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Netflix’s The Laundromat, from normally reliable director Steven Soderbergh, is a mess of a movie despite being filled with Oscar-caliber talent—because it lacks a focused purpose.

The film deals with a real scandal that included insurance fraud in the aftermath of a terrible boating accident in Lake George, N.Y. A cast including Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas is squandered as the movie goes through one discordant tonal shift after another.

Soderbergh starts off well—the boating accident is chillingly filmed—but then he makes some odd choices, including Oldman and Banderas playing a couple of lawyers who break the fourth wall and narrate the film. The movie strives to be clever, but ultimately lacks a focus on its subject matter. The result is confusing rather than compelling.

Props to Streep, who is excellent as a passenger on the ill-fated boat trying to receive insurance compensation. Streep has more than one surprise up her sleeve here.

Ever since Adam McKay made The Big Short a few years ago, films have been trying to capture a darkly comic, real-life vibe like that Oscar-winning film did. They’ve been failing—and The Laundromat fails badly.

The Laundromat is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In what amounts to a much-wordier companion piece to Dunkirk, Gary Oldman disappears into the role of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

The movie starts shortly before Churchill takes over as prime minister—a controversial choice to lead who is facing a lot of opposition, including a skeptical King George VI (brilliantly played by Ben Mendelsohn). The film chronicles Churchill’s speeches (transcribed by personal secretary Elizabeth Layton, played winningly by Lily James) and his strategizing, leading up to him gaining Parliament’s support in not seeking peace with Hitler—and pledging all-out war.

Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) always makes great-looking movies, and this is no exception. Oldman is virtually guaranteed an Oscar nomination as Churchill. It’s not a role you would think he was born to play, but excellent makeup and prosthetics make his transformation completely convincing. This isn’t just a guy working through a bunch of stuff on his face; Oldman inhabits the role in a way that makes you forget the makeup. Kristin Scott Thomas does career-best work in the small but pivotal role of Clemmie, Churchill’s extremely tolerant wife.

Darkest Hour is one of the better-acted films of 2017. Much of the running time deals with behind-the-scenes maneuvering regarding the events at Dunkirk, and it’s because of this that Darkest Hour plays great in a double feature with Christopher Nolan’s action-pic take on the same event.

Darkest Hour is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The motion-capture apes take another step toward world domination in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a film that’s just as good as its predecessor—and a step forward when it comes to pure, unadulterated, ass-kicking ape action.

The movie picks up 10 years after a well-meaning doctor played by James Franco first shot an experimental drug into a chimp and unintentionally initiated the downfall of the human race. Caesar (Andy Serkis, doing his motion-capture best) is leading a group of genetically modified apes in the redwoods near the Golden Gate Bridge. Life is good, and the humans have seemingly disappeared, thanks to the simian flu brought on by the Franco character’s experiments.

However, some humans have survived, led by Gary Oldman’s frustrated Dreyfus, who fears the humans will soon run out of fuel for their generators. There’s a chance for some hydraulic power via a dam in the woods—a dam that just happens to be near the apes’ compound. A band of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), sets out to repair the damn, and stumbles upon the apes—who aren’t happy to see the humans.

While Caesar has a few positive memories of humans to go with the bad ones, other apes are 100 percent, justifiably pissed at mankind. Koba (Toby Kebbell), who figured prominently in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, isn’t too happy about his days as a lab experiment. He has no interest in a peaceful existence with humans, and he’s going to do some pretty nasty stuff to ensure acrimony. This not only creates discord between apes and humans, but ape-on-ape feuding as well.

Everything leads up to an exciting battle between apes and humans in San Francisco, with a decaying Golden Gate Bridge figuring prominently in the action—along with the blessed sight of Joba blasting away astride a horse with machine guns in both hands. While this installment isn’t as strong with the human element (Franco rocked in Rise), the action in Dawn is far superior.

One of the cooler aspects of the film is that you can’t help but feel bad for Koba, with his clouded-over eye and surgical scars. No amount of compassionately delivered optimism from Caesar will ease Koba’s mind. He’s out to mulch some humans, and his vengeful mannerisms are understandable. This makes him a great, compelling villain.

Clarke, who was awesome in Zero Dark Thirty, holds his own. Keri Russell (who worked with director Matt Reeves years ago on TV’s Felicity) does decent supporting work as the soothing companion with some first-aid knowhow. Oldman is his typical, frantic self as the human with an ax to grind. (His character, like many others, lost his family to the simian flu.)

I caught the film in 3-D, and things seemed a little dark. My first thought was that the filmmakers were perhaps cheating a bit by making things dark so they could cut some corners on the CGI. However, when I lifted my glasses, the images looked a bit brighter. Skipping 3-D might be the way to go.

Reeves, who directed Cloverfield, Let Me In and the vastly underrated The Pallbearer, proves to be a more-than-ample choice for the Apes job. He’s already been announced as the director of the next film in the series, due two years from now.

It’ll be interesting to see where the Apes franchise goes next. I’m holding out hope that it’ll jump many years into the future, with the Icarus spacecraft returning to Earth to make some startling discoveries. Icarus was the ship Charlton Heston rode in the 1968 original, and it was mentioned in Rise during some background news footage and newspaper headlines. The return of Icarus would be many kinds of awesome.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is playing in theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

A slew of 1980s remakes are getting thrown at us right now. For example, Endless Love and About Last Night both got re-dos, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Also released on that day of candy and heart-shaped cards: a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 ultra-violent satiric masterpiece, RoboCop.

The idea to reboot RoboCop has been around for years. The last RoboCop film, the remarkably awful RoboCop 3, came out more than 20 years ago. At one point, director Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) was attached, and that gave geeks and fanboys a reason to rejoice. Alas, Aronofsky dropped out to make Black Swan instead. A chance for legendary coolness was squandered.

In stepped Brazilian director José Padilha (Elite Squad), who received a mandate to produce a PG-13 RoboCop (as opposed to the hard-R original), so that more money could be made. After a tumultuous production, we have the result.

And that result? It’s not that bad … not bad at all.

Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer wisely go for something very different this time out. The new RoboCop is still subversive, and a bit satirical when it comes to its presentation of the media. Conversely, this one has a little more heart and emotion than the nasty original. Normally, I’d cry foul at this sort of thing, but a strong cast and a visually sound presentation result in a movie that is at least worth watching, even if it pales in comparison to Verhoeven’s insane incarnation.

Joel Kinnaman steps into the role of Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop in the year 2028 who gets himself blown up after causing too much trouble for a criminal kingpin. Murphy, with the permission of his wife (Abbie Cornish), has his life saved by being placed into an armored endoskeleton—with the purpose of making him a law-enforcement superhero.

In the original, Murphy (well played by Peter Weller) started his crusade while not really knowing who he was, or having any memories. He eventually figured out his identity and solved his own murder. The new film drastically diverts here, having its Murphy freak out upon waking up as a robot—fully cognizant of his identity. It’s only when his emotional stability comes into question that his doctor (Gary Oldman) decides to mess with his brain and shoot him full of dopamine, turning him into a robot zombie.

I heard about this twist in advance, and I didn’t like the idea. However, the plot change is handled well. Murphy’s wife and kid play a bigger part in this story, and that turns out to be fine.

This is still, very much, a RoboCop movie, even with more emotion and less violence. Michael Keaton represents the evil corporation that creates RoboCop; his Raymond Sellars is evil in a more understated way than Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones from the ’87 film—but he’s just as sinister. Michael K. Williams essentially takes over the role of the loyal partner, played by Nancy Allen in the original.

Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly Leak!) gets one of his funniest roles ever as a militaristic policeman, while Samuel L. Jackson gets to scream as a sensationalistic talk-show host. I guess Jackson is essentially taking over the role played by Leeza Gibbons in the original.

The movie also contains some clever winks to the original, including an army of ED-209s (the cumbersome war machine that fell down the stairs, squealing, in the original), and a nod to the first RoboCop suit.

This film is rewritten in a way that won’t piss off the original’s legions of fans. Still, if a hundred years from now, anybody is watching RoboCop movies, the Verhoeven film will still be the one most in favor. The new one amounts to a decent-enough curio, but it’s not a classic.

RoboCop is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews