CVIndependent

Sat12072019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

After a lot of publicity surrounding the digital de-aging of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman has arrived on Netflix (it remains on some local movie screens, too), and it’s a very good offering from the auteur. It has a few problems, but the opportunity to see De Niro, Pacino and Joe Pesci in a movie together under the Great One’s tutelage more than overrides the shortfalls.

The film is based on a book about Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro) called I Heard You Paint Houses, which is actually the name of the film in the opening credits. Sheeran was a labor-union official and occasional hitman who had ties to Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). The film, like the book, claims that he was the actual triggerman in the assassination of Hoffa.

The film covers a lengthy time span: We see Sheeran from his 30s up until shortly before his death in his 80s. He’s played by De Niro throughout—and the much-ballyhooed digital de-aging is mostly a bust. There are moments when De Niro looks perhaps a tad younger than 76, his actual age (he might pass for 58), but it always looks like bad makeup, dye jobs and funky lighting rather than high-tech effects at work. Plus, these digitally enhanced, oddly smooth faces have old voices, and are on bodies with stiff postures.

Distracting effects aside, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci are amazing, no matter what age they are depicting. Scorsese has made a nice companion piece to his gangster epic Goodfellas (I consider Casino one of his few missteps); this is an ugly depiction of the loneliness and alienation that results from things like shooting your friends in the head.

Goodfellas had a rather likable, and unintentionally funny, antihero in Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, but none of the main guys in this movie are likable. Sheeran, in particular, is terrible; De Niro depicts the guy as a meathead, a lackey who takes orders from the likes of Pesci’s Russell Bufalino and Pacino’s Hoffa. Sheeran is quietly despicable and evil at his core.

Pacino gives the film a little fun as a blustering, ice-cream-obsessed Hoffa. He’s also the angriest guy in the movie, with Pacino sinking his teeth into many opportunities to go from zero to 100 in mere seconds. Pacino shares a couple of scenes with Stephen Graham as Anthony Provenzano, one of the men suspected of participating in Hoffa’s eventual disappearance in 1975. Pacino and Graham square off in a way that goes right into the “Best Pacino Moments” time capsule.

The film has an epic scope; it’s 3 1/2 hours long, so I suspect there will be a lot of pausing for bathroom and snack breaks due to its presence on Netflix, and that’s too bad. I think Scorsese should’ve put an intermission in the middle, perhaps choosing a preferred moment for the viewer to gather themselves up for the film’s great finale.

Seeing De Niro and Pesci sharing scenes again—speaking Italian and dipping bread in wine—is a holiday season cinematic gift like no other. This is De Niro’s best work in years, and Pesci gets a chance to play a subdued role in a Scorsese flick, which pays major dividends. He depicts Bufalino as a quiet, polite and extremely dangerous man, and it’s mesmerizing.

With the decade coming to a close, The Wolf of Wall Street remains Scorsese’s best effort of the 2010s—but that’s more high praise for Wolf than a put-down of The Irishman, which is a fine film, even if it comes up short of being a masterpiece. If this is Scorsese and De Niro’s final film together, they are going out on a high note.

The Irishman is now streaming on Netflix. It’s also playing at Mary Pickford Is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Queen and Slim depicts the worst Tinder date … pretty much ever.

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith star as the title characters, two young people who meet in a diner for a mediocre online date. On their way home, they are pulled over by a cop who racially profiles them—and bad things happen. Queen and Slim go on the run, become social-media celebrities, and yes, start liking each other a whole lot more.

Director Melina Matsoukas’ movie isn’t very original, but the atmospherics are solid, and the performances truly drive the film. Turner-Smith is terrific as a lawyer who finds herself on the wrong side of the law, while Kaluuya brings a sweet sadness to the teetotaling Slim. The film deals bluntly with its subject of police brutality, with both good and bad cops present. There’s no question why this film is being called the “black Bonnie and Clyde,” in that the movie follows many of the same beats as the 1960s classic.

Queen and Slim stands as a decent statement on current civil rights issues, and it’s a nice step forward for Matsoukas as a director.

Queen and Slim is playing at theaters across the valley.

Director Rian Johnson, maker of the divisive Star Wars: Episode VII—The Last Jedi, and also the brilliant Looper, takes a crack at the whodunnit genre—and comes up aces.

Daniel Craig stars as private-investigator Benoit Blanc, mysteriously hired by somebody in a rich family after the strange “suicide” death of their patriarch, mystery-author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, still going strong). There’s something fishy about his death, and his personal nurse, Marta (the awesome Ana de Armas), knows something the rest of the family doesn’t. What transpires is a solid mystery with a fun set of characters featuring a stellar cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield and Chris Evans. Everybody has a blast, as does the audience, as Johnson takes the genre and twists it into an entertaining pretzel.

Craig is especially good in a role that allows him to show his comic side, with Shannon and Johnson impressive as a couple of paranoiacs. Above all, the film gives the talented Armas a chance to really shine.

Knives Out is playing at theaters across the valley.

One man puts it all on the line to expose the CIA’s torture tactics post-Sept. 11 in The Report, a film—based on real life—from writer-director Scott Z. Burns.

Adam Driver acts his heart out as Daniel Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer tasked by, among others, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (a droll Annette Bening) to get to the truth about the CIA’s use of extreme interrogation tactics, mainly waterboarding, on suspected terrorist prisoners. Jones (a real guy) basically proved the U.S. was breaking international law, and the film shows how high members of the government and the CIA tried to prevent him from exposing this fact.

While the movie is a decent history lesson, and Driver is good, the film is a bit drab and unintentionally funny at times. Burns doesn’t quite have a grasp on the material here, and the resulting movie should be far more shocking and disarming than it actually is.

The Report is available on Amazon Prime.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, based on the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, is a beautiful film. It’s whimsical, sweet, complicated and full of warmth—just like that polite guy who used to put on his cardigan for children for many years on PBS.

Who plays Fred “Mister Rogers” Rogers in this movie? Why, Tom Hanks, of course. You don’t get more perfect casting than the world’s most likable actor playing one of history’s most likable guys. The recent reveal that Hanks is an actual sixth cousin of Rogers is no surprise.

Hanks plays Rogers in an honorable way. He doesn’t impersonate the man so much as adapt some of his mannerisms, his winning smile and that slow, concerned cadence in his voice. The performance stands as a terrific homage to a wonderful person.

Actually, Fred Rogers is a supporting player (albeit a mighty important and present one) in this heartfelt movie from director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?). The main protagonist is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys of The Americans), a troubled journalist (loosely based on Junod) who grumbles upon getting an assignment to do a profile on the PBS icon—the guy with a “hokey” TV show—for Esquire.

The two at first talk on the phone, but Lloyd eventually journeys to WQED in Pittsburgh, home of the beloved TV show, to see the master in action. Rogers instantly starts interviewing the journalist as much as the journalist is interviewing him, and Lloyd bristles at first. But over the course of the film, Rogers and Lloyd become friends, and Rogers helps Lloyd in his dealings with a dying father (an excellent Chris Cooper); his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson of This Is Us); and his newborn son.

Heller brilliantly frames her film as an episode of the TV show, starting with Hanks delivering the famous welcome song, and then introducing Lloyd Vogel as a friend who needs help. As the characters travel to different cities, those cities are depicted like the train sets that had a presence throughout the TV show. It truly does give one the sense that an episode of Neighborhood is playing out.

Much of the film is indeed fiction; for starters, there is no evidence of the father-son relationship at the center of this film in Tom Junod’s original article, “Can You Say … Hero?” Fictional or not, the handling of the father-son relationship is heart-wrenchingly good, and Junod has acknowledged that the friendship Heller displays in her movie is much like the one he had with Rogers.

I have a new appreciation for Fred Rogers as an adult. He always weirded me out when I was a kid; I was more interested in being entertained by The Electric Company and Sesame Street than by the guy with the sweater. Still, I did watch a lot of his shows before and after my favorites. In retrospect, I realize that Mister Rogers taught me more about life and my fellow human beings than any of those other children’s shows ever did. There was a warmth to the show—a warmth that made a bullied, antisocial younger kid such as me a little uncomfortable, just like Lloyd Vogel in this movie. As I grew older, I lightened up a bit … just like Lloyd Vogel in this movie.

I think a lot of people will feel similarly after seeing this movie. It’s going to open up heads and hearts, and perhaps even make you cry a bit. It’s going to make you love Tom Hanks even more than you do now, if that’s possible. And it’s going to fortify your precious remembrance of Fred Rogers—the sweet guy in the sweater who talked right at you from the TV screen, be it with his haggard puppets or ever-present smile.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is now playing at theaters across the valley.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of this year’s better directorial debuts. Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz deliver a real winner with a terrific cast. It’s a strange and funny Southern odyssey with a whole lot of peanut butter, moonshine, epiphanies and—last but not least—wrestling.

Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, is basically a prisoner in a retirement home, abandoned by his family. Zak has aspirations to be a wrestler—and he breaks out one night on his quest, wearing nothing but underwear. He comes across Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a troubled but goodhearted fisherman who creates a situation for himself after which he must hit the road. The two form a bond and start heading south toward Florida, where Zak’s wrestling school awaits.

LaBeouf, who continues to shine after his career hit a bump, is at his best here opposite Gottsagen, an actor who actually has Down syndrome—and mighty good comic timing. They make a great pair before becoming a great trio when Eleanor (Dakota Johnson, doing a lot to make us forgive the whole Fifty Shades thing), Zak’s caretaker, hunts them down. She takes pity (well, Zak throws her keys in the ocean) and eventually boards the raft toward the wrestling school. It all comes to a wonderfully weird conclusion in what amounts to a great adventure.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is now available via online sources.

For those of you who love cars, but are getting tired of the Fast and Furious franchise’s “vroom-vroom” formula, Ford v Ferrari will be a welcome ode to automobiles going very fast.

It’s the 1960s, and Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) has had it up to here with Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) and his fast, flashy cars. He and cronies such as Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) are cranky, and they want to send a message to the world that Ford isn’t just about family cars. They also want to win races and appeal to the younger, Baby Boomer demographic with Mustangs and the like.

Enter Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), a race car driver who, after a heart condition benches him, becomes a designer and salesman. Ford hires Shelby to design a car that can beat Ferrari in races—primarily the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race

It’s a tall order, and it calls for a crazy guy behind the wheel calling the shots. That guy is Ken Miles (Christian Bale), an English-born rule-breaker who can drive a car and instantly know what can be fixed on it to make the thing go faster. His lack of convention causes Ford to bristle; Shelby gets in the middle; and we have ourselves a gripping tale about racing technology, volatile friendships and corporate clashes.

If you are looking for glorious depictions of high-stakes auto racing, you will not be disappointed: Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) films Ford v Ferrari in such a way that you feel every gear shift, hairpin turn and moment when a car could skid off the tracks and cause grave injury. In this sense, the movie tops the auto-movie genre.

If you are looking for powerhouse acting, you will not be let down: Damon and Bale are otherworldly good as two longtime pals who have no problem with occasionally punching each other in the face, yet always having each other’s backs. Letts and Bernthal do well at showing the corporate side of things, while Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe are good as Miles’ wife and kid. Some of the family stuff gets a little clichéd, but the performers, especially the amazing Jupe, elevate the material.

There’s a lot of car talk, and credit goes to writers Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller for a script that makes the audience feel like it is learning without getting bored or overwhelmed. I walked out of this movie knowing a little more about hot brakes and the ways in which they can kill a driver’s chances to win a race. Just consider yourself warned: The class is long, clocking in at just more than 2 1/2 hours.

This one is going to be in awards contention for sound, cinematography and art direction, as well as the acting categories. There have been previous car-racing movies, but this one puts you in the driver’s seat like none before. If you’ve had the distinct pleasure (or terror, given one’s outlook) of being in a race car at racing speeds, you will know that Mangold and his crew get the sensations right.

The final sequence, involving the 24 Hour Le Mans, is a masterclass on how to make a racing movie right: It’s a superbly conducted balance of the technical and the dramatic. Damon and Bale are giving DiCaprio and Pitt of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a run for the money in the year’s best-acting-duo department.

Ford v Ferrari feels real, authentic and well-researched. It’s a movie that will please race-car fans—and entertain those who could care less about racing cars. It also makes Vin Diesel look like a total poseur.

Ford v Ferrari is playing at theaters across the valley.

While Disney is cooling off on big-screen Star Wars plans after the upcoming Rise of Skywalker, the mega-company’s new streaming service is bringing the Star Wars goodness with a promised multitude of TV shows—the first of which is The Mandalorian.

Ewan McGregor will reprise his Obi-Wan role for an upcoming series—but we have to wait a little longer for that. In the meantime, we get this gem about a bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) in Boba Fett-type armor, set a few decades after the events of Return of the Jedi.

Creator and showrunner Jon Favreau knows what Star Wars geeks want to see. The first two episodes bring lots of sand-planet goodness, with references to everything from Salacious Crumb to … well, I don’t want to give anything else away.

Let this review also stand as a ringing endorsement for the streaming service itself. It’s a treasure trove for lovers of Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and even National Geographic. Netflix has got themselves some serious competition.

The Mandalorian is now streaming on Disney+.

Bill Skarsgård gets perhaps his best showcase yet—outside of his Pennywise makeup, that is—in Villains as Mickey, a small-time crook who robs grocery stores with Jules (Maika Monroe).

When his car runs out of gas minutes after a heist, they wind up in the house of George and Gloria (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick), who seem stuck in the 1950s, judging by their TV set. They also seem to be psychos, thanks to a secret in their basement. Mickey and Jules try to work their way out of the predicament, one that eventually involves Mickey strapped to a bed while Gloria does an erotic dance for him.

The film is strange, mostly in a good way; it’s oddly directed and written by the team of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. Monroe, who is quickly becoming one of the more reliable cult-film actresses in the business, is great as Jules, who learns a few life lessons while dodging bullets.

Skarsgård has a great hyper energy and delivers the film’s best work as a lovable dummy. Donovan and Sedgwick are wonderfully creepy as the married couple who have a strange interpretation of what “family” is supposed to mean.

Villains is now streaming on Fandango Now.

Stephen King fans know he hated Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for trivializing Jack Torrance’s alcoholism, and improvising on the evil powers of The Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep, King’s sequel to The Shining, seems to exist, in part, to right some of the wrongs King saw in Kubrick’s movie.

Unfortunately, director Mike Flanagan, the man behind the excellent and creepy Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, made the decision to incorporate Kubrick’s film into his own cinematic adaptation of Doctor Sleep. The results are a mixed bag of genuinely scary moments and passages that make the film too dependent on the glory of Kubrick. Simply put: It’s not a good idea to try to re-create a Kubrick moment without Kubrick’s involvement.

The film starts in 1980, with Danny Torrance riding around the Kubrickian Overlook on a big wheel—and making that dreaded stop at Room 237, where that old lady stayed in the bathtub way too long. The film then jumps ahead to Dan as an adult, played by Ewan McGregor. Dan, like his daddy before him, drinks a lot. He also still has discussions with the now-dead Hallorann (played by Carl Lumbly here). Dan not only still “shines” (communicates telepathically); he also talks to dead people.

The monsters in this movie would be The True Knot, a band of gypsies who look like they are killing time between Burning Man and a Phish concert. Their thing is to hunt down children who can shine, like Danny Torrance did in the original Shining. When they find them, they murder them and eat their essence, which leaves the body as steam. In other words … they are basically vaping not-quite-immortal vampires.

The Knots are led by Rose the Hat (a spooky Rebecca Ferguson), named so because, well, she wears a hat. Rose is the one who rations out the steam for her Knot crew, which they keep in thermoses. This element of the film, along with Ferguson’s disturbing performance, gives Doctor Sleep some memorably scary moments. A sequence in which a young baseball player (Jacob Tremblay, making the most of a few screen minutes) encounters the Knots is as harrowing as anything you’ll see in a movie this year.

In some ways (which I won’t give away), King gets a chance for some do-overs. Some of the scenes and themes in Doctor Sleep reference parts of King’s original novel, as well as the sequel book. King has long bemoaned the ending of the Kubrick’s film, and I can see why he might like the Doctor Sleep conclusion.

Unfortunately, this movie was better when it wasn’t hanging around the Overlook Hotel. The moments in the Overlook, although visually impressive, feel like little more than a stunt, because there’s no real viable reason for the protagonists to be running around in Kubrick’s nightmare. Doctor Sleep works fine when it’s about a nasty band of soul-suckers messing with the kids who have special powers. It’s a confused mess when it tries to do Kubrick. It’s as if this film is trying to provide further relevance and depth to the ghosts and deranged characters who haunted Kubrick’s Overlook—which is simply not necessary. What Kubrick did doesn’t need to be monkeyed with, yet that’s exactly what Doctor Sleep does, especially in the finale. There’s a sequence near the end that is supposed to be the scary payoff, but instead, it led me to unintentional laughs.

McGregor is good in the central role, and Ferguson is fine as the villain. Kyliegh Curran is great as Abra, a young girl who partners with Dan to battle Rose.

Flanagan could’ve cut out much of his expensive Overlook finale—it runs longer than 2 1/2 hours—and he probably would’ve had a better, more cohesive film. Instead, Doctor Sleep winds up being an elaborate imitation of—and a strange sort of King apology for—a classic Kubrick film.

Doctor Sleep is now playing at theaters across the valley.

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