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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A dying photographer (Ed Harris) coaxes his estranged son (Jason Sudeikis) into going on a road trip with him and his nurse (Elizabeth Olsen) to get some Kodachrome film developed before the world stops developing the brand in Netflix’s Kodachrome.

Yes, it’s yet another road movie, and yes, it has the “somebody’s dying” gimmick to go with it—but don’t write this one off based on the synopsis. The three stars are pretty good here, with Harris especially good as a miserable man trying, in a very strange and peculiar way, to make nice with his son before checking out.

Sudeikis is one of the more underrated actors out there, and he does a lot with a fairly stereotypical role. Olsen, one of my favorite actresses, puts the whole thing over the top as a nurse who’s more than just an extra passenger calling shotgun.

The movie falls into some of the typical trope potholes, but Harris and company consistently pull it out of the muck. There’s a music-business subplot involving Sudeikis’ character that is pretty good, too.

Kodachrome is not a great movie, but it is worth a shot late on a Saturday night.

Kodachrome is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you are a fan of last year’s excellent modern Western Hell or High Water, get yourself into a theater to see Wind River.

The writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, writes and directs Wind River. He is a true wordsmith who captures American dilemmas on par with Sam Shepard and Cormac McCarthy. The man knows how to pen a great thriller with depth, and his works (he also wrote Sicario) all have a common, somber tone. This is a guy who knows that many of the people you will pass on the street are dealing with grief and loss—they are surviving, but it’s a bitch, and it’s not going to get easier.

Wind River marks Sheridan’s second directorial effort, after 2011’s low-budget Vile, and it stands as one of the summer’s best films. It’s a solid mystery-thriller, and a showcase for fierce performances from Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both offer up career-best work, with Renner searing the screen as Cory, a man with a tragic past who is paid to hunt wolves and mountain lions on a Native American reservation. Olsen commands her screen time as Jane, one of cinema’s gutsiest FBI agents since Clarice Starling.

Sheridan, who directs with style and grace, gives us a haunting image to start his movie: Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a young Native American woman, is running across a freezing nightscape with no shoes on. She’s scared for her life, but we don’t know why. Soon, we will find out.

Cory is patrolling snow-covered grounds, shooting wolves from long distances. He’s stoic and level-headed, a quiet man whose emotions never go to a fever pitch. However, when Cory discovers the body of the woman we saw in the opening sequence, it’s clear that the woman’s identity strikes a chord in his heart.

Cory and his ex-wife (Julia Jones) have lost a child, and they are doing their best to give their living son (Teo Briones) a happy life in the aftermath. Their lost daughter was the best friend of the new victim—understandably setting something off in Cory. When FBI Agent Jane shows up, lost in a snowstorm and looking for answers, he’s more than willing to help with the investigation.

Sheridan’s mystery builds from there, as the identity of the murderer is not immediately apparent. Considering the murder took place on a sparsely populated reservation, there aren’t many suspects, but Sheridan will keep you guessing—and you’ll suspect everybody onscreen. The conclusion doesn’t feel like a narrative cheat, as so many murder mysteries do. The conclusion resonates with horror and bleakness; you aren’t going to have a typical good time at this movie.

You will, however, be witnessing remarkable work by Renner. He’s tasked with some of the most emotionally brutal scenes an actor has had to handle this year. He’s been impressive before (in The Hurt Locker), but this takes his stock to a new level. When he recounts the death of his daughter to Jane, the story almost knocks her on her ass—and you can relate. I mentioned that Cory is stoic, but he’s most certainly not one-dimensional. Renner finds ample nuance and power in this character’s quiet pain.

Olsen matches Renner on all fronts. Her Jane is a by-the-book type who must make some major adjustments in the field while dealing with the grief all around her. Jane is supposed to be setting the table for a bigger investigation, but she finds herself drawing her gun more than once; she’s in it for the long haul. The character goes through many phases during film’s 107-minute running time, and Olsen makes all of them intriguing.

Gil Birmingham (who also starred in Hell or High Water) and Graham Greene round out one of the year’s best ensemble casts.

Wind River will exhaust you by the time credits roll. It’ll bum you out—as it damn well should.

Wind River is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive; 844-462-7342), the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682.)

Published in Reviews

I wish I could tell you that Captain America: Civil War is so good that it will make you forget the horror that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Bursting Diseased Cinematic Pustules. Alas, nothing is good enough to clear that out of anyone’s brain anytime soon.

Captain America: Civil War is very good, though, a nice blast of superhero fun that finds a diplomatic way to include many Marvel favorites without feeling crowded or rushed. This is one well-oiled Marvel machine.

Front and center, there’s Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, still having Brooklyn-bro issues when it comes to the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap wants to back up his former best friend, but the guy committed some shady, hard-to-defend acts while brainwashed. Captain America has to make some extremely difficult—and potentially cataclysmic—choices.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) thought Age of Ultron sucked for more than the obvious reasons: On top of being boring, it left death and destruction in its wake, as did the far-more-exciting original The Avengers. World leaders want to put the Avengers in check, using them as a sort of alternative to nuclear weapons. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., still owning it), in the midst of a crisis of conscience, agrees to the proposed accord. Rogers thinks it’s bullshit and won’t sign. This all works as a fine setup for an eventual battle between Iron Man and Captain America, during which both sides have compelling reasons to fight. It’s actually hard to pick a side in this movie, making the confrontation all the more fun.

The Avengers get split up between Iron Man and Captain America. Stark has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (an excellent Paul Bettany), as well as new recruits Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, yep, Spider-Man (Tom Holland, looking like he could be the best Spidey yet) in his ranks. Rogers goes into battle with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bucky and new recruit Ant-Man (a funny Paul Rudd).

It’s no easy task, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with their screenwriters, juggle a lot of characters and spin a lot of plates—successfully and entertainingly. No single character hogs the screen for too long; everybody gets a nice stake in the movie; and the newbies are introduced in satisfying ways. Spider-Man manages to get his setup in a solid scene with Stark and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei … hooray!). It’s a relatively quick scene, but, hey, it’s Spider-Man. He doesn’t need a long setup. Just introduce him, and let him start shooting webs and wisecracks.

The film has good performances throughout, but Downey is the true standout. He’s the anchor of the Avengers universe, and he brings true gravitas where other actors would just make things corny. Holland gets a lot of points for making the most of his screen time and slipping comfortably into the costume most recently worn by Andrew Garfield. He’s perfect for Spidey on the acting front—and, if you take a look at his Spider-Man workouts, you’ll see he doesn’t necessarily need a stuntman.

Conspicuously missing are Hulk and Thor. Something had to be left for the next Thor movie, so those two get a break here. While Age of Ultron felt like nothing but a bunch of scenes setting up the next chapter, Civil War works as a standalone action movie.

There are no clear plans for Captain America and Bucky in The Avengers saga going forward. They are great characters, but there are plenty of great characters now existing in the Marvel Comics Universe. Captain America: Civil War gets things back on track after the weak Age of Ultron, and should make people excited for next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I’ll just keep saying it: You must stay through the damn credits until that blue ratings thing shows at the end. It’s a Marvel movie! There are two extra scenes to see. Stop leaving before the screen goes dark. It’s driving me crazy!

Captain America: Civil War is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I Saw the Light is one of the year’s bigger cinematic disappointments.

The film is a downer because it contains a powerful central performance from Tom Hiddleston as country-music legend Hank Williams. Hiddleston looks, and more importantly, sounds the part, performing live with a strong singing voice and a great stage persona. When I Saw the Light focuses on live music and studio performances of Williams’ standards, it shines.

But when the film examines his life between the songs, it is a dull, unrewarding experience. Most people know Williams died tragically young (at the age of 29) of alcohol- and drug-related complications, and that he had a messed-up love life. However, it’s hard to accept that his life was as dull and humorless as writer-director Marc Abraham’s film suggests.

The movie picks up before Williams gets his big break. He’s performing his original songs on a radio show and marrying newly divorced singer wannabe Audrey Mae Sheppard (a strong Elizabeth Olsen). Williams toils away in honkytonks and tries to make his mark at the Grand Ole Opry, where they are a bit resistant due to Williams’ reputation.

Of course, Williams does eventually make his Opry debut, and it’s during moments like this that Hiddleston captures the spirit of the singer and gives us a hint of his justifiable legacy.

It’s the love-life stuff that is treated with a morose, dark, clammy tone that makes the film a task to watch. It way overstays its welcome at two-plus hours.

Beyond Williams’ failed marriage to Sheppard, the film covers his dalliances with random women, and his final wife, Billie Jean Jones (Maddie Hasson). The time spent on Sheppard does feature a decent performance from Olsen. She does an admirable job of singing—in a purposefully mediocre manner, as Sheppard suffered industry ridicule for her voice. When Olsen essentially leaves the film, the female-lead baton is passed to Hasson, and her main directorial instruction seems to be “pout and scowl a lot.” Her presence brings the film to a halt.

The movie opens with a nice, solo performance of “Cold, Cold Heart,” with Hiddleston alone in a smoky room as the camera circles him. His voice is strong and contains the proper amount of emotional heft. It’s a moment that seems to be setting the film up for good times. Then the film effectively goes to sleep. Abraham saddles the film with long, dreary takes during which the actors and actresses use sleepy tones and volumes.

Williams must’ve raised some hell in his day. He must’ve played some pranks on band members, or trashed a couple of hotel rooms. He probably also shouted out a joke or two to provide life with some laughter. However, none of that makes it into I Saw the Light. Hiddleston is asked to play the man as a dull ghost rather than a robust, flawed legend. When he’s singing, the movie has life. When he’s arguing with his mom, it’s dreadful.

Abraham relies on basic biopic clichés to move the story along, including the old fake black-and-white newsreel interview gimmick. It’s proof that the writer was stuck and needed to cheat his way out of self-induced plot ditches.

Tracks like “Lovesick Blues,” “Honky Tonkin’” and other Williams classics provide interesting interludes, but I Saw the Light will be remembered more for its dullness rather than its great musical numbers.

I Saw the Light is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342) and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

When Avengers: Age of Ultron wrapped, I realized a terrible thing for a fanboy like me: I had just watched almost 2 1/2 hours of stuff that did almost nothing for me. It was a big blur, intermittently interrupted by half-interesting moments.

In other words: It was boring.

You can’t accuse director Joss Whedon of “second verse, same as the first” with Avengers: Age of Ultron. He and his team definitely went for something different with this sequel to one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. Perhaps it would’ve been OK to retain more of the good humor, campiness and non-cluttered thrills that made The Avengers such a gas.

Ultron is flat. Nothing of any real consequence happens; there are just a bunch of scenes teasing future Marvel movies, and some action sequences that lack clarity. With the exception of an interesting smackdown between Iron Man and the Hulk, the action sequences feel repetitive.

The “Ultron” of the movie’s title is a series of robots with an artificial-intelligence program initiated by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Stark, thinking he can create a security force that will save the world, gets a little ahead of himself, forgoes the approval of his fellow Avengers—with the exception of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo)—and starts the program, only to discover that A.I. can sometimes mean Absolute Insanity. The program goes AWOL and produces the anti-human Ultron.

Voiced by James Spader, Ultron is a one-note villain that lacks personality, unlike Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and other recent comic-book villains. He’s not a formidable bad guy, in part because he’s just a CGI creation voiced by an actor. All of the great Marvel and D.C. villains are usually a little more human, while Ultron comes off as a third-rate Transformers Decepticon. Yes, Spader has a menacing voice, but he’s no James Earl Jones.

On the other hand, the Vision—a good-guy offshoot of the same program that produces Ultron, more or less—is far more interesting. Played by Paul Bettany, the Vision is a welcome addition to the roster. Bettany’s likeness is actually used in the Vision, and he looks cool.

Also new are Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Scarlet Witch does the mind-control thing, which Whedon illustrates with a visual that looks like mist surrounding her victim’s head. This reminded me of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy and her red-mist, mind-controlling pheromones in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. When it comes to comic book movies, it is never a good thing when something reminds you of Batman and Robin.

Quicksilver is potentially fun, but Johnson’s incarnation is not as interesting as that of Evan Peters, who played the part in last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The film plays with the notion of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk having an affair. We get a couple of scenes with Black Widow managing to get the Hulk to calm down, and a little bit of Ruffalo and Johansson sort-of flirting, but the subplot doesn’t go anywhere. While the original Avengers was a terrific showcase for the Hulk, the latest mostly loses the big green guy in the shuffle. Also, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) now has a wife, in a failed effort to raise his character above least-interesting Avenger.

If you are an Avengers fan, you’ll have to see Age of Ultron, because it sets up a series of other films, and you might find yourself lost when watching future movies like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok or Black Widow: She Will Never Have Her Own Movie … What Gives?  

As for Whedon, perhaps he was the wrong man for this gig. The sequel goes for a darker tonal shift—a sort of Empire Strikes Back for the Avengers. The result is one of the year’s most crushing cinematic letdowns.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Godzilla movies, with the exception of the decent 1954 original, have never been good movies, right?

Instead, they are movies some of us enjoy watching because they deliver a fun dose of camp. Godzilla movies offer the brain a chance to relax and watch something unintentionally laughable.

That said, I’m a Godzilla fan—to a certain extent. I used to watch the Thanksgiving Day marathons on TV back in Long Island, N.Y., when I was a kid. I had a special place in my heart for King Kong vs. Godzilla, and appreciate the fodder that Godzilla and Gamera movies provided for Joel Hodgson on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Well, the new, Gareth Edwards-directed Godzilla is, by millions and trillions and billions of miles, the best Godzilla movie ever made. It’s no contest: This movie tramples the other Godzilla movies underfoot like Godzilla trampling a water tower with cheesy dolls meant to be humans hanging on to it.

Edwards (whose lone other feature directorial credit is the amusing, low-budget Monsters) captures that summer-blockbuster vibe of yesteryear, back when suspense and perhaps just a touch of human drama took precedent over wall-to-wall CGI fireworks. He also manages to capture some of that old-school Toho Godzilla goofiness to go with the film’s mostly serious tone. Even though the film’s monsters are CGI, there are some monster gestures in which the moves have a nice, man-in-suit quality to them.

It’s pretty obvious that Edwards is saluting the all-time blockbuster king, Mr. Steven Spielberg, with this movie. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play a father-and-son team with a last name of Brody; Roy Scheider’s name in Jaws was Brody. Many of the initial Godzilla shots include overhead, swimming glimpses and those jagged Godzilla back points cutting through the surface like a shark’s dorsal fin. Cranston’s slightly crazed, obsessed, gloriously overacting scientist dad rings of Richard Dreyfuss’ mashed-potato-sculpting kook in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In a way, Edwards is hamstrung by the limitations of his reported $160 million budget, but he certainly makes the most of it. Big special-effects extravaganzas usually cost a lot more than that these days, so just as Spielberg was forced to show less of the shark due to the thing being broken, Edwards only shows the right amount of Godzilla—because that’s probably all he could afford. It turns out to be a blessing, because it makes the final chunk of the film, in which Godzilla is featured prominently, all the more rewarding.

That’s not to say the buildup to Godzilla’s entrance is at all boring or lacking in action. Edwards and his team have come up with a nice Godzilla enemy in the MUTOs, creatures that are trying to mate and snacking on nuclear missiles and waste. The first hour also features impressive tsunamis, nuclear-plant destructions and enough hints of Godzilla to make the buildup impressive.

When Godzilla does make his big appearance, we are greeted with his wonderful, primordial scream that is super-sweet inside a big IMAX theater. The sheer majestic power of this sound had me leaning back in my chair and smiling.

Ken Watanabe plays what is essentially the Raymond Burr role from the original Americanized version of Godzilla—that of a big star inserted into the action whose main purpose is to look really, really concerned. Taylor-Johnson is the film’s hero, and he’s OK, if perhaps a little dull. Playing his character’s wife is Elizabeth Olsen, who might not have much to do in the movie, but she does perform the best running-away-while-looking-over-the-shoulder move in the film.

The final sequence, in which Godzilla goes head-to-head with the MUTOs and levels San Francisco, gets my vote for Best Monster Mash ever.

If I’m Warner Bros., I’m on the phone right now with Universal to see if I can borrow Peter Jackson’s King Kong for the inevitable sequel.

Godzilla is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

It was a dumb, stupid, asinine, ridiculous, idiotic, energy-wasting, sucky, loser, moronic idea to remake Oldboy, Chan-wook Park’s insane 2003 revenge classic. While I’m fairly open-minded about the idea of remakes, some films should never be touched again.

It’s amazing that the original Oldboy—a tale of captivity, octopus-eating and incest—ever made it to the big screen. Then Spike Lee somehow landed the job of Americanizing Park’s film (after Steven Spielberg flirted with the idea)—and he actually does a decent job in the first half. Josh Brolin plays a drunken louse who gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a strange hotel room for 20 years while somebody frames him for the murder of his wife. He is then released, whereupon he starts seeking revenge. The captivity scenes are the best things in the movie, with Brolin doing a good job of losing his mind.

The movie falls apart when he gets out, although Lee’s attempt to re-create the infamous hallway-hammer scene is admirable.

Rumor has it that Lee’s original cut was an hour longer. I’d like to see that cut, because what made it to the screen feels both unnecessary and incomplete.

Oldboy is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615) and Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews