CVIndependent

Thu04252019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

A cavalcade of stars shows up for this pretty, if meandering, adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novel, On the Road.

Sam Riley (who was so damn good in Control) provides a decent center as Sal (essentially Kerouac). He finds himself on a long road trip that involves hand jobs from Kristen Stewart and him watching sex acts performed on Steve Buscemi. (Yikes!)

In short, this movie is a bit crazy, and its unpredictability keeps it interesting. Garrett Hedlund is solid as a character loosely based on Neal Cassady, and Stewart sheds her Bella image for a good, carefree performance. Others in the cast include Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.

The movie is OK, but I was looking for a little more meat on the bone, considering the subject matter.

On the Road is now available On Demand.

If you have seen any of director Chan-wook Park’s films (like Oldboy or Thirst), you know that he is a creative, tremendously sick bastard. Stoker is his English-language debut, and it’s just as deranged and disturbing as his prior offerings.

Mopey-faced Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl, just turned 18, who has lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious accident. Her mother (an excellent Nicole Kidman) invites India’s strange uncle (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house, and it’s slowly revealed that he has a few … problems.

The filmmaking here is visually impeccable (some of the dissolves are mind-blowing), and the performances are solid. The story itself, however, is a little too sleepy at times. Still, this twisty film has many memorable moments, and I’m hoping Park has many more films to come.

Stoker is now playing at the Cinema Palme d’Or, 72840 Highway 111 in Palm Desert; 779-0730; www.thepalme.com.

Gerard Butler stars in one of the most ridiculous action films you will see this year.

He’s a Secret Service agent on duty the night something very bad happens to the president (Aaron Eckhart); he winds up with a desk job. Later, some nasty North Koreans hilariously infiltrate the White House and hold the president and his Cabinet hostage—so it’s time for Gerard to dispense with the paper clips, and pick up an automatic weapon! Yes, it’s Die Hard in the White House, or at least it wants to be.

There’s some fun to be had here, but the movie has some tragic flaws, including terrible CGI and mawkish patriotic crap that distracts. (Melissa Leo screaming the Pledge of Allegiance as she is dragged to certain death comes to mind.) This is one of those “so bad it’s almost good” movies.

Olympus Has Fallen is playing at theaters across the valley.

If you are longing to see Vanessa Hudgens naked in a pool with James Franco doing his best impersonation of Gary Oldman in True Romance, then Spring Breakers just might be the film for you.

If you prefer a movie with a script and a sense of direction, stay far, far away.

I hated this piece of junk. It’s vapid, repetitious, unfunny and downright annoying to watch. It’s a shame: I thought I was in for some fun, considering the cast assembled, and the notion of four college girls going on a crime spree so they can afford a spring break trip.

The film plays out as if Sofia Coppola decided to make a “Girls Gone Wild” video. Director Harmony Korine is shooting for some sort of dreamscape feel, with trance music, people talking slowly, and slow, slow visuals. Given what the characters are actually doing and saying, he achieves something closer to a bad mushroom-induced nightmare.

Candy (Hudgens), Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are bored at college, and they’ll do anything for a break. They knock over a chicken restaurant, get some money and head to Florida, where they will wear nothing but bikinis for the remainder of the film.

After a night of snorting cocaine off of boobies, they are arrested and eventually get bailed out by Alien (Franco), an underground rapper with a big grill, lots of guns and a bed covered with money.

I thought Franco’s appearance might take the movie in a fun, gangster direction. Such is not the case, because Korine’s screenplay is virtually nonexistent, and his editing style requires footage and dialogue that repeat again and again. Essentially, you feel stuck in place watching much of this movie. True, Gomez’s Faith does say she wishes one could just press a freeze button and make spring break last forever, so perhaps that’s why Korine went for his repetitive, loopy vibe. Really, I think it’s because he didn’t have enough material for a 90-minute movie.

There are no moments in this film when it feels as if performers actually had to learn some lines. Take, for instance, a scene in which Franco is describing the contents of Alien’s room. It’s like Korine just turned on a camera, told Franco to ramble about the stuff in the room, and called that a take. Yes, many films are full of improv moments, but Spring Breakers feels like one terribly long, extremely unsuccessful improv.

There is one semi-inspired sequence in the film, in which Alien shows off his sensitive side by singing the Britney Spears ballad “Everytime” on an outdoor piano. The moment is accompanied by footage of him and the girls robbing and beating spring breakers in slow motion. It’s almost funny. Sadly, for every moment that is almost good, there are 10 that are not.

Korine has directed features before (Julien Donkey-Boy being one of them). He’s also directed a lot of music videos. This movie stands as his longest, most-pointless music video.

In the hands of a more playful director, there could’ve been a fun movie to be had with Spring Breakers. The basic plotline is ripe for some nasty, cynical satire. Too bad that idea isn’t accompanied by a decent script.

Spring Breakers is playing in theaters across the valley. 

Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd reprise their awesome married couple from Knocked Up in This Is 40, director Judd Apatow’s latest, which will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray this Friday, March 22. The duo prove their characters are worthy of full attention.

Apatow loves to make long movies, and this one is no exception, clocking in at 134 minutes. Most of those minutes are entertaining, although I would concur that this is a bit long for a comedy. Doesn’t somebody have to be getting shot or tortured for a movie to go longer than two hours?

While the main characters from Knocked Up (played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl) are not back for the almost-sequel, other characters, including those played by Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi, do make it. That’s kind of cute.

The film has fun with the whole midlife-crisis thing, adding Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as much welcomed granddads. Megan Fox gets her best screen role yet as a clothing-store employee who may or may not be a hooker on the side.

Mann is especially good in the film, and both she and Rudd were deserving of Golden Globe nominations, at the least. Alas, both were snubbed.

Special Features: If you plan on taking in both versions of this film (you get both the theatrical and unrated versions) and the many special features, you had better break a foot or something so you can call in sick to work. You get an Apatow commentary, deleted and extended scenes, four documentaries, two gag reels, and more. It’s a big package. 

Time will tell us that Les Misérables—being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, Friday, March 22—was a far more deserving movie than Argo for Best Picture. As far as movie musicals go, I can’t think of one that has ever amazed me more—and I’m a big movie-musical fan. I rank this one alongside My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Grease as one of cinema’s all-time-best musicals. I personally put it at No. 1, even with Russell Crowe’s painful singing.

Director Tom Hooper, criminally snubbed for a Best Director Oscar nomination, had his stars sing live on set. They wore earpieces and microphones, which were later removed in post-production, with a music track playing along as they sang their hearts out.

The results are absolutely amazing. Anne Hathaway got her much-deserved Oscar after doing “I Dreamed a Dream” in a long, uninterrupted take. Whenever I watch her doing this, my eyes open so wide that I have no forehead left.

Hugh Jackman, you should have an Oscar on your mantle. Daniel Day-Lewis did a nice job as Lincoln, but Jackman did something nobody has really done before. As for Crowe, I’m sort of OK with how bad he sounds. It makes his nasty character, the determined lawman Javert, more pathetic and isolated.

Watching this movie is goose-bump city. It will always stand as one of cinema history’s greatest movie-making achievements.

Special Features: Hooper provides a commentary, and you get some behind-the-scenes docs, including a great one about how they recorded the live music. 

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone takes a jab at Las Vegas magicians like David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy, and feels like a lame guy showing up to a party with a rubber nose, a squirting flower and a bottle of cheap schnapps.

There’s nothing funny about seeing Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi dressed like Siegfried and Roy, and dancing around to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra.” And it’s downright distasteful to have a magician in a bar with gauze bandages all over his neck because one of his big cats bit him. Get it? Roy Horn had his neck injured by a tiger during a show, so the dude in the bar is a sly reference to that stage tragedy! Ha ha ha ha!

I’m not saying there isn’t a funny joke about Roy getting mauled out there somewhere. Deep in the far recesses of Hollywood, there must be some writer who can wring a few laughs out of Roy’s partial paralysis and life-threatening loss of blood. I am just saying the folks involved in this movie have failed with the concept.

Really, this movie is douchebag central. It’s a bunch of tired jokes by tired performers on a tired subject. Oh, but David Copperfield makes a cameo. There you go, magic fans!

Carell, who I’m predicting will have to return to TV sooner than later, plays Burt Wonderstone, a Vegas magician headlining at Bally’s. His partner, Anton Marvelton (Buscemi), joins him every night for the same tired magician act, as they run through a sequence of played-out illusions and sexist jokes.

Doug Munny, a casino mogul played by James Gandolfini, wants his headliners to modernize their act. He cites Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) as the modern direction of magic. The Gray character is a hybrid of Criss Angel and David Blaine, and hosts a TV show called “Brain Rape” where he does ungodly things to his face and body. His show is called “Brain Rape,” and Angel had a show called “Mindfreak.” Get it? Ha ha ha ha!

In one of the film’s few funny gags, Burt and Anton attempt a Blaine-style isolation chamber that goes terribly awry. They break up, and Wonderstone’s attempts at a solo career land him at a retirement home doing tricks for aging Vegas showpeople. One of them is Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the magician who had a namesake magic set that Burt played with as a child. Their relationship in the film is neither touching nor inspirational, and it certainly isn’t funny.

Very little in the movie is actually funny, although I did laugh a couple of times at the Carrey hijinks. Carrey has always been an incredible physical performer, and he does this thing with one of his eyes after his character drills a hole in his own skull. It’s pretty damned remarkable.

And what has become of Carrey? He’s taking supporting roles in this travesty and the upcoming Kick-Ass 2. I guess he’s having a hard time landing headliner gigs after the bomb that was Mr. Pooper’s Defecating Fat Aquatic Birds That Look Like They Are Wearing Tuxedos, or whatever that movie was called.

The best thing in this movie, by far, is the suit jacket that Olivia Wilde wears late in the film. It’s this cool, jazzy little number that looks like three different tweed jackets from a thrift store stitched together. I’m not being sarcastic; it really is cool-looking, and I want one. Seriously, somebody get on it and start making those jackets for men. I’ll pay at least $50 for that thing.

The movie is directed by Don Scardino, a veteran of many TV shows. He gets credit for pulling the worst big-screen performance out of Steve Carell to date, and those of you who saw Carell’s mopey-faced work in Dan in Real Life know that getting something worse out of Carell is a major feat.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a movie that should’ve never been made, at least not in this century. It would’ve sucked balls before 2000, too, but at least it would’ve been slightly relevant. As it stands, it’s one of those movies you watch unfold in disbelief, wondering how anybody thought it was a good idea.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is playing at theaters across the valley.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is of the stranger films you will see. Real-life interviews and archival footage are combined with odd yet effective re-enactments to tell the story of modern history’s most-notorious cannibal.

Most notable among the Dahmer witnesses is Pamela Bass, a neighbor who claims to have eaten a sandwich given to her by Jeffrey, a meal she most definitely regrets. It’s totally creepy to hear somebody talk about their relatively normal neighbor—a neighbor who was keeping bodies in tanks and heads in the refrigerator.

Also in the interview mix is Pat Kennedy, the detective who interviewed Dahmer the night they brought him in, and, golly, did he get some disgusting surprises.

Andrew Swant stars as Dahmer in the re-enactment stuff, and he isn’t bad (although he is no Jeremy Renner, who did a decent job playing the killer in the underrated biopic Dahmer). Credit director Chris James Thompson for taking a truly strange idea for a movie and making it interesting.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is available on demand, and via iTunes and Amazon.com.

I like James Franco more often than not. I loved him as a stoner; I loved him as a hiker who gets his arm stuck behind a boulder; I even liked him opposite a motion-capture chimp.

However, he is all wrong for the central character of Oz the Great and Powerful.

The role of Oz calls for somebody with swagger and snark, while Franco is just too laid back, and too normal, for a role that requires old-school charm. Yes, he’s charming in a modern sort of way, but in director Sam Raimi’s take on the wonderful wizard, you get the sense that Franco is really straining.

When he smiles in this movie, it almost looks as if he is going to tear his face, because he’s putting so much into it; his line deliveries seem forced. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. were apparently offered the role, and either of them would have been much more sensible.

The movie acts as a sort of prequel to the The Wizard of Oz. We see the wizard’s origins as a desperate carnival magician in Kansas. His eventual trip to Oz via twister is much like the one Dorothy took on her voyage, and the movie plays out in black and white before his arrival in Oz, just as it did in ’39.

The movie offers up the three witches from the original film as well (one of them, of course, being the one that got squished by Dorothy’s house). There’s Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, as a sort of nice witch with a bad temper who is going to go through a major change in her complexion at some point. We also get Michelle Williams as bubble-riding good-witch Glinda in what is probably the most obvious casting of the year. Finally, there’s Rachel Weisz as Evanora, who may or may not be bad.

Weisz turns in the best portrayal of an Oz witch. There’s a nice mystery to her, and she looks fabulous. Williams is fine, if not all that adventurous, as Glinda. Williams has far less warble in her voice as young Glinda; Glinda always freaked me out when she spoke in The Wizard of Oz. It seemed like somebody was standing next to her and rubbing a finger on her throat while she talked.

The worst of the three is easily Kunis, who just blows it as the character once played by (SPOILER ALERT) Margaret Hamilton. Raimi’s film gives her a reason for becoming wicked, and that reason—jilted love—is STUPID. When Kunis is asked to scream and cackle, it’s unintentionally funny. She comes off like somebody playing the role in a high school production, and if that production were a graded element of some class, she would get an “F” and be asked to think of another trade.

She does have much better boobs in her outfit than Hamilton had, though. Much, much better.

You have the option of seeing Oz in 3-D, and it’s OK to skip that option. The effects are nothing to get excited about. I wasn’t impressed with the look of the Emerald City; Raimi is obviously going for the fairytale look charm of the original Oz, but he should’ve gone for more detail and less gloss. You get no real sense of these characters inhabiting another world. They just like they are part of a screensaver. Big special-effects movies are looking rather crappy lately, with The Hobbit, Jack the Giant Slayer and this one all looking odd.

But the lead performance by Franco is the biggest problem in this movie that’s full of problems. I expected him to take a hit off a hash pipe or something while a scene was playing out. 

Wreck-It Ralph left me a little cold. A lot of folks predicted it would win the big Oscar prize for animation, but I correctly predicted that Brave (a better movie) would be the victor.

There’s a lot of potential in this arcade throwback about a giant video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who yearns for a better life as a “good guy,” and abandons his “bad guy” game post. There are some cool retro-game sight gags (but not nearly enough!) and some clever twists, but this one falls substantially short of greatness.

I did enjoy Sarah Silverman giving voice to a little-girl character who wants to be a racecar driver, and Reilly voices his character with charm. I just the film a little tiresome as it wore on, and I grew tired of it in the repetitive second half.

There were some major laughs in the group-therapy sessions (I love the zombie!) and some cute stuff between Reilly and Silverman, but overall, the film is surprisingly tedious. Like too many animated films these days, it tries to get by on frantic action rather than story. It’s not a bad movie … it’s just a movie I didn’t like very much.

Special Features: The best special feature would be “Paperman,” the animated short that preceded the film and got its own Oscar nomination. You also get a short behind-the-scenes look, and some deleted scenes. This is a surprisingly lackluster disc effort from Disney.