CVIndependent

Mon10212019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson star in Netflix film The Highwaymen as Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, two former Texas marshals who come out of retirement to help hunt the infamous Bonnie and Clyde.

John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) directs from a script by John Fusco that’s a road movie, more or less, as Hamer and Gault deal with each other’s aging foibles while they hunt down two of the most notorious criminals in American history. As road movies go, it’s pretty good, with Costner playing the crustier guy to Harrelson’s quirkier guy.

The movie stands as a decent companion piece to the ’67 Arthur Penn classic Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. In fact, I watched that one directly after this, and they fit together quite nicely.

Bonnie and Clyde make brief but memorable appearances here, with Costner and Harrelson getting the vast majority of screen time.

At the time of the hunt, the FBI and many lawmen were trying to find Bonnie and Clyde, without success. Hamer and Gault make for an interesting story about how sometimes, you just need to go old school.

The Highwaymen is now streaming on Netflix.

Oh, those evil doppelgängers, and their wonderful place in horror lore. See: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twin Peaks, The Thing—and now Jordan Peele’s extremely creepy Get Out follow-up, Us.

I ask you: What could be creepier than your double trying to slash your neck? Peele knows that it’s the ultimate nightmare—and Us plays upon it with chilling glee.

The film starts with a quote about America having many miles of tunnels underneath its surface; there’s then a quick flashback shot of a videotape of 1984 sci-fi film C.H.U.D. next to a VCR. A TV plays an advertisement for Hands Across America, and you already have all sorts of subtext before anything even really happens.

With a series in which a young girl (Madison Curry) in the same 1980s flashback drifts away from her father at a beach amusement park and finds herself in a darkened hall of mirrors, Peele immediately makes it clear that he’s not playing around with this movie: Prepared to be scared, disturbed and uncomfortable in a good way.

The film then jumps to the present day, where Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) are taking their children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), to the beach. It’s the same beach we saw in the flashback—and much to her chagrin, Adelaide was that young girl who ventured into that hall of mirrors. She’s not happy about revisiting the Santa Cruz pier, but the husband and kids really want to, so she takes one for the team.

The family excursion quickly becomes the worst vacation ever, as another family shows up, at night, standing in their driveway. A quick examination of the intruders reveals what the commercials for this movie have already told you: The family in the driveway is a mirror image of the stunned family inside the house. However, they aren’t coming over to borrow the lawn mower. They intend to kill everybody.

Once again, this vacation sucks.

Us has a larger scope than I was expecting; it qualifies as one of the better apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen. There’s no question that writer-director Peele has been gobbling up zombie, slasher and isolation movies his entire life, and their influences play a significant part in his vision. The movie is a mind-bender, but it’s also an efficient, bare-knuckle horror-thriller. In short, it’s the whole package as far as horror movies go.

Nyong’o, whose doppelgänger’s name is Red, gets a chance to play two meaty roles here—and she’s all over them. While Adelaide is a strong-willed mom for whom we can’t help but cheer, Red is a croaky monster (the only doppelganger that speaks) who comes with an unexpected level of pathetic sadness. She reveals plenty about why she and her evil-twin pals are doing what they do.

Peele fans know that the man—on top of being able to scare the piss out of you—can make you laugh as well. Us is often as funny as it is scary. Duke is a crack-up as the dad who can’t quite get it right while he’s trying to protect his family. In a masterstroke of casting, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! scores as Gabe’s smug friend. He’s the wiseass husband of Kitty (Elisabeth Moss). Moss does things in this movie that will always qualify as some of her best work.

When asked who they are, Red the doppelgänger leader replies: “We are Americans.” Us might be scary and funny, but it is also an unforgiving condemnation of American missteps, past and present. The movie is a lot of fun, but it’s also heavy.

Peele has a revamp of The Twilight Zone coming to CBS All Access soon, and Us plays like a nice primer for more twisty mischief to come. As for his movies, Peele is on one hell of a roll.

Us is playing at theaters across the valley.

Jeff Tremaine, director of the Jackass films, tries to deliver an actual narrative movie—and bombs miserably with The Dirt, a lame Netflix biopic on Mötley Crüe.

Based on the book that was written by members of the band, the film covers Mötley Crüe from its formation … and makes a mess of the whole thing. For starters, Tommy Lee lookalike Machine Gun Kelly delivers a bad performance as the iconic drummer, making him into more of a cartoon than he already is.

Daniel Webber is an annoying prick as lead singer Vince Neil … but Neil is an annoying prick in real life, too, so I guess he gets a pass. Douglas Booth renders bassist Nikki Sixx boring, while Iwan Rheon is the closest thing to any fun as old, grumpy guitarist Mick Mars.

I’ll confess: I’ve never liked the band. I find the music amateurish and shitty, so it would be difficult for me to like any film about Mötley Crüe. However, I know how to evaluate movies—and we are talking some bad acting here, and the film offers nothing revelatory whatsoever about the group. (They had groupies; they did drugs, blah, blah, blah.) I never thought I’d see a rock biopic that annoyed me more than Bohemian Rhapsody, but here you go.

The Dirt is now streaming on Netflix.

If you are looking for a good, standard action-thriller to put into your Netflix queue, Triple Frontier is a safe bet. Maybe it’s too safe, in fact, but regardless, after a one-week theatrical release, the movie is now available for streaming.

The latest from the streaming giant sends the likes of Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal and Charlie Hunnam into the jungle to rob a South American drug lord’s house of millions of dollars.

Former special-forces operative Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Isaac) has become bored to death as a military adviser to police making drug busts. During a particularly bloody mission, he overhears a captured dealer divulge the location of a drug lord’s personal home, where he keeps all of his money. Pope gets to thinking and then calls upon some of his former Special Ops buds to pay the kingpin a house call and relieve him of some of his dirty money. The catch: The mission will be off the books, of course, and totally illegal.

After years of military service with nothing to show for it, Pope and his buddies Redfly (Affleck), Ironhead (Hunnam), Ben (Hedlund) and Catfish (Pascal) are looking for a little payback. Tom “Redfly” Davis is the most reluctant at first, but a divorce and child-support payments prompt him to eventually go all-in.

The first stage of the mission has the men attempting what is supposed to be a quick, easy theft of the money while most of the family is at church, and the drug lord is left behind. This gives director J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All Is Lost) an opportunity to present an effectively chilling heist inside a jungle mansion. Of course, things don’t exactly go according to plan.

The next stage has the boys getting into some skirmishes in the jungle and in a small village; again, things aren’t going as easily as Pope proposed in his initial plans. The third stage has the men moving hundreds of pounds of money toward and eventually through the Andes—first on mules and then on their backs, as they try their darndest to salvage the mission’s booty.

All three stages are well-done, although there are not many surprises. Triple Frontier doesn’t rack up points for originality, but it does score with the casting, with all five main leads making solid contributions. They are all good enough to distract you from the fact that the movie itself is almost completely devoid of originality.

That’s OK. Sometimes a great cast and some decent firefights are all you need to quench your action-thriller thirst; in that sense, Triple Frontier hits the marks.

Also, it’s fun to watch this movie if you pretend that Affleck’s character is actually a retired Batman who has come upon hard financial times and is forced to sell condos for a living. I admit that this notion was playing in my head, especially in the moments when Redfly (That could be a bat’s nickname!) gets all dark and brooding.

Of the performances, Isaac’s is the most memorable—no big surprise, considering he’s easily the best actor in the bunch. Pascal is good as the down-on-his-luck pilot who needs some scratch to offset the legal cost of his latest blunder. Hedlund offers some decent comic relief as the angriest and most impatient of the group.

The movie does boast one sequence—a helicopter flight over mountains that is in danger of crashing due the large quantity of cash dangling from its bottom—that is a truly original moment. Otherwise, Triple Frontier is the sort of film like the ones Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger used to turn out. While that’s not high praise, it’s hardly a condemnation. There’s a time and a place for a good junk-food movie—and Netflix knows it.

Triple Frontier is now streaming on Netflix.

Emile Hirsch and John Cusack, two actors whose careers have seen better times, star in Never Grow Old, a dark Western about a religious town visited by the devil.

The devil would be Dutch Albert (Cusack), a sleazy gunslinger businessman who arrives in an old frontier town that has outlawed liquor; he promptly opens a saloon. The mayhem that follows him has a body count, and the local undertaker, Patrick (Hirsch), starts making a fine profit off all the kills.

Torn between all the extra money for his family and the fact that a lot of people, including friends, are dying, Patrick starts having thoughts about rising up against Dutch—but many more will die before Patrick works up the gumption to make a move.

Both actors are very good, with Cusack delivering his best work since his excellent turn in Love and Mercy. He’s played bad guys before, but this guy is really bad, and Cusack seizes the opportunity to let the evil out. Hirsch is decent as the good guy who needs to buck up and do the right thing.

Both actors have been doing duty in subpar movies of late (as have John Travolta, Nicolas Cage and Bruce Willis). Hopefully their strong turns here get them back on track.

Never Grow Old is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

It looks like somebody forgot to tell Brie Larson to have fun and let loose in Captain Marvel. Her turn as the title character, aka Carol Danvers, is laced with lethargy and bizarre line deliveries.

Samuel L. Jackson and an orange tabby fortunately seem to be enjoying themselves, but Larson is stiffer than Church the cat on the Creed’s front lawn after his unfortunate encounter with a speeding truck. (Say, is my excitement for the upcoming Pet Sematary reboot evident?)

A similar problem plagued Larson in Kong: Skull Island. The Academy Award-winning actress seems to be in her wheelhouse when the budget is low, but seems miscast when she shows up in a blockbuster. She gives off a detached vibe; it’s odd. The movie should be called Captain Meh: I Dunno … I Got Better Things to Do.

If the movie around her were really good, her seemingly bored disposition might’ve been forgiven—but Captain Marvel is also riddled with awful special effects and haphazard storytelling.

I went in hoping for a badass movie about Captain Marvel, but found myself more intrigued by the subplot involving an up-and-coming, low ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Nick Fury, played by Jackson. The de-aged Jackson, along with a returning Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died in the first Avengers movie, are so good that you’ll wish they got their own film.

I’m not putting the blame solely on Larson; the character itself is a bust when it comes to superheroes. All she does is fly around and send out energy bursts from her hands. She has moments when she goes into full Marvel mode, bringing on some sort of light show where she glows and gets white eyes, as well as a goofy-looking mohawk. As for superpowers … they just don’t register as anything that exciting. The Marvel light show isn’t aided by the special effects, which look rushed and cartoonish. Captain Marvel in her full glory doesn’t integrate with the worlds around her; she looks animated and out of place.

As for the orange tabby named Goose, he’s your basic super-cute cat—with a few surprises under his fur. Again, the special effects are a letdown when Goose goes full Goose, another example of the visual team coming up short.

Part of the film is set on Earth in the 1990s, and Jackson’s Fury has a full head of hair and both eyes. It also lends to music by Nirvana and No Doubt, both of which are used in situations that feel awkward and forced. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck got a little carried away in their efforts to be cute with the tunes.

There’s a big supporting cast, including a strong Annette Bening as a scientist and murky memory in Carol’s dreams. Lashana Lynch does good work as Maria Rambeau (pronounced “Rambo!”), an earthly friend of Carol’s. Jude Law gets a change of pace with an action role as an alien named Yon-Rogg, while Ben Mendelsohn plays Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. boss, another character with a few surprises to offer.

The film isn’t completely devoid of fun; it’s just not on par with other Marvel offerings, although I concede that’s a high bar to hit. As for Captain Marvel, the end of Avengers: Infinity War hinted at some major participation for her, so this is just the start for the character. Let’s hope things get better.

As always, stay all the way through the credits. There are plenty of things happening that you won’t want to miss, even if you’ve had your fill with the events that happened before all those words splashed across the screen.

Captain Marvel is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

While Instant Family might have the look of a routine family comedy, it is anything but: This movie is funny from start to finish, and it packs a couple of emotional punches, too.

Couple Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne), might, just might, want kids, so they decide to look into adoption. Their quest lands them a 15-year-old foster child named Lizzy (the excellent Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).

Everything goes just fine … until one hilariously apocalyptic scene, when Pete and Ellie are given a nice dose of parenting reality, and realize they have much to learn. Turns out Lizzy is a bit of a rebel; Lita is a screamer; and Juan is a sensitive, accident-prone little chap. Will they be willing to adopt the kids in the end?

Wahlberg excels in this sort of comedy—he and director Sean Anders also teamed up on Daddy’s Home—and Byrne is definitely carving out her own comedic niche with films like this and Neighbors. The kids are great; the script has a lot of surprises; and this one turns out to be a genuinely good time.

Instant Family is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

Isabelle Huppert goes bonkers in director Neil Jordan’s Greta, a silly, standard psycho-stalker film made somewhat fun by Huppert’s commitment to nuttiness, as well as co-star Chloe Grace Moretz’s excellence at playing freaked out.

Moretz is Frances, a young woman living in New York City with her best friend, Erica (Maika Monroe). Frances, still dealing with the loss of her mother, finds somebody’s handbag on the subway and decides to return it to its owner.

The owner is Greta, a piano-playing, solitary French woman who immediately invites Frances into her life, and they develop a fast mother-daughter-type bond. Greta has a daughter of her own, but she lives in Paris, so Frances fills a void, while Greta provides the motherly friendship Frances craves. Erica cries “Weird!” about the whole relationship, but Frances persists, even helping Greta adopt a dog, and opting to hang with Greta instead of friends her age.

This is a horror-thriller, so it’s fairly obvious going into the theater that the connection isn’t going to work out well. The cards are flipped early in the movie, and Greta reveals herself as a real kook, with her eventually going into full stalker mode. The plotting is similar to that of other stalker films like Single White Female and One Hour Photo. Those films were actually quite entertaining, as is Greta. That’s mainly because Huppert, a great actress, commits 100 percent to becoming a memorable, cringe-inducing psycho nut. There’s little mystery that she’s crazy; the movie is really about revealing just how freaking crazy she is.

Jordan uses a lot of standard scenarios, like Greta taunting Frances through her mobile phone, or Greta standing outside the window of Frances’ workplace, just staring at her. In the hands of a lesser director, this could come off as shlocky, but Jordan (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy) knows a few things about making movies with solid cinematography and editing. Greta is a solid movie enterprise as far as all the bells and whistles go.

Huppert and Jordan do a serviceable job of making Greta an intimidating, terrifying monster. They also allow the movie to go off the rails in a funny and effective way. Ballet-dancing, hypodermic needles, piano-playing and toy boxes all play a part in the insanity, and Huppert embraces the chance to play bad with glee.

While Huppert takes a journey into crazy villain land, Moretz deserves a lot of credit for keeping her role grounded in a sort of reality, no matter how nutty the proceedings get. The film works as well as it does because Moretz’s Frances is easy to root for, even when her actions are so dumb.

It doesn’t hurt to have Monroe doing her best work since her presence in the instant horror classic It Follows. She brings vigor to the “roommate” role that could easily come off as a stereotype. Erica proves to be a character as memorable as Greta and Frances.

Greta isn’t groundbreaking filmmaking, but it is entertaining and contains enough good scares and creepy moments to make it worthwhile. Huppert’s Greta isn’t the sort of movie monster that will haunt your dreams, but she will make you uncomfortable for a couple of hours.

Greta is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Childhood innocence, my ass. Michael Jackson was a certified creep, a sick dude with a strange agenda when it came to spending way too much time with other people’s young, impressionable children.

I already felt that way about MJ going into Leaving Neverland, a two-part, four-hour documentary featuring interviews with Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, two men who knew Jackson when they were young boys—and who now both claim Jackson molested them, after years of public denials.

The two men share explicit details about their nights with Jackson at his Neverland Ranch and other properties. Also featured are their mothers—two dummies who allowed their kids to sleep in the same bed as a grown man, a man who prohibited each of these women from sleeping in the same room as their child when they all stayed over. Yeah, there was nothing going on. It was all innocent.

Look … there are other kids who spent time with Jackson who could describe Jackson’s private parts and blotchy buttocks. That alone, in my mind, convicts Jackson of inappropriate behavior.

As for Robson and Safechuck, I can see why some find their stories a little suspect; they denied Jackson molested them for years. But after watching this (admittedly one-sided) documentary about their experiences with Jackson, I can tell you their time with him was seriously messed up, even if you remove the alleged sexual encounters. The faxes, videos, weird voicemails and expensive jewelry gifts are enough to alleviate any doubt that Jackson had some kind of unhealthy power over these boys. That power lasted well into their adulthoods.

If you think Jackson was a creep, this film will fortify that opinion. (Jackson’s coy, flirty birthday-wish video to one of his young friends is stomach-churning.) If you are a fan, this might cause you to reconsider. Leaving Neverland is further proof that this man was deranged, delusional and irredeemably ill.

Leaving Neverland is now airing on HBO.

The tale of Toothless the freaking adorable animated dragon comes to a close—maybe—with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third chapter in what producers are calling a trilogy.

Yeah, that’s the same thing they said about Toy Story 3 before greenlighting Toy Story 4. If the story continues beyond this chapter, you won’t get any complaints from me; I think the dragon beat could entertainingly go on with this franchise.

Hiccup (the voice Jay Baruchel), now the chief of his Viking tribe, and his dragon buddy, Toothless, happen upon another Night Fury dragon—this one a female, and Toothless is justifiably smitten. After a first date that involves some hilarious show-off dancing, the two hit it off, and Hiccup finds himself possibly staring down a future without Toothless.

Before Toothless and his new gal pal can head off for wedded bliss in the mystical Hidden World, where dragons live happily, they must contend with the evil Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who wants to steal all of Toothless’ beautiful music ideas and pass them off as his own.

Oh, excuse me, that would be Abraham’s Amadeus character. No, his character in this one wants to kill all of the dragons, of course.

The movie clocks in at 104 minutes, but it feels more like 60. Director Dean DeBlois, who directed all three films, deserves credit for making the proceedings breezy and never boring. His only other directing credits are the equally enjoyable Lilo and Stitch, and a Sigur Rós documentary. Thankfully, the great Jónsi of Sigur Rós provides another terrific song for the soundtrack.

While these films have all been visually enchanting, this third chapter definitely tops itself. Scenes where the in-love Toothless and Light Fury soar into the skies and fly together are breathtaking achievements. Also, I have to point out again that the Dragon movies do a fabulous job with human hair. There can be all sorts of amazing things going on, but I sometimes find myself just admiring how Hiccup’s hair waves in the wind. So lustrous and lifelike!

The film also packs a nice emotional wallop. Toothless is like a nice combination of E.T. and your favorite dog, so he’s truly lovable. Seeing him get a nice ending (the details of which I won’t give away) might leave you crying a lot more than you thought you would at an animated movie. This one has an animated tearjerker factor that puts it alongside the likes of Toy Story 3 and Up. Speaking of E.T.: I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the Toothless sounds owe plenty to the little Spielberg alien. He croaks and purrs just like E.T. He doesn’t touch things and make them better, though; he just kind of spits on things.

Most of the voice cast members from the previous two films return, including Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera and Gerard Butler. Not surprisingly, T.J. Miller doesn’t return as Tuffnut. Like Louis C.K. on The Secret Life of Pets sequel, he got his ass booted from an animated movie for bad behavior.

If this is indeed the end for Toothless and Hiccup, it’s a satisfactory conclusion. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World will keep you and your family entertained. I heard a bunch of folks yelling stuff like, “That movie made me cry!” when the credits were playing. Be prepared: You might wind up crying in front of a bunch of kids.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is playing at theaters across the valley.