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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

If movies had faces, I would have wanted to punch Yesterday in its stupid, stupid face for nearly its entire running time. It takes an interesting premise—a world in which the music of the Beatles doesn’t exist—and totally squanders it.

Danny Boyle (127 Hours, 28 Days Later …) directs the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a wannabe musician working part-time in a grocery store while also busking on street corners and playing small gigs with his trusty guitar. Jack’s burgeoning music career is managed by Ellie (Lily James), who is fostering a decades-old crush on Jack.

While riding his bike home from a gig, the world suffers some sort of momentary power loss, and Jack gets hit by a bus, knocking out a couple of teeth and sending him to the hospital. Just before his accident, Jack swore to end his music career—a good idea, because he totally sucks.

After the accident, Ellie and some friends give Jack a new guitar and suggest that he bust out a song for them. He goes with “Yesterday” by the Beatles—and the group is moved as if hearing the song for the first time. Well, that’s because they are hearing it for the first time. A quick Google check by Jack confirms the impossible: Somehow, Jack now lives in a parallel world where John, Paul, George and Ringo never came together to make music.

So what does Jack do? Why he plagiarizes the entire Beatles catalog, of course. He plasters notes with their songs all over his room, and starts re-creating their tracks. He struggles with the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby,” but he gets enough right to catch the eyes and ears of agents and producers everywhere. Jack doesn’t really seem like a rock star, but no matter: With the music of the Beatles propelling him, this kid is going places.

This act—stealing the music of the best group in rock history—is a grievous action, is it not? Only a true prick would steal music and try to pass it off as his own, right? Well, this is where the movie goes terribly wrong: Rather than exploring the dark side of plagiarism in a comedic way, Boyle’s movie begs you to love Jack, and to sympathize with him while he tries to figure out his romantic interest in Ellie. This results in a movie that is uncomfortable to watch, because Jack is nothing short of a total dick. Rather than crafting a film that seriously addresses a world without the Beatles, the movie becomes nothing but a lame rom-com. An opportunity for some mind-bending dark comedy becomes nothing but an exercise in whether he will kiss her or not.

The movie does take a stab at something profound with a special appearance by an historical figure late in the film. Beatles fans will cry blasphemy, because the movie simply doesn’t earn this moment. Furthermore, the moment is treated with a strange kind of casual bemusement that struck me as offensive. As for the appearance of Ed Sheeran … I was actually OK with a scene in which the pop star got put in his place because, you know, fuck that guy.

Movies that feature Beatles music can be a great thing. Beyond the films the actual Fab Four participated in, Across the Universe stands as a fine exercise on how to use Beatles music in the modern film era. In contrast, Yesterday is a vapid, unimaginative mess. It has no real reason to exist other than trying to find a way to roll out Beatles music for a new generation of moviegoers.

The film actually had me wincing at the sound of their music, given the film around it. You have to really screw up to make the Beatles boring.

Yesterday is playing at theaters across the valley.

Bob Dylan peaked, in my opinion, during that strange time in the mid-1970s when he hit the road with a traveling circus of his music/poetry friends, covered his face with white makeup and delivered some of the rawest, most-straightforward rocking performances of his career. Thankfully, that’s the focus of Rolling Thunder Revue on Netflix.

Martin Scorsese, for the second time, has made a documentary focusing on the musical icon, combining archive concert footage with interviews (most notably a new chat with Dylan himself) to tell the story of the most-interesting tour of the man’s career. Dylan had just finished touring stadiums with The Band, and wanted to play more-intimate venues. So he did, and he brought the likes of Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg and Joan Baez along with him.

The concert footage shows Dylan focused, driving and sometimes very funny as he delivers new music along with his already-classic songbook. New songs like “Isis” and “Hurricane” destroy alongside transformed versions of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” While watching these concert moments, it becomes immediately clear that anybody who was present for the shows was witnessing vital music history.

The interviews flesh out the “story” in what amounts to another triumph for Scorsese, who has given himself a nice side gig doing rock documentaries.

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese is now streaming on Netflix.

Toy Story 3 seemed like a definitive end to the story of Woody (the voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and company. That movie was, in a word, perfect in the way it tied up the story of Andy and his lifelong toy companions.

I’m someone who thought Toy Story 3 should’ve been the final chapter in the franchise. And I’m now someone who is fine with one more chapter, thanks to the totally satisfying Toy Story 4.

Pixar and director Josh Cooley (making his feature directorial debut with the studio’s most-precious franchise) chose to mess with perfection and extend the story of Woody and friends. The results are less than perfect, but still very worthy of Toy Story lore; this is a welcome breath of fresh air in a summer movie season that thus far has been a series of big franchise stink bombs (Godzilla: King of the Monsters; Men in Black: International; Dark Phoenix).

After a recap in which Andy appears, the action goes to the home of Bonnie, the little girl Andy handed his toys over to at the end of Toy Story 3. Bonnie is gearing up for kindergarten and is a little freaked out, so Woody jumps into her backpack as moral support.

Woody witnesses Bonnie creating what will be a fantastic new character for the franchise in Forky (Tony Hale), crafted out of a plastic spork, pipe cleaners and Play-Doh. Woody immediately sees the importance of this new toy friend, and has himself some new missions: Make sure Forky accepts his new role as a toy instead of trash, and help Bonnie adjust to the rigors of kindergarten.

Bonnie’s day at kindergarten was only an orientation session, and her parents decide to take her on that ever-familiar movie trope: the road trip—in the family RV, no less. The family gets diverted, and the toys wind up getting themselves into trouble at an antique shop inhabited by Gabby Gabby, a deceptively adorable talking doll (Christina Hendricks). Gabby, of course, seems friendly at first (just like Ned Beatty’s purple bear in Toy Story 3), but she has evil intentions regarding a part of Woody’s anatomy—and she has an army of ventriloquist dummies to carry out her plans. Toy Story 4 ends up being as scary as it is funny when the action involves the dummy army. Damn, they are creepy!

Along with Forky and Gabby Gabby, other newcomers include Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) and, most spectacularly, stunt motorcycle-rider Duke Caboom, voiced by cinematic darling Keanu Reeves. Caboom, obviously modeled after Evel Knievel, is having his own existential crisis—low self-esteem, due to his prior child owner not being impressed with his jumping abilities.

Woody’s sweetheart, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), gets a prominent role in the new adventure. Sadly, the budding romance between Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Buzz that we saw in Toy Story 3 is not further explored. In fact, Jessie and Buzz are relegated mostly to background duty.

It’s not surprising that Toy Story 4 is the most visually impressive of the films. The folks at Pixar have had nearly a decade to hone their skills since the last chapter, so the likes of Woody, Buzz and Jessie have a new, refined beauty.

The ending of Toy Story 4 will again have fans and critics proclaiming that this must be the end for the franchise. The film certainly feels like a closing chapter, but we all said that about the last movie. The premise is still ripe for spinoffs (a Duke Caboom movie!), prequels—whatever. Heck, maybe Disney will do a live-action remake of the original, since that seems to be the trend.

Toy Story 4 is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

I’m a big fan of anthology horror movies and TV shows. Creepshow stands as one of my all-time-favorite horror movies, so when I see another anthology horror film getting good buzz, I get excited.

Word had it that Nightmare Cinema was a blast … but alas, it totally blows.

Mickey Rourke plays the Projectionist, a purposeless dude screening horror films in an old, mystical theater. The premise for the short films in this movie has something to do with the main characters walking into the theater, sitting down and seeing their story. Each one of those stories—including a demon-possession tale, a crazy-mother story, a cabin-in-the-woods scenario and a kid who sees dead people—is lame, lame, lame.

There isn’t an original moment to be had. It should just be called Mickey Rourke Actually Gets a Job, because that’s the only shocking thing about it. Standard gore effects, terrible writing and lousy direction abound. Even Joe Dante, the man who made Gremlins, accomplishes next to nothing with his stupid short about an evil plastic surgeon.

Nightmare Cinema seems like a bunch of studios took a group of throwaway horror scripts, repurposed them as an anthology, and tried to pass them off as having some sort of binding theme. There’s no point in any of these shorts being in the same realm, and the whole Projectionist gimmick doesn’t work. Nightmare Cinema is a disjointed, sloppy mess.

Nightmare Cinema is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Men in Black: International, the fourth film in the MIB franchise, is the second-worst of the group, after Men in Black II. The original and Men in Black 3 were good; International, meanwhile, is a wasted opportunity—an admirable attempt to restart things that doesn’t hit all its marks.

Replacing Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin are Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, as agents H and M. H is the bold, brash, super-hot dude of MIB; he saved the world years ago, with Agent High T (Liam Neeson) of the London MIB branch, from an evil alien force called the Hive.

M is the latest recruit, having found MIB’s secret headquarters after years of searching. As a child, M witnessed an alien encounter (and saw her parents getting their minds erased), starting a curiosity fire that doesn’t get put out until Agent O (Emma Thompson) gives her a chance to basically save the world as a probationary agent.

Tessa Thompson is great in anything she does, and she is great here. She brings a fun energy to the role, with a slight wiseass edge. Hemsworth is a performer who seems to like himself a little too much, yet he still manages to be likable. The two make a good pair, as they did in Thor: Ragnarok.

While it is fun to see Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson onscreen together again, the screenplay they’re following is a bit baffling. Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, two of the many writers on the original Iron Man, take a hack at sending the duo on a global adventure. The globetrotting, which includes Paris, Italy and Marrakesh, lacks a true sense of purpose—which is surprising, since the characters are trying to save the world.

After a fairly strong start, the action, presented by director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton), devolves into sloppy boredom. With each passing location, it seems as if the movie is directionless, merely picking new locales and switching up the scenery to disguise the fact that it is actually going nowhere.

A “mole in MIB” subplot doesn’t help matters much, with villain’s identity being ultra-guessable. A finale in Paris (after opening in Paris) offers few surprises and no thrills. The movie ends with a big old “Huh?”

The special effects are pretty good, with a few new aliens, most notably a little one named Pawny (the voice of Kumail Nanjiani), adding sporadic fun. I also got a kick out of a mini-alien posing as a beard on some dude’s face.

F. Gary Gray has another sequel on his resume, that being the lousy Be Cool, a sequel to Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty. Sonnenfeld, of course, directed the other three MIB films. Conclusion: F. Gary Gray needs to cease and desist directing sequels to Barry Sonnenfeld films.

This project was originally supposed to be a crossover with the Jonah Hill 21 Jump Street franchise. I’m guessing Warner Bros. soured on the notion of turning MIB into a joke, figuring they could reboot and regenerate revenue on the franchise while staying within its own established universe. Given Gray’s failed film, they figured wrong. No doubt: A Men In Black comedy with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill would’ve been automatic box-office gold. This one is a dud.

The Godzilla film sort of sucked. The X-Men are bombing … and now this. This summer-movie season so far has been a cruel, unforgiving place for big movie franchises.

Men in Black: International is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Robert Pattinson, the man who will be Batman, continues establishing himself as one of his generation’s finest actors with High Life, a dark, scarily effective sci-fi thriller.

Directed and co-written by Claire Denis, the film stars Pattinson as Monte, a death-row inmate sent into space with a crew of prisoners, including a murderous doctor played by Juliette Binoche. The prisoners dedicate their lives to scientific experiments rather than rotting in cells back on Earth.

It’s established early that Monte and his toddler daughter are the only survivors of the flight after things went terribly wrong. The deterioration of the mission is told in flashback. Mia Goth and Andre Benjamin play two other members of the ill-fated crew.

Everybody is terrific in this movie, which turns out to be one of the darker, more-effective sci-fi offerings in years. The mission’s ultimate goal is to pass through a black hole and see what is on the other side. Even with his crew gone, Monte forges on as his daughter ages along with him in space. It’s all very eerie, but also moving.

Cool trivia note: The baby is played by Scarlett Lindsey, the daughter of a friend of Pattinson, which explains their amazing rapport.

High Life is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

The zombie genre gets the Jim Jarmusch treatment with mild levels of success in The Dead Don’t Die, an often funny, sometimes scary and always amusing horror-comedy effort from the famed director.

Jarmusch has done horror before, most notably with his atmospheric vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive and, some could argue, the disturbing death-meditation Dead Man. His latest effort is as close to full-on satire as the director has ever come: The world is falling apart politically, socially and environmentally, and its inhabitants are too slow and dimwitted to really do anything about it.

Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny play sheriff Cliff and his deputies Ronnie and Mindy in a typical American town called Centerville. The town is severely laid back, with a typical day revolving around when to get coffee and donuts from the cultural hub, the local diner.

Then things go awry: Due to polar fracking, the Earth spins off its access, and the dead begin to rise. The days become longer; the electronic gadgets we rely upon go dead; and people start getting unsolicited neck bites from formerly live neighbors. Some characters, including those played by Murray and Driver, react in a way that is so disorganized and disconnected that they practically deserve to die.

This, perhaps, is a not-so-veiled statement about our current administration’s strange attitude toward global warming. Actually, there’s no doubt: Jarmusch hates Trump, and this is an anti-Trump zombie movie. Steve Buscemi plays a racist resident who dons a red and white MAGA hat, except his actually says “Make America White Again.”

The pacing of this movie is really slow … Jarmusch slow. In fact, the pacing is so slow that the lumbering George Romero-style zombies are almost sprinting compared to what is going on around them. Your ability to like this film depends very much upon your willingness to let the things happening onscreen linger and, in some cases, get dragged out.

The film does contain a moment of genuine terror when a zombie couple takes out two waitresses at the diner. The zombies feast upon the dying with—yes, I’ll reference the zombie master again—Romero-like goriness, right down to intestine-chomping. The moment is ultra-creepy because one of the victims does not die immediately, and she expresses her agony loudly. The zombies are played by Iggy Pop (often a Jarmusch collaborator) and Sara Driver as rock groupies with caffeine addictions. Live flesh is great when it comes to feasting, but what they really need is a good cup of joe, like many among the multitudes currently crowding Starbucks and indie cafes across our great nation.

Murray and Adam Driver are both very funny, with Murray’s Cliff representing the old-school, I’ve-had-enough-of-this-to-the-point-where-I-will-barely-react part of society, and Driver’s Ronnie providing the semi-hipster outlook. It is Ronnie who calmly declares that they are in the midst of an apocalypse while never losing his deadpan face. He’s a lot younger than the equally deadpan Cliff, and will probably catch up to Cliff’s level of disinterest very soon.

Other Jarmusch stalwarts include Tilda Swinton as a samurai-sword-wielding funeral-home director, a role only Swinton could play. Tom Waits (Down by Law) plays the mystic homeless guy commentating on Centerville’s demise, of course. Who else would he play?

I am a big fan of Jarmusch’s work, and even I couldn’t get past the pacing at times. A couple of days later, when I reflected upon the picture, it hit me that I liked the movie a lot more after I saw it than I did while watching it. His films tend to get that sort of delayed reaction out of me.

The Dead Don’t Die opens Friday, June 14, at the Century Theatres and XD at The River (71800 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-836-1940).

Dexter Fletcher, the director who helped take a shit on Freddie Mercury’s legacy with the dumpster fire that was last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody (he finished the job after Bryan Singer was fired), fares much better with Rocketman, this celebration of Elton John.

The movie tells Elton John’s story through musical numbers and fantasy sequences; as it turns out, it’s a good approach. Elton John is played by Taron Egerton (who starred alongside Elton John in the wonderfully weird Kingsman: The Golden Circle), and there will be no lip-synching here, thank you very much: Egerton confidently sings John’s tunes, including “Tiny Dancer,” the title track and, unfortunately, “I’m Still Standing.”

Jamie Bell plays John’s writing partner, Bernie Taupin, and the movie works as a nice testament to their contributions to rock’s legacy. Egerton goes full-blown rock star, as the film features some nice, artistically exaggerated re-creations of key moments in Elton John’s history. The results are a lot of fun, even through some slight miscasting (Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton John’s mom!).

Rocketman is not a perfect movie, but it’s a bold and interesting approach to a rock biopic that has more in common with Across the Universe than Bohemian Rhapsody.

Rocketman is playing at theaters across the valley.

Filmmakers somehow found a way to totally muck up the greatest Godzilla premise ever with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a movie that is all things great and terrible at the same time.

The movie has some terrific monster battles, and the special effects are mind-bogglingly good. Godzilla squares off against legendary foes including the multiheaded Monster Zero and Rodan, while getting some much-needed assistance from the great Mothra. All of these monsters, including the title character, are wonders to behold. As for the online bitching about the movie’s appearance being dark and murky, the darkness was actually fitting, made things scarier and didn’t diminish the effects.

But … and this is a big but … I cannot endorse this movie. The human stuff in between and during the fighting is DREADFUL. Homo sapiens get too much screen time. The writing and staging is so bad that the film gets derailed every time it goes to military types in a war room.

The plot has the world in a state of disarray after the 2014 attacks on San Francisco and Las Vegas depicted in Godzilla. OK, that’s kind of cool. How do we dust ourselves off and find a way to co-exist with the likes of Godzilla and big-monster-moth things after the decimation of the Bay Area? Apparently, according to writer-director Michael Dougherty (Krampus), we deliver inane dialogue very slowly, and inexplicably play with a sonar gadget that calls out to the monsters in a manner that either chills them out or fires them up.

That gadget is created by Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who lost a child in the San Francisco attack and is attempting to talk to the monsters with her daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) while husband/dad, Mark (Kyle Chandler), is off taking pictures on safari. There’s a moment when Mark seems to be sort of getting off while listening on headphones to the sounds of wolves tearing into the flesh of a dead deer. It’s a strange moment; I think he has some issues.

The gadget thing sends out a call that basically kicks off the monster apocalypse, and the action goes from full-on, nicely staged monster battles featuring beautiful close-ups and battered landscapes—to a bunch of lost actors sitting around in a situation room observing and commenting.

Bradley Whitford basically gets the role Jake Johnson had in Jurassic World—he’s the nerdy guy cracking wise from afar while monsters eat people, and military folks scratch their heads. While Johnson had great line deliveries and some funny moments, Whitford looks like the victim of a director who said, “Hey, Bradley, say some funny shit about monsters!” and Whitford had nothing.

Millie Bobby Brown is OK, but there’s not much she can do with material so bad. She has the movie’s dopiest moment: When fleeing Monster Zero as it is destroying Fenway Park, Godzilla comes up behind her; she turns and offers a calm, satisfied smile. There’s no paralyzing fear, and no screaming in terror at being between two massive charging monsters. Instead, there’s a calm, movie-star smile, because Godzilla might be her friend or some shit like that. Give me a break.

Brown has already completed her shots for Godzilla vs. Kong, due out next year, so she’s not escaping this franchise. Dougherty, who messed up this movie, has a resume with some OK low-grade horror films (Krampus, Trick ’r Treat). The next film’s director, Adam Wingard, is also a director of horror films (You’re Next, the awful Blair Witch reboot). Dougherty, who co-wrote this messy movie, helped write the next film as well. These are not good signs.

Perhaps Warner Bros./Legendary should stop putting large blockbusters into the hands of relatively new and mediocre horror-film directors. They got it right with Gareth Edwards on Godzilla (2014). They blew it with Dougherty, and I fear for the future.

Seriously … how is it possible to produce suckage with a great-looking movie featuring Godzilla, Rodan and Monster Zero in it? How does that happen? My summer is ruined, and it isn’t even summer yet.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

I was 18 years old in 1986 when the whole Chernobyl thing went down. If you think the anti-Russian sentiment in the United States is at a fever pitch today, it’s nothing compared to what it was in the mid-1980s—especially when the nightmare occurred.

I confess that my teenage self—worried about my first year in college and the fact that I had to drive a Volkswagen Rabbit through the Adirondacks—didn’t pay enough attention to what was going on in Russia. I knew that there was an accident, and that some radiation escaped. It wasn’t until years later that I started to understand what really happened: The planet was almost irreparably altered.

HBO’s excellent five-episode series about the Chernobyl disaster, which concludes tonight, does a heart-wrenching job of showing the human toll and sacrifice it took to keep Russia and the planet safe. Jared Harris is superb as a scientist sent in to figure the whole mess out, as is Stellan Skarsgard as the government stooge sent along with him. It’s grueling, scary stuff, and it’s educational.

I’m four episodes in, and I’m convinced TV will have a hard time topping this series this year.

Chernobyl is now airing on HBO, and is available on HBO’s streaming services.