CVIndependent

Thu02222018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Bob Grimm

Selecting Ryan Coogler to helm Black Panther is a major triumph: His entry into the Marvel universe is a majestic, full-bodied, exhilarating treatment of the African-king title character (Chadwick Boseman) with the crazy-cool suit. Marvel has yet another big success with a grand future.

Coogler has three feature films to his credit now—one masterpiece (Fruitvale Station) and two very good movies (Black Panther and Creed). He’s officially one of the best directors currently calling the shots. This is also his third collaboration with actor Michael B. Jordan, who brings a fleshed-out, complicated villain to the screen in Erik Killmonger. Man, you need to be bad with that last name.

The pre-opening-credit scenes involves Black Panther’s dad and predecessor having a confrontation in 1992, in Oakland, Calif. A major event takes place as some kids playing basketball look on. It turns out to be one of the more brilliant and heart-wrenching setups for a Marvel-movie character yet.

The action cuts to present day, where Black Panther/T’Challa is dealing with the death of his father due to an event that took place in Captain America: Civil War. (The producers and screenwriters linked these films together very well.) He’s set to become king, but must pass through a ritual with some risk involved. He overcomes the obstacles, gets his throne and prepares for his rule. However, his kingdom doesn’t get a moment to breathe before trouble ensues.

Elsewhere, Killmonger has come across an ancient weapon forged in Wakanda (the Black Panther’s homeland), made from vibranium, a precious resource that fuels much of Wakanda’s advanced technology, including the Black Panther suits. With the help of Wakanda enemy Klaue (Andy Serkis, acting with his real face as opposed to a motion capture suit), Killmonger obtains the weapon, threatening world stability.

The story is told with a stunning level of social relevance for a superhero film, especially when it comes to Killmonger’s motives. He’s not just some guy looking to enrich himself for selfish purposes; he’s got some big reasons for having gone bad, and they make him a far more sympathetic character than, say, Loki from Thor.

As good as Boseman is, and he’s really good, Black Panther is a big success thanks very much to the cast around him. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays the possible love interest in Nakia, getting her finest post-Oscar role yet. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira makes a confident graduation to big-screen action hero, while Letitia Wright gets a lot of laughs as T’Challa’s mischievous and extremely smart sister, Shuri.

There are so many great performers in this movie that there isn’t enough room here to give them all praise, but here are a few more: Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all play formidable roles. It’s early in the year, but this will surely stand as one of 2018’s best ensemble casts.

Coogler proves he can handle a big-action blockbuster. His action scenes mostly snap with precise energy and efficiency, but some of them are a bit jumbled and hard to follow due to low light or ill-advised camera angles. I saw the film in IMAX 2-D, so perhaps some of what I was seeing played better in 3-D. There was nothing too sloppy, but some moments were not as tight as the rest of the film.

Black Panther is a superhero saga rich with culture and gravitas, and yet it does not skimp on the good humor and action thrills we’ve come to expect from Marvel. DC’s recent offerings (Justice League, Suicide Squad) make everyone involved with them look like goofballs in comparison (with Wonder Woman being the lone recent exception). Black Panther and Marvel show us that big-screen superhero entertainment can be about much more than suits and explosions.

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

Based on a bizarre graphic novel by Derf Backderf (a former Independent contributor via his late, lamented syndicated comic strip The City), one of serial-killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s actual classmates, My Friend Dahmer is not what you might be expecting.

Director Marc Meyers, who also wrote the screenplay, shows us a young, pre-murders Dahmer (Ross Lynch), an awkward high school student with an unfortunate chemistry obsession. Dahmer’s propensity toward spazzing out for attention gets him a little fan club, and a group of kids befriend him in an odd sort of way. While Dahmer makes it into their small ring of friends, nobody ever gets too close to him.

Meyers uses real history (Dahmer’s obsession with a local jogger, his torture of animals) to try to explore some of the messed-up factors that led Dahmer to his horrifying killing spree. The events lead up to the moment when Dahmer picks up an ill-fated hitchhiker—the first of his many victims.

Lynch makes Dahmer a real character rather than caricature; he’s a fatally flawed young man on a seemingly irreversible path of disgusting destruction. Alex Wolff is excellent as Backderf, a casual friend of Dahmer whose sketches would eventually lead to this unsettling, expertly crafted movie.

My Friend Dahmer is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

I went to see Fifty Shades Freed—the third, supposedly final and treacherously terrible entry in the Fifty Shades franchise—on a Sunday morning, hoping to keep a low profile. I was the only single guy sitting in the dark theater, along with couples of varying ages, primed for groping and sloppy in-theater fellatio. (Hey, we all know what happens at these damn Fifty Shades screenings!)

So … this is the one in which Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) get married, creating an eternal bond for their patented strain of lovemaking that involves whips, handcuffs and shitty dialogue.

When I sat down to take in this fart to the face, I was thinking, “Say, you know what I want with my miserable, dick-killing soft-core porn? Give me some car chases and kidnapping drama!” And that is what I got … but I wasn’t really thinking that. I was thinking something along the lines of, “Help me. I want to go home. I want to go home now.”

I didn’t see Fifty Shades Darker, the Empire Strikes Back of the Fifty Shades trilogy. As I recall, I had a hangnail when it came out, and my physician told me that staring at Dornan’s naked ass and constantly changing facial hair would exacerbate it, so I took a pass. I did see the first one, Fifty Shades of Grey, an experience that had an adverse, lasting effect on my thyroid and circulatory system.

In that second chapter, some character named Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) was apparently stirring up crap. He returns in this movie, all cardboard-cutout-angry at Anastasia for whatever she did in part two. (Whatever that was, I’m sure it consisted of her droning in whiny, bored tones.) He follows her around, at one point orchestrating a car chase between Anastasia’s brand-new Audi and a Dodge Durango. Who do you think won that race?

While there is supposed to be a plot, Fifty Shades Freed is really just an assemblage of asinine, soul-decimating moments. Here’s a quick of just a few of the things Fifty Shades Freed totally ruined for me: Seattle, Audis, Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” (Dornan sits down at a piano to sing this in a true WTF? moment), David Bowie’s “Young Americans” (I heard it playing while Anastasia and Christian were eating steak), steak, butt plugs (I’m kind of OK with having this one ruined for me), Dodge Durangoes, Aspen, women, men, Mickey Mouse (he’s on my watch face, which I was constantly checking), Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (they are Dakota Johnson’s parents, and I’m holding them personally responsible), the color red, sexy architects, sonograms and the English language.

The movie is set in Seattle. This fact made wish Mount Rainier would erupt. This franchise is selling a gazillion dollars in tickets; surely, they could’ve spent an extra hundred million on a volcanic-eruption sequence in which Christian and Anastasia get buried in molten lava while playing with vibrators in their torture room. (A sequel set in the future could’ve had archaeologists making an especially lascivious, Pompeii-like discovery of their preserved and naughtily posed bodies.)

The movie is directed by James Foley, who helmed such classics as At Close Range and, for Christ’s sake, Glengary Glen Ross. Let’s put this in perspective: This guy directed the Alec Baldwin’s “Brass Balls” speech, and now he’s directing Seattle-based butt-plug mayhem. (He also directed Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl,” so the seeds of suck were planted in the late 1980s. The bastard has come full circle.)

Anastasia and Christian have a safe word—“Red!”—when things get out of hand in their little bondage-palace nightmare. From now on, I will have a movie safe word—I think it shall be “Jaws!”—and I will repeat this aloud when I want a movie to stop. As for Fifty Shades Freed? “Jaws! … Jaws! … Jaws! … oh, God, Jaws! … Jaws!

Fifty Shades Freed is playing at theaters across the valley.

Netflix’s When We First Met doesn’t have an original bone in its body.

Wait … movies don’t have bones in them. They are made from celluloid. Actually, movies are mostly digital now, so they don’t even have the film stuff. They are just computer megabyte things that are easily manipulated and …

OK, bad comparison. Let me start over.

This movie isn’t the most original thing you will see. In fact, it rips off a lot of movies (Groundhog Day, Back to the Future, Every Rom-Com Ever Made). Yet … I will recommend it thanks to the charm of its leads: Adam DeVine, Alexandra Daddario and Shelley Hennig.

DeVine plays Noah, a goofy but sweet guy who meets Avery (Daddario) at a costume party. They hit it off, but he winds up in the friend zone, and watches her wind up with another man (Robbie Amell). Through the movie magic of time travel, Noah travels back to the night he met Avery (many times) to try to win her over. In some scenarios, he does, but complications ensue.

This thing is pretty gosh darned cute, and I enjoyed it; DeVine and Daddario are bolstered by Hennig, who brings class to the “best friend” role.

It’s not original, but it is clever—and often funny, like when Noah makes the mistake of going “full asshole” on one of his time trips. The movie does take a slightly original left turn in the final act, giving it some sense of uniqueness.

Bottom line: If you like DeVine and Daddario, check this film out.

When We First Met is currently streaming on Netflix.

Toward the end of Winchester—the new haunted house movie starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke—a character has a moment when she says the words, “I am not afraid,” repeatedly.

My sentiments exactly.

Mirren and Clarke head a decent cast in what proves to be a movie without any real scares, personality or real reason to sit down and watch it. The acting is terrible; the editing is sloppy; and the special effects are third-rate. This level of failure is very surprising, considering it was directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, the brothers who put together the inventive science-fiction thriller Predestination.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a doctor addicted to drugs and alcohol. His wife died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound via a Winchester rifle, a rifle from which he also took a bullet, although he survived. (The script alludes to him being dead for three minutes before being brought back to life, so he might be able to see dead people.)

Meanwhile, the members of “the board” at the Winchester firearms company want Eric to evaluate the mental health of company owner Sarah Winchester (Mirren), hoping that the disgraced doctor will basically take their bribe, declare Sarah unfit to run her company, and strip her of company control. Eric has nothing better to do, so he takes the gig and travels to the infamous real-life house—a cool-looking giant abode that makes an appearance in the film. Upon seeing the real haunted house onscreen, I was hoping for a haunted house spectacle like Kubrick’s The Shining, which featured the labyrinthine Overlook Hotel.

Instead, we get a ghost movie that trots out the same old tricks used in countless ghost movies before it. Ghosts suddenly appearing, accompanied by a loud soundtrack noise? Check. Ghosts appearing in a mirror after a user adjusts it? Check. Little possessed kids singing a well-known song in that oh-so-creepy-possessed-kid kind of way? Check.

The actual Winchester house, located in San Jose, has an impressive ghost story to go with it. The real Sarah Winchester, after inheriting the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, believed the house was inhabited by the spirits of those who fell victim to Winchester rifles. One would think that premise would make for a snappy movie, but instead, there’s just a bunch of nonsense involving Mirren’s Sarah nailing all the rooms shut and trying to avoid getting killed by her possessed, super-annoying grandson. There’s also the spectacle of Clarke doing some embarrassingly bad drunk/stoned-guy acting.

The special-effects ghosts are laughable—but even worse are the ghosts played by people wearing practical makeup. Price has a scene with his deceased wife in which she looks like somebody who tried to put her makeup on with the lights off—not a ghost. I know it would make the movie even more clichéd, but ghosts should be see through, right? When an actor or actress stands around in bad makeup in this film, it looks like somebody from the local junior high-level production of Jeepers, I Got Spooked by Ghosts in My Mom’s Basement crashed the film set.

There’s a ghost in this movie that poses as a servant on the Winchester staff. This got me thinking: Where did the ghost get his Winchester employee uniform to pull off his impersonation scheme? Is there a special costume warehouse in the afterlife where mischievous ghosts can go to rent them? When we die, are we empowered with massive tailoring abilities to go with our powers to pass through walls and shit? Or do ghosts looking to start trouble simply grab previously worn uniforms off the rack at Savers? Do they consult with Beetlejuice?

My mind was so bored, it started coming up with this kind of crap while I watched this thing. The movie is one long scene after another of Mirren and Clarke trying to make sense out of the mess. I suspect we’ll be talking about this one again in about 10 months, when we are compiling our year’s-worst lists.

Winchester is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Originally planned for an April theatrical release, the third Cloverfield movie got a surprise release on Netflix immediately following the Super Bowl. While I’m a big fan of the first two installments in the Cloverfield series, J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company are kidding themselves by referring to The Cloverfield Paradox as a legitimate chapter in the Cloverfield universe.

The Cloverfield Paradox was originally a project called God Particle, a standalone science fiction film directed by Julius Onah. Somewhere during production, Bad Robot decided to make it a Cloverfield film. How is it a Cloverfield film? A few short, badly constructed scenes are shoehorned into the narrative, including a 10-second final shot that feels like a total cheat. They did this sort of last-minute tinkering when they made 10 Cloverfield Lane, and that resulted in a good movie. This one results in a muddled mess.

The plot involves a space station trying to create a free power source to revitalize a struggling Earth. The crew members (played by Daniel Bruhl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ziyi Zhang and David Oyelowo) accidentally zap themselves into another dimension. While they struggle in the other dimension to find their way home, the dimension they left behind is dealing with a new problem.

The events happening back on Earth might’ve made for a better movie, because the one we get is an Event Horizon rip-off.

It’s no mystery why Bad Robot avoided a theatrical run for this: It stinks.

The Cloverfield Paradox is now streaming on Netflix.

Director Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is an uncompromising, brutal Western. It makes Clint Eastwood’s classic, somber Unforgiven look like Mary Poppins.

Christian Bale turns in another spellbinding performance as Capt. Joseph J. Blocker. Joe—a quiet, tired, jaded soldier—is spending the closing days of his military career in 1892 capturing and imprisoning Native Americans. He has fought many battles, seen many atrocities, and committed many of his own.

When aging and terminally ill Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) is granted freedom by the president of the United States, somebody who knows his dialect must be chosen to escort him and his family back to Montana. Joe is the best candidate for the job … but it’s a job he doesn’t want: Joe fought against Yellow Hawk and witnessed him murdering his friend many years ago. The idea of leading a man he sees as the worst of murderers to a graceful death in Montana doesn’t appeal to him; in a scene as tense as any other filmed last year, he says so to his colonel (Stephen Lang) and a stuffy bureaucrat (Bill Camp, who occupies one of the few characters in the film that qualifies as cartoonish). This scene makes it clear that Joe is going to rank among Bale’s best performances … and the movie has barely begun.

Actually, Cooper establishes the unrelenting darkness of the film before the title credit. Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) is seen teaching her young children what adverbs are as her husband tends to their farm. In an instant, Rosalie’s family life is decimated by Comanche bandits, who kill her husband and all of her children.

Joe, having no real choice but to lead Yellow Hawk to his homeland (his colonel threatens his pension), reluctantly sets out on the journey with the dying chief, the chief’s family (which includes the terrific Adam Beach and Q’orianka Kilcher) and a handful of soldiers. He then stumbles upon a destroyed Rosalie and her dead family at their burned-out homestead. He takes her into their traveling party—a gesture that possibly starts to awaken a decent human being within himself.

Cooper, who also wrote the screenplay, avoids sermonizing, and opts for a film that takes its sweet time delivering its message. The movie is far from predictable, and nobody in the cast is safe. That cast includes soldiers played by Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird), Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad) and impressive relative unknown Jonathan Majors. Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused) is a true standout as a longtime fellow soldier of Joe who is battling “the melancholia.”

Adding to one of 2017’s greatest—and most underrated—acting ensembles is Ben Foster, who shows up late in the film as Charles, an imprisoned soldier handed off to Joe mid-journey. It’s Joe’s job to lead the murderous Charles to the gallows; in an undeniable way, Charles represents the horrors of Joe’s past ways. It’s no surprise that this results in more than one tensely acted scene between Foster and Bale.

Pike, who hasn’t done much since her bravura performance in Gone Girl, shows devastating grace and beauty as the mother who loses everything. She makes Rosalie a true symbol of human resilience during harrowing times. Studi is pure brilliance as Yellow Hawk, saying everything with his majestic, chiseled face. He has a moment with Bale near the film’s end that is heartbreaking and beautiful.

How Max Richter’s haunting soundtrack failed to garner an Oscar nomination is beyond me. Also delivering top-notch work is cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who has helped make one of 2017’s better looking films.

Bale deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in this film. Joe is the sort of complicated, wounded character at which he excels, and Bale’s work with Cooper (they also partnered on Out of the Furnace) continues to be one of cinema’s more compelling partnerships.

While Hostiles is far from a fun time at the movies, it’s an essential film for those who like their history served with a fair share of truth and tragedy.

Hostiles is playing at theaters across the valley.

When Doug Kenney died in 1980, he took a legendary comedic pedigree with him. It’s safe to say there was nothing like Animal House and Caddyshack before or after their releases. Kenney, one of the founding fathers of National Lampoon magazine, co-wrote both of those films. (He also produced Caddyshack.)

David Wain, the master comedy director of such wonderful things as Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, gives the legend of Kenney a slightly uneven but ultimately enjoyable tribute with A Futile and Stupid Gesture. The movie chronicles Kenney’s everlasting contributions to American comedy, with Will Forte delivering strong work as the humor maestro.

The movie covers events from the late 1960s, when Kenney attended Harvard, through 1980, when Kenney either fell or jumped off of a cliff in Hawaii shortly after the release of Caddyshack. His little golf movie took a critical shellacking upon its initial release, something Kenney allegedly took hard. Of course, it has since endured and is now considered by many to be one of the funniest movies ever made.

The cast includes Joel McHale as Chevy Chase and Seth Green as Christopher Guest. Domhnall Gleeson co-stars as fellow Lampoon founder Henry Beard, while Martin Mull narrates the picture as, of all things, Kenney, if he had lived to be old. Thomas Lennon proves he was born to play Michael O’Donoghue, and Jon Daly does a sometimes-impressive take on Bill Murray.

The film never really finds a consistent tone, but the sheer magnitude of the subject matter makes it consistently watchable, as does Forte’s strong work.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is now streaming on Netflix.

The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson finally did in actor Daniel Day-Lewis: He announced his retirement from acting before Phantom Thread made it to movie screens late last year—just in time for awards season.

Timing is everything: The film nabbed six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Actor nom for Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis tends to kick his own ass when he plays roles. A notorious method actor, he stayed in the role of Abe Lincoln for the Spielberg biopic when cameras weren’t rolling, and word has it that he did heavy research for his role as a 1950s dress-maker and fashion maverick in Phantom Thread.

That crazy research and attention to detail most contributes to Day-Lewis’s tendency to inhabit a role like no other. I maintain that the greatest single performance by any actor, anywhere, ever, is his portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood—Day-Lewis’s first, and best, collaboration with Anderson.

Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) runs a tight ship when it comes to his dressmaking business. He works and lives alongside his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), along with the occasional muse. When his latest muse starts interrupting too much during breakfast time, she’s dismissed—and Woodcock goes on the hunt.

He finds a new muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress he quickly asks out to dinner, and then to come back to his place. Rather than pouring some wine and getting to know her better, Woodcock immediately—and literally—puts Alma up on a pedestal and starts building a dress. Alma goes from enchanted to mildly bewildered by Woodcock’s actions, but she sticks around and eventually moves in.

Alma is not the standard Woodcock muse, in that she wants more of his time—and wants him to slow down. A scene in which Alma hatches a plan for a romantic dinner for two proves to be the best in the film and a turning point in the movie.

In the dinner scene’s aftermath, Alma does something that carries the film into the sort of weird, bizarre territory that we’ve come to expect in an Anderson film. (It’s not quite as wacky as frogs falling from the sky in Magnolia, but still.) In fact, the final act of this movie is so strange that it left me wondering whether the whole thing was just a fantasy or dream playing out in a character’s mind. It’s not your standard, tidy romance film. Instead, it ventures over to the more twisted, haunted side—with a helping of dark comedy.

Day-Lewis turns Woodcock into an obsessive prick, a narcissistic celebrity who has no regard for other people’s time. Krieps, a relatively unknown actress from Luxembourg, doesn’t just share the screen with Day-Lewis; she often steals scenes from him. Her Alma holds a lot of surprises, not all of them the happy kind. Also, Manville is masterful as the controlling sister who knows her brother’s routine.

The movie works on many fronts. It’s an acting showcase for Day-Lewis and Krieps, and another fine example of technical achievement for Anderson (who did his own camerawork), in service of another great script from the director. You could view Phantom Thread one time as a statement on relationship codependency, and then watch it again as an observance of celebrity selfishness. There’s plenty of meat on the bone.

There are a few slow stretches, but the movie mostly moves at a good pace, accompanied by another fine score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. This is the fourth film Greenwood has scored for Anderson, after There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice.

If this is indeed Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, I’m genuinely satisfied with what this man did with his career. Also … I want the man to live a long and happy, healthy life. He takes the craft a bit too seriously, so him calling it quits now lowers the risk of him traveling to Mars to play an alien, or sucking on meth pipes to play a junkie.

As for Anderson, while Phantom Thread doesn’t achieve the majestic heights of There Will Be Blood or Magnolia, it’s another great installment in a career that has had no missteps.

Phantom Thread is playing at theaters across the valley.

Call Me by Your Name is one of 2017’s better love stories—a sumptuously filmed romance set in Italy that is a thing of beauty. Lush settings, stunning locations and two adorable leads in Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet contribute to a sweet, and heartbreaking, story by André Aciman (who wrote the novel), with a screenplay by James Ivory.

In an Oscar-nominated performance, Chalamet plays Elio, an American living in Italy with his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg). When his father takes an assistant in the form of Oliver (Hammer), Elio is smitten—and so is the older Oliver. They wind up having a fling that carries deep meaning for them, and for those who know them.

Chalamet (who was also terrific in Lady Bird) makes Elio so much more than a confused teen in love; this guy is really in love in a way that will affect his entire life, and the viewer feels it. Hammer continues to evolve as an actor, and this is his best work yet; he also gets high scores for his stellar dance moves whenever somebody plays the Psychedelic Furs. But as good as the two leads are, my vote for the best scene in the film goes to the underrated Stuhlbarg, who has a speech relating to his son that is an absolute showstopper.

Call Me by Your Name is a sweet movie that features an end credits sequence that, well, just says it all.

Call Me by Your Name is playing at theaters across the valley.

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