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Fri11242017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

In Wakefield, Bryan Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a dude who comes home one night, chases a raccoon into a room above his garage, and decides to stay there for a while … a long while.

After a rough stretch with his wife (Jennifer Garner) and a dissatisfying time at work, Howard is feeling a little underappreciated. The room over his garage seems like a good sanctuary for a few hours, a place where he can take inventory of things before returning to his routine. He can see his family having dinner through the window. Then he sees his wife throw his dinner in the garbage can. Something breaks inside of him.

Cut to a bearded, disheveled Howard many months later; he’s rummaging through garbage cans for food and peeing in bottles, Howard Hughes-style. He’s taken up residence in the apartment above the garage like Fonzie in Happy Days, and nobody knows he’s there. Much to his bemusement, life goes on in his household, to the point where the family still goes on vacation and puts up a Christmas tree.

Cranston is very good here. He occupies the majority of the movie; most of it is just him staring through a window and thinking to himself. The movie goes off the rails a bit in the final act when Howard befriends some neighbor kids, but that doesn’t take away from the power of Cranston’s work.

Overall, Wakefield is an interesting observation on what would happen if we decided to switch off our phones and sit in a quiet room for a spell. Would you find yourself? Would you lose everything? Would you have a better understanding of that raccoon living off your trash? Take in the Cranston performance, and then check that storage room for any squatters.

Wakefield is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

While Giovanni Ribisi capably stars as the title character in the new Amazon series Sneaky Pete, the reason you will probably turn this one on is the return of Bryan Cranston to TV.

Cranston is a co-creator and supporting actor in this funny, original story about a con man (Ribisi) who assumes the identity of his cellmate and goes to live with the cellmate’s family upon his release from prison. He finds himself involved in the family’s bail-bond company, while trying to elude a crime lord (the always-awesome Cranston) to whom he owes money.

The pilot is good, but the show really takes off in the following couple of episodes. Cranston has a flashback scene that rivals the great work he did on Breaking Bad. It’s that good. Ribisi makes for a great central character, but the show goes into the stratosphere when Cranston shows up.

The first, 10-episode season of Sneaky Pete—which has already been renewed for a second season—is currently streaming on Amazon.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Jack Black returns as the voice of Po in this decent second sequel in the saga of the Panda warrior and his warrior cronies.

This time out, Po encounters his long-lost dad, Li (the warm growl of Bryan Cranston), who takes him to the land of pandas so that he can learn the powers of his chi. An advancement in his warrior techniques is absolutely essential, because the lands are being threatened by a spirit-realm warrior named Kai (J.K. Simmons, voicing some sort of super-muscular yak-type thing).

The stuff with Po and Li is cute; the added element of Po’s adopted dad (James Hong) being a little jealous is sweet. There’s a cool psychedelic look at times, and the animated series continues to impress on artistic levels.

However, the story feels a bit like a repeat of the previous two. That’s OK, but doesn’t necessarily place this chapter high on the originality scale.

I’ll say this for the film: With a voice cast that includes Black, Cranston, Simmons, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Kate Hudson, David Cross, Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie, Kung Fu Panda 3 boasts one of history’s all-time-great lineups (as far as animated movies are concerned). This one is good enough to ensure there will be more chapters to come.

Kung Fu Panda 3 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The annual Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala provides a cadre of A-list film actors and directors with oddly titled awards for their trophy cases—along with a low-stress, fun night in Palm Springs, the “home away from L.A.” for many celebrities.

This year’s honorees at the Saturday, Jan. 2, gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center included Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara and Tom McCarthy.

The 11-day festival proudly presents a broad gamut of films within nearly every genre, produced both here and abroad; some of these films receive little or no viewership in the commercial marketplace otherwise. In contrast, the celebrity cast of honorees and presenters—Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Ridley Scott were among the latter this year—as usual included a host of attention-grabbing nominees for the rapidly approaching major award season in Los Angeles. This proven strategy creates fund-raising fodder for the mix of industry players and local philanthropists who pay to get inside the Convention Center event. This year, more than $2 million was raised to support the year-round community service and film appreciation activities of the Palm Springs International Film Society, organizers said.

However, for me, the night proved to be a bust. While larger national media sources received prime space on the red carpet, the stars—most of whom were accompanied by a phalanx of PR representatives—were quickly whisked past those of us at the very end of the carpet where media outlets not offering national outreach were banished. (As for photos … the Independent was denied a photo credential, period … hence the mediocre smart-phone pics below.)

Special recognition was earned by Mr. Depp, who took time to amble at a leisurely pace, offering smiles and a couple of mumbled responses to urgently proffered inquiries.

In summation, I offer, for your enjoyment, a few freeze-frame stills and a brief video I shot to prove that I did, in fact, cover the event.

Enjoy. 

Published in Snapshot

The Hollywood blacklisting that led to the imprisonment of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was a travesty—and it’s high time somebody made an excellent movie about it.

Director Jay Roach eschews his comedy-making reputation for this riveting look into the tribulations that Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and fellow artists faced during the Red Scare days of the Cold War. Cranston does his best movie work yet as Trumbo, a confessed member of the Communist party who did jail time and lost work due to his beliefs. He eventually started writing screenplays anonymously, even winning an Oscar under a different name.

The film’s best scenes involve Cranston and none other than Louis C.K. as writer Arlen Hird (a fictional composite character) as they marvel at the injustices bestowed upon them. The film does a nice job of capturing the paranoia of the times, with nice touches such as John Wayne (David James Elliott) throwing his weight around, and Diane Lane as Cleo, Trumbo’s very patient wife. The film does a nice job of balancing truth and fiction, and Cranston is marvelous.

Let it be said that Louis C.K. continues to show surprising prowess as an actor. He’s building up an impressive resume for a guy who insists he can’t act.

Trumbo is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

Godzilla movies, with the exception of the decent 1954 original, have never been good movies, right?

Instead, they are movies some of us enjoy watching because they deliver a fun dose of camp. Godzilla movies offer the brain a chance to relax and watch something unintentionally laughable.

That said, I’m a Godzilla fan—to a certain extent. I used to watch the Thanksgiving Day marathons on TV back in Long Island, N.Y., when I was a kid. I had a special place in my heart for King Kong vs. Godzilla, and appreciate the fodder that Godzilla and Gamera movies provided for Joel Hodgson on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Well, the new, Gareth Edwards-directed Godzilla is, by millions and trillions and billions of miles, the best Godzilla movie ever made. It’s no contest: This movie tramples the other Godzilla movies underfoot like Godzilla trampling a water tower with cheesy dolls meant to be humans hanging on to it.

Edwards (whose lone other feature directorial credit is the amusing, low-budget Monsters) captures that summer-blockbuster vibe of yesteryear, back when suspense and perhaps just a touch of human drama took precedent over wall-to-wall CGI fireworks. He also manages to capture some of that old-school Toho Godzilla goofiness to go with the film’s mostly serious tone. Even though the film’s monsters are CGI, there are some monster gestures in which the moves have a nice, man-in-suit quality to them.

It’s pretty obvious that Edwards is saluting the all-time blockbuster king, Mr. Steven Spielberg, with this movie. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play a father-and-son team with a last name of Brody; Roy Scheider’s name in Jaws was Brody. Many of the initial Godzilla shots include overhead, swimming glimpses and those jagged Godzilla back points cutting through the surface like a shark’s dorsal fin. Cranston’s slightly crazed, obsessed, gloriously overacting scientist dad rings of Richard Dreyfuss’ mashed-potato-sculpting kook in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In a way, Edwards is hamstrung by the limitations of his reported $160 million budget, but he certainly makes the most of it. Big special-effects extravaganzas usually cost a lot more than that these days, so just as Spielberg was forced to show less of the shark due to the thing being broken, Edwards only shows the right amount of Godzilla—because that’s probably all he could afford. It turns out to be a blessing, because it makes the final chunk of the film, in which Godzilla is featured prominently, all the more rewarding.

That’s not to say the buildup to Godzilla’s entrance is at all boring or lacking in action. Edwards and his team have come up with a nice Godzilla enemy in the MUTOs, creatures that are trying to mate and snacking on nuclear missiles and waste. The first hour also features impressive tsunamis, nuclear-plant destructions and enough hints of Godzilla to make the buildup impressive.

When Godzilla does make his big appearance, we are greeted with his wonderful, primordial scream that is super-sweet inside a big IMAX theater. The sheer majestic power of this sound had me leaning back in my chair and smiling.

Ken Watanabe plays what is essentially the Raymond Burr role from the original Americanized version of Godzilla—that of a big star inserted into the action whose main purpose is to look really, really concerned. Taylor-Johnson is the film’s hero, and he’s OK, if perhaps a little dull. Playing his character’s wife is Elizabeth Olsen, who might not have much to do in the movie, but she does perform the best running-away-while-looking-over-the-shoulder move in the film.

The final sequence, in which Godzilla goes head-to-head with the MUTOs and levels San Francisco, gets my vote for Best Monster Mash ever.

If I’m Warner Bros., I’m on the phone right now with Universal to see if I can borrow Peter Jackson’s King Kong for the inevitable sequel.

Godzilla is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

My personal list of truly great TV shows is a bit short: Twin Peaks, Mr. Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Happy Days (the first two seasons), Lost and this, Vince Gilligan’s epic masterpiece.

The conclusion of Breaking Bad was astoundingly, astonishingly good. Bryan Cranston’s final moments as chemistry teacher turned meth master Walter White count as one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen (along with Agent Cooper’s bloody face laughing into a cracked mirror on Twin Peaks).

You get every season in this set, including the newly released final season. It starts where the prior season left off, with Dean Norris’ Hank finally figuring out what his brother-in-law was doing in his spare time. From the moment he confronts Walter, to the musical strains of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” in the last episode, the final season is a wild, wild ride.

You know a show is great when you feel a void as it ends. Breaking Bad is a series worth viewing multiple times—which I have done. I don’t have a lot of time for TV, but I made, and will continue to make, time for this one. It’s a true gem.

They’d better throw a bunch of acting Emmys at this show next year. Nobody in the history of TV did a better job of creating a character than Mr. Cranston did here (and I’d put his dad from Malcolm in the Middle in the Top 20 as well).

Special Features: All of the seasons come to you in a nifty “money” barrel; those who saw the final season know of the barrel’s significance. You get a nice booklet, an awesome Los Pollos Hermanos apron, and many hours of special features, including a documentary, more than two hours long, that is special to this set. The already-circulated Malcolm in the Middle fake ending is here, too. This set will make many fans happy this holiday season.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you have never watched Breaking Bad, it is time to get cracking. It is unquestionably one of the greatest television shows ever produced, thanks in large part to stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul—and all previous seasons are now available for you to watch before the show’s final eight episodes air later this year.

If you’ve never seen it, here’s a quick rundown: Walter White (Cranston), a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, finds out he is dying of cancer, and he’s concerned about his family’s future. He’s really good with chemistry, and he comes up with a formula for meth that becomes extremely popular on the streets.

What starts as a way to put some money in his bank account before death comes a-knocking turns into a tragic thirst for power. What happens as a result of his choices has provided five seasons of incredible storytelling.

Season 5 picks up after Walter has killed drug lord Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), and Walter’s ego is out of control. This leads to tension with his apprentice (Paul) and wife (Anna Gunn), and far too many close calls with his in-the-dark lawman brother-in-law (Dean Norris).

God bless the folks who hired Bob Odenkirk to play sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman. There’s been talk of Saul getting his own show, and I say: Make it happen!

Interesting trivia note: Both John Cusack and Matthew Broderick were offered the role of Walter White, but declined.

The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad begin airing Aug. 11 on AMC. Start cramming if you haven’t watched the show yet. It’s not to be missed.

Special Features: This package is loaded. Audio commentaries that feature Cranston, Paul and series creator Vince Gilligan abound. You get deleted and extended scenes, and a ton of behind-the-scenes stuff. A lot of work went into this one. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated as best director for the movie that eventually went on to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. We all know this by now.

However, surprisingly few people have made a big stink about Affleck’s failure to receive a nomination for best actor in Argo. He is the one who spends the most time, by far, onscreen, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that he should’ve been nominated for his performance? That performance was the driving force behind the best picture, right?

I don’t think Argo should’ve been nominated in any of the major categories, including picture, director and actor. It’s a fine film, and Affleck continues to make very good movies, but this wasn’t the year’s best picture. Heck, it didn’t even make my personal Top 20.

The movie has a nice retro feel, and features great work from Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and, to a lesser extent, Alan Arkin. Arkin received a Best Supporting Actor nomination, another nom the film didn’t deserve.

I was about 11 years old when the Iran hostage crisis went down; Affleck was around 7. So some of his earliest memories probably involve how embarrassing and frustrating this time in American history was.

Argo is very good movie, but it isn’t a great one. That said, I think Affleck has some great movies in his future.

Special Features: This is a Blu-ray package in which the special features are actually better than the movie. A director’s commentary with Affleck is highly informative and entertaining, as is a picture-in-picture feature you can run for the entire film. This feature includes many of the actual hostages and participants in the rescue. Some other decent behind-the-scenes featurettes and an archival documentary on the rescue mission round things out to make this a great disc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing