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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Some movies are made to make viewers miserable. It’s what they set out to do, and if done well, cinema geeks such as myself will tip our hats to them.

The Devil All the Time is one of those movies. It’s an ugly film—and it’s supposed to be. I understand that a lot of people do not need this sort of movie in their lives right now. I, for one, found it a mildly rewarding viewing experience, even though I had to take two showers afterward.

The film starts in World War II, where soldier Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) makes a discovery that will pretty much fuck him up for the rest of his life. Upon returning stateside, he tries to live the American life: He gets married to Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and has a boy named Arvin (Tom Holland, when the character grows up). Try as Willard might to live a good, pious life, tragedy strikes multiple times.

Arvin grows up with a decent-enough head on his shoulders despite the trauma, and has a strong bond with his stepsister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). When a creepy preacher (Robert Pattinson) moves to town, things—rather predictably—go bad again.

Meanwhile, in another subplot, a sadistic couple (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) drives around picking up hitchhikers and asking them to do some strange things. There’s also a corrupt sheriff (Sebastian Stan), the brother to the woman doing the strange hitchhiking things. There are a lot of other characters in the mix as well.

Bottom line: The film has way too much going on. It needed to be a miniseries rather than a single 138-minute film. That said, Holland and Pattinson are especially good, and the film is worth seeing for them. Skarsgard, Keough, Clarke and Scanlen all do just fine, but the movie is way too crowded.

To reiterate: If you are looking for a good time, this movie won’t provide it. It’s bound to go down as one of the film year’s biggest bummers—intentionally, of course.

The Devil All the Time is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

5 out of 5 stars

Charlie Kaufman (writer of Being John Malkovich) directs and writes the adapted screenplay for I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a nice puzzler of a movie that will have you debating its plotline with friends for days.

On the heels of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet—which is not yet out in the Coachella Valley, but it will be … I promise—September is proving to be a fine month for moviegoers who like their films intelligently convoluted and crazy.

Young Woman (the amazing Jessie Buckley) is going on a strange date with her strange boyfriend, Jake (the equally amazing Jesse Plemons). They take a road trip in a snowstorm to meet Jake’s parents, even though Young Woman—as the title of the film suggests—is apparently thinking of ending things with Jake.

They have bizarre conversations during which their moods change in a snap, and their visit with the parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis, relishing the chance to play in Kaufman-land) is even weirder—but their stop at an ice cream shop in the middle of a blizzard is off-the-charts nuts. It all comes to a conclusion that absolutely requires you watch the film again, with that second viewing being a completely different experience.

This is one of those movies, like Barton Fink and Mulholland Dr., that doesn’t make much sense while it is happening, but it comes together with post-movie thought. It’s also one of the year’s best, with the four stars all worthy of year-end awards.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Will Ferrell used to be a sure-fire comedy guarantee: There was a stretch when it seemed he could do no wrong.

Alas, that stretch is long behind him now, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga continues his recent streak of lousy-to-mediocre films. This one falls somewhere in the realm of mediocre.

On the eve of the infamous Eurovision contest—the song competition that birthed the career of ABBA in real life—Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), lifelong friends and members of the rock-duo Fire Saga, are taking one last bid at fame. However, they are terrible, and are hated by most of the people in their Icelandic hometown, including Lars’ father (Pierce Brosnan). A tragic boating accident thrusts them into the competition in which they represent their country—and many unfunny musical sequences ensue.

Ferrell’s wigged schtick grows tired early on—and since the film is two-plus hours long, we are talking a lot of unwanted shtick. McAdams, who can lip-sync with the best of them, is actually quite good here, and nearly saves the film with a warm, funny, earnest performance. Her character’s obsession with magical elves is a potential funny subplot that isn’t adequately explored. Directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), this movie would’ve benefited from a shorter running time.

It’s hard watching Ferrell founder in stuff like this; his career is in need of some major adjustments. He’s too funny to be goofing around with subpar material.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spike Lee follows up BlacKkKlansman, one of his best movies, with another great one, Da 5 Bloods, now out on Netflix. Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman lead a strong cast as Lee examines the lives of five Black veterans before and after Vietnam.

Lee and his co-writers send the five characters back to Vietnam to search for the remains of their former platoon leader (Boseman) and a bunch of gold bars they stashed during battle. Boseman appears via flashback; the older actors appear as the same age (with no de-aging makeup or technology) in both time periods—and it’s a style choice that works amazingly well. There’s something deep and moving about seeing these characters at their present age in the war they fought a half-century ago.

Lindo does career-best work as Paul, a man who is fraying a bit at the edges and is looking for redemption in the jungle. His son, David (Jonathan Majors), provides a twist when he unexpectedly tags along, forcing David to deal with a lot of demons. Lindo has delivered one of the year’s best performances so far.

The movie is shot beautifully—and is perhaps the most violent film Lee has ever made. It’s also one of the more adventurous, and best-timed, films in his repertoire.

Lee has made two stellar films in a row—indicating he is back in full creative force.

Da 5 Bloods is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Happy Friday, everyone.

I have to warn you that today’s Daily Digest is pretty depressing … so proceed with caution. I am sorry to send you off into the weekend with such concerning news, but that’s my job—so here we go.

Today’s news:

• My friends, I beg of you: Please take precautions against COVID-19. As more and more of the Coachella Valley reopens, the numbers are getting worse and worse. The number of COVID-19 patients at Eisenhower Medical Center as of Wednesday is nearly twice as high as it had ever been before an uptick in cases began there around the start of the month

• Horrifyingly related: The Los Angeles Times reports that some people are so opposed to the idea of wearing masks, they’re lashing out in crazy ways. In fact, Orange County’s health officer resigned after receiving a death threat related to her since-rescinded mask order. I just don’t understand some people.

• Also related: The CDC made it very clear today that if you’re going to be part of a large gathering, you really should be wearing a mask.

• Meanwhile, San Bernardino County is on the state watch list due to alarming COVID-19 increases there. (Based on what I am seeing, I would not be surprised to see Riverside County on this list soon.)

A senior care community in Rancho Mirage is dealing with an outbreak.

• Scientists are examining the possibility that a mutation in the coronavirus may allow it to infect more cells. However, scientists aren’t even sure what that would mean if it were true.

• However, the reopening process rolls on: Nail salons, tattoo parlors and massage businesses can reopen a week from today in counties that give the OK.

• Augustine Casino deserves credit for being the first area casino to close, the last to reopen, and for taking social distancing so seriously that table games have been removed for the time being. The Coachella casino will open its doors on Monday.

• Lawmakers are upset about all of the executive orders Gov. Newsom has issued since the pandemic began—and some of them are fighting back. In fact, in response to a suit filed by two Republican legislators, a Sutter County judge put a hold on his order to send a mail ballot to all registered voters for this November’s election.

• Some hope is provided by this University of Chicago poll, showing that the vast majority of Americans insist they’re taking the necessary precautions during the pandemic.

• However, these findings from that poll conflict with cell-phone data showing that in some parts of the country, people are moving around as much as—or even more than—they were before the pandemic began.

• It’s theoretically possible that a smart phone could be used to test for COVID-19. How? ZDNet explains.

• Even though movie theaters have gotten the go-ahead to start reopening in California and some other states, the studios keep delaying major movie releasesincluding some big delays announced today.

• Due in part to systemic racism, COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn has killed off 41 percent of Black-owned businesses in the U.S., according to research out of UC Santa Cruz.

Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes released a statement following the squabble between his officers’ union and Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege, as well as last night’s City Council meeting. Key quote: “We must discuss our history to have a better understanding and we must be willing to discuss current real or perceived experiences of racism within our community and police department. This must occur if we have any hope for meaningful change. I am confident the Palm Springs Police Officers Association, our City Council and our community will work on this very important issue as we move forward.

Netflix has released a new special by Dave Chappellefilmed just six days ago. Early reviews say the set by the renowned comedian—in which he discusses the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests—is quite powerful.

• And finally, the Trump administration continues to show how inhumane it is by erasing protections for transgender people against discrimination from the health-care industry. This was announced on the fourth anniversary of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub. Happy Pride Month.

That’s the news for the week. Live in the now, and enjoy yourself this weekend—in a responsible fashion, of course. If you have the means, please consider helping us produce quality local journalism, made available free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back Monday—and in the meantime, watch CVIndependent.com over the weekend for some excellent new stories.

Published in Daily Digest

Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, both major parts of the U.S. version of The Office, take a satirical stab at Donald Trump’s hankering for a space army in Space Force, a pretty good comedy that I suspect will get better if it gets a second season.

The series starts slow, with an uninspired first episode. However, the end of that episode has a funny moment that launches into what counts as the best show of the season—one in which Steve Carell’s newly installed Space Force general must solve a satellite problem using a chimp. The episode is funny—and I found myself fully engaged with the series.

The premise provides Carell with a good, goofy base for his comedic strengths, but also provides some realistic family drama involving his Gen. Naird and his justifiably despondent daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers). Lisa Kudrow has a good if small role as his convict wife. Fred Willard, in his final role before his passing, is a total crack-up as Naird’s sickly father, who tries to conduct phone conversations while his wife is experiencing all kinds of difficulties next to him in bed.

John Malkovich provides levity as the nerdy scientist guy, and Ben Schwartz gets some of the show’s bigger laughs as Naird’s marketing man.

The cast finds its groove more and more with each episode, leading up to a cliffhanger finale that will leave a lot of folks hanging if the show’s second season doesn’t get green-lit.

Space Force is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Lovebirds—the latest Michael Showalter effort—caught my eye before it was originally scheduled to be released in theaters in April. The Wet Hot American Summer co-architect had made his best film as a director a couple years back, The Big Sick, and The Lovebirds has him re-teaming with that film’s star, Kumail Nanjiani.

The film wound up being sold to Netflix, and Showalter has taken the romantic-comedy to new, deranged levels here, pairing Nanjiani with Issa Rae—and the two have crazy chemistry. The plot has them as a married couple hitting the skids before being thrust into a nightmarish night after they hit a dude on his bicycle and subsequently witness that dude’s murder.

The plot mechanisms are fairly standard; what isn’t standard are the hilarious observations and dialogue that keep this consistently and undeniably funny. The two stars exude an anything-can-happen vibe, even when the script is following a typical rom-com road map. It’s actually fun to watch a talented team like this take a standard formula and own it.

Showalter’s deft touch is all over the place; the man is one of the planet’s funniest people, and that always shines through in his directorial efforts. (The Baxter, his 2005 film, is an egregiously underrated film.) The Lovebirds represents his ability to take a typical plot line, turn it inside out—and weave magic.

The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you are looking for some good, empty-headed, Adam Sandler-branded fun while coping with the nuttiness in the world right now, please don’t watch The Wrong Missy: It will just depress you.

Sandler produced this one on his Netflix deal for buddies David Spade, Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider. Alas, Spade has never looked so bored, and the talented Lauren Lapkus is wasted.

Spade plays a business exec who meets a crazy girl (Lapkus) named Missy on a terrible blind date. He also meets Melissa (Molly Sims), his dream girl. When a big business trip comes up, and he’s allowed to take somebody along, he texts the wrong Missy—who shows up on his plane and starts raising hell. Of course, more hijinks ensue.

The movie starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into desperate humor with few successful jokes. Instead, there’s lots of barfing, falling down and predictable plot turns. The result: a Sandler product closer to Grown Ups 2 than Happy Gilmore.

The Wrong Missy is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

New Netflix action blockbuster Extraction is heavy on decent pyrotechnics—but light on the dramatic fuel.

Chris Hemsworth stars as a mercenary with a dark past, which means he sulks a lot. I don’t think he cracks a smile in the entire film. He finds himself trying to rescue a kidnapped boy overseas. Will his cold heart be melted by the sweet kid, making him less of a mercenary and more of a guardian angel? Take a wild guess.

The action scenes as orchestrated by director Sam Hargrave are first-rate. Many things go boom—in ways that are inventive and even exciting. That often makes up for the film’s dull and more-predictable patches. If you personally prioritize action over underlying emotional implications and crying scenes, you will probably enjoy this film. Either way, it’s a pretty vacuous affair.

Hemsworth does OK in a film that basically requires him to look both fierce and morally defeated. His character lacks dimensions. Hemsworth has decent comedic abilities—and this film calls upon none of that. It’s also a dark movie, so don’t count on it for an uplifting experience.

Extraction is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Man, you know it’s been a crappy week when you’re quoted not once, but twice in national stories about the sudden demise of your industry.

Bleh.

But you know what … screw the negativity. There’s enough of that going around. Let’s focus on the positive elements—or at least the potentially positive elements—of the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking worldwide.

Positives? you may reply. There are positives in all this awfulness?!

While I don’t want to diminish how bad things are for many people—and how truly awful they may get in the weeks ahead—yes, there are some small, tiny, slivers of silver linings here.

For starters:

• The pandemic is finally forcing the state to take immediate, drastic action on the homelessness problem. What if, just maybe, we come out of this having made some progress on the huge issue?

• The worldwide shutdown has already drastically lowered the amount of pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions on the planet. Maybe, just maybe, this is an opportunity?

• The efforts being made to fight the virus and adjust to our shelter-in-place reality may lead to scientific advancements, a decline in individualism, a return to a faith in true experts, and all sorts of other good things. Politico Magazine asked more than 30 brainy folks on how COVID-19 will change the world, and what they came up with was mostly positive.

• On clear nights, we can go outside and enjoy the universe. Yes, we’re allowed to go outside and look up at the heavens, and Independent astronomy columnist Robert Victor has some advice.

“In the southeast, about an hour and 15 minutes before sunrise on clear mornings, you’re sure to notice bright Jupiter with two companions nearby. The rest of March will be excellent for following Mars, as it passes Jupiter and Saturn. (You can really notice the reddish color of Mars, from oxidation of its iron-containing surface material!) From March 20 to 31, all three planets will fit within the field of view of low-power binoculars. After that, next chance to see all three in the same binocular field together won’t be until 2040!”

So … yeah. It’s not ALL bad. While we prepare for more horrible things, let’s all hold on to the hope that better times—truly better times—will follow.

Here are today’s updates … almost all of which are positive in some way or another:

• Around the time I hit send on yesterday’s Daily Digest, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was extending the shelter-in-place order—already in place in Palm Springs, but not the rest of the Coachella Valley—to the rest of the state. And therefore the rest of the valley.

• I like this idea: The city of Rancho Mirage is giving some help to the city’s restaurants that stay open and offer delivery and takeout during the shelter-in-place order. 

• In a similar vein, the state is making it easier for those restaurants to sell liquor, too. Key quote: “Bona fide eating places (i.e., restaurants) selling beer, wine, and pre-mixed drinks or cocktails for consumption off the licensed premises may do so when sold in conjunction with meals prepared for pick-up or delivery.” Yes!

• First the feds moved the tax-payment date. Now the tax-filing deadline has been extended three months, too.

Netflix is setting up a $100 million fund to help the people who work on Hollywood productions. Awesome move.

• Computer owners: Your machine can help contribute to the fight against the coronavirus.

• Local drag star Anita Rose is doing online drag shows—and promoting others’ online drag shows, too!

• Late-night star Conan O’Brien—who should have never been fired from The Tonight Show—will resume doing full shows the week after next … using Skype and an iPhone.

• Finally … since I started off with the bad news about the continent’s alternative newspapers, I’ll end with the good: These papers are doing amazing work, even as the future looks dire. My friend Chris Faraone of Dig Boston did a roundup of how we’re covering this shit show.

That’s all for today. Just a heads-up: In order to save my sanity, and make my work better moving forward, we’ll probably take tomorrow off from the Daily Digest. But if we do, never fear: We’ll be back Sunday. Now, I have to go finish the April print edition and send it off to press. I’ll have more details on that later—but above is a sneak peak of the cover. I asked my amazing cover designer, Beth Allen, to find an image that sums up these … interesting times, and even though that was pretty much an impossible ask, I think she pulled it off.

Published in Daily Digest

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