CVIndependent

Sat02222020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Bob Grimm

Out of the gate, Sonic the Hedgehog looks like it could be one of the year’s worst films. It’s irritating; it’s unoriginal; and it features multiple jokes about cops eating donuts, as if we haven’t heard those before.

Then Jim Carrey shows up as the villain—and almost saves the whole damn thing. Almost.

Sonic—the videogame character so beloved that his fan base rallied to have his likeness corrected after an abysmal look in the original trailer—is voiced by Ben Schwartz. While this incarnation definitely looks better than the mess Paramount Pictures first tried to get past the masses, the character is still grating. Sorry, Mr. Schwartz, but your voice is nails on a chalkboard.

A brief prelude shows Sonic being sent to Earth by a heroic owl; he’s left alone in a cave with a bag of gold rings that provide gateways to other worlds. After an encounter with Tom Wachowski, a small-town policeman (James Marsden), Sonic’s gold rings are accidentally transported to San Francisco. He must join Tom—who Sonic calls the Donut Lord, because, as I stated before, this movie’s script is screamingly unoriginal—and go on a road trip.

In pursuit is Dr. Robotnik, played by a totally game Jim Carrey, who hasn’t been this manically fun in years. Whatever stupid crap the movie has him doing doesn’t matter: Director Jeff Fowler gives the comedian permission to go off, and Carrey not only riffs away, but gets behind the character with his trademark physical acting. He gets legitimate laughs that are surprisingly offbeat, considering this is a PG-rated kids’ film. (I especially liked his musings regarding Charlotte’s Web.)

Alas, Carrey’s role is a supporting one, and he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time to redeem the film. We are mostly left with Marsden trading one liners with Sonic, including, of course, the requisite fart jokes. If you were to guess where Tom and Sonic wind up on the road as a detour for strained laughs, a biker bar would be high on your probability list. And in that biker bar, you’d probably guess there are jokes involving mechanical bulls, line dancing, buffalo wings and bar fights. You would’ve guessed right.

There are a couple of scenes during which Sonic pulls a Quicksilver—that’s the character in X-Men who was so fast that he could rearrange people between blows in a fight. I have to think there’s an X-Men screenwriter somewhere who will be mighty pissed off after seeing some of the sequences in this movie.

Thankfully, Sonic does actually look like his videogame self now, and not some horrid concoction featuring small eyes and human teeth. This film’s script, added to the way Sonic looked in that original trailer, would’ve ensured box-office death. As things stand, the movie looks decent, which makes the dopey screenplay semi-tolerable.

Maybe some good things will come out of this. Perhaps the movie will give the talented Carrey the jump start his career needs after the ill-advised Dumb and Dumber To and his miserable dramatic turn in Dark Crimes, which nobody saw. It’s time to green-light another Ace Ventura or a sequel to The Mask. Either would be a better use of his talent than having him chasing lame-assed Sonic around.

The film leaves things open for a sequel … a sequel that will probably happen. With the distraction of an initially horrendous-looking Sonic out of the way, maybe a unified look from the start could lead to a stronger picture. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

Sonic the Hedgehog is playing at theaters across the valley.

Shia LaBeouf returns with a vengeance in Amazon’s Honey Boy, offering both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy!

Directed with great strength by Alma Har’el, the film covers different stages in Shia’s career, including as a young boy (Noah Jupe) and a young adult (Lucas Hedges). LaBeouf sets out to basically show how he had a … well, let’s call it an offbeat upbringing. His father, represented by a character named James Lort and played by Shia, is at once inspirational and terribly abusive—a quirky, angry guy who torments young Shia (named Otis in the movie) as a means of forcing the kid into stardom.

LaBeouf is funny/scary here, while Jupe and Hedges keep proving they are two of the best young actors on the planet.

LaBeouf had a solid year in 2019; may he have many more to come.

Honey Boy is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

After being the only thing worth anyone’s time in Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn gets her own movie in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, a marked improvement over the film that featured Margot Robbie’s first go at the role.

Unfortunately, “improved” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.”

There’s something askew plot-wise in Birds of Prey—specifically, it doesn’t really have a plot, and the shards of plot it does have are presented sloppily. The movie hops around time spasmodically, like a tweaker on a pogo stick—and while I love Robbie, her Harley Quinn shtick can grate at times.

(By the way, I’m watching Margot on Hot Ones as I write this review, and she’s giving a captivating performance on this YouTube series—not as good as Shia LaBeouf’s performance on the show, but still. She cannot handle her hot wings. I’m actually fearing for her life as I watch this. I won’t give away the ending.)

Anyway, Harley Quinn is joined by the Birds of Prey this time out, and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) all get high marks for what they bring to the party. The basic plot involves bad-guy Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), trying to get a big diamond from a young pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco). That’s about it for story.

Much of the film is spent talking about the Joker, which is strange, because this movie is supposed to be proof that the Birds of Prey don’t need the Joker in their movie. Harley broke up with the Joker, so, mercifully, we don’t have to endure Jared Leto’s take on the character again. Get that plot element out of the way, and let’s move on, right? Nope: The film contains near-constant references to the fact that the Joker is not in this movie. Director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson seem afraid to let go of the Clown Prince of Crime as a plot presence. Newsflash: Nobody cares about the Suicide Squad incarnation of Joker. He was quite underwhelming. It’s all about Joaquin Phoenix now.

The movie, despite being a bit of a fluster-cuck, is sporadically fun. There’s a running bit involving the perfect egg sandwich that is pretty good. The ass-kicking scenes, during which the Birds fly into action, are kinetic and have pop. McGregor’s Sionis has a sadomasochistic relationship with his henchman, Victor (Chris Messina), that’s good for some laughs. And, I love, love, love Bruce, Harley’s pet hyena, named after a certain morose billionaire.

Of the Birds, Smollett-Bell registers the highest as Black Canary, a character who deserves her own movie. Smollett-Bell has the sort of onscreen presence that does not show up that often. She’s done some good work in the past, but she really makes a mark here. Rosie Perez hasn’t been this much fun since Pineapple Express; here, she’s a tough Gotham cop who is willing to bend the rules to get the job done. The always-reliable Winstead is good as The Huntress, although she’s a bit underused.

Robbie is still fun, but the film’s effort to make her a kinder, warmer Harley Quinn renders her a slight bit boring at times. She’s better when she is pure nasty with a little bit of funny. This movie asks her to be a constantly hyper, safer character who’s perhaps a bit too heroic. That’s a mistake—and the sequence in which Harley re-enacts the iconic Marilyn Monroe routine from Gentleman Prefer Blondes is just plain dumb.

Harley Quinn will be back for the James Gunn-helmed The Suicide Squad, but I’m thinking the failures of this installment might put future Harley-centered ventures on hold. Harley and her Birds of Prey have a lot of potential, but their first film together misses the mark. It also needed at least 10 more minutes of Bruce the Hyena.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is now playing at theaters across the valley.

A troubled artist (Elijah Wood) answers a letter from his long-last dad (Stephen McHattie) and goes to visit him at his oceanfront property. What starts out as a sweet get-together in the film Come to Daddy quickly devolves into a hellish experience during which Dad proves himself to be an even lousier father than first thought: Rather than being a supportive pop, he drinks a lot and declares his long-lost son to be full of shit. He’s also got a few things going on in the basement.

Director Ant Timpson throws in twists aplenty, and Wood delivers good work—but the film ultimately doesn’t come together. It flirts with dark comedy early on, and seems to be on its way to being a terrific nasty laugher, but the film loses its way when it goes the cheap-thriller route. The second half is depressing rather than outlandish, and the writing doesn’t back up that leap.

It’s too bad. I legitimately laughed a few times during the first half, and I had high hopes thanks to the setup. But in the end, Come to Daddy is a tonal mess—and a blown opportunity for what could have been a memorable genre effort.

