CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Bob Grimm

Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte tells a sort-of reverse Bonnie and Clyde story with Dreamland, a great-looking, well-acted and ultimately decent watch featuring the great Margot Robbie.

If you haven’t been paying attention, you should know that Robbie has evolved into one of the finest actresses in the biz, and she’s spectacularly good here as Allison Wells, a bank robber on the run after an unfortunate turn of events. She winds up in the barn belonging to the family of Eugene (a very good Finn Cole), farmers who have fallen on rough times due to drought and dust storms. Eugene stumbles upon a wounded Allison—and their bond begins. What develops is a bit slow-going and predictable, but the two make the journey worthwhile.

Hats off to Peyrafitte and cinematographer Lyle Vincent for putting together one of the year’s best-looking films. Period pieces (this one set is during the Great Depression) obviously rely heavily upon how they look and feel—and this one looks and feels like an authentic, dusted-over Texas. It’s a shame indoor theaters aren’t open locally, because I imagine the dust-storm sequence plays great on a big screen.

The film feels a bit like it is missing a chapter. It takes a while for Allison and Eugene to hit the road—and the film ends shortly thereafter. The slow first three quarters of the film would’ve been more forgivable had the road portion been a bit meatier.

Still, Robbie and Cole are strong and memorable together, and Dreamland stands as one of the better performances in Robbie’s impressive career.

Dreamland is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

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.

A couple of years ago, an actor/writer/director named Jim Cummings blew me away with his Thunder Road, one of the best films of 2018. In it, Cummings played a troubled cop whose life goes to shit after the death of his mother.

Now comes The Wolf of Snow Hollow, a solid follow-up that doesn’t quite rise to the heights of Thunder Road—but it does show that Cummings has some good ideas left to share onscreen.

The film (which he again writes, directs and stars in) takes on the horror genre from one of its more inconsistent angles: the werewolf movie. There are not a lot of great werewolf movies out there, so this one finishes in the top half of the Werewolf Movie Genre List quite easily.

Cummings plays a sheriff dealing with deteriorating relationships, a dying father (the great Robert Forster, in one of his final roles) and substance abuse. And, oh yeah, he’s dealing with an apparent werewolf killing young women in his jurisdiction.

The film is effectively scary, brutally honest and darkly funny, with Cummings delivering another memorably bonkers performance. Forster steals his scenes; hats off to Cummings for giving him a final role worthy of his greatness.

The wolf itself is a decent creation for low-budget fare, and Cummings gets credit for making this more than just a horror film. It’s got a lot of depth and heart—traits that are not common in your average werewolf movie.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow is now available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Given the year we are all having, it’s a fantastic time to watch a movie in which a deranged reporter from Kazakhstan offers up his young daughter as a gift to Mike Pence while wearing a Trump costume.

Why? It’s a shitshow that encapsulates the madness we continue to endure deep into 2020.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a fine continuation of the madness Sacha Baron Cohen unleashed on the world with his original film 14 years ago. (That’s right … 14 YEARS AGO. Can you believe it?) This time out, instead of driving an ice cream truck with a big hairy guy and a bear, Borat is trekking across the country with his 15-year-old daughter (a very funny Maria Bakalova) in tow.

This, of course, presents an entirely different dynamic. Borat doesn’t know his “not a son” well, and he has difficulty treating her with respect—like allowing her to live outside of a cage, for example. Somehow, Cohen and director Jason Woliner manage to make their antics not only hilarious, but awkwardly heartwarming. Shit, this might just be the feel-good movie of the year.

As in the first film, Borat exposes the ugly, racist underbelly of America. While the previous film’s big moment was a staged (and hilarious) sequence with Pamela Anderson, the sequel’s big moments are unrehearsed and unbelievably pulled off.

The previously mentioned encounter with Pence is just a warmup for the big kahuna—and that would be Rudy Giuliani seemingly thinking he is going to get sexy time with Borat’s daughter during a hotel-room interview. (Note to all public figures: NEVER ACCEPT A HOTEL ROOM AS A SETTING FOR AN INTERVIEW, YOU DUMB ASSES!) Giuliani is gross, touchy-feely and patronizing during the fake interview with Bakalova—and then he walks straight into the hotel bedroom. His excuse for touching his thang in her presence—to be clear, the actress is in her 20s and never states her make-believe age—is that he was tucking in his shirt.

When did touching your dick become synonymous with tucking in your shirt? Rudy’s a lawyer; maybe he knows more about it. Maybe there’s some statute or writ or whatever somewhere that declares dick-touching as essential to tucking in one’s shirt on film.

All of the film’s setups work to varying degrees of success, and Cohen has delivered his best work since Borat’s first film venture. It’ll be interesting to see who will be governing this great land when a possible second sequel lands. Hopefully, it will be somebody with a better sense of humor than Mike Pence. Come, on you stick-in-the-mud … laugh a little. You got punked, and it’s funny.

As for Rudy … he should make sure interviews take place in Grand Central Station during rush hour.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Yes, the pandemic has been awful for cinema. A lot of big movies have been pushed off into Whatever Land as far as their release dates—and here in Riverside County, indoor theaters are closed again due to increasing COVID-19 cases, after being open for just a few weeks.

But even before this all started, there was a significant push for smaller, artier films to find their way to streaming services, rather than going all-in on a theatrical release. That trend has continued over the last year, with Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV, and Disney+ either streaming films exclusively, or streaming them along with limited theatrical releases.

The latest example of this is On the Rocks, which enjoyed a limited theatrical release before quickly making its way to Apple TV+.

The film has Bill Murray and writer/director Sofia Coppola joining forces again—which raises expectations, because their Lost in Translation is one of the more beautiful films to come out of Hollywood in the last 30 years. In On the Rocks, Murray plays Felix, the rich father of Laura (Rashida Jones); Laura is a New Yorker and author with writer’s block and a busy, almost-never-home husband, Dean (the ever-reliable Marlon Wayans, in a nice dramatic turn).

The film is nicely written and luscious-looking, two common traits for Sofia Coppola films. It also has that Murray spark; he’s an actor who really shines with Coppola at the helm. Felix and Laura suspect that Dean could be having an affair, which he disguises as work trips and meetings. The father and daughter go on a mission of discovery—in more ways than one. This allows Murray to access the more-devilish side of his acting persona, in both funny and scary ways.

Coppola’s plot twists get a little silly at times, but Murray and Jones are excellent together—and what they put onscreen will have you easily forgiving occasional conventionalities. There are two particular moments of reckoning in this movie that are expertly handled on both sides of the camera.

Yes, there are still great new movies being released during these crazy times—and On the Rocks is certainly one of them.

On the Rocks is now streaming on Apple TV+

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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