CVIndependent

Mon04062020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Bob Grimm

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to movies as a headliner not only bombed domestically; The Last Stand was a massive international bomb. It didn’t make back its relatively meager $45 million budget during its theatrical run—a big fall for the man who used to be the world’s biggest movie star.

In truth, this is not the greatest of surprises, because the movie is not very good.

Arnie plays a sheriff in a border town who finds himself squaring off with a drug-cartel baddie and his cronies. Johnny Knoxville shows up as the kooky sidekick (again), and Luis Guzman shows up and does his normal thing.

Arnie is in good form; it’s the film that seems stale. It feels like 12 movies you’ve seen before cobbled together as a warm-up for a guy who has been out of the game for a few years. It’s too bad; Arnie should’ve made his comeback vehicle a film in which he was fighting aliens or trading quips with Danny DeVito.

This mediocre rip-off of Assault on Precinct 13 doesn’t do him justice.

Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker plays an FBI agent who spends most of the film yelling into telephones and staring at computer screens.

Special Features: There are deleted and extended scenes, along with some behind-the-scenes docs.

Horror maestro Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) produced, co-wrote and stars in Aftershock, a silly film about an earthquake hitting Chile while people are partying in a nightclub.

Roth’s involvement had me hoping for some good, sick fun, but this is a crappy, cheap-looking movie. Plus, I like it better when Roth is behind the camera, or playing a small role, because he looks like Sarah Silverman, and he weirds me out. He’s basically the star here, so I just spent the movie confused.

There’s a lot of gore, but most of it is pretty run-of-the-mill. One of the cool things about the film is that nobody in the cast, including Roth, is safe. Lots of people die unexpectedly, and in very bad ways. One dude has a large rock land on him, then somebody mean sits on the rock to apply pressure and pain; then somebody else, even meaner, pours liquor on him—and finally, he is set aflame. It takes him a long time to calm down after that.

After the initial quake, there are aftershocks (as the title of the movie implies) and the threat of a tsunami. This is a low-budget affair, so don’t watch this thinking you are going to get a lot of water throwing people around like in The Impossible. It’s mostly just Roth and friends running around while somebody shakes the camera.

Special Features: None. This is a feature currently available for rental on demand through cable providers, Amazon.com and iTunes. 

Three directors and a game cast tell interconnecting stories over centuries in Cloud Atlas, a mightily ambitious project from Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana of The Matrix films).

The likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess don heavy makeup to play multiple roles as the movie tries to show how lives and people interconnect through time. The experiment pays off enough to qualify this as a mostly enjoyable time, although some stories are weaker than others. Berry has a good one as a reporter in the 1970s dealing with crooked energy suppliers, and Hanks has a nice time playing both virtuous and murderous types. As for the bad guys Hanks plays, let’s just say it’s a long way from Forrest Gump or the sweetie pie douchebag who met up with Meg What’s-Her-Face on top of the Empire State Building. He gets to play the worst scumbags of his career, and you can sense he cherishes the opportunity.

The movie does boast some of 2012’s worst makeup, and it distracts from time to time.

The film is more a magnificent curio than magnificent entertainment. It will certainly challenge audiences ill-prepared for its length (172 minutes—almost three hours!) and numerous swirling stories.

Massive kudos to the folks in charge of the visuals here, especially the future cities. They come up with mighty original settings for this film, and they look good on the home screen.

Special Features: You get a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff that add up to less than an hour and don’t really impress. 

When director J.J. Abrams created the alternate timeline with his brilliant 2009 Star Trek reboot, it gave the franchise a chance to construct all new adventures for Kirk and Spock. It also gave Abrams the opportunity to mess around with variations on characters and adventures that we have already seen.

Such is the case with the exhilarating Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie that includes elements of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and “Space Seed” (a classic Trek TV episode).

The film starts with Chris Pine’s cocky Kirk getting himself into more trouble. He ignores Starfleet directives and rescues Spock (Zachary Quinto) from an erupting volcano, allowing a primitive alien species to set their eyes on a big UFO in the form of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk gets demoted by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but keeps a relatively high rank thanks to his pal Pike pulling some strings.

Back on Earth, a bomb goes off in London courtesy of renegade Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch); that same officer attacks a gathering of Starfleet commanders soon thereafter. He is pissed off, and anybody in a Starfleet uniform is his target.

Kirk and Spock find themselves en route to Klingon territory, where their homegrown terrorist has gone to hide. They have unorthodox directives from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to target and assassinate the terrorist from the skies using torpedoes. (Echoes of drone targeting and the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden, right?)

So … you have Klingons, terror in London, commanders getting attacked and volcanoes erupting with Vulcans in their belly. That’s a pretty damned good start to a sequel, no?

The true identity of Cumberbatch’s character might not come as a surprise. Heck, his real character name is listed in the cast on IMDB.com. As for me, I remained in the dark until some jackass uncorked a spoiler on the Internet a few weeks ago. Damn you, Internet reviewer. Damn you! The Internet is a fun thing, but it sure does wreak havoc on those fun movie secrets.

Abrams gets a little heavy-handed with the Sept. 11/War on Terror allegory, but he still keeps his movie effective, and even moving at times. As for his use of a tribble—the furry pests the Enterprise contended with in a famous series episode—it is my least-favorite part of the movie. The way the tribble is utilized makes no sense and feels like a stretch.

Abrams also oversteps a bit with pivotal late scene between Kirk and Spock that is a mirror version of an infamous scene in Khan. I don’t mind him messing with the Trek legacy, but keep it original. Bring back some famed characters, and hint at moments from franchise past, but don’t blatantly copy them. There’s a moment when Spock yells a particular word that got unintentional laughs from me.

Cumberbatch does a great riff on an old adversary, and his deep voice is one for the ages. He’s one of those anything-can-happen movie villains who is frightening, yet oddly virtuous. Weller gets his best role in years as Marcus, a flawed man with an imperialistic agenda that might have some people viewing him as the film’s real villain.

Alice Eve is another memorable new addition as Carol Marcus, the admiral’s daughter and a stowaway on the Enterprise. Some of you might remember a scientist from a previous Star Trek film with that same name. Well, from now on, you’ll remember Eve, who has an obligatory underwear scene that is right up there with Sigourney Weaver’s out-of-nowhere strip in the original Alien.

Pine and Quinto might not have you forgetting Shatner and Nimoy, but they have established themselves in their roles and can probably own them as long as they want. Zoe Saldana has many shining moments as Uhura.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty, John Cho’s Sulu, Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and, especially, Karl Urban’s Bones all contribute to the party. The Star Trek franchise gets the award for Best Reboot Casting.

If you see Star Trek Into Darkness in 3-D, know that this is retrofitted 3-D. It looks OK, but you are probably safe to take in the 2-D version (although the Abrams lens flares do look pretty cool in 3-D; the man loves his lens flare).

For a film called Into Darkness, there are many, awesome shots of the Enterprise during the day. It’s interesting to see a ship usually cloaked in darkness sailing around in daytime skies, and even going underwater at one point.

There’s a pivotal chase scene in which Kirk and Spock pilot a ship that has a Millennium Falcon vibe to it. That had me thinking about the next Star Wars, and what Abrams—who will direct—plans to do with it. Abrams has a grasp on major geek real estate with these two franchises. He’s, like, the Godfather of Geeks, and he could destroy all of us with a bad chapter in either series. He’s a powerful man capable of great good—or insurmountable evil.

Fortunately, he used his powers for good with Star Trek Into Darkness, a solid piece of summer entertainment.

Star Trek Into Darkness is playing in theaters across the valley.

Writer-director David Chase, the man responsible for The Sopranos, virtually disappeared after that infamous, sudden black screen six years ago. He returns with Not Fade Away, about a bunch of kids trying to form a rock band in the ’60s—and while it’s far from awful, it’s a bit of a dud.

Much of the blame for the plodding pace of this movie goes to John Magaro, who fails to ignite the screen as Douglas, a mediocre drummer who loves the Rolling Stones and doesn’t get along with his grumpy dad (James Gandolfini … of course). Magaro’s performance is a lesson in droning, and isn’t helped by an awful, distracting wig. He also does his own singing, and he’s no Mick Jagger.

I don’t think Chase was trying to show the joys of the times and how music enriched lives; I’m guessing he was shooting for something a little darker and real. He achieves that, but the movie is consistently boring. Everyone was expecting something a little more profound from Mr. Chase.

Special Features: There are a couple of deleted scenes, and there is some behind-the-scenes stuff, mostly dealing with the music and the casting of the band.

I’m sure it sounded good in the pitch meeting: Put Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in a car; send them across country; let the sparks fly. Rogen is always good with stream-of-consciousness humor, and Babs plays a good pain in the ass.

Problem is, director Anne Fletcher and team totally stifle Rogen in The Guilt Trip, basically making his Andrew Brewster a dull, unlikable character. As for Babs, she’s more annoying than funny this time out.

Even so, the movie isn’t all bad. The two manage a few winning moments within the tired formula. Rogen plays a scientist who has created an all-natural cleaning product that he is pitching; Babs, of course, is his mom.

After learning that he is named after his mother’s first love, Rogen’s character inexplicably cares about this, and takes his suffocating mom along for the ride, even though his entire future depends upon the trip's outcome. She butts in during pitches and drives him crazy, although he eventually pulls it together for a highly unlikely scenario on the Home Shopping Network.

The two make the most of the material; you can have a worse time while watching a movie. I missed this one in theaters, and I am glad: If one is to watch The Guilt Trip, it’s only worthy of a rental or a cable watch. It’s one of those movies you feel you’ve seen a thousand times before.

I’m surprised Rogen was talked into this. With the exception of The Green Hornet, he’s usually good at selecting his projects and keeping them unique. This feels way too ordinary for him.

Special Features: There’s an alternate ending that isn’t much better than the lousy one in the movie. You get a bunch of short behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes and a gag reel. 

The moment when we first see Leonardo DiCaprio’s face as the title character in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish adaptation of The Great Gatsby is perhaps the biggest “movie star” moment of DiCaprio’s career to date. As fireworks pop off in the night sky behind him, he turns and raises his glass to the camera in a way that exudes high-octane star charisma.

If you are a Luhrmann fan, and you appreciated his over-stylized vision in works like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! (Let’s just forget Australia ever happened, shall we?), you are bound to find much to like in his Gatsby. It’s full of eye-popping visuals, lush costumes and terrific soundtrack stunts. (I loved hearing Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey while watching a picture set in the roaring ’20s.)

More important than any of the visual and audio treats is the fact that DiCaprio gives us cinema’s first “great” Gatsby. (Robert Redford played Gatsby once, and I am falling asleep just thinking about it.) Luhrmann slows the pace and lowers the volume for dramatic moments, and DiCaprio seizes these moments with substantial authority.

His Gatsby is an obsessed heartbreaker, relentlessly pursuing the love of the married Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a woman he met five years previous before going off to war. A lesser actor could make Gatsby come off as a true nutball/psycho, but DiCaprio gives us somebody who garners sympathy and makes complete sense in his own deranged, sad way. His Gatsby is the sweetest stalker you will see onscreen this year.

It’s great to see DiCaprio sharing the screen with longtime friend Tobey Maguire; he is equally good as Nick Carraway, who narrates the film as he writes a novel within the confines of a sanitarium. Their camaraderie feels quite natural.

Maguire commands the most screen time in the movie, and that’s a good thing. Before he became Spider-Man, he was one of Hollywood’s more-reliable dramatic actors in films like The Cider House Rules and Wonder Boys. He’s the perfect choice for Carraway, a man who is at once intelligent, artistic and socially naïve. Maguire always does a fine job when required to look cute and confused.

One of the film’s greatest surprises is the amount of depth Joel Edgerton brings to the role of Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s lug of a husband. Edgerton commands one of the film’s greatest scenes: a confrontation with Gatsby regarding Daisy in a New York City hotel, over a block of ice and some whiskey. Edgerton makes this more than just a standard showdown between two men over a woman: He turns it into a bona fide romantic apocalypse.

As the object of multiple affections, Daisy, as played by Mulligan, offers bountiful charms to go with fatal vacuous tendencies. There are times when Gatsby’s pursuit is quite understandable based on how luminescent Mulligan looks in the role. Yet Mulligan, an actress of considerable talent, gives Daisy something far more complex below the surface. As anybody who has read the novel knows, Daisy is doomed to a dim emotional life, yet Mulligan has you always rooting for her to wise up.

Luhrmann made the daring choice to shoot the movie in 3-D, and this stands as one of the best usages of the medium. I wouldn’t think that a film simply set in 1920s New York would benefit from 3-D, but Luhrmann proves me wrong. Indeed, streaming confetti, orchids, popping champagne and DiCaprio’s face all get wonderful enhancement in 3-D. It adds a major element of fun to the film.

Some might decry Luhrmann’s crazy music choices, as he mixes modern music with old Cole Porter standards, yet he does it well. When Lana Del Rey’s voice comes up over a moving romantic moment, it doesn’t feel like a stunt. (I kind of hate her music, but it works really well in the film.) Music is indeed timeless when it comes to Luhrmann movies.

The film was delayed from December of last year (aka awards season). I thought it was strange to put an adaptation of a literary classic in the middle of summer-movie season, but after seeing it, the move makes perfect sense. It’s a heady movie, but it’s also the sort of feast for the eyes we want to see this time of year. And let’s face it: If the movie is good, and it has DiCaprio in it, that usually means big box office.

I imagine this will be another great DiCaprio performance that won’t get noticed come Oscar time. How this guy doesn’t have an Oscar yet is beyond me. He does have Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street coming later this year, so maybe that will put him in awards play.

As for that green dock light that Gatsby gazes upon through the night fog—where Daisy lives, across the lake—it’s a haunting image that will stick with you. Green traffic lights were making me weepy as I drove home after The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby is playing at theaters across the valley.

Shane Black, writer of the screenplays for Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero, made one of my favorite directorial debuts with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I thought it marked the arrival of a true directorial force.

Then he basically disappeared.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang featured the best Robert Downey Jr. performance ever put to screen. Maybe Downey agrees with that statement, because he pushed for Black as his director on Iron Man 3. Thankfully, he got his wish.

Iron Man 3 is as good as the first film, and markedly better than the OK second installment; it’s just slightly inferior to last year’s The Avengers. Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it features dark humor, and gives us a protagonist that is slightly unreliable.

The film opens with a few mistakes Tony Stark made a long time ago, and sets us up for the perils Stark is facing today. Chief among his enemies is The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a tripped-out version of Osama bin Laden who executes Americans on TV and openly taunts the president (William Sadler).

Another big enemy would be Tony Stark himself, because he’s battling panic attacks and insomnia after the events of The Avengers. These blows to his mental and physical capacity lead to mishaps in his laboratory, and a pretty scary moment when one of his suits pounces on Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in their bedroom.

Chief among Stark’s flaws has always been his vanity, which leads to him calling out The Mandarin, resulting in all kinds of hell fire coming down on his West Coast compound. Stark winds up going deep undercover, and at one point has a kid sidekick (Ty Simpkins). The kid-sidekick stuff sounds like it would be lame, doesn’t it? However, Black and Downey Jr. have a way of taking conventional crap and having a lot of fun, so the kid is cool.

Iron Man 3 piles on the villains and potential villains. In the intro flashback, we meet nerdy Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who is working on some really big genetics project. Stark blows him off so he can sleep with Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), another scientist.

James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak are on hand as Mandarin assassins who have the power to heat up their bodies and regenerate limbs when they are lopped off. They reminded me a bit of Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 with their unstoppable evil, although their performances contain a little more depth.

Paltrow is allowed to play with her character a little more in this installment, as Pepper goes through all kinds of tribulations. As with Tom Cruise, Paltrow’s public-image garbage tends to distract from the fact that she can act up a storm, and she’s typically great in this one. Don Cheadle gets limited screen time as Col. James Rhodes/War Machine/Iron Patriot, but he makes the most of it.

