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Tue03192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Give co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein a lot of credit for making a movie about friends gathering for a game night—a premise that sounds kind of stupid—and turning Game Night into one of the funnier dark comedies in recent memory.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a married couple with a love of board games and arcades. They host weekly game nights with their friends, but the latest one could be a bit annoying for Max, because it involves his highly successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks asks to take over game night; Max concedes; and what follows is a great and funny series of surprising, twisted and often super-bloody events. I don’t want to give away the big twists; I’ll just say the film managed to trick me on numerous occasions—while making me laugh hard.

Bateman and McAdams turn in some of the funniest work in their careers, while Billy Magnussen is a scream as the group dunderhead; Lamorne Morris does a very good Denzel Washington; and Jesse Plemons steals scenes with a dog as Max and Annie’s weird cop neighbor. And by weird, I mean super, mega weird.

The movie actually plays out like a great round of Clue, in which you guess the contents of the envelope and get it totally wrong, because the filmmakers are constantly fooling you in hilarious ways.

Daley and Goldstein constantly prove that there is nothing they wouldn’t do for a good laugh. They take a lot of risks—and they pay off.

Game Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Be prepared to get your heart ripped out by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea, one of the more emotionally powerful movie experiences of 2016.

Affleck plays Lee, who must return to his hometown and raise his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee is a true mess, and we learn through flashbacks what got him to his messed-up state. He’s battling some major past tragedies on top of his brother’s death, and there’s no telling how things will work out for him and Patrick. The flashbacks are brutal, revealing things that go beyond terrible; it’s no wonder Lee is having coping issues. Affleck has turned in good work before, but nothing like what he does in this film. He’s incredible.

Williams turns in a blistering performance as Lee’s ex-wife, and a scene Affleck and Williams share together is guaranteed to knock you on your ass, and will probably earn them both Oscar nominations.

Hedges is mighty good as the confused teen dealing with the loss of his dad and his somewhat strange uncle. Kenneth Lonergan directs from his own screenplay; he’s put together some kind of movie miracle.

Besides being so emotionally powerful that you might dehydrate from crying, this movie also has some big laughs in it. It is an instant classic.

Manchester by the Sea is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Miles Teller delivers his breakout performance in The Spectacular Now as Sutter, a partying high school senior who everybody loves, but nobody takes seriously—until well-balanced Aimee (Shailene Woodley) comes along.

They start a complicated relationship that is ill-advised at both ends—although sometimes, that can be the best way to start a relationship. Teller is a marvel here, turning Sutter into something far from your average high school screw-up. Woodley, so good in The Descendants, is proving to be one of cinema’s great young actresses.

The film is one of the more unique and intelligent takes on growing up that you are likely to see. This is directed by James Ponsoldt, who about a year ago piloted Smashed, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears here as Sutter’s sister. Ponsoldt is officially a force to be reckoned with, having made two of the best films of the last two years.

Others in the cast include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s mom, and Kyle Chandler as his idiot dad. While he only has a couple of scenes, Bob Odenkirk is terrific as Sutter’s tolerant employer.

A plot synopsis of this film may make it seem ordinary—but it’s spectacular indeed.

Special Features: There are more than 20 minutes of deleted scenes, some of them quite good. One notable one includes Sutter giving a kid a ride home from a quickie mart and revealing some stuff about his alcoholism. You also get some short making-of featurettes and a commentary with the director.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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

Miles Teller delivers a breakout performance in The Spectacular Now as Sutter, a partying high school senior who everybody loves, but nobody takes seriously—until a well-balanced girl, Aimee (Shailene Woodley), comes along.

They start a complicated relationship that is ill-advised at both ends—but sometimes, that’s the best way to start a relationship.

Teller is a marvel here, turning Sutter into someone who’s much more than your average high school screw-up. Woodley, so good in The Descendants, is proving to be one of cinema’s great young actresses.

The film is a unique and intelligent take on growing up. This is directed by James Ponsoldt, who piloted last year’s terrific Smashed, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears here as Sutter’s sister. Ponsoldt is officially a force to be reckoned with, seeing as he’s now made two of the best films of the last two years.

Others in the cast include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s mom, and Kyle Chandler as his idiot dad. While he only has a couple of scenes, Bob Odenkirk is terrific as Sutter’s tolerant employer.

The plot synopsis of this film may make it seem ordinary—yet that’s not the case. It’s spectacular indeed.

The Spectacular Now 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

The controversial Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow’s excellently crafted version of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has a bunch of politicians and CIA officials crying foul. This makes me think the movie must contain some harsh truths and grim realities about the war on terror.

The film is virtually absent of politics, or any of that “America, fuck yeah!” nonsense. It offers an interpretation of the steps that were taken, and the deeds that were done, to rid the world of a true menace. Many of those deeds are done in a calm, calculated and perhaps even cold manner; at times, the film is spooky to watch. The people depicted in this movie mean business, and will do whatever it takes to get a job done. That includes waterboarding and literally scaring the shit out of detainees.

The film starts with a black screen and some terrifying messages left by Sept. 11 victims as they were close to death in the Twin Towers. It sets the tone for the unsettling film that’s about to happen.

We see Maya (Jessica Chastain)—a new, determined CIA officer (apparently a composite character of actual people) on the Bin Laden case—about to witness a torture chamber. Dan (Jason Clarke), another CIA agent, will use waterboarding, isolation boxes, dog collars and psychological mind games to try to draw some names out of a strong-willed detainee (a powerful Reda Kateb). Dan eventually gets a big name out of the detainee, and a long hunt that will see many casualties, including CIA agents, begins in earnest.

Is the movie pro-torture? Definitely not. Is it anti-torture? It isn’t that, either. The film is supposedly being investigated for using classified information when it comes to American interrogation tactics. Thankfully, I am no expert on the matter. This is a movie that leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether these types of interrogation methods were necessary in the pursuit of bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty clocks in at 157 minutes, with all but 40 of those devoted to Maya’s behind-the-scenes, dogged pursuit of public enemy No. 1. The last 40 minutes completely switch gears, as the film becomes an intense depiction of the final SEAL Team 6 mission that ended with “Geronimo.” All 157 minutes are top-notch, provocative and incendiary filmmaking. Bigelow has most certainly topped herself, including her Oscar-winning effort The Hurt Locker.

As for the raid itself, it’s dark and quiet. From the muffled “fwup, fwup, fwup” of the experimental helicopters (one of which crashed) as they swerve through mountain ranges, to the quick and decisive shots ending lives in that now-familiar structure in Pakistan, it’s all precise and stealthy. The aspect of the raid that unsettled me the most was the way Navy SEALS are depicted quietly and invitingly calling out the name “Osama?” before they shoot him.

Chastain, in just a couple of years, has become one of the world’s most dynamic, downright-reliable actresses. From her Oscar-nominated turn in The Help, to her beautiful supporting work in The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, she is creating one memorable character after another. Maya is her crowning achievement, and the role should get her another Oscar nomination.

Clarke is eerily effective as an interrogation man who needs a break and heads back to Washington, D.C., for a desk job. Kyle Chandler is appropriately complicated as Joseph Bradley, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. Jennifer Ehle plays a strangely happy and charged-up CIA agent, who goes so far as to bake a cake for an interviewee. (I know Bigelow and crew added some fiction to their story, but this seemed a little far-fetched. I was more convinced by the Maserati that somebody got for an interview than I was by the cake baking.)

As for the Team 6 sequence, Joel Edgerton (Warrior) and Chris Pratt (TV’s Parks and Recreation) are standouts. (Pratt’s character is listening to Tony Robbins as the helicopter approaches its final destination.) He tells his comrades that he has plans after the mission. Perhaps Bigelow is suggesting that the Pratt character is the Team 6 member who eventually wrote the best-selling No Easy Day.

Ultimately, Zero Dark Thirty is a film epic and efficient enough to be compared to the great films of Coppola, Scorsese and Kubrick. It’s an important and engaging piece of work from a director who looks like she is just starting to hit her stride.

Zero Dark Thirty <i>opens at theaters across the valley on Friday, Jan. 11.</i>

Published in Reviews