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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Bob Grimm

The Limehouse Golem stars Bill Nighy as Inspector Kildare, commissioned by Scotland Yard to find the notorious Golem Killer, a Jack the Ripper-type serial killer. The film is based on a 1994 novel that incorporated actual historical figures like Karl Marx. Juan Carlos Medina’s movie is good-looking, and Nighy is a fun as a cranky Sherlock Holmes-type.

Unfortunately, the mystery itself isn’t that absorbing, and a side plot involving the murder trial of a local actress (Olivia Cooke) fails to engage. Granted, it is pretty cool that Medina somehow manages to stage a hypothetical scene in which Karl Marx commits a very bloody murder. There are a few macabre moments, such as that one, that work well—but they’re not enough to make this really worth watching.

Cooke labors in the role of Lizzie Cree, a stage actress in a bad marriage who becomes an object of sympathy for Kildare as he goes through his list of suspects, which include a local actor/playwright, a doctor and, yes, Karl Marx.

The movie is weird, but it’s not weird enough, and Nighy’s performance is ultimately wasted.

The Limehouse Golem is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

I read It when the novel came out in 1986, and I was underwhelmed. It had a cool premise, but sloppy, overlong, out-of-control prose. That sucker needed some editing.

I had been gobbling up Stephen King books (I’m a big fan of Christine and Different Seasons), but experienced a bit of a lull in interest after his lousy Peter Straub collaboration, The Talisman. I felt like King was overextending himself a bit, and It seemed like a big mess.

In other words … I’m not a huge fan of the source material for the new It film.

I was also not a fan of the wimpy 1990 TV miniseries with John-Boy Walton, Jack Tripper, Harry Anderson and a decent Tim Curry as evil clown Pennywise. It featured that unintentionally hilarious puppet spider at the end.

The good thing about a movie like Andy Muschietti’s It is that the director and his writers can keep core themes that worked, but switch things up and streamline the narrative to make the story work better. As a result, the new It is a triumph.

While the miniseries dealt with both the young and older versions of the Losers Club—the posse of kids who stand up to evil—the new It stands as Part One, completely dividing the kid and adult stories. There’s also a major time change, with the kids’ story taking pace in the late ’80s instead of the 1950s. Thank you, Stranger Things.

The core story remains the same: Children in Derry, Maine, have been disappearing for many years. The film starts with the sad case of Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), a little boy in a yellow rain slicker who follows his paper boat to the sewer drain, where he makes an unfortunate acquaintance.

That acquaintance is Pennywise, the dancing, sewer-dwelling clown, played as a most savage beast by Bill Skarsgard. The big difference between Curry’s Pennywise and the new incarnation is that Curry’s Pennywise seemed almost like a normal circus clown—until he sprouted monster teeth and took you out. He was into trickery. Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a makeup-cracking, scary demon clown. He has an ability to charm for a short while, but he oozes evil. If you saw him at a circus, you’d be seriously afraid for the trapeze artists and lions. He even drools a little while addressing Georgie … before tearing Georgie’s arm off. At this moment, It immediately declares itself to be an R-rated, no-holds-barred King affair, as opposed to the homogenized TV version.

The kids are great. The standout is Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. At one point, one of the Losers calls her Molly Ringwald. Lillis has that kind of teen-film leading-lady presence. Jeremy Ray Taylor will break your heart as Ben Hanscom, the chubby kid who has a crush on Bev. (Their first meeting is one of the best scenes in the film.)

Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard and Jack Dylan Grazer provide solid comic relief as Richie and Eddie, while Jaeden Lieberher (excellent in Midnight Special) does a damn fine job with a stutter as Georgie’s big brother, Bill Denbrough. As for the bad kids, Nicholas Hamilton is the second-scariest entity in the film as bully Henry Bowers. He’s very real. I’m pretty sure I got in a locker room fight sometime in the 1980s with Hamilton’s Bowers.

Muschietti scores some big scares, especially during a slideshow gone very wrong, and a meeting between the Denbrough brothers in the family basement. (“You’ll float, too!”) It appears there was never a moment when Muschietti and his writers paused and thought, “Say, perhaps that idea would be a bit too unsettling? Maybe it’s a bit much and wrong?”

It: Part Two, while not official yet, is a certainty. As for It: Part One, it takes the best elements of King’s inconsistent novel effort, and comes out a frightening winner.

It is playing at theaters across the valley.

Zoe Lister-Jones writes, directs, stars and performs good music in Band Aid, a funny and sometimes nasty look at a struggling couple’s last attempt to save their marriage by forming a garage band.

Lister-Jones plays Anna, who is fed up with Ben (Adam Pally), her artist husband who refuses to do the dishes. They have intellectually nasty fights during which they come up with some pretty good shit in their back-and-forth. Counseling isn’t helping, and they are certainly a candidate for divorce.

Because they come up with some pretty good shit in their back-and-forth, they realize their nasty put-downs would make decent song lyrics. Anna suggests they pull their guitars out of mothballs and form a band. This sounds like a stupid premise, but, I assure you, it turns out to be fun.

When quiet, sex-addict neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen, hilarious, as always) sees the two playing guitars, he offers his help on drums. They call themselves the Dirty Dishes, and they start hitting open-mic nights.

The success of a movie like this hinges on the music, and the Dirty Dishes are pretty damn good, in a Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Pixies sort of way. Lister-Jones is a decent vocalist, and they all play instruments admirably. In short, it isn’t torture when they are onstage performing. In fact, it’s quite entertaining.

Special Features: You get some deleted scenes and extra videos with the Blu-ray or digital purchase.

Goon, released six years ago, was a funny-as-hell hockey comedy based on a real sports figure who played shitty hockey—but fought like a madman. It seemed to give new life to the acting career of Seann William Scott.

The sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers, is directed by Goon co-star Jay Baruchel—and it is an embarrassment from all angles. For starters, it’s sloppy—the kind of sloppy you would expect from an actor who has no clue what he is doing behind the camera. The tone shifts like crazy; the jokes fall flat; and the performances get killed by terrible editing.

The movie deals with Goon hero Doug Glatt (Scott) going into retirement shortly after being named captain of his team, because he can’t fight from his left side. Then the film embarks on a strange side story involving his work as an insurance salesman while he tries to make a comeback, and eventually gets fight training from Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber). His training includes fighting in a hockey league that has no actual hockey—just guys dressed in hockey gear who are fighting. That sounds like it could be funny, but trust me, it’s not.

The talented Alison Pill returns as Eva, Doug’s love interest, and her talents are wasted, as are the talents of Elisha Cuthbert as her drunk pal.

I laughed twice, and both moments involved Doug’s insurance boss and his activities in Doug’s basement office. Otherwise, I just groaned and felt bad for all involved.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

As I write this, David Lynch is apparently in France, awaiting the reactions to his final episodes of Twin Peaks.

After a 26-year pause, the story of Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer continued this summer with 18 otherworldly episodes—and the series concluded in a way that was just as perplexing as that moment when Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) stared at his Evil Bob reflection in the mirror all those years ago.

Peaks fans, let’s face it: Whether or not this is the final bow for Peaks, the story will never be tied up in a neat little package, even if it does come back again. Lynch loves his puzzles—see Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway as proof—and Twin Peaks has proven to be the ultimate Lynch puzzler.

You can approach the series in so many different ways—all of them making perfect sense—or you can look the whole thing as a failure of narrative, and a script writing copout. I choose the former; in fact, I think Twin Peaks: The Return is an absolute masterpiece.

The show wrapped up with two hour-long episodes aired in succession. Dale Cooper—truly awake for the first time this season after many hours in a happy stupor—returns to Twin Peaks for a final confrontation with Bob. I won’t spoil too much, especially if you’ve yet to dive into Peaks, but the confrontation provides the closest thing to closure that Peaks fans will get.

The final hour displays the heroic intentions of Cooper, still trying to rescue Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) from an eternal, hellish existence, and that’s all I will say. Things don’t resolve in a typical, narrative faction. That’s simply not the Lynch way.

Does the final episode leave much to interpretation? Yes, but I believe most of the questions that fans have been asking can be answered in the 18-episode series, along with the now-invaluable and formerly maligned 1992 film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. (Hey, that movie sort of makes sense now!)

Does the final episode leave things open for a continuation of Peaks? Sure it does, and I hope there are more. I will always hope for more Peaks; I’m a junkie when it comes to this show.

This new cliffhanger, as opposed to the one Lynch put in play at the end of Season 2 back in 1991, is much different. Lynch was sort of toying with ABC executives back in the day, almost making it impossible for them to cancel the show—yet they did. Lynch had every intention of continuing the story, but ABC cancelled the show, and the first Peaks film was a flop—so the story went into limbo.

This time, the cliffhanger is more of a statement—that the Peaks universe is a never-ending dream/nightmare, just like the universe around all of us. Many stories don’t get a tidy resolution, and it just might be the case that Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer are eternally fucked in one universe, while having a decent time in another.

If this is the end for Twin Peaks, it’s a solid, fitting one. Thank you, David Lynch, for giving the summer a sinister, funny, puzzle of a series—the best work you have ever done.

Please make more. Or stop. It’s entirely up to you.

Birth of the Dragon, a fictitious take on the real-life fight between Wong Jack Man and martial-arts legend Bruce Lee, has a couple of good fight scenes in it. In fact, they’re very good.

Unfortunately, those fight scenes are surrounded by crap.

Picture a diamond like the blue one the old lady had in that Titanic movie; dip it in gold; put it in a bag with $780 million and a Babe Ruth autographed baseball; then drop that bag into a communal spot where a bunch of sick hippos have taken massive shits and formed a virtual lake of shit. Let that bag sink to the bottom and become immersed in the lake of sick-hippo shit. That’s what happens to the very good fight scenes in this movie: They’re lost in shit. Sick hippo shit.

(I apologize for picking on hippos for this analogy, but, hey, they are huge and, I imagine, rather disgusting when overcome by intestinal stress.)

In 1964, the two martial-arts experts did, indeed, square off in a warehouse with very few witnesses; the results of the match became a big part of the Lee mythology. Wong Jack Man was a teacher of martial arts and favored a less-arrogant style than that of Lee. Most accounts of the fight say it lasted a few minutes … and Lee kicked the guy’s ass hard.

For the purpose of this movie, Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) is changed into a Shaolin monk on a pilgrimage to San Francisco. He’s heard of Lee (Philip Ng) teaching kung fu to everybody, and he deduces that Lee is doing it for the wrong reasons. Steve (Billy Magnussen), one of Lee’s students and a totally made-up character, meets him upon his arrival and begs to become his student. Wong Jack Man declines, and takes a humble job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant—punishment for a fight he had back in China.

Wong Jack Man is far more noble in the movie than he supposedly was in real life. In real life, Lee simply got on his nerves, and he wanted to teach him a lesson. In this film, Wong Jack Man becomes a stabilizing force in Lee’s life and changes his overall attitude, while possibly even winning their legendary match.

He also joins forces with Lee, who is basically Chinatown’s Batman in this flick, to battle some crime lords in an effort to free a bunch of women from sex slavery. Hey, the movie needed an ending, right?

A straightforward biopic centered on the actual fight would’ve done the Lee legend right, rather than making him a supporting player in this dreck. The Magnussen character actually gets most of the screen time, occasionally bumping into Lee for some confrontations at the kung fu school. The movie does include a few events that actually did happen, but they are all polluted by a need to make this more of a Lee fantasy film than a biopic. Director George Nolfi, best known for the lousy Matt Damon vehicle The Adjustment Bureau, blows it again.

It’s all too bad, because Ng gets a lot of Lee’s mannerisms right, and looks great in his fight scenes. He deserved a movie that did his work justice rather than a schlocky mishmash of fiction and real-life events. Xia is good as well, and is let down for the same reasons. Put these guys playing these parts in a real movie!

Birth of the Dragon just screams, “The summer is over … bring on THE SUCK!” at movie theaters. Stephen King fans, take heart: Advance word on It is positive, so might wind up being an antidote for the hell that was The Dark Tower, and could get the fall movie season off to a great start. We need a good one fast to wash the taste of Dragon out of our mouths.

Birth of the Dragon is playing at theaters across the valley.

If you are a fan of last year’s excellent modern Western Hell or High Water, get yourself into a theater to see Wind River.

The writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, writes and directs Wind River. He is a true wordsmith who captures American dilemmas on par with Sam Shepard and Cormac McCarthy. The man knows how to pen a great thriller with depth, and his works (he also wrote Sicario) all have a common, somber tone. This is a guy who knows that many of the people you will pass on the street are dealing with grief and loss—they are surviving, but it’s a bitch, and it’s not going to get easier.

Wind River marks Sheridan’s second directorial effort, after 2011’s low-budget Vile, and it stands as one of the summer’s best films. It’s a solid mystery-thriller, and a showcase for fierce performances from Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both offer up career-best work, with Renner searing the screen as Cory, a man with a tragic past who is paid to hunt wolves and mountain lions on a Native American reservation. Olsen commands her screen time as Jane, one of cinema’s gutsiest FBI agents since Clarice Starling.

Sheridan, who directs with style and grace, gives us a haunting image to start his movie: Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a young Native American woman, is running across a freezing nightscape with no shoes on. She’s scared for her life, but we don’t know why. Soon, we will find out.

Cory is patrolling snow-covered grounds, shooting wolves from long distances. He’s stoic and level-headed, a quiet man whose emotions never go to a fever pitch. However, when Cory discovers the body of the woman we saw in the opening sequence, it’s clear that the woman’s identity strikes a chord in his heart.

Cory and his ex-wife (Julia Jones) have lost a child, and they are doing their best to give their living son (Teo Briones) a happy life in the aftermath. Their lost daughter was the best friend of the new victim—understandably setting something off in Cory. When FBI Agent Jane shows up, lost in a snowstorm and looking for answers, he’s more than willing to help with the investigation.

Sheridan’s mystery builds from there, as the identity of the murderer is not immediately apparent. Considering the murder took place on a sparsely populated reservation, there aren’t many suspects, but Sheridan will keep you guessing—and you’ll suspect everybody onscreen. The conclusion doesn’t feel like a narrative cheat, as so many murder mysteries do. The conclusion resonates with horror and bleakness; you aren’t going to have a typical good time at this movie.

You will, however, be witnessing remarkable work by Renner. He’s tasked with some of the most emotionally brutal scenes an actor has had to handle this year. He’s been impressive before (in The Hurt Locker), but this takes his stock to a new level. When he recounts the death of his daughter to Jane, the story almost knocks her on her ass—and you can relate. I mentioned that Cory is stoic, but he’s most certainly not one-dimensional. Renner finds ample nuance and power in this character’s quiet pain.

Olsen matches Renner on all fronts. Her Jane is a by-the-book type who must make some major adjustments in the field while dealing with the grief all around her. Jane is supposed to be setting the table for a bigger investigation, but she finds herself drawing her gun more than once; she’s in it for the long haul. The character goes through many phases during film’s 107-minute running time, and Olsen makes all of them intriguing.

Gil Birmingham (who also starred in Hell or High Water) and Graham Greene round out one of the year’s best ensemble casts.

Wind River will exhaust you by the time credits roll. It’ll bum you out—as it damn well should.

Wind River is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive; 844-462-7342), the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682.)

A gang of losers plots to rob a NASCAR racetrack during one of its busiest weekends—and they do it in a hackneyed way that makes absolutely no sense in Logan Lucky.

Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement to direct Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a former football player who has fallen on bad times, and then suddenly gets it in his head to rob the racetrack. His plan involves sneaking people out of prison, blowing things up with gummy bears, and using secret allies within the establishment.

Soderbergh did the Ocean’s Eleven movies, and the first one included a reasonably fun and inventive heist. Well, this is sort of Ocean’s Eleven for rednecks—but it’s hard to believe this group would have the ability to pull off the heist.

The film is almost saved by some of the supporting performances, including Daniel Craig as an incarcerated safe cracker who digs hard-boiled eggs, and Adam Driver as Jimmy’s one-armed brother. But for every character who is a plus, there’s a lame one, like Seth MacFarlane’s heavily accented millionaire who is not as funny as he thinks he is. Hilary Swank shows up in the final act in a role that feels tacked on.

The movie doesn’t come together in the end, and its robbery scheme is too cute to be realistic. The big reveals feel like a cheat rather than a unique twist.

It’s good to have Soderbergh back in action, but this is just a rehash of something he’s done before—with the addition of a Southern accent. It’s much ado about nothing. There are a few laughs here, but not enough to justify seeing Logan Lucky in theaters.

Logan Lucky is playing at theaters across the valley.

Eccentric comedic actor Brett Gelman gets a much-deserved starring vehicle in Lemon as Isaac, a theater teacher going through some troubles with his blind girlfriend (Judy Greer).

She starts getting antsy, and his behavior gets weirder and weirder, especially when it comes to student Alex (a very funny Michael Cera). Let’s just say things don’t go well when Alex comes over to hang out … yet that occurrence is one of the more normal ones in Isaac’s life. As his relationship and acting career crumble—he’s the spokesman for Hep C!—he tries to date others. That ends with him escaping a party with his date’s grandmother. (To repeat: Isaac is weird.)

The film meanders a bit, and never has a true sense of purpose, yet somehow, it all works just fine. Director Janicza Bravo, who co-wrote the script with Gelman, makes an impressively strange directorial debut, thanks in large part to Gelman being her star.

Gelman is one of those character actors who basically shows up in everything and cracks you up—yet you never remember his name. Maybe now we will start to remember him, because he’s been kicking mortal comedy ass for years.

The supporting cast includes Jeff Garlin, Megan Mullally and Gillian Jacobs, who co-starred with Gelman on Netflix’s Love.

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

Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring movies, gets her second standalone film with Annabelle: Creation, a silly movie that is nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting.

The movie holds together thanks to solid performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter the same child actress who turned in incredible work in the also surprisingly good Ouija: Origin of Evil. Mind you, the film is full of good performances—from the likes of Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman—but it’s Bateman and Wilson who get most of the credit.

The film is set many years before the first Annabelle movie, with orphans Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) on their way to a new home, with other girls and a happy nun, Sister Charlotte, (Sigman) at their side. They arrive at the home of Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) a doll maker who, we have learned in the film’s prologue, lost his daughter, Bee, in a tragic roadside accident. He’s miserable; his wife (Otto) is bedridden and ill; and he probably shouldn’t be accepting a bunch of orphans to live in his haunted house.

Yes, the house is haunted with a spirit residing in that creepy doll we’ve all come know and hate so damned much. I hate creepy dolls almost as much as I hate creepy clowns. Speaking of which, while Annabelle: Creation has some good scares, the preview scene from It that played before the flick was top-notch scary, and I can’t wait to see the whole movie. OK, I got off track a little bit.

Janice had polio, which has left her with a leg brace and a basic inability to run away from haunted, creepy, demonic dolls. One thing leads to another, and characters start getting possessed and ripped to shreds by demon forces. Damn those creepy dolls! Damn them to hell! Wilson was great in Ouija and is quite good here, but it’s Bateman who is the real scene-stealer this time out. She makes Janice genuine, and you pull for her to get out of the movie with most of herself intact.

Last year, director David F. Sandberg delivered a decent genre film with Lights Out, based on his terrifically scary short film. (Talitha’s younger brother, Gabriel Bateman, starred in that movie.) Sandberg continues to show he’s good with jolt scares; there are many moments in this movie when you are expecting one, and it still jolts you. He also makes good-looking movies; the authentic Southern Gothic look of this film lends to its credibility and keeps you in the story.

Does the film horrify or scare on the same level as Carpenter or vintage Romero? Absolutely not. Will it please those of us who like a capable horror thriller that’s low on cheesiness? Yes. It’s a decent, late-summer, let’s-not-change-the-world-of-cinema-but-deliver-something-relatively-fun kind of film. It’s forgettable, but fun while you watch it.

These Annabelle movies, and the upcoming The Nun, have sprouted from The Conjuring franchise. Give New Line Cinema some credit for doing a horror franchise right (well, mostly right), as opposed to that nonsense Universal tried to kick off earlier in the summer with The Mummy. These stories are coming together nicely, and don’t feel forced and silly like, for instance, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) inexplicably showing up as some sort of super monster detective. Sandberg finds satisfying ways, especially in the final scenes, to link the Conjuring universe together.

Annabelle is giving Chucky a run for his money as the best doll you shouldn’t have bought in the first place, because it intends to kill you. I’m hoping for Chucky vs. Annabelle in the future.

Annabelle: Creation is playing at theaters across the valley.

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