggie Grace being kidnapped.

While the Taken movies sort of stink, I enjoyed Non-Stop. It’s one of those trashy movies that you can’t help but like because all of its implausibility and overwrought performances combine into something strangely entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with well-done trash cinema.

We first see Nelson’s Bill Marks drinking an alcoholic beverage in an airport parking lot before he boards a plane. The opening passages slowly reveal what we already know from every commercial for this movie: Bill is an air marshal, and his plane … IS GOING TO BE TAKEN!

The twist: The hijacker, through text communications and various manipulations, will make it look like Bill is the one hijacking the plane.

The film has your basic assortment of terrorist suspects, from the seemingly sweet female seat neighbor (Julianne Moore, classing the place up) to the mysterious fellow (Scoot McNairy) who asks for a light before Bill boards the plane. There’s also a Muslim doctor, a grouchy New York cop, a computer programmer, suspicious flight attendants and so on. You get a gold star if you can figure out who is bad before the big reveal.

One twist after another hits; the movie goes beyond ridiculous and into some forgivable zone where you get the feeling it’s all being done with a big wink at the audience. The folks making this movie must’ve been aware that their thriller is completely nuts.

This is the second time Neeson has teamed up with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed the also-ridiculous-but-far-less-fun Neeson vehicle Unknown, and the creepy Orphan. As he did with Orphan, Collet-Serra does a decent job keeping his audience off-balance when it comes to the mystery in Non-Stop.

The film has an overall feel of a ’70’s disaster flick, like Airport or, better yet, Airport ’77. (That would be the cinematic piece of awesomeness that saw a 747 sink in the ocean, with the plane staying intact and the survivors searching for options to reach the surface—eventually opting for really big balloons!)

There was a missed opportunity here: The producers should’ve thrown in a couple of disaster-film vets to augment the cheese factor. How much more fun could this have been with, say, Robert Hays (Airplane!), Robert Wagner (The Towering Inferno) and Richard Roundtree (Earthquake) occupying some seats? That would’ve been a sweet, daring way to acknowledge this film’s goofiness and obvious obligations to 1970s disaster epics.

Non-Stop is one of those movies that you will stop to watch if you are flipping through channels a few years from now. It won’t win any awards for smarts, but it will keep you riveted.

Unfortunately, there are plans for Taken 3—but only time will tell whether Bill Marks gets another air adventure. Let’s hope he does.

Non-Stop is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in Don Jon, a frank comedy about a sex addict who thinks porn is better than true romance.

Levitt is excellent and consistently funny as the title character, a Jersey boy who is quite the stud—yet he finds himself jerking off to Internet porn within mere minutes of having sex with a live woman.

His problem comes to the forefront when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the first real love of his life—a woman with high standards who doesn’t approve of the porn thing.

Gordon-Levitt has given us something akin to a funnier Saturday Night Fever, with porn replacing disco. Yes, the movie is full of porn clips, so don’t see it with kids or a first date, unless you and that first date have some sort of naughty understanding.

Julianne Moore is her usual excellent self in a supporting role, and the shock casting of Tony Danza as Don’s dad proves smart; Danza gets to show some cinematic comedy chops. Kudos to Gordon-Levitt for giving the old dude a shot.

Johansson is great, playing a role that gives her a chance to have a lot more fun than she has had in most of her previous projects.

This is a triumph for Gordon-Levitt. At the moment, he has signed on to produce Neil Gaiman’s Sandman for the big screen. I think he has some pretty good directing chops, so it would be nice to see him star in and direct the project as well.

Special Features: There are a couple of decent making-of doc, and some short films.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you’ve read the 1974 Stephen King novel Carrie, and you’ve seen the 1976 Brian De Palma film, you know that the book and the film are very different.

Well, the new Carrie remake, which stars Chloë Grace Moretz in the role that netted Sissy Spacek an Oscar nomination for the 1976 film, has more in common with De Palma’s film than King’s novel.

King’s novel, about a bullied telekinetic high school girl who endures one prank too many at the senior prom, depicted a series of episodic news reports, flashbacks and interviews, for the most part, to tell the story.

The new film welcomes a few of the novel’s plot points back into the story, although it takes a lot of the same liberties that De Palma took with the novel. In the new version, a few more characters survive the fiery black-prom tragedy—and one character might be pregnant. Otherwise, this feels like a remake of De Palma’s movie rather than a faithful retelling of King’s book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: De Palma went to the core of that novel, massaged its great ideas, and made something akin to a horror masterpiece, with much thanks given to the brilliant Spacek.

Director Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry), unfortunately, doesn’t turn in anything that makes a Carrie remake worthwhile. Yes, the new film takes place in the present, where cellular phones and the Internet have become prevalent bullying weaponry—but much of the plot execution remains the same. In a lot of ways, this version even rips off De Palma.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) was a mere 15 years old during the filming—a little young for a high school senior. While Spacek did an exemplary job playing younger than her then 26 years for the original, Moretz looks like a freshman crashing the senior prom.

Still, the Moretz performance is, in many ways, admirable. She captures the pain and confusion of a young girl tormented by her classmates after receiving no valuable life-coaching from her religious-fanatic mother (played here by Julianne Moore in a role originated by the Oscar-nominated Piper Laurie). Interestingly, Goetz also played a tormented teen in this year’s awful Kick-Ass 2.

Moore goes to a darker place with the role of Margaret White when compared to Laurie’s campy, crazy take. This Margaret is far harder on herself (i.e. intentional cutting) and her daughter; she simmers with a dark, disturbing violence that makes her truly hateful. Goetz and Moore play well off each other during the movie’s major confrontation scenes.

As for supporting performances, Pierce gets it right with the casting of Gabriella Wilde as the virtuous Sue Snell, the popular student who regrets bullying Carrie and asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (a charming Ansel Elgort), to escort Carrie to the prom—with deadly results. Judy Greer is OK as the gym teacher who tries to get Carrie through everything in one piece.

On the down side, Portia Doubleday and Alex Russell are mere caricatures as villains Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan (notoriously played by the wild-eyed Nancy Allen and John Travolta in the ’76 version). Their dull portrayals offer nothing new.

The infamous prom scene, in which Carrie goes nuclear after getting doused with pig’s blood, was an operatic, gloriously torturous, expertly prolonged hell in De Palma’s movie. In the new version, the scene feels hastily edited and glossed over with a CGI polish. It totally misses the mark, and is the final reason that this remake is mediocre, at best.

I suppose if you’ve never seen De Palma’s film, the 2013 version might seem better. While the remake is, at times, skillfully made, its resources could’ve been put to a better cinematic use—like, say, an actual big-screen adaptation of King’s great novel, The Stand. A TV miniseries starring Molly Ringwald just isn't enough!

Carrie is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

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