CVIndependent

Sat01192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

In Stand Up Guys, a bunch of great actors get together and do their best with middling material.

Al Pacino plays a criminal released from a long prison haul, and Christopher Walken plays the guy who is supposed to pick him up—and take his life soon thereafter. I have a hard time with this premise: If you are a crime boss with any brains, and you want somebody smoked, you don’t hire the dude’s best friend to do the gig. Don’t you think there’s a chance the dude won’t follow through?

Anyway, Pacino and Walken hang out for a night that includes stealing cars, snorting prescription drugs and hanging out with another old guy (Alan Arkin). The trio makes most of this watchable, but with this cast, you want something more than just watchable. Pacino works hard to get credibility back after a string of loser movies, and he redeems himself just fine. Walken is good here, playing a character with more depth than his usual parts. Arkin is just doing his shtick.

Nothing all that surprising happens, and that's a shame.

Stand Up Guys is playing in theaters across the valley.

I had no idea who Sixto Rodriguez was before I popped this documentary into my player. He was a Detroit musician who released a couple of albums in the early '70s and then disappeared. Some said he committed suicide onstage by setting himself on fire, or by shooting himself in the head.

(Spoiler alert: Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know the big secrets in Searching for Sugar Man.)

As it turns out, Rodriguez didn’t kill himself. He just left the music biz and led a normal, secluded life. I’ve listened to his albums, and he is very good.

The other big surprise: Rodriguez was, and is still, a major sensation in South Africa—and he had no idea he had achieved fame elsewhere in the world. After his albums bombed stateside, he went back to being a construction worker. The makers of the movie seek him out, and find him in Detroit. He eventually makes a pilgrimage to South Africa, where he is bigger than Elvis.

He’s actually touring right now, and is headed our way for Coachella.

It’s an amazing story, told in a very good film. Interviews with Rodriguez, his family and his supporters reveal that this is a nice, talented guy who deserved a musical career. And he’s got one now, thanks in part to this film.

Special Features: A director’s commentary that also features Rodriguez is a must-listen. You also get a decent making-of, and a questions and answers session at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The movie year gets it first big, sweet surprise with Warm Bodies, a funny and surprisingly moving take on the zombie genre from director Jonathan Levine, who gave us the wonderful 50/50.

To call Warm Bodies a straight-up zombie flick would be inaccurate; it’s a love story set in a horror-movie world. It’s everything the Twilight saga wanted to be, but failed to become. It’s a movie that knows it is ridiculous, embraces its ridiculousness, and emerges as astonishingly real and true-to-life.

The movie opens on a figure in a red-hoodie we will come to know as R (Nicholas Hoult, in a stardom-cementing role). He’s zombie with a fried memory, but he’s still able to conduct a relatively cohesive inner narrative, heard through a voiceover that is clear and concise. However, when R tries to speak out of his mouth, he slurs, moans and groans.

He’s a lost boy in a zombie world yearning to articulate. He’s also a collector, residing in an abandoned jet, surrounded by trinkets and vinyl albums. (Of course vinyl is the music delivery mode of choice for zombies. In R’s opinion, vinyl is more “alive.”)

Enter Julie (Teresa Palmer, finally getting a role she deserves), a human survivor and the daughter of an emotionally dead general (John Malkovich). On patrol for medicine, her band of humans is attacked, and her boyfriend (Dave Franco) loses his life—and his brains—in the melee. R and Julie’s eyes meet in the aftermath, and R immediately starts to change.

George Romero fans looking for zombie thrills might find themselves slightly disappointed. The movie is rated PG-13, so brains get eaten in a fashion that’s almost gentle, and the zombie makeup is far from gory. I must also mention that the “Bonies,” zombies who have degenerated to the point of being skeletons, look terrible. They are the sort of CGI creation that stops a movie in its tracks whenever they pop up.

Some zombie purists might find it silly that R can eat a brain, and then feel and see the memories of his victim. For those of you who criticize, I would like to remind you that you are watching a movie in which THE DEAD HAVE COME BACK TO LIFE AND ARE WALKING AROUND.

Hoult and Palmer have adorable chemistry. This is a thinly veiled Romeo and Juliet replay, and the two even have a balcony scene. R doesn’t remember his full name, only that his name starts with R. Julie is a play on Juliet, of course, and Rob Corddry plays R’s best zombie friend, M (Mercutio … right?).

Speaking of Corddry, he owns his scenes. The man is so gifted as a comedic actor, and as he showed in Hot Tub Time Machine, he can handle the emotional stuff with major finesse. Like R, M and his band of zombies begin to awaken and heal themselves when they remember what love is. It’s goofy, but Corddry sells it with humor and soul. Also excellent in a supporting role is Analeigh Tipton as Nora, Julie’s best friend, confidant and laugh-getter.

Hoult and Palmer both have thick accents in real life (Hoult is British; Palmer is Australian), but you can’t tell from this movie. (They both sport American accents.) Hoult spends much of the movie sweetly trying to express himself like a love-struck teen who can’t put the words together. Palmer is so damned stunning that many can identify with his struggle to get the words right. They are one of the more endearing screen couples in years—and one of them is dead with all kinds of icky veins all over his neck. That doesn’t say much for the state of American romance movies.

The film is based on author Isaac Marion’s novel. He is apparently working on a sequel, and you can already read a prequel to his novel called The New Hunger, available on his website.

If you are a proud Twilight hater like me, you can rest assured that Warm Bodies has very little in common with that cinematic sludge. This is a refreshing, heartwarming, humorous take on a society that has become emotionally stagnant and is in severe need of reanimation. You might find yourselves looking at your smartphone a little less after seeing this one. 

Warm Bodies is now playing at theaters throughout the valley.

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Part two of The Dark Knight Returns, the adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, has lots of Joker and Superman. For fans of the novel, this makes for a fine interpretation of Miller’s work, even if it isn’t the live-action adaptation many fans (myself included) wanted.

Because the film, being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today (Jan. 29), is rated PG-13, it isn’t nearly as dark and nasty as the novel. But the David Endocrine massacre does happen (sadly, Endocrine doesn’t sound or look like David Letterman, as he did in the novel), and Superman’s battle with a nuclear missile is very well-done.

The two animated movies serving Miller’s classic opus are faithful, but not total copies. The Joker’s end is brutally depicted in this one, and it’s the moment that best captures that Miller vibe.

Special Features: Some behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a look at the upcoming Superman: Unbound, an animated film featuring the voice of Matt Bomer.

 

 

Paul Williams was one of the entertainment heroes of my youth (along with Ernest Borgnine). The little singer-songwriter was everywhere: awards shows, The Love Boat, The Muppet Movie, Bugsy Malone, etc.

And then, one day, the dude mostly disappeared. I’d see him get a songwriting credit here and there, but for the most part, he seemed to have gone away.

It makes sense that director Stephen Kessler, also a Williams fan, would think he was dead. Upon finding out that Paul Williams was still alive, he set out to meet him, and eventually made this highly enjoyable film, Paul Williams Still Alive. (It's being released on DVD today, Feb. 5.)

It turns out Paul was fighting some chemical-dependency demons. Also, with the death of variety shows and weekly television shows relying on guest stars (The Love Boat, Fantasy Island), there just weren’t many places for Williams to show his face on the boob tube.

Kessler takes his camera along on a small tour and visits Williams at his house. What makes this movie so much fun is how Williams interacts with Kessler. Sometimes, he’s friendly; sometimes, he’s a little nasty. All in all, he’s a great sport, and shows that he can laugh at himself and take criticism like a champ. 

The strange thing about Williams is he almost looks younger as an older man. He certainly doesn’t look his age (72), and that long hair has been replaced by a short, spiky hairdo that looks cool. His singing voice remains distinctive and cuddly. Nobody else sounds like Williams, and nobody ever will.

It's good to see that Williams is clean and sober, and nice to find that interest in him remains healthy. Hey, this is the guy who wrote “The Rainbow Connection,” “Evergreen” and “We’ve Only Just Begun,” for God’s sake. It’s about time we showed him some respect here in the relatively new millennium.

By the way, if you have never seen Bugsy Malone, the musical gangster movie parody with an all-youth cast including Scott Baio and Jodie Foster, seek out the Blu-ray. It’s an overlooked classic.

Special Features: There’s some additional Paul Williams concert footage, and that’s a good thing, but the disc could’ve used some more stuff. 

This genuinely chilling haunted fairy tale comes from producer Guillermo del Toro and writer/director Andres Muschietti, and is based on Mushcietti’s original short film.

Two little girls are abandoned by their demented father in the forest. They are discovered years later and adopted by their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain). The little girls have taken on the characteristics of feral beasts and are convinced they are being watched over by a force they call “Mama.”

As it turns out, Mama is very real—a decent CGI creation that is both scary and just the right touch of funny. The film works well, not just because Muschietti knows how to construct a good scare, but also because he does a great job getting you to care for the little girls and the Chastain character.

Chastain, looking rather gothic, delivers another good performance, even though she isn’t very convincing as a bass player in a punk band. I was scared throughout much of this movie.

Mama is playing at theaters across the valley.

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to a starring role with The Last Stand, a film that falls somewhere in the middle of the Arnie canon. It’s not a terrible effort—but it’s not anything to get all that excited about, either.

Arnie is back, murdering the English language with his own special brand of finesse—but he’s refusing to take his top off. He needs a little more time with the HGH so he can take off his shirt, Stallone style! Yep, Stallone is 66 and has no problem showing off his gloriously fake old-guy pecs.

Arnie plays Ray Owens, sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border. When stopping at a local diner to have some coffee, he notices one of the patrons is played by Peter “Where is pancakes house?” Stormare (the actor who put Steve Buscemi through the wood-chipper in Fargo). Ray correctly assesses that this guy means trouble—and bad things begin to happen.

A drug-cartel baddie named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has busted out of a U.S. prison and is racing toward Ray’s town in an incredibly fast Corvette in an attempt to cross the border. The Stormare character is part of a team sent in advance to make sure conditions are clear for crossing—which means shooting a farmer brandishing a shotgun and demanding he get off the land. The angry farmer is played by, of course, Harry Dean Stanton.

Ray has “seen things,” thanks to his prior L.A. cop days, so he’s prepared for a good fight. His deputies include wet-behind-the-ears newbie Jerry (Zach Gilford), the hot-girl deputy (Jaimie Alexander) and another cop played by Luis Guzmán, who, like Stanton, always seems to show up in movies like this.

The same can be said about Johnny Knoxville, who once again finds himself playing wily comic relief in a sheriff-takes-a-stand” movie (something he did, with little success, with The Rock in Walking Tall). He’s basically around to wear kooky hats and make funny faces. I have come to the conclusion that I do not enjoy Knoxville onscreen unless he’s being struck in the gonads by a charging bull.

A subplot involves an FBI guy (Forest Whitaker) tracking Gabriel. He makes a couple of crucial phone calls to Ray, and spends much of the movie staring at computer screens and acting antsy. Didn’t this guy once win an Oscar?

Director Jee-woon Kim offers up some great car chases (including an especially good one in a dried-out corn field), some decent explosions and lots of cartoon violence. The film is never boring, and gets good grades for its action content. However, it is not on par with Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters, one of the best horror films of the past 10 years.

As for the plot, it feels like a movie you have seen before, like the aforementioned Walking Tall, or even Cop Land, which starred a somber Sly Stallone as a lonely sheriff taking a stand against corruption. Stallone played that role when his career was in the midst of a dip, and he was looking to change up his image. As we know, Stallone didn’t get things swinging again until he played Rocky and Rambo as old guys. Similarly, Schwarzenegger probably won’t see his career spark up quite yet. Fortunately for him, his future slate includes a new Terminator; a shirtless, older Conan the Barbarian with saggy man tits; and a sequel to Twins. The meager first-weekend box office for The Last Stand proves that the general public could care less about Schwarzenegger emoting in a sheriff’s uniform.

Surprisingly, this probably contains Arnie’s best acting yet. He has a few moments when it almost seems like he knows how to actually act. I guess nearly two decades in politics gave him a chance to hone his bullshitting skills.

Mediocre movie aside, it’s good to see Arnold back on the big screen in a central role. Next time out, I’m hoping his movie is a little better. 

The Last Stand is playing at theaters across the valley.

This riveting cop thriller, released on DVD and Blu-Ray today (Tuesday, Jan. 22), features strong work from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as Los Angeles cops who get themselves in a lot of trouble with a drug cartel.

End of Watch was written and directed by David Ayer, who is no stranger to cop dramas. He wrote Training Day and directed Street Kings, another film about the LAPD. He also directed Christian Bale—quite well, I might add—in Harsh Times. End of Watch proves to be his greatest achievement to date.

I was a little worried this was going to be a found-footage film (a genre I have come to hate) when Gyllenhaal’s character started filming stuff for a project. A little bit of his footage works its way into the film, but this is mostly a straightforward narrative without that particular gimmick.

The supporting cast includes Anna Kendrick as Janet, Gyllenhaal’s gal pal, while America Ferrera is good as a fellow officer. There’s also Frank Grillo, so good in last year’s The Grey, as another officer.

Universal tried to build some Oscar buzz for Gyllenhaal and Peña, but the effort failed to get them any nominations. The campaign made sense, though, because these guys elevate End of Watch beyond a decent thriller, making it into something quite memorable.

Up next for Ayer? A movie called Ten, another drug-cartel/cop thriller starring some dude named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Looks like Ayer is sticking close to home with his topics in the future.

Special Features: Ayer provides a good commentary. You also get five behind-the-scenes featurettes and some deleted scenes. 

Tim Burton directs Frankenweenie, an enjoyable black-and-white stop-motion-animation film about a family dog being resurrected ... FRANKENSTEIN STYLE. (It’s based on a short film Burton did 28 years ago.)

While the story isn’t especially electric, the art direction is superb, and there are enough good laughs to make it worthwhile. Also worth noting: Winona Ryder voices a young-girl character who looks suspiciously like Lydia, her character in Burton’s Beetlejuice.

Other voices include Burton alumni such as Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau, once again utilizing his Bela Lugosi voice from Ed Wood. A finale sequence involving a giant, Gamera-like turtle and rabid sea monkeys gives the film a nice retro-horror feel.

The year 2012 was fun for stop-motion animation, with this film and ParaNorman. I would have to give a slight edge to ParaNorman, because that one felt so fresh and new. This one has Burton up to his old tricks. Granted, his old tricks are fun tricks, but they are old tricks just the same.

Special Features: There’s a fun look at the Comic-Con exhibit folks were able to visit last year. You also get a behind-the-scenes look at the London production. (I’m always surprised by the size of the sets for these films.) Best of all, you get the original live action short starring Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern and a very young Sofia Coppola.