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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Shia LaBeouf returns with a vengeance in Amazon’s Honey Boy, offering both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy!

Directed with great strength by Alma Har’el, the film covers different stages in Shia’s career, including as a young boy (Noah Jupe) and a young adult (Lucas Hedges). LaBeouf sets out to basically show how he had a … well, let’s call it an offbeat upbringing. His father, represented by a character named James Lort and played by Shia, is at once inspirational and terribly abusive—a quirky, angry guy who torments young Shia (named Otis in the movie) as a means of forcing the kid into stardom.

LaBeouf is funny/scary here, while Jupe and Hedges keep proving they are two of the best young actors on the planet.

LaBeouf had a solid year in 2019; may he have many more to come.

Honey Boy is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Lucas Hedges continues to establish himself as one of his generation’s best actors as a young gay man forced into conversion therapy by his Baptist parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) in Boy Erased, an adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir.

Hedges plays Jared (a character based on Conley), a college student who, after a horrible event on campus, reveals to his parents that he “thinks about men.” This sends his parents into a religious panic, and they send him to a facility where a shifty preacher/counselor (Joel Edgerton, who also directs and wrote the screenplay) tries to convince him that homosexuality is a sin and the wrong choice. Jared is forced to withstand psychological torture and gradually realizes that, despite his upbringing and the wishes of his parents, he’s gay—and no amount of bullshit preaching is going to change that.

Edgerton does a respectable job of keeping all of the characters based in reality; the crazed preachers and misguided parents have depth to them and aren’t reduced to caricature.

Kidman and Crowe are both very good, but the film’s main triumph is Hedges, who continues to amaze. The movie packs a wallop, and that’s due in large part to what Hedges brings to Jared.

Boy Erased is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033) and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Jonah Hill makes his feature-directing debut using his own script with Mid90s, the best movie ever made about skater culture—and a powerful film about familial dysfunction and the need for friendship.

Sunny Suljic (The House With a Clock in Its Walls) gives a breakout performance as Stevie, a kid living in a single-parent household with a head-case older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges). Stevie suffers massive beatings at the hands of Ian, and causes himself further pain with self-inflicted strangulation, skin burns and pressing on the bruises Ian created. In short … the kid has some major issues.

In search of some kind of identity, Stevie grabs himself a skateboard and starts hanging around some older kids at the skate shop. They include skaters nicknamed Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) and a younger kid simply named Ruben (Gio Galicia), because he hasn’t earned his nickname yet.

Stevie practices at night trying to do flips. He isn’t a natural, but he’s persistent. After a strange anecdote in a conversation circle, he earns the nickname Sunburn, and it sticks. He eventually becomes part of the group, and finds a less-crazy big-brother figure in Ray (Na-kel Smith), the group’s best skater, and an employee at the skate shop. Their kinship becomes the heart of the movie, especially when Ray becomes his sole stable influence as others in the group introduce Stevie to drinking, drugs and sex.

As Stevie’s social life takes off, his home life withers, including increasing violence from Ian and communication problems with mother, Dabney (Katherine Waterston of Alien: Covenant). Hill shows some beat-downs that are particularly brutal; you get a true sense that Ian is one strike away from killing his little brother. After suspecting her kid is taking drugs and drinking, Dabney marches Stevie into the skate shop and scolds the group … something the skaters take surprisingly well.

Hill does an expert job of showing how important skating and these new friends are to Stevie in his development. The director doesn’t shy away from the bad influences—influences present in just about every high-schooler’s life. Suljic proves to be the perfect pick for Stevie; he’s a solid young actor (he was also the best thing about Clock in Its Walls). He’s a short guy, but when he bests Ruben in a street fight, you believe he can take the bigger kid. He brings a lot of passion to the role.

Hedges, so damned good in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri and Manchester By the Sea (for which he earned an Oscar nomination), delivers the film’s best performance as the nightmare older brother. He’s a psycho, but he has a vulnerable side that’s fighting to break out behind his pained eyes. He makes a major mark in his few, strong scenes.

It’s abundantly clear that Hill possesses solid directorial chops. A scene in which Stevie goes into his brother’s room despite death threats is both foreboding and awe-inspiring (Ian keeps a mighty clean, ultra-organized room), and this is where Hill starts effectively using an excellent, moody score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. As solid as Hill’s directorial choices are, this movie wouldn’t be what it is without its score. It’s basically a character in the film.

Mid90s employs a gritty, documentary look, and while it shows some skating stunts, the actual skateboarding scenes don’t overwhelm the movie. They act more as vital flavoring. The crux of the story here is the bond between Stevie and his posse, and the strained relationships at home.

Hill, like his buddy Bradley Cooper with A Star Is Born, has given himself a solid start in the directorial world. I’m eagerly anticipating what he chooses to do next behind the camera.

Mid90s is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Greta Gerwig makes her solo directorial debut with Lady Bird, a semi-autobiographical look at her life growing up in Sacramento—and she immediately establishes herself as a directing force to be reckoned with.

Saoirise Ronan, who should’ve won an Oscar for Brooklyn, will likely get another chance for her turn as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, an artistic Sacramento youth who yearns for the East Coast and some distance from her domineering mom (Laurie Metcalf). This is a coming-of-age story like no other thanks to the insightful writing and brisk directorial style of Gerwig, who makes Lady Bird’s story consistently surprising.

Ronan’s Lady Bird is a rebel with a good heart—a theater geek who stinks at math—but she’s on an emotional rollercoaster. She also gets a lot of laughs, especially in her showdowns with Metcalf, who has never been better.

Lucas Hedges, on a roll after Manchester by the Sea and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is funny and sad as one of Lady Bird’s young love interests, while Odeya Rush is golden as Lady Bird’s best friend, Jenna. Tracy Letts is perfect as the nice dad dealing with warring factions in the household, while Timothée Chalamet (currently racking up awards for Call Me by Your Name) is perhaps the biggest laugh-getter as another love interest, the aloof Kyle.

Lady Bird is a triumph for Ronan and Gerwig, and while it would never happen, I’d love to see a sequel about Lady Bird’s college years.

Lady Bird is showing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Be prepared to get your heart ripped out by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea, one of the more emotionally powerful movie experiences of 2016.

Affleck plays Lee, who must return to his hometown and raise his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee is a true mess, and we learn through flashbacks what got him to his messed-up state. He’s battling some major past tragedies on top of his brother’s death, and there’s no telling how things will work out for him and Patrick. The flashbacks are brutal, revealing things that go beyond terrible; it’s no wonder Lee is having coping issues. Affleck has turned in good work before, but nothing like what he does in this film. He’s incredible.

Williams turns in a blistering performance as Lee’s ex-wife, and a scene Affleck and Williams share together is guaranteed to knock you on your ass, and will probably earn them both Oscar nominations.

Hedges is mighty good as the confused teen dealing with the loss of his dad and his somewhat strange uncle. Kenneth Lonergan directs from his own screenplay; he’s put together some kind of movie miracle.

Besides being so emotionally powerful that you might dehydrate from crying, this movie also has some big laughs in it. It is an instant classic.

Manchester by the Sea is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

In the latest from director Terry Gilliam, The Zero Theorem, Christoph Waltz plays a computer hacker “crunching entities” on a mission to prove that mankind essentially came from nothing—and will return to nothing.

I won’t say that Gilliam’s movie adds up to nothing in the end, but it becomes nonsensical, meandering mush after a promising, eye-catching beginning.

The movie has all of the watermarks of classic Gilliam films like Brazil and 12 Monkeys. The future is a claustrophobic place in which fluorescent colors replace the browns and grays of Brazil. There are also hoses and wires—lots and lots of hoses and wires.

There’s also another Big Brother-like corporation in the form of Mancom, for which Qohen Leth (Waltz) finds himself hopelessly employed. Forever sitting at a flashy computer console and manipulating numbers with what looks like a glorified PlayStation 4 controller, Qohen constantly complains to his supervisor, Joby (David Thewlis), that “we,” meaning he, is dying, and his work would be done better in the confines of his own, burned-out church home.

After a meeting with Management (Matt Damon in a funny white wig) at a party, Qohen’s wish is granted, and he’s allowed to work at home on the company’s Zero Theorem project—a project that has burned out many programmers before. As Qohen slowly goes crazy, he’s visited by Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and Management’s son, Bob (Lucas Hedges), in some sort of strange effort by Management to distract him.

Of course, Qohen falls in love with Bainsley, who gives him a strange virtual suit that allows them to visit a beachfront virtual world where they can eat whatever they want—and make out, too.

The film’s settings—from the bombed out church co-inhabited by pigeons, to the multicolored streets where digital billboards follow people and converse with them as they walk by—give Gilliam a chance to play in his masterful visual sandbox. He’s still got it when it comes to presenting strange worlds, even if it is obvious that some of his visions are a few special-effects dollars short. (Gilliam doesn’t command the budgets he once did.)

What he doesn’t have is a script that amounts to much. The screenplay, by Pat Rushin (his first feature, according to IMDb), has grand ideas, but it cops out in the end—and this is a movie in which the end really, really matters. What happens is actually very reminiscent of Brazil’s dark ending—Gilliam’s original cut, that is, and not that “Happily Ever After” mess that aired on TV.

Waltz is good here, acting hard with a script that abandons him slowly. It’s a fully dedicated performance that deserved a better movie. Thewlis has funny moments; his repairman “field trip” to Qohen’s home is reminiscent of the visits paid to Jonathan Pryce by Robert De Niro in Brazil.

Yes, The Zero Theorem is one of those films in which a great director rips himself off shamelessly, and almost gets away with it. It’s Gilliam’s best film since Fear and Loathing Las Vegas, although that’s not saying much, seeing as the interim has included stuff like the awful Tideland and mediocre The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Gilliam is trying to mount The Man Who Killed Don Quixote yet again, and I’m hoping the project finally comes to fruition. Perhaps a chance to revisit this subject—something he is so passionate about—will allow him to put together another masterpiece. He’s due for another one, and I think he’s got it in him.

The Zero Theorem represents a great director starting to warm up again. It’s a miss, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The Zero Theorem is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com. It also opens Friday, Sept. 19, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews