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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Bob Grimm

A troubled artist (Elijah Wood) answers a letter from his long-last dad (Stephen McHattie) and goes to visit him at his oceanfront property. What starts out as a sweet get-together in the film Come to Daddy quickly devolves into a hellish experience during which Dad proves himself to be an even lousier father than first thought: Rather than being a supportive pop, he drinks a lot and declares his long-lost son to be full of shit. He’s also got a few things going on in the basement.

Director Ant Timpson throws in twists aplenty, and Wood delivers good work—but the film ultimately doesn’t come together. It flirts with dark comedy early on, and seems to be on its way to being a terrific nasty laugher, but the film loses its way when it goes the cheap-thriller route. The second half is depressing rather than outlandish, and the writing doesn’t back up that leap.

It’s too bad. I legitimately laughed a few times during the first half, and I had high hopes thanks to the setup. But in the end, Come to Daddy is a tonal mess—and a blown opportunity for what could have been a memorable genre effort.

Come to Daddy is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Robert Eggers is two films into his feature-directing career, and people are already trying to rip off his style.

Gretel and Hansel shoots for the slow-burn, deliberately paced, lushly photographed style that Eggers employed in his 2015 masterpiece The Witch. While director Osgood Perkins has put together a movie that looks OK, the script by Rob Hayes provides little to nothing in the way of chills—the movie is all atmospherics with little substance.

On the verge of starvation centuries ago, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is kicked out of her home with little brother Hansel (Sammy Leakey) in tow. They head into the forest where the only meal they have is hallucinogenic mushrooms—yes, they trip out—until they come upon a house inhabited by a strange old lady named Holda (Alice Krige).

Holda is all by herself without a supermarket in sight, yet her table is full of freshly baked and roasted goodies. Hansel and Gretel, just like in the fairy tale, settle in for some good country cooking. Little do they know that the obviously evil Holda (I mean, look at her—she’s definitely a witch) has nefarious plans for the two that involve a different kind of mealtime.

As the kids stuff their faces, Holda seems to ponder some sort of witch-training future for Gretel. Gretel has “visions” that suggest she could have witchcraft in her blood, so Holda encourages her while Hansel moves closer to the roasting oven. Will Gretel get hold of herself before Hansel achieves an uncomfortable melding with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? Trust me: You’ll be so bored that you won’t give two shits.

You won’t be scared, either. There are a couple of foreboding shots involving a witch standing in a pinkly lit forest, and one involving entrails changing into baked goods; these show potential. Otherwise, the film is mostly two kids talking to each other about scary things, and those same two kids walking around, during which things should get scary, but don’t.

In an effort to make more money, Orion Pictures and Osgood have gone with a PG-13 cut—which makes no sense. There’s nothing about this movie that would appeal to fans 13 and under. Lillis was one of the stars of It, which was a hard R. An R rating could’ve generated some creeps and scares—whereas this movie chickens out.

Lillis is good here, even though her role is almost a complete copy of the one played by Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. Krige has the makings of a scary witch, but she’s required to do little more than sit at a table and speak ominously.

You would think that an adaptation of a classic fairy tale about kids being roasted in an old lady’s oven and then eaten would be Fright City—but nope. This one is about as scary as a jar of pitted olives.

The film is flattering to Eggers in that it’s proof that he has already established a genre style—gothic horror filmed in greys and browns—and that people are trying to ape it like a lot of ’90s directors tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino.

On the bright side, the film is much better than the Jeremy Renner vehicle Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That film may always stand as the worst adaptation of the story. Gretel and Hansel is just boring, not bad to the core. Still, boring is bad—and horror fans need not waste their time.

Gretel and Hansel is playing at theaters across the valley.

Taylor Swift goes the Beyoncé route with her own Netflix special—and it’s a winner.

While Taylor Swift: Miss Americana covers her whole life, it focuses mostly on the making of her last two albums and her recent decision to become more politically active. If you are looking for a lot of her music, this is not the movie for you. If you are looking for insight into how she writes her songs—and how she feels about a certain Tennessee senator and current U.S. president—you will certainly enjoy this.

I like Taylor Swift. I like her melodious music and the fact that she allows her cat to eat at the dinner table with the humans (seated in a regular dinner chair, no less). She can be a little self-important and a tad whiny at times, but great talents have their eccentricities.

In the end, Taylor Swift is a great entertainer, and this movie is greatly entertaining.

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana is now streaming on Netflix.

There are many reasons to head to the cinema for a showing of Guy Ritchie’s gangster-comedy return, The Gentlemen.

Chief among those reasons is the cast, led by Matthew McConaughey and an extremely amusing Hugh Grant. Throw in Colin Farrell, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery and Eddie Marsan, all in top form, and you are talking about one of the best casts of the 2020—and it’s only January.

Also, if you are a big fan of weed, you should go see this movie.

The film, directed and co-written by Ritchie, isn’t an amazing piece of scriptwriting. It feels like the other gangster-comedy/drama films he wrote and directed (Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) in that it has zippy dialogue and a fairly routine mystery at its core. However, The Gentlemen is a lot of fun from start to finish, and you will forgive its familiarities and foibles.

McConaughey is at his best as Mickey Pearson, a gangster who has built a large illegal-weed empire as the plant seems headed toward legalization. He’s toying with getting out, and offers his empire to Matthew (Jeremy Strong) for a tidy, semi-reasonable sum. Wife Rosalind (Dockery), a shrewd businessperson, is fine with him retiring—as long as that doesn’t mean he will always be hanging around and bothering her while she’s trying to get stuff done.

However, bodies start piling up as Mickey’s farm locations are getting raided—and somebody in the cast is responsible. That includes Farrell as Coach, a local boxing trainer who has shrewdly constructed a little side game involving street thugs; Ray (Hunnam), Mickey’s right-hand man, who seems loyal but, hey, maybe he’s looking to move ahead in the crime world; and both Lord George (Tom Wu) and Dry Eye (Henry Golding), who have the motive to screw Mickey over because, like Matthew, they want his empire.

Then there’s private-investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has been following everybody around, gathering evidence to blackmail Mickey—while also writing a screenplay based on the whole mess. Fletcher, in what counts as a framing device, tells Ray his observations throughout the film, and the action plays out along with his storytelling.

Grant gets a chance to act completely sleazy—and it becomes him. Bearded and bespectacled with a full cockney accent, Grant is a crack-up, one of the only real reasons to call this movie a comedy. McConaughey, in contrast, is not a laugh riot; his role combines his laid-back strengths with flashes of full on, brilliant rage. This movie might contain two of my favorite McConaughey-raging moments.

Starting with In Bruges, Farrell moved into my “favorite actors” file and has managed to stay there. His Coach actually feels like an offshoot of his In Bruges persona—with, perhaps, a dash more bravado. His part is smallish, but he makes the most of all his minutes.

Everything plays out in a way that is not surprising, so if you see The Gentlemen looking to judge it on the basis of its mystery contents, you might find yourself disappointed. It’s nothing extraordinary on that front … but it’s not bad, either. When everything is revealed, the results are slightly ho-hum. That doesn’t prevent the film from being an overall good time.

The Gentlemen offers viewers a chance to see a cast having a blast—and to see Ritchie playing in a sandbox that suits him after a slump that included dreck like Aladdin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. He’s definitely more at home with snappy, profane dialogue and comic violence than he is with magic carpets and blue genies.

The Gentlemen is playing at theaters across the valley.

Director Kevin Smith almost croaked a while back thanks to a widow-maker heart attack—so it’s no surprise that his first film since that setback, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, is a bit of a sap fest.

Smith and buddy Jason Mewes reprise the title roles in a film that follows most of the plot points of Smith’s 2001 magnum opus, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The results aren’t as funny as I was hoping, but this is the first film in which Smith does a decent job of handling mushy, lubby-dubby, sentimental stuff.

Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, steps in as Jay’s love child with Justice (Shannon Elizabeth)—and she knocks the role out of the park. She’s actually the most consistently funny person in the movie, and she handles the emotional stuff well, too, proving she’s got major chops.

The cameo list is long, including Matt Damon, Val Kilmer, Ben Affleck a very funny Chris Hemsworth, Melissa Benoist—and even Smith, playing himself (in addition to Silent Bob). Smith poking fun at his entertainment-show-hosting-self is a great running gag, especially during a post-credits scene.

While this is not as funny as the first Jay and Silent Bob, I’m happy this exists, mainly because it means Kevin Smith, now a vegan, is not dead.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Twenty-five years have passed since detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) first suited up for Michael Bay in Bad Boys, and 17 years have passed since they joined him again for Bad Boys II.

Since the first time Bay assaulted our eyes and ears with his patented brand of cinematic garbage, I’ve grown to almost enjoy said garbage. I hated Bad Boys, but I sort of liked the outrageous Bad Boys II. Bay tends to amuse me now—unless he’s doing a Transformers movie, in which case I check out. I attribute my suddenly liking some Bay movies to brain decay due to aging, a lack of iron and a general loss of spirituality. So, I guess the bad news is that Bay passed on directing Bad Boys for Life, the third installment in the franchise. I would’ve liked to see Bay try to top the almost-self-parodying craziness that was Bad Boys II, but, alas, he was making Netflix movies with Ryan Reynolds.

The good news is that the directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah step up and do a sufficient job of continuing the mayhem—easily topping Bay’s lame original and providing a chapter that is as good, and sometimes better, than chapter two.

Burnett is eyeing retirement, while Lowrey is dealing with the psychological and physical ramifications of aging. (But he’s dyeing his goatee, so it’s all good.) A crazy witch-lady gangster named Isabel (Kate del Castillo) has escaped from prison and has put out a hit list for her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to work his way through. Isabel has vengeance in mind—and the targets have connections to Lowrey.

Lowrey himself is also on that list, and he takes a couple of bullets early in the film. We aren’t giving too much away by telling you that Lowrey doesn’t die … because there’s no movie if Lowrey dies. So, after some healing time, Lowrey and a very reluctant Burnett are back in action, wise-cracking and shooting people up in slow motion.

Some familiar faces return, including Theresa Randle as Burnett’s long-suffering wife. She’s good in a subplot that has Burnett becoming a granddad while getting more time at home during his attempted retirement … which doesn’t go well. For starters, bad things happen with a ceiling-fan repair. Joe Pantoliano makes a welcome return as Pepto Bismol-swigging Capt. Howard—still a great riff on those screaming captains from the Beverly Hills Cop movies.

All the mayhem comes to an appropriately visceral and bloody conclusion, replete with big plot twists and the Smith-Lawrence duo kicking ass. When the two are allowed to riff and fly, it’s fun. There’s a big production going on around them, but it never overwhelms their star power. They are bloodier, nastier versions of Abbott and Costello.

As Bay learned with Bad Boys II, Smith and Lawrence are better in this sort of thing when everything is ridiculously over the top. The new directors know their way around an action scene, and their comic timing is strong, so there are equal levels of laughs and explosions in this installment. The movie isn’t the big joke that Bad Boys II was—Burnett’s electronics-store sex-problem confession remains the series highlight—but it is unabashedly nuts. It qualifies as a competent and promising reboot.

Please don’t take these words as high praise. I’m saying that this is relatively tasty cinematic junk food. I’m saying that it’s good enough that I’m OK with the idea of another chapter. (Bad Boys 4 is already in play.) I’m saying that there seems to be a few more Bad Boys stories to tell, and the beat goes on without Bay.

Smith and Lawrence have escaped the Men in Black and Big Momma’s House franchises, and can concentrate their combined energies on this now. This is not a bad thing.

Bad Boys for Life is playing at theaters across the valley.

Edward Norton directs, writes the screenplay and stars in Motherless Brooklyn, a decent-enough adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name. It’s an OK movie, but it isn’t going to change anybody’s lives.

Norton certainly made a good-looking film here. Motherless Brooklyn is set in the ’50s, and the period details are impressive; the costuming is first-rate; and the camerawork is stellar.

As for the story … there is a convoluted plot involving murder mysteries and real estate development. It doesn’t feel like anything new—except for the twist that Norton’s private detective has Tourette’s syndrome. Norton does a convincing job of exhibiting this affliction through a series of verbal and physical ticks, coupled with obsessive-compulsive behavior. No doubt: The most-interesting aspect of this movie is Norton’s character, Lionel.

Norton assembles a strong cast, including Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Suplee (before he got ripped) and Cherry Jones. Everybody does good work, but it’s in service of a story that isn’t all that engaging. Norton did a lot of work here for a movie that is just OK.

Motherless Brooklyn is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Kristen Stewart proves she’s a badass movie star in Underwater, a long-delayed and surprisingly decent deep-sea horror/thriller from director William Eubank. While it stands to be the second big-budget box-office disaster in a row for Stewart after Charlie’s Angels, it deserves a better fate: The movie is actually pretty good.

The film doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or work any miracles. It’s successful in a very basic way that engages from beginning to end, with an occasional effective scare, a constant sense of dread and high-pressure tension.

Stewart stars as Norah, an underwater engineer on a drilling rig in the middle of the Mariana Trench. We first see her brushing her teeth as the lights around her flicker, and then we hear some dull thuds. She glances around; she plays a little with a spider in the sink. She doesn’t seem too concerned.

Then, “Boom!” Her section of the rig implodes, blasting water all around her as she and another crew member narrowly escape into a temporary safe place … and by temporary, we mean for the next 30 seconds or so.

Norah makes her way through the quickly mounting disaster, meeting up with other crew members (including T.J. Miller, here for comic relief in a movie made well before his personal controversies made him a casting no-no). The vessel’s captain (a strong Vincent Cassel) hatches a plan involving big diving suits and walking on the ocean floor toward a safer zone. The group reluctantly goes along.

It’s not an earthquake or volcanic eruption that has caused their work home to be compromised: Instead, sea creatures of unexplained origin—some the size of the chest-burster in Alien, some of more Godzilla-type proportions—are menacing the rig and occasionally dining on humans. Jaws-style, the creatures are slowly but surely introduced, until a finale that is full of monsters.

Eubank stocks his cast with talent (including Jessica Henwick of Game of Thrones and John Gallagher Jr.), including a lot of actors who can say a lot in just the way they look, so long periods of exposition aren’t needed for the audience to immediately care about them. The movie never lets up, and while it doesn’t possess a remarkable screenplay or anything resembling emotional depth, the action is fierce, and the characters register.

In fact, had the screenplay provided one more solid, apocalyptic twist or shift, this film could’ve been very good. There were moments when I thought Eubank might offer up some sort of Twilight Zone shocker, but, alas, the movie is just about people running away from sea monsters. They run away in style, but that’s all that really happens.

The monsters themselves are mostly seen through dark, murky water. Normally, not allowing a full view of a monster would infuriate me, but it works here, much in the same way it did with the cave-dwellers in The Descent. Because we witness much of the action as if we were part of the escaping crew, we often see the monsters lit by flashlights or through suit visors. It works, for the most part. However, the studio (Fox, owned by Disney) erred in deciding to make this PG-13. It needed to be an R-rated film.

Stewart provides the film with a nice center of gravity, creating a character who is clearly scared shitless, yet realistically under control. She shaved her head for the role; Norah would have that haircut because it makes sense given the living conditions, rather than it being an attempt to look tough.

So, it’s January, when studios release films in which they have no faith (along with awards contenders getting their wide releases after limited runs, like 1917 and Just Mercy). Underwater definitely fits the bill as a long delayed, question mark of a movie. Fortunately, for genre fans, it doesn’t suck. It’s passably good, and I can safely say it has no moments I would categorize as bad. It’s a good, old-fashioned, please-monster-don’t-eat-me movie, and I will gladly take one of those every now and then.

Underwater is playing at theaters across the valley.

Michael B. Jordan stars in Just Mercy as civil-rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, a real attorney who has dedicated his life to freeing wrongly convicted death-row inmates.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s film focuses primarily on the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man sentenced to death for the murder of a girl, even though evidence showed he was with friends and family at the time of the killing. What happened to McMillian is depicted competently in the movie, as are some other cases and Stevenson’s struggles to bring injustices into the light.

Jordan and Foxx are very good, as are supporting-cast members Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson and O’Shea Jackson Jr. The film is well done, but perhaps a little too routine in some stretches. Still, it’s a showcase for fine acting, especially by Jordan and Foxx. It’ll also get you thinking about problems with the death penalty, and the kinds of horrors men like McMillian have gone through.

Just Mercy is playing at theaters across the valley.

Jason Bateman stars in and directs the first two episodes of HBO’s The Outsider, the latest miniseries based on a Stephen King novel. Man, does King ever walk away from the keyboard?

Terry Maitland (Bateman) is arrested by Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) while coaching a Little League game—and the charges against him are shocking: Terry has allegedly killed a small boy, with witnesses placing him at the scene of the crime. There’s also surveillance video and forensic evidence that seemingly confirm his guilt. Yet Terry proclaims his innocence and has a solid alibi, including witness accounts and video confirmation that he was many miles away when the crime occurred.

The first two episodes of the 10-part series offer a good setup, with Bateman doing a nice job both behind and in front of the camera. There’s no question I will be tuning in for more as the story continues on a one-episode-per-week basis. (Yes, HBO is doing it old school!) It’s a crime story, but there are hints at something much more, including a supernatural angle—and the first two episodes act as nice hook.

Some future episodes are directed by Andrew Bernstein, who works with Bateman on Ozark. So, there’s no final verdict yet on whether this will be good as a whole or not. I can only speak about the first 20 percent, which I liked.

The Outsider is now airing on HBO and its streaming services.