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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Maniac is yet another Netflix series that plays like a long—but really good—movie.

Jonah Hill and Emma Stone reteam (after Superbad) as two mentally exhausted individuals who volunteer for pharmaceutical experiments that involve a lot more than simply taking pills.

The premise—which allows for their characters to essentially share dreams—places them inside different fantasy scenarios involving different people. Lemurs, Long Island, shootouts, odd dancing, seances, hawks and more play into those scenarios, all directed engagingly by Cary Joji Fukunaga. The different dreams have different styles—but Fukunaga keeps it all under control.

Stone is the true shining star here, especially in a sequence that places her in a Lord of the Rings-type setting, one that her character’s true self can’t really stand. Hill plays his Owen as morose for much of the running time, which is necessary given Owen’s state, but he does get a decent amount of opportunities to go crazy when his character morphs into different people.

Justin Theroux is fantastic as a pathetic doctor, as is Sally Field as his famous mother. In fact, Field has some of the series’ best moments—no surprise, given that she is the legendary Sally Field.

If you are looking to binge, Maniac is a fine choice.

Maniac is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Duncan Jones, director of the classic film Moon and the so-good movie Source Code, has continued his slump that started with Warcraft: The Beginning.

Actually, Netflix’s Mute qualifies as a total disaster—a film so bad that Jones might find himself looking for sitcom-TV gigs in the near future.

Alexander Skarsgard plays Leo, an Amish bartender in future Germany (you read that right) who lost his ability to speak in a boat-propeller accident as a kid. His girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh) disappears, sending him on a wild search that involves him hitting bad guys with big wooden sticks, like Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall.

In what seems like an entirely different movie, Paul Rudd plays Cactus Bill, a crooked doctor trying to get back to the United States with his daughter. Oh, and Cactus Bill hangs around with a pedophile doctor (Justin Theroux, saddled with a goofy wig). While this indeed feels like another movie, it’s also terrible.

Skarsgard runs around a lot looking all helpless, while the usually ever-reliable Rudd resorts to lots of gum-chewing and a big, meaty mustache with chops to look tough. (God dammit, I hate that!) Theroux relies far too heavily on the word “Babe!” to distinguish his character in what amounts to his worst role to date. It’s not easy to make the likes of Rudd and Theroux look bad—and Jones makes them look awful.

The future setting looks like a cheap Blade Runner knock-off; the dialogue is deplorable; and, to repeat, Rudd and Theroux look terrible. That’s a cinematic crime.

Mute is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Despite good performances from a cast including Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux and Allison Janney, The Girl on the Train winds up being a little too ridiculous for a movie that wishes to be taken seriously.

Blunt spends much of the movie blotto-drunk as Rachel Watson, a slurring alcoholic who aimlessly rides a train to New York City everyday, spying on the people living in her former house, as well as the neighbors. Rachel is divorced from Tom (Theroux), who couldn’t take Rachel’s drinking ways; he was also upset about their inability to have a child. Tom is remarried to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson); they have a child—and they would really like Rachel to stay away.

Tom and Nancy’s nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett), lives nearby with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). Rachel spies on them during their most intimate moments as she races by on the train, envying what she sees as a perfect young romance. Then she sees Megan with another man, setting off an odd, drunken tailspin that results in her getting involved in the drama when Megan goes missing.

For starters, I’m not down with this premise: A deliriously drunk woman is able to decipher the goings-on inside homes—as she races by in a train? Yes, sometimes the train slows down, and she does know the inhabitants somewhat, but this is a highly unlikely plot gimmick that’s stretched out to unrealistic proportions. Then she gets involved with the missing woman’s husband, and eventually finds herself a target in the investigation.

Rachel is the most unreliable of characters, constantly blurred by the hard alcohol she’s slurping from a sippee cup. The script calls for many of her observations and actions to be unreliable due to her constant intoxication. She blacks out, loses time and even has other characters telling her lies to convince her she’s behaving abnormally. However, she’s able to put together key elements of a woman’s disappearance while racing past on a train with a blood alcohol count in the stratosphere.

Sorry, sometimes scripts ask me to go places where I can’t go, and I couldn’t go along for the ride on this one. Too much of this movie calls for the viewer to accept unrealistic circumstances and situations.

Did I still enjoy the movie on some levels? Yes, somewhat. I like how Emily Blunt plays inebriated in this movie. She’s a total mess, but Rachel keeps herself sympathetic. Theroux is great as the confused, protective ex who pleads with his current wife to cut Rachel a break—up until the point where he can no longer defend her. Janney is awesome as the grinning investigator who doesn’t buy Rachel’s story. I want another movie with her as the main character.

There’s a big mystery at play here, and the answer to that mystery becomes obvious perhaps earlier than director Tate Taylor suspects it does. Still, I liked how the mystery played out, and the performance opportunities it offered to some of the performers. Some members of the cast gets to go to truly dark places, and they do it well.

This is also a very good-looking movie, creepily shot by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, with a terrific score by Danny Elfman. Even though his movie goes to some goofy extremes, Taylor clearly knows how to get strong performances from his cast, and he’s assembled a nice one.

The Girl on the Train has its problems, but it isn’t a complete waste of time. See it if you are a Blunt fan, and if you are a fan of the book. If you haven’t read the book, or could care less about Blunt and like your thrillers a little more plausible, this one might not be for you.

The Girl on the Train is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Mulholland Dr., the great David Lynch puzzle movie that launched the careers of Naomi Watts and Justin Theroux, has now gotten the Criterion treatment—and it’s a good one.

Watts plays Betty, a wannabe actress who comes to Hollywood squeaky-clean—and gets her ass kicked. Theroux plays the director who gives her a role, but also breaks her heart. Or, depending upon your take, it’s all just a very bad dream.

Lynch planned this as a TV series for ABC, but the executives over there had no idea what Lynch was trying to do when they watched the dailies. When the pilot was rejected, Lynch did an extensive transcendental meditation session and came up with a way to make his TV series into a movie. Shockingly, it all ties together magically well.

I think this is actually Lynch’s best movie, full of terrific strange twists, dark humor and powerhouse acting—especially from Watts. She’s done many great things since, but this might stand as her best performance.

Special Features: There’s a deleted scene that is silly, along with some terrific recent interviews with the likes of Lynch, Watts and Theroux. Best of all, there’s set footage of the performers doing multiple takes—and getting ticked off. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing