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The latest DC effort, Aquaman, is middling fun for about 20 minutes—and then it becomes one of the worst films of 2018.

It’s the typical DC garbage can of a film—proof that Warner Bros. has learned almost nothing about making a good comic-book movie since Christian Bale took off the cowl. (Yes, Wonder Woman was good—but it’s the lone exception.)

Jason Momoa returns as big, tattooed, beefy Arthur, the dreamy son of a Lost City of Atlantis queen (Nicole Kidman) and a lowly lighthouse-keeper (Temuera Morrison). He finds the queen washed up on the rocks and takes her home, where she promptly eats his goldfish. (Baahahaha! What a laugh riot! She ate his pet fish!) She gives birth to Arthur, and the origin story part of the movie is well on the way.

We see a few more moments in the young fish-man’s life, including a moment when Arthur is bullied in an aquarium; he gets a tiger shark riled up to the point that it almost breaks through the glass and kills his entire elementary school class. (That would’ve made for an interesting twist.) Momoa eventually shows up in full party mode, and it looks like we could be on our way to some goofy fun.

Alas, like Zack Snyder before him, director James Wan shows that he doesn’t know how to keep a leash on his epic, and this thing goes bonkers in a bad way. After Arthur teams up with Princess Mera (Amber Heard), she of the Little Mermaid hair, they go on some sort of intercontinental trek to find a lost trident, with haphazard locations constantly being captioned at the base of the screen (Rome, the Sahara Desert, the Valley of the Brine, Atlantis, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., etc.).

The search for the powerful trident that will make Arthur the king of Atlantis is but one of many insipid plotlines. There’s also King Orm (Patrick Wilson, looking like he placed last in a Colorado Rockies mascot-costume contest), Arthur’s half-brother and full-time asshole, who is trying to claim the Atlantis throne while threatening war with the Surface People. (That would be us.)

Orm has some sort of alliance with pirates led by the one who will become Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Black Manta is one of Aquaman’s main adversaries in the comics, but here he is, more or less, a side note, with Wan straining to make the character meaningful among all the chaos. The movie has a formidable-enough villain in Orm, but Wan and the scriptwriters felt the need to make Manta a factor—and the result is a nearly 2 1/2-hour movie with way too much going on for it to make any sense. I thought Steppenwolf was the worst-looking DC villain of all time, but here, Manta looks like a reject from Sigmund and the Sea Monsters rather than something from a big-budget Aquaman movie.

Visually, this is yet another movie that thinks it’s Avatar, and that’s never a good thing. In other words, we get a lot of blue mixing with fluorescent colors. (I did like the great white sharks with saddles on them.) It’s yet another Warner Bros. DC movie with spasmodic, cheap-looking CGI in many of the action scenes. The look of this film is far from awe-inspiring.

An embarrassed-looking Willem Dafoe shows up as Vulko, Arthur’s mentor, and is saddled with the film’s silliest line. (“The king has risen!”) Dolph Lundgren gets another late-2018 role (after Creed II) as another underwater king who just sort of stands around as his special-effects hair waves in the water. Julie Andrews has a “fall asleep and you will miss it” voice cameo.

Aquaman can’t decide if it wants to be Avatar 2, or The Mummy Returns … AGAIN! or I Got Muscles, Attitude and I’m Underwater 5 or Creed III: I’m Old and Wet Now. The undeniable charms (and, admittedly, glorious hair) of Momoa can only go so far.

When it comes to comic book movies, Marvel still reigns supreme—and DC doesn’t have a clue.

Aquaman is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

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).

Published in Reviews

According to director Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled is not a remake of the 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood; it’s a new adaptation of the novel upon which both films are based.

Nicole Kidman stars as the leader of a Southern school for girls that is shut off from the rest of the world during the Civil War. While out searching for mushrooms, young Amy (Oona Laurence) finds a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) and leads him back to the school. As the man heals, the young students and teachers each have interactions with the soldier, and things eventually get, well, complicated.

Everybody in the movie delivers good work, especially Kidman as Miss Martha, a strict leader with risky compassion for the enemy soldier. Longtime Coppola collaborator Kirsten Dunst is on hand as a teacher who gets some extra attention from the stranger; she’s strong in her role, as usual. Other cast members include Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice and Addison Riecke.

The film eschews the usual Coppola soundtrack exuberance for something very quiet and slowly paced. The film works up to a boil, leading to a shocking climax; Coppola creates a true sense of claustrophobia and high tension.

This isn’t her best work, but it is good work, with excellent cinematography and art direction.

The Beguiled is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A young Indian boy gets lost in a train station and loses his mother in Lion, an uplifting film based on a true story from director Garth Davis.

After a long odyssey through orphanages and abuse, Saroo winds up in Australia, adopted by new parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). After 25 years, Saroo (played as an adult by Dev Patel) decides it’s time to find his birth mother. How does he do it in the modern world? Google Earth! (The film is a nice commercial for that little platform.)

Patel is outstanding as Saroo, especially when his personal conflict about heritage comes to the forefront. Rooney Mara is also good as his supportive girlfriend, one of the more down-to-earth characters she’s played in recent years. The performance most people will talk about in this film, however, is that of Kidman, who puts together some of the most powerful work of her career.

The story seems farfetched, but it’s the real deal, as evidenced by real footage of Saroo and his moms at film’s end.

In a year that had a lot of great movies that delved into darkness, it’s nice to have this one. It makes you feel good.

Lion is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-836-1940); and the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342).

Published in Reviews

Jason Bateman follows up his strong directorial debut, Bad Words, with The Family Fang, a loopy tale about a quirky, dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, the movie never really finds its way.

The film gets off to a good start as Bateman plays Baxter Fang, a down-and-out writer trying to put together his next novel who is taking odd writing jobs in the meantime. He winds up doing a feature on potato guns, and eventually gets shot in the head by one.

Enter Annie Fang (Nicole Kidman), his actress sister; she used to be an indie-film queen, but she’s reached that stage in her career where taking off her clothes is mandatory. She comes home to assist Baxter, which gets them ruminating on their childhoods.

Their parents, Caleb and Camille (played in their older versions by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), were infamous pranksters. They would stage bank robberies and other public occurrences, film them—and call it art. This resulted in a rather screwy childhood for Annie and Baxter, with parents who got famous by basically being horribly irresponsible.

Oddly enough, the film loses steam when Walken enters the picture. The premise involving his character feels a little too contrived, and it actually puts a strange restriction, of sorts, on the weirdo actor. When Walken is off-screen, the movie has a whimsical, funny vibe. When Walken is present, the film feels phony, even though his performance is OK.

Bateman has the potential to be an interesting director, but the subject matter doesn’t suit his style this time out. While The Family Fang feels uneven, Bateman and Kidman are good together, so it isn’t a complete waste of time.

The Family Fang is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com. It will be available on DVD July 5.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The release date for Paddington was pushed out of 2014 and into 2015, making me worry that this was a film for the junk heap. Actually, this mix of live action and animation featuring the character created by Michael Bond is actually cute.

Ben Whishaw voices Paddington, a Peruvian bear who travels to England looking for a home. He winds up in the abode of the Browns, where he begins causing major damage, leading to a little marital strife for Mr. and Mrs. Brown (a delightful Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins). Nicole Kidman has a lot of fun as the film’s villain, who is determined to trap and stuff Paddington.

The movie has plenty of British charm, a couple of really good jokes, and work from Kidman, Bonneville and Hawkins in top form. As for Paddington himself, he looks pretty good—a solid animated creation mixed neatly with real actors and actresses.

Paddington is playing at theaters across the valley.

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If you have seen any of director Chan-wook Park’s films (Oldboy, Thirst), you know he is one creative and tremendously sick bastard. Stoker is his English-language debut, and it’s just as deranged and disturbing as his prior offerings.

Mopey-faced Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl just turned 18 who has lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious accident. Her mother (an excellent Nicole Kidman) invites India’s strange uncle (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house—and it slowly becomes apparent that he has a few “problems.”

The filmmaking is visually impeccable (some of the dissolves are mind-blowing), and the performances are solid. The story is a little too sleepy at times for me to rank this among Park’s best works, but this twisty film still has many memorable moments; here’s hoping Park has many more films to come.

Kidman reminds us why she’s an Oscar-winning actress with her work here. She hasn’t been this powerful in years, and I’m hoping this gets her back into the swing of things.

Special Features: There are plenty of making-of and behind-the-scenes docs to keep fans of the film busy. You also get deleted scenes and red-carpet footage.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you have seen any of director Chan-wook Park’s films (like Oldboy or Thirst), you know that he is a creative, tremendously sick bastard. Stoker is his English-language debut, and it’s just as deranged and disturbing as his prior offerings.

Mopey-faced Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl, just turned 18, who has lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious accident. Her mother (an excellent Nicole Kidman) invites India’s strange uncle (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house, and it’s slowly revealed that he has a few … problems.

The filmmaking here is visually impeccable (some of the dissolves are mind-blowing), and the performances are solid. The story itself, however, is a little too sleepy at times. Still, this twisty film has many memorable moments, and I’m hoping Park has many more films to come.

Stoker is now playing at the Cinema Palme d’Or, 72840 Highway 111 in Palm Desert; 779-0730; www.thepalme.com.

Published in Reviews