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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Writer-director Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal, who previously partnered up on Nightcrawler, take a creative step backward with Velvet Buzzsaw, an art-world satire/horror effort.

Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, an art critic losing his lust for the profession. His love affair with Josephina (Zawe Ashton), an art-house employee, gets confusing in many ways when she comes across paintings by a dead man in her apartment building. The paintings, which the artist literally put his blood into, have deadly consequences for those who gaze upon them.

Gyllenhaal is his usual sharp self, creating something funny without going for obvious laughs. Rene Russo is equally good as a ruthless art dealer—she’s willing to cut down anybody who gets in her way. The supporting cast includes Toni Collette, John Malkovich and Billy Magnussen, which contributes to the feeling that the film should be more than what it is.

And what is it? It’s sharp satire in its first half, and a sloppy horror film in its second. Velvet Buzzsaw is not scary by any means, and it tries a little too hard to be. Gilroy takes his eye off the ball, loses focus and wastes a promising premise and solid performances.

Velvet Buzzsaw is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Sandra Bullock lends her supreme talents to a Netflix movie that’s become a media sensation—even though Bird Box features a bunch of overused horror gimmicks mashed into one, messy entity.

Malorie (Bullock) is a gloomy painter (they show Bullock only painting the black background to make it look authentic), going through the motions and dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Her sister, Jessica (Sarah Paulson), takes Malorie to the doctor for a checkup—shortly after seeing a strange report on TV about masses of people killing themselves in Russia.

While visiting with the doc (Parminder Nagra), all hell starts to break loose in the hospital and, especially, on the streets. It appears as if people are seeing some sort of entity and deciding it’s far too much for them to handle, so they kill themselves in creative ways (stepping in front of buses, bashing their heads into windows, walking into fires, etc.). Malorie manages to navigate through a hellish urban landscape before winding up trapped in a house with a few others.

Up until this point, the film looks promising. The street-suicide scenes are genuinely scary, and flash-forward scenes show Malorie trying to find some sort of safe haven with two children while they all wears blindfolds to avoid seeing the killer vision. Those scenes work OK, although they are a play on last summer’s A Quiet Place, with characters prohibited from seeing rather than making noise.

Alas, the movie hits a total dead end once Malorie goes in that house. It’s pretty much the same scenario as that remake of Dawn of the Dead, right down to the pregnant women and shopping scenes.

John Malkovich is one of the house survivors, and he’s just doing a variation on his usual John Malkovich thing. After witnessing the death of his wife, he gets Malkovich angry, yelling at Malorie in that deliberate, pause between the words kind of way. (“You … are the reason … she … is dead!”) The average male would be curled up in a fetal position bawling his eyes out after witnessing such a thing, but Malkovich just gets pissed, Malkovich-style. I was laughing, and I’m quite sure that wasn’t the desired reaction from filmmaker Susanne Bier.

As for the other survivors, there’s a young punk, a female cop, another pregnant woman, an older mom type and a Malorie love interest. While Bullock is trading lines with most of these folks, it’s clear they are obviously outmatched, especially in some of the moments that seem more improvised. They shouldn’t be in the same room with Bullock, who is top-notch despite the hackneyed scripting.

The title of the film refers to a shoebox Malorie keeps birds in as a monster alarm. This makes no sense: It’s established that if you are outside, and you look, you will inevitably see “the monster” that will make you off yourself. Why put a bunch of birds through hell? There’s no escaping the monster, who inevitably shows up within seconds of you opening your eyes. A bird chirping is just incidental.

The scenes with Bullock and the children on the river, while not all that original, are nonetheless, riveting and tense. Much of this is due to the excellent child actors; their characters are simply named Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards). The expressions they make while Malorie lectures them on how one stupid move could kill them are heartbreaking.

There is one thing totally amazing about Bird Box: BD Wong, who plays one of the house survivors, is 58 years old. The man looks like he’s 35! As for the movie itself, I credit Netflix for doing a great job of hyping it and Bullock for acting her ass off—even when the material drifts into dreck.

Bird Box is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Last week, I received a review link to Louis C.K.’s new film, I Love You, Daddy, along with a message saying that Louis C.K. was available for interviews. I also got a form that, among other things, asked about my reaction to the movie.

I was a little peeved that my reaction to the film was needed before granting an interview … but that’s no big deal. A lot of media outlets would be interested in talking to C.K.—and, as a long-standing, rabid Louis C.K. fan, I figured the movie would be great, right?

Wrong. This is easily the worst thing C.K. has done since Pootie Tang. Not only is it a bad movie on a purely technical level; its subject matter is, as you may already know, a bit suspect.

For the past couple of years, I’d read about “rumors” of C.K.’s demented sexual proclivities. Unfortunately, this weird-as-all-fuck movie seems to be a sort of strange confession regarding his messed-up mistreatment of female colleagues and fans.

Even worse, I Love You, Daddy, seems to give the finger to people who take issue with artists who do stupid and arguably criminal things—as if those people taking issue are shallow for not separating art from a person’s bad behavior. The film has a creepy, odd vibe to it … and again, it’s just not very good.

After watching the movie, I sent the distributor a note saying I did not like the film, and I withdrew myself from consideration to interview C.K.

A few hours later, The New York Times story about Louis C.K.’s sexual wrongdoing dropped; that was followed shortly thereafter by C.K.’s half-assed apology. That mistreatment of female colleagues and fans has been confirmed, and now nobody will be interviewing Louis C.K. or seeing this shitty movie anytime soon.

C.K. self-funded and directed the movie, so nobody could tell him what he could and could not put into it. Man, does that show. One of those pesky studios would’ve told him the movie looked like crap and featured questionable subjects. He shot it on black-and-white, 35 mm film, quickly and cheaply. It looks washed out and poorly constructed.

This black-and-white “art” film is, in part, an homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, which makes things even more troubling. It features an older director who is notorious for sleeping with underage girls; the character, played by John Malkovich, is clearly modeled after Allen. C.K. plays a famous TV producer who deeply admires the director’s work—but his fandom is called into question when said director takes an interest in his 17-year-old daughter, China, played by Chloe Grace Moretz.

The movie actually features a character (played by Charlie Day) who, at one point, mimics vigorous masturbation while C.K talks to a woman on speaker phone. In other words, this insane movie includes a slapstick depiction of one of the vile things C.K. was accused of doing. That takes balls. Giant, depraved balls.

This was also supposed to be C.K.’s modern statement on feminism, but plays more like straight-up misogyny. It’s sad to see Moretz, Edie Falco and Rose Byrne virtually humiliated. As for Woody Allen, the movie clearly wants people to stop denouncing C.K.’s pervert idol and Blue Jasmine boss.

It was on what was supposed to be the day of the film’s premiere that C.K. wound up issuing a public sort-of apology to the women cited in the Times story. It’s hard to take that apology seriously after seeing the contents of this film, which he was trying to get released up until the moment he issued that statement.

David Bowie made his last album knowing he was going to die, and it was beautiful. C.K. made what might be his last film perhaps knowing he was doomed. Or, horrifyingly, perhaps he made it thinking he was bulletproof. In either case, I Love You, Daddy, is disgusting and stupid, and it will not be playing at a theater near you.

Published in Reviews

I think my shockingly lustrous eyelashes got singed watching Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg’s harrowing account of the worst oil-rig disaster in American history.

Berg’s film drops viewers into a situation where fire and explosions are so realistic that it seems like you can feel the heat and disorientation of the 2010 disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 men and led to an oil spill eclipsing all other oil spills.

Mark Wahlberg is first-rate as Mike Williams, a real man who was on the rig at the time of the disaster. Kurt Russell equals Wahlberg’s power as Jimmy Harrell, a man who questions the integrity of the rig—and then proceeds to have the worst cinematic shower since Janet Leigh had a showdown with Anthony Perkins.

The setup is a doozy: Williams and Harrell head out for a three-week stay on the Deepwater Horizon along with a couple of BP stuffed shirts. Much to their amazement, men who were supposed to be conducting all-important tests leave shortly after their arrival without conducting anything; that gets Russell’s Harrell all riled up. Seeing Russell all riled up is always fun.

The lack of testing leads to a showdown with a sleazy BP employee, played by a slithery John Malkovich. Some backward reasoning leads to the acceptance of some bad drill results, and Deepwater Horizon is cleared to start up. Unbeknownst to the higher-ups and technicians, there’s a cataclysmic clog, and mud explodes upward. You probably know the rest.

Berg puts his film together in a way in which the mere sight of mud oozing from a pipe is terrifying. When the disaster goes into high gear, Deepwater Horizon is as scary as any horror film to hit screens this year—and there have been some pretty good horror films in 2016. The staging of explosions and fire, many done upon an oil rig built exclusively for this film, are award-worthy.

There’s a true sense of isolation and disorientation when the action goes full-throttle. Props to the editor for creating a sensation of being utterly lost in the mayhem that escalates until the final two survivors jump many stories to the ocean below.

It’s not all about the fire and explosions, as Berg, his writers and his performers all give the movie a true heroic element—one that results in heartbreak after the film plays out. Some good people perished in this disaster, and the movie pays solid tribute to them, including a nice epilogue featuring real footage and photos of the victims.

Kate Hudson plays Williams’ wife, who is having a Skype conversation with him when everything starts to go south. Hudson has always been good for waterworks, and she gets an opportunity to show off that talent here. Other standouts include Ethan Suplee as one of the men in the ill-fated drill command center, Gina Rodriguez as an employee who must endure the incompetence of a co-worker, and Dylan O’Brien as a drill worker who couldn’t have been closer to the initial stages of the disaster.

To call this a disaster film similar to those put out by Irwin Allen in the 1970s is both a compliment and a bit belittling. (Some of those where pretty great, including The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.) While this film follows a similar, schlocky blueprint at times, it has a little more substance and heart than those goofy blockbusters.

Berg and Wahlberg, who also collaborated on the very good Lone Survivor, aren’t done in 2016. Somehow, they worked it into their schedules to deliver Patriots Day, a film about the Boston Marathon bombing, on Dec. 21 in limited release, before an expanded release in January 2017. These guys are busy with their true-life epics.

Deepwater Horizon is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The movie year gets it first big, sweet surprise with Warm Bodies, a funny and surprisingly moving take on the zombie genre from director Jonathan Levine, who gave us the wonderful 50/50.

To call Warm Bodies a straight-up zombie flick would be inaccurate; it’s a love story set in a horror-movie world. It’s everything the Twilight saga wanted to be, but failed to become. It’s a movie that knows it is ridiculous, embraces its ridiculousness, and emerges as astonishingly real and true-to-life.

The movie opens on a figure in a red-hoodie we will come to know as R (Nicholas Hoult, in a stardom-cementing role). He’s zombie with a fried memory, but he’s still able to conduct a relatively cohesive inner narrative, heard through a voiceover that is clear and concise. However, when R tries to speak out of his mouth, he slurs, moans and groans.

He’s a lost boy in a zombie world yearning to articulate. He’s also a collector, residing in an abandoned jet, surrounded by trinkets and vinyl albums. (Of course vinyl is the music delivery mode of choice for zombies. In R’s opinion, vinyl is more “alive.”)

Enter Julie (Teresa Palmer, finally getting a role she deserves), a human survivor and the daughter of an emotionally dead general (John Malkovich). On patrol for medicine, her band of humans is attacked, and her boyfriend (Dave Franco) loses his life—and his brains—in the melee. R and Julie’s eyes meet in the aftermath, and R immediately starts to change.

George Romero fans looking for zombie thrills might find themselves slightly disappointed. The movie is rated PG-13, so brains get eaten in a fashion that’s almost gentle, and the zombie makeup is far from gory. I must also mention that the “Bonies,” zombies who have degenerated to the point of being skeletons, look terrible. They are the sort of CGI creation that stops a movie in its tracks whenever they pop up.

Some zombie purists might find it silly that R can eat a brain, and then feel and see the memories of his victim. For those of you who criticize, I would like to remind you that you are watching a movie in which THE DEAD HAVE COME BACK TO LIFE AND ARE WALKING AROUND.

Hoult and Palmer have adorable chemistry. This is a thinly veiled Romeo and Juliet replay, and the two even have a balcony scene. R doesn’t remember his full name, only that his name starts with R. Julie is a play on Juliet, of course, and Rob Corddry plays R’s best zombie friend, M (Mercutio … right?).

Speaking of Corddry, he owns his scenes. The man is so gifted as a comedic actor, and as he showed in Hot Tub Time Machine, he can handle the emotional stuff with major finesse. Like R, M and his band of zombies begin to awaken and heal themselves when they remember what love is. It’s goofy, but Corddry sells it with humor and soul. Also excellent in a supporting role is Analeigh Tipton as Nora, Julie’s best friend, confidant and laugh-getter.

Hoult and Palmer both have thick accents in real life (Hoult is British; Palmer is Australian), but you can’t tell from this movie. (They both sport American accents.) Hoult spends much of the movie sweetly trying to express himself like a love-struck teen who can’t put the words together. Palmer is so damned stunning that many can identify with his struggle to get the words right. They are one of the more endearing screen couples in years—and one of them is dead with all kinds of icky veins all over his neck. That doesn’t say much for the state of American romance movies.

The film is based on author Isaac Marion’s novel. He is apparently working on a sequel, and you can already read a prequel to his novel called The New Hunger, available on his website.

If you are a proud Twilight hater like me, you can rest assured that Warm Bodies has very little in common with that cinematic sludge. This is a refreshing, heartwarming, humorous take on a society that has become emotionally stagnant and is in severe need of reanimation. You might find yourselves looking at your smartphone a little less after seeing this one. 

Warm Bodies is now playing at theaters throughout the valley.

Published in Reviews