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Thu04252019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

Mary Magdalene, the latest take on the title character—who has had widely ranging portrayals in cinema over the years—suggests that Mary (Rooney Mara) was Jesus’ closest disciple, and was by no means a prostitute, effectively declaring Barbara Hershey’s depiction of Mary in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ to be total bullshit.

According to this film from director Garth Davis (Lion), Mary wasn’t just the closest confidant of Jesus, but easily the most boring. Mara’s Mary just skulks about in this movie, arriving late for all the big events, like Jesus tearing up the temple, the Last Supper and the whole Crucifixion. (In a strange way, she reminds of Brian in Monty Python’s Life of Brian; however, she’s not as funny.) While Mara’s Mary is a snooze, she’s excitement personified next to this film’s Jesus, portrayed by the usually reliable Joaquin Phoenix.

In the hands of Phoenix, Jesus becomes a quizzical sort who looks cold all the time, pulling his little shawl/robe shut to avoid chills and coming off as super-depressed. In short, Phoenix is a terrible Jesus … one of the worst ever.

While it’s admirable for Mary Magdalene to be portrayed as more of disciple than a prostitute, this movie makes the whole dying-for-your-sins event a sleepy afterthought. Too bad … I like a good Jesus movie, and this isn’t one of them. It’s not a good movie in general.

Mary Magdalene is now showing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It is also available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

A Hellboy movie without Guillermo del Toro proves to be a very unfortunate thing.

The new Hellboy—the third movie to be based upon the classic Dark Horse comic—isn’t a sequel; it’s a reboot … a cheap, sloppy reboot. David Harbour steps in for Ron Perlman to play the title role, while Neil Marshall (The Descent) haphazardly directs in place of Guillermo del Toro. While Harbour (Stranger Things) is OK, he does little to truly distinguish himself, basically doing some lightweight riffing on a character Perlman established. He’s a lot like Perlman … but he’s not as good as Perlman.

Gone is the richness and depth of Del Toro’s world, replaced by choppy CGI, unimpressive makeup and messy editing. The movie is just one lackluster action sequence after another, strung together by slow dialogue scenes that do nothing to make the film feel coherent.

The movie starts off goofy, with Hellboy in a wrestling match with his former partner-turned-vampire. That sounds stupid, and it is, as the narrative jumps from vampire-slaying to giant-hunting. Yes, Hellboy battles giants, who are represented with the aforementioned choppy CGI. Marshall apparently got the go-ahead to incorporate a lot of gore, and the movie indeed has a lot of blood—to the point where it has a numbing effect.

The main villain here is Nimue, also known as The Blood Queen and played, quite campily, by Milla Jovovich. One of the film’s many flashbacks shows Nimue in a showdown with King Arthur, resulting in her getting her arms and legs cut off. (As I write this, I realize that King Arthur cutting somebody into bits with his sword is very Monty Python and the Holy Grail, something that didn’t dawn on me while I was actually watching the movie. That would probably be because The Holy Grail was classic fun, and Hellboy is a miserable time.)

The film isn’t totally devoid of visual coolness. When Hellboy emerges from his hole with a fire crown and horns, wielding Excalibur, you get a sense of what might have been had Marshall found a consistent tone. But alas, the movie doesn’t know if it’s a horror movie, a comedy or a comic fantasy. As a result, it’s neither funny nor scary.

The film does offer something that I’ve never seen before: a psychic puke-ghost. Ian McShane has endured some embarrassing moments onscreen during his illustrious career, but this movie features what may be the most embarrassing of them all: a scene in which his character’s ghost is vomited out of somebody’s mouth. He has a grotesque body with a fairly normal head—flowing out of a person’s face. McShane is then forced to recite some earnest dialogue, all while appearing as a vomit ghost. It’s amazing, in an incredibly bad way, that puke ghosts made it into the movie. Some ideas need to die in the writer’s room.

The stated budget for this movie was $50 million—low by today’s blockbuster status, and lower than Del Toro’s Hellboy movies. Del Toro wanted to make a third movie, but he left the project due to creative differences. I’m thinking his exit probably had to do with producers being cheap. While Del Toro’s works were masterful pieces of art direction, this Hellboy looks like many other cheaply shot dark-fantasy films.

The final scene of the film seems to be setting the table for a sequel … a sequel that likely will never happen. This is a terribly shlocky restart to a franchise that most assuredly will stall again.

Hellboy is now playing at theaters across the valley.

A film starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly used to be an event. Alas, things have changed … and I found myself—like much of the rest of the world—waiting to see Holmes and Watson on home video, because I wanted to put off what looked like a supreme letdown.

Well, it’s out on home video now … and it’s indeed an extreme letdown.

Ferrell is painfully unfunny as Sherlock Holmes, while Reilly fares a little better as his sidekick, Watson. Ferrell adapts a vocal affectation that more or less guarantees this period-piece comedy will be a total drag; in fact, it’s almost completely devoid of laughter. There are a couple of good jokes involving not-yet-illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin, and a gag involving a poorly placed nest of killer bees got a chortle out of me—but that’s it.

Ferrell can’t get a good movie to save his life right now, and that’s depressing. Green-light that Step Brothers sequel, and get him out of this terrible slump. But, please, for the love of Pete, don’t make a sequel to this one.

Holmes and Watson is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

The original cinematic take on Stephen King’s supposed scariest novel was a camp-horror hoot—a strange mixture of gore and satire that holds up pretty well today. The new take on Pet Sematary offers more of a straightforward approach to King’s story about humans who can’t deal with death, especially when it comes to pets and family members.

Jason Clarke steps in as Louis Creed, big-city doctor moving to the country, where his wonderful new house is unfortunately bordered by a pet cemetery/Indian burial ground in the back, and a road full of speeding trucks in the front. The death of the family cat leads to an ill-advised burial in the cemetery … which leads to a zombie return of the beloved cat. The cat is followed by a family member, and King fans will be surprised to see who that family member is (as long as you haven’t seen the commercials).

This remake lacks the sense of humor that made the original twisted in a solid, King sort of way. The behavior of everybody in this movie is so stupid that when things are played straight, the story comes off as moronic rather than scary.

Jete Laurence is very good as the young daughter, and John Lithgow is OK with a more serious take on neighbor Jud (played by the late, great Fred Gwynne in the original). The movie drifts away from the original book too much in the end; again, it could’ve used a few more sick laughs.

It’s admirable that the filmmakers were shooting for something other than a note-by-note remake of the original—but by going off-book too much, they lost some of the cruel sting of King’s intentions.

Pet Sematary is playing at theaters across the valley.

Clint Eastwood, approaching 90, directs and stars in The Mule, a messy movie done in by cutesy racism.

Eastwood plays Earle, a horticulturalist and crappy family man who loses his business when people figure out they can buy flowers on the internet. He winds up running drugs in his truck for a Mexican cartel—although he does a few runs before he actually learns what his cargo is. He takes the drug money and tries to resurrect some local businesses and his family life before it all starts to fall apart.

Eastwood plays the character as if his racist Gran Torino character survived, mellowed out a bit and became a drug mule. There are moments in the movie filled with racism which Eastwood strains to make funny—but they fall flat and leave a bad taste.

Bradley Cooper has a smallish part as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, and he’s easily the best thing about the movie.

The Mule is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

The decline of Tim Burton continues with Dumbo, his remake of the classic animated movie that amounts to a big zero—for kids and adults alike.

The original Dumbo clocked in at just a little more than an hour, while this one lasts for nearly two hours … and it feels like about 40. Yes, the running time has been padded, but not with anything beneficial. A bunch of unnecessary subplots and added characters take away time from the title character, an admittedly cute CGI achievement.

There are no talking animals in this movie, so remove Timothy the mouse, the singing crows, and the lullaby from the mama elephant off your list of expectations. The mouse (who makes a brief appearance, in a cage and wearing a hat) is replaced by the requisite precocious children, one of them played by Thandie Newton’s daughter. Sorry Thandie Newton’s daughter, but you can’t act, and you should either improve or consider another profession that requires you not to act.

Colin Farrell appears as Holt, the precocious children’s dad, back from World War I with one arm; his wife died of the flu while traveling with the circus. The circus is led by Max Medici (a blustery Danny DeVito), who has purchased a cheap, pregnant elephant. He wants Holt to be the keeper of his elephants, a demotion from his previous gig as a circus cowboy. Farrell, like most of the humans in this movie, seems lost.

V.A. Vandevere (played by Michael Keaton) is the villain of the film; he purchases Dumbo and plans to make him a main attraction at his Dreamland, which has a strong resemblance to Disneyland. So, in a way, Vandevere is modeled after Walt Disney, and is portrayed as an evil megalomaniac. Yes, Burton gets away with indirectly portraying Walt Disney as a greedy monster. I’m not saying this is inaccurate, but it’s a little odd to see in an actual Disney movie.

As for Keaton, he’s at his sneering worst in his movie, as if he was just put in front of the camera and told to act persnickety. It’s a shame, because seeing the man who was Batman in a movie by the guy who directed Batman could have been fun. Alas, it is not.

In the original, Dumbo flew in only a couple of scenes, for just a few seconds. Here, he has multiple flying scenes, which lessens the magic of the moments. Regrettably, the scene in the original in which Dumbo gets wasted and sees pink elephants is replaced by a lame bubble show—a dull homage to the original.

As much as I liked the original, I’ve always taken issue with the notion that anybody would give Dumbo a bunch of shit for having big ears. All elephants have big ears, do they not? The premise worked in a one-hour cartoon for kids, but it falls flat in a big-budget movie with real people walking around. The morality lesson at the core just doesn’t ring true. It feels corny.

Burton used to churn out one classic after another. However, his last great movie was 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and his career was severely tainted by his other Disney live-action reboot, Alice in Wonderland. Dumbo is actually worse than that Alice mess—proof that Burton needs to get far away from the mouse and closer to the weirdos who inspired the first half of his career. Jesus, make another Pee Wee movie before you deface any further Disney properties.

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

Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson star in Netflix film The Highwaymen as Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, two former Texas marshals who come out of retirement to help hunt the infamous Bonnie and Clyde.

John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) directs from a script by John Fusco that’s a road movie, more or less, as Hamer and Gault deal with each other’s aging foibles while they hunt down two of the most notorious criminals in American history. As road movies go, it’s pretty good, with Costner playing the crustier guy to Harrelson’s quirkier guy.

The movie stands as a decent companion piece to the ’67 Arthur Penn classic Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. In fact, I watched that one directly after this, and they fit together quite nicely.

Bonnie and Clyde make brief but memorable appearances here, with Costner and Harrelson getting the vast majority of screen time.

At the time of the hunt, the FBI and many lawmen were trying to find Bonnie and Clyde, without success. Hamer and Gault make for an interesting story about how sometimes, you just need to go old school.

The Highwaymen is now streaming on Netflix.

Oh, those evil doppelgängers, and their wonderful place in horror lore. See: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twin Peaks, The Thing—and now Jordan Peele’s extremely creepy Get Out follow-up, Us.

I ask you: What could be creepier than your double trying to slash your neck? Peele knows that it’s the ultimate nightmare—and Us plays upon it with chilling glee.

The film starts with a quote about America having many miles of tunnels underneath its surface; there’s then a quick flashback shot of a videotape of 1984 sci-fi film C.H.U.D. next to a VCR. A TV plays an advertisement for Hands Across America, and you already have all sorts of subtext before anything even really happens.

With a series in which a young girl (Madison Curry) in the same 1980s flashback drifts away from her father at a beach amusement park and finds herself in a darkened hall of mirrors, Peele immediately makes it clear that he’s not playing around with this movie: Prepared to be scared, disturbed and uncomfortable in a good way.

The film then jumps to the present day, where Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) are taking their children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), to the beach. It’s the same beach we saw in the flashback—and much to her chagrin, Adelaide was that young girl who ventured into that hall of mirrors. She’s not happy about revisiting the Santa Cruz pier, but the husband and kids really want to, so she takes one for the team.

The family excursion quickly becomes the worst vacation ever, as another family shows up, at night, standing in their driveway. A quick examination of the intruders reveals what the commercials for this movie have already told you: The family in the driveway is a mirror image of the stunned family inside the house. However, they aren’t coming over to borrow the lawn mower. They intend to kill everybody.

Once again, this vacation sucks.

Us has a larger scope than I was expecting; it qualifies as one of the better apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen. There’s no question that writer-director Peele has been gobbling up zombie, slasher and isolation movies his entire life, and their influences play a significant part in his vision. The movie is a mind-bender, but it’s also an efficient, bare-knuckle horror-thriller. In short, it’s the whole package as far as horror movies go.

Nyong’o, whose doppelgänger’s name is Red, gets a chance to play two meaty roles here—and she’s all over them. While Adelaide is a strong-willed mom for whom we can’t help but cheer, Red is a croaky monster (the only doppelganger that speaks) who comes with an unexpected level of pathetic sadness. She reveals plenty about why she and her evil-twin pals are doing what they do.

Peele fans know that the man—on top of being able to scare the piss out of you—can make you laugh as well. Us is often as funny as it is scary. Duke is a crack-up as the dad who can’t quite get it right while he’s trying to protect his family. In a masterstroke of casting, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! scores as Gabe’s smug friend. He’s the wiseass husband of Kitty (Elisabeth Moss). Moss does things in this movie that will always qualify as some of her best work.

When asked who they are, Red the doppelgänger leader replies: “We are Americans.” Us might be scary and funny, but it is also an unforgiving condemnation of American missteps, past and present. The movie is a lot of fun, but it’s also heavy.

Peele has a revamp of The Twilight Zone coming to CBS All Access soon, and Us plays like a nice primer for more twisty mischief to come. As for his movies, Peele is on one hell of a roll.

Us is playing at theaters across the valley.

Jeff Tremaine, director of the Jackass films, tries to deliver an actual narrative movie—and bombs miserably with The Dirt, a lame Netflix biopic on Mötley Crüe.

Based on the book that was written by members of the band, the film covers Mötley Crüe from its formation … and makes a mess of the whole thing. For starters, Tommy Lee lookalike Machine Gun Kelly delivers a bad performance as the iconic drummer, making him into more of a cartoon than he already is.

Daniel Webber is an annoying prick as lead singer Vince Neil … but Neil is an annoying prick in real life, too, so I guess he gets a pass. Douglas Booth renders bassist Nikki Sixx boring, while Iwan Rheon is the closest thing to any fun as old, grumpy guitarist Mick Mars.

I’ll confess: I’ve never liked the band. I find the music amateurish and shitty, so it would be difficult for me to like any film about Mötley Crüe. However, I know how to evaluate movies—and we are talking some bad acting here, and the film offers nothing revelatory whatsoever about the group. (They had groupies; they did drugs, blah, blah, blah.) I never thought I’d see a rock biopic that annoyed me more than Bohemian Rhapsody, but here you go.

The Dirt is now streaming on Netflix.

If you are looking for a good, standard action-thriller to put into your Netflix queue, Triple Frontier is a safe bet. Maybe it’s too safe, in fact, but regardless, after a one-week theatrical release, the movie is now available for streaming.

The latest from the streaming giant sends the likes of Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal and Charlie Hunnam into the jungle to rob a South American drug lord’s house of millions of dollars.

Former special-forces operative Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Isaac) has become bored to death as a military adviser to police making drug busts. During a particularly bloody mission, he overhears a captured dealer divulge the location of a drug lord’s personal home, where he keeps all of his money. Pope gets to thinking and then calls upon some of his former Special Ops buds to pay the kingpin a house call and relieve him of some of his dirty money. The catch: The mission will be off the books, of course, and totally illegal.

After years of military service with nothing to show for it, Pope and his buddies Redfly (Affleck), Ironhead (Hunnam), Ben (Hedlund) and Catfish (Pascal) are looking for a little payback. Tom “Redfly” Davis is the most reluctant at first, but a divorce and child-support payments prompt him to eventually go all-in.

The first stage of the mission has the men attempting what is supposed to be a quick, easy theft of the money while most of the family is at church, and the drug lord is left behind. This gives director J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All Is Lost) an opportunity to present an effectively chilling heist inside a jungle mansion. Of course, things don’t exactly go according to plan.

The next stage has the boys getting into some skirmishes in the jungle and in a small village; again, things aren’t going as easily as Pope proposed in his initial plans. The third stage has the men moving hundreds of pounds of money toward and eventually through the Andes—first on mules and then on their backs, as they try their darndest to salvage the mission’s booty.

All three stages are well-done, although there are not many surprises. Triple Frontier doesn’t rack up points for originality, but it does score with the casting, with all five main leads making solid contributions. They are all good enough to distract you from the fact that the movie itself is almost completely devoid of originality.

That’s OK. Sometimes a great cast and some decent firefights are all you need to quench your action-thriller thirst; in that sense, Triple Frontier hits the marks.

Also, it’s fun to watch this movie if you pretend that Affleck’s character is actually a retired Batman who has come upon hard financial times and is forced to sell condos for a living. I admit that this notion was playing in my head, especially in the moments when Redfly (That could be a bat’s nickname!) gets all dark and brooding.

Of the performances, Isaac’s is the most memorable—no big surprise, considering he’s easily the best actor in the bunch. Pascal is good as the down-on-his-luck pilot who needs some scratch to offset the legal cost of his latest blunder. Hedlund offers some decent comic relief as the angriest and most impatient of the group.

The movie does boast one sequence—a helicopter flight over mountains that is in danger of crashing due the large quantity of cash dangling from its bottom—that is a truly original moment. Otherwise, Triple Frontier is the sort of film like the ones Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger used to turn out. While that’s not high praise, it’s hardly a condemnation. There’s a time and a place for a good junk-food movie—and Netflix knows it.

Triple Frontier is now streaming on Netflix.

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