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.

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The decline of Tim Burton continues with Dumbo, his remake of the classic animated movie that amounts to a big zero—for kids and adults alike.

The original Dumbo clocked in at just a little more than an hour, while this one lasts for nearly two hours … and it feels like about 40. Yes, the running time has been padded, but not with anything beneficial. A bunch of unnecessary subplots and added characters take away time from the title character, an admittedly cute CGI achievement.

There are no talking animals in this movie, so remove Timothy the mouse, the singing crows, and the lullaby from the mama elephant off your list of expectations. The mouse (who makes a brief appearance, in a cage and wearing a hat) is replaced by the requisite precocious children, one of them played by Thandie Newton’s daughter. Sorry Thandie Newton’s daughter, but you can’t act, and you should either improve or consider another profession that requires you not to act.

Colin Farrell appears as Holt, the precocious children’s dad, back from World War I with one arm; his wife died of the flu while traveling with the circus. The circus is led by Max Medici (a blustery Danny DeVito), who has purchased a cheap, pregnant elephant. He wants Holt to be the keeper of his elephants, a demotion from his previous gig as a circus cowboy. Farrell, like most of the humans in this movie, seems lost.

V.A. Vandevere (played by Michael Keaton) is the villain of the film; he purchases Dumbo and plans to make him a main attraction at his Dreamland, which has a strong resemblance to Disneyland. So, in a way, Vandevere is modeled after Walt Disney, and is portrayed as an evil megalomaniac. Yes, Burton gets away with indirectly portraying Walt Disney as a greedy monster. I’m not saying this is inaccurate, but it’s a little odd to see in an actual Disney movie.

As for Keaton, he’s at his sneering worst in his movie, as if he was just put in front of the camera and told to act persnickety. It’s a shame, because seeing the man who was Batman in a movie by the guy who directed Batman could have been fun. Alas, it is not.

In the original, Dumbo flew in only a couple of scenes, for just a few seconds. Here, he has multiple flying scenes, which lessens the magic of the moments. Regrettably, the scene in the original in which Dumbo gets wasted and sees pink elephants is replaced by a lame bubble show—a dull homage to the original.

As much as I liked the original, I’ve always taken issue with the notion that anybody would give Dumbo a bunch of shit for having big ears. All elephants have big ears, do they not? The premise worked in a one-hour cartoon for kids, but it falls flat in a big-budget movie with real people walking around. The morality lesson at the core just doesn’t ring true. It feels corny.

Burton used to churn out one classic after another. However, his last great movie was 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and his career was severely tainted by his other Disney live-action reboot, Alice in Wonderland. Dumbo is actually worse than that Alice mess—proof that Burton needs to get far away from the mouse and closer to the weirdos who inspired the first half of his career. Jesus, make another Pee Wee movie before you deface any further Disney properties.

Dumbo is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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Writer-director Steve McQueen follows up his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave with Widows, an above-average thriller made very watchable thanks to a terrific performance by Viola Davis.

Davis plays Veronica, the wife of lifetime criminal Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). When Harry meets an untimely end, he leaves behind a nasty debt—and some nasty people want it paid back. Veronica hatches a plan to pull a heist, and she looks to the wives of Harry’s also-dead gang mates to help her out.

Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki are good as the other widows, while Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell steal scenes as father-and-son politicians. The plot is fairly standard, and you’ll see some of the “big twists” coming a mile away. That doesn’t keep the movie from being a sufficiently stylized, serviceable thriller that gives Davis her best vehicle in years.

Widows also costars Lukas Haas as a mysterious boyfriend, Daniel Kaluuya as a scary henchman and Carrie Coon in a throwaway role. This is not the sort of greatness one hopes for from McQueen, but it’s no mishap: It’s a good movie from a very good director.

Widows is playing at theaters across the valley.

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According to director Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled is not a remake of the 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood; it’s a new adaptation of the novel upon which both films are based.

