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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Mary Magdalene, the latest take on the title character—who has had widely ranging portrayals in cinema over the years—suggests that Mary (Rooney Mara) was Jesus’ closest disciple, and was by no means a prostitute, effectively declaring Barbara Hershey’s depiction of Mary in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ to be total bullshit.

According to this film from director Garth Davis (Lion), Mary wasn’t just the closest confidant of Jesus, but easily the most boring. Mara’s Mary just skulks about in this movie, arriving late for all the big events, like Jesus tearing up the temple, the Last Supper and the whole Crucifixion. (In a strange way, she reminds of Brian in Monty Python’s Life of Brian; however, she’s not as funny.) While Mara’s Mary is a snooze, she’s excitement personified next to this film’s Jesus, portrayed by the usually reliable Joaquin Phoenix.

In the hands of Phoenix, Jesus becomes a quizzical sort who looks cold all the time, pulling his little shawl/robe shut to avoid chills and coming off as super-depressed. In short, Phoenix is a terrible Jesus … one of the worst ever.

While it’s admirable for Mary Magdalene to be portrayed as more of disciple than a prostitute, this movie makes the whole dying-for-your-sins event a sleepy afterthought. Too bad … I like a good Jesus movie, and this isn’t one of them. It’s not a good movie in general.

Mary Magdalene is now showing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033). It is also available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

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).

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Terrence Malick has shit the bed with his third consecutive film: His latest cinematic effort, Song to Song, is a joke.

I am a card-carrying, Malick-worshiping super fan who is in pain watching one of my directing heroes lose his way. After the triumph that was The Tree of Life, Malick shot To the Wonder and Knight of Cups out his film-making butt—and I hoped that would be the worst of it. Alas, Song to Song, which is supposed to be about people having love affairs amidst the Austin music scene, is Malick’s worst … by far.

For starters, I just have no idea what the fuck is supposed to be going on in this thing. Rooney Mara plays some kind of groupie who hooks up with a record producer played by Michael Fassbender. Then she starts dating wannabe musician Ryan Gosling. Then Gosling dumps her. Then Natalie Portman drowns. Then Mara becomes the guitar-player in Val Kilmer’s band, strumming away and looking like an idiot. Then Kilmer cuts his hair off onstage with a big knife. Then Mara starts dating Gosling again. The fucking end.

There’s no script; this film simply features a bunch of aimless, good-looking actors and actress walking around with nothing to do. If you can’t tell, I’m pissed about how much this sucked! And for a film about the Austin music scene … it doesn’t really have any music!

Still … I will be the first in line for the next Malick effort. He’s a master filmmaker who has already made his mark. He can screw up 100 times now, but he’s still made some of the greatest, most-beautiful films ever made. Song to Song is far from being one of them.

Song to Song is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A young Indian boy gets lost in a train station and loses his mother in Lion, an uplifting film based on a true story from director Garth Davis.

After a long odyssey through orphanages and abuse, Saroo winds up in Australia, adopted by new parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). After 25 years, Saroo (played as an adult by Dev Patel) decides it’s time to find his birth mother. How does he do it in the modern world? Google Earth! (The film is a nice commercial for that little platform.)

Patel is outstanding as Saroo, especially when his personal conflict about heritage comes to the forefront. Rooney Mara is also good as his supportive girlfriend, one of the more down-to-earth characters she’s played in recent years. The performance most people will talk about in this film, however, is that of Kidman, who puts together some of the most powerful work of her career.

The story seems farfetched, but it’s the real deal, as evidenced by real footage of Saroo and his moms at film’s end.

In a year that had a lot of great movies that delved into darkness, it’s nice to have this one. It makes you feel good.

Lion is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-836-1940); and the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342).

Published in Reviews

The annual Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala provides a cadre of A-list film actors and directors with oddly titled awards for their trophy cases—along with a low-stress, fun night in Palm Springs, the “home away from L.A.” for many celebrities.

This year’s honorees at the Saturday, Jan. 2, gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center included Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara and Tom McCarthy.

The 11-day festival proudly presents a broad gamut of films within nearly every genre, produced both here and abroad; some of these films receive little or no viewership in the commercial marketplace otherwise. In contrast, the celebrity cast of honorees and presenters—Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Ridley Scott were among the latter this year—as usual included a host of attention-grabbing nominees for the rapidly approaching major award season in Los Angeles. This proven strategy creates fund-raising fodder for the mix of industry players and local philanthropists who pay to get inside the Convention Center event. This year, more than $2 million was raised to support the year-round community service and film appreciation activities of the Palm Springs International Film Society, organizers said.

However, for me, the night proved to be a bust. While larger national media sources received prime space on the red carpet, the stars—most of whom were accompanied by a phalanx of PR representatives—were quickly whisked past those of us at the very end of the carpet where media outlets not offering national outreach were banished. (As for photos … the Independent was denied a photo credential, period … hence the mediocre smart-phone pics below.)

Special recognition was earned by Mr. Depp, who took time to amble at a leisurely pace, offering smiles and a couple of mumbled responses to urgently proffered inquiries.

In summation, I offer, for your enjoyment, a few freeze-frame stills and a brief video I shot to prove that I did, in fact, cover the event.

Enjoy. 

Published in Snapshot

The first half of Side Effects, director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song, is excellent. Unfortunately, the second half is merely passable.

Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug—with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk its running time.

Then, it suddenly becomes mediocre, as the mysteries start getting solved.

Good things happen before it unravels, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Unfortunately, there’s a subplot with Zeta-Jones that stops the movie in its tracks whenever it’s playing out.

Soderbergh says this is it for him and feature films. (His excellent made-for-TV Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, is currently running on HBO, and he’s calling that his last film of any kind, period.) Hopefully, he just takes a couple of years off and finds himself back behind the camera someday. This movie is OK, but I would like to see him go out on a better note.

Special Features: You only get some fake commercials and a very short look behind-the-scenes. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing