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Thu09242020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Bob Grimm

Some movies are made to make viewers miserable. It’s what they set out to do, and if done well, cinema geeks such as myself will tip our hats to them.

The Devil All the Time is one of those movies. It’s an ugly film—and it’s supposed to be. I understand that a lot of people do not need this sort of movie in their lives right now. I, for one, found it a mildly rewarding viewing experience, even though I had to take two showers afterward.

The film starts in World War II, where soldier Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) makes a discovery that will pretty much fuck him up for the rest of his life. Upon returning stateside, he tries to live the American life: He gets married to Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and has a boy named Arvin (Tom Holland, when the character grows up). Try as Willard might to live a good, pious life, tragedy strikes multiple times.

Arvin grows up with a decent-enough head on his shoulders despite the trauma, and has a strong bond with his stepsister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). When a creepy preacher (Robert Pattinson) moves to town, things—rather predictably—go bad again.

Meanwhile, in another subplot, a sadistic couple (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) drives around picking up hitchhikers and asking them to do some strange things. There’s also a corrupt sheriff (Sebastian Stan), the brother to the woman doing the strange hitchhiking things. There are a lot of other characters in the mix as well.

Bottom line: The film has way too much going on. It needed to be a miniseries rather than a single 138-minute film. That said, Holland and Pattinson are especially good, and the film is worth seeing for them. Skarsgard, Keough, Clarke and Scanlen all do just fine, but the movie is way too crowded.

To reiterate: If you are looking for a good time, this movie won’t provide it. It’s bound to go down as one of the film year’s biggest bummers—intentionally, of course.

The Devil All the Time is now streaming on Netflix.

5 out of 5 stars

Charlie Kaufman (writer of Being John Malkovich) directs and writes the adapted screenplay for I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a nice puzzler of a movie that will have you debating its plotline with friends for days.

On the heels of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet—which is not yet out in the Coachella Valley, but it will be … I promise—September is proving to be a fine month for moviegoers who like their films intelligently convoluted and crazy.

Young Woman (the amazing Jessie Buckley) is going on a strange date with her strange boyfriend, Jake (the equally amazing Jesse Plemons). They take a road trip in a snowstorm to meet Jake’s parents, even though Young Woman—as the title of the film suggests—is apparently thinking of ending things with Jake.

They have bizarre conversations during which their moods change in a snap, and their visit with the parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis, relishing the chance to play in Kaufman-land) is even weirder—but their stop at an ice cream shop in the middle of a blizzard is off-the-charts nuts. It all comes to a conclusion that absolutely requires you watch the film again, with that second viewing being a completely different experience.

This is one of those movies, like Barton Fink and Mulholland Dr., that doesn’t make much sense while it is happening, but it comes together with post-movie thought. It’s also one of the year’s best, with the four stars all worthy of year-end awards.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now streaming on Netflix.

(4 1/2 of 5 stars)

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is the sort of movie you need to just take in the first time you see it. Don’t try to figure stuff out; if your brain picks up on shit, fine. If not, relax, because it all does make sense in that Christopher Nolan-puzzler sort of way. You’ll figure it out later.

After many postponements, Hollywood rolled the dice and put Tenet exclusively in theaters, at a time when films like Mulan (exclusively on Disney+) and Bill and Ted Face the Music (a combo of streaming and in-theater releases) dabble with new release formulas, because theaters remain closed in a third of the country—and because COVID-19 is still very much a threat. 

Yeah, I risked life and limb to go to the recently reopened AMC (I’m currently in Texas) to watch this in IMAX. Putting the quality of the film aside, I must confess that this was the most fun I’ve had since closing the vault door to my apartment six months ago and staying in there every day. It was a WOW moment for me to plant myself in a theater chair for the first time in half a year and get my ears and face blasted with a Nolan film. Since theaters aren’t open yet in the Coachella Valley, if you want to see Tenet, you’re either going to need to wait a bit, or make the two-hour trek to San Diego County, which is one step ahead of us on the state’s “county risk” scale.

John David Washington plays a character called “The Protagonist,” an agent of some sort on a mission to find pieces of a complex puzzle to save the world—and that’s all I’m telling you about the plot. Robert Pattinson (recently sidelined on The Batman shoot due after testing positive for COVID-19) is a terrific sidekick as another mysterious agent, while Elizabeth Debicki mesmerizes as Kat, the troubled wife of Andrei, a nasty, nasty guy played by Kenneth Branagh.

The film is visually stunning and at times totally confusing—but it pays off in the end with revelations that tie things up just enough, although you’ll probably spend the next five days putting the remaining mysteries together.

I’ve already had a couple of fun conversations about Tenet with my brother where we argue over what certain things meant. I love movies that spark that kind of conversation.

Tenet is now playing in theaters in San Diego County.

(4 1/2 of 5 stars)

While the trailer for Ted Lasso makes it look like a lame coach comedy à la The Mighty Ducks or Kicking and Screaming, this new Apple TV+ series is so much more.

That’s mainly because it has Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis at its center as the title character. He’s an American college football coach hired by Rebecca (the amazing Hannah Waddingham), a scheming English soccer-team owner, to coach a game he knows nothing about. Her plan is to sabotage the team, beloved by her ex-husband, by putting it into the hands of a doofus. Ted proves to be anything but.

There’s a never-ending joy to Sudeikis and his Ted, and it’s never one-note. Ted, in England and out of his element, is going through marital problems back home and is terrified of many things under the surface. His performance is multi-dimensional, as is Waddingham’s—as is most any actor’s performance on this show.

Brett Goldstein is the grumpy player with a heart; Phil Dunster plays the team prima donna; Juno Temple comes out of nowhere as the prima donna’s not-to-be-messed-with girlfriend. Each character is written with the kind of nuance that brings surprise after surprise; there’s nothing hackneyed here.

I’ve seen the entire first season (as of this writing, six of 10 episodes have been released), and it’s an across-the-boards winner, the sort of vehicle the underrated Sudeikis rightly deserves. Good news: Apple TV+ has already renewed the show for a second season, so this won’t be the last we see of Ted.

Ted Lasso is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Bill and Ted of San Dimas, Calif., went to hell, played Twister with Death, and supposedly saved the world with a sorta-crappy song that was actually performed by Kiss.

Now, after many failed attempts, we’ve finally gotten a third Bill and Ted film, in which the middle-aged dudes are grappling with parenthood, marital troubles and a killer robot.

Was it worth the wait? Yeah, sure.

If that doesn’t seem like a resounding endorsement, that’s because it isn’t. This film sometimes feels flat, with Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) at the helm, and the writers of the first two films returning for a third go. Alex Winter is back as Bill, and he basically steals the film from Keanu Reeves as Ted, who doesn’t seem to be feeling the joy this time out.

I thought they’d saved the world with “God Gave Rock and Roll to You,” but apparently that’s not the case. The film begins with Bill and Ted performing at a wedding; their career is a mess after Death (William Sadler) quit Wyld Stallyns, and their many albums failed to chart.

Enter Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of Rufus (played previously by the late George Carlin), who shows up in a time-traveling pod. Reality as we know it is collapsing upon itself, and if Bill and Ted don’t come up with a universe-saving song, everything is going to go away. Bill and Ted, shortly after leaving marriage counseling, get back in the time-traveling phone booth and visit themselves in the future in an attempt to steal what could be the already-written universe-saving song.

This leads to some relatively funny stuff, with future Bill and Ted being their own worst enemies. (They are both assholes, and Ted drinks too much.) The best sequence involves the two future dudes all jacked and tattooed in prison. In an attempt to help their dads, daughters Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving) travel through time as well, assembling a band consisting of Louis Armstrong, Mozart and Hendrix.

