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Thu10192017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Bob Grimm

Writer-director Noah Baumbach delivers his best movie yet with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), his latest story of family dysfunction—which serves as yet another reminder that Adam Sandler can be a knockout actor when he puts his mind to it.

Sandler plays Danny, older brother to Matthew (Ben Stiller), father to Eliza (Grace Van Patten) and son of Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Danny is going through hard times, separating from his wife as Eliza prepares for college. His only option is to live with his dad and stepmom (Emma Thompson), a move that drudges up a lot of past difficulties.

When Matthew comes to town—looking to sell his parents’ house, much to the chagrin of Danny—tensions grow. Yet despite the tension, there’s a hilarious way in which this family communicates. Even when things get bad, their warmth and desire for better times with each other shine through.

While Sandler gets some good laughs (especially when he’s allowed to rage, Sandler-style), quieter moments put him in legitimate contention for an Oscar. As for frequent Baumbach collaborator Stiller, this happens to be his best dramatic performance as well. (A public speaking meltdown by Matthew constitutes the most impressive moment in the film.) Hoffman, who has played the father of both Sandler and Stiller before (Sandler in The Cobbler, and Stiller in the Focker movies), hasn’t had a chance to shine like this in a long while. Like Gene Hackman as the unreliable patriarch in The Royal Tenenbaums, he owns his every scene.

This is one of the year’s funniest—and best acted—movies, and a fabulous reunion for Stiller and Sandler, more than 20 years after they shared the screen in Happy Gilmore.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is now streaming on Netflix.

Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner came out in 1982—35 years ago. Scott has tooled around with the movie numerous times, resulting in a final cut that was released about 10 years ago.

While there was a lot of monkeying around (in a good way) with the original, it didn’t seem there was much thought of, or chance for, an actual sequel. After all, the original was not a box-office hit, and it didn’t start gaining its classic status until a decade after its release. In fact, critics beat up on it a bit.

Here in 2017, however, we actually do get a sequel. Blade Runner 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve, the visionary behind Enemy and Arrival. (Scott remains involved as a producer.) Harrison Ford, who has classically complained about the original movie, has nonetheless returned to play blade runner Rick Deckard. Ryan Gosling steps into the starring role of K, a new blade runner tasked with “retiring” older-model replicants, the synthetic humans originated by the likes of Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah in the original.

Other than the presence of Ford in the final act of the movie, and the Pan Am and Atari logos still present in the Los Angeles skyline, this does not feel like a standard sequel. 2049 goes off on many new tangents, bending the mind when it comes to topics like artificial intelligence, what really constitutes love, and determining what is “real” in this world. Villeneuve, along with writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, have concocted a whole new world—a realistic evolution of the one presented in Scott’s original.

The film opens with a scene actually meant for the original Blade Runner, one in which a farmer (Dave Bautista) is trying to live a peaceful life before being confronted by K. K finds things at the farmer’s homestead that trigger memories, and the excavation of a body at the site triggers even more. At the behest of his boss (Robin Wright), K goes off on a mission to find a lost child and, eventually, that old, cranky S.O.B., Rick Deckard.

There are many twists and turns along the way, which is no surprise, seeing as the movie is almost three hours long. This is not a complaint; there is something to admire in every frame of this movie. Cinematographer Roger Deakins puts pure art in motion with his camerawork, giving us a dirtier, gloomier and yet still beautiful Blade Runner. K’s travels take him to the ruins of major cities, and ruined cities have never looked this gorgeous.

As in the original, there are things in this movie you have never seen before. Amazing sequences include a battle between two men in an abandoned showroom. The showroom used to house a hologram show starring the likes of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, and that show gets started up again after somebody flips a switch. It’s one of the more surreal scenes you will see in any movie this year.

The same can be said about a moment when K meets Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), who makes memories for replicants. Villeneuve crafts an eerily beautiful scene in which K observes her creating a birthday-party memory, which we see as a hologram. It’s one of those movie moments where you just sit there thinking: “Now that’s some hardcore, original shit right there.”

Gosling is in top form as K, a confused member of a future society in which one’s sense of identity can be a very confounding thing. His home companion is a very lifelike and cognizant hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas). Much credit goes to Armas for making Joi something far more than a glorified Siri/Alexa. It’s heartbreaking stuff.

The film has a few flaws. Jared Leto, while not awful, pours it on a little too thick as Niander Wallace, creator of replicants. While the film’s finale is fine, it doesn’t live up to the excellence that preceded it.

These are minor quibbles, because the wonders that Blade Runner 2049 delivers far outrun the missteps. Villeneuve has done the legacy of Blade Runner supreme justice with this offering. I actually doubt Ridley Scott could’ve directed this better.

Blade Runner 2049 is shown in theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Usually reliable directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks) somehow manage to make the story of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs’ infamous early 1970s tennis match quite boring.

In Battle of the Sexes, King is played by Emma Stone, who brings a nice warmth to the role of King, one of the great trailblazing athletes of the 20th century. Steve Carell labors a bit as Riggs, the chauvinist pig who challenged the much-younger King to a battle of the sexes, an exhibition tennis match to prove the superiority of the male athlete.

The actual match happens in the film’s final half-hour, and it’s an entertaining segment that manages to incorporate real footage of Howard Cosell and a realistic depiction of the actual tennis play. What the movie doesn’t do is have much of a pulse in the buildup, portraying King’s love life in a way that would seem too schmaltzy for your average soap opera. Surely, there must’ve been some fireworks when the married King started sleeping with her hairdresser on her tennis tour, but this movie instead takes a dull and sappy route.

I expected to laugh more, but the movie just sort of drags along until Stone and Carell pick up their racquets, which looked a lot like badminton racquets back in the 1970s. The movie also tries to make Riggs too likable; it would’ve been OK to make him a little nastier.

No doubt: Billie Jean King is a legend. This movie doesn’t quite live up to that legend.

Battle of the Sexes is playing at theaters across the valley.

The tired killer-doll franchise gets a slight boost with Cult of Chucky. No, it can’t be called a good movie, but it might just be the best sequel so far to Child’s Play.

The film picks up after the last installment, the lousy Curse of Chucky, with Nica (Fiona Dourif, the daughter of Brad Dourif, the voice of Chucky) on her way to an asylum. Also returning is Alex Vincent, who played Andy in the original film and Curse. Andy now has an arsenal—along with a messed-up Chucky head in a safe. It’s stitched together, bloodied and still talking. It’s kind of awesome, actually.

Not long after Nica’s arrival, numerous Chucky dolls start showing up, and, of course, people start dying. No doubt: Chucky has never looked cooler than he does in his various incarnations in this movie. The special-effects crew does a great job of animating the little demon. Brad Dourif has a lot of fun with the role. (He has a “cuckoo’s nest” joke that is pretty funny for obvious reasons.) He scores some real laughs.

The Chucky kills are creative, for sure, although a couple of them are marred by bad CGI. The movie goes off the rails by the time Jennifer Tilly shows up for the finale, but if you are a Chucky fan, you could do a lot worse than this.

Cult of Chucky is available on Blu-Ray, DVD, online sources and video on demand; it’s also streaming on Netflix.

The messed-up life of pilot Barry Seal gets a movie that’s not messed up enough in American Made, a sufficiently entertaining film that plays it a little too safe. Drug cartels and Iran Contra are played for laughs—in a story that should not be very funny.

The movie winds up being moderately enjoyable thanks to Tom Cruise, who sweats it out in the lead role. While his work here may not be his best, it’s miles better than what he put forth in The Mummy, that shit-storm that damaged his career this summer. Director Doug Liman (who teamed with Cruise on the sci-fi masterpiece Edge of Tomorrow) rips off Catch Me If You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas, Blow and many others in telling the story of the notorious TWA pilot-turned-pawn for the CIA.

Inspired by Seal’s true story (and, yes, some of the more outlandish stuff depicted in the film actually happened), the movie starts with Seal grinding out flights for TWA—smuggling the occasional box of Cuban cigars, perhaps, but otherwise simply trying to support a family that includes his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright).

During a layover, Seal is approached in a bar by Monty (Domhnall Gleeson). After a brief discussion, Barry is given an opportunity to fly arms to Central America as an unofficial courier for the U.S. (He’s set up with a fake flying company as a front.) The gig soothes the adrenaline junkie in Seal, but it doesn’t pay enough.

That’s where smuggling drugs for the Medellin drug cartel comes in, something Seal starts doing on the side. The movie depicts Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) almost as fun-loving goof balls, and Seal becomes regular pals with them. Along the way, Seal’s operation expands to include an entire airport in Mena, Ark., on property large enough to fit a training ground for the Contras. Seal basically has his hand in everything.

The movie is a whirlwind of activity, but it skimps on some of the details that could have made it more than just a silly blast. The likes of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. are reduced to stock news footage (although W. makes a brief appearance, portrayed by an actor).

One element clearly stolen from Goodfellas is the tactic of breaking the fourth wall to narrate. Liman is able to pull this off through a series of videotapes Seal makes when he’s on the run; bits are used throughout the movie as story-framing devices. It’s a way to help out the viewer with all the different plot threads and time jumps going on.

This story might’ve played better as an HBO or Netflix miniseries than as a big motion picture. It feels far too slick for the story, and needed some more meat on the bone. A good 10-hour running time probably wouldn’t even be enough to cover everything into which Seal got himself.

Cruise brings his reliable movie-star prowess to the project, and while the movie might get a little messy, it is never boring. That’s because Cruise, as he often does, puts his everything into the role. Gleeson is decent in his fictional representation of the CIA; he provides some of the movie’s bigger laughs. Wright does all she can with a thinly written role.

American Made can’t seem to decide whether it’s an action movie, a dark comedy or a dramatic re-telling of a scandalous life. It keeps up the balancing act admirably until its final minutes, where everything crashes down on a discordant note. Anybody who knows anything about Seal knows things will eventually take a dark turn, but the film’s final tonal shift is handled poorly.

Still, you can do worse at the movie theater than seeing a cocaine-coated Cruise paying some kid for a bicycle and then riding it down the street, with the cocaine leaving a smoky powder trail. American Made is not a waste of time … but it is passable moviemaking, and nothing more.

American Made is playing at theaters across the valley.

Now Netflix is chipping in on the effort to make us all forget that filmed adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower with this adaptation of King’s Gerald’s Game, a powerhouse acting job for both Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

They play Jessie and Gerald, a married couple who have hit tough times. They attempt to rekindle their relationship on a holiday excursion which includes her getting handcuffed to the bed. Things go bad—like, really bad—and Jessie winds up in a truly precarious situation that involves starving, dehydrating and hallucinating.

The original King novel, of course, finds a way for Gerald to stick around for the whole movie, even after a fatal heart attack, while flashbacks show us additional traumas involving Jessie’s dad (Henry Thomas).

The movie is, appropriately, hard to watch at times, as a hungry dog comes by for a visit, and Jessie searches for ways to get her hands out of those cuffs. (Hint: Things get bloody.)

This is a career-best performance from Gugino, who carries most of the movie on her back. Greenwood is allowed to get deranged in the role, and he does just that. Visits from a ghostly giant give the movie a supernatural twist, and it gets legitimately scary.

This wasn’t one of King’s best novels (he basically ripped himself off with elements of Dolores Claiborne and Misery), but Gerald’s Game does wind up being one of the better filmed King adaptations.

Gerald’s Game is currently streaming on Netflix. 

If you thought 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a bit over the top—and you liked that aspect of it—you’ll be happy to know that things were just getting started with Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, The Secret Service.

Sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle pulls out all of the stops, goes into severe overkill mode, and then somehow holds together nicely; it delivers a fun time for those who like their movies a little nasty. It’s over-long at 141 minutes, and a pug dies—but the action snaps with expert precision, and the cast kicks ass.

That cast includes Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the young recruit of Harry Hart (Colin Firth) from the first film. The Kingsman—an underground, sharply dressed spy agency in England—remains in operation after the death of Harry, who took a bullet to the head in the first chapter. Eggsy has settled down with a royal girlfriend (Hanna Alstrom), and has segued comfortably into the life of a secret agent.

As it often goes when you are just starting to enjoy your job, things start sucking badly as missiles destroy Kingsman headquarters and strongholds, leaving behind only Eggsy and techy Merlin (Mark Strong). Eggsy and Merlin wind up in America, where they meet the Statesman—secret allies doing a similar spying service for the U.S. The task force includes Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Champ (Jeff Bridges).

The two organizations join to battle Poppy (Julianne Moore, gloriously crazy here), a rich drug dealer who can afford to build a compound that looks a lot like Disneyland’s Radiator Springs in the middle of a jungle. She’s also wields enough power to kidnap Elton John, who is a very colorful hostage in her music hall.

Poppy has hatched an evil scheme to poison all of her drugs. When she calls the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) and demands that he pay a price for the antidote, POTUS proves to be 10 times meaner than Poppy. (An evil, selfish, conniving president? That’s just crazy!)

Does it sound like there’s a lot going on in this movie? Well, there is, and it’s probably enough to command two films; Vaughn should’ve practiced a little more restraint. This is a good, fun movie—but it could’ve been great. It still achieves greatness in some of its sequences, including a ski-slope fight that goes to dizzying extremes; just about every fight scene in the film is a decent pulse-racer.

If you’ve seen the commercials, you know that Colin Firth returns for this movie. I won’t give away the nature of his return, but I will say it’s good to have him back. Speaking as a fan of the first movie, I can accept the ridiculous plot twist that puts Firth back in the character. He’s an important part of this franchise.

Like its predecessor, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is very violent, super-profane and steeped in dark humor. This is a movie in which men wind up in meat grinders and are cooked into hamburgers for other men to consume under duress. It takes a director with chops to pull this sort of stuff off and even make it funny. Vaughn is up to the task.

While Bridges, Tatum and Berry do fine with their smallish roles, Moore basically steals the movie by portraying one of the year’s greatest, most-memorable villains. Poppy is a sick hoot, and her penchant for cooking manburgers and terrorizing Elton John make her a unique kind of evil. Moore is no stranger to getting laughs, and she gets a lot of them in this movie.

If you liked the first movie, you will like this one just fine, so go see it for a nice blast of sick action as autumn kicks off. Also … if this movie is any indication, you should be very careful to never, ever piss off Elton John.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is playing at theaters across the valley.

Angelina Jolie directs First They Killed My Father, the memoir of Loung Ung (who also co-wrote the screenplay), a Cambodian woman who, as a child, survived the genocide brought upon her country by the Khmer Rouge after the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s.

The result is a triumph for Jolie and Ung, who succeed in telling the story through Ung’s eyes as a child. Sareum Srey Moch is a movie miracle as Ung; she is a happy child—until the day the Khmer Rouge arrive in her town. They decide her dad must die and cause her family to flee into the jungle.

Jolie keeps the vantage point through the eyes of this child, ingeniously filming the landscape around her as a child would see it—something beautiful being invaded by monsters. Moch is required to deliver every emotion in the role, and she delivers in a way that should be impossible for a child actress.

The movie is terrifying—and it should be. It stands alongside 1984’s The Killing Fields as a fierce, unyielding depiction of this terrible time in human history. Jolie filmed the movie in Khmer (the Cambodian language), and the film is Cambodia’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It’s definitely a contender.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is streaming on Netflix.

Writer-director Darren Aronofsky is a nut, and his latest film, Mother!, is one helluva nutty movie.

The film’s star, Jennifer Lawrence, is currently dating Aronofsky, a fact that infiltrates the mood of Mother! because the film takes aim at relationships, in a rather nasty way, among its many targets. Those targets also include the Bible, narcissism, celebrity, art, family, smoking and … oh yeah, motherhood. By the time Mother! is over, you might not know exactly what went down, but you know that what happened was rather cynical … highly stylized, loony, entertaining cynicism.

Lawrence plays Mother, an apparently kind-hearted partner to Him (Javier Bardem). They live in an old-style country house out in the middle of nowhere. Him is a writer, going through some major writer’s block and occasionally speaking of having lost everything in the past to a fire. He has some sort of crystalized object on a stand that he claims empowered him to move on after the fire. It’s in a room nobody is allowed to enter alone.

They live a quiet life in their little Eden, with Mother preparing meals while Man tortures himself, unable to produce a single word of his next great work. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s Man (Ed Harris), soon to be followed by Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a strange couple who wind up houseguests, thanks to Him’s hospitality—much to the chagrin of Mother.

Man and Woman invade Mother’s space, with Man huffing cigarettes and frequently vomiting from illness while Woman swills alcohol and asks Mother extremely personal questions. Eventually, Man and Woman’s two sons show up; if you’ve read the Bible, you can perhaps guess what happens when the whole family is under one roof.

Then … well, things get a little weird.

After a rage-inspired sex session, Mother becomes pregnant, and Man is suddenly fertile with ideas. He writes his next big thing, and their home is besieged by agents, fans, religious zealots, paparazzi, former Saturday Night Live cast members, policemen, soldiers, terrorists and fire. Mr. If there’s a takeaway from Mother! it’s that Aronofsky doesn’t have a pleasant attitude toward celebrity. Or Sunday school.

Lawrence lets it all go here, delivering her rawest, and sometimes angriest performance to date. Her character starts off placid and collected, but as more people show up, and more things get broken in the home she has quite literally put her heart and soul into, Lawrence’s Mother ratchets things up to psychotic levels. There’s something seething under the surface with Mother, and Man’s refusal to kick the invaders out of their home brings it up.

Bardem brings a “golly, gosh, gee whiz” quality to Him, interspersed with his own scary outbursts. (I’m thinking both Lawrence and Bardem went to therapy after wrapping this one.)

Harris is great as the first unwanted guest, clearly dying from something, but still able to do naughty things with the wife while the door’s open. Pfeiffer owns her role; this is her best work in years. She only has a few scenes, but all of them, especially one with Mother in the laundry room, leave a mark. The same can be said about Kristen Wiig, who takes a few minutes of screen time late in the film and kills it.

This is the second Aronofsky take on biblical themes. He treated the story of Noah like it was The Lord of the Rings a few years back, and now he’s treating it like Rosemary’s Baby meets The Shining. The film deals with creation in a way that ties into art, the universe, broken sinks and being left out of somebody’s will.

At times, the film is absolute chaos, but Aronofsky, the master behind Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan and The Fountain (another of his creationism meditations), keeps it all under control. Longtime collaborator Matthew Libatique provides impeccable cinematography yet again, making a total rebellion inside a country home look somehow realistic and perhaps even possible.

If you like your stories and scares straightforward, Mother! may frustrate you. However, if you have been having recent conversations about that puzzler that was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and you’ve watched Aronofsky’s The Fountain more than once, Mother! might be right up your alley.

Mother! is playing at theaters across the valley.

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.

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