CVIndependent

Sat01252020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

While the film Christine has its inconsistencies, Rebecca Hall delivers an electrifyingly good performance as the title character.

No, this isn’t a remake of the John Carpenter film with a killer car. This is about Christine Chubbuck, the infamous news reporter who shot herself on live television in the 1970s.

Hall depicts Chubbuck as bright but, obviously, troubled. Doing small feature stories on a Florida TV station and looking to move ahead, her ideas are a little too out there for her station manager, Michael (the incomparable Tracy Letts). On top of that, she’s trying to date station anchor George (Michael C. Hall) with little success. 

While director Antonio Campos’ film feels a little flat, the two Halls and Letts usually breathe life back into it.

Rebecca Hall would probably have gotten serious Oscar buzz if the film felt fully realized rather than moderately good. It’s worth seeing for Hall, Hall and Letts, but it fails to crack into the elite of last year’s movies.

Christine is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

Louis C.K., the Radiohead of standup comics, has dropped yet another surprise on his fans: On Saturday, Jan. 30, I—having been the purchaser of many C.K. nuggets before— received an e-mail from his website stating there was something new to watch, a show called Horace and Pete.

Well, shit. I buy anything this guy turns out—and I mean anything. I went to the website, digitally plopped down my $5, and set about watching his new experiment.

Horace and Pete, as it turns out, is a Web series staged not unlike an off-Broadway play. There are a couple of sets, and a bunch of actors seemingly going at it without the benefit of a lot of takes. There’s no studio audience, and no laugh track. It’s bare-bones—and it’s very good.

C.K. writes, directs and stars as Horace, owner of a family bar alongside brother Pete (an often-unhinged Steve Buscemi). Horace has a younger girlfriend, Rachel (Rebecca Hall), and full-grown daughter, Alice (Aidy Bryant), who has a tendency to return his calls with unwanted texts. Uncle Pete (Alan Alda) mans the bar with an intolerant and racist fist.

Jessica Lange—yes, the Jessica Lange—co-stars as a barfly, while the likes of Steven Wright, Nick DiPaolo and Edie Falco round out the stellar cast. Alda makes the most memorable impression, partly because he delivers the most-shocking lines. He has a remark about pedophilia that looks like it caught C.K. off-guard.

There’s a definite improvisational feel to much of this. Some lines get flubbed, and there are a few signs that the performers didn’t have a lot of time to get their lines down. That’s probably true, because the show feels as if it was taped just a few days ago; for example, there are remarks about Trump in Iowa.

Throw in a theme song by a little guy named Paul Simon, and you have a pretty impressive production. There are signs that this isn’t a one-time thing, which is good to know.

If you are wondering whether or not it’s worth $5 … well, it’s 67 minutes long, and it has Louis C.K. and Jessica Lange in it. Enough said.

Louis C.K. has put his FX series on hold in favor of other projects, this being one of them. May Horace and Pete serve drinks at their shitty bar for a long time to come.

Horace and Pete is available for download ($5) at Louisck.net.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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.

Published in Reviews

Those hoping that Johnny Depp’s latest film would make up for that dick move he made by playing Tonto in The Lone Ranger are watching their hopes get dashed upon the rocks and swept out to sea: Transcendence is terrible.

This is another one of those “technology is evil” movies that suggest humans are slaves to computers. That may very well be true (I, for one, have been sitting at my damn computer all day), but movies haven’t really gotten evil computers right since 2001: A Space Odyssey and WarGames.

Depp plays Will Caster, a seemingly mild-mannered scientist who is mapping out brains in hopes of creating a self-learning, artificial-intelligence program capable of emotional growth. However, a terrorist organization grazes him with a radiation-laced bullet, and he finds out he only has a few weeks to live. Therefore, it’s time to speed up his work and get his brain into a computer so he can keep hanging out with his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), after his body is dead.

Will dies, and he does, in fact, get himself uploaded into a computer. He immediately starts asking for more power, along with access to the stock market and banks—actions that seem to clash with the nice guy he was when alive. Evelyn, acting upon instructions from Computer Will, buys up a small town and starts rebuilding it with money made through shrewd, fast investing in the stock markets.

Caster then builds an army of humans that act like robots, because he’s healed them with computers and made them super strong … or some crap like that. It all makes little sense. Even worse: While Caster is portrayed as an out-of-control egomaniac during most of the film, the screenplay pusses out in the end and tries to partially redeem him. It fails miserably.

Morgan Freeman is here, because the script called for a sympathetic type to rise up against Will Caster and hopefully save humanity. Cillian Murphy shows up as a crime investigator type who gets to run around with Morgan Freeman and look concerned. Murphy actually looks as if he’s angry to be in this movie, knowing that his part is worthless.

I paid the big bucks to watch this goofy crap on IMAX, and there is really no reason to see the film in this way. Not only does the film suck as far as content is concerned; the visuals and audio don’t benefit from being turned up to extremes. Only the preview for Godzilla was pleasing on this particular IMAX visit.

Starting with The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland, Depp’s garbage-movie ratio has been on the rise. He made stinkers before (The Brave, The Astronaut’s Wife), but it seemed like he was at least trying to do something different when he screwed up. Depp is now a big commercial commodity with the Pirates movies and his dopey Mad Hatter character; sequels for both of those franchises are in production, so we know Depp will have plenty of money in the bank. It would be nice to see some more experimental, low-budget stuff to go with those excremental behemoths. Actually, a big-budget offering with a decent script and some edge would be nice, too.

Depp will always be a great actor. Heck, he even has moments in Transcendence in which he transcends the trite material and shines for a bit. I’m hoping these last four years are just a hiccup for him, and he gets back on track. Johnny Depp: Please call Scorsese, Wes Anderson or Tarantino and remind the world that you are not all about the big paycheck.

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

Published in Reviews

Shane Black, writer of the screenplays for Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero, made one of my favorite directorial debuts with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I thought it marked the arrival of a true directorial force.

Then he basically disappeared.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang featured the best Robert Downey Jr. performance ever put to screen. Maybe Downey agrees with that statement, because he pushed for Black as his director on Iron Man 3. Thankfully, he got his wish.

Iron Man 3 is as good as the first film, and markedly better than the OK second installment; it’s just slightly inferior to last year’s The Avengers. Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it features dark humor, and gives us a protagonist that is slightly unreliable.

The film opens with a few mistakes Tony Stark made a long time ago, and sets us up for the perils Stark is facing today. Chief among his enemies is The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a tripped-out version of Osama bin Laden who executes Americans on TV and openly taunts the president (William Sadler).

Another big enemy would be Tony Stark himself, because he’s battling panic attacks and insomnia after the events of The Avengers. These blows to his mental and physical capacity lead to mishaps in his laboratory, and a pretty scary moment when one of his suits pounces on Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in their bedroom.

Chief among Stark’s flaws has always been his vanity, which leads to him calling out The Mandarin, resulting in all kinds of hell fire coming down on his West Coast compound. Stark winds up going deep undercover, and at one point has a kid sidekick (Ty Simpkins). The kid-sidekick stuff sounds like it would be lame, doesn’t it? However, Black and Downey Jr. have a way of taking conventional crap and having a lot of fun, so the kid is cool.

Iron Man 3 piles on the villains and potential villains. In the intro flashback, we meet nerdy Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who is working on some really big genetics project. Stark blows him off so he can sleep with Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), another scientist.

James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak are on hand as Mandarin assassins who have the power to heat up their bodies and regenerate limbs when they are lopped off. They reminded me a bit of Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 with their unstoppable evil, although their performances contain a little more depth.

Paltrow is allowed to play with her character a little more in this installment, as Pepper goes through all kinds of tribulations. As with Tom Cruise, Paltrow’s public-image garbage tends to distract from the fact that she can act up a storm, and she’s typically great in this one. Don Cheadle gets limited screen time as Col. James Rhodes/War Machine/Iron Patriot, but he makes the most of it.

As for the Mandarin, Kingsley has a lot of fun—in ways you won’t expect. The Mandarin is one of the more unique villains to arise from the Marvel movie franchises, and he takes some major detours from his comic-book incarnation.

Black and Downey faced a rather daunting task: How do you bring the Iron Man back to Earth after The Avengers, which involved aliens, a Hulk, a Thor and Scarlett Johansson in tights? The answer: You allow Downey to riff; you surround him with a cast that matches his brilliance; and you allow the Stark character to remain human and vulnerable.

The action scenes are stellar. One scene, involving a high-altitude rescue after a bunch of people are sucked out of a plane, is the best of the franchise thus far, and the finale is a rouser. Let it be said that Black manages an excellent balance of action and character development, with every major character getting satisfactory screen time. Black and Downey are a great screen team, and that’s apparent in Iron Man 3.

Next up for Tony Stark will be Avengers 2, and then who knows after that? This one is going to be a bitch to reboot when Downey Jr. decides to hang it up.

One last thing: Stay for the credits, will you? Despite many Marvel movies offering after-the-credits surprises, I still see a parade of people getting up and walking out as the credits start. You paid for the seat and perhaps the funny 3-D glasses, so stay put until everything fades to black.

Published in Reviews