As for the Mandarin, Kingsley has a lot of fun—in ways you won’t expect. The Mandarin is one of the more unique villains to arise from the Marvel movie franchises, and he takes some major detours from his comic-book incarnation.

Black and Downey faced a rather daunting task: How do you bring the Iron Man back to Earth after The Avengers, which involved aliens, a Hulk, a Thor and Scarlett Johansson in tights? The answer: You allow Downey to riff; you surround him with a cast that matches his brilliance; and you allow the Stark character to remain human and vulnerable.

The action scenes are stellar. One scene, involving a high-altitude rescue after a bunch of people are sucked out of a plane, is the best of the franchise thus far, and the finale is a rouser. Let it be said that Black manages an excellent balance of action and character development, with every major character getting satisfactory screen time. Black and Downey are a great screen team, and that’s apparent in Iron Man 3.

Next up for Tony Stark will be Avengers 2, and then who knows after that? This one is going to be a bitch to reboot when Downey Jr. decides to hang it up.

One last thing: Stay for the credits, will you? Despite many Marvel movies offering after-the-credits surprises, I still see a parade of people getting up and walking out as the credits start. You paid for the seat and perhaps the funny 3-D glasses, so stay put until everything fades to black.

I have read some reviews stating that the CGI monster in Mama—out today (Tuesday, May 7) on home video—isn’t effective. I politely disagree; the ghost in this thing is scary as all heck. She truly is a memorable monster.

The ghost in question is a strange, protective apparition who looks over a couple of young girls (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) after a tragedy in the woods. Jessica Chastain stars as the girlfriend of the girls’ uncle, who finds herself having to take on parenting when she would rather be playing lousy music in her stupid band.

The movie isn’t great, but it does pack in a couple of good scares while maintaining a decent eerie quality for part of its running time. Having Chastain on hand elevates it beyond below-average horror. Guillermo del Toro produced this, with Andrés Muschietti directing.

My biggest gripe: Why make this a PG-13 film? Good horror movies need to be R-rated. When you see that a horror film is R-rated, you are scared already. PG-13 … well, that just means you are in for something that will pull punches.

Special Features: You get the original short that inspired the film, a director’s commentary, a look at the visual effects and some deleted scenes. 

Skip Tom Cruise’s latest offering in theaters, the so-so Oblivion, and watch him kick mortal ass as the title character in Jack Reacher, the adaptation of Lee Child’s popular novel One Shot.

There was a lot of griping that Cruise didn’t fit the physical mold of the character of Jack Reacher, who is 6 1/2 feet tall in the novels. No problem; Cruise brings a sinister, evil edge to Reacher, a super-intelligent former armed forces cop who finds himself investigating a mass shooting in Pittsburgh. Hey, Cruise might be less than 6 feet tall, but he will most certainly kick your ass if provoked. (Well, he will in the movies, at least.)

The ridiculously pretty Rosamund Pike is on hand as the lawyer who joins forces with Reacher in a search for THE TRUTH. She’s good here, as are Richard Jenkins as her district-attorney dad, Robert Duvall as a very helpful gun-range operator, and Werner Herzog as a super-creep.

To attain super-creepiness, Herzog basically talks in his normal voice, which is indeed creepy, and wears a cloudy contact lens to make it look like one of his eyeballs is messed up. When I read that Herzog would be playing a villain, I thought it was weird. Then I saw the movie. Good casting.

There’s a decent mystery at the center of the film, one that kept me guessing until everything was revealed.

As for Tom Cruise films, it falls somewhere safely in the middle—all of the Mission: Impossible movies are better than this one, while this one is better than Top Gun and Days of Thunder. It is certainly worth a rental. This comes out on home video Tuesday, May 7.

Special Features: A Tom Cruise commentary with director Christopher McQuarrie is pretty damned cool, as is the featurette “When the Man Comes Around,” detailing how Cruise got involved with the film. You also get a composer commentary, a look at the action sequences and an interview with Lee Child.