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Thu12122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Emile Hirsch and John Cusack, two actors whose careers have seen better times, star in Never Grow Old, a dark Western about a religious town visited by the devil.

The devil would be Dutch Albert (Cusack), a sleazy gunslinger businessman who arrives in an old frontier town that has outlawed liquor; he promptly opens a saloon. The mayhem that follows him has a body count, and the local undertaker, Patrick (Hirsch), starts making a fine profit off all the kills.

Torn between all the extra money for his family and the fact that a lot of people, including friends, are dying, Patrick starts having thoughts about rising up against Dutch—but many more will die before Patrick works up the gumption to make a move.

Both actors are very good, with Cusack delivering his best work since his excellent turn in Love and Mercy. He’s played bad guys before, but this guy is really bad, and Cusack seizes the opportunity to let the evil out. Hirsch is decent as the good guy who needs to buck up and do the right thing.

Both actors have been doing duty in subpar movies of late (as have John Travolta, Nicolas Cage and Bruce Willis). Hopefully their strong turns here get them back on track.

Never Grow Old is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Remember when a Stephen King movie was an event? Remember when a John Cusack movie was an event? Remember 1408, the John Cusack/Stephen King movie in 2007 that was pretty badass?

Well, it’s 2016 now, and Cell, the latest Cusack/King vehicle, is getting an on-demand release shortly before a limited theatrical run. Produced three years ago, this film was better off staying on the shelf: It is easily one of the worst adaptations ever of a King story.

Cusack, re-teamed with his 1408 co-star Samuel L. Jackson, plays Clay, a graphic artist estranged from his wife and son. Shortly after placing a call to them on an airport payphone, Clay watches as cell-phone users spazz out and get transformed into a zombie-like state as the result of some sort of pulse sent through the phones.

Director Tod Williams is utterly lost; he makes this a humorless piece of horror-satire wrought with lethargic performances, shoddy camerawork and terrible special effects. The origin of the “pulse” that sets off the zombie apocalypse is never fully explained, and no villain is ever established. The ending is a confusing mishmash of three finales, as if the director couldn’t make up his mind.

Cusack seems pissed to be in this thing, while Jackson is clearly bored and seems resigned to the fact that he signed up for a stinker. Eli Roth was originally slated to be the director, and he left due to creative differences. Maybe he was arguing that a film like this should be crazy and even funny. This film takes itself a little too seriously, and boasts some of the worst editing you are likely to see this year.

The career of Cusack continues to spiral out of control, Nicolas Cage-style

Cell is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spike Lee presents what is easily his most-ambitious film in more than a decade with Chi-Raq, a wild adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata set in modern-day Chicago.

Lee casts old pal Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator (of course) and utilizes a rhyming script and stellar cast to postulate what would happen with gang violence in Chicago if all the women withheld sex. The play was crazy—and the movie is crazy.

While the tone is all over the place, the setup gives Lee a chance to do some of his funniest screen work since the humorous interludes in Do the Right Thing. There’s a scene in which Dave Chappelle (Yes, that Dave Chappelle!) plays a strip club owner that might be the funniest thing Lee has ever done. Chappelle needs to do some more acting, because he smokes his one scene.

Teyonah Parris shines as Lysistrata, leader of the female movement and girlfriend of gangsta-rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon). You’ll also find Wesley Snipes in fine form as rival gang leader Cyclops, Angela Bassett as elder stateswoman Miss Helen, D.B. Sweeney as the crazed mayor, and a revved-up John Cusack as Father Mike Corridan. Everybody does good work in the service of a mostly fun screenplay.

The film is flawed. Some of Lee’s sloppy tendencies sneak in, and not all of the jokes work. Some of those film’s shifts into more-serious happenings are awkward. But when the movie is working, it shows that perhaps the real Spike Lee was just hibernating with some of his mediocre recent efforts. It’s great to see him back in fearless-auteur mode.

Chi-Raq is available on demand and via online sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Paul Dano and John Cusack play Brian Wilson younger and older—and both are spectacular in this well-done biopic focusing on the Beach Boys legend.

Dano occupies the 1960s and ’70s, with Wilson experimenting in the studio, experimenting with drugs and starting to lose his mind. Cusack picks up the story later in life, with Wilson journeying outside after years of seclusion, and eventually falling in love with a car salesman (Elizabeth Banks). Paul Giamatti is sinister as Dr. Eugene Landy, the man who kept Wilson secluded for years and basically terrorized him into remaining mentally ill.

While neither actor is a dead ringer for Wilson, they are successful in capturing his mannerisms. Dano plays Wilson as a man with childlike wonder as he leads dogs into the studio to make music. Cusack gets everything from the facial tics to Wilson’s soft-spoken voice. They both deliver stunning performances—and because the film had the cooperation of Wilson, you get to hear Beach Boys music, too.

Both stories are told in parallel, rather than chronological, fashion, and it’s a great way to see Wilson’s life.

Love and Mercy is playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

The primary charm and main reason for the existence of Hot Tub Time Machine was seeing John Cusack running around in the 1980s again. The secondary charm came from the antics of Rob Corddry as Lou, the suicidal heavy-metal fan who had to deal with the bullies in his past. The film was the first to really highlight Corddry’s talents—and he kicked some ass.

Now comes Hot Tub Time Machine 2, sans Cusack, and with Corddry taking the lead. Alas, the movie sort of stinks—but I’m not putting all of the blame on Corddry.

This is the king of unnecessary movie sequels. First off, without Cusack’s Adam, you are missing the main reason for the franchise’s existence. He was glue that held it all together, and without him, Corddry and his cohorts—Craig Robinson as Nick, and Clark Duke as Jacob—just run around like mad, with no sense of purpose.

The film starts in the present, with Lou living the rich life because he stole the idea for the Internet; Nick’s living it up because he’s stealing everybody’s songs (most notably those of Lisa Loeb). Lou winds up taking a shotgun to the dick; as things turn out, this wound isn’t very funny. To save Lou’s life, Nick and Jacob jump into the hot tub again (after an awkward moment with a frazzled Chevy Chase) in an effort to travel into the past to save Lou’s life. They wind up accidentally going into the future—where things make little sense.

There’s a lot of nonsense about parallel universes, along with attempts to do clever twists on time travel. None of it works. Who cares about time travel? Go to whatever time, and give the audience funny jokes. The first Hot Tub movie didn’t satisfy sci-fi geeks; it satisfied 1980s film comedy geeks—people who loved Better Off Dead and Say Anything.

Instead of Adam, we get Adam Jr.—yes, Adam’s son in the future, played by the ever-reliable Adam Scott. Scott has the film’s best jokes, including a hallucinatory drug experience and an unfortunate game-show situation. However, he shows up deep into a movie with no real sense of direction, so he’s fighting a losing battle.

Corddry gets some laughs here and there, but his jokes are mostly desperate. The same can be said for Robinson, who gets laughs early on—but those laughs wear thin by the 17th repetition of the same joke. Duke doesn’t handle the graduation from fourth-banana to third-banana very well.

This film has no business being on the big screen. If you don’t have the dough to bring a major star back, but you still want to do make a mediocre, cash-in sequel, go ahead—but send the results straight to Netflix. This is not a major motion-picture event. It’s a Thursday-night, “OK, What the hell, I got nuthin’ to do, so I’ll watch this piece of shit for a laugh or two” event.

When the closing credits are 10 times funnier than anything in the main movie, you have a serious problem. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 should mark the end of a franchise—and it should be the last time somebody tries to make a sequel of a John Cusack movie without John Cusack.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners) takes a blowtorch to Hollywood with Maps to the Stars, a scabrous, scary and darkly funny satire about movie stars, their agents and their crazy kids.

Not since David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. has Hollywood gotten such a severe—and entertaining—skewering. The two films have more than Hollywood satire in common; they also both stand as decent horror/mysteries.

Julianne Moore continues her roll of greatness as Havana Segrand, an aging actress with serious mommy issues. Havana is actually trying to land a role playing her own mother, a cult-film star who died in a fire, when she hires the mysterious, newly arrived Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) to be her assistant.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, a spoiled child actor, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), is almost 90 days into sobriety, constantly sipping on sports drinks and plotting his next move. He’s visiting dying girls at the hospital (but getting the disease wrong) and still making youth-oriented films. Unfortunately, younger, cuter child actors are starting to get all the good lines.

Meanwhile, Benjie’s dad, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) is treating Havana with a combination of tough, new-age mental and physical therapy to get at the roots of her self-esteem issues. Benjie’s mom, Christina (Olivia Williams), frets over his roles and image concerns, and she harbors a lot of secrets.

As in Predestination, many of these characters are interlocked in strange, and even sick ways. To talk about it any more would be to give too much away.

Maps works in two ways: You can watch it as a straightforward narrative that makes complete sense, or you can watch it as if it were all a dream—in which case, it also makes perfect sense. It’s a great puzzle movie in which all of the pieces fit together nicely. Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner deserve a lot of credit for putting together a story that works in parallel ways.

Contributing to the dreamscape quality is cinematography by Peter Suschitzky, who did the same with Cronenberg’s last film, Cosmopolis. That film had Robert Pattinson being driven around Manhattan in a stretch limo, while this film has Pattinson playing a limo-driver in L.A. It appears that Pattinson is the go-to actor of choice when Cronenberg needs somebody to spend the majority of a character’s time in a limo.

Moore, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this role last year, approaches Havana as a spoiled brat. She gives her voice just the right amount of whining to make her annoying enough to hate, but still fun to watch. Havana is a Hollywood monster—a pompous, messed-up diva whose every action and emotion is self-directed. Her little song and dance after hearing about a tragic drowning sums up her character perfectly.

It’s great to see Cusack doing some fine work here rather than slumming in Hot Tub Time Machine 2, a piece of crap he managed to avoid. Cusack’s career is all over the place as of late, but this is a nice return to form.

Bird looks like a young Justin Timberlake and gives us a character that reminds of spoiled brat Justin Bieber.

Cronenberg and Wagner take some fun, nasty little shots at Hollywood practices like name-dropping, sleeping with somebody for a part and even trying to kill co-stars. They pull no punches—and they’ve probably brought a few Hollywood types to tears.

Maps to the Stars is available on demand and via online sources such as iTunes and Amazon.com starting on Friday, Feb. 27. It also opens on Friday, Feb. 27, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

Elijah Wood (also known as Frodo and one of the movie stars who Tazered Andy Samberg in the anus in the “Threw it On the Ground” video) stars in Grand Piano as Tom Selznick, a pianist who is making his grand return to concert performing five years after botching a rendition of his mentor’s “most unplayable piece.”

While standing offstage, ready to go, a mild-mannered security guard (played by Alex Winter of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) hands him his sheet music (which he had forgotten) and disappears. Tom glances at the sheets—and sees that somebody has written some strange notes in red on the pages.

Those red notes are the setup for a rather clever gimmick: Tom needs to play some extremely difficult piano pieces while somebody alternately aims a rifle at him and his wife (who is sitting in the balcony). The notes in red warn that if he plays one bad note, he will die.

None of this bodes well for Tom’s stage fright.

Tom is also forced to put in an earpiece so his possible assassin can speak to him while he’s playing. That voice is supplied by the one and only John Cusack. I won’t tell you why the Cusack character is torturing Tom onstage; however, I will say that the more I think about it, the more ridiculous the whole setup seems.

Wood does a respectable job of miming piano-playing and making the audience feel sorry for him, while Cusack’s sinister vocals help things along. Yes, the movie is totally illogical, but it’s passable fun nonetheless.

The film is available for rental via online sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Emma Roberts shines in Adult World as Amy, a wannabe poet who doesn’t want to accept the obvious: Her poetry is terrible. Instead, she chases down her poet hero, Rat Billings (a perfectly cast John Cusack), for mentorship, but gets mostly bemused scorn instead.

When Roberts and Cusack are onscreen together, it’s magical. Unfortunately, the film features a gimmicky subplot involving Amy’s employment at an adult-video store—and in these scenes, the movie feels strikingly unoriginal and old. Evan Peters is OK as the store manager, but his character could have worked just fine without the porn gimmick.

Still, Roberts and Cusack are on fire, especially during a scene in which Roberts smashes a guitar, and Cusack just slyly grins. There’s another great moment when Amy shows up drunk and demands to be deflowered, while Rat insists that such a thing won’t happen—even though it is pretty obvious he’s slept with poet groupies before. Lesser actors would’ve made this scene into a cliché, but these two totally rock.

Cusack and Roberts make the movie worth watching. If filmmakers had dropped the video-store stuff (and, consequently, changed the title), it would have been even better.

The film is available via online sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director Lee Daniels—prominently mentioned in The Butler’s title (officially Lee Daniels’ The Butler) after a much publicized lawsuit—delivers a fine emotional wallop with this historical epic loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a butler at the White House for 34 years.

The character based on Allen is renamed Cecil (played by Forest Whitaker), and the character is given a fictional older son in order to depict a family conflict regarding the Civil Rights Movement. In other words: This film, which shows the butler interacting with presidents from Eisenhower (Robin Williams) through Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), is mostly made up. That doesn’t hurt the film’s dramatic significance; it’s an ultimately moving experience.

What does hurt the film a bit is the horrible makeup, especially a goofy fake nose for John Cusack as Richard Nixon. The makeup is so bad that the film turns into unintentional comedy when some characters are onscreen.

Whitaker holds the whole thing together, and Oprah Winfrey—in her first starring role since her excellent turn in Beloved—does strong work as Cecil’s wife. Other stars playing presidents include a relatively makeup-free James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, and an absolutely covered Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson.

This one gathered some early Oscar buzz, but that seems to have died off. That’s OK; the movie is decent, but its flaws keep it far from greatness.

I tried, but I simply couldn’t accept Cusack as Nixon, and Rickman as Reagan. That’s just some silly casting right there.

Special Features: A making-of documentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a music video are all you get. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Frozen Ground is based on the true story of Robert Hansen, an Alaskan serial killer currently spending life behind bars for murdering at least 17 women near Anchorage.

Cusack—continuing his recent streak of hideous characters—plays Hansen, the bakery owner who hunted young women and buried their bodies throughout the Alaskan wilderness, undetected by authorities for many years. Nicolas Cage is on hand in “serious” Cage mode as State Trooper Jack Halcombe, who is determined to catch Hansen after Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), an exotic dancer, allegedly escapes his clutches.

The movie gets caught in an unfortunate loop regarding Paulson’s willingness to cooperate, and her decisions to avoid authorities. It feels like every other scene focuses on Hudgens sneaking away from Cage and retreating to some seedy area. It gets a little monotonous.

It’s a shame, because Cusack is great as Hansen, as he was in last year’s terrible The Paperboy, in which he played another murderer. Cusack delivers a chilling portrait of a man with no remorse; his performance deserved a better movie.

Hudgens is OK, even when the script lets her down. Cage does nothing special here, although that’s not entirely his fault. The screenplay basically calls for him to run around looking for Paulson the entire time. His few scenes with Cusack are the best ones in the movie.

The film is available to watch via sources including Amazon.com and iTunes; it will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on Oct. 1. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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