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Tue11192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

While Disney is cooling off on big-screen Star Wars plans after the upcoming Rise of Skywalker, the mega-company’s new streaming service is bringing the Star Wars goodness with a promised multitude of TV shows—the first of which is The Mandalorian.

Ewan McGregor will reprise his Obi-Wan role for an upcoming series—but we have to wait a little longer for that. In the meantime, we get this gem about a bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) in Boba Fett-type armor, set a few decades after the events of Return of the Jedi.

Creator and showrunner Jon Favreau knows what Star Wars geeks want to see. The first two episodes bring lots of sand-planet goodness, with references to everything from Salacious Crumb to … well, I don’t want to give anything else away.

Let this review also stand as a ringing endorsement for the streaming service itself. It’s a treasure trove for lovers of Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and even National Geographic. Netflix has got themselves some serious competition.

The Mandalorian is now streaming on Disney+.

Bill Skarsgård gets perhaps his best showcase yet—outside of his Pennywise makeup, that is—in Villains as Mickey, a small-time crook who robs grocery stores with Jules (Maika Monroe).

When his car runs out of gas minutes after a heist, they wind up in the house of George and Gloria (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick), who seem stuck in the 1950s, judging by their TV set. They also seem to be psychos, thanks to a secret in their basement. Mickey and Jules try to work their way out of the predicament, one that eventually involves Mickey strapped to a bed while Gloria does an erotic dance for him.

The film is strange, mostly in a good way; it’s oddly directed and written by the team of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. Monroe, who is quickly becoming one of the more reliable cult-film actresses in the business, is great as Jules, who learns a few life lessons while dodging bullets.

Skarsgård has a great hyper energy and delivers the film’s best work as a lovable dummy. Donovan and Sedgwick are wonderfully creepy as the married couple who have a strange interpretation of what “family” is supposed to mean.

Villains is now streaming on Fandango Now.

Stephen King fans know he hated Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for trivializing Jack Torrance’s alcoholism, and improvising on the evil powers of The Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep, King’s sequel to The Shining, seems to exist, in part, to right some of the wrongs King saw in Kubrick’s movie.

Unfortunately, director Mike Flanagan, the man behind the excellent and creepy Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, made the decision to incorporate Kubrick’s film into his own cinematic adaptation of Doctor Sleep. The results are a mixed bag of genuinely scary moments and passages that make the film too dependent on the glory of Kubrick. Simply put: It’s not a good idea to try to re-create a Kubrick moment without Kubrick’s involvement.

The film starts in 1980, with Danny Torrance riding around the Kubrickian Overlook on a big wheel—and making that dreaded stop at Room 237, where that old lady stayed in the bathtub way too long. The film then jumps ahead to Dan as an adult, played by Ewan McGregor. Dan, like his daddy before him, drinks a lot. He also still has discussions with the now-dead Hallorann (played by Carl Lumbly here). Dan not only still “shines” (communicates telepathically); he also talks to dead people.

The monsters in this movie would be The True Knot, a band of gypsies who look like they are killing time between Burning Man and a Phish concert. Their thing is to hunt down children who can shine, like Danny Torrance did in the original Shining. When they find them, they murder them and eat their essence, which leaves the body as steam. In other words … they are basically vaping not-quite-immortal vampires.

The Knots are led by Rose the Hat (a spooky Rebecca Ferguson), named so because, well, she wears a hat. Rose is the one who rations out the steam for her Knot crew, which they keep in thermoses. This element of the film, along with Ferguson’s disturbing performance, gives Doctor Sleep some memorably scary moments. A sequence in which a young baseball player (Jacob Tremblay, making the most of a few screen minutes) encounters the Knots is as harrowing as anything you’ll see in a movie this year.

In some ways (which I won’t give away), King gets a chance for some do-overs. Some of the scenes and themes in Doctor Sleep reference parts of King’s original novel, as well as the sequel book. King has long bemoaned the ending of the Kubrick’s film, and I can see why he might like the Doctor Sleep conclusion.

Unfortunately, this movie was better when it wasn’t hanging around the Overlook Hotel. The moments in the Overlook, although visually impressive, feel like little more than a stunt, because there’s no real viable reason for the protagonists to be running around in Kubrick’s nightmare. Doctor Sleep works fine when it’s about a nasty band of soul-suckers messing with the kids who have special powers. It’s a confused mess when it tries to do Kubrick. It’s as if this film is trying to provide further relevance and depth to the ghosts and deranged characters who haunted Kubrick’s Overlook—which is simply not necessary. What Kubrick did doesn’t need to be monkeyed with, yet that’s exactly what Doctor Sleep does, especially in the finale. There’s a sequence near the end that is supposed to be the scary payoff, but instead, it led me to unintentional laughs.

McGregor is good in the central role, and Ferguson is fine as the villain. Kyliegh Curran is great as Abra, a young girl who partners with Dan to battle Rose.

Flanagan could’ve cut out much of his expensive Overlook finale—it runs longer than 2 1/2 hours—and he probably would’ve had a better, more cohesive film. Instead, Doctor Sleep winds up being an elaborate imitation of—and a strange sort of King apology for—a classic Kubrick film.

Doctor Sleep is now playing at theaters across the valley.

The Disney+ streaming service, launching today (Nov. 12), includes a brand-new version of Lady and the Tramp—a sweet little live-action redo of the classic 1955 animated feature. This film works, primarily due to the casting of both the actual dogs and their voices.

Justin Theroux, a well-known dog-lover, is perfect for Tramp, a schnauzer mutt living the street life. The dog he provides the voice for is a perfect match—and is the spitting image of his animated counterpart. Tessa Thompson provides vocals for Lady, a cute-as-all-heck cocker spaniel.

The live-action animal-talking is well done, and the film is more engaging than the recent remake of The Lion King. The plot remains simple: Rich dog meets stray dog; rich dog becomes stray dog; dogs fall in love.

There are some major changes (there’s no Siamese-cats song, for starters), but fans of the original will find a lot to remind them of the original (like the spaghetti scene!). Your kids will love it—and if this is any indicator of the quality of the new Disney+ streaming content, things are looking good.

Lady and the Tramp is now streaming on Disney+.

The big thing about Terminator: Dark Fate is that James Cameron has returned to the franchise as a producer and story-credit guy. That means we’ll be returning to the sort of Terminator movies he directed back in the day, right?

Well … no.

Tim Miller, the guy who directed Deadpool, is in charge of this bland and banal chapter, with Cameron essentially whispering in his ear from afar. Cameron apparently never even visited the set, which is not surprising, considering ex-wife Linda Hamilton is back—and given her physical prowess, she could easily kick the living shit out of him. Cameron’s real attention is on the Avatar sequels, which have mercifully been postponed so many times that I am conditioned to think I will never have to sit through them. One can dream.

For the umpteenth time, the future is all screwy, because rogue A.I. has essentially taken over the planet and deemed humans unnecessary. This chapter picks up where Cameron’s second chapter left off, with the future changed thanks to the work of Sarah Connor (Hamilton); her boy, John; and a cuddly Terminator in Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Had things turned out all peachy after Sarah’s handiwork, we wouldn’t have this movie. Some major happenings transpire in the opening minutes here, featuring a CGI de-aged Hamilton that is remarkable. It totally looks like 1991 Hamilton on the screen; other characters from Judgment Day show up as well. Things get off to a good start.

Then things get, well, routine at best.

An “augmented human” built to fight Terminators drops into the past (our present) in the form of Grace (Mackenzie Davis). She’s been sent to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) and immediately finds herself facing off with a new form of liquid Terminator (Gabriel Luna). The new cyborg’s liquid form can run around and mimic humans while its skeleton can drive a car. It’s visually interesting, but it feels like the writers are overreaching in search of new Terminator angles.

The movie is a bunch of action-set pieces in which Miller fails to distinguish himself. The editing makes much of the carnage hard to follow—a fight inside a crashing plane is a real mess—and the set pieces lack imagination. It feels very much like déjà vu.

I can’t explain what I dislike most about this movie, because it would give away too much. It has to do with the timeline after Sarah and John destroyed the Judgment Day Terminators. Things occur with little to no explanation; they just sort of happen, because the screenplay needs a future where things are bad. It feels like a cheat.

Hamilton, returning to the role that made her famous, has her moments, but the screenplay lets her down. The Sarah Connor in this movie behaves in ways that are inconsistent with her past, and it’s awkward at times.

Schwarzenegger shows up late in the movie as Carl, a Terminator who has domesticated himself and even has a girlfriend. He sells draperies, which makes for a couple of funny moments during which Carl elaborates on his new trade. It’s fun to see Arnie in these films, but this has to be the last time, right?

The Terminator franchise at this point feels like it’s been there, done that. Dark Fate, although better than the Christian Bale-led Terminator: Salvation, is a small step backward from the wacky but kind-of-fun Terminator Genisys.

Still … if they keep making these movies, I’ll keep going to see them, because that’s what I do. I’m a sequel junkie, and it’s a problem. Terminator: Dark Fate is a bad sequel, but not so awful that it’s a complete waste of time for fans. Go for Arnie and Linda having one last hurrah—but don’t expect much beyond that.

Terminator: Dark Fate is playing at theaters across the valley.

Robert Eggers, the man who gave us The Witch—a film for which I’m eternally grateful—is back with The Lighthouse, a trippy, gothic sailor’s yarn about two very strange men (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) working a difficult shift in a lighthouse in the late 19th century.

It’s close quarters for the two, with every fart being heard loud and clear, and every glitch in each other’s personalities grating on the sensibilities. As the trippy drama plays out, paranoia degrades into delusional mania, before moving into psychopathic actions (or not, depending upon whether you view the whole thing as a fucked-up dream).

Shot in black and white with a scope that reminds of old silent movies, the film starts with the two actors in a truly intense place, and they ratchet it up from there. Dafoe is incredible as the weathered sailor restricted to land duty—and possibly in the game of driving his employees crazy, one right after the other. Pattinson matches him every step of the way, with a performance that reminds of early Brando. That’s right: I just compared him to Brando.

Eggers has just two feature-film credits as a director—but he’s already proven he can direct with the best of them. Both of his films are like unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The man is a true original—and these actors take his vision to incredible heights.

I’m still not entirely sure what happened in The Lighthouse, but I know it disturbed the living piss out of me, and it contains two of the year’s best performances.

The Lighthouse is playing at theaters across the valley.

Partially inspired by real events, and partially inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare, Netflix film The King features Timothée Chalamet as Hal, King Henry V of England—and it’s a barnburner of an acting turn.

Chalamet has made a name for himself by playing complicated, quiet characters, but this role gives him a chance to rage on occasion—and he’s more than up to the task. Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the screenplay) is on hand as Falstaff, Hal’s complicated right-hand man, and Robert Pattinson once again shows that he just might be the finest actor of his generation with a brave and crazy performance as The Dauphin of France. Simply put: Pattinson’s accent is one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed in a movie this year, as is his final stunt in full armor.

Director David Michod stages some fine action scenes, and Lily-Rose Depp makes a nice late-film appearance as Catherine, Hal’s bride-to-be—who will not stand for any of his toxic-masculinity bullshit.

Chalamet and Pattinson impress the most in this grand experiment of a period-piece film. I want a sequel.

The King is now streaming on Netflix.

The Golden Age of Eddie Murphy Cinema occurred between 1982 and 1988, with the release of such classics as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.

Since then, he’s had some great moments (Dreamgirls, Life, The Nutty Professor)—but he’s had plenty more duds. His forays into “family entertainment” included his enjoyable voice work in the Shrek films, but also included dreck like The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care and Imagine That.

And then, of course, there was Vampire in Brooklyn. I’m still recovering from that one.

It was as if Eddie, the amazing movie comedian, went into hiding for more than three decades. That’s a long time.

Well, Eddie Murphy is back: Dolemite Is My Name is a movie that can stand side by side with the best of Murphy’s Golden Age. It’s a consistently funny biopic honoring comedian-actor Rudy Ray Moore, and it’s clear Murphy’s heart is in this project full-force. It’s the best performance he’s ever delivered in a movie. Period.

The film takes us on a tour of Moore’s rise to fame, starting with the creation of his Dolemite character (a campy hybrid of Shaft and Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch), and his poetically profane comedy albums. Moore mixed profanity with rhyming in ways that have earned him a “godfather of rap” moniker, with rap giants like Snoop Dogg (who appears in this film as a record-store DJ) saying they wouldn’t have careers if it weren’t for the F-word maestro. Clearly, Moore also helped lay the groundwork for the likes of Murphy and his standup greatness. This makes it all the more appropriate that Eddie Murphy headlines this movie. Murphy, playing Moore, finds himself in a movie like those from his early days—a movie that is consistently funny, powered by Murphy’s infectious charisma.

Quite frankly, I’d forgotten that Murphy could command a film so completely. Whether he’s re-creating terrible kung fu antics or reacting uncomfortably as a studio guy rejects his movie, Murphy shows that he indeed remains one of the greatest screen talents alive. I must make this perfectly clear: Murphy is awesome in this movie.

Craig Brewer, directing from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, captures the look of the 1970s and blaxploitation with big collared shirts, pimp hats and fat furs. The re-creations of the actual Dolemite movie (currently available for streaming on Amazon—and it’s glorious on all fronts) are hilariously accurate. Brewer helps Murphy—an extremely confident comedic performer with a lot happening under the surface—capture the essence of Moore. Murphy doesn’t hit a false note in this movie, showing us a brash comic who rises to fame on the wings of the best dirty jokes in the land—and an undying desire to be famous.

Helping things mightily is a supporting cast that includes Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key and, most wonderfully, Wesley Snipes, in the scene-stealing role of the original Dolemite director, D’Urville Martin. Snipes—who looks like a day hasn’t passed since White Men Can’t Jump, and that’s just not fair—hasn’t had an opportunity to shine like this in decades. This film marks his grand return to form; he’s a total crack-up in the role.

As for the return of Murphy, this is just the start: He’s currently working on sequels to Coming to America (also directed by Brewer) and Beverly Hills Cop, and is preparing for a return to Saturday Night Live as a host. (He’s going to do Gumby and Buckwheat again!) Most incredibly, he’s reportedly making a return to the standup stage. If Dolemite Is My Name is any indication, he hasn’t lost a step, and we could be looking at a second Golden Age of Murphy.

Dolemite Is My Name is now streaming on Netflix; it’s also playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Netflix’s The Laundromat, from normally reliable director Steven Soderbergh, is a mess of a movie despite being filled with Oscar-caliber talent—because it lacks a focused purpose.

The film deals with a real scandal that included insurance fraud in the aftermath of a terrible boating accident in Lake George, N.Y. A cast including Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas is squandered as the movie goes through one discordant tonal shift after another.

Soderbergh starts off well—the boating accident is chillingly filmed—but then he makes some odd choices, including Oldman and Banderas playing a couple of lawyers who break the fourth wall and narrate the film. The movie strives to be clever, but ultimately lacks a focus on its subject matter. The result is confusing rather than compelling.

Props to Streep, who is excellent as a passenger on the ill-fated boat trying to receive insurance compensation. Streep has more than one surprise up her sleeve here.

Ever since Adam McKay made The Big Short a few years ago, films have been trying to capture a darkly comic, real-life vibe like that Oscar-winning film did. They’ve been failing—and The Laundromat fails badly.

The Laundromat is now streaming on Netflix.

Since the release of the first Zombieland back in 2009, much has happened in entertainment regarding the land of the undead. A little show called The Walking Dead premiered a year later, and in 2017, the zombie maestro himself, George Romero, passed away.

Much has happened with the stars of Zombieland in the decade since, too. Emma Stone has an Oscar for La La Land; Woody Harrelson got his third nomination in that stretch; and Jesse Eisenberg was nominated for The Social Network. Abigail Breslin received an Oscar nom before the first film for Little Miss Sunshine. With all of this Oscar business, might this crew of performers opt for more snobby fare rather than blowing up ghoul skulls for laughs?

Nope. Director Ruben Fleischer returns with the whole crew shockingly intact for Zombieland: Double Tap, a film that does little to add to the genre, but still delivers plenty of laughs and zombie gore. It’s basically the same as the first movie, with a little less originality, but a few more laughs thanks to a new co-star.

The zombie killers have taken up residence in the White House, with Wichita (Stone) and Columbus (Eisenberg) in a relationship that requires them to cover the eyes on the Lincoln portrait when they bed down at night. Columbus has his sights set on marriage, while Wichita still has some commitment issues. Tallahassee (Harrelson) is still searching for Twinkies—with a new goal to visit Graceland while leaving shredded zombies in his wake. Little Rock (Breslin) wouldn’t mind having her first boyfriend, at the age of 22.

Situations arise where it all becomes a road trip again—one that eventually leads to Graceland (sort of) and a commune called Babylon that looks like one of the towers on the cover of Wilco’s classic album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Columbus and Tallahassee ride Segways at a ravaged mall (an ode to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) and run into Madison (Zoey Deutch), a Valley Girl who has survived all these years living inside a freezer at the food court’s frozen-yogurt shop. Deutch is a total crack-up, mining laughs in every scene she occupies. When the film threatens to get a bit stale, Madison swoops in, donning a pink leisure suit with fake fur (she’s also a vegan) and livening things up.

Another joke that works is the late-in-the-movie entrance of Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), two zombie hunters who look and sound an awful lot like Columbus and Tallahassee. While thinking about this movie, I realized that Albuquerque’s monster truck and the worn-down White House remind of Wilson’s turn in Idiocracy. Don’t you love how Idiocracy has become a classic after the studio dumped it because they thought it sucked?

Sorry … I’ve gone off track.

Of the returning big stars, Harrelson appears to be having the most fun, even going so far as to provide a decent cover of “Burning Love” over the closing credits. (Stay all the way through the credits, people.) Eisenberg is doing his usual shtick, but it’s a shtick that works, while Stone being here at all is shocking to me. I mean, she’s fine in it, but it’s weird that she returned for this, right? She was in The Favourite last year!

As far as bringing new ideas to the zombie genre, I do like how Columbus designates dumb zombies as “Homers” and smart ones as “Hawkings.” There are also the “T-800” zombies, who don’t go down after the double tap and keep on coming. Otherwise, the film is pretty standard issue when it comes to zombie carnage.

Will there be another Zombieland 10 years from now? This one strikes me as a last hurrah, and an OK/fun one at that.

Zombieland: Double Tap is playing at theaters across the valley.

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