CVIndependent

Tue11202018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

Ben Foster—currently tied with Ethan Hawke for the title of World’s Most Improved Actor—is phenomenal in Leave No Trace as Will, a homeless vet living in an Oregon park with his daughter, Tom (an incredible Thomasin McKenzie).

Will trains his daughter to live off the land—and how not to be seen. When a jogger sees and reports them, the two wind up in the social-services system, undergoing a barrage of tests and eventually being relocated to a work commune. While Will simply can’t adjust, Tom starts liking being indoors. When Will takes them back into the forest, their two worlds start to truly separate.

Directed and co-written by Debra Granik, the movie poses some serious questions about PTSD should be handled, and what freedom really is in America. Foster is tragically sad as Will, a man we know very little about, although we know something has really messed him up. McKenzie will break your heart as the loving daughter who only knows the wilderness, but wants to know more.

Leave No Trace is of the summer’s—and year’s—best films.

Leave No Trace is now playing at Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

I’m all for giving Dwayne Johnson a chance to truly act and emote. I think he can do more than just run around and raise that eyebrow. (In fact, I loved him in Pain and Gain.) So … asking him to be solemn and humorless in a movie about a crazy skyscraper catching fire, Towering Inferno-style, is a huge, massive mistake.

Skyscraper sucks the life out of Johnson as he plays Will, a high-dollar security man who lost a leg in his prior occupation. He takes a job in Hong Kong as head of security in the world’s tallest building. Shortly after getting the gig, an evil crime lord sets the building on fire—although the building is largely unoccupied except for its owner (Chin Han), his entourage, some nasty European criminals and, of course, Will’s wife (Neve Campbell) and children. Will, outside of the building, races to save his family’s life, which leads up to that already-infamous, hilariously silly jump from a crane into the burning building.

Why? Why take a serious approach to this subject matter? Why not have Johnson do his usual shtick and make this more fun? Director Rawson Marshall Thurber certainly knows how to get laughs; he was the man behind Dodgeball and Central Intelligence. Yes, having Johnson doing his usual shtick would’ve been predictable … but it would not have been this boring. Predictable would have been much better.

The special effects are average; the writing is bland; and the execution is lifeless. You have the Rock running around on one leg in a burning building. For God’s sake … let the eyebrow go up! Die Hard came out 30 years ago. It’s OK to steal from it a little bit. A great opportunity for fun here is wasted.

Skyscraper is showing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Holy hell, does Sacha Baron Cohen have balls.

His latest TV show, Who Is America?—in which he disguises himself in heavy makeup and tricks people (including well known politicians) into sitting for interviews—is jaw-droppingly funny.

In the first episode on Showtime, he disguises himself as a right-wing activist on a scooter, even though he has no handicap. (“This here scooter is to preserve my body’s finite energy!”) He tries to persuade a very patient and confused Bernie Sanders into believing the 99 percenters can be moved into the top 1 percent, so we will all be 1 percenters. Bernie was not amused.

Other Cohen victims include a Trump delegate who suffers from white privilege (Cohen disguises himself as a left-wing, sensitive ponytail guy) and an art-gallery owner. (Cohen disguises himself as an ex con who makes art with his own feces and ejaculate.) It’s amazing to see just how tolerant some people can be.

The capper is a sequence in which Cohen, disguised as an activist who looks an awful lot like Freddie Mercury, gets a bunch of politicians (including Trent Lott) to read a public-service announcement favoring guns in the hands of 4-year-old children.

It’s vintage Cohen. Upcoming episodes will feature a now publicly angry Sarah Palin, Roy Moore and Dick Cheney, who actually did a show promo for Cohen. Cohen’s movies took a sharp turn into shitsville, so it’s good to see him being a dangerous interviewer again.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun continuation of what returning director Peyton Reed started with Ant-Man three years ago. I whined a bit about the decent original; I wanted it to be more subversive, knowing that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was originally supposed to direct it.

I’m over it: Reed is kicking some Marvel ass, and his sequel is actually better than the first. After the well-done but gloomy Avengers: Infinity War earlier this year, Ant-Man and the Wasp joins the likes of Thor: Ragnarok as a fun, slightly eccentric diversion from the serious Marvel shit. This one, for the most part, just wants to have a good time, and it succeeds.

As the title implies, this is no longer a one-man show for the always-entertaining Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. Evangeline Lilly returns as Hope Van Dyne and gets a bigger part of the limelight as the Wasp, who has decidedly better martial-arts skills than professional burglar Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. The Wasp lets the kicks fly in an early scene with a crooked businessman (Walton Goggins … I love his name), and she owns every moment she has onscreen.

It looks like a kick from The Wasp hurts more than one from Ant-Man. That would make sense; she trained him. Lilly’s Hope was pivotal in the original, but she watched most of the action with her dad, out of harm’s way. This time, Hope proves it would’ve probably been a better strategy to have had her throwing down from the start. She does a lot of the heavy lifting, while Lang sits next to Pym (Michael Douglas) and watches from afar.

The film’s main villain is Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a complicated badass on a mission to steal some of Dr. Hank Pym’s tech in order to cure her condition. That condition involves her molecular instability and the Quantum Realm—which might still contain Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, seen in flashbacks).

While the stakes aren’t quite as high as in other Marvel fare—the entire universe isn’t at risk in this one—Reed and his crew make it more than compelling. They also make it very funny, thanks mostly to Rudd, ninja master of comic timing.

Fortifying the laughter would be Michael Peña returning as the oh-so-happy Luis, who tells yet more amusing stories, one of them under the influence of truth serum. Randall Park shows up as an FBI agent watching over Lang, who is still under house arrest for the events of Captain America: Civil War. His eagerness to learn card tricks is one of the film’s better gags.

The film also qualifies as one of the summer’s better family films. Dr. Pym’s mission to rescue his wife, his relationship with daughter Hope, and Lang’s love for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, capably reprising her role) add heartwarming elements. As for the Ghost, her family issues also play a big part in the plot. Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), Cassie’s stepdad and Lang’s enemy in the first film, returns and is now one of Lang’s best friends. It’s all rather sweet.

But you don’t go to a Marvel movie to have your heart warmed, right? Don’t worry: The action is first-rate, as are the special effects, which often involve car chases with vehicles and buildings constantly shrinking and enlarging. Sight gags involving buildings as roll-away luggage, salt shakers and Pez dispensers also benefit from exemplary visual artistry.

There’s not much that connects this installment in obvious ways to the overall Marvel universe story arc, but you do get the requisite Stan Lee cameo and the obligatory after-credit scenes. The Ant-Man franchise got off to a decent start with the first film. Now, it’s the Ant-Man and the Wasp franchise, and that makes the future for this one even more exciting.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Perhaps you noticed that the Jerry Seinfeld program featuring the man interviewing comic guests has moved from Crackle to Netflix—and all of the old episodes are available on Netflix for you to peruse.

What you might not have noticed is Jerry’s deal wasn’t just to run the old shows: A new season of interviews just went up on Netflix, and it’s a healthy bunch.

As of July 6, there are 12 new episodes, including one with Jerry Lewis that was probably the comic legend’s last TV appearance. Others include Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Tracy Morgan, Dana Carvey and Kate McKinnon.

The winner in the new bunch would have to be the episode with Alec Baldwin, who does a hilarious re-enactment of a Broadway role that leaves Seinfeld in stitches. McKinnon is a close second, with her sad impersonation of a dog pooping and her winning rendition of Jessica Lange in American Horror Story (“Knotty pine!”). Actually, her impersonation of a Scottish man ruminating on Massapequa, N.Y. (Seinfeld’s hometown) might be the funniest thing in the new season.

As usual, he gets some pretty nutty cars in which to pick up his stars, including a dune buggy, an ’84 Ferrari and ’77 Toyota Land Cruiser.

Leave it to Seinfeld to take a format that looks lame and turn it into one of the more entertaining things on Netflix. The guy is a master.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is now streaming on Netflix.

Maybe it was because Emily Blunt opted to make A Quiet Place. Or perhaps it was because she agreed to star in the new Mary Poppins movie. Whatever it was that kept her from saying yes to a Sicario sequel, her refusal should’ve made producers say, “Oh, well. Maybe later, when Blunt frees up?” After all, she was the main reason to watch the original.

Nope. They went for it anyway, and the result is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, an excuse to trot out Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin in a nasty film that’s plotted in such a way as to assure it will give Sean Hannity and his ilk monster boners—ginormous, Fox News red boners right there in the middle of the theater.

The timing of this movie is … shall we say, interesting. As real-life tensions build along the Mexican border, with families being separated, along comes a movie that shows ISIS terrorists crossing over the Mexican border and blowing up strip malls. Wait a minute … wasn’t Sicario supposed to be about America’s beef with drug cartels? This ISIS stuff feels, well, tacked on.

The terrorism element is introduced near the beginning of the movie, but it later falls away in favor of a subplot about a kidnapping intended to start a war between the Mexican and U.S. governments. In fact, a character dismisses the terrorist element later in the movie by saying, “Oh, they were from New Jersey,” or something along those lines. It’s as if screenwriter Taylor Sheridan started one movie, got scared and finished with another one. To say the movie lacks focus is an understatement.

Brolin returns as agent Matt Graver, a nasty guy who will blow up your brother as you watch on a laptop if you don’t tell him what he needs to hear. Del Toro is also back as Alejandro, an operative once again hired by the U.S., this time to stir up trouble with the cartels and eventually kidnap Isabel (Isabela Moner), a drug kingpin’s daughter.

Moner—you might remember her from her unfortunate participation in the latest Transformers movie—is a big star in the making. She gives the kind of performance that breaks your heart, because it is so good in service of something so mediocre. There are moments when she makes you forget you are watching a very unimportant movie.

Del Toro works hard to bring some gravitas to the proceedings, but this is basically a sadistic action thriller with little brains. There are some decent sequences put together by director Stefano Sollima, who replaces the excellent Denis Villeneuve from the original. While Villeneuve provided real dramatic heft with the gunfights, Sollima gives us the shock minus the depth. The result is a hollow movie.

Catherine Keener shows up as Brolin’s boss, who makes him do things that only a truly despicable POTUS would put into play. It’s hard to tell if the movie is an indictment of U.S. policies, or a celebration, although the dudes whooping and drooling in the front row made me think it was more of a celebration. Matthew Modine is on hand as the secretary of defense, and plays it like a beefier meditation on his Stranger Things villain.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado avoids being one of the summer’s worst films thanks to Moner, who makes stretches of the movie worthwhile. She’s slated to play the title character in a live-action Dora the Explorer film. Whatever she does, she will probably wind up a star.

As for the Sicario franchise? It probably now has a place as what’s essentially Trump porn … intended or not.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is playing at theaters across the valley.

Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a fighting gay couple forced to take in the Coogan character’s grandson in Ideal Home, a film that’s ultimately enjoyable because Rudd and Coogan take it above its silly sitcom tropes—and provide genuine laughs and real emotion.

Paul (Rudd) and Erasmus (Coogan) work on a cooking show together and live an upscale life. However, the two need to become parents overnight when Angel (Jack Gore) shows up at their door after his dad gets busted.

There are moments in this movie—registering the kid for school, visiting dad in jail, etc.—that feel like a thousand movies before it, and director Andrew Fleming throws in too many plugs for Taco Bell. These problems aside, Rudd and Coogan had me laughing consistently, and loudly, throughout the movie.

This really is a movie that could’ve been awful, but Rudd and Coogan don’t just salvage it; they actually make it worth recommending. Gore is ho-hum the precocious kid, which slows things down at times, but Jake McDorman is hilarious in his few onscreen moments as the dad. (McDorman and Coogan have a conversation in this movie that stands as one of the summer’s funniest film moments.)

The ever-reliable Rudd excels in almost every moment he’s onscreen—even when the writing isn’t up to snuff. Overall, Ideal Home provides a good pile of chuckles, and sometimes that’s all a comedy really needs to do.

Ideal Home is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a big, dummy dino joke of a movie. It’s nothing but a brainless, sloppy rehash of Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, with a lame militaristic angle thrown in again.

Yes, the dinosaurs look cool, and things get off to an awesome start with an underwater visit to the skeleton of the genetically engineered dinosaur, Indominus rex, that died hard at the end of Jurassic World. The prologue is scary; it looks great, is well-directed, and seems to be setting the tone for a film that recalls the grim tone the excellent Michael Crichton novel that spawned the film franchise.

Sadly, things degenerate—badly—after the title credits pop up, as the film becomes an island adventure in one half, with dinosaurs rampaging on the mainland in the other half. The crazed fun that was the original Jurassic World is lost, replaced by conveyer-belt, déjà vu, stale movie-making.

When a volcanic eruption on the isle of dinosaurs threatens their genetically engineered lives, Congress holds hearings on whether or not to save them. These hearings involve the return of the one and only Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm. Rather than having Goldblum around for his trademark psycho-rambling and dark wit, his character just groans a couple of lines about how we shouldn’t have made the dinosaurs, because it goes against nature, and they have really big teeth and might bite you. Then he goes away.

Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the island to save Blue, the adorable velociraptor who wants you to pet him. Eventually, the action winds up in a large mansion in the U.S., where a nefarious businessman is keeping dinosaurs in the basement so he can auction them off in what amounts to a dinosaur fashion show for evil countries who want to weaponize them.

Oh, come on.

A rehash of a familiar plot is fine if it’s done with skill and nuance. (See Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a fine example.) Fallen Kingdom goes the campy route … and it’s dull, dull, dull. Everybody in this film appears to be going through the motions. (“I hit my green-screen mark! Where’s craft service?”)

How many times do we have to see a T-rex inadvertently save the day? That was fine once, but the T-rex is supposed to be scary, not our accidental hero. While I’m at it, knock it off with the good-natured velociraptor, too. Velociraptors should be ripping faces off, not playing fetch.

How many times do we have to see a billionaire old guy with an amber mosquito cane presented in a sympathetic light, even though his genetic-engineering blunder has put the world in terrible peril? Sweet and cuddly James Cromwell plays the former business partner of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough in the original trilogy), and he’s just a nice guy whose goofs have sent some other nice people through dinosaur digestive systems. In the original novel, Hammond was a monster. Spielberg turned him into Santa Claus, and that trend continues with Cromwell.

Can we also please stop with the “dinosaurs as military weapons” crap? This was a bad, laughable idea when Spielberg considered it decades ago; it was a bad idea that tainted the original, somewhat fun Jurassic World; and it’s a bad idea that is at the forefront of this one.

Director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) is usually excellent, but here, he is saddled with a dopey screenplay, co-written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, that wants to be family-friendly with just a hint of menace. Why not go the James Cameron Aliens route with one of these sequels? In other words, get a hard R-rating, and give us a real dinosaur apocalypse! I don’t want dinosaurs that can be controlled with clickers so we can all go, “Awwww!” I want them to tear people’s faces off! Characters should be shitting pants when they see a T-rex, not breathing a sigh of relief because the T-rex just took out another, meaner dinosaur.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the second part of a trilogy. Its ending hints at something cool for the next chapter. However, if it includes a T-rex saving the world after joining the Marines, I’m done.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

I missed The Death of Stalin in theaters. Shame, shame, shame on me: It’s one of this year’s funniest—and strangest—movies.

Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci puts together an incredible cast to tell the story of the last days of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), and the chaos that ensued when he died. Ingeniously, Iannucci opts to have his British and American cast members keep their regular accents, giving the movie a sort of crazy, Monty Python-like vibe (It reminded me of the Pythons talking with their British accents in Life of Brian.) Having Michael Palin in the cast as Vyacheslav Molotov certainly helps that vibe.

Steve Buscemi deserves to be a legitimate Oscar contender as Nikita Khrushchev, depicting the soon-to-be Soviet leader as a chest-bumping nut fond of dirty jokes and saying “fuck” a lot. It comes off as if Khrushchev is the son of Buscemi’s Boardwalk Empire character, Nucky Thompson, or the great grandad of Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs. With his performance, he’s doing what Buscemi usually does, and the effect is hilarious. The same goes for Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, depicted here basically as George Bluth on an insecure day.

Through all the farcical lunacy, Iannucci somehow manages to give his film a dark depth that feels, at times, quite historically accurate. It’s definitely one of the more unique movies you will see this year … or any year.

The Death of Stalin is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

After a 14-year hiatus, the Parr family is finally back for more superhero shenanigans in Pixar’s Incredibles 2, a sequel that retains the zippy, funny spirit of the original. It’s not as good as the first, but it is still Pixar’s best “sequel” since Toy Story 3.

The film picks up where the last one left off, with a criminal named Underminer (the voice of the ever-Pixar-present John Ratzenberger) looking to cause some trouble—just as teen Violet Parr (Sarah Vowell) is meeting a boy. Superheroes remain in hiding, but rich tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) is looking to change that.

Winston has a plan to get superheroes back in the limelight, and that plan involves Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter) fighting crime and gaining publicity on a crazy new motorbike. While she’s out getting her superhero groove on, Mr. Incredible/Bob (Craig T. Nelson) must stay at home and take care of the kids, including Violet, Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).

To recap the children’s powers, Violet can go invisible and produce force fields, while Dash is really fast. Jack-Jack, as we found out near the end of the original, has emerging powers himself—and Bob is newly witnessing them all. Jack-Jack can do a lot of things: He can reproduce himself, journey to other dimensions, catch fire and turn himself into a demon baby. The Jack-Jack subplot gets a lot of laughs, most of them out of the baby’s sheer amusement with himself.

Of course, Bob’s superpowers will be needed again, and the whole family will eventually need to save the world from comical baddies. While the film feels a bit repetitive at times, the great voice work by Hunter, Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone keep it consistently entertaining. Bird himself returns as the voice of fashion guru Edna Mode, who becomes Auntie Edna when Jack-Jack and his exhausted dad are in dire need of a baby sitter. Make no mistake: It’s Jack-Jack and his cookie-craving craziness that steal the show this time.

As with the original, it’s the little nuances that make the Incredibles so much fun. I still love how Elastigirl’s mouth curves when she talks—a direct ode to Hunter’s actual face—and Violet’s teen angst continues to be hilarious. The original Incredibles was groundbreaking for its onscreen action, and this one continues in that tradition. There’s also a memorable new villain in Screenslaver, an entity that hypnotizes people into submission via video screens. No doubt: This a nod to and critique of our modern-day attachment to screened devices.

In a nice piece of stunt casting, the character of Rick Dicker, voiced in the original by the late Bud Luckey, has been recast with the voice of Jonathan Banks. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fans know Banks as the henchman of Saul—aka Bob Odenkirk—so having both their voices here is neat stuff for geeks.

It may seem a little odd that the sequel-happy Pixar took so long to give the Parr family another chapter—but the reason for the wait falls squarely on writer-director Brad Bird’s shoulders. Bird created the characters, and Pixar gave him autonomy when it came to giving them another chapter. Bird wasn’t in any kind of rush, so we might have to wait another decade plus for another chapter.

That’s OK. While the Incredibles are clearly ripe for many stories, one great chapter (the original) and another very good one (this installment) make for a great franchise already—and a surefire summer good time for everybody in the family.

Incredibles 2 is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.