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Tue12102019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Golden Age of Eddie Murphy Cinema occurred between 1982 and 1988, with the release of such classics as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.

Since then, he’s had some great moments (Dreamgirls, Life, The Nutty Professor)—but he’s had plenty more duds. His forays into “family entertainment” included his enjoyable voice work in the Shrek films, but also included dreck like The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care and Imagine That.

And then, of course, there was Vampire in Brooklyn. I’m still recovering from that one.

It was as if Eddie, the amazing movie comedian, went into hiding for more than three decades. That’s a long time.

Well, Eddie Murphy is back: Dolemite Is My Name is a movie that can stand side by side with the best of Murphy’s Golden Age. It’s a consistently funny biopic honoring comedian-actor Rudy Ray Moore, and it’s clear Murphy’s heart is in this project full-force. It’s the best performance he’s ever delivered in a movie. Period.

The film takes us on a tour of Moore’s rise to fame, starting with the creation of his Dolemite character (a campy hybrid of Shaft and Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch), and his poetically profane comedy albums. Moore mixed profanity with rhyming in ways that have earned him a “godfather of rap” moniker, with rap giants like Snoop Dogg (who appears in this film as a record-store DJ) saying they wouldn’t have careers if it weren’t for the F-word maestro. Clearly, Moore also helped lay the groundwork for the likes of Murphy and his standup greatness. This makes it all the more appropriate that Eddie Murphy headlines this movie. Murphy, playing Moore, finds himself in a movie like those from his early days—a movie that is consistently funny, powered by Murphy’s infectious charisma.

Quite frankly, I’d forgotten that Murphy could command a film so completely. Whether he’s re-creating terrible kung fu antics or reacting uncomfortably as a studio guy rejects his movie, Murphy shows that he indeed remains one of the greatest screen talents alive. I must make this perfectly clear: Murphy is awesome in this movie.

Craig Brewer, directing from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, captures the look of the 1970s and blaxploitation with big collared shirts, pimp hats and fat furs. The re-creations of the actual Dolemite movie (currently available for streaming on Amazon—and it’s glorious on all fronts) are hilariously accurate. Brewer helps Murphy—an extremely confident comedic performer with a lot happening under the surface—capture the essence of Moore. Murphy doesn’t hit a false note in this movie, showing us a brash comic who rises to fame on the wings of the best dirty jokes in the land—and an undying desire to be famous.

Helping things mightily is a supporting cast that includes Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key and, most wonderfully, Wesley Snipes, in the scene-stealing role of the original Dolemite director, D’Urville Martin. Snipes—who looks like a day hasn’t passed since White Men Can’t Jump, and that’s just not fair—hasn’t had an opportunity to shine like this in decades. This film marks his grand return to form; he’s a total crack-up in the role.

As for the return of Murphy, this is just the start: He’s currently working on sequels to Coming to America (also directed by Brewer) and Beverly Hills Cop, and is preparing for a return to Saturday Night Live as a host. (He’s going to do Gumby and Buckwheat again!) Most incredibly, he’s reportedly making a return to the standup stage. If Dolemite Is My Name is any indication, he hasn’t lost a step, and we could be looking at a second Golden Age of Murphy.

Dolemite Is My Name is now streaming on Netflix; it’s also playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas are one of the best father-son movie teams in a long time in Morris From America, a charmer from writer-director Chad Hartigan.

Christmas plays Morris, a 13-year-old American living in Germany, because his dad, Curtis (Robinson), has a job there as a soccer coach. Morris is learning German, trying to make friends, and developing a crush on older girl, Katrin (Lina Keller). He’s also dealing with the kind of crap you would expect a black American to be dealing with in an all-white city.

The dynamic between Robinson (in easily his best performance) and Christmas is perfect; it seems like these guys are really father and son. They complement each other perfectly, and it’s refreshing to see a father and son talk and deal with each other the way they do in this movie. The relationship between Morris and the somewhat-troublesome Katrin is also refreshing in that it never seems false.

The movie should get Christmas more roles in the future, while it should open the door for Robinson to play more dramatic parts—because he’s beyond good.

This a solid coming-of-age story in an unexpected and unpredictable locale, with a cast of characters (including Carla Juri of Wetlands as Morris’ tutor) that scores across the board. This is one of the summer’s great surprises.

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

Published in Reviews

There’s been too much “more of the same” at theaters this summer. Flat big-budget blockbusters and sequels without an ounce of creativity or originality keep being churned out of the Hollywood industrial complex, delivering an astounding amount of expensive, vapid horse shit.

Sausage Party, the animated hellcat from writer-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is the first big studio film in a long time that is screaming with originality. It’s a profanity-laden, blasphemous middle finger to the movie-making establishment that thinks it’s OK to turn out sequels and comic-book movies that suck—because the studios know people will shell out for them anyway. Sausage Party couldn’t be more fun, and it’s a film like nothing you’ve seen before.

In a sunny supermarket, a bunch of vegetables, hot dogs and buns wake up and sing a happy song, convinced that today will be the day they are chosen by humans to enter the Great Beyond—the world on the other side of those automatic sliding doors.

Frank (the voice of Rogen), an optimistic hot dog with teeth like Seth Rogen, longs for the moment he can leave his packaging and “fill” his sweetheart, a bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). That moment seems to be imminent when they are selected and placed in a cart—but things quickly go awry: Frank and Brenda are left behind on the supermarket floor, while their friends soon find out that things in the Great Beyond are far from great.

On top of being super-profane, Sausage Party is incredibly violent, with various food things and condiments suffering unthinkable, heinous fates. (What happens to heads of lettuce and baby carrots is particularly nightmarish.) Rogen and Goldberg have found themselves a little loophole: The main characters aren’t humans or animals, allowing for nonstop carnage within the confines of an R rating.

That loophole also allows for a food orgy that would be too much for your average porno, yet there it is—a bunch of characters openly fornicating in just about every way possible on a big screen playing next door to Finding Dory.

If you’re a parent out there who takes kids to the movies simply based on the poster, you are in for the shock of your life. However, the first word in this movie is actually “shit,” so you should know early on that the wrong entertainment has been chosen for the day.  (Unless, of course, you and your kids are truly twisted, in which case … have at it!)

Other exquisite touches include a main villain that is a total douche … and by total douche, I mean he’s actually a douche, voiced by Nick Kroll. He’s also a leaky douche, so his thing is to suck replenishing juices out of his prey—sometimes in a way that is most provocative.

James Franco is on hand as the voice of a druggie experimenting with bath salts, while Edward Norton voices Sammy Bagel Jr., a bagel who plays a pivotal, perverted part in that food orgy. Rogen/Goldberg mainstays like Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz and Danny McBride all have roles, and they all contribute to make this the most outrageously insane Hollywood comedy since, well, their own This Is the End (2013).

What makes Sausage Party a cut above your average stoner-movie-full-of-food-items-screwing-and-being-murdered is that it also takes some smart swipes at organized religion and politics. Yes, this movie makes you think—a lot more than you would expect from a movie that features a taco going down on a hotdog bun.

I heard Rogen on The Howard Stern Show saying he thinks Sausage Party could be a franchise ripe for sequels. Just how he thinks he can top this madness is beyond comprehension … but I will certainly be in line to find out when he tries.

Sausage Party is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The primary charm and main reason for the existence of Hot Tub Time Machine was seeing John Cusack running around in the 1980s again. The secondary charm came from the antics of Rob Corddry as Lou, the suicidal heavy-metal fan who had to deal with the bullies in his past. The film was the first to really highlight Corddry’s talents—and he kicked some ass.

Now comes Hot Tub Time Machine 2, sans Cusack, and with Corddry taking the lead. Alas, the movie sort of stinks—but I’m not putting all of the blame on Corddry.

This is the king of unnecessary movie sequels. First off, without Cusack’s Adam, you are missing the main reason for the franchise’s existence. He was glue that held it all together, and without him, Corddry and his cohorts—Craig Robinson as Nick, and Clark Duke as Jacob—just run around like mad, with no sense of purpose.

The film starts in the present, with Lou living the rich life because he stole the idea for the Internet; Nick’s living it up because he’s stealing everybody’s songs (most notably those of Lisa Loeb). Lou winds up taking a shotgun to the dick; as things turn out, this wound isn’t very funny. To save Lou’s life, Nick and Jacob jump into the hot tub again (after an awkward moment with a frazzled Chevy Chase) in an effort to travel into the past to save Lou’s life. They wind up accidentally going into the future—where things make little sense.

There’s a lot of nonsense about parallel universes, along with attempts to do clever twists on time travel. None of it works. Who cares about time travel? Go to whatever time, and give the audience funny jokes. The first Hot Tub movie didn’t satisfy sci-fi geeks; it satisfied 1980s film comedy geeks—people who loved Better Off Dead and Say Anything.

Instead of Adam, we get Adam Jr.—yes, Adam’s son in the future, played by the ever-reliable Adam Scott. Scott has the film’s best jokes, including a hallucinatory drug experience and an unfortunate game-show situation. However, he shows up deep into a movie with no real sense of direction, so he’s fighting a losing battle.

Corddry gets some laughs here and there, but his jokes are mostly desperate. The same can be said for Robinson, who gets laughs early on—but those laughs wear thin by the 17th repetition of the same joke. Duke doesn’t handle the graduation from fourth-banana to third-banana very well.

This film has no business being on the big screen. If you don’t have the dough to bring a major star back, but you still want to do make a mediocre, cash-in sequel, go ahead—but send the results straight to Netflix. This is not a major motion-picture event. It’s a Thursday-night, “OK, What the hell, I got nuthin’ to do, so I’ll watch this piece of shit for a laugh or two” event.

When the closing credits are 10 times funnier than anything in the main movie, you have a serious problem. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 should mark the end of a franchise—and it should be the last time somebody tries to make a sequel of a John Cusack movie without John Cusack.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Godfather of Soul is the subject of a rollicking if ultimately milquetoast biopic with Get on Up, showcasing a dynamite Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. The movie is entertaining, and it does flirt with the more controversial aspects of Brown’s life—but it plays things a little too safe.

A true telling of James Brown’s often insane life would be a real powder keg of a movie. In this PG-13 film, director Tate Taylor (The Help) doesn’t avoid the domestic violence, drugs and brushes with the law that were a mainstay in Brown’s life, but he does treat those aspects as a side note. The film’s focus stays primarily on Brown’s tough upbringing and his music. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does result in a missed opportunity for greatness.

The movie, which is not told chronologically, starts with the events leading up to the infamous police chase that landed Brown in jail for three years. Boseman is nothing short of amazing in these scenes as a somewhat crazy, older Brown, brandishing a shotgun and seeking out the person who dared to take a dump in his bathroom.

The film then bounces around in time, showing Brown as a young child in Augusta, Ga., and going all the way up to his latter years as a performer. This narrative technique is certainly fun; Boseman even breaks the fourth wall to chat with the audience—something that is a bit jarring at first, but eventually works.

The film highlights many of the legendary concerts in Brown’s career, including his groundbreaking first concert at the Apollo and the healing experience that was a Boston concert shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In most of these scenes, Boseman is lip-synching to Brown’s voice, but he does sing a few passages in the film using his own vocals. Taylor puts it all together seamlessly.

As for the physicality of his performance, Boseman is a kinetic marvel. He truly becomes James Brown, immaculately re-creating the dance moves and stage theatrics that made Brown one of the all-time-great performers. His method of delivering dialogue is, quite appropriately, not always intelligible: Brown had a tendency to mumble and ramble as he got older, and Boseman doesn’t shy away from that. Somehow, I still managed to understand everything he was saying.

Viola Davis is good in her few scenes as Brown’s troubled mother. Dan Aykroyd and Craig Robinson impress as Brown’s manager, Ben Bart, and saxophonist Maceo Parker, respectively. The supporting cast’s most valuable player is Nelsan Ellis, as longtime Brown sideman Bobby Byrd. His part is essentially the voice of reason in the madness that was often Brown’s life.

This story took a long time getting to the big screen, with everybody from Wesley Snipes to Eddie Murphy rumored to play Brown. Spike Lee was attached to direct at one point; he was also attached to a Jackie Robinson biopic. The eventual 42 was not directed by Lee, but did star Boseman. I guess this sort of makes Boseman an enemy of Spike Lee by default.

If you want to see somebody kick major ass with the James Brown dance moves, Get on Up definitely delivers. If you are looking for a biopic that truly captures Brown’s amazingly crazy life, you’ll have to keep waiting. This movie, while fun, doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Get on Up is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I was on an apocalypse-comedy high after seeing Seth Rogen’s funny This Is the End, so when I saw another end-of-times laugher on iTunes—which, like This Is the End, co-stars Craig Robinson—I bit.

With Rapture-Palooza, I got a mouthful of worms.

Anna Kendrick co-stars as Lindsey, a non-believer left behind after the rapture with her boyfriend, Ben (John Francis Daley). They live in Seattle, where the Antichrist (Robinson) has decided to settle and await his showdown with Jesus.

There are some sporadic laughs, but nothing consistent. Rob Corddry, who really can’t be unfunny, gets a few giggles as Ben’s dad. (A bit in which he keeps hitting his son on the head is slightly humorous.) Robinson riffs a bit, and he’s always good for a chortle or two.

However, most of the humor is stale, poorly timed and weak. I, for one, am tired of Ken Jeong’s shtick, and he shows up in a pivotal role during the finale.

This is an apocalypse movie in which way too much time is spent on a date with the Antichrist—and that date stops the movie in its tracks.

There’s need to see this one. Move along folks … move along.

Rapture-Palooza is available on demand and online.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and especially Danny McBride and Michael Cera are going to get crossed off a lot of Christmas-party guest lists this year. After what happens at their party in This Is the End, nobody’s going to want them anywhere near the Chex mix.

Rogen and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, make a co-directorial debut for the ages with this caustically funny, blood-drenched satire of Hollywood vanity and biblical end times. Nobody is safe in this movie, in which Rogen and a bunch of his film cronies play themselves. They behave rather poorly as apocalyptic hellfire burns the Hollywood Hills, and the devil comes knocking with his huge junk hanging out.

When Baruchel comes to Hollywood to visit Rogen, he is dragged against his will to James Franco’s incredible new house—which Franco has, of course, designed himself—for a blowout party, where Cera is jacked up on coke and slapping Rihanna’s ass. Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and an uninvited Danny McBride are also in attendance, along with nearly everybody else of comedic relevance in today’s movie world.

Baruchel and Rogen go out for smokes and watch helplessly as blue beams of light suck convenience-store patrons into the sky. When they return to the house, the ground opens up, and most of the partygoers meet their demise in gruesome ways. (Poor, perverted Michael Cera gets the nastiest exit.)

Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and Baruchel survive and take inventory of their food and beverages. Matters get worse when an oblivious McBride awakens and eats most of their stuff. Constant infighting and masturbatory practices ensue while the stage is set for Satan’s earthly return.

Not surprisingly, McBride is the biggest jerk of the bunch, echoing his usual movie persona. Hill gets ribbed for thinking he’s too good for everyone else after Moneyball, and Franco is the Renaissance Man who decorates his house with his own, self-created art.

An anarchic spirit is at play with this project. Rogen and Goldberg get their stars to do mighty unsavory things (Cera’s three-way in the bathroom, for instance). Major props go to Emma Watson for taking part in something that has her behaving in a way that would make Hermione puke.

On top of the ample humor, Rogen and Goldberg manage a pretty decent horror show, with decapitations, impalings, burnings and Satan with the aforementioned huge privates. In the future, when you are planning a horror/comedy night at home, this one will go along nicely with Evil Dead 11 and Dead Alive.

The enterprise reminded me of Ghostbusters, a movie that successfully mixed big comedic-star elements with sci-fi and horror. Oh, this is a stoner comedy, too. Hey, Rogen and Franco are in it, so what did you expect?

Some of these guys have been screwing up a bit as of late. Rogen made the wasteful The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand; Franco bored me with Oz: The Great and Powerful and Spring Breakers; and both McBride and Franco stunk up movie theaters with Your Highness, a mixed-genre failure to the highest degree.

This Is the End gets them all back on track and re-establishes them as the reigning kings of Hollywood comedy.

This Is the End is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews