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Wed07082020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Bob Grimm

George Romero’s Creepshow, released in 1982, is an all-time-great horror movie—easily the man’s best film outside of the zombie genre he helped create. With a screenplay by Stephen King, the anthology film was based on EC Comics, and it was camp horror at its best.

Shudder, the horror/thriller streaming service, is releasing six episodes of a reboot series, with the help of Greg Nicotero as an executive producer and sometime director. Nicotero, the gore maestro behind the makeup effects on The Walking Dead, has an undying love for the comics, the film and the genre.

That love is evident in the first episode of the show, which presents two stories. The first, Gray Matter, is directed by Nicotero, and it feels very much like a continuation of Romero’s film. For starters, it’s based on a short story by King. On top of that, it co-stars Adrienne Barbeau, who played a big part in the original Creepshow’s best segment, The Crate. The second story is also a good one, featuring a haunted doll house.

Unlike Netflix, Shudder doesn’t release all of the episodes at once: You will have to be patient, as a single new episode will be released on a weekly basis (on Thursdays), just like in olden times.

Creepshow is now streaming on Shudder.

Sylvester Stallone takes his iconic John Rambo character and places him in what amounts to little more than an ultra-violent MAGA wankathon in Rambo: Last Blood—easily the worst film in the franchise, and one of the worst films in Stallone’s career.

The Rambo movies have been on a slow downhill slide all along, but have always been watchable. First Blood was awesome; Rambo: First Blood Part II was fun and silly; Rambo III was passable action but a little tired; and Rambo (2008) was bit of a drag, albeit with some decent action scenes and carnage.

Alas, Rambo: Last Blood is an abomination in the way all the Charles Bronson Death Wish sequels were terrible: This film does absolutely nothing to merit its existence. As a Rambo/Stallone fan, I wish I could pretend it didn’t happen, but it has, and it is pure dreck. Stallone has said he will continue to play the character if the film is a success. Well, I almost want this piece of crap to be a success so we can get a better swan song for Rambo—because it would be a shame for the saga to end this way.

The film picks up 11 years after the last chapter, with Rambo sporting a clean haircut and a cowboy hat, and him living a peaceful existence on his late father’s farm in Arizona. He rides horses and hangs out with the housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) and her niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Montreal), who has taken to calling Rambo “Uncle John.” Rambo finally has a “normal” existence.

Gabrielle starts talking about going to Mexico to visit her long-disappeared father … and it becomes apparent where things are going: No, she doesn’t have a nice reunion down there; instead, she winds up a sex slave who is addicted to drugs in one weekend. Rambo to the rescue!

It all builds up to a final half-hour in which Rambo finally goes into Rambo mode, fighting a Mexican drug cartel on American soil in the tunnels he conveniently built under his daddy’s farm. He manages to booby-trap the place in the few hours it takes for the cartel to reach him from Mexico. (The Mexicans are fully armed and ready to kill, mind you. Damn that void-of-a-wall Border Patrol!)

Did this have any chance at being good? I don’t think so. At this point in Rambo lore, you could go two routes: Examine Rambo’s incurable PTSD, during which he goes crazy and becomes a vigilante who hunts American, homegrown terrorists and the KKK; or take a plot like that and go the pure camp route, giving us a wall-to-wall experience of Rambo blowing shit up and taking out bad guys—with no attempt at serious exposition.

This one starts with a “Mexico is bad” angle that is very biased and one-dimensional. It tries to be serious about Rambo’s condition, but not really. (We see him popping a lot of prescription pills, but with no explanation.)

David Morrell, author of the original First Blood novel and creator of the John Rambo character, has disavowed this film, calling it “a mess” and “a clumsy exploitation film.” Thank you, Mr. Morrell! At just less than 90 minutes, Last Blood was rumored to have gone through a lot of reshoots and rewrites—so it’s pretty clear Stallone and company really didn’t know what to do with this movie. Need evidence? The preview trailers are full of scenes not in the film. Maybe this one got massacred by preview-screening exit polls and meddling studio dummies? Whatever happened, there’s a persistent stank coming off what wound up onscreen.

At the end of this Trump propaganda reel—excuse me, movie, the sad, familiar Rambo theme starts to play, and they show us a montage of the past movies behind the credits (just like Twilight!). It drove home the fact that this movie didn’t earn the right to associate itself with those past efforts, even with Stallone’s participation. It’s a cinematic disgrace.

Rambo: Last Blood is playing at theaters across the valley.

Director James Gray and star Brad Pitt came up with a decent-looking, meditative, unsettling and messy attempt at meaningful science fiction with Ad Astra.

Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut following in the footsteps of his father (Tommy Lee Jones) decades after his dad disappeared on a scientific expedition searching for alien life somewhere around Neptune. When major power surges start threatening Earth, it’s believed Roy’s still-possibly-alive father is the culprit, so Roy is sent on a mission to reach his father and get him to knock it the fuck off.

This leads to a journey that involves a lunar buggy shootout on the moon; an unimaginative visit to Mars; and, finally, a trip to Neptune. On top of the scientifically impossible things that happen in this film, the plot is stitched together with the ultimate crutch—the Apocalypse Now voiceover. Pitt is restricted to sad-puppy-eyes duty as his character deals with his daddy issues in a cosmic sort of way. They throw in a space-monkey attack to try to liven things up, but it doesn’t work.

The movie is a missed opportunity. Ad Astra is strung out and a little too boring and listless.

Ad Astra is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie gives a backstory to the terrific online acerbic talk show hosted by Zach Galifianakis—and while the whole thing is, frankly, unnecessary, the outtakes during the closing credits alone are enough to warrant a watch.

When Zach, doing his show in North Carolina, almost kills Matthew McConaughey due to a ceiling leak, Will Ferrell, his boss, sends him on a mission to tape a bunch of shows … or else. So Zach and his crew go on a road trip.

Yes, it’s a dumb premise, and not all of the jokes land, but the interviews with the likes of Paul Rudd and Tessa Thompson are a riot, and some non-show-related gags work. (I loved the moment when Zach checked his e mail on his laptop while driving at night.)

Ninety minutes of back-to-back Ferns interviews would’ve been better than this, but then we wouldn’t have the scene in which Zach and his crew steal Peter Dinklage’s Faberge eggs, so I guess I’m happy this exists.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie is now streaming on Netflix.

Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez as a stripper who goes smooth criminal during the Great Recession, is getting great reviews.

Alas, I find it derivative, boring and hampered by a shallow script. So … why has the film, directed by Lorene Scafaria, been receiving Scorsese comparisons (Hey, it has tracking shots!) and high scores on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer? I’m thinking it must be because of power of Jennifer Lopez’s multi-million-dollar ass.

There’s no question: Lopez is a talented actress (including good performances in Selena and Out of Sight; shit, I even liked her in Maid in Manhattan). But her calling card has always been her much-ballyhooed ass. Her ass beckons to you like an evil genie. Her ass has its own economy and solar system. In fact, as Jennifer Lopez did a pole dance in this film (for the obligatory “This is how you pole dance!” scene), I could swear I saw a little astronaut just off to the left of her ass performing a spacewalk.

This is a movie in which Lopez often displays her crazily potent ass. She’s held it back at the movies until now, but it is the most dominant character in this cinematic experience. So, I’m thinking this has caused some sort of distraction—a disruption, if you will—in the movie-critic ecosystem. People they are so hypnotized by her ass that they are failing to recognize that movie kind of stinks.

Based on a true story that appeared in a New York Magazine article, Hustlers focuses on Destiny (Constance Wu), a newbie stripper trying to find her way in the big city. It appears she’s stuck in the minor leagues of lap dancing—until Ramona (Lopez) takes the stage and shows her how to take control of her situation through determination, calculation and, yes, showcasing your cosmically empowered ass.

Because most of their big tickets come from Wall Street, the Great Recession hits them hard. That’s when a team consisting of Destiny, Ramona and some other girl who always vomits when things get tense go rogue: They go fishing for suckers that they can drug while they max out their credit cards.

At this point, the film hints at becoming something interesting, but the crimes these girls commit aren’t all that compelling. They drug a couple of high rollers; they max out a few cards; and that’s it. I was waiting for them to kill somebody or pull off a major diamond heist—anything to justify this movie beyond the gratuitous exhibition of Jennifer Lopez’s ass.

Wu is good here, and Lopez’s Ramona has the makings of an interesting character. None of the characters really talk all that much, and just when things seem like they will get interesting, the story goes flat. It’s also worth mentioning that when this movie goes flat, Lopez’s ass goes into hiding, like a fat bear with a bellyful of honey hibernating for the winter.

As stripper movies go, this is far from the worst. Hell, it might even be the best one. It’s better than Showgirls, which featured Elizabeth Berkley’s strange ass at its core. (I still have nightmares where it is trying to kill me.)  Striptease with Demi Moore is a non-starter, for her ass, although enviable, didn’t possess any powers that I could detect.

There’s another great Jennifer Lopez movie to be had, but Hustlers isn’t it. It will forever be known as the film where Jennifer Lopez said, “Ah, screw it!” and finally unleashed her greatest physical asset upon the world of film. For some, that will be enough.

Hustlers is now playing at theaters across the valley.

It Chapter Two gives moviegoers a needed, yet mediocre, conclusion to a saga started by the previous, far-superior film.

Translation: If you saw and liked the first movie, you need to watch this one to get the full story. You’ll also be witnessing a decline in quality.

In a strange way, I’m happy It Chapter Two exists, because it does have some good scares, and Bill Hader rocks as a grown-up Finn Wolfhard. It closes out the Stephen King story in much better fashion than that spider sequence in that TV miniseries. If you look at It as one long movie consisting of two chapters, the overall experience is still cool. But if you look at this sequel as a standalone … it’s a big mess—an editing-room fatality.

The first movie focused on the Losers’ Club as children, concluding with them seemingly defeating Pennywise the Clown (an always-frightening Bill Skarsgard). This one picks up 27 years later, welcoming the likes of Hader (Ritchie), Jessica Chastain (Beverly) and James McAvoy (Bill) to the proceedings.

When evil seems to revisit their hometown, the adult Losers return for a rematch with the morphing clown … and that’s it for the plot. The adults split up, suffer some individual horrors at the hands of Pennywise, then wind up back together for the finale.

A big problem in this movie is that the kids from the first film, who actually play a large part in this one, have aged a lot since the first chapter wrapped. While there have been some nice advancements in digital de-aging, this film does not show that. The kid scenes are a mixture of newly filmed scenes and flashbacks. The kids, often filmed in the dark, look very odd with their digitally altered, disproportioned faces; in some cases, their digitally de-aged voices make them sound like chipmunks. The producers should’ve filmed the extra kid scenes during the original movie’s production, saved themselves some dough on special effects, and had a better-looking movie.

There’s a lot of whining out there about this film’s running time, as it clocks in at 2 hours, 49 minutes. I actually wish director Andy Muschietti would have taken three films to tell this story, because at nearly three hours, this movie actually comes off as oddly rushed and haphazard. There’s talk that the original cut for Chapter Two was four hours long. Perhaps that hour will be restored in a home-video release; it might fill in some gaps and make the experience feel more complete and less compressed.

Hader rules this movie in the same way Wolfhard ruled the original. He’s funny; he’s aces at looking scared; and he can handle the heavy drama. Surprisingly, McAvoy seems a little lost in the role of grown-up Bill, while Chastain doesn’t really have much to work with during her screen time. Hader and Skarsgard make good chunks of this movie worth watching.

After a solid start, the performers run around from set piece to set piece, setting the table for some CGI scares mixed with occasional practical effects. (The old lady freezing during her tea chat with Beverly is perhaps the scariest/funniest moment in the movie, and it required no software.)

Again, I have a feeling It Chapter 2 could be somewhat redeemed by a director’s cut that could reinstall some of the connective tissue between the scenes. Right now, the film is just a bunch of thrill sequences smashing into one another in the second half, with no real sense of direction.

The story of It, as a whole on the big screen, is easily superior to the TV series that came before. It Chapter 2 drags the overall grade for both movies together to somewhere around a B-minus.

It Chapter Two is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Linda Ronstadt is one of the most versatile musicians to have ever walked the planet. Country music, pop, rock, opera, Mexican folk music—her resume is crazily full of wide-ranging, bold leaps into all corners of the musical landscape.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, with her full participation, covers her career from her Tucson, Ariz., roots, through her band The Stone Poneys, and on through her amazing solo career.

Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Jackson Browne and many others sit down for interviews—and it slowly hits you that, dammit, this is one amazing entertainer, perhaps more amazing than you realized during her heyday.

Ronstadt has basically retired, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but that doesn’t stop her from offering up a jewel at the end of this movie—a short but very sweet moment of her singing with friends. This documentary is nothing unusual from a filmmaking standpoint, but it is a treasure trove of Ronstadt performances, and a consistently enjoyable historical study of a great gift to the music world.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice opens Friday, Sept. 13, at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Harvey Weinstein is, and always was, a disgusting pig of a human being. Untouchable is a documentary about his despicable ways, specifically his abuse of power and women—and filmmakers don’t need to work hard to illustrate that the guy is a menace.

Victims of his abuse, including actresses such as Rosanna Arquette, offer first-hand accounts of Weinstein’s crimes, including actual recordings of Weinstein trying to coerce people into sex.

The fact that he got away with what he did for so long isn’t something that this movie really delves into, but it does give some people a deserved chance to tell their story—and the film helps expose this guy for the monster he truly is.

The film, appropriately, closes with the rise of the Me Too movement, which has coincided with the end of this fuckhead’s career. He’s managed to tie up his cases in court and pay a lot of people off, but he’s not coming back from the mess this time.

Have fun trying to evade justice, Harvey. You deserve all of the pain currently being bestowed upon you.

Untouchable is now streaming on Hulu.

I cried like a damn baby while watching After the Wedding. So, there you go.

After the Wedding has the distinction of having the lion’s share of its dialogue delivered by Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup; that’s a solid pedigree. This remake of a 2006 Swedish/Danish film has a soap-opera plot for sure—but you won’t care when it gets a little melodramatic.

Williams does so much with facial expressions in this movie—it’s otherworldly. As Isabel, a woman visiting New York in an effort to raise funds for her charity, she shows the power of simple expressions. She also reminds us that she’s a master at blowing the roof off the house if the script calls for it.

As Theresa—the businesswoman who might find herself cutting a big check for Isabel and her overseas orphanage—Moore doesn’t just match Williams’ power; she blows the shit out of the acting meter, if such a thing exists. (It doesn’t.) Moore is stunning in the role, whether her character is quietly closing a deal or getting super-drunk at lunch. Moore is also good when the script calls for volume.

This is one of those movies where I really can’t tell you much about it. Yes, it has a wedding in it, as the title implies. Grace (Abby Quinn), daughter of Theresa and Oscar (Crudup), a famous artist, is getting married to lame-guy Frank (Will Chase). Circumstances call for Isabel to attend the wedding, and … well, lots of things happen after the wedding, as the title implies.

The movie gets progressively nutty, going off the tracks and into the land of “this only happens in the movies” … yet I couldn’t help but be deeply moved by what transpires, silly as it was. Again, credit Williams, Moore and Crudup for that.

The film bends logic, has plot holes and includes a mystery that seems rather implausible. And, yet … I wept watching this thing. I’m not saying you will weep. You might watch this movie, and say aloud, “Grimm, you are a stupid wuss!” Well, I accept your wuss remark, and I stand proudly by the fact that this movie made me cry like a kid who had his Etch A Sketch taken away. I realize that the toy reference is a bit dated. I was a child of the ’70s. Piss off.

Sorry … after a good cry, I can be a little cranky. I watched this on a home screener, and I am literally writing this while the tears are still drying on my stupid, fat face. My dog is looking at me all like, “Come on, dude. You have to have bigger balls than that. You are a wuss. Give me food.”

Come Oscar time, I’m not too sure After the Wedding will get any attention. While the performances are as good as anything on screens so far this year, the script is straight out of Days of Our Lives. And, yet, cry, I did. Have I told you that this movie made me cry?

OK, I’m almost to the end of my review, and I think I’ve done a damn fine job of not revealing too much about the plot. This is the part where I will talk about the fine camerawork to pad the word count: The camerawork is really good in this movie. Actually, I’m not just saying that to eat up words, even though that is actually what I’m doing. The camerawork really is top notch.

All right, so this is the final paragraph, and I do realize that most of this wasn’t really a review. Go see After the Wedding if you want to cry, or you simply want some extra fuel to make fun of me with in the event that it doesn’t make you cry. Go ahead. Call me names. I’ve had a good cry, and I’m feeling mighty vulnerable.

After the Wedding is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Every now and then, Francis Ford Coppola goes back to his 1979 masterpiece, Apocalypse Now, and gives it another go.

In 2001, he did the Redux version, which featured the clumsy French plantation scene, and an additional scene with the Playboy playmates that should have remained on the cutting-room floor. There was also a scene in which Martin Sheen’s Willard steals the surfboard owned by Kilgore (Robert Duvall) … and subsequent scenes of Willard and his crew hiding from an angry Kilgore as he tried to find his board. The additional footage added up to 53 minutes, making the movie nearly 200 minutes long.

The new Final Cut keeps the surfboard stuff, but loses the playmates scene. Unfortunately, most of the plantation scene remains. (The dinner conversation is tedious, although the opium den is kind of cool.) The Final Cut clocks in at 181 minutes, keeping some of the interesting footage from Redux, but trimming the fat.

Yes, the version works better. It’s also fully restored visually and sonically, making this the best-looking and best-sounding version of Coppola’s masterpiece available on home video.

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.