CVIndependent

Thu10192017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

A couple of years ago, there was talk of Ron Howard directing a big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. The film would act as an introduction to the Dark Tower universe, and was to be followed by a TV series. Javier Bardem was cast as Roland the Gunslinger, the main protagonist of King’s multi-novel series.

The original plan was jettisoned in favor of Idris Elba as Roland, and a relatively novice director in Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) at the helm in Howard’s place. (Howard took on producer’s duties.) The debut film’s budget was reduced to less than $70 million, a price you would normally see for a Hollywood rom-com, not the launch of what was proposed as an epic, blockbuster franchise.

As a result of all of this, this movie is a catastrophe, and a complete insult to fans of the books, fans of Matthew McConaughey, and fans of science fiction/fantasy. Oh hell, this thing insults everybody: It looks like a low-level episode of Doctor Who, and we’re talking schlocky, 1970s Doctor Who. It feels like they used the same soundstage for all of the interiors, and just repainted shit. The CGI is terrible; the pacing is ridiculously, unnecessarily fast; and the plotting is confusing for those who haven’t read the books. (I’ve never read the books, and after watching this, I don’t care to ever read them.)

The story involves some kid named Jake (Tom Taylor), a sad teenager who is gifted with “The Shine,” the psychic powers Danny had in King’s The Shining. He dreams of another world where there is a Dark Tower that acts as some sort of barrier between other dimensions, protecting planets like Earth from evil. He also dreams of a gunslinger (Elba) who is trying to kill the Man in Black.

No, it’s not Johnny Cash; the Man in Black is some sort of devil man played by McConaughey. His intention is to hunt people with the Shine, because their brains harness the power to shoot laser beams into the Dark Tower, thus destroying it and releasing goofy CGI monsters upon the Earth. Tom winds up traveling to something called the Mid-World, where he takes a brief hike with Roland, then winds up back on Earth in present-day New York City for some kind of apocalyptic battle.

Go ahead and badmouth me if I got any of this wrong; I assure you that is the best I could gather from this hackneyed, rushed, underwhelming production. There have been reports that this is, in fact, a sequel to King’s novels, and not a faithful beginning to the actual saga. I can’t report on the authenticity of such a report. I can just tell you that the movie sucks.

When considering the apparent scope of the novels, it’s a bit of a shocker that the film clocks in at 95 minutes. There is a definite sense that a lot of backstory and exposition has been removed in order to dumb things down and streamline the pace.

Elba growls intermittent dialogue, with his character amounting to nothing more than a shallow archetype. Also: If you are going to have a gunslinger with a Western motif, give him a cool hat. Elba, as always, looks cool, but something as simple as a hat would’ve made a little more sense in fleshing out the gunslinger character.

McConaughey roams from sloppy set to sloppier set, looking lost and perhaps even a little pissed that he signed on for this garbage. He’s not all that bad; he’s just given next to nothing notable to do.

There are still some sketchy plans to follow up this film with a TV series. Whatever the plan is, producers need to scrap it and start over a few years from now, when the memory of this unfortunate cinematic event has subsided.

The Dark Tower is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

You have to give Matthew McConaughey an “A” for effort for Gold, which is “loosely based on a true story.” McConaughey not only stars as wannabe gold magnate Kenny Wells; he also co-produced the movie, thinned his hair, put in some weird teeth and gained weight for the role.

Sadly, maximum effort doesn’t result in an optimized return for Gold. The movie is an uneven, confused endeavor, and McConaughey winds up looking like a guy, normally in really good shape, who messed himself up for a few months to shoot a movie. He doesn’t look real, like Robert De Niro did when he destroyed his physicality for Raging Bull. He just looks slightly out of shape and made up. Even if McConaughey looked truly messed up, Gold would still be a mess—albeit a sometimes entertaining mess.

Wells is a fictional character, and the film is based loosely upon the Bre-X gold scandal of the 1990s. The original scandal was based in Canada, while director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) brings this story to the U.S.

McConaughey goes full-throttle as Wells, owner of a prospecting business in Reno, Nev., who is looking for that one strike that will make him legendary. He comes across a renowned explorer, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who has the ties and ingenuity to mine unsearched parts of Indonesia. Kenny pawns his watch and goes into business with Acosta.

This is where the movie gets a little sketchy. There are a lot of shots with Wells flying around to different locations like Indonesia and New York. There’s a substantial sequence in which Wells runs around the jungle with Acosta and gets ill, and another that deals with the business/stock-exchange ramifications of Kenny’s dealings. It all becomes a bit much—it’s too hard to keep track of, yet too routine to distinguish itself.

In the end, the film plays out like The Wolf of Wall Street minus most of the fun, but not minus the McConaughey. (He’s in both!) It’s the same basic plot: A headstrong guy tries to take the fast track to big riches and gets his butt kicked in the end. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t feature Kenny Wells trying to get into his car after taking a bunch of slow-release Quaaludes.

Bryce Dallas Howard, who has had a terrible year with this and that god-awful Pete’s Dragon remake, plays Kenny’s long-suffering girlfriend, a role that utilizes absolutely none of her talents. She shows up every now and then looking mildly frustrated, than disappears for large swaths of the story.

The film’s (partial) saving grace is McConaughey, who remains fully committed to the role and makes Wells an engaging character, even when the events swirling around him are confusing and unoriginal. The movie is almost worth seeing to watch a good actor giving it his all.

As for the storytelling, there’s nothing new here, and the big twist isn’t a surprise at all. The movie wants to be a jungle-adventure movie and business adventure all in one, and the two don’t meld together well. The movie winds up feeling like four or five movies mushed together.

While it’s hard to feel bad for an Oscar-winning actor, it is a bit depressing to see one of the good ones do all of this—for naught. Gold is not worth the strain he must’ve put on his cardiovascular system, although I’m sure he had some fun nights pounding milk shakes and burgers.

Gold is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

From the makers of ParaNorman and Coraline comes Kubo and the Two Strings, another stop-motion wonder that’s a fantastically fun combination of puppetry and CGI. It’s the best animated film I’ve seen so far this year.

The title character is a young boy (an amazingly expressive creation voiced by Art Parkinson) who must go on a quest to deal with a nasty family war that has claimed the lives of his parents. He searches for a suit of armor needed to combat his evil granddad (Ralph Fiennes … of course). He’s assisted on his quest by a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle (Matthew McConaughey, in his first animated film).

The visuals are constantly breathtaking; the writing is often very clever and funny; and the message is sweet and enduring. As with some of the Laika studio’s past creations, some sequences might be too much for the young ones, but it’s nothing the average 8-year-old can’t handle.

Special Features: They include an audio commentary from the director, and a solid making-of doc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Confederate army medic, decides he’s had enough—and deserts. He returns to Mississippi, where his people are being harassed by looting soldiers. He winds up in the swamps with escaped slaves, where they form a pact—and eventually create a militia to rebel against the Confederacy.

Free State of Jones is based on a true story, and director Gary Ross definitely shows the brutality and terrors of the Civil War. McConaughey is powerful in the central role, as is Mahershala Ali as Moses, leader of the escaped slaves.

However, the film stumbles a bit when it tries to do a little too much: There are courtroom scenes taking place 85 years after the Civil War, when a relative of Knight’s is in a civil rights dispute. These scenes feel completely out of place, and they sort of muck up the film’s ending; things just come to an awkward stop. It’s too bad, because the movie winds up being merely good instead of great.

The battle scenes are harrowing; the tensions are frightening and real; and there’s not a bad performance in the lot. Yet because Ross has overstuffed the film, aspects like the rise of the KKK are almost glossed over.

This project, with its dual storylines and many plot points, probably would’ve worked better as an extended series on HBO. Still, it’s worth seeing for McConaughey and Ali.

Free State of Jones is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Upon revisiting Interstellar on Blu-ray, I would like to make the following observation: Matt Damon kicks mortal ass in this movie.

Yes, I know, most of the hubbub involving this film focuses on the Matthew McConaughey performance, and whether or not the science ideas hold up. For me, the most startling aspect of this flick is when Damon shows up deep in the picture and fucks things up, old-school.

I didn’t necessarily buy what director Christopher Nolan and his cronies were trying to postulate about wormholes and space travel. However, I did thoroughly enjoy Interstellar thanks to the work of the special-effects crew, the performances and, yes, Matt Damon playing a total douchebag.

I had completely forgotten Damon was in Interstellar when I watched it the first time, so when he showed up as a scientist who was waking up from what he thought would be his final nap, I was blindsided. This time out, I was prepared and able to focus on his work from the very beginning. Damon is a rock star.

Did you know Steven Spielberg was originally set to direct his movie? If he had, it would’ve probably had a John Williams score and a whole other vibe. Instead, Nolan made a good movie that makes you think—a good movie that makes you think Matt Damon kicks ass!

Special Features: There’s a nearly hour long documentary about the science of the film narrated by McConaughey. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The latest from writer-director Christopher Nolan is a triumphant piece of movie-making, a science-fiction film that travels outside the lines.

In the future, Earth is getting swallowed up by dust; all the crops are dying; and the Yankees really suck. (Wait…that’s true now!) Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a farmer and former test pilot, is raising his two children after the death of his wife. He and his young daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), discover a strange site that just happens to be the remnants of NASA, where an old scientist (Michael Caine) is in the middle of a plan to save the human race.

Cooper eventually winds up on a mission to enter a wormhole and explore distant planets, looking for their ability to sustain life. However, there’s a major drawback: Time gets all warped during space travel, and the slightest delay will cost him many years back on Earth.

The movie gets a little crazy and farfetched, and possesses more than its share of plot holes. I don’t care. It’s a terrific viewing experience that made me think, even if it is a little crazy.

Nolan wrote the film with his brother Jonathan, and they came up with some ideas that seem quite impossible, perhaps illogical. Yet within the context of this sprawling, great movie, it all works just fine. The film offers many great surprises, performances and brain-teasing concepts. It’s also weird and insane, and I love it for that. The result: Interstellar is an all-time-great science-fiction film.

Interstellar is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Banshee (Friday, Jan. 10, Cinemax), season premiere: If you haven’t yet seen the first season of Banshee, do so—it’s a 10-episode rush of gonzo-pulp mayhem that defies reason, and yet it somehow still works, like a visceral mash-up of Justified, Twin Peaks, Fight Club and some sexy number you’d see much later in the night on Cinemax. You’d sprain something if you jumped in on Season 2 tonight. Go ahead; The Only TV Column That Matters™ will be here, waiting.

Shameless (Sunday, Jan. 12, Showtime), season premiere: Fiona (Emmy Rossum) and her job may finally have the family “creeping up on the poverty line,” but all is not yet well in Gallagher world: Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is finding college tougher than he thought; Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) and Debbie (Emma Kenney) have become hormonal-teen assholes; Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is still missing; and, even worse, Frank (William H. Macy) has been found and returned—and he’s learned a few … new ways … to get alcohol into his body now that he can’t drink. Four seasons in, Shameless has yet to run out of ways to simultaneously delight and disgust. Once more: Forget Modern Familythis is America’s family.

True Detective (Sunday, Jan. 12, HBO), series debut: Show creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto has set up True Detective as an anthology series that would introduce a new setting and cast every season—so he probably screwed himself by producing such an incredible first run, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turning in some of their most intense performances to date. The pair play disparate detectives (Harrelson’s Martin Hart is a linear-thinking traditionalist; McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is hyper-smart profiler with a penchant for unsettling spiels about the futility of existence) investigating an occult-style murder in 1995 Louisiana. The twist is, the two are telling the story from their own viewpoints in 2012, being interviewed by police about a similar recent killing. Even with the time shifts, True Detective is seamless and riveting, more of an extended indie film than a crime series. If you see only one TV show this year, 1. Why are you on this page, snobby? And, 2. Make it True Detective.

Bitten (Monday, Jan. 13, Syfy), series debut: Welcome back to Gorgeous Supernatural Creatures Just Trying to Fit in Mondays, with returning series Lost Girl and Being Human, and new Syfy entry Bitten—for those keeping score, that’s a succubus, a vampire, a ghost and now three werewolves. Bitten stars Laura Vandervoort (Smallville) as a werewolf who’s split acrimoniously from her beardy-man pack to live the “normal” life of an urbanite—who has to strip down and wolf-out in the woods on occasion. Like Lost Girl and Being Human, Bitten looks like it was shot for $1,000 over the weekend in Vancouver, but it doesn’t achieve the deft humor/drama mix of either—so it piles on the sex scenes. Prediction: Hit.

Archer, Chozen (Monday, Jan. 13, FX), season premiere, series debut: As we—and they—learn in the first episode of Season 5, Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and the International Secret Intelligence Service have been causing global havoc for years without the sanction of the U.S. government, thus setting up a season-long arc with the on-the-lam spy gang attempting to unload a ton of cocaine before Pam (Amber Nash) ingests it all, because, you know, Archer. Moving the show to Mondays seems like an equally suicidal mission, but at least FX finally has a semi-worthy animated companion in Chozen, the story of a gay white ex-con rapper on a mission; it’s from the minds behind Archer and Eastbound and Down. It’s half-baked, but Chozen is at least good enough to beat off the competition … phrasing.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR JAN. 14!

Army of the Damned

Followed by reality-TV cameras, a police chief (Sully Erna—yes, the singer of Godsmack) and his men battle a small-town zombie outbreak. Also starring rassler Tommy Dreamer, porn star Jasmin St. Claire and … Joey Fatone?! (Screen Media)

Carrie

An outcast high-schooler (Chloë Grace Moretz) with telekinetic powers gets revenge-y at her prom, and the Liberal Media blames it on her religious mother (Julianne Moore). Based on a book, movie and first-person shooter. (MGM)

Riddick

In the third and final (?) installment of the series, Riddick (Vin Diesel) finally decides to get the hell off of the stupid desert planet (good call) and sends a signal to the mercenaries out to capture/kill him (bad call). Oh, and now he has a pet! (Universal)

You’re Next

A gang of ax-wielding killers take a rich family hostage in their home, and it’s up to a 98-pound houseguest (Sharni Vinson) to save everyone from the animal-masked assailants. Surprise! They all die. (Lionsgate)

More New DVD Releases (Jan. 14)

A.C.O.D., Big Sur, Enough Said, Fresh Meat, Fruitvale Station, Gasland Part II, Getting That Girl, How to Make Money Selling Drugs, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Short Term 12, A Single Shot, The Spectacular Now, 20 Feet From Stardom, Voodoo Possession.

Published in TV

The Palm Springs International Film Festival kicked off over the weekend with some of the fest's biggest events.

On Friday, Jan. 3, the Opening Night Gala Screening, featuring the film Belle, took place at Palm Springs High School. And on Saturday was the biggest event of all: The Black Tie Awards Gala, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the awards affair:

The Palm Springs International Film Festival gala or, as Tom Hanks called it, "This little, intimate, Sonny Bono rec-room chicken dinner get-together for two-and-a-half-thousand people," took place Saturday night. Meryl Streep picked up an award. So did Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Bruce Dern and Matthew McConaughey, among others.

And though they were all seated within a few feet of one another in the airport-hangar-sized Palm Springs Convention Center, these Hollywood stars were more or less allowed to eat their pot-roast dinner in peace.

That's because Bono was in the house.

That's Bono, the singer from the Irish rock band U2, not Mary Bono, the widow of another singer named Bono—Sonny, the man who started the film festival 25 years ago when he was mayor of Palm Springs.

The Independent was there; here are just a few pictures from the events. And watch CVIndependent.com all week for more coverage of the festival. Enjoy!

Published in Snapshot

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is an explosive film—like a mortar full of deranged bliss.

Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2013’s best performance, plays slimeball stockbroker and convicted felon Jordan Belfort, a real-life scumbag who made millions selling penny stocks at a Long Island, New York, brokerage. The movie, based on Belfort’s autobiography, takes people doing bad, bad things to an unparalleled extreme.

The film begins with a rosy-cheeked Belfort starting work at a big Manhattan brokerage firm, where a brash, cocaine-addicted broker (played by Matthew McConaughey, capping off an incredible year) is his mentor. Belfort is ready to take the world by storm in the late ’80s, but 1987’s Black Monday strikes, destroying his new employer and putting him out of work.

He winds up in a Long Island boiler room schilling penny stocks for 50 percent commission. No problem: The boy can sell, and people are writing checks.

Belfort, with the assistance of new friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, bedazzled with impossibly white caps on his teeth), opens a shiny new brokerage that has a first-class appearance—even though he’s still just slinging penny stocks. This time, he’s slinging them at people with big money, under the guise that the stocks are going to explode into major-market players. They probably won’t—but rich people like and trust Belfort, so they throw money at him.

Where there’s money, there are decadent shenanigans—and this is where Scorsese takes the movie to crazed extremes. Midget-tossing, hookers, half-naked marching bands and goldfish-eating are the orders of the day—with all of these activities enhanced by massive drug and alcohol consumption.

As Ray Liotta did in Goodfellas, DiCaprio talks to the camera on occasion, often during highly elaborate tracking shots (which have become a Scorsese mainstay). It’s in these moments, and during Belfort’s drug-fueled speeches to his crew, when DiCaprio does his most-exhilarating acting to date. He is a formidable competitor for a Best Actor Oscar. He’s certainly my pick.

It’s not just DiCaprio’s verbal pyrotechnics that amaze; in this film, he proves he’s a physical actor with phenomenal talent. In a scene in which Belfort and Azoff consume 15-year-old Quaaludes with a delayed trigger, DiCaprio rivals the likes of Steve Martin and Charlie Chaplin in his physical comedy. What he does with a Ferrari door and his leg must be seen to be believed. I couldn’t believe it was DiCaprio, and figured they must have put his face on a stunt man’s body via CGI. Nope, it’s him.

Hill continues to prove that he has good dramatic chops, and Kyle Chandler provides the films moral core (if it actually has one) as an FBI agent looking to take Belfort down. Margot Robbie is especially impressive as Belfort’s alternately commanding and befuddled wife.

Does The Wolf of Wall Street lack emotional warmth? Yes—and that’s precisely the point of this movie. Scorsese and DiCaprio are showing us the travesties of an emotionally void, tragically selfish group of people living life through a chemically enhanced haze. These people are terrible—comically terrible—and Scorsese holds nothing back in portraying them as such.

The Wolf of Wall Street shows Scorsese is in no way ready to slow down just yet. It’s not only good … it’s Goodfellas good.

The Wolf of Wall Street is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, is a writer/director who stands among the best of the current crop.

Matthew McConaughey plays the title character in this amazing film, Mud. He’s a chipped-toothed, wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi. Two kids, Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan, of The Tree of Life, and Jacob Lofland) stumble upon him and become a part of his strange and dangerous world.

McConaughey is catching wave after wave of success lately, and this role is his best one yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees.

The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard. All of them are equally great.

A lot of us wrote off McConaughey a couple of years back, especially after that Surfer, Dude movie in 2008. This movie caps an amazing comeback: He makes Mud into a memorable character who is equally heartbreaking and scary.

McConaughey is not done; he’s got a role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s looking like 2013 could be another banner year for the man.

As for Nichols, it’s time for the world to notice this director. He has incredible vision, and he makes movies that dent skulls (in a good way). I want a movie every day from this guy. Give me more Jeff … give me more now.

Special Features: A director’s commentary and some decent behind-the-scenes stuff.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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