Nicole Kidman stars as the leader of a Southern school for girls that is shut off from the rest of the world during the Civil War. While out searching for mushrooms, young Amy (Oona Laurence) finds a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) and leads him back to the school. As the man heals, the young students and teachers each have interactions with the soldier, and things eventually get, well, complicated.

Everybody in the movie delivers good work, especially Kidman as Miss Martha, a strict leader with risky compassion for the enemy soldier. Longtime Coppola collaborator Kirsten Dunst is on hand as a teacher who gets some extra attention from the stranger; she’s strong in her role, as usual. Other cast members include Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice and Addison Riecke.

The film eschews the usual Coppola soundtrack exuberance for something very quiet and slowly paced. The film works up to a boil, leading to a shocking climax; Coppola creates a true sense of claustrophobia and high tension.

This isn’t her best work, but it is good work, with excellent cinematography and art direction.

The Beguiled is playing at theaters across the valley.

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I was a little late to the Harry Potter party. I didn’t like the first movie (which was basically a bunch of kids who didn’t know how to act yet participating in a big costume pageant), but thought the second was really good, and loved the third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The series got a little inconsistent after Azkaban, but the character of Harry Potter rose above the mediocre moments delivered by director David Yates, who helmed the final four movies.

Well, Yates is back to helm the next chapter in the Potter Universe, a prequel called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the title of a textbook Harry studied at Hogwarts. The film takes place well before Harry’s time, as the world of wizardry comes to New York City in the 1920s.

Unfortunately, Beasts struggles with some of the same problems the first Harry Potter film had: It looks good sometimes, but the screenplay never takes hold. It’s all over the place, with no real sense of purpose other than setting up future movies.

In place of Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry, we get Eddie Redmayne’s Newt, author of the infamous textbook and caretaker of a variety of “fantastic beasts.” The film opens with him coming into New York toting a suitcase with a variety of beasts dying to get out.

Some of them do indeed escape—and wreak havoc, most notably a little platypus-looking thing called a niffler. There’s a fun moment when Newt opens his case and drops into it like it contains a staircase. It reveals a vast home for the creatures inside, where he feeds them and plays with them.

And … that’s it. The movie is a big setup for the occasional special-effects sequence involving Redmayne. The creatures might be relatively cool-looking, but none of them register as great characters that move the plot along.

Dan Fogler delivers the film’s best performance as Kowalski, a wannabe baker who winds up crossing paths with Newt while trying to get a bank loan. He’s a “muggle” dabbling in a non-muggle universe, and some of the film’s better moments come from Fogler’s reactions to crazy sights. He also has a little love story that’s sort of sweet.

Ezra Miller, currently The Flash in other movies, plays Credence Barebone, a suspiciously worried-looking fellow who has a nasty secret. Colin Farrell is on hand as an agent for a secret society seeking witches and wizards—and he also has a big secret. Of course, Johnny Depp also has a role in this new universe extension, one that will surely get bigger than his two-line appearance in this film.

There’s definitely joy in simply seeing the extended Potter universe come to life again, even if Harry isn’t present, and the film itself is somewhat of a dud. There are many more films to come in the series, with Yates already announced as the director of four more chapters to be released every other year. So, yes, there will be more movie wizardry, more beasts and another big wizard showdown. This time, expect a younger Dumbledore facing off against Depp’s character, who is a precursor to Voldemort.

Wait a minute … talking about all that cool future stuff is distracting. The matter at hand would be the current film, which is a bore. See it knowing that things will probably get more exciting in future chapters, and nifflers aren’t half as interesting as hippogriffs.

Also, maybe Yates should take a break and give somebody else a shot. Bringing back Alfonso Cuaron (director of Azkaban) would be a nice move. Yates has done well, but Beasts has proven that his approach might be getting a little stale.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is playing in a variety of formats in theaters across the valley.

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The Lobster is a completely brutal bit of satire. Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos gives us a world where being single is so frowned upon that you will be transformed into the animal of your choice if you don’t find a partner within an allotted time.

Colin Farrell stars as David, a recently dumped man who must stay at a hotel with his brother (who is also his dog) and find a new mate—otherwise, he’ll become a lobster. He eventually finds himself living in the woods with the leftover single people, all of whom must dodge daily hunting expeditions by people looking to extend their time before animal transformation. (The hunters earn extra days for every single person they bag.)

David eventually meets Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) among the singles, and he finds himself making some big decisions on how to start a relationship with her.

The film intentionally looks drab, with all of the actors delivering their lines with nearly no emotion. The effect is just plain nasty—a scathing indictment on a society that puts too much pressure on individuals to partner up. It’s often extremely funny, with an equal amount of necessary unpleasantness.

Simply said, The Lobster is one of those movies that you can call truly original. There’s nothing else like it.

The Lobster is now playing at the UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

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Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are charming as Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in this obviously whitewashed look at Disney’s attempt to get the movie rights to her book.

We all know that Disney succeeded, but many don’t know that Travers was quite the holdout. The movie splits time between the Disney/Travers business and Travers’ childhood, where we find out that much of Mary Poppins was based on her troubled father (Colin Farrell) and actual nanny.

B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are wonderful as the Sherman brothers, who made Mary a musical, much to the chagrin of Travers. The movie takes a lot of artistic license with the situation; even though Travers is depicted as difficult, she was far more adversarial in real life, and never approved of the movie. (Those animated penguins!)

Still, the film is much fun to watch, with Hanks and Thompson making it all very worthwhile and heartwarming. Shockingly, Thompson was super-snubbed when it came time to hand out Oscar nominations, as was Hanks. In fact, only Thomas Newman’s score received an Oscar nom from this film.

Special Features: Some deleted scenes are of interest, especially one between Hanks and Thompson when Travers has decided to leave without giving approval of the film adaptation. There’s also a cute scene of the real Richard Sherman leading the cast in a round of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Still, this package is a bit lacking. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are charming as Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in this obviously whitewashed look at Disney’s effort to get Travers’ approval to make a movie out of her book. Of course, most of us know he succeeded, but many don’t know that Travers was quite the holdout.

The movie splits time between the Disney/Travers business and Travers’ childhood, where we find out that much of Mary Poppins was based on her troubled father (Colin Farrell) and actual nanny. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are wonderful as the Sherman brothers, who made Mary into a musical, much to the chagrin of Travers.

The movie takes a lot of artistic license with the situation. Even though Travers is depicted as difficult here, she was far more adversarial in real life—and never approved of the movie. (Those animated penguins!) Still, the film is fun to watch, with Hanks and Thompson making it all very worthwhile and heartwarming.

Saving Mr. Banks is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Without a doubt, Seven Psychopaths is one of the best releases of 2012, and it further establishes writer-director Martin McDonagh as a creative force to be reckoned with.

McDonagh assembled a stellar cast, including Colin Farrell (who also starred in McDonagh’s brilliant In Bruges), Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson. Farrell plays Marty (a character McDonagh undoubtedly modeled upon himself), a screenwriter struggling through his latest project. His movie within the movie involves seven psychopaths, and the characters might—just might—be based upon people he actually knows.

McDonagh writes some of the funniest and most shocking dialogue out there, and he gets masterful performances from everybody involved, especially Walken and Rockwell. Walken is allowed to be as strange and eccentric as ever, while Rockwell gets his best role in years, allowing him to show off that funny, nasty charm that makes him unique.

A subplot involves Rockwell and Walken kidnapping a dog belonging to a crime boss for ransom, and it all leads up to a surprising, and violent, conclusion.

This one ranks with Barton Fink and Adaptation as one of the better films about the frustrations of writing.

Special Features: There are only a few short behind-the-scenes featurettes. The movie is great, but the features are disappointing.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing