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Goddammit, when is somebody going to ban gum-chewing in movies? I’m a card-carrying Keanu Reeves fan, but he started the whole “Gum Chewing Action Star” thing with Speed, and it’s become such a distracting, cheap acting trick.

Well, knock it off, Hollywood actors! You will never surpass the gum-chewing prowess immortalized by Reeves in Speed. He is, always has been, and shall remain the gum-chewing action guy king!

The culprit this time out is Casey Affleck in Triple 9, the latest film from super-reliable director John Hillcoat. Affleck plays Chris, a new cop among a fleet of bad cops who distinguishes himself by, you guessed it, chewing gum a lot.

He doesn’t just chew that gum, either: He cracks it, he pops it, moves it all over his mouth and lets the white wad stick out of the corners. In fact, he makes sure it gets in the way of almost every line delivery he makes in the movie.

If I should ever get to direct an action-cop movie, what with my budding film career and all, I’m going for the gum-chewing title. I will make sure to have my action-cop guy constantly unwrapping pieces of gum and shoving them into his pie hole. I won’t stop at Wrigley’s, either. Nope: I’ll get some Big Red in there, adding to the color palette. We’ll get some Bubble Yum and Bazooka for bigger, longer-lasting bubbles. It’s going to make my action star so freaking tough-looking.

Beyond the gum … the actual movie is pretty good. Like other Hillcoat movies (The Road, The Proposition, Lawless), it’s a dark film with a bleak outlook on humanity. Nobody is happy in this flick, and they are going to let you know that. Only this time, there’s a whole lot of gum-chewing and some fast-moving action scenes to go with all of the brooding.

All right, back on point. Affleck’s Chris finds himself rolling with Marcus (Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon!), a bad cop with a crew doing heists for a crime kingpin (Kate Winslet, aka Rose, sporting yet another weird accent). That crew includes Russell (Norman Reedus, aka The Walking Dead’s Daryl!), his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul, aka Jesse!), explosives expert Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor, aka the guy from 12 Years a Slave!) and other dirty cop Franco (Clifton Collins Jr., aka the guy who played the murderer in Capote and one of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!).

The heists themselves are nicely staged, reminiscent of the epic Michael Mann heists in Heat. They make up for the fact that the plot isn’t much; in fact, it’s almost non-existent. Still, that’s a pretty impressive acting crew that is running around shooting at each other, and Hillcoat makes it all look good.

Affleck isn’t the only one resorting to gimmickry in this film. Woody Harrelson (aka Woody!) wears some wacky teeth and smokes a lot of dope as Jeffrey, Chris’s detective brother. Or at least I think they are fake teeth. Woody, if those are your actual teeth, I’m totally sorry, bro. As for the weed, that stuff was probably authentic.

I guess the point of my harping on the gum-chewing is to say that Affleck doesn’t need that kind of bullshit. He’s a commanding actor, and his characterization of Chris is impressive and memorable enough without all the popping and cracking. It doesn’t make his character any tougher or hard-nosed. It just makes him sloppy. It also left me concerned that he might get lockjaw.

The cast does well, for the most part, although Paul is saddled with a dopey haircut (another gimmick), and Reedus is sorely lacking a crossbow (a gimmick avoided). There’s a bit involving Ejiofor and a gift-wrapped package that you will see coming a mile away, but Ejiofor sells it fine.

Triple 9 is a decent-enough action thriller, and it should’ve been sponsored by Triple Mint Refresh Chiclets bubble gum!

By the way, I do see the irony of constantly leaning on the gimmickry of gum-chewing in a movie as a gimmick in and of itself.

I’ll stop now.

Triple 9 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Three people and a couple of dogs try to figure things out in a post-apocalyptic world during Z for Zachariah, a strong acting exercise featuring Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine.

Ann (Robbie) has been living a solitary life ever since a nuclear war wiped out the world’s population. She still lives on her father’s land, a place mysteriously immune from radiation clouds. With her trusty dogs by her side, she tills the land, hunts for game and longs for company.

That company comes in the form of Loomis (Ejiofor), whom she rescues after he takes a dip in a radioactive pond. After scrubbing him down and nursing him back to health, the two form a bond with romantic inclinations. Is their budding relationship something that would’ve happened under normal circumstances, or is it just a product of them apparently being the only two people left in America?

Robbie and Ejiofor are a decent pair. As the slightly jumpy Loomis slowly recovers, he helps Ann get her tractor started by figuring out how to manually get gas out of electric pumps. He likes the way she cooks fish; she likes the way he provides company. They’ll probably get fake-married and repopulate the Earth, right?

That question is pushed to the forefront when Captain Kirk himself shows up, all scruffy-looking and puppy-like. His name is Caleb (Pine), and he’s exactly what most God-fearing farm girls left alone would like to have show up at their doorstep. He’s gorgeous—and he says grace before a meal. He escaped from a mine after the bombs went off, and may or may not have killed a few people to survive. Loomis sees him as a threat, and he starts to get a little jealous.

OK, he gets very jealous—and the jealousy doesn’t mix well with his paranoia that Ann will eschew him because Caleb is white, and he is black. It’s also not helping matters that he wants to tear down the church Ann’s dad built in order to get wood to make a watermill. His need to provide electricity for the winter is creating a little friction.

There’s some male bonding during a turkey hunt and the deconstruction of the church, but it becomes increasingly clear that the farmhouse isn’t big enough for both men. It’s only a question of who will blink—or shoot—first.

The movie suffers a bit on the logic side: The characters walk around with no radiation suits or protection on their farm, but they get all geared up when they are a mere few hundred yards away, in town. Still, it’s a movie acted so well that you’ll forgive the silliness and inconsistencies.

Robbie, who has given some amazing performances in the recent past in The Wolf of Wall Street and Focus, provides a sweet, grounded center for the movie. She makes a rather unlikely person seem altogether convincing.

Pine, who shows off his comic side in the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, is great as the mysterious drifter who seems awfully nice, but just might kill you for your girlfriend. Ejiofor gives Loomis a nice twitchiness. He offers the film’s most memorable performance as a good guy who had a few brain cells fried by radiation. He’s just not all there.

The film plays like a darker, almost-humorless version of Will Forte’s TV show The Last Man on Earth, with a little bit of the dour Viggo Mortensen film The Road mixed in. See it for the excellent performances, but please ignore the post-apocalyptic practices in the film. Should you survive a nuclear apocalypse, wear your radiation suit outdoors for something like 10,000 years before traipsing around in your bathing suit.

Z for Zachariah is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The picture that took home Best Picture honors at this year’s Academy Awards is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery before the Civil War.

The film, fresh off its win of three Oscars, is being released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, March 4.

This effort from director Steve McQueen is a towering achievement, one of last year’s bravest and most uncompromising films. Chiwetel Ejiofor got a much-deserved Oscar nomination for playing Northup, a man who was forced to work on cotton plantations—one of them run by the despicable Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender (also an Oscar nominee) in a vicious and brilliant performance.

McQueen shows slavery as the horror it was, and Ejiofor puts a character on the screen who you will never forget. If you were one of the few people who saw 2011’s Pariah, you know that Adepero Oduye is a stellar actress, as she further proves here as Eliza, a woman sold into slavery and taken from her children. Relative newcomer Lupita Nyong’o (an Oscar winner) is equally heartbreaking as Patsey, a victim of Epps’ sick abuse.

The movie is shocking, violent and unrelenting in its mission to show this country in its worst, most shameful days. It’s about time somebody had the guts to make a movie like this one.

Special Features: There are not a lot—just some short features on the score and the folks who made the movie.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

12 Years a Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York before the Civil War who was abducted and sold into slavery. This latest effort from director Steve McQueen is a towering achievement—one of the year’s bravest and most-uncompromising films.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is a lock for an Oscar nomination as Northup, who is forced to work on cotton plantations, one of them run by the despicable Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender in a vicious and brilliant performance. McQueen shows slavery as the horror it was, and Ejiofor puts a character on the screen that you will never forget.

If you were one of the few people who saw 2011’s Pariah, you know that Adepero Oduye is a stellar actress, as she further proves here as Eliza, a woman sold into slavery and taken from her children. Relative newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is equally heartbreaking as Patsey, a victim of Epps’s sick abuse.

The movie is shocking, violent and unrelenting in its mission to show this country in its most shameful days. It’s about time somebody had the guts to make a movie like this.

12 Years a Slave is playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615); the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews