CVIndependent

Tue11202018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

The great Spike Lee has returned with BlacKkKlansmen, his best film since Malcolm X came out 26 years ago.

Based on a true story—with some significant tweaking—it centers on Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzel), a black police officer in Colorado who, on a whim, decided to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a redneck. It wound up being a two-man sting, with Stallworth pretending to be a white man on the phone while sending in a white partner (depicted here by Adam Driver) to do the face-to-face work.

Stallworth’s investigation eventually leads to him being named the head of a local chapter of the KKK, and direct dealings with David Duke (Topher Grace), Grand Wizard of the KKK and major asshole.

The movie is as crazy as the story was, with Spike perfectly balancing intense drama and humor. Washington is fantastic, and Driver continues to show he’s always a cast MVP.

Lee, shooting on celluloid again, makes a fantastic-looking movie; he’s a master of period pieces, with this one set in the 1970s. The film’s conclusion utilizes current-events news footage (including Charlottesville), showing the unfortunate and all-too-real racism parallels between the events in this film and the current state of America.

The movie is a great watch, but it is also a loud wakeup call.

BlacKkKlansmen is playing at theaters across the valley.

It’s been more than two decades since author Steve Alten released his big shark story Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, the first of many Meg books. From the moment the book hit stands, producers have been attempting to make a movie out of it.

Many directors have flirted with the movie, including Jan de Bont, Guillermo del Toro and, as recently as 2015, Eli Roth. It eventually ended up under the directorial guidance of Jon Turtletaub, the guy who made Cool Runnings, the National Treasure movies and 3 Ninjas.

The result? A movie as misguided, sloppy and boring as you would expect from the guy who directed 3 Ninjas.

Let’s get the obvious problem out of the way: The Meg is rated PG-13, and as it was made, it probably could’ve pulled a PG. This is not a horror film; it’s an undersea adventure with a big, messy CGI shark and sci-fi twist. Roth left the project because they wouldn’t let him gore it up, and they wouldn’t let him star as deep-sea diver/adventurer Jonas Taylor.

Instead, we get Jason Statham as Jonas, and not much of a need for makeup artists on the set due to a lack of bloodletting. Heck, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial had more blood in it when Elliott pricked his finger on that saw blade. Like I said, this thing could be PG. Jaws, the mother of all shark movies (and the greatest movie ever made, thank you very much), had a shit ton of bloodletting, and it was also rated PG. It also had nudity, and a constantly palpable sense of dread.

Come to think of it, how the hell did Jaws get away with a PG rating? Oh, how the times have changed.

When a submarine from a huge underwater-exploration facility goes deeper than any expedition has gone before, it gets attacked by something big and winds up trapped on the ocean floor. Enter Jonas, who, in the film’s prologue set years before, failed to rescue some of his friends when a big something or other also attacked something and caused a mostly bloodless death toll.

Much of this movie consists of long, drawn-out sequences during which submarines dive around and get swatted about by a at-first-mostly unseen 70-foot shark. Other long, drawn-out sequences involve Jonas and his crew floating around at sea while the CGI menace circles them. You’ll be pretty damned surprised how not scary a 70-foot shark can be.

The rushed finale features a lot of those shots you saw in the trailer, with tons of swimmers in the shark’s path, including a little doggie named Pippin. (The black Labrador that got eaten in Jaws was not named Pippin. That dog’s name was Pippet. So the attempt at an Easter egg here is a little off.)

The trailer is very misleading; for 75 percent of this almost-two-hour-long movie, the shark terrorizes a very small group of people. When it finally does go after beach-goers, the vast majority of them get out of harm’s way, although the guy in the big, bouncy ball like the one Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips uses to surf concert crowd gets eaten … bloodless PG-style.

The movie brings along the usual stereotypes, including Rainn Wilson as the hipster billionaire who funded the underwater lab thing and wears lots of Nike products. Statham himself is one big action-hero stereotype. The movie also makes a few too many Jaws references. You shouldn’t constantly remind people of a genre film far superior to yours.

If The Meg could’ve found a way to be campy fun—like, say, the very bloody Piranha 3D or Deep Blue Sea—I’d be looking forward to the inevitable sequel. Instead, it’s about the equivalent of the terrible Jaws 3-D. It’s not as bad as Jaws: The Revenge, though: If that were the case, I wouldn’t have been able to write this review, for that surely would’ve killed me. Bloodlessly.

The Meg is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

A young man shows up for his first year at college—and gets greeted as if he’s been there before. Eventually, someone figures out he’s the identical twin of a former student; this brings about a reunion of the two siblings. It becomes a big story in the newspaper, and then another young man sees the boys and instantly notices a resemblance.

Boom … the three identical brothers, all adopted by different families, find each other as young adults in New York. This is the fascinating tale behind documentary Three Identical Strangers.

I lived in Long Island, N.Y., when the story broke about these guys. They became a sensation, showing up on talk shows and even opening their own restaurant. Sadly, as Tim Wardle’s documentary shows, when the boys found out the real reason for their separation at birth, things took a sad and ultimately tragic turn.

The documentary is set up in a way that, even if you remember this story, what happens in the end will surprise you. The now-grown men sit for interviews, and the stories they tell are captivating, entertaining and maddening at once.

Three Identical Strangers is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Every decade, it seems like one great movie is made about growing up.

In the 1970s, it was The Bad News Bears. In the ’80s … The Breakfast Club. In the ’90s, I’ll go with Rushmore. The ’00s, it was probably Superbad.

Here in the ’10s, or whatever the hell you call this decade, we now have Bo Burnham’s incredibly awesome feature-writing and feature-directing debut, Eighth Grade.

This movie is a masterpiece in so many ways, from its perfect casting, to its crafty camerawork, to its immersive electronic score by Anna Meredith. But most of all, this movie is fantastic due to its central performances from Elsie Fisher as Kayla, and Josh Hamilton as her dad.

Going into this movie, I didn’t realize Fisher was already a cinematic hero of mine: It turns out she’s the voice of Agnes from the first two Despicable Me movies. (Agnes is the “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” girl.) So Fisher, in my mind, is one of the great vocal actresses of all time, because that moment right there is legendary in the world of animation. Hell, I have it as a ringtone.

In Eighth Grade, Fisher shows her talents go well beyond vocals, as she creates a character that captures the awkwardness, joy, sorrow and virtual hell of that final year before high school, when everything is just about to shift into an all-new, freaky gear. Yes, the movie captures the significance of social media and its impact on adolescents, but so much of this film is timeless and universal. It’s a storytelling triumph.

Kayla is an introvert (She wins “Most Quiet” in the final days of junior high, much to her chagrin), but she expresses herself well on her YouTube channel, which features tips for her peers. Few of those peers actually watch her videos—a sad thing, considering the videos are actually quite incisive and might help some of her brattier classmates become better people.

To her horror, Kayla is invited to a popular girl’s birthday party—something akin to a swim in the river Styx in her mind. It’s in this scene that Meredith’s score truly shines, as Kayla takes that dreaded walk from the house to the pool, feeling alienated among dancing partygoers as the soundtrack pounds. It’s a great moment.

While the film is certainly funny, it also tackles the nasty side of childhood head-on—sometimes in scary fashion. As Kayla prepares for high school, she winds up in a situation or two that takes her from joyful elation to horror in mere seconds. It’s heartbreaking and even terrifying to watch at times, but Burnham and Fisher expertly navigate the emotional waves.

Veteran actor Hamilton (who kind of resembles Monty Python’s Michael Palin) is a revelation as the father. He’s been around and doing good work for a long time—heck, I was watching him as the first one to “eat” in Alive the night before seeing this. He has a fireside chat with Fisher in this film that will have you squirting tears, especially if you are a dad with a little girl. That moment alone makes him an awards contender.

I’m giving early Oscar nominations (It’s my column, and I have the power to do that in my alternate reality!) to both Fisher and Hamilton for what they do together in this movie. Fisher is a legit Best Actress contender, while Hamilton deserves a nod for Best Supporting Actor. They make an all-time-great father-daughter character pairing, right up there with Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, paired earlier this summer in Hearts Beat Loud.

I love this movie. It had me laughing my ass off, wide-eyed with terror, crying like a baby and smiling from ear to ear. Congratulations to Hamilton for getting the role of his career, and congrats to Fisher, who has a nice long beautiful career ahead of her.

Eighth Grade is playing at theaters across the valley.

Ethan Hawke is on fire in First Reformed, a return to form for writer-director Paul Schrader, the man who penned Taxi Driver and Raging Bull—and directed American Gigolo 38 years ago.

Hawke plays the Rev. Ernst Toller, a priest in an historical church located in upstate New York. Toller holds up well in front of his congregation, but behind the scenes, he’s a mess: He’s an alcoholic; he is haunted by the loss of his son; he’s stricken with self-imposed loneliness; and he may have cancer.

When a congregation member (Amanda Seyfried) requests he speak to her husband (Philip Ettinger), a manically depressed environmentalist, it sparks something within Toller. He starts to doubt his place in the world, the hypocrisy of his religious organization, and his own ability to lead. His chief religious adviser, the Rev. Joel Jeffers (an excellent Cedric the Entertainer, aka Cedric Antonio Kyles), tells him he’s worried—and the downward spiral accelerates.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Hawke just gets better with age. He makes Toller as memorable of a character as Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. It’s a barnburner performance in a stunner of a movie.

First Reformed is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com; it’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray on Aug. 21.

Tom Cruise is his maniac self in Mission: Impossible—Fallout, the sixth installment in the steady franchise—and proof that Cruise is certifiably insane. The movie is one “Wow!” moment after another, and the guy shows no signs of slowing down, even though he’s now 56 years old.

The movie stacks stunt after stunt, featuring Cruise doing everything from jumping out of airplanes, to scaling cliffs, to piloting his own helicopter. It also shows Cruise leaping from one rooftop to another and breaking his ankle against a building—a stunt that shut down production for weeks, but remains in the film, in all its bone-breaking glory.

Do we really care about the plot when some of the best stunts and action scenes ever are here? Thankfully, the plot is a fun, twisted story, so you’ll be interested even when Cruise isn’t risking his life. Yes, there are a lot of, “Hey, haven’t I seen that before?” moments—lots of masks get ripped off, for starters—but the labyrinthine hijinks still feel fresh overall.

No, I’m not going to do much to explain the plot. It wouldn’t really do you any good.

OK, I’ll tell you a little.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself on yet another mission to save the world, this time from nuclear terrorists headed by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the baddie from the franchise’s prior installment, making a welcome return. This time, Hunt is saddled with an “observer” in August Walker (Henry Cavill), tasked by CIA director Erica Sloan (a so-so Angela Bassett) with making sure Ethan and the IMF complete their mission with minimal funny stuff.

Cruise is sick in the head. Thankfully, one part of his sickness makes him willing to pull off movie stunts like the ones mentioned above. Cruise, while reteaming yet again with director Christopher McQuarrie (now the only director to have helmed two M:I films), manages to pull off his most spectacular cinematic feats yet. The skydive sequence, in which Hunt must work to save an unconscious co-jumper before they go splat, is simply unbelievable (in a good way). There’s a motorcycle chase through Paris streets that demands you see this thing on an IMAX screen.

Cavill, whose facial hair in this film has gotten a lot of attention over the last year, gets a chance to stretch out and play someone far more interesting than his Kryptonian dud. Here, he’s a multi-dimensional badass, especially in a bathroom brawl during which Walker and Hunt try to take out a worthy opponent. Cavill shares in the glory of some of the film’s craziest stunts. That’s not him skydiving, though: Cruise, also a producer on the film, forced Cavill to watch that sequence from the ground in favor of a stunt double.

Alec Baldwin, the original Jack Ryan, takes a break from hosting Match Game to show that he can still throw some big-screen punches as Hunt’s new IMF commander. Vanessa Kirby is sinisterly terrific as White Widow, a sly arms dealer Hunt whom must confront. In her second go-round, Rebecca Fergusson’s Ilsa Faust adds many elements of surprise. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames deliver their usual, competent support. Lorne Balfe’s score deserves a big round of applause for its adrenaline-inducing contributions.

No matter how much money this movie makes, Cruise needs to slow down at some point. In some ways, Mission: Impossible—Fallout feels like it could be the franchise capper. It’s hard to think of any way Cruise could top what he puts onscreen, action-wise.

Then again, I probably started saying stuff like that when the original Mission: Impossible came out.

Mission: Impossible—Fallout is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

After being banished from her Orthodox Jewish community due to a small scandal with a local girl, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to her London home years later upon hearing her father, a prestigious rabbi, has passed away.

With that, the stage is set for Disobedience, a stunner from Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) and a showcase for Weisz and Rachel McAdams as Esti, the woman with whom Ronit had the affair. Esti is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), and has been repressing her true sexuality for years in Ronit’s absence. When Ronit returns … well, things happen.

Lelio explores not just repressed sexuality, but the influence (both good and bad) of religion in the small community. Weisz and McAdams are mighty convincing as lovers, while Nivola offers up a few big surprises as the husband who shouldn’t really be Esti’s husband. The three have moments together that count as some of the best performed scenes of the year.

Disobedience is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.

In a summer of endless sequels, Equalizer 2 has the distinction of being both unoriginal and predictable. Yes, it stimulates that part of your brain that likes to see things go boom and bad guys get pummeled—but the part of your brain that likes to solve things and seeks intellectual depth will take a nap during this film.

However … Equalizer 2 also has a guy named Denzel Washington in it, supplying his every line with grace and punching up the quality of a rote script simply by being onscreen. He and director Antoine Fuqua team up once again and make this sequel to a cinematic update of an OK TV show worth your time. It’s fast food … but it’s good fast food.

Washington returns as Robert McCall, a former special-ops guy with a taste for vigilantism and tea. He’s just sort of hanging out in Boston, working as a Lyft driver and painting over graffiti at his apartment complex, when word comes in that a good friend has bit the dust at the hands of mystery killers. Robert does not like it when you kill his friends. In fact, it’s fair to say Robert will do bad things to you for such acts.

He goes on a search for the killer/killers … and you will probably figure out who the bad people are fairly quickly. Equalizer 2 isn’t worried about tricking you with mysteries. It wants to set up scenarios for McCall’s vicious showdowns with bad folks—and Fuqua does this multiple times with bloody action gusto. Sequences include a dustup on a train in Turkey, with McCall in a full-bearded costume, calmly drinking his tea before dispatching multiple attackers in the most improbable yet badass way. (Does the teapot become a weapon? Why, yes, yes it does!) There’s also a shootout in a hurricane, reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s showdown at the end of Patriot Games. Fuqua makes them all pop in a way that improves upon his work in the first film.

This time out, McCall comes off as a combination of Michael Myers and the Batman. He’s almost supernatural in his abilities to disarm and dispatch his victims. It doesn’t matter how many guns, hammers and blades are coming at him—he’s going to win. There’s a lot of knife play in this movie, so if you have a hard time with cinematic stabbings, this one is not for you. It sometimes plays like a slasher film. Balancing out the nasty violence, Washington plays the role with as much finesse as he does in those Oscar-nominated efforts of his. He’s just so damned cool.

There are other people in this movie, like Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight). They all do serviceable work, but let’s face it: They all need to shut up and get out of the way so the almighty Washington can orate and kick ass. Many of the people in this film are just around to have their noses broken, necks twisted and fingers pulled apart.

There were a couple of plot threads that, quite honestly, could’ve been dropped, although McCall’s fatherly relationship to Sanders’ character is one of the better parts of the film. Sanders plays Miles, a wannabe art student who dabbles in gang activity. Washington and Sanders have some good screen time together.

Back when the first Equalizer came out, I openly asked for it to become a franchise. With this—Washington’s first participation in a sequel of any kind—I got my wish. It’s everything that garbage remake of Death Wish wanted to be. The way this one finishes … it feels like it could be the last. But there’s no need to stop.

The Equalizer 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Gus Van Sant gets back into fine directing shape with Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, his best effort in years.

Joaquin Phoenix gets much of the credit; he’s terrific as real-life cartoonist John Callahan, an alcoholic who wound up in a wheelchair after a car accident with a friend (Jack Black). Van Sant jumps around with his timeline—but the film is never confusing, no matter where it goes. We see Callahan pre-accident, drinking tequila first thing in the morning. We also see him during one of the film’s framing devices, a convention at which Callahan is sharing his story. Most effectively, we see him in group-therapy sessions led by Donnie (Jonah Hill), a free-spirited, generally kind man who, nevertheless, isn’t going to give you many breaks as your sponsor. Those sessions have a documentary-like feel, and Hill is especially good (and nearly unrecognizable) in them.

Phoenix is having a great year—if you haven’t seen him in You Were Never Really Here, you must—and this might be his very best work yet. Rooney Mara, Carrie Brownstein and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth show up in brief, yet effective roles. This is one of the summer’s better films.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot opens Friday, July 27, at theaters including the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

First-time director and screenwriter Boots Riley (leader of musical group The Coup) creates one of the craziest movies you will ever see with Sorry to Bother You, a hilarious, nasty and even scary showcase for the talents of Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson.

This is comedic satire at its screwiest, with sci-fi, fantasy and horror elements inserted in such a way that Riley completely shatters the rules of conventional filmmaking. Stated simply: There are tons of “What the fuck?” moments in this movie.

Cassius Green (Stanfield) is living in a garage owned by his uncle (Terry Crews), looking for a better life and a job. His performance-artist girlfriend, Detroit (Thompson), encourages him to pursue what he wants—but tells him not lose his sense of self.

After procuring a job at a mass telemarketing agency, Cassius finds himself striking out with call after call. It’s here that Riley employs an ingenious visual trick, with Cassius physically showing up in the lives of the people he is interrupting with his telemarketing nonsense: Cassius’ desk is dropped into one situation after another (people having sex, people mourning, etc.). This does a great job of conveying the intrusiveness of that particular sales tactic.

A seasoned co-worker (Danny Glover) advises Cassius to use his white-man voice (supplied by the great, and very white, David Cross). This brings immediate success, and catapults Cassius up the ladder—and into the hallowed upstairs office where the Power Callers reside. However, the road to success involves him becoming more of a douchebag—and, ultimately, a revolutionary.

If the film were simply a caustic observation on the art of the sale and trying to get ahead in life, it would be funny enough. However, Riley doesn’t stop there: Sorry to Bother You winds up being a brutal look at class separation, racial divides, evil corporate conglomerates, slave labor, social media and, yes, bleeding head wounds. (Cassius spends a lot of time with one of those Revolutionary War-looking makeshift bandages wrapped around his head, complete with a big red blood stain.)

Stanfield—who had that masterful, turning-point scene in Get Out that featured a bloody nose, a camera and lots of screaming—takes his work to the next level in this movie. He occupies the role in a way that you could imagine nobody else doing it. Thompson, one of my very favorite actresses, does nothing but cement that status with everything she does in this movie.

Armie Hammer is funnier than you would ever expect him to be as coke-sniffing billionaire Steve Lift; things take some crazy turns after he shows up in the movie. Also showing master comic chops: Steven Yeun (Glenn from The Walking Dead) as a revolutionary co-worker, and Robert Longstreet as Cassius’ twisted boss.

Quite a while into this movie, you may be thinking: “Gee, Bob, this seems like straightforward satire to me. This isn’t as ‘out there’ as you suggested, you stupid, lying, ugly bastard.” Well, hang tight, because Riley is going to knock you on your ass with tonal shifts as violent as a volcanic eruption during a nuclear explosion. There was nobody watching over this movie and saying, “Oh, hell no, you can’t do that. Nope!” This movie is a pure example of what can happen when you don’t restrict an ambitious, talented filmmaker.

Sorry to Bother You falls short of being a classic, due to some glaringly loose-ended scenes and occasional jokes that fall flat. Riley’s scattershot style leads to some moments that feel a little sloppy and unfinished. Still, the brashness of this enterprise is absolutely breathtaking. I think Riley’s all-time classic is yet to come.

If you are suffering from sequel and/or superhero fatigue this summer, and you want something raw and new, Sorry to Bother You will not disappoint. It also might just fuck you up a bit.

Sorry to Bother You is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682); and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0333).