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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Tom Holland cements his status as the best-ever Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the goofiest—but still quite fun—Spider-Man movie yet.

Jon Watts once again directs as Peter Parker tries to vacation with his friends in Europe after the events of Endgame. When a strange breed of elemental monsters start striking the planet, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) interrupts Peter’s sojourn and gets him back into the swing of things. Jake Gyllenhaal enters the shenanigans as Mysterio, a crime fighter from another dimension who slides right into the Tony Stark mentor role.

Holland is good fun as Spidey, giving the character a nice, youthful effervescence to go with Holland’s great comic timing. Zendaya rules as MJ; Jon Favreau gets a lot more screen time (a good thing) as Happy; but alas, the film doesn’t have nearly enough Marisa Tomei.

Far From Home is a bit lightheaded at times, but it’s the sort of breezy affair that the Marvel Universe needed to get things revved up again. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for Holland, and he has a bunch of these in his future—because he’s perfect in the role.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

It looks like somebody forgot to tell Brie Larson to have fun and let loose in Captain Marvel. Her turn as the title character, aka Carol Danvers, is laced with lethargy and bizarre line deliveries.

Samuel L. Jackson and an orange tabby fortunately seem to be enjoying themselves, but Larson is stiffer than Church the cat on the Creed’s front lawn after his unfortunate encounter with a speeding truck. (Say, is my excitement for the upcoming Pet Sematary reboot evident?)

A similar problem plagued Larson in Kong: Skull Island. The Academy Award-winning actress seems to be in her wheelhouse when the budget is low, but seems miscast when she shows up in a blockbuster. She gives off a detached vibe; it’s odd. The movie should be called Captain Meh: I Dunno … I Got Better Things to Do.

If the movie around her were really good, her seemingly bored disposition might’ve been forgiven—but Captain Marvel is also riddled with awful special effects and haphazard storytelling.

I went in hoping for a badass movie about Captain Marvel, but found myself more intrigued by the subplot involving an up-and-coming, low ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Nick Fury, played by Jackson. The de-aged Jackson, along with a returning Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died in the first Avengers movie, are so good that you’ll wish they got their own film.

I’m not putting the blame solely on Larson; the character itself is a bust when it comes to superheroes. All she does is fly around and send out energy bursts from her hands. She has moments when she goes into full Marvel mode, bringing on some sort of light show where she glows and gets white eyes, as well as a goofy-looking mohawk. As for superpowers … they just don’t register as anything that exciting. The Marvel light show isn’t aided by the special effects, which look rushed and cartoonish. Captain Marvel in her full glory doesn’t integrate with the worlds around her; she looks animated and out of place.

As for the orange tabby named Goose, he’s your basic super-cute cat—with a few surprises under his fur. Again, the special effects are a letdown when Goose goes full Goose, another example of the visual team coming up short.

Part of the film is set on Earth in the 1990s, and Jackson’s Fury has a full head of hair and both eyes. It also lends to music by Nirvana and No Doubt, both of which are used in situations that feel awkward and forced. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck got a little carried away in their efforts to be cute with the tunes.

There’s a big supporting cast, including a strong Annette Bening as a scientist and murky memory in Carol’s dreams. Lashana Lynch does good work as Maria Rambeau (pronounced “Rambo!”), an earthly friend of Carol’s. Jude Law gets a change of pace with an action role as an alien named Yon-Rogg, while Ben Mendelsohn plays Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. boss, another character with a few surprises to offer.

The film isn’t completely devoid of fun; it’s just not on par with other Marvel offerings, although I concede that’s a high bar to hit. As for Captain Marvel, the end of Avengers: Infinity War hinted at some major participation for her, so this is just the start for the character. Let’s hope things get better.

As always, stay all the way through the credits. There are plenty of things happening that you won’t want to miss, even if you’ve had your fill with the events that happened before all those words splashed across the screen.

Captain Marvel is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Just when I hoped M. Night Shyamalan might be getting on a hot streak, here comes Glass, proving he’s still a stylish—yet sloppy—self-indulgent kook.

After one bomb after another during a 15-year stretch, Shyamalan showed us he was still capable of good cinematic things with Split, a 2017 a showcase for multiple personalities by James McAvoy and a creepy little thriller thanks to Shyamalan’s surprisingly deft direction. An after-credits scene showed us Bruce Willis as David Dunn, his super-humanly strong Unbreakable character, and the possibilities became very intriguing.

The director then announced his intention to make Glass, saying that Split was, in fact, the second part of what would be a trilogy. Glass would bring back the brittle-boned character of that name played by Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable, along with Willis and the newly introduced McAvoy character(s). OK, sounds good. Let’s go!

Well … shit. The new year has its first legitimate clunker.

Shyamalan is up to his old tricks again, turning in the kind of loopy, half-assed filmmaking that made the world scratch its collective head with The Happening, The Village, The Last Airbender, After Earth and Lady in the Water, all wretched stink-bombs. He has a remarkable ability to somehow employ writing that’s lazy and overambitious at the same time. He puts a lot in play with Glass, but he doesn’t seem to have an idea where to take it. Plot holes abound; there are so many that it’s hard to keep track of them.

First, he finds a way—an incredibly inane way—to get the gang together in some sort of mental institution where they are being studied by a too-nice-to-be-trusted doctor (Sarah Paulson). Then McAvoy gets a chance to do his switching-personality shtick for a good chunk of the movie while Willis virtually disappears, and Jackson’s Glass sits in a catatonic state.

Toward the end of the movie, the Shyamalan script starts rambling about the origins of comic books, asking, what do they really mean? He fixates on this like anybody really gives a crap, and the action dwindles away, replaced by the dopiest dialogue this side of a Fifty Shades movie. Shyamalan shamelessly teases a big showdown atop Philadelphia skyscrapers between McAvoy’s Beast and Willis’ strong guy. It’s as if he’s saying, “I know you are bored right now, but there’s a Kong vs. Godzilla-type showdown coming! Sit tight, you fidgety little buggers!”

Alas, the budget doesn’t really allow for that sort of CGI smackdown, so all we get is a fist fight on the hospital lawn—a very drawn out and uninteresting first fight. If anything, I am understating things when I tell you the fates of these characters are handled in a flippant, underwhelming, downright-awful way. Shyamalan takes a chance to do something worthwhile in the universe he created, but instead, he opts for blathering idiocy and preachy nonsense.

Anya Taylor-Joy, so good in Split, is reduced to a role that has her, for some nutty reasons, having sympathetic, huggy conversations with the dude who almost ate her. Spencer Treat Clark returns as Joseph Dunn, David’s now-grown son; he’s actually grown into a fairly competent actor … who is given next to nothing worthwhile to do.

Nothing makes sense in this mess, and Shyamalan takes all of the blame. Yes, Glass has the standard Shyamalan big twists in it, and they do nothing to substantiate the story or shock you in that good, Sixth Sense sort of way. He springs the so-called surprise on you, and you are left wondering, “Oh … wait … really? That’s it?”

I distinctly remember that “WTF?” feeling that hit me when Unbreakable abruptly ended with that dopey freeze frame. It felt like Shyamalan had completely betrayed his audience with a lame stunt. Well, that’s how I felt during most of Glass: I’d been duped again by M. Night.

Glass is now showing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After a 14-year hiatus, the Parr family is finally back for more superhero shenanigans in Pixar’s Incredibles 2, a sequel that retains the zippy, funny spirit of the original. It’s not as good as the first, but it is still Pixar’s best “sequel” since Toy Story 3.

The film picks up where the last one left off, with a criminal named Underminer (the voice of the ever-Pixar-present John Ratzenberger) looking to cause some trouble—just as teen Violet Parr (Sarah Vowell) is meeting a boy. Superheroes remain in hiding, but rich tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) is looking to change that.

Winston has a plan to get superheroes back in the limelight, and that plan involves Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter) fighting crime and gaining publicity on a crazy new motorbike. While she’s out getting her superhero groove on, Mr. Incredible/Bob (Craig T. Nelson) must stay at home and take care of the kids, including Violet, Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).

To recap the children’s powers, Violet can go invisible and produce force fields, while Dash is really fast. Jack-Jack, as we found out near the end of the original, has emerging powers himself—and Bob is newly witnessing them all. Jack-Jack can do a lot of things: He can reproduce himself, journey to other dimensions, catch fire and turn himself into a demon baby. The Jack-Jack subplot gets a lot of laughs, most of them out of the baby’s sheer amusement with himself.

Of course, Bob’s superpowers will be needed again, and the whole family will eventually need to save the world from comical baddies. While the film feels a bit repetitive at times, the great voice work by Hunter, Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone keep it consistently entertaining. Bird himself returns as the voice of fashion guru Edna Mode, who becomes Auntie Edna when Jack-Jack and his exhausted dad are in dire need of a baby sitter. Make no mistake: It’s Jack-Jack and his cookie-craving craziness that steal the show this time.

As with the original, it’s the little nuances that make the Incredibles so much fun. I still love how Elastigirl’s mouth curves when she talks—a direct ode to Hunter’s actual face—and Violet’s teen angst continues to be hilarious. The original Incredibles was groundbreaking for its onscreen action, and this one continues in that tradition. There’s also a memorable new villain in Screenslaver, an entity that hypnotizes people into submission via video screens. No doubt: This a nod to and critique of our modern-day attachment to screened devices.

In a nice piece of stunt casting, the character of Rick Dicker, voiced in the original by the late Bud Luckey, has been recast with the voice of Jonathan Banks. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fans know Banks as the henchman of Saul—aka Bob Odenkirk—so having both their voices here is neat stuff for geeks.

It may seem a little odd that the sequel-happy Pixar took so long to give the Parr family another chapter—but the reason for the wait falls squarely on writer-director Brad Bird’s shoulders. Bird created the characters, and Pixar gave him autonomy when it came to giving them another chapter. Bird wasn’t in any kind of rush, so we might have to wait another decade plus for another chapter.

That’s OK. While the Incredibles are clearly ripe for many stories, one great chapter (the original) and another very good one (this installment) make for a great franchise already—and a surefire summer good time for everybody in the family.

Incredibles 2 is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The King Kong cinematic machine is cranking again with Kong: Skull Island, an entertaining-enough new take on the big ape that delivers action, but lags a bit when the titular gorilla isn’t onscreen smashing things up.

Of the Kong incarnations, this one has the most in common with the 1976 take on the classic story, basically because it’s set just a few years before, in ’73. While there is a beautiful girl on whom the big guy gets a small crush (Brie Larson as a photographer), the story eschews the usual “beauty and the beast” Kong angle for more straight-up monster vs. monster action. Unlike the past American Kong films, this one never makes it to Manhattan, and instead stays on Kong’s island—thus the title of the film.

Kong himself is portrayed by motion-capture CGI, and he’s a badass. He’s also tall enough to be a formidable foe for Godzilla, a mash-up already announced for 2020. In the few scenes in which he interacts with humans, Kong seems like an organic creature rather than a bunch of gigabytes. He blends well with his human counterparts.

There hasn’t been much mention of those human counterparts yet, because, with the exception of John C. Reilly as a fighter pilot stranded on the island during World War II, most of the humans are bland. Tom Hiddleston might make a decent James Bond someday, and he’s a lot of fun as Loki, but he just doesn’t work here as a rugged tracker/action hero. His presence constantly suggests that his character might turn bad mid-mission and feed his friends to the monsters—or, alternatively, that he might stop for tea and biscuits every 5 minutes. He’s too much of a pretty boy for the role.

Reilly, on the other hand, gives the film the bursts of humor it needs. His castaway is a wild card, like Dennis Hopper’s character in Apocalypse Now. Actually, the whole movie, with its post-Vietnam setup and Nixon-era themes, plays like Apocalypse Now meets King Kong. When Reilly is onscreen, it plays like Apocalypse Now meets King Kong meets Talladega Nights.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the psycho military commander who still holds a beef about the war, while John Goodman is on hand as the explorer who thinks “something” is on this strange, uncharted island. He’s essentially this film’s Carl Denham (one of the main characters from the 1933 original and Peter Jackson’s remake) without being named Carl Denham. The likes of Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell and Richard Jenkins round out the cast.

As for Hiddleston and Larson, one gets the sense their parts were supposed to be bigger, but then director Jordan Vogt-Roberts looked at a first cut and realized they sucked, so he replaced a lot of their screen time with Kong action. Indeed, Kong gets plenty of time to destroy things. He battles helicopters, strange dino creatures and, in one of the film’s greater moments, a giant octopus that results in an eating scene that’s a direct homage to Oldboy.

How does this stack up against past Kongs? I’d say it’s the weakest of the American Kongs. (I am a sucker for the ’76 Twin Towers/Jeff Bridges/Jessica Lange one.) Oh, wait, it’s better than King Kong Lives, the ’86 sequel to the ’76 Kong, during which he got the heart transplant. That’s actually one of the worst movies ever made. It’s so bad that I’d mercifully forgot it existed until this paragraph of this very review. Kong: Skull Island is also better than the loopy, strangely enjoyable Japanese Kongs, although it owes much to those films in spirit.

As you must do with Marvel films now (with the exception of Logan), stay through Kong: Skull Island credits. There’s an initial sequence during the credits that I won’t give away, and a scene after the credits that I also won’t give away.

Kong: Skull Island is a shallow enterprise, but a fun one. It’ll be interesting to see how they bridge the time gap between this excursion and the present-day Godzilla. Kong ages well, so they’ll probably just leap over a few decades and get to the good stuff.

Kong: Skull Island is now playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Holy hell, is this film a boring mess.

In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Tim Burton directs a leaden Asa Butterfield in an adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ novel. The movie is sloppy, as if the effects weren’t completed. The story is convoluted, as if the filmmakers thought hiring a big-time art director and costuming department were a fair swap for a good script.

The narrative involves some nonsense regarding mutant children in a house in the 1940s that is stuck in a time loop. The house is led by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, the only good thing about the movie), and visited by young Jake (Butterfield), who heard about the place from his late grandfather (Terence Stamp). The kids all have “peculiarities” but no personality; they are X-Men with no sense of purpose.

Butterfield, a normally reliable young actor, decimates nearly every line he utters in this film. It’s actually quite shocking how inept and lost he seems in this production.

Burton stresses the visuals, as usual, but without a good, strong lead like Johnny Depp or Michael Keaton, Burton is a lost cause. I’m thinking this will hang tough as one of the year’s biggest disappointments.

Samuel L. Jackson does show up with a gray version of his wig from Unbreakable, along with Venom’s teeth. He has his moments, but he can’t save this thing.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is now playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

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

Quentin Tarantino returns to form after the just-OK Django Unchained with yet another masterpiece in The Hateful Eight, a grandiose Western that boasts his best dialogue in years—and an Oscar-caliber performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh.

I didn’t dislike Django, but the film was a little sluggish and not quite up to Tarantino’s usual standards. I thought he had a better, grittier Western in him—and this film proves he did.

Many Tarantino regulars return, including Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Kurt Russell. Russell, who delivered his career-best work in Tarantino’s Death Proof as Stuntman Mike, gets another chance to go to town with a Tarantino script, and he embraces it with much enthusiasm. Russell plays John “The Hangman” Ruth, a bounty hunter renowned for bringing in prisoners alive so that their necks can meet the noose. Riding in a stagecoach to Red Hook—with the notorious Daisy Domergue (Leigh), his latest bounty, chained to his arm—he comes across another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson). This is where the fun begins.

The party rescues future Red Hook Sheriff Chris Mannix (an outstanding Walton Goggins) from an oncoming blizzard. The stagecoach heads for Minnie’s Haberdashery as a means of shelter, where they meet the rest of the cast—and tensions soar. Ruth deduces that one or more persons in the party aim to stop him from reaching Red Hook with Daisy Domergue and her huge bounty.

Russell is doing his best John Wayne here, and he’s scrappy fun, still sporting his mustache and chops from his other 2015 Western effort, Bone Tomahawk. Jackson hasn’t gotten a chance to be this devilish since Pulp Fiction, and he goes off.

However, the performance likely to make the most waves is that of Leigh as Daisy. John Ruth elbows and punches Daisy in the face throughout the movie, and the looks Leigh gives him are proof that this lady is not to be messed with. Leigh’s Daisy is definitely full-bore crazy, but she also gives us something to sympathize with in her plight. She’s a marvel in a role that almost went to Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a great actress, but Leigh proves she was the right woman for the role.

The film is being offered in a 70-millimeter Roadshow version, complete with an intermission, for those of you willing to take a drive to see it in the old-school format. The impact and beauty of the film will not be lost in the digital projection, I assure you.

After expressing some anger with how Tarantino used his music in Django Unchained, composer Ennio Morricone re-teams with the auteur for a soundtrack that will more than likely put him into Oscar contention. The film is drawing some comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing, which also contained snow, group paranoia, Kurt Russell and a Morricone score. That score, along with the camerawork of Tarantino mainstay Robert Richardson, makes this perhaps Tarantino’s best-looking and best-sounding movie.

With The Hateful Eight, Tarantino finds his rhythm with editor Fred Raskin, who replaced the late Sally Menke on Django. Menke had edited all of the previous Tarantino films, and her presence was sorely missed on Django. As things turned out, Django was a decent warm-up for Tarantino and Raskin, because every beat is on the mark in The Hateful Eight. There’s a beautiful sense of tension from the first frame through the three-plus-hours running time.

Tarantino has been saying he will retire from filmmaking in the classic sense after 10 movies. If you count the Kill Bill movies as one (as he does), The Hateful Eight is his eighth movie. That would mean that there are only two left, which means modern cinema could take a serious hit two Tarantino films from now.

The Hateful Eight is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jalmari Helander, the guy who gave us Rare Exports, the weirdest Christmas movie ever, now gives us one of the weirdest coming-of-age stories ever made.

Oskari (Onni Tommila, who was also in Exports) is going through a family ritual on his 13th birthday: He must head into the woods alone and kill an animal with a bow and arrow. He has to camp alone, stalk the animal alone and kill it alone. Unfortunately, he doesn’t feel quite up to the task.

Then Air Force One is shot down over the forest in which he’s camping, and Oskari comes across the president of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson). The president has been betrayed by a Secret Service guy (Ray Stevenson), who is in cahoots with a terrorist looking to kill the president and have him stuffed.

Oskari is the only person who can save the president, because the Navy SEALs are too far away. Big Game becomes a buddy movie as the two try to get themselves to safety.

Boy, is this a stupid movie. However, Helander pulls it off, sort of; this is the type of movie that’s OK for a Saturday-night rental. The action is decent enough (although a little goofy-looking at times, due to budget limitations), and Jackson is fun as the leader of the free world.

Surprisingly, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent and Victor Garber show up in supporting roles.

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

Published in Reviews

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