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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein deliver star-making performances in Booksmart as Amy and Molly, two super-smart high school students looking to get crazy on graduation eve after years of hitting the books and missing all of the fun.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is smart and funny; this is a film that feels like a relative of Superbad, which makes sense, considering Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s little sister. (They both have those those wide eyes while dryly delivering wise-ass asides.)

Besides this dynamic duo, the film is blessed with the presence of Skyler Gisondo (of Santa Clarita Diet) as Jared, the super-sweet and dorky rich kid; Jason Sudeikis (Wilde’s longtime partner) as the school principal; and Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s parents. However, the best member of the supporting cast would be Billie Lourd, daughter of Carrie Fisher, as the oddball student who keeps magically showing up at every party Amy and Molly visit.

The film is consistently funny—and just a little dark and nasty, with Wilde and cast navigating nicely from very funny to very awkward. Feldstein has comic chops that rival her brother’s, so here’s hoping this is the start of her headlining career.

Booksmart is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

When Doug Kenney died in 1980, he took a legendary comedic pedigree with him. It’s safe to say there was nothing like Animal House and Caddyshack before or after their releases. Kenney, one of the founding fathers of National Lampoon magazine, co-wrote both of those films. (He also produced Caddyshack.)

David Wain, the master comedy director of such wonderful things as Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, gives the legend of Kenney a slightly uneven but ultimately enjoyable tribute with A Futile and Stupid Gesture. The movie chronicles Kenney’s everlasting contributions to American comedy, with Will Forte delivering strong work as the humor maestro.

The movie covers events from the late 1960s, when Kenney attended Harvard, through 1980, when Kenney either fell or jumped off of a cliff in Hawaii shortly after the release of Caddyshack. His little golf movie took a critical shellacking upon its initial release, something Kenney allegedly took hard. Of course, it has since endured and is now considered by many to be one of the funniest movies ever made.

The cast includes Joel McHale as Chevy Chase and Seth Green as Christopher Guest. Domhnall Gleeson co-stars as fellow Lampoon founder Henry Beard, while Martin Mull narrates the picture as, of all things, Kenney, if he had lived to be old. Thomas Lennon proves he was born to play Michael O’Donoghue, and Jon Daly does a sometimes-impressive take on Bill Murray.

The film never really finds a consistent tone, but the sheer magnitude of the subject matter makes it consistently watchable, as does Forte’s strong work.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After ending their TV show after five seasons, Key and Peele have come to the big screen with Keanu, a lively kidnapped-cat comedy with a high body count.

Part John Wick and part Adventures in Babysitting, the film gives us Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Clarence and Rell, a couple of wimpy guys trying to get a beloved kitten back from some hard-core gangsters. In order to do so, they masquerade as Shark Tank and Tectonic, two badasses from Allentown who will end your life if you don’t give them their cat back.

The whole mess starts when the cat escapes from a drug den after two killers (also played by Key and Peele) murder his owner. The cat winds up at the doorstep of newly dumped Rell, who gloms on to him as his feline savior. The cat is then kidnapped and winds up back in the hands of gangsters, requiring Rell and Clarence to swing into action.

The title character is, of course, the cat, who has to be the cutest kitten anybody has ever put in a movie. Clad in a doo-rag and jewelry, the multiple cats recruited for the part make this film an absolute necessity for cat-lovers, even if you hate Key and Peele. The felines steal every scene they are in.

The movie isn’t the most original piece of work: Fish-out-of-water scenarios are a dime a dozen, and much of the humor (Clarence’s obsession with George Michael, Rell’s trouble with women) is based on stuff we’ve seen before.

That said, Key and Peele have a knack for taking familiar scenarios and playing them out to nutty, funny extremes. For example: One of Clarence’s gangsta associates, after a long George Michael-listening session, gets a “George Michael is OG” tattoo on his torso. It’s funnier than it sounds.

One of the great things about their comedy is a seemingly innocent slant—followed by large doses of nastiness. Not to give too much away, but the film has a rather shocking amount of violence, and it’s quite surprising giving how innocuous it seems at times. This is by no means a complaint; the film’s best moments are its most shocking ones.

Method Man contributes nicely as Cheddar, the criminal who has Keanu and is relatively unwilling to give him up without significant, murderous favors in return. Jason Mitchell, following up his fine work in Straight Outta Compton, gets big laughs as Bud, one of Cheddar’s henchmen. Tiffany Haddish scores points as Hi-C, perhaps the most badass person in the movie. Her violent tendencies really come to life during a cameo by a famous comedic actress.

Will Forte shows up as Rell’s next-door neighbor and pot dealer. Again, the film is treading well-worn territory here, with Forte’s character playing a white guy trying to be black. Credit Forte with making some old shtick pretty funny in this movie.

Key and Peele have been kicking around in supporting film roles over the past decade or so, but this is the first time they’ve really been able to take the spotlight on the big screen. While Keanu is not a rousing success, they definitely show promise as a big screen duo.

In John Wick, Keanu Reeves infiltrated the Russian mob after somebody messed with his dog. In Keanu, Key and Peele infiltrate a drug ring to save a cat. The short lesson here is that you don’t mess with a man’s pet.

As good as Key and Peele are in this film, the real stars are Keanu and the cats that played him. Also, huge props to the cat-wrangler and whoever else managed to pull the performances out of these particular kitties. You’ll really believe a kitten can evade rapid gunfire after Keanu.

Keanu is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It’s not a good thing when Vanilla Ice is the best thing in your movie.

His Ice-ness shows up in The Ridiculous 6 as a hip-hop Mark Twain in Adam Sandler’s latest blunder—and Vanilla Ice squeezes a few laughs out of the moment. This Western pile of shit manages a few other giggles, most notably Harvey Keitel’s headless body shooting its own decapitated head, and a rattlesnake nibbling on Will Forte’s ear. Other than that, it’s quite the slog.

Make that a two-hour slog.

Director Frank Coraci, responsible for other Sandler abominations such as Blended, should’ve streamlined this sucker. The four-or-five-laugher would’ve felt more potent with a solid 30 minutes lopped off. As is, the jokes go on way too long—and too much crap that would’ve been edited out of even the worst Sandler films makes it into the final cut.

Sandler plays Tommy, aka White Knife, an orphan boy raised by Native Americans. He finally meets his outlaw dad (Nick Nolte … I’m beginning to really hate this guy) when he’s all grown up. Mere moments after meeting him, daddy is kidnapped, and Tommy sets out on a mission to raise the funds to spring him loose.

Along the way, Tommy discovers dad was quite mischievous and sired five other brothers, played by Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson and, most regrettably, Taylor Lautner. They form the Ridiculous 6, the lamest gang to hit movie screens this year.

The film is at its best when dealing with Forte’s Will Patch and his outlaw gang. A sequence during which Steve Zahn has to scoop one of his eyeballs out with a spoon is good for a giggle, as is a moment when the gang is buried up to their necks and attacked by ants, lizards and snakes.

The film is at its worst when it allows Lautner, playing a simple boy, to speak. This film should mark the end of his career. Actually, it would be nice if this marked the end of Sandler’s career as well, but he has three more films on his Netflix deal, so we are in for more cinematic hell.

The Ridiculous 6 is an original film released on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Life of Crime, a film based on the 1978 Elmore Leonard novel The Switch, has finally made it to the screen, nearly 30 years after producers first tried to make The Switch into a film. Unfortunately, the movie is rather drab.

The film features a kidnapping plot that has a rich wife, Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), being taken hostage; however, her philandering husband, Frank (Tim Robbins), doesn’t really care. A plan to make the movie in the ’80s was scrapped when Ruthless People, a movie starring Danny DeVito and Bette Midler with a similar premise, went into production.

In the interim, Quentin Tarantino adapted Leonard’s Rum Punch into Jackie Brown in ’97. Jackie Brown featured characters who also appear in Life of Crime: Kidnappers Ordell Robbie (Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) were played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro, respectively, in Jackie Brown. Isla Fisher also appears as Frank’s mistress, Melanie, a character portrayed by Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown.

I share this trivia about Life of Crime, because it is far more interesting than anything that happens in the actual movie.

Unlike some of the more successful Elmore Leonard film adaptations, like Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight (1998), Life of Crime lacks cleverness, laughs and even a discernible pulse. It’s a mostly flat affair, boasting a decent cast trying their best with a bland script.

Writer-director Daniel Schechter opts to make Life of Crime a period piece set in the 1970s. He gives his movie a washed-out look to go along with the humorless dialogue, and the pacing of this film is at times frustratingly slow and sloppy. It’s only 98 minutes long, but it feels like more like three hours long.

Nothing happens in this movie that feels new or inspired. The kidnappers take Mickey; they find out a big ransom is unlikely because the husband is a jerk; and that’s it. There’s a side plot involving a guy named Marshall (Will Forte) trying to have an affair with Mickey that is underdeveloped, and Mark Boone Junior shows up as a kidnapping accomplice who is a neo-Nazi. His character is probably supposed to add some kind of dark comic flavor, but he’s just ugly and unpleasant.

Aniston, one of the more misused actresses in Hollywood, is given the thankless task of acting worried and tired throughout the movie. None of her comedic chops are called upon; one gets a true sense that she was left out in the wilderness by her director.

Of all the performers, Mos Def seems the most comfortable in his role. He stars in the few moments of the movie that pop and crackle with Leonard’s style. Hawkes, a reliable actor, unfortunately joins Aniston in seeming mostly lost. Fisher, like Mos Def, manages to make her scenes somewhat worth watching. At one point, the characters played by Mos Def and Fisher team up; that made me wish the whole film was just about them.

The film includes the requisite unflattering period clothes and ’70s music on the soundtrack. The 1970s could provide a cool musical backdrop, but Schechter and friends chose such duds as “Let Your Love Flow” and “Don’t Pull Your Love.” If any soundtrack could have used a nice, upbeat ’70s track by The Kinks or The Who, it would have been this one.

Life of Crime seems to entirely miss the point and spirit of its source material. Or, perhaps it’s just getting unjustly compared to work by the likes of Tarantino and Barry Sonnenfeld. Either way, I was pretty bored.

Life of Crime is available via video on demand and online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com. It is also playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I can’t deny the amazing acting work in this Best Picture nominee from the likes of Bruce Dern (an Oscar nominee), Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk and especially June Squibb (also an Oscar nominee). These performances are all wonderful.

What I can bemoan is the stupid, stupid story that propels that acting. Dern plays an old codger who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollars because of a magazine subscription letter saying he’s a winner. So he starts walking from Montana to Nebraska; his son (Forte) eventually helps him on his quest with an automobile.

It’s a dumb idea, and the premise is too improbable for a serious comedy movie. Still, it does lay the groundwork for a decent father-son dynamic between Dern and Forte; Odenkirk shows up as another son and knocks his part out of the park. The film nabbed six Oscar nominations, and Squibb was the most deserving for her work as Dern’s droll wife. (The black-and-white cinematography is also quite nice.)

As for Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director (Alexander Payne) and Best Actor nominations … I don’t think so. The movie is good in a peculiar way, but far from great. While Dern gave a strong performance, it doesn’t stand up when compared to the work of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave. (They all lost to Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club anyway.)

Special Features: There’s just one, a making-of doc, that’s a decent-enough watch.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Will Forte follows up his strong dramatic turn in Nebraska with an even better performance in a better movie, Run and Jump.

Forte plays Ted, an American doctor in Ireland studying Conor (Edward MacLiam), a relatively young stroke patient returning to his family after being in a coma. The stroke has rendered Conor childlike; he has most of his motor skills, but little memory of the man he was before. Ted lives with him and his family, videotaping Conor in his interactions with his spirited wife, Vanetia, played winningly by Maxine Peake.

Conor’s state has left him relatively useless as a father figure, husband and lover. His two kids are confused, while Vanetia does her best to remain upbeat and good-natured. Slowly, Ted begins to step in as a friend to Vanetia, and a father figure to the children.

Much credit goes to director and co-writer Steph Green for making this tough plot work. Ted remains a highly sympathetic character rather than some selfish jerk who is moving in on an emotionally incapacitated stroke victim’s wife and family. The movie has touches of wonderful humor and weirdness to go with its justifiable sadness.

Peake’s performance is a stunner, as she traverses easily from humor to tragedy. She’s done a lot of TV work in her career, and she deserves big movie roles in her future.

Forte is an actor who accomplishes much with his expressions. He has nice control over that face of his, and many of his best moments consist of him just standing and staring, with everything being conveyed in the eyes. He’s proving to be one of the more reliable SNL alumni.

The film is available via various online sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Lego Movie is a most welcome surprise. Fast-paced, frequently hilarious and visually fun, this is the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Pixar—one that appeals to both kids and adults on many levels.

However, this isn’t a Pixar film; instead, it’s a product of the formidable but inconsistent Warner Bros. animation wing.

Sure, it’s a big commercial for Lego toys, but the product placement is more of a sly wink than a hammer over the head. I’m more offended by, say, frequently placed Subway sandwiches in an Adam Sandler movie than the constant presence of Legos in this one. Lego has developed its own universe over the years, especially with its video games, so I never felt like I was watching a commercial.

Instead, we get a movie that hurls jokes at breakneck speed, to go along with its super-kinetic visuals. The voice talent is a who’s-who of subversive humor, including Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt, Will Forte, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Jonah Hill and Charlie Day. It also has Morgan Freeman as a God-like character—and he is given some of the movie’s greatest lines. It’s co-written and directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the guys who did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the decidedly non-kid-friendly 21 Jump Street.

The plot follows Emmet (Pratt), a “generic” builder who goes about his homogenized life, building structures under strict deadlines and listening to the same song (Tegan and Sara’s terrific “Everything Is Awesome”) every minute of the day, while following the rules of the omnipotent President Business (Ferrell). President Business demands conformity in a decidedly socialistic way—but he keeps everybody at bay by promising Taco Tuesdays.

Things change instantly when Emmet meets Wyldstyle (Banks), who reveals to Emmet that there’s the possibility for real life beyond the walls of his pre-programmed world. (There are echoes of The Matrix and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.) Emmet joins forces with Wyldstyle and her extremely cool boyfriend, Batman (Arnett), to take down the establishment and restore freewill.

I confess to being totally blindsided by the ending, which warmed my heart in a way that is on par with the wonderful endings of Pixar’s Up and Toy Story. It is, without giving anything away, brilliant, ingenious and wholly satisfying. It also manages to tie the whole movie together in a way that is beautifully mindboggling.

There are terrific cameos along the way, including members of the Star Wars universe, other heroes from the Justice League, Gandalf and others. Liam Neeson is killer funny as Bad Cop/Good Cop—and even his father, Pa Cop, who is constantly breaking and kicking things. (He’s this movie’s Darth Vader.)

The film relishes random humor. At one point, a cowboy in a saloon asks quite earnestly, “Are zeppelins a good investment?” (I laughed out loud to an extent that was a little embarrassing.) Arnett’s Batman is arguably on par with those played by Christian Bale and Michael Keaton. Stick around for the credits, and Arnett’s Batman theme, “Untitled Self Portrait,” which repeatedly touches upon Batman’s dead parents and penchant for dark things.

The Lego Movie is a bit exhausting at times, but the constant stream of activity is super-intelligent. It’s a cliché, but I’ll say it: “Fun for the whole family!” Sorry to be so cookie-cutter here, but it’s the truth. 

The Lego Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I can’t deny the wonderful acting work by the likes of Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk and especially June Squibb in Nebraska; they are all wonderful in this movie.

What I can bemoan is the stupid, stupid story propelling that acting.

Dern plays an old codger who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollars because of a magazine-subscription letter saying he’s a winner. Therefore, he starts walking from Montana to Nebraska; his son (Forte) eventually helps him on his quest with an automobile.

It’s a dumb idea, and the premise is too improbable for a serious comedy movie. Still, it does lay the groundwork for a decent father-son dynamic between Dern and Forte; Odenkirk shows up as another son and knocks the part out of the park.

Of the six Oscar nominations this film earned, I would call Squibb the most deserving for her work as Dern’s droll wife; the black-and-white cinematography is also quite nice. As for Best Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Actor (Dern) and Best Director (Alexander Payne), I wouldn’t go there. The movie is good in a peculiar way, but far from great. The premise annoyed me a bit the whole time I watched Nebraska.

Nebraska is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430); and the UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100).

Published in Reviews