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Tue11242020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Anya Taylor-Joy is as powerful as rocket fuel in The Queen’s Gambit, an incredibly good Netflix miniseries—essentially a 400-minute movie that makes chess the coolest thing on the planet.

Joy plays Beth Harmon, a young orphan in the 1950s and ’60s (well-played by Isla Johnston before Beth grows up) who takes to playing chess with the janitor at her school (Bill Camp … man, I just love Bill Camp). The diversion turns into an obsession—one that leads Beth to world chess championships.

Chess films have been compelling—but never quite like this. Each of Gambit’s seven episodes mixes masterful drama—Beth has her share of issues, including drug and drinking problems—with the stellar staging of chess matches. The movie will make you want to run to your nearest store (or Amazon) to get yourself a chess set.

The miniseries—besides being a powerful showcase for Joy and the game—stands as a wonderful testament to sportsmanship. Much of the greatness comes from watching how Beth’s opponents react to their losses. It’s genuinely heartwarming. As for supporting performances, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Harry Melling are big-time standouts.

It’s a shame that this project’s status as a TV show deprives Joy of a chance for an Oscar—because this is unquestionably one of the year’s best performances. She’ll be in the running for an Emmy for sure.

The Queen’s Gambit is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After a long period that once included Steven Spielberg announced as its director, The Trial of the Chicago 7 has finally seen the light of day, with writer Aaron Sorkin also directing, and a decent cast including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance. Unfortunately, the cast can’t overcome a rote script.

The 1968 Democratic Convention was a real mess. Police clashed with protestors in Chicago, and seven people—including Abbie Hoffman (Cohen), Tom Hayden (Redmayne), Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong)—ended up on trial for allegedly masterminding the madness.

Sorkin’s film re-creates the trial with a particularly strong performance by Rylance as defense attorney William Kunstler, going against prosecutor Richard Schultz, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Frank Langella plays prickly Judge Julius Hoffman—and the whole thing winds up being a standard courtroom drama, with some pretty bad wigs.

The riots are shown in flashback sequences and are far more effective than the courtroom scenes, which are hampered by predictable and schmaltzy dialogue. Langella’s role is a mixture of every tight-assed judge you’ve seen on screen before, while Levitt resorts to huffiness as Schultz. Only Rylance manages to rise above the clichés in the courtroom.

Cohen does his best as Hoffman, but he’s dragged down by a goofy wig and an even goofier accent. The film never really engages, in part because it lacks grit and wildness. As a result, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is homogenized moviemaking at its most boring.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Good news, Sandler fans! You can file his latest “stupid” movie in the file “Stupid Sandler Films That Are Fun and Not Torturous!” It’ll go in that file with the likes of Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison and, my personal fave, Little Nicky. (Nothing in Sandler comedies beats Henry Winkler covered in bees … nothing!)

Hubie Halloween was directed by Steven Brill, who also directed Nicky and Mr. Deeds. Is it one of the best dumb Sandler movies? Well, no. It’s somewhere in the middle—not as good as Gilmore; just as good as The Waterboy; and definitely better than painful shit like The Ridiculous 6 and Jack and Jill.

Sandler plays Hubie, a safety-obsessed, Halloween-loving town resident with a speech pattern similar to the one he fashioned for The Waterboy. Halloween is coming; Hubie wants to help keep things safe with his super-Thermos—and he has eyes for Violet Valentine. Considering that Violet is played by Julie Bowen, who also played Sandler’s love interest in Happy Gilmore, who can blame him? Bowen looks happy to be back in Sandler-land.

Hubie is the subject of a lot of ridicule, with kids throwing food and metal objects at him while he rides his bike, and adult bullying from the likes of Ray Liotta, Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph. The plot offers up a couple of scary subplots including a crazy neighbor (Steve Buscemi) and an escaped mental patient à la Michael Myers.

Sandler and Brill tee up a lot of dumb gags, and many of them land. The dialogue—especially during a rather nasty exchange in a barn—had me laughing hard at times, and the film never drifts into the lazy territory that Sandler films often do. In fact, Hubie Halloween is legitimately scary in spots. But best of all, it’s good-natured and fun, and never ugly.

One last note: If you don’t laugh at the many novelty T-shirts June Squibb sports in this one, well, you have a dead heart.

Hubie Halloween is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Millie Bobby Brown shines as the title character in Enola Holmes, a bubbly, fun detective yarn that gives the little sister of Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) her own vehicle. Let’s hope it’s the first of many such mysteries.

Brown, who has been gloomy in most of her biggest roles thus far (Stranger Things, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), gets to show she’s a full-force movie star with complete control of the camera. The movie has her talking to the camera, à la Ferris Bueller, at many turns, and it works like a charm. The film’s mysteries, involving Enola’s missing mother (Helena Bonham Carter) and a runaway boy (Louis Partridge), are fine as starters, but the film is more of a place-setter for future installments than anything else.

Cavill adds class as Sherlock, imbibing his few scenes with plenty of oomph, but never stealing them from the movie’s true star. Brown—who has already proven that she has major dramatic chops, which are on further display here—has impeccable comic timing. I see pure comedies and musicals in her future.

It’s a fair guess to say sequels will be in order, because this is too much fun to stop here. (The film was intended for a theatrical release, but it was sold to Netflix due to the pandemic.) Brown (who has another Godzilla movie and a new Stranger Things season coming up) has another franchise, and this is the one that will show what she really brings to the party. Watch with the whole family, and enjoy.

Enola Holmes is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Some movies are made to make viewers miserable. It’s what they set out to do, and if done well, cinema geeks such as myself will tip our hats to them.

The Devil All the Time is one of those movies. It’s an ugly film—and it’s supposed to be. I understand that a lot of people do not need this sort of movie in their lives right now. I, for one, found it a mildly rewarding viewing experience, even though I had to take two showers afterward.

The film starts in World War II, where soldier Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) makes a discovery that will pretty much fuck him up for the rest of his life. Upon returning stateside, he tries to live the American life: He gets married to Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and has a boy named Arvin (Tom Holland, when the character grows up). Try as Willard might to live a good, pious life, tragedy strikes multiple times.

Arvin grows up with a decent-enough head on his shoulders despite the trauma, and has a strong bond with his stepsister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). When a creepy preacher (Robert Pattinson) moves to town, things—rather predictably—go bad again.

Meanwhile, in another subplot, a sadistic couple (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) drives around picking up hitchhikers and asking them to do some strange things. There’s also a corrupt sheriff (Sebastian Stan), the brother to the woman doing the strange hitchhiking things. There are a lot of other characters in the mix as well.

Bottom line: The film has way too much going on. It needed to be a miniseries rather than a single 138-minute film. That said, Holland and Pattinson are especially good, and the film is worth seeing for them. Skarsgard, Keough, Clarke and Scanlen all do just fine, but the movie is way too crowded.

To reiterate: If you are looking for a good time, this movie won’t provide it. It’s bound to go down as one of the film year’s biggest bummers—intentionally, of course.

The Devil All the Time is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

5 out of 5 stars

Charlie Kaufman (writer of Being John Malkovich) directs and writes the adapted screenplay for I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a nice puzzler of a movie that will have you debating its plotline with friends for days.

On the heels of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet—which is not yet out in the Coachella Valley, but it will be … I promise—September is proving to be a fine month for moviegoers who like their films intelligently convoluted and crazy.

Young Woman (the amazing Jessie Buckley) is going on a strange date with her strange boyfriend, Jake (the equally amazing Jesse Plemons). They take a road trip in a snowstorm to meet Jake’s parents, even though Young Woman—as the title of the film suggests—is apparently thinking of ending things with Jake.

They have bizarre conversations during which their moods change in a snap, and their visit with the parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis, relishing the chance to play in Kaufman-land) is even weirder—but their stop at an ice cream shop in the middle of a blizzard is off-the-charts nuts. It all comes to a conclusion that absolutely requires you watch the film again, with that second viewing being a completely different experience.

This is one of those movies, like Barton Fink and Mulholland Dr., that doesn’t make much sense while it is happening, but it comes together with post-movie thought. It’s also one of the year’s best, with the four stars all worthy of year-end awards.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Will Ferrell used to be a sure-fire comedy guarantee: There was a stretch when it seemed he could do no wrong.

Alas, that stretch is long behind him now, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga continues his recent streak of lousy-to-mediocre films. This one falls somewhere in the realm of mediocre.

On the eve of the infamous Eurovision contest—the song competition that birthed the career of ABBA in real life—Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), lifelong friends and members of the rock-duo Fire Saga, are taking one last bid at fame. However, they are terrible, and are hated by most of the people in their Icelandic hometown, including Lars’ father (Pierce Brosnan). A tragic boating accident thrusts them into the competition in which they represent their country—and many unfunny musical sequences ensue.

Ferrell’s wigged schtick grows tired early on—and since the film is two-plus hours long, we are talking a lot of unwanted shtick. McAdams, who can lip-sync with the best of them, is actually quite good here, and nearly saves the film with a warm, funny, earnest performance. Her character’s obsession with magical elves is a potential funny subplot that isn’t adequately explored. Directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), this movie would’ve benefited from a shorter running time.

It’s hard watching Ferrell founder in stuff like this; his career is in need of some major adjustments. He’s too funny to be goofing around with subpar material.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spike Lee follows up BlacKkKlansman, one of his best movies, with another great one, Da 5 Bloods, now out on Netflix. Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman lead a strong cast as Lee examines the lives of five Black veterans before and after Vietnam.

Lee and his co-writers send the five characters back to Vietnam to search for the remains of their former platoon leader (Boseman) and a bunch of gold bars they stashed during battle. Boseman appears via flashback; the older actors appear as the same age (with no de-aging makeup or technology) in both time periods—and it’s a style choice that works amazingly well. There’s something deep and moving about seeing these characters at their present age in the war they fought a half-century ago.

Lindo does career-best work as Paul, a man who is fraying a bit at the edges and is looking for redemption in the jungle. His son, David (Jonathan Majors), provides a twist when he unexpectedly tags along, forcing David to deal with a lot of demons. Lindo has delivered one of the year’s best performances so far.

The movie is shot beautifully—and is perhaps the most violent film Lee has ever made. It’s also one of the more adventurous, and best-timed, films in his repertoire.

Lee has made two stellar films in a row—indicating he is back in full creative force.

Da 5 Bloods is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Happy Friday, everyone.

I have to warn you that today’s Daily Digest is pretty depressing … so proceed with caution. I am sorry to send you off into the weekend with such concerning news, but that’s my job—so here we go.

Today’s news:

• My friends, I beg of you: Please take precautions against COVID-19. As more and more of the Coachella Valley reopens, the numbers are getting worse and worse. The number of COVID-19 patients at Eisenhower Medical Center as of Wednesday is nearly twice as high as it had ever been before an uptick in cases began there around the start of the month

• Horrifyingly related: The Los Angeles Times reports that some people are so opposed to the idea of wearing masks, they’re lashing out in crazy ways. In fact, Orange County’s health officer resigned after receiving a death threat related to her since-rescinded mask order. I just don’t understand some people.

• Also related: The CDC made it very clear today that if you’re going to be part of a large gathering, you really should be wearing a mask.

• Meanwhile, San Bernardino County is on the state watch list due to alarming COVID-19 increases there. (Based on what I am seeing, I would not be surprised to see Riverside County on this list soon.)

A senior care community in Rancho Mirage is dealing with an outbreak.

• Scientists are examining the possibility that a mutation in the coronavirus may allow it to infect more cells. However, scientists aren’t even sure what that would mean if it were true.

• However, the reopening process rolls on: Nail salons, tattoo parlors and massage businesses can reopen a week from today in counties that give the OK.

• Augustine Casino deserves credit for being the first area casino to close, the last to reopen, and for taking social distancing so seriously that table games have been removed for the time being. The Coachella casino will open its doors on Monday.

• Lawmakers are upset about all of the executive orders Gov. Newsom has issued since the pandemic began—and some of them are fighting back. In fact, in response to a suit filed by two Republican legislators, a Sutter County judge put a hold on his order to send a mail ballot to all registered voters for this November’s election.

• Some hope is provided by this University of Chicago poll, showing that the vast majority of Americans insist they’re taking the necessary precautions during the pandemic.

• However, these findings from that poll conflict with cell-phone data showing that in some parts of the country, people are moving around as much as—or even more than—they were before the pandemic began.

• It’s theoretically possible that a smart phone could be used to test for COVID-19. How? ZDNet explains.

• Even though movie theaters have gotten the go-ahead to start reopening in California and some other states, the studios keep delaying major movie releasesincluding some big delays announced today.

• Due in part to systemic racism, COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn has killed off 41 percent of Black-owned businesses in the U.S., according to research out of UC Santa Cruz.

Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes released a statement following the squabble between his officers’ union and Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege, as well as last night’s City Council meeting. Key quote: “We must discuss our history to have a better understanding and we must be willing to discuss current real or perceived experiences of racism within our community and police department. This must occur if we have any hope for meaningful change. I am confident the Palm Springs Police Officers Association, our City Council and our community will work on this very important issue as we move forward.

Netflix has released a new special by Dave Chappellefilmed just six days ago. Early reviews say the set by the renowned comedian—in which he discusses the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests—is quite powerful.

• And finally, the Trump administration continues to show how inhumane it is by erasing protections for transgender people against discrimination from the health-care industry. This was announced on the fourth anniversary of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub. Happy Pride Month.

That’s the news for the week. Live in the now, and enjoy yourself this weekend—in a responsible fashion, of course. If you have the means, please consider helping us produce quality local journalism, made available free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back Monday—and in the meantime, watch CVIndependent.com over the weekend for some excellent new stories.

Published in Daily Digest

Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, both major parts of the U.S. version of The Office, take a satirical stab at Donald Trump’s hankering for a space army in Space Force, a pretty good comedy that I suspect will get better if it gets a second season.

The series starts slow, with an uninspired first episode. However, the end of that episode has a funny moment that launches into what counts as the best show of the season—one in which Steve Carell’s newly installed Space Force general must solve a satellite problem using a chimp. The episode is funny—and I found myself fully engaged with the series.

The premise provides Carell with a good, goofy base for his comedic strengths, but also provides some realistic family drama involving his Gen. Naird and his justifiably despondent daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers). Lisa Kudrow has a good if small role as his convict wife. Fred Willard, in his final role before his passing, is a total crack-up as Naird’s sickly father, who tries to conduct phone conversations while his wife is experiencing all kinds of difficulties next to him in bed.

John Malkovich provides levity as the nerdy scientist guy, and Ben Schwartz gets some of the show’s bigger laughs as Naird’s marketing man.

The cast finds its groove more and more with each episode, leading up to a cliffhanger finale that will leave a lot of folks hanging if the show’s second season doesn’t get green-lit.

Space Force is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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