CVIndependent

Fri05242019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

The gun opera that is the John Wick franchise keeps on rolling with gory gust—and some great dogs to boot—in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum.

When we last saw Keanu Reeves as John Wick, he had gotten kicked out of his assassination group, losing all of the perks. His killing a fellow assassin within the walls of the Continental Hotel means no more room service or dog-sitting. He’s got a multimillion-dollar bounty on his head, and no place to kick his feet up.

John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum picks up right where the last one left off, with a battle-wary Wick running in the streets, putting distance between himself and the hotel, and trying to figure out his next big move. As for the level of action in this chapter, it makes the fun Chapter 2 look like a sleepy intermission.

I’ll just say this right up front: John Wick gets no time for rest here, and he seriously gets his ass kicked while kicking ass. Credit Reeves for playing this part perfectly, on a level where we can believe that this dude, who keeps getting stabbed and shot, can turn on his afterburners and keep shooting people in the face.

Wick basically runs from one action set piece to another, with returning director and former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski making each something to behold. A gun battle inside a weapons museum counts as a franchise highlight, as does Wick’s gunfight atop a motorcycle.

Yes, dogs play a major role in the shenanigans, which makes this dog person very happy. Wick’s travels take him to fellow assassin Sofia (Halle Berry), looking for assistance. Sofia has two German shepherds who get into the action during a gun battle, and they add an interesting element of violence to the proceedings. Stahelski isn’t just a master of human stunts; he’s capable of getting bad-ass performances out of canines, too. Wick’s beautiful pit bull does have a place in the film, so those of you who have missed that pup will be pleased.

As for Berry, she may’ve been missing her calling all these years. She’s beyond awesome in this movie—a veritable action star who actually outshines Reeves during her major battle scene. I’m calling for a Sofia spinoff right now!

As good as Berry is, the best supporting player in the film is Mark Dacascos as Zero, a sushi-chef/assassin who goes up against Wick while dealing with feelings of hero worship for him. He’s the funniest thing in the entire franchise.

Another stop along the way has Reeves sharing screen time with Anjelica Huston as The Director, a stern Russian who talks dirty business while punishing ballerinas. Huston hasn’t been this much fun onscreen in years. Laurence Fishburne returns as the Bowery King, so the coolness of that Matrix connection continues.

Asia Kate Dillon is the film’s weak link as the Adjudicator, a representative of the High Table sent to set matters straight with the Continental, Wick and the Continental’s manager, Winston (an always growly Ian McShane). Dillon is dull, basically killing all the scenes in which the character shows up. There’s just something off in her line deliveries.

As for Parabellum’s place in the series, it’s the best in the franchise after the original. It’s got the largest scope, and Stahelski and Reeves continuously top themselves with each action feat and gun ballet. Stahelski is making a serious run at becoming one of cinema’s best action directors. You really feel every shot, every hit and every fall in this movie. The action scenes have a major clarity to them, with crisp and concise editing that makes it very easy to follow the mayhem. It’s insanely beautiful.

This chapter, like those before it, ends with a big cliffhanger, so it’s a safe bet the story will continue. Like the character himself, this money train won’t be bleeding out anytime soon.

John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum is playing at theaters across the valley.

Mary Harron, director of American Psycho, helms Charlie Says, a film about real-life psycho Charles Manson (Matt Smith) and three female members of his “family”: Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) and Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon).

Harron and longtime screenwriting partner Guinevere Turner try to take an insightful look at the three women during the early portion of their prison sentences, while utilizing flashbacks to show the buildup to the crimes that got them there. Unfortunately, the film makes the mistake of trying to portray the three women as brainwashed victims, with every line delivery accompanied by that patented Manson Family smile.

The film works fairly well when showing life on the ranch with Manson, and the ways in which he manipulated those around him; the brief depiction of the murders is chilling. As for the prison scenes, during which the three women are going through a form of therapy, they alternate between pretty good and very bad.

Harron is a gifted director, and a full-fledged movie about Manson and his followers in her hands might’ve been something fantastic. However, this semi-sympathetic depiction of his “family victims” leaves a slightly bad taste.

Charlie Says is available via online sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Writer, director and certified nutball Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void, Irreversible) makes another technically impressive movie with Climax—but this one comes up short in the narrative category.

The film chronicles a crazed night for a dance troupe that winds up drinking a bowl full of sangria spiked with LSD. Rather than exploring the comedic aspects of a dance troupe freaking out, Noe goes for straight-up violent horror, and the movie doesn’t come together in the end.

The audience has no emotional investment in any of these characters, so when they go from vivid (and impressive) dancing to nasty behavior, it feels hollow.

Noé is interested in impressive technical feats, with numerous scenes strung together in one shot. The camera trickery is awesome, for sure, but here, it’s at the service of a generally flat, unimaginative story. Only the numerous dance scenes really pop.

The setup could have elicited prime Noé (Enter the Void was amazing), but Climax winds up feeling like a long, boring improvisational piece laced with hallucinogens. It could have been funny and crazy, but it turned out to be a real slog.

Climax is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com; it will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 27.

I know that there is a thing called Pokémon GO that people play on their phones. I know that there are TV cartoons and all sorts of trading cards and merchandising involving Pikachu and other wacky creatures … but that’s about the extent of my Pokémon knowledge.

Problem: In Pokémon Detective Pikachu, there’s an established mythology. It’s not an origin movie; it’s an “If you don’t know anything about Pokémon, none of this is going to make a lick of sense” movie.

Still … Ryan Reynolds voices the title character, a little yellow fur ball with a Sherlock Holmes hat; that could be fun, right? Well, it’s fun for about the first 15 minutes—before everything gets lost in a haze of sloppy action and convoluted plotlines.

No doubt, they got some good performers to participate in this moneymaker. Along with Reynolds, you get Bill Nighy as the creator of the Pokémon world, or something like that. (I’m still not sure what he really did.) Justice Smith plays Tim, the main protagonist, a young adult who has lost his father and befriends Pikachu. And then there’s the very talented Kathryn Newton, under-utilized as TV reporter-wannabe Lucy Stevens. Heck, even Ken Watanabe shows up in this mess, doing pretty much what he did in Godzilla (looking up to the sky in awe).

Tim reunites with Pikachu after his dad dies in a car accident. Pikachu was Dad’s Pokémon. (The world is a place where lots of folks walk around with a Pokémon partner.) Tim’s Dad and Detective Pikachu were investigating some heavy stuff involving a purple gas that makes all the Pokémon go nuts.

By the time this thing wrapped, I honestly had no idea what had really happened, nor did I really care. The movie didn’t pique my interest in the Pokémon enterprise; it solidified my indifference. Let’s just say I’m not going to be downloading any of that shit to my phone.

Director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) labors to make all the mayhem make sense, but his large team of screenwriters came up with something that baffles more than marvels. It also rips off the likes of Tim Burton’s Batman in its finale, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner for the look of the Pokémon city. This isn’t an original piece by any means.

Smith, a normally likable and capable actor, seems like the wrong pick for the role. His face is perpetually contorted into an expression that looks like he could laugh or cry at any moment, and he seems like he’s straining to find his place in the Pokémon world (a world that was probably a bunch of green screens on the set). It’s hard to watch Nighy delivering his goofy Pokémon-centric dialogue like he means it. He probably knew less about Pokémon than I did when he took the gig.

If anything works in this movie, it’s Reynolds, who provides Pikachu with enough character, warmth and humor to make one wish the little guy had a better movie to run around in. Watch out, parents: Your little Pikachu fans will be asking you what other movies the Pikachu voice has done, and this could fire up their curiosity to watch something like Deadpool. Get your “There’s no goddamned way you are watching Deadpool!” responses ready. As for this, it’s relatively harmless, so if your kids like the TV show or the playing cards or that stupid thing that has them running around in the streets looking for Pokémon on your phone, they’ll probably like this.

If you are uninitiated, as am I, this movie will come off as a useless blur. If you love you some Pokémon, perhaps you won’t hate it like I did, but I’m guessing few people are going to fall in love with this movie. Either way, I’m glad it’s out of the way so we can bring on the John Wick and Godzilla sequels.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Almost a quarter-decade ago, The American President came out; it’s a cutesy romantic comedy starring Michael Douglas as a Bill Clinton-like president and Annette Bening as the lady he wants to date. America swooned, but I threw up. I hated it.

Now, in the Trump era, we get Long Shot, a different twist on a high-profile politician dating a commoner. This time out, Charlize Theron stars as Charlotte Field, secretary of state and potential presidential candidate. Her eventual romantic interest is Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a journalist-turned-speech writer who, not surprisingly, smokes lots of weed.

Long Shot is better than The American President. It’s a lot better than The American President.

Flarsky is a dweeby, wind-breaker-wearing columnist whose alternative-weekly newspaper is sold to a conservative media mogul (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis). He quits his job and finds himself attending a high-society party featuring Charlotte and Boyz II Men along with his best pal, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., showing he’s a lot funnier than his reasonably funny dad, Ice Cube).

It turns out that Fred knows Charlotte; she was a neighbor when he was a kid, and she (being three years older) baby-sat him. They get reacquainted; Fred gets a job as her speech writer; one thing leads to another; and there you have it—one of the year’s most unlikely rom-com pairings. It works swimmingly, because Theron and Rogen have serious onscreen chemistry.

Before you go squawking that a woman of Theron’s caliber would never date a Rogen-type in real life, I’d like to point out that Theron seriously dated the scrunchy-faced Sean Penn. Seth Rogen kicks Sean Penn’s ass in many categories, including looks. Just saying.

Whatever you may think of this pairing before you see the movie, trust me: Theron and Rogen pull it off. Their courtship is funny, awkward, hilariously drug-laced and utterly convincing. There are many fantasy elements to this movie, but most of those play out on the political side. As for the romance part, that’s the most realistic thing happening in this film. Charlotte likes to party, and much of the Fred character is modeled after Rogen—and Rogen is the king of partying. It’s a good match.

The political stuff is hyper-satire, with Bob Odenkirk scoring big points as the former TV star-turned-president who won’t be seeking re-election, because he wants to make the big leap into film. (He idolizes Woody Harrelson.) Oh, if only this were this the case in 2020 …

Long Shot is directed by real-life Rogen buddy Jonathan Levine. (The two worked together on 50/50 and The Night Before.) Levine proves to be the right choice to pull off the wacky screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, a script that gives equal time to environmental issues and accidentally jacking off into one’s beard (a moment reminiscent of There’s Something About Mary). It’s a daring script that takes chances, like a nuclear-bomb thriller portion. Not all of the jokes hit the mark, but enough do.

Theron is one of the best actresses at work today, and she’s also one of the funniest. (See her stint on Arrested Development for further evidence.) She’s actually funnier than Rogen in this movie. That’s not a dig on Rogen; he’s funny, but Theron wins the funny war in Long Shot. As for Jackson, his Lance deserves his own spinoff movie.

Sadly, Long Shot got its clock cleaned at the box office by a little movie called Avengers: Endgame. It looks like America isn’t convinced it needs to see Theron and Rogen making out while high on molly. Whatever. If you are skipping this because you think the pairing looks ridiculous, know that it is indeed a ridiculous movie—but the pairing is the least-ridiculous thing about it. They are a good onscreen couple. I hope they work together again, and I hope Long Shot finds life in the future on streaming platforms.

Long Shot is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Director Joe Berlinger is no stranger to dark subjects. He directed the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, a movie that arguably helped release three innocent men from prison. Earlier this year, he directed Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a four-part documentary series on the infamous serial killer.

Now comes this, a narrative film about Bundy’s life, focusing on the years in which he was killing women while having a relationship with Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), a single parent he met in a bar.

Zac Efron steps into the role of Bundy in a way that is downright frightening. If you mess with Efron’s hair a bit, he’s a dead-ringer for Bundy, but his work here goes well beyond physical resemblance. There was plenty of footage of Bundy for Efron to study (his murder trial was televised, a first in American history), and Efron definitely captures Bundy’s creepy, deceptive charisma.

Berlinger’s film focuses on the charms that fooled many who knew Bundy; he was a mostly affable, cheerful guy in the public eye. There was something supremely evil boiling behind his movie-star eyes, though, and Berlinger mostly avoids his depraved deeds in favor of examining his life away from the murders. It’s a risky approach—Berlinger could have been accused of romanticizing Bundy with the casting of Efron and the lack of carnage in the movie—but it mostly works. This movie is far from romantic, and those watching it probably know what a sick man Bundy was. This is a horror story, but one that favors creeping terror over massive bloodletting.

Berlinger covered the details of Bundy’s crimes (using Bundy’s own words) in the documentary. This film is something different, and it’s mostly successful at showing the public another frightening side of Bundy, thanks to Efron’s strong work.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is now streaming on Netflix.

The Marvel universe gets its most grandiose chapter with Avengers: Endgame, a fitting successor to last year’s Infinity War—and a generous gift to those of us who like our movies with superheroes in them.

When we last saw Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he was a survivor of the dreaded Thanos (Josh Brolin) finger snap, a universe-altering occurrence that took out half its living creatures and provided that tear-jerking moment when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and many others turned to dust.

Endgame picks up where that action left off, with Stark floating in space and keeping a video journal of his inevitable demise, as he’s run out of food and water. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper) are among the other survivors, dealing with the repercussions of so much death on Earth.

There are tons of questions this movie needs to answer in its three-hour running time. Where’s Thanos? Where’s Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)? Is Tony permanently marooned in space? What’s been going on with Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) during all of this Thanos hullabaloo? Is everybody really dead? Does Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) still have his Walkman in the Great Beyond?

Good news: The movie answers many of these questions and more thanks to another well-balanced screenplay and a crack directorial job from the team of Anthony and Joe Russo. When you leave Endgame, you’ll feel satisfied.

How do I really talk about any of this without becoming the Spoiler King? I can tell you that the movie is the second one this year that borrows a lot from Back to the Future Part II (after Happy Death Day 2U). I can tell you that the Hulk undergoes a fantastic wardrobe change. I can tell you that the New York Mets, my favorite baseball team, has been decimated by the Thanos snap, not unlike when Fred Wilpon took over sole ownership of the franchise in 2002. I could tell you that Rocky Raccoon comes face to face with his creator, Paul McCartney, and eats his foot, but that would be a lie.

I can also tell you, no lie, that it all zips by in a spectacularly entertaining way—and that very little of it misses the mark. There are a few moments when it’s evident that all of the stars weren’t physically together, with their presence pasted together through the power of special effects, just like that lackluster season of Arrested Development during which all of the cast schedules didn’t align. This is a forgivable offense; there’s no chance you are going to get a cast this size all in one room at the same time. Help us, CGI.

In the middle of all the action and plot developments, Downey delivers another soulful, endearing performance, well beyond anything you would’ve expected from a Marvel movie before he started showing up in them. Chris Evans continues to rock, something that truly began with Captain America: Civil War. Hemsworth and Ruffalo continue to explore more-humorous variations of their characters, and both are a total crack-ups.

Are the Marvel movies anywhere near finished with Endgame? Don’t be silly. James Gunn just got his job back as the director/commander of the Guardians of the Galaxy; Captain Marvel is just getting started; and Spider-Man’s next adventure will enter your face before the summer is done.

Have some of the more-popular story arcs within the Universe reached their conclusions? Maybe. I’m not telling. Set aside three hours, and get some answers yourself.

Avengers: Endgame is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

After his plane has crashed, Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) must fend for himself in the Arctic—with little chance of survival. Writer-director Joe Penna makes a nice feature debut with Arctic, this man-against-nature story.

This could’ve been just another plane-crash aftermath movie, but Mikkelsen makes it all work with a mostly silent performance. Overgard has a nice array of expressions, like the one he makes when he catches a giant fish, or the one he makes when he crunches on some dried oatmeal—something other than fish for the first time in many days.

The plot brings in another person (Maria Thelma Smaradottir) later in the movie, but she doesn’t offer much to the goings-on. This is Mikkelsen’s movie—and that face will stick with you long after the film is over.

Arctic is available on DVD and Blu-ray as of April 30; it’s also available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Terry Gilliam has been trying to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote for nearly 30 years, including a 2000 effort starring Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort where cameras actually began to roll.

The plug got pulled on that production after Rochefort, cast as Quixote, turned up with a bad back, and flooding rained down upon Gilliam’s set with a vengeance that wrecked the landscape and washed his equipment away. Further efforts to film Quixote since then have been mired in lawsuits and insurance issues, with many cast members—including Ewan McGregor, Michael Palin and Robert Duvall—passing through. So it was with a little bit of shock that I found myself sitting down for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a finished film directed by Terry Gilliam, almost 20 years after the documentary Lost in La Mancha depicted the collapse of the Depp iteration.

As a Gilliam fan, it is with a heavy heart that I report the film is, not surprisingly, quite a mess, the result of too many revamps and adjustments over the years.

The problems are not with the performances. Adam Driver does an excellent job in the role initially intended for Depp as Toby, a frantic, disillusioned TV-commercial director who longs for the esoteric days of his not-too-distant filmmaking past (a character clearly modeled after Gilliam himself). Jonathan Pryce proves to be a perfect choice for Don Quixote—or rather a cobbler given an acting gig who goes so method in his approach that he believes he’s the real Quixote.

In the film, Toby seeks out the Pryce character in an effort to bolster a current, commercialized version of the Quixote story. In his travels, he confuses dreams with reality, finds himself being mistaken for Sancho Panza (Quixote’s dim sidekick), witnesses the exploitation of women in the workforce, and battles some fat giants.

The screenplay, co-written by Gilliam, ambitiously shoots for satire about our current political atmosphere and the state of filmmaking in general. Its plot-driving device—the blurring of reality and the dream world—flat-out fails. This is the first Gilliam film shot on digital video, and the visual richness that accompanied his previous films is nowhere to be found. Gilliam’s often-violent and harried style, accompanied by tight, claustrophobic visuals, must not translate to the video lens. Much of this movie is just a spastic, visual mess.

Because the dream world and the real world have no true visual distinction, Gilliam constantly has Toby pointing out whether he is in a dream or not. It’s left to the viewer to really figure out what is going on—and it just doesn’t work, especially in the film’s second half, where it all falls apart.

There are some inspired moments. The giants sequence, so memorably depicted in Lost in La Mancha as Gilliam’s big moment in the Quixote story, shows a flash of what the movie could’ve been. Granted, the movie he made today was done for two-thirds of the budget he had 20 years ago. Gilliam has expensive visual ambitions, and trying to convey those on shoestring budgets doesn’t work. Granted, big budgets are justified by public interest in a film, and interest probably isn’t too high for a blockbuster Quixote movie.

Gilliam’s career went on a severe downhill trajectory after the failure of the original Quixote. He has said in interviews that he just wanted this movie out of his system. Now that Quixote is finally on screens, perhaps it will vacate the cherished auteur’s mind and allow him to get on to better things. Movies like Tideland, The Brothers Grimm, The Zero Theorem and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus are pale representations of what the man can do. Perhaps the director (still amazingly spry at the age of 78) can get back to the business of focused yet deliciously crazed movie-making.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Mary Magdalene, the latest take on the title character—who has had widely ranging portrayals in cinema over the years—suggests that Mary (Rooney Mara) was Jesus’ closest disciple, and was by no means a prostitute, effectively declaring Barbara Hershey’s depiction of Mary in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ to be total bullshit.

According to this film from director Garth Davis (Lion), Mary wasn’t just the closest confidant of Jesus, but easily the most boring. Mara’s Mary just skulks about in this movie, arriving late for all the big events, like Jesus tearing up the temple, the Last Supper and the whole Crucifixion. (In a strange way, she reminds of Brian in Monty Python’s Life of Brian; however, she’s not as funny.) While Mara’s Mary is a snooze, she’s excitement personified next to this film’s Jesus, portrayed by the usually reliable Joaquin Phoenix.

In the hands of Phoenix, Jesus becomes a quizzical sort who looks cold all the time, pulling his little shawl/robe shut to avoid chills and coming off as super-depressed. In short, Phoenix is a terrible Jesus … one of the worst ever.

While it’s admirable for Mary Magdalene to be portrayed as more of disciple than a prostitute, this movie makes the whole dying-for-your-sins event a sleepy afterthought. Too bad … I like a good Jesus movie, and this isn’t one of them. It’s not a good movie in general.

Mary Magdalene is now showing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It is also available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

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