CVIndependent

Fri01242020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

Twenty-five years have passed since detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) first suited up for Michael Bay in Bad Boys, and 17 years have passed since they joined him again for Bad Boys II.

Since the first time Bay assaulted our eyes and ears with his patented brand of cinematic garbage, I’ve grown to almost enjoy said garbage. I hated Bad Boys, but I sort of liked the outrageous Bad Boys II. Bay tends to amuse me now—unless he’s doing a Transformers movie, in which case I check out. I attribute my suddenly liking some Bay movies to brain decay due to aging, a lack of iron and a general loss of spirituality. So, I guess the bad news is that Bay passed on directing Bad Boys for Life, the third installment in the franchise. I would’ve liked to see Bay try to top the almost-self-parodying craziness that was Bad Boys II, but, alas, he was making Netflix movies with Ryan Reynolds.

The good news is that the directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah step up and do a sufficient job of continuing the mayhem—easily topping Bay’s lame original and providing a chapter that is as good, and sometimes better, than chapter two.

Burnett is eyeing retirement, while Lowrey is dealing with the psychological and physical ramifications of aging. (But he’s dyeing his goatee, so it’s all good.) A crazy witch-lady gangster named Isabel (Kate del Castillo) has escaped from prison and has put out a hit list for her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to work his way through. Isabel has vengeance in mind—and the targets have connections to Lowrey.

Lowrey himself is also on that list, and he takes a couple of bullets early in the film. We aren’t giving too much away by telling you that Lowrey doesn’t die … because there’s no movie if Lowrey dies. So, after some healing time, Lowrey and a very reluctant Burnett are back in action, wise-cracking and shooting people up in slow motion.

Some familiar faces return, including Theresa Randle as Burnett’s long-suffering wife. She’s good in a subplot that has Burnett becoming a granddad while getting more time at home during his attempted retirement … which doesn’t go well. For starters, bad things happen with a ceiling-fan repair. Joe Pantoliano makes a welcome return as Pepto Bismol-swigging Capt. Howard—still a great riff on those screaming captains from the Beverly Hills Cop movies.

All the mayhem comes to an appropriately visceral and bloody conclusion, replete with big plot twists and the Smith-Lawrence duo kicking ass. When the two are allowed to riff and fly, it’s fun. There’s a big production going on around them, but it never overwhelms their star power. They are bloodier, nastier versions of Abbott and Costello.

As Bay learned with Bad Boys II, Smith and Lawrence are better in this sort of thing when everything is ridiculously over the top. The new directors know their way around an action scene, and their comic timing is strong, so there are equal levels of laughs and explosions in this installment. The movie isn’t the big joke that Bad Boys II was—Burnett’s electronics-store sex-problem confession remains the series highlight—but it is unabashedly nuts. It qualifies as a competent and promising reboot.

Please don’t take these words as high praise. I’m saying that this is relatively tasty cinematic junk food. I’m saying that it’s good enough that I’m OK with the idea of another chapter. (Bad Boys 4 is already in play.) I’m saying that there seems to be a few more Bad Boys stories to tell, and the beat goes on without Bay.

Smith and Lawrence have escaped the Men in Black and Big Momma’s House franchises, and can concentrate their combined energies on this now. This is not a bad thing.

Bad Boys for Life is playing at theaters across the valley.

Edward Norton directs, writes the screenplay and stars in Motherless Brooklyn, a decent-enough adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name. It’s an OK movie, but it isn’t going to change anybody’s lives.

Norton certainly made a good-looking film here. Motherless Brooklyn is set in the ’50s, and the period details are impressive; the costuming is first-rate; and the camerawork is stellar.

As for the story … there is a convoluted plot involving murder mysteries and real estate development. It doesn’t feel like anything new—except for the twist that Norton’s private detective has Tourette’s syndrome. Norton does a convincing job of exhibiting this affliction through a series of verbal and physical ticks, coupled with obsessive-compulsive behavior. No doubt: The most-interesting aspect of this movie is Norton’s character, Lionel.

Norton assembles a strong cast, including Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Suplee (before he got ripped) and Cherry Jones. Everybody does good work, but it’s in service of a story that isn’t all that engaging. Norton did a lot of work here for a movie that is just OK.

Motherless Brooklyn is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Kristen Stewart proves she’s a badass movie star in Underwater, a long-delayed and surprisingly decent deep-sea horror/thriller from director William Eubank. While it stands to be the second big-budget box-office disaster in a row for Stewart after Charlie’s Angels, it deserves a better fate: The movie is actually pretty good.

The film doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or work any miracles. It’s successful in a very basic way that engages from beginning to end, with an occasional effective scare, a constant sense of dread and high-pressure tension.

Stewart stars as Norah, an underwater engineer on a drilling rig in the middle of the Mariana Trench. We first see her brushing her teeth as the lights around her flicker, and then we hear some dull thuds. She glances around; she plays a little with a spider in the sink. She doesn’t seem too concerned.

Then, “Boom!” Her section of the rig implodes, blasting water all around her as she and another crew member narrowly escape into a temporary safe place … and by temporary, we mean for the next 30 seconds or so.

Norah makes her way through the quickly mounting disaster, meeting up with other crew members (including T.J. Miller, here for comic relief in a movie made well before his personal controversies made him a casting no-no). The vessel’s captain (a strong Vincent Cassel) hatches a plan involving big diving suits and walking on the ocean floor toward a safer zone. The group reluctantly goes along.

It’s not an earthquake or volcanic eruption that has caused their work home to be compromised: Instead, sea creatures of unexplained origin—some the size of the chest-burster in Alien, some of more Godzilla-type proportions—are menacing the rig and occasionally dining on humans. Jaws-style, the creatures are slowly but surely introduced, until a finale that is full of monsters.

Eubank stocks his cast with talent (including Jessica Henwick of Game of Thrones and John Gallagher Jr.), including a lot of actors who can say a lot in just the way they look, so long periods of exposition aren’t needed for the audience to immediately care about them. The movie never lets up, and while it doesn’t possess a remarkable screenplay or anything resembling emotional depth, the action is fierce, and the characters register.

In fact, had the screenplay provided one more solid, apocalyptic twist or shift, this film could’ve been very good. There were moments when I thought Eubank might offer up some sort of Twilight Zone shocker, but, alas, the movie is just about people running away from sea monsters. They run away in style, but that’s all that really happens.

The monsters themselves are mostly seen through dark, murky water. Normally, not allowing a full view of a monster would infuriate me, but it works here, much in the same way it did with the cave-dwellers in The Descent. Because we witness much of the action as if we were part of the escaping crew, we often see the monsters lit by flashlights or through suit visors. It works, for the most part. However, the studio (Fox, owned by Disney) erred in deciding to make this PG-13. It needed to be an R-rated film.

Stewart provides the film with a nice center of gravity, creating a character who is clearly scared shitless, yet realistically under control. She shaved her head for the role; Norah would have that haircut because it makes sense given the living conditions, rather than it being an attempt to look tough.

So, it’s January, when studios release films in which they have no faith (along with awards contenders getting their wide releases after limited runs, like 1917 and Just Mercy). Underwater definitely fits the bill as a long delayed, question mark of a movie. Fortunately, for genre fans, it doesn’t suck. It’s passably good, and I can safely say it has no moments I would categorize as bad. It’s a good, old-fashioned, please-monster-don’t-eat-me movie, and I will gladly take one of those every now and then.

Underwater is playing at theaters across the valley.

Michael B. Jordan stars in Just Mercy as civil-rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, a real attorney who has dedicated his life to freeing wrongly convicted death-row inmates.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s film focuses primarily on the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man sentenced to death for the murder of a girl, even though evidence showed he was with friends and family at the time of the killing. What happened to McMillian is depicted competently in the movie, as are some other cases and Stevenson’s struggles to bring injustices into the light.

Jordan and Foxx are very good, as are supporting-cast members Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson and O’Shea Jackson Jr. The film is well done, but perhaps a little too routine in some stretches. Still, it’s a showcase for fine acting, especially by Jordan and Foxx. It’ll also get you thinking about problems with the death penalty, and the kinds of horrors men like McMillian have gone through.

Just Mercy is playing at theaters across the valley.

Jason Bateman stars in and directs the first two episodes of HBO’s The Outsider, the latest miniseries based on a Stephen King novel. Man, does King ever walk away from the keyboard?

Terry Maitland (Bateman) is arrested by Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) while coaching a Little League game—and the charges against him are shocking: Terry has allegedly killed a small boy, with witnesses placing him at the scene of the crime. There’s also surveillance video and forensic evidence that seemingly confirm his guilt. Yet Terry proclaims his innocence and has a solid alibi, including witness accounts and video confirmation that he was many miles away when the crime occurred.

The first two episodes of the 10-part series offer a good setup, with Bateman doing a nice job both behind and in front of the camera. There’s no question I will be tuning in for more as the story continues on a one-episode-per-week basis. (Yes, HBO is doing it old school!) It’s a crime story, but there are hints at something much more, including a supernatural angle—and the first two episodes act as nice hook.

Some future episodes are directed by Andrew Bernstein, who works with Bateman on Ozark. So, there’s no final verdict yet on whether this will be good as a whole or not. I can only speak about the first 20 percent, which I liked.

The Outsider is now airing on HBO and its streaming services.

The Best!

1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino said a lot of interesting things while promoting this movie, including a threat that he would only be directing one more film after this (and he’s backing away from that being his R-rated Star Trek idea, to the surprise of absolutely no one). So … depending on what he does next, this could be the last “big” movie from QT. If so, I’d say it’s a fitting finish. It’s also the best movie of the year.

2. Uncut Gems: Adam Sandler goes full-throttle nuts in what is easily the best performance within the best film of his career.

3. Midsommar: The horror genre had a banner year thanks in part to Ari Aster, who took terror out of the night and put it in broad daylight for this warped breakup movie. Florence Pugh—who gets my vote for Performer of the Year thanks to this, Little Women and Fighting With My Family—has established herself as a sure bet.

4. The Lighthouse: While this is more of a psychological thriller, there’s plenty of horror in watching farty Willem Dafoe and squirmy Robert Pattinson driving each other crazy on a remote island during a lighthouse-watch stint.

5. Marriage Story: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver break hearts in Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date, courtesy of Netflix.

6. 1917: Director Sam Mendes delivers perhaps his best film yet, about two British World War I soldiers trying to save 1,600 men before they advance into a German trap. It’s done to look like one continuous shot … and done well. This won a couple of Golden Globes, and while the Golden Globes are idiotic, 1917 is definitely award-worthy.

7. Waves: Startling performances all around and a tremendous visual flair make Waves a solid step forward for director Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night). Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (also great in this year’s Luce) sparkle in this film.

8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The year’s most heartwarming story, with Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers, and director Marielle Heller creating sweet vibes.

9. Honey Boy: Shia LaBeouf returned with a vengeance this year, supplying both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy. (The film was produced by Amazon and will be streaming soon.)

10. Us: As I said above, horror had a nice year, and Jordan Peele continues his march away from comedy toward scariness with this chilling doppelganger thriller.


The Worst!

1. Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker: The Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back. This one was co-written by J.J. Abrams and the meathead hack who penned Batman v Superman. That’s right: They handed the storytelling power for one of cinema’s all-time-great storylines to the man who crapped that monstrosity out of his computer. You thought the Return of the Jedi Ewok hoedown was a bad conclusion to the first trilogy? Well, say hello to Palpatine’s Hellraiser Disco Rave Extravaganza.

2. Rambo: Last Blood: It’s been fun seeing Rocky again in the Creed films. As for Sylvester Stallone’s other HGH-enhanced alter ego, the last two efforts in the series have seen … let’s say, diminishing returns, as his hair got shorter (just like Samson in the Bible!).

3. Glass: Just when M. Night Shyamalan was starting to restore my faith in his abilities, he unleashes this, a case study in how not to invent a movie franchise on the fly.

4. Cats: So I was watching this and just trying to survive. Suddenly, things picked up a bit when a song that actually contained a pretty melody sprang from the speakers. Turns out it was the song Taylor Swift wrote, a blossoming flower in the middle of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sewage dump. Taylor came out of the sky later in the film as a CGI human-cat monster and tried to save the movie, but all was lost by then.

5. Yesterday: I just couldn’t get behind this movie. The central character is a plagiarist asshole, and I hated his renditions of Beatles music. Stay home, and listen to the reissue of Abbey Road.

6. Dumbo/The Lion King/Aladdin: While Aladdin was just slightly bad, Dumbo was terrible, and The Lion King was a complete waste of time. Disney, I love you, but you have to stop with this nonsense. Don’t worry; you will still make money. Hell, the amount of dough I drop on coffee mugs in your souvenir stores rivals what these stupid movies made.

7. Hellboy: Maybe they should’ve let David Harbour be funnier in the title role? He kicked comedy ass when he hosted Saturday Night Live. But here, he’s a total dud as Ron Perlman’s replacement.

8. Mary Magdalene: Jesus was a lot of things, but super-boring wasn’t one of them. This pretentious slog was just an excuse for Joaquin Phoenix to hang out with girlfriend Rooney Mara and get paid.

9. The Dirt: The only thing cool about watching this shitshow was the knowledge that Mötley Crüe was over as a band. Now comes the news that those fucksticks will be touring again, which takes away any good vibe that could be experienced watching this.

10. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot: Some critics had the audacity to call this Sam Elliott film one of the year’s best. To those folks, I say: Mushrooms can apparently be a fun recreational drug sometimes, but you shouldn’t take them when you are writing your reviews or operating a band saw.

While they didn’t make the year’s Top 10 worst list, boos go out to Godzilla: King of the Monsters for being soul crushingly dull, and Joker, perhaps the year’s most overrated mediocre film. I was very excited for both … almost as excited as I was for the new Star Wars.

Screw you, J.J. Abrams!!!

A couple of British World War I soldiers stationed in France face a harrowing time in 1917, a war action/drama from director Sam Mendes that is one of last year’s greatest technological achievements in cinema—and one of last year’s best movies.

Mendes—along with his special-effects team, his editing crew and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (finally an Oscar winner for Blade Runner 2049)—designed the film to look like one continuous shot. They do a seamless job, to the point where you’ll stop looking for the places where edits might be happening and just take the whole thing in. The story never suffers in favor of the filmmaking stunt.

Lance Corporals Schofield and Blake (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are napping at the beginning of the movie. Blake is ordered to wake up and report to command; he takes Schofield along with him. The two pals figure they have some sort of assignment coming their way involving food or mail delivery.

That’s not the case. In a plot that reminds of Saving Private Ryan, Schofield and Blake get their unusual assignment: They are told to go beyond a recently abandoned German front line and reach the next British battalion. It’s up to them to save the lives of 1,600 soldiers, one of them Blake’s older brother.

The movie is set in motion … and it never really stops. Schofield and Blake venture into a body-riddled, fly-infested battlefield with little time to spare. Deakins’ camera follows as if you are a third party along for the mission. The result is a completely immersive experience. Lesser talents may have made a film with a first-person-shooter video-game feel, but Mendes gives us something that feels hauntingly authentic and very real. He paces his film masterfully.

Familiar faces show up along the way, including Colin Firth as the no-nonsense general who must use two soldiers to deliver his life-saving message, because the land lines were cut by the exiting Germans. Other officers along the way are played by the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong, displaying varying degrees of regimental disgust and, understandably, only mild compassion. The actors all do a fine job of showing the frustrations that must’ve been grinding on these men.

As Mendes’ film clearly displays: World War I was awful and horrifyingly nasty. Captains stand in trenches weeping furiously as their officers try to advance. Sleeping soldiers are propped up in trenches, in such a way that you’ll wonder how anybody could’ve survived these conditions. Crashed pilots lash out at their rescuers. Rotting corpses float in every body of water the soldiers come across, be it a large pond or raging river. Large rats cause all types of mayhem.

Chapman and, especially, MacKay deserve credit for crafting two well-rounded, deep characters within this spectacle. Mendes and his performers achieve a nice balance of dramatic heft and technical wizardry. The story the film is telling is straightforward and uncomplicated, but it feels big and important, helped along by a magnificent score from Thomas Newman. Mendes, who co-wrote the film, dedicated the movie to his grandfather, Alfred, a World War I veteran. It was the stories Alfred told his grandson that birthed the idea for this movie.

The film 1917 is a mammoth achievement, and a fine tribute to the men who fought in the Great War.

The film 1917 opens Friday, Jan. 10, at theaters across the valley.

Antonio Banderas delivers what may be his greatest performance as a director dealing with physical and emotional pains in Pain and Glory, a semi-autobiographical film from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar.

Salvador (Banderas) is retired, struggling with migraines and back pain after major surgery, and unsure on whether or not he will continue in the art of filmmaking. He’s having bouts of nostalgia, leading him to be momentarily enthusiastic about an anniversary screening of one of his more beloved films. This brings him to the doorstep of Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), an actor with whom he’s been feuding. They happily discuss presenting the film together—while, in a very impromptu sort of way, getting Salvador started on a heroin habit.

Flashbacks to Salvador’s childhood feature a fantastic Penélope Cruz as his mother, raising the precocious Salvador on little money in a cave-like dwelling. Banderas takes a reserved approach to the role that is unlike his usual attack—and it’s refreshing. It’s also profound.

Almodovar returns to form with Pain and Glory, and it ends on an optimistic note that could hint at a new branch of creativity for the great director.

Pain and Glory will be available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

There have been a lot of Little Women film adaptations. Most of you who go to the movies or watch them on TV are probably most familiar with the 1994 adaptation that starred Winona Ryder; the little vampire from Interview With the Vampire; and Batman. I recall liking that one. I mean, it had Batman and Vampire Girl in it, for God’s sake. And the girl from Beetlejuice!

Now comes the umpteenth adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel—and it’s safe to say this one is the best adaptation of the story. Ever. Directed by rising directorial juggernaut Greta Gerwig (the magnificent, ultra-fantastic Lady Bird), who has a vision with her films that declares, “Hey, we aren’t screwing around here!” her third feature effort is a stunner across the board.

It’s a beautiful thing to look at due to some of the year’s best art direction and camerawork. It’s chock full of tremendous performances, and it’s written and directed by Gerwig, whose vision makes this an admirable update of a precious work.

Saoirse Ronan, who also starred in Lady Bird, headlines as Jo March, eldest sister of the March clan, which also includes Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Ronan, not surprisingly, makes the intrepid character of Jo her own; she’s a budding writer who is trying to get her ideas past a crusty editor (Tracy Letts, who had a damn fine 2019).

Gerwig, in a departure from past adaptations, focuses more on the girls as adults, with flashbacks to their younger days. As a result, she has chosen not to cast Amy with two different actresses. Pugh, who is well into her 20s, plays Amy at every stage, even falling through the ice as a pre-teen. I’d say that was an odd choice, but the other choice would have meant less screen time for Pugh, and I say a big “no” to that. She doesn’t look like she’s 12, but who cares? She’s a master in every scene.

Timothée Chalamet steps in for Batman as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, and there couldn’t have been a better choice for the role. His first dance with Jo, where they go a little crazy outside on a porch alone during a party, is as timeless as movie dancing gets. Chalamet has such skill and charm with every line delivery that not a single second of his movie time is wasteful.

My one minor quibble with the film: Gerwig is so damned ambitious with the way she shows the many timelines—out of chronological order—that there were definitely moments when I was a little confused. Again, it’s a minor quibble, because even though Little Women is occasionally confusing, it is always enjoyable.

Filmmakers: This is how you do a period piece, dammit. It’s a fresh take that makes you feel like you are seeing a story for the first time, even when you’ve seen that story multiple times before. This Little Women also transports you to another time—and it doesn’t hurt to have Meryl Streep (as Aunt March) in your period piece. Always a good thing.

Driving it all home are characters you root for, played by one of 2019’s greatest ensembles. All hail Greta Gerwig for bringing this group together in delightful, superbly entertaining fashion.

Up next for Gerwig? Possibly a Barbie movie with Margot Robbie. I am curious to see how that one pans out. It’s going to be interesting if it moves forward … because films are always interesting when Greta Gerwig is at the helm.

Little Women is now playing at theaters across the valley.

So, as Cats started, I was actually liking it a bit. It looked weird as hell, and I could tell the cast was singing live on set—which I admire. But, after about five minutes, a malaise started to sink in that never lifted.

That malaise is due mainly to the fact that this musical sucks to begin with. No amount of CGI wizardry (which, sadly, this film doesn’t have) can save this blight on humanity. The music is god awful, except for a brief interlude during which a beautiful melody sticks out like a sore thumb—that would be “Beautiful Ghosts,” a song co-written by Taylor Swift that is actually good. They should’ve let Taylor rewrite the whole damn thing. She actually shows up for a brief stretch toward the end of the movie, a life preserver in a sea of shit that, unfortunately, is snatched away before you can really grab onto it.

Judi Dench stars as the apparent overseer of some sort of America’s Got Talent for felines. (I really have no idea what was going on in this movie.) The weirdness of the visuals, combined with the slog pacing and shitty music, will have you thinking you have a bad case of cat-scratch fever, or perhaps somebody dropped acid into your Coke Zero.

Apparently, there’s a new version out there with some fixed visuals. I saw the original version. Readers, I love you, but there is no way I am subjecting myself to this a second time.

Cats is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Page 1 of 107