Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Partially inspired by real events, and partially inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare, Netflix film The King features Timothée Chalamet as Hal, King Henry V of England—and it’s a barnburner of an acting turn.

Chalamet has made a name for himself by playing complicated, quiet characters, but this role gives him a chance to rage on occasion—and he’s more than up to the task. Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the screenplay) is on hand as Falstaff, Hal’s complicated right-hand man, and Robert Pattinson once again shows that he just might be the finest actor of his generation with a brave and crazy performance as The Dauphin of France. Simply put: Pattinson’s accent is one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed in a movie this year, as is his final stunt in full armor.

Director David Michod stages some fine action scenes, and Lily-Rose Depp makes a nice late-film appearance as Catherine, Hal’s bride-to-be—who will not stand for any of his toxic-masculinity bullshit.

Chalamet and Pattinson impress the most in this grand experiment of a period-piece film. I want a sequel.

The King is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Lucas Hedges continues to establish himself as one of his generation’s best actors as a young gay man forced into conversion therapy by his Baptist parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) in Boy Erased, an adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir.

Hedges plays Jared (a character based on Conley), a college student who, after a horrible event on campus, reveals to his parents that he “thinks about men.” This sends his parents into a religious panic, and they send him to a facility where a shifty preacher/counselor (Joel Edgerton, who also directs and wrote the screenplay) tries to convince him that homosexuality is a sin and the wrong choice. Jared is forced to withstand psychological torture and gradually realizes that, despite his upbringing and the wishes of his parents, he’s gay—and no amount of bullshit preaching is going to change that.

Edgerton does a respectable job of keeping all of the characters based in reality; the crazed preachers and misguided parents have depth to them and aren’t reduced to caricature.

Kidman and Crowe are both very good, but the film’s main triumph is Hedges, who continues to amaze. The movie packs a wallop, and that’s due in large part to what Hedges brings to Jared.

Boy Erased is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033) and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

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Writer-director Trey Edward Shults, who made a splendid debut with last year’s family drama Krisha, goes for a family drama of the post-apocalyptic kind with It Comes at Night, a thriller falsely billed as a horror movie.

Paul (Joel Edgerton), a man living in a remote house with his wife and kid (Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.), will go to every extreme to protect his family from a plague that has claimed the majority of Earth’s population. If somebody gets sick in his home, the ill person receives a bullet to the head and a postmortem visit to the fire pit. With that possibility always at hand, he allows a new couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough, grandchild of Elvis) and their child to move in after they earn his trust with some livestock. Things go well for a short amount of time … before paranoia kicks in, and the fire pit looms.

Edgerton is magnificent here, as is the rest of the cast. The marketing makes this look like some sort of zombie movie, but it’s more drama than horror—although the film is quite dark. Shults is a true talent who doesn’t play by the rules, and he’s only going to get better.

If you are looking for zombie fun, watch The Walking Dead. This one is about families behaving badly. It aims to mess with your head—and succeeds.

It Comes at Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Jeff Nichols, who has already made two excellent movies in Mud and Take Shelter, released a very good movie earlier this year called Midnight Special. Here, in late 2016, he has released another excellent one.

Loving, written and directed by Nichols, recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose interracial marriage was ruled illegal by the state of Virginia in 1958, banning them from the state and sending their lives into constant turmoil. Put on probation with the threat of 25 years in prison if they were caught together in Virginia, they were forced to live a good portion of their married life in exile.

The movie covers their lives from the time they decide to get married due to Mildred’s pregnancy, through the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional in 1967. That’s nine years during which two people lived their lives in America as convicted criminals simply for being two consenting adults who married. The law banning interracial marriage was abolished in many other states as a result of the ruling, and the Loving case was even used as an argument in last year’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Simply put: When it comes to the institution of marriage and what it stands for in the United States, you might not ever find a more historically important couple than Richard and Mildred Loving.

Joel Edgerton, who delivered a terrific performance in Midnight Special, is a sure Oscar contender as Richard. His face depicts constant pain and confusion, as if it is always saying, “Really, you have to be kidding me!” in regards to his plight. The moments when Richard gets to smile and laugh in the film are like drinking a pitcher of iced water while another is being poured over you on a 110-degree day.

Ruth Negga, a relatively unknown actress, is equally wonderful as Mildred, a woman who must give birth to her baby in Virginia under the stress of possible arrest. Like Edgerton, hers is a performance showing quiet reserve, made all the more powerful by her expressive face.

The absolute beauty of these performances is that Edgerton and Negga always convey the love between these two people, no matter the situation. The real-life couple went through pure hell to be together, and this movie makes you understand why: The Lovings truly loved each other.

Put Nichols on the list of today’s most consistent directors, along with Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and, yes, Martin Scorsese. (I can’t include Spielberg on this list. He’s still one of my favorites, but he did make Hook, The Terminal and The BFG, so his consistency isn’t quite on the level of these others.) Apart from writing screenplays that are damn near perfect (he’s written every film he’s directed), Nichols’ movies are testaments to beautiful visual craftsmanship and, of course, fine acting. Along with Edgerton and Negga, Loving has Michael Shannon (a blessed Nichols staple) as a friendly photographer, Marton Csokas as a despicable cop, and Nick Kroll as the Lovings’ resourceful lawyer; they are all first-rate.

It’s time to take note of cinematographer Adam Stone, who has shot all of Nichols’ movies. He shows that his talents can effectively be applied to decades past. Big props to David Wingo as well, who has scored all of Nichols’ movies. Yes, Nichols has been putting together one of the better filmmaking teams out there.

It’s downright amazing that Loving was Richard’s last name, given what he and Mildred would go on to stand for. As for the movie, Loving will stand as not only one of 2016’s best films, but undoubtedly as one of its most important.

Loving is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) has named his latest film—about a boy with special powers running from a Texas cult—Midnight Special.

The name alone is a stroke of genius. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover of “Midnight Special” was featured in Twilight Zone: The Movie back in 1983. Whenever I hear that song, or even see the title, I am reminded of that song and movie, which both hold a special place in my film-going heart. Because of all of this, I walked into Midnight Special in an ’80s sort of mood. Whether or not Nichols named his film with Twilight Zone in mind doesn’t really matter. The end result had me thinking of Dan Aykroyd attacking Albert Brooks in a parked car at night on a country road.

Midnight Special, the movie, feels like a product of the late ’70s and early ’80s, a time when the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese were going full-throttle and turning out some of their best stuff. It also works like a really cool episode of The Twilight Zone.

Other filmmakers, like J.J. Abrams with his muddled Super 8, have tried to evoke a Spielberg vibe and wound up ripping him off. Here, Nichols has made a film that is an interesting homage to Spielberg—while still coming off as smart and original. It’s also a very entertaining journey.

Michael Shannon (who has appeared in all of Nichols’ films) plays Roy, father to young Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a mysterious boy who must wear goggles all the time due to fits during which his eyes shoot out blinding light. He has the power to down satellites, channel radio broadcasts and transmit military secrets. So, yeah, the government is after him—and the Texas cult he grew up within sees him as some sort of prophet.

Roy takes Alton away from the cult (led by the forever-haggard Sam Shepard) and is racing toward some undisclosed location—because he knows his boy is important, and that his mystery meeting is important. Nichols cleverly keeps much of his movie shrouded in mystery, with some of questions never getting clear-cut answers. Movies that spell everything out for you can be very boring.

The film has elements of Duel, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the Spielberg front, along with the mystery and wonder of the best Twilight Zone episodes. It also has the look and feel of some of Clint Eastwood’s best offerings, the dramatic intensity of Scorsese films, and some of the better aspects of last year’s poorly received Tomorrowland. Yet it feels very original.

Shannon is typically strong as the worried yet emotionally closed-off father who doesn’t have all of the answers, but will do everything he can to help his son. Joel Edgerton gives his best performance to date as Lucas (yep, a George Lucas homage), a former state trooper along for the ride.

Kirsten Dunst plays Alton’s mysterious birth mother. There’s also Adam Driver as the sympathetic government guy (think Peter Coyote in E.T.) in full nerd mode, doing much to make viewers forget that sinister villain he played in that little film that came out late last year.

Nichols is, quite simply, one of the finest directors making movies today. If you haven’t seen Take Shelter or Mud, get on it. This film is perhaps a notch below those two movies, but that’s not saying it isn’t an entertaining and satisfying experience. That’s just saying he’s made three great movies.

Some people have complained that Nichols botches his films in the third act. That’s a bunch of crap. The third acts in his films are always exciting or mind-blowing, and this one is no exception. 

Midnight Special is an example of a great director stretching his wings and hitting his marks impressively. It’s also the first of two Nichols movies (the other being Loving, also starring Edgerton and Shannon) that will be released this year. In other words, this is a movie year about which you should be excited.

Midnight Special is now playing at the Cinémas Palme D’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

Johnny Depp breaks his shit slump with a riveting performance as James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston crime lord who acted as an informant to the FBI while killing people and destroying lives.

Depp goes under some heavy makeup—including some disgusting teeth—to play the infamous brother of William “Billy” Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and pal of FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). The movie examines the strange dynamic that occurred between one of the worst criminals in Boston history, his high-ranking brother and his meat-headed FBI friend. All three are very good in a film that, alas, feels like it was supposed to be a lot longer. I suspect there’s a four-hour cut of this movie somewhere in director Scott Cooper’s basement.

Depp is scary-good, yet his work feels strangely abbreviated; he feels like more of a supporting player. Edgerton’s Connolly feels a more well-rounded; this continues a fine year for the actor after The Gift. Peter Sarsgaard, Kevin Bacon and Dakota Johnson are all good in supporting roles.

As mobster movies go, this is good, but it should’ve been great. If anything, it’s good to see Depp truly digging into something rather than acting like a goofball for a paycheck.

Black Mass is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Joel Edgerton writes, directs and stars in The Gift, a capable thriller about the perils of bullying and moving back home.

Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn, a married couple returning to California, where Simon has a new job. While shopping for throw pillows, they run into Gordo (Edgerton), a high school pal who Simon doesn’t seem to remember at first. Gordo goes out of his way to welcome the new couple, dropping by the house uninvited, stocking their pond with fish—and basically creeping Simon out.

As the film progresses, more is revealed about Simon, his past with Gordo, and his dishonesty. Bateman, who usually opts for more comedic roles, is very good as a man who thinks he is in control and can get away with habitual fibbing. Hall is terrific as the wife who can’t help but feel a little sorry for Gordo. Edgerton is creepy and, somehow, sympathetic as the strange man from the past who wants Simon to remember him in the worst of ways.

Edgerton shows that he can write a screenplay with some good twists, direct so there are plenty of surprises, and act so well that it’s good and scary. He’s a true triple threat.

The Gift is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Ridley Scott somehow makes the Old Testament quite boring in Exodus: Gods and Kings, a laborious treatment of the story of Moses (Christian Bale) and his tumultuous relationship with Ramses (Joel Edgerton).

There are stretches of the movie that look pretty good, including a massive gator attack that turns a river blood red, and the infamous frog plague that makes things unpleasant in Egypt. As good as some of these things look, however, they often sound really stupid, thanks to a pedestrian screenplay and an ever-wandering Bale accent. There are times when he sounds like straight-up Christian Bale, and others when he inexplicably sounds like an American rabbi from Brooklyn.

Scott can make great movies, but his period epics, including this, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood tend to stink. While he wastes time in this particular sandbox, he’s being taken away from more important matters, like getting the Prometheus and Blade Runner sequels into production and in front of my face. No more historical epics from Ridley Scott, please!

Exodus: Gods and Kings is playing at theaters across the valley.

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It was a little worrisome when Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel had its release postponed last year. As it turns out, turning the film into a summer blockbuster rather than an awards-season contender was a great move, because this one felt right at home during the summer movie season.

Shot in glorious 3-D, this is a rollicking Roaring ’20s movie that shouldn’t be missed. Leonardo DiCaprio is a marvel in the title role, giving us a vulnerable and sometimes slightly crazy Gatsby who relentlessly pursues his love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). His visual intro in this film is one for the ages.

Tobey Maguire is excellent as narrator and Gatsby admirer Nick Carraway, while Joel Edgerton steals scenes as Tom Buchanan. Those who like Luhrmann’s opulent, sometimes-frantic style will find plenty to like. He also manages to effectively use music by Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey—in a movie set nearly a century ago.

Despite the big, headline-grabbing production delay, the film wound up being one of the summer’s better offerings, and it’s a sure contender for technical Oscars. (DiCaprio is solid enough for a nom here as well … but we’ll see.) Visually, this is one of the film year’s greater achievements. Dramatically, the stars give it substance beyond the style.

Special Features: A boatload of behind-the-scenes looks and some deleted scenes, including an alternate ending. This is being released today, Tuesday, Aug. 27.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The moment when we first see Leonardo DiCaprio’s face as the title character in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish adaptation of The Great Gatsby is perhaps the biggest “movie star” moment of DiCaprio’s career to date. As fireworks pop off in the night sky behind him, he turns and raises his glass to the camera in a way that exudes high-octane star charisma.

If you are a Luhrmann fan, and you appreciated his over-stylized vision in works like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! (Let’s just forget Australia ever happened, shall we?), you are bound to find much to like in his Gatsby. It’s full of eye-popping visuals, lush costumes and terrific soundtrack stunts. (I loved hearing Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey while watching a picture set in the roaring ’20s.)

More important than any of the visual and audio treats is the fact that DiCaprio gives us cinema’s first “great” Gatsby. (Robert Redford played Gatsby once, and I am falling asleep just thinking about it.) Luhrmann slows the pace and lowers the volume for dramatic moments, and DiCaprio seizes these moments with substantial authority.

His Gatsby is an obsessed heartbreaker, relentlessly pursuing the love of the married Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a woman he met five years previous before going off to war. A lesser actor could make Gatsby come off as a true nutball/psycho, but DiCaprio gives us somebody who garners sympathy and makes complete sense in his own deranged, sad way. His Gatsby is the sweetest stalker you will see onscreen this year.

It’s great to see DiCaprio sharing the screen with longtime friend Tobey Maguire; he is equally good as Nick Carraway, who narrates the film as he writes a novel within the confines of a sanitarium. Their camaraderie feels quite natural.

Maguire commands the most screen time in the movie, and that’s a good thing. Before he became Spider-Man, he was one of Hollywood’s more-reliable dramatic actors in films like The Cider House Rules and Wonder Boys. He’s the perfect choice for Carraway, a man who is at once intelligent, artistic and socially naïve. Maguire always does a fine job when required to look cute and confused.

One of the film’s greatest surprises is the amount of depth Joel Edgerton brings to the role of Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s lug of a husband. Edgerton commands one of the film’s greatest scenes: a confrontation with Gatsby regarding Daisy in a New York City hotel, over a block of ice and some whiskey. Edgerton makes this more than just a standard showdown between two men over a woman: He turns it into a bona fide romantic apocalypse.

As the object of multiple affections, Daisy, as played by Mulligan, offers bountiful charms to go with fatal vacuous tendencies. There are times when Gatsby’s pursuit is quite understandable based on how luminescent Mulligan looks in the role. Yet Mulligan, an actress of considerable talent, gives Daisy something far more complex below the surface. As anybody who has read the novel knows, Daisy is doomed to a dim emotional life, yet Mulligan has you always rooting for her to wise up.

Luhrmann made the daring choice to shoot the movie in 3-D, and this stands as one of the best usages of the medium. I wouldn’t think that a film simply set in 1920s New York would benefit from 3-D, but Luhrmann proves me wrong. Indeed, streaming confetti, orchids, popping champagne and DiCaprio’s face all get wonderful enhancement in 3-D. It adds a major element of fun to the film.

Some might decry Luhrmann’s crazy music choices, as he mixes modern music with old Cole Porter standards, yet he does it well. When Lana Del Rey’s voice comes up over a moving romantic moment, it doesn’t feel like a stunt. (I kind of hate her music, but it works really well in the film.) Music is indeed timeless when it comes to Luhrmann movies.

The film was delayed from December of last year (aka awards season). I thought it was strange to put an adaptation of a literary classic in the middle of summer-movie season, but after seeing it, the move makes perfect sense. It’s a heady movie, but it’s also the sort of feast for the eyes we want to see this time of year. And let’s face it: If the movie is good, and it has DiCaprio in it, that usually means big box office.

I imagine this will be another great DiCaprio performance that won’t get noticed come Oscar time. How this guy doesn’t have an Oscar yet is beyond me. He does have Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street coming later this year, so maybe that will put him in awards play.

As for that green dock light that Gatsby gazes upon through the night fog—where Daisy lives, across the lake—it’s a haunting image that will stick with you. Green traffic lights were making me weepy as I drove home after The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

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