Come to Daddy is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Robert Eggers is two films into his feature-directing career, and people are already trying to rip off his style.

Gretel and Hansel shoots for the slow-burn, deliberately paced, lushly photographed style that Eggers employed in his 2015 masterpiece The Witch. While director Osgood Perkins has put together a movie that looks OK, the script by Rob Hayes provides little to nothing in the way of chills—the movie is all atmospherics with little substance.

On the verge of starvation centuries ago, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is kicked out of her home with little brother Hansel (Sammy Leakey) in tow. They head into the forest where the only meal they have is hallucinogenic mushrooms—yes, they trip out—until they come upon a house inhabited by a strange old lady named Holda (Alice Krige).

Holda is all by herself without a supermarket in sight, yet her table is full of freshly baked and roasted goodies. Hansel and Gretel, just like in the fairy tale, settle in for some good country cooking. Little do they know that the obviously evil Holda (I mean, look at her—she’s definitely a witch) has nefarious plans for the two that involve a different kind of mealtime.

As the kids stuff their faces, Holda seems to ponder some sort of witch-training future for Gretel. Gretel has “visions” that suggest she could have witchcraft in her blood, so Holda encourages her while Hansel moves closer to the roasting oven. Will Gretel get hold of herself before Hansel achieves an uncomfortable melding with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? Trust me: You’ll be so bored that you won’t give two shits.

You won’t be scared, either. There are a couple of foreboding shots involving a witch standing in a pinkly lit forest, and one involving entrails changing into baked goods; these show potential. Otherwise, the film is mostly two kids talking to each other about scary things, and those same two kids walking around, during which things should get scary, but don’t.

In an effort to make more money, Orion Pictures and Osgood have gone with a PG-13 cut—which makes no sense. There’s nothing about this movie that would appeal to fans 13 and under. Lillis was one of the stars of It, which was a hard R. An R rating could’ve generated some creeps and scares—whereas this movie chickens out.

Lillis is good here, even though her role is almost a complete copy of the one played by Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. Krige has the makings of a scary witch, but she’s required to do little more than sit at a table and speak ominously.

You would think that an adaptation of a classic fairy tale about kids being roasted in an old lady’s oven and then eaten would be Fright City—but nope. This one is about as scary as a jar of pitted olives.

The film is flattering to Eggers in that it’s proof that he has already established a genre style—gothic horror filmed in greys and browns—and that people are trying to ape it like a lot of ’90s directors tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino.

On the bright side, the film is much better than the Jeremy Renner vehicle Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That film may always stand as the worst adaptation of the story. Gretel and Hansel is just boring, not bad to the core. Still, boring is bad—and horror fans need not waste their time.

Gretel and Hansel is playing at theaters across the valley.

Taylor Swift goes the Beyoncé route with her own Netflix special—and it’s a winner.

While Taylor Swift: Miss Americana covers her whole life, it focuses mostly on the making of her last two albums and her recent decision to become more politically active. If you are looking for a lot of her music, this is not the movie for you. If you are looking for insight into how she writes her songs—and how she feels about a certain Tennessee senator and current U.S. president—you will certainly enjoy this.

I like Taylor Swift. I like her melodious music and the fact that she allows her cat to eat at the dinner table with the humans (seated in a regular dinner chair, no less). She can be a little self-important and a tad whiny at times, but great talents have their eccentricities.

In the end, Taylor Swift is a great entertainer, and this movie is greatly entertaining.

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana is now streaming on Netflix.

There are many reasons to head to the cinema for a showing of Guy Ritchie’s gangster-comedy return, The Gentlemen.

Chief among those reasons is the cast, led by Matthew McConaughey and an extremely amusing Hugh Grant. Throw in Colin Farrell, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery and Eddie Marsan, all in top form, and you are talking about one of the best casts of the 2020—and it’s only January.

Also, if you are a big fan of weed, you should go see this movie.

The film, directed and co-written by Ritchie, isn’t an amazing piece of scriptwriting. It feels like the other gangster-comedy/drama films he wrote and directed (Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) in that it has zippy dialogue and a fairly routine mystery at its core. However, The Gentlemen is a lot of fun from start to finish, and you will forgive its familiarities and foibles.

McConaughey is at his best as Mickey Pearson, a gangster who has built a large illegal-weed empire as the plant seems headed toward legalization. He’s toying with getting out, and offers his empire to Matthew (Jeremy Strong) for a tidy, semi-reasonable sum. Wife Rosalind (Dockery), a shrewd businessperson, is fine with him retiring—as long as that doesn’t mean he will always be hanging around and bothering her while she’s trying to get stuff done.

However, bodies start piling up as Mickey’s farm locations are getting raided—and somebody in the cast is responsible. That includes Farrell as Coach, a local boxing trainer who has shrewdly constructed a little side game involving street thugs; Ray (Hunnam), Mickey’s right-hand man, who seems loyal but, hey, maybe he’s looking to move ahead in the crime world; and both Lord George (Tom Wu) and Dry Eye (Henry Golding), who have the motive to screw Mickey over because, like Matthew, they want his empire.

Then there’s private-investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has been following everybody around, gathering evidence to blackmail Mickey—while also writing a screenplay based on the whole mess. Fletcher, in what counts as a framing device, tells Ray his observations throughout the film, and the action plays out along with his storytelling.

Grant gets a chance to act completely sleazy—and it becomes him. Bearded and bespectacled with a full cockney accent, Grant is a crack-up, one of the only real reasons to call this movie a comedy. McConaughey, in contrast, is not a laugh riot; his role combines his laid-back strengths with flashes of full on, brilliant rage. This movie might contain two of my favorite McConaughey-raging moments.

Starting with In Bruges, Farrell moved into my “favorite actors” file and has managed to stay there. His Coach actually feels like an offshoot of his In Bruges persona—with, perhaps, a dash more bravado. His part is smallish, but he makes the most of all his minutes.

Everything plays out in a way that is not surprising, so if you see The Gentlemen looking to judge it on the basis of its mystery contents, you might find yourself disappointed. It’s nothing extraordinary on that front … but it’s not bad, either. When everything is revealed, the results are slightly ho-hum. That doesn’t prevent the film from being an overall good time.

The Gentlemen offers viewers a chance to see a cast having a blast—and to see Ritchie playing in a sandbox that suits him after a slump that included dreck like Aladdin and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. He’s definitely more at home with snappy, profane dialogue and comic violence than he is with magic carpets and blue genies.

The Gentlemen is playing at theaters across the valley.

Director Kevin Smith almost croaked a while back thanks to a widow-maker heart attack—so it’s no surprise that his first film since that setback, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, is a bit of a sap fest.

Smith and buddy Jason Mewes reprise the title roles in a film that follows most of the plot points of Smith’s 2001 magnum opus, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The results aren’t as funny as I was hoping, but this is the first film in which Smith does a decent job of handling mushy, lubby-dubby, sentimental stuff.

Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, steps in as Jay’s love child with Justice (Shannon Elizabeth)—and she knocks the role out of the park. She’s actually the most consistently funny person in the movie, and she handles the emotional stuff well, too, proving she’s got major chops.

The cameo list is long, including Matt Damon, Val Kilmer, Ben Affleck a very funny Chris Hemsworth, Melissa Benoist—and even Smith, playing himself (in addition to Silent Bob). Smith poking fun at his entertainment-show-hosting-self is a great running gag, especially during a post-credits scene.

While this is not as funny as the first Jay and Silent Bob, I’m happy this exists, mainly because it means Kevin Smith, now a vegan, is not dead.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Twenty-five years have passed since detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) first suited up for Michael Bay in Bad Boys, and 17 years have passed since they joined him again for Bad Boys II.

Since the first time Bay assaulted our eyes and ears with his patented brand of cinematic garbage, I’ve grown to almost enjoy said garbage. I hated Bad Boys, but I sort of liked the outrageous Bad Boys II. Bay tends to amuse me now—unless he’s doing a Transformers movie, in which case I check out. I attribute my suddenly liking some Bay movies to brain decay due to aging, a lack of iron and a general loss of spirituality. So, I guess the bad news is that Bay passed on directing Bad Boys for Life, the third installment in the franchise. I would’ve liked to see Bay try to top the almost-self-parodying craziness that was Bad Boys II, but, alas, he was making Netflix movies with Ryan Reynolds.

The good news is that the directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah step up and do a sufficient job of continuing the mayhem—easily topping Bay’s lame original and providing a chapter that is as good, and sometimes better, than chapter two.

Burnett is eyeing retirement, while Lowrey is dealing with the psychological and physical ramifications of aging. (But he’s dyeing his goatee, so it’s all good.) A crazy witch-lady gangster named Isabel (Kate del Castillo) has escaped from prison and has put out a hit list for her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to work his way through. Isabel has vengeance in mind—and the targets have connections to Lowrey.

Lowrey himself is also on that list, and he takes a couple of bullets early in the film. We aren’t giving too much away by telling you that Lowrey doesn’t die … because there’s no movie if Lowrey dies. So, after some healing time, Lowrey and a very reluctant Burnett are back in action, wise-cracking and shooting people up in slow motion.

Some familiar faces return, including Theresa Randle as Burnett’s long-suffering wife. She’s good in a subplot that has Burnett becoming a granddad while getting more time at home during his attempted retirement … which doesn’t go well. For starters, bad things happen with a ceiling-fan repair. Joe Pantoliano makes a welcome return as Pepto Bismol-swigging Capt. Howard—still a great riff on those screaming captains from the Beverly Hills Cop movies.

All the mayhem comes to an appropriately visceral and bloody conclusion, replete with big plot twists and the Smith-Lawrence duo kicking ass. When the two are allowed to riff and fly, it’s fun. There’s a big production going on around them, but it never overwhelms their star power. They are bloodier, nastier versions of Abbott and Costello.

As Bay learned with Bad Boys II, Smith and Lawrence are better in this sort of thing when everything is ridiculously over the top. The new directors know their way around an action scene, and their comic timing is strong, so there are equal levels of laughs and explosions in this installment. The movie isn’t the big joke that Bad Boys II was—Burnett’s electronics-store sex-problem confession remains the series highlight—but it is unabashedly nuts. It qualifies as a competent and promising reboot.

Please don’t take these words as high praise. I’m saying that this is relatively tasty cinematic junk food. I’m saying that it’s good enough that I’m OK with the idea of another chapter. (Bad Boys 4 is already in play.) I’m saying that there seems to be a few more Bad Boys stories to tell, and the beat goes on without Bay.

Smith and Lawrence have escaped the Men in Black and Big Momma’s House franchises, and can concentrate their combined energies on this now. This is not a bad thing.

Bad Boys for Life is playing at theaters across the valley.

Edward Norton directs, writes the screenplay and stars in Motherless Brooklyn, a decent-enough adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name. It’s an OK movie, but it isn’t going to change anybody’s lives.

Norton certainly made a good-looking film here. Motherless Brooklyn is set in the ’50s, and the period details are impressive; the costuming is first-rate; and the camerawork is stellar.

As for the story … there is a convoluted plot involving murder mysteries and real estate development. It doesn’t feel like anything new—except for the twist that Norton’s private detective has Tourette’s syndrome. Norton does a convincing job of exhibiting this affliction through a series of verbal and physical ticks, coupled with obsessive-compulsive behavior. No doubt: The most-interesting aspect of this movie is Norton’s character, Lionel.

Norton assembles a strong cast, including Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Suplee (before he got ripped) and Cherry Jones. Everybody does good work, but it’s in service of a story that isn’t all that engaging. Norton did a lot of work here for a movie that is just OK.

Motherless Brooklyn is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Page 1 of 107