Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix join forces as title-characters The Sisters Brothers, guns for hire who are contracted to find a prospector (Riz Ahmed) with a scientific trick for finding gold in rivers.

Reilly plays Eli, the nicer of the two brothers, who is starting to consider life after riding and killing. Phoenix plays Charlie, perfectly content to be a bounty hunter of sorts, as long as the mission includes hookers and lots of booze. Another man (Jake Gyllenhaal) intercepts the prospector with the intent of turning him over to the brothers, but he has a change of heart—and the hunt takes on a new dimension.

Reilly and Phoenix are great together, creating a palpable fraternal bond. This is a dark period Western speckled with some funny moments, but don’t be tricked by the commercials for the film: It’s a mostly dark affair, acted well by all involved.

Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) has made a moving, absorbing, appropriately nasty Western that gives the impression that everybody onscreen smells really bad. Phoenix, having a banner year, turns out to be perfectly cast as a gunslinger, something I wouldn’t have believed going in. He and Reilly give this film a ton of soul, and it doesn’t hurt having the likes of Gyllenhaal and Ahmed in their supporting roles. They are all equally good.

The Sisters Brothers is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Venom is a sometimes-entertaining mess—but it’s still a mess.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: You shouldn’t have a Venom movie without Spider-Man somehow playing into the villain’s backstory. Venom looks like Spider-Man in the comic, because the symbiote fused with Peter Parker first, resulting in the “Spider-Man on steroids” look. However, this film has no Spidey, and no Spidey means the monster needs a different origin. Now Venom comes about because of a space alien that passes through an evil scientist’s lab—a space alien that looks a little like Spider-Man.

Tom Hardy labors hard at playing Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter who is infected by the symbiote and starts biting off people’s heads, PG-13-style. Brock winds up with Venom’s voice in his head and an ability to make Venom sort of a good/bad guy. It’s all kind of stupid; the film plays things mostly for laughs and squanders a chance for a real horror show.

Some of the action and effects are pretty good, and Hardy gives it his all, but the film feels like a botch job from the start. Michelle Williams gets what might be the worst role of her career as Brock’s girlfriend, and Riz Ahmed plays the stereotypical villain.

There are hints of something cool here, but they are buried under a pile of muck.

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

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It’s been nine years since the last Bourne movie that mattered. (The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner, back in 2012 was a joke.) After saying he wouldn’t play the part again, Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne, with director-buddy Paul Greengrass in tow.

The result: Jason Bourne, a tedious, desperate and sad extension of the Bourne storyline.

At the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon’s Bourne woke up after a bridge dive and swam off into an unknown and unpredictable future. It seemed to be a fitting and perfect end to the character, or perhaps that particular story arc. Bourne found out his real name, learned why he was an assassin with amnesia, and got himself a little revenge. Case closed, right?

Wrong. Money matters, and Universal wanted to keep the Bourne locomotive on track. An attempt to keep the franchise going with a new star (Renner’s awful Legacy) was stale. Then Universal saw an opportunity with Damon, who hadn’t had a major hit in many years. (Damon decided to go back to Bourne before the release of The Martian last year, a movie that garnered him an Oscar nomination and showed he was still bankable.)

Greengrass and his writers have come up with a way to further confuse Bourne about his identity. As it all turns out, there’s more to his amnesia: HE DOESN’T KNOW EVERTHING AFTER ALL! He’s also got some daddy issues.

The film starts with Bourne pulling a Rambo III, subjecting himself to public fights as a means of fueling his unquenched inner violent side. Former work associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) meets up with Bourne in Greece to tell him that she discovered some more stuff about his identity while doing some computer hacking. For Jason Bourne … it’s not over yet.

It’s embarrassing to watch Damon and Greengrass go through the motions of the tired scenario they have put into play. One year after perhaps his most enjoyable and fully dimensional performance in The Martian, Damon is forced to put the now-boring Bourne pants on again. His performance lacks dimension, emotion and humor. It’s not entirely his fault: The part is written that way. Ten years ago, Bourne was a cool role for Damon, one that allowed him to strip down and do something different. He’s grown as an actor since then, and has essentially outgrown Bourne. It feels like a step backward for him.

Greengrass tries to beef things up on the villainous end by employing Tommy Lee Jones as a CIA jerkface, which is a move as predictable and clichéd as casting Tommy Lee Jones as Tommy Lee Jones. Jones invests nothing new into his character, a type he has played many times before.

Oscar winner Alicia Vikander shows up as an ambitious CIA employee looking to make her mark. Her performance here is more robotic than her actual work as a robot in Ex Machina. Vincent Cassel is also onboard as a hired assassin called “The Asset.” Man, somebody had to work overtime to come up with that name.

There had to have been a better way to do this. How about giving Bourne a new career, one that he’s happy with—and then having him find out something is still wrong in his past? Or could they have simply made him a paid assassin who is truly screwed up thanks to his past? The new gimmick Greengrass and friends come up with to further extend Bourne’s identity crisis is not shocking, surprising or inventive. It feels drawn out.

Attempts to modernize Bourne with mumbo jumbo involving a tech mogul (Riz Ahmed) and a new social-media platform make parts of this movie feel like a jettisoned episode of Silicon Valley.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens stands as the best recent attempt to continue a franchise without making it feel forced, desperate and like a blatant attempt to cash some checks. Jason Bourne does nothing to better the franchise. This storyline needs to end here.

Jason Bourne is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Louis Bloom is the very definition of serpentine in Nightcrawler, a scathing look at TV news and the lengths producers and stringers will go to for ratings and a payday.

Stealing wire fences and manhole covers for a living, and desperate for some real work, Bloom (Gyllenhaal) happens upon a car accident where an invasive cameraman is filming bloody footage for a quick buck. Bloom—an isolated man who spends his days studying the Internet—pawns a stolen bike, gets himself a crappy video camera and a scanner, and thrusts himself into the business of crime-footage videography.

He starts small, grabbing footage at auto wrecks and butting heads with Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a seasoned videographer who doesn’t like newbies treading on his territory. Louis eventually finds himself in the presence of Nina (Rene Russo), a bloodthirsty TV-news producer struggling to find her way on a low-rated station; she pays Louis a couple hundred bucks for his bloody footage. Against the wishes of her co-producers, Nina leads with Bloom’s video on the morning news, and an unholy alliance begins.

Bloom hires an assistant in Rick (Riz Ahmed of Four Lions), who clumsily navigates as they race through the streets of Los Angeles looking for carnage. Things escalate from filming car crashes and fires, to filming shooting aftermaths and other crime scenes. When things start to slow down, Louis becomes unrelenting in his attempts to find stories. In short, there is nothing he won’t do to get the footage. Nothing.

He’ll move bodies to frame a better shot. He’ll withhold footage from the cops after entering a residence to film murder victims. None of these actions, however, compares to what he will do in the event that an employee tries to negotiate for a raise. He’s a far cry from the puzzle-solving, earnest news investigator Gyllenhaal played in Zodiac. He represents the complete degradation of media from something sensationalistic into something that is pure evil.

Russo’s Nina is, in many ways, as psychotic as Louis. She is reckless, encouraging Louis to dig deeper and pushing him into more deranged territory. Russo hasn’t been this good in years.

Paxton, who used to specialize in wild-man, gritty roles before Twister and Titanic, relishes the chance to get down and dirty again. He only has a few scenes in the film, but those scenes are true standouts. Ahmed gives the sidekick role plenty of dimension. He gets the laughs when they are supposed to come—but he also manages to create a frightening tension in his showdowns with Gyllenhaal.

This is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who also penned the screenplay. Gilroy clearly doesn’t have a positive opinion of the broadcast-news machine. The folks putting together the news in this movie are something akin to cannibals and vampires waiting in the dark for a vein to be severed. Louis is a genuine movie monster.

Gyllenhaal lost a bunch of weight to play the greasy Louis, and he achieves a physical creepiness that matches nicely with his character’s infected soul. Louis is darkly funny, especially when he berates Rick or blackmails Nina. He’s also sinister and deeply scary in a very Travis Bickle/Taxi Driver sort of way. Gyllenhaal is excellent here; this is his second great 2014 performance after playing twins in Enemy. The guy is really stretching out.

According to Nightcrawler, gone are the days of dignified anchormen and heroic news gatherers. The tie-wearing talking heads and scrappy field reporters have been replaced by bloodsuckers and sycophants, with the likes of Louis Bloom leading the sick charge.

Nightcrawler is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews