CVIndependent

Fri08072020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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.

Published in Reviews

Between Two Ferns: The Movie gives a backstory to the terrific online acerbic talk show hosted by Zach Galifianakis—and while the whole thing is, frankly, unnecessary, the outtakes during the closing credits alone are enough to warrant a watch.

When Zach, doing his show in North Carolina, almost kills Matthew McConaughey due to a ceiling leak, Will Ferrell, his boss, sends him on a mission to tape a bunch of shows … or else. So Zach and his crew go on a road trip.

Yes, it’s a dumb premise, and not all of the jokes land, but the interviews with the likes of Paul Rudd and Tessa Thompson are a riot, and some non-show-related gags work. (I loved the moment when Zach checked his e mail on his laptop while driving at night.)

Ninety minutes of back-to-back Ferns interviews would’ve been better than this, but then we wouldn’t have the scene in which Zach and his crew steal Peter Dinklage’s Faberge eggs, so I guess I’m happy this exists.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A couple of years ago, there was talk of Ron Howard directing a big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. The film would act as an introduction to the Dark Tower universe, and was to be followed by a TV series. Javier Bardem was cast as Roland the Gunslinger, the main protagonist of King’s multi-novel series.

The original plan was jettisoned in favor of Idris Elba as Roland, and a relatively novice director in Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) at the helm in Howard’s place. (Howard took on producer’s duties.) The debut film’s budget was reduced to less than $70 million, a price you would normally see for a Hollywood rom-com, not the launch of what was proposed as an epic, blockbuster franchise.

As a result of all of this, this movie is a catastrophe, and a complete insult to fans of the books, fans of Matthew McConaughey, and fans of science fiction/fantasy. Oh hell, this thing insults everybody: It looks like a low-level episode of Doctor Who, and we’re talking schlocky, 1970s Doctor Who. It feels like they used the same soundstage for all of the interiors, and just repainted shit. The CGI is terrible; the pacing is ridiculously, unnecessarily fast; and the plotting is confusing for those who haven’t read the books. (I’ve never read the books, and after watching this, I don’t care to ever read them.)

The story involves some kid named Jake (Tom Taylor), a sad teenager who is gifted with “The Shine,” the psychic powers Danny had in King’s The Shining. He dreams of another world where there is a Dark Tower that acts as some sort of barrier between other dimensions, protecting planets like Earth from evil. He also dreams of a gunslinger (Elba) who is trying to kill the Man in Black.

No, it’s not Johnny Cash; the Man in Black is some sort of devil man played by McConaughey. His intention is to hunt people with the Shine, because their brains harness the power to shoot laser beams into the Dark Tower, thus destroying it and releasing goofy CGI monsters upon the Earth. Tom winds up traveling to something called the Mid-World, where he takes a brief hike with Roland, then winds up back on Earth in present-day New York City for some kind of apocalyptic battle.

Go ahead and badmouth me if I got any of this wrong; I assure you that is the best I could gather from this hackneyed, rushed, underwhelming production. There have been reports that this is, in fact, a sequel to King’s novels, and not a faithful beginning to the actual saga. I can’t report on the authenticity of such a report. I can just tell you that the movie sucks.

When considering the apparent scope of the novels, it’s a bit of a shocker that the film clocks in at 95 minutes. There is a definite sense that a lot of backstory and exposition has been removed in order to dumb things down and streamline the pace.

Elba growls intermittent dialogue, with his character amounting to nothing more than a shallow archetype. Also: If you are going to have a gunslinger with a Western motif, give him a cool hat. Elba, as always, looks cool, but something as simple as a hat would’ve made a little more sense in fleshing out the gunslinger character.

McConaughey roams from sloppy set to sloppier set, looking lost and perhaps even a little pissed that he signed on for this garbage. He’s not all that bad; he’s just given next to nothing notable to do.

There are still some sketchy plans to follow up this film with a TV series. Whatever the plan is, producers need to scrap it and start over a few years from now, when the memory of this unfortunate cinematic event has subsided.

The Dark Tower is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

You have to give Matthew McConaughey an “A” for effort for Gold, which is “loosely based on a true story.” McConaughey not only stars as wannabe gold magnate Kenny Wells; he also co-produced the movie, thinned his hair, put in some weird teeth and gained weight for the role.

Sadly, maximum effort doesn’t result in an optimized return for Gold. The movie is an uneven, confused endeavor, and McConaughey winds up looking like a guy, normally in really good shape, who messed himself up for a few months to shoot a movie. He doesn’t look real, like Robert De Niro did when he destroyed his physicality for Raging Bull. He just looks slightly out of shape and made up. Even if McConaughey looked truly messed up, Gold would still be a mess—albeit a sometimes entertaining mess.

Wells is a fictional character, and the film is based loosely upon the Bre-X gold scandal of the 1990s. The original scandal was based in Canada, while director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) brings this story to the U.S.

McConaughey goes full-throttle as Wells, owner of a prospecting business in Reno, Nev., who is looking for that one strike that will make him legendary. He comes across a renowned explorer, Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who has the ties and ingenuity to mine unsearched parts of Indonesia. Kenny pawns his watch and goes into business with Acosta.

This is where the movie gets a little sketchy. There are a lot of shots with Wells flying around to different locations like Indonesia and New York. There’s a substantial sequence in which Wells runs around the jungle with Acosta and gets ill, and another that deals with the business/stock-exchange ramifications of Kenny’s dealings. It all becomes a bit much—it’s too hard to keep track of, yet too routine to distinguish itself.

In the end, the film plays out like The Wolf of Wall Street minus most of the fun, but not minus the McConaughey. (He’s in both!) It’s the same basic plot: A headstrong guy tries to take the fast track to big riches and gets his butt kicked in the end. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t feature Kenny Wells trying to get into his car after taking a bunch of slow-release Quaaludes.

Bryce Dallas Howard, who has had a terrible year with this and that god-awful Pete’s Dragon remake, plays Kenny’s long-suffering girlfriend, a role that utilizes absolutely none of her talents. She shows up every now and then looking mildly frustrated, than disappears for large swaths of the story.

The film’s (partial) saving grace is McConaughey, who remains fully committed to the role and makes Wells an engaging character, even when the events swirling around him are confusing and unoriginal. The movie is almost worth seeing to watch a good actor giving it his all.

As for the storytelling, there’s nothing new here, and the big twist isn’t a surprise at all. The movie wants to be a jungle-adventure movie and business adventure all in one, and the two don’t meld together well. The movie winds up feeling like four or five movies mushed together.

While it’s hard to feel bad for an Oscar-winning actor, it is a bit depressing to see one of the good ones do all of this—for naught. Gold is not worth the strain he must’ve put on his cardiovascular system, although I’m sure he had some fun nights pounding milk shakes and burgers.

Gold is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

From the makers of ParaNorman and Coraline comes Kubo and the Two Strings, another stop-motion wonder that’s a fantastically fun combination of puppetry and CGI. It’s the best animated film I’ve seen so far this year.

The title character is a young boy (an amazingly expressive creation voiced by Art Parkinson) who must go on a quest to deal with a nasty family war that has claimed the lives of his parents. He searches for a suit of armor needed to combat his evil granddad (Ralph Fiennes … of course). He’s assisted on his quest by a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle (Matthew McConaughey, in his first animated film).

The visuals are constantly breathtaking; the writing is often very clever and funny; and the message is sweet and enduring. As with some of the Laika studio’s past creations, some sequences might be too much for the young ones, but it’s nothing the average 8-year-old can’t handle.

Special Features: They include an audio commentary from the director, and a solid making-of doc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Confederate army medic, decides he’s had enough—and deserts. He returns to Mississippi, where his people are being harassed by looting soldiers. He winds up in the swamps with escaped slaves, where they form a pact—and eventually create a militia to rebel against the Confederacy.

Free State of Jones is based on a true story, and director Gary Ross definitely shows the brutality and terrors of the Civil War. McConaughey is powerful in the central role, as is Mahershala Ali as Moses, leader of the escaped slaves.

However, the film stumbles a bit when it tries to do a little too much: There are courtroom scenes taking place 85 years after the Civil War, when a relative of Knight’s is in a civil rights dispute. These scenes feel completely out of place, and they sort of muck up the film’s ending; things just come to an awkward stop. It’s too bad, because the movie winds up being merely good instead of great.

The battle scenes are harrowing; the tensions are frightening and real; and there’s not a bad performance in the lot. Yet because Ross has overstuffed the film, aspects like the rise of the KKK are almost glossed over.

This project, with its dual storylines and many plot points, probably would’ve worked better as an extended series on HBO. Still, it’s worth seeing for McConaughey and Ali.

Free State of Jones is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Upon revisiting Interstellar on Blu-ray, I would like to make the following observation: Matt Damon kicks mortal ass in this movie.

Yes, I know, most of the hubbub involving this film focuses on the Matthew McConaughey performance, and whether or not the science ideas hold up. For me, the most startling aspect of this flick is when Damon shows up deep in the picture and fucks things up, old-school.

I didn’t necessarily buy what director Christopher Nolan and his cronies were trying to postulate about wormholes and space travel. However, I did thoroughly enjoy Interstellar thanks to the work of the special-effects crew, the performances and, yes, Matt Damon playing a total douchebag.

I had completely forgotten Damon was in Interstellar when I watched it the first time, so when he showed up as a scientist who was waking up from what he thought would be his final nap, I was blindsided. This time out, I was prepared and able to focus on his work from the very beginning. Damon is a rock star.

Did you know Steven Spielberg was originally set to direct his movie? If he had, it would’ve probably had a John Williams score and a whole other vibe. Instead, Nolan made a good movie that makes you think—a good movie that makes you think Matt Damon kicks ass!

Special Features: There’s a nearly hour long documentary about the science of the film narrated by McConaughey. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The latest from writer-director Christopher Nolan is a triumphant piece of movie-making, a science-fiction film that travels outside the lines.

In the future, Earth is getting swallowed up by dust; all the crops are dying; and the Yankees really suck. (Wait…that’s true now!) Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a farmer and former test pilot, is raising his two children after the death of his wife. He and his young daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), discover a strange site that just happens to be the remnants of NASA, where an old scientist (Michael Caine) is in the middle of a plan to save the human race.

Cooper eventually winds up on a mission to enter a wormhole and explore distant planets, looking for their ability to sustain life. However, there’s a major drawback: Time gets all warped during space travel, and the slightest delay will cost him many years back on Earth.

The movie gets a little crazy and farfetched, and possesses more than its share of plot holes. I don’t care. It’s a terrific viewing experience that made me think, even if it is a little crazy.

Nolan wrote the film with his brother Jonathan, and they came up with some ideas that seem quite impossible, perhaps illogical. Yet within the context of this sprawling, great movie, it all works just fine. The film offers many great surprises, performances and brain-teasing concepts. It’s also weird and insane, and I love it for that. The result: Interstellar is an all-time-great science-fiction film.

Interstellar is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Banshee (Friday, Jan. 10, Cinemax), season premiere: If you haven’t yet seen the first season of Banshee, do so—it’s a 10-episode rush of gonzo-pulp mayhem that defies reason, and yet it somehow still works, like a visceral mash-up of Justified, Twin Peaks, Fight Club and some sexy number you’d see much later in the night on Cinemax. You’d sprain something if you jumped in on Season 2 tonight. Go ahead; The Only TV Column That Matters™ will be here, waiting.

Shameless (Sunday, Jan. 12, Showtime), season premiere: Fiona (Emmy Rossum) and her job may finally have the family “creeping up on the poverty line,” but all is not yet well in Gallagher world: Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is finding college tougher than he thought; Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) and Debbie (Emma Kenney) have become hormonal-teen assholes; Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is still missing; and, even worse, Frank (William H. Macy) has been found and returned—and he’s learned a few … new ways … to get alcohol into his body now that he can’t drink. Four seasons in, Shameless has yet to run out of ways to simultaneously delight and disgust. Once more: Forget Modern Familythis is America’s family.

True Detective (Sunday, Jan. 12, HBO), series debut: Show creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto has set up True Detective as an anthology series that would introduce a new setting and cast every season—so he probably screwed himself by producing such an incredible first run, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turning in some of their most intense performances to date. The pair play disparate detectives (Harrelson’s Martin Hart is a linear-thinking traditionalist; McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is hyper-smart profiler with a penchant for unsettling spiels about the futility of existence) investigating an occult-style murder in 1995 Louisiana. The twist is, the two are telling the story from their own viewpoints in 2012, being interviewed by police about a similar recent killing. Even with the time shifts, True Detective is seamless and riveting, more of an extended indie film than a crime series. If you see only one TV show this year, 1. Why are you on this page, snobby? And, 2. Make it True Detective.

Bitten (Monday, Jan. 13, Syfy), series debut: Welcome back to Gorgeous Supernatural Creatures Just Trying to Fit in Mondays, with returning series Lost Girl and Being Human, and new Syfy entry Bitten—for those keeping score, that’s a succubus, a vampire, a ghost and now three werewolves. Bitten stars Laura Vandervoort (Smallville) as a werewolf who’s split acrimoniously from her beardy-man pack to live the “normal” life of an urbanite—who has to strip down and wolf-out in the woods on occasion. Like Lost Girl and Being Human, Bitten looks like it was shot for $1,000 over the weekend in Vancouver, but it doesn’t achieve the deft humor/drama mix of either—so it piles on the sex scenes. Prediction: Hit.

Archer, Chozen (Monday, Jan. 13, FX), season premiere, series debut: As we—and they—learn in the first episode of Season 5, Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and the International Secret Intelligence Service have been causing global havoc for years without the sanction of the U.S. government, thus setting up a season-long arc with the on-the-lam spy gang attempting to unload a ton of cocaine before Pam (Amber Nash) ingests it all, because, you know, Archer. Moving the show to Mondays seems like an equally suicidal mission, but at least FX finally has a semi-worthy animated companion in Chozen, the story of a gay white ex-con rapper on a mission; it’s from the minds behind Archer and Eastbound and Down. It’s half-baked, but Chozen is at least good enough to beat off the competition … phrasing.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR JAN. 14!

Army of the Damned

Followed by reality-TV cameras, a police chief (Sully Erna—yes, the singer of Godsmack) and his men battle a small-town zombie outbreak. Also starring rassler Tommy Dreamer, porn star Jasmin St. Claire and … Joey Fatone?! (Screen Media)

Carrie

An outcast high-schooler (Chloë Grace Moretz) with telekinetic powers gets revenge-y at her prom, and the Liberal Media blames it on her religious mother (Julianne Moore). Based on a book, movie and first-person shooter. (MGM)

Riddick

In the third and final (?) installment of the series, Riddick (Vin Diesel) finally decides to get the hell off of the stupid desert planet (good call) and sends a signal to the mercenaries out to capture/kill him (bad call). Oh, and now he has a pet! (Universal)

You’re Next

A gang of ax-wielding killers take a rich family hostage in their home, and it’s up to a 98-pound houseguest (Sharni Vinson) to save everyone from the animal-masked assailants. Surprise! They all die. (Lionsgate)

More New DVD Releases (Jan. 14)

A.C.O.D., Big Sur, Enough Said, Fresh Meat, Fruitvale Station, Gasland Part II, Getting That Girl, How to Make Money Selling Drugs, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Short Term 12, A Single Shot, The Spectacular Now, 20 Feet From Stardom, Voodoo Possession.

Published in TV

The Palm Springs International Film Festival kicked off over the weekend with some of the fest's biggest events.

On Friday, Jan. 3, the Opening Night Gala Screening, featuring the film Belle, took place at Palm Springs High School. And on Saturday was the biggest event of all: The Black Tie Awards Gala, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the awards affair:

The Palm Springs International Film Festival gala or, as Tom Hanks called it, "This little, intimate, Sonny Bono rec-room chicken dinner get-together for two-and-a-half-thousand people," took place Saturday night. Meryl Streep picked up an award. So did Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Bruce Dern and Matthew McConaughey, among others.

And though they were all seated within a few feet of one another in the airport-hangar-sized Palm Springs Convention Center, these Hollywood stars were more or less allowed to eat their pot-roast dinner in peace.

That's because Bono was in the house.

That's Bono, the singer from the Irish rock band U2, not Mary Bono, the widow of another singer named Bono—Sonny, the man who started the film festival 25 years ago when he was mayor of Palm Springs.

The Independent was there; here are just a few pictures from the events. And watch CVIndependent.com all week for more coverage of the festival. Enjoy!

Published in Snapshot

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