Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

This gem of a movie stands out as one of the year's best.

When a newspaper investigates an advertisement seeking a time-travel partner, everyone figures the person who placed it will be a real kook. Such is the case when journalism-intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) meets wannabe time-traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass). He's an obsessive sort who wants to travel back in time to save an ex-girlfriend, and Darius can't help but find his scheme endearing.

There are wonderful side stories involving Darius' boss (Jake Johnson), who uses the investigative-journalism trip to hook up with an old flame. And there's co-worker Arnau (Karan Soni), a shy virgin who happens to look really good when he puts on sunglasses.

Johnson (funny as the principal in this year's 21 Jump Street) is a real standout, delivering hilarious and heartfelt work as an aging playboy who has a strange way of trying to help others. This guy has monster comic timing. Duplass is also great as the crazy love interest who thinks he's being followed—but he won't let that deter his training.

However, this is Plaza's movie. She is a genius of deadpan humor on TV's Parks and Recreation, and she puts that to work here. She also shows that she can handle dramatic and heartfelt moments with the best of them. She's got a good career in front of her.

This is, in many ways, a little movie with grand ideas, and those ideas are played out perfectly. No movie this year has left me smiling like this one did. It's one of those movies that come out of nowhere to charm you.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Blu-ray is a bust when it comes to special features: You only get a short about the original ad on which the film is based, and a quick look behind the scenes. A Plaza and Johnson commentary should've been a must, but is nowhere to be found. Boo!

A reckless alcoholic who happens to really know how to fly a plane gets a rather strange and romantic screen treatment in director Robert Zemeckis' uneven but entertaining Flight.

As airline-pilot Whip Whitaker—who likes vodka, beer, cocaine, cough syrup and flight attendants to excess—Denzel Washington delivers a typically great performance. The movie is excellent in the first half-hour, but just OK after that. Even though the film drags and gets a bit melodramatic or trite in spots, Washington always manages to hold it up. That's a tough task, seeing as this one clocks in at nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The film opens with Whip, hung over to the point of still being intoxicated, waking up in a hotel room. A beautiful naked woman prances around while Whip has a tense phone conversation with his ex-wife. Washington plays this scene with a wicked finesse, especially when he leers at the nude woman while arguing with the ex. It's one of those great Denzel moments. Whip then snorts a line of cocaine, dons some sexy sunglasses and a pilot's suit, and heads off to fly a jetliner with more than 100 people aboard. (Viewers will probably do a little extra scrutinizing of their pilot the next time they get on a plane.)

The flight itself is a wonder of filmmaking. Zemeckis produced a shocking plane crash before—Tom Hanks going down in Cast Away—but this sequence is among the best he has ever directed. It's amazing enough when Whip pilots the jet through a storm during takeoff. When that plane takes a dramatic plunge later in its flight, and Whip eventually flies it upside down before gliding it to a crash-landing in an open field, it's a true pulse-racer.

The crash results in minimal casualties, and Whip is initially praised as a hero. Then people start seeing the toxicology reports.

Watching Whip deal with his alcoholism and the eventual legal proceedings gets a little tedious and, at times, ridiculous. The movie hits a real low when Whip visits his co-pilot in the hospital, who happens to be pumped up on painkillers—and far too much religion. It's a scene the movie didn't need.

I'm also not a fan of how Whip conveniently picks up on an angelic heroin addict during his hospital stay. The film chickens out here, refusing to allow Washington to simply portray a man in a downward spiral. The screenwriter just had to throw in the addict with a heart of gold to make Whip more of a romantic character.

With Flight, Zemeckis and Washington have to make a somewhat despicable man worth rooting for over the course of two-plus hours. In the end, they achieve that feat, but only because Washington is almost incapable of being totally unlikable onscreen. Heck, you still liked him when his character's evil ass was getting riddled with much-needed bullets in Training Day, right?

Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle do good work as the union representative and the lawyer trying to save Whip's career, respectively. John Goodman gets some uncomfortable laughs as Whip's buddy and drug-supplier, while Melissa Leo makes a good impression in a short time as a crash investigator.

Flight is ultimately an OK but inconsistent movie about a man's struggle with alcoholism, with a stunning plane crash thrown in. Stay tuned for Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul in Smashed, a much-better movie on the subject of substance abuse coming soon to a theater near you.

<i>Playing at a variety of theaters across the Coachella Valley.</i>

About 45 minutes into the nearly three-hour Cloud Atlas screening I attended, some dude blew out his lips, sounding not unlike a bridled horse after piloting a carriage around Disneyland for a half-day.

Others stood up, shook their heads and walked out solemnly with their popcorn corn tubs for the first of many refills.

Cloud Atlas is one mightily ambitious film. Three directors are at the helm; the cast is high-profile, with most playing multiple roles; and there are interconnecting story arcs spanning centuries.

All things considered, it’s remarkable how cohesive the film is. While different directors handled different stories, the film doesn’t feel as if different directors were handling the shots. It has a nice, smooth, unified vision. It's not smooth enough to please everybody, judging by the mass exodus from the theater, but smooth enough to impress the likes of me.

The directors are the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana of The Matrix movies) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). They handled different parts of the movie with their own crews, while sharing the cast members, who play a multitude of different characters that required them to often wear heavy prosthetic makeup.

The cast includes Tom Hanks, who gets to play both virtuous and murderous men, often changing accents, wigs and teeth. Hanks looks like he’s having the time of his life, and he helps to propel the film, even when it threatens to go off the rails.

Also on hand is Halle Berry, who has been getting some stinker roles lately. This is her best film in years, especially during a 1970s plotline that has her playing a reporter investigating a nuclear power plant scheme. Hugh Grant, having a fun year with his great voiceover work in The Pirates! Band of Misfits, gets to play a host of disgusting people, as does Wachowski regular Hugo Weaving.

The movie’s true intentions don’t start kicking in until halfway through its running time, making the first half a bit of a maze. My advice is to be patient, because, narrative-wise, it all comes together quite wonderfully in the end.

I’m sure the makeup folks were working overtime, and some of their work is quite dandy. That said, much of that makeup is pretty awful. Susan Sarandon has a fake nose at one point that’s so distracting, it’s hard to follow what’s happening in the scene. I found myself staring at her nose and missing dialogue. I did like the transformation of Hugo Weaving into a female nurse as mean as Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But for every makeup success, there seems to be three failures. The film was budgeted at a little more than $100 million, which is not a lot of money by Hollywood-blockbuster-wannabe standards. So, yeah, another $25 million for fake nose and teeth research might’ve made the film look less like a goofy costume pageant and more realistic.

While there isn’t one story in Cloud Atlas that’s so amazingly good it would stand on its own, the feat of tying them all together is impressive. For instance, there are two slavery stories, one involving Jim Sturgess as a slave trader in the past, and another involving Sturgess as an Asian slave revolutionary in the distant future.

The film, like the novel by David Mitchell, suggests that acts of kindness and hatred at any moment can ripple through time and affect the future. It also suggests that there’s some sort of reincarnation at play, with people meeting each other again and again in different lives. And finally, it also suggests that no matter how good looking we are, we are doomed to have a really bad nose or fake looking wig somewhere down the line.

I liked the idea that the Hanks persona could be a heroic man in the ’70s and a brutish killer in the present day. In that respect, Cloud Atlas certainly lacks in predictability.

In the end, the film is more a magnificent curio than magnificent entertainment. It will certainly challenge audiences ill prepared for its length and numerous swirling stories.

Cloud Atlas is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012 13:29

Blu-Ray Review: Magic Mike Is ... Magic

While watching this, I got to thinking that male strippers have done so much better at the movies than female strippers. Men get this almost-cerebral treatment when they take their clothes off; they also get cleverly funny stuff like The Full Monty.

Women get Striptease and Showgirls.

Channing Tatum, who is having a terrific year, stars in this stripper tale, based a bit on his own story before he became a big-actor type. It’s funny and even a little dark, thanks to the work of one Steven Soderbergh, a director who rarely has a misstep. Matthew McConaughey is also on hand as the mentor to the strippers, and, I must say, he’s the best-looking dude in this movie with his shirt off. Sorry, Channing … Matthew is in killer-diller shape!

It’s a fun watch, but don’t rent this one thinking it’s proper for a bachelorette party. It’s an actual movie with drama and lines and stuff. If you are looking for straight-up dancing naked male dudes, you might have to opt for calling up the real thing.

This is a good vehicle for Tatum, who gets to show off his comedic, dramatic and dancing chops—as well as his butt.

SPECIAL FEATURES: All you get is a featurette of the dance sequences, some extended dance sequences and a quick behind-the-scenes look. Virtually nothing went into this.


A Los Angeles family lets a really pretty girl into their house for an elongated visit, and—surprise surprise—infidelity and other sorts of trouble ensue.

Nobody Walks is the latest from co-writer Lena Dunham, who penned and directed the very-good Tiny Furniture. While the movie has some tasty visuals and a dreamy soundtrack, the story doesn’t quite cut it. In fact, it’s quite predictable and boring.

The really pretty girl is Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a supposed artist looking to finish her art film with the help of a freelance sound engineer, Peter (John Krasinski). This is one of those films that present an “artist” who is supposed to be very talented—but the film she’s working on is stupid. It’s just black-and-white footage of bugs that is meant to be “deep.” Well, it’s not. It’s just a bunch of bugs running around.

Nothing Martine says is all that enlightening or profound, especially when she’s directing her movie. Peter instantly finds her talented, which I suppose is a direct sign that he wants to cheat on his wife, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt).
Julie has her own potential infidelity storm brewing. She’s a therapist with a sleazy screenwriter client (Justin Kirk) who tells her about the sex dreams he’s having. Of course, she’s in them. This is all well-worn, run-of-the-mill territory.

The movie lights up a bit in the story of young Kolt (India Ennenga), a budding writer with a crush on Peter’s assistant (Rhys Wakefield). Ennenga delivers the film’s best performance as a teenager with the biggest brain in the house. Had the film been more about her, it might’ve been interesting. Ennenga is a featured actress on HBO’s Treme, if you are looking for her beyond this movie. I think she has a future.

Director Ry Russo-Young is trying to show us a quiet Southern California in her film. While the family does attend a party at one point, most of this film takes place in a Silver Lake home hidden quietly in the hills. This part of the country is always portrayed as a little insane, so it’s refreshing to see a film that acknowledges that all parts of Los Angeles aren’t out of hand.

Thirlby is one of those actresses who I want to like so much, but I just haven’t been given a good enough reason. I liked her just fine in Juno; and she was OK in Dredd, but she’s failed to knock me out so far. Unfortunately, her Martine is not a well-written, engaging character. She’s basically an insecure person who can’t help but make out with any decent-looking man within mouth range. If there was a way to make this stereotypical character someone worth rooting for, Thirlby, the director and her crew did not find it. She’s actually diabolical, yet remarkably dull at the same time.

Krasinski does much of the film’s heavy lifting as the cheating hubby. While the film doesn’t necessarily offer a reason for why Peter would cheat (he seems happy in his marriage), these sort of things just happen sometimes. But Peter’s eventual downward spiral into jealous rage seems a little forced and out of place. Krasinski does these scenes well enough, but they feel silly.

Dylan McDermott has an unmemorable, small part as Leroy, Julie’s famous musician ex-husband and Kolt’s father. His presence is another attempt by the movie to show this family as forward=thinking and “free.” They are so cool to let the ex come over and sit at the dinner table! Too bad that ex is Dylan McDermott in autopilot mode.

Nobody Walks isn’t a total loss. I liked the soundtrack music by Will Bates and Fall on Your Sword, along with the excellent cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt. As dopey and mundane as the film can get, it looks and sounds good.

But good music and nice visuals aside, this feels like a movie that has been done before—and done better.

Now playing at Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert, 779-0430).


Friday, 26 October 2012 07:48

Ethan Hawke's Scared Faces Boost 'Sinister'

I enjoy watching Ethan Hawke getting the shit scared out of him. He spends much of Sinister in this mode, so I enjoyed the film, to a certain extent.

Sinister is a kooky stew of horror themes, including the isolated writer, found-footage deaths, haunted houses and scary children. They are presented in a sporadically creepy fashion by director Scott Derrickson, with Mr. Hawke at the center of it all, expertly hyperventilating.

Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime author 10 years removed from his last big success and looking for inspiration. He moves his family into a house where another family was hung from a tree in the backyard. Derrickson actually starts his movie off with the image of the family being hanged; it's just one of the film's many haunting images.

Oswalt finds a box of home movies (along with a rather disgusting scorpion) in the attic, and sets about watching them. This is the first of many bad decisions Oswalt will make. (Actually, it's the second if you count Oswalt moving into this creepy house in the first place.) The movies are snuff films compiled since the '60s, and they totally suck to watch. One depicts a family being drowned in lounge chairs in their pool; another shows a different family having their throats slit. Oswalt gets the notion that perhaps he should call the police—but fame beckons, and he concludes that all of this will contribute to one helluva book.

Oswalt, like many horror film protagonists, is a genuine idiot.

As the horror factor ratchets up, Oswalt sticks around the house. His young son crawls out of a box screeching, looking not unlike Linda Blair doing the spider-walk thing in that cut scene from The Exorcist. However, Oswalt just puts the kid to bed and goes back to watching snuff films.

A local deputy (James Ransone) steps in to help Oswalt with some fact-finding. Turns out the murders are all connected in a way that should provide Oswalt with yet another reason to move out. Instead, he stays.

That same deputy connects Oswalt with a professor type (Vincent D'Onofrio) who informs him that symbols found at the murder sites are connected to an ancient monster called Bughuul that eats children's souls. Upon hearing this, Oswalt has another cup of coffee and continues his research.

As I stated before, Oswalt is a genuine idiot.

Derrickson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has a gift for telegraphing his scares ... yet still making them scary. He'll put Hawke's head in a dark frame, letting you know damn well that something else will soon appear. It appears ... and it's alarming. He'll offer a moment of hesitation when you know a jolting sound will occur. That jolt eventually comes ... and it's still freaking scary.

My face went cold many times watching this movie. People around me either got up and left, or started crying. A horror movie that makes people cry gets high marks from yours truly.

Hawke does terrified with the best of them. Think of his looks of horror while observing Denzel Washington breaking rules in Training Day, or that panicked expression on his face as things spun out of control in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. He's got a top-notch freaked-out face, and that look is employed well in this movie.

As Oswalt's stressed-out wife, Tracy, Juliet Rylance ruins just about every moment of the film she occupies. Her role isn't written very well—she's the typical "I just can't take this anymore!" spouse. That said, many better actors and actresses have risen above the material when given poorly written characters. Rylance is a trumpet with a stinky sock stuck in the bell.

As the two kids with a dad who blows at picking houses, Michael Hall D'Addario and Clare Foley make up for some of Rylance's slack. Foley is especially good at occupying the stereotypical "creepy daughter who talks to ghosts" role. See? Foley got handed a hackneyed role and made something out of it.

We only see the monster Bughuul in a few quick moments, but, boy, are those effective moments. There's a sequence involving a swimming pool that definitely had me walking with quicker strides to my car in the dark parking lot after the movie.

Bughuul is the sort of fake myth that is so rich, you will find yourself Googling him to see if he has an actual pagan history. He doesn't; he's completely made up.

This tells me that the folks who wrote Sinister are pretty damn sick in the head. That's an attribute that bothers me if the afflicted one is my next-door neighbor. However, when the guy making a horror movie is a little nuts, it's a blessing.

Saturday, 27 October 2012 01:26

Alex Cross: Perry Not Bad; Everything Else Is

Tyler Perry stars as detective Alex Cross, a role Morgan Freeman occupied in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.

Perry is not terrible, but everybody and everything surrounding him is. Director Rob Cohen employs sloppy editing, a maudlin soundtrack and bad supporting performances in this hackneyed story of an assassin (poorly played by Matthew Fox) and his inexplicable vendetta against Cross. Fox got really skinny for the role, and the effort shows in his physicality. Unfortunately, the film also reveals that Lost may’ve represented his acting peak, because he’s ridiculously overwrought and amateurish. Perry handles a couple of heavy emotional scenes with palpable strength, although he doesn’t quite cut it as an action star. Edward Burns shows up as Cross’ partner, and it turns out he’s a pretty bad actor, too. Horribly edited fight scenes and silly dialogue kill this movie.

Thursday, 25 October 2012 19:34

Profitable Piece o' Crap

While watching Paranormal Activity 4, the latest in a series of bland found-footage films trying to squeeze scares out of home-security and cell-phone videos, I compiled a list in my head to keep from falling asleep.

I listed the reasons why I would rather watch the grainy, live black-and-white security footage on the monitor behind the counter at a convenience store than watch the wannabe-scary security video in Paranormal Activity 4.

No. 1: The convenience-store video doesn't feature an actress (like Kathryn Newton in PA4) who looks like she is always going to laugh while delivering a line, even if that line requires her to be serious or scared out of her fancy pajama bottoms.

No. 2: I strike a rather impressive figure on black-and-white security video while waiting in line to buy my Altoids. I really do.

No. 3: It's fun to wonder whether the guy standing next to me in the convenience-store video plans to use his Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia as a snack or as a weapon. Have you ever been hit in the head by a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream? That shit is like a mini-cinder block. A sweet, awesome cinder block that is tasty in many glorious ways, but a cinder block all the same.

No. 4: I wonder whether the angry Russian guy in line will start a fight with one of the attendants about cigarettes, followed by the other ex-con male attendant picking a physical fight with the Russian guy, with me stuck in the middle trying to keep them apart, thus creating an action scene better than anything in Paranormal Activity 4. (This actually happened to me one Christmas Eve at a convenience store. It was awesome!)

I guess the overriding reason I would want to watch the convenience-store security video rather than the PA4 video is because the convenience-store video has Twinkies in it. That's better than anything in PA4.

In my humble opinion, the Paranormal Activity franchise peaked in the final two minutes of the first installment. That would be when a rather boring movie about bedsheets moving by themselves actually became recommendable based on a startling ending that left me legitimately shaken and wanting to hold someone's—anyone's—hand.

Since that moment, the series has been one scene after another of rooms where something—a sound, a shadowy figure strolling through, a basketball coming down the stairs by itself—is going to happen. Or sometimes it doesn't happen, and the director fakes you out. (The directors of this installment are big fans of the open-refrigerator-door fake-out.)

This is a film that wants you to think the "Front Door Open" voice on some people's home-security systems is creepy. While that voice is bland and sad, it's far from creepy, yet we hear it MANY TIMES in Paranormal Activity 4.

The film also fails in the scary-child department. The movie I reviewed last week, Sinister, had a bunch of decent scary kids in it. I give it a B+ for scary kids, and place it in a league with The Shining and Pet Sematary when it comes to spooky children. The kids in this movie are supposed to be creepy and perhaps possessed by demons, but they just look depressed, as if somebody took their video games and juice boxes away.

I have officially graduated from dreading the next horrid Saw flick to dreading the next Paranormal Activity flick every October. Halloween used to be fun at the movies, with stories about werewolves and gargoyles and masked serial killers and whatnot. Now it's about watching a couple of jerky kids Skype each other.

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