Death shows up in the second half—and that’s when the film really kicks into gear, because Sadler hasn’t lost a step with his worrisome Reaper. Anthony Carrigan, so great in HBO’s Barry, chips in as Dennis Caleb McCoy, the killer robot. This character seems to be going nowhere at first—but then Carrigan puts a weird spin on Dennis and makes him memorable.

Parisot seems a little lost at times with his direction. This seems like it should be a happier film, but it is often listless, with sloppy editing. Thankfully, Winter is totally on point as Bill, while Reeves is mostly OK, although he sometimes loses that affable, happy Ted charm and is a bit of a bummer at times. “Future Ted,” who is a complete jerk, features Reeves at the top of his game.

In the end, Face the Music is the weakest Bill and Ted film to date, but it’s still a worthy chapter, and I’m happy it exists.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

I’m two episodes into HBO’s Lovecraft Country, and I’m not entirely sure what’s going on yet with this nutty show—but I sure do like it.

From the creative minds of Misha Green and Jordan Peele comes this twisty, screwy and scary series that mixes 1950s racism in America with H.P. Lovecraft-style horror. Atticus (Jonathan Majors), a Black veteran returning from war, goes on a search for his missing father with his uncle (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend (Jurnee Smollett, my new favorite actress).

Their search leads them to Lovecraft Country, a Southern region rife with racism (as was H.P. Lovecraft himself) and, as you find out at the end of Episode 1, crazy beasts right out of a Lovecraft story. It’s an insane mix; one moment, people are dancing to the blues in a crowded Southern street. In the next, they are fighting crazed vampire-like monsters in a secluded cabin.

Again, I’m only two episodes in (because only two have been released as of this writing), so this could all go downhill from here, but I don’t think it will. The show has that “message with the madness” vibe that Peele provided with Get Out. It also looks terrific, from its period settings to its excellent monster effects.

The show is very well acted, with Majors, Smollett and Vance providing excellent leads, along with some other stars I won’t reveal here.

This show is airing on both HBO and its new streaming service, HBO Max, which is proving to be a sweet venture. I’ll take this moment to also endorse the HBO Max-exclusive film An American Pickle, starring two Seth Rogens. HBO Max is proving to be worth the money.

Lovecraft Country is currently airing Sundays on HBO and streaming on HBO Max.

I’m a major Ren and Stimpy Show fan. Love the first two seasons to death. Not crazy about what happened after its creator, John Kricfalusi, left the series; he didn’t make it past the second season. The quality dropped off in a big way.

Also, I’m not at all happy that it turns out John K. was a pedophile—a story that came out two years ago.

This new documentary, Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren and Stimpy Story, which includes John K.’s participation, wouldn’t delve into his issues with underage girls, right? That would be crazy. Surely John K. would avoid any film that paints him as the sicko that he apparently is. Right?

For a large part of the 104-minute running time, it seems as if the subject won’t be breached. Directors Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood interview John K. and his colleagues about his rise and fall in the animation world. He was a genius, but he had a crazy attention-to-detail obsession that got him in trouble—along with a nasty temper.

But then, lo and behold, the movie goes there—not only speaking to some of the women who were victimized by John K. as girls, but talking with the man himself about what happened—and not in a whitewashed sort of way. They go right at him; he answers; his answers are not good. It’s really quite remarkable.

So, the movie is two things: It’s a really cool look at the institution that is Ren and Stimpy—which is being rebooted by Comedy Central without John K.’s involvement—and it’s a surprisingly daring character profile of John K. and everything he did to mess up the show, his life and the lives of others. He’s a mess, but this movie isn’t.

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren and Stimpy Story is now available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

I’ve been bitching about the Go-Go’s not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for years. They should’ve been first-ballot inductees, but nope; Bon Jovi is in there instead.

Now that I’ve ranted, let me tell you about The Go-Go’s, a super-fine documentary from director Alison Ellwood that covers the band from its punk-rock days up until the present. Yes, the group only made four albums, but when you are talking about trailblazers, you have to put the Go-Go’s at the forefront of rock ’n’ roll history.

The first all-female band that played their own instruments to have a No. 1 album (the classic Beauty and the Beat) started in the Los Angeles punk-rock scene—and they were one sloppy band. Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin were part of the original group, with Charlotte Caffey (guitar/keyboards), bassist Kathy Valentine and drummer Gina Schock joining soon thereafter. After witnessing a shitty Sex Pistols show, the girls decided that they should tighten up their act—and the pristine pop sounds of “Our Lips Our Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” soon arrived.

Ellwood, with full participation from the band, culls together great archival audio and video, along with fun interviews, to tell their stories. Caffey’s drug addiction, Schock’s health scare, and Wiedlin pulling a Pete Townshend and temporarily leaving the band did a lot to stall the Go-Go’s momentum, but they have reformed many times over the years. They had a Broadway show before the pandemic, and there are plans for more touring and music—so they have not called it quits.

This film proves over and over again that it’s time the band gets its place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if the institution wants to be regarded as anything close to relevant. They were the first; they were one of the best; and their music is timeless. Long live the Go-Go’s!

The Go-Go’s is currently airing on Showtime, and is available on demand and via its streaming service.

The new Disney+ series Muppets Now—the umpteenth incarnation of the Muppets on TV—proves to be a good one, with Kermit and pals assimilating into the world of Zoom and cooking-competition shows.

The premise is simple: Kermit presides over a different kind of show, one in which he remains the emcee, and Scooter continues as a stage manager, of sorts. But this time, Kermit is hosting things on a Zoom-like platform, while Scooter labors away trying to upload show elements on time to the satisfaction of Miss Piggy, Gonzo, etc.

It may sound trite and unoriginal, but the writing and flow turn out to be perfect fits for Muppet sensibilities. I’m four episodes in—the show is being released to the public in weekly installments, and the first of six first-season episodes was released July 31—and they get progressively funnier. Human guests such as Linda Cardellini and Taye Diggs are fun, but they never overshadow the puppet horseplay.

Miss Piggy gets a fashion show called Lifesty, the name of which makes her very angry for obvious reasons. The best segments involve the Swedish Chef in a cooking competition during which he cheats and refuses to tip delivery drivers. (The Swedish Chef is pure insanity in this new show.) Scientist Bunsen Honeydew now has a sadistic edge in his wont for destroying things, while assistant Beaker remains petrified.

The show pops with energy. Muppets Now could have felt like producers were trying to shoehorn the classic characters into a new, modern format—but instead, the show feels natural. This will appeal to younger fans and heritage fans alike.

Muppets Now is now streaming on Disney+, with new episodes released on Fridays.

Dave Franco, brother of James, makes his directorial debut (and also co-wrote the screenplay) with The Rental, a serviceable slasher film that proves the newbie director can successfully create a creepy vibe.

The film isn’t all that original, and you won’t feel any major sense of surprise when the story ends. You might, however, refrain from renting a vacation home on the Oregon coast anytime soon.

Charlie and Michelle (Dan Stevens and Alison Brie) are looking to get away for the weekend. They rent a fancy house and bring along Charlie’s brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Josh’s girlfriend, Mina (Sheila Vand), for company. After an awkward meeting with the caretaker (Toby Huss, amassing a nice horror-film resume with this and the recent Halloween), the weekend gets off to a pleasant-enough start. Then the drugs come out … and bad things happen. When Mina discovers a camera in the shower, justified paranoia reigns—and then the bodies start piling up.

Franco keeps the audience guessing about who is creating the bloody mayhem. The resolution irked me at first, but it’s growing on me. The performances help put the film over the top, as does the effective score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. They definitely use sound to keep you on edge.

While The Rental owes much to previous films like Vacancy, it’s a promising start for Franco, who manages to give the film enough coolness to warrant a rental if you are a horror aficionado.

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

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