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The ever-reliable pairing of director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan hits a speed bump with Greed, the weakest movie this duo has produced.

The Winterbottom-Coogan combo has now been responsible for seven films, with such winners as the many “Trip” movies, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and, my personal favorite, 24 Hour Party People. When I heard they were working on a satirical film about the fashion world and the upper class, with Coogan headlining as a shifty millionaire, I said: “Sign me up!”

Sadly, the result, written and directed by Winterbottom, is a muddled mess with only a few laughs and no true sense of purpose. It starts as a sort of fictional biopic—the making of fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan), who rises to power by buying up struggling clothes businesses and spinning them for dollars through bankruptcies and other manipulations. He steps on a lot of faces on his way to the top.

Problem No. 1 is there’s nothing at all surprising or engaging about McCreadie or his rise to power. Coogan portrays the character through varying ages (a couple of other actors portray him at his youngest), and he seems to be going for a mixture of Donald Trump and Coogan’s own Alan Partridge character. He sports big white teeth and a tan, not unlike a certain cranky president.

The script basically calls for Coogan to be a real asshole. We see him buying people out with no regard for their feelings, and chastising well-meaning employees in public. There’s no reason to care about this guy, whether in flashback or the present day. It would help if he were nastily funny, but few moments come off as funny, so McCreadie is basically just an unpleasant experience.

In the present, McCreadie is trying to put together a 60th birthday celebration featuring celebrities, a Roman Colosseum replica and a real lion. Celebrities tend to make a big deal of their 60th (Howard Stern not long ago threw a big star-studded bash), and maybe Winterbottom was trying to poke a little fun at those types of parties. Other than one funny joke featuring a George Michael impersonator, the whole party premise is a dud.

Toward the end of the film, Winterbottom decides the movie isn’t really a comedy about greedy jerks at all: Instead, it’s a scathing take on the fashion industry and the way it employs underprivileged people worldwide for menial sums. Well, that’s what Winterbottom apparently wishes it was. The change in tone—including a violent, WTF? ending that comes out of nowhere—reeks of desperate storytelling. It’s like Winterbottom set out to make a satire in his usual way, but then decided his film needed to be The Big Short of fashion-industry movies at the last minute.

Too bad. Coogan is almost always fun onscreen, so it’s a real task to make him a bore. Isla Fisher shows up as McCreadie’s wife, and their unorthodox relationship could’ve been the basis of its own movie, but it gets little screen time here. A subplot involving McCreadie’s biographer feels like it was supposed to be substantial, but it comes off as something that got lost in the editing room. There are other characters in this movie that suddenly appear, but the script has done nothing to justify the audience having any feelings about them.

Entertainers who work together as much as Winterbottom and Coogan do are bound to lay an egg every now and then—and Greed is indeed a stinker, but I have a feeling they will rise above and entertain again. They are already working on another movie, and I’m sure there will be a couple after that before they are done. Thankfully, none of those will contain the further adventures of Sir Richard McCreadie.

Greed opens Friday, March 6, at several valley theaters.

Published in Reviews

The Bluths are back together again—with more simultaneous screen time than in Season 4—in the latest Arrested Development reunion on Netflix.

The plotting of this season involves a little too much crazy stuff regarding Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli) and the shared girlfriend (Isla Fisher) of Michael (Jason Bateman) and George Michael (Michael Cera), making things a bit haphazard. That doesn’t stop it from being very funny.

There’s a lot of weirdness at play. Buster (Tony Hale) does jail time (during which he touches a mouse!), while Tobias (David Cross) obsesses with impersonating everybody in the family. Cross remains the funniest guy on this show; he goes full-blown insane this season. Gob (Will Arnett) is dealing with feelings for fellow magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller), so he makes a visit to a Closet Conversion facility (which is not what he thinks). Maeby (Alia Shawkat), for reasons I won’t explain, winds up brilliantly impersonating an old Jewish woman in a retirement community.

Even it is a bit frantic, Arrested Development remains one of the funniest shows on TV. (Who knew Henry Winkler was going to be so funny when he grew up?) When it slows down for stuff like a barbecue at Ron Howard’s house (including cameos by Bryce Dallas Howard and the rest of the Howard family), it’s as funny as it ever was.

Netflix currently has eight episodes streaming now, with eight more coming later this year.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A jilted husband uses the power of the pen to mess with his ex-wife’s mind in Nocturnal Animals, an engaging and dark-hearted film from director Tom Ford.

Amy Adams, on fire in 2016 even after you deduct points due to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plays Susan Morrow, a bizarre art-gallery owner stuck in a rut. Her bland but gorgeous husband (Armie Hammer, also having a good year) is ambivalent toward her; she’s borderline broke, and generally unhappy.

She gets a manuscript in the mail from ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). He was a struggling writer while the two were together, but now he just might have written the novel that could get his career going. Susan agrees to read the advance copy—and the story within, to say the least, freaks her out.

The film’s screenplay, written by Ford and based on the novel by Austin Wright, takes a rather clever route: We see the story play out as Susan reads it, and, as many of us often do, Susan casts the main character in the novel, Tony Hastings, as somebody she knows: her ex-husband. So Gyllenhaal is essentially playing two roles in the film: Edward in flashbacks, and Tony, husband of Laura (Isla Fisher) and father to India (Ellie Bamber), in her visualization of the novel.

One of the great tricks of the movie is that it remains a mystery whether the events in the novel are based upon “real” occurrences, or are just symbolic representations of the cruelties Susan inflicted upon Edward when she left him. Also, we never really know if Edward is somebody who simply wrote a chilling thriller and wants his ex-wife’s honest opinion, or if he’s sending her a “message.”

Edward’s novel is a searing work involving a family, led by Tony, on a road trip in Texas. They get harassed on the highway by a group of thugs, but most notably Ray (a completely terrifying Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Things go really wrong, which allows for the entrance of a lawman character, Bobby Andes. That lawman just happens to be played by Michael Shannon, so now you know why this movie is so much damned fun to watch.

Well … it’s fun in that it’s a pleasure to see performers setting the screen ablaze with their work. It’s not so fun in that there are a lot of exposed nerves and brutal moments in this movie; it isn’t for the fainthearted. Ford and friends are trafficking in the dark side. All of the worst fears of husbands and wives are in play, and happy endings aren’t on anyone’s mind.

Gyllenhaal, who did a great job with dual roles in Enemy, excels as the jilted husband and helpless father. His characters go through seemingly every kind of torture a man can go through—and then some. You get the sense he worked himself up to a lot of stomach aches while making this film.

Adams portrays a once-virtuous woman made slightly vapid due to some arguably bad life choices. She still manages to create a character who ultimately breaks your heart. While Edward’s possibly vengeful actions might paint Susan in a bad light, Susan still winds up a sensitive, sympathetic character. That’s Amy Adams for you. She can pretty much pull off anything in front of a camera.

This is Tom Ford’s second film as a director after A Single Man, so he’s a solid 2-for-2. Nocturnal Animals is one of the year’s more unique mainstream films. It’s also a movie that might inspire you to take a less-rural road on that journey through Texas you’ve been planning.

Nocturnal Animals is playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

For those of you hankering for another magician movie after The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, here it is!

A Las Vegas magician act called the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) concludes a show by seemingly robbing a bank in France through teleportation. An FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol detective (Mélanie Laurent) investigate—and we snore.

Morgan Freeman is on hand as a man who makes a living debunking magic, as is Michael Caine as a millionaire bankrolling the Horsemen. It all amounts to nonsense, with the a lot of swirling cameras and stupid fights involving playing cards and paper cuts.

The big reveals are silly, and much of what happens on the magic side is never explained. Meanwhile, Eisenberg delivers one of the year’s more annoying performances.

Now You See Me is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews