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Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

First-time director and screenwriter Boots Riley (leader of musical group The Coup) creates one of the craziest movies you will ever see with Sorry to Bother You, a hilarious, nasty and even scary showcase for the talents of Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson.

This is comedic satire at its screwiest, with sci-fi, fantasy and horror elements inserted in such a way that Riley completely shatters the rules of conventional filmmaking. Stated simply: There are tons of “What the fuck?” moments in this movie.

Cassius Green (Stanfield) is living in a garage owned by his uncle (Terry Crews), looking for a better life and a job. His performance-artist girlfriend, Detroit (Thompson), encourages him to pursue what he wants—but tells him not lose his sense of self.

After procuring a job at a mass telemarketing agency, Cassius finds himself striking out with call after call. It’s here that Riley employs an ingenious visual trick, with Cassius physically showing up in the lives of the people he is interrupting with his telemarketing nonsense: Cassius’ desk is dropped into one situation after another (people having sex, people mourning, etc.). This does a great job of conveying the intrusiveness of that particular sales tactic.

A seasoned co-worker (Danny Glover) advises Cassius to use his white-man voice (supplied by the great, and very white, David Cross). This brings immediate success, and catapults Cassius up the ladder—and into the hallowed upstairs office where the Power Callers reside. However, the road to success involves him becoming more of a douchebag—and, ultimately, a revolutionary.

If the film were simply a caustic observation on the art of the sale and trying to get ahead in life, it would be funny enough. However, Riley doesn’t stop there: Sorry to Bother You winds up being a brutal look at class separation, racial divides, evil corporate conglomerates, slave labor, social media and, yes, bleeding head wounds. (Cassius spends a lot of time with one of those Revolutionary War-looking makeshift bandages wrapped around his head, complete with a big red blood stain.)

Stanfield—who had that masterful, turning-point scene in Get Out that featured a bloody nose, a camera and lots of screaming—takes his work to the next level in this movie. He occupies the role in a way that you could imagine nobody else doing it. Thompson, one of my very favorite actresses, does nothing but cement that status with everything she does in this movie.

Armie Hammer is funnier than you would ever expect him to be as coke-sniffing billionaire Steve Lift; things take some crazy turns after he shows up in the movie. Also showing master comic chops: Steven Yeun (Glenn from The Walking Dead) as a revolutionary co-worker, and Robert Longstreet as Cassius’ twisted boss.

Quite a while into this movie, you may be thinking: “Gee, Bob, this seems like straightforward satire to me. This isn’t as ‘out there’ as you suggested, you stupid, lying, ugly bastard.” Well, hang tight, because Riley is going to knock you on your ass with tonal shifts as violent as a volcanic eruption during a nuclear explosion. There was nobody watching over this movie and saying, “Oh, hell no, you can’t do that. Nope!” This movie is a pure example of what can happen when you don’t restrict an ambitious, talented filmmaker.

Sorry to Bother You falls short of being a classic, due to some glaringly loose-ended scenes and occasional jokes that fall flat. Riley’s scattershot style leads to some moments that feel a little sloppy and unfinished. Still, the brashness of this enterprise is absolutely breathtaking. I think Riley’s all-time classic is yet to come.

If you are suffering from sequel and/or superhero fatigue this summer, and you want something raw and new, Sorry to Bother You will not disappoint. It also might just fuck you up a bit.

Sorry to Bother You is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682); and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0333).

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Writer-director Stanley Tucci asks the question, “When is a piece of art truly done?” with Final Portrait, an acting workshop for Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer.

The film is based upon the memoir A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, an American author who sat for a portrait by famed artist Alberto Giacometti in the 1960s, shortly before the artist died in 1966.

Lord is played by Hammer, hot off his acclaimed performance in Call Me by Your Name, with Rush embodying the craggy, difficult and just-a-little-bit-crazy Giacometti. Much of the movie simply consists of these two fine actors bantering back and forth as Rush fiddles with painting paraphernalia, and Hammer keeps still in a chair.

Does that sound boring? If the idea of watching an artist neurotically working through his painting process sounds horrifying, then yes, you will find this boring, and you should probably stay away. I found myself taken by the pic, but not completely; I admit to getting a little restless with it at times.

What makes it work is that Rush and Hammer work so well off of each other times. Hammer does good work as a Manhattanite in Paris swept away by the notion of having his likeness put on canvas—yet unaware of the semi-ordeal into which he’s getting himself. Giacometti woos Lord by telling him the whole thing should take a couple of hours, and it winds up taking weeks. Needless to say, patience is tested.

Rush’s Giacometti is a bit of a mess, openly carrying on with a local prostitute (Clémence Poésy) while his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), and brother, Diego (longtime Tucci collaborator Tony Shalhoub), try to keep him under control. His artistic genius is matched by a total scattershot way of conducting business, life and artistic endeavors. His process is lacking a certain organization and sense of purpose.

He seems like a nut, and yet anybody who has tried to do a serious painting or drawing can relate to Giacometti’s lament that a true work of art is never really done. I love to draw, but I have a hard time finishing my projects. Watching this film, I recalled an 11th-grade art class in which I constantly argued with my teacher about putting time limits on true works of art. I could never get my assignments done in time, and I knew I had spent more time on them than other kids in the class. I raged against my teacher, calling her standards unfair and completely against the notion of what true art is. “Should a young man be downgraded for his art because he did not meet a proper deadline?” I asked passionately, a query similar to the one posed by Giacometti.

Mysteriously, I got shitty grades.

OK, back on point: The film convincingly shows the struggles of an artist whose art doesn’t come easily to him. Rush’s Giacometti hilariously interrupts multiple painting sessions by exclaiming, “Oh Fuck-uh!” and slathering paint all over his canvas for the purpose of starting the whole thing over.

The film comes up with a way to end the portrait session that, while kind of cute, feels a little too tidy. That said, I guess the movie couldn’t go on for weeks and weeks. That would be brutal.

While we’ve come to know Tucci for his character-actor performances in films such as The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada, he made quite a splash back in 1996 with his directorial debut, Big Night. His directorial efforts since (The Impostors, Blind Date, Joe Gould’s Secret) weren’t bad, but he hadn’t really delivered on the promise of Big Night. Final Portrait is easily his best directorial effort since 1996, hinting that Tucci might yet have another big one in him. Final Portrait is not that big one—but it’s a good one.

Final Portrait is now showing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

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Call Me by Your Name is one of 2017’s better love stories—a sumptuously filmed romance set in Italy that is a thing of beauty. Lush settings, stunning locations and two adorable leads in Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet contribute to a sweet, and heartbreaking, story by André Aciman (who wrote the novel), with a screenplay by James Ivory.

In an Oscar-nominated performance, Chalamet plays Elio, an American living in Italy with his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg). When his father takes an assistant in the form of Oliver (Hammer), Elio is smitten—and so is the older Oliver. They wind up having a fling that carries deep meaning for them, and for those who know them.

Chalamet (who was also terrific in Lady Bird) makes Elio so much more than a confused teen in love; this guy is really in love in a way that will affect his entire life, and the viewer feels it. Hammer continues to evolve as an actor, and this is his best work yet; he also gets high scores for his stellar dance moves whenever somebody plays the Psychedelic Furs. But as good as the two leads are, my vote for the best scene in the film goes to the underrated Stuhlbarg, who has a speech relating to his son that is an absolute showstopper.

Call Me by Your Name is a sweet movie that features an end credits sequence that, well, just says it all.

Call Me by Your Name is playing at theaters across the valley.

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The Cars franchise gets a nice boost with Cars 3, a much, much better movie than Cars 2, and a slightly better movie than the first Cars.

If you are keeping score—and, really, you shouldn’t be, for there are far more pressing matters in your life—Cars 3 is still one of the more mediocre offerings from Pixar/Disney. Still, a mediocre Pixar film is better than most animated movies.

Jettisoning the stupid spy-movie bullshit that made the last installment convoluted and useless, the folks at Pixar chose to take an earthier, more-emotional route with this one, and it works, for the most part. They also found a way to get the voice of the late Paul Newman into the mix, and hearing his beautiful growl again definitely warms the heart.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is getting on in years, and he’s facing fierce competition from newer-model cars like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a highly trained, superior-strength vehicle that is beating him on the racetrack. After a calamitous accident that renders his beautiful red sheen primer grey, McQueen is faced with either retirement—or a new training regime followed by a comeback, Rocky III-style.

McQueen chooses the comeback, and finds himself in a training facility owned by greedy businessman Sterling (Nathan Fillion), and being trained by Apollo Creed, I mean, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Race simulators, treadmills and drip racks replace good-old-fashioned racing around in Radiator Springs, which cramps Lightning’s style, so he hits the road and finds himself under the tutelage of Smokey (Chris Cooper). Smokey helped train the late Doc Hudson (Newman), McQueen’s mentor. He’s sort of the Mickey from Rocky of this movie.

Does the film get a little boring at times? Sure; I would’ve glanced at my watch had I been wearing one, but director Brian Fee and crew manage to keep everything pretty much on track in this outing, right up until a sweet finale that gives the franchise its first true emotional punch.

The movie plays around with the notions of retirement and rites of passage to the next generation—pretty heady stuff for a G-rated animated movie. Give the screenwriters credit for finally coming up with a story for Lightning McQueen that caters to adults as well as kids. Also, thanks to cameos, jargon and plenty of racing sequences, the movie should please NASCAR fans.

Another thing that makes this installment unique is that a good chunk of it takes place at night, on quiet highway roads. Yes, Cars 3 provides a good sense of what it’s like to be driving around at night when nobody’s around. The Pixar artists prove, yet again, that they can create precise vibes with their creative pixels. Sequences in which Lightning races through a dark forest and battles a pumped-up school bus in a dirt-track race are standouts.

Mater the tow truck, the Jar Jar Binks of the Cars franchise, only gets a few small scenes. He was the star of the last installment, which meant too much Larry the Cable Guy for those of us who can’t stand Larry the Cable Guy. Since I am the president of the Larry the Cable Gay Hater Fan Club, a club that exists only in the recesses of my own mind, I express gratitude to Disney and Pixar for relegating Mater to supporting status.

Cars 3 is pretty good, but nothing beats the Cars ride at Disneyland in sunny Anaheim. I just rode it multiple times a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a blast. Disneyland … the Happiest Place on Earth! I know that sounds like a commercial, but, hey, this movie is basically a decent commercial for the ride.

Where the Cars franchise goes from here is anybody’s guess. I would love it if Pixar leaves well enough alone and makes this the final chapter. Go out on a positive note, Lightning McQueen.

Cars 3 is now showing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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Bullets whiz, whistle and rip with a darkly comic ferocity in Free Fire, the latest from super-talented English director Ben Wheatley.

Wheatley has quietly been establishing himself as a solid indie director of action and horror, with obscure gems like Sightseers, High-Rise and A Field in England, along with one of the better installments in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death. With Free Fire, Wheatley gets to employ his action-directing prowess—while showing he can handle sharp dialogue and great acting.

He’s working with his biggest cast yet, which includes an Oscar winner in Brie Larson, as well as Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley. The film is co-produced by Martin Scorsese; the setup sounds like the sort of movie he should be making.

That setup: Two groups come together in a deserted Boston warehouse sometime in 1978. Things go awry, and the whole movie becomes one elongated shootout in which everybody is taking bullets; the losers will easily outnumber the winners.

The movie is a blast, thanks in large part to Wheatley’s staging of the event, and the actors (especially Hammer) taking it to great heights. There’s some mystery involved in the payoff, but it’s secondary to the action, which is appropriately disorienting at times. I couldn’t always tell who was shooting whom, but this works for the movie.

Throw in an extremely well-placed John Denver song, and you have what amounts to a solid, eccentric step in the evolution of Wheatley—a white-hot director who is just getting started.

Free Fire is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 and (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).

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A jilted husband uses the power of the pen to mess with his ex-wife’s mind in Nocturnal Animals, an engaging and dark-hearted film from director Tom Ford.

Amy Adams, on fire in 2016 even after you deduct points due to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plays Susan Morrow, a bizarre art-gallery owner stuck in a rut. Her bland but gorgeous husband (Armie Hammer, also having a good year) is ambivalent toward her; she’s borderline broke, and generally unhappy.

She gets a manuscript in the mail from ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). He was a struggling writer while the two were together, but now he just might have written the novel that could get his career going. Susan agrees to read the advance copy—and the story within, to say the least, freaks her out.

The film’s screenplay, written by Ford and based on the novel by Austin Wright, takes a rather clever route: We see the story play out as Susan reads it, and, as many of us often do, Susan casts the main character in the novel, Tony Hastings, as somebody she knows: her ex-husband. So Gyllenhaal is essentially playing two roles in the film: Edward in flashbacks, and Tony, husband of Laura (Isla Fisher) and father to India (Ellie Bamber), in her visualization of the novel.

One of the great tricks of the movie is that it remains a mystery whether the events in the novel are based upon “real” occurrences, or are just symbolic representations of the cruelties Susan inflicted upon Edward when she left him. Also, we never really know if Edward is somebody who simply wrote a chilling thriller and wants his ex-wife’s honest opinion, or if he’s sending her a “message.”

Edward’s novel is a searing work involving a family, led by Tony, on a road trip in Texas. They get harassed on the highway by a group of thugs, but most notably Ray (a completely terrifying Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Things go really wrong, which allows for the entrance of a lawman character, Bobby Andes. That lawman just happens to be played by Michael Shannon, so now you know why this movie is so much damned fun to watch.

Well … it’s fun in that it’s a pleasure to see performers setting the screen ablaze with their work. It’s not so fun in that there are a lot of exposed nerves and brutal moments in this movie; it isn’t for the fainthearted. Ford and friends are trafficking in the dark side. All of the worst fears of husbands and wives are in play, and happy endings aren’t on anyone’s mind.

Gyllenhaal, who did a great job with dual roles in Enemy, excels as the jilted husband and helpless father. His characters go through seemingly every kind of torture a man can go through—and then some. You get the sense he worked himself up to a lot of stomach aches while making this film.

Adams portrays a once-virtuous woman made slightly vapid due to some arguably bad life choices. She still manages to create a character who ultimately breaks your heart. While Edward’s possibly vengeful actions might paint Susan in a bad light, Susan still winds up a sensitive, sympathetic character. That’s Amy Adams for you. She can pretty much pull off anything in front of a camera.

This is Tom Ford’s second film as a director after A Single Man, so he’s a solid 2-for-2. Nocturnal Animals is one of the year’s more unique mainstream films. It’s also a movie that might inspire you to take a less-rural road on that journey through Texas you’ve been planning.

Nocturnal Animals is playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

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Director Nate Parker’s biographical film about Nat Turner plays out like the scariest of horror shows—as it very well should.

The Birth of a Nation scarily portrays Turner’s slave rebellion in the South, one that resulted in many African Americans being slaughtered in retaliation. It’s bloody; it’s heartbreaking; and it’s the two-by-four to the face the subject warrants.

Parker plays Turner, a slave raised as a preacher and exploited for money by his plantation owner (Armie Hammer, in a most scary performance); Parker’s performance is a powerful one. As for his directing, he portrays white plantation and slave owners and preachers as hissing, hateful, almost-cartoonish demons … and I say amen to that.

Some of the history might not be 100 percent accurate, but the portrayal of the hatred and the disgusting state of affairs that led to Turner’s uprising is vivid and on target. Jackie Earle Haley, aka Kelly Leak of The Bad News Bears, successfully portrays one of the most repugnant, irredeemable characters ever put to screen.

Stylistically, the film gets a little strange in a few moments, but the end results and impressions are long lasting and very meaningful.

The Birth of a Nation is playing at theaters across the valley.

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At one point during its journey to the screen, Disney halted production on The Lone Ranger because it was costing too much, and the studio was not sure a Western-themed summer tent-pole movie was a good idea. Eventually, they caved in to Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, producing it for a reported $225 million.

This will now go down as a huge, massive, unthinkable, crazy, job-killing blunder. The people who had the good sense to initially halt production should’ve stuck to their guns.

What a misguided, uncomfortable movie this is. Johnny Depp appearing as Tonto, with his face painted to mask the fact that he isn’t Native American, is a travesty. His movies have been mediocre at best lately, but this bad career choice goes well beyond the likes of The Tourist: This is the kind of stuff that cuts future paydays in half.

The film is an odd parody of The Lone Ranger, or at least it comes off that way, with strange comedic undertones and clichés exaggerated to the point of intolerability. Remember how Back to the Future Part III paid homage to the West by exaggerating it in a semi-funny way? The Lone Ranger makes Back to the Future Part III seem authentic in comparison.

How bad is it? The framing device is a very old Tonto telling some kid dressed as the Lone Ranger about how he met the masked man, and their travels together. Tonto, looking like anything but a human being, is making a living posing as a Native American in a museum exhibit, right next to a grizzly bear.

Depp and Verbinski (Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean partner in crime) choose to play this depressing storytelling angle for laughs. Depp wears a dead crow on his head throughout the film, with his face covered in war paint in the flashbacks. He takes some sort of odd, Buster Keaton-like physical approach to the role that makes him look desperate, lost and straining for the laughs that don’t come. His line deliveries are stilted and unimaginative. This is a career low for a guy capable of great things. It’s reminiscent of such travesties as John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine and Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd. It’s a choice that will haunt Depp for the rest of his career.

As for the Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer doesn’t seem to know what movie he is in. He sports an inconsistent accent, and plays the virtuous John Reid as a stooge to Tonto’s voice of reason. He is, in no way, prepared to handle a role of this magnitude. As the title character, he makes no impression, and is second fiddle to the top-billed, masquerading Depp.

However, Depp and Hammer aren’t even close to being the worst things about this movie. William Fichtner, an actor I usually enjoy, is unwatchable as bad-guy Butch Cavendish, a scarred, gold-toothed monster who eats the heart of the Lone Ranger’s brother as he lies wounded and watching. This was in direct contrast to the comedic, goofy nature of the rest of the film. It’s the sort of thing that leaves viewers too aghast to laugh the next time Depp makes one of this stupid funny faces. In my head, when Depp mugged shortly thereafter, I was thinking, “Yeah, well, I just saw a man die in a fashion that made that moment when the priest pulled a heart out of somebody in the Indiana Jones movie look like Mary Poppins. Laughter isn’t happening for a while, Johnny. Sorry.”

Everything in this movie is taken too far, from the dirt makeup, to the crazy beards and chops, to the caricature accents. Even the sound of a kid eating a peanut is turned up to an extent that becomes gut-churning and abrasive.

Regular readers know that I often complain about horror movies that exchange much-needed dread and gore for a PG-13 rating. Well, I get even more annoyed by PG-13 movies marketed to kids and families that contain the kind of violence on display in this crap. Heart-eating, horse-trampling, multiple gunshots, stabbings and the threat of sticking a duck foot up somebody’s ass should not be on the viewing agenda for the entire family.

Disney is going to take a major loss on this one. This is another major blockbuster disappointment after misfires like Man of Steel, World War Z, The Hangover Part III and After Earth. This is officially turning into a summer of bad movies.

I was truly embarrassed for Depp while watching The Lone Ranger. Remember before Jack Sparrow, when he was a boutique movie star who chose interesting and scintillating projects like Cry Baby and Ed Wood? He has more money than God now, so I’m hoping he has some indie films in his future.

The Lone Ranger is playing in theaters across the valley.

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