CVIndependent

Sat04042020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Bob Grimm

The Hunt, the little B movie that can’t seem to catch a break, finally got released to theaters … in the midst of a national emergency.

The results: Not surprisingly, very few people risked COVID-19 in an effort to see it sitting next to people!

Originally set for release last year, the film was postponed until 2020 due to its violent nature—and the fact that a cluster of mass shootings had occurred at the time. So the studio picked the safe haven of March for a release, only to have those plans foiled by Mr. Beer Virus.

Straight up, this is a fun B movie, but it certainly would’ve benefited from a limited release or Netflix opening. It’s got its virtues, but you probably made the right choice by staying home and watching Disney+. It’s good, but not great.

Now, when Tenet comes out, I don’t care if this emergency is still going on: I need to watch that one on IMAX.

The film starts with group of hardcore liberals on instant messaging, goofing around about the idea of hunting deplorables for sport, à la The Most Dangerous Game. Was it a joke? Will they actually hunt? What is the name of the movie?

As things turn out, those who voted for Trump will soon be in the cross-hairs: A group of non-liberals wake up in a field, find a case of weapons, and are immediately met with gunfire and arrows.

Oh my god … sounds pretty controversial, right? Nah, not really. The point of this movie is that too many people are acting like total assholes when it comes to political ideology. (Hey, I count myself as one of those assholes from time to time.) So just about every character in this film behaves badly, regardless of political affiliation. The movie is a satiric take on our current political attitudes, and how things are getting a little out of hand on social media. It’s also at times funny, bloody and suspenseful—and it contains a great kitchen fight in its closing minutes.

There are moments in the script when the movie is almost saying, “Hey, we were just ragging on Republicans, but now we will rag on Democrats! So, don’t get too mad at us!” Those obvious “balancing act” moments drag the movie down a little bit.

The hunt is masterminded by Athena (Hilary Swank). You don’t see her for a large swath of the film, but she shows up eventually and is one of the folks engaged in the above-mentioned kitchen fight. The movie primarily belongs to Betty Gilpin (Glow) as Crystal, who winds up on the hunted side—and that’s not good for the hunters. Betty can throw down, and there’s little that scares her. Gilpin has all the makings of becoming the next great cinematic action hero. She’s got a great deadpan delivery to punctuate her smack-downs, she comes up with some facial expressions that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before: She’s a sympathetic hero with depth behind her eyes. I’d say at least 80 percent of the reason I like this movie is because of Gilpin.

Some familiar faces do show up in the movie, including Ike Barinholtz, Ethan Suplee (looking good, Ethan!), Emma Roberts and Amy Madigan. Granted, don’t get too attached to anybody, because the cast thins out fast. Swank, a two-time Oscar winner, shows that she can bring the funk whether she’s working for Clint Eastwood or Craig Zobel, the director of this one. She creates a memorable, sinister villain in Athena. In other words: This film, despite its shlock factor and obviousness, is a good time thanks to Gilpin and Swank. They embrace the nonsense and take it to fun levels.

The Hunt probably deserved a debut on a streaming service rather than the big screen—and streaming, it will be, in the near future. When it hits the TV screen, watch it if you are in the mood for a good B movie.

Sophia Lillis stars as Sydney Novak, a character who comes off as a distant cousin of Stephen King’s Carrie in I Am Not Okay With This, a seven-episode series on Netflix.

Sydney is going through some growing pains at her high school—most notably the newly discovered ability to physically wreck things with her mind when she gets a little too worked up. As she tries to figure out who she likes best in her class, she also tries to figure out what’s going on with the superpowers that seem to be emerging from within. Once she gets that all explained, she can then concentrate on the big dance.

Lillis is her typical good self as Sydney, while Wyatt Oleff is hilarious as the geeky, pot-smoking Stanley, who has eyes for Sydney—but not to the extent where it will keep him being a good friend. Instead, the two work together to figure out Sydney’s superpowers, and whether or not it’s a good idea for them to go on dates.

Co-developed by Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the Fucking World) and Christy Hall, the show is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a good showcase for the leads.

I Am Not Okay With This is now streaming on Netflix.

Onward is one of the weirder Pixar releases—a goofy ode to fatherhood, brotherhood and the geek glory of Dungeons and Dragons-type role-playing fantasy games. While it’s not an offering that can be counted among Pixar’s best (Up, Toy Story 3, The Incredibles, WALL-E), it’s still a good time for kids and adults alike, and it packs a nice sentimental punch in its final minutes.

Ian Lightfoot (the voice of Tom Holland) and older-brother Barley (Chris Pratt) are elves living with their mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a suburban fantasy world also inhabited by trolls and dragons. Their world is now very much like ours (strip malls, smart watches, crappy vans, etc.), but it was once a place of magic full of wizardry and adventure.

On his 16th birthday, Ian gets a note from his father—someone long dead who, in fact, never met his son. Ian’s dad has bequeathed to him and Barley a wizard’s staff, along with a spell incantation that can bring him back for 24 hours, giving Ian a chance to finally meet his pops.

The brothers discover that Ian possesses magical powers after they both try the staff. Ian manages to bring his dad back—but only his bottom half—before their magical staff stone explodes. Thus, the clock starts ticking: The boys have 24 hours to go on a quest to find another magical stone, and summon the part of their dad that can actually speak and see things before he’s off into the great beyond again.

On their quest, the boys encounter a band of angry biker pixies, a dragon made of concrete rubble and a dragon lady with a scorpion’s tail named The Manticore (Octavia Spencer). The Manticore, once a majestic, magical beast, now manages a once-sacred castle re-themed as a restaurant/arcade.

Onward is the second Pixar directorial effort from Dan Scanlon (after Monsters University), who also contributed to the screenplay. Even though the film clocks in at 102 minutes, it feels a little rushed. The city Ian and Barley live in is just a backdrop, and it’s never sufficiently explored. It also feels like the film is missing a character or two: While Ian and Barley are fun, the movie could’ve benefited from another character or two along for the ride. The focus seems a little narrow.

Pratt, who did a fine job voicing his character for the Lego movies, is in fine form, sufficiently voicing a character much younger than his actual age. Holland, whose Ian actually looks a little like him, masks his English accent to good effect, as he did in the Spidey movies. They combine to form a winning pair, even if they’re not particularly memorable.

While Spencer has some fun moments, supporting turns from Dreyfus, Mel Rodriguez and Kyle Bornheimer barely register. Of course, John Ratzenberger’s voice makes a cameo late in the movie.

This is the first of two Pixar movies coming out this year. The second, Soul, is slated for a June release, and seems to be the more significant of the two. That isn’t a dig on Onward, which is a decent-enough family film, but it’s not the near-perfect entertainment that Pixar films often are.

Onward, while not great, is plenty of fun. You have to like a kid movie that has two brothers running around with the bottom half of their dad, who can only communicate by rubbing feet and dancing. There’s a weird edge to Onward that helps it rise above mediocrity and keep Pixar’s goodness streak rolling.

Onward is now playing in both regular and 3-D at theaters across the valley.

Director Richard Stanley and star Nicolas Cage honor the work of H.P. Lovecraft with Color Out of Space, which stands aside Re-Animator as one of the better, more-twisted Lovecraft adaptations.

Living on a farm and trying to raise alpacas, Nathan Gardner (Cage); his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson); and their three children enjoy a quiet, sublime life—until a meteor lands in their front yard and causes all kinds of chaos and carnage.

Things develop slowly, but when the horror kicks in, things get quite dark. The body horror is well done and reminds of some of the more twisted films of David Cronenberg and the like. There’s stuff involving a mother and her children that will haunt your dreams long after viewing. Oh, and then there are the things that happen to Tommy Chong and his cat.

The film features another gonzo-great performance from Cage, who gets to play both sensible and insane in the movie. This one comes from the same producers as the great Mandy—people who know how to use Cage best.

Color Out of Space is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

The ever-reliable pairing of director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan hits a speed bump with Greed, the weakest movie this duo has produced.

The Winterbottom-Coogan combo has now been responsible for seven films, with such winners as the many “Trip” movies, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and, my personal favorite, 24 Hour Party People. When I heard they were working on a satirical film about the fashion world and the upper class, with Coogan headlining as a shifty millionaire, I said: “Sign me up!”

Sadly, the result, written and directed by Winterbottom, is a muddled mess with only a few laughs and no true sense of purpose. It starts as a sort of fictional biopic—the making of fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan), who rises to power by buying up struggling clothes businesses and spinning them for dollars through bankruptcies and other manipulations. He steps on a lot of faces on his way to the top.

Problem No. 1 is there’s nothing at all surprising or engaging about McCreadie or his rise to power. Coogan portrays the character through varying ages (a couple of other actors portray him at his youngest), and he seems to be going for a mixture of Donald Trump and Coogan’s own Alan Partridge character. He sports big white teeth and a tan, not unlike a certain cranky president.

The script basically calls for Coogan to be a real asshole. We see him buying people out with no regard for their feelings, and chastising well-meaning employees in public. There’s no reason to care about this guy, whether in flashback or the present day. It would help if he were nastily funny, but few moments come off as funny, so McCreadie is basically just an unpleasant experience.

In the present, McCreadie is trying to put together a 60th birthday celebration featuring celebrities, a Roman Colosseum replica and a real lion. Celebrities tend to make a big deal of their 60th (Howard Stern not long ago threw a big star-studded bash), and maybe Winterbottom was trying to poke a little fun at those types of parties. Other than one funny joke featuring a George Michael impersonator, the whole party premise is a dud.

Toward the end of the film, Winterbottom decides the movie isn’t really a comedy about greedy jerks at all: Instead, it’s a scathing take on the fashion industry and the way it employs underprivileged people worldwide for menial sums. Well, that’s what Winterbottom apparently wishes it was. The change in tone—including a violent, WTF? ending that comes out of nowhere—reeks of desperate storytelling. It’s like Winterbottom set out to make a satire in his usual way, but then decided his film needed to be The Big Short of fashion-industry movies at the last minute.

Too bad. Coogan is almost always fun onscreen, so it’s a real task to make him a bore. Isla Fisher shows up as McCreadie’s wife, and their unorthodox relationship could’ve been the basis of its own movie, but it gets little screen time here. A subplot involving McCreadie’s biographer feels like it was supposed to be substantial, but it comes off as something that got lost in the editing room. There are other characters in this movie that suddenly appear, but the script has done nothing to justify the audience having any feelings about them.

Entertainers who work together as much as Winterbottom and Coogan do are bound to lay an egg every now and then—and Greed is indeed a stinker, but I have a feeling they will rise above and entertain again. They are already working on another movie, and I’m sure there will be a couple after that before they are done. Thankfully, none of those will contain the further adventures of Sir Richard McCreadie.

Greed opens Friday, March 6, at several valley theaters.

A grumpy Harrison Ford sporting a David Letterman beard stars alongside a CGI dog in this latest cinematic take on the Jack London classic The Call of the Wild.

The filmmakers went for a kid-friendly PG rating, so much of the novel’s violence, against humans and dogs alike, has been removed in favor of a more-family-friendly take—and the dumbing down of the original text might’ve been forgivable if some of the CGI animal antics weren’t so jarringly unrealistic.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m in no mood to see real dogs getting hit with clubs and pulling sleds across frozen tundra, but Buck the cartoon dog would’ve been far more suitable in a completely animated affair. It’s actually the humans who sometimes throw things out of whack: Neither the humans nor the CGI beasts look like they belong together. The scenes where it’s just humans sitting around, or a bunch of dogs fighting on their own, look OK.

Ford plays John Thornton, a character who showed up much deeper in the novel. In the novel, Thornton was one of the many men prospecting for gold; in director Chris Sanders’ film, Thornton is a grieving loner who has left his wife after the death of their son. He drinks a lot of booze, and when he joins forces with Buck, they discover a gold-filled river while just sort of passing through. They weren’t even really seeking it, and I, for one, don’t see why this change was made.

Buck, who will eventually lead a sled-pulling dog team, is a curious-enough technological creation. He doesn’t look bad; he just doesn’t look and act “real.” He’s smart in ways that are complete bullshit, including figuring out that booze is bad for John and stealing his bottles. Again, this is the stuff of cartoons, not live-action/cartoon mixes.

Another big change from the novel is the portrayal of Hal; he’s a negative presence in a small part of the novel, but a full-blown villain in the movie. As played by Dan Stevens—with a mustache-twirling spin—he’s a little over the top. Karen Gillan might’ve been fun as his spoiled sister, Mercedes, had she been given more than five minutes in the movie.

The Yukon scenery is breathtakingly shot by famed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, so that’s a plus. While most things might look out of place in this movie, the outdoor scenery is never short of gorgeous.

Chewbacca was essentially a big walking dog, so who better than Ford to play a drunk guy who talks to his dog a lot? Ford narrates the movie with his huffy grumble, and his onscreen persona has surprising nuance. (He smiles sometimes!) He makes much of the movie watchable, at times even heartwarming … then Buck the dog bounces around like Scooby-Doo and kills the moment.

Because the violence has been toned down, I can give the movie a mild recommendation if you are looking to take the kids out for the night. Yes, this movie slips into that category of clumsy family fare that will please the kids and allow the parents to watch a movie comfortably knowing that nobody gets fully naked or rips somebody’s tongue out. Hey, it might even inspire a nice conversation on the ride home: “Say kids, alcohol is bad for you. … Don’t drink like grouchy Harrison Ford in that movie!” As straight-up adult viewing, with no kids, The Call of the Wild, however, doesn’t suffice.

The Call of the Wild is playing in theaters across the valley.

Holy hell, The Last Thing He Wanted is a bad movie. I mean, it’s bad. Like, really, really, really, really, really bad.

Anne Hathaway trudges through this adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel, a movie that casts her as an ’80s reporter who MUST KNOW THE TRUTH. Fed up with boring stories involving Reagan’s re-election campaign, she winds up going all over the world, simultaneously trying to help her crazy daddy (Willem Dafoe, whose character is supposed to be sickly … but, man, he’s never looked better in a movie) and, I think, trying to blow the lid of the Contra scandal. I say “I think,” because, honestly, I have no fucking idea what was going on in this stupid movie.

Ben Affleck shows up as a creepy diplomat who eats pie and eventually goes to bed with Hathaway’s character, because, well, I don’t know why that happens, either.

Hathaway is reduced to extensive phone-acting scenes, during which she is really concerned or very upset or totally angry and, gosh darn it, she’s on the phone when it’s happening.

If you can figure out what’s going on in this movie, you have my respect. Wait … actually, if you can follow this movie, you might be as messed up as this movie is. Yeah … if you like this movie, don’t talk to me. We won’t connect on any social or intellectual level. We are from different worlds, you and me.

The Last Thing He Wanted is now streaming on Netflix.

Out of the gate, Sonic the Hedgehog looks like it could be one of the year’s worst films. It’s irritating; it’s unoriginal; and it features multiple jokes about cops eating donuts, as if we haven’t heard those before.

Then Jim Carrey shows up as the villain—and almost saves the whole damn thing. Almost.

Sonic—the videogame character so beloved that his fan base rallied to have his likeness corrected after an abysmal look in the original trailer—is voiced by Ben Schwartz. While this incarnation definitely looks better than the mess Paramount Pictures first tried to get past the masses, the character is still grating. Sorry, Mr. Schwartz, but your voice is nails on a chalkboard.

A brief prelude shows Sonic being sent to Earth by a heroic owl; he’s left alone in a cave with a bag of gold rings that provide gateways to other worlds. After an encounter with Tom Wachowski, a small-town policeman (James Marsden), Sonic’s gold rings are accidentally transported to San Francisco. He must join Tom—who Sonic calls the Donut Lord, because, as I stated before, this movie’s script is screamingly unoriginal—and go on a road trip.

In pursuit is Dr. Robotnik, played by a totally game Jim Carrey, who hasn’t been this manically fun in years. Whatever stupid crap the movie has him doing doesn’t matter: Director Jeff Fowler gives the comedian permission to go off, and Carrey not only riffs away, but gets behind the character with his trademark physical acting. He gets legitimate laughs that are surprisingly offbeat, considering this is a PG-rated kids’ film. (I especially liked his musings regarding Charlotte’s Web.)

Alas, Carrey’s role is a supporting one, and he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time to redeem the film. We are mostly left with Marsden trading one liners with Sonic, including, of course, the requisite fart jokes. If you were to guess where Tom and Sonic wind up on the road as a detour for strained laughs, a biker bar would be high on your probability list. And in that biker bar, you’d probably guess there are jokes involving mechanical bulls, line dancing, buffalo wings and bar fights. You would’ve guessed right.

There are a couple of scenes during which Sonic pulls a Quicksilver—that’s the character in X-Men who was so fast that he could rearrange people between blows in a fight. I have to think there’s an X-Men screenwriter somewhere who will be mighty pissed off after seeing some of the sequences in this movie.

Thankfully, Sonic does actually look like his videogame self now, and not some horrid concoction featuring small eyes and human teeth. This film’s script, added to the way Sonic looked in that original trailer, would’ve ensured box-office death. As things stand, the movie looks decent, which makes the dopey screenplay semi-tolerable.

Maybe some good things will come out of this. Perhaps the movie will give the talented Carrey the jump start his career needs after the ill-advised Dumb and Dumber To and his miserable dramatic turn in Dark Crimes, which nobody saw. It’s time to green-light another Ace Ventura or a sequel to The Mask. Either would be a better use of his talent than having him chasing lame-assed Sonic around.

The film leaves things open for a sequel … a sequel that will probably happen. With the distraction of an initially horrendous-looking Sonic out of the way, maybe a unified look from the start could lead to a stronger picture. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

Sonic the Hedgehog is playing at theaters across the valley.

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.

After being the only thing worth anyone’s time in Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn gets her own movie in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, a marked improvement over the film that featured Margot Robbie’s first go at the role.

Unfortunately, “improved” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.”

There’s something askew plot-wise in Birds of Prey—specifically, it doesn’t really have a plot, and the shards of plot it does have are presented sloppily. The movie hops around time spasmodically, like a tweaker on a pogo stick—and while I love Robbie, her Harley Quinn shtick can grate at times.

(By the way, I’m watching Margot on Hot Ones as I write this review, and she’s giving a captivating performance on this YouTube series—not as good as Shia LaBeouf’s performance on the show, but still. She cannot handle her hot wings. I’m actually fearing for her life as I watch this. I won’t give away the ending.)

Anyway, Harley Quinn is joined by the Birds of Prey this time out, and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) all get high marks for what they bring to the party. The basic plot involves bad-guy Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), trying to get a big diamond from a young pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco). That’s about it for story.

Much of the film is spent talking about the Joker, which is strange, because this movie is supposed to be proof that the Birds of Prey don’t need the Joker in their movie. Harley broke up with the Joker, so, mercifully, we don’t have to endure Jared Leto’s take on the character again. Get that plot element out of the way, and let’s move on, right? Nope: The film contains near-constant references to the fact that the Joker is not in this movie. Director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson seem afraid to let go of the Clown Prince of Crime as a plot presence. Newsflash: Nobody cares about the Suicide Squad incarnation of Joker. He was quite underwhelming. It’s all about Joaquin Phoenix now.

The movie, despite being a bit of a fluster-cuck, is sporadically fun. There’s a running bit involving the perfect egg sandwich that is pretty good. The ass-kicking scenes, during which the Birds fly into action, are kinetic and have pop. McGregor’s Sionis has a sadomasochistic relationship with his henchman, Victor (Chris Messina), that’s good for some laughs. And, I love, love, love Bruce, Harley’s pet hyena, named after a certain morose billionaire.

Of the Birds, Smollett-Bell registers the highest as Black Canary, a character who deserves her own movie. Smollett-Bell has the sort of onscreen presence that does not show up that often. She’s done some good work in the past, but she really makes a mark here. Rosie Perez hasn’t been this much fun since Pineapple Express; here, she’s a tough Gotham cop who is willing to bend the rules to get the job done. The always-reliable Winstead is good as The Huntress, although she’s a bit underused.

Robbie is still fun, but the film’s effort to make her a kinder, warmer Harley Quinn renders her a slight bit boring at times. She’s better when she is pure nasty with a little bit of funny. This movie asks her to be a constantly hyper, safer character who’s perhaps a bit too heroic. That’s a mistake—and the sequence in which Harley re-enacts the iconic Marilyn Monroe routine from Gentleman Prefer Blondes is just plain dumb.

Harley Quinn will be back for the James Gunn-helmed The Suicide Squad, but I’m thinking the failures of this installment might put future Harley-centered ventures on hold. Harley and her Birds of Prey have a lot of potential, but their first film together misses the mark. It also needed at least 10 more minutes of Bruce the Hyena.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is now playing at theaters across the valley.

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