CVIndependent

Mon04062020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Bob Grimm

In Room 237, some Stanley Kubrick fans offer their opinions on the inner workings of The Shining.

Some of their views are interesting; some of them are totally crazy. The most convincing of the arguments would be that Kubrick made his movie about the plight of Native Americans; meanwhile, a not-so-brilliant theory posits that Kubrick made the film as sort of an apology for helping fake America’s moon landing. The documentary serves as a cool testament to seeing something below the surface in a film, and fandom in general.

I’ve always liked the movie, but now I want to watch it again and see the puzzles for myself—and then do the same with Kubrick’s other films.

Room 237 opens Friday, May 3, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565.

It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, proves with Mud that he is a writer/director who stands among the best of them.

Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi River. Two kids, Ellis (Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), stumble upon him, and become a part of his strange and dangerous world.

McConaughey is catching wave after successful wave lately, and this is his best performance yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees. The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard; all of them are equally great.

Ladies and gentleman, we have the year’s first “excellent” movie. It sure took long enough.

Mud is now playing at the Century Theatres at the River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940); and opens Friday, May 3, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Pain and Gain has all of that Michael Bay crap that makes him one of my least-favorite directors.

Actually, that’s an understatement. I think Michael Bay is a satanic cinematic force, with most of his films sustaining an artistic level similar to that of a sickened elephant farting in a circus tent that’s been set aflame by dangerous clowns.

However, he has made a few movies that I don’t hate. My favorite Bay film would be Bad Boys II, in which he seemed to be poking fun at himself. (That slo-mo tracking shot of a bullet passing through Martin Lawrence’s ass is the apex of Bay’s career.) I also liked his innocuous sci-fi offering, The Island, which actually featured edits more than a second long.

I reluctantly admit to also sort of liking Pain and Gain, mainly because Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are a total crackup as two bodybuilders who take part in a kidnapping/extortion plot. This messed-up movie is actually based on a true story, and it’s remarkable how much of this insanity is accurate.

Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a fitness instructor who is one of recent American history’s greatest stupid assholes. Lugo feels like his life is in a rut, so he hatches a plan to kidnap a wealthy gym member (Tony Shalhoub) and extort money from him. With two gym members (Anthony Mackie and Johnson) in tow, he goes through with the plan, and things quickly spiral out of control.

Bay uses the film to satirize the vapid 1990s, with his lecherous camera lingering on many bikini-clad asses and boobs. We get plenty of Bay slo-mo and, of course, the below-the-chin, looking-up, 360-degree tracking thing he loves so damned much. The edits are at breakneck speed, and get a little tedious. At 129 minutes, the movie is a bit too long, and yet somehow too fast at the same time.

Its saving grace is that much of it is quite funny in an over-the-top, outrageous kind of way. Just the sight of Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie, all swollen with extra muscle pounds put on for the shoot, is funny. At one point, Bay gets Wahlberg to strip down to his Calvin Klein white boxer briefs, a nice homage to the infamous advertising campaign.

As he did with Bad Boys II, Bay celebrates disgusting excess entertainingly. No, we don’t get a vehicle chase with corpses spilling out of a truck and getting run over (Darn!), but we do get Shalhoub sloppily eating a taco while blindfolded. (This somehow manages to be funny.) We also get dogs with severed toes in their mouths, Rebel Wilson using nunchucks during a sex scene, and a dude getting his head crushed by weights.

Wahlberg is fun when he does comedy, always playing it straight during the most outrageous of situations. Johnson is amazing as a big religious hulk who just wants to be a lover, although he can’t help but beat the crap out of every other person he meets. This may be my favorite Johnson performance yet.

Is Pain and Gain sloppy? Yes. Is it way too hyper at times? Yes. Does Michael Bay commit many of the usual cinematic affronts that have made him hated by those of us who sometimes like to watch a movie without having our eyes and ears violated? Oh, hell yes.

Pain and Gain is OK, which actually makes it some sort of movie miracle when considering the dumbass who made it.

Up next for Bay would be Transformers 4, of course. I’m thinking that film will once again remind us that Bay is a scourge on the land who only gets it right on the rarest of occasions. 

Pain and Gain is playing at theaters across the valley.

Jennifer Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, which was released on Blu-Ray and DVD yesterday (April 30), but the best performances in this movie are delivered by Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

I don’t mean to knock Lawrence by saying this; she’s quite good in the film. It’s just that Cooper and De Niro (who were both Oscar-nominated) are a little better.

Cooper plays a man recently released from a mental hospital who is looking to get back with his wife, despite the fact that she has a restraining order against him, and despite her complete lack of interest in his existence. De Niro is on hand as his dad, a superstitious gambler who wants his son to watch football with him, not because he wants genuine father/son time, but because he believes his son provides good luck.

Enter Lawrence as a recently widowed woman living nearby; she’s an equally troubled person who pretty much forces Cooper into her life. The two wind up hanging out much to his chagrin, and eventually find themselves in a dance competition.

It’s much better than it sounds.

Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro all manage to portray people with mental problems while avoiding clichés. Each makes his or her character sympathetic, sometimes tragic, and even a little funny at times.

Director David O. Russell always manages to get great ensemble work (Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings, The Fighter), and this film firmly establishes him as an elite director.

Lawrence is great here, but I would’ve tossed the Best Leading Actress Oscar at Naomi Watts for her work in The Impossible. Cooper was even better, but I would’ve given the Best Leading Actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis (who did indeed win it) and Hugh Jackman before him. However, considering who was nominated alongside De Niro for Best Supporting Actor, I think Bobby D. should’ve gotten his third Oscar.

Special Features: Good movies often have good deleted scenes, and such is the case with this Blu-ray release. You get a bunch of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, and many of them were worthy of the film. You also get some decent behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews.

I really hate Gangster Squad, even though it has some of my favorite actors in it.

An all-star cast including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn and Josh Brolin play dress-up in this lame, fictional retelling of the Los Angeles war on organized crime in the late 1940s.

Sean Penn plays criminal kingpin Mickey Cohen, who had a pretty crazy life—but you won’t see that life in this dopey movie. Here, Brolin’s cop enlists a group of lawmen to go underground and beat the criminals, and it's basically all made up.

I’m OK with some artistic license, but this one goes a little too far. It wants to be new Untouchables, but it isn’t nearly as exciting or fascinating. And it boasts terrible performances from the normally reliable Gosling and Penn. They chew the scenery like it was made of their favorite chocolate, and the voice Gosling employs for his part is maddening.

Avoid this at all costs. It’s a dog.

Special Features: There’s a director’s commentary, some deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes stuff that you will hopefully never see, because you will heed my advice and avoid this at all costs.

If you hated Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, you will hate To the Wonder, and if you loved Tree … well, you might be OK watching this.

Ben Affleck stars (sort of) as an American who falls in love while in Paris, and brings the woman (Olga Kurylenko) and her daughter home to Texas. Malick reduces Affleck to sulking, for the most part; it’s a role that never allows him to cut loose. Pitt had a similar assignment in The Tree of Life, but he did a much better job. Affleck looks a little confused, as does Rachel McAdams as an old flame. She’s required to look forlorn, sad and beautiful. She does little else.

The reason to see the film, besides its excellent visuals, is Kurylenko, who shines in the central role. I admire this film in that it tells a complete story in a very different way—but I don’t love it in the way that I’ve loved past Malick films. It’s a mild disappointment.

To the Wonder opens Friday, April 26, at the Cinemas Palme d’Or, 72480 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430.

In The Company You Keep, Robert Redford directs himself as an upstate New York lawyer with a past who must flee his life when a nosey journalist (Shia LaBeouf) discovers his true identity.

The film gives us fictional characters who were former members of the very real Weather Underground, played by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie. LaBeouf does much of the heavy lifting, and it’s some of his better work in quite some time.

Redford is just OK, though—as is his movie. I can’t say it blew me away, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It gets by with semi-competent directing and acting, without truly wowing you.

Others in the cast include Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott.

The Company You Keep opens Friday, April 26, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-323-4466); and the Century Theatres at The River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO.

Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good.

Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, and Jack’s job is to make sure Earth’s energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss.

Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is too young to have experienced. In his dreams, he meets up with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) atop the Empire State Building, just like in Sleepless in Seattle. He’s found a cabin in the woods where he wears a Yankees cap and listens to Led Zeppelin. He seems very at home for a guy who supposedly never set foot on pre-invasion Earth.

Of course, there’s more to Jack’s universe than meets the eye. He eventually comes face-to-face with Beech (Morgan Freeman), a wise, old, cigar-smoking man (those cigars must be 60 years old and awful) who is going to turn Jack’s world upside down.

The movie has some significant twists and turns, and some of them are not at all surprising. However, one particular twist caught me off guard, and is pretty clever.

As for the action, it’s sub-par. I actually stumbled upon Cruise on Jimmy Kimmel’s show the other night before I saw the film. I turned it on during a clip showing Cruise in a funny-looking little spaceship, shooting a drone-type thing out of the sky with a pistol and crashing in the desert. I thought it was a gag, because it looked cheap. Turns out it was the movie’s major action-set piece.

While the Cruise performance is good, he does slip into that Tom Cruise-yelling mode, often reminding of his interrogation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise yelling is, sometimes, unintentionally funny.

Oblivion is derivative of many sci-fi films that came before it, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, etc. A little bit of all of those movies and others can be found among the plot threads and visual effects.

As for those visual effects, they aren’t spectacular. I did like seeing the top of the Empire State Building protruding from grey Earth, the ground having risen to the famous landmark’s observatory deck. Otherwise, there are some weak CGI recreations of demolished landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty.

The film drags itself to its inevitable conclusion, providing no real surprises or excitement. The last scene involves something that is supposed to be triumphant, but is actually quite weird.

Joseph Kosinski directs; his only other directorial credit is TRON: Legacy. Oblivion is a marked improvement over that fiasco. As with TRON, Kosinski is far more preoccupied with visuals over substance. And in both cases, the visuals aren’t anything to get excited about.

Cruise is in a sci-fi state of mind these days. Up next is Doug Liman’s All You Need Is Kill, in which he plays a soldier caught in a time loop and repeatedly getting killed by aliens. (Cruise haters will probably get a kick out of seeing their nemesis getting repeatedly smoked.) Then it’s Yukikaze, based on yet another alien invasion scenario.

In his most recent three films, Tom Cruise has played similarly titled characters: Stacee Jaxx (Rock of Ages), Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher) and just plain Jack in this film. That’s another useless factoid I fixed on while being mildly bored by the ho-hum Oblivion.

Oblivion is playing in theaters across the valley.

Naomi Watts got nominated for an Oscar for playing Maria in The Impossible (out this week on Blu-ray), based on a real woman who fought for her life in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

She should’ve taken home the gold.

There aren’t too many performances that grab me like Watts’ performance does in this one. She is an acting force, as is Ewan McGregor as her husband, Henry, and Tom Holland as her oldest boy, Lucas. This is one of last year’s better ensembles.

While vacationing in Thailand, Maria and Lucas are separated from the rest of the family when disaster hits. The tsunami scene is amazingly well-done; you get a true sense of its awesome, destructive power, and the dangers in those rushing waters. The wave was re-created on a soundstage, but it looks like an actual tsunami. The authenticity of the moment is bolstered by putting Watts and Holland in the water; yes, that’s them holding a mattress as it is tossed about.

Watts’ character spends the majority of the movie in awesome pain. (The injuries are the stuff of nightmares.) She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue; this is a very physical performance, and it will always stand as one of her best.

McGregor handles some of the movie’s heavier emotional moments, and he does this with his usual standard of excellence. Holland, making his on-screen film debut (his lone previous credit was voicing a cartoon character), is a revelation. He isn’t overshadowed by the powerhouse performances by Watts and McGregor; he matches them.

Special Features: There is a director’s commentary that includes Maria Belón, the actual survivor portrayed by Watts. You also get some deleted scenes, and a couple of featurettes about casting and the special effects.

Spike Lee tried to get a movie with Denzel Washington playing Jackie Robinson off the ground for many years, but couldn’t make it happen. I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special with this story.

Meanwhile, this effort from director Brian Helgeland (Payback) is OK, and even really good at times, but gets awfully hokey.

Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors, and Christopher Meloni leaves the movie all too soon as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended in 1947, the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this craggy and different.

This film is good, but it should’ve been great. 

42 is playing at theaters across the valley.