CVIndependent

Wed12132017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Bob Grimm

With the release of the Golden Globe nominations comes the yearly opportunity to talk about the stupid, shitty snubs that make the Globes a joke.

High atop this year’s WTF? list would be the snubbing of one Jake Gyllenhaal for some of his career-best work in Stronger, the story Jeff Bauman. Bauman lost his legs to the asshats who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon—and he managed to get a glimpse of one of the attackers before the explosion.

At the time of the marathon, Bauman was sort-of on hiatus from on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). In an effort to win her back, he promised to show up at the finish line to cheer her on as she completed her great personal journey. What should’ve been a triumphant moment wound up being a terrible tragedy.

Directed by David Gordon Green, the film is a story of strength and love, endurance and determination—and being just plain pissed off about being permanently injured. Gyllenhaal’s warts-and-all depiction of Bauman resonates in a way that feels real. It’s the kind of performance that deserved recognition.

Let’s see what Oscar has to say about this.

Stronger is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the third feature film by writer-director Martin McDonagh.

It’s also his third masterpiece.

Three Billboards also marks another astonishing film achievement for Frances McDormand, who will drill into your chest cavity and do all kinds of crazy shit to your heart as Mildred, a justifiably pissed-off mother who has a few issues with the cops in her town.

It’s been five years since Mildred’s young daughter was raped, killed and burned by unknown murderers. Mildred, who isn’t even close to getting over the tragedy, spies some old, dilapidated billboards on the way home and gets an idea. After meeting with a sloppy advertising agent (Caleb Landry Jones), some guys are commissioned to put alarmingly provocative signs on those billboards.

Those signs call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a well-meaning but emotional man who, for various reasons, is not on his best game. He challenges Mildred, claiming the billboards aren’t fair. Her retort: In the time you took to come down here and piss and moan about the billboards, another girl could’ve been butchered.

There’s no better actress to portray Mildred—with her steadfast, emotionally raw determination—than McDormand. More than two decades ago, McDormand took home the Oscar for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo—playing one of the nicest law-enforcement individuals the movies have ever seen. Mildred is the opposite of Marge: Kindness and hugs and Arby’s aren’t big on her mind. She wants her daughter’s killers brought to justice, and she’ll burn buildings down with people inside them to get the investigation going.

Yet somehow, Mildred is just as likable and worth rooting for as Marge. That’s because McDormand is a fearless master, and she’s a shoo-in for another Oscar nomination—at the least. Mildred says and does things in this movie that will leave your jaw hanging open, and McDormand makes all of these extremes believable and almost reasonable. There’s so much happening behind those piercing eyes. It’s the kind of performance that only comes around once a decade.

What takes this film to masterpiece levels, beyond the technical brilliance that McDonagh always delivers, is that McDormand is joined by a cast that hits every note. Harrelson caps a great year as the lawman. John Hawkes is memorably nasty as Mildred’s abusive ex-husband, while Jones manages many surprises as the billboard man, and Peter Dinklage makes the most of a few scenes as a town local with eyes for Mildred.

Oh, and there’s yet another Oscar-caliber performance from Sam Rockwell (who starred in McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths) as racist, momma’s-boy deputy Dixon. There aren’t too many character actors alive who could make Dixon frightening, sympathetic, funny, disgusting and worthy of redemption all at once. Dixon, the town drunk and racist homophobe who has a thing for throwing people out of windows, undergoes a transformation that is some kind of movie miracle. That’s because Rockwell, like McDormand, is one of the best.

That’s also because McDonagh knows how to write a script that keeps you in it with every line. While the film is, in part, a murder mystery, the crime takes a back seat to watching these folks play off of each other. There are scenes in this movie that will emotionally knock you on the floor. There’s one particular moment that is so heartbreaking, and so shocking, it’s a wonder anybody managed to get it on screen.

The year isn’t over yet, but it’s a fair bet to say this one is going to be topping a lot of award lists, adding to McDormand’s legacy and giving Rockwell the sort of high profile recognition he’s always deserved. As for McDonagh, not many directors have come out of the gate with three masterpieces in a row. He’s in an elite class of filmmakers—and he’s just getting started.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, is playing at theaters across the valley.

Greta Gerwig makes her solo directorial debut with Lady Bird, a semi-autobiographical look at her life growing up in Sacramento—and she immediately establishes herself as a directing force to be reckoned with.

Saoirise Ronan, who should’ve won an Oscar for Brooklyn, will likely get another chance for her turn as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, an artistic Sacramento youth who yearns for the East Coast and some distance from her domineering mom (Laurie Metcalf). This is a coming-of-age story like no other thanks to the insightful writing and brisk directorial style of Gerwig, who makes Lady Bird’s story consistently surprising.

Ronan’s Lady Bird is a rebel with a good heart—a theater geek who stinks at math—but she’s on an emotional rollercoaster. She also gets a lot of laughs, especially in her showdowns with Metcalf, who has never been better.

Lucas Hedges, on a roll after Manchester by the Sea and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is funny and sad as one of Lady Bird’s young love interests, while Odeya Rush is golden as Lady Bird’s best friend, Jenna. Tracy Letts is perfect as the nice dad dealing with warring factions in the household, while Timothée Chalamet (currently racking up awards for Call Me by Your Name) is perhaps the biggest laugh-getter as another love interest, the aloof Kyle.

Lady Bird is a triumph for Ronan and Gerwig, and while it would never happen, I’d love to see a sequel about Lady Bird’s college years.

Lady Bird is showing at theaters across the valley.

There are actors who are difficult to work with … and then there is Jim Carrey.

Carrey took difficulty to otherworldly levels behind the scenes of 1999’s Man on the Moon, the Milos Forman-directed biopic of Andy Kaufman. Carrey, who played Kaufman, decide to go method, and insisted upon remaining in character as Kaufman every second he was on set, or even near the set. The documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, directed by Chris Smith, features an extensive interview with Carrey, along with long-hidden footage of Carrey’s antics during the production.

One of the highlights takes place when Carrey, as Kaufman, spits on wrestler Jerry Lawler. Lawler had a legendary (but staged) feud with Kaufman back in the day, and Carrey tried to build upon that. Carrey also got his ass kicked, which you will see in this movie (along with the aftermath, during which Carrey momentarily insisted that Lawler get fired).

Carrey was incredible in Moon. It was shocking when he didn’t get an Oscar nomination. Now that I’ve seen this movie, I’m not surprised: Word probably got around about what an ass he was on this movie, and people probably boycotted him when it came to voting.

That said, Carrey’s antics made for a good original movie—and this interesting documentary to boot. He’s a true nut.

Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond is currently streaming on Netflix.

In 1843, when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, folks were just starting to get into that thing we call Christmas, with stuff like Christmas trees, gift-giving and Cyber Mondays. (An iPad would cost, like, nothing on Cyber Monday in 1843, because nobody had invented the damn thing yet.)

It was the Dickens novel about a miserable miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, who transforms from evil greed monster to kind philanthropist throughout its five chapters, that would help take the celebration of Christmas to a new level—and the boldly titled The Man Who Invented Christmas spins an entertaining and clever take on how and why Dickens got the idea for the story that would change the world.

Coming off a couple of flops after the success of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is doing clumsy book tours to pay the bills. Desperate for a “hit,” he gets an idea for a Christmas book—one in which a greedy man is haunted by ghosts of the past, present and future. The story is meant to be a cautionary yarn about the evils of selfishness, and perhaps less about the joys of Christmas and redemption. As Dickens gets further into his book, and his own psyche, the themes change toward hope, and his classic is born.

Director Bharat Nalluri, working from a screenplay by Susan Coyne (based on the book by Les Standiford), gets the unique opportunity to tell the making of A Christmas Carol while, in some ways, making yet another version of the famed story itself. The film features Dickens conferring with the fictional characters in his story as he creates them, so we get an Ebenezer Scrooge, this time played by the great Christopher Plummer. It’s no surprise that Plummer is perfect for the role. Essentially playing a voice in Dickens’ head, Plummer gets the chance to offer up his own spin on the great line, “Bah, humbug!” and he looks absolutely smashing in that sleepwear.

While he doesn’t get much screen time (this is, after all, mostly a biographical depiction of Dickens), Plummer instantly joins the League of Great Scrooges. He’s right up there with Alastair Sim, Mr. Magoo and Henry Winkler. (OK, Winkler played someone named Benedict Slade in An American Christmas Carol, but Slade was a thinly veiled Scrooge. Actually, I liked that movie, but it would’ve been better had Winkler portrayed Scrooge as his alter ego, Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, rather than going the old-cranky-guy route. Ron Howard’s Richie Cunningham could’ve been Jacob Marley. OK, I watched too much damned Happy Days when I was a kid.)

Stevens, having a big year with this and his turn in Beauty and the Beast, portrays Dickens as a bit of an eccentric nut. As Dickens concocts the story in his writing room, he throws tantrums and has imaginary conversations with imaginary people. Stevens finds some humor in this, but he doesn’t stay away from the notion that Charles perhaps needed a long metal vacation.

A touching subplot has Dickens dealing with major daddy issues as his penniless father (Jonathan Pryce) comes to town and causes trouble by trying to sell his son’s autograph and unleashing a pet raven in the household. Through flashbacks, we see that Charles’ adoration for his good-natured but scheming father led to a long stretch of sadness when his father went to jail, and he went to an orphanage (themes that obviously played out in other Dickens stories). The film suggests that Dickens’ forgiveness toward his father led to the redemptive turn in A Christmas Carol. I don’t know if that’s based on fact, but I liked it in the movie.

The film’s production values, which look a little drab, keeps it from being great, but the performances help put it over the top.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a different kind of holiday movie. It’s not going to rank up there with Rudolph or Frosty, but for those of you looking for a deeper telling of a great fable, it won’t disappoint.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940); and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees paints a bleak picture of post-World War II Mississippi in Mudbound, a performance powerhouse that showcases the talents of Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke and, most notably, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton).

After the war, a traumatized Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) returns home to stay on a farm with his brother, Henry (Clarke), and Henry’s wife, Laura (Mulligan). Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) also returns to the farm, but while both men were regarded as heroes overseas, their return is fraught with alcohol abuse for Jamie—and rampant racism toward African-American Ronsel.

Henry and Laura have problems of their own as they deal with the troubled Jamie and Henry’s hateful father, Pappy (a sinister Jonathan Banks). This is one of those movies you know won’t end well, and while Rees allows for occasional moments of relief, it is a mostly somber affair with a devastating finish.

Mitchell continues to emerge as one of his generation’s best actors, while Hedlund does perhaps his best work to date. Both actors put full body and soul into their roles and create characters that leave a mark. The always-reliable Mulligan is great as the wife forced to live out her life on a muddy, flooded farm in order to appease her dopey husband. Clarke paints Henry as a man of few commitments and quiet reserve—the kind of guy you can’t depend upon in a fight.

The movie is packed with stellar acting, and Rees does a solid job with the technical elements.

Mudbound is currently streaming on Netflix.

Come on, DC Films! You did so well with Wonder Woman, and Justice League was your chance to really establish your superhero universe!

And you blew it.

Justice League is an expensive mess in which some of our favorite superheroes battle an apocalyptic force, while two seriously different directors, Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, battle with their filmmaking styles.

It’s no big secret that Zack Snyder (who created two execrable duds with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) had to leave deep into production due to family reasons. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) stepped in for post-production and major reshoots. The resulting catastrophe is like a swig of boxed wine that has been left out in the sun for three weeks, chased by a big chug of Sunny Delight. Neither is a taste you want in your face.

The action picks up after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), with Batman (Ben Affleck) still brooding as Gotham is invaded by bug-like alien creatures. It turns out they are the envoys of Steppenwolf, the worst special-effects/CGI bad guy you will see ever in a big-budget blockbuster.

Steppenwolf looks like the late singer of Alice and Chains had sex with a California Raisin, and then the offspring had sex with a Meat Loaf album cover. Finally, the Meat Loaf-album-cover baby had sex with an Atari video game console from the early 1980s that had an E.T. game stuck in it. That ugly-as-shit creature then went for a walk in Hollywood; Zack Snyder crossed its path, and, for some ungodly reason, he put a dopey helmet on it and screamed: “Behold! My next film’s villain!”

Anyway, Steppenwolf comes to Earth looking for the Mother Boxes, the DC Universe’s version of the Marvel Universe’s Infinity Stones. They combine to rule all worlds, or some bullshit like that. Batman thinks this is bad, so he gathers the planet’s superheroes, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg, aka the Worst Superhero Ever (Ray Fisher).

A big piece of the blockbuster puzzle is missing with Superman six feet under, so Batman decides to bring the corpse back to that ship where Lex Luthor made Doomsday out of Michael Shannon. It made no sense in BvS, and it makes no sense now, but, yes, Superman comes back, Jesus-style, and the only thing that looks worse than Steppenwolf in this flick is Henry Cavill’s freaky face. Cavill had a mustache during reshoots that he was contractually obligated to keep for another movie, so they had to digitally remove it in much of his footage. To say that his face looks altered would be an understatement: This is a very handsome man we are talking about, but he looks wonky for much of his screen time, like his face is a high-definition video trying to load on an older cell phone. He looks all smudgy and garbled. It’s not a good look for him.

OK, back to the stupid movie: The Justice League gets together and battles Steppenwolf in a sequence that offers no surprises and features more terrible special effects and editing. It isn’t only Steppenwolf and Henry Cavill who look like shit in this movie; the humans don’t blend well with the CGI, and always look inserted into an unwieldy gigabyte maelstrom. It’s hard on the eyes.

Godot still rocks as Wonder Woman in every moment she’s onscreen, and Miller makes a fun Flash. Affleck seems a bit tired of the Batman role, while Momoa is just a wisecracker as Aquaman, and Fisher is dreary as Cyborg. The Superman parts could’ve been cool, but the uneven face messes things up. It really brings out his teeth in a bad way; they are frighteningly pointy. He looks like a scary Superman vampire.

Whedon was handed a morose mess by Snyder, and Whedon didn’t have enough time and post-production talent to save the enterprise. Based on past work, I’m thinking the few moments in which the film brings a smile have everything to do with Whedon, and nothing to do with Snyder, who needs to move on to other projects.

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

Great actresses do great things in Novitate, a stunner from writer-director Margaret Betts.

Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) joins a convent in the 1960s, right in time for the major policy changes for nuns the Catholic Church made via Vatican II. She’s devoted, but also looking to escape a dreary childhood and her troubled mother (Julianne Nicholson). On her way to becoming a nun, Cathleen and her fellow sisters must contend with the fierce Reverend Mother (a scary Melissa Leo, playing one of the year’s best villains).

Reverend Mother has a few problems with Vatican II; she refuses to adopt some of its more lenient policies, and continues to practice something akin to fraternity hazing. Leo is a coiled snake in this movie, and her outbursts are frightening. The film is a testament to a nun’s faith, because a lot of the girls stick around even though the lady in charge is totally insane.

While Betts does focus upon the hypocrisy of organized religion, she doesn’t shy away from the potential beauty of religion, either. It’s an interesting balancing act she pulls off, with Leo and a very powerful Qualley making it entertaining.

Leo is probably in the running for awards consideration, while Qualley and Nicholson are equally powerful.

Novitate is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Robert Pattinson continues his daring post-Twilight career with his best role yet in Good Time as Connie, a small-time crook who gets his mentally handicapped brother, Nick (Benny Safdie, who co-directed the film with brother Josh), imprisoned on Rikers Island.

The movie is a dark and twisted adventure as Connie tries his darndest to free his brother from prison and take him far away from society. His efforts include pulling the wrong guy (Buddy Duress) out of a hospital; Connie thought the guy was his brother, but he’s actually a messed-up dude who jumped out of a moving car while on acid. He turns out to be an unreliable accomplice as they try to recover some lost drugs, intending to sell them and post bond for Connie’s brother. Things don’t go according to plan.

The film plays as a nice homage to Martin Scorsese without feeling like a rip-off. The Safdie brothers know how to get good laughs out of bad situations, and they’ve caught lightning in a bottle with Pattinson and Duress. They also managed to get Jennifer Jason Leigh on set for some great scenes as Connie’s extremely insecure friend.

While Benny Safdie’s screen time is limited, he portrays someone truly heartbreaking in Nick. It’s the sort of performance that should get him some acting recognition—on top of his fine directorial work.

Good Time is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Last week, I received a review link to Louis C.K.’s new film, I Love You, Daddy, along with a message saying that Louis C.K. was available for interviews. I also got a form that, among other things, asked about my reaction to the movie.

I was a little peeved that my reaction to the film was needed before granting an interview … but that’s no big deal. A lot of media outlets would be interested in talking to C.K.—and, as a long-standing, rabid Louis C.K. fan, I figured the movie would be great, right?

Wrong. This is easily the worst thing C.K. has done since Pootie Tang. Not only is it a bad movie on a purely technical level; its subject matter is, as you may already know, a bit suspect.

For the past couple of years, I’d read about “rumors” of C.K.’s demented sexual proclivities. Unfortunately, this weird-as-all-fuck movie seems to be a sort of strange confession regarding his messed-up mistreatment of female colleagues and fans.

Even worse, I Love You, Daddy, seems to give the finger to people who take issue with artists who do stupid and arguably criminal things—as if those people taking issue are shallow for not separating art from a person’s bad behavior. The film has a creepy, odd vibe to it … and again, it’s just not very good.

After watching the movie, I sent the distributor a note saying I did not like the film, and I withdrew myself from consideration to interview C.K.

A few hours later, The New York Times story about Louis C.K.’s sexual wrongdoing dropped; that was followed shortly thereafter by C.K.’s half-assed apology. That mistreatment of female colleagues and fans has been confirmed, and now nobody will be interviewing Louis C.K. or seeing this shitty movie anytime soon.

C.K. self-funded and directed the movie, so nobody could tell him what he could and could not put into it. Man, does that show. One of those pesky studios would’ve told him the movie looked like crap and featured questionable subjects. He shot it on black-and-white, 35 mm film, quickly and cheaply. It looks washed out and poorly constructed.

This black-and-white “art” film is, in part, an homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, which makes things even more troubling. It features an older director who is notorious for sleeping with underage girls; the character, played by John Malkovich, is clearly modeled after Allen. C.K. plays a famous TV producer who deeply admires the director’s work—but his fandom is called into question when said director takes an interest in his 17-year-old daughter, China, played by Chloe Grace Moretz.

The movie actually features a character (played by Charlie Day) who, at one point, mimics vigorous masturbation while C.K talks to a woman on speaker phone. In other words, this insane movie includes a slapstick depiction of one of the vile things C.K. was accused of doing. That takes balls. Giant, depraved balls.

This was also supposed to be C.K.’s modern statement on feminism, but plays more like straight-up misogyny. It’s sad to see Moretz, Edie Falco and Rose Byrne virtually humiliated. As for Woody Allen, the movie clearly wants people to stop denouncing C.K.’s pervert idol and Blue Jasmine boss.

It was on what was supposed to be the day of the film’s premiere that C.K. wound up issuing a public sort-of apology to the women cited in the Times story. It’s hard to take that apology seriously after seeing the contents of this film, which he was trying to get released up until the moment he issued that statement.

David Bowie made his last album knowing he was going to die, and it was beautiful. C.K. made what might be his last film perhaps knowing he was doomed. Or, horrifyingly, perhaps he made it thinking he was bulletproof. In either case, I Love You, Daddy, is disgusting and stupid, and it will not be playing at a theater near you.

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