CVIndependent

Sat11252017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Bob Grimm

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.

They were smoking some wild shit and licking frogs when they put together Thor: Ragnarok, a film so nutty that it easily surpasses the Guardians of the Galaxy films as the screwiest offering in the Marvel universe.

When you hand the keys to the Thor franchise over to a director like Taika Waititi, you know you are going to get something bizarre—and Waititi doesn’t disappoint. Waititi is the New Zealand comic actor/director responsible for the hilarious vampire faux documentary What We Do in the Shadows and the funny family drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There’s really nothing on his resume that screams, “Hey, let’s have this guy direct an action packed, highly expensive Thor film!” but he got the gig, so there you go. Sometimes the wild card pays off.

Borrowing from a host of Marvel comics (including the famed “Planet Hulk” storyline), the hallucinogenic plot drops Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on a crazy garbage planet where everyone is bent on around-the-clock, violent entertainment, and led by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, finally getting a worthy high-profile role outside of a Wes Anderson film—that was a long drought). The Grandmaster shaves Thor’s head, dresses him in gladiator gear and throws him into the ring for a weaponized bout with his prized competitor.

That prized competitor would be the Hulk, who has been held captive on the planet for the past couple of years. He’s been nothing but the Hulk the whole time, with Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trapped inside him. Thor and Hulk have a battle royale for the ages, followed by some great scenes in which the Hulk actually speaks. (Ruffalo provides the voice, and this is the first time in the recent Marvel films where Lou Ferrigno isn’t providing Hulk’s growls.)

There’s also a whole other, apocalyptic subplot in which Thor’s long-lost sister Hela (a striking and devilish Cate Blanchett, decked out in black) is causing major havoc on his home planet of Asgard. Blanchett is now high in the ranking of Marvel movie villains. She’s played a baddie before, but never this entertainingly.

Thor’s mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes it into the mix, siding with his brother in the war for Asgard, although he’s still not 100 percent trustworthy. Waititi wisely plays upon the comic notes from Loki’s past Avenger films and makes Loki, more or less, a clown in this movie. It works beautifully.

The great Tessa Thompson plays Valkyrie, an Asgardian-turned-trapper for the Grandmaster who has a slight drinking problem. Karl Urban gets perhaps his best role outside of Star Trek as Skurge, an Asgardian who becomes Hela’s right-hand man; he boasts a collection of stuff that includes an infamous exercising tool.

To say the result of all this is trippy is an understatement. The movie looks like Thor meets Boogie Nights (minus the porn) meets The Lord of the Rings. It scores high marks in the fantasy genre realm while being one of the year’s funniest movies—and that’s high praise. Most of the cast members get to demonstrate both comedic and action chops, and the film never feels off balance. Goldblum, thankfully, gets to riff most of his dialogue, Goldblum-style. It all feels very improvised and loose.

As far as moving the stories of Thor and Hulk forward … in this respect, the movie spins its wheels. Ragnarok is largely a standalone, expensively silly curio that looks great and distinguishes itself without worrying much about connecting to plot threads in other films. It does do that (stay for the after credits scene), but it does so without being too obvious

This is not a problem. These are comic-book movies, and sometimes (like with Avengers: Age of Ultron), they can take themselves a little too seriously. Ragnarok embraces its insanity and takes it to highly entertaining, WTF? levels.

No, I don’t want to see this happen with every Marvel movie, because it could get tired and gimmicky. But, say, with every fourth movie, why not let a rogue director go crazy with some Avengers? It certainly works here.

Thor: Ragnarok is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

The Stranger Things gang is back—just one year later—for another round of 1980s horror and sci-fi nostalgia, but maybe the producers should’ve taken a little more time to let things settle in. The new season is intermittently enjoyable, but it feels a little stretched out and undercooked at times, with a lot of silly subplots mucking up the works.

Will (Noah Schnapp) is still seeing visions of the Upside Down universe, the place in which he spent a good part of Season 1 languishing while his pals searched for him. It turns out Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), after her huge Season 1 sacrifice, came back to our universe almost immediately after she left, and is hiding out with Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) in a storyline that makes little sense. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), in a shameless nod to E.T., has captured a creature in his garbage can, although he feeds it Three Musketeers bars instead of Reese’s Pieces. Winona Ryder overacts, while Paul Reiser basically replaces Matthew Modine as the scientist guy.

Notable movie references beyond E.T. include Jaws, Pretty in Pink, The Goonies (Sean Astin joins the cast!) Lost Boys and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Season 2 maintains the charm that made the first season so watchable, so fans won’t be disappointed. However, there’s no denying that the proceedings seem a little strained this time out, and the Duffer brothers are going to have to work overtime to make future installments worthwhile.

Stranger Things 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

It was around Halloween seven years ago when I did a little happy dance in my head as I walked out of a movie theater.

I had just seen Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, the seventh and, as advertised, supposedly final film in the Saw franchise. Oh, deep down in my cinema-going heart, I didn’t really believe it would be the last one. I had been tricked before. (Fuck you, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street!) But, you know, it did say The Final Chapter in the title, and this was back in the pre-Trump days, when I was a little more optimistic and had a bit more spring in my step.

I had hopes that I would never again hear Tobin Bell, as Jigsaw, droning on about “playing a game” and murdering people with elaborate schemes that would take something like $7 billion per death. (A lot of industrial labor and major planning, with perhaps a live production crew, would be required to pull off Jigsaw’s Rube Goldberg-style stunts.) After two or three years went by, I thought, hey, maybe greed won’t win the day—and perhaps Jigsaw’s cinematic life had actually come to an end.

Nah. The bastard lives on in Jigsaw, a film that pulls Tobin Bell out of mothballs and finds a way for his permanently scowling, droning party-pooper to start up the elaborate killings again. Hey, man … Lionsgate needs a hit, and nobody over there is concerned about quality or making a lick of sense. This film is living proof of that.

Things start in that oh-so-familiar Saw way, with a bunch of people trapped in a room and chained to contraptions that threaten to disembowel them. They are all bad people who must confess their crimes, or face the wrath of Jigsaw—and a rather stellar makeup department. Yes, this movie is idiotic, but the gore-masters do some fine yucky stuff. There’s a half-sawed-off head moment that was quite good. I hope the PA or intern who did the work on that one got an extra Snickers for the effort.

Yeah, Jigsaw died in one of the past movies. I don’t remember which one, and you couldn’t pay me enough to go back and watch them again to figure it out. I just know he died somewhere, and lived on in flashbacks. The writers have come up with yet another way to return the crotchety psycho codger to the big screen, because somebody at Lionsgate needs one of those saltwater swimming pools and a new bike.

I’d give you a plot synopsis, but, hey, what’s the point, right? It’d just be me running off a bunch of characters played by actors and actresses you don’t really know. I guess what I could do is describe a few of the killing contraptions that take people out in this thing. There’s a spinning blade thingamabob rigged to a motorcycle engine that makes little to no sense. There’s also a wire-rigging sniggle-dee-doo that chops a dude’s leg off, and somebody gets injected in the neck with acid. In a nod to the Harrison Ford thriller Witness, a couple almost dies by getting buried alive in a grain silo. (Oh man, I just referenced Harrison Ford’s Witness in a Saw review. That has to be against film criticism law. I’m sure there’s a fine pending.)

The movie is directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, whose best previous effort would be the mind-trippingly good Predestination. This makes me sad they wound up with this gig. Like, really sad. They get to work with Hellen Mirren on the cool-looking Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built next, so maybe redemption is on the way.

Now eight movies in, I’ve yet to see a Saw movie that I liked. Jigsaw is more of the same, and more of the lame. The most unique thing in this movie is Tobin Bell’s stylish soul patch. (I really did admire it … it’s a daring facial-hair gesture.) At least Cary Elwes doesn’t show up for this one. Although, now that I think about it, a scene with him comically overacting as he saws off yet another limb would’ve been far better than anything in this movie.

Jigsaw is playing at theaters across the valley.

For the second time in just a month, Netflix has scored again on the Stephen King front (after Gerald’s Game) with 1922, a horrific ghost story starring Thomas Jane—someone who is no stranger to King territory, having starred in Frank Darabont’s The Mist.

Jane plays Wilfred James, a farmer who kills his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), with the help of his lovestruck son, Henry (Dylan Schmid). Of course, Arlette has been murdered in a Stephen King movie—so it goes without saying that her soul will not rest peacefully, and her corpse will be riddled with rather spirited and determined rats.

Jane delivers a chilling, complicated character with Wilfred; he’s a terrible man, yet we can watch him for an entire movie and feel some concern for the welfare of him and misguided kid. Wilfred is one of those men who speaks through clenched teeth, and Jane simply disappears into the character.

Parker doesn’t have a lot of scenes before becoming a scary specter, but she does both the pre- and post-murder scenes well. Schmid is somewhat heartbreaking as the dumb son who goes along with his dad’s dumb ideas and winds up paying the price.

Director Zak Hilditch gives the movie strong atmospherics and creates something that feels faithful to the words and world of King.

1922 is now streaming on Netflix.

After a slow start, Only the Brave rallies to become a solid tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots, 19 of whom died battling the massive Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013.

The Hotshots were an elite Prescott, Ariz., crew led by veteran firefighter Eric Marsh, played here by Josh Brolin. This performance ranks among Brolin’s best, as he shows us a passionate man presiding over his crew like a father to his sons.

Marsh takes a risk on Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a former drug-user seeking redemption and a decent living to provide for his newborn daughter. The always-reliable Teller matches Brolin’s acting triumph every step of the way, making both Marsh and McDonough fleshed-out, complicated characters. The two seem right at home with each other onscreen.

Director Joseph Kosinski takes a solid step beyond his prior sci-fi blunders (Oblivion, TRON: Legacy) to deliver a movie that is technically sound and emotionally powerful, if a little hokey and overlong in spots. The movie is never bad, but it does drone on a bit during some of the melodramatic build up. It never goes wrong when the team is on the job and fighting fires; it just gets a little sleepy when folks are sitting around talking or bickering.

We see the team containing numerous fires throughout the film, giving us the sense that these guys were in full command of their trade. Of course, nature is an awesome and awful beast—and when the wind shifts and sends the Yarnell blaze toward the unsuspecting men, you get a true sense of how random and crazy the event was. These guys were the best of the best, and even they couldn’t predict what was going to happen.

Kosinski has assembled a cast that includes Brolin’s True Grit cast mate Jeff Bridges as Duane Steinbrink, Marsh’s supervisor. You can’t go wrong with Bridges; he delivers good humor, at one point busts out a guitar, and ultimately provides the movie with a solid emotional punch during the finale. Taylor Kitsch gets some good laughs as troublemaker Christopher MacKenzie; he gripes about handing over his new Vans to trainee Brendan, but winds up becoming his best friend over time.

As Amanda Marsh—Eric’s wife who takes care of injured horses when he’s away—Jennifer Connelly gets a chance to shine. Like Eric, Amanda has had a rough past, and problems bubble to the surface during some of his stop-ins between fires. Connelly does well with material that could seem played out in the hands of others. She adds angst to the mix with Amanda, and it works.

Knowing nothing about the art of firefighting, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this film, but it sure does feel realistic. The Hotshots do controlled burns to protect landscapes, save historic trees and rescue neighborhoods. Additional supporting cast members, like James Badge Dale as Jesse Steed, Marsh’s second in command, give you a sense that the actors did a lot of ride-alongs for their roles.

Even though the fate of the men in the film is well-known, the depiction of the Yarnell Fire still blindsides you. Brolin’s Marsh figures it will be an easily contained fire, with the men home for dinner. Kosinski portrays the shock of the whole situation effectively; the men were working a situation which seemed to be completely under control.

The final sequences in the movie are so well done that you’ll feel kind of bad for groaning during the film’s more lumbering parts. By the time Kosinski shows the real-life firefighters alongside their Hollywood counterparts, the film has become a nice homage to these great, unselfish, all-giving men.

Parts of the country are going through some of the worst fire seasons in modern history. It’s not surprising this film didn’t have a big opening weekend; it’s a subject very close to home and truly painful for many. It’s a movie that will gain an audience over time.

Only the Brave is playing at theaters across the valley.

Once again, somebody has tried to revive the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise—and, once again, with Leatherface, we’ve gotten proof that some things are better left alone.

This time, the film goes the prequel route, with a silly story about how Leatherface became Leatherface. As proven in Rob Zombie’s faulty interpretation of Halloween—in which Michael Myers got a bigger backstory—some movie monsters are best left mysterious and mostly unexplained.

Much of the action here centers around an insane asylum where a teenage Leatherface-to-be (Sam Strike) is hanging out until a riot ensues. He escapes with a nurse held hostage (Vanessa Grasse), while being pursued by yet another evil Texas Chainsaw franchise lawman, this one played by Stephen Dorff. Leatherface’s mom is also looking for him; she’s played by Lili Taylor, whose career is clearly in a downward spiral, along with Dorff’s.

Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury throw in some gory scares and extremely gross sex scenes, but there’s nothing that puts the film in a league with Tobe Hooper’s original, except for the title. (I’ll take this moment to say I’m a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, also directed by Hooper, and highly underrated.)

Leatherface is a dreary exercise in paint-by-numbers slasher-film moviemaking, lacking in fun and legitimate scares.

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

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