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Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Bob Grimm

Dave Grohl directs Sound City, a tribute to the infamous Los Angeles recording studio that gave birth to Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes … and the list goes on.

Much of the movie deals with the studio’s history leading up to its recent shutdown. Grohl actually purchased the legendary soundboard and put it in his own studio, where he recorded a forthcoming album featuring Paul McCartney, his surviving Nirvana band mates, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield and others. The film features footage of that album’s recording, most notably with McCartney, who puts forth a scorching, "Helter Skelter"-like number with Grohl and the remaining Nirvana members.

This is a great, solid piece of rock-history filmmaking. Grohl’s love for the subject permeates the entire undertaking.

It’s currently available online (via iTunes, soundcitymovie.com, Hulu and all sorts of other sources), and on demand via cable (including Time Warner). It’s slated to be released on DVD and Blu-ray in March.

The first half of director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song is excellent, while the second half is only passably good.

Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the worldwide pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk of the running time.

Then it suddenly becomes a mediocre Brian De Palma-style movie as the mysteries are solved; it gets a little hokey. Good things happen before it unravels, though, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Soderbergh says this is it for him. Hopefully, he just takes a couple of years off and finds himself back behind the camera. This movie is OK, but I would like to see him go out on a better note.

Side Effects is playing in theaters across the valley.

After her Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy gets a headlining role alongside Jason Bateman in Identity Thief. While both performers are talented and make the best of the crap heap of a script they were handed, it’s not enough to make this anything more than a desperate misfire.

McCarthy has a lot of talent. One only needs to see her in The Nines to understand her dramatic capabilities. Yet, here she is, being smashed in the face with guitars and asked to lip-sync that stupid milkshake song while sitting in the passenger’s seat for yet another riff on Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

This is the sort of junk Chris Farley would have been handed back in the days before his heart exploded. McCarthy is a big woman, so she is cast in the role of sloppy clown to Bateman’s dapper straight man. Well, McCarthy is also a beautiful and talented woman, and she’s deserving of a classier showcase. Watching this garbage, I was surprised director Seth Gordon never forced her to put on a few-sizes-too-small windbreaker and have her sing “Fat Girl in a Little Jacket.”

Bateman’s Sandy Patterson gets his identity stolen by McCarthy’s Diana, and he faces legal and job troubles as a result. So he leaves Colorado for Florida in search of “Bilbo,” or so he calls her, because the cops won’t help him. When the two meet up, it turns out Diana has a mean throat punch and will not go quietly. 

The two have a couple of good fights, with Diana getting smashed in the head with a guitar and struck with a waffle iron. Identity Thief actually does OK in the physical-comic-violence category. I chortled a bit at the hits these two were taking. This probably would’ve been a better movie had it been just 90 minutes of Diana and Sandy throwing stuff at each other and getting hit by vehicles.

Sandy eventually gets Diana into a car, and in the tradition of road comedies, the journey starts off with the two hating each other. Sandy must endure a night of Diana having sex with a stranger, various roadside disasters and Diana singing to the radio.

Of course, Sandy and his family will eventually see that Diana, even though she has robbed them blind, is a great lady deep down inside. She actually spends the night at their house, holding hands with the kids as they sleep. I don’t know; I think it would take more than Diana putting mashed potatoes on her face for a couple of laughs at the dinner table to be forgiven for destroying their financial lives.

Sandy’s family consists of everybody’s go-to movie wife, Amanda Peet. Peet is asked to perform the film’s most impossible task—playing a wife and mother who would even allow Diana in the house. My mom is a relatively meek lady, but if anybody like Diana would have tried to come in through the front door, she would’ve faced the wrath of her wooden spoon. God dammit, I hated that stupid wooden spoon.

Gordon, who put together the much-better Horrible Bosses, is basically working with one joke—Diana is a mess, and Sandy will be tortured while dealing with her. Gordon tries to redeem Diana by the end of the film, even giving her a makeover that results in some cringe-worthy dialogue.

It’s hard to have a lot of fun watching a man’s life getting wrecked by identity theft. Hell, somebody tried to steal my identity and go shopping with my debit card just a couple of months ago. I wasn’t laughing then, and I wasn’t laughing all that much at Identity Thief.

Hollywood … please don’t squander McCarthy’s talent. Give her the dramatic, respectable roles she deserves.

Identity Thief is playing in theaters across the valley.

Peter Pan, newly out on Blu-ray, is not one of the truly great Disney animated films, but it's still a good watch—even if Peter Pan is kind of a jerk.

Walt Disney had been trying to make an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s story of a boy who never grows old for years, but World War II got in the way. It finally hit screens in 1953, and while it wasn’t as visually charming as past Disney efforts, it still had some artistic heft, and was the last feature that Disney’s “Nine Old Men” animators worked on together as a whole.

I remember the story line confused me a bit when I was a kid, because Wendy and her brothers always talked of having seen Peter Pan before the events in this movie. That used to baffle me. And I always hated how they left Nana the dog floating like a balloon with a noose-like rope around its neck when Peter and the kids took off for Neverland.

Peter Pan was voiced here for the first time by a dude (Bobby Driscoll). Driscoll, a famous child actor, fell on hard times soon thereafter, dying as a pauper in Greenwich Village and getting buried in an unmarked grave at the age of 31.

Man … this is supposed to be a review of a happy children’s movie, isn’t it?

As a kid, I thought Tinkerbell was a villain. Now, well … actually, I still see her as a villain. And I feel bad for Captain Hook, whom Peter Pan toys with and maliciously taunts with an alligator. Peter Pan was indeed kind of an ass.

No matter; this is still fun to watch. And, I must add, the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland remains one of my favorites.

Special Features: A nice new documentary, where children of the “Nine Old Men” reminisce about their fathers. You also get some deleted scenes and songs, and a commentary from Roy Disney.

Without a doubt, Seven Psychopaths is one of the best releases of 2012, and it further establishes writer-director Martin McDonagh as a creative force to be reckoned with.

McDonagh assembled a stellar cast, including Colin Farrell (who also starred in McDonagh’s brilliant In Bruges), Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson. Farrell plays Marty (a character McDonagh undoubtedly modeled upon himself), a screenwriter struggling through his latest project. His movie within the movie involves seven psychopaths, and the characters might—just might—be based upon people he actually knows.

McDonagh writes some of the funniest and most shocking dialogue out there, and he gets masterful performances from everybody involved, especially Walken and Rockwell. Walken is allowed to be as strange and eccentric as ever, while Rockwell gets his best role in years, allowing him to show off that funny, nasty charm that makes him unique.

A subplot involves Rockwell and Walken kidnapping a dog belonging to a crime boss for ransom, and it all leads up to a surprising, and violent, conclusion.

This one ranks with Barton Fink and Adaptation as one of the better films about the frustrations of writing.

Special Features: There are only a few short behind-the-scenes featurettes. The movie is great, but the features are disappointing.

In Stand Up Guys, a bunch of great actors get together and do their best with middling material.

Al Pacino plays a criminal released from a long prison haul, and Christopher Walken plays the guy who is supposed to pick him up—and take his life soon thereafter. I have a hard time with this premise: If you are a crime boss with any brains, and you want somebody smoked, you don’t hire the dude’s best friend to do the gig. Don’t you think there’s a chance the dude won’t follow through?

Anyway, Pacino and Walken hang out for a night that includes stealing cars, snorting prescription drugs and hanging out with another old guy (Alan Arkin). The trio makes most of this watchable, but with this cast, you want something more than just watchable. Pacino works hard to get credibility back after a string of loser movies, and he redeems himself just fine. Walken is good here, playing a character with more depth than his usual parts. Arkin is just doing his shtick.

Nothing all that surprising happens, and that's a shame.

Stand Up Guys is playing in theaters across the valley.

I had no idea who Sixto Rodriguez was before I popped this documentary into my player. He was a Detroit musician who released a couple of albums in the early '70s and then disappeared. Some said he committed suicide onstage by setting himself on fire, or by shooting himself in the head.

(Spoiler alert: Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know the big secrets in Searching for Sugar Man.)

As it turns out, Rodriguez didn’t kill himself. He just left the music biz and led a normal, secluded life. I’ve listened to his albums, and he is very good.

The other big surprise: Rodriguez was, and is still, a major sensation in South Africa—and he had no idea he had achieved fame elsewhere in the world. After his albums bombed stateside, he went back to being a construction worker. The makers of the movie seek him out, and find him in Detroit. He eventually makes a pilgrimage to South Africa, where he is bigger than Elvis.

He’s actually touring right now, and is headed our way for Coachella.

It’s an amazing story, told in a very good film. Interviews with Rodriguez, his family and his supporters reveal that this is a nice, talented guy who deserved a musical career. And he’s got one now, thanks in part to this film.

Special Features: A director’s commentary that also features Rodriguez is a must-listen. You also get a decent making-of, and a questions and answers session at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The movie year gets it first big, sweet surprise with Warm Bodies, a funny and surprisingly moving take on the zombie genre from director Jonathan Levine, who gave us the wonderful 50/50.

To call Warm Bodies a straight-up zombie flick would be inaccurate; it’s a love story set in a horror-movie world. It’s everything the Twilight saga wanted to be, but failed to become. It’s a movie that knows it is ridiculous, embraces its ridiculousness, and emerges as astonishingly real and true-to-life.

The movie opens on a figure in a red-hoodie we will come to know as R (Nicholas Hoult, in a stardom-cementing role). He’s zombie with a fried memory, but he’s still able to conduct a relatively cohesive inner narrative, heard through a voiceover that is clear and concise. However, when R tries to speak out of his mouth, he slurs, moans and groans.

He’s a lost boy in a zombie world yearning to articulate. He’s also a collector, residing in an abandoned jet, surrounded by trinkets and vinyl albums. (Of course vinyl is the music delivery mode of choice for zombies. In R’s opinion, vinyl is more “alive.”)

Enter Julie (Teresa Palmer, finally getting a role she deserves), a human survivor and the daughter of an emotionally dead general (John Malkovich). On patrol for medicine, her band of humans is attacked, and her boyfriend (Dave Franco) loses his life—and his brains—in the melee. R and Julie’s eyes meet in the aftermath, and R immediately starts to change.

George Romero fans looking for zombie thrills might find themselves slightly disappointed. The movie is rated PG-13, so brains get eaten in a fashion that’s almost gentle, and the zombie makeup is far from gory. I must also mention that the “Bonies,” zombies who have degenerated to the point of being skeletons, look terrible. They are the sort of CGI creation that stops a movie in its tracks whenever they pop up.

Some zombie purists might find it silly that R can eat a brain, and then feel and see the memories of his victim. For those of you who criticize, I would like to remind you that you are watching a movie in which THE DEAD HAVE COME BACK TO LIFE AND ARE WALKING AROUND.

Hoult and Palmer have adorable chemistry. This is a thinly veiled Romeo and Juliet replay, and the two even have a balcony scene. R doesn’t remember his full name, only that his name starts with R. Julie is a play on Juliet, of course, and Rob Corddry plays R’s best zombie friend, M (Mercutio … right?).

Speaking of Corddry, he owns his scenes. The man is so gifted as a comedic actor, and as he showed in Hot Tub Time Machine, he can handle the emotional stuff with major finesse. Like R, M and his band of zombies begin to awaken and heal themselves when they remember what love is. It’s goofy, but Corddry sells it with humor and soul. Also excellent in a supporting role is Analeigh Tipton as Nora, Julie’s best friend, confidant and laugh-getter.

Hoult and Palmer both have thick accents in real life (Hoult is British; Palmer is Australian), but you can’t tell from this movie. (They both sport American accents.) Hoult spends much of the movie sweetly trying to express himself like a love-struck teen who can’t put the words together. Palmer is so damned stunning that many can identify with his struggle to get the words right. They are one of the more endearing screen couples in years—and one of them is dead with all kinds of icky veins all over his neck. That doesn’t say much for the state of American romance movies.

The film is based on author Isaac Marion’s novel. He is apparently working on a sequel, and you can already read a prequel to his novel called The New Hunger, available on his website.

If you are a proud Twilight hater like me, you can rest assured that Warm Bodies has very little in common with that cinematic sludge. This is a refreshing, heartwarming, humorous take on a society that has become emotionally stagnant and is in severe need of reanimation. You might find yourselves looking at your smartphone a little less after seeing this one. 

Warm Bodies is now playing at theaters throughout the valley.

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Part two of The Dark Knight Returns, the adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, has lots of Joker and Superman. For fans of the novel, this makes for a fine interpretation of Miller’s work, even if it isn’t the live-action adaptation many fans (myself included) wanted.

Because the film, being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today (Jan. 29), is rated PG-13, it isn’t nearly as dark and nasty as the novel. But the David Endocrine massacre does happen (sadly, Endocrine doesn’t sound or look like David Letterman, as he did in the novel), and Superman’s battle with a nuclear missile is very well-done.

The two animated movies serving Miller’s classic opus are faithful, but not total copies. The Joker’s end is brutally depicted in this one, and it’s the moment that best captures that Miller vibe.

Special Features: Some behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a look at the upcoming Superman: Unbound, an animated film featuring the voice of Matt Bomer.