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Sat03282020

Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

I’ll say this for Sean Penn: Even though he has a major smoker’s face, he’s sporting some nice muscularity at this stage in his life.

Seriously: He’s got six-pack abs, and some major shoulder and back muscles, leading down to an impressive, slender waste. While I didn’t exactly get a glimpse of his buttocks, I have to imagine that they are smooth and rock-hard.

When properly oiled, his surfer body is the sort of thing that should make humans of all genders and sexual preferences swoon. I wonder whether his is a body made by steroids, or HGH, or whether it’s simply the toned, shaped and visually delicious results of a man who works hard and cares about himself.

I wonder why he would do all this work on those fabulous muscles and still smoke cigarettes—a habit that destroys him little by little, with every puff, like mold on a fine art painting.

I wonder what he drinks in the morning, whether it’s a protein shake full of nutritious supplements, or just a big glass of raw eggs, Rocky-style.

While I’m at it, let’s not ignore his hair. I think it’s dyed, but not to an extent that makes him look like an old guy trying to look young. I feel his stylist should be commended. He or she has found the right balance in that dye mix. Topping it all off is a nice pencil mustache, with just enough of a soul patch under his lip to make Frank Zappa proud.

All in all, I can see why Charlize Theron is dating Sean Penn. He is, indeed, a catch, even if he tastes and smells like a stank ashtray.

Oh, I almost forgot … THIS MOVIE, WITH HIS HUNKY ASS PLAYING AN ASSASSIN TRYING TO MAKE GOOD ON HIS SINS, IS FREAKING TERRIBLE!

The Gunman is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The dream world and reality blend beautifully in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the latest from director/star Ben Stiller.

Stiller uses the short story by James Thurber—about a man prone to elaborate daydreams—as a springboard to something altogether new, and surprisingly intimate. This is essentially a $90 million art film that maintains a nice, indie sensibility to go along with moments of grand spectacle.

Stiller, in one of his best performances, plays the title character, an introverted man who handles photo negatives for Life magazine. After a vivid daydream in which he saves a cat from a building moments before it explodes, he wanders into Life’s lobby—and finds out the magazine will be going online-only. (This actually happened a while back in the real world. Life has been publishing only occasional special issues for years, and doesn’t even exist as its own full website anymore).

In other words, Walter, in the digital age, is quickly becoming an unnecessary entity at his job. To add insult to injury, he’s getting harassed by Ted (a sinisterly funny Adam Scott), the super-douche tasked with transitioning the magazine to its online format. Ted mocks him in front of fellow employees and throws paper clips as Walter daydreams about co-worker Cheryl (a sweetly charming Kristen Wiig). Walter imagines epic, crazily staged battles with Ted, including one in which they blast out of the side of the office building—all while battling over a Stretch Armstrong doll.

Crisis looms when a negative from star photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), the negative meant for the magazine’s final cover, goes missing. Walter, with help from Cheryl, springs into action on a quest to find the negative; the journey leads him through Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan and the Himalayas. Along the way, he reignites former passions (like skateboarding and hiking)—and those daydreams become more and more unnecessary.

This movie qualifies as a nice love letter to Kristen Wiig, who represents possibly the coolest onscreen love interest on 2013. Her Cheryl has a nice accessibility to go along with her beauty and humor; it’s no wonder Walter has a crush. Stiller and Wiig have genuine chemistry, and Wiig’s performance here has none of her more zany comic tendencies.

Penn is downright incredible in his one scene, and Patton Oswalt shines as an eHarmony consultant who is so friendly that he could only be found in a movie. Shirley MacLaine (who will be at the McCallum Theatre later this month) is mighty convincing as Walter’s mom—no easy feat, considering most of us are acutely aware that Stiller’s mom is Anne Meara.

There’s nothing forced in Stiller’s depiction of Walter, and nothing jarring about the transition as he comes out of his shell. When we find out some of the reasons Walter lapsed into a life of daydreaming rather than dream fulfillment, Walter becomes a complete character rather than the fleeting representation from Thurber’s story.

Stiller’s performance varies between subtle and extremes, with most of those extremes happening in the daydreams. In the quieter moments, this is the sort of well-modulated performance that ranks with his work in The Royal Tenenbaums and Flirting With Disaster. He’s also a pretty good skateboarder; that’s really him riding at quite high speeds down a mountain road in Iceland.

Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh deserves major kudos for his stunning work here. Also notable is the soundtrack, with a roster of artists like David Bowie, Of Monsters and Men, and Arcade Fire; it truly bolsters the viewing experience.

The message Stiller is delivering is obvious: Many of our daydreams can be just a hop, skip and skateboard away from being realities. With its simple message elegantly and majestically portrayed, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of 2013’s best movies.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Salton Sea area’s Salvation Mountain was handmade by folk artist Leonard Knight.

That is right—handmade. By himself. Every single line of paint, every tree limb, every handmade flower on the walls, every “Jesus” written on the side of the 50-foot-tall mountain—all of it.

Originally from the East Coast, Knight came out here to fly a balloon across the United States that he had made in the name of God, but the materials kept rotting. So Knight moved on to his new project and began to use what natural and materials were available to him. Using adobe clay, hay, water, found objects (such as tires and car parts) and—according to Leonard—a lot of faith, he built this gigantic tribute to God in the 1980s, epitomized by the words "God is Love" standing out underneath a giant cross at the top.

Both religious and nonreligious people's faces light up when they visit his creation out here in the desert, on the southeastern side of the Salton Sea near Niland—and if they’ve had a chance to meet Leonard, they seem to each have a story. He has received visitors from all over the world—and that number only increased when the film Into the Wild came out in 2007. In real life, the subject of the story, Chris McCandless, had spent some time with him; later, Sean Penn, the director of the film, got Knight to make an appearance in the film.

Today, Leonard Knight no longer lives onsite. He is turning 83 this year and has been living in El Cajon since December 2011. Knight had slept in a small trailer near the mountain, with no heating or air conditioning, no running water and no electricity, since 1984. In the summer, day time lows can hover around 95 degrees, and highs can hover around 115 for weeks on end. It can also get insanely humid.

Bob Levesque, of Salvation Mountain Inc.—a nonprofit organization tasked with preserving Knight’s work and legacy—says that Knight’s health has declined rapidly in the last two years. Knight lower left leg had to be amputated due to a blood clot, for example.

However, the news is not all bad: He underwent a much-needed operation on his cataracts, and he can properly see again. In fact, he is planning a visit to Salvation Mountain at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 19. If his health permits, for the first time in nearly 20 years, he will be able to see his mountain in full color.

The massive lifestyle change—from living independently at his mountain, to living in the El Cajon home—must have been quite the shock to his system.

“He made attempts to pay someone to smuggle him out and drop him off at the mountain,” Levesque says. “We, of course, didn't let this happen, as his health would not allow him to stay. After his amputation is when he finally realized he was at the best place he could be. He now tells Dan (Westfall, the Salvation Mountain board of directors president), ‘The kids here are taking good care of me, and I like it here.’”

In the meantime, the folks at Salvation Mountain Inc. are trying to figure out the best ways to maintain the site. Knight’s majestic mountain is not immune to the desert sun and heat, and is in need of repairs and constant maintenance. Throughout the cooler part of the year, the board organizes monthly work parties, and the members hope to attract more participants this fall.

The organization is accepting applications from people who wish to be onsite managers. So far, applicants have preferred short-term commitments.

“Weare planning to continue recruiting and fill the schedule with any qualified candidates for however long they can stay,” Levesque says. “I guess this will keep us truly living by faith. So far, we haven't had any lapses in coverage, but at times, the coverage is a local baby sitter who fills in when someone goes away.”

Managers receive a stipend and are supplied with “water, ice, solar, DSL and waste removal. For the right candidates, we may also be able to offer living quarters, but prefer if they have their own RV,” Levesque says.

The charity relies heavily on donations.

“The generosity of hundreds of people has helped maintain funds in our account so we can offer a stipend to onsite managers and buy supplies and other needed items. Most of all funding comes directly from the donation box at the mountain, but we also have been receiving donations via PayPal online and through private donations.”

Meanwhile, Salvation Mountain is worth visiting. In Knight’s words: “I just really believe that God built this mountain, that I didn’t. I am not really capable, especially being an artist, of doing anything, but God Almighty can do anything.”

For more information or to donate, visit www.salvationmountain.org, or www.facebook.com/SalvationMountainIncBoardOfDirectorsSite. To receive an application form to become an onsite manager, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Features

I really hate Gangster Squad, even though it has some of my favorite actors in it.

An all-star cast including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn and Josh Brolin play dress-up in this lame, fictional retelling of the Los Angeles war on organized crime in the late 1940s.

Sean Penn plays criminal kingpin Mickey Cohen, who had a pretty crazy life—but you won’t see that life in this dopey movie. Here, Brolin’s cop enlists a group of lawmen to go underground and beat the criminals, and it's basically all made up.

I’m OK with some artistic license, but this one goes a little too far. It wants to be new Untouchables, but it isn’t nearly as exciting or fascinating. And it boasts terrible performances from the normally reliable Gosling and Penn. They chew the scenery like it was made of their favorite chocolate, and the voice Gosling employs for his part is maddening.

Avoid this at all costs. It’s a dog.

Special Features: There’s a director’s commentary, some deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes stuff that you will hopefully never see, because you will heed my advice and avoid this at all costs.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The release date of Gangster Squad was delayed after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, due to a scene depicting violence in a movie theater. That scene, which was featured in the trailer, has been removed.

Well, they should’ve scrapped the whole picture. This movie is a mess.

Gangster Squad depicts a fictional account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “under the table” efforts to remove gangster Mickey Cohen (played here by a truly awful Sean Penn) from power. While next to nothing in this movie actually happened, I can forgive a little artistic license when it comes to a gangster pic.

What I can’t forgive is cartoon caricatures, terrible performances, a misguided directorial tone and a crappy screenplay.

The film is set in 1949 Los Angeles, where Cohen has a firm grip on organized crime and the cops. Well-meaning LAPD Chief Parker (a typically grizzly Nick Nolte) tells brave Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to leave his badge at home; gather a squad of badasses; and disrupt Cohen’s operations.

The squad includes soft-voiced Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), an officer who plays with his lighter a lot. There’s also the brainiac (Giovanni Ribisi) who will spend much of the movie wearing headphones and tinkering with things.

There’s the knife-wielding officer, Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), who will throw a knife at someone’s hand in a crowded nightclub, even though he’s a cop and probably shouldn’t be doing things like that. And, finally, there’s the comic-book hero (Robert Patrick) and his sidekick (Michael Peña), two wisecracks who are great with their guns.

Director Ruben Fleischer is shooting for an authentic late-’40s gangster-film feel, he but achieves something more akin to parody. The film feels like a bunch of usually decent actors are playing dress-up with their toy guns; they all seem lost.

Emma Stone wastes her time as perhaps the film’s most-bizarre character. She is Cohen’s etiquette coach (rather than making her a straight-up hooker), somebody who is sleeping with a monster and then two-timing him with Gosling’s Wooters.

Good luck trying to make that character sympathetic. They dress Stone in heavy makeup and flashy dresses, and feed her terrible dialogue. She’s completely wrong for the role, although I would have a hard time picking somebody right for it.

Penn has chewed scenery before (I Am Sam, Casualties of War). This time out, he doesn’t just chew the scenery; he’s a freaking wood-chipper. I appreciate Penn as an actor, but sometimes—just sometimes—he can be terrible. This is one of those times.

Regrettably, the usually reliable Gosling is just as bad, and perhaps worse. He decides to utilize a voice that makes him sound like a 12 year-old kid doing a lame James Cagney impersonation. It’s bad to the point of distraction, as is his action of constantly flipping his lighter. We get it, Ryan Gosling … you learned how to flip your lighter, ’40s style. Now knock it off.

Gangster Squad lacks originality, a sense of purpose, style, class, Michael Keaton (although it feels like his Johnny Dangerously character could pop out any moment) and a basic overall reason for being. The problem wasn’t the violent movie-theater scene they had to excise. The whole damn thing stinks. 

Gangster Squad is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews