CVIndependent

Fri04032020

Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

Bob Grimm

Hey, kids who are aspiring filmmakers: Gather around, because Uncle Bob has got something to tell you. OK? Now, listen up.

I want you to go and see The Host as soon as possible, because it is an important step in your moviemaking education: The Host is the quintessential example of how to make a movie so shitty that Satan would actually turn his nose up at it and proclaim it too profane for his torture cineplex in hell.

This movie is based on a novel penned by Stephenie Meyer, writer of the Twilight things and, at this point, one of my sworn enemies. Nothing good has been produced from this writer’s works, and I want her to take up full-time bowling or stenciling to distract her from her computer. Seriously, Stephenie … you have a lot of money now. Please … have mercy on those of us who can’t handle your pap. Stop hurting us with your crazy words and ideas.

The Host leaves the land of sparkly vampires and journeys to a future Earth where aliens have invaded. These aliens are CGI, super-white, flowing clusters of psychedelic sperm. They look like the end result of a Daft Punk robot ejaculation. (Daft Spunk?) These aliens have traveled through the universe, “bonding” with species by entering through cuts in their necks and turning their eyes a very light blue.

In the opening moments, we see Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a human resister being cornered by alien-infected humans, chief among them being The Seeker (Diane Kruger). They give chase, and Melanie plunges through a window to certain death.

Sadly, for Ronan, Melanie lives on: Her life is saved after a Tiger Woods-looking dude puts an alien in her neck. She becomes Wanderer (later, Wanda) and seems in line with the alien plan for global domination. But, wait … Melanie is still inside her head, and Melanie has got some whining to do about the body-being-dominated-by-an-alien thing.

Watching Ronan having arguments with her inner voice is trash cinema at its acrid apex. It reminded me of All of Me, that movie in which Steve Martin’s body got possessed by Lily Tomlin. While Martin did a fine job arguing with the voice within, Ronan sounds like a really whacky teenager with voices in her head.

Wanda winds up with Melanie’s still-human uncle (William Hurt … oh, it’s so sad to see you here) somewhere in the desert. Her uncle and his followers eventually accept Wanda (or the possessed Melanie) as a friend and family member. She entertains the advances of two boys (Max Irons and Jake Abel). One is Melanie’s old flame; the other is a dude who just thinks alien possessed girls are super-hot.

Andrew Niccol, who made the decent Gattaca but also made the awful In Time, directs. In Time was visually unimaginative and sterile, as is this film. Shiny cars and white suits are the accouterments of choice for the aliens, and nothing could be more boring.

Poor Saoirse Ronan. Here’s a young actress with the talent to command great roles, and she finds herself in this swill. Sure, her peeps probably thought getting her a gig in the latest film based on a Stephenie Meyer novel would be a sure thing. It’s actually one of the biggest creative bombs of this decade, and will do nothing to move her forward. Ronan has chops, and she doesn’t deserve this. (On an optimistic note, Ronan is in Wes Anderson’s next film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Perhaps this will help get her back on track. Anderson is reliable, and surely he will find something to do with Ronan’s talents besides allowing her to argue with herself for two hours.)

I value my minutes here on this Earth. I consider each minute a precious little diamond nugget that I will never get back. Therefore, I don’t normally wish for these minutes to pass me by quickly. I like to savor them. But When I was watching The Host, I found myself wishing I was some sort of amazing Time Lord who could grab the minutes in The Host’s remaining running time and squash them to death, resulting in their passing without me actually experiencing them.

Alas, I just sat there, watching The Host, jaw agape and eyes glazed over, aware that some moments on this Earth aren’t precious. They aren’t precious in any way at all. 

The Host is playing at theaters across the valley.

There were a lot of Oscar snubs that I whined about this year, but no snub was more shocking than excluding Kathryn Bigelow from the director’s race. With Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow put forth her best film, much better than The Hurt Locker, for which she actually won an Oscar.

Bigelow has essentially made two great movies here. One is an All the President’s Men-type investigative film, while the other is a striking action movie as we see Navy SEALS take out Osama bin Laden during their infamous night raid on that bizarre compound. Both portions of the film are top-notch and not to be missed.

Bigelow has evolved from one of the coolest action directors around (Point Break, bitches!) to one of the coolest overall directors around.

Special Features: You only get a few short featurettes on the making of the film. This Blu-ray package deserved more. 

In Badlands, you get one of the greatest American feature-directorial debuts in history. That’s a grandiose statement, for sure, but we are talking about Terrence Malick here, and the man is a magician behind the camera.

Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of heat for liking all of Malick’s movies. I picked The Tree of Life as the year’s best film a couple of years ago, inspiring many to watch it—and in turn inspiring a lot of hate mail. Malick’s movies are as unorthodox as they come, and are basically poetry in motion. If you hate poetry, and you hate a movie that takes its time, then be careful popping his movies into your player.

I would call this movie one of his more commercial offerings. Martin Sheen stars as Kit, a character based on real-life serial-killer Charles Starkweather. Starkweather and his young girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, went on a killing spree in the late ’50s. Sissy Spacek plays Holly, who is essentially a representation of Fugate.

The film came out in ’73, and immediately established Malick as one-of-a-kind. There’s nothing sensationalistic about his approach. He doesn’t try to explain Kit’s motives, and Holly never really explains why she goes along for the ride. Yet it is entirely clear why Kit is sick, and why Holly doesn’t resist. Malick and the performers leave it to the viewer to figure things out.

This might be the best script Malick has ever written. He’s the rare filmmaker who can use a voiceover and not make it feel like a storytelling copout. (Blade Runner, anyone?) Holly’s VO enhances and beautifies the story, rather than explaining things just because the narrative got confusing.

I had never seen Badlands on anything but crappy TV transfers and sloppy DVDs—and seeing it on Blu-ray in this Criterion Collection release is an absolute revelation. The imagery is as breathtaking as anything ever put to film.

Do I sound like I am over-praising? Just know that this man is one of my favorite directors, and this will always be one of my favorite movies.

Special Features: A nice new documentary features recently conducted interviews with Sheen and Spacek. You also get an older doc on Starkweather, interviews with the editor and producer, and one of those sweet Criterion booklets.

The Summer Movie Season starts earlier every year. In fact, one could argue that March releases like Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer were summer-season-caliber, big-budget extravaganzas with lots of Hollywood pop. Yes, they blew ass, but they had a summer-season pedigree.

For organization’s sake, let’s just say the summer season starts on May 3 this year with the release of Iron Man 3, and ends around Sept. 6 with Vin Diesel’s Riddick. Here’s a round up of some of the biggies that look great—and others that offer reasons for concern.

Iron Man 3 (May 3): How in the heck are they going to top The Avengers? It looks like Marvel and company are going to try, starting with this, the first stand-alone superhero film after last year’s massive roundup. Shane Black, who piloted Downey to one of his best performances in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, takes over the franchise from Jon Favreau. I think this franchise will avoid the dreaded third-in-the-series curse that has afflicted superhero films before (Spider-Man 3, Superman 3).

The Great Gatsby (May 10): Leonardo DiCaprio takes on the title role for director Baz Luhrmann. (The two worked together before, on Romeo + Juliet.) This was originally slated to be released last year; let’s hope the delay was to make it better, and not because it stinks like Luhrmann’s overblown Australia.

Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17): Will this be J.J. Abrams’ last time in the director’s chair for this franchise now that he is taking over Star Wars? My guess is yes. If this is half as good as Abrams’ first blessed effort with the Trek characters, then we are in for a good time. Have you seen the footage of the Enterprise underwater? This one has to be good!

The Hangover Part III (May 24): I’m betting on a return to form after the lousy second chapter in what director Todd Phillips promises will just be a trilogy. The preview footage of a euphoric Zach Galifianakis and his giraffe has me excited. However, if Mike Tyson shows up and sings again, this will get an automatic “F.”

After Earth (June 7): Uh oh … somebody has given M. Night Shyamalan a lot of money to do science fiction again. Will they ever learn? In Shyamalan’s favor, he has the likable duo of Will Smith and son Jaden starring as a father and son crash-landing on Earth many years after humans have left. Also … Shyamalan only contributed to the script, rather than writing it all himself. So there is hope. There is hope.

Man of Steel (June 14): After doing a decent job with Watchmen and then sucking balls with Suckerpunch, director Zack Snyder takes on the Superman franchise. This time out, Henry Cavill (who was really bad in Immortals) wears the cape, replacing Brandon Routh, who actually did a great job in Superman Returns. Amy Adams is on hand as Lois Lane, and oh my goodness, there’s Michael Shannon as arch villain Zod. OK, I want to see this.

This Is the End (June 14): The likes of Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill play themselves in this apocalyptic comedy. While they’re hanging at Franco’s place, the apocalypse strikes, and they don’t deal with it in the best of ways. If this isn’t the year’s best comedy, I will be disappointed.

Monsters University (June 21): A prequel to Monsters, Inc., this will make millions upon millions upon billions upon trillions of dollars, whether it is good or not.

World War Z (June 21): Another postponed movie from last year, this one has Brad Pitt squaring off against crazed zombies. I love the previews, but its delayed status is worrisome.

The Heat (June 28): Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy play an FBI agent and a cop teaming up to take out a drug kingpin. McCarthy got an Oscar nomination the last time she was with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids); I doubt that will happen this time out. Still, it could be fun.

White House Down (June 28): Following in the footsteps of Olympus Has Fallen, this is another film in which the president and his pad are in jeopardy. This time, we get Jamie Foxx as the president, and Channing Tatum as the hero.

The Lone Ranger (July 3): The idea of Johnny Depp playing Tonto—not to mention his crazy getup—has me concerned. Gore Verbinski directs, with Armie Hammer as the title character. This could be very, very bad.

Pacific Rim (July 12): Big alien-monster-type things strike the Earth, and huge robots piloted by humans are sent to defend the planet. This looks amazing, and Guillermo del Toro is directing, so this will be something to see. I’m hoping this puts MichaelBay’s big robots to shame.

Grown Ups 2 (July 12): I miss Adam Sandler. That dude used to make me laugh—and laugh hard. The key phrase is “used to.” His first Grown Ups was one of his worst movies, and it looks like his Sandler comedy slump will continue with this one.

The Wolverine (July 26): I thought the first solo Wolverine movie was OK, but many people hated it. James Mangold directs this film, which is set in Japan. There’s no word on whether Jackman sings live on set.

The Smurfs 2 (July 31): This movie is proof that Satan loves you.

2 Guns (Aug. 2): The good news is that this film stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. The bad news is that it is directed by the guy who did Contraband.

Elysium (Aug. 9): From the director of District 9, this stars Matt Damon (with a shaved head) in a future in which the Earth has gone to shit, and the rich live in space. Jodie Foster co-stars.

Kick-Ass 2 (Aug. 16): Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse all return for a new round of comic vigilantism. Jim Carrey joins the cast as Colonel Stars and Stripes, and all signs point to hilarious.

The To Do List (Aug. 16): Aubrey Plaza blew my ass out of the water with her performance in Safety Not Guaranteed. This one has her starring as a soon-to-be college freshman looking to get some things out of the way before starting college.

Riddick (Sept. 6): After The Chronicles of Riddick, I never wanted to see Riddick again. Hell, I never wanted to see Vin Diesel again. After seeing the teaser—a teaser that features weird monsters—I’m optimistic this will be a return to the coolness that was Pitch Black

Twenty-five years after its release, Who Framed Roger Rabbit still looks terrific. Director Robert Zemeckis managed to combine live action with traditional animation, creating the coolest of cools.

The novelty of the film doesn’t just come from the cartoon/live-action combo. Seeing Daffy Duck sharing the screen with Donald Duck still provides a major charge for geeks everywhere. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse? Holy cow! In fact, seeing Warner Bros cartoons on the same screen as Disney favorites is as big of a pairing as De Niro and Pacino.

Zemeckis keeps teasing that a sequel will happen someday, but don’t hold your breath. He probably has a sour taste for animation after his failed campaign to make every movie in Hollywood a motion-capture CGI enterprise. (He was behind the ghastly The Polar Express and the much-better Beowulf.) I totally wish his idea to redo The Yellow Submarine in motion capture had taken off.

Special Features: You get a director’s commentary, lots of making-of docs, deleted scenes and, most notably, the stand-alone Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts. It’s a packed disc. 

After watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at home, I determined that director Peter Jackson managed to stretch The Hobbit into three movies by getting all performers to speak slowly … oh, so slowly.

Everybody in this movie speaks and moves as if they were drunk on Hobbit Amber Ale. Most of the dialogue is spoken at a snail’s pace with those not-quite-British, not-quite-American affected accents that make everything they say sound SO DAMN IMPORTANT.

I just can’t stand much of this movie. It has its highpoints for sure, especially the wonderful Gollum scene. Gollum alone almost makes the movie worth watching, and Martin Freeman does have great potential as everybody’s favorite Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. Freeman injects life into the proceedings, often bringing scenes back from the dead.

But on top of the encumbered speech patterns, I despise the scenes of dwarves eating and singing. They are dopey, long, Three Stooges-like, unfunny moments that stop the film in its tracks. And while I loved Ian McKellen in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, I can’t handle his strange mugging this time out.

The movie looked weird in cinemas, but it looks better on the home screen. I prefer it visually in 2-D on the home screen over the hard-on-the-eyes 3-D theatrical presentation.

Part 2 in the trilogy arrives later this year. That one promises massive dragon action. Let’s all hope that the dragon spends most of his time blowing things up rather than delivering massive, elongated, stilted soliloquies. Peter Jackson: Please pick up the pace in the next chapters, and keep the alcohol off the set.

Special Features: They include Peter Jackson’s production diaries, which are sporadically interesting, as well a short on the New Zealand locations and a code allowing you to witness Jackson’s March 24 online tease of the next chapter, The Desolation of Smaug

A cavalcade of stars shows up for this pretty, if meandering, adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novel, On the Road.

Sam Riley (who was so damn good in Control) provides a decent center as Sal (essentially Kerouac). He finds himself on a long road trip that involves hand jobs from Kristen Stewart and him watching sex acts performed on Steve Buscemi. (Yikes!)

In short, this movie is a bit crazy, and its unpredictability keeps it interesting. Garrett Hedlund is solid as a character loosely based on Neal Cassady, and Stewart sheds her Bella image for a good, carefree performance. Others in the cast include Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.

The movie is OK, but I was looking for a little more meat on the bone, considering the subject matter.

On the Road is now available On Demand.

If you have seen any of director Chan-wook Park’s films (like Oldboy or Thirst), you know that he is a creative, tremendously sick bastard. Stoker is his English-language debut, and it’s just as deranged and disturbing as his prior offerings.

Mopey-faced Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl, just turned 18, who has lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious accident. Her mother (an excellent Nicole Kidman) invites India’s strange uncle (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house, and it’s slowly revealed that he has a few … problems.

The filmmaking here is visually impeccable (some of the dissolves are mind-blowing), and the performances are solid. The story itself, however, is a little too sleepy at times. Still, this twisty film has many memorable moments, and I’m hoping Park has many more films to come.

Stoker is now playing at the Cinema Palme d’Or, 72840 Highway 111 in Palm Desert; 779-0730; www.thepalme.com.

Gerard Butler stars in one of the most ridiculous action films you will see this year.

He’s a Secret Service agent on duty the night something very bad happens to the president (Aaron Eckhart); he winds up with a desk job. Later, some nasty North Koreans hilariously infiltrate the White House and hold the president and his Cabinet hostage—so it’s time for Gerard to dispense with the paper clips, and pick up an automatic weapon! Yes, it’s Die Hard in the White House, or at least it wants to be.

There’s some fun to be had here, but the movie has some tragic flaws, including terrible CGI and mawkish patriotic crap that distracts. (Melissa Leo screaming the Pledge of Allegiance as she is dragged to certain death comes to mind.) This is one of those “so bad it’s almost good” movies.

Olympus Has Fallen is playing at theaters across the valley.

If you are longing to see Vanessa Hudgens naked in a pool with James Franco doing his best impersonation of Gary Oldman in True Romance, then Spring Breakers just might be the film for you.

If you prefer a movie with a script and a sense of direction, stay far, far away.

I hated this piece of junk. It’s vapid, repetitious, unfunny and downright annoying to watch. It’s a shame: I thought I was in for some fun, considering the cast assembled, and the notion of four college girls going on a crime spree so they can afford a spring break trip.

The film plays out as if Sofia Coppola decided to make a “Girls Gone Wild” video. Director Harmony Korine is shooting for some sort of dreamscape feel, with trance music, people talking slowly, and slow, slow visuals. Given what the characters are actually doing and saying, he achieves something closer to a bad mushroom-induced nightmare.

Candy (Hudgens), Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are bored at college, and they’ll do anything for a break. They knock over a chicken restaurant, get some money and head to Florida, where they will wear nothing but bikinis for the remainder of the film.

After a night of snorting cocaine off of boobies, they are arrested and eventually get bailed out by Alien (Franco), an underground rapper with a big grill, lots of guns and a bed covered with money.

I thought Franco’s appearance might take the movie in a fun, gangster direction. Such is not the case, because Korine’s screenplay is virtually nonexistent, and his editing style requires footage and dialogue that repeat again and again. Essentially, you feel stuck in place watching much of this movie. True, Gomez’s Faith does say she wishes one could just press a freeze button and make spring break last forever, so perhaps that’s why Korine went for his repetitive, loopy vibe. Really, I think it’s because he didn’t have enough material for a 90-minute movie.

There are no moments in this film when it feels as if performers actually had to learn some lines. Take, for instance, a scene in which Franco is describing the contents of Alien’s room. It’s like Korine just turned on a camera, told Franco to ramble about the stuff in the room, and called that a take. Yes, many films are full of improv moments, but Spring Breakers feels like one terribly long, extremely unsuccessful improv.

There is one semi-inspired sequence in the film, in which Alien shows off his sensitive side by singing the Britney Spears ballad “Everytime” on an outdoor piano. The moment is accompanied by footage of him and the girls robbing and beating spring breakers in slow motion. It’s almost funny. Sadly, for every moment that is almost good, there are 10 that are not.

Korine has directed features before (Julien Donkey-Boy being one of them). He’s also directed a lot of music videos. This movie stands as his longest, most-pointless music video.

In the hands of a more playful director, there could’ve been a fun movie to be had with Spring Breakers. The basic plotline is ripe for some nasty, cynical satire. Too bad that idea isn’t accompanied by a decent script.

Spring Breakers is playing in theaters across the valley.