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Wed06192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

Robert Pattinson, the man who will be Batman, continues establishing himself as one of his generation’s finest actors with High Life, a dark, scarily effective sci-fi thriller.

Directed and co-written by Claire Denis, the film stars Pattinson as Monte, a death-row inmate sent into space with a crew of prisoners, including a murderous doctor played by Juliette Binoche. The prisoners dedicate their lives to scientific experiments rather than rotting in cells back on Earth.

It’s established early that Monte and his toddler daughter are the only survivors of the flight after things went terribly wrong. The deterioration of the mission is told in flashback. Mia Goth and Andre Benjamin play two other members of the ill-fated crew.

Everybody is terrific in this movie, which turns out to be one of the darker, more-effective sci-fi offerings in years. The mission’s ultimate goal is to pass through a black hole and see what is on the other side. Even with his crew gone, Monte forges on as his daughter ages along with him in space. It’s all very eerie, but also moving.

Cool trivia note: The baby is played by Scarlett Lindsey, the daughter of a friend of Pattinson, which explains their amazing rapport.

High Life is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

The zombie genre gets the Jim Jarmusch treatment with mild levels of success in The Dead Don’t Die, an often funny, sometimes scary and always amusing horror-comedy effort from the famed director.

Jarmusch has done horror before, most notably with his atmospheric vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive and, some could argue, the disturbing death-meditation Dead Man. His latest effort is as close to full-on satire as the director has ever come: The world is falling apart politically, socially and environmentally, and its inhabitants are too slow and dimwitted to really do anything about it.

Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny play sheriff Cliff and his deputies Ronnie and Mindy in a typical American town called Centerville. The town is severely laid back, with a typical day revolving around when to get coffee and donuts from the cultural hub, the local diner.

Then things go awry: Due to polar fracking, the Earth spins off its access, and the dead begin to rise. The days become longer; the electronic gadgets we rely upon go dead; and people start getting unsolicited neck bites from formerly live neighbors. Some characters, including those played by Murray and Driver, react in a way that is so disorganized and disconnected that they practically deserve to die.

This, perhaps, is a not-so-veiled statement about our current administration’s strange attitude toward global warming. Actually, there’s no doubt: Jarmusch hates Trump, and this is an anti-Trump zombie movie. Steve Buscemi plays a racist resident who dons a red and white MAGA hat, except his actually says “Make America White Again.”

The pacing of this movie is really slow … Jarmusch slow. In fact, the pacing is so slow that the lumbering George Romero-style zombies are almost sprinting compared to what is going on around them. Your ability to like this film depends very much upon your willingness to let the things happening onscreen linger and, in some cases, get dragged out.

The film does contain a moment of genuine terror when a zombie couple takes out two waitresses at the diner. The zombies feast upon the dying with—yes, I’ll reference the zombie master again—Romero-like goriness, right down to intestine-chomping. The moment is ultra-creepy because one of the victims does not die immediately, and she expresses her agony loudly. The zombies are played by Iggy Pop (often a Jarmusch collaborator) and Sara Driver as rock groupies with caffeine addictions. Live flesh is great when it comes to feasting, but what they really need is a good cup of joe, like many among the multitudes currently crowding Starbucks and indie cafes across our great nation.

Murray and Adam Driver are both very funny, with Murray’s Cliff representing the old-school, I’ve-had-enough-of-this-to-the-point-where-I-will-barely-react part of society, and Driver’s Ronnie providing the semi-hipster outlook. It is Ronnie who calmly declares that they are in the midst of an apocalypse while never losing his deadpan face. He’s a lot younger than the equally deadpan Cliff, and will probably catch up to Cliff’s level of disinterest very soon.

Other Jarmusch stalwarts include Tilda Swinton as a samurai-sword-wielding funeral-home director, a role only Swinton could play. Tom Waits (Down by Law) plays the mystic homeless guy commentating on Centerville’s demise, of course. Who else would he play?

I am a big fan of Jarmusch’s work, and even I couldn’t get past the pacing at times. A couple of days later, when I reflected upon the picture, it hit me that I liked the movie a lot more after I saw it than I did while watching it. His films tend to get that sort of delayed reaction out of me.

The Dead Don’t Die opens Friday, June 14, at the Century Theatres and XD at The River (71800 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-836-1940).

Dexter Fletcher, the director who helped take a shit on Freddie Mercury’s legacy with the dumpster fire that was last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody (he finished the job after Bryan Singer was fired), fares much better with Rocketman, this celebration of Elton John.

The movie tells Elton John’s story through musical numbers and fantasy sequences; as it turns out, it’s a good approach. Elton John is played by Taron Egerton (who starred alongside Elton John in the wonderfully weird Kingsman: The Golden Circle), and there will be no lip-synching here, thank you very much: Egerton confidently sings John’s tunes, including “Tiny Dancer,” the title track and, unfortunately, “I’m Still Standing.”

Jamie Bell plays John’s writing partner, Bernie Taupin, and the movie works as a nice testament to their contributions to rock’s legacy. Egerton goes full-blown rock star, as the film features some nice, artistically exaggerated re-creations of key moments in Elton John’s history. The results are a lot of fun, even through some slight miscasting (Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton John’s mom!).

Rocketman is not a perfect movie, but it’s a bold and interesting approach to a rock biopic that has more in common with Across the Universe than Bohemian Rhapsody.

Rocketman is playing at theaters across the valley.

Filmmakers somehow found a way to totally muck up the greatest Godzilla premise ever with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a movie that is all things great and terrible at the same time.

The movie has some terrific monster battles, and the special effects are mind-bogglingly good. Godzilla squares off against legendary foes including the multiheaded Monster Zero and Rodan, while getting some much-needed assistance from the great Mothra. All of these monsters, including the title character, are wonders to behold. As for the online bitching about the movie’s appearance being dark and murky, the darkness was actually fitting, made things scarier and didn’t diminish the effects.

But … and this is a big but … I cannot endorse this movie. The human stuff in between and during the fighting is DREADFUL. Homo sapiens get too much screen time. The writing and staging is so bad that the film gets derailed every time it goes to military types in a war room.

The plot has the world in a state of disarray after the 2014 attacks on San Francisco and Las Vegas depicted in Godzilla. OK, that’s kind of cool. How do we dust ourselves off and find a way to co-exist with the likes of Godzilla and big-monster-moth things after the decimation of the Bay Area? Apparently, according to writer-director Michael Dougherty (Krampus), we deliver inane dialogue very slowly, and inexplicably play with a sonar gadget that calls out to the monsters in a manner that either chills them out or fires them up.

That gadget is created by Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who lost a child in the San Francisco attack and is attempting to talk to the monsters with her daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) while husband/dad, Mark (Kyle Chandler), is off taking pictures on safari. There’s a moment when Mark seems to be sort of getting off while listening on headphones to the sounds of wolves tearing into the flesh of a dead deer. It’s a strange moment; I think he has some issues.

The gadget thing sends out a call that basically kicks off the monster apocalypse, and the action goes from full-on, nicely staged monster battles featuring beautiful close-ups and battered landscapes—to a bunch of lost actors sitting around in a situation room observing and commenting.

Bradley Whitford basically gets the role Jake Johnson had in Jurassic World—he’s the nerdy guy cracking wise from afar while monsters eat people, and military folks scratch their heads. While Johnson had great line deliveries and some funny moments, Whitford looks like the victim of a director who said, “Hey, Bradley, say some funny shit about monsters!” and Whitford had nothing.

Millie Bobby Brown is OK, but there’s not much she can do with material so bad. She has the movie’s dopiest moment: When fleeing Monster Zero as it is destroying Fenway Park, Godzilla comes up behind her; she turns and offers a calm, satisfied smile. There’s no paralyzing fear, and no screaming in terror at being between two massive charging monsters. Instead, there’s a calm, movie-star smile, because Godzilla might be her friend or some shit like that. Give me a break.

Brown has already completed her shots for Godzilla vs. Kong, due out next year, so she’s not escaping this franchise. Dougherty, who messed up this movie, has a resume with some OK low-grade horror films (Krampus, Trick ’r Treat). The next film’s director, Adam Wingard, is also a director of horror films (You’re Next, the awful Blair Witch reboot). Dougherty, who co-wrote this messy movie, helped write the next film as well. These are not good signs.

Perhaps Warner Bros./Legendary should stop putting large blockbusters into the hands of relatively new and mediocre horror-film directors. They got it right with Gareth Edwards on Godzilla (2014). They blew it with Dougherty, and I fear for the future.

Seriously … how is it possible to produce suckage with a great-looking movie featuring Godzilla, Rodan and Monster Zero in it? How does that happen? My summer is ruined, and it isn’t even summer yet.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

I was 18 years old in 1986 when the whole Chernobyl thing went down. If you think the anti-Russian sentiment in the United States is at a fever pitch today, it’s nothing compared to what it was in the mid-1980s—especially when the nightmare occurred.

I confess that my teenage self—worried about my first year in college and the fact that I had to drive a Volkswagen Rabbit through the Adirondacks—didn’t pay enough attention to what was going on in Russia. I knew that there was an accident, and that some radiation escaped. It wasn’t until years later that I started to understand what really happened: The planet was almost irreparably altered.

HBO’s excellent five-episode series about the Chernobyl disaster, which concludes tonight, does a heart-wrenching job of showing the human toll and sacrifice it took to keep Russia and the planet safe. Jared Harris is superb as a scientist sent in to figure the whole mess out, as is Stellan Skarsgard as the government stooge sent along with him. It’s grueling, scary stuff, and it’s educational.

I’m four episodes in, and I’m convinced TV will have a hard time topping this series this year.

Chernobyl is now airing on HBO, and is available on HBO’s streaming services.

Will Smith’s big blue Genie is the surprising highlight of the fair-to-middling Aladdin, the live-action remake of the Disney animated classic.

Smith does just fine in the role the great Robin Williams voiced in 1992, and the character gets fleshed out in a manner that is genuinely moving at times—even if his blueness is perhaps a bit creepy from some angles. (It also looks like he’s pushing a big poop out the top of his head, thanks to that hairstyle.) In fact, if they decided to make a horror spinoff where the blue genie starts biting off heads, that would be kind of awesome. He’s scary already.

Director Guy Ritchie goes the full musical route, and while he has a reasonably talented cast, the whole enterprise feels a bit unnecessary. This is not a bad movie by any means, but it is overlong—and one cast member in particular ultimately brings things down.

Mena Massoud is a halfway decent Aladdin, while Naomi Scott provides a luminous Jasmine. Both do good jobs singing the famous songs, and they certainly look the parts. Their magic carpet ride while belting “A Whole New World” is charming, and they make a cute couple. It’s a shame this is all in the service of something that, no matter how much money is being thrown at the screen, feels hollow.

Beyond the general been-there, done-that vibe, the film’s downfall is Marwan Kenzari being woefully miscast as Jafar. In the animated movie, Jafar was a demonic force. Here, he’s a little whiny guy wearing a goofy hat—and his parrot is nowhere nearly as memorable as the one voiced by Gilbert Gottfried in the original. If Kenzari’s Jafar registered even the slightest level of menace, it might’ve been enough to render Aladdin recommendable. But … man, this guy really stinks up the place. Each time he walks onscreen, it’s like a steel-tipped boot kick to the movie’s crotch.

Nasim Pedrad of Saturday Night Live fame is a welcome presence as Dalla, Jasmine’s handmaiden. She’s good here, and it would be nice to see her score some higher-profile roles, because she hasn’t been doing enough since departing SNL.

Many of the songs from the original make it into the new version, as do a couple of new tunes. Smith puts fun spins on “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” and Scott hits the post on “A Whole New World” and the new “Speechless.” Besides “World” and “Friend,” the music isn’t all that catchy. It wasn’t all that catchy in the original, either.

Disney is remaking its animated classics into live-action films like crazy. Aladdin winds up somewhere near the top of the bottom half. It’s not nearly as good as The Jungle Book or Cinderella, but it’s better than Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. Disney isn’t stopping anytime soon, with The Lion King coming out later this summer and Mulan on the horizon.

So … Aladdin is not very good, but it’s not the travesty it looked like it was going to be. The blue Genie is indeed weird and a little scary, but Smith makes it a fun kind of weird. As for Jafar, he’s Jar Jar Binks bad—the kind of bad you just can’t get around. The film seems to be suggesting a sequel that would most assuredly include Jafar, so recast strategies should be put into play immediately. Recast Jafar! And get Gilbert Gottfried back as the parrot!

At this rate, Disney is going to run out of animated movies to remake somewhere around 2023, at which time it will probably start remaking the remakes. I’m expecting a live-action redo of the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake somewhere around 2025.

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

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein deliver star-making performances in Booksmart as Amy and Molly, two super-smart high school students looking to get crazy on graduation eve after years of hitting the books and missing all of the fun.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is smart and funny; this is a film that feels like a relative of Superbad, which makes sense, considering Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s little sister. (They both have those those wide eyes while dryly delivering wise-ass asides.)

Besides this dynamic duo, the film is blessed with the presence of Skyler Gisondo (of Santa Clarita Diet) as Jared, the super-sweet and dorky rich kid; Jason Sudeikis (Wilde’s longtime partner) as the school principal; and Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s parents. However, the best member of the supporting cast would be Billie Lourd, daughter of Carrie Fisher, as the oddball student who keeps magically showing up at every party Amy and Molly visit.

The film is consistently funny—and just a little dark and nasty, with Wilde and cast navigating nicely from very funny to very awkward. Feldstein has comic chops that rival her brother’s, so here’s hoping this is the start of her headlining career.

Booksmart is playing at theaters across the valley.

Well … this oddity came out of nowhere.

Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island cronies recently dropped The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience on Netflix. This nutty 27-minute “musical poem” chronicles the late ’80s insanity that was the Bash Brothers—the steroid-enriched combo of Oakland Athletics baseball players Jose Canseco (Samberg) and Mark McGwire (Akiva Schaffer).

The short film chronicles their rise and fall, taking a hilariously esoteric deep dive into psyches that were apparently a lot more complicated than their athletic exteriors revealed. The Lonely Island guys grew up in the Bay Area, so this is something that is close to home for them. It’s also an inspired and unexpected choice upon which to base a half-hour music video.

Musical group Haim shows up with Maya Rudolph to do an ass-shaking routine that reminds of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” while Sterling K. Brown makes an appearance as, yes, Sia. This is actually as visually impressive as it is musically, in line with the Lonely Island’s hilarious Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

The highlight actually comes during the credits, when Jorma Taccone shows up as a dorky, singing Joe Montana, another Bay Area sports legend. Popstar didn’t get any traction in theaters (although it deserved it), so maybe the shorter format will catch fire on Netflix, and we will get a bunch of these. That would be nice.

The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is now streaming on Netflix

The gun opera that is the John Wick franchise keeps on rolling with gory gust—and some great dogs to boot—in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum.

When we last saw Keanu Reeves as John Wick, he had gotten kicked out of his assassination group, losing all of the perks. His killing a fellow assassin within the walls of the Continental Hotel means no more room service or dog-sitting. He’s got a multimillion-dollar bounty on his head, and no place to kick his feet up.

John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum picks up right where the last one left off, with a battle-wary Wick running in the streets, putting distance between himself and the hotel, and trying to figure out his next big move. As for the level of action in this chapter, it makes the fun Chapter 2 look like a sleepy intermission.

I’ll just say this right up front: John Wick gets no time for rest here, and he seriously gets his ass kicked while kicking ass. Credit Reeves for playing this part perfectly, on a level where we can believe that this dude, who keeps getting stabbed and shot, can turn on his afterburners and keep shooting people in the face.

Wick basically runs from one action set piece to another, with returning director and former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski making each something to behold. A gun battle inside a weapons museum counts as a franchise highlight, as does Wick’s gunfight atop a motorcycle.

Yes, dogs play a major role in the shenanigans, which makes this dog person very happy. Wick’s travels take him to fellow assassin Sofia (Halle Berry), looking for assistance. Sofia has two German shepherds who get into the action during a gun battle, and they add an interesting element of violence to the proceedings. Stahelski isn’t just a master of human stunts; he’s capable of getting bad-ass performances out of canines, too. Wick’s beautiful pit bull does have a place in the film, so those of you who have missed that pup will be pleased.

As for Berry, she may’ve been missing her calling all these years. She’s beyond awesome in this movie—a veritable action star who actually outshines Reeves during her major battle scene. I’m calling for a Sofia spinoff right now!

As good as Berry is, the best supporting player in the film is Mark Dacascos as Zero, a sushi-chef/assassin who goes up against Wick while dealing with feelings of hero worship for him. He’s the funniest thing in the entire franchise.

Another stop along the way has Reeves sharing screen time with Anjelica Huston as The Director, a stern Russian who talks dirty business while punishing ballerinas. Huston hasn’t been this much fun onscreen in years. Laurence Fishburne returns as the Bowery King, so the coolness of that Matrix connection continues.

Asia Kate Dillon is the film’s weak link as the Adjudicator, a representative of the High Table sent to set matters straight with the Continental, Wick and the Continental’s manager, Winston (an always growly Ian McShane). Dillon is dull, basically killing all the scenes in which the character shows up. There’s just something off in her line deliveries.

As for Parabellum’s place in the series, it’s the best in the franchise after the original. It’s got the largest scope, and Stahelski and Reeves continuously top themselves with each action feat and gun ballet. Stahelski is making a serious run at becoming one of cinema’s best action directors. You really feel every shot, every hit and every fall in this movie. The action scenes have a major clarity to them, with crisp and concise editing that makes it very easy to follow the mayhem. It’s insanely beautiful.

This chapter, like those before it, ends with a big cliffhanger, so it’s a safe bet the story will continue. Like the character himself, this money train won’t be bleeding out anytime soon.

John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum is playing at theaters across the valley.

Mary Harron, director of American Psycho, helms Charlie Says, a film about real-life psycho Charles Manson (Matt Smith) and three female members of his “family”: Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) and Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon).

Harron and longtime screenwriting partner Guinevere Turner try to take an insightful look at the three women during the early portion of their prison sentences, while utilizing flashbacks to show the buildup to the crimes that got them there. Unfortunately, the film makes the mistake of trying to portray the three women as brainwashed victims, with every line delivery accompanied by that patented Manson Family smile.

The film works fairly well when showing life on the ranch with Manson, and the ways in which he manipulated those around him; the brief depiction of the murders is chilling. As for the prison scenes, during which the three women are going through a form of therapy, they alternate between pretty good and very bad.

Harron is a gifted director, and a full-fledged movie about Manson and his followers in her hands might’ve been something fantastic. However, this semi-sympathetic depiction of his “family victims” leaves a slightly bad taste.

Charlie Says is available via online sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.

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