CVIndependent

Thu07092020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Robert De Niro delivers a good performance in The Comedian, a film from director Taylor Hackford that doesn’t match the great actor’s prowess.

De Niro plays Jackie Burke, an aging standup comedian dealing with a TV-sitcom past he isn’t too proud of. De Niro does a nice job playing a Don Rickles-type old-school comedian. He’s not entirely hilarious, but he’s convincing in his standup sequences. He’s also good when Jackie is off stage being an ornery bastard.

The film lets him down in its handling of modern-day things like viral videos and reality TV. Hackford’s take on modern media is woefully out of touch, and De Niro finds himself stranded in some rather ridiculous, tone-deaf scenes.

Leslie Mann is her usual great self as a younger woman Jackie winds up trying to romance; the two actually make a convincing almost-but-not-quite couple. Harvey Keitel is a little overbearing as Mann’s dad, but Danny DeVito scores as Jackie’s bemused brother; it’s the best work he’s done on the big screen in many years.

For everything that works in this movie, there are two things that don’t, so De Niro’s solid work is ultimately wasted. There are lots of cameos from standups like Richard Belzer, Hannibal Buress, Brett Butler and Jimmie Walker.

Yes … Jimmie Walker is still alive.

The Comedian is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Oh, those marketing people can be so deceiving.

From the previews, Youth looks like Cocoon minus the glowing aliens—a goofy-old-coot movie with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel leering at ladies in the swimming pool and complaining about their prostates.

Actually, Youth is far from being anything like Cocoon, and with the exception of some darkly humorous laughs—and, yes, a couple of prostate jokes—it’s not something I would classify as a comedy.

Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino isn’t interested in pleasantries or pulling punches. His movie is a brutal, almost dangerously honest take on artists growing old. It’s also a little bit crazy at times—to the point where I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if crazy aliens sprang up from the bottom of the swimming pool.

Caine, in one of the best and most quietly understated performances of his career, plays retired composer Fred Ballinger. Fred is on holiday at a dreamy Switzerland resort with his daughter and assistant, Lena (Rachel Weisz, delivering the goods), and his film-director friend, Mick Boyle (Keitel, reminding you that he is still awesome).

Lena’s husband dumps her for a vacuous pop star who performs miracles in bed, sending her into a tailspin and giving Fred something else to worry about besides the miniscule level of pee traveling through his urethra. Mick, working on a film that doesn’t yet have an ending, remains a positive force for Fred, even though he’s become forgetful.

Representing the younger side of the artistic trade would be Jimmy Tree (the great Paul Dano), a popular actor preparing for a big role. Jimmy has done his share of art films, but most people remember him for his role as a robot—something about which people remind him during nearly every instance of human contact.

I used the word “brutal” up above, and I’m going to use the word again: This movie is bru-tal. When Fred finally lets an emissary for the queen know what he really thinks about her offer of knighthood, it’s one nasty exchange. When Lena gives her dad the what-for during a mud bath, the world stops. When Jimmy meets Miss Universe, and she brings up that damned robot, watch out. As far all-time screamers, the revelation of the role for which Jimmy is preparing is quite the shocker.

The beauty of Sorrentino’s film is that these brutal moments are handled in nuanced, subdued fashion. His script is eloquent, intelligent and often heartbreaking. Many of these characters will not have happy endings.

As an aging actress who has a caustic message for Mick, Jane Fonda shows up late in the movie and delivers one of the greatest scenes of her career. Fonda and Keitel sparring is as scary and punishing as anything in Creed.

Adding to the wonderful dialogue is the score by David Lang that is every ounce as beautiful as the stunning camerawork by Luca Bigazzi. Sorrentino is apparently a big Fellini fan, something evident in the film’s finale.

Paolo Sorrentino is only 45 years old. This meditation on aging seems to be coming from somebody who has logged at least 75 years on the planet—but he’s not even 50. That makes his achievement all the more impressive—although there are many 75-year-olds who might tell Sorrentino to cheer up a little bit, and that getting older isn’t always as dour as this film makes it out to be.

As for the finale, Youth finishes with either a crowning moment for Fred, or his worst nightmare, depending upon how you choose to take it in. The final look in Caine’s eyes says it all for me.

Youth is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

It’s not a good thing when Vanilla Ice is the best thing in your movie.

His Ice-ness shows up in The Ridiculous 6 as a hip-hop Mark Twain in Adam Sandler’s latest blunder—and Vanilla Ice squeezes a few laughs out of the moment. This Western pile of shit manages a few other giggles, most notably Harvey Keitel’s headless body shooting its own decapitated head, and a rattlesnake nibbling on Will Forte’s ear. Other than that, it’s quite the slog.

Make that a two-hour slog.

Director Frank Coraci, responsible for other Sandler abominations such as Blended, should’ve streamlined this sucker. The four-or-five-laugher would’ve felt more potent with a solid 30 minutes lopped off. As is, the jokes go on way too long—and too much crap that would’ve been edited out of even the worst Sandler films makes it into the final cut.

Sandler plays Tommy, aka White Knife, an orphan boy raised by Native Americans. He finally meets his outlaw dad (Nick Nolte … I’m beginning to really hate this guy) when he’s all grown up. Mere moments after meeting him, daddy is kidnapped, and Tommy sets out on a mission to raise the funds to spring him loose.

Along the way, Tommy discovers dad was quite mischievous and sired five other brothers, played by Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson and, most regrettably, Taylor Lautner. They form the Ridiculous 6, the lamest gang to hit movie screens this year.

The film is at its best when dealing with Forte’s Will Patch and his outlaw gang. A sequence during which Steve Zahn has to scoop one of his eyeballs out with a spoon is good for a giggle, as is a moment when the gang is buried up to their necks and attacked by ants, lizards and snakes.

The film is at its worst when it allows Lautner, playing a simple boy, to speak. This film should mark the end of his career. Actually, it would be nice if this marked the end of Sandler’s career as well, but he has three more films on his Netflix deal, so we are in for more cinematic hell.

The Ridiculous 6 is an original film released on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Ari Folman, the director behind the stunning animated documentary Waltz With Bashir, has delivered something altogether different with his latest, The Congress.

It’s two sort-of-connected movies in one. On one hand, it’s an effective satire of the current and future state of movies and acting. On the other, it’s an existential (and animated) meditation on identity, technology and life.

Both parts are good, but I was a little more interested in the first, live-action part, which deals with an aging actress getting a very strange offer.

Robin Wright, playing a fictionalized version of herself, is in her mid-40S, an age at which Hollywood normally starts turning its back on “B-grade” female stars. She’s never truly blossomed into the bona fide movie star her agent (Harvey Keitel) and studio head (Danny Huston) thought she would become based on her work in The Princess Bride.

The studio comes up with a plan that will return her to her youthful glory—and ensure that she will never need to truly act again: The executives offer Robin one final contract, which requires that her body and emotions get scanned for future use. The contract guarantees that she will never be portrayed as older than her early 30s, and that she won’t appear in porn, along with a few other conditions. In return, Robin can no longer appear in movies, plays, commercials, game shows, etc., unless they are Miramount projects. Her whole being will become the property of Miramount Studios.

Wow, right? This is a great premise for dark comedy, in which Wright is placed in all sorts of strange movies beyond her control. She rides off into the sunset with some big paycheck, and the acting profession, as we know it, dies.

Ultimately, that’s not where The Congress takes us. Instead, the film is more interested in messing with one’s brain regarding the overall state of humanity and identity, rather than just telling the story of actors and actresses losing their gigs.

After a mind-blowing sequence in which Robin is scanned into a computer, the action jumps forward 20 years, when her contract requires an extension. We see Robin in an action/sci-fi film in which she is blowing up robots. (Films at this time play on blimps in the sky rather than in theaters.) A trip to the studio now requires her to snort a hallucinogenic drug and become animated. She does this—and the movie delves into trippy, deep animation mode.

She attends some sort of bizarre, gigantic rally—sort of like an Apple event on animated steroids—during which the audience finds out Robin’s likeness can be consumed via their favorite beverages the next day. In other words, fans can actually become Robin rather than just watching her on big screens. She has become nothing but a product.

All of this is interesting, even when the film tries to go spiritually deep. In some ways, Folman can be faulted for passing up an opportunity for biting satire—but he actually does achieve biting satire for a good portion of the film. He just lets it go in favor of a more universal subject in the ambitious, animated second half.

Robin interacts with a bunch of virtual images, including those of Tom Cruise, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. She also gets a love interest who looks a bit like Clive Owen, but is voiced by Jon Hamm. In both Robin’s “real” and animated worlds, the one constant presence is her ill son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his special kites. It’s hard to explain; you just need to see it.

Wright is extraordinary and positively luminescent in a film that questions her relevance in not only the acting world, but the world in general. Huston and Keitel provide good, nasty humor before the film goes animated/existential (although Huston’s likeness does appear as a villainous presence in the animation).

The Congress might be a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s successful in much of what it attempts. It’s also the kind of showcase Robin Wright richly deserves.

The Congress is available via video on demand and online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Wes Anderson does it again with The Grand Budapest Hotel, another unique, beautiful and quirky movie that could’ve only been made by him. The man has never made a bad movie—and this one stands as one of his best.

In a performance that must be remembered come awards time, Ralph Fiennes is magically hilarious as M. Gustave, the concierge at the fictional hotel named in the film’s title. Gustave has a penchant for older women—much older women—and his life takes a drastic turn when he is suspected in the murder of an elderly lover (Tilda Swinton in heavy makeup).

Stolen art, scary train rides and a high-speed chase on skis ensue, with Anderson even employing stop-motion animation at times, as he did with Fantastic Mr. Fox. The movie is often laugh-out-loud funny, largely thanks to Fiennes, who nails every piece of dialogue. His is the best performance by any actor so far in 2014.

Supporting performances by Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan and many others make this a-can’t miss film.

This is a remarkable, tremendously enjoyable achievement, and will stand as one of the year’s best films.

Special Features: Anderson films often get a rushed home-video release, which is later followed by a more-extensive package from the Criterion Collection. That seems to be the case here: This one features a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and little else.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Writer-director Wes Anderson does it again with The Grand Budapest Hotel, another wholly unique, beautiful, quirky movie that could’ve only been made by him.

In a performance that must be remembered come awards time, Ralph Fiennes is magically hilarious as M. Gustave, the concierge at the fictional hotel named in the film’s title. Gustave has a penchant for older women—much older women—and his life takes a drastic turn when he is suspected in the murder of an elderly lover (Tilda Swinton in super-heavy makeup). Stolen art, scary train rides and a high-speed chase on skis ensue, with Anderson even employing stop-motion animation at times, as he did with Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Supporting performances by Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan and many others make this a can’t-miss film.

There’s something so joyous and fun about the way Anderson makes movies. This is a remarkable, tremendous enjoyable achievement.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615); the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 760-323-4466); and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews