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Wed06192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Writer-director Drew Goddard, who hadn’t directed a film since The Cabin in the Woods in 2012, assembles an all-star cast for a nutty film—that’s sometimes a little too cute for its own good.

The star of this movie is the El Royale, a fictional hotel based on Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva hotel, once owned by Frank Sinatra. Bad Times at the El Royale features fine art direction, from its aged lobby straddling two states, to its creepy tunnels behind the rooms set up for criminal voyeurs.

Jeff Bridges plays a mysterious priest who checks into the resort along with a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm) and a hippie (Dakota Johnson). After the messed-up manager (Lewis Pullman) checks them in, each visitor has his or her own story in his or her own room.

Goddard shows flourishes of brilliance, mixing thrills, mystery, humor and lots of blood into the intertwined plots, giving the film a Tarantino-like feel. (I know that’s a cliché these days, but it’s true.) The film is set in 1969 and pays homage to the time through its soundtrack, set design and subplot involving a Manson-like cult leader (Chris Hemsworth).

At nearly 2 1/2 hours, the film is a bit much; a half-hour could easily be excised. However, the stuff that works makes Bad Times at the El Royale a worthwhile movie.

Bad Times at the El Royale is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

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.

Published in Reviews

If you thought 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a bit over the top—and you liked that aspect of it—you’ll be happy to know that things were just getting started with Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, The Secret Service.

Sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle pulls out all of the stops, goes into severe overkill mode, and then somehow holds together nicely; it delivers a fun time for those who like their movies a little nasty. It’s over-long at 141 minutes, and a pug dies—but the action snaps with expert precision, and the cast kicks ass.

That cast includes Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the young recruit of Harry Hart (Colin Firth) from the first film. The Kingsman—an underground, sharply dressed spy agency in England—remains in operation after the death of Harry, who took a bullet to the head in the first chapter. Eggsy has settled down with a royal girlfriend (Hanna Alstrom), and has segued comfortably into the life of a secret agent.

As it often goes when you are just starting to enjoy your job, things start sucking badly as missiles destroy Kingsman headquarters and strongholds, leaving behind only Eggsy and techy Merlin (Mark Strong). Eggsy and Merlin wind up in America, where they meet the Statesman—secret allies doing a similar spying service for the U.S. The task force includes Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Champ (Jeff Bridges).

The two organizations join to battle Poppy (Julianne Moore, gloriously crazy here), a rich drug dealer who can afford to build a compound that looks a lot like Disneyland’s Radiator Springs in the middle of a jungle. She’s also wields enough power to kidnap Elton John, who is a very colorful hostage in her music hall.

Poppy has hatched an evil scheme to poison all of her drugs. When she calls the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) and demands that he pay a price for the antidote, POTUS proves to be 10 times meaner than Poppy. (An evil, selfish, conniving president? That’s just crazy!)

Does it sound like there’s a lot going on in this movie? Well, there is, and it’s probably enough to command two films; Vaughn should’ve practiced a little more restraint. This is a good, fun movie—but it could’ve been great. It still achieves greatness in some of its sequences, including a ski-slope fight that goes to dizzying extremes; just about every fight scene in the film is a decent pulse-racer.

If you’ve seen the commercials, you know that Colin Firth returns for this movie. I won’t give away the nature of his return, but I will say it’s good to have him back. Speaking as a fan of the first movie, I can accept the ridiculous plot twist that puts Firth back in the character. He’s an important part of this franchise.

Like its predecessor, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is very violent, super-profane and steeped in dark humor. This is a movie in which men wind up in meat grinders and are cooked into hamburgers for other men to consume under duress. It takes a director with chops to pull this sort of stuff off and even make it funny. Vaughn is up to the task.

While Bridges, Tatum and Berry do fine with their smallish roles, Moore basically steals the movie by portraying one of the year’s greatest, most-memorable villains. Poppy is a sick hoot, and her penchant for cooking manburgers and terrorizing Elton John make her a unique kind of evil. Moore is no stranger to getting laughs, and she gets a lot of them in this movie.

If you liked the first movie, you will like this one just fine, so go see it for a nice blast of sick action as autumn kicks off. Also … if this movie is any indication, you should be very careful to never, ever piss off Elton John.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster are simply amazing in Hell or High Water, a terrific modern Western from director David Mackenzie.

Pine and Foster play two brothers who devise a bank-robbing scheme to save the family farm; Bridges is the soon-to-be-retired sheriff trying to stop them. Pine takes his career to a whole new level with his work here; he disappears into his part, making us forget he’s Captain Kirk. Foster, an actor I couldn’t stand when he was younger, gets better and better with each film; this is his best work yet. Pine’s Toby is supposedly the more sensible brother, while Foster’s Tanner is the nut. However, those roles sometime switch, and the acting by both makes it mesmerizing to watch.

What else can you say about Bridges at this point? He’s one of the best actors to have ever walked the Earth, and Hell or High Water further cements that fact.

Mackenzie, whose most notable prior film was the underrated Starred Up, takes a step into an elite class with this one. His staging of car chases and manhunts is nerve-shredding.

This is a movie without a bad frame in it. It’s a masterpiece—one of only a few to be released so far this year.

Hell or High Water is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

After sitting on the shelf for quite some time, Mark Osborne’s unorthodox animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince has finally gotten a release—a release streaming on Netflix, that is.

It’s a good-enough movie, but it is by no means a straight retelling of The Little Prince. There’s a modern story about a young girl (the voice of Mackenzie Foy) who befriends an old aviator (Jeff Bridges)—the one we know from The Little Prince. He recounts part of that story to the little girl, which we see in stop-motion animation. (The modern portion of the story is mostly told via CGI.)

There’s an interesting mix of animation techniques to go with some twists in the story. While things feel a little uneven and perhaps slow at times, it’s an enjoyable film.

Other voice performers include Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro and Albert Brooks. It’s great fun hearing all of their voices in one place.

Again, if you are looking for a traditional retelling of The Little Prince, this is not it. If you are looking for decent-enough animated fare that will entertain kids and adults alike, you could do much worse.

The Little Prince is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In a post-apocalyptic society, humans are being drugged into a state in which they feel no emotion, are completely submissive and see no colors. When they hit their late teens, they are assigned a job that they will have for the rest of their life. Everybody’s equal; there is no war; all aspects of life are predestined.

Lois Lowry’s novel had an interesting premise, but Phillip Noyce’s film simply feels and looks wrong. For starters, The Giver feels like a rip-off of Pleasantville, with the film slowly changing from black-and-white to color; meanwhile, elements of the dystopian society come off like a dated Disney ride. As for the casting, it’s good to see Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep on hand in pivotal roles, but the young leads (Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush) seem like they are overreaching. Taylor Swift shows up for a couple of minutes in a cameo—a cameo that is being marketed as a starring role, misleading her fans.

Bridges is at least interesting as an old wise man who stores all memories of past societies in his head. He’s tasked with passing his memories on to young Jonas (Thwaites)—as if that isn’t going to cause some sort of problem.

Noyce gives us some pretty pictures and a halfway decent cast—and basically doesn’t know what to do with it.

The Giver is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jeff Bridges has a few movies in the works (he is an Academy Award-winning actor, after all); he has a newish book out (The Dude and the Zen Master, co-written with Zen Buddhist Bernie Glassman); and he’s a spokesman for an anti-hunger organization (www.nokidhungry.org).

In the midst of this busy schedule, he makes playing concerts—like his appearance at Stagecoach—seem like something thrown together at the last minute.

You might call your buddies to watch a game somewhere; Jeff Bridges plays live music for thousands of people. People have to have a hobby, right?

“We pretty much just let it fly,” Bridges said in a recent phone interview. “If people enjoyed Crazy Heart,” Bridges mentions off-hand, not really noting that he won an Oscar for his role in the film, “we’ll be playing some songs from that.”

Bridges also has some new music that he and his band, delightfully called “The Abiders,” have been working on, following up on his 2011 self-titled second album. (A delightful Big Lebowski-referencing side note: he wanted to call them “The Royal We,” but “the guys were digging the other name, so we went with it.”)

“I imagine people have had time to check out (my most recent album) by now, so they’ve probably decided if they like it,” Bridges said.

Music has been a part of the Jeff Bridges aesthetic for nearly as long as he’s been in the spotlight, as he’s been known to pull out a guitar during filming down-times at his day job.

“I’ve been playing music all my life, really. I picked up a guitar at age 12, and started writing songs not long after,” Bridges said.

During the filming of Heaven’s Gate, Bridges met roots-music super-producer T-Bone Burnett, who produced the 2011 album; Bridges hopes Burnett will be his collaborator again.

“T-Bone’s the best, and we’re old buds, so I’d work with him again anytime,” he said.

But even their relationship seems almost accidental in the laid-back way that Bridges describes it. “After the success of Crazy Heart, I thought I could parlay that into recording some tunes, so I threw the idea out to Bone, and he dug the idea. Off we went to the races, you know?”

The band consists of guys from Santa Barbara—his “homies,” as Bridges puts it.

“We have a great time together, and they’re superb musicians. I love making music, and I get to make it with my pals, so you make time for the things you want to do.”

Even the experience of being part of the Stagecoach lineup has him largely unaffected. “Playing these things can be surreal, but it’s cool.” Plus, he has friends with whom he’s sharing the lineup: “Toby Keith let us borrow his audience for the concert scenes in Crazy Heart. Nice guy.”

If you happen to come by the stage while Bridges and his buddies are playing, he does wish you the best possible experience, but the fates will also have to intervene. After all, Bridges himself has a rather Zen/Dude-like approach to the whole thing.

“I hope people enjoy the show, but I’m not one for expectations. I like to lower mine and be surprised,” he said.

Jeff Bridges and the Abiders play on Friday, April 26, at Stagecoach. The festival takes place Friday, April 26, through Sunday, April 28, at the Empire Polo Club, 81800 Avenue 51 in Indio. Passes for all three days start at $239. For tickets or more information, visit www.stagecoachfestival.com.

Published in Previews