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Fri06052020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Between Two Ferns: The Movie gives a backstory to the terrific online acerbic talk show hosted by Zach Galifianakis—and while the whole thing is, frankly, unnecessary, the outtakes during the closing credits alone are enough to warrant a watch.

When Zach, doing his show in North Carolina, almost kills Matthew McConaughey due to a ceiling leak, Will Ferrell, his boss, sends him on a mission to tape a bunch of shows … or else. So Zach and his crew go on a road trip.

Yes, it’s a dumb premise, and not all of the jokes land, but the interviews with the likes of Paul Rudd and Tessa Thompson are a riot, and some non-show-related gags work. (I loved the moment when Zach checked his e mail on his laptop while driving at night.)

Ninety minutes of back-to-back Ferns interviews would’ve been better than this, but then we wouldn’t have the scene in which Zach and his crew steal Peter Dinklage’s Faberge eggs, so I guess I’m happy this exists.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the third feature film by writer-director Martin McDonagh.

It’s also his third masterpiece.

Three Billboards also marks another astonishing film achievement for Frances McDormand, who will drill into your chest cavity and do all kinds of crazy shit to your heart as Mildred, a justifiably pissed-off mother who has a few issues with the cops in her town.

It’s been five years since Mildred’s young daughter was raped, killed and burned by unknown murderers. Mildred, who isn’t even close to getting over the tragedy, spies some old, dilapidated billboards on the way home and gets an idea. After meeting with a sloppy advertising agent (Caleb Landry Jones), some guys are commissioned to put alarmingly provocative signs on those billboards.

Those signs call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a well-meaning but emotional man who, for various reasons, is not on his best game. He challenges Mildred, claiming the billboards aren’t fair. Her retort: In the time you took to come down here and piss and moan about the billboards, another girl could’ve been butchered.

There’s no better actress to portray Mildred—with her steadfast, emotionally raw determination—than McDormand. More than two decades ago, McDormand took home the Oscar for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo—playing one of the nicest law-enforcement individuals the movies have ever seen. Mildred is the opposite of Marge: Kindness and hugs and Arby’s aren’t big on her mind. She wants her daughter’s killers brought to justice, and she’ll burn buildings down with people inside them to get the investigation going.

Yet somehow, Mildred is just as likable and worth rooting for as Marge. That’s because McDormand is a fearless master, and she’s a shoo-in for another Oscar nomination—at the least. Mildred says and does things in this movie that will leave your jaw hanging open, and McDormand makes all of these extremes believable and almost reasonable. There’s so much happening behind those piercing eyes. It’s the kind of performance that only comes around once a decade.

What takes this film to masterpiece levels, beyond the technical brilliance that McDonagh always delivers, is that McDormand is joined by a cast that hits every note. Harrelson caps a great year as the lawman. John Hawkes is memorably nasty as Mildred’s abusive ex-husband, while Jones manages many surprises as the billboard man, and Peter Dinklage makes the most of a few scenes as a town local with eyes for Mildred.

Oh, and there’s yet another Oscar-caliber performance from Sam Rockwell (who starred in McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths) as racist, momma’s-boy deputy Dixon. There aren’t too many character actors alive who could make Dixon frightening, sympathetic, funny, disgusting and worthy of redemption all at once. Dixon, the town drunk and racist homophobe who has a thing for throwing people out of windows, undergoes a transformation that is some kind of movie miracle. That’s because Rockwell, like McDormand, is one of the best.

That’s also because McDonagh knows how to write a script that keeps you in it with every line. While the film is, in part, a murder mystery, the crime takes a back seat to watching these folks play off of each other. There are scenes in this movie that will emotionally knock you on the floor. There’s one particular moment that is so heartbreaking, and so shocking, it’s a wonder anybody managed to get it on screen.

The year isn’t over yet, but it’s a fair bet to say this one is going to be topping a lot of award lists, adding to McDormand’s legacy and giving Rockwell the sort of high profile recognition he’s always deserved. As for McDonagh, not many directors have come out of the gate with three masterpieces in a row. He’s in an elite class of filmmakers—and he’s just getting started.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Vintage video games come to the forefront in Pixels, a feature movie starring Adam Sandler that is based on a quirky little short film by Patrick Jean.

The fact that the short film is a lot cooler than the feature film reveals that perhaps the concept works better in a smaller dose—and that getting Adam Sandler involved was, and usually is, a terrible idea.

Sandler, in mopey-dog wiseass mode, plays Brenner, an installer of home-video equipment and the best friend to Cooper (Kevin James), the president of the United States. Brenner is a former video-game whiz kid who lost a world championship to Eddie (Peter Dinklage) when he failed to come through during a round of Donkey Kong. That loss sent him into some sort of spiral that ruined his life, while fellow gamer Cooper went on to be the leader of the free world.

While Brenner is out making the rounds and trying to score with Violet (Michelle Monaghan), a customer going through marital turmoil, Guam is attacked by the 1980s video game Galaga.

It turns out that aliens found a videotape of old games that was shot into space in the early ’80s—and they interpreted it as a declaration of war on their planet. So they are sending old-timey video games to wipe us out, and using dubbed footage of ’80s icons like Daryl Hall, Ronald Reagan and Madonna as messengers.

It’s fairly interesting at first, but this is an Adam Sandler project, after all, and he and his cohorts wind up wearing out their welcome after the first half. The film goes from mildly entertaining to total Stinksville as it wears on, thanks to the Sandler shtick and some tepid, shallow writing.

As for the special effects, we are talking about Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong here, so massive, awe-inspiring special effects are not in order. Should you choose to spring for the 3-D version, you will find yourself wholly disappointed.

Surprisingly, even though Sandler is nothing to get excited about, the worst performer in Pixels is the normally reliable Peter Dinklage. He mugs so much in this movie that you could drink a cup of coffee out of his head. Also making an ass of himself is Josh Gad as Ludlow, the strange conspiracy-theorist friend who is around because he’s overweight and kooky.

The film is directed by Chris Columbus, who directed the first, shitty Harry Potter movie (and the second much-better one) along with the awful Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone. Even though he’s responsible for some lousy movies, he did debut with Adventures in Babysitting, and that movie ruled. Thus, I can only partially hate him.

The once-mighty Sandler has hit so many cinematic potholes that his suspension is totally shot, and his tires are trashed. He’s got a deal with Netflix to produce and star in films, including the upcoming, already-controversial Western spoof The Ridiculous 6. Hollywood is finally losing faith in him.

It’s sad to see Monaghan, so good in films like Source Code and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, hitting a point in her career in which she has to play a Sandler love interest. In fact, it’s utterly heartbreaking. It’s perhaps the film’s greatest feat that Monaghan makes her character’s leanings toward Sandler semi-convincing. That’s some heavy-duty acting, for sure.

If you are looking for some summer movie fun, go see Ant-Man, Trainwreck or Inside Out. Pixels is a total letdown.

Pixels is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The X-Men franchise has taken the time-travel route made popular by James Cameron’s Terminator movies and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) partakes in a unique form of time-tripping—and the result is the best film in the series since X-Men 2.

Another big contributor to the awesomeness of the latest installment is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair. Singer piloted the first two X-Men films; he has a nice command of the characters in both their old and younger incarnations. It’s good to have him back.

The film starts in the future, where the likes of Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine have been reduced to hiding out in a dark, apocalyptic world where their enemy is a vicious robotic force called the Sentinels. Things are looking bad for the mutants.

However, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has perfected a form of time travel in order to mess with the Sentinels. It involves time-traveling in one’s own mind back to a particular point in memory where the traveler can mess with the fabric of time. She can only send somebody back for a few minutes or so due to brain trauma—but then it strikes the X-Men that Wolverine has instant healing powers.

Wolverine therefore travels back to the early ’70s, before the Sentinels go into production, and before Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) commits a murder that will doom the future. It’s a nice chance to see Wolverine with his bone claws again, and it creates an opportunity to combine the two recent X-Men casts.

Most of the action takes place in the past, so the X-Men: First Class cast gets most of the screen time. That means more of the terrific Michael Fassbender’s take on Magneto, who is being held in a prison underneath the Pentagon for allegedly having something to do with an infamous magic bullet. James McAvoy actually steals the show as young Xavier/Professor X, who has found a solution for his crippled legs—but it has a truly bad side effect.

Peter Dinklage has a pivotal role as a creator of the Sentinels; Dinklage always adds a level of class to any project. The film also allows a funny take on Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho), who finds himself in the middle of the whole mutant public-relations fiasco.

While Lawrence gets plenty of screen time as Raven, we never do see Rebecca Romijn as Mystique. We do get a brief, brief glimpse of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. (More scenes wound up on the cutting-room floor, according to Singer.) There are more than 30 seconds of Halle Berry’s Storm in the film, which means there’s more Storm in this movie than anybody really needs.

A welcome cast addition is Evan Peters as the speedy Quicksilver. One of the film’s best sequences involves how it looks to Quicksilver, through his eyes, as he rearranges a gunfight with his fingertips in a half-second. We see it in slow motion, with much comedic detail. It’s brilliant.

This film basically allows the X-Men universe to jettison X-Men: The Last Stand, a film made by Brett Ratner; it was not a favorite with fans. I didn’t hate the movie, but it stands alongside the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine as one of the weakest movies in the series.

As is the case with Star Trek, the whole system has been reconfigured with X-Men, and all options are open for future films. Is there chance they can use the whole time-travel thing on the Matrix movies, and fix those screwed-up sequels?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is playing in regular and 3-